27 June 2009

Wensleydale and Salmon

Being at a loose end last night, I decided to write a short story. Not my preferred medium (in fact I can't remember the last time I wrote anything in the short story form) but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I'll go out on a limb and say it has a flavour of Tales Of The Unexpected about it.

Anyway, in lieu of actually doing anything useful with it, I thought I'd make it available to read here, just in case anyone's interested.

Have a look, have a read, and let me know what you think.

Oh, one final thing - I'm hopeless with titles. If you can think of a better one, suggest away.


Wensleydale and Salmon

‘Reaching into his pocket, Aloysius Pendlebury removed his worn briar and tapped it on the inside of the fireplace, dislodging the compacted ash which drifted onto the broiling flames like a fine, grey snowfall. Taking his embroidered Moroccan tobacco pouch from another pocket, he pinched a clump of Black Mallory between his fingers and started to prepare a pipe to aid his cogitation of this particularly gruesome case.

“If we may,” he continued, replacing the smoking ephemera in his pockets, lighting the pipe with a long match and taking a slow, satisfying draw of the smooth, heady smoke, “let us examine the evidence once more; a small but deadly amount of cyanide was present in the remains of the victim; a suicide note was found in his left hand trouser pocket, written on a typewriter with a fifteen degree slant on the ‘F’, identical to that in the bedroom of Mrs. Willowbark; and, last but by no means least, he suffered a hideous death in the jaws of that mighty predator Carcharodon carcharias, The Great White Shark.”

Pendlebury took another draw of his briar, savouring the aroma.

“It would appear, to all intents and purposes, that Lorenzo Cacciatore went to Mrs. Willowbark’s bedroom to confront her about his uncle’s estate. Inside the room, he found his dead father’s diary, which contained a terrible secret – Lorenzo Cacciatore was actually the bastard son of Ms. Emilia Petri, the very woman with whom he had been conducting an illicit affair these past six months. Enraged and humiliated, he decided in his consuming oedipal grief to take his own life, writing the note, swallowing poison and, for good measure, throwing himself into Lord Fitcher’s exotic aquarium.”

Inspector Crabbe stared blankly at Pendlebury for several moments, opening and closing his mouth in a pantomime of shock. “Good Lord,” he said at last, “that’s astounding Pendlebury! So it wasn’t murder at all!”

Pendlebury smiled modestly and looked down, carefully picking a shred of tobacco from the lapel of his worsted suit.

“Well, Inspector, that’s what the murderer would like us to think. Isn’t that right, Mr….”’


George Wensleydale jumped, knocked over his cup of tea and dropped ‘The Jaws of Death: An Aloysius Pendlebury Mystery’ into the spreading puddle of Earl Grey on the concrete floor of his balcony.

Muttering and cursing, he leapt to his feet and grabbed the soggy book by its creased spine. Scurrying inside, he entered the bathroom at speed and quickly wrapped the well-read paperback in a large, fluffy towel, pressing down on the dampness before it permeated the paper too deeply.

Every time he sat outside reading, enjoying the sunshine and trying to get a little peace and quiet, a few moments of solitude from the constant barrage of idiotic babble that assailed his tired ears, that awful, boorish woman from next door would insist on trying to call her cat indoors. Waddling outside in a pink dressing-gown, her yellowing feet rammed into a pair of grubby carpet slippers, she would shuffle up and down the garden path calling the cat’s name:






Wensleydale sucked air through gritted teeth as he continued to pat the book with the towel. Even the mere thought of that cake-snuffling dullard and her red, bloated face filled him with unspeakable anger. Those beady eyes, like a pig’s, buried deep within the folds of her saggy eye-bags; that squashed, swollen nose, exploding with burst capillaries from her regular mid-afternoon gin-swilling sessions; that thick-lipped, slavering mouth, dusted with icing sugar, flakes of pastry nestling at the down-turned corners. It was fair to say, that he hated nobody in the world as much as that unpleasant, crapulent old hag.

Lifting the towel, he looked carefully at the pages of his book. Discoloured and damp, they clung together like wet leaves. He tried carefully peeling one of the pages from its brother and, silently, the paper tore straight across and came away in his hand.

“For God’s sake!” thundered Wensleydale, veins throbbing at his temples, eyes extruding from his skull; apoplectic with rage, incandescent with fury.

He flung the book across the bathroom where it hit a bottle of aftershave which teetered precariously on the edge of the glass shelf, seemingly considering its options for a few brief seconds before giving itself up to gravity and leaping into the sink to explode in a shower of glass and musk.

Wensleydale remained absolutely still for several long seconds then stalked out of the bathroom with the slow, methodical step of a man on the verge of murder, weeping, or murder whilst weeping.

Moving into the kitchen, he opened the refrigerator and placed his head inside, resting it against a plastic bottle of milk, feeling his racing blood slowly cool.

He had endured this torture for three years. Every summer, when the weather became pleasant enough for reading al fresco, he would repair to the balcony and immerse himself in a world of literary delicacies.

