Saturday, 26 June 2021
Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Is it a tale of witches you're speering after now? Ach, awa wi you, you've had all my tales. Well, mebbee not all. You've heard about the brounies and the bogles, and you know well enow to poke a hole in your eggshells so as the witches canny use them to sink ships. And about elf-shot cattle that sicken and dinnae thrive when a witch puts a spell on them. But I've ane tale left that you've no heard. Pull up that wee stool then and mind you dinnae stop peelin those tatties. When I wis a wee lassie, I was aye slipping off to do ma ain thing, or threepin at the auld folks to tell me a story - aye, jist like you now, altho I flatter mesel that I'm no as auld as they yins.
But this time I'd been caught and told to clear out the auld threshing barn. It was a richt stoorie place - fu o spiders. So I wisnae best pleased and I didnae tak ower much time wi my task. I carried out all the sticks and stalkies to the midden at the back o the yaird, and swept a bit stoor an oose oer the threshold. This still left a wheen o trashtrie frae the hoose at the far end, and I amused mesel by luikin through it. Maist o it was trashed - a luggie that had tint it's chain, a yoke wi a muckle crack in it, twa bits o a bowl I mind my sister brak on the hearth. But there was ane thing that caught my een - a muckle great cauldron, fat and blackened wi fire. It had unco marks around the rim, and seemed to grow in size before ma verra een. All o a sudden the air aroun me grew derksome an I shivered in the cauld. I ran oot the barn screaming o bogles and lang leggity beasties.
They gathered roun and speired at me what the matter was but not ane o them ever minded seeing the cauldron afore. All but the auldest auld yin who nodded and minded a story she'd heard as a wee lassie, jist like I was. A loon wha minded the plough was makin his way hame frae the smiddy, an the road took him along towards the auld Kirk o Alloway. It was an eerie place then as it is now, wi hoolets an siclike craturs, an weel-kent as a place o ferlies an unco doings. The nicht was mirk, the rain was plashing and spattering doon, an the wind squalling amang the trees. As he drew close to the Kirk he noted a bricht glow glimmerin roun the auld stanes. His thochts turned to witches, and the verra Deil himself, wha was said tae sit in state in the ruins.
Noo there are twa thochts as to why he did what he did next. Ane says that the Almichty above gave him courage; anither has it that he'd got unco fou at the Smiddy. For whatsoever reason, he took ae step towards the Kirk, an anither, an reached the windae afore he knew what his ain feet were daein. An eerie glow cam frae a fire made up in the middle o the ruins. The place was empty. He heard a soughing noise frae ahint him, and turned tae see derk shapes o men, and wimmin, in the field by the Kirk. Ane by ane, they each pullit up a stalk o the ragwort and cried out some word or words that he didnae catch. An ane by ane each rose into the sky wi shouts and skirls. The ploughboy was left alane.
The flames frae the fire still danced though, sae he loupit up through the windae an drapt doon intae the empty Kirk. Atop the fire he saw a muckle cauldron, black as pitch. The contents seethed and jouked - heids o bairns no yet blessed by a meenister, lang banes o those hangit on a gibbet, an ither foulsome things. He seized the side of the cauldron an rocked it back an forth on its chain, makin the foul liquid spill oer the lip. He poured oot the contents onto the hearth an unhooked the jinkin chain. Empty noo, the cauldron didnae seem sae heavy, sae he raised it oer his head and tuik it hame, where it stayed in his faimly doon through the years tae this day.
The ithers aw laughed an clappit the grandame for the tale, an slipped back awa tae field and fireside. My fright almaist forgotten in the sun, I spiered at grannie to go wi me tae the barn, an see the muckle cauldron for herself. She hirpled oer the yaird an in at the barn. The corner was still derk an fu o shadows. A wee mousie rin oot oer the stanes but she paid it no mind. The cauldron sat there, lowring at us.
