Swan Song

Two swans.


Graceful, poised, entwined. Their movements choreographed. Telegraphed.

The pond is theirs. Their canvas to paint. Their stage to perform. Their own private world to sculpt and finesse. The water is cold but there is hope. A glimpse, the merest glimmer, of spring has edged its way into the weather in recent days. Defying the cold, signalling an end in sight to the tortuous, prolonged winter. Even the trees surrounding the pond, branches serrated and bare, drip gently with the dew of an earlier frost.

Suddenly both swans burst forward, their wings raised, their feathers flustered, as they dart towards a discarded piece of pastry thrown into the far side of the pond.

‘Don’t do that for god’s sake!?’ Julie turns to her partner Andrew sitting on the opposite end of the wooden bench. ‘Swans are vicious things! They’ll come looking for more now! Just wait and see!’

Andrew looked at her, his half-eaten sausage roll peeking out of the baker’s bag currently hovering mere millimetres from his mouth. He shrugs. Turns away. A familiar spark of fury blazes in Julie’s eyes.

‘And wipe your beard you bloody tink, there’s pastry in it! Bloody disgusting!’ Julie, too, now turns away. She reaches down to her own baker’s bag and pulls out her sandwich, carefully biting into the ham and cheese concoction only inches above the strategically lain napkins placed on her lap.

Andrew discreetly swipes at his beard in an effort to remove the offending segments of his lunch, careful all the while not to let Julie see this and, in turn, giving her the satisfaction that she craves. He sighs and looks at the pair of swans before him. Tussling, bartering over the diminishing piece of pastry thrown seconds earlier. Their grace, their beauty, their kinship, momentarily gone as their individual desires conflict. He flashes a look across to Julie. She stares straight ahead, giving him no quarter. Chewing. Her eyes look glazed, fixed on nothing in particular. He turns back.

An anger invades him. Well, no not anger, he decides, but a confusion certainly. This bench. There was a reason they were sitting on this bench. This particular bench. He’d taken Julie here on one of their first dates. Mind you, to put it like that it sounds planned. But it wasn’t. They were walking together, hand in hand (despite only having known each other for a matter of days), and came upon the bench. They had sat down, his arm around her. And it had felt right. Natural. Like so much did in those early days. There was never any question in his mind that she was the girl, the woman, for him. And he was certain she felt the same. It was easy, it was right, it was true. And they had returned to this place, to this bench, time after time throughout their relationship. Always hand in hand. Always entwined. But now, he thought, to look at them you would think they were strangers. Her at one end of the bench, him at the other. Both squashed against the ornate steel armrests. Now nothing but twelve years of animosity and shit left between them. Unspoken words, threats left hanging.

Andrew takes the final bite of his sausage roll and crumples up the paper bag as he chews. The crumpling process is loud, cutting into the otherwise idyllic scene. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Julie twist her head towards him, disdain no doubt clouding her eyes. She twists back. He feels resentment start to crackle on the tip of his tongue. Words, insults, beginning to form. He looks toward her, ready to verbally strike, when his attention is caught by the swans.


Slowly. Gracefully. Beautifully. Their movements mirrored. Seemingly of one mind. They glide in circles; in small half-circles, in grand sweeping circles. Their soft white plumage immaculate, unsullied, glistening in the mid-afternoon sun. Andrew is transfixed, his mouth hanging open slightly. The majesty of the moment paralysing him. His eyes rise and fall with every swoop and glide, every twist and turn. He feels Julie’s eyes on him but still, he’s unable to wrest his gaze from the glorious creatures before him. In unison the swans seem to turn towards him. Inching forward. They crane their necks. Their orange beaks part. And then it happens. A sound. So gorgeous, so translucent even that it seems unreal. Within the world and, yet, not of the world. The swans’ voices harmonise, rising and falling, rising and falling. Each note, each twist, flooding Andrew’s ears with beauty and warmth. A song, he realises. A beautiful, gorgeous swan song.

‘Do you hear that…?’ he whispers.

‘Hear what?’ asks Julie.

‘The swans…the swans…’

‘Don’t be bloody silly, these are mute swans! They barely make any sound at all!’

He cares not for her dismissive words. Nor for her admonishment. His body exhales, relaxes. All the anger, the resentment, the annoyance spilling out of him. Replaced by comfort. By calm. By acceptance. The swans turn and glide to the far end of the pond. The song, the sound, fades into the ether as they do so. Andrew collects himself. He rubs his eyes slightly. He continues to stare at the swans as they glide alongside each other. Then they part. One suddenly taking flight, fumbling from the water and into the air. The other notices, halting briefly, before continuing its regimented laps of the pond.

Andrew glances up at Julie, all trace of anger or resentment gone. He see’s the image of the girl he once loved in her brief hint of a smile. He see’s the face of the woman forever lost to him in the look of indifference that quickly replaces it.

