Magpie Wanderings

Home of The Magpie's Ring and other stories.

Ode to General Boris

Hurrah, hurroo, over the top, let’s kick the Hun,

Yelled the General his wild mop,

Glinting yellow in the sun,

We’ll be free of Europe,

Before the year is done,

 

Heed not the Euro-Stayers,

Those gloomy nay-sayers,

Onwards, onwards, I say!,

Let Friday be our Independence Day,

 

Oh my word, are those guns real?,

There’s no need to rush,

Shouted General Boris,

As reality began to crush,

 

Thank God and By Jove,

If it isn’t General Gove,

Come here, old cock,

And let’s put your neck upon the block,

 

 

 

 

The Evolution of a Mamil

It is July 22nd 2012. Bradley Wiggins has won the Tour De France and has entered the record books as the first British man to win the Tour since its inception in 1903. Interestingly 1903 is the exact number of centimetres I can run before cyanotic collapse. Single-handedly this one man, soon to be known to all as ‘Wiggo’, has inspired a nation to cycle for victory and simultaneously has sent the demand for lycra to stratospheric levels. If lycra were the product of an animal species, Wiggo’s success would have guaranteed the overnight near-extinction of said species followed by intensive battery farming of the remaining few. Fortunately it is not, and so middle-aged men of all shapes and sizes can don this peculiar material with a collective guilt-free conscience. I say all shapes and sizes but I use the term somewhat incorrectly. There is only one shape and size of man who has decided to purchase, and coat themselves in this, the most sporting and shiniest of fabrics, and that is men of my shape. Rotund. From the side I resemble the letter ‘P’ adorned with a shiny, bald head that is invariably fraught with worry. Breathing in, I still look like the letter ‘P’ albeit in a lowercase, the switch between cases doing little to alter neither my profile nor the harsh reality of what happens between the age of parenthood and the age of the Wiggo. Before anyone points out that the Mighty Wiggo too is a parent, I shall give the necessary spineless but brutally honest excuse that I am a weak, directionless mortal who suffers terribly at the hands of his Achilles stomach, while Wiggo isn’t and doesn’t. I digress. Like a rare alignment of planets, several events have occurred at the same time with calamatous results. The Tour has been won by a Brit, Father Time has snuck up and deposited 3 stone of prime whale blubber upon my waistline before running off laughing heartily, and my children now refer to me as a space hopper while seating themselves upon me in the absence of a beanbag and declaring me far more comfortable. In addition, I have reached the tender age of forty-three, and my biological clock is demanding the onset of a crisis with which to see me through the next few years.

Suitably swept along by the Nation’s sudden love for cycling I too decide that cycling is for me. It is a decision that will come back to haunt me. There is however, one problem. Technically speaking, there are several but there is one that easily matches the physical prominence of my waistline in its importance. I haven’t cycled for years. The act of sitting on a bike and doing the actual pedalling and steering bit isn’t the problem – I learned to do that as a child, and in appropriate application of the simile, it is like riding a bike. However, I do not have the first clue about the ‘kit’, the only thing I do know and am utterly certain of, is that I need lots of it. A Grifter with a pack of playing cards stuck in the spokes will not cut the mustard. Nor will cyclng with my anorak flapping cape-like behind me. Having avidly watched the Tour I can say, hand on heart that there was a complete abscence of these, something which I must admit I found hard to deal with. After all, can you imagine the noise those cards would make as you descended some near-vertical road in the Pyrenees? Opportunity missed, lads. I call upon the expert knowledge of a chum, Andy, who, if the rumours are true, was actually born in the saddle while his mother competed in, and won, a time trial. Not a bad pedigree. We arrange to meet in the local pub for a chat. I tell him of my intentions.

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Why am I doing this? Because I’m jolly nice that’s why.

 

Angus Rose author of The Magpie’s Ring

 

 

