Short Story Saturday – Dunce by Mike Russell

Dunce

 

Mike Russell

 

Everyone calls Dunce ‘Dunce’. Everyone thinks that Dunce is an idiot. I used to think so too but not any more.

 

Dunce is completely bald and has a really pointed head so the temptation to get him paralytic on his thirtieth birthday, carry him to the tattooist’s and get a nice big ‘D’ smack bang in the middle of his forehead was too much for me. Trouble is he can’t afford to have it removed so he wears a big plaster over it. Gangs of children tease him.

‘What’s underneath the plaster, mister? Show us!’

They swear he has a third eye under there.

 

My name is Bill but Dunce calls me ‘Fez’ on account of my hat. I’ve known Dunce for over sixteen years. I don’t have to use my memory to work that out; I just count the number of boxes of Turkish Delight I’ve got stashed in my cupboard. Dunce buys me a box every birthday. Dunce thinks that because I wear a fez I must be Turkish (I’m not) and that being Turkish I must like that powder-covered gunk (I don’t, I hate the stuff).

 

On my last birthday, after saying:

‘No, Dunce, I’ll eat it later,’ and stashing box number sixteen in the cupboard, I decided to take Dunce to the theatre. He’d never been before.

The play was called ‘Death in the Dark’. We had front row seats. Dunce was captivated. He stared at the actors with a gaping mouth.

The lights dimmed to darkness. Kitty Malone, the beautiful star of the show, was stood centre stage. A shot was heard. Dunce jumped right out of his seat.

‘What was that?’ he said.

The lights came back on and Kitty was lying in a pool of blood. Dunce let out a scream then shouted:

‘Someone call for an ambulance! And the police!’

The audience thought that Dunce was an actor, that the play was being cleverly extended beyond the stage, questioning the boundaries of theatre.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ Dunce shouted at the audience. ‘How can you carry on as if nothing has happened?’

‘This is wonderful, just wonderful,’ I heard someone say behind me.

Kitty was stoically sticking to her role, thinking that the show must go on, but Dunce was clambering up onto the stage, crying, stroking Kitty’s hair and checking her pulse.

‘She’s alive!’ he shouted with relief.

‘No I’m not!’ Kitty hissed at him through clenched teeth.

That was it; I was in hysterics. What a birthday treat this was turning out to be.

‘I’m acting. It’s part of the play. No one really shot me,’ Kitty hissed at Dunce.

The realisation was excruciatingly slow. I watched Dunce’s face change from shock to confusion to understanding to embarrassment. He made his way back to his seat. He didn’t speak or look at me until the play was over. The play got a standing ovation and we headed for the bar.

 

Kitty was in the bar too. She smiled at Dunce who blushed. She seemed to be fascinated by the top of his head. She walked over and invited him to her dressing room.

 

Twelve hours later and Dunce was in love! How about that? And what’s more, Kitty was in love too! And not only that but they were in love with each other! Kitty fell for Dunce. Not ‘fell for’ as in ‘was deceived by’ because there’s no deception where Dunce is concerned, he can’t do it, but she fell from her deceptions towards him. I couldn’t believe it.

‘It won’t last,’ I said to Dunce. ‘Enjoy it while you can but face facts: you are Dunce and she is Kitty Malone. Think about it.’

 

Dunce told me that Kitty had a thing about ice cream cones, a fetish you could say. She ate six a day. She liked to bite off the tip of the cone and suck out all the ice cream. She had a recording of ice cream van music that she played whilst they were having sex. She was forever stroking the top of Dunce’s head.

 

Then came the day. Dunce came round looking really worried.

‘Fez, have you seen Kitty? Do you know where she is?’

‘No, I haven’t seen her. Why? What’s the problem?’

‘I had a dream last night,’ Dunce said. ‘I dreamt that I was in bed and I looked at the calendar by the side of my bed and it was tonight. I put out my hand to touch Kitty but she wasn’t there. There was just this cold sludge covering her side of the bed and this smell: vanilla. It was melted ice cream.’

‘So what’s the problem?’

‘I think that something is going to happen to Kitty. I have to find her before tonight. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning alone in a bed full of melted ice cream.’

‘Dunce, dreams don’t mean anything and prophecies are impossible. Sit yourself down. Let’s have a couple of beers.’

I opened a cupboard, reached in to get the beers and a pile of boxes of Turkish Delight toppled over and fell out, breaking open and spilling their contents all over the floor. Dunce looked at the boxes then looked at me. I watched his face go through the same slow transformation from shock to confusion to understanding to embarrassment that I had witnessed so many times before.

