Polly and the Fly-By Charnel House

Polly and the Fly-By Charnel House

A Story by Mad Ben

Waking up from his deep sleep, Mr. Weasley finds himself dropped from a high place without warning and in a coffin no less. Meanwhile a girl named Polly has to make plans on how to scrag a wolf.

Polly and the Fly-By Charnel House
a story from the Fringe of Madness by Mad Ben (4076 words)

Mr. Weasley awoke. He felt stiff and cold, but that wasn’t unusual. He took a deep breath:

“Martha, are you there? Martha, my throat is dry as parchment. Be a dear and make me a cup of tea, will you?”

It felt natural. He had asked the same question innumerable times and, almost magically, tea tended to arrive. Or did it? His memory on the matter felt a little hazy. Well, there had at least been tea sometimes. Maybe a long time ago.

His blurry vision cleared and he clutched at the rim of his bed, which wasn’t supposed to have one. The shape was off too, somehow very much like a… coffin.

He groaned as he sat up and his eyes adjusted to scan the ground around him. Indeed, he was in a coffin that lay in the middle of a metal floor plate. There was also a pair of thick black leather boots with obvious hints of an owner inside.

Still getting used to the sensation of almost unimpeded vision and also a total lack of pain in the old back that had given him trouble for as long as he could remember, he made it past black trousers and a black cape until his gaze reached the skeletal gray visage of the stranger.

“Oh my goodness”, he croaked while staring in horror.

“Yes, people tend to do that. I have that kind of effect on people. In fact, people being scared of me is the most natural thing.”

The figure seemed to preen, its chest swelling to almost half again its former girth.

“Oh my, did you see a doctor for that, you poor lad?”

The figure seemed to deflate and looked positively crestfallen.

“All right, you are one of those. Usually you are supposed to ask Who are you? Oh no, oh no, are you Death?  and I would say something like Behold! I am not Death. I am in fact… Here comes the good part, so pay attention… Old Man Trouble!



“You do look a little troubled to me, that’s for sure. Did you see a doctor for that…”

He was interrupted by a sudden lack of floor and an over-abundance of down. Old Man Trouble, his right hand still on the lever, mumbled to himself as the hatch clanged shut again:

“The dead definitely aren’t what they used to be. Oh well, got another delivery to make before madfall*.”

* * *

“So you are telling me, there is this house that flies around and dumps zombies on people’s heads and front lawns?”

Peter, the carter of the small village of Hammered Shyte (which is supposedly a local animal), had an incredulous look on his face, while listening to the pedlar’s strange story.

“I’m telling you! I saw it with my own eyes over in Soggy Pool”, the man bleated in agitated dismay.

“Could be them Poolies gave ya some of their homemade pick-me-ups din they?”, Dingy Smith speculated with an odd dreamy look in his eyes, but everybody ignored him on principle.

“It used to be little dollies and softballs they dropped in my days”, old Swanny Briars provided, “Those houses were always such a source of joy and happiness for the kids…”

“I thought that was all bogus you old farts told to us so you could laugh about how stupid we are later on”, Peter protested.

“Oh, I don’t need to tell you stories to do that!”

“Sometimes they would drop volleyballs as well”, a voice further back added.
Slowly the crowd around the pedlar was growing and some were even buying his wares, without paying too much attention to the quality, which was just the way he liked it.

Groan Cutter, the local butcher, scratched his scraggly beard and growled:
“One time one of them was even dropping little puppies. That was very bad for business.”

“Ah, I won’t forget the wailing and screaming of the kids. It lasted all day and halfway through the night. We ate stew for half a week and everybody had new gloves for the winter afterwards”, Swanny added gleefully.

The people around him exchanged dubious looks. Any of them who had had doubts about why Swanny had never married and raised kids of his own found all their questions answered and no need for asking further, thank you very much.

Peter, who wasn’t exactly the brightest of the lot but who could count to seven with his eyes closed, finally said the thing they had all been waiting for:

“Let’s get our pitchforks and the torches.”

This is where the story of the brave village folks ends in cruel, but not all too unusual, ways and the story of Polly begins.

* * *

Her mother patted her on the head for the fourth time and Polly was really getting sick of it.

“Don’t you look so pretty in your new red hoodie. Grandma is going to be so thrilled to see you! Bring her this delicious cake and this bottle of wine.”

Polly didn’t even try to be a “good little girl” about it all. She hated wearing red, she could smell the deathwort from the basket and she knew that both her grandmas had died before she was even born.

Her parents must have simply decided that they had enough daughters and that they would be the ones providing the sacrifice for the village’s yearly attempt to get rid of the wolf and the ghoul. If either one would eat her and took as much as a good whiff of what she was carrying, they would be two problems shorter.

