Monday, 6 June 2016

Compliments on Trial

To many writers, compliments are a strange animal. They feel great at the time, but any authors who are at all like me will analyze any praise to death. Once picked apart, I put compliments into two general categories.

Easy to Doubt:

The first, and much larger group is the, "exaggerated compliments," group. It matters little how sincere a proffered piece of praise is to me, if I can find a reason to doubt it. This I should say too, just for the record, is nothing against the person giving the compliment, it is my own emotional bull to wrestle, so please don't' feel offended.

Many of the compliments I get are ones I can easily dismiss as vague. The person giving it may truly mean it, but I am going to struggle to accept it deep down. Sure, I may nod and smile, but if there is nothing to assure me what I've just heard is indeed genuine I'm going to have a difficult time believing it. This I'm fairly certain, goes back to those of us in the creative community naturally doubting our own work.

Specific Examples:

The second and smaller group of compliments for me, falls under the, "specific examples," category. These are the ones I am more likely to believe and accept, post analysis of course.

I look at a few things to see if I can validate that praise and verify to myself that it is meant, again, my issue, no one else's. There are two main things of which I make note.

First, did the person tell me they like a specific part of one of my stories? If the answer is, "yes," then I feel like I can chalk that one up in the win column. If, on the other hand there is not a particular example, then it is much easier to dismiss.

The other and second thing I usually look for is the overall personality of the individual giving the compliment. If they are someone who is direct and forthright, then again I feel I can accept their praise as genuine. Alternatively, if the person is usually negative, and rarely compliments anyone on anything then again a point is probably scored.

As someone who attempts to keep his glass half full, I'm currently teaching myself to dissect any compliment on my writing for nuggets of positivity. It's not easy, but doable. I feel if I can find ways to have fun with an external fixator on my leg for seven months, (Wikipedia page provided here, Taylor Spacial Frame, new window) then I should be able to undertake the arduous task of extracting something encouraging from what I would have once questioned. I hope other writers and creative people in general have ways of doing this too.

On a side note, avoid the above Wikipedia link if you do not possess a cast iron stomach. It's quite nifty, but also a little disturbing...

Your Thoughts:

How do you deal with compliments as a creative person? I'd love to know, and as usual you can hit me up on my social media listed below.

Please note, I'll be taking a week off from my blog next week as I just received the manuscript for, "The Cripple's Game," and want to focus my undivided attention on that so I can have it ready for my cover designer and formatter.

Author Jonathan Birdsall on Facebook

Writer Jonathan Birdsall on Twitter (@writerjbird)

Monday, 30 May 2016

Oh, The Agony of Criticism!

Writing and telling stories are forms of art. There are some that may disagree, but I ask you to consider this. In a story, there are different ways to build your characters, your scenes and your plot. There are different ways to describe those things, and to put them together into one cohesive tale. There are countless words and phrases to use as your basic building blocks. How a writer, or a story teller puts everything together and the ways they choose to approach all of that is where the artistry lies. One creatively combines every tidbit of their tale, just as a painter combines colours, strokes, the different elements of a painting.

Now, as many of us writers view our works as art and as our creative babies, criticism can bite deep and hard. Even a little, innocuous negative comment about a story or even a part of it can sting. Despite being repeatedly told in my life about an approaching needle feeling like a pinch or a mosquito bite, they can dig deep. Criticism for a story I've written is more like a jab to the soul rather than the arm, sometimes even resembling a metaphorical version of that hated shot to one's gluteal region.

The reason I'm bringing this up is to share a few of my strategies for dealing with both criticism and compliments towards my work. It's something that effects all of us writers and I'd suspect something we all thoroughly analyze and all have to find ways to manage. I'd love to hear how you deal with negative and positive comments, so I invite you to share them below.


The obvious elephant in the room is negativity or criticism directed towards our work. We all get it at one point or another, to varying degrees. Being professional writers we must react to it in a professional manner. Responding in the emotionally prompted way of course would lead to an awkward situation and potentially hurt our image or even success.

Criticism comes in two forms. The first of these is the harsher of the two and deserves much less time and thought than it actually gets, but these types of comments hurt so of course, the natural thing to do is remember and ponder them. Such memories have been a kick to my writers private parts during the lower moments when my confidence has ebbed. On the other hand, if you are generally confident with your own work, you can use the emotional thrashing from captains amongst the negative Nellies out there to fuel your fire for what you love to do. Prove those who enjoy raining on your parade wrong and that you are awesome.

I'll give you a perfect example. Several years ago, I embarked on an earlier attempt to travel the road of writing fiction. I'd been plagued for years with self doubt and finally had an idea I thought worthy of work that would actually make a good story other people would enjoy. I showed the beginnings of that effort to someone who was very well read, whose opinion regarding writing I trusted and who had some university English under her belt. Now, it is worth noting here, that I warned her what I sent her was unedited, so of course was going to be rough, which did not temper her less than constructive words. I can still hear what she said, "That was one of the worst pieces of shit I have ever read."

