................ .......stories..


Original Intro (May 2005):

A few weeks ago I began to write a story for this month's issue. I'd hardly got past the first page when I received an email from Rod (with a mysterious attachment):

"I wrote a crappy story whilst waiting for an RS parcel to arrive." He wrote, "Can you finish it off for a bit of fun with a really original ending without being corny? I have an ending in mind but would love to know what you would put."

More than a year has elapsed since I last tried persuading Rod to create something like this. And now finally here it was - or an attempt, at least. There has been one previous effort, but that was, shall we say 'shelved' for the moment. Anyhow, I read this new story immediately, all 1917-words of it, and was impressed - since, by his own confession, not only does Rod seldom write, but he dislikes doing so too.

My next reaction was: Yes, I know precisely what should happen in this story; I know where it's going and how it should end. Then I thought: but he's made a great start; a day or two of rest and he'll be re-energised - such is the way with writing - it's his story, not mine, and it's better that he finish it. Besides, I was anxious to continue with my story, which seemed to be going quite well. I sent a brief reply explaining all this, adding that I eagerly awaited 'Part-2'.

But then, as I tried to settle back into my own story, I couldn't get Rod's story out of my head. It was nudging at me like a persistent kid. I thought: no harm in writing my version of 'Part-2' as Rod asked - just a quick summary to get it off my brain. So I placed my own story aside and got on with it, vowing that I wouldn't send it until he'd sent me his.

Instead of a few minutes, however, I sunk into a dreamers' oblivion - dead to the world for two hours; and instead of a summary, I soon had a complete draft. Then, astonished - as usual - at how much time had passed, I returned to my story. But I kept reflecting on Rod's, and laughing. Again it wouldn't leave me alone; I had to share it - so I sent it after all.

The next morning I found this email from Rod:

"Your version is fantastic! I found it really funny and the ending is fucking brilliant. I actually never thought of any of that - and it definitely needed your input. A very welcome email after a tough day as I feel brilliant now!"

A most welcome email. I was positively warmed. The title is Rod's, and you can blame him too for the impish trend he set in 'Part-1' - but I suppose it was down to me weather to continue, or even enhance, that trend. Then I reflected on this being the 'merry' month, and thought: Why not? And so… see what you think:



King Horn

PART -1 (written by Rod)

Rod's Angle:

Guilford, like most southern towns, had undergone a large amount of modernisation during the early 90s. I hadn't been there for over 12 years but thought I would chance my luck at a particular shop still being there. Bonner Organs was a tucked away place down a side ally. I believe it was the back of a converted house, as it was up a flight of stairs and looked decidedly residential from the inside. It was a frequent haunt for the electronic students of the polytechnic where I used to study. Reg Bonner's prime business was fixing electronic organs and synthesizers, and he was famed for his skill in the music world. He also stocked a wide range of general electronic components and would happily sell them to any student who walked in off the street. His prices were rather inflated but it was either that or wait a week for components to arrive in the post from a mail order company.

I actually was fixing a small synth lent to me by a work colleague with the proviso that I would sell it on Ebay and take 10% for my trouble. The synth would fetch around £600 if properly advertised, so £60 was worth the fix - if I deducted it before taking the 10%. I required 3 small key return springs whose mechanical action had to match the existing working keys on the keyboard. After trying to bodge something I gave up and decided to go to Bonner's, knowing that if the shop still existed, he would almost certainly have something in stock, plus it would be an experience to see Guilford again after so long.

The Monday train ride seemed remarkably slow but once I had disembarked I trotted the route into town scanning the area for changes. I might as well been in a completely different place, as once I had left the station I couldn't recognise a thing. I later found out that the station exit had moved so that you actually got out onto a different road altogether. Once I established my orientation I soon found the rough area where Bonner Organs should have been. There had been masses of redevelopment since I was last there, with two large shopping malls and entertainment complexes. The alleyway still existed amongst the concrete monsters, and there was Bonner's wooden plaque screwed to the brick of the alley. My heart lifted to see such a familiar sight although the sign was badly faded as if someone had sanded the painted lettering.

