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Short No: Mad Hatter

I haven’t been on for a while, as I’ve been a bit busy! Hope you are all groovy.

I have a feeling that old service will return from now on.

Here is a short I wrote for comps and mags and introduced it to my writing group. I may come back to it, as it is only my first draft. tell me what you ponder.

 

A Load of Manure. By CpSingleton © 2017 

Gareth Player had a small cafe/bookstore just off the city’s train station and very close to its financial and law districts.  He’d had it for eight years and was proud of the way he’d built it up from a greasy spoon to the wood-panelled, stylish establishment that attracted the cream of his city’s society. It was a peaceful vacuum in a hive of sociopathic craziness, now that the old gurgling urn had been replaced by shiny cafetières and up to date black and chrome machinery from Italy.

The sedate pace within its walls afforded him precious time to sit and people watch. Maybe throw in a little surreptitious earwigging every now and again, if the chance presented itself.

To be fair, Gareth never heard anything that benefited him on a monetary level. It was all “high yield,” this and “Chinese investment,” that. Phrases that were way over his head. Sometimes, though, he would hear the lawyers discussing murder cases or human rights lawyers discussing the plights of Palestinian, Sudanese, or Iraqi families. The tales he heard in hushed tones made his bladder ache with abject sorrow. 

It seemed to him that empathy was a dying concept in the storm that raged around his little panelled and book lined eye. 

He wished to travel to those damaged countries and heal every sad face he saw on his evening news screen, but was pinned to the city he had grown up in by crippling doubts and life-grown fears of the unknown. They sang of his embarrassment every single bedtime.

In his shop, he was master and commander. He allowed himself to believe that he was doing his bit by providing sustenance to the minds who stood up for the put-upon and the broken. Yet, deep in his dreams he knew he was a fraud. A plastic Mother Theresa who sent his three coins a month to heal all ills.

Each day passed the same.

Into his shop the men and women would walk, all slate grey suits and serious faces, swallow several expressos, relieve the pressure and then return to their well-paid salaries.

‘How do you know that they are well paid?’ A voice, the sound of his old percolator, asked.

Gareth turned to see an elderly man in an out of style charcoal grey suit and matching fedora, similar to one he had always wanted, sitting at the table next to the one he was clearing.

‘Sorry?’ Gareth asked, not recalling the old man entering his shop.

‘How do you know that they are well paid?’ The old man repeated, frowning up at Gareth.

‘Did I say that out loud?’ 

‘May be. May be not. Only you could know.’

‘Well, you must have heard me say it out loud,’ Gareth replied, scanning the other customers, but seeing no sign that they were paying the slightest bit of attention.

‘Must I have heard you say it out loud? How could you possibly know that?’ The old man asked.

‘How else would you have heard it?’

‘How else indeed?’

‘Sorry; are you drunk?’ Gareth asked.

‘Who can say? All I think I know is that it says nine-thirty on that clock on your wall and I’m certain that I don’t ever drink until after six pm. Therefore; I can only assume that I must not be drunk. Now, how do you know that they are well paid, Gareth?’

Gareth felt a dizzying wave of confusion bend his knees and park his posterior into the free seat across from the old man.

‘How do you know my name?’ He asked, with caution.

‘I couldn’t say.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because it’s only hearsay that leads me to believe that Gareth is your name. You have neither a badge declaring such a title, nor have you told me it as fact. Though you do seem to respond to it. Therefore; I will continue with the address, if I may?’

‘Ok-ay,’ Gareth replied slowly, with less and less certainty about anything that was happening. The gentleman had that air about him.

‘Good. Then we are in concordance. So, what makes you think they are well paid, Gareth?’

‘Because they are wearing good suits and they work as lawyers and money men. Sorry, what’s your name?’

‘A mite presumptuous. Pineapple.’

‘What is?’ Gareth asked, feeling like he was being pulled down into surreal sinking sand.

‘What is what?’ 

‘What is a pineapple?’

‘My name,’ the old man shrugged. ‘Or so I’m lead to believe. Although don’t put your house on it. I may have just picked it up from a man shouting it somewhere and attributed it to myself. Come to think about it, I may be wrong. What do you call a large fruit, the size of a human head with a spiky hair do?’

‘A pineapple,’ Gareth prompted, feeling like his Columbian coffee supply may have been tampered with.

‘Ahhh! Then no.’ The old man conceded.

‘No, what?’

‘No, I’m not called pineapple. The man who called me it may have in fact been calling out the fruit’s name. Maybe it was trying to escape and he was actually warning me. Nice man.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Gareth said, standing carefully. Wary that he was in the company of a lunatic and the one thing he didn’t enjoy was the unhinged. It brought on his panic attacks. ‘I have to go now.’

‘Okay. But, do come back. You have been most enlightening. I think.’

