Category Archives: Writing

Unicorn

A short story experiment in the second person.

For trigger warnings please highlight this text:

—->>Trigger Warnings: Drug use, Minor Sexual References (brief allusion to ‘sex crimes’), Implied Character Death.<<—-

It’s in white so people who want to avoid spoilers can do so! 🙂

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unican't

You ought to have left well enough alone.
That’s what you thought later on, although there was no way you could have known where it would lead.
It was just a wallet.
Think of it.

When you find a wallet outside the police station you have two options.
First, you can pick it up, walk ten feet, hand it in like a good citizen, and go about your day.
Second, you can pick it up, shove it down your jeans and run like blazes.

Which option you choose largely depends on why you were at the police station.

If, to choose an example completely at random, you were a seventeen-year-old male, Caucasian, six foot two, being questioned in connection with a string of burglaries in, say, the Alwoodley/Shadwell area… hypothetically, then, you would be much more likely to now be sat under a bush on a playing field rifling through someone else’s property.
Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Inside the wallet is the following: one twenty pence piece; one dead spider, large; three dead flies, small; one train ticket for London dated November 12th, 1993; one paper packet containing pills, white, small; one business card, new, bearing no name.
Not a very inspiring haul. The pills could be worth something, to the right person, but you don’t really know what they are – you’re no junkie. You feel a rising sense of injustice, like you always do when your efforts go unrewarded. Like that big place you’d done over by the posh school; looked loaded from the outside, but you get in and find out they’re bloody hippies. No video games, no hi-fi, not even a sodding telly. Not even in the kids’ rooms. That’s cruelty, that is. It’s no way to live. There ought to be a law.

You take a closer look at the business card. One side has a print of a horse, a bloody big one with a whacking great horn between the eyes. Unicorn, you think, like little girls love, although what (presumably) full grown man would want a unicorn on his business card you don’t want to know.
The other side has no printing on it, but someone’s scrawled a phone number across it in faulty black biro.

Right. That’d show them. A good prank call – scare them, make them think someone’s out to get them. Always fun. Gotta have your revenge. Like the big house. You spoil my night’s work, I’ll smash up your poncy vases and jump on your expensive coffee machine. Maybe take a shit on your rug.

There’s a payphone at the corner shop. Twenty p will do it – if you can’t threaten someone on twenty p then you’re wasting your time. And using their own money to do it has kind of a nice ring to it. Poetic.

Ringing, ringing.
You get ready your gravelly voice to scare them with. Wait for someone to answer…
“Have you got the girl?”
Jesus, what?
Again, impatiently: “Have you got the girl?”
This is not working out how you’d planned. Christ, what to do? Something noncommittal.
“Mmmm?”
“Good. Bring her to Goldenacre Park at midnight and you’ll get paid. Two thousand, like we agreed. Don’t be late.”
The line goes dead.

Hell, what have you got yourself mixed up in? There’s a lot you don’t understand in the message – what girl? Why do they want her? – but one thing you definitely do understand. Two thousand. Two thousand pounds. Two grand.
Two grand is a lot of fags. Two grand is a new bike, new trainers, new TV, and all without running drugs or owing owt to the gangs.
They’d have to carry it somehow, wouldn’t they? Two grand’s a lot of money. Maybe they’d have it in a suitcase, like in the films. You could hide, distract them somehow, and then swipe it. Has to be worth a try.

Goldenacre Park is a long way to walk. Bugger that for a laugh. You nick the first car you can get open and dump it in a field-gate nearby. The police will find it soon enough. They should just be glad you didn’t torch it, like the lads do.
It’s a little after midnight. It’s taken a good meal at the chippy and a six-pack swiped from the offy to give you the courage to come here. At least you’d taken the time to change into dark clothes.

Inside the park it’s pitch black, especially under the trees in the woods. Good thing hard lads aren’t afraid of the dark. On the other side of the woods there’s some landscaped scrub-land, big gorse bushes and little trees around wide grass paths. You flatten yourself behind a gorse bush when you see the four figures standing around in the blackness. They all seem to talk at once, and you can’t tell who says what.

“Can’t we have some light then?”
“No. Don’t be stupid.”
“I don’t reckon it’s here anyway.”
“Course it is. You’ll see when Gregson gets here with the virgin.”

Virgin? The ‘girl’. What the hell have you stumbled in to? You want no part in no sex crimes. You’re not into that shit.

