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Old 1st May 2003, 10:24   #1
amner
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Default running on MT : A Short Story - by amner

running on MT


It was in Warwick Castle that I came across the curious stranger whom I am going to talk about. He attracted me by three things: his candid simplicity, his marvellous familiarity with ancient armour, and the restfulness of his company—for he did all the talking. We fell together, as modest people will, straggling at the rear of the tourist trail that was being shown through the aged relic, and he at once began to say things which interested me. He introduced himself as Sam, but did not offer his hand to shake, preferring to walk a few steps to my right. As he talked along, his voice full of the nuances of some far off Southern American state, he seemed to drift away imperceptibly out of this world and time. His long jacket, like a groom’s frock coat, seemed inappropriate somehow, even amid all this ancient splendour, but dismissed it as an affectation. Americans, I supposed, should be encouraged their eccentricities.

'You know about transmigration of souls; do you know about transposition of epochs, a-an-and bodies?' he stammered.

I said I had not heard of it, but he had asked, I think, not really expecting an answer. So disinterested was he in my response—just as when people in this country speak of the weather—that he had already turned away to look up at the awesome guardroom on top of Guy's Tower. There was half a moment of silence, interrupted by the voice of our guide:

'Ancient hauberk, date of the sixth century ... observe the round hole through the chain-mail in the left breast ... supposed to have been done with a bullet since invention of firearms ... maliciously by Cromwell's soldiers...'

My acquaintance smiled—not a modern smile, but one that must have gone out of general use many, many centuries ago—and muttered apparently to himself:

'Would that you know, would that you know.'

I smiled, uncertain of how to continue. But my colleague grinned charmingly and dismissed his comments with a wave. 'I beg your pardon,' he said, 'I am not myself today. Too many people have let me down and I shouldn't take it out on the first person I meet. It seems that today's definition of amazing and astonishing is not what I recall it to be.'

It was my turn to dismiss the comment. 'Not at all,' I said. 'And if it helps, I think I agree with you.'

We moved on, our guide steering us towards the Clarence Tower. My companion gazed at the stone, honey-coloured in the wash of late afternoon light. 'They stopped building in 1485, you know,' he said, 'after Richard was killed at Bosworth. The Tower's named after Richard's elder brother, the Duke of Clarence, so anything associated with that side of the family got a harsh deal.' He looked across at me and frowned: 'Is there anything you'd wish to know? Our guide is good, but I've spent more time here than she, I know this place well. Since just after the war, in fact.'

It seemed a strange remark, for he barely looked old enough, and by the time I had quite worked out what I thought I should say, the crowd had doubled back and swallowed us up in a race to take in the Royal Party display in the private apartments before it shut for the evening. I lost sight of him, and after a few moments realised with some regret that he was gone.


***


All that evening I sat by my fire at the 'Warwick Arms'. It was a rough old night and I had long since decided not to venture out and discover the town. Instead I nursed a couple of whiskies as the rain beat hard upon the windows, rattling the panes for all they were worth, a gale roaring along the High Street. From time to time I dipped into a copy of Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, which had sat untouched and unregarded on the mantle, judging by the patina of dust settled on its pages, for some considerable time. I tried to imagine Malory's thinking, writing his tales as he had in the very middle of the Wars of the Roses, like a displaced frontline battle-hardened journalist, trying to shout about high ideals and moral crusades when all about him was falling apart. At midnight I must've fallen asleep, and as I woke with a jolt, the fire dying slowly before me, I realised I had dropped the book on the floor. I was mortified. The copy must be nearly a century and a half old if it was a day, and probably only meant as decoration, rather than a casual read!

I bent to pick it up and noticed, as I did so, that a slip of paper had fallen from between the pages. It was almost as old and faded as the book itself. I unfolded it and was shocked to see that it was a letter, probably a draft, for it was in pencil and suffered many crossing and addenda. I switched the bedside light on and read:


11th September 1872

'Dearest Livy and littlest Susy

I miss you terribly, but will tell no-one save you, for people think I am the cheeriest of men, and I do not wish them to be disavowed of that thought. Such intimacy is yours alone. People here have a strange attitude to Americans, and I wish to be an ambassador if I can, for we have had a bad press since the war.

I spent all day yesterday driving about Warwickshire in an open barouche. It is the loveliest land in its summer garb! We visited Kenilworth ruins, Warwick Castle (pronounce it 'Warrick') and the Shakespeare celebrities in & about Stratford-on-Avon. These places are so fabulously wealthy in their historical warmth that I have already begun noting some texts for a new story. Not up to HF I dare say, but we shall see. There are enough eccentrics and characters encountered in one afternoon to challenge a thousand Hucks and Toms that I shall at least have plenty of examples to choose from! No wonder Walter Scott loved the place so much.

One thing that I find difficult though is the damnable reserve of my hosts. Why, getting them to open up is a tough old job indeed. Perhaps I shouldn’t complain, for I can be difficult enough myself, but I just wish that I could find someone who would talk and talk and talk...'

Here the letter ended, then started again, with the first line repeated. Then more crossings out. On the reverse of the sheet was a name; Olivia Clemens.

I stared in amazement at it, rereading it carefully. My knowledge was hazy, criminally so, but something I could not tether, like the storm raging outside, tapped and banged at the back of my subconscious. What did the writer mean about a new story? Who was he? He certainly felt impressed enough by the castle that he felt inclined to immortalise it in print.


***


The next day I could not wait to enter the castle grounds and was there at ten o'clock as it opened. I rushed, perhaps a little gracelessly, to the gift shop whereupon I hastily read the jackets of all the books on display.