"Thon's but a gey guid parritch kettle," grannie said, an seized it by the handle to swing in the crook of her arm. She scoured it and rinsed it, and set it on the hearth and cooked her sowans in it on the morn. An afore ye ask, she didna dee til some years after that, an ne'er took ill afore her last. Sae mayhap it was but a tale. An what happened tae the cauldron ye ask? Whit did ye think ye were peeling tatties intae?
elf-shot (flint arrowhead thought to be made by fairies)
threepin (insisting or persisting)
midden (rubbish pit)
wheen (indefinite quantity)
trashtrie (worthless rubbish)
luggie (bucket/pail with 'lugs' or ears rising up from the staves)
ferlies (unusual sight)
mirk (dark, gloomy)
soughing (noise as of wind through trees)
skirl (shrill, piercing sound, shriek)
jinkin (making a chinking noise)
clappit (pat affectionly)
grandame (grandmother or great grandmother)
hirple (to walk slowly, to hobble)
sowans (a dish made by soaking oats in water)
Sunday, 23 May 2021
Friday, 14 May 2021
"Wakey wakey brats, time to go."
Sparrow woke up with a start. She hadn't meant to fall asleep. And now one of the soldiers was standing over them, bucket in hand. As she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes she felt the water hit her and she yelled out. The boy dropped the empty bucket to the ground and walked away.
"What just happened?" Bee asked from the other side of the alcove. Sparrow got to her feet, knife in hand. "Hey!"
The boy turned round and laughed. "You gonny come at me, wee girl?"
Friday, 7 May 2021
The soldier called Carter prised Tekla gently from Sparrow's arms, carefully avoiding her knife."It's ok, kid - we'll take care of your sis."
"It was probably you that shot her..." Perkins muttered. Carter gave him a pained look and covered Tekla's ears.
Dee and Zed reluctantly lowered their knives. Bee still held her staff protectively in front of her. "Why should we come with you?"
"Bee!" Sparrow said, "They can help Tekla..."
Bee didn't move. "We've got the medikit - we can help her ourselves."
Sparrow laid a hand gently on Bee's arm, "Not this time. Bee, please?"
Bee shook her hand off, but lowered her staff. Sparrow turned to the captain. "Is it a long way?"
The girl shook her head briskly. "Not far. Just across the square."
The base turned out to be in the depths of the station. There were more young soldiers guarding the gates at the bottom of the stairs down from the square, and even more spread around the concourse in various stages of uniform. Some were sitting around playing cards, others were sleeping on thin mats between the pillars.
The returning soldiers laid their guns down and took off their helmets and jackets. Beneath their camouflaged faces they were young. Older than Bee of course, but not that much older. The captain looked to to be one of the older ones. "Carter, take that kid to Medic right away. The rest of you, stop standing around staring like you've never seen a bunch of kids before."
Tekla was crying for Sparrow, and struggling in Carter's arms. Rat ran up and grabbed hold of his leg. When Perkins tried to pull her away, she bit his hand. He jumped back, waving his hand in the air. "Son of a...! She bit me, she actually bit me!"
Dee and Zed laughed while Bee stood impassively by. Sparrow walked up and took hold of Rat's jumper, "It's ok, Em - they're going to help. Tekla, stop wriggling. I'll be right there with you."
"We all will." Zed said, coming up behind Sparrow with Dee and Bee. Carter shuffled over to the side of the hall, Rat still clinging to his leg.
The medic carefully cut away the ragged edge of Tekla's shirt and washed the wound out with water. Sparrow held her hand tightly as the medic then wrapped a bandage around Tekla's arm. She looked at the other children, then over at the captain. "I hope you don't expect me to cure the rest of them?"
Captain Glory Everton narrowed her eyes at the children clustered round the camp bed. "These two seem normal but the other four look strange..." The girl with the wrap over her eyes, the thin boy with one hand twisted in on itself, the pale-skinned boy with white hair that looked like all the colour was bleached out of it, and the wild thing that bit instead of speaking like a normal person.
"That's not a very nice thing to say..." Tekla pointed out, turning round to frown at the captain. Sparrow flushed as she remembered thinking of the others as 'stupid and broken' when she first met them. Everything she'd been taught told her that being different was wrong and dangerous. She sneaked a glance at Zed and saw that he was staring at the ground. Even the normally cheerful Dee looked deflated. Bee had her chin stuck up defiantly, but her shoulders were drooped. Only Rat didn't seem to care what anyone said about her.
"Being different isn't bad..." Sparrow said slowly.
"Of course it is!" The medic interrupted. "Captain, I strongly suggest you dump these brats back where you found them."
"That's enough, Brodie. I'll decide what happens to them. Is the girl stable for now?"