‘Julie…’ he says, ‘I think we need to talk…’

‘Yeah Andrew,’ she turns to look at him. A sadness in her eyes. ‘I really think we do…’


The Woman


There she sits, the woman, in the burnt out husk that used to be a bus stop. Or possibly a tram stop. No-one, truth be told, would be able to tell you for sure. The facts, like the structure’s shape, lost forever to the annals of time. But the bench remains. And so does she; the woman. Withered, yes. Weary, of course. But she remains.

Heavy drops of rain sporadically drip down onto her from somewhere high above. She doesn’t bother to look. Not interested in the source. All that matters is the end result, not the sequence of events that takes you there. This she knows. This she believes to be true. One of the raindrops slides slowly down her face. It weaves through each of the numerous wrinkles carved into her skin. It drops to the ground. The wrinkles. She’d learned to accept them long ago. They were a fact of life. Irreversible. You learn to accept that which you cannot change. But did there have to be so many? ‘Like an ordinance survey map’; ‘like the craters on the moon’; ‘like an international conference of wrinkled prunes’. Those were some of the kinder comments she’d heard. The nastier ones she tended to dismiss. It was human nature after all. To mock that which is different. To be wary about those that deviate from the accepted norm. The Old Woman, though. That one hurt. She had to admit. That one did sting.

You see, she’s not old. The woman. Not by any conventional sense at least. Old-But-Not-Old. That’s how she referred to herself. And the others. The other women. There’s about a dozen of them. Still living. Still walking around The City. Scorned, mocked, shunned. The Old-But-Not-Olds. The ones who dared to resist. The ones who ultimately failed. The ones who must now bare the scars of that failure.

It was a few years ago now. She can’t remember when exactly. Time and age lose their meaning, lose their permanence even, in a situation like this. But they were in the early 20’s. Her and the others. She knew that. It was very shortly after The Regime had risen to power. They were young. Attractive. Vibrant. Intelligent. That’s why they were chosen. Diamonds plucked from the rough. They should have been pleased. Should have felt privileged. Especially when compared with the treatment of the majority of the other women in The City. Obedience. Acquiescence. That was the only price they had to pay for a life of luxury. A life better than that of their fellow citizens. One not of squalor or degradation. That was how The Regime phrased things, anyway. But she wouldn’t have it. Nor would the others. Caged animals they would not be. Docile, passive concubines they would not be. Resist they would. Fight back they would. But of course, as we already know, this failed. The wrinkles on her face illustrated this fact if nothing else.

The Regime managed to get wind of their plot. The women. Less a plot, more a resolve. The resolve to overpower their guards and break free from the Headquarters. To somehow escape The City, to get help. To inform someone, anyone, of their suffering. But one of the women broke. Too crippled by fear. Too worried about reprisals, about repercussions, should the plot be discovered. Too focussed on the promise of her own salvation at the expense of the others. She confessed all, believing the regime would take pity on her. Award her confession with the absolving of her previous crimes. That they would thank her. Thank her they did. But that was all. She ultimately suffered just like all the other women. They injected her with the chemical just as they did the others. You see, one thing The Regime despised more than the thought of betrayal was weakness. When this woman confessed the plans of the plot they didn’t see loyalty. They didn’t see courage. They saw only weakness. They saw a pathetic creature scrambling to save her own existence. As much as the others should be, and were, punished they had a grudging respect for their courage and resolve. They would suffer, of course they would, they couldn’t be allowed not to, but there was respect there, make no mistake. She thought she would be able to walk the streets of The City unlike the others. Her face, her body, untarnished. But no. She walks as the rest of them do. Wrinkled. Scarred. Another Old-But-Not-Old to be scorned, mocked, shunned.

The chemical injections were frequent and harrowing. The chemical eating away at their flesh, their blood cells. Aging the women. Stripping away their beauty, purging them of their youth. It left them wrinkled, weak, defeated. They weren’t to die. No, The Regime were adamant about that. They were to be released back onto the streets. To be seen, and recognised, as permanent reminders. For the citizens. For themselves. Reminders of the punishment should you go against The Regime. Reminders that your life is no more than a plaything in the hands of The Regime. To be moulded. To be discarded. However they see fit. And so they were. Released, that is. Sent back amongst their people. People they had so recently been elevated above. Now seen as no more than the permanent living monuments they were.

The rain falls harder. It ricochets off the woman’s every joint, every crease. A drop falls onto her lips. She blows at it slightly, trying to send it from her lips. But her eyes remain fixed. On the building across from her. The huge, grey, sterile, featureless, almost-monolithic building. The Headquarters. The hub of The Regime. She sits here everyday. Staring. At the building. At the source of the torment. At first The Regime would send out guards, often soldiers, to dismiss her. To threaten her. But after a while they started to ignore her. She was harmless. Beaten. Broken. And, in their minds, it was, if anything, good to have a display of their strength, their authority, close to the Headquarters every day. A warning for all others. Over time she would give up, they surmised. Over time her resolve, her anger, would lessen.