I Can Tell Them Why

I can tell them why. I can tell them why senior ward nurse, Julia Sutton, aged sixty-three, exploded, blew up, detonated, erupted (all words used by those who had witnessed the event). I could tell them that they’ll remain baffled, too, because, to be honest, it is pretty baffling. If someone walked up to me and presented me with the facts that lead to Nurse Sutton’s untimely, and yes, bizarre demise, I, too, would be baffled. Even with the full facts, and to be honest, I don’t think I have them, it is baffling. I could tell them that there’s no point having the bomb-disposal team examine her car. There’s nothing to find there. Equally, forensics won’t turn anything up. No detonator, no wires, no traces of explosives. Because there aren’t any. Yes, I could tell them why, but I couldn’t tell them how, because I have no idea about how it works.
The papers didn’t expand on the more visceral details supplied by the witnesses. Good thing, too, really because it was pretty messy. I know because I was watching from the third-floor nurses’ station. My sniper’s vantage point from which I’d watched her park her car and cross the road every working day for the last six years. Six years of feeling those already fluttering butterflies burst into panic at her approach. No gory details, but they did describe her as a dear old woman and a dedicated nurse who leaves behind two daughters and six grandchildren blah, blah, blah. But as I said, no gory details. No mention of how her torso had been blown apart, the inside of her thoracic cavity glistening in the morning sun. No mention of the the right leg that flew through the air, bounced against a nearby bus shelter and then some how remained upright as though waiting for the bus to arrive. Waiting to hop on, I suppose. No mention of the other leg that spun through the air and triggered the automatic door allowing it fly down the corridor where it fell and began thrashing and kicking as though the pain she’d felt could finally be expressed. No mention of how one of her withered old teats had been found the following day on the roof of the radiology department. The other one had been found sooner – stuck to the windscreen of someone’s car. Somebody in oncology, I think. Needless to say, the teats that had no doubt suckled her two daughters and had had six grandchildren clutched to them, didn’t belong to a dear old lady in my opinion. They belonged to a nasty little shit who had made my life hell for the last six years. And I made her explode.
Did she suffer? Did she have any idea what was going on? Why she’d suddenly been unable to move and could only feel and scream? Well, she wasn’t screaming like that for the fun of it. How do I know? Because that’s how I wanted it to be. A full minute (well-spotted, witness, and I’m guessing it’s Fat-Bill the Porter with a roving eye for the nurses’ tits, it was a full minute) of utter, ripping agony. A full minute of pain as her innards slowly ripped apart while she, paralysed and unable to die, suffered the excruciating torment of every single rip, tear and shredding of her insides. Exploding would have been a relief after that.

Today’s Headlines

Police are baffled as to what caused Julia Sutton, a senior ward nurse at St. Andrew’s Hospital, to explode. Witnesses say that Julia, sixty-three, a much-loved grandmother of six, had been walking across the car park after arriving at work as normal but had then stopped in the middle of the pedestrian crossing and had begun screaming. ‘It was like one of those old-fashioned kettles that whistle, but louder’ said one witness, ‘She stood there for a full minute, and then, just as one of the doctors came out of A and E, she sort of blew up. It was horrible. There was bits every where.’ Police have sealed off the area for several streets around and have evacuated the hospital while a bomb-disposal team examines her car. Forensic teams are expected to begin scouring the scene for clues in the next few hours.

‘I might be clumsy but I’m here,’ muttered Ned giving a metal gauntlet that had rolled free of the pile a hefty kick that sent it spinning under the table.

The Cave

As if in reply, a sandy hissing sound began to fill the cave. Standing up and backing away from the centre of the cave, Ned watched as a small hole appeared in the floor and gradually widen. Once the hole was as wide as Ned, the hissing sound was replaced with a gurgling as crystal clear water bubbled up from below. Suddenly thirsty, Ned dropped to his knees and drank deeply. With his thirst quenched, Ned sat back and saw that while he had been drinking, a number of small holes had appeared in the perimeter of the cave. From each hole came the same horrible rustling, scratching sound that Ned had heard in the darkened hall. The edges of the holes were savagely chewed away until crawling from the holes came the largest scorpions Ned had ever seen, their pincers snapping as they advanced, venom dripping from their quivering stings.

Ned looked round desperately for an escape, as the holes through which the scorpions had appeared sealed themselves one after the other. The only hole that didn’t disappear was the one in the centre of the cave, the one filled to the brim with water. Ned yelled in horror as a scorpion tugged viciously at the back of his leg. Whirling around he kicked out frantically sending the beast tumbling backwards across the floor its shrieks of fury filling the cave. Immediately righting itself, the scorpion darted back towards Ned its sting lashing forward, small drops of venom sending plumes of smoke into the air as they landed sizzling on the floor.

With a moan of terror, Ned looked at his only means of escape and taking a deep breath plunged into the narrow water-filled hole and wriggling desperately downwards, scorpions snapping at his calves and feet. The sides of the tunnel squeezed Ned as he pulled himself along, lungs bursting. The deeper he pulled himself into the tunnel, the more illuminated the water became until Ned could clearly see that the tunnel was beginning to angle upwards.

Desperately clawing up the slight rise, Ned pulled himself into a small air pocket and by turning himself onto his back found that he could rest there, his face just clear of the water. Drawing in deep lungfuls of air, Ned could make out writing scrawled into the roof of the air pocket.

The Tunnel

Squirming deeper into the suffocating darkness, Ned paused to catch his breath and rested his scorched face against the blessedly cold rock. As he rested there in the dark, something hard began to squeeze his burnt feet making him cry out in pain and surprise. The squeezing now spread up his calves forcing him to crawl as fast as he could stopping only when exhausted but every time he paused for breath, the walls of the tunnel began to bite down on his legs forcing him to wriggle and crawl again through the blackness of the tunnel, his breath becoming desperate and ragged until he flopped gasping from the tunnel and into a small, brightly lit cave. A sharp clap echoed around the cave as the tunnel sealed itself shut behind him. Blinking painfully against the light, Ned rolled onto his back and sat up nursing his knees and elbows.

‘Well at least I’m warm and dry now,’ he said to himself fingering the scorch marks on his boots.

