Monsters – The hurdy gurdy man – 09FEB2018
The Hurdy-Gurdy Man was an odd character. Ramrod straight, square of shoulder and firm in baring. His lengthy iron-grey hair kept one in mind of the cliché Victorian era Royal Navy Commanding Officer. No one, as was often the topic of conversation amongst the wags and mess deck lawyers of the more ignorant end of society, had ever seen him smile. Yet, as he only travelled to their area once a year, it wasn’t a lengthy debate. He was perpetually old, whip thin, and very short, less than five feet in height; he had looked the same age for as long as anyone could remember. His swarthy complexion, hooked nose, mixed with his thick Romani accent, often had people unconsciously keeping greater distance from him in conversation than would be considered the norm. Many an ignorant wretch thought him a sideshow con, a staged gypsy act and something to be mocked. Yet those fools could not be further from the truth. He had the most fantastic manner of dress. Bright colours running through silk waistcoats, white spats over his highly polished black boots, burgundy trousers, crisp white shirts, emerald velveteen coat,a genuine top hat, and he always wore a loud yet beautiful tie. His grey pointed beard, including his waxed and perfectly curled moustache were works of art rarely seen today in this very Australia, let alone the small Western Australian wheatbelt town of Moora.
He was, however, a kind man, yet ever so mysterious to behold. Children loved him despite his gruff manner. They filled his tent through every hour of the day, the ripple effect being that parents would enter hunting out a son or daughter, and inadvertently be caught up within. The result was empty pockets, and subsequently acquisition of the Hurdy – Gurdy Mans mesmerizing spring driven wares. Such an oddity in an electronic world.
Reminiscent of a renaissance fairground tent, or something to be found beside the jousting lines of King Henry VIII, his brightly coloured toffee apple red canvas showpiece was raised in exactly the same place each and every year. The tent, like the man, was again a work of exotic detail and attention. The outer sides bore hand painted lettering, announcing to the world that ‘The Hurdy-Gurdy Man’ was here. Striped flags flew from its roof, shifting, fluttering and snapping in the wind. They were an advertisement in themselves, providing colour, lively movement and sound.
The Hurdy-Gurdy Man worked with clockwork mechanisms. All clockwork mechanisms, be they within fob watches, wind up toys, or anything else that could be made to ‘tick’. He had once built a clockwork bicycle that need not be peddled. Rather, it was wound up prior to use, and was able to be ridden for an entire day without having to be rewound again. His fiddle with its clockwork interior play on its own with just the turn of a key. A mechanical arm extended from its base, the bow sawing back and forth, changing angle of its own accord. It played superbly, so beautiful was the music it produced, people disbelieved it was a clockwork device at all.
It was the more sinister and dark services, offered from the back of the tent, that proved to be more his livelihood than any spring driven invention could never hope to compete with.
He was a ‘Misfortune Teller’. His ability to read beyond the here and now was profound. Through his visions he could divine moments of loss from the future. Accurately deducing when a something animate or inanimate was scheduled to die, scheduled for illness, scheduled for heartbreak, and scheduled for ruin. Dealing in curses, he could conjure the dead, and awaken darker forces from within the void. The Hurdy-Gurdy Man could make people, animals, and structures disappear for the right price. Not through open acts of violence, rather through his inherited abilities in the arcane; one minute they were there, the next, they were not. Worse was when he caused something to disappear, it went beyond the mere physical aspect, he also removed all memory and trace of the thing he had eliminated. Once gone, with exception to the Hurdy-Gurdy Man and his enormous hide bound ledger, no one knew who had been expelled, every aspect of being was gone, no one remembered it being. Every trace in the world disappearing like mist in the sun. Photo’s would vanish, a father’s child would lose all memory of the father, mothers would forget the child. Forever. His price for services external to clockwork was terribly heavy, payment came to him in the form of ‘souls’. Stripped from the living and the dead. The souls he carried were not unique to humans, he had the souls of ships lost in heavy seas, the soul’s of the beasts of the hunt and the souls of their quarry. Dance halls, hotels, schools and monuments, birds and swarming hives; the souls of those loved, and those despised.