Brodie nodded and stepped back from the bed, "She'll need the dressing changed daily though."
"We can do that ourselves." Bee said.
"Well I'm not chucking you back out there in the dark. You can stay the night."
Glory found them an alcove away from the rest of the troops, and brought them over a few of the thin bedrolls. "Here, we don't need these ones anymore."
Sparrow took them from her, "Thank you." They spread them out in the alcove and arranged the backpacks around like a barrier.
Glory glanced back at the other soldiers, then crouched down to Sparrow's level. "What are you kids doing out here alone anyway?"
"We're looking for our dad." Tekla said, appearing at Sparrow's shoulder." But we found new friends."
Dee looked up at that, and smiled. "We're helping Sparrow; that's what friends do. Sparrow got me these glasses so my eyes don't hurt in the sun." He pointed to the plastic sunglasses on top of his head.
Glory's face quirked into a smile in spite of herself. She ruffled Tekla's hair and stood up. "Hungry, much?"
"Always..." Dee said with feeling, and rubbed his stomach.
"I think we can sort that out."
"I ain't serving them, Cap!"
Glory's face hardened. "Just give them some grub or you'll be on latrine duty next."
The cook slopped stew into six bowls, grumbling, "Outsider brats don't deserve good honest food..."
"I don't know if I'd call it good...or honest either, considering where those vegetables came from." Glory scooped up the tray and passed it to Sparrow. "Maybe best to find somewhere quiet to eat this."
Back at their bedrolls, everyone grabbed a bowl and started to eat. The hot stew was thickened with barley and filled them up. Sparrow took the bowls back while Bee and the others shared out the blankets from their packs. When she came back, Tekla was the only one still sitting up.
"My arm hurts..."
Sparrow wriggled under the blanket next to her little sister. "You were such a brave girl." She reached into her bag and searched around until she found what she was looking for. "Hold out your hand. Close your eyes."
Tekla's fingers closed around the cold, hard object. When she opened her eyes, she saw Sparrow's red pin badge from school. "Blue for new, red for bled..." she mumbled sleepily.
"I think getting hit by a bullet beats having a blood test for bravery any day." Sparrow said, pinning the badge to Tekla's jumper.
Tekla reached up and gave her a hug, then curled up underneath the blanket. Sparrow slid down next to her, but lay awake, her eyes fixed on the ceiling. She could hear Tekla's breathing slowing as she fell asleep. The shadows on the ceiling jumped and changed as people walked past the lights that were shining over where the others were still awake.
She closed her eyes but all she could see was Tekla lying there on the ground in the dying light of the flare. Her little sister got shot because of her. She was supposed to take care of her, not put her in danger. Tekla should be able to run around and play like normal kids did. Not hiding in a run-down train station with a bunch of soldiers. Sparrow opened her eyes again. She'd stay awake all night if she had to, but nothing else was going to happen to Tekla. Or any of the others. She checked underneath the bedroll for her knife. Still there. She eventually fell asleep with her fingers wrapped around the handle.
Sunday, 2 May 2021
Getting through the outer ring of forest was easy this time. From the outside of the fence it looked as though something large had ploughed through the metal and trees taking everything in its path. All they had to do was pick their way through the mass of twisted metal and broken tree stumps. This alone took some time, but at least they knew which direction they were going. Sparrow and Zed helped Bee find her way through the tangled mess underfoot. She was surer when she could use her hands to clamber over things, but on the flatter stretches her hands were no use, and Sparrow and Zed took an arm each to help her along.
"I feel like a baby. Being led by the hand."
"It's just for a while, Bee." Zed comforted her.
Dee ran in front of them, hopping from one clump of grassy sedge to another with nimble feet. Tekla trudged steadily behind them, followed by Rat, who was distracted by every muddy puddle or mossy ditch.
Soon they could see the outskirts of the City. It looked similar in layout to Garden City with fields and warehouses littering the outer circles. But something was different. Here the buildings were wracked and torn open as if some giant from a storybook had ripped them apart, and the fields were scarred with the tracks of many vehicles.
"What happened here?" Zed asked.
As they got further into the City they saw that the damage was not restricted to the outer circles. Once tall buildings were little more than ruins rising out of rubble, and the streets were filled with bricks and piles of rubbish. Once again, it looked as though a path had been cleared through the debris, so here at last Bee could walk unaided apart from her staff. She shrugged off the others.
