A Newbury Halloween Invitation

You may well have spooky things to do this Halloween, but should you wish to take your pumpkin to listen to the telling of a devilish story by an actor, please join us at Newton Road Cemetery chapel, Newbury.

‘Unfortunately’, my comedic tale of soul-selling and brussels sprouts will be recounted twice in the creepy atmosphere of the chapel at 6:30pm in front of children, including the kids from City Arts, Newbury who are making masks of gerbils, bats, spiders, wolves, cockroaches, silver back gorillas, rats and swans, all of which play a role in the story.

There will be a further performance at 8pm (aka the Witching Hour) for the older kids amongst you. (masks not mandatory, but will be provided).

Should you want tickets (£3) please let me know.

In the meantime, for those who cant make it, here is a copy of the story adapted from the stage performance –  though it does not contain the sound effects, visuals, face paints and fart-gun that will be strewn through the show.

 

Storytelling in the Cemetery presents
“Unfortunately”
A Hoot for Halloween
by Martin Strike
recent2
Thursday, 31st October
Story read by Mike Brook

It was Halloween. The evening was already dark, the air was cold and I could see my breath as I walked through the graves to the chapel in Newtown Road cemetery. I was scared – no, not of the graves; after all, they only contained dead people, and certainly not any of the ghouls, ghosts and monsters I had passed on my walk to the cemetery; they were only trick-or-treaters being chaperoned by their mothers. Some of the mums looked more frightening than their kids, even without fancy dress. Soon they would all be back at home, the mothers on their sofas drinking wine, their kids in bed secretly checking their phones under the covers before the real terrors of Halloween would start to emerge. No, I was scared of who I had to meet.

I walked up to the large wooden door of the chapel just in time for my annual appointment. I was trembling, but not just from the cold. I went to knock, but stopped when from inside I heard a deep voice:

“Now I’ve got you; NOW I’M GOING TO EAT YOU!”

 

knocking on the door

I swallowed hard and my knees started knocking.

Every Halloween I had to meet the devil in the chapel and I hated it. But I had to do it, as it was part of the deal I had made when I sold him my soul when I’d been a boy. You see, I’d met the devil when I was a boy at St Bartholomew’s school. He was my maths teacher.

I heard the voice again: “Now I’ve got you; NOW I’M GOING TO EAT YOU!”

I’d been a fool back then. My advice to you is never to sell your soul to the devil, no matter how bad you are at maths. I thought it was a good idea at the time and sold it to him for a copy of The Beano comic, a Lego model of Queen Victoria and a jumbo tub of Haribos. I know, I know: I should have played hardball and demanded a yo-yo too.

I didn’t miss my soul at all for a while: I laughed out loud at the Dennis the Menace story in the Beano, made the Lego version of Queen Victoria three times in as many days and delighted in the fact that my lips had turned a wonderful green colour having scoffed all of the Haribos. But then after a week, I started to get bored: I’d read the Beano ten times, was totally sick of the sight of Queen Victoria, and I’d finished the sweets and bankrupted the tooth fairy.

“Now I’ve got you; NOW I’M GOING TO EAT YOU!”

I thought of the children he was eating in there and gulped.

Of course, since selling my soul to the devil, my life has become a living hell. As my part of the deal, I have to watch every episode of Eastenders, wear Primark trainers, load the dishwasher for my mum every night and eat Brussels Sprouts for every meal. Worst of all, on every single Halloween night since then I have had to visit the devil right here in this chapel. It’s been a long, long time. As you can probably guess by my wrinkles, I’m now 127 years old which means I’ve watched every Eastenders since Dot Cotton was in Year 5.

Anyway, every Halloween I have one chance of earning my soul back, and that’s by… No, I will tell you in a minute or two. For it’s now time for this year’s meeting with the devil himself, and I daren’t be late or there’ll be hell to pay.

I knock on the biggg heeeavy door then open it with a loooooong creak.