His immense collection was kept trapped within his clockwork Romani fiddle. When he played it, for he could with extraordinary ability, the clockwork within did not hamper it. It was the emotion of the trapped soul guiding his fingers, driving the sound, fuelling the fire to the music and the dance that followed. The fiddle was also the means he used to draw souls into it. When he played a particularly melodic tune, the soul in question, his payment for services rendered, was called to it, secured within, left impossible to escape without his specific wanting. Most of all, the trapped souls gave him power, obscene in its strength.
Without properly looking, you could see she was terribly drawn.
Worn out, tired, and battered, the tall thirty something year old poorly dressed woman had to stoop slightly to enter his tent; her clothes now two sizes too large for her scrawny frame. Badly applied makeup almost concealed a fist sized purple discolouration beneath her left eye, and, by appearance at least, her nose had recently straightened.
Her mother lived in the nursing home of a town nearly 400 kilometres away, and it was she that sent her to him. Although, it was purely in reference to hearsay that she had thought to do so. Even then, her mother didn’t really know what it was that he did, other than permanently solve problems through means beyond Police or via a criminal element. That had been two months prior. Between then and now she had been beaten senseless by her husband four times, and subsequently had quit her job because of the state he had left her in on each occasion. He had knocked out six of her teeth; broken her nose twice, broken five ribs, all on her left side. Her fingers had been broken and dislocated, and after one extremely violent outburst, she had been rendered unconscious for a little over two days. The stab wounds and scars on both forearms proved to be defensive wounds, the wounds attained whilst protecting oneself. Sadly, as is the way of life for so many people the world over, she did not leave him as she had absolutely nowhere to go, and the beatings she endured were to protect her three small children from him, taking the thrashings her children would have received had she not been there. But that was only one part of the problem. Up until twelve months earlier, Mr. Jock Hardy had been the perfect husband and father. He had never even raised his voice to her in their eight years of marriage. Sadly, and he was most definitely not alone in the situation, with the mining boom coming to an abrupt, and in the Hardy’s case, unexpected end. Within months of his loss of work, the two higher end cars they had got sold off and replaced by single second-hand, less ostentatious vehicle; their house was put onto the market as their mortgage was now well beyond their means. Next came a solid wall of unemployment. After many months of job searching and heartbreak, he finally picked up work as a glassy at the local pub, the wage difference between his work on the mines and that that he now made was in excess of $200,000 annually, and their house, thanks to the collapse in the property market, halved in value overnight, leaving them with a mortgage greater than the house’s value. It was around that time that Jock started to drink heavily, he returned to smoking again after six years abstinence, inhaling at least a packet a day. Gambling and womanising was the final nail in the quinela of the downfall Jock. He started pinning his hopes on ridiculously expensive, chronically unsuccessful, lottery tickets, and as the pub he worked at had a TAB, Jock developed a taste for slow horses and fast women. Following that path he routinely womanised and gambled heavily. By the time payday arrived there was very little left, what remained stayed in his pocket. Jock didn’t give her one cent to feed and clothe the children. For that, Morag Hardy had to rely solely on Family Benefit payments, which only covered the barest of essentials, and left her permanently hungry.
Politely walking through the gaggle of children within the tent, Morag sought the Hurdy-Gurdy Man out. She found him with his back to her in deep discussion with a small boy of at least 8 years of age. Waiting for the exchange between man and boy to conclude, she took in the contents of the tent around her. A cuckoo clock cuckooed somewhere from behind; a clockwork mouse chased a wind up cat around a small table just in front of her. The sound of children laughing caused her to smile at the magic the small tent created, and by the time her smile finally meet her eyes, the Hurdy-Gurdy Man was standing immediately before her. Without a word spoken, he looked up at her face, nodded, and turned on his heel, walking toward the rear of the tent.