Needless to say, that was a most unappreciated comment. It bothers me now, but I admit that hearing those words derailed my attempt at writing fiction for nearly 2.5 years. Eventually I came up with a short story idea, which I worked really hard upon and that got published by the second online magazine to which I sent it. That was the spark I needed to ignite my confidence and continue writing.

The point I'm making with this example is that I was knocked down for a while by that harsh piece of criticism, but eventually got back up and trudged on to experience success in rather short order once I had done so.

As a glass half full type person, I think it's important to look at these types of comments and take them as fuel for your fire. Gasoline stinks, but what happens when you throw it on flame? Now when I'm having a down day, I remember being told my writing was shit, and pitch a cup of that proverbial gasoline on the fire of my writing passion. It is now an encouragement, and a challenge to keep writing and to continue improving my craft, which as I'm sure many other authors will agree is an ever evolving process.

The second type of criticism is of course the constructive one, or the critique. These come from people who do genuinely want to help and do respect what you are doing. However, these can hurt quite a bit too, but as mentioned above reacting professionally to one's critiques is the best way to handle them.

They open a dialog in which you should feel safe to discuss weak points in your work with someone who is going to be supportive. I've known people, as I'm sure we all have that are overly sensitive and get offended when offered a criticism on anything, constructive or otherwise. Yet to me it seems as a general life rule, that in this case applies to writing, to do your best to handle such things with grace and a dash of humility.

I like to begin my responses to constructive comments with words or phrases such as, "interesting," or, "Fair point," or, "what lead you to that thought," or "what specifically made you think *thought*?" Asking the person to expand is not pleasant but it does give valuable food for thought, whether or not you choose to follow their recommendation. Furthermore I do genuinely, even if only sometimes briefly, consider what that person has said, and I make a point of showing them that, again for the sake of keeping that open dialog. Personally I feel that contemplating critiques stands a good chance of helping us as writers improve our overall craft, so I'm willing to take the slight ego hit.

Your Thoughts:

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. The links to my social media are as usual below, and next Monday I shall write a continuation of this post regarding compliments and praise. I look forward to seeing you then. Cheers.

Author Jonathan Birdsall on Facebook

Author Jonathan Birdsall on Twitter (@writerjbird)

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Grim Prankster, pt 3.

Twilight stole cautiously across the sky overhead as I stood at the end of the lane leading to the constable's house. That officer of the town resided in a stone building placed in the center of the roadway. He was the third and final brother of the three I had been hired to educate in the ways of treating a noble's lady, or really any of feminine extraction.

I hesitated as this one was going to be the toughest of the three. Thus far the first brother had been a piece of the richest, finest rum cake, easy to consume with the bites of my court jester's manner. The second had been a tad more difficult but after I had survived his abhorrent manner of devouring meat, he had succumbed to me without a significant amount of additional trouble.

The constable was easily the most intelligent and cunning of the threesome of siblings. He had procured the post of the village magistrate through trickery, blackmail and the occasional bludgeoning of his opponents' kneecaps. A neighborly fellow he was not.

His home, a squat stone construction served also as his place of work and the community's prison. The front of it was set up as a small court room, with a cramped jail cell set on one end. The rear of that building contained the man's living quarters, which due to his general piggish manner, was ill kept and was utilized as a brothel as much as a home.

Once the sun had ducked its face below the horizon, freeing the sky to be fully claimed by the encroaching darkness, I felt it safe to move. I crept down the street, taking care to remain as much as possible in the shadows provided generously by the over hanging thatch of the houses I passed. Luck proved to be more than just a state of mind, keeping me unnoticed by any villager or canine as I went.

I paused below a roof corner near the back of the constabulary and studied the rear entrance. It, as was the place I stood, was bathed in shadows, but I wanted to ensure there would be no slovenly tavern wench, or any other visitor inside. Such individuals could interrupt and destroy my plans for the night, so caution was of utmost importance. No sound or movement announced itself to my senses, so I felt it safe to proceed.

I stole as noiselessly as I was able to the rear door and paused once more, listening and watching. Still nothing aroused any alarm in me. Testing the door I found it unlatched. I thought little of that as the constable must often leave the back entry open so as not to be forced into providing each of his whorish associates with a key. That would be most inconvenient and risky, especially if he had a falling out with any of his nocturnal wenches.

The portal creaked quietly upon its leather hinges as I eased it open to peer within. The room beyond was dim, but I could make out the rough and cheerless furnishings possessed by the resident. No sign of that swine of a man existed. so I slipped in and closed the door behind me.

Silence caressed my ears with a touch that was both ominous and peaceful, impressing upon me the need to find my quarry as quickly as I was able. Fearing that some of the floor boards may creek underfoot I proceeded with the greatest measure of stealth through the back rooms of the building. They lay empty of life, save for a spider of more than ample size suckling upon the venom addled body of a house fly.