The voice was even louder, “Now I’ve got you; NOW I’M GOING TO EAT YOU!”

I peek from behind my hands and grimace at the most revolting thing I’ve ever seen: the devil is sitting there in that very chair, feet up on that table, picking his nose.

“Now I’ve got you; NOW I’M GOING TO EAT YOU!” He notices me just as he is about to put his finger in his mouth. “Ah, Michael, is it Halloween again already?” he says, swallowing. “Care for a bogie?” He extends a long red finger out to me with a slimy blob of green perched on the end of his claw-like nail.

“Err, no thank you,” I say, “I’ve already eaten.”soul

“Suit yourself;” he says, wiping the snot on the back of one of his horns for later. “Now, how are you this year – still missing this?” He reaches across the table in front of him where a small object sits covered by a manky old cloth. He pulls away the cloth to reveal a brilliant light shining out in vibrant colours from inside a large jam jar. I recognised it instantly.

“My soul?… Nah, not really,” I lie, trying to sound cool while rubbing the bunions on my feet from the cheap Primark trainers, and wafting away a fart from tonight’s Brussels sprout quiche.

“Are you quite sure about that?” grins the devil. “So, you won’t want this year’s chance to earn it back?”

“No, no, you’re alright,” I say, trying to hide my desperation to be reunited with my soul and so not have to read that blasted Roger the Dodger story for the three-billionth time, or get to make someone else out of Lego, Boris Johnson even, anyone other than Queen bloomin’ Victoria. Most of all I could at last have a topping on my pizza that isn’t Brussels sprouts. I look at the devil. “Anyway, it’s always quite good fun; trying to scare children, I wouldn’t want to miss it this year.”

The devil roars at this; he really isn’t keen on child welfare. “Excellent! I enjoy our annual challenge. I always win!”

It’s at this point that I should tell you about the one chance the devil gives me each year to win back my soul. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s so difficult that I’ve not been able to do it on any of the last 115 Halloweens. Not once. And the devil knows it. He laughs at me when I fail and takes my soul in its jar away and locks it in a cabinet in the chapel until the next Halloween. There it sits for another year between Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan’s jars while I have to spend yet another year emptying the dishwasher for my 150-year old mother and walking around our old people’s home in rubbish trainers.

Our agreement is thus: on every Halloween, the devil turns me into an animal for one day. It can be any animal of my choice, but I can never be the same animal more than once. Being an animal for the day sounds good fun, doesn’t it, and for the first ten or twenty years, I suppose it was. When I was 15 for example, I became a gerbil for the day because my sister had always wanted one. She cried for weeks after I’d turned back into her brother, but I suppose that’s sisters for you. Now, here’s the important bit: in order to earn my soul back in those 24 hours as an animal, the devil insists I must scare at least twenty children as he says it’s his hobby collecting their screams. If, by the end of the day, I haven’t scared enough kids, then he turns me back into a soulless human, and I have to spend yet another year reading the same Minnie the Minx cartoon and eating Brussels sprout ice lollies.

You’d think it would be easy to be a wild animal and scare children, wouldn’t you? Believe me, it isn’t. As every Halloween approaches, I look at the holes in my Primark trainers and think, ‘this year I will do it’. But of course, I never have. And I’ve been all different sorts of animals too.

I remember the year I chose to be turned into a bat. Having wings was a beautiful thing and I unwrapped and admired them, all black and velvety as I hung from that rafter up in the roof of the chapel. As I took off for the first time. Never having flown before, I flew straight into the stained-glass window above the altar, right between the pictures of Saint Marmaduke and Spongebob Squarepants. The devil roared with laughter as I spiralled down to the floor like a piece of KFC thrown out of a car window. But I was not going to miss my chance of salvation, oh no, so I gritted my fangs and flapped as hard as I could, and in a few moments, I was airborne and circling around and around the chapel. I could see my dark shadow passing around the walls in the candlelight. I was truly terrifying and ready to land in the hair of an unsuspecting Year Three, so I flew out of a window and out into the moonless night, convinced I’d scare enough children to win my soul back in minutes. Unfortunately, before I’d even left the cemetery grounds, I got tangled up in some horrible kind of netting. Suddenly a torch went on, and a hand reached in and grabbed me as I flapped about. Turned out it was the Newbury Bat Conservation Society who were out on a midnight field trip assessing local bat populations. I got weighed, measured and a ring put around my leg to identify me. If I roll my trouser leg up, you’ll see I’ve still got it.

