Members of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, were disappointed when it became clear that we could not meet for the next scheduled meeting in the village library on 28 February.

Screen shot of the six club members in the video chat

Our first video chat. Trying to do a screen shot I obscured most of the picture of me but it’s a matter of learning on the job!

Our founder and leader, Ruxandra, who gives up nothing without a fight, suggested we try using a video chat group meeting on Messenger. We did and after a few small hiccups it worked perfectly. Six members took part, reading their contribution on the set theme of Addiction. Apart from the nonsense poem I posted here earlier (already circulated to club members) I wrote a kind of blog post.

It’s tongue in cheek, but not entirely!


Addiction

My village has an addiction: dogs.

I don’t understand this addiction.

It is certainly an addiction; the more ugly the dogs are the more of them there seem to be.

I’m not sure whether the owners come to look like their dogs or the dogs come to look like their owners. Some biological chemistry seems to be working to ensure that the more ugly the dog, or the owner, the more this is true.

For myself, not only do I not have this addiction but I dislike most dogs. I dislike their stupidity, their slavish adherence to what their human master dictates.

Distorted, expensive results of the pedigree system have become the penis symbols of today.

Do the owners, particularly men, realise how ridiculous they look strutting with their expensive acquisition or behaving like a sergeant major on the parade ground barking orders at their poor, distorted (sometimes abused, by cutting tail, ears and heaven knows what else) purchase.

The distortions of nature are either indulged by their human owners so they behave badly most, if not all, of the time. If well behaved they are either so anxious to please, rewarded perhaps by a tidbit, they do precisely as they are told, or cowed by the instant displeasure of their owner.

Cats

Let’s compare with cats.

Totally self-sufficient, if fed they will eat but never lose their hunting instinct. If not fed they will find a mouse, bird, anything small which moves and will eat it. If fed, they will do the same to hone their hunting skills.

Of course the felines also suffer from human intervention, pedigree breeding, to produce ridiculous examples of their kind but even they, if not imprisoned and cosseted, will revert to the wild.

Cats will be affectionate if they feel like it, ignore you if they do not.

Some dogs are excepted

I do have some exceptions to my dislike of dogs.

First are the guide dogs for the blind, mostly labradors and, as an extension of that I quite like most labradors and other soft-mouthed types, like spaniels.

Other exceptions to my dislike are wild dogs – foxes, wolves, dingos and the like – for similar reasons that I like cats.

But my dislike of domesticated dogs reaches its summit with small, pretty examples which insist on disturbing an otherwise pleasant audio environment with frequent, if not constant, yapping.

I yearn for a rifle to pick them off one by one until tranquility is restored.


I know some of the ugly distorted dogs are ‘rescue dogs’; of course I approve of this. Having brought them into the world as living creatures, we should certainly look after them.

Petronela (my wife for those who don’t know) and I have confined ourselves to our flat for at least two weeks, until we know whether she, as a teacher, picked up the virus at school.

Our writers’ club has become virtual but the theme given for the next  meeting on 28 March is ‘addiction’. Here’s what I sent to club members.


Here’s something ridiculous to amuse you, I hope, while I think of a more sensible response to Ruxandra’s theme of ‘addiction’ for the now virtual meeting on 28 March.

It seems some people still don’t accept as fiction
That anything less than total restriction
Will wave a welcome valediction
To the current widespread affliction.

It’s also a widely believed nonfiction
That any eventual bronchoconstriction
Will be banished by a benediction,
Having resulted from some malediction.

I also have a firm conviction
Even something of a little prediction
That even if my throat condition is no longer in my jurisdiction,
It will not, in future, affect my diction.

I say that because my throat already has a little constriction,
Caused some months ago by the eviction
Of a giant tube not shortened by magnetostriction,
Not by any kind of vasoconstriction.

Even so, there was no interdiction
Nor any kind of dereliction.
(So far I couldn’t fit in depiction,
Not even a bit of crucifiction.)

It’s just some nonsense, even a contradiction,
But I can end up with a bit of metafiction:

You guessed it, words and true rhymes are my addiction!

The Library

They were surprised to find a library in the castle. They had almost not come in; the entry fee of 40RON (about £8) for the two of them would usually have put them off but it had begun to rain heavily and the car was quite a walk away so they made an exception even though it was near to closing time.