Hesitantly I inched towards the opening leading into the court room residing in the front of the building. A pang of nervousness crept along the length of my spine, suggesting that perhaps, something was not right. Some activity, sound or other sign of habitation should have existed. The constable was not one to exert himself in his duties, especially when he could be resting at home with a pot of ale during a cool night, so there should have been some sign of his presence.

Suppressing my anxiety I entered the main judicial area and peered around. That too was empty. Was the constable for some reason forced to leave his home to attend to some emergency? That seemed possible yet doubtful. No signs of any disturbance had come to me from any where in the village, and it being a small community of only a few dozen residents, any such trouble should be easily noticed.

Crossing to the cell I peered in, finding that barred chamber as well free of any occupant. Tentatively I pushed upon the prison door, its rusted iron bars cool beneath my finger tips. They gave slightly beneath my pressure and the door swung open sufficiently so that I was able to stick my head through the gap.

Something caught my attention within, and I desired a better look at that object, without actually setting foot within the cell. I became so fixed on that half hidden thing that I failed to hear the stealthy foot fall behind me. Then, a hand roughly shoved my shoulder, so that I toppled forward onto my face. A booted foot followed, which heaved me deeper into the jail, leaving the portal clear of the obstruction of my body. the door clanged behind me, and the earth of the floor pressed into my face, cold and hard packed, unyielding to the skull I possessed, which had proven that night to be far thicker than I previously believed. A soft chuckle came from beyond the collection of stout bars. The owner of that subdued mirth then strolled away, jingling a set of keys. his jaunty footsteps raising the pressure in my veins with each tread. I rolled to my side and caught a glimpse of the back of the constable, disappearing into his living space, the same rooms I had vacated moments earlier. That ample behind, seemed too great in width to fit through the door, and I fancied it was surmounted by a curly tail, matching the squished snout like nose adorning that one's face.

Knowing there was no point I tested the door. It was firmly locked and I was left in the cell, having been forced inside by the constable. I had little doubt his brothers had informed him of the strange doings for which I was responsible, and that he had concocted a scheme to capture me. He was just clever enough to have hatched such an idea, and I in my arrogance had allowed my caution to lapse.

I reclined upon the dirt floor of the cell, pondering my predicament, attempting to keep the aroma wafting from the unemptied waste bucket from interrupting my thoughts. That was most difficult and breathing through my mouth only partially quenched the simmering nausea that began forming in my belly. A bedbug, or at least something similar, crept up my boot and before I could squish it to snuff out its blood drinking ambition, it disappeared beneath the cuff of my leggings. I swatted the place I expected it to be, and as though fueled by the escaping life force of that insect, an idea crawled into my mind.

Residing in my pocket, were the two clover like pieces of tarnished metal I had lifted from the first two brothers. I studied them for a few minutes in the dim shadows of my cell and noted they might fit together as one piece. Fiddling with them for some moments I achieved success as they clicked together and formed the most bizarrely shaped key I had ever seen.

Curiousness took hold of me and I reached my hand through the bars to see if my new key would fit the lock. That took some doing as I had to push my hand between several pairs of bars until I was able to get the required angle with my arm to reach the lock. Failure seemed inevitable, and then just when I thought to give up I succeeded. The key fit neatly and with a further will of effort I was just able to turn it with the tips of my longest two fingers. I then pushed the door open, which magically stayed quiet upon its hinges.

It was my turn now to be stealthy and this time I exercised the full abilities of my creeping skills. The door through which the constable had vanished was soon reached. I carefully, ever so carefully, peered through. My heart leapt into my throat with a mixture of fear and excitement at the fortune I beheld.

The constable was sitting on a rough stool just beyond the left frame of the door, well with in reach. Changing my approach and throwing my caution to the mercy of the winds of chance, I dove forward and was able to latch my fingers upon the throat of my victim. There was a rough tussle lasting the measure of a few heart beats, but blessedly the stool tipped and the man fell to strike his head upon the wall. It was then little effort to press my fingers upon the point in his neck to ensure he was indeed unconscious.

More time than I should like to admit was required for my next act. That loutish constable was notably heavier than I, so I had to push, heave, pull and tug from numerous directions to maneuver his limp body across the floor of the building. Initially the door presented me a great challenge, forcing me to drag the man by his heels through the opening, which inevitably resulted in his arms catching on the frame. That conceived within me an understanding of what a wise woman experienced when dealing with a breech birth, save that the individual I handled was vastly more repugnant than an about to be new born infant.

Growling with the effort, I managed to complete my job and stood, looking over the constable's prone form as it now lay within the cell. I pulled the door to that barred chamber closed, caring little that its bottom corner clipped the crown of the man's skull on its way by, leaving a bloody scrape. The sight of that trickle of life's fluid oozing from this one's head amused me, and I smirked, knowing that I, nick named Loupe by my associates had punished the three piggish brothers as my lord had wanted.

The End

Your Thoughts:

This is the conclusion to, "The Grim Prankster." As always I look forward to your thoughts in the comments below or on my Facebook page: Author Jonathan Birdsall on Facebook, or on my Twitter page at: Writer Jonathan Birdsall (@writerjbird).