That’s the thing about time, though, the woman thinks; there’s plenty of it. Enough for everyone. Time enough for the punishers to become complacent. Time enough for that complacency to become dangerous, to become hubris. And time enough for the punished to beginning planning. And when you have the time to plan – the time to plan every eventuality, every hurdle, every variable – you can make sure that plan is the best it can be.

Her eyes flit to the left quickly. And then to the right. Across the street, at the foot of The Headquarters, two familiar faces walk hurriedly in opposite directions. Two of her fellow Old-But-Not-Olds. Each seem to pay the other no heed. But the woman smirks. Just slightly. The smallest of smirks. Invisible to most. She slowly lifts herself off the cold, sodden bench. The smirk widens as whispered numbers sneak out from her lips…





The woman watches as a huge explosion rips through the lower section of The Headquarters. She turns and begins to walk away as the building buckles and starts to slowly collapse. The sound of screaming and emergency sirens collide in the air. A distance blast echoes into the air from across The City. And then another. And another. With each blast the woman’s smirk increases. She continues to walk away, her pace calm, as the rain gently weaves and caresses its way through the wrinkles on her face once again.


Valentine’s Day

(Written Feb 2016)

What do you write in a Valentine’s Day card after all these years together? I mean, honestly. What can you write? I’ve personally always been of the opinion that, if there’s love there, you shouldn’t need a cheap Hallmark Holiday card to say it or know it. It’s perhaps the emptiest gesture of all, isn’t it? A long-term couple exchanging a Valentine’s Day card complete with a banal, beige poem or ditty likely written by a low-paid worker who has to churn out dozens of similar messages a day, with only a line or two plucked from your own imagination scrawled below it. And if you don’t quite feel the full weight of regimented, manufactured display of love then here’s a small raggedy teddy bear clutching a love heart, lovingly purchased at the last minute from the local supermarket. Perhaps I’m being too cynical, in fact I know I am, but I just don’t get the whole telling-your-loved-one-you-love-them routine on a particular day of the year just because some card company has decided it should be so. Much like Mother’s Day. Or Father’s Day. I’ll tell my parents I love them or appreciate them when I like, thank you very much. In the same way that I’ll tell the man I love that I love him when I choose to. I don’t need Valentine’s Day to do that. But then, of course I do it. We all do it. Every single one of us in a relationship participates in this hollow charade. Simply because not doing so would hurt your loved one. It would come across as uncaring for the sake of being stubborn. At least you think it would.

In the early days, when we first met, we used to do it differently. We weren’t going to be like all the other couples. You always tell yourself that don’t you. Me and my man, we’re different. That’s what you say at the beginning. We won’t play by the standard romance rules. You’re convinced that no-one has felt love as strong, as blinding as this before. Look at the other couples, look at their expressions. Boredom, frustration, exasperation. That won’t be us. That won’t ever be us baby, you say. Of course it is. It always is. We all settle into the standard routine, all us long-termers. The lavish romantic, love and lust-filled gestures of the early weeks, months or even years slowly erode into a functional, ‘comfortable’ routine. So the horse and carriage rides, or the expensive meals, or nights in five star hotels become a card and a box of chocolates. The same chocolates you eat throughout the year, yes, but which extracts of strawberry wedged in them to give them Valentine’s Day relevance. But anyway, yes, we did it differently. For those first few Valentine’s Days Luke and I would dress up as 1920’s Chicago bootleggers, or gangsters, in homage to that other reason to remember the 14th of February. Al Capone and the St Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. Pin stripe suits, hats; the works. We would go to a restaurant, politely eat our meals and, with only a handful of food left, we would descend into a loud, riotous food fight with one another, the more ketchup the better, right there in front of an array of stunned on looking diners. The result would always be chaos, a hideous mess of stains and food strewn around our table, our faces, our clothes. Often we would be chased out by outraged waiters, occasionally we could walk out calmly simply due to their onset of bewildered paralysis. It certainly limited out restaurant options for future date nights anyway. But that was us. We were different. And of course one year, with both of us crazily busy at work, we couldn’t do it. And that was it. Never again. A simple card, chocolates and maybe a movie became the standard template for the night thereafter.