There did not seem to be the usual supervisor in each room and when Smaranda saw a lot of books on shelves in a distant darkened room she hurried towards them. Libraries, particularly old libraries, had a special fascination for her as a history teacher.

I don’t think you should go in there,” Michael, her English boyfriend, cautioned. “That red rope across the doorway obviously means we’re not supposed to go in there. Anyway, it’s too dark to see much.”

I’ve got that little torch on my keyring so I just want to see what books they’ve got. They all look super old. I’m going in.”

Michael reluctantly followed.

It doesn’t look as though any of the books have been moved for years,” said Smaranda. “I can hardly see any of the titles,” she added, wiping a finger along one row of volumes.

Hey, there’s one here called Wallachia,” she called. “Oh, another has the word Vrăjitoariei on the spine, and here’s one titled Strigoi.”

I don’t know any of those words,” answered Michael.

Oh, it’s really exciting. Wallachia is the southern region which joined with Transylvania and Moldavia to become Romania. Vrăjitoariei is witchcraft and strigoi are spirits which can transform themselves into horrible animals. I’ve never seen a Romanian book on witchcraft or strigoi before, though of course we studied the history of Wallachia at university so I’ve seen plenty of books on that.”

I’m surprised you haven’t heard of vrăjitoariei before; you’re always complaining about how superstitious we Romanians are. As for strigoi, I thought you knew Latin pretty well: striga – evil spirit. Pretty much the same in Romanian, strigă. Strigoi is plural though sometimes used as singular too.”

Smaranda pulled out the volume titled Vrăjitoariei and was enveloped in a cloud of dust. When she was able to catch her breath she opened the book at a random page and called out excitedly, “This chapter seems to be full of vrăji – spells – mostly to cure all manner of ailments.”

She continued to leaf through the pages. “Good heavens, there’s a spell here to stop Jews killing new-born babies! What’s that about?”

“I think you should put that book back right now and we should leave. We’re not supposed to be in here anyway.” Michael sounded worried.

Smaranda ignored him and continued to turn the pages. ”Oh, there’s a spell here to summon a strigă. It says it’s only to be used on the eve of St. Andrew’s day or the eve of St. George’s day. Isn’t that odd? It’s St. Andrew’s day tomorrow I think, thirtieth of the November, isn’t it?”

I don’t know, St. George’s day is in April but I can’t remember the day.”

Shame on you, he’s your patron saint! Anyway, I’m going to try this one, the spell I mean.”

I think you should just put the book back; anyway, you shouldn’t mess about with such things, though of course I don’t believe a word of it.”

Oh, it says the spell needs a fire so that’s no good.” Smaranda sounded crestfallen, then suddenly shouted excitedly, “You’ve got a lighter, maybe that will do. Let me have it please.” Michael reluctantly  handed it over.

I don’t know whether I can get this right. It’s very old Romanian language: it reminds me of trying to read Ion Creangă’s ‘Childhood Memories’ but it seems even older.

I gave up with that having not understood a thing,” Michael said sullenly; he was proud that he’d mastered reading and speaking modern Romanian, though he still had difficulty writing it.

Smaranda clicked the lighter and with the flame in front of her began to chant some words, reading from the book.

Michael understood not a word.

§

He saw it first.

A pale light behind Smaranda which began to swirl around, as though stirred by an invisible spoon, until it began to take on a recognisable form, vaguely human but as it became more recognisable, hideously distorted, limbs sticking out in unnatural directions and a face like a foam latex mask pulled in all directions around a mouth open in what seemed to be a scream, though inside just black, as though it had no end.

A wild eerie shriek behind her made Smaranda turn around, just in time to see the horrible form solidify into an owl. She had time to recognise a barn owl, often wrongly known as a screech owl because of its call, before the bird flew onto her shoulder.

No sooner had it landed than Smaranda shrieked loudly herself as she felt a sharp pain in her neck. The owl spread its wings and flew around and around her head, shrieking continuously till the shriek turned into a scream, familiar to many Romanians as the cry of the fattened pig as its throat is cut to kill it for winter meat.

At the same time the owl began to take the form of a much distorted pig then alternate between pig and owl, each transformation being more horrendous than the previous one.