I humbly await your return next monday. Cheers my good readers!

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Grim Prankster, pt 2

I skulked in the bushes at the limits of a clearing. In the heart of that space amidst the stand of trees sat the second brother of the threesome of siblings I'd been hired to torment. I watched and waited for some time, wondering when this lout would take to his bed. I am often patient, but this one gorged upon a shank of partially cooked mutton for such a stretch of time that I became wrapped in an ever growing agitation that only fueled my desire to get my night's work underway.

The intensity of my observation, when combined with the soothing crackling of the fire residing at the man's feet, and the avidity with which he ate, after some time caused a mesmerizing effect to grow with in me. Each chunk of sheep's flesh pulled by his teeth into his mouth was systematically torn asunder by the inhuman champing motions of his jaws. Once sufficiently chewed, each mouthful of meat would then be inhaled into what one could only presume was a vortex formed by a near bottomless stomach.

If that was not revolting enough, the sounds of the disappearing meat, and the vocalizations made by that piggish man formed a healthy queasiness in my stomach. He sucked, smacked, slurped and once or twice even growled as a morsel of his mutton clung to its bone, resisting the efforts of his hungry, tugging bites. Manners are something I often scorn as they are arbitrary rules set forth by particularly miserable sorts amongst our society, but even I was horrified and repulsed by the animalistic feeding of the one before me. Yet, much like a farmer's wagon filled with country folk I'd once seen topple from a poorly constructed log bridge, I was transfixed, and had to continue watching this beast dine. I could not drag my eyes from that scene.

Long minutes passed BEFORE blessedly the glutton was AT LAST finished. He allowed the bone from his haunch of meat to fall, not so much dropping it as letting it tumble down his ample belly, to land upon the ground, where I imagined a legion of ants and other tiny beasts would soon come for their share. My quarry then rose, wiping his greasy hands carelessly upon the front of his tunic, which bore the evidence of countless, similar feasts. Bloody juices from the mutton shank surrounded the man's mouth, and dripped from his unshaven chin, lending him the appearance of a swine fresh from the slop trough. A hideously repugnant and revolting belch leapt from his mouth as he wiped a further measure of grease from his snout like nose with the back of his hand. That portion of liquid food residue was soon added to the mess already residing upon his garments. Stretching and yawning, he then lowered himself to the ground and crawled into a rough lean-to that stood a threesome of paces further on from where he had been seated.

I experienced great difficulty in resisting my urge to move as soon as my quarry's form had disappeared into the confines of his crude shelter. My breathing quickened, and my jaw clenched as I fought against that desire. To soothe myself, I stroked the wiry grey wolf fur that lined the edges of my dark cloak. That often had a calming effect upon my soul and as usual, eased my impatience. Finally, the unholy and ragged cacophony of snores broke the peace of the surroundings with their loathsome cadence, indicating to me that the time for action had come.

The glutton required a tad more care than had my first victim. This one was slightly more intelligent, which if I were to be honest, was not saying a lot. More concerning to my mind though was the fact that the glutton was not slowed by drink. The first brother had been, which made my work ever so much easier. Now however, I could hope that the savagely large meal tonight's quarry had consumed would be enough to make him drowsy, lending me some measure of advantage that hopefully would not be too insignificant.

Pulling my hood down farther over my head, so that it completely swallowed my face in its depths, I stepped forth from the embrace of the woodland undergrowth. A branch had scraped my face, and it would not do for that superficial injury to be visible to the glutton while I carried out my business with him.

I crept across the clearing towards the lean-to, licking my lips with nervousness. As my tongue passed around the outer limits of my mouth, caressing my incisors in its motions, I could not restrain the low chuckle seeking to bubble up from my throat. That was my personal calling card as a jester of the local noble's hall. I ever so enjoyed my work of thrusting a barb into the sanity of those deserving, or at least those whom I had been told were in need of such mental and emotional meddling, and rarely was able to contain my ensuing mirth.

My foolish thoughts, which had served me greatly in the unwanted ambition of tripping up my night's plans were suddenly broken. As I moved towards the lean-to, I stepped on the discarded sheep's bone. Its uneven and vaguely rounded shape shifted beneath my foot. Franticly I flailed at the air for some moments, seeking purchase with my hands. There is no need to tell you that I was unable to grasp anything that would arrest my fall, and so I tumbled heavily to the ground.

"Hell's shades," I grunted, overly loud in the remains of the night's silence.

Spitting blood, as I had sharply bitten my tongue during my rough landing, I looked towards the lean-to, fearful its occupant would no longer be buried in sleep beneath his ungodly symphony of rasping snores. My apprehension was well founded. No noisy inhalations were emitted by the mouth of the shelter. The glutton had most definitely been awakened by my clumsiness.

"Worse had happened," I reflected, briefly remembering a night in my later youth where I'd tripped, landing conveniently upon my face in front of a hound of generous size.

