lucy brazier

The Curious Monk

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.

THUD.

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?

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US

You Have To Be Odd To Be Number One

If Dr Seuss is right, and he usually is, then I am in very good company.  I, along with nineteen other writers, have taken new horror anthology The Box Under The Bed to number one in the Amazon new releases chart, which was a nice thing to discover on a Monday morning.

 

This is my first anthology (unless you count some very bad poetry from my school days) and also a fledgling attempt at short stories. My propensity for using ten words where one will do does not happily lend itself to the gentle art of short story writing and my anti-social tendencies mean I avoid collaborations like the plague. Horror is not even a genre in which I write either, so this has been a big hop, skip and jump out of my comfort zone. All in all, a worthwhile endeavour, I’d say.

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Windows Of The Soul is a stand-alone PorterGirl story originally written as a Halloween special for this blog. I am especially proud of this tale as I manage to get both a bowler hat and tea mentioned in the opening paragraph. Fans of The Dean will be disappointed as he doesn’t appear here, but there is a healthy dose of gore and suspense that should satisfy the blood-lust of even the most ardent horror fanatic.

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Mondays Are Who You Really Are is a much more personal piece than I intended to write and I deliberated before proceeding with its submission. Not so much a horror story, but more a grim psychological exegesis of the seduction and destruction wrought by narcissism, somewhat in the vein of A Picture Of Dorian Gray. With a healthy dose of pitch-black humour (but without the wit and eloquence of Oscar Wilde) this is, essentially, a story about my father. And that is all I want to say about that.

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Being Number 1 calls for cake

The perfect warm-up for Halloween, or a delightful gift for the more macabre of loved ones, treat yourself to a copy of The Box Under The Bed and ensure that you will be sleeping with the lights on for weeks to come.

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AMAZON UK

AMAZON US

 

 

 

Hide & Seek – Part Nineteen

In Lord Bottomclutch’s private study, Hercule Poirot was in a state of great excitement, albeit artfully restrained. Captain Hastings recognised the signs immediately; the gently pulsating moustache, the lively fire in his eyes and a distracted irritability that all pointed to the inevitable conclusion that the great detective was close to solving a case. Although he would never say as much, Hastings was flabbergasted at this sharp turn of events, as he himself was as baffled by the murders as he had ever been.

Even as Chief Inspector Japp was explaining the results of the investigation by his men into the cause of Maggie’s death, Poirot was unable to tear his brilliant mind from the emerging facts, urgently jostling themselves into perfect positions.

“…So you see, gentlemen, that were it not for the fingermarks on her throat, the broken neck and placing of the body in the noose would have certainly led us to believe that Maggie hanged herself,” explained Japp, unaware he was talking largely to himself (Hastings could hardly be expected to follow such technicalities). “As it is, we can be certain that she was strangled.”

“And what of Clara’s death?” asked Hastings, keen to give the impression of keeping up with proceedings. “Can we be sure of that?”

“Indeed we can, Captain,” replied Japp. “She was definitely killed by the enormous wound to the back of her head. A bloodied mallet has been discovered by one of my lads, up in the copse near the gamekeeper’s hut. We can safely say that it is the murder weapon.”

“That rather puts Barton in a rum position, wouldn’t you say?” Hastings remarked. “But then, he had no reason to kill Clara. He was quite fond of her, from what I gather.”

“He might have had a reason to kill Maggie,” said Japp. “In a jealous rage, perhaps.”

Hastings tapped his lips with his forefinger and knotted his brow.

“It just doesn’t line up,” he said. “Either there is someone with a motive to kill both Clara and Maggie, or we are looking for two killers!”

“And a vandal,” added Japp. “A vicious one at that, after what he did to your car.”

Monsieurs, it is one killer and one, as you say, vandal, that we look for,” said Poirot, sounding somewhat distracted. “And, I can assure you, that the two are quite different.”