Finally it was the owl which settled on Smaranda’s shoulder again, sunk its beak in the bloody gash it had made previously, its breast pulsating like a fast beating heart. Smaranda became ever more pale before dissolving into a vague distorted form resembling the strigă which Michael had first seen.

Michael tried to grab Smaranda’s hand to pull her from the room but there was nothing of substance to hold on to.

One of the strigoi began to fly faster and faster around Michael’s head, alternating between the vague distorted form of the strigă and a pig, which soon settled into the form of a boar which sank its fangs into Michael’s chest.

§

The police forensics team, called in the next morning, were baffled. The male, with two deep incisions near to the heart, had clearly died from them almost instantly but there was no weapon.

Even more baffling was the body of the young female. She had obviously died from exsanguination but there was not a sign of blood on the library floor.

A lighter lay near her right hand and a book near her left.

The policeman examining the body called out “This book is open, she seems to have been reading it. It’s open at a chapter titled Vrăji. Anyone know what that means?”

No one did.


This is the first time I’ve tried this. Usually in the writers’ club we each read our own contribution. So here is me reading the above story. I’ll get better!


I don’t usually pick up on the theme often given as a writing prompt at our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, preferring to write about whatever comes into my head. This time the given theme of ‘libraries’ appealed. It gave me an opportunity to explore Romanian legends less well known than Dracula and vampires, which are more modern anyway.

You can blame another blogger and a writers’ club member for the above story. Ailish, whose first novel I sort of reviewed here and here, planted witches in my head; Jo – whose stories I always enjoy when read in the club, surprisingly even the horror stories as it’s not a genre I usually enjoy – has somehow got me trying to write ‘horror’.

Notes:

In the past there have been trials of ‘witches’ in Romania, similar to those in Aberdeen described by Ailish Sinclair in her novel The Mermaid and the Bear. Gypsies and Jews seem to have been particularly targetted in Romania.

True screech owls are confined to the Americas. Barn owls, plentiful in Europe, make a screeching sound rather than the ‘tewit tewoo’ usually associated with owls.

I really like the ancient Romanian female names so chose one for this story. The founder and ‘leader’ of our writers’ club has another, Ruxandra, so I never shorten it to ‘Ruxi’ as most club members do. Another I like a lot is Ilinca.

Managed to scribble this short story for today’s meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. The theme given to us was ‘radiation’; that’s the title of my story.

Working cover; photo of girl in mini dress holding a ‘Save the mini’ campaign poster

Photo: Daily Mirror

I say “managed” as I’m endeavouring to spend what writing time I have on completing the novella/novel in progress, subtitled ‘A tale of unlikely love in 1960s-1970s London‘ which was put on the back burner at least a year ago. Now I’ve set myself a target of at least half an hour a day working on it and have managed that for, so far, over a week. I intend to post something here sometime soon on this unusual, for me, way of getting me writing something. As I’ve often said, I usually write only when the muse prompts me.


Short story

Radiation

It all began well, except no breakfast allowed.

Later, I should have been forewarned as it took five attempts to get in a canula for a dose of vitamin k.

Screen please.” A kind of click somewhere beyond the glass screen between surgeon (and me) and the two young ladies who had been introduced as the radiology team. There were another four young women grouped around the operating table on which I was laying, on my stomach, head back, uncomfortable with a tube fed down my throat.

Interesting that the radiology team had to be protected from the radiation but not the six people on this side of the screen, I thought. Of course I couldn’t be, being the subject of the surgery.

Screen please”. Another click. I realised that it was the surgeon speaking, though I could see him only with difficulty, lowering my eyes as far as I could.

I saw the surgeon feeding something down the tube in my mouth, but also the nurse next to him holding something else.

Screen please.” Another click. I realised what was happening; the radiation was turned on for only a short time when the surgeon needed to see what was happening at the end of the tube down in my stomach.

Screen please.” Click. Then “One centimetre please.” The second instruction seemed to be directed at the nurse who I now saw was moving a black and white striped ‘cord’. “Ah, they must be centimetre markings,” I deduced.

Screen please.” Click.

The feeling in my throat was getting more and more uncomfortable. I expected to feel nothing as a result of a foul tasting spray into my throat before the procedure began. The pre-op letter had not prepared me for this. The spray had me gagging though, as I had been told not to eat for at least six hours before, I was not actually sick.

