The Red Grouse Tales: The Little Dog & Other Stories by Leslie W. P. Garland
Comprising four intriguing novella length contemporary folk or fairy stories, which contain a hint of the supernatural, together with more than a passing nod towards philosophy and religion:-
The Little Dog.
A story of good and evil, and retribution.
This first tale of The Red Grouse Tales is told by Bill, a retired forester, and takes the form of most of the stories in our lives, namely, that we have no idea that we are living a story until later when previous events suddenly seem to fall into place and make some kind of sense. Bill recounts a week in his early working life when he was paired with an older, unsavoury and unpopular colleague. While driving to their place of work they find a little dog sitting beside the forest haul-road way out in a remote part of the forest. Bill wonders what the little dog is doing there and as the week progresses finds himself becoming emotionally attached to it while also becoming increasingly concerned about just who is his objectionable workmate. His concerns heighten when he notices that the little dog is no longer present at his usual spot and cannot help but feel that his workmate has something to do with the dog’s disappearance. Troubled, Bill has a conversation with his local priest in which they discuss the nature of sin and evil. The next day events suddenly take an unexpected turn and the young naive Bill starts to learn some awful truths.
A poignant tale of misunderstanding, dying, blame and bitterness.
The second story in The Red Grouse Tales series centres on our almost desperate desire to leave something to mark our life upon this earth. It is told as a history recounted by Dave, of the time when he, as a child, was taken by his mother to a hospice where he met a dying and embittered old Irish priest known as Mad Father Patrick, who told him about the school days and subsequent rise of a local councillor, Reginald Monday, and of his (Monday’s) involvement in the construction of a dam which flooded the valley. The tale is told with a blend of fantasy, biblical quotations and philosophical musings, but how does Mad Father Patrick’s fantasy end and just why is he so bitter?
The Golden Tup.
A dreadful tale of paradise being cruelly taken by latent evil.
The third The Red Grouse Tale explores the possibility of evil being in a place. It is told by Verity, a farmer’s wife, who opens her story by recalling how a young couple were arrested a few years previously for killing their new born baby. Through a series of flashbacks we learn how this couple had created their rural idyll, how an enigmatic man had come into their lives and how their idyll and relationship had gradually fallen apart. With references to Milton’s Paradise Lost, though the story is not about the Fall of Man, we learn how their paradise was lost. As the young wife gradually reveals a dreadful past, Verity realises that she is holding something back, but what? What is the terrible truth that caused her and her husband to kill their baby?
The White Hart.
A happy ghost story, if there can be such a thing!
The fourth story in The Red Grouse Tales series is told by a bachelor and keen fell-runner, Pete Montague and takes the form of his recalling three strange incidents which he initially thinks are unconnected. The first is his encounter with a little albino deer which he finds in the forest when he is out for a jog. The second is that of a chance meeting with a beautiful girl at a remote chapel and of their conversation in which she tells him the story of the daughter of the family which built it. And the third incident ……
A Word from the Author
I don’t know when I first came up with idea of a group of friends telling each other tales in a pub, though can probably trace the idea back to Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”, or one of Joseph Conrad’s books – the tale being told by one of the crew on a lighter going down river to join a ship – but it was that concept, of a group of people telling tales, which sparked the idea for “The Red Grouse Tales” – The Red Grouse being the name of the pub in which the friends met!
Now I don’t know about you, but I find the most disturbing, uncanny and mystifying stories are not those which are blatantly fantastic, but those which contain a touch of fantasy and yet are also vaguely plausible – the yes, it could just happen type of story. And why set this type of story in the ancient past, why not a contemporary folk-tale or fairy-story? Add a dash of philosophy and a nod towards religion – all good folk and fairy stories have a moral to them! – and possibly we are getting there?
As I am not a great fan of long winded, padded-out sagas, I wanted to keep each tale short, to about the length that might be told in about 3 to 4 hours, and for this first book – oh yes, I already have another in mind! – wanted four different tales that would sit well together.
Although I wrote more than four stories, the ones I chose were:-
“The Little Dog”, “The Crow”, “The Golden Tup” and “The White Hart”.