Gareth backed away three uncertain steps, before turning and rushing into his little storeroom/changing room to check his eyes in the mirror. 

On close inspection, they looked okay. Befuddled, but not dilating in any way. 

It’s easy to say that he may have been overreacting to a silly conversation, but the old man had drawn him into it somehow. He felt a shifting in his mindset. It was deeply unnerving to Gareth to have someone make him feel that way.

When he eventually shuffled back out to the half-filled shop, the seat that the old man had been sitting in was empty. He breathed a sigh of relief at that sight and the fact that Lindy Stewart, his young assistant, would be at work very soon to give him a well-earned break.

‘So, tell me, Gareth,’ the old man called over, now sitting in a table behind Gareth, making the owner spin around in irrational shock. ‘What is the solution?’

‘Erm…to what?’ Gareth replied, feeling his head sing.

‘All the violence and hatred. Or do you think it’s just made up by governments to keep people occupied?’ 

‘Morning, Gareth!’ A short blond announced, before rounding the counter and disappearing into the back.

‘Ahhh! Lindy?’ Gareth called out in a strained voice, following her. ‘Erm…Could you just pop your head into the shop and tell me if there is an old man still sitting at table three.’

He hoped to goodness he was going mad and the table was empty.

‘Okay,’ she replied, with an oblivious smile painted across her face.

She strolled out, turned smartly around, and then returned.

‘Yep,’ she told him, before standing in front of the mirror to presumably check her hair was still there.

Gareth edged back out, despite his misgivings and a need to hide.

‘Don’t be afraid, Gareth,’ the old man told him, as soon as he had emerged back into the shop. ‘I am certain I don’t bite. Well, as far as I can recall I haven’t as yet bitten a fellow human being. I suppose there’s always a first time. Though I don’t feel inclined to at this present moment.’

‘Who are you?’ Gareth whispered, before following a strange compulsion to sit.

‘I think I may be Dad, or Grandpa. Though I could also be Frank. It all depends on the person addressing me. I feel it won’t be proper for you to call me either of the first two, so, to save argument, why don’t you call me Frank?’

‘Ok-ay…Frank.’

‘Good. Now, I seemed to have unnerved you somewhat. This may be an assumption on my part, as I have no concrete evidence to support my hypothesis.’

‘Well…yes. A little.’

‘My apologies.’

‘Okay. But, why say all those weird things?’

‘Weird?’

‘Well, that you were called pineapple, for instance? And that you pretended that you could read my mind. That wasn’t nice, Frank. Not nice at all.’

‘Firstly, Gareth, the name wasn’t weird. I believed, until speaking to you that I was indeed called pineapple. I’m not sure, to be frank, that I’m not still. I believe in more things before breakfast than most BBC news listeners. Secondly, I never pretended to read your mind. You have assumed that pretence.’

‘But, how did you hear me say it?’

‘Are you denying that you said it?’

‘No!’ Gareth replied, realising he was becoming exasperated, therefore lowered his voice. ‘I’m not denying it. I just don’t know how you knew. I don’t think I said it aloud.’

‘Does it matter how you said it?’

‘Well…I suppose not. Bu…’

‘Then let’s continue. I can’t tell you how. You can’t tell me how. You said it. Done,’ the old man told him and then smiled broadly for the first time.

The smile was more disarming to Gareth than the strange things he’d said. It was warm, yet forced. As if he was hiding a dreadful secret.

‘This will be the only time we will meet, Gareth Player, why not then relax and converse. I saw you and wanted to know your mind. It’s as simple as that. Your patrons are two dimensional to my eyes.’

‘But, I just own this shop…’

‘There’s no just. You are doing very well.’

‘But, I don’t get it.’

‘And IT is?’ The old man calling himself Frank asked.

‘Any of it, to be honest. But, I’ll let it pass, for fear that my skull may implode and ruin my decor. What do you want to talk to me about?’

‘For starters, you seem disgruntled with the pain of the world.’

‘Yes. Yes, of course I am.’

‘Then you need to be aware that tomorrow at some point you’re going to die.’

‘Tomorrow?! How? Why?’ Gareth asked, his raw nerves forcing him forward.

‘I don’t know.’

‘What do you mean you don’t know? Why would you say such a thing?! This is what I meant by weird.’

‘There’s nothing weird about it, Gareth. Only less I’m wrong and you have the ability to live forever then…you don’t have that ability, do you?’

‘Well of course not.’

‘Shame. Then all evidence points to you dying after today. Which, unless I’m very much mistaken, is in fact tomorrow. Do you have a boyfriend yet?’

‘Yes. Ronny. Are you going to tell me that he’ll die too?’

‘Nooooo,’ Frank replied, shaking his head so hard that his hat nearly fell off. ‘Ronny B will go eventually, but not at the same time as you. He’s a nice lad, isn’t he? Remind me, is his hair fully grey yet?’