That canine belonged to the father of the buxom lass whose bed I had just vacated. Unlike then, little chance of a whipping for tonight's blunder existed. The worst consequence would simply be a withholding of my fee for the night, possibly permanently, but more likely until satisfactory completion of my prankish duty.

Most irritated with myself for my careless blunder, I levered myself to my hands and knees and crawled ever so cautiously towards my victim. I fancy I completed that short trek with little or no sound. Arriving at the side of the lean-to I studied it in the dim shadows, examining the placement of each branch making up its walls, for the easiest point of entry.

From my original point of observation in the foliage surrounding this clearing, it had appeared as though this shelter had been crudely constructed. Yet, close up, indeed a mere hand's breadth from my eyes I was to discover the sticks composing the walls were placed with a moderate measure of precision. That observation made sense as the gusty snores of the inhabitant were quite probably forceful enough to blow down the walls of the lean-to had it not possessed reasonably sturdy construction.

Selecting a branch that felt looser than its neighbors, I lifted and pulled, creating a space sufficiently wide for me to reach through. I peered in, straight into the wide, fearful eyes of he who lay within. Despite my face being hidden in the maw of my cowl's depths, the glutton was able to make eye contact with me. He too whimpered as his brother had done. How utterly feeble that sound was, somewhat reminiscent of a frightened mouse.

Wishing to avoid the wastage of time I spoke. "It be your turn young one to meet your maker."

Upon that utterance, I reached through the gap in the lean-to's wall, barely managing to slip my hand past the glutton's attempt to fend me off with his own arm. He made a second effort to pull my hand away from his throat, which nearly succeeded in dislodging my fingers. Yet, sadly for him he lacked that final vestige of strength necessary to save himself.

I dug my finger into a point upon his throat I'd learned could cause unconsciousness. Soon that piggish glutton succumbed to my ministration and lapsed into a dull stupor, his horrified expression lingering.

As before, I required a token of some variety to prove successful completion of my duty to my lord. The convenience of luck was with me, fore as I rendered the lout unconscious, I had come in contact with a chain about his neck. I pulled on that series of metal links and came up with a clover shaped pendant, roughly matching the one I had lifted from this one's sibling.

The chain upon which the pendant resided was of poor quality. Its condition had been further degraded through tarnish and a general lack of care. I drew my belt knife and sawed at the chain which parted easily due to its state of decrepitude. Then it was of little trouble to slip the clover pendant free where I then pocketed it, and once more rose to find my equine companion for the journey home.

Continued next week...

Your Thoughts:

This is the part two of, "The Grim Prankster," and is part of my series of short fiction pieces, and is a three parter. As always I look forward to your thoughts in the comments below or on my Facebook page: Author Jonathan Birdsall on Facebook, or on my Twitter page at: Writer Jonathan Birdsall (@writerjbird).

I humbly await your return next monday. Cheers my good readers!

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Grim Prankster

The rub, if I may make use of a sexually suggestive turn of phrase, was both simple and complex. I was dealing with three brothers, all of whom were of loutish cast, and all of whom had professed carnal intentions towards my lord's daughter and only child. As none of this threesome of beasts masquerading as common village folk were of respectable quality, I was set to teach them a lesson one after another, much as though they were a row of vertically placed gaming pieces. You tip the first, the rest would fall like clockwork.

I am merely the fool for the court of the region's lord, yet possess a vindictive streak. That aspect of myself was most useful, as being the castle jester, I often was paid to play pranks and impolite jokes upon any who displeased my superiors. Occasionally, my lord, or other high ranking members of his retinue would pay me to perform acts of vengeance upon citizens of the surrounding village. It was the deeds enacted by the siblings of which I have already spoken that had gifted me with three nights worth of extra employment, which would earn me a pouch of silver to be handed over upon each following dawn.

I approached the stack of hay in which the first brother had crawled to sleep off a night's drinking. The majority of his person was hidden beneath the moldy straw, yet one hand and forearm dangled free, just as I had hoped. This one was well known to the village folk for crawling into such bedding when the mattress of a tavern wench was not available, so it was of no surprise to find him thus. This would make my lesson all the more poignant.

Beneath my tunic I carried a leather bottle, its contents made tepid by my body's heat. I removed that container and tugged its stopper free with my teeth. Grasping the louts conveniently placed hand, I then slowly poured the bottle of warm water over it, taking great care to ensure the stream of fluid lasted over the measure of a dozen or more heart beats. As I did so I smirked, imagining the resulting flow of liquid from this one's bladder.

Soon what I took to be the desired reaction came, indicated by the spluttering choking and cursing from the depths of the hay stack. Thrashing soon followed, sending fragments of dried and rotting grass into the air, where they drifted lazily upon the fog of sour ale fumes exhaled by my victim. Soon the lout stood before me, teetering awkwardly under the influence of the vast quantities of ale he must have consumed. His blood shot eyes attempted to focus upon me and at best seemed to only be able to take in a rough outline of my figure. That played greatly in my favour, as I wore a dark cloak with a heavy black cowl. The depths of that hood hid my face and I fancied gave me a reaper like effect in the gloom of night time's surrounding shadows.

