How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Part Two

This close to the joyous midwinter feast, the Grinch surveyed the world. His plans were coming together quite nicely. As always, every year, he had made long-term plans for the theft of this irritating happiness which permeated society. People shouldn’t be happy; they should be stressed and crotchety and miserable.

This year, he targeted the fools hard at work in the shops, the nasty people who encouraged spending and happiness.

His plans, thought out months in advance, were really quite simple. He would screw up deliveries and floor-plans, starting in October when the workers begin to plan for shop-moves and deliveries, and continuing to December. And so the stock-rooms began to fill, with boxes stacked high, towering dangerously, spreading into the staff-room, until the workers thought of anonymous calls to Health & Safety, for surely this should not be.

And then, just to be helpful, the Grinch sent out a memo, advising the shop-workers that there would be no more big deliveries from the first Tuesday of December, After then, it would simply be replenishing deliveries. The odd box here and there, maybe two or three at a time.

But the Grinch, his reading skills and numeracy – they were not so good. He did not read the memo, nor could he count the boxes he ordered to be delivered. And so the large deliveries continued. Not the card-replenishments, though, just the teddies and sweets. Until the week before Christmas.

With barely a week to go, and with an order to rearrange the displays, less than half would be replenished, with dozens of the same design. And so the stock-rooms filled again. And the workers despaired. They longed for Christmas for it all to be over, not for any joyous reasons.

And the Grinch was happy.

Sunday Storytime

I walk on, thinking this and that, trying to undo the knotty problem presented by my characters. The sky I presume was blue; it wasn’t raining, that much I know. The air was fresh; it had been raining, and the ground was still damp underfoot. Perhaps the birds made some noises. I didn’t hear them. I was considering how my story might resolve itself, talking with the Norns who guide me.

When faced with a blank page, Conventional Wisdom might have us stare at it until we think of something to write, a story to tell. A plot, perhaps, or a first sentence. A solution to the knots of a story

My Norns, Thought and Dream, they sneer down their noses at Conventional Wisdom and tell me to cease my laziness. A brisk walk is all I need, they say, so stop with this silly notion that Ideas simply come to one. How stupid! To think that Ideas are parcels, wrapped and tied with ribbon for you to open at your screen!

The laziness! they tskede, and sent me on my walk outside, hurrying me along without so much as a dictaphone to record any flashes of inspiration.

They didn’t even allow for a coat, I realise, with a sudden shiver as the wind grew stronger.

Fresh air, good for the brain, says Thought, adding severely that I must ignore the chill. For the sake of my story.

Dream is off ahead somewhere, in her own world and not paying attention to this one; to me or to Thought. She has lost interest in my current, temporary, inability to amuse her with a story.

Thought is stricter, more demanding that I think about the problem. That I find an answer.

I walk on.

Sunday Storytime

Except, well…

Once upon a time, someone watched something emotionally upsetting. The episode in House when Wilson’s girlfriend dies. But that’s not the upsetting bit. The upsetting bit is the break-up of House and Wilson. Yup, this someone finds that far more devastating than the death of the girlie. Whom she didn’t like much. Not that this someone wants everyone she dislikes dead; just that in this fictional world, there was more of a connection for the bromance than the romance. And more upset by the things which upset House.

But the moral of the story is more that emotional upset of this variety temporarily destroys ability to write proper fiction. And since I’m not the organised variety who writes these things well in advance, sorry for the rubbish story this week. Smidgeon out of whack from the break-up.

Sunday Storytime

When the Dish ran away with the Spoon, the Little Dog laughed.

It’s true it was a less weird pairing than that Owl and Pussycat he’d heard about, but he thought it would end in much the same way. At least, he supposed the Owl and the Pussycat had come to a bad end; he had heard no more about them after they had reached the land where the Bong-tree grows. He doubted that they were still living in the happy bliss of harmony. He remembered the Owl’s singing.

Besides, the Dish was an impulsive creature. The Spoon would probably tire of him soon enough. The Spoon was dependable and liked things to be just-so, and to have plans seen through, not changed at the last minute. The Dish could barely keep a plan for five minutes.

No, thought the Little Dog, the Dish and the Spoon would not last long. Probably less time than the Owl and the Pussycat.

And with that, the Little Dog went back to the spectacle which was the Cow jumping over the moon and the rest of the animals dancing to the Cat’s fiddle-playing.