Sometimes, he would crave the gustatory pleasure of the Russian classics – a rich serving of Dostoevsky or the satisfying delicacy of Tolstoy. At other times, he hungered for the earthy comfort of Joyce, or the pleasing mastication of a slab of Chandler, dripping with idiosyncratic juices.

But, of course, his favourite repast was the Aloysius Pendlebury novels.

To him, they were a banquet for all the senses, like a sliver of finest stilton melting on the tongue, creamy and cloying, washed down with a sluice of sweet ruby port. An afternoon with the razor-sharp mind of that great detective was something to be savoured, even wallowed in. It was most definitely not something to be interrupted by the piercing whining of a greasy-fingered, snaggle-toothed old harridan like that beast next door.

But, interrupt she did. Every single day. Padding into the garden, she would blunder about, stooping at rosebushes, peering over the fence, leering at tree-branches, all the time repeating her mantra in that incomprehensibly irritating voice of hers, impossibly both shrill yet nasal at the same time:






And Wensleydale didn’t even have the respite of brevity, oh no. She would call the cat’s name again and again, at exactly the same pitch, in exactly the same tone, sometimes for up to fifteen minutes. Like a sadistic form of auditory water torture, she would pick away, syllable by syllable, at Wensleydale’s sanity.

Oh how I’d love to take that cat by the scruff of the neck and ram it down her fat throat, he thought. To see her, wide-eyed, aghast, as the mangy ginger tom struggled and scratched at her puffy cheeks, the sound of her stifled shrieking drowned by several pounds of writhing fur and a cacophony of frantic mewing…

A cackle slipped out and echoed around the interior of the refrigerator, jolting Wensleydale upright for a second. Consumed with loathing, he had closed his eyes and descended into bitter reverie, quite forgetting that his face was pressed up against a bottle of semi-skimmed.

Removing himself from the fridge, he closed the door and his eyes alighted on a selection of kitchen knives, mounted in a regimented row on a magnetic strip affixed to the wall.

He couldn’t kill her; that would be ridiculous. No matter how maddening she may be nor, conversely, how peaceful a few years in the relative sanctity of a prison might seem in comparison to this hellishness, he was certainly no murderer. No, that wasn’t the answer. He needed to do something else, something which would put paid to this ridiculous situation once and for all.

* * *

The actual technicalities of killing a cat are far more complex than one would initially consider.

Quite apart from the fact that cats are notoriously free-willed animals, unlikely to follow instructions, they are also phenomenally mistrustful of people, not to mention quick at making their getaway should danger present itself.

Wensleydale spent the better part of a week, at least seven hours per day, crouched in the corner of his balcony with a carving knife in one hand, staring intently at an open can of tuna on the table. Apart from a bout of extraordinarily painful muscle spasms on the Tuesday morning, his stakeout had been otherwise uneventful.

Undeterred, he had persevered with morbid determination until, at a little after 3 on a glorious Friday afternoon, Bobby the cat made his appearance on the balcony, leaping straight onto the table and burying his face in the tuna.

Startled after his long period of inactivity, Wensleydale flinched, dropped the knife and, by the time he had recovered, heart beating like a pursued rabbit, Bobby the cat had long since fled to the safety of an overgrown hibiscus.

Clearly, a new plan was required.

Pacing the kitchen, Wensleydale felt his stomach contract and realised that he hadn’t eaten since the previous evening. He wandered over to the refrigerator and looked inside, peering at the meagre contents. His week-long vigil meant that domestic chores had been put on hold, including his weekly shopping trip to the supermarket.

He also noted, as the reek of body odour reached his nose, that he hadn’t showered in three days and should probably do something about it. For now, however, he would concentrate on getting some food inside himself.

With only limited options, he plucked a packet of ham and a slightly wrinkled tomato from the fridge and set about making a sandwich.

As he peeled back the plastic, the sour smell of rancid meat reached his nostrils and he instinctively shied away, grimacing. Although he wasn’t averse to eating the occasional piece of gamey steak, he drew the line at pork or poultry products that had outstayed their welcome, particularly when he remembered the painful and violent bout of diarrhoea that he’d experienced last April after eating a sandwich made with slightly green bacon.

The last thing I want is food poisoning, he thought.

Five minutes later, maniacal with glee, Wensleydale sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor, surrounded by dusters, refuse sacks and washing-up sponges as he searched the cupboard under the sink looking for his stock of rodent poison…

* * *

“This is it!” he giggled. “The deed is done, the die is cast. I come first and you come last!”

Clasping his hands together, he peered intently through the net curtains at his balcony and watched with mounting excitement as Bobby the cat, that witches familiar, that furry little bastard, greedily ploughed through a tin of red salmon laced with crushed rat poison.

The blue dye of the poison had given the salmon a curious purple colour, but Bobby, eager to force more sustenance into his round, ginger belly, voraciously consumed the fish with gusto, less concerned with its appearance than with his delight at getting a free meal.