Then there was the Halloween I chose to become a snake. Are you scared of snakes? I think you’ll find they are very scary things, very scary. Anyway, having been turned into a very, very scary python, I slithered out of the chapel and out into the graveyard heading for children.

snakeUnfortunately, as it was October and freezing cold, I hadn’t taken into account that, as clever little so-and-so’s like you probably know, snakes are cold-blooded. and so as I slithered, I sensed my heart rate slowing, then, before I’d even got to the cemetery gate, I…fell… into a long…and…dreamy…sleep. I missed Christmas that year, as I didn’t wake up again until spring. To my complete embarrassment someone had found me whilst I was hibernating and I woke up in a tank in Pets at Home. Took a lot of explaining to the shop manager to get out of that one, I can tell you.

You think that’s bad? One year I decided to be a wolf. Just think how terrifying my howling would have sounded to you children. I reckoned I’d easily got my soul back as I prowled over Victoria Park, sniffing the air for young blood. Unfortunately, I happened across rather older blood than I’d expected in the form of the Newbury Dog Obedience Club all out training their ‘orrible mutts to behave on a moonlit walk. Before I knew what
was happening, I was raising my paw for a biscuit and rolling on my back to have my tummy tickled. Oh, the shame!

The year after that, I opted to be turned into a spider. Do you know, it’s really very difficult to walk with eight hairy legs? It takes quite a while to work out which one to move next. First, I found I was just walking in a circle, then I kept tripping my third leg up with my seventh leg and my fourth leg up with my first. Trying to work it all out was a nightmare and led me to tying myself up in a reef knot so tight that even Blackbeard the pirate would have been proud of it. It took me hours to untangle myself, but at last I headed off for town as fast as my many legs could take me. How could I fail? Everyone is terrified of spiders, right? Wrong! Unfortunately, I found the one person in Newbury who isn’t. As I scuttled along the pavement an old lady bent down and picked me up. As she looked at me, I pulled the ugliest face I could, and crossed all eight of my eyes which made me feel a bit dizzy. Do you know what she did next? She swallowed me! I passed down her oesophagus, through her alimentary canal and ended up in her stomach. Yuk! And guess what I found there? A fly… I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. I thought perhaps she might not survive. The fly was quite delicious, for a fly, and not wanting to travel any further through her digestive system, I decided to wriggle and jiggle and tickle inside her…Next thing I knew, something big came squawking through her intestines and joined me in her stomach. Turned out it was a bird.

spider“Hello mate,” said the bird. “Bit dark in here, innit?”

“S’pose so,” I said, not really wanting to create small talk with a jackdaw.

“Hope you don’t mind,” said the bird, “but the old lady, she err, swallowed me to catch you.”

“She swallowed a bird?” I replied. “How absurd to swallow a bird. Perhaps she’ll die.”

“Wouldn’t bet on it, mate; she’s a bit of a bruiser, if you know what I mean. Now, don’t take it personally if I eat you, but I’ve a job to do.”

I don’t remember much more after that, except the sound of meowing coming down her tubes, then barking, then a goat braying, then horse hoofs and finally there a big explosion and we all got to go home. Apart from the old lady that is; she just seemed not to be there anymore, but I do remember that there was loads of pink stuff all over the floor.. Yet another year without my soul…

Oh yes, talking of hoofs, one Halloween I asked to be turned into a horse. I thought I could bite all the rich kids at their pony lessons. Unfortunately, on my way there some chap in a colourful shirt jumped on my back and started hitting me with a stick. Before I knew it, I’d won the 2:15 at Newbury races.