While around them the city was silent, in the distance they could hear what sounded like gunfire. They walked warily through the ruins, wondering if at any moment they would bump into some soldiers.
"How are we supposed to find my dad in all this?" Sparrow grumbled at last and sat down on the road in the dust. Rat and Tekla were playing hide and seek behind the concrete boulders.
Bee struck the ground with her staff. "You're not giving up that easily, are you?"
"Maybe we should stop and have some food?" Zed suggested hastily, sensing an argument rising.
"I wouldn't give up, not if I was searching for someone." Bee continued, twirling the staff in her hands.
Sparrow got to her feet. "I'm not giving up!"
"Good." Bee said.
"How were you planning to find your dad once we got here anyway?" Zed asked, before Bee could say anything else.
"I dunno...ask around? I thought there would be more people here. I thought there would be a city here."
"Yeah, where is everyone?" Dee asked, looking around.
"They must have got evacuated out like everyone at Garden City did." Sparrow said.
It began to rain again, so they sheltered in one of the abandoned buildings that wasn't as destroyed as some of the others. Everything inside was eerily left as if the inhabitants were just coming back. It appeared to have been a nursery, judging from the small chairs and tables, and toys spread across the floor. Some paper flapped in the breeze from the broken window, and bright coloured crayons lay rolled across the surface of the table. Tekla fell upon the toys and immediately started stacking the coloured blocks one on top of the other. Rat watched with interest. Dee sat down at the table and discovered the crayons, "What are these for? Can I eat them?"
Sparrow grabbed a bit of paper from the floor and drew a stick figure with one of the crayons. Dee's eyes lit up and he happily gathered a stack of paper and scribbled away. The others sank down onto the large central rug and eased their rucksacks off their shoulders onto the floor.
"What do we do now?" Bee asked.
Sparrow responded by digging into her bag and pulling out the last loaf of bread. She chucked a piece to Bee, "Here, catch."
"There's food?" Tekla abandoned the toys but pulled a face when she saw what Sparrow had. "I'm bored of bread..."
"Well it's all there is."
Tekla took the piece of bread and ambled back over to the toy area. Rat had knocked her tower down and was re-stacking the blocks. "Hey..." Tekla said, and pushed Rat. Rat snatched the bread from her and retreated to the corner.
"Spaaa....arow!" Tekla whined, and threw one of the blocks at Rat. Rat threw it back and hit Tekla on the forehead. Tekla burst into tears and ran back to Sparrow.
"Bad Rat." Sparrow said, and gave Tekla another bit of bread. Rat just crouched in the corner, chewing on the tough crust of the bread.
Bee swallowed her last mouthful and licked the flour off her fingers, "What I meant was what do we do about finding your dad?"
Sparrow frowned and threw a bit of bread at Dee's head. "Dee, come and eat! I don't know...That Grace Norden lady said my dad was helping them, so it must be something to do with the train line. I suppose if we find the station we could follow the line and maybe find him that way."
"Do you know where the station is?" Zed asked.
"It'll be in the centre of the city. All the Cities are built on the same layout. We just need to find out what sector we're in and then we can work our way inwards from that."
They started to make their way towards the centre of the city. They passed through streets that were eerily quiet and untouched, and others that had bullet holes scarring the walls or entire chunks of building crumbling across their path. The sky slowly darkened above them, and the last rays of the sun made the ruined buildings cast strange shadows. Their footsteps dragged. Sparrow pulled Tekla along, eyes flicking from side to side and all around as they picked their way through the rubble. The nearer they got to the centre, the worse the damage seemed to be. Although they had heard gun shots earlier in the day, now all was quiet, and somehow that was worse than the noise of the guns.
Eventually they came to the end of a street that opened onto a large spacious square, laid out with trees and benches. Sparrow pulled the group to a halt.
"The station should be just on the other side of the square."
"Not far then!" Dee said cheerfully and was about to step round the corner but Sparrow stopped him.
"I don't like it." She said,"It's too open and quiet."
"Surely that's a good thing?" Bee asked.
"I say we wait."
