James? Is that you?
This is a story I read last October at a horror night at the Doncaster Brewery & Tap, which was held by author Craig Hallam. It helps if you like “The Princess Bride”, as well as Halloween.
Warning: Swearing; also, do not read while eating, or if you have a weak stomach.
For Colin, who said he liked it.
James and the Saucer of Vengeful Doom
James Harrington celebrated his last Halloween alone: eating the fun-size Smarties his ex-girlfriend bought for the trick-or-treaters, drinking beer, and watching “The Princess Bride”. His ex was disgusted by the sweetie eating, and contemptuous of his film choice.
“The Princess Bride’ isn’t a Halloween film, and all those sweeties and beer will make you fat,” Nikki managed to say before James rang off, leaving the question of whether or not there was an “er” at the word end of “fat”. By then, disgust and contempt were Nikki’s factory settings: the ones she reverted to whenever she was speaking to James.
That Halloween, when evening had not yet given the nod to night, he had happiness: crunchy, rainbow-coloured joy, with beery, carb-filled bliss, and Inigo Montoya on top.
A rainbow of light: a window display at Lord Hurst’s, a fab Doncaster teashop
“’You murdered my father: prepare to die’!” James bellowed at the telly. There was only him, and the goldfish, to hear it, now Nikki was gone. That speech was his favourite, and the brave swordsman Inigo by far his favourite character.
In truth, he loved them all. Even the princess: who, although bossy, at least loved the hero. Unlike a certain, recent ex, James thought, as he took a final swig of “Town Fields” ale, and reached for another bottle of beer.
He wiped his mouth, and observed the smear of red, green and blue Smarties on his right hand, and wrist. Observed, but did nothing about it. Who was to know? The trick or treaters who weren’t likely to arrive at half nine at night, and whose treats he had eaten? Bob the goldfish? The film’s princess, who had other things on her mind?
Not another goldfish: art by Tom Brown, from “Koi Carpe Diem”
James could do whatever he wanted, now: eat all the sweets, drink all the beer, sit around in his pants with the central heating up full blast. So what if Nikki said he was “damaging the environment”? He paid all the bills. Well, most of them.
He’d taken his shirt off awhile ago. Now, as he stood up to remove his jeans, and reveal his Spider-man pants in all their red and blue glory, he caught a foot in a leg of his trousers, and stumbled, knocking over his beer in the process.
“Tragedy!” James sang, not caring whether Abba and the film’s background music went together well. “Trag – Oh, – !”
James broke off the song, and swore, as realisation hit him like a sword blow from Inigo Montoya himself. The bottle of Hobgoblin which was spilling its liquid guts all over the hardwood floor was his last beer.
James swore for England, France, Scotland: all five of the rugby nations, plus some football teams, too. He couldn’t go for more beer: not at this hour, not in his Spidey pants. Nikki might not have been a lot of help with the bills – well, except for food, and heating, and lighting – but she did do most of the cooking, and all of the washing up, gardening, and laundry. Plus, the washer was hers, and it was gone: removed by her brothers several days before Nikki left. Perhaps, James thought, as he watched his last pair of clean trousers turn into a pub towel, he should have seen their break-up coming, after all.
Of course, James’s thought process was not actually that coherent. It was more like this: “Washer! Fuck! Beer! Offie? Asda? … pants! Pants, pants, pants!”
Then, oozing out of his mouth like drool, “Beer … sponge. Beer … saucer.”
Even when pissed, Nikki had certain. .. standards, she called them. James’s usual response was to blow a raspberry or three. Yet, he’d fallen, mostly, into line, and hadn’t had a single cold, and only one case of food poisoning, during their two year relationship.
“Saucer!” James yelped, as he tripped over his own, wet trousers.
This is not going to end well, the garden gnome thought, with a smile
For Nikki, the garden meant time alone with her thoughts, and the local sparrow, blackbird, and robin populations. For James, the small, grassy area behind their house was some place he visited twice a year: on summer Bank Holidays, when he poked meaty, smoky objects with a long fork, whilst holding a cold one in the other hand, and wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and sandals. Hobbling out there with no shoes, and no clothing except for a pair of beer-soaked Spiderman pants, on a cold, dark night at the end of October, was a new experience. Some might even call it –
“A quest!” James slurred. “I’m goin onna quest!”
He crashed into a bush. If Nikki had been there, she could have told him it was a hydrangea. To James, whose eyes couldn’t have differentiated between a dustbin, and a Dalek, that was no hydrangea, that was a Triffid: an exceptionally hungry, angry one.
“Bollocsh!”James screamed, whilst leaping into the air as a firework exploded into noisy colour, high over his neighbour’s garden, then landed in what one of the nurses at A & E later told him was a holly bush. A keen gardener, she recognised the leaves she and her colleagues removed from his pants.
He’d all but forgotten what he was after, why he was even outside. Then, he saw it.
He tipped the contents of the first saucer down his throat.
“Sausher!” James cried, as he guzzled the contents of the next, deeper one.
