The Open Window by Saki

I read this story for the first time a few days ago and couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of him sooner. Saki, or Hector Hugh Monro (1870-1916), has an impish humour that’s impossible not to like. Well, I think, anyway.

So, to encourage you to buy a collection of his short stories, here is The Open Window:

“MY aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel,” said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; “in the meantime you must try and put up with me.”

Framton Nuttel endeavoured to say the correct something which should duly flatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to come. Privately he doubted more than ever whether these formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do much towards helping the nerve cure which he was supposed to be undergoing.

“I know how it will be,” his sister had said when he was preparing to migrate to this rural retreat; “you will bury yourself down there and not speak to a living soul, and your nerves will be worse than ever from moping. I shall just give you letters of introduction to all the people I know there. Some of them, as far as I can remember, were quite nice.”

Framton wondered whether Mrs. Sappleton, the lady to whom he was presenting one of the letters of introduction, came into the nice division.

“Do you know many of the people round here?” asked the niece, when she judged that they had had sufficient silent communion.

“Hardly a soul,” said Framton. “My sister was staying here, at the rectory, you know, some four years ago, and she gave me letters of introduction to some of the people here.”

He made the last statement in a tone of distinct regret.

“Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?” pursued the self-possessed young lady.

“Only her name and address,” admitted the caller. He was wondering whether Mrs. Sappleton was in the married or widowed state. An undefinable something about the room seemed to suggest masculine habitation.

“Her great tragedy happened just three years ago,” said the child; “that would be since your sister’s time.”

“Her tragedy?” asked Framton; somehow in this restful country spot tragedies seemed out of place.

“You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon,” said the niece, indicating a large French window that opened on to a lawn.

“It is quite warm for the time of the year,” said Framton; “but has that window got anything to do with the tragedy?”

“Out through that window, three years ago to a day, her husband and her two young brothers went off for their day’s shooting. They never came back. In crossing the moor to their favourite snipe-shooting ground they were all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had been that dreadful wet summer, you know, and places that were safe in other years gave way suddenly without warning. Their bodies were never recovered. That was the dreadful part of it.” Here the child’s voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly human. “Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back some day, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in at that window just as they used to do. That is why the window is kept open every evening till it is quite dusk. Poor dear aunt, she has often told me how they went out, her husband with his white waterproof coat over his arm, and Ronnie, her youngest brother, singing ‘Bertie, why do you bound?’ as he always did to tease her, because she said it got on her nerves. Do you know, sometimes on still, quiet evenings like this, I almost get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through that window – ”

She broke off with a little shudder. It was a relief to Framton when the aunt bustled into the room with a whirl of apologies for being late in making her appearance.

“I hope Vera has been amusing you?” she said.

“She has been very interesting,” said Framton.

“I hope you don’t mind the open window,” said Mrs. Sappleton briskly; “my husband and brothers will be home directly from shooting, and they always come in this way. They’ve been out for snipe in the marshes to-day, so they’ll make a fine mess over my poor carpets. So like you men-folk, isn’t it?”

She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter. To Framton it was all purely horrible. He made a desperate but only partially successful effort to turn the talk on to a less ghastly topic; he was conscious that his hostess was giving him only a fragment of her attention, and her eyes were constantly straying past him to the open window and the lawn beyond. It was certainly an unfortunate coincidence that he should have paid his visit on this tragic anniversary.

“The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise,” announced Framton, who laboured under the tolerably wide-spread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail of one’s ailments and infirmities, their cause and cure. “On the matter of diet they are not so much in agreement,” he continued.

“No?” said Mrs. Sappleton, in a voice which only replaced a yawn at the last moment. Then she suddenly brightened into alert attention – but not to what Framton was saying.

“Here they are at last!” she cried. “Just in time for tea, and don’t they look as if they were muddy up to the eyes!”

Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic comprehension. The child was staring out through the open window with dazed horror in her eyes. In a chill shock of nameless fear Framton swung round in his seat and looked in the same direction.

In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn towards the window; they all carried guns under their arms, and one of them was additionally burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A tired brown spaniel kept close at their heels. Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a hoarse young voice chanted out of the dusk: “I said, Bertie, why do you bound?”

Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall-door, the gravel-drive, and the front gate were dimly-noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid an imminent collision.

“Here we are, my dear,” said the bearer of the white mackintosh, coming in through the window; “fairly muddy, but most of it’s dry. Who was that who bolted out as we came up?”

“A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel,” said Mrs. Sappleton; “could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of good-bye or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost.”

“I expect it was the spaniel,” said the niece calmly; “he told me he had a horror of dogs. He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make anyone lose their nerve.”