I’m sure you can tell by now that every year has been a complete disaster. In 1987 I was turned into a nasty, red, hissing cockroach, but unfortunately, I got trodden on before I’d even made it to the Chinese takeaway on Bartholomew Street. Then a few years ago I asked to be a gigantic silverback gorilla. I headed for Park House school and was about to enter a classroom to whoop, beat my chest and flash my red bum (or was that 2006 when I was a baboon?) before scaring 35 children in one go, when unfortunately, a lady called out from one of the school buildings.

“Ah, this way,” she said. “We’ve been expecting you.”

“Ugg,” I said and walked over to her, my knuckles dragging across the playground.

“Follow me,” she said, and she took me inside and down a long corridor.

“Ugg ugg,” I said, hoping that wherever we were going, there’d be bananas.

“Here we are,” she said, “this is your office…it’s so good to have a new headmaster, and, if you don’t mind me saying, you’re much more handsome and sweet-smelling than the last one.”

“Ugg, ugg, ugg,” I said, and ran away terrified.

Oh yes, then there was 1978 – now that was a bad one. I’d asked the devil to turn me into a nasty brown rat. That would surely scare the requisite number of children when I burst out from their schoolbags next day. I’d looked at my reflection in a puddle and yuk, I was horrible. My eyes were black and starey, my black fur all matted and greasy and my sharp teeth all yellow and blotchy as a month-old omelette. And the smell! I stank of last year’s rice pudding, liquidised in cabbage water with a pickled egg and one of my grandpa’s cheesy old socks thrown in for good measure.

ratScare children? I pretty much scared myself. I jumped in a rubbish bin and scavenged around for the finishing touch; someone’s thrown-away curry to add a final piquancy to my revolting smell. I clambered out of the bin to find a hundred sets of eyes staring at me. Unfortunately, all that rooting around in the bin made enough noise to alert every cat in the neighbourhood.

“Hello fellers,” I said nervously as the cats closed in on me as a delicious black rat, “lovely evening for a run,” and I bolted as fast as my little legs would scurry me.

I scurried and scurried and scurried, pursued by hissing moggies all snapping their jaws at me as I went. They chased and chased me. Three times around the Kennet Centre we went, through the Sainsburys car park and over the canal bridge. I was just running out of puff when fortunately, I had a bit of good luck. Unfortunately, for the cats, we were now in Victoria Park and remember the Newbury Dog Obedience Club I told you about earlier? Well, there they all were again, this time teaching their dogs to say ‘sausages’ and to roll over for the Queen. The cats all screeched to a halt in front of the dogs. They couldn’t believe their luck, either. You can guess what happened next, but needless to say none of those mutts earned their good behaviour certificates that night.

But I can see what you are thinking… ‘That man reading this story to you is a fraudster, a charlatan. He did not really sell his soul; we can tell he’s not wearing Primark trainers you say to yourselves, and I imagine he is even quite good at Maths, though to be fair he probably does have a smell of Brussels sprouts about him.’ So, you think you are clever, my friend, but maybe a little too clever. Think on this…why would I have arranged to read you this tale of terror on of all nights, Halloween? Hmm, could it be for me to have a captive audience to scare you revolting children sitting in this chapel and get my soul back once and for all? You can boo me if you like… but believe me, you’d rather watch the box set of Cash in the Attic than be here when my acquaintance, the devil, hears that I’ve scared you so much that your ear lobes waggle and your nostrils turn inside out.

Knock−knock

Ah, here he is, dead on time. Now, there is to be no booing, but instead, give a warm round of applause for the Prince of Darkness, setter of homework and master of early bedtimes, I give you boys and girls… the Devil!”