‘You don’t like Turkish Delight?’ he said.

I said nothing and guiltily handed him a beer.

Dunce sighed then said:

‘So why did I have that dream?’

‘No reason at all,’ I said.

We sat in silence for a while then Dunce suddenly stood up.

‘It’s no good, Fez, I have to find her.’

 

Dunce found Kitty in the centre of town, lying on the pavement in a pool of blood. An ambulance and the police were on their way. An ice cream vendor was crying and yelling:

‘I don’t understand! I don’t understand!’

A huge, plastic ice cream cone was protruding from Kitty’s chest. It had fallen from on top of the ice cream shop for no apparent reason, smashed through her rib cage and crushed her heart.

Dunce cried. Then he cried some more. The next day, he cried and the day after that he cried. Three weeks later, he awoke, dressed, ate some breakfast, then cried. The next day, he came round to see me. He was crying.

‘Hello Dunce,’ I said. ‘Do you want a beer?’

‘What’s wrong with you?’ he said. ‘How can you carry on as if nothing has happened?’

‘It was an accident, Dunce,’ I said angrily, ‘a random occurrence. These things happen. You just have to get on with life. Why are you so stupid?’

I regretted saying it as soon as I heard it come out of my mouth. Dunce stared at me with tears in his eyes.

‘A fez is only a severed cone,’ Dunce said. ‘At least I have a point.’

I took off my hat and looked at it sullenly. Dunce had a point that he had a point. If he’d found Kitty a moment earlier… if I hadn’t delayed him with my arrogance, my cynicism…

‘Fez,’ Dunce said, ‘you remember the tears that I cried in the theatre when I thought that Kitty was dead but she wasn’t? I think that the tears I am crying now are the same as those. I didn’t understand what was going on in the theatre and I didn’t understand what was going on when the cone fell on her. I think that maybe we only cry because we don’t understand what is going on. Maybe if we understood what is really going on we wouldn’t cry at all, ever.’

Dunce smiled through his tears and beneath the plaster on his forehead I swear I saw something move.

 

Copyright © 2014 Mike Russell.

Read more of Mike’s work here!

My Post(10)

5 Female Science Fiction Authors

Here are five fantastic female science fiction authors for you! Let me know in the comments who your favourites are. Who would you put on the list?

  1. Ursula K. Le Guin. Author of novels. Short stories: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,Nine Lives, more
  2. Octavia Butler.
    Born Octavia Estelle Butler
    June 22, 1947
    Pasadena, California, U.S.
    Died February 24, 2006 (aged 58)
    Lake Forest Park, Washington, U.S.
    Occupation Writer
    Nationality American
    Period 1970–2006
    Genre Science fiction
  3. Lois McMaster Bujold. Lois McMaster Bujold is an American speculative fiction writer. She is one of the most acclaimed writers in her field, having won the Hugo Award for best novel four times, matching Robert A. Heinlein’s record, not counting his Retro Hugo.

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  4. Andre Norton andre-norton-portrait-300x257 Andre Alice Norton (born Alice Mary Norton, February 17, 1912 – March 17, 2005) was an American writer of science fiction and fantasy, who also wrote works of historical fiction and contemporary fiction. She wrote primarily under the pen name Andre Norton, but also under Andrew North and Allen Weston. She was the first woman to be Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy, first to be SFWA Grand Master, and first inducted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
  5. Nalo Hopkinson nalo_h2Nalo Hopkinson (born 20 December 1960) is a Jamaican-born Canadian speculative fiction writer and editor. She currently lives and teaches in Riverside, California.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed this little list 🙂

A Timeline of Weird Fiction

From Akutagawa to Ajvaz, here is a handy timeline of Weird Fiction!

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I hope you find it useful! Feel free to share it everywhere 😉

Pulp Fiction (1994)

 

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Pulp Fiction is the 1994 classic about bandits, hit-men, love and redemption from Quentin Tarantino. It has a cracking cast: Uma Thurman, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson to name a few.

It’s probably my second favourite Tarantino film (Death Proof being the first) and God, I wish he’d go back to making films like this. Pulp Fiction has so much style and charisma, without glorifying the violence and drug use. That’s a pretty hard balance to achieve!

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You won’t know the facts until you’ve seen the fiction.

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

The King in Yellow (1895) by Robert W. Chambers. It’s strange, it’s weird, it’s horror, sci-fi and romance all in one. The King in Yellow is a book of loosely connected short stories, full of fear and madness.