She had seen it coming, too, and had stashed away a sharp knife, a pair of tough leather bracers and a rusty old rapier she had found on the attic the previous summer. There was also Mr. Bungles, her ragged old teddy bear.

It was threadbare and almost falling apart, but she had patched it up whenever necessary and made adjustments to adapt it to her particular tastes, which, had they possessed the necessary literacy, her parents would have more accurately described as “mutations”. Now it wore a spiked collar, had claws two inches long on both hands and feet and a bloody handkerchief as a headband.

Somehow she could understand her parents’ decision to get rid of her. If she had been given half a chance to have them shipped off to some faraway place, she would have done her best or, failing that, her worst.

Now it was time to pay the monsters of the forest a long overdue visit. She might slay them or she might get killed. In her wild imagination, however, she dreamed of joining with them and raiding the village in a nocturnal carnival of carnage. She might even hit them over the heads with a stick!

The red hood soon found a new home with the scarecrow on Mr. Bolly’s field. Unlike most of the other people in town, it had never harassed her or tried to “correct her evil ways”, so it was practically a friend. In return she took its faded-green sash and stuck the knife and rapier through it.

Her last stop was the back of the baker’s shop. She raided his stores thoroughly, as she had done many times before, and made a clean getaway with two large loafs of bread and a bag of cupcakes. Oddly enough, today the baker didn’t even give chase.

“They are pitying me”, she thought, anger swelling up inside her, “They know they are sending me to my doom, but somehow it makes them feel better about themselves to think of the poor little girl that’s going into the woods. The b******s.”

She vowed to herself to infest the shop and every house in town with swarms of roaches and to dump swarms of leeches into the cistern. First though, she had to pull through and make it back alive.

She didn’t even think of simply running away. If there was one good thing about her, she wasn’t a quitter. You either lived your life running away from something or running toward it. Those beasts should better look out, because she was coming.

* * *

Mr. Weasley, after hours of straying in circles, had finally found his feet. This had been considerably harder than finding his head.

“Ah, I knew the old joints would give out on me eventually”, he mumbled as he continued sewing with a kit he had found in one of his coat pockets.

The world seemed to make perfect sense. Being dead tended to put everything in perspective and cleared the mind like no amount of snuff and tube cleaner. He had escaped the haze of dementia that had filled the space between his ears with wool and worries.

Worries like the next cup of tea or getting a rub for his bedsores and aching bones. He wondered how Martha was doing.

“Probably she’s dead, too”, he thought, “Just I don’t think she’s the walking around kind. She would look bad like this, too. Always had such rosy cheeks, she had…”

The Madlight* above was fading as the Fringeworld* turned and soon night fell. In the distance he thought he could hear screams and see the flickering light of torches, but soon silence fell and he decided for the opposite direction, toward the forest.

Here, he made the discovery that he did not need sleep or even rest. He could see in the dark as well, even though the world around him lost most of its colors. The well-trodden path he was following was lined with signs like “The olde grandemother” and “no wolfe here ate all”, both of which sounded alright to him.

“So I’m a kind of zombie now”, he pondered, “Jolly good, there are a number of people I’d like to give a good scare. Living in a crypt is probably cheaper than a house as well, even though I might have to worry about grave worms.”

He whistled a tune and let his joints creak in rhythm, which produced sounds that, while probably unbearable to any living man, were the very trade mark of the cultured undead. His legs ate up the ground at a pace almost equal to a horse. He was on the road again, just like in the good old days of his youth, or his life for that matter.

* * *

Polly followed the signs that insisted on the complete absence of any wolves whatsoever, so she arrived at the yawning mouth of the cave in less than an hour. From the smell of it though, it was probably flatulating instead of yawning, though.

Bending her back just a little and poking the rapier into the darkness ahead, she slowly progressed into the hole. After a short while she had to use Mr. Bungles as a face mask though, or she would have gagged.

Long before the walls on both sides receded and she entered the cavernous inner chamber, she had made up her mind. She would definitely not try to join up with the wolf if he was such a smelly beast. While most of the children in town had wailed when their mothers scrubbed them down, she had actually enjoyed baths.

The walls emitted a faint light from some kind of green-glowing fungus and she could just make out small red stains on the floor leading toward the far side of the cave. She followed them carefully, all the while feeling her heart pounding against her ribs as if trying to escape.

She could do this, she was already 9 years old, she told herself. The stains ended abruptly in a much larger spot of red. In its center lay a small piece of cardboard with neat handwriting on it:

“Dear visitor, I have been a little peckish these last few weeks, what with so few little girls coming to visit me nowadays, so I went and had a little bite to eat. Sorry about the wolf, I know you were so looking forward to it, sweetie, but I am sure a new one will move in eventually. Please come and see me as soon as possible, your dear old grandmother.”