As if in reply, a hissing sound began to fill the cave. Standing up and backing away from the centre of the cave, Ned watched as a small hole began to appear in the floor and gradually widen. The hissing sound was replaced with a gurgling as the hole filled with water. Suddenly thirsty, Ned dropped to his knees and drank deeply. With his thirst quenched, Ned sat back and saw that while he had been drinking, a number of small holes had appeared in the perimeter of the cave. From each hole came the same horrible rustling, scratching sound that Ned had heard in the darkened hall. The edges of the holes were savagely chewed away until crawling from the holes came the largest scorpions Ned had ever seen, their pincers snapping as they advanced, venom dripping from their quivering stings.

Ned looked round desperately for an escape, as the holes through which the scorpions had appeared sealed themselves one after the other. The only hole that didn’t disappear was the one in the centre of the cave, the one filled to the brim with water. Ned yelped in horror as a scorpion tugged viciously at the back of his leg. Whirling around he kicked out frantically sending the beast tumbling backwards across the floor its shrieks of fury filling the cave. Immediately righting itself, the scorpion darted back towards Ned its sting lashing forward, small drops of venom sending plumes of smoke into the air as they landed sizzling on the floor.

The Chasm

Swaying giddily, Ned watched as wreaths of smoke began to rise up from the black depths below, twisting and curling in on themselves until they floated in front of him. With a sudden swirl, the smoke formed itself into words.

‘Keep moving, best foot forward!’ read Ned aloud.

Looking behind, Ned could see that he had little choice – the hall was now pitch black and from the darkness came horrible clicking sounds as unseen things scuttled blindly around, scuffling and screaming in fury as they fought to hunt him down. Facing the chasm again, the smoke had reshaped itself and before him floated a picture of his family – Mum, Dad, Sam and himself and as he watched each face faded away leaving only his own which then too slowly disappeared.

The bridge was barely wide enough for his feet and so crouching down, Ned prepared to cross on all fours. The instant he did so, the bridge began to writhe and heave under his hands forcing him to scramble back onto safe ground. Whatever had been blundering around in the darkness of the hall was now very close, the clicking becoming a rapid, hungry snapping and so again Ned crouched down and placed his hands on the stones. Once again the bridge heaved sinuously forcing him to take a step back. Looking behind him, Ned could see nightmarish shapes appearing in the gloom that fringed the darkness and so with a trembling foot he gingerly stepped out and onto the bridge. This time the bridge remained solid and stretching his arms out wide to steady himself, Ned crept his other foot onto the bridge and began to inch his way slowly across the chasm. To his horror, as he reached the middle, the far end of the bridge crumbled and fell crashing into the darkness below. Risking a glance behind, and nearly tumbling as he did so, he saw that the other end of the bridge too had crumbled and fallen, leaving the decaying bridge floating unsteadily in mid-air.

Hardly daring to look downwards, Ned could see the blackness below rolling away to reveal a fiery orange inferno, plumes of lava and flame leaping upwards as they tried to pluck him from the bridge. The small span of bridge that remained suddenly began to drop almost causing Ned to fall. Ignoring its writhing, Ned fell to his knees and clutched what was left of the bridge for all he was worth. The remains of the bridge now began to plummet even faster, the heat becoming unbearable as it fell closer and closer toward the furnace. A jolt almost threw Ned as the bridge came to a sudden halt and began to drift towards a narrow, pitch black crack in the rock face. As the bridge nudged against the opening, Ned peered in trying to make out what lay within. As he warily reached his hand as far into the crack as he could, the bridge began to crumble again, this time more rapidly than before. Taking a deep breath, Ned launched himself into the opening just as the last of the bridge collapsed. Flames licking at his feet, Ned pulled himself desperately into the tunnel scraping his belly painfully against its jagged lip.

The Hall

Ignoring the throbbing wound in his arm, Ned peered into the dim light and could just make out a red carpet running from the centre of the hall and into the gloom at the far end of the hall. Stepping onto it, Ned startled as along the walls on either side, flaming torches sprang into life with a hiss and a crack and chased the gloom away. In the light of the torches, Ned could see that the carpet ended just short of a blank rock face. As he took his first steps toward the rock face, the carpet began rolling up behind him snapping at his heels and the torches winked out one by one plunging the hall behind him back into gloom. Faster and faster the lights went out and faster and faster the carpet rolled until Ned was running at full pelt. Running off the end of the carpet, Ned skidded to a desperate, teetering halt at the very edge of a deep chasm that separated the hall from the rock face with only a narrow stone bridge joining them.

Wreaths of smoke began to curl up from the chasm, twisting and curling, forming themselves into shapes that Ned recognised.

‘Keep moving, best foot forward!’ read Ned aloud.

Looking behind Ned could see that he had little choice – the hall was now pitch black and from the darkness came horrible clicking, scratching sounds as things scuttled around, homing in on Ned. Facing the chasm again, the message had reformed itself and before Ned floated a picture of his family – Mum, Dad, Sam and himself and as he watched each face disappeared leaving only his own which too then slowly faded.

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