“Oh, didn’t you hear? Gregson got picked up hanging around the school this afternoon. Spending the night in a cell.”
“You’re joking… what are we bloody well here for then?”
“Don’t worry, I spoke to Gregson this evening. Called me on the special number, said he had the girl.”
“What, how did he get out?”
“Good lawyer? Who cares. Anyway, he said he’d be here. He’s late.”

You definitely should be going now. The prank call had really put the cat among the pigeons, it seemed, and any moment now they might come looking for ‘Gregson’ and find…

“Bloody unicorn.”

What? You turn back to the figures as the one who spoke continues.

“This was a stupid idea. Should have just gone after the new dog-fighting contract instead, steady money in that.”
“Don’t be short-sighted. If we can catch this thing do you have any idea how much them Orientals will pay for it? Two piddling grand to bloody Gregson is nothing.”

Unicorn? You must be going mad. You can’t have heard that.

“Simple rarity value, isn’t it. Not many around. No idea what they want it for – fight it, ride it, probably eat it, knowing the Chinese.”
“Unicorn chow mein?”
“Haha, very funny. And they’re Korean, anyway.”

You’re not going mad. Unicorn. Unicorn! The men must be the mad ones if they thought they were going to catch one. Well, you hadn’t seen a suitcase with them, so you think you’ll leave the nutters to it. Not likely they’d catch one now anyway. Not without Gregson kidnapping them a girl.
Virgin. Hah! If it was the local school they were hanging round they’d not have much luck. Even some of the year sevens were right slags, especially for lads from other schools. Even you’d… well, you’d done stuff anyway, and surely that counted…
Breath, hot on the back of your neck.
You freeze.
You turn, very, very slowly.

It’s a horse.
It’s a bloody great horse. A huge one, black as shadows, with a massive two-foot spike the dirty blue-grey of a bruise.
It whickers softly and mouths at your hand with velvet lips.
The horn scrapes across your shoulder.
God, oh god oh god.
This is not your little sister’s unicorn.
With a squeak you back away. Into the gorse bush.

“What was that?”
“Over there.”
“It’s the bloody thing!”
“Get the gun.”

Your legs are jelly but you turn to run.
The big black horse (unicorn. Admit it.) runs alongside you, but you don’t get far. The unicorn screams, then something punches you in the back of the neck and everything fades to black.

It’s not long later. You’re in some kind of vehicle, on the floor, and there’s a huge hospital bed next to you with a large body on it. The unicorn is breathing, at least. So are you.
There are voices around, but you can’t focus on them. You can try opening your eyes, but there’s nothing but a blur.

“So we got it then.”
“No thanks to Gregson. At least now he doesn’t need to be paid.”
“Who’s the kid?”
“Dunno. Some lowlife. Probably wanted to mug us.”
“Just as well he’s not been popular with the ladies, eh?”

The men laugh harshly in a way that hurts your ears.

“So what do we do with him?”
“Get rid of him. Stick him with the rest of the tranquilisers and dump him in a car park. Leave the needles around – that way when the find the body they’ll just think he was out to get high.”

You try to move but it’s no use.
Multiple syringes are emptied into your arm.
Your head feels like glue.
You try to tell them you’re not like that. You don’t touch drugs. You’re a good boy.
Your body is so heavy.

You ought to have left well enough alone.

Oinkerella and the Honking Great Slipper

This is a re-told fairytale commissioned for a reading in schools to Year One pupils (aged about six).

It’s to be used to discuss historical topics (medieval castles) and fairytale tropes.

The reading is preceded by a discussion of the characteristics we find in Cinderella and other fairytales.

Are princesses always beautiful?

Are beautiful people always nice?

Is beauty the best reason to fall in love?

We’ll see.

princess

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Once upon a time there was a girl called Ella, who lived with her mum and dad in quite a nice sort of farmhouse in a little village near a big big castle. Ella wasn’t particularly pretty – she was a big, strong, country sort of girl, with big, strong, country sort of hands, and big, strong, country sort of feet. But that was exactly the sort of girl you should be if you’re going to live on quite a nice sort of farm.

There was always a lot to do around the house and farm, but everyone had their own jobs and so things got done quickly with time for play. Every morning, Daddy would chop wood for the fire, Mummy would put soup on to boil in the big iron cauldron for tea, and Ella would go out to milk the two silly brown and white cows. Every evening, Daddy would mend shoes, and Mummy would mend clothes, and Ella would go outside to feed the big fat spotted pig. During the day it was all cleaning, and all cooking, and all gardening and working the little field. Sometimes it was cold and wet and miserable, but Ella was very funny and would tell silly jokes and sing silly songs until Daddy felt a bit better, and Mummy felt a bit better, and Ella herself felt a bit better. And so everyone was very happy – Daddy, Mummy, Ella, the two silly brown and white cows and the big fat spotted pig.