“You seem very sure about that, Poirot,” said Japp. “I don’t suppose you’d care to enlighten us, would you?”

“Chief Inspector, Poirot is always certain about the things that he says. And, if it is enlightenment you seek, then, you need only to look at the facts!”

“Facts? But we don’t even know what the facts are, Poirot!” cried Hastings.

But Poirot did not reply. He simply smiled and stood, straightening his waistcoat as he did so. As if on cue, Lord Bottomclutch entered the room. His noble shoulders were weighted with the heavy burdens of grief and exhaustion, but he retained the kind of cool dignity that only centuries of the proper kind of breeding can produce.

“Ah! Lord Bottomclutch. Poirot is most grateful that you find the time to speak with him.”

“Could we make this swift, Mister Poirot?” Lord Bottomclutch asked, his voice weary. “I’ve got police officers crawling all over the place, not to mention some rather unpleasant mess to be attended to. I’m sure you can appreciate this is a difficult time for me.”

“But of course, Lord Bottomclutch,” Poirot nodded. “I promise not to keep you any longer than necessity requires.”

Lord Bottomclutch settled himself into the armchair by the bookcase, poured himself a very large whisky and picked up the half smoked cigar, abandoned in a fit of pique by his son Harold. Once the cigar was alight, Lord Bottomclutch gestured with his hand, indicating he was ready for Poirot to do his worst. Japp lit his own pungent pipe and leant back against the sideboard next to Captain Hastings, both anticipating an entertaining interlude.

“I am afraid that the questions Poirot must ask are of a nature most delicate, Lord Bottomclutch,” said Poirot, gravely. The reclining gentleman did not speak, but nodded in acquiescence. “The maid Maggie, she was with child, oui? And there has been much talk of the identity of the father. It is true, is it not, that you treated the girl with unusual kindness for a member of your staff? Her quarters are lavishly furnished and it is no secret that your actions were preferable towards her, non?

“I see what you’re driving at, Poirot,” replied Lord Bottomclutch, spewing thick smoke towards the ceiling. “I can assure you – I am not… was not… the father. Yes, I was perhaps more generous towards her than other members of my staff. I cannot deny that. I suppose, in a way, I felt somewhat… responsible for her.”

“In what way responsible, Lord Bottomclutch?”

Lord Bottomclutch paused to refill his glass. Poirot noticed that his hands shook just slightly.

“It was very likely that the father was Barton,” Lord Bottomclutch replied, at length. “A long-standing member of my household. Maggie was unmarried and I felt a responsibility as her employer to do the best for her.”

“But, monsieur, if Barton was the father, why was Maggie engaged to be married to James Philpott?”

A long, heavy sigh escaped the lips of Lord Bottomclutch, seemingly involuntarily.

“You might as well know the truth about that, Poirot. The vicar is a dear friend of the family and I will not deny that it is an embarrassment that his only son is not the marrying kind. Mister Philpott was keen that James provided him with an heir to continue the family line and for the two to marry seemed a dignified solution to both problems.”
“But did not Barton want an heir also?” Poirot asked. “Has there not always been a Barton at Somersby Hall?”

“Barton will get his chance again, no doubt,” snapped Lord Bottomclutch, sucking furiously on his cigar. “For James, such a thing is not so certain.”

Bien.” Poirot curled his mouth into a smile that did not reach his eyes. “It is clear to Poirot that you are a man of a generous nature, wanting always to help those around you. Mais, when the time came for President Venn to be of service to you, it was not to be, c’est vrai?

Lord Bottomclutch narrowed his eyes, beady pupils darting between his inquisitor and the watching faces of Japp and Hastings. He licked his lips and at once looked hunted and afraid. Poirot stepped forward, fixing his gaze and mentally arranging his words with great care and precision.

A bone-crunching THUD! followed by a piercing scream tore through the window and the air in the study froze. Something quite terrible had occurred in the driveway.

 

 

 

In loving memory of Eric James

Musician, Entertainer, Friend