It was a bit lumpy. James put that down to a stray berry, or three. Yes, that was it: brambles, maybe a stone. No harm in a pebble, was there?
“Bit of roughash,” James said, as he felt his way round the damp garden. “Good for you … hair on chesh.” Unlike some of his mates, James thought waxing was for girls, and moustaches.
“Housh,” he murmured, as he began making his way back toward the path. “Warm housh.” The effects of crawling around on wet earth, and grass, in just his Spidie pants, was starting to dawn on James. He pulled over one gnome, two small, defunct lights, and several thorny branches in his way back to the path, earning a couple of bramble battle scars along the way, as well as a stain on his Spidie’s which looked, and smelt, suspiciously like a pooh from Scruffy, his neighbour’s cat.
Scruffy? Who you calling scruffy?
“Fuckin’ ‘ell,” he muttered, as he pulled himself up to a Neanderthal version of a standing position, and felt the shock of cold cement on bare feet. No film character, however heroic, could have moved faster than James, as he sprinted into the kitchen.
Having pillaged a cupboard for a can of shandy, and a packet of peanuts, he collapsed on the sofa, where he surveyed his bramble-scratched legs, and arms, and the shit stain on his pants.
“No pain, no gain,” James said, as he pulled the ring on the shandy, and glugged it down. “Better than nothing,” he told the characters on the film.
They had reached James’s favourite part of the film: the scene where Inigo confronts his father’s killer.
“’You murdered my father, prepare to die!’,” James recited along with the actor, although in James’s case, it was said with half a packet of peanuts in his mouth.
Peanuts which went the wrong way, as James realised that a third person was saying Inigo’s lines.
“Wha – cough! – the – cough! cough,” James wheezed, as he clutched his throat with a grass and Smartie coloured hand,
“Prepare to die!” cried a tiny voice.
This time there was no mistake: the only sounds from the telly was dramatic music, and the clash of blades; from James himself, that of a bloke choking on salted peanuts.
There was someone else in the room: someone small, and very, very angry.
“Back – ackk! – door,” James managed to say.
“You murdered my father, prepare to die!” the little voice insisted.
Half-doubled over, James focused streaming eyes on something the size and shape of a small, glistening, beige-coloured turd.
“You’re a – acck! Wheeze! – slug!”
“And you’re a murderer!” it replied, fixing him with its stalked eyes.
“I’m an – acckk! – accountant!” James wheezed.
“You’re a murderer!”
“I’m a – hack! Splutter! – wimp! Ask – ack! – anyone! I tell people I don’t wax my chesh because it’s for girls, but it’s because it hurtsh! I’ve never killed anyone.”
A glint of silver flashed before James’s streaming, pain-filled eyes. Was that … a needle? Or a tooth-pick sized sword the slug held in his … okay, it wasn’t a hand .. tail?
James gulped, and swallowed, hard.
“Acckkk!” James said. “Your father? I didn’t know slugs had – cough! – fathers.”
“Of course, we have fathers. I had a father, ’til you murdered him.”
James looked at the slimy thing which was standing – did slugs stand? James wondered – on the floor, lit by the flickering of the television screen. The small, sharp object glittered like the larger sword held by the now victorious Inigo, in the film.
“Murdered? I told you, I’m a wimp. I don’t kill slugs. You’re thinking of Nikki. She – “
James’s eyes, still wet from his chocking incident, widened. “That … in the beer. That was no pebble. That – “
“ – was my father,” the slug finished James’s sentence. “He was already dead, but …” the slug trailed off, and flourished his miniature sword, “I want his body.”
Had the circumstances been slightly different, James would’ve been proud of the volume, and depth of colour, which he spewed onto the carpet. As it was, he could only heave, as he watched the slug pick through the vomit with the point of his sword.
“Peanut … Smartie … pizza!” it said, as James gipped, and whimpered.
“See,” James said, “I didn’t kill your dad. I didn’t even swallow him.”
James wretched again.
The slug turned his stalk-eyes back onto the young man who cowered on the leather sofa.
“Oh, you swallowed him, all right,” the slug said. His stalks swivelled, one looking upwards, the other further down James’s body. “The question is … where to start?”
By the time he’d recovered enough to ring for an ambulance, the slug was gone. All James could tell the staff at A & E was that he didn’t know what the chap who made the small, precise cuts to his stomach did for a living, but he was reasonably certain he wasn’t a surgeon.
Slug eyes? Don’t think so, but they sure look angry.
If you enjoyed this story, please check out my short story collections, “What! No Pudding?” and “Koi Carpe Diem“. If you fancy a signed print copy of “Koi Carpe” with art by Tom Brown, please contact me. For something a bit more sinister, please check out my dark fantasy, “The Woodcutter’s Son“.
Tagged: Craig Hallam, Doncaster Brewery & Tap, fantasy, fiction, Floristry at Lord Hurst’s, Hallowe’en, horror, humour, Koi Carpe Diem, short story collection, speculative fiction, surrealism, The Princess Bride, The Woodcutter’s Son, Tom Brown, What! No Pudding?