I went down the alley, through a slightly ajar side door and up the flight of stairs. Not much had changed, I thought to myself. Stepping into the room, I expected to see the piles of half dismantled instruments strewn across the floor. I was met with something completely unexpected. Rows upon rows of glass jars, filled with god knows what, all tightly packed onto wooden shelves, floor to ceiling. As I stood there, a small oriental woman in her fifties appeared from behind a bead curtain.

'Can I hell-up you?' she said.

'Oh I thought the organ repair shop was here?'

'No, not for two yiz now', she said, 'You nid Chinese herbs? Make you well. We have famous clients.'

'I am actually fine, and a fascinating shop it is.' I responded, 'I haven't been here for over twelve years and didn't see your sign outside.'

'Sign get taken by kids you know. Might be up end of street.'

'I will have a look for it. By the way what is that?' I pointed to a smoked glass jar containing what could have been an animal phallus.

'That Sigone Ginger, used for stomach complaints.'

'Ahh.' I was partly disappointed, as I wanted her to say the word penis simply for my amusement.

'You get depressed this time of year?' she asked.

'No, I am ok with those sort of things, but I know people who do, what do you give them?'

'We have lot of things, depend on person. For you I give King Horn but expensive.' she nodded.

'What is King Horn and how much is it?'

'King Horn special recipe, use pearl dust, about £150 for this bottle'. She picked up a tiny smoked glass screw-top phial. 'Last long time and make feel rilly goo-ood.' her eyes widening on the word 'good'.

'Wow £150, must be good, I will bear that in mind, thanks. And I will bring back your sign if I see it, bye.'

Without waiting for an answer I made a dash for the door. I wasn't in the mood for long conversations and was desperate for a coffee and a cake.

Sitting in Starbucks I felt slightly annoyed at the loss of a good independent electronic shop. Yet again things seem to change for the worse, I thought. As I sipped my brew I couldn't help thinking of the Chinese shopkeeper and her King Horn. What was in that stuff for £150, it could just be cocaine of course. My inquisitiveness got the better of me, as it always does, and I decided to go back and challenge her.

She was behind the counter, this time packing up a load of white paper bags with what looked like loose leaf tea.

'Hello again, you find sign?'

'Er no, I did look though.' I said, lying. 'You know the King Horn, can you tell me what's really in it as I might be interested.'

She came from behind the counter and into the shop. Pointing up at the shelves she said 'This, this, this…' to about 20 different items.

'Oh, quite a lot of things.' I said.

'Yes, and how I make. That make King Horn special.'

'Can you do a small sample, out of interest.' I asked.

She looked at the floor deep in thought. Then staring into the corner of the room she said '£60 for third bottle, that best I can do.'

'And how long would that last.' I said.

'Only two drops in cup of green tea, last three month about.'

'So it's a liquid?'

'Yes, drop drops, very powerful.'

Without much consideration I agreed to take a third bottle for £60. I could after all sell it on Ebay, I'm sure it would go well. She hurriedly lit a small camping burner sitting on the counter and placed a small foil tray, like an individual fruit pie foil, on the stove flame. Rushing about in an impressive systematic way, she grappled with jars of various sizes, carefully unscrewing the lids and placing tiny quantities of the contents in the foil tray. Some substances were a thick liquid, others a fine powder - it looked like a wild chemistry experiment particularly with the pipette and steel spatula she used to access and measure the quantities.

After simmering the brown liquid for a few minutes she tipped the whole contents of the foil tray into a clean white cotton bag and squeezed it hard so the liquid drained out and into a large funnel. The funnel finished to a fine point and fitted nicely into the top of the smoked glass phial. The air filled with the smell of school cabbage cooking as she wrung out the bag with all her might. I watched the bottle slowly fill up, drip by drip until it was almost half way. She then stopped winding the bag round her hands and popped on a nylon drop dispenser and screwed the lid on tightly.

'There, the best and you got goo-ood value too, shake two drops into green tea - you nid green tea?'

'No, I have plenty.' I said, simply not wishing to spend any more money at this place.

Paying the lady I slipped the precious bottle into my zip pocked and headed for home feeling a little sheepish at my extravagance. I justified it to myself by saying that it was the performance of the preparation that I was paying for not the contents, a bit of 15-minute theatre for sixty quid.

