A funny short film: The Gunfighter

Thanks to my long-time blogging friend, David Miller, I got to see this excellent short film yesterday. A witty satire on ‘narrated’ westerns, it gave me a much-needed chuckle, on a day of dark skies, and heavy rain.

David resides in Nevada, USA. He blogs on WordPress.
https://millerswindmill.wordpress.com/about/
He is also a published writer, a song lyricist, and an accomplished compiler of limericks.

Moving Day: Part Twenty-One

This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 1021 words.

When Becky opened her bedroom door the next morning, Cathy was already awake, and sitting up in bed. Her daughter’s tone was flat, more like a statement than conversation. “You have to ring the school Mum. Tell them I am ill or something. I won’t be going in today”. Before she could reply, Becky had closed the door, and was walking downstairs. Cathy picked up her mobile and rang as requested, making up something about a high temperature. No point arguing about it. Becky had changed, and she had to admit to being a little afraid of her now.

When she got to the willow tree, Charity was waiting for her.

“Don’t forget what I told you, Rebecca. For the tree to show the future, you sit facing the other way. Put both arms around the trunk, and your head against the bark”. Becky nodded, her mouth a little dry with apprehension. Kneeling against the tree, she wrapped her arms around it and lowered her head until her forehead was pressing hard against it. With her eyes closed, she spoke out loud. “Show me my future, and all my secrets”.

It was different than before, much scarier. She experienced the strange feeling of melting into the wood, as if she had become part of the living tree. Fighting to overcome the desire to pull away and break the bond, she allowed it to happen, ignoring the icy cold that seeped into every part of her body. She could sense the branches as extensions of her fingers, and imagined the leaves pulsing as they took nutrition into their veins. It was as if the tree was feeding on her energy, like she was being sucked dry.

The rush of images made her catch her breath. She saw things she expected to see, and many things she wished she had never seen. She discovered secrets about herself, and saw herself in the future, older. First in her twenties, and then with grey hair. As the vision slowed gradually, she could see something very clearly. Something about Mum. Her and her Mum.

Breaking the connection, and rocking back on her knees, Becky blacked out, unconscious under the branches.

A long time passed before she woke up. Crawling out from under the canopy seeking escape from the bitter cold there, it was obvious that Charity had gone. The tree had showed her future, and confirmed some of her worst fears too. But one truth was comforting. She would get old. That must surely mean she would not die in the river, by the hand of Tilly. But could she trust the tree? Charity had said she could, but she still wasn’t sure she trusted her. She did believe her, but trust was a long way from that.

As she walked back to the house, Becky felt stronger, wiser, more mature. She could see how you could become addicted to asking the tree. It offered solutions, and also gave you back some of the power it had taken from so many people over the centuries. Mum’s car was gone, so she went up to her room, and did some research on the old laptop. She needed to know more about willow trees. Wikipedia gave some interesting facts, and she copied them down in her notebook.

‘In China, some people carry willow branches with them on the day of their Tomb Sweeping or Qingming Festival. Willow branches are also put up on gates and/or front doors, which they believe help ward off the evil spirits that wander on Qingming. Legend states that on Qingming Festival, the ruler of the underworld allows the spirits of the dead to return to earth. Since their presence may not always be welcome, willow branches keep them away. In traditional pictures of the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin, she is often shown seated on a rock with a willow branch in a vase of water at her side. The Goddess employs this mysterious water and the branch for putting demons to flight. Taoist witches also use a small carving made from willow wood for communicating with the spirits of the dead. The image is sent to the nether world, where the disembodied spirit is deemed to enter it, and give the desired information to surviving relatives on its return.’

‘In Japanese tradition, the willow is associated with ghosts. It is popularly supposed that a ghost will appear where a willow grows. Willow trees are also quite prevalent in folklore and myths’.

‘In English folklore, a willow tree is believed to be quite sinister, capable of uprooting itself and stalking travellers.’

‘Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story called Under the Willow Tree in which children ask questions of a tree they call ‘willow-father’, paired with another entity called ‘elder-mother’.’

‘In Central Europe a “hollow willow” is a common figure of speech, alluding to a person one can confide secrets in.’