Screen please.” Click.

It was becoming more and more difficult to remain still. I had an almost irresistable urge to pull the tube from my mouth. Fortunately, my position on the table would have made it extremely difficult for me to do it. “This is far worse than open surgery with a general anaesthetic,” I thought.

Screen please”. No click? Then a rushing sound, getting louder and louder followed by a loud bang and the sound of breaking glass.

A scream, cut off sharply as shards of glass began to radiate above me from a point somewhere behind me. The surgeon grabbed at his chest as a red stain spread over his green surgical overalls then he collapsed to the floor.

A second shard hit the assisting nurse in the throat. A stream of red covered my face as I forced my arms upwards to grab the end of the tube coming out of my mouth and pulled, ignoring the pain as the long tube was withdrawn.

The other three, observers including a student nurse, fared better than the surgeon and his assistant; the radiating shards hitting them being small they were just covered with tiny cuts.

I woke up in recovery, two days later I understood.

Why am I here,” I asked.

I had been subjected to a high dose of radiation, they told me, as had been the five staff who survived. The surgeon did not.

Nor did the assisting nurse.

Months later, I’m still enjoying the lingering sweet salty taste of her in my mouth.

Trying to keep up the momentum for new grumpytyke posts in 2020, I decided to add a short story dashed off over my morning tea yesterday, for yesterday’s meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the  Wharfe. I didn’t give it a title as I couldn’t think of a good one which didn’t give too much away.


Short story

Seeing a chateau in the Loire valley for sale for less than £300,000 we just had to buy it.

With four towers, one on each corner, surrounded by a moat and set in about 8 acres of land, somewhat overgrown, it was a magnificent sight. We expected a lot of work to make it habitable. That was not why I ran from it, alone, one night, screaming, never to return.

It was a few weeks after we acquired it that we ventured to the top of one of the towers. The steps of each tower were in a bad state and our priority was to make some of the ground floor rooms fit for living. At last that was done and Peter, my husband, set about making the steps in one of the towers safe to climb. 

One evening, after dinner at which I ate locally collected mushrooms in cream laced with very strong garlic I had brought from Romania, Peter returned to the tower saying he had only two or three steps still to do. He avoids garlic, disliking it intensely, so I had to make a separate dish for him; it was no problem as I just put the crushed garlic in mine at the last minute, so it wasn’t cooked.

Picture of a chateau at night

Credit to ‘Escape to the chateau’

After about half an hour Peter emerged, covered in dust and cobwebs, from the door leading to one of the towers saying, excitedly, “You must come and see the view from the top of the stairs. The nearby river is glistening in the light of a full moon, as is our moat; each of the distant surrounding farmhouses is bathed in a warm light, very romantic, and the sky is full of stars. Come on.”

The torch Peter held illuminated the spiral steps to the next turn as we slowly climbed the four floors of the main part of the house then one more to what seemed to be the top of the tower. A single window, wooden frame rotten and no glass, framed a view just as Peter had described. I was speechless. We stood in silence for what must have been at least five minutes. “So beautiful,” I whispered at last. I felt Peter squeezing my hand. No words from him were necessary.

“Are we actually at the top?” I asked, gesturing to a dusty door at the final step. “I think so,” Peter answered,” but I haven’t yet tried to open the door.”

“Let’s see if we can open it,” I pleaded, “it seems a pity to climb all the way up here without knowing what’s behind that door. Maybe the view is even better”.

Peter picked up the iron spike with which he had been prising muck off the steps, inserted it between door and jamb, then put his shoulder against the door expecting a lot of resistance but it flew open with such ease that Peter had difficulty keeping on his feet. Total blackness. No sign of light from a window like at the top of the steps, but as Peter began to turn the torch to shine through the door there was a loud rushing sound, like an extemely strong wind, and dozens of small dark  shapes emerged from the door, causing Peter to fall against me, before the black shapes disappeared out of the window. I screamed.

“Just bats,” said Peter. “They’re probably protected; we’ll have to get someone in to advise us before we do anything to what seems to be another room. Let’s go in, shall we, to see just what we have here?”

Nervously I nodded, holding his hand tightly, as we entered the dark space in front of us, making out beams and the underside of slates making the conical top of the tower.  Everywhere was festooned with spider webs, thickened by layers of dust. “Let’s go,” I said. “I’m sure it’s better to come up here in daylight.”