To be fair, for the next few years, we did try our best to be different with the cards aswell. Often we would have a competition to find the worst Valentine’s Day card we could for one another. Sometimes the funniest. Occasionally ones in different languages. The messages we wrote each other would be different. Always laced with in-jokes, private sex jokes, or silly facts about Valentine’s Day we would find on the internet. At first he would always sign off my card with the note ‘P.S. You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright, and that’s alright with me’ as a joke. That line from Thunder Road, the Bruce Springsteen song, OUR song. And then I would sign his with ‘Tramps like us, baby we were born to run’ or some other Springsteen lyric. And then one year, because life is like this of course, we weren’t exactly feeling all loved up towards one another, arguing about something so trivial that I forget now, and the messages disappeared from the cards. Replaced by the ‘To blah blah…Love from blah blah’ standard. And that became the way it was. The way it is. The way it always is for almost every couple on the planet once you ‘settle’. And then one day even the cards stop. It’s nothing malicious, or unkind. Once again, it is just the way things are. The way it is.

So, once again, I’ll ask; just what do you write in a Valentine’s Day card after all these years together? He knows all my quirks, every piece of my humour. An Al Capone reference maybe? A Springsteen line? No, we’ve done that to death. It’s a sad thing to say but after so long together most couples run out of ways to surprise one another. The element of surprise, of ‘new’ becomes lost in familiarity. In fact, no, it doesn’t have to be a sad thing but it just is what it is. It’s a fact. There’s nothing wrong with familiarity though, with comfort, with partnership. So, in all truth, and as corny as this may sound, all you are left with, all I am left with, is the truth. With honesty. Honesty stripped of quirkiness, stripped of anxiety, stripped of all the calculated bullshit. Just love.

With that in mind I gently rip the plastic off of the generic couple of doe-eyed cuddly bears hugging one another card, pick a pen out of my handbag and write carefully;


My husband, my best friend, my life, my everything.

I still love you, I always have loved you and always will love you.

You loving wife.

I place the pen back in my handbag along with the unused envelope. I pull myself up off the bench and walk across the gravel path before stepping onto the sodden grass. I lean down and delicately wedge the card in between the vase of withered flowers and the marble, placing it alongside a handful of faded cards. I gently kiss my gloved fingertips before pressing them against the top of his gravestone. Light raindrops begin to fall.

‘I love you darling,’ I whisper, ‘I always will.’

I pull myself back up, edging along the grass before stepping back onto the path. I button my coat up, shooting him one last lingering look, before turning and walking away through the February rain.

Lost Myself

Where is he?

That man

You know the one.

The one that travelled, trailed, lived and sung


Just who was he?

That man

That prodigal son?

Who thought nothing of friends, foes, fears or fun


Was he lost

That man

Throughout the years?

Beneath the poisoned stabs, relentless jeers?


Or has he grown

That man?

A man unknown

Shedding the skin of all he’s ever known


Can it be

That man

Was a man reborn?

Drowning, gasping in a font of scorn


Stepping forth

That man

Into the light

The man he was, lost to the eternal night


But no.

That man.

I see him still

He’s weary, fractured but there’s a strength, a will


So here he is

This man

You know the one

I’m here, still here, not quite ready yet to be done…


Just Things


Just things

That’s all they are, just things


Little things

Big things

Mediocre things, just things


Date-marked things

Heart-shaped things

Well-worn things, just things


Electric things

Fabric things

Dormant things, just things


Living things

Loving things

Eternal things, just things



Black bags

Full of things, things, things, things!


So, things

Yes, things

That’s all they are, just things


But pieces

Shattered pieces

Fractured pieces, are they more than just things?


Soiled pieces

Bitter pieces

Forgotten pieces, mere things?


Pieces to be gathered

Pieces to be salvaged

Will these ever be more than just things?


And we

We two

Are we more than just things?


Things that laugh

Things that cry

Things that crave more than just things


So leave me broken

Leave me brittle

But, please, leave me more than just



An Unco Sight

The night sky shimmered above the revellers. Stars adorned the blackened sky like beads of frost on an ocean of treacle. Shards of cold mischievously nipped at the air. But said revellers? Well, they didn’t mind. Of course not. That’s whole the point in being a reveller, the not minding. The whole essence of the conjugated verb, to revel. The entire being of…well, you get the picture. A tedious, repetitive picture no doubt but nonetheless the picture has, I trust, been well and truly gotten.

So anyway, yes, the revellers cared not a jot for the winter’s malevolent cold. No lack of temperature or scarcity of heat could dampen these party-goers’ spirits. In fact, in the true essence of enjoying oneself, the surroundings of all at the gathering had disappeared meekly into the realm of irrelevant. Laughter, screeching, swirling pipes, wailing, singing, dancing, heelin’, beelin’, reelin’, fleein’, meelin’; yes, despite the last lot of those words being very clearly a lazy and inaccurate attempt at onomatopoeia, it’s true to say that all of these sounds burst forth from the ruined, roofless kirk. All of which, incidentally, were cloaked in a bright, fantastic beam of light. ‘Beam’ would be the wrong word to use, in fact. Splurge may more on point? Less a splurge of light however than possibly a boak? Yes, let’s go with that. It was as if a light source had inexplicably boaked a mass of the stuff into the crispy night air, paying no heed to shape nor consistency. Make sense? No? Fair enough.

