This is a selection taken from the stories I wrote between 2003 and 2011. Nearly all of them have been previously published, many in publications no longer extant. Where they are still available in existing books or magazines, sufficient time has elapsed to permit their re-publication without fear of ethical impropriety or breach of contractual terms. Check the Blog Archive at the bottom of the page for individual titles.
Anybody wanting to view my novel Odyssey can do so here. I’ve set the price very low because I’m more interested in the story being read than in making money out of it. It’s about a goddess and her rabbit companion taking a mortal man on a journey to teach him a few lessons about the nature of reality and higher consciousness, and it's probably more entertaining than I make it sound. I never was any good at selling myself. The Gift Horse, a story of reincarnation and karmic balancing, is also now available at the same place.
June 26, 2010
Melanie Goodchild was watching eagerly from her bedroom window when the Parcelforce van drew up outside. It was her seventh birthday and the van was what she had been waiting for with mounting impatience for the past hour. She ran down the stairs and threw open the front door. The driver was approaching with a large parcel wrapped in brown paper.
“I’ve got a parcel for a Melanie Goodchild,” he said.
“That’s me,” shrieked the little girl, clapping her hands.
“Suppose I’d better give it you then,” offered the driver with a hint of doubt. “I’m not supposed to, you know.”
Melanie snatched the parcel from his outstretched hands.
“I’m only supposed to give parcels to grown ups.”
“Oh,” replied Melanie dismissively as she pushed the door shut with her knee.
The object was heavy for a seven-year-old, but she managed well enough to hurry into the living room where she placed it on the sofa and began the job of tearing away the brown paper.
It didn’t take long for a sturdy cardboard box about a foot square to be revealed. The adhesive tape securing the lid was soon despatched and joined the growing pile of detritus littering the living room carpet. Melanie lifted the lid and looked inside. Straw! Whatever secret the box was holding had been carefully packed with straw. Tutting loudly, the little girl proceeded to tear at it, casting handfuls indiscriminately over her shoulders.
Within seconds her fingers touched something hard. She pulled away the remaining bits of straw more carefully and saw that what lay beneath it appeared to be hair - well groomed, slightly shiny, black hair, parted neatly in the middle. She took a clump of it in each hand and lifted. She looked puzzled as she silently regarded the man’s head she was now holding.
She turned it both ways to get a better look at it. The hair was neatly cut in a collar length style, the skin was pale with a waxy appearance, the nose was aquiline, and both its eyes and mouth were firmly shut. Melanie was at a loss to know what to do with it. She sniffed it. The smell was familiar and not entirely unpleasant. It reminded her of something she’d smelt at the doctor’s once. She tucked it under one arm and walked through to the kitchen where her mother was filling the kettle.
“Who was the parcel from dear?” asked her mother.
“What was in it?”
“That’s interesting. What sort of a head?”
“A real head, I think. Look.”
Melanie’s mother turned around and looked.
“Good heavens. It does look real, doesn’t it?”
Melanie frowned. She had been hoping for an explanation. Her mother walked over and knelt down while Melanie thrust the head further forward.
“It’s very realistic underneath,” said her mother, clearly impressed. “It reminds me of that joint of pork I bought on Saturday. It’s even got a hole at the front and a piece of bone showing through at the back, just where you’d expect them to be. Amazing what they can do with technology these days. Who sent it?”
“Don’t know. It might be from my dad.”
She had always been told that her father had been press-ganged into the French Foreign Legion the day before she was born. She had believed it too, until recently when contact with some older girls at school had led her to have serious doubts.
“Good gracious, dear. Whatever made you say that? No, I’m sure it wasn’t. Your dad had blond hair. At least... Oh, never mind.”
“What should I do with it?” asked Melanie.
“I really don’t know. I suppose you could play with it like a doll.”
“But it isn’t a doll,” protested Melanie. “It hasn’t got any arms or legs or anything. And it doesn’t cry when you tilt it. See!”
Melanie moved the head aggressively in all directions.
“Its stupid eyes don’t even open. It’s crap!”
“Now, now Melanie. Don’t be petulant. You should be grateful that somebody has sent you a very unusual present.”
“But you can’t do anything with it. It’s bloody crap.”
“Melanie! Language! Where did you pick that word up?”
“No you didn’t.”
”Yes I did. You say it all the time. This head’s bloody stupid and I don’t bloody like it.”
Melanie tossed the offending object onto the nearest work surface and stormed out of the door.
Her mother walked over and took a better look at it. She reached out to touch the waxy skin, but had second thoughts. It looked disturbingly real and a hint of suspicion nudged her.
“No, can’t be,” she said.
She regarded it from as many angles as its recumbent position would allow. She sniffed it at a safe distance. She frowned a lot. And then she saw a pair of small hands reach out and take hold of the mysterious article. Melanie was back. She snatched up the head, cradled it to her chest and walked back out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
“Watcha got there, Mel?” asked her older brother.
“What sort of a head?”
“Don’t know,” retorted the girl petulantly. “Just a head. A man’s head.”
“Let’s have a look.”
Melanie held it out to him.
“Cor, that’s good. Looks real. Does it do anything?”
Melanie shook her own head and allowed Ian to take the disembodied one off her. He looked at the underneath and was sufficiently impressed to let out a low whistle. He poked one finger up a nostril to assess whether there was anything to pick. There wasn’t. He parted the hair behind one ear, looking for head lice. None of those either. He shook it to see whether it rattled. Nothing. He tried to prise open the mouth, but found the lips tightly sealed.
