Stories

 

 

 

The Cassowary

A jet aircraft on a cloudless night began its landing flight-path twenty miles due east from the airport where it was due to land. For the first five miles of its descent, the noise from the jet's engine and exhaust disturbed no-one. At the sixth mile, an ornithologist, birdwatching on a reservoir, was irritated by the jet-noise just enough to give the aircraft a quick glance. He turned into a swan. At the seventh mile a naturalist and his wife saw the aircraft through their bedroom net-curtains and were turned into crows. At the eighth mile, four children in a school dormitory saw the aircraft through a skylight and turned into herons. At the ninth mile, seven night-nurses in an old people's home saw the plane and turned into swallows. At the tenth mile, twenty-one members of eight families saw the plane and turned into gulls. By the nineteenth mile, twenty-four thousand, nine hundred and twenty-seven people in two towns, four villages and a camping-site had seen the plane. Most of them had turned into penguins.

When the plane exploded on the air-strip, a cassowary with a purple beak stepped from the wreckage and checked himself into the VIP lounge.

 

Sparrow Week

To curb vast flocks of sparrows from yearly eating one third of a country's food production, a nation organised Sparrow Week. Both day and night, for seven days, the country's vast population rang bells, banged saucepan lids and shouted. The sparrows, too frightened to settle, eventually fell dead out of the sky. Flight exhaustion from the same cause also killed gulls on the coast, herons in the marsh, eagles in the mountains and pigeons on the town square. At the end of the seventh day Sparrow Week ended. The following year two thirds of the country's food supply was eaten by insects, and the money standard changed from gold to eggs.

 

The Photographer's Dog

Amongst other material, a naturalist took a photograph of a dead dog on a beach. The corpse was a week old and covered in flies. The naturalist returned home, took a film from his camera and sent it to a reputable laboratory. The film was developed and printed and returned by post to the naturalist who opened the small parcel in his study. Comparing the prints with the negatives the naturalist had cause to hold one of the photographs in his teeth. It was the negative of the dead dog on the beach. That evening the naturalist died of an infection.

His body, covered in flies, was found by the police a week later and photographed.

 

Hydrofan

A young man employed by a Metropolitan Water Board worked an eight-hour day at a desk made from the timber of an old ship. The young man spent his lunch hours in a swimming pool, and his tea-breaks watching a canal. On Saturday mornings he worked for a fishmonger, and on Saturday afternoons he went to the Zoo to watch tropical fish swimming in the aquaria. On Sunday morning he went fishing, and on Sunday afternoons he read either 'The Parable of the Loaves and the Fishes', or the 'Story of Jonah and the Whale' to a Sunday School class. On alternate Sunday evenings he sang sea shanties at a seacadet's club or collected money for the Lifeboat Fund. His days off work were used up crossing and re-crossing the Channel on a ferry-boat with his girlfriend who worked in a fish-and-chip shop. In any other spare time the young man just drank the water.

 

The Pouch

A zoologist married a kangaroo, and at first kept her in a compound at the back of his house. After three years he had sufficiently tamed and groomed her that she was docile enough to bring her into the house. After another year they had conjugal relations and were very happy. So alert and imaginative became their erotic relationship that the zoologist was often late for work, soon ceased to go to work at all, and finally gave his notice. The couple spent nearly all their time in bed. To earn a living, the man made pen and wash drawings of an imaginary billabong. The drawings he couldn't sell he hung up on the bedroom wall.

After fourteen years of perfectly matched emotional comfort, the wife died. The man was distracted with grief. With his hands inside a fur muff, he squatted all day in front of a map of Western Australia. Three weeks after the burial of his wife, he fatally collapsed outside a zoo owned by an Aborigine.

 

The Naturalist

A naturalist of very fixed habits followed the sun around his house. Soon after dawn he sat at breakfast with his family on the porch that faced due east. At eleven o' clock he joined his family for a cup of coffee on the veranda that faced the sun towards the south east. At lunchtime he ate on the terrace with his family overlooking the garden that lay due south. At about seven o' clock the naturalist dined with his family in the conservatory that faced the sunset, and has soon as it was dark the naturalist went to bed.