Right, well, I for one am relieved we managed to get to the end of that paragraph together. Wouldn’t you agree? So, with that in mind, and going on the basis that we are all busy people and all have lives to lead, let’s bash on with this tale in an efficient and orderly manner shall we.

And we’ll do that by cutting through the cold night air, forcing ourselves through the boak of light into the ruined kirk, and by honing in on one character nestled in amongst the oft-mentioned revels. There he stood. A man. Like any other. Well, that’s not strictly true. In fact it’s not true at all. This man, our man, was a warlock. A male witch, so to speak. Only, you see, in the time when this story is set people weren’t as enlightened as they are now so the idea of a male doing a ‘woman’s job’ didn’t sit so kindly with the general public, or magistrates, or lynch mobs. So they went with the name ‘warlock’. But not for the first time in this tale, I digress. Yes, our man was a warlock. But this didn’t make him unique. Certainly not in this party, at least. No, he was one of many warlocks involved in the festivities. And if you think that is somewhat strange, or odd, then you won’t do when I reel off a list of some of the other attendees at this party. There were witches, corpses, pipers, priests (complete with blackened hearts), a trio of lawyers (each with their tongue inside-out), strangled babies, unchristened babies, a man freshly cut from the gallows, another man with a slit-throat, a shaggy black dog, even Old Nick himself, yes, Satan, The Devil, the Deil, etc etc…the list did and could go on. And in terms of decorations; open coffins, tomahawks, scimitars…again, the list did and could go on. But the scene has, I think, been rather well illustrated. And so you’ll understand why I said he wasn’t unique. Even amongst his fellow warlocks he didn’t stand out. The others could be boisterous, majestic, grand. Ours? He liked a party. Yes, of course he did. But boisterous or majestic wouldn’t be the words you’d use to describe him. ‘Sombre’ might be closer to the truth. ‘Reserved’ probably edges even closer. A reserved reveller. Not so great for a party invite but a fine, even-keeled, observational choice as a protagonist. Or, more precisely, a conduit for this story’s narration.

So there he stood. Slumped indifferently against a wall. The whole cold starry night/ruined kirk/horror hullaballoo thing going on around him. Witches, fellow warlocks, corpses, the devil sitting menacingly in a window alcove; all of that.

‘Not long now’ he muttered to himself, a glass of blo…let’s call it wine…a glass of let’s-call-it-wine listlessly swaying from side to side in his hand. ‘Not long to last now’. The words trickled from his throat, unsure of themselves even as he spoke them. The start of parties like this were fine, he thought, but it’s the latter part of them that turn into hellish bloody mess. He cast his gaze wearily from side to side. I mean look at the state of them, he decried in his mind. (He was a warlock, yes, but he wasn’t the type of warlock with enough courage to warrant uttering that kind of sentiment out loud thus invoking his own death sentence.) Screaming, hoisting, jigging. His ears throbbed under the volume of the scene. It sounds like a herd of banshees being throttled by an army of strangled cats, he thought. And horses hoofs? No, no. There’s no horses around here. It’s those hags making all the racket. That’s mainly who it is. The ‘witches’. Bloody wrinkled, thrawn, hideous messes. Well, all aside from that young one with the short skirt that is. She’s a right little stunner, a right…

‘…little beauty!’ he said louder, far louder, than he intended as he thoughts crossed the internal realm and snuck into the realms of spoken.

‘EH!?’ One of the corpses, rather worse for wear, which is perfectly natural for a corpse I would imagine, bumped into the warlock and peered through his sickly yellow eyes at the latter’s own.

‘Oh…nothing…nothing’ mumbled our conduit.

‘AYE!’ the drunken corpse staggered on unsteadily before finding himself being hurled at breakneck speed into a whirling mushroom cloud of violent ceilidh dancing.

Compose yourself now, our man admonished himself silently, compose yourself. It’ll be over soon. It’ll all be over soon. We’ve almost made it through. And then I can get back to my own spells and curse and general hellish abandon….’oh shit…’

Profanity never came easy to this particular warlock. I mean, after all, profanity was the last refuge of the intellectually challenged wasn’t it? But he could afford himself this one. And a few more to follow quickly on its heels come to think of it…

‘Shitshitshitshit…oh shit!’