'Are you looking for something particular, my dear?' An elderly lady with kind eyes and a soft patient smile glanced at me from behind the payment desk, 'only you seem to have checked everything in that display twice.'

'I'm sorry. I have an idea of what I'm looking for, but only a vague one. Can you help? It's a story set here, at the castle, and printed after 1872. That's all I know. The author might be Clemens, but beyond that...'

The lady beamed at me, her eyes twinkling with the simple pleasure of knowing the answer to the puzzle. 'Oh, that's easy, young man!' she said.

Outside the air was alive with the babble of tourists and the rich mix of accents joining in unanimous appreciation of the great medieval wonder. For hours I stood there, watching the groups as they moved about the great courtyard. I opened the book and began to read.

The day wore on. Eventually, the sun started to drop and long shadows drew themselves on the grass. And then I saw him. He had followed a woman to the doorway of the Ghost Tower, but she was now moving away, and he looked dejectedly at her retreating figure. He walked to the door, stepping into the darkness...

I ran over. 'Mr Clemens!' I shouted. 'Sam!' but he had disappeared inside. I gripped the book I'd bought in the shop that morning and waved it above my head. ‘Sam! Please!’ I called, reaching the door and stepping inside. It was pitch black in there, save the frame of the door, and for a moment my eyes struggled to become accustomed. It was quiet here, at the foot of the stairwell, but I knew I was not alone.

'Mr Twain?' I said.

The darkness spoke back to me.

'Yes, my lad,' it said.

'Mr Twain, you wanted to hear something amazing, something astonishing. I think have it.' I reached into my pocket and took the letter out, offering it out into the gloom. From the shadow a hand reached out, then withdrew.

'I, I can't take it.'

'It's to your wife and your daughter,' I said. 'You wrote it here some time ago.'

'I was trying to find a story, a story fit for this place. I've been searching for years.'

I held out the book, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. 'This one?' I said, 'I'd say it's worthy. I'd say it's everything you could hope for in a story. You certainly thought your wife should know about it, and now, at last, so do I. People discover these things in the strangest ways.'

The darkness fell silent. After a few minutes I stepped into the shadow that the voice had filled and found ... nothing. Moving out again into the half-light of the evening I glanced back at the open door and lifted my hand in a gentle salute. Sam would probably walk at large again the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and eventually he'd find others who haven't forgotten what it is to be amazed or astonished or set back on their heels by the simple telling of a damnably good story.


.
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Old 9th Jun 2003, 12:41   #2
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Transferred from 'Chat' (it seems ages ago now!) (also two comments joined together)...


This story is so nicely paced and set down and I especially enjoyed the mention of the Clarence Tower. It evoked good memories of that castle. I was a little surprised the narrator was a young man.

........

Re-reading it, I actually think it comes across as a mix - the first part just seems to me to have more of a woman's voice. It may be the 'modest' nature of that character that allows for more description, the quiet tones of the dialogue and the narrator's eye-view of what he is seeing/hearing. Of course the whisky-drinking and the running towards Clemens, calling out and waving a book, would appear to be more assertive masculine actions. I actually rather like the narrator but it still came as a surprise when the lady in the shop said 'young man'.

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Old 9th Jun 2003, 12:46   #3
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I'm pleasantly bemused by that reaction, Colyngbourne :)

It was, I think I said, a getting-going exercise one evening; trying to call the Muse and all that. If I could master the art of writing with a female voice I'd be quids in, so I wonder what I did?!
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Old 9th Jun 2003, 12:58   #4
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I've just re-read it again and I can't quite work out why it is. I think the shop lady calling him 'my dear' has something to do with it, and Clemens 'smiling charmingly' at the narrator (I supposed he would only do this at a woman he was trying to charm), and the narrator's relief at the 'restfulness of his company' (which I imagine a woman would prefer to more bullish behaviour). It all probably says something more about my innate expectations of the male of the species, than about your good writing :wink:
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Old 25th Jun 2003, 15:49   #5
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I think that as there's nothing to give any indication of gender the reader projects their own onto the narrator.

The only indicator is that MT is seen talking to a woman just before the final scene. This is not really much of one, though.
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Old 19th Jul 2006, 14:23   #6
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Default Re: running on MT : A Short Story - by amner

I thought this was a very pleasing read. The voices speak distinctly and the tone sweet and nostalgic. Really enjoyable.
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Old 19th Jul 2006, 14:28   #7
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Default Re: running on MT : A Short Story - by amner

Thanks Noumenon. It's nice, by the way, to see someone trawling through the Features section. It's an infrequently visited corner of the site and bumping the threads to the top like this has been a pleasant surprise.
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Old 19th Jul 2006, 23:52   #8
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Default Re: running on MT : A Short Story - by amner

My pleasure. I found Palimpsest while looking for writing sites - well, actually I Googled "Palimpsest" because I really like the word - but that's why I joined up. I'm a screenwriter (by training if not by success) and I've recently been taking a long overdue stab at "ordinary" fiction, so I will put something of my own up for target practice in a few days.

Pleasing, pleasant, pleasure... can we have a Thesaurus thread?
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Old 30th Nov 2011, 11:17   #9
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Default Re: running on MT : A Short Story - by amner

“The man who doesn't read has no advantage over the man who cannot read”- Mark Twain's birthday today.
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Old 1st Dec 2011, 19:35   #10
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Default Re: running on MT : A Short Story - by amner

Hi Amner,
This is an excellent and fitting tribute to the master. Well done. I like the way you weave elements of the original story into the narrative and present Twain's ironic posture.
Thanks for sharing this.
Regards,
Kevin
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