By Chris Wilson
“So we are agreed then, a Christmas short story competition, based on someone or something we see in this room. A maximum of 2000 words shall we say, and a three month submission period?”
Andrew Pettigrew Studied the group sitting before him and smiled.
They were all there, the members of the Upper Puddington Writers group, all eager to please, and, as ever, he held every one of their literary dreams in the palm of his hand.
Some were more enthusiastic than others of course, and they were the ones who won the competitions, and as he looked at their desperately upturned faces, he began to think about which one of his acolytes would win, and wear, this year’s coveted crown.
“Any questions, any other business; none? Folks I think it’s time for a coffee. Then, as requested a reading from my recently published book of poetry, Autographed copies will be available for purchase once the meeting has ended”
There was no other business, or any questions.
There never was, unless by his instruction, but as everybody moved towards the refreshment table he glanced at a slim young woman who had been sitting at the back of the hall.
She was new to the group, she had been watching him carefully and making notes all evening, and Andrew, slightly insecure by nature and wary of any potential threats to his position, wanted to know why.
Who was she, he wondered, what was she writing about, and, if he could be bothered to get to know her better, what might she have to say? She turned away from him, and he shrugged his shoulders dismissively.
A narrow hipped, Plain Jane if there was ever one. She would never be part of his cosy little harem; and she would never win a competition. He packed away his notebook that lay before him before casually glancing across the room.
A middle-aged lady stood quietly watching him.
Mrs. Penny Leggett of Honeysuckle Lane.
She was always an enthusiastic performer, but despite her almost insatiable sexual appetite and almost unlimited availability, Andrew had a new competition winner in mind. She was called Tracy, and fifteen years younger than Penny, this lass understood his little needs and diverse bedroom antics and pleasures. Now Penny, for all her accommodating nature would never be a winner again. Yet he still returned her glance with interest.
The new winner-to-be was away on business, so why not again hop into the sack with Penny. Sad eyed, middle aged and massively hipped she might be, but sex, even poor sex was enjoyable, and she would do until his new lover returned.
Sitting at the back of the writers’ group Susan Alanson observed the room and the meeting as both unfolded before her.
Held in the stuffy and dimly lit Village Hall with but one star-shaped light fitting above Andrew, it was more like a royal levee than a writers group, but this was Upper Puddington, and Andrew was its only published writer.
He was also the chairman of the Literary and Poetry Society, so therefore his word was law.
Susan had read his poetry and knew it to be both plagiarised and mediocre, but she had come here with a purpose, so she looked up towards the raised podium and at Andrew, and began to concentrate on the task at hand.
“You say you want a new short story character. Well go and sit at the feet of the master!” A close friend had told her. “Smile at him, flatter him, then look, listen, and faithfully record.”
Her friend was right, Andrew was perfect, and soon a wonderful picture began to form in her mind. She needed to assemble this new character carefully though, for this individual was unusually complex. He was to be an important person within her story, and had to be portrayed very precisely.
Yet it was strange, as she could see that, he was rather like a poorly prepared and over laden stick of fairground candy floss. He still had power though. He may have been badly spun, and through some of his words and actions he was excessively sweet and sticky, but by watching the group she could see that he was in total control of his little band worshipers. There was no question in her mind that, if need be, he could and would happily crush them all.
She eagerly, and almost greedily, began to write quickly.
This was her character, her sugary puffed up little popinjay, and such would be the strength of her characterisation she had no desire to share him at all!
“Are we all ready to continue folks? Are we all sitting comfortably; good; as now I would like to begin”
Lit by his personally selected and perfectly cleaned radiant starlight above him, Andrew looked at the assembled company, opened up his velum bound and overpriced book of poetry, and grinned.
Only he knew it was a vanity publication, a mainstream publisher living within the village having rejected his manuscript . Heavily poached from obscure volumes of little known metaphysical Elizabethan poetry, it was a fully printed volume. Yet by careful manipulation it looked a though it had been handwritten, apparently with casual haste, in slightly fading ink to give it an air of unquestionable, yet fake, antiquity. Hidden from casual view by a reproduction clasp of apparent authenticity, printed on thick rough cut handmade paper, it was sealed in wax with a mock heraldic sealing ring he had picked up from eBay.
It was a poor publication of little merit, but that didn’t matter, for it had given him power beyond most men’s dreams.
No one else in the group had published anything, let alone mock Elizabethan poetry, and under his impeccably managed stewardship, no one else within his subservient band of followers would ever do so.
There were other writers of course, and some deserved much greater recognition, but there could be but one leader in the village. Andrew always took full advantage of his position, he was more than reluctant to hand over his crown.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I shall first read my poem called “Flowers for Eternity”, which I am sure you will enjoy.”
He rose to his feet, swept out a magisterial arm, and planted his right foot before him.
He was centre stage, he was the puppet master, and his followers, like overfed sheep, lay patiently, yet expectantly, at his command.
They would soon untie their purse strings, and soon place rich offerings by his side. Then, with a gracious wave from a professional and published author, he would gently bless them, yet still subtly control them all.
“Dance, my little flock of mutton,” he thought to himself as he began to recite his poetry.” Dance away and be merry, but remember that you dance to my tune.”