Polly shuddered and fought the urge to look over her shoulder. In the end she did so anyway and then turned around to leave the cave, covering her act of cowardice. How could anybody eat this smelly wolf? She shuddered again, but this time out of culinary reproach.

She walked a few more miles along the path, until she reached the old ghost willow. It was completely white and most townsfolk shunned it like a devil, but Polly had been here before and examined it closely. In the end, it had turned out to be simple lichen growing on it and giving it that pale color.

In the fork between its large branches several meters above the ground, there was a small and comfortable niche just large enough for her to sleep in. Climbing the tree was hard and when she had finally succeeded, she was covered in white dust and fell asleep on the spot.

The next morning she woke up hearing voices. She blinked the sleep out of her eyes and looked around. Three boys were coming up the path. The sun was already high in the sky, telling her that she overslept quite a bit. Well, it didn’t really matter, since there were no parents to scold her.

When she recognized the boys, she groaned. Not them, not out here. They were Porkion, Hampton and Grolly, the butcher’s sons. She was one of the few people wise enough never to ponder how he had come up with the names. She suspected the truth would give her headaches for weeks.

“The little snot has to be around here somewhere. We already know the wolf didn’t eat her because he’s been dead for weeks”, Porkion, a boy as wide as he was tall, squealed with obvious self-importance.

“What if she really went to see the hag?”, whined Grolly, the youngest of the trio.

“Then we might get lucky and see the hag do nasty things to her through the window.”

“But… but what if she sees us!”, wailed Grolly, his ratty face turning a dangerous pink.

Porkion made a sign and the silent Hampton slapped the hyperventilating Grolly on the back, before he could fall over from lack of air.

“She’s been giving us trouble for years, never paying the proper respects and all as pop always says. Now we will see her suffer.”

At that moment, Polly made an uncareful move and dislodged some of the lichen-crusted bark, which promptly fell down with a rustling sound. The boys looked up and she half expected them to bellow and come running. They did cry out, but not to attack. Instead they turned and fled, screaming “Ghost! Ghost!”

Polly almost felt sorry for them. Especially for Grolly who was so close to being stupid enough to stop breathing. She did know about asthma, but in her estimation that had to be the reason for sure. She slipped down the tree and gave Porkion’s backside a painful souvenir with her rapier, before their panicked flight could take them out of range.

She felt strong, almost invincible. A slayer of dragons could not have been more proud and self-assured. Sheathing the weapon, she resumed her way towards grandmother’s house, pausing only to pick a few blueberries along the path.

Coming around a bend, she ran head-first into somebody walking quickly the other way. When she came to, she was laying on the forest floor in a heap of… things. Arms, legs, a head, a torso. It didn’t really register in her mind, it was just to strange. If people were jigsaw puzzles, this might be a person.

The head seemed to stare at here accusingly and she gave an embarrassing yelp of horrified surprise. Then he cleared his nonexistent throat:

“Young lady, you ran into me at speed and I am, as you can see, at a terrible disadvantage. Would you please help me deal with this… this jumble? I haven’t been dead for very long, so I don’t have much experience sorting through my limbs.”

“Ah… of course”, she heard herself reply.

He had sounded rather nice and, more importantly, like the whole thing was nothing special. She had never seen a person fall apart like that, so she couldn’t tell if it was normal or not. Also, there was no blood, so it couldn’t be bad, could it?

She found herself enjoying the challenge and, had she known the “Them Bones” song, she would definitely have hummed it, even though very little of the actual bones showed at the edges. Sewing things up was a little harder, but she had extensive experience fixing Mr. Bungles.

The zombie experimentally stretched and tested his joints, before giving her an approving nod and a decent attempt at a smile. Because Polly wasn’t stupid, she only flinched.

“My dear, you have saved me and no mistake about it! Well, I would never had needed the help had you not bumped into me, but that was as much my fault as yours, I guess. But where are my manners. My name is Weasley, Albert Weasley, at your service.”

“Hi”, said Polly, “I’m Polly.” and held out her hand, which he took and shook carefully, not wanting to hurt her or to fall apart again.

“I’m going to see the evil grandmother”, Polly told him, wondering at the same time why she felt so trusting toward him.

“You mean the one all these signs say is such a nice old lady and not a girl-eating ghoul at all?”, he asked curiously.

“The same one. I want to give her a cake and wine, but it’s poison so I might warn her about that if she is nice enough. But if she wants to eat me, I’ll make sure she gets poisoned instead or she can have my rapier stuck through her heart, like in the stories.”

She half expected the “a little girl shouldn’t” speech, but he seemed unperturbed and rather interested, so she continued:

“You should come as well. Your stitching isn’t the best and I am really good with a needle. I could make sure you don’t spread your fingers and ears and things all over the place. We could help each other!”

He rubbed his chin and took a few minutes, before brightening up and nodding, which prompted another session of needlework, because his ears were indeed in danger of dropping any minute.