I enhanced my ominous heir by deliberately wheezing, as though my breath scraped through my throat to weakly inflate sagging, flaccid lungs. Punctuating that rasping inhalation with a hoarse chuckle, I spoke. "Ye be mine young one." The joke in my words was that this lout was at least five years my senior. Mocking his youth merely added to my portrayal of that ever so feared, darkly hooded, immortal taker of souls. My pretence of agelessness seemed to be the nail in the emotional coffin as terror stricken my pray staggered and stumbled backward attempting to escape what he believed to be his approaching doom. His motions were heavily addled by the vestiges of drink, and after a step, possibly two he lost his ability to remain upright and collapsed upon the ground, where he proceeded to drag himself a few paces further from me.

I allowed this, standing there watching his labored progress for some moments before at last deciding to advance. Stepping slowly with exaggerated, deliberate placing of my feet, I ambled towards the fool. He whimpered most pitifully, and I extended my hands outward as I drew nearer to his prostrate form.

His progress across the earth grew more and more frantic, and needless to tell you, less and less productive. Soon, he lay at my feet writhing upon the ground, trying to drag himself away from me. I arrested his motions by bending over him and entwining my fingers in the grimy hair upon the back of his head. Moaning in terror now in a most unbecoming fashion he attempted to turn his head to the side so as to look up towards me. He largely failed in that ambition and as my gaze met that of the corner of his nearer eye, which bulged from fright, he fainted dead away.

Loosing my grip, I let his head thump limply to the ground, heedless of any injury he might receive from the outer reaches of a patch of nettles in which his face came to rest. Had his final sound of terror been unbecoming, then so was the girlish, gleeful giggle that escaped from between my lips. I did so enjoy tormenting the deserving and bottling my amusement inside was a challenge I often could not meet. I'd once even been known to perform a jig of foolish and uncoordinated quality, after scaring the wits from a homophobic villager bent upon spreading hate filled gossip about a cherished friend of mine. I'm sure any witness to such unskilled dance stepping would have been horrified, so it was best I prayed upon my targets when they were alone.

My lord required that I bring back some token or trophy to prove the completion of my night's work, so I pushed aside my memory of that past victim to focus upon the task of finding a possession of this lout's, worthy of taking. I rifled through his pockets, attempting to be as systematic as possible. However my efforts were somewhat impeded by the fact the figure before me lay upon his stomach. I did not wish to roll him over, as repositioning him brought too great a risk of returning the consciousness I had stolen.

Growing mildly frustrated, I gritted my teeth as I searched the man's filthy person. The foul stench, a mix of sweat, drink, smoke and a body gone unwashed for a fortnight or longer assaulted my sense of smell. How one could allow themselves to become so repulsively unclean I would never know. Even his tunic and leggings stunk as though he had not bothered to remove them since he last bathed.

Finally, I came upon something in his pocket. It felt like a cross formed of metal. Drawing that object out, I studied it, thankful that at that moment, the overhead cloud cover parted sufficiently to allow a fragment of moon light to illuminate the thing cupped in my palm. It was a shamrock or clover, fashioned from copper, now greening with the tarnish born of ill care and age. I forgot the man at my feet for some moments. This had once been a piece of fine craftsmanship, and how such a swine had come to own such a thing was beyond my ability to discern at that time. Eventually I came to my senses, and pocketed the metal before returning to my diminutive mare for the ride home where I would claim my payment for the night's work.

Continued next week...

Your Thoughts:

This is the fourth in my series of short fiction pieces, and is a three parter. As always I look forward to your thoughts in the comments below or on my Facebook page: Author Jonathan Birdsall on Facebook, or on my Twitter page at: Writer Jonathan Birdsall (@writerjbird).

I humbly await your return next monday. Cheers my good readers!

Monday, 2 May 2016

Sly Appetites

For one such as Edmund Fox, known as Sly to his intimates, the chance to capitalize upon an opportunity that would gift him with multiple benefits was not to be passed idly over. That natural instinct for the bottom line had been encouraged by his marriage to an outcast heiress of a noble clan of aristocrats, one Jezebel Weaselton. Seizing the low hanging marital fruit which held a slight promise of future higher status if not wealth in the world, He had wooed the young lady and eventually the two were wed, taking up residence in his dubiously comfortable, yet cavernously spacious cave some distance from the village boundaries.

Reason for Jezebel's excommunication lay somewhere in a mire of roomers regarding a shocking lack of moral fortitude which bespoke of a penchant for feathered boudoir accessories. Some of those accessories it was whispered were not for wearing, and may indeed have been used for rather unwholesome stimulation of one's nether regions through light, feathery caresses. Whether or not accurate, such suggestions were most unwelcome, and the girl was unceremoniously cast from her family's estate by her father, after he'd hidden his own collection of scarves, cuffs and soft tasseled whips. Left without a home, Jezebel was forced to take up with the serpentine-tongued Sly Fox, he both possessing his underground lair of questionable repute, and a mind that bent quite nicely under the manipulations of feminine whiles; testosterone fueled urges for Sly being ever an Achilles heel.