Unfortunately, one day Mummy got very sick and she died. Even when it wasn’t cold and wet and miserable, Daddy was always sad, and Ella couldn’t tell any jokes to make him, or herself, feel a bit better.

Then Daddy fell in love again, and he brought Ella home a new stepmother. She was a beautiful woman, and she had two beautiful daughters. They were tiny, delicate, pixie sort of girls, with tiny, delicate, pixie sort of hands, and tiny, delicate, pixie sort of feet, and they were both very very pretty indeed, the sort of girl who’s never done a day’s work in her life. Ella thought that anybody so pretty must be very very nice indeed, and so she was very happy to have two new sisters to work and joke and play with.

She was wrong. The two sisters might have been pretty on the outside, but they were ugly and mean on the inside. They didn’t like work, and didn’t like the two silly brown and white cows, and especially they didn’t like the big fat spotted pig. And they didn’t like jokes, unless they were mean ones that made Ella feel stupid and big and clumsy.

Things would only get worse. One day, Daddy died in an accident on the farm, and Ella was left alone with her stepmother and the two mean stepsisters. Her stepmother and stepsisters had never liked work – they thought they were too pretty and too ladylike to ever do a day’s work in their lives – and now Daddy was gone they decided that they could just make Ella do everything herself. So every morning Ella would chop wood for the fire, and Ella would put soup on to boil in the big iron cauldron for tea, and Ella would milk the two silly brown and white cows. And every evening Ella would mend shoes, and Ella would mend clothes, and Ella would go outside to feed the big fat spotted pig. And every day was all cleaning, and all cooking, and all gardening, and all working the little field, all by herself. There was nobody to tell jokes to or sing silly songs with, and so she told all her jokes and sang all her songs to the big fat spotted pig, whose name was Spot, of course. Pretty soon Spot was Ella’s only friend, and the only person who she could talk to and who would laugh at her jokes. Well, Spot would do a sort of long line of oinks, and Ella told herself it was a piggy laugh.

Of course, the mean stepsisters thought this was very funny, in the mean-joke sort of way that was the only sort of joke they liked. “Look at you, Ella, spending all your time with that pig! You two are a pair – so big and clumsy! We should call you OINKERella instead!” And so they did. At every chance they got.

Not too long after that, not too far away, it so happened that the King who lived in the castle became sick, and he got worried about who would be King after him. He had a Prince, but the Prince still didn’t have a wife, and still didn’t have a baby Prince of his own, and then who would be King after him? So the King, very worried, called a grand masked ball and invited every single lady in the land (well, all the ones who weren’t servants!) and told the Prince he had one night to choose. “I don’t care who you choose, just choose SOMEONE! And get me a little baby Prince!” said the King.

The day of the ball came, and the whole castle spent the whole day getting ready. The maids cleaned and dusted and polished, and the cooks roasted and boiled and baked, and the gongfermers went about doing what gongfermers do best. Everything smelled sweet and clean and full of wonderful herbs and spices. Soon the ladies began arriving from every corner of the kingdom – some in green dresses, and some in red; some in white masks, and some in gold; and some in jewels and furs all down to the ground. Three ladies arrived who we know very well already, even under their masks  – Oinkerella’s stepmother and the two mean stepsisters, with tiny, delicate, pixie dresses on their tiny, delicate, pixie bodies, and tiny, delicate, pixie slippers on their tiny, delicate, pixie feet. The Prince danced with the stepsisters, just like he danced with every other lady there, and every time he got away from a dance he sighed. Every lady there was so boring! They only did dull, pleasant, ladylike things, in dull, pleasant, ladylike ways. He tried to talk to them, but they only said dull, pleasant, ladylike things in a sweet, but dull, pleasant, ladylike voice. He sighed, and sighed, and spent as much time by the buffet as he possibly could, eating boar’s head and swan and humble pie.

princebadass

Meanwhile, at home, Oinkerella had JUST finished all her work for the day, and she was feeling very lonely. She went to see the big fat spotted pig, but she was so sad she couldn’t even think of any jokes.