Before Peter could answer there was an unearthly shriek from somewhere in the room, followed by a sound like flapping of enormous wings. The torch fell to the floor, its light going out as Peter screamed, more of an uncanny gurgle through which I could just make out “Get out, get out for God’s sake”.

I fell down the first few steps, past the window, and turned to see Peter on his back half way through the door, his head flopping loosely over the first step, blood spouting out of two punctures in his throat. I crawled up to him putting my hands to his throat trying to staunch the two fountains of blood. I frantically tried to rip off a sleeve of my dress but as I did so I saw Peter’s face by the moonlight coming through the window distorting, becoming more and more terrifying as two fangs grew longer from where his canine teeth had been. Ignoring them, I decided I must try mouth to mouth resuscitation but as I lowered my mouth to his an horrific scream came out of his mouth, he rose up throwing me aside, seemed to grow black bat-like wings and flew out of the window.

I half ran, half tumbled, down the tower steps, wrenched open the door of the chateau, ran over the causeway crossing the moat and ran the kilometer or so over fields to the nearest farmhouse. There I lay on the step, covered in blood, banging on the door till it was opened by my horrified neighbours. The police arrived a short time after that.

They found Peter at the base of the tower, half in half out of the moat with two deep punctures in his throat, made they said by the spike Peter had been using. 

I said I never returned to the chateau. I cannot. Most of the time I’m shut in my room in a secure women’s hospital for the criminally insane.

Ben Nevis, Britain's "highest hill"Those of you who have followed me for some time (11th anniversary for grumptyke the other day) will know for my attempts at poetry and short stories I like to write short, often very short, and in a form for which there are strict rules.

Something I have never tried before is a pantoum, based on the Malay literary form of pantun, which has a rhyming structure and in each quatrain repeats lines from the previous quatrain.

Wanting to write something in praise of my friend Ruxandra’s (and founder/leader of our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe) amazing hike of 120 miles in 3 days in the Scottish Highlands, in aid of a young persons’ mental health charity – Young Minds Trust – I chose to scribble a pantoum over my pre club meeting lunch.

Here it is:

Homage

She climbed Britain’s highest hill
In a trek of some 120 miles
Covering Scottish Highlands with only will
Yet her reports were filled with smiles

In a walk of some 120 miles
Some of us might give up before the end
Yet her reports were filled with smiles
Not a glum face wherever she might wend

Some of us might give up before the end
To return to the start by bus or train
Not a glum face wherever she might wend
But a walk for troubled youngsters has much to gain

To return to the start by bus or train
Never entered her crazy Romanian head
Not a glum face wherever she might wend
But I bet she welcomed at last the stay in bed

Struggles with longer writing

My battle to finish the one ‘long’ piece of fiction, working title Miranda, I’ve attempted continues. Starting as a 300 word short story, it’s now become a novella at about 30,000 words but my ambition is to grow it into a novel. The subtitle – ‘A tale of unlikely love in 60s-70s London‘ – tells me there’s enough material in my head from that exciting time, my time, in our capital to merit it. Dragging distant memories to the fore and turning it to fiction, easy for the first few chapters, is proving more difficult as  the journey through subsequent chapters continues. It is, after all, a period of my life between 47 and 52 years ago but draws somewhat on my experience a few years further back than that.

A photo of the moon taken from my sitting room window

Moon from my sitting room window (photo on film, ‘legacy’ Zeiss Sonnar lens)

It is now unusual for me to pick up on the theme given for members of our local writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe – to write something for the following meeting. Our most recent meeting before today was on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing so the theme given, no surprise, was ‘moon’.

Why it appealed to me I don’t know, perhaps  because on a clear night I follow with wonder her travel across the sky from our sitting room window, perhaps because I covered the event (from an engineering point of view) as a journalist in 1969.

My ‘poem’, however, has nothing to do with engineering.

Moon
brightly watching me through my window
Venus at her shoulder
stirring thoughts of love
Mars more secretly telling of his presence
protecting the three of us
from what I do not know
i feel the trio watching over you too
so far away
can you see them?
i know you feel the stardust
always
even when you cannot see the stars

My ‘poem’ is dedicated to my female blogging friend(s) who feel the stardust.