My initial idea for “The Little Dog” was of two men finding a small domestic dog sitting beside a forest haul road way out in the back end of beyond. This struck me as bizarre and posed the question, “what is a dog like that doing out in a place like that?” which leads one to speculate that perhaps the dog is not quite as it appears to be? But that is not a story. An old Biblical battle between good and evil is. So my two men became one wet-behind-the-ears youngster, who didn’t immediately grasp what was going on, to narrate the tale, and his older unpopular and unsavoury companion. So the story became that of Bill (the young narrator) telling of his week when he worked with Stan Blackman out in the forest and found a little dog sitting beside the haul road, of Bill’s wondering why the little dog was there, of his growing doubts about his companion, of his musings on good and evil, all leading to a meeting with his local priest, the Reverend Money, and their conversation on the nature of sin and evil. The following day events take a very unexpected turn and the naive Bill starts to learn some terrible truths. The ending is deliberately ambiguous, because the tale is an account of what Bill thought he saw. I’ll leave that up to you, the reader, to decide what you think actually did happen.
My idea for “The Crow” came one evening when the label on a bottle of wine caught my eye – who said wine isn’t good for you?! However a simple idea is not a story. It was a mad idea, so I needed a slightly mad narrator, Mad Father Patrick, to tell an increasingly mad story involving blame and bitterness, and the questioning of whether what any of us achieves in our lifetime actually counts for anything. “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.” from Ecclesiastes just had to appear as a quotation! The story, that of the rise of a local councillor, Reginald Monday, and his part in the construction of a dam which resulted in the flooding of a valley, is told in a rambling manner by Father Patrick, who throws in a bucket-load of philosophical musings and Biblical quotations, to a young David who has met him in a hospice whilst visiting with his mother. As Father Patrick’s story becomes more and more bizarre it becomes apparent that he (Father Patrick) harbours a bitterness towards Reginald Monday. But just how does Mad Father Patrick’s mad story end, why is he so bitter and is his bitterness actually justified?
In “The Golden Tup” story I wanted to look at the possibility of evil in a place and how that evil could destroy totally innocent people’s happiness. So the end was ruination – in this case a young couple had killed their newborn baby – so the story became that of how and why they had arrived at this dreadful end. So I started at that appalling end and told the story in a series of flashbacks via a narrator, Verity, who had been fiends with the wife of the young couple. As the story was about the couple’s loss of paradise, I couldn’t resist making reference to John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and given that Milton’s theme was that of the Fall of Man, a wonderful allegory of life, felt this was not inappropriate either. After the shocking start to the story, Verity explains how the young couple, Constance and Matthew, bought an old ruined farm and rebuilt and refurbished it. However a strange carving mounted on a beam in the barn ought to have signalled to them that something was not well. Gradually things start to go wrong for them, though it is not immediately apparent why. Verity learns that they have cut down an old tree and that they have met an enigmatic character who apparently lives in the valley yet Verity has never heard of! Confused, Verity tries to understand their story. Then after the chance – or was it so much by chance? – finding of an old diary, Constance tells Verity the dreadful story of the farm. A still confused Verity realises that Constance is holding something back, but what? Why did they kill their baby? A tragic story.
After the misery of “The Golden Tup” I wanted a story that was a bit of fun and had some happiness in it. The idea for “The White Hart” story came from its ending, so I am not going to tell you that, other than to say this is a ghost story, though not of the usual type. As often, there is not just a single theme running through the story and in this case I thought a take on the battle of the sexes would provide a bit of fun. Quite deliberately this tale is not told in chronological order, by likeable male chauvinist, Pete Montague, who firstly recounts his meeting with an albino deer in the forest and then an earlier episode when he met a beautiful, though somewhat enigmatic young woman in a remote chapel who told him the story of the young mistress of the family which built it, whilst at the same time gently suggesting to him the errors of his ways! With these seemingly two unrelated incidents in front of us, Pete then moves on to the final incident in his story and so we learn the connection between the first two and have the happy – as it can be for a ghost story – ending.
I hope you enjoy this first batch of “The Red Grouse Tales” (The stories are available as a collection of all four – “The Red Grouse Tales” – or individually, all in Kindle format from Amazon).
(Leslie W P Garland, July 2016)