Saturday, 26 September 2020

sneedl’bodja takes a drink

Sneedl’bodja stormed off in a sulk, disappearing in the direction of the village without a single backward glance.

Shunshelstinx was about to call after him, but then he decided that this would not be a particularly worthwhile action to take. By the time he’d made one decision and changed his mind, you can be sure that Sneedl’bodja would have been so far out of earshot as to be coming back into range from the opposite direction. Shunshelstinx and Qumfl’quelunx trudged disconsolately back along the lane leading to Three Foxes Wood, cheered by the thought of sitting in front of a roaring fire drinking cocoa and knowing, or hoping at least, that Sneedl’bodja would catch up with them very soon. In fact, he was probably ahead of them already, because he usually was, but that did not stop Shunshelstinx worrying about him. Shunshelstinx always worried about Sneedl’bodja, because he always worried about everything, and he was not hopeful that Sneedl’bodja could restrain his natural impulse to act first and think not at all. But, he thought, perhaps he knows what he’s doing.

“Even if I don’t,” he concluded.

Sneedl’bodja did indeed know what he was doing. And where he was going. The village inn. Many years ago, he had discovered that the public house in the village stored vast quantities of a large variety of brown liquors, most of which he found very pleasant to drink. He particularly enjoyed a liquor that came in clear glass bottles and tasted like a mixture of fire and water. He would take the most hair-raising risks for a drink of that, especially tonight, but he would have to be at his very quickest.

The lights were still on in the drinking rooms, and Sneedl’bodja peered carefully through the window to spy out the terrain, although carefully and Sneedl’bodja are about as far from being natural bedfellows as it is possible to imagine and still be in the same story. In other words, he shot a perfunctory glance through the window. Inside, he saw several gadgies, some of whom were leaning on the bar in various degrees of instability. Others were standing unsteadily, and all were talking animatedly.

“Did you hear that Old Man McScranagan’s garden shed burned down tonight in mysterious circumstances?” said one, taking a long drink from his mug of foaming ale.

“I heard that it was spontaneous combustion,” said another, who had already drunk too much foaming ale to have any idea what he was talking about but who did not want to be left out of the conversation.

“Bah!” thought Sneedl’bodja irritably. “When I need that pot-bellied poltroon Qumfl’quelunx to provide one of his sound effects, he isn’t here. That is so typical of that vacuous waxwork! I shall just have to think of another plan.”

His ‘other plan’ would see Sneedl’bodja at his most reckless, but it was also what he was good at. Speed of movement, that was the key—well, that and confining those movements within the narrow zone of the gadgies’ peripheral vision. But although he was unwilling to admit it, he relied on Qumfl’quelunx’s bizarre repertoire of sound effects to provide the vital distraction. Without his portly friend, he could not be sure that he would not be seen, but after all, a drink of fire water was a drink of fire water and was surely worth the modest risk involved.

That was it! Yes, it was worth the risk. And with that question answered, Sneedl’bodja sprang into action, his judgement clouded only very slightly by a fondly anticipated glass of fire water. And he knew his way into the drinking rooms, having been there on more than one previous occasion. Shunshelstinx, we can safely assume, is totally unaware of this backsliding behaviour by his frenetic friend. He certainly wouldn’t have approved.

Anyway, in one continuous springing movement, Sneedl’bodja was at the door, which had one of those new-fangled contraptions that allow the door to be pushed open easily from the outside. But then it thoughtfully closes the door behind you automatically, thus saving you all that inconvenience. It must have been a very lazy gadgie who invented that one.

However, unknown to Sneedl’bodja, the innkeeper had attached a bell to this outer door since his last visit, having for some time been puzzled by the speed with which his whisky was being drunk. He was convinced that his customers were coming in quietly while he was in the cellar and sneaking the odd tipple while pretending to wait patiently to be served. Early one evening, before his regular customers arrived, he had marked the level of whisky in the bottle with a red pencil. Shortly thereafter, also before the regulars arrived, Sneedl’bodja, who just happened to be in the neighbourhood, had seen his opportunity, slipped in quietly through the front door and helped himself to a large whisky. A very large whisky. The innkeeper was not pleased to discover a discrepancy of almost an inch between the red line and the level of the whisky, but at least he had confirmed his suspicions. Someone really had been drinking his whisky, as he had thought. But in answering one mystery, he had created another. The bar was empty. Nobody was waiting to be served. He had identified the offence but not the culprit. It wasn’t one of his regulars, after all. Well, yes, it was one of his regulars really, but it was a regular of whose existence he was unaware.