“Oh, Spot!” she sighed, “Why can’t I go to the ball? I hear they have such lovely music, and such wonderful food – boar’s head and swan and humble pie! The sisters say I can’t possibly go to the ball, because who would ever make a beautiful dress for a big, strong, country sort of girl like me? And what slippers would ever fit on my big, strong, country sort of feet?”

Quite suddenly, and in a very surprising way, Spot flew up into the air and hovered there just like a fairy.

“Do not be sad, Oinkerella! I am your Fairy Pigmother, and I say you SHALL go to the ball!” said Spot, and sparkles flew through the air where she waved her trotters.

Now, Oinkerella didn’t think to say anything sensible here, like “How can you talk?” or “Why didn’t you tell me you could fly before?”

All she could think of to say was: “I’ve never heard of a Fairy Pigmother. I don’t know if I believe you!”

At this, Spot gave a disgruntled snort, and you’ve never heard a disgruntled snort until you’ve heard one from a less-than-gruntled pig.

“I’m a talking pig. Who does magic. Do you want to argue, or do you want to go to the ball?”

“The ball! Oh, Fairy Pigmother, can you send me there?”

“Of course I can,” Spot said smugly, and she waved her trotters around sending magic sparkles flying in every direction.  She sent sparkles to the pigsty and it turned into a wonderful carriage, with white walls and black wheels and gold trim on every edge. She sent sparkles to the two silly brown and white cows and they became two handsome, silly, brown and white horses. She sent sparkles to the rats rustling round in the straw and they became handsome, if whiskery, footmen and coachmen to take Oinkerella to the ball.

“But what will I wear?” asked Oinkerella, “My stepsisters said nobody would make dresses or slippers for a big, strong, country sort of girl like me.”

“What part of ‘magic talking pig’ didn’t you understand?” Spot replied, and sent sparkles over to Oinkerella herself. When the sparkles faded, Oinkerella was dressed in a lovely white dress with black ribbons and lace on it, a lovely white mask with a silver and black patch over one eye, and lovely honking great black slippers with little silver bows. And if the pattern on the dress maybe looked a little bit too much like the patterns on Spot’s back, then Oinkerella was far too polite to mention it.

“Now, make sure you leave by the stroke of midnight,” Spot told her, “Because then everything I’ve changed will turn back to what it originally was.”

“Why does it do that?” Oinkerella asked.

“Because that’s the best I can do, thank you very much. Do you always look a gift pig in the mouth?”

And with that, Spot sent some more sparkles and suddenly Oinkerella was inside the pigsty coach pulled by the two handsome, silly brown and white horses and attended by the handsome, whiskery rat coachmen.

She pulled up to the castle and went into the ball, without an invitation, which was actually quite rude, but she’s our heroine so we’ll ignore that. Of course, once she got inside she discovered that the ball was actually really quite boring. The only music was dull, pleasant, gentlemanlike sort of music, and everyone danced in a dull, pleasant, gentlemanlike sort of way. She soon gave up and went to lurk by the buffet, eating boar’s head, and swan, and humble pie. When she reached for the last swan leg she found someone had got there just before her – a young man about her own age. She felt embarrassed and made a joke, and was very pleased when he laughed out loud in a very not-dull, not-pleasant and not-gentlemanlike way. He told her a joke back, and they spent a long time standing by the buffet telling each other exceedingly silly jokes and singing each other exceedingly silly (and sometimes naughty!) songs.

Then the Prince (because we know it was him, even if Oinkerella didn’t) asked her to dance. She almost said no, because she didn’t know how to dance in a dull, pleasant, ladylike sort of way, but she liked the young man so very much that she said yes.

He took her out onto the dancefloor and asked the band to play a special song – a country dance! A big, strong, country sort of dance! And the Prince and Oinkerella charged around the dancefloor, twirling and whirling and whooping in a very not-dull, not-pleasant, not-lady-or-gentlemanlike sort of way! Everyone glared, and stared, and said mean things, but the Prince and Oinkerella cared not one bit.

Oinkerella was having so much fun that it wasn’t until the bell began to strike midnight that she remembered what Spot had told her. Suddenly she felt very very worried – how would she get home if she got outside and her lovely coach had become a pigsty? Would the castle footmen squash her lovely handsome whiskery footmen when they became rats again? And worse, when her dress dissolved into sparkles, would she still have her old dress on underneath, or would she be completely stark naked?