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Dare you read it? This collection has been called the most important book in American supernatural fiction between Poe and the moderns. H. P. Lovecraft, creator of the famed Cthulu mythos, whose own fiction was greatly influenced by this book stated that The King in Yellow ‘achieves notable heights of cosmic fear’.Moly

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“Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.”

—From Cassilda’s Song in The King in Yellow, Act i, Scene 2
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As well as being the title of the anthology, The King in Yellow is also the name of a play within the book, bringing madness to all who witness it. Although the play is never shown in full, it is referred to in a number of the stories.

 There is also a graphic novel by INJ Culbard. One of the UK’s most prolific cartoonists, his work always guarantees an intelligent and instantly recognizable graphic style. Clean lines, bold colors, and characters that wriggle right into the readers’ brain are Culbard’s trademark. In the realm of The King in Yellow, those skills are put to dastardly use as what begins in intrigue ends in poisonous insanity and palpable fright. Publishers Weekly

 Just as T.V. series True Detective borrowed the term Carcosa from Chambers more than a century after The King in Yellow was written, Chambers borrowed the term from Ambrose Bierce and H.P. Lovecraft later borrowed it from Chambers! This all just makes me want to watch series one of True Detective for a third time.

 You can download an audio version of Chambers’ The King in Yellow from Downpour.

10 of the Best Ray Bradbury Book Covers

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        Audio Book. The Martian Chronicles By: Ray Bradbury Read by: Stephen Hoye Runtime: 9.2 Hours Recording: Unabridged Release date: 8.27.2009 Publisher: Blackstone Audio
      2. Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
      3. Ray Bradbury's the Martian Chronicles: The Authorized Adaptation
      4. Ray Bradbury Stories Volume 1Ray Bradbury Stories Volume 2
      5. Driving Blind
      6. RayBradbury_DeathIsALonelyBusiness
      7.   cvr9781451678185_9781451678185_hr
      8.  3f95cf6cc8752c0a52bc605d1afb8ed1
      9. illustrated-man-1
      10. ASF_C194_MartianChron

Weird Fiction Timeline

Welcome to Examining the Odd‘s Weird Fiction timeline!

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H.P. Lovecraft: Master of Weird Fiction

Weird Fiction Quotes

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H.P. Lovecraft: Master of Weird Fiction

The Vanishing Prince – G. K. Chesterton

Today I read The Vanishing Prince by G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), one of eight detective stories in his book The Man Who Knew Too Much (1922 by Harper & Bros., New York, US). This political story concerns a strange Irish ‘prince’, with an excellent twist at the end.

The book also includes The Face in the Target, The Soul of the Schoolboy, The Bottomless Well, The Fad of the Fisherman and others. It’s the tragic Horne Fisher who knows too much. He knows that what is printed in the papers is rubbish, and is privy to the secrets and personal lives of the English ruling class, corrupt hypocrites the lot of them!

Each story stands alone, but they do all wrap up together in the final tale. Read the full book for free here (it’s also free on Kindle). Chesterton also wrote poetry, works of literary and social criticism, and fantasy fiction, as well as 200 short stories. His most famous stories are the Father Brown tales. Chesterton studied art at the famous London Slade school and literature at UCL.

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Prefer audio? Listen to the whole book below.

As Far as They Had Got – A “Follow-My-Leader” Story

I just read a very silly story by E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946), William Pett Ridge (1859–1930), Arthur Morrison (1863-1945), Horace Annesley Vachell (1861–1955), Barry Pain (1864-1928), Charles Andrew Garvice (1850-1920) and Richard Marsh (1857-1915). It was originally published in The Strand magazine.

In our May number we published an article entitled “A ‘Follow-my Leader’ Picture,” and in the following pages the same method is applied to the writing of a story, with an extremely interesting result. The story was opened by Mr. E. Phillips Oppenheim, who alone of the contributors was not required to have a complete story outlined in his mind. This opening was then sent to Mr. Pett Ridge, who wrote the next chapter, and also sent a brief statement of the manner in which he thought the whole story might have been completed. These two chapters were then sent on to Mr. Arthur Morrison, who, in the same manner, added his instalment and his idea of the whole story: and so on, chapter by chapter, till the whole was completed. It should, of course, be remembered that each writer had before him merely the preceding chapters of the story, and knew nothing whatever of his predecessors’ proposed methods of ending it. These explanations are given as footnotes to each chapter, and will be found most interesting as throwing light upon the methods of work of the various eminent fiction-writers, and the way in which a story evolves itself in such widely divergent manners in different minds.

I’m not a writer by any means, but if anyone would like to try a project like this, by all means get in touch (jamiesnelling@gmail.com or comment below) and I’ll get it set up!