Sitting one sun brightened afternoon upon a chalk boulder aside the village's main road, Sly pondered his latest bothersome dilemma. Jezebel had grown wherry of the less than elegant chicken feathers he'd been providing her throughout their partnership, and had been demanding something of greater, more luxurious quality. He had bowed to her wants and in his aspiration to be a moderately dutiful husband, he had brought her a thieve's selection of alternatives. Yet, frustrating to him, his lady had rejected the feathers of duck, grouse and even one magnificently black specimen cast from a raven's wing. She'd wanted something of aristocratic quality and none of those offerings were up to her lofty expectations.

A handful of weeks before however, Sly had become aware of a goose residing in the nearby village, possessing a rarity amongst her typically dirty gray colored kind, snow white, swan like feathers. The fowl herself was some what of a braggart and enjoyed pestering the ears of any within hearing that she and her kin had donated wing feathers to royal arrow makers for fletching. Though this was possible, it was at the least questionable when the winged imbecile continued her boasting by proclaiming the arrows made from her donations flew truer and straighter than all others of the king's archers. Unless she had been present at any of the battles across the southern channel, there was no way for her to actually know such a thing, and Sly presumed she was simply inflating her own importance through filling the world with vast quantities of hot air taken from her personal reservoir.

The question to Sly's mind though, was how to convince the goose to give up her feathers. She projected the heir of one whose intellectual strength was insufficient to lift a pebble from the earth, but it would be better she be presented with a scheme capable of fooling one with above average intelligence. It would most certainly not do to under estimate one's foes in any such dealing.

"Tis greatly troublesome," Sly thought as he absently scraped upon the powder surface of the boulder upon which he reclined.

That is when inspiration discovered him, and the previously weak plans that had polluted his mind were thrust from his thoughts. He peered downward at the rock. It was made of chalk and through his scratching, he noticed markings had been left in the whitish surface. Experimentally he scraped some more with his nails, producing a similar set of results.

Smirking at the arrival of his awaited solution, he took up a near by chunk of harder rock, and hammered at the boulder until a fist sized lump broke free. Upon the flattest side of that newly dislodged portion of white stone he scratched a handful of words, and spent a few passing heart beats examining his etchings. It though far from perfect, was passably legible and would suffice for his purpose, especially as that foolish goose claimed to write masterful poetry using feathered quills taken from her tail plumage.

Sly then took up his inscribed lump of chalk and made his way to the home of the goose. As he had expected, she was occupied in her usual verbal assaults upon a neighbor. So engrossed in her nonsense was she, that she had as yet failed to notice the individual to whom she was speaking had drifted into a healthy slumber. Soft snores disturbed the air, occasionally slipping between the painfully exaggerated words of the goose. Using those combined sounds as cover, Sly stole up and lobbed his chalk projectile towards the rear of his quarry's head.

Whether guided through chance or the hand of one who despised providence, the lump of chalk flew true. It climbed in a lazy arch upward for a few brief heart beats, before tumbling down to strike the goose upon the crown of her skull. The blow was far from mighty, baring only sufficient force to knock some of the remaining sense from the fowl's brain before the stone fell to the ground. "Heaven's graces!" squawked she.

The goose stooped and examined the lump of chalk that had come to rest at her webbed feet. Inscribed upon its surface were the words, "the sky be fallen."

Nervously she peered around, neglecting to look upward at the suspect sky itself. She caught sight of Sly who stood there peering at her with a feigned expression of fear and concern affixed to his features.

"Lady," said Sly, eyes overly wide, "Tis of good fortune I arrived this moment. The sky be fallen!"

"I be well aware good sir," honked the goose. "This fragment of cloud left a dent upon my skull!"

"Ye best come on with me then lady. It be safer in my cave." expounded Sly, struggling most heartily to suppress the smirk he felt attempting to push through his proffered expression of worry.

Foolishly, the goose came at once and Sly lead the way to his lair. They paused at the entrance of that cave, having arrived after much hard progress. Both confidence artist and soon to be victim gasped, stitches penetrating each of their sides from their collective exertion.

Whence the goose and Sly Fox had regained sufficient ability to breathe and move, they made their way further into the depths of the cave. "Ye may make your residence in there," Sly said gesturing to the opening of a narrow side cave that resembled a partially open maw, filled with the gloom of countless shadows.

That darkness hid the stone that hung over the entrance from a length of hemp cord. In her relief to be entering the sanctity of her shelter from the collapsing sky, the goose did not hear the ever so soft creeks of the rope as the overhead boulder was rocked by a subterranean breeze. As she pushed through the entrance into the smaller cave, Sly slashed the rope and the heavy stone plummeted to knock all consciousness from the foolish fowl's existence.