She parted the heavy red velvet curtains with the backs of her long-fingered hands, ducking as she stepped through into the space beyond. What she first saw was a small circular wooden table with a bottle of Absinthe sitting in the middle, a pipe smoked in a large square glass ashtray, and a seat on either side of the table. She was struck by the deafening absence of noise as the curtains fell shut behind her. The second thing that stood out to her was how dark it was in the little room at the back of the tent. The only light created within the room was from two rather nondescript candles. Not knowing what to do, she pulled out the nearest chair, and promptly sat upon it. Smiling, the little Romani man withdrew the chair opposite.
“Good mornings to you Mrs. Hardy,“ he said, she found herself having to concentrate hard to understand his words through his thick accent. “I have been expecting you.”
“Ahhhh…………thank you Mr., ahhhhh”
“Hurdy-Gurdy Man.” he finished for her. “You will call me ‘Mr. Hurdy-Gurdy Man’ I am thinking. You are here because of your husband? Yes?”
“Ahhhh……….yes I am.” She said. “How do you know my name?”
“There is little I do not know child. Now, your husband, he is still beating you I see?”
Unconsciously she raised her hand to her bruised left cheek, took two deep breaths and cast her eyes in embarrassment to the carpeted floor.
“Yes he is.” She replied in a small voice. “I fear for my children.”
“Now before you tell me anymore, let me tell you about me and the services I provide. Your Mamă was right to send you to me. I will happily remove your husband from your home, life, and memories. That is the easy part. The hard part is what your life will become when he and his memory has gone, and what you intend to do once rid of him. Have you thought that through?”
She nodded confirming that she had.
“Now the payment for this task is a soul. The choice of soul is yours, but I am thinking that in my removing him from existence, I would be collecting this rotten soul of his. Payment and job complete at once.” Stroking his fine pointed beard, he continued, “That would be the easy method, however, there are some questions I must be asking first. Has your husband sold his soul to another that you know of? To maybe a demon or the devil perhaps? Maybe to the ‘Lady that is Luck’ for a card game to win both hand and night? Has he ever found God and submitted his soul to Him? These are all things that must be considered. For if he has, you will need to provide another soul as payment. Should you not, I will take it upon myself to secure payment by taking the soul of another. But one that is guaranteed, say that of your Mama, or you, or your child. You are understanding this? To ensure you do, we must sign a contract between you and I, and it is a signature in blood, your blood, that is required to bind us to these terms. Now, I will ask you to leave, and if you want this business done, you must be here at exactly the sixth second of the sixth minute of the sixth hour tomorrow morning. If you are even a second earlier or later, our contract will be forfeit.”
She was on time to the second, and horror as she had never imagine folded its grotesque wings about her. Seated opposite him at the small round table within his tent, she shivered involuntarily.
“What I am doing, is searching for his soul.” He said whilst gazing through the side of the square based bottle of absinthe; his Romani accent thicker than she remembered. A candle flicker behind it, and she was able to see the size and shape of his eye distort, magnified by both the bottle and the wormwood brew it contained.”It is not so easy a soul to find I am thinking. He has not sold it or giving it away to somebody? I am thinking it may be ‘lost’? Have you another soul you could be trading for payment perhaps?”
“I have the soul of my despair to offer, if there is such a thing? Otherwise, I have no other soul available to me.” Morag said, butterflies of nervousness filling her stomach.
“No, that is not a soul that I can take. Despair is everywhere, and I can not be taking only a part of it. It is too big, and too necessary for life on our Earth. Without despair, rage will fill its place, and the world will be perishing within days.” He lamented. “But, do not be worrying just yet, I have many more places to look.”
Minutes dribbled into hours. Her left buttock had become numb, and her mouth was now chip dry. Her eyes not wavering from the greenish liquid within the bottle he was fixated upon.
“Ahhhhhhh, I am thinking I am finding it.” the Hurdy-Gurdy Man said quietly. “Yes, yes I have him. We can be doing business now. From here we must be making haste before it moves. First, we must be signing our contract; I have quill and parchment ready. You will start reading, and then I am making tiny nick to the ball of your thumb, and we are signing.”