The reason for such a vulgar diatribe lurked in the shadows by the window. He glanced round in a panic, desperate to ensure no-one else had caught sight of the clearly drunken man peering voyeuristically in through one of the kirk windows; his horse stood several paces behind him. No. Thank god. Well, not he, obviously not him, but thank someone anyway. They were all too consumed in their own devilish merriment to take notice. He tried to gesture subtly to the man. Urging him to flee, to escape, to ride. But all to no avail. The man simply stared. In awe. In fear. In…well there was definitely lust there aswell as he looked on at the young witch with the short skirt. The dirty bugger! Perverted scoundrel! Maybe I should let the rest see him, maybe I should just let them all loose and….no, no. No, I really can’t be doing with another life-or-death chase. It takes it out of you and I’m already bloody fed up and knackered as it is. Maybe if I could just sneak quietly over and…

‘My good man! Hahaha! How are we? How are we? It’s been a while!’ the man cut fresh from the gallows staggered over to the warlock.

‘Oh bloody hell…YES! Fine! YES!’ he was aware of his own fluctuating speech levels, rising and falling with the nerves pulsating through his (admittedly barren) veins but could do nothing to stop them. ‘I’m, yes, I’m very good of course!’

‘Hahaha yes very good, you boring bugger that ye are! Enjoy yersel min! How’s the…erm…warlocking and all that stuff then?’

‘Erm fine, yes. Very fine. And how’s the…how’s your…neck?’

‘Bit sore with this bloody rope tightened around it, aye! Hahaha. Aye.’

The two stood in silence for a matter of seconds. The source of their small talk reserves now having run dry.

‘Well then…’ announced the man, picking up the surplus of his gallows rope from the ground, ‘I need to go for a, ehm, how do I put this delicately…I won’t…a piss my good warlocky chum. I need a piss. So I’ll away outside!’

‘NO!’ our warlock surprised himself with the ferocity of his demand. But if he went outside the man would be discovered and, let’s face it, that was the last thing anyone needed.

‘I’m sorry?’

‘I said erm…erm…’ he scrambled for an excuse, cursing himself with a brief ‘come on man, you’re an all-powerful, evil warlock, you should be able to come up with a half-decent bloody lie!’ motivational speech, ‘erm…YES! It’s a hellish, ghoulish party. Just do it in here! Haha! Why wouldn’t you. None of these evil beings would care enough to go outside, would they! So erm…so on you go, in here…’ he looked nervously at the man.

‘Aye….aye…Aye!’ each ‘aye’ gained more conviction. ‘Aye, why the hell would I eh! Right, I’m off for a piss over there and then when I’m done I’m going tae hae a shot at that young witch piece o’er there! Haha! Cheers my Warlock chum!’ a friendly clap on the back signalled his exit.

‘Right’ whispered our man, ‘if I can only just get over there to the man without anyone noticing then I’ll just politely say to him, in the calmest set of terms of course, I’ll say; look, my fine fellow, this is not your scene, maybe it’s best if you just head on home now and…’


Every witch, warlock, fiend, creature and orb turned their heads, their sight, towards the red-faced man staring in through the window at them.

And in an instant, all was….well, do I really need to finish that line for you? Really? Darkness, ok? Where there was once light – remember the ‘boak’ of light – there was now darkness. No lights. Lights out. Oot. Kaput. If you could see through pitch darkness you would have seen our warlock shaking his head in an emotion lodged somewhere between anger, disappointment, exasperation and general annoyance. ‘You stupid drunken bastard’ he said. ‘You stupid, bloody drunken idiot.’

Unspoken thoughts, grunts, commands, passed between the revellers. All blending seamlessly, it seemed, into two distinct thoughts; namely ‘Chase him’ and ‘Kill him’.

‘Ignore him’ offered the warlock sheepishly, trying to disguise the thought’s identity. ‘Just ignore him? Yeah, waste of time, yeah, just enjoy the party. Ignore him. Yeah.’

‘Then it’s agreed! We chase him and we KILL HIM!’ the collective, coherent thought of the group pierced through our warlock’s skull. He sighed. Mournfully and exhaustingly.

The lights burst into the air again. Hungry, violent evil now etched across every inch of the revellers’ faces. All directed towards the now-quivering, the now-scrambling, the now-trying-to-flee red-faced man.

‘Every single time there’s a party’ mumbled our conduit, still shaking his head. A blood-curdling cacophony of noise shot into the ether as they prepared to advance. ‘This happens every single bloody time…’

Fae A Moose

The early morning sun creeps slowly, silently, patiently above the slopes of Mossgiel Farm, East Ayrshire. The faintest of November chills grapples for prominence in the clean, crisp air. A delicate and occasional drip patters to the earth from the few remaining leaves on an otherwise bare tree. The thaw the only indication of an earlier frost.