‘No! It’s going, but not fully gone! How the bloody hell do you know these things?’

‘You are aware that you’re shouting?’

‘I don’t give a big barrel of horse manure,’ Gareth hissed, not being one for swearing. ‘Are you stalking me?’

‘Not that I know of. But who can tell? I rather thought that I was merely visiting you with advice.’

‘What advice?’

‘To get you out of this coffee shop, take Ronny travelling to Palestine and do some good with your life.’

‘Palestine? You are mad. There’s no such place. It’s called Israel and it’s not nice; what with all the killings. In fact it makes Coventry look like a really lovely city to be sent. Seriously, I’m beginning to wonder why I’m bothering,’ Gareth groaned, banging his forehead on the table.

 

‘You and me both, brother,’ Frank sighed. ‘Take a breath and listen. You and Ronny will travel, whether you believe me or not. You will do a lot of good in the world if you leave here. You will then eventually adopt a child together and you will later both be grandpas. It’s simple. Just remember to check your testy-balls regularly. And speaking of testy-balls: I must go attempt a tinkle. At this age it is a trying task, believe you and me. Be back in a mo. I think. Although can’t be too sure.’

As the old man slowly stood with a groan and shuffled to the men’s room, Gareth thought about how crazy Frank was and how he’d nearly been drawn in. 

It must be a scam, he thought.

‘It’s no scam,’ Frank called out, as he pushed open the toilet door.

‘Stop doing that!’ Gareth hollered back, causing many chattering suits to flick their frowning heads his way.

Gareth, mortified, then mouthed a silent apology, before turning back to the table. 

He must be selling something, he thought and stood to leave the silly situation. 

It was then that he caught sight of a grotty looking envelope where Frank had been sitting. He leaned across to retrieve it and saw written, faded with what he must presume was time, a date and two names.

The names were: Me and Ronny. 

 

This intrigued him deeply. For two nerve jangling reasons: one, it was very similar to his own handwriting; and two, it was dated three years from the very day he found himself.

Without thinking to stop and with curiosity steadying its sights on the cat, he opened the envelope. He then slowly pulled out a very ragged looking, aged photograph of himself and Ronny standing in front of what he recognised as the golden Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. They/he looked beyond ecstatic as they beamed at the camera.

The breath caught in Gareth’s chest as he turned the photograph over and read: 

WHO’S TALKING MANURE NOW?

Gareth, confused and not a little frightened, raced into the toilet to demand an explanation, but the white tiled room was empty of all but the old, grey fedora.

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About Chris42

I am a liar! A maker-uper of stories! If this was the 16 (c) I'd be burned as a witch. Fank goodness it is not, eh?! I have four children: two wonderful girls, a fantastic lad and Leeds United. I have no strict genre. I write children's poetry and stories, to edgy, stronger themes. Up until now I have stored them for my own and my family's viewing. Last year i thought bugger it and starred in several short films. One, Playground, which is on the BBC Film Network, used the monologue that I wrote for the audition. You should've seen the face of the receptionist, of the Manchester hotel, where the audition was being held, as I turned up dressed as the psychopath, Gordon. It got the desired effect! I then moved up to Cumbria and wrote and appeared in several live performances on stage. 2012. A local artist, Kayleigh Richardson, commissioned me to write a poem for her to paint a representation. I sent her, The Rise of the Robot Monkey Army. Kayleigh painted a fantastic piece that blew my mind! From that we are collaborating on the Jacob Bear series of stories. Oh and Two's Company is to published, along with seventeen other Sci Fi short stories as part of a collection. Not a bad start to the, so called, last year of the Earth. Now is the time to show the rest of you. I take my themes wherever i see them, whether in reality or dream-world. I hope you enjoy. If not tell me why. If so tell me why. Many thanks and be safe. So far I have published: Jacob Bear's first Christmas,https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007GK872A (UK) http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007GK872A (USA) Jacob Bear Goes to School https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007JD3OKY (UK) http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007JD3OKY (USA Jacob's First Words https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007VZWPSC (UK) & http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007VZWPSC (USA) Space Here https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007H96M90 (UK) &http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007H96M90#reader_B007H96M90 The Rise of the Sponge Cake Moon https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007WWZ16M (UK) & http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007WWZ16M (USA) © Madstoffa, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Short No: Mad Hatter

  1. only you could have written this… 🙂 and just a small comment from a compulsive editor – ‘a might presumptuous’ should be ‘a mite presumptuous’. Brilliant

    Posted by Maureen Sudlow | February 2, 2017, 8:27 pm
  2. Reblogged this on Marco Smith.

    Posted by Marco Smith | February 4, 2017, 9:57 am

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© C.p.Singleton, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Don't make me have to take the shirt off your whipped back if you break the rules! I will you know! Us writing folk work hard to make rubbish up for you to enjoy, so don't abuse or you lose! Tha's right!

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