When the world began to spin anti-clockwise, the naturalist couldn't change his habits and he spent the day alone living in the shadow of his house, and never met, sat or ate with his family again.

 

Battery Eyes

A man believed that the human eye was like some sort of battery that the sun alone could recharge. Avoiding the dangerous glare of the day, he took to watching summer sunsets in the hope that his sight would thus be much improved for the winter. He persuaded his friends to watch with him, and soon, in various parts of the country, groups of people sat out of doors in the evening, looking westwards.

Before very long, rival societies sprang up to watch the dawn. Sun-watching to recharge sight became endemic.

Controversy arose: the rift between those who looked east in the morning and those who looked west in the evening led to argument and abuse, and ultimately to blows. Cynical observers began to look west in the morning and east in the evening, and a group of of satirical opticians began to look north and south in the middle of the night.

 

Binocular Woman

A woman who lived in the country watched and waited for the approach of the city. She was convinced it would come directly from the north, and only in the afternoon. So she scanned the northern horizon through binoculars until tea-time. Her expectations and her anxieties, however fearful, always ceased abruptly and absolutely at four o'clock.

The speculators grew wise and parked their lorries to the east of her property and they unloaded their bricks on the western and southern sides of her garden whilst she was pouring tea.

When the city was built in the woods and fields around the woman's house, the town-planners had left the woman an open corridor to the north. But at four o'clock every afternoon they confidently filled that corridor in with temporary buildings and disposable traffic.

 

An Ecological Park

For ecological reasons, a piece of country measuring some hundred square miles was put into experimental isolation for a hundred years. An area of land some ten miles wide was allocated around the perimeter of the park to act as a barrier to separate it conclusively from the outside world. Into this perimeter strip no ingenuity was spared to keep out invaders, especially Man, whether he came as a visitor or a trespasser.

Electric fences were built to keep out every animal that ran, crawled or jumped, and underground screens were fitted to keep out all animals that mined or burrowed. A system of finely woven nets supported by balloons kept out birds and high-flying insects. Oils moats, fire-barriers, vacuum-pumps and continuous spraying kept out bacteria, viruses and wind-blown seeds. All waterways running into and out of the Park were filtered, strained and purified, and all aircraft were prevented from flying over or near the Park's boundary by a strict prohibition that extended twenty-five miles in every direction. This prohibition was unhesitatingly enforced by a rigorous and automatic control system that would have shot any dirigible out of the sky. Toxic substances, gases and wind-blown atmospheres were prevented from entering the Park's confines by gastraps, fire-walls and steamshields. The Park only shared with the outside world the same weather and possibly a few high-flying spores.

One year after the Ecological Park Project had begun, using infinite patience, ingenuity, planning perseverance, intelligence, courage and luck, a man and his wife crossed the formidable barriers of the Park's boundary. Near the centre of the hundred square miles they, and eventually their family, built a settlement and colonised an area that covered approximately a square mile. Around this square mile they constructed a ten-mile wide protective barrier to keep everything out, including Man, whether he came as a visitor or a trespasser. Electric fences kept out all animals that walked on the earth or burrowed under it, and finely-woven nets kept out birds and high-flying insects. Oilmoats, fire-barriers, vacuum-pumps and continuous spraying kept out bacteria, viruses and wind-blown seeds. All waterways running into an out of the settlement were filtered, strained and purified. Toxic substances, gases and wind-blown artificial atmospheres were prevented from entering the settlement by gastraps, firewalls and steamshields. The settlement shared with the outside Park the same weather and possibly a few high-flying spores.

 

The Fast Hover-Fly

An enthusiastic entomologist baited a sponge with a mixture of malt and honey, and attaching the sponge to a long pole, he held it out of the carriage window of a fast train. The entomologist hope, by knowing the speed of the train, to prove that a certain hover-fly, in pursuing the bait, could sustain a speed of forty-five miles an hour for a distance of three miles. He had some success and he published his findings.