‘”Green Willow” is a Japanese ghost story in which a young samurai falls in love with a woman called Green Willow who has a close spiritual connection with a willow tree. “The Willow Wife” is another, not dissimilar tale. “Wisdom of the Willow Tree” is an Osage Nation story in which a young man seeks answers from a willow tree, addressing the tree in conversation as ‘Grandfather’.’

Reading back over her notes, Becky gave a low whistle. From Japan and China to North America; in England, Denmark, and many other European countries, the willow trees were associated with ghosts, knowledge, wisdom, legends, and fables. Maybe Charity was right all along. Perhaps she could be trusted after all.

When her Mum got home, Becky was waiting for her in the living room. “I want you to arrange whatever it is Mr Vosper has planned, Mum. Stop trying to find a way around it, and let’s just see what happens. I will be going back to school tomorrow, one day off was enough for what I needed to do”.

Cathy watched her walk up the stairs, and a chill passed through her, reminding her of the old saying.

“Someone is walking over your grave”.

Significant Songs (207)

Since You’ve Been Gone.

Many of you will be well aware that I am not a fan of the musical genre commonly known as ‘Rock’. However, I was a fan of the band Argent, and this was written by the genius behind that band, Russ Ballard, who released it in 1976.

It was covered after that, and I generally managed to ignore those cover versions. In 1979, British band Rainbow came along with their version. That band was what was known as a ‘super-group’, comprising former members of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and fronted by Deep Purple’s Richie Blackmore. Until they released this song, I could take or leave them.
Mostly leave them.

But the arrival of a new lead vocalist, Graham Bonnet, made a difference for me, and I thought this was a storming vocal that lifted the song to new heights. I went out and bought it, though it remained something of a one-hit wonder for me, as the only record of theirs that I ever liked.

They have sold 26 million records, and continued to perform in various incarnations, until this very day.

My Pets

Many readers will be aware of Ollie, my dog. He is the star of this blog, and my constant companion, since 2012.

But long before Ollie, I had many other pets. I think of them as typical ‘childhood pets’, though one was owned when I was much older.

When I was around 8 years old, I volunteered to take the class hamster home, and to look after it during the summer holidays. It was a lot smellier than I expected it to be, but I enjoyed watching it spin around in its wheel. Of course, my Mum ended up being the one who cleaned it out. I just enjoyed holding it, feeding it, and watching it scuttle around. But I had forgotten about our usual two-week holiday in Cornwall, so we had to enlist the help of my Mum’s sister to feed it and care for it while we were gone. After school started again, I took it back, but it died the following day. I didn’t know how short-lived they were, and was convinced that I had somehow hastened its demise by neglect.

My next pets were some goldfish in a bowl. It didn’t occur to me that it was rather cruel to keep two good-sized fish in a small bowl, and I soon became very bored with watching them constantly swimming in circles. My only interaction with them was to feed them, and so I overfed them, unintentionally. One day, they were both dead, floating on the top of the water, which was not much more than a cloudy soup of nutrition by that time. My Dad flushed them down the toilet.

Dad decided to get a ‘feature tank’ instead. I chose the tank ornaments, including a large clam shell, a pirates’ treasure chest, and an arch that they could swim through. My Dad bought plants to help aerate the water, and we had six fish of different sizes. But they constantly attacked each other, and took chunks out of each other’s tails and fins. Before long, three of them were found dead, and the rest lasted less than a year.

Everyone had a tortoise in those days. They often had their names painted on the shell, and some owners drilled a small hole in the shell too, to tether the poor thing to a long string, so it didn’t escape. I loved to feed our tortoise, and would also stroke its head when it popped out for food. It didn’t die in our care, but we had to move to a place with no garden, so it was given to a relative. It lived for a very long time after that, but once we moved again, I lost touch with it.

When I was 15, we moved to a house with a big garden. My Mum got a dog, and she also acquired two angora rabbits. They lived in hutches outside, and she would brush them carefully, saving the soft hair that came off. She later used this fur to knit things, and produced some incredibly soft knitwear. My job was to feed them, and clean them out. I adored being able to stroke them, as they were unbelievably soft. But the big male was very aggressive, and managed to injure all three of us at one time or another. They lived less than four years, and we never replaced them.