Once home I gingerly tried the stuff. I made a cup of ordinary PG and dripped in a drop. Its treacle black colour swirled around the surface of the tea before dissipating within. The taste was truly horrid. I only could stomach half a cup as the rancid cabbage smell tainted my palate. But what if this was some poison? I had heard on some programme years ago that some of these herbal medicines had lead and all kinds of rubbish in them. The very thought made me panic, I got hot and flustered and wondered if I should make myself sick. Oh what the hell, one drop is hardly going to kill me, I then thought. I had probably ingested tons of mercury from my fillings over the years and hadn't noticed any health problems. After sitting down for ten minutes in a state of anxiety I realised that bugger all had happened and I didn't feel remotely sick or unwell. The bottle was placed in the bathroom cabinet and that was that.

After making a banana sandwich I sat down to watch some afternoon TV. It was only some crappy cartoon yet I found myself giggling like a girl. I was tempted to phone up a friend and say watch this, its excellent! But I would have sounded a prat. The cartoon was really rubbish yet to me it was so much fun. Was this the drops taking effect? In some way I didn't care if it was or wasn't, I was just feeling great and didn't require an explanation. The feeling got better as the evening wore on, I just felt brilliant - full of beans and ready for anything the world had to offer. My long term niggling ankle pain didn't hurt and I went for a midnight jog for about 45-minutes. Returning home I sang in the shower, to knocking neighbours, and went to bed sleeping like a log.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . * * * * *

The effect lasted for about three and a half days and I slowly returned to a good 'normal' by about Thursday.

At the weekend I was due to visit Phil in Hastings. I had to take the bottle and tell him the story. I am sure he would be fascinated and might even try the stuff - he had, after all, read R. H. Ward's 'A Drug Taker's Notes'.

Phil was intrigued by my tale but I could see he thought it was psychosomatic. After some debate he said he would try the stuff in some lime juice as that would probably mask the dreadful taste. Phil thought it best if I didn't try it as I could then be an impartial judge of his behaviour.

We were due to go out to Friston Forest that day so I readied myself in the loo and left Phil with the small phial. After I came down the stairs Phil said 'I've taken it,' with a smirk on his face 'and it was foul.'

I picked up the phial to pop it in my pocket. 'Christ,' I said as I noticed the level on the phial 'how much did you take - two drops?'

Phil was laughing with his hand over his mouth 'They were big drops.' he choked out his words.

Looking at the level he must have had ten or fifteen bloody drops, that's about twenty quid's worth, I thought. We jumped into the car and headed for the forest and the Seven Sisters…


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

PART - 2 (written by me!)

Phil's Angle:

Now he tells me! How was I to know the stuff cost £60? And was it foul? Sincere apologies were made, and I offered to pay. Rod, of course, would hear none of it.

Cheerful? Yeah, I felt cheerful alright. It was a nice day - and with Rod there for a change, with his zap and dynamism juddering me into life, how could I feel otherwise? Yet it's true, I did sense a distinct kind of whoomph in my head, like you might get when your first-love finally acquiesces.

So, driving a bit erratically - larking around, rather than muzzy headed - we proceeded first to Eastbourne. I thought: before this forest-trek I'll get something to nibble, and Rod will appreciate a cuppa and fairy-cake - he has this weakness for little teashops, the more prissy and dainty the more he enjoys them; and he's prone to chat-up the old boilers too, which I find both engaging and comic; he likes to wind them up, and often manages to evoke an incongruous crusty remark or two - which is quite a shock considering where we are and the 'genteel' nature of the ladies who voice them.

As we arrive, and I edge the car neatly into an excruciatingly narrow slot along the sea-front - with a deftness that amazes even me - I say to Rod: 'The Pier. We must visit the Pier.'

'Must we?' he says, as though alarmed.

'And a tea shop.' I add quickly, 'First let me get a bag of those fat succulent dates they do in that little shop on the pier.'

Rod consents instantly. But when we enter the pier, we're confronted by a huge sign:





I do a little skip and a leap, and Rod looks at me astonished. 'Are you alright?' he cries, all serious.