Close to the tree a ploughman struggles manfully with his plough. Straining, wheezing, he grips to the rough wooden handles as the metal thrusts into the soil. Again. And again. Occasionally he halts, muttering to himself in hushed, mumbled tones before resuming his task once more. The wistful, somewhat distracted look upon the ploughman’s face remains as the plough hacks into the earth once more. A youthful, handsome face, one of a man in his mid-to-late twenties. Still, the strain clearly shows. Again, he stops. His gaze fixed inattentively in the distance, the muttering returning. Lines of verse nudge themselves ever so slightly into the realms of the barely audible. Repetitive, broken verse. Over and over. Announcing, correcting, repeating. Announcing, correcting, repeating. Eventually, seemingly satisfied, he shakes his gaze from its aimless resting point. He stares down at his plough, shifting his grip and bracing his arms for the next round of ritualistic menial torture. A startled look glazes over his face as he notices something at the foot of the plough. He releases his grip on the tool, slowly making his way around it before crouching down towards the earth.

‘Och, naw’ he exclaims, a disappointment weaved throughout his voice. His eyes are fixed on an upturned, or rather ruined, mouse’s nest strewn across the soil below his plough. Guilt, tinged with sadness, washes over his expression.

‘Poor wee beastie.’ he mutters.

Out of the corner of his eye he notices a small grey shape frantically darting through the mounds of upturned soil. The ploughman slowly raises himself up, never shifting his stare from the panicked mouse scurrying from the scene. The guilty look subsides enough to allow a fraction of that wistful expression to return.

‘Just a wee, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie’ he announces softly before adding emphasis to his voice. ‘A wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie. O, what a panic’s in yer…naw, in it’s……naw, naw, in thy. Aye. O, what a panic’s in thy….neestie? Naw, naw, neestie’s no even a soddin’ word. In thy…in thy…in thy breastie! That’s the one!’

The ploughman allows himself a smug smile before coughing gently in that pompous theatrical way that signals a forthcoming recitation or performance.

‘Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie’ he announces in a dramatically deep booming voice, ‘O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!’

At this the mouse visibly halts. Its frantic escape plan abruptly ceased. The ploughman catches sight of this. He watches as the mouse, a creature not traditionally known for its subtle or measured movements, slowly swivels its small frame around before gazing up at him. Slowly, even calmly, it walks along the upturned earth before halting only a yard or two from the ploughman. Still it looks up, peering straight into his gaze. The guilty wistfulness now replaced by something resembling a mixture of shock, curiosity and amusement. A look which, will presently become clear, is set to flee the scene to be temporarily replaced by nothing but a hideous sense of fear.

‘Here! Who are calling sleekit you big tube!?’ says the mouse.

The ploughman’s expression unsurprisingly now takes on that sense of fear just mentioned. He stares down at the mouse’s furious expression, its belligerent stance.

‘S-sorry…?’ ventures the ploughman.

‘I said, who the hell are you calling sleekit?! You big gormless tube!’ replies the mouse. ‘Aye…aye, I thought that’s what you said.’

‘I added in the ‘gormless’ bit the second time mind you.’

‘You did aye.’

The two continue to stare at each other. One in perplexity, confusion, desperately trying to reconcile the current events with the logic of reason, sense, the laws of the universe. The other in a continual state of annoyance.

‘I cannae be drunk’ declares the ploughman, more for his own benefit than that of his rodent companion.

‘Well that makes a change!’ answers the mouse.

‘I mean I wisnae even drinking last night!’

‘So you say.’

‘Wait. What do you mean by ‘that makes a change’?’

‘Just what I say’ replies the mouse, gradually increasing in annoyance.

‘And that is?’

‘That you’re always supping. The amount of times I’ve seen you hungover, sweating and toiling with that bloody plough, this week alone, is ridiculous.’

‘Aye, weel…I’m no drunk now anyway.’

Again the two look at each other. Sizing each other up. The ploughman’s singular attempt at reconciliation very obviously failing, if his still-dumfounded expression is anything to go by at least.

‘So…?’ says the mouse.


‘Sleekit!? You called me sleekit! At what point, during the destruction of my home, did you suddenly decide that I was displaying sly or cunning attributes? Was it when I was hurtling away, trying to preserve my life?’

‘Ach, no sleekit as in sly, sleekit as in shiny. Your coat, your fur. That kind of thing.’

‘Ok. That’s fine then.’

The mouse pondered for a couple of seconds, internally scrambling to hold onto his anger.

‘Ok then, yes. What about ‘cow’rin’, ‘tim’rous’ eh?’

‘What about them?’

‘Where do you get off calling me ‘tim’rous’ or ‘cow’rin’? You don’t even know me ploughman!’

‘But you were. You were both cow’rin and tim’rous!’

‘Aye well so would you be if a giant metal thing was slicing up your house piece by piece!’

‘Aye weel what’s your point?’

‘Well…’ mulled the mouse, ‘…well no-one likes to be told they’re being tim’rous or that they’re cow’rin do they. I mean come on.’