Authun and the Bear, Part One

In Which Our Intrepid Hero Has an Idea

Once upon a time (for all good stories begin then), there lived a man. His name was Authun, and he lived in the Western Fjords of Iceland. Although this isn’t a fairy tale, it begins much like one. Authun was a poor farmer’s son, and his family was just his mother. Authun was probably much like any other typical Norseman. He had fair hair, pale skin and blue eyes and was probably over five and half feet, which was about average back then.

Fortunately, though, our hero and his mother have a good friend, a farmer named Thorstein, who gave Authun a job on his farm. A steady job, but Authun dreamed of other things. Of going on the ships which left every year for lands over the seas. But he was poor, and couldn’t afford to leave his mother.

Most importantly, though, Thorstein had a friend in Norway. This friend, called Thorir, owned a fine ship, which he used to travel across the Northern seas.

Thorstein, Thorir and Authun struck a deal. Let’s say that Authun is about twenty years old and we’re approximately in the year 1054. This seems reasonable, yes?

Anyway, back to the deal. Authun worked for Thorstein for a winter, and in exchange, he would get to join Thorir’s crew on the return to Norway.

And so that’s what happened.

The following spring, Authun collected all the money he had, put enough for hopefully three years aside for his mother, and got on the ship. And so they sailed away to Norway.

They spent a lot of the summer there. Traders and merchants from the south came north, bringing news and gossip too. Authun heard tell of a Jarl in somewhere called Northumbria wanting fighting men. Some man called Macbeth had killed the Jarl’s nephew.

Before the summer reached its end, Thorir and his crew, Authun included, set off again, across the seas. They went westwards again, although not to Iceland. This time they went further, to the land only relatively recently discovered. They went to Greenland.

Since they arrived so late in the year, they stayed the winter there. It was a harsher winter than any Authun had known in Iceland. Authun wondered why it was called Greenland. It wasn’t very green – quite white, in fact – and it looked rocky. Not easy farming land. But so it was. Norsemen had begun settling there just over fifty years previously, encouraged by Eirik the Red.

Not much is known of the visit to Greenland, except that in the following spring, Authun made an interesting purchase.

For the sum total of all of the possessions which he owned after the summer spent working on Thorir’s farm, Authun gained an ice-bear.

When asked why he wanted the bear, Authun simply shrugged and said, “I shall give it to King Sweyn.”

At which all the others wondered. King Sweyn was the King of Denmark. He was King Harald of Norway’s best frenemy. And to get to Denmark, Authun would have to first go to Norway. And try to get the bear, which was essentially a really valuable treasure, through to a hostile land.  

Gerda the Troll: A Cautionary Tale

Gerda stamped and Gerda roared. Gerda gnashed and slammed the door. Well, not really. It was kind of tricky for her to slam the door when she did not really have one. It was just branches leaning up against the cave’s entrance.  So what she actually did was knock it down. For, you see, Gerda was Not Happy. Not Happy At All. She had been woken up by some ghastly small children who clearly had bad manners for they had not even left Gerda an apologetic present, like all good children should do. And if there was one thing which Gerda hated more than to be woken up, it was to be woken up by bad-mannered children. And bad-mannered children were hunted down by Gerda and gobbled up. It made Gerda feel all warm inside knowing that she was doing the world a favour by removing such nasty little brats. For such children would only grow up to make the world a far worse place than it already was. Gerda was pleased that the adults in the villages around her forest, at least, were well-mannered. She had made sure of that. She knew her brethren in other forests worked hard to keep other humans good. But sometimes, just sometimes, they needed reminding of what happens to people who are bad.

Gerda roared and gnashed her teeth. She stamped her feet. She made the ground tremble beneath her. Someone had woken her up. Before she wanted to be awake. Gerda’s roars drove the birds from the trees and the hares back into their holes. The trees shook and rustled with the noise of animals fleeing. It was never wise to be around when Gerda was angry. And Gerda was very angry. Gerda stomped and bellowed. She clenched her fists and knocked down trees. Little ones, ones which she could quite easily uproot. Gerda made a mess of her forest. Because Gerda was Not Happy.

Somewhere, in another part of the forest, two small boys cowered. They had not left the forest when Gerda had begun to rage. They had frozen with terror. They had not heard her before. But they knew about her. They had been told about Gerda the Troll since they were very young. Everyone in the village knew about Gerda. Everyone knew that you had to be careful in the forest, especially in the winter and during the day. And you never went into the forest at night. Ever. For that was when Gerda woke up and went hunting. She hunted small children who wandered the woods at witching hour. She ate children who left their beds at night. Her cave was strewn with the bones of bad children who played outside after bedtime.  