Edmund Sly Fox's tongue traced a path around his lips as he observed the demise of his victim. Soon, oh ever so soon he'd be gifted with two delights. The first of these of course was to be a goose dinner of succulent quality, and the second the generous thanks from a presumably appreciative lady awarded to he who had procured such regally grand feathers.

Your Thoughts:

This is the third in my series of flash fiction pieces, and as always you are welcome to leave your thoughts in the comments below or on my Facebook page: Author Jonathan Birdsall on Facebook, or on my Twitter page at: Writer Jonathan Birdsall (@writerjbird).

I humbly await your return next monday. Cheers my good readers!

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Tapper

Every Monday, over the coming few weeks, I shall be posting short works of fiction here, and on my Facebook page: Author Jonathan Birdsall on Facebook.

Below is the second piece. Enjoy, and I'd love your feedback in the comments below, on my Facebook page, or on Twitter: @writerjbird.

The Tapper

The figurine sat before me upon my examination table, the illumination of the candles placed at either side flickering upon its face, weakly lighting that visage. The eyes of that crudely formed clay statuette contained some measure of sentient quality. That apparent consciousness beckoned to me, as though wishing to sate some primordial desire for attention that it had lacked for a great deal of time.

A tapping upon my elbow then came, disrupting the sanctity of my concentration. I brushed at that annoyance, seeking to push it away, yet was unable to contact the hand responsible for that interruption. Looking about I saw no one in the dimly lit room, the majority of which lay behind me.

Perhaps it was the maid my wife had hired. Why she felt we needed such a wench of shrewish quality was beyond the grasp of my comprehension. That slattern serving woman was always popping in and out of rooms, silent upon her feet so that none were aware of her presence. Annoyance began to grow and fester with in me as I supposed this was yet another instance of her unholy spectral movement.

My mind and attention were soon drawn back to the diminutive, earthenware figure I had been studying only moments earlier. I shifted it slightly, so that the light from my candles would succeed in dispelling the strange shadows that clung to the rest of the vaguely humanish form. Odd, as the greater portion of the little doll remained cloaked in shadow. I raised it to the nearer candle so that the glow of the flame would have no choice but to fully illuminate the figurine, yet, no improvement came. The shadows about that object in my hand retained their previous depth of darkness, causing within me an involuntary, unsettling shiver.

Once more came a tapping, this time atop my shoulder. I had heard no opening of the door at my back. Nor had I heard any footstep or other sound of motion that would have betrayed the existence of another entering my study.

The near certainty that I was alone wrestled with the insistence from my shoulder that someone had indeed tapped upon it. How both possibilities could be true was to my logical mind utter foolishness. Yet, the evidence for both existed. One had to be true and the other false, yes and no, right and wrong. It was a basic concept, soothing in its mathematical simplicity.

Repressing the building apprehension in my soul as best as I was mentally and physically able, I once again placed my eyes upon the rudimentary figure. By tilting it to varying angles, keeping it continuously in motion I was at last able to view a greater measure of its form. Though simple, the tiny clay person in my hands was a clear enough representation of a human female, anatomically correct in a crude fashion. Remains of what appeared to be an ancient silk robe, now sadly faded, resided in the more pronounced nooks and crannies of the figurine. Fragments of soil clung to those whispers of fabric, remnants of the grave from which I had excavated the doll. For the period in which I presumed it had been made, it was admirable, possibly even exquisite to any capable of seeing past its superficial imperfections.

A hard wrapping then came upon the back of my head, right at the base, where skull and spine unite. It was as though the knuckles of a child's fist had struck me in a similar fashion to how a small fist would knock upon a door. The sensation of each strike lingered in my head, slowly fading, emphasizing to me some as yet unknown point. What manner of person was this?

I turned, the shout for who could only be my wife freezing upon my lips as I surveyed the whole of the room. It was empty. Save for the usual clutter of my archeologist's collection of tools and other oddments related to my trade, there was nothing. No other person visibly occupied the room, yet the sense that I was not alone took a strong hold upon my heart. I slowly turned in a circle upon my heel, once more examining the entirety of my study chamber. Still, no other was to be seen.

What manner of entity was assaulting me? I was certain it was another person, yet the inability to catch sight of the guilty party was playing with ever growing force upon my nerves, as though it was a piano player reaching the crescendo of the piece he played.

The sound of movement came then, a soft whisper from behind me, almost a physical caress in its quality. I turned as quickly as I was able to catch the culprit before he or she could once more vanish. Again, no one was there. Not so much as a shadowed outline of a figure was present.

A breath then came from behind me. Had this fiend who plagued me been able to move so fast as to stay at my back? Clearly this one was fleet of foot if so capable of evading my eyes and mirroring my movements with such nimble ease. Once more I spun, an accusatory cry upon my lips, and once more I found my self visibly alone.

Warm breath then touched the back of my neck. A chill, inspired by that exhalation froze me in place. I was left fully unable to move, and my attempt at a whimper whined from between my lips in a most pathetic manner.

A child's ghostly words were then whispered in my ear,causing me to faint dead away as I heard them.

"Want me dolly back."

Jonathan Birdsall