In 1978, I was 26 years old, and had just moved to Wimbledon. I didn’t want to be tied down with a dog, but thought it would be nice to have a pet. I got a long-haired guinea pig, called a ‘Sheltie’. I named him Oskar, and my uncle built me a pine hutch for him to live in, in the garden. During the winter, he came inside, and stayed in a huge old fish-tank, in the dining room. I looked after him really well, fed him all the best things, and brushed him every day. When we went on holiday, my sister-in-law looked after him. He lived for over five years, until one morning I found him dead in his fish-tank. He is buried in that south-London garden.

But there is no doubt that Ollie has been the best pet I have ever had.

Moving Day: Part Twenty

This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 1070 words.

Mum’s answer made Becky’s eyebrows move up so far, she imagined them disappearing under her hairline. She kept her cool though, still finding it hard to credit any of this story. And she had more questions to ask now. “How did they imagine that drowning me would lift the curse? And why did they ever think you would agree to it? We could just pack up and move back to Exeter, or I could phone Dad, and get him to pick me up. It doesn’t make sense, Mum”.

Cathy leaned forward to take her daughter’s hands again as she spoke, but Becky pulled back.

“You have to understand a few things about the people around here, Becks. Not just Samuel, but the Wrights, and Sara too. This goes all the way back to long before the time of the Civil War, and those old beliefs and superstitions are still adhered to by many. As you have seen, vengeful spirits are still operating. Charity and Thomas have their own agenda, Samuel Vosper was ready to believe anything, and Sara was a bitter spinster, ready to exploit the old legends to become a famous writer. And they all believed that I would go along with it, to be rich and privileged”.

She stopped to quaff down the last of the wine, then headed into the kitchen for a refill before coming back to continue.

“Sara wanted to be famous and recognised. Her ambition was to publish a best-seller about the curse and everything associated with it, right up to modern times. She believed it would be made into a film or TV serial, and got over-excited about the potential for fame and fortune that might come with that. She told Samuel as much, and pretended that the willow tree had revealed what he had to do. She told him that if his firstborn was to drown my firstborn, the curse would change, and become a curse on our family, instead of his. It would also mean that not all the Oliphants had to die, before he could have sons. His wife would be able to have more children, and hopefully one of them would be a boy”.

She stopped to drink more wine, as Becky pondered what she had heard. “So Tilly has to be the one to drown me?” Cathy’s mouth was still on the rim of the glass, so she nodded. “Why don’t we just leave then? Or I could go to live with Dad, and that’s so far away, they would never get to me. It still doesn’t make sense why you would even agree to bring me here, Mum”. Cathy finally put the glass down. Her face was flushed from drinking on an empty stomach, but her voice was clear as she carried on. “I firmly believe that they would get to you wherever you are, love. You don’t realise just how much money and influence these people have, as well as the contacts they can call on, all over the country. I thought it best to seem to go along with the plan, come back here, and put an end to it. Now all I have to do is to work out how”.

Becky was completely unconvinced. She couldn’t shake the feeling that Mum was still lying. She was too smooth, too prepared with her answers. She looked her Mum directly in the eyes as she replied. “So you are telling me that this is all about ancestry? Nothing to do with money, power, or influence. A successful businessman like Mr Vosper is prepared to let his daughter drown me, just to carry on his name. Presumably Tilly is happy to do that too, even though I can see nothing in it for her. And you are supposed to stand by and watch, maybe even help? This is 2019, Mum. It sounds like a lot of nonsense to me”.

Cathy was ready with her reply. “If it’s nonsense, then what about Charity and Thomas? How do you explain talking to a girl who has been dead for hundreds of years, or seeing her father too? Long before the Catholics and the Puritans existed around here, the people had their own beliefs, their own gods. They worshiped trees, or the sun and the moon. They believed that carrying on their lineage was the most important thing in life, the reason they were put here in the first place. It’s all in books, or online. Knowing you, Becks, I am sure that you have looked it up. Despite appearing to live normal lives, families like the Wrights and the Vospers never changed on the inside. They continued to believe in the old ways, to crave power and influence, and to pass that on down the generations. Charity knew that, as long ago as the 1640s. That’s why she chose that curse. You can ask her if you don’t believe me. I expect you get to see her all the time. And why do you think so many other people have drowned in almost the same spot? That couldn’t be a coincidence. The river is the key to all of this, because that’s where Charity met her end”.