Romance at short notice was her speciality.

Maddie’s bizarre book club

I like to feast my brain and eyes with things that are rather unusual, as you may have guessed. Since winter began – my official hibernation and reading time – I’ve had the joy of finding some right good ‘uns which I shall share with you now. Ooh, and on a lovely snowy night too (unless you’re…somewhere it’s not snowing). I can almost hear the ghosts outside wailing about unpaid bills and the ten pence Johnny still owes.

This is my reading face
This is my reading face

1. Wisconsin Death Trip. This collection of news stories and unnervingly beautiful photography made it’s first appearance in the 70s. At the turn of the century (the Victorian one, not the other one) small towns in snowy Wisconsin were a tough place to live, inducing some pretty bizarre activity from the locals. Flick through the articles of the time and be drawn into a very spooky – but true – world.

Incidentally the events of the time are used as the backdrop for another book I enjoyed, twisty historic thriller A Reliable Wife.

2. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse. A humorously clever cross between Se7en and Old Mother Hubbard, the back of the book explains it better than I can:

Once upon a time Jack set out to find his fortune in the big city. But the big city is Toy City, formerly known as Toy Town, and it has grown considerably since the good old days and isn’t all that jolly any more. And there is a serial killer loose on the streets.

The old, rich nursery rhyme characters are being slaughtered one by one and the Toy better hauntedCity police are getting nowhere in their investigations. Meanwhile, Private Eye Bill Winkie has gone missing, leaving behind his sidekick Eddie Bear to take care of things. Eddie may be a battered teddy with an identity crisis, but someone’s got to stop the killer.

When he teams up with Jack, the two are ready for the challenge. Not to mention the heavy drinking, bad behaviour, car chases, gratuitous sex and violence, toy fetishism and all-round grossness along the way.

3. The Best Bizarro of the Decade. I couldn’t really have a list of weird books without it. Everyone has preferences on their choice of out-there reading material and some of these short stories will not be your cup of tea (trust me I even hated a couple. I’m not saying which). However there are others which I found brilliant and very funny. If you can keep an open mind you will be rewarded. Maybe.

4. Better Haunted Homes and Gardens. This picture book is very sweet and pretty and future goth children will love it. If you can find a reasonably priced copy I recommend it, I know it brought out the kid who still loves Halloween in me.

5. Red Velvet and Absinthe. What can I say, I love (very) risque paranormal Stiff-coverstories. These gothic tales are some of the best I’ve found and most have a different (and rude) way of looking at classic spookiness.

6. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Mary Roach is a funny lady. This book is an entertaining read about the different and unexpected ways a human body is used (crash research, nose jobs etc) and I was particularly fascinated when it came to learning about the minutiae of rotting.

However I must admit to skipping a few chapters in the middle – I just didn’t find the bits about planes crashes etc as entertaining. Weird as that sounds. But…the majority is well written and very humorous. Enjoy!

Well, there we have it. So many words, so little time, and so little human brains to ingest while doing it. Oh, no, I found another box. Farewell till next time!

Surreal short story published: ‘A Piece Worth Millions’

Well hello there, never thought I’d see you again. Are you still doing those paintings? Yes, I’ve met someone much better than you. Oh, who am I kidding, come back to me! The nights are so lonely…

Anyway…I’ve had a short story published in issue 10 of Polluto Magazine, which describes itself thusly:

Polluto is the award-winning literary magazine from Dog Horn Publishing. Since 2008 we have been scouring the dark, twisted and just plain weird corners of the world for the kind of writing that we love.”

Can’t say fairer than that eh, and as it’s a lovely foggy day in England (hopefully it is everywhere, but somehow the law of averages says I’m wrong) I suggest you pop over here to have a look. My story is the one about a ‘human life claimed for art.’

Robin Cooper and David Firth, the sweet and dark side of surreal comedy

Two surreal creative forces are popular amongst the groovy kids on the internet (Dig what I’m saying, daddio?). I think they’re both brilliant but be the judges for yourself.

Robert Popper is a writer and producer for TV. On particularly silly days he evokes the character Robin Cooper and writes letters to companies (read book The Timewaster Letters) or makes daft phone calls. What I love about him is his flights of fancy without being mean. If Robin Cooper existed, you’d want to give him a big cuddle and a cup of tea.

