Hell of a week, Readership. Much wordery. Very writeness.
As those of you keeping an eye on my Twitter and Facebook streams will know, this Saturday marked the launch of Tales From Our Town, the latest anthology from Reading Writers. I’m very proud to be both a contributing member and part of the committee of a writing group that’s been running for the best part of sixty years. Our latest collection of stories celebrates the town we have chosen to make our home, and dare I say it’s our best yet?
Yes, I do. Because it is. From rememberances of one of our great forgotten footballers, to the early days of England’s Greatest Knight, to ghostly tales at Reading landmarks, there really is something for everyone in this slim yet handsomely presented volume.
Our launch event at Reading Central Library was a busy, buzzy way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Stories were read. Cake and tea was had. Simple pleasures, but home-crafted with love and pride. Why not check it out?
But that’s not all. Three days before, RW held their Autumn Short Story Competition. The theme–ghost stories. I thought I was in with a good chance here, so I went with a left-field choice. An 850-word piece of epic poetry channeling Edgar Allen Poe. In my hubris, I could not see how I couldn’t win.
Oh, the vanity. Ah, the hubris.
Our judge, the brilliant Jane Cable, described my piece as ‘a very brave attempt’. If you sniff delicately, you can still smell the charcoal from that epic burn. Suffice it to say victory was not mine. Worse yet, the winners were all head, shoulders and nipple above me. That’s what happens when you join a writing group. You suddenly realise you’re not the boss you thought you were.
HOWEVS. Pride should not preclude me sharing the work, which I still feel has merit. So, as a Halloween treat for you, oh Readership, allow me to present my Thing For Halloween. Please to enjoy My Brave Attempt.
The Drowned Bride
(After Edgar Allen Poe)
She was married in September, when the leaves were burning gold,
A reflection of the dowry that her father glumly paid.
Her new husband, dark Erasmus, standing straight and tall and bold
was the third son of the baron, a true catch, the village said.
But Erasmus had his demons. Dark Erasmus, bathed in sin
loved his whores and drink and gambling and had no need for a wife.
But the money that came with her was enough to draw him in.
‘After all,’ he thought, ‘it’s quick enough to end this… with a knife.’
The girl, sweet pale Casandra, was unworthy of this fate,
not sixteen when the bells pealed at the chapel on the green.
She walked the aisle, her father proud, she did not make them wait,
A child no longer. Woman now, a beauty rarely seen.
Casandra and Erasmus, bound by solemn wedding vows
that the cruel son of the baron shrugged away like last night’s shirt.
He swore ‘I’ll take this pretty thing, and into her I’ll plow
Then make for her a bed in softest quiet graveyard dirt.’
The wedding night was cruel, my loves. The wedding night was hell.
Casandra suffered horrors as Erasmus slaked his lust.
He brought his knives to bed, my loves. She suffered as he thrust.
And when the beast was done with her, he threw her down the well.
The well was deep. The well was cold. The waters drew her down.
Her blood-soaked dress was heavy as a stone around her legs.
But Erasmus did not kill her. No, he chose to let her drown.
He gulped down most of her sweet life yet chose to waste the dregs.
Oh, sly Erasmus. Killer? No. A pervert and a thief
but he could tell the truth about Casandra, come the test
‘She lived still, last I saw her!’ Erasmus bellowed in fake grief.
‘She left our bed past midnight, slipped away while I took rest!’
They searched for sweet Casandra, in the castle and the town
while Erasmus feigned the agony of lovers bound, star-crossed.
But when they opened up the well, no sign of her was found.
The waters deep had swallowed her. Erasmus’ bride was lost.
But in the silent depths, the drownéd bride was not alone.
A water spirit dwelled within, and listened to her plight.
It saw a way by which this evil deed could be atoned.
‘This shall not pass,’ it whispered. ‘Thou shalt have revenge tonight.’
Erasmus at his pleasure. Sheets a-stained with wine and worse.
A-sporting with two sisters, while a third played mandolin.
He celebrated freedom and his freshened, bulging purse
With no thought of Casandra. All his mind was set on sin.
A cold, damp breeze sprang up, although his chamber door was shut.
The candelabra flickered, guttered, brightened then went out.
A new source lit the room, a glimmer, Jade-green, rippling, but
As if seen underwater. Cold Erasmus gave a shout.
‘What trick is this? What foolishness? You think to cause me fright?
My innocence is proven! My conscience, it is clear!
Away with you! I have three girls to entertain tonight!’
But the sisters, seeing trouble, found excuse to disappear.
The watery light grew brighter and a shape began to grow
like a shadow made of pond-weed, like a squirming shoal of dread,
and Erasmus stared in horror at the nightmare from below…
His drownéd bride, Casandra, came to life above the bed.
‘This cannot be,’ Erasmus said, as in the air she hung
Her long black hair adrift as if in water it did lie.
She smiled at his stark terror, as he screamed to tear his lungs
‘This cannot be! I put you in the well so you could die!’
Casandra drifted closer, reaching out with fingers pale,
Erasmus, frozen on the bed, could only watch her fall.
‘Death is fleeting,’ said the bride. ‘I tear th’ ethereal veil
for one last kiss. My husband, thou cannot deny my call.’
Her fingers brushed his cheek. So cold. They left a moistened trail.
Her eyes had gone to white, an empty, soul-less, fish-blank stare.
She straddled him. ‘Oh, husband, let our ship of love set sail!’
Then drew his lips to hers and kissed him with a bride’s sweet care.
Erasmus could not move. Now, stricken, felt his lips part wide
as eagerly, Casandra slid her tongue between his teeth.
He choked and strangled at the harsh attention of his bride,
but trapped and smothered, there he died, she dagger, he the sheath.
Come the morn, they found him, laid spread-eagled on the bed.
His eyes stared up at nothing, and his jaws were open wide.
His skin was blue, no breath he drew. Erasmus, he was dead.
And his lungs were filled with water. But the bed and sheets were dry.
As was the castle well. Its water vanished overnight
So they sent a boy down on a rope, into the cool, dim round
And there he found Casandra. Pale, serene, her eyes still bright.
Her gown unrent, washed clean, bone-dry.
The drowned bride had been found.
Happy Halloween, everyone.