A Year Ago Today…
… Floppybootstomp Compress was born. To celebrate the fact, I offered to post a full-length story on the blog today. In fact, you get two for the price of one as the latest issue of Aphelion has one of mine too. How’s that for value?
Howard Jacobson, Mario Vargas LLosa and I have somethhing in common: we’ve all won literary prizes this October. OK, so I’ve only won story of the year at The Avatar, but we all have to start somewhere.
So, without further ado, here’s your story:
by Daniel Ribot
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, lived three strange grown-ups called Clarence, Ruby and Malcolm. Clarence, Ruby and Malcolm worked as performers. Clarence plied his trade as a strongman, bending iron bars and flexing his barrel chest for the amusement of the crowds. He had a twirly waxed mustache that he was particularly proud of – and some Dundreary sideburns too. Ruby was a tiny woman with black hair that she kept wrapped in a silk scarf of many colours. She told fortunes in a booth, a sideshow that delivered mystical advice in exchange for crossing her palm with silver. Malcolm was a midget, a dwarf if you prefer, who dressed up in a clown costume and entertained the punters with some hilarious routines. He was always getting custard pies in the face. All three of them worked at the circus and lived together in a caravan.
Today Ruby would tell the boys their fortunes. The circus had arrived at a new town and she liked to see how things would go for them here. She laid three tarot cards on the table; one for each of them. Clarence and Malcolm were preparing the tea and biscuits. Just then the ringmaster showed up, poking his head inside the caravan door.
“Oy, you lot! Come and help put the tent up!”
They sighed as they left everything to follow the ringmaster to go and help the rest of the circus-folk. The door swung closed behind them, but the latch did not connect. It was an old caravan and the doors were rather sticky.
Goldilocks was a little girl who lived on the outskirts of a sprawling suburb of teeny-tiny first time buyer properties. It was set in a maze of cul-de-sacs with nowhere to play and nothing to do. It was a sterile desert for children with only cars, grass and gangs of teens outside the offie to look at. Goldilocks decided that, rather than stay here and wait for something bad to happen, she would meet her doom head on. She left the house and headed for the fairground. She was bored and wanted some amusement.
Soon Goldilocks arrived at the edge of the fairground. It was late afternoon. She saw a row of caravans behind the generator lorry. Ambulance sirens could be heard in the background and the area was deserted. Tiptoeing towards the caravans, she decided to try the doors. All were locked until she tried the last one. It swung open without effort. She looked around to see if anyone was looking. There wasn’t, so she let herself in.
Inside the circus caravan, there was all kinds of interesting stuff to see. There was a stuffed owl, a blanket of jewels and feathers and a pile of books with a plantpot on top. But her eyes were drawn to table with a deck of cards and some mugs of tea, still steaming hot. Goldilocks suddenly felt very thirsty. The biggest mug was full of liquid that was a dark copper colour. Strong and possibly stewed. Mary slurped it.
“Ugh, no sugar!” she exclaimed. She put it down on the edge of the table and tried the next one. This mug looked dead milky and weak.
“Groo! Herbal tea with milk, rank!”
The last mug of tea was tiny. It did look the right colour for tea. Goldilocks drank it. It was hot, sweet and delicious.
Next, Goldilocks started rummaging around. Soon she found something to go with her drink. Three cigarette packets. The first contained fags made of strong, high-tar dark tobacco. She lit one and took a puff.
“Yuck! Too strong!”
The second packet was full of roll-ups. When she tried one, her face crinkled with disgust. It tasted like pot-pourri dipped in face cream. “Yucky yuck, yuck!” she declared.
The third was cheerful-looking pack of low-tar menthols. They burned with a cool blue smoke as she inhaled. Perfect for a little girl. Excellent. Now she could really enjoy her tea.
Only then did she spot the cards on the table. Goldilocks leaned over towards them. There were three cards from an old, mysterious tarot deck, all laid in a row, face down on the tablecloth. The little girl shuddered. It was spooky. She knew for definite that these cards were somehow watching her.
“Perhaps they will tell me my fortune.” she thought.
Goldilocks took the first card and flipped it over. The Wheel. It had a picture of a big wheel, like the one at the circus fairground or Chessington Adventure Park.
“Huh! I knew I was in a circus already. Not very good these, are they?”
She flicked her ash on the table and turned over the second card. The two of cups. “And what is that supposed to mean?” said Goldilocks irritably. She flicked her wrist to brush away the ash on the table and accidentally knocked one of the mugs. It was the big one. It fell and hit the floor, smashing into a thousand pieces. Goldilocks shrieked and jumped out of the way as the tea and pottery fragments splashed all over the floor.
“Oh my God, this is so weird!” Goldilocks stared at the table. There were now only two mugs on there. Two cups. Just like the tarot card had predicted. She approached the table gingerly. There was the last card, calling her. “I’m scared!” she whined softly. But she had to do it. She crushed her cigarette butt into the tiny mug and took a deep breath. Then she turned over the last card. Death.
Goldilocks screamed, the world went black as she fainted.
When Goldilocks awoke, it was night-time. There was a gypsy woman and a man with a curly mustache looking down upon her.
“She’s awake, Ruby.”
“So she is. Well, my girl. It seems you’ve been caught red-handed, breaking and entering.”
Goldilocks blubbed. “I wasn’t…”
“You broke my mug.”
“You touched my cards.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be bad.. I’m just a girl from a housing estate with nothing to look forward to but meaningless sex, self harm, alcopops, cyber-bullying and drug addiction. I didn’t mean no harm or nuffink.”
“Well, no harm done, I suppose.”
“Not compared to what happened to Malcolm.”
Clive looked stern and severe. “Malcolm, young lady, was a friend of ours. You drank his tea and smoked his cigarettes as he was dying. Squished by the largest tent-pole as we were putting up the big top.”
Goldilocks remembered the sound of the ambulance now and started to cry. “Oh, I’m so sorry! Didn’t mean to, honest!”
The two adults looked at each other and smiled. Ruby spoke. “It’s alright child. You can go when you like. Take our blessings with you.”
Goldilocks dried her eyes. She looked around the little rickety caravan. So much nicer than than a Beezer starter home.
“Can’t I stay?”
“You what?”, said Clive.
“It’s just that you’re so nice and my life is so crap and…”
Ruby rubbed her chin, pondering. “Well, we are short of a clown.”
“And Malcolm’s costume should just about fit her.”, added Clive
“Please can I stay, oh Please?” Goldilocks simpered. A tear ran down her apple blossom cheek. She wiped her face with nicotine-stained fingers.
“Well, we’ll need a letter from your parent or guardian.”
“…a contract and a CRB check.”
“And a National Insurance number.”
“But of course you can stay.”
And so it was, boys and girls, that Goldilocks joined the circus and everyone not living in a starter home lived happily ever after.
So goodnight and God bless.