I open the wooden doors with an equally loooong creak and let the devil in. He’s tall, dressed head to foot in red, and despite the red face makeup, some say has a passing resemblance to the chairman of the Friends of Newtown Road Cemetery. He bows to the crowd, grinning horribly at all the kids in the chapel while they boo and jeer. He picks his nose and offers it to a child on the front row of seats.

“Welcome, oh Devil.” I say.

“I see you have brought children here,” he sneers as he looks around the room.
“Isn’t it wonderful,” I say. “At last I’m going to scare them all and earn my soul back.”

“You think?” The Devil sniggers.

“Think? I know I will. This time I’m really going to do it. I’ve thought of a creature so vile that everyone in Newbury is terrified of it. And to think, after all of these years, these loathsome creatures have been living here, right under my nose…

“The animal I want to be turned into this year lives right in the middle of town and terrorises children and adults alike.

“Oh yes?” says the Devil. Tell me about this fabulous creature. Is it one of the stone lions in Victoria Park, or a bookworm from the library maybe?” He laughs at his own joke.

“Oh, you may laugh…” I say.

“OK then!” he stands, grips his sides and says mischievously. “HA HA HA HE HE HE HOO HOO HOO…”
“You finished?” I ask.

He sits again. “Tee hee…I’m done now.”

“Thank you, Prince of Darkness. I’m going to be an animal so frightening that all of these children will scream and run right out of this building, you’ll see, and you will have to give me back my soul and I will never, repeat never, have to eat Brussels sprout cheesecake ever again!

The Devil pinches his nose. “Phooar! What a whiff. Are you after my job?”

“No, I’m not! I just want to get my soul back. Let me go outside and turn into my animal and show you. Meanwhile here is a present for you.” I said and passed him a Sainsburys bag and walked past the audience sniggering. “You wait, I’ll be back in a few seconds to PETRIFY you all!”

The Devil watches me leave and looks curiously at the bag. “A present? For little old me? I wonder what it is…” He delves in to the bag and produces a loaf of bread for all the crowd to see. “How strange? Why would he give me a loaf of bread? How scary can that be? Unless… no he can’t have…He HAS!”
.
The chapel door opens and in I burst, transformed into a brutish swan! Flapping angrily, I make for the devil, squawking dangerously.

The Devil suddenly looks terrified, “Leave me swan, oh foulest of fowl. I’ve seen you on the canal side, pecking at kids, hissing at Mums, pulling faces at Dads and making rude gestures at all the grandparents.”

I move in and grab the Devil’s arm with my beak.

“Owwwww!” He screams, trying to shake me off. But he’s no chance, swans being so belligerent. “Forget about stupid kids screaming, you can keep your soul – I’m out of here!”

The Devil breaks free and flees through the chapel door with me giving vigorous chase. As the Devil disappears, my white feathers start to drop out, and my black beak shrinks back to a nose. Now fully back to Michael, I return to the chapel, pick up the jar and hold it aloft to the crowd. All of the children cheer me.

“That’s it!” I say. “I’ve got my soul back after all these years, thank you, and I didn’t even have to scare all you wonderful children. That horrible swan… I’m free again, free to give that Beano comic to the charity shop and go to buy this week’s issue and then I’ll make a Lego version of Queen Amanda Holden…. I’m going home for my tea – but no Brussels sprouts lasagne for me, oh no: tonight I’m having baked beans on toast!

THE END

                                                      ————————————————-

preposterous tales front - finalLike this story? Want to hear more from the same author? Then why not try PREPOSTEROUS TALES FROM THE NEWBURY SHORT STORY TELLER
Seventeen humorous short stories, all set in an alternative Newbury where residents are often bonkers, vindictive or skewed. Note: Some contain gentle adult themes.

Available at the chapel tonight or on Amazon.

For future stories follow Martin on:

http://www.thenewburyshortstoryteller.wordpress.com
Like the illustrations? See more of Charlotte Strike’s work on:     boo

https://instagram.com/ca.strike

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