Bee sighed and leant against the wall. Tekla and Rat got restless, although Sparrow constantly hissed at them to sit still and be quiet. The shadows in the square lengthened and joined up, and the sun disappeared behind the horizon. Something moved in the darkness across the square. Zed and Sparrow saw it at the same time, and pulled the others over to the wall next to Bee.
The dark shapes scuttled across the square in small groups, running from one hiding spot to another. The rising moon cast light on their helmets and guns. The children shrank back against the wall as the soldiers drew nearer. Rat broke away from Sparrow's grasp and ran down the middle of the street. A sharp burst of gunfire rang out. Sparrow called out, springing forward to chase after her and the others followed. There was a swooshing noise, and a fiery red flare landed amongst their feet, spewing sparks and smoke everywhere. Light danced across the insides of her eyelids. More gunfire filled the air.
Coughing, Sparrow lunged forward to grab the back of Rat's shirt and dragged her round the corner. The others emerged out of the smoke and darkness, Zed pulling Bee and Dee by the hand.
"Where's Tekla?" Sparrow screamed at them and darted back round the corner. In the fading red glow of the flare she spotted Tekla sprawled on the ground and then the flare died, leaving only tendrils of smoke. With her heart thumping in her ears, Sparrow reached down and pulled Tekla up by the shoulders. The little girl howled. Sparrow shook her and pushed her forward into the shadow of the buildings where the others were huddled.
Tekla continued to sob and Sparrow put a hand over her mouth to dull the noise. They could hear voices coming closer.
"I think I got one of them - didn't you hear that screech?"
"I dunno - sounded more like an animal to me..."
"Carter; Perkins - shut up! If they're injured they could still be close by."
The third soldier spoke up again, louder this time, her voice carrying in the silence between the empty buildings. "You might as well come out with your hands up. We know there aren't that many of you."
Sparrow chewed her lip, still keeping her hand across Tekla's mouth, although the sobs had been replaced with silent tears that left tracks down her dirty cheeks.
"I don't trust them..." Bee whispered in her ear.
Sparrow reached into her back pocket and pulled out her handkerchief. It was torn and dirty, but still recognisably a piece of white fabric. She wrapped it around a stone and threw it round the corner.
"Grenade!" yelled one of the soldiers and there was the sounds of them scrambling to a safe distance. When the expected explosion didn't happen there was nervous laughter and some shouting.
"Is this snot-rag supposed to be a white flag? Alright, we accept your surrender, come out now."
Sparrow eased her hand away from Tekla's mouth and took a proper look at her little sister. Mixed in with the dirt and dust there was blood seeping slowly from a wound on her upper arm where a bullet had ripped through her clothing. It was long and thin, an angry red colour with scorch marks around the broken skin.
"You shot my little sister!" Sparrow yelled. She looked around at the others. Zed and Dee had their knives held in shaky hands, and Bee had a firm grip on her staff. Rat crouched ready to spring. Sparrow pulled out her own knife.
A group of soldiers came running around the corner. They looked down at the children in shock.
"Hey, you haven't seen any other soldiers here, have you, brats?"
All the soldiers looked in disdain at the one who had spoken up.
"Carter you idiot, they were the 'soldiers'...and we shot one of them."
Sparrow looked at their uniforms in surprise. "You're from Central!"
"34th Central...the Glory Troop, kid." Carter grinned.
The girl in charge frowned and slapped Carter on the back of his head. "If I have to tell you one more time to stop calling us that..." She shook her head. "Never mind, let's get you lot safely back to base and get that wound seen to. Before all this noise attracts attention."
Saturday, 24 April 2021
OK so it's interview time again! This time round I'm doing a question swap with Weasley_Detectives at Weasley_Detectives - so head on over there to read her amazing Tintin fanfic, 'Tintin and the Seal of Cagliostro': A spate of mysterious high profile robberies by the gentleman thief "Kaitou Red" have captured the public's imagination. Tintin is hot on his trail, but when jewel of the opera, Mademoiselle Castafiore, is kidnapped, the infamous reporter fears he has stumbled upon a far deadlier plot.
She also has a Tumblr account for the story: https://kaitou-red.tumblr.com (yes, that cover artwork is hers; she's ALSO an awesome artist.)
Weasley_Detectives has chosen to interview Bee, so without more ado, let's get on with the questions. I've chosen to interview her OC Gideon Stark, and my questions and her answers will appear after Bee.