'Absolutely; never better.' is my immediate reply. Then add, waltzing ahead: 'What's more, I feel so good I wouldn't mind a stab at that audition.'

'That's crazy,' shouts Rod, 'You've never acted before in your life!'

'But Rod, I feel like I could do ANYTHING.'

'OK.' He says with a furtive grin, 'Go for it… we'll have a laugh. But remember: it's not you, it's the potion!'

When we enter the foyer, the receptionist glares curiously at us, then frowns and directs us to a seat where we sit and wait. Luckily, there are only three people ahead of us - all much younger. They take about five minutes each, and we strain our ears to make out their echoing stage-voices beyond the swing doors. Then it's our turn to enter the auditorium. Four people, two holding clipboards, are peering at us over their glasses. They look official - one guy wears a peaked cap with 'Director' written across it. He's the one who approaches and speaks to us - or Rod. And when Rod indicates that it's me and not him who's interested in the audition, this fella's face drops to the floor. Even so, he hands me a script, resignedly ushers me to a little flight of steps that lead up onto the stage, and follows me there issuing instructions in a tired voice.

A moment later he stands aside, and a bearded fat guy squashed into a front seat like a trapped balloon waves his clipboard at me and shouts 'Go on then!'

So I get on with it. I am entirely relaxed and unperturbed by any thought of making a nut of myself. Although the act is new to me, my voice and movements somehow emanate from a part of me that unaccountably seems familiar with what I have to do. It's like playing a tune on a piano that you feel you've played many times before, and you don't even have to think about it - in fact thinking about it would disturb the natural flow.

Three minutes later, when I stop, I bow and stare out at several open mouthed dummies sitting rigidly upright, gawping at me like they've seen an apparition. I shake my head dejectedly - obviously, I've failed. I can't understand it. Then together, as if a switch has been thrown, they rise and… what?… burst into applause!

While I acclimatise to this abrupt reversal of fortune, the fat guy does an astounding leap onto the stage (he is in his 'agile' twenties), and bellows, 'Bravo! You've got the part! You've got the part!'

'What part?' I reply.

'Any part you like.' He says, shaking my hand.

Looking at Rod, I respond: 'It's not me, it's the potion.'

With a sudden expression of misgiving, the fat guy moves closer and whispers confidingly, 'This isn't a stunt, is it?'

I frown and slowly shake my head; he nevertheless eyes me suspiciously as he hops nimbly - as only a fat person can - off the stage, and returns to his colleagues.

Well, by the time we left the place I'd been signed up to play the giant in 'Jack-and-the-bean-stalk' - 'A bit OLD,' the director had observed, doubling his chin; then added cheerfully a moment later, 'Nothing we can't handle.'

I said to Rod afterwards, as we made tracks for a teashop, that I thought the pantomime version of the giant used only a voice - a deep, gruff voice, as the audition had included - and that it would reverberate menacingly from above, where the magical top of the beanstalk vanished from view, and from where, once he could overpower the giant, Jack would retrieve the obligatory chest-of-gold.

But Rod wasn't listening; he was musing, and reckoned the whole issue to be hilarious. 'A lot of phallic symbolism,' he said, chuckling, 'The title alone…!'

'Like the Captain's hook in Peter Pan.' I observed, grinning.

'Right.' He replied, with a decisive nod, 'Add to that all the gender swapping and the rest… I'm only astonished that the staid old jerks who dictate so-called social morality these days don't try to get pantomimes banned.'

'They wouldn't dare.' I said, 'There'd be uproar. Art and theatre aficionados, intellectuals, academics… even the most ardently moralistic of them… they'd react like a volcano! The puritans wouldn't stand a chance. It's a tradition that goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years in various forms. Besides, it's just what kids love most. All the best fairy tales revolve around the macabre, the horrific, the outlandishly weird, and especially allusions to sex, including the most lewd deviations. Imagine a wolf getting into bed with an old granny as in 'Red Riding Hood' or little Kay, pretty, wide-eyed, just entering puberty, and off he sidles with that tall elegant snow queen, to live with her in icebound splendour. It's the danger, the risk, the mystery, the uncertainty, the impending thrill of the illicit, the…'

'I know.' said Rod, 'Everyone knows. We grow up with it; every country has its versions; it's all part of the human psyche, the collective unconscious, but only true children-at-heart are able to acknowledge these things as adults. Those who disapprove have lost that. They are in denial.'

