Here is a story from the last century, which I am posting because whimsy told me to. It first appeared in Tales Of Hoon (1987), and reappeared in Twitching And Shattered (1989), Malice Aforethought Press publications both of which are decisively out of print. It is called “A Lecture Delivered In The Big Tent At Hoon”. For younger readers in the UK, I should point out that back in 1987, none of us had heard of the ludicrous ex-MP Geoff Hoon.
Good evening. I find it difficult to express how pleased I am to see so many of you gathered here, squatting on rough-hewn wooden stools. And how gladdening it is that most of you have managed to bring along a fine selection of farm implements. They may well come in useful as illustrative material later on, if I manage to fit in the ‘audience participation’ segment of my lecture. But there may not be time – we have to be out of the tent at nine-thirty, as apparently it’s needed for a big display of pencil-crushing equipment. Still, we have until then, so let me waste no more time burbling preliminaries.
[Clears throat.] Seldom have criminality and wickedness been better personified than by Curpin and Flubb, the evil duo whose careers I wish to address this evening. Let me begin by outlining the panjandrums… I’m sorry, that doesn’t mean anything. [Shuffles papers. Winces.] Let me begin by reading from the judge’s summing-up at Curpin’s trial.
“Curpin has suffered tortures best left to the imagination, drawn his breath in shaking sobs, turned the animals loose, and has a power that men know not. He held the boards for seven terrible weeks. He burned fish. Approaching the startled cellists, he was seen grinding the pressure ridges, smashing great blocks of ice. He did not have time to rest. At the corral, under some sheaves of oats, and very snugly wrapped, he dropped his biscuit. Soon, he was dreaming of all sorts of extraordinary things. I saw him lift a man by the seat of government, rub down his horse, and feed him apples. He even went so far as to hire a top-rig buggy to take a little spin along the banks of foreign streams, procuring big booty and professing to be a detective. It was, indeed, a wild sabbath night. Curpin was furious with rage: one foot upon the iron rail, an enormous net of steel, and his pack-pony became visible. The time of winter dog travel was now approaching. The earth, gritty and metallic, could have bidden a gondola. Living rooms flanked the peristyle, and webs of incandescent tubular lamps shone ahead of the damp, grey relics. Curpin tracked down reports of locust swarms. He honked twice, slipped beneath the sea, went to work on a huge pile of food, and tore up lettuce, his pouch unfolding. His rattling became a sizzling. Even the nearby gravel-crushers were keenly aware of Curpin’s bone finger ring, embedded in mud. Gently, in order not to raise clouds of ooze, he blocked its incredible roped sledge and ox-hoof. Caught in a fish-hook curve, or pumped into the expensive bicycle crates, he touched up the ginger facade, decked his troublesome horse, and tampered no more with the tin roof. In fear and chaos, under a bridge or a water-tower, he became dusty blue with age. [Clears throat.] Like a sheet. Like rugs. Like concrete piles driven, and steel strung. Drying hazelnuts, this evil man on a screened porch with a syrup bottle provided by his hostess, punched, drilled, and reached a fine, convenient perch. He clapped a boatswain’s whistle to his lips, straddling the opposite slope, but his heart was seized by poisonous timber. In a modest salt-box structure of leaded casements, he brewed a big kettle of quahog berry candles, safely passed rocks made incongruous by a regatta in a dying wind, their examples of restoration one wooden thumb, with left foot thrust forward, and in summer often charmless. To converse with distant sheep, Curpin thundered past burning heather; he liked it better than mealy primrose. Blown by an icy blizzard, he had been trying out hemp and its by-products, twine, matting, and sacks. On the lawn, the seeming anachronism of Curpin’s indigenous cable plate politely softened the blue invalid jetty. He placed the wire cone with its point aimed at strewn torrents and a rack-and-pinion railway, harder, rarefied, tremendous. On the Seminole, formidable enough. For Curpin, it was the end.”
[Significant pause.] I think that speaks for itself as evidence of Curpin’s monstrous calumny. Of course, there was the usual small detachment of wishy-washy poltroons who said that the judge’s sentence was too harsh. But what on earth do you do with a man like that, except put him into a big iron pot and send it catapulting into the stratosphere? [Sneezes.] Excuse me. We come, then, to his wily accomplice Flubb. In the public mind, Flubb won greater sympathy than Curpin. Where Curpin was seen to be fairly riddled with infestations of abominable wickedness, Flubb was perhaps merely a cretinous apprentice. But is this true? Let us take a look at the catalogue of crimes which Flubb committed before that fateful meeting with Curpin at the Baize Works. Once again, my source is the trial transcript.