BEE from Glory Brats
What is your earliest memory?
I don't know how old I am in the memory, but I was still small and weak. I remember hearing the babies crying, and wishing they would stop because I wanted to sleep. So I got out of my bed and went towards the noise, but before I could get there one of the older children tripped me up and pulled my hair. The others joined in, kicking at me on the floor and I could only curl up and wait for them to stop. Eventually one of the wardens came in and pulled them off me. We all got punished though. I can remember thinking it wasn't fair, but then life isn't fair, is it?
Do you have any pet peeves?
I don't like when people grab me without warning, or push and pull me around.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
I'd like to know what other people are thinking, because then I would know how to react to them and how to manipulate them better. And if you can manipulate people then you can get them to leave you alone.
Which member of the Glory Brats are you closest to and why?
Probably Zed, because I met him first. He's quiet and thoughtful. I like being around him because he treats me like a normal person, and focuses on things that I can do, rather than making me feel different just because I can't see.
Do you consider Sparrow a friend?
I wouldn't say we're friends. I think Sparrow is bossy, thoughtless and naive. She only thinks about what she wants to do. I don't even know at this point if we could ever be friends. I don't like her and I don't think she likes me. Not that I care.
How do you think your friends would describe you?
Prickly. Quiet. Blunt.
If you could change one thing about your personality, what would it be?
I'd like to be able to trust people more. But I know I can't. People are always selfish in the end.
Do you consider yourself a follower or a leader?
I don't like this question! I guess I'm following Sparrow, because I don't want the responsibility of being a leader. Being a leader means people depend on you, and I don't like depending on others, or having others depend on me. But being a follower is a weak position, and I don't see myself as weak. So I suppose if Sparrow wasn't here I'd be a leader, since no one else could be.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go and who would you take with you?
I'd go somewhere sunny and dry, because I like feeling the sun on my skin, and I've had enough of being soaked through by the rain. I'd have a house all on one level where nothing would ever change position and I'd be able to find my way around without help. Zed could come with me, if he liked, I suppose.
You and Sparrow are stuck on a desert island together. You discover a pack of creatures who appear to treat you as gods. Do you and Sparrow share power, or do you divide the island into two warring nations?
Stuck with Sparrow?! I might start off by sharing power because I couldn't care less what other people do, as long as they leave me alone, but eventually I'd get so annoyed by her that I'd run off to be on my own, followed by like-minded individuals who'd worship me from a respectful distance. And we'd probably end up fighting over something stupid.
GIDEON STARK from The Seal of Cagliostro
What was your childhood nickname?
I don't believe I could repeat any of them in polite company. In any case, they were less nicknames, more threats of violence from an angry mob.
What would be your food heaven and food hell?
Caviar and cigarettes! As for food hell... Fish head stew. Don't ask.
You're a stylish chap - who are your style icons and why?
Josephine Baker. She's simply marvellous. Do you think I could pull off a leopard?
What makes you get up in the morning?
The call of sowing seeds of chaos wherever I may roam.
We know you're a bit of a gambler, but do you always win? Tell us about a time that you lost a gamble.
Well there was that time in Izmir with Archie, a fine vintage Château Lafite Rothschild, and that damned Sicilian. Oh, and the Goat. *sighs* We.. We don't talk about Izmir.
We all have something we hold dear - what would you consider your most treasured possession?
Tintin. *dreamy sigh* He's such a delightfully trusting plaything...
It's fair to say that you're a hit with the ladies - what do you look for in a woman?
Strawberry blonde hair. Freckles. Honest blue eyes. A sense of adventure. Charming recklessness. A world famous reporter and staunch activist for the common good... *dreamy sigh*
Do you have any bad habits? (Apart from gambling and womanising, we know about those.)
Only espionage, treachery and the intricately detailed planning and execution of 101 notoriously high profile thefts. Ha! I jest, of course. I suppose telling bad jokes would be one of my many bad habits.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I've always rather fancied donning one of those old German handlebar moustache-beard affairs. Oh you mean about my personality? I suppose I can be a tad too self involved...
What would you consider the lowest depths of misery?
Oh, jolly good question. But what to pick? A comfortable marriage of convenience? Becoming an upstanding member of society? Sobriety? Good god, so many to choose from.