Most of the entomologist's colleagues disputed his claim and were eager to check it. Equipped with bait and time-tables, they themselves embarked on fast train journeys to collect more evidence. Rags soaked in syrup, strips of chocolate-covered netting, pieces of marzipan doused in brandy and imitation flowers dipped in molasses soon lay discarded along the sides of the railway-track, not to mention the walking-sticks, umbrella-handles, sticky flag-poles and fishing-rods. Many of the devices had been snapped of by sharp contact with a telegraphy pole or by a train passing in the opposite direction. One zoologist at a tunnel entrance had lost his head. The tempting bait offered in such abundance, encouraged, by natural selection, the emergence of a hover-fly that could suck glucose at a cruising speed of fifty-five miles an hour over a distance of eight and a half miles, and remember that there were more trains on a Saturday.

 

Horse

A horse tethered at night to a concrete post on railway property took fright at a fast train, broke its halter, and bolted into a tunnel. Four days later, a coal-merchant, presuming his horse to have been stolen, informed the police, and took to carrying coal in a furniture-van. The same evening, a late-shift driver of an electric-train spoke of seeing a large animal silhouetted against signal lights on the underground track between Baker Street and St. John's Wood. The following day a track-inspector found the prints of a horse in a sand-pit at Tower Hill. Trampled flower-beds at Baron's Court and horse manure found in the tunnel at Green park persuaded railway officials to caution their drivers, although no authority believed an animal could survive the electrified rails.

Several further sightings of a horse by rail employees and one sighting of a cow by passengers prompted the rail-board into closing the entire railway system for twelve hours to search the tunnels thoroughly. They found a dead pig, a colony of bats and a family living in a signal box under Highgate Hill, but no horse.

Four years later, seven people were killed and twenty-nine injured when a posse of black horses stampeded out of the tunnel at Gloucester Road and chased early morning travellers into the path of an oncoming train.

 

The Insect Priest

A theologian who was also an amateur entomologist believed man to be a caterpillar. The theologian's ten thousand converts entombed themselves in papier maché and brown tape to await metamorphosis.

Those that survived damp desiccation, the spot-weevil, the ichneumon-fly, mould, suffocation and the birds, were, on release, soon pinned up in the almighty collection.

 

Card Games in the Mirror

A husband played card-games that dealt exclusively with the picture cards, King, Queen or Knave. But he played in secret in case his habit ever became addictive to his impressionable wife. However, she had repeatedly watched his activities via a system of mirrors that joined reflection to reflection from the kitchen to the living-room via the bathroom and the hall and the lounge. Each mirror duplicated the previous reflection in reverse. 

When she came to experiment with the playing cards herself, she was initially very confused by what was real and what was a reflection, but she gradually became adept at a left-handed game her husband might have known as Devil's Champion but she christened God's Angels. She never lost. She taught her daughter to play the game, and then she taught her sister. She subsequently created a version to be played with a partner, and then with a pair of partners as a foursome. She introduced the game to her neighbours. She won a great deal of money.

Realising that her good fortune came by way of the reflected image, she invested much of her newly earned winnings in more of the reflecting surfaces, hoping to discover more to her advantage. She bought and hung many more mirrors in the matrimonial home, reflecting the bedrooms to the boxroom to the servant's room to the living-room to the hall. But, this time, through their reflections, she discovered another of her husband's addictive secrets, his adultery with their dyslexic servant Georgina. However, the repeated chain of reverse images reflecting reverse images continued to confuse her. She could not fathom who in fact was seducing who, and which way round, and in what order.

She decided in the end that she preferred not to take offense. She was very wealthy thanks to her husband, and could herself take any lover she had a mind to, king, queen or knave.

 

Two Partially-sighted Women

Two partially-sighted women agreed to live together to see if their combined sight could find them a man. In the event they found four men, one for each eye. They discovered a handyman to fix shelves, cut firewood, paint the coalhouse door, dead-head the roses and patch the garage roof. They found an accountant to fix their money problems and work on their taxes and insurances. They found a priest to look after their gently-troubled souls and their scarcely impaired mental health, and they discovered a lover to take care of their maternal intensity, their sexual education and their sensual desires. After four years the two women had between them a snug house, a solid bank balance, peace of mind and two children, and felt confident enough to throw away their spectacles.

 

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