“Be it known that the said Flubb has confessed to the following stupendously wicked deeds: abnormal behaviour in the botanical gardens; bamboozlement of the grossest kind; clutching a bag of wheat-husks in his sweaty fist; dental irregularities; employment of minors for the purpose of illicit gurgling; forging railway timetables; glowing in the dark; hooting at elderly farmyard animals; implacable dribbling; jumping off wooden crates; knitting a quite disgusting balaclava; leaning against a zoo; malfeasance in a charnel-house; not paying corkage; oddly-laced boots; pouring forth incandescent light in a public place; quietude when surfing; ribcage abuse; skulking about very suspiciously; taradiddle and ergot; uprooting foliage with his teeth; virulent horseplay; wiggling unnecessarily in a lab; x-raying entire continents without permission; yodelling aboard a tractor; zest for crumpled, bristly things…”
The list goes on, but time is tight. We must continue apace. [Wheezes.] It is obvious, then, that Flubb was as much a villain and a fiend as his partner. If not more so. Indeed, a careful examination of his brain-tissue – [Suddenly hoists aloft plastic bag full of goo.] – would show us… er… I do apologise. [Replaces bag in pocket.] Sorry about that. [Wipes hands on sleeves.] Sorry. A careful examination of the diaries kept by the two men during their reign of terror would show us that, if anything, Flubb was the real mastermind, Curpin merely doing his bidding in exchange for a boiled sweet, a pencil-case, or some other little token of appreciation. Is it possible, then, that the public image, the public perception, of the two fiends is awry? That a monstrous injustice has occurred? You will recall that Flubb was not sentenced to be put into a big iron pot etcetera etcetera. No, the judge decided that he was a poor misled urchin who deserved a second chance. Thus it was that he was banished to a pompous land, thousands of miles away, to darn flags and buff up ceremonial shields with a frayed rag. So far as any of us know, he remains there, doubtless continuing to plot inordinately foul crimes. [Pause.] Or does he? I am now able to confirm what some of us have long suspected – that Flubb has decamped from his banishment and is, even as I speak, here among us in Hoon. [Flourishes grubby piece of paper.] I hold in my hand a letter from this hound of hell. Allow me to read it to you.
“Dear Waldemar,” it begins, “I never cease to be astonished by the hedgerows of Hoon. Where else can one see topiary so enigmatic, so imperious? Ah, how I missed them in that pompous land of my exile, where the hedges were dappled with pinks, foxgloves, and many other flowers I knew not. Beauteous as they were, I yearned to see the hedgerows of my home town in all their magnificence. I have at last begun work on my magnum opus, Topiary & Miscegenation, sorting out ten years’ worth of scribbled jottings, notes, and references. It is tough work, but rewarding for all that. I eat only little, drink even less, and can hardly bear to sleep. My mind is on fire with incalculably evil schemes of iniquity and mayhem, most of which I hope to put into practice within the next fortnight, God willing. As I write, the evening light shimmers around me, and tiny winged things flutter about my head. I feel that I am enveloped by a transcendent stillness, as if someone had bashed in my skull with an adze. Light, incandescence, grace; I may yet find grace.”
[Pause.] It’s signed “Passionately yours, Flubb”. An intriguing document. Naturally, I submitted it to a veritable barrage of forensic tests to confirm its authenticity. It appears to be genuine, although I have yet to subject it to the final test, perhaps the most trustworthy one. I speak of course of the Bails-Frampton Experiment, only recently developed. It is visually most attractive, so I thought it might be a rather stimulating climax to my lecture. Please don your goggles; you’ll find them nestling under your stools. [Constructs immense panoply of esoteric bakelite equipment on dais. Dons goggles. Equipment whirrs, hums, shoots sparks, etc. Carries out Bails-Frampton Experiment on grubby sheet of paper. Removes goggles.] Apparently, this is a genuine document. In other words, Flubb has eluded his keepers and returned to Hoon. A criminal genius lurks once again in our midst. You may remove your goggles. [Pause.] That appears to be all we have time for, I’m afraid. [Peers towards back of tent.] I am being gesticulated at by the janitor. Thank you so much. Are there any questions, very quickly? [Member of audience poses question.] Thank you. Indeed. [Pats jacket pocket melodramatically.] What is this bag of goo in my pocket which I suggested was the vile jelly of Flubb’s brain? Ha ha. I am still being gesticulated at by the janitor. A most pertinent question, if I may say so. The janitor is still gesticulating. I’m afraid we shall have to make way for those damned pencil-crushing people. Thank you again, very much. And goodnight.
This is handy.
My copy of Twitching and Shattered is the center piece of the Hooting Yard Shrine Installation held under lock and key in the Hooting Yard Venerating room.
If anyone knows where I left the key for the lock on the HYVR could they let me know?
Dammit! I knew I should have checked my own copy. From now on I wish to be known as Banished To a Pompous Land.
This has always been a favourite of mine and I look forward to hearing it read on the show.
And OSM, there are only 300 odd copies of T&S so how the hell did we both end up owning one? Surely we had lost contact before its publication. Chalk up Six Hundred and Twenty One Uncanny Tales.