Below is one of my favourite clips from his youtube channel (I urge you to visit). Even though Robert Popper has been in the writer’s room for South Park in the past, he still thought it was worth Robin giving them a call:

The flip side of this is David Firth. Not all of his occasionally disturbing animations are strictly comedy, but often surrealness and down-to-earth Northerness collide to make us chuckle. Have a look at episode 2 of one of my favourite characters from his website (and probably the silliest), superhero Burnt Face Man:

*warning, it’s a bit sweary and stuff

Article: How to cope as a werewolf

We’ve all been there, waking up nude at the zoo and scrabbling to get home without being seen. Now there’s a whole list of advice for those suffering from the monthly furry persuasion.

Have a little read of my new article on coping as a werewolf; it could prove invaluable.

Retro tips for men

After adding a list of posts offering advice to women from vintage focused website Retronaut, I decided to be as equally helpful to men. Remember, avoid prostitutes and only smoke cigarettes recommended by the doctor.

‘Stuffed’ girl’s heads

Military STD posters 1918 – 1945

Man’s Life Magazine 1950s

What cigarette do you smoke, doctor? 1949

Men who plan beyond tomorrow 1940s

Suffragette surveillance 1913

Men’s jumpsuits 1970s

Posters for burlesque shows 1890s

The weirdest job interview

Hands down this has to be the weirdest job interview I’ve ever had. I’ve tried to find the name of the company it was with but I’ve not come across them, and it was back in 2007. My memory with names is cloudy like a Scottish mountain.

I like to try all different kinds of writing; scripts, comics, stories, books, so when I saw a vague ad on gumtree for an advertising firm in a nearby town I wondered if they needed any copywriters.

I applied and was offered an interview, so along I went to a smallish office building in Colchester and saw another nervous looking girl. “What time is your interview?” I asked.

“Two,” she replied. Same as mine. Odd, I thought, they must have two different interview rooms.

But no. They didn’t. A man in his early twenties and rivers of gel in his hair opened an office door and invited us both in. I wondered if we would have to fight to the death.

“This company,” he said, “gets everyone to start at grass-roots level, so we all have experience of each different part.”

I furrowed my brow. Surely everyone didn’t work in graphics, not everybody can do that?

“I’m only 24,” he continued, “and I have my own office and blah blah blah…” I began to drift away. He just went on, and on, and on about how great it was to have loads of money. It’s not my money, what do I care?

We both had to answer a myriad of questions, pretending to be people a company would want to hire. Eventually it came to an end and we went our seperate ways, but I quickly realised I had no idea what I’d just been interviewed for. The answer to every question I’d asked had floated deep within a cloud of management-speak.

However I was still pleased when I was asked back for another interview. This time there was no second girl and the gel-money-monster came to sit next to me in the waiting room.

“Today you’ll be shadowing these two,” he pointed out a male and female, both in their early twenties.

“OK,” I said, “but I wanted to ask, what exactly do you all do?”

“Different companies trust us,” he said, voice slanting into the ‘I’m giving a pitch’ tone once again, “to make other people aware of them and to raise their profile.”

“Yes,” I said, impatiently raising my hand, “but on a day-to-day basis, what would I be doing?”

“We inform the public of the companies we reperesent and let them know the work they do.”

“Right,” I snapped, getting quite cross, “so I could just stand out there,” I pointed to the window, “and tell people in the street?”

“Well, not exactly,” he said, blushing. “But anyway, go with (I’ve forgotten their names, I will call the girl Foofy and the boy Mr Fuffykins).”

So I got into a car with them, which seems a bit mental on reflection but at the time politeness forbids us from going against instruction. On the way Foofy pointed out a car she could see and told us how much she wanted one. She then informed us how close to purchasing it with all her recently earned lovely money she was. I wondered if I’d accidentally joined a cult.

The revelation came over lunch. We were eating fried chicken when I was told we would be literally trying to sell a company, or get people to sign up to it (I still don’t really understand) by speaking to them – cold-calling – door to door.

“You can do that can’t you?” asked Foofy.

“Um, yes?” I said. I still don’t know why I said yes.

We pulled into a residential area in Dunmow and I was given a jacket to put on.”I’ll take the odd number doors and you two take the evens,” instructed Foofy.

‘Speak,’ I told myself, and my voice sat at the bottom of my throat until I forced it up. “Um, I can’t do this,” I said in a weird, squeaky way.

They both stared at me. I made myself repeat it. “I can’t go door to door.”

They began to deliberate. “There’s a bus station nearby, it’s not far to walk,” said Mr Fuffykins.

“We can’t just leave her here,” said Foofy, a touch bitterly as though she wished they could.

In the end I convinced them to drop me off in town, where I had a coke and thought about things before I made my way home. The moral of the story is, when someone talks management-speak just start crying until they explain themselves.