Then they continued in Polly’s direction with her talking almost non-stop about this and that. He just smiled and nodded from time to time, he was good at that.
“Martha and me could never have children”, he thought, “Something about this makes me really happy.

They walked until the late afternoon. Sometimes he carried Polly on his shoulders, which were much stronger than they had been when he was alive, and sometimes she fixed one of his limbs. There was only a single cloud in the sky, but it didn’t bother them very much. Not, at least, until it seemed to get closer and closer.

“What is that cloud?”, Polly asked, pointing at it, while shielding her eyes from the glare of the madlight*.

She was currently riding on Weasley’s back and when he looked up to see, she almost toppled over backward. He caught her before she could loose balance, and they both stared at the strange formation in the air.

By now they had left the forest behind and were in the middle of a yellow-green moorland. The weather was good and the sky was otherwise clear, just that one, menacing cloud. Something about its looks made them decide to take a detour through more forested terrain and they turned left toward the evening light.

The approach of the thing just sped up and soon they were running, hoping against all odds that Weasley’s legs would remain attached long enough to make good their escape into the woods and underbrush. Finally, the cloud tore open, revealing a flying house.

“It’s him! That sickly skeleton guy in black!”, Weasley moaned more annoyed than afraid, “He woke me up and dropped me over a hundred feet into the top of a tree, that bugger!”

When they were only a few feet from the closest tree, a net dropped over them both, wrapped them up like so many fishes and dragged them upward. Then they were unceremoniously deposited on the metal floor of the strange flying machine.

Polly stared at the skeletal visage of Old Man Trouble, having gained courage from dealing with Mr. Weasley’s labile limbs, and he stared back. Then he sighed:

“Nobody seems to be afraid of me anymore these days. Oh well. Weasley, it seems I have mis-delivered you slightly, even though I was off only by a mere 40 miles, which is nothing on the astronomical scale. Your little friend here should be fine with the destination as well and this time I will let you down more gently. But I have no more time, I have things to do and Death to cheat! Can’t let that brother of mine have all the fun in the world.”

Before they could protest, he pulled the lever at his side and below them the distant ground became less distant very quickly. Then they decelerated and were deposited on soft heather with not as much as a bump or a bruise.

“What a strange person”, Polly remarked.

They picked themselves up and only then noticed the small cottage on the wold no more than hundred paces away. The door stood open and an old lady was busy signing a piece of paper on a clipboard that hung suspended from a long piece of string in front of her eyes.

When she released it, it shot up into the air and a small cloud sped away into the evening light and soon vanished from sight. The old lady walked toward the two surprised travelers with a warm smile on her face. Then Weasley’s face broke out into the widest smile he must have had for years:

“Martha! What in the blazes are you doing here! I thought I was the only one… You still look just like I remember you. No, better even!”

They hugged for a long moment and then the woman ushered both him and Polly, who felt a little like the odd girl out, into the small room, where a warm fire burned welcomingly. When they had all settled down in simple but comfortable chairs, she decided to ask the obvious question:

“Are you the… grandmother?”

“Yes deary, that’s me.”

“Only… I lost the cake and the wine on my way here.”

“Don’t worry about it, I know they were poisoned anyway. Always gives me such bad indigestion, poison does.”

“And you don’t eat little girls?”

“But of course not! Don’t you worry one bit, dear.”

“So you aren’t a ghoul then”, Polly breathed with relief.

“Well, I might be… I just don’t eat little girls”, she answered and smiled.

Polly felt very puzzled. For the first time in days, no, actually for the first time as long as she could think back, she didn’t know what to do. The old woman saw her expression and gave her cookie.

“You can eat it, nothing bad in it. If you want, you can stay here for a while. At least until you are a bit older. After that, it’s the same for you as for the all the other girls before you.”

“And…”, Polly hesitated and gingerly took the cookie, “that means?”

“There is a whole wide world out there for you to explore and many more adventures are waiting. I will give you the training you need, and you will do good to listen and learn.”

Polly felt relief flooding her every pore. She didn’t know why she trusted the woman, but she did. Then she made a face and coughed.

“What’s the cookie made of?”

“Oh, this and that. Mainly wolf.”

*madrise = sunrise in the Fringeworld
*madfall = sunset in the Fringeworld
*madlight = what would be the sun in our world

[version 2]: font size and a small typo

© 2011 Mad Ben

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This is brilliant. It is smart and witty, espcially with Mr. Weasley and Old Man Trouble.

I've always had a bit of a hard time blending two or more stories together into one story, but you did it like it was nothing.

Great stuff, mate.

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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Added on December 13, 2011
Last Updated on December 16, 2011
Tags: fringeworld, fringe of madness, mad ben, zombie, ghoul, comedy, fantasy