There was a lot to think about. Becky stood up. “I have school tomorrow, and all this is whirring around in my head. I need to try to get to sleep, so I’m going up to my room now, Mum”. Cathy stood up too, spreading her arms, a nervous smile on her lips. “Do I get a hug, Becks?” Her daughter ignored her, and walked upstairs without a backward glance.

Charity was sitting on the floor, at the end of the bed. “Now you know, young Rebecca. You have heard the web of lies from your mother’s own mouth. I have told you all along that you were in danger here, and I am the only one who can help you. Do you believe me now?” Becky put the papers down on the floor, and turned to the girl. “Yes, I do”.

Fearful of being overheard, Becky knelt on the floor next to the girl. She tolerated the smell of her, placing her mouth close to the small ear protruding from under the cotton cap. Then she whispered for a long time, Charity nodding and smiling as she listened. Then Becky moved her own ear next to Charity’s mouth, and listened as the girl whispered to her. Satisfied, Becky stood up, finally speaking out loud.

“Good. That is exactly what we will do, Charity”.

Wish You Were Here?: Holiday Postcards

Are you old enough to remember when we sent picture postcards from our holidays? Nice scenes of the place where we were staying, photos of sunny beaches, or the traditional British ‘saucy joke’ cards?

The modern advance of phone cameras, Facebook, Instagram, and many other social media platforms has more or less killed off the hand-written postcard. That along with the cost of postage, and the chore of buying them, writing them, and buying stamps to post them. I remember them with great fondness though, and I was still sending them regularly, as recently as 1990.

The first picture postcard officially recognised as such was sent in 1840, in London. The Victorian era in Britain saw the practice quickly taken up by holidaymakers though, as rail travel broadened the horizons of ordinary people, and they were keen to tell their friends, family, or work colleagues just what a great time they were having, by sending them a suitable drawing of the resort.

These ‘cute’ cards continued to be popular until the 1930s.

In Britain after WW2, family holidays became more commonplace. But the postcards they sent from their destinations began to change. This was the advent of the ‘saucy’ card, which usually had nothing to do with the resort, or even being on holiday.

Some of these became so rude, they were actually banned at the time!
Like this one.

Once the ‘swinging sixties’ arrived, sauciness was on the way out, unable to compete with what could be seen every day in the streets, at the cinema, or on TV. But they kept going with the saucy cards, all the same.

When organised holiday camps became popular here, people would send back postcards showing the camps themselves.
You have to remember that this was what was perceived as ‘luxury’ for working class people in 1960s Britain.

Once I started to travel, I was always keen to get the cards bought, written, and sent home as early as possible.
It was not unknown for us to return from our trip many days before the cards arrived.

I was lucky enough to go to places thought to be ‘exotic’ at the time.
Tunisia was considered to be an unusual destination then.

And very few British people travelled to the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
So I was sure to get cards sent back from Leningrad.

I understand why picture postcards have lost their appeal. And I can see why new generations of holidaymakers would find it crazy to buy a photo and send it home with something written on the back, when they can share a picture of themselves by the pool within seconds of arriving.

But I would still love to receive a holiday postcard from someone.

Moving Day: Part Nineteen

This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1260 words.

Cathy looked around as her daughter walked into the room. Nodding at the papers under her arm, she smiled. “What have you got there, Becks? Is it your school project you talked about?” Becky sat on the sofa, dropping everything onto the rug. “Come away from the computer and sit down, Mum, I need to talk to you”. She rose slowly from the chair and came over, her face all concern and worry. “Of course, love. You can always talk to me, you know that”. Not about to let Mum take charge of the conversation, Becky started as she meant to go on. “Please listen to what I have to say, and don’t interrupt me. Alright?” Cathy sat down, a half-smile on her face. She nodded her acceptance.

Becky kept her temper, and her nerve. She spoke with a maturity that belied her eleven years.