Anyway, Sneedl’bodja pushed slowly at the door. If his hope had been to enter quietly, that hope was dashed by a sudden urgent clanging overhead. Sneedl’bodja’s lightning-fast senses picked up the alarum a fraction of a second before either the innkeeper or his customers, and in a blur of motion he was crouching under a blackened oak settle in the darkest corner of the main drinking room. That split second later, half a dozen pairs of eyes turned to the door, saw it close mysteriously all by itself, and nothing else.

“Must’ve been the wind. It’s pretty gusty tonight,” said one drinker.

“Poltergeists!” exclaimed the one who had already drunk too much foaming ale to know what he was talking about.

A third gadgie sat down suddenly, pushing a half-drunk glass of foaming ale across the table as he did so.

“That’s enough ale for me landlord,” he said emphatically. “I’ve just seen a pixie dressed in a dark brown jogging outfit run across the floor.”

“I’d better get you home George,” said his friend, who knew that pixies do not exist.

By this stage of the evening, all the gadgies had drunk far too much foaming ale to make any connexion between a door that appeared to open by itself and eye-witness evidence of pixies.

“Excellent!” thought Sneedl’bodja. “This is my chance, while their backs are turned.”

He leapt up on to the bar counter, found an empty glass, picked up the whisky bottle, pulled out the cork, poured himself a more generous helping than usual (a far more generous helping than usual), replaced the cork and drank it down, all of it, in less time than it takes to tell how the feat was accomplished. And then, wobbling unsteadily, he started to run back down the counter, but at that moment he caught sight of a strikingly good-looking gelgin in the long mirror on the wall behind the bar.

“Who is that handsome fellow?” thought Sneedl’bodja, stopping suddenly. “Why, he’s almost as good-looking as me!”

Stopping suddenly may have been his intention, but, thus distracted, he skidded spectacularly in a pool of stagnant ale and disappeared over the edge, arms flailing wildly. Regaining his composure in mid-air, he landed athletically on the floor behind the bar, fell over, stood up again and staggered out into the passageway connecting the drinking rooms. How to escape? That was now the problem.

As luck would have it, at that precise moment, the innkeeper noticed that the whisky was still swirling in the bottle. That is how fast Sneedl’bodja can be. Anyway, the landlord had enough time to confront his customers before the eddies died down.

“Not me!” said one, very positively.

“Me neither!” said another, equally positive that he was not responsible.

“And certainly not me!” exclaimed a third, who positively glowed with indignation at the very thought that he even drank whisky, certainly not without paying for it.

“Count me out!” added a fourth, who only ever drank whisky when someone else was paying for it.

“Perhaps the tide has gone out!” interjected the one who had already drunk too much foaming ale to know what he was talking about but who was determined at all costs not to be left out of the conversation.

“Perhaps your brain’s gone out!” said the landlord in exasperation.

Meanwhile, Sneedl’bodja half ran, half crawled along a second corridor, terrifying on the way a small and very yappy terrier. Or was it the other way around? Whichever interpretation you choose to believe, we can safely infer that Sneedl’bodja did not pause momentarily and stoop down to stroke the unsuspecting dog behind the ear, although he may have kicked it. On the other hand, if he did aim a kick at the dog, he probably missed. Anyway, Sneedl’bodja did not stop. He simply kept running, helter skelter, side to side, staggering really more than running. Turn left at the end of the corridor. Miss the turning and hit the wall. Through two open doors. Crash! Ooops! That should have read ‘open two doors’. Up one step and down three, he slipped, slithered and slid until, finally, without quite understanding how he was able to do so, and with a more than generous admixture of sheer luck, he reached the back of the inn. Drawing further on his luck, his judgement not being available for consultation for most of the evening, he found a half-open sash window through which he could probably wriggle, although it would be rather a tight squeeze.

At the opposite end of Sneedl’bodja’s erratic trajectory through the building, the innkeeper was unconvinced.

“Poltergeists indeed!” he said contemptuously.

This is what gelgins call people.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

an illusion of snakes

As I lie in the burnt, acrid dust of despair,
I hear the low hiss of a viper, poised to strike.
I raise my tired head and see the reptile prepare
to sink its fangs into the naked flesh, the meat
of my beliefs, to poison and to make alike
the opposites inside my mind. An objective
opinion is thus distorted by the heat
that places death in such improper perspective.

I cannot move, for I am pinned by a python
that squeezes my body so much less than my mind.
My thoughts race oddly in a lonely marathon
of wonder, continuous no more but broken
by the crushing tentacles of doubt, which can blind
tired eyes so they do not glimpse the truth of logic.
So now, as deliberate lies have been spoken,
the snakes may yet conceal their sinister magic.

My thoughts are polluted by venom, and poisoned
by the racking doubt of mental dislocation.
Slowly, steadily, the processes of my brain
cease to operate, except in wild, unreasoned
spirals of hate and pain: mental immolation.
Yet the body lives on—only the mind is slain.