She did not feel him cut the back of her hand. It was a small cut, yet it bled freely. Placing the nib of the quill against it, he slowly drew up her bright red blood.
“Now, you have read that for services rendered for expelling Jock Hardy from the world and its memory of it, you are paying me one soul; in this case, his. We are in an accordance?”
Her silent nodding confirming his question.
Silently taking the quill from him, she deftly signed her name in blood beside the ‘X’ the Hurdy-Gurdy Man had pre-marked. Handing him the quill and balling her fist, he drew again from the flow of blood, and signed with a flourish of his own.
“We go now. For this to work you must witness my taking of his soul. It will not be a pleasant experience, and it will probably hurt you for a few seconds. However you will not remember it. I will have another soul, and you will be rid of a no good husband.”
They arrived at the pub Jock worked in, just as the front door was being opened. With a polite nod to the staff, a little man with a violin case resplendent in brightly coloured clothing, and a tall attractive woman walked through the empty bar, into the room beyond it. Ornate royal blue carpet covered stairs came into view, the pair scaling them with ease. Once at the top of the stairs, a passageway stretching to the left and the right greeted them. The Hurdy-Gurdy Man reached into the inside pocket of his emerald-green velvet coat, producing a small bottle of absinthe. Intensely staring at it for half a minute, he abruptly placed it back inside his coat, and marched off to the passage to his right.
Old styled, brown wooden doors lined both sides of the white-painted hallway. Moving slowly, quietly, down the blue carpeted passage, the pair stopped at the fifth door on the left; an eastern facing room.
Placing his left forefinger to his lips, signalling silence to Morag, he wrapped his right hand around the brass door knob, and began to twist. Finding the resistance of a lock, he closed his eyes and began to rhythmically chant in hushed tones. Mere seconds later, there was an audible ‘click’, and the door unlocked of its own accord.
“Before we enter, you must know somethings.” He said, locking his gaze firmly with hers. “Firstly, you are about to see your husband in a compromising position with another woman, although they are still both asleep. Secondly, when I begin to play, you must focus all of your attentions on your husband, no matter what you will see, hear and feel, including the experiencing of pain. No one else except for you, Mr. Hardy, and my good self can hear the tune. The harlot will not know we are here. She will not wake. She will not remember him when he is gone. Lastly, the tune is a jig, a jig of death, but he will not dance for us. I play and his heart beat matches my rhythm, the pressure inside him increases, and the heart will go ‘pop’. Then, once he is dead, I pull his soul from him into my fiddle, and like his heart, he goes ‘pop’, and is gone forever. You will remember none of this. Your life will be your own once more, do not waste what you are buying from me.
On tip toes they silently entered the hotel room. It was an old hotel and the rooms had been maintained in the style they were intended to be when first built. The first thing she noted was a snoring, naked, overweight woman laying atop the sheets and blankets. The woman looked to be in her late fifties, and her grotesqueness was enhanced by the sagging yellowish skin of her body. Her hair was thin and greying, lank and repulsive, and long, clinging to her body in memory of where sweat had held it. Her toad like face was a perfect match to her toad like body.
The stench of the room the was most overpowering. Stinking of sweat and sex and sour alcoholic fumes mixed with cigarette smoke. Light barely prevailed against the darkness and the fugg of the room, fighting to make its way around old heavy curtains. And then there was her thirty year old husband; a contrast to the grotesque abomination on the bed beside him. Naked, snoring, flat on his back; a syringe, bent spoon, and burnt out candle stub lay in between two empty beer bottles; an ashtray overflowed, its stinking contents onto the bedside table and the floor.
Handing her the room’s only chair, she placed it beside the bed an arm’s length from her husband. The Hurdy-Gurdy Man took up his position at the foot of the sagging double bed. He crouched and gently placed the violin case at his feet, opened it and withdrew a battered, much worn violin from within. The bow came out next, and he began to rosin it in preparation for the jig. Satisfied, he placed the fiddles base on his left bicep, bending his elbow, his left fingers hovering over the fretboard, and without ceremony he began to play.
