Hot on the heels of the success of The Box Under The Bed horror anthology, the team are putting together a follow-up collection of unlikely tales, this time in the genre of humour. Here is a teaser of my contribution, The Curious Monk…
Curiosity killed the cat, or so they say. What cat? Why a cat? Were any dogs ever seriously injured by curiosity? Could curiosity maim a fish?
This rather eclectic train of thought belonged to Barnaby, a middle-aged monk, as he hoisted his ample frame over the unforgiving stone monastery walls of the Blind Brotherhood of St Bastian, his home since he was a small boy. Barnaby had scant memory of his parents, save for that they were devoted to the Lord and fashioned themselves as 12th day Advent Hoppists. It was a curious religion, rising from the fact that their bible had a misprint. It taught of ‘faith, hop and charity; and the greatest of these is hop’. Every Sunday was spent hopping around the parlour with great vigour, singing joyful songs and trying not to stub a toe.
Their furious hopping must have paid off as the good Lord saw fit to take them in his arms soon afterwards, leaving the little Barnaby alone in the world, until one day a benevolent member of the Brotherhood came across him weeping in the woods and took him in. The Brotherhood was so named not because they were blind in the literal sense, but because they endured an elective blindness of the outside world and its nefarious ways, so that they would not be tempted from their righteous path. They were good men and kind, but life was monotonous and dry, and Barnaby had something of the spirit of adventure in his bones.
Barnaby exhaled a small groan as he hit the ground on the opposite side of the wall. His arms had grown strong through hard labour, but his belly was large from a hearty diet and need to eschew vanity. The Brotherhood had warned that there may be nuns nearby and the strapping physique of a man might agitate their baser instincts. It would not do to agitate a nun.
Tumbling a few feet on the mossy earth, Barnaby came to rest beneath a bushel. He stopped to catch his breath and glimpse the rolling twilight above, gently chasing sunset from the sky. As the first stars of the evening began to wink at him, he cast his mind back to that rare excursion to the local market, several weeks previous. Accompanied by one of the elders, Barnaby had been tasked with procuring garlic, the Brotherhood’s crop having been ravaged by weevils. The visit was short but in that brief time he heard wonderful tales woven among the chatter and bartering of the market. Tales of far away places, strange creatures and, most pertinently, wine, women and song. Barnaby like the sound of these enormously.
And so it was that he decided to escape the monastery for one night, to learn what he could about these curious entities. He had noted a tavern on one side of the market square and supposed that this was a good place to start. Scrabbling to his feet, he set off at a pace along the winding path that led down into the village.
Bereft of the hustle and bustle of commerce, the market square was eerie by night. But across the way the tavern blazed with light and laughter, the walls almost straining to contain the merriment within, leaking tantalising zephyrs of jocularity through the door and window frames. Barnaby thought to himself that surely here all of life could be found and his curiosities would be satisfied. A jaunty sign hung above the entrance, declaring the establishment to be named The Pickled Pig. Pushing open the door, several sets of eyes observed Barnaby’s arrival, followed swiftly by swirling whispers and, finally, an uneasy hush.
Stepping over the threshold, Barnaby gasped. Taking in the scene with a sweeping gaze he saw skins of every age and hue, apparel of unimagined types and, in the case of some of the ladies, apparel that was barely there at all. The air was heavy with a kind of smokey stickiness and now the only sound was of the Bar Tender’s cloth squeaking around an already clean glass.
“Good evening, Brother,” said the Bar Tender, clearing his throat. “What can we do for you?”
Barnaby drew himself up to his full height, which was fairly considerable.
“I have come here this night out of curiosity,” he began. “Nearly all my life I have lived in the monastery and have grown wise in the ways of the Lord and many other things. But I have an inkling that there is more to life and now these things I also wish to know. More specifically, about wine, women and song.”
Some eyebrows raised, some glances exchanged. Someone at the back asked him to speak up. The Bar Tender shrugged.
“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” he replied. “But first, if we are to share with you our expert knowledge on such things, you must give us something in return.”
“I am a humble monk with nothing in the way of material goods,” said Barnaby, his ragged robes tied at what was once his waist with mangey rope a testament to this.
“Alright. Then you must tell us all the secret of how to get into Heaven.”
Barnaby thought hard for a moment before making his reply.
“The Good Book teaches how to get to heaven and every Sunday your priest will tell the same.”
“We’re not big on readin’,” snapped a crow-faced old man from his barstool, grizzled features twisted into a grin. “An’ church ‘appens very early in the mornin’. Give us the abridged version and we’ll teach you the ways o’ the world.”
Barnaby thought again.
“Well, I suppose there is one notable element that is often overlooked in traditional teachings that is imperative to getting into Heaven,” he replied, slowly. “If you teach me the things I want to know, I will tell it to you.”
Bargain struck, Barnaby took his place at the bar and the patrons gathered round, eyes shining and limbs fidgeting.
“Let us begin with wine,” suggested Barnaby.
To find out what Barnaby learns about wine, women and song you will have to buy the book! I don’t know when it’s out – or even what it’s called – but rest assured I will be plugging it shamelessly once I do!
In the meantime, why not enjoy a trip to Old College?