'Ever since I was a teenager,' I said, 'Which is going back blurr-years - I've never actually known what it's like to feel grown up. Would you believe that's possible?'

'Of course.' Said Rod, 'I'm the same. If I wasn't we probably wouldn't be friends. Once you've grown up, once you've waved goodbye to the mystery, the questioning, the seeing things as they truly are, and as they appear when new and fresh rather than as tediously familiar, or just as likely as some nonsensical propaganda instructs us to see it, well then, you may as well throw in the towel because it's probably impossible to ever again enjoy the comfort of truth, or to again lose yourself in the wonder of it… It's precisely that which keeps a person young…'

'And exercise, and larking about, and…' I add.

'True.' Muses Rod, 'True enough. But what does the giant symbolise, do you think - the big danger at the top of the beanstalk where everlasting riches are to be found? And what about those riches too?'

'Ah, well… you know what the bean seeds represent… doesn't Jack swap a cow for them? And then the beanstalk itself, of course… that's pretty obvious…'

And so the conversation went… And when we arrived at the tea shop, Rod - with his anorak rolled and stuffed under the front of a fleece he was wearing - sat and struggled to retract the anorak. Then a woman came for our order, and Rod said, 'Two teas and an éclair please.'

This, the woman wrote down on a little pad, then said, with a vain smile as Rod lifted the anorak clear, 'For a moment I thought you were pregnant!'

Then she threw me a haughty grin, as if to say: 'Cap that for wit if you can.' to which I responded, 'Well, if he is, it's not by me.'

Rod, bemused, smiled innocently. But the woman stepped back abruptly, pursed her lips, gave me the blackest look I've had since my final opponent in a junior chess tournament I won, and said, in a stern officious tone, 'I'll fetch your order, sir.' And marched swiftly away to the kitchen.

As for the result of the audition, I just thought: The money would be useful. But later that day, while we sauntered along between high firs on the north-west rim of the forest, I began to detect a normal state of mind coming on, and said to Rod, 'I'll need to get some more of that stuff if I'm going to be in the panto. There's no way I could do anything like that as I am normally.'

'We'll go tomorrow.' He said. And so we did.

So now, searching around Guildford, we find the narrow alley where the Chinese herb shop was. And there, Rod points out, is the faded old sign of the electronic organ shop. It doesn't look so faded, Rod thinks, as he remembered from a few days earlier. But we proceed nonetheless, and - surprise, surprise - there's the organ shop, new display, all bright and gleaming, but no Chinese herb shop at all. Must be in a different alley, suggests Rod. But this is where the organ shop sign is, I say. We walk around a bit, and Rod, in his undaunted fashion, asks here and there, at various shops, and even a traffic warden, but no-one has ever heard of a Chinese shop around there. So we draw a final blank - and I say to Rod that he should get those key-springs he was after originally, and forget the whole episode. And as for the pantomime, I'd phone and cancel it all - there's no other option.

And now Rod reflects out loud that there are a few drops of potion left in the phial. He could get it analysed and then obtain the ingredients so we could make our own, he reckons. But can he find the phial? Well, it was a strange phenomenon, altogether. But we searched bloody everywhere for that King Horn. Yet a few weeks later I mentioned something to Rod that made his face gleam with instant recognition.

'Have you ever thought about the name of that stuff?' I asked.

'Not really,' he replied, keenly interested, as if the mere mention of King Horn had awoken some buried unsavoury thought.

'Well, something I've noticed ever since ingesting it - don't know if you have - I get the most fantastic erections ever!'

'Me too!' cries Rod, and we laugh till we can hardly breathe.



(Who'd believe that Rod truly didn't twig the implications of his .title until he read my ending? That’s innocence for you... though his artistic skill, subconscious or not, reflects no such 'innocence'):



........... . . .

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