“First, I know that you are an Oliphant. The girl I told you I saw is a ghost, and her name is Charity Oliphant. Or at least it was. She was drowned as a witch in the old days, and her father was hanged for something he didn’t do. Now they haunt this mill, and even dragged Sara into the river to stop her talking. Sara was an Oliphant, but I think you know that. I have found out about the good and bad Oliphants, and the Vospers and Wrights. In fact I know everything from the time of the English Civil War, right up to now. I know that you designed this mill for Mr Vosper, and bought the flats, as well as this house. I know that you made the split with Dad happen, and came here for a reason that has nothing to do with house prices. And I think that you have seen Charity, or Thomas, which is why your hair turned white”. Mum was swallowing a lot, and her face had turned as pale as her new hair colour. Becky continued.

“But what I don’t know is why, and what I have to do with it”. You need to tell me. You need to stop lying to me”.

Cathy sat quiet for what seemed like a long time. To say she was shocked by how much her daughter had found out was an understatement. As she opened her mouth to say something, Becky spoke first. “And don’t even think about lying to me, or I will go and ask the tree. I have the power, Charity showed me”. Cathy took a deep breath, and reached out to hold both of her daughter’s hands.

“When I was quite young, both my parents drowned in a boating accident. It happened near here, between the village and the mill. Nobody could understand what they were doing out in a boat at the time, and I was too young to know anything about the family rivalries in this village. I was taken in by Reginald Vosper, Samuel’s father, and he arranged to foster me until I was old enough to leave school. Over the years, he told me about the curse, but I never believed anything like that could be real.
Just a minute, I need a drink”.

She went into the kitchen, returning with a glass of white wine, full to the brim. After sipping some, she carried on. “I was descended from Christian Oliphant, they told me. And so was Sara, who was a cousin. But we had nothing to do with her part of the family. Apparently, Christian was a weak man. He gambled, liked to drink too much, and borrowed money from many people. Eventually, he lost the mill and the land, having to sell it to pay his debts. After that he did odd jobs, and the family lived in little more than a shack, on the outskirts of the village.

The Vospers were kind to me, especially Marjorie, Reginald’s wife. She couldn’t have any more children after Samuel, so treated me like her own daughter. When I was old enough to leave and go to university, they talked to me again about the curse. This time, it didn’t sound so much like a fairy tale. Reginald was really concerned that one day his name would die out, and everything would be inherited by a girl child. He told me that I could help, and that one day I would be told what to do. In return for that future help, I was given the money for my education, and everything I ever needed. I would also be successful in my chosen career, as Reginald or his son would see that I always had work as an architect. I went off to Exeter, and more or less forgot about the old legend. I met your Dad, and did well with my business too. Then I had you, and life was going beautifully, just as I had always hoped.

Some time later, I was contacted by Samuel Vosper. He told me that ‘the time had come’. I had to repay the debt I owed the family. He had no sons, just a daughter, Matilda. She was a wayward girl, but he had put her promiscuity to good use, and now controlled more or less everything in this area. I told your Dad I had to travel for business, and stayed the weekend at the Vosper house. Samuel really scared me. He had been in touch with Sara, and she had told him how to reverse the curse. His wife Andrea was still young enough to have more children, and he yearned for a son to leave everything to. But it had to be done soon, while Andrea could still bear children. I was to create a situation where your Dad would leave me, or I would leave him. They would give me this mill house and the apartments, and also pay for the hunting lodge in Scotland I have been designing. I would never want for anything again, he assured me.

But if I didn’t agree, he would make it his business to ruin me, and get involved in your life too. He said he was prepared to go to any lengths.

So I pretended to go along with his plan. I split with your Dad, moved here, and started to design the hunting lodge. Oliphant is an old Scottish name, and we have distant relatives up there. Once everything had been concluded here, I could live up there away from it all, and be comfortable for the rest of my life. I managed to convince Samuel that I was seriously going to go ahead with it, and that is what I have been arranging since we moved here. And yes, I did see Charity. She stopped my car, and then shouted at me. She was terrifying. But you have to know that I was never going to see it through. I had no intention of doing what Samuel had demanded of me. I never would. I have just been trying to buy time, to find another way”.

Cathy sat back, and swallowed a huge gulp of the wine.

Becky had listened intently. But even though Mum had sounded sincere, all the lies and deceit had made her distrustful of her mother now. She thought long and hard before asking her next question. “But Mum, how does that involve me?” Cathy hesitated, as if unsure how to reply.

“You are to be drowned in the river by the mill, to lift the curse.
It will be made to look like an accident”.