‘Fair point aye.’

‘Ok then.’

The mouse continues to stare at the ploughman. A slight crack in the mouse’s composure appears visible. The kind of crack that comes from winning an argument far earlier than you expected to.

‘So’ starts the mouse, ‘what now?’

‘What now?’

‘Yes, what now?’

‘With regards to what?’

‘With regards to you obliterating my house and leaving me homeless. What now?’

‘Well…I…I…I’m no sure to be honest wee yin. I’ll eh, I’ll build you a new one maybe? Aye, I’ll build you a new one. How does that sound? And I’ll make sure to avoid it when I’m ploughing the field in future?’

The ploughman smiles gently, if not timidly, awaiting the mouse’s reply. A reply, he predicts, sure to be drenched in warmth and an undying gratitude.

‘Don’t be so damn stupid, ploughman’ answers the mouse dismissively. ‘For a start, you’re never paying any attention when you plough this field! You’re forever muttering those poems of yours. Quite good by the way I must say but that’s beside the point. So no, you’d just tear through my nest yet again. No, we can’t have that. And secondly, you might be good at verse, ploughman, but you’d be useless at building a nest. Just because your lot think you’ve conquered nature it doesn’t mean you actually have. So no, try again.’


‘And don’t call me wee yin you patronising oaf!’

‘My apologies. Haud oan…you said you like my poetry?’

‘Is that all you’re taking from what I said?’ asked the mouse, its features screwing up in incredulity.

‘No, not all, no. But you like my poems aye? Which ones in particular?’

‘Of for god’s sa…yes, they’re fairly good, ok? That one you muttering about for weeks, the one with the dogs in it, that’s…’

‘The Twa Dugs?’ interrupted the ploughman.

‘That’s the one, yes. Yes I liked that one. I thought, here’s an intelligent, humorous young man, rare you find that in the fields. Of course then you completely destroyed my home so that shows how daft I was to think that, doesn’t it!’

‘Very kind of you’ comes the answer, an answer completely bereft of acknowledgment for the latter part of the mouse’s response, ‘Aye, very kind indeed.’

‘Humans.’ scoffs the mouse, gently shaking his head. ‘The slightest bit of flattery and that’s you won over. How you became the dominant species I’ll never know.’

The ploughman disappears temporarily to that wistful place of his, for no more than a few seconds, accompanied by a sense of gratification, before returning to the conversation.

‘Ok,’ he announces, rather more cheerfully and less racked with confusion than he had been only a minute or so previously, ‘how about this then; I’ll mark out an area around that tree just over there. A clear mark that I cannae go past with the plough. A wee fallow area perhaps. And you can build your own nest up there. Aye?’

The mouse turned his head towards the tree and perused the area for a good minute or so, muttering to itself occasionally.

‘…nice bit of a shade…yes, hmm…warmth in the winter perhaps…room for burrowing…yes, yes…nice view…’

The mouse eventually turns back to the ploughman.

‘Right then, yes. I think I can cope with that. Yes.’


‘But mind here,’ declares the mouse, a stern look now adorning it’s face, ‘you better be paying attention when you’re ploughing near that tree in the future ok? You hear me!’

‘Aye, aye, of course I will.’

‘The best laid schemes of mice and men eh’ said the mouse half to itself, half to the ploughman.

‘Sorry, what was that?’

‘Nothing. Never mind.’

‘Oh.’ ‘So….?’


‘So…! So are going to get on with it or what!? Need I remind you that I am currently homeless? Of no fixed abode. Oot oan ma erse, as it were!’

‘Naw, sorry, naw, of course. I’ll get started right now.’

‘Good, that’s what I like to hear. What’s your name anyway, ploughman? Just incase I have to take up a complaint with you over shoddy workmanship, for example.’

‘Oh, its’ eh, it’s Rabbie. Pleased to meet  yer acquaintance.’

‘Rabbie, eh. The heaven-taught ploughman.’

‘Sorry, what was that?’

‘Nothing, never mind.’

‘Right. And your name is?’

‘Don’t be so bloody stupid man, mice don’t have names!’

‘Oh, oh of course not. No.’

‘Well anyway, it’s getting close to lunchtime so I’ll be off.’

‘Aye you’d best be.’

‘I’ll expect that work to be done by the time I’m back foraging by the way so get right to it.’

‘Shall do, aye.’


And with that the mouse scurries off at a furious pace, one of its various senses undoubtedly detecting the lunch it spoke of only moments earlier. The ploughman stares at the mouse for a few seconds as it disappears off into the earthy horizon. He nods his head slightly before slowly turning to trudge his way up to the tree in question. Muttering to himself all the while.

‘Wee sleekit, cow’rin tim’rous beastie…o, what a panic’s in thy breastie…’