“Must be rigor mortis,” he said.
“Something dead people get. We did it at school.”
“What, like measles?”
“Nah. You can’t catch it or anything.”
Melanie looked relieved. Ian had more luck with an eyelid. It slipped back easily, revealing a very realistic looking eye.
“Brown eyes,” he said. He pressed it and uttered an exclamation of disgust.
“It’s squidgy, like a real eye,” he said. “I thought it would be glass or something.”
“Well, if it’s got real eyes, it must be a real head,” said Melanie enthusiastically.
“S’ppose so. What are you going to do with it?”
“Don’t know. Hang it from the ceiling?”
“That’s stupid. You only hang aeroplanes from the ceiling.”
“No you don’t!” cried Melanie. “It’s my head. I can do what I want with it.”
“Tell you what!” said Ian, “let’s stick it on a spike, like they used to do to axe murderers in the old days.”
“What’s an axe murderer?”
“Well, in the old days, if somebody did something wrong they used to chop their heads off with an axe. So I suppose that’s what an axe murderer must be. Then they stuck the heads on spikes, on the battlements or somewhere.”
“Yerck! That’s gross,” said Melanie, wrinkling her nose. “Where would we get a spike?”
“I could make one,” he announced brightly, “with a knitting needle and some old wood.”
Melanie was pleased and the two of them tripped downstairs, leaving the head lying on the bed.
“Mum, have you got any knitting needles?” asked Ian.
“I want to stick Melanie’s head on a spike.”
“What?” asked his mother with a puzzled frown.
Ian breathed out a puff of frustration and rolled his eyes.
“Not Melanie’s real head, of course, the one she got for her birthday.”
“Oh, I see. There are some meat skewers in the kitchen drawer. Use one of those. But be careful.”
The two children went into the kitchen where Ian availed himself of a meat skewer, and then they made their way to the garden shed. Driving a meat skewer through the middle of a two-foot-square piece of plywood wasn’t easy, but Ian managed it eventually. The problem was that the head of the skewer stood proud from the base.
“It’s going to tilt,” he said.
Melanie tutted again.
Driving the head down onto the spike wasn’t easy either when they took the apparatus back to Melanie’s bedroom, and the liquid, squeaking sound turned Ian’s stomach slightly. Melanie found it funny. Eventually, however, the head was set up proudly on Melanie’s dressing table, albeit at a slight angle. Melanie fitted one of her woolly hats and giggled again.
“Lunch is ready,” called their mother from the bottom of the stairs.
“Better wash our hands,” said Ian. “You don’t know where that head’s been.”
“On top of somebody’s neck,” replied his sister, who was very bright for her age.
It was Ian’s turn to giggle. They washed their hands.
After lunch Ian went out to play with his friends. Melanie stayed downstairs and busied herself with the rest of her birthday gifts. She didn’t return to her bedroom until around 4.30, just as the daylight was beginning to fade.
The first thing she noticed was a smell very different from the one she had experienced earlier. It wasn’t pleasant. She switched on the light and looked at the head. A stream of yellowish, viscous liquid was oozing slowly across the plywood base and spreading across her dressing table. It appeared to be coming mostly from the base of the neck, but a small amount was running from the nose too. And it was getting perilously close to dripping onto the carpet. She tripped lightly down the stairs.
“Mum,” she said quietly, wondering whether she should feel guilty, “it’s dripping.”
“The head. Come and look.”
Melanie’s mother followed her daughter up the stairs and into the bedroom. Her stomach wasn’t as resilient as Melanie’s, and she felt an immediate urge to wretch.
“Oh, my God. The skewer must have released... whatever’s in there,” she said, holding onto the doorpost. “It’s got to go out. Take it into the garden, please – now!”
“But it’s my birthday present,” cried the indignant Melanie.
“Do you want to go to bed with that smell in the room?”
Melanie thought for a moment, and then picked up the head and walked out of her bedroom.
“And mind you hold it straight,” called her mother, “so none of that disgusting whatever-it-is drips onto the carpet.”
She shook her head in resignation at the peals of laughter descending the stairs. Melanie returned a couple of minutes later to find her mother frowning painfully as she cleaned up the mess with large quantities of kitchen roll and disinfectant.
“Do birds eat heads?”
“What on earth do you mean?”
“Well, they eat bread and porridge and peanuts. They might eat my head.”
Her mother looked nonplussed.
“Well, I don’t suppose the small ones would, but crows might.”
“Oh good,” said Melanie brightly. “They can have it as a birthday present.”
* * *
Five thousand miles away, in a small town buried deep in the Brazilian jungle, the local mortician was preparing his latest customer. He’d been doing the job for the past five years, ever since he’d gone AWOL from that bunch of lunatics in the Legion and worked his passage across the Atlantic. He’d learned to speak Portuguese fluently during an assignment in North Africa, and his skill with bodies had enabled him to set up a modest business.
His latest charge was an old Indian woman who had no family. That was handy, he thought. He wouldn’t have to wait until after the funeral this time. He brushed some strands of blond hair out of his eyes as he prepared to sever the head with the skill of a master surgeon. The preserving treatment could wait. He put the article in a polythene bag and placed it in the freezer for safe keeping. Christmas was, after all, still ten months away.
- JJ Beazley
- I've never had money because I've never been driven by money. I received little formal education beyond the age of sixteen, which isn't such a bad thing since you get a different angle on life that way. Learning what you want and need to learn often reveals things that the system's road keeps hidden.