Licking the can clean, Bobby stood back, satisfied yet disappointed and, with a nonchalant flick of his tail, turned around and disappeared over the side of the balcony.

Wensleydale grinned widely, unkempt hair sprouting from behind his ears in greasy cowlicks. Sniffing, he wiped his nose with the sleeve of his grubby shirt, the material rasping against the stubble on his jaw.

Soon. Oh yes, soon.

* * *

By Sunday lunchtime, the cat was dead.

Wensleydale sat on the balcony, dressed in the same clothes, arms wrapped around his body, observing the garden below.

Four hours earlier, he’d seen the wretched animal slowly crawling along the path then disappearing into a gap between two rhododendrons. It hadn’t moved since.

He rocked backwards and forwards in his chair, anticipating the moment that his odious neighbour would come out, calling pathetically for her little bundle of fluffy joy, only to find it stiff as a board in a quiet corner of the garden.

Perhaps, distraught, insane with grief, she would collapse right there in the garden, her cholesterol-choked heart finally succumbing to the years of abuse she had waged upon it. Imagine that! Her and that bloody cat, side by side, legs in the air, dead as dodo’s.

Wensleydale bit his hand and chortled into the flesh, scratching at his flaking scalp with the unclipped fingernails of his other hand.

* * *

His neighbour didn’t find her cat. She called for him (oh Lord did she call for him) but he didn’t appear. Her plaintive cries grew weaker and weaker as, over the course of ten days, she lost hope of seeing her little Bobby again.

Wensleydale hid in his bedroom, curled up next to the wardrobe, listening to her through the window, occasionally reaching up to tentatively finger one of the spots that had developed on his neck from an accumulation of grime.

He’d go back outside in a day or two. As soon as she gave up calling and he could be assured of peace and quiet. Just a few more days.

* * *

It had been a beautiful summer’s afternoon.

Wensleydale sat on his balcony, washed, shaved and dressed in a crisp white shirt and cream linen trousers, a steaming cup of Earl Grey at his elbow. In his hands he held a brand new paperback copy of ‘The Jaws of Death’.

His peace had remained undisturbed, save for the gentle droning passage of the occasional fat bumblebee, and the urgent chirruping of the birds.

For a brief moment, he thought he’d seen movement in the shadows of his neighbour’s garden, a brief feeling of being watched, but he’d chuckled and resumed reading, and the moment passed.

Aloysius Pendlebury, as in all his novels, had just filled his briar with Black Mallory in preparation for a soothing smoke, a delightful leitmotif which signified he was about to reveal the identity of the murderer.

Wensleydale smiled, almost wriggling with anticipation as he read on.

The smile faded from his lips as he saw his monstrous neighbour walk into her garden, faded dressing-gown wrapped tightly about her corpulent frame, beetroot-face shiny with grease from some fried mid-afternoon snack.

She moved heavily up the path towards the rear of her garden, slippers slapping against her cracked heels as she trundled forwards like some organic form of earth-moving machinery draped in towelling.

It was at that moment, Wensleydale saw it.

In the branches of a tree, hidden from the view of the malodorous harpy standing on the path, lazily basking in the sun, was a young black cat with a small white star on its forehead.

The woman started to call.

“Priiiinceeeesssss Caaaaliiiiicaaaaalpuuuuuurniiiiaaaaaa!”


“Priiiinceeeesssss Caaaaliiiiicaaaaalpuuuuuurniiiiaaaaaa!”


“Priiiinceeeesssss Caaaaliiiiicaaaaalpuuuuuurniiiiaaaaaa!”

Wensleydale regarded the cat.

The cat regarded Wensleydale.

For a brief, impossible moment, he was certain the cat smiled at him as it lay in the crook of the tree branch, unmoving.

Wensleydale slowly placed his book face-down onto the table and walked into his house.

A few minutes later, he returned with a glass of water and a sandwich, sitting down and carefully draping a napkin over his lap.

As his neighbour continued to call, her penetrating voice echoing across the garden, slicing through the summer, repeating the same words again and again and again, George Wensleydale calmly ate his sandwich, pausing only to wipe away a fleck of purple salmon from the collar of his shirt.


phsend said...

After initially being drawn in by the title, a short download later, and I am happily reading Wensleydale and Salmon.

I don't read much as I have a poor attention span but I was hooked well enough.

Its smartly written with an air of Edgar Alan Poe about it and some great descriptions of the hag next door - I could have done without the diarrhoea image but hey ho.

Definitely wouldn't be out of place in a published work and stronger than many of those Tales of the (Un)expected...Perhaps it might be serialised by Cats Monthly?

Dan said...

Thanks for that feedback, I'm extremely grateful. As I mentioned in the post, I don't usually write in the short story form so it was a welcome change of pace.

It's always nice to receive any feedback (I think, possibly, I scare people away from commenting on here...) especially when that feedback is as positive as yours. I'm genuinely delighted that you took the time to write it.

As for Cats Monthly, I shall send them a missive first thing tomorrow morning...