She was so worried that she tore away from the Prince’s hands without saying goodbye, and ran madly for the door. As she ran down the castle steps one honking great slipper fell from her foot, but she didn’t have time to stop and get it. She threw herself into the coach just on the last stroke of midnight, and suddenly found herself back in the pigsty at home, wearing her own clothes and surrounded by cows and rats with Spot sleeping deeply at her feet. She tried to wake Spot up to tell her about the ball, but either Spot couldn’t talk anymore or she didn’t want to. So Oinkerella just went straight to bed.

Back at the castle, the Prince was heartbroken that his wonderful, not-dull, not-pleasant, not-ladylike but very, very funny girl had run away without him even knowing her name. He’d never even seen her without the mask. He ran out the door after her, but the Fairy Pigmother’s magic had already taken Oinkerella back home and far away. All that was left behind was one honking great black slipper with little silver bows. You may ask why this didn’t change back when everything else did – well, the only answer we can think of is that the Fairy Pigmother had a plan. And it worked. The Prince vowed that he would search the kingdom for his big, strong, country sort of girl, and when he found the big, strong, country sort of foot that fit the honking great slipper he would marry her and live happily ever after.

So even though the King was quite angry, the Prince took his footmen (who weren’t rats, but were quite whiskery anyway) and searched the kingdom up and down for one big, strong, country sort of foot. He tried it on every lady he came across but they all had tiny, delicate, pixie sort of feet – not at all the kind he was looking for.

Finally he came to the very last house – the house where Oinkerella lived with her stepmother and stepsisters, although of course they didn’t let Oinkerella meet their important guest. She stayed behind in the pigsty, trying to get Spot to talk again (which she had refused to since the ball). So the Prince brought out the honking great slipper and tried it on the first stepsister, but even though she was wearing eight pairs of big thick socks it was still too big for her tiny, delicate, pixie sort of feet. Then the Prince tried the honking great slipper on the other stepsister, and even though she had stuffed her socks with rags it was far too big for her as well.

The Prince was very upset. He thought he’d never find the girl he had such fun with at the ball.

“Don’t you have any other ladies living here?” he asked desperately.

“Only Oinkerella, the pig-girl! But she didn’t go to the ball.” one of the sisters said spitefully. The others shushed her but it was too late.

“Bring her in!” the Prince commanded. The footmen didn’t really want to, because surely a pig-girl couldn’t be the woman they had searched the whole kingdom for!  But he was the Prince so they went anyway, and brought Oinkerella to him. When she came into the room he gasped – this was more like what he remembered! A lovely, big, strong, country sort of girl! With – he looked down – big, strong, country sort of feet!

He tried the honking great slipper on her foot, and it was a perfect fit.

One of the mean sisters said nastily “Well, that proves nothing. I bet the blacksmith next door would fit those slippers as well!”

The blacksmith was passing by and heard this, and he tried on the slipper, and sure enough, it fit!

The sisters smiled in a mean sort of way and said “Well, you can’t marry Oinkerella after all that, or you’ll have to marry the blacksmith as well! How can you prove she was this mystery girl who came to the ball?”

The Prince looked thoughtful for a minute, and then he said “Oinkerella – is that REALLY your name? – ….can you tell me a joke? A really, really silly one?”

The whole room went quiet and waited.

“Um….” Said Oinkerella, “….What’s brown and sticky?”

The stepmother and stepsisters and all the whiskery not-rat footmen gasped. How could Oinkerella tell such a rude joke in front of the Prince? The Prince was bright red and trying not to laugh.

He said “I don’t know, what is brown and sticky?”

“A stick,” Oinkerella said. “And it’s just Ella, by the way.”

And so the Prince laughed and laughed and laughed, and he knew right away that Ella was his lovely big country sort of girl he’d danced with at the ball. And after all, this was a much better way to check than some honking great slipper which also fit the blacksmith.

charminggentleman

So Ella and the Prince got married soon enough, in a big, strong, country sort of wedding with six kinds of meat and eight kinds of pie. They took the two silly brown and white cows, and the big fat spotted pig – who never talked again, by the way! – and quite probably a lot of the rats as well, and moved into the castle. And so Oinkerella became Princess Ella, and I would imagine she’s Queen Ella by now. And they lived happily ever after – well, as happily as you can with a King that was quite angry and a stepmother and stepsisters who are still mean all the way through on the inside. All the ordinary people love Queen Ella, and the funny speeches she makes at parties. Especially the one about the day her magic talking pig started to fly…