So it was that they all danced, and they made merry, but one member of his flock sat to one side and looked on contemptuously.
By now Andrew, wrapped up in his gown of glory, did not even see her, which, for him, was unfortunate, as she was singing a new song of her own.
There was no doubt about it, he was brilliant, as a Shakespearean Tragedian, and as Susan briefly stopped writing through sheer admiration, she found it very difficult to hide a smile.
She knew her 17th century English poetry, and, the poems of the poet Thomas Traherne. Badly construed and mercilessly crib from Traherne’s poem,the “Seeds of Eternity; Andrews poem was, in her humble opinion, garbage, and the work of a slipshod fraudster, but as a thespian he was beyond compare.
Ask him to fix a leaking tap and he would no doubt run away screaming. Chuck him a pot of grease paint, squeeze him into a ruff, breeches and a velvet doublet, he would always perform.
He did have four problems though: Quite short of stature and slightly bow-legged, his grin was far too wide for his body. His oversized belly swung pendulously and metronomically, and, rather disturbingly, he had gangling arms and huge hairy hands.
For a moment Susan found this quite alarming, but, in her quiet dark corner, she began to laugh inside, for as he overplayed his role with ever more vigour and intensity, a delicious transformation began to occur.
This was no king leading his troops into battle, nor some profit splitting apart the sea.
This was merely a howling and screaming monkey, and, overstuffed with ripe and partially fermented bananas, he was drunkenly swinging from tree to tree.
He still held his book of poetry though, and the rest of his troupe looked on in admiration, but, for Susan, it seemed that evolution had gone backwards, and though it was highly enjoyable, it also seemed to be horribly wrong.
Where had he obtained so many bananas, why such bad poetry and an enormous fermentative belly, she wondered, and once outside of the meeting room what on earth did he do with those wildly gesticulating arms .
Then her phone vibrated silently; she had a new message, it was marked urgent. Her bus was due in ten minutes and she needed to make a phone call, so silently and very carefully, she packed away her notebook before slipping out of the hall.
“Hi Jerry, you’re after one more story for my new collection of short stories that you want to publish. I’ll email a preliminary draft in the morning. It’ll be called Lone Star and I’ve found the perfect central character. Send me a text, or an email, to let me know if you like it, or even better let’s meet up for a coffee, or possibly give me a call!”
Standing alone in the darkness, Susan ended her phone call, grinned, and began laughing softly, before looking up towards the now brilliantly clear, moonlit autumnal sky.
Susan enjoyed being a profitable author, it was a Hunters moon, she was the hunter, and now she had a perfect herd of characters to bring down with her bow. God bless Andrew, his mock Elizabethan poetry, and Upper Puddington, thought Susan.
“God bless ‘em all!” She affectionately whispered
Yet as soon as she finished whispering, she instantly felt no affection at all.
She had spent her childhood in another village just like Upper Puddington. Her parents were pig farmers, they were decent and honest people, and had been snubbed and sneered at by the village socialites. At the head of the pack, an almost exact this one, there had been a character, just like Andrew, and he had been the cruelest of them all.
Glancing back at the hall a wave of painful memories engulfed over her, for though she was only visiting Upper Puddington because of Jerry’s instructions, her mind had been swept back to when she was a child.
Jerry, who lived in the village, had told her all about the group and Andrew, so now, if she was lucky she might even put some of her own past to behind her.
With Jerry’s help, she would polish and then publish her story; and then gleefully she would destroy them all!
Penny had now left , so Andrew, free from her slobbering and her clumsy if eager embraces, lay back on his jet black hand-made and exquisitely accessorised water bed. One hand held a glass of chilled champagne, whilst in the other a cigarette burnt slowly. He looked up at his lavishly gilded and mirrored ceiling which, obligingly, gazed down adoringly in return. Then, extinguishing his now nearly burnt out cigarette, and putting down his champagne carefully on his bedside unit, he unlocked, opened, and looked inside a drawer within the cabinet.
Personal papers, he always said, if any of his partners, bar one, asked him, or manuscripts that might, one day, see the light of day.
There were never any papers however; there was just his intimate little collection of “friends.”
His carefully selected, individually named, beautifully maintained, little nighttime companions, and as he lovingly stroked and fondled their smooth, sleek, or soft and fluffy exteriors, they mutely, yet enticingly, seemed to show their appreciation in return.
It had been both a good and a profitable night, and he had enhanced his reputation, but as he prepared to fall asleep, he still wondered about the woman who had sat at the back of the hall.
Who was she, he again wondered. Where was she from, and why did she leave so prematurely?
What was in that book that she continually wrote in; that anonymous soft black notebook that she seemed to value so highly?
The one that she constantly kept by her side.
Then he slowly pushed in the drawer and mournfully turned the key on his friends.
It was a pity really as they still seemed to be calling him, but turning off the lights, and sliding himself between his soft, sweet lavender scented bed sheets, he slumped back into his pillows; and noisily began to snore.
As far a he was concerned, that Plain Jane woman was like an overcooked blob of batter glued to the bottom of a chip pan cradle. Tasteless, useless and totally unpalatable, such greasy forgotten leftovers were utterly unimportant to Andrew. Through her silence he knew she would never be in print, or be a real author, as clearly, very clearly, she had nothing whatsoever to say.