At first Morag didn’t think he had started his song of death. Even though she could see him playing from the corner of her eye, no sound came from the fiddle for at least a minute. She remained transfixed on her husband, silently cursing him for the damage he had caused. Slowly, like some vehicle in the far distance coming toward her, she picked out the jigs rhythm at the extremity of her hearing. Within a minute it was at the noise level one would expect from a violin played beside them.
The longer the Hurdy-Gurdy Man played, the redder Jock’s face became. His breathing quickened, and she saw a blood vessel in his neck begin to stand out proud from his skin, pulsing in time with the tune. The music made by the fiddle was not an unpleasant melody. It was fast and technical, filled with jumping minor notes and keys. It reminded her of gypsy music she had seen on children’s television when she was young. Her focus remained unwavering from the man she had once loved, the father of her children. Slowly it became, louder, and louder, to the point that she had to cover her ears with her hands. Her husband’s mouth had opened, sucking in air. His right eyelid fluttered and she could see that the white of the eye had turned blood-red, the blood vessels bursting within the sclera. And yet the jig moved faster and faster, louder and louder; blood began to drip from his left ear onto the grubby white sweat stained pillow. So loud was the music that she felt as though she was vibrating, and she fought to maintain her focus on him, forcing her eyes open against their subconscious willing to be shut. Another minute passed, dust and paint chips fell from the ceiling, and on he played, faster and faster; noise louder than anything previously experienced batted against her. His hands and fingers became a blur.
Jock’s left eye was the first to burst, followed closely by the right. Blood from his ears had given way to a watery, straw coloured fluid, a substance known as cerebrospinal fluid; the fluid that cushions the brain, lying between the brain and skull. The same fluid that supported the spinal cord to its very end. It flowed quickly, steadily from his ears, she heard him cough as it pooled in his throat and he inhaled it. Frothing bright blood now coated his mouth. Arterial lung blood, and he gurgled as he breathed it, drowned in it. His pulse was beating so quickly in his neck, that she could no longer count it. She was in physical pain, the noise and rhythm hurting her; the focus on him so fierce her head ached with the effort. Finally, he screamed. The sound was inhuman, loud and wet and mournful.
And then there was silence.
Not willing yet to avert her gaze, she maintained her eye contact. A blue, almost indiscernible light, translucent and smoke like flowed from his bloody eyes, into the head of the violin. On contact it slithered languidly down the neck, sliding across the violins body, and into the ‘f’ holes. Taking no more than 30 seconds to empty his corpse of its soul, the blue light vanished, and for the first time since she had entered she looked back at the Hurdy-Gurdy Man. Her blood ran cold. A maniacal smile, far too large for his face now covered it. Huge and brilliant white teeth, surrounded by crimson gums and blood-red lips. On closer inspection she saw that his teeth had become immensely sharp and pointed and had dramatically elongated; now they were gently glowing. His eyes, wider than possible and sinister to behold, shimmered the same blue as the soul he had extracted from Jock. Disturbingly his face appeared to have darkened almost black, his chin lengthening into a macabre point. Morag, for the first time in her life experienced true terror. Unable to tear her horrified gaze from him, she ‘felt’ more than ‘heard’ him say, “The time has come for me to complete the bargain. It is time for you to watch him go. Forever.”
And with a ‘pop’ he was gone; vanished forevermore.
Standing in an upstairs hall of the Commercial Hotel, Morag Hardy looked about herself, wondering why she was still standing there, knowing she had been there for a good reason, but without knowing exactly what. What she did know was that she had a million things to do at home, plus she needed to get ready for this afternoon’s job interview.
With a spring in her step, Morag briskly strode down a set of royal blue carpeted steps, a small man with a battered violin case and shimmering blue eyes watched her go.
He smiled deliciously.
Sorry it has taken so long to get back her, my health has been playing up again. Click the picture above.
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