The forest and hills shook and trembled. The only sound was Gerda. She snarled and growled and gnashed and stamped. The children shook like leaves. They clung tightly to each other and tried not to whimper. Gerda had sharp ears and could hear everything. If they made a noise, Gerda would know where they were, and would catch them and drag them back to her lair and eat them for breakfast. Gerda liked fresh children. She would eat them whole before she could cook them.

“I WANT FOOD!” Gerda hollered. “I’M HUNGRY! WHO WOKE ME UP?!”  The shout echoed through the valley. Gerda the Troll was angry, awake and hungry.

The children cowered closer together, terrified. They would be the food. They had woken Gerda. How they wished they had heeded their mothers’ warnings. They had thought that it was fine. It was daytime and winter was over, almost. Spring was on its way. Gerda should have finished her winter’s sleep. But they were wrong. Gerda had still been asleep. They had disturbed her with their playing. Somehow the noise of their game had made its way into Gerda’s lair. No one knew where Gerda lived. No one had ever looked. It was too dangerous. For Gerda reigned supreme in the forest. And no one went looking for her. That was the height of rudeness. Gerda would not have liked that. An invasion of her privacy. Gerda was very possessive of her privacy. She did not like people. Except to eat, of course, and then she preferred the tender young ones to tough adults. Adults tended to be a bit too stringy and usually got stuck between her teeth. And too fast. It was easier to catch children. Usually, it was youths who woke her. Young people thinking that they knew better, disbelieving their parents’ tales, believing that trolls only existed between the covers of a book. In fiction. Tales to frighten children into being good. Which, of course, they were. But they were also true stories. Gerda did exist. She lived and breathed in the forest near the village. And she hated badly behaved humans. So while they were stories to make people behave well, they were not entirely fictional.

The children trembled. Gerda’s shout echoed around the forest. No one had seen Gerda and lived before. No one could remember the last time that Gerda had allowed herself to be heard, let alone seen. Except by those whom she then ate. And even then the last time someone thought they knew better than to believe the stories had been many years ago. Poor Gerda had not tasted tender young human flesh for decades. Not that she minded all that much. She really preferred the food they left by way of apology, just in case they upset her. Most of all, Gerda liked the sweet things. The cakes and biscuits. She always went to sleep dreaming of the cakes and biscuits at the beginning of winter, licking her lips and eager for the spring, when she would begin receiving such tasty delicacies again. Especially those which seemed only to be left in the early part of the year, when she first began to stir. Nice buns, filled with cream and something sticky, something nutty. She liked those buns very much indeed. Her favourites. She just wished that they were left more often, throughout the whole year, and not just at the beginning. Perhaps they left the best then because it was the time when they were most likely to annoy her by waking her up too early, she mused.

The boys slowly began to gather their scattered wits again. Like all the villagers, they knew the woods rather well. Not, perhaps, as well as they might do if they had the liberty to explore it at will, without having to worry about a temperamental troll, but well enough to know that Gerda was still quite far away from them. They could see the edge of the woods from where they cowered. Bright sunlight streamed in through the breaks in the trees. But were they closer to the forest’s edge than Gerda was to them? They were not sure. Could they run fast enough if she was closest? Maybe. Their fear might give them extra speed. It might. They knew not. It was not something which was known of in the village. Gerda was only ever disturbed about once in a blue moon. Usually, they were all exceedingly careful about waking her and bringing her cake. It was taught to them from birth.

The boys dithered. They could not decide if they were close enough and speedy enough to reach the light and the safety of the village before Gerda caught either one or both of them. They stayed too long.

 

The villagers had gathered by the edge of the village. They had heard Gerda’s roar; they could feel the ground trembling and the fear of all. They knew that Lars and Olaf were missing. Young children clutched at their mothers’ skirts; older ones gathered in groups. Adults and children held their breath.

There was a sudden, happy, gleeful kind of gurgle, and two high-pitched screams blended into one. Almost, they harmonised. Gerda’s gurgle deepened and lengthened into a blood-curdling sort of chuckle.

 

The recipe for Gerda’s favourite cream buns (Swedish semlor) will follow in time for Shrove Tuesday, when they are traditionally eaten.