Flash-Fiction-Friday - FF-Mandrake-Stew.jpg
by: D.J. Tyrer

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, they say. But, what if you live in a house of lint and wool: should you throw stones then?

Serennessa lived in a house of lint and wool on the edge of the village, not far from the lake and quite a distance from the Rectory, and she was throwing stones at the little boy who lived next door.

“Ow!” said the little boy as a stone struck his head.

“Ouch!” he cried as another clipped his ear.

“Oof!” he grunted as one caught him right in the stomach.

“Get out of my garden – get out!”

Serennessa hefted up a particularly-large rock and the boy took the hint. With a hop and a skip, he jumped the yew hedge that separated the two gardens and landed in his backyard.

“I shall have to grow it another fifty feet,” muttered Serennessa, dropping the rock.

The little boy was always hopping over to uproot her mandrakes and the pained shrieks of the plants had killed her dogs and her hens. It was only her habit of wearing earmuffs at all times that had kept her alive. Worse, once uprooted, the mandrakes became useless unless chopped up and added to a stew within three minutes. The little boy seemed to take a delight in ruining her crop. She wished she knew how he’d managed not to die. Perhaps he was deaf.

Serennessa resolved to talk to her neighbour about her child. Perhaps she could be persuaded to weight him down so he couldn’t leap so high.

After wiping her hands clean, Serennessa pulled on an old grey shawl that was beginning to unravel and headed next door. It always reassured her that, if she ever forgot her way home, she could follow the loose strand back to where it inevitably caught in her front door. Today, the strand was not very long.

She knocked upon her neighbour’s door and waited.

While Serennessa lived in a house made of lint and wool, her neighbour’s home was one built of bundled twigs tied together with twine.

The door swung open and Serennessa saw her neighbour, an old woman whose circumference exceeded her height.

“Yes?” enquired the old woman in a creaking voice.

“Hello, Mrs. Bunbury, it’s me, your neighbour. I want to talk to you about your son.”

Mrs Bunbury sighed. “You’d better come in.”

She led Serennessa through into a kitchen, where she kept several small children, possibly her own. Serennessa stepped delicately about them, lest any fasten themselves to her ankles.

Mrs. Bunbury sat down, trapping a couple of the children beneath her more-than-ample buttocks and indicated for Serennessa to do likewise. She sat, but removed a child from her seat first, not being paid to care for it.

“Yes?” said Mrs. Bunbury.

“It’s about your son.”

Before Serennessa could say anything more, there was a sudden squall from the cot in the corner of the room. Mrs. Bunbury rose and went over to it and returned, a moment later, with a child in her arms. The baby she cradled had a head like the skull of a song thrush and was making a terrible noise.

“My son?” asked Mrs. Bunbury, before cooing at the child and dangling it upside-down by one foot in an attempt to quieten it.

“Yes, your little boy.”

“Oh, my little boy, Jack; not my young man, Godric?” Mrs. Banbury said between snatches of plainsong and a fragment of a bawdy limerick. “What about him?”

“He keeps jumping over my yew hedge and uprooting my mandrakes. I throw stones at him to make him leave, but he always comes back.”


“So, could you do something about it? It’s very annoying.”

“Well, you know what they say: Boys will be boys. Or, sometimes, girls. Or, one occasion, I did hear of a boy who would be a puppy-dog.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

Mrs. Bunbury shrugged and nestled the baby with the song-thrush-skull head in the capacious cavity of cleavage in her possession. That seemed to quieten the child and she looked at Serennessa, who repeated the question to prompt a reply.

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Very little, my dear.”

“So, you’ll do something? Weight him down, perhaps, so he cannot leap?”

“Oh, dear, I couldn’t do that. My little Jack goes where he wants and does what he pleases.”

The baby thrust its beak up from the Bunbury bosom and began to make a pip-pip-pip sound that caused its carer to crumble a chocolate digestive and drop the crumbs into its gaping maw.

Serennessa rose, defeated.

“I shall go and speak to the Rector,” she said, with ominous intent, but Mrs. Bunbury was too busy dropping crumbs to listen.

Serennessa huffed her way outside and set about walking from one side of the village to the other where the Rectory lay.

The Rectory was, in fact, a glass house and a number of signs surrounded it, sternly admonishing visitors and inhabitants alike not to throw stones.

She might not dwell within it, but Serennessa had no intention of tossing stones about. In fact, she was rather glad not to live there, valuing her privacy. She tried to imagine what it would be like if every passer-by could observe every moment of your life in intimate detail and shuddered.

Having shuddered, she knocked, producing a chink-chink-chink sound.

It was a mere formality to knock because she could see the Rector could see her through the glass walls of the house, but it was polite.

The Rector glided over to the front door in his wheelchair and opened it with care. He didn’t need a wheelchair, being perfectly capable of walking, but, like his house, was made of glass and lived in perpetual fear of shattering and took no chances. The pressure of a footstep might have been his undoing.

“Hello, Serennessa, how can I help you?”

“Good morning, Rector. It’s the neighbour boy.”

“Do you mean that strapping chap, Godric?”

“No, his little brother, Jack.”

“Head like the skull of a song thrush?”

“No, this one jumps a lot.”

“Oh, that Jack. I thought you meant Cedric.”

“Jumping Jack, yes. He keeps leaping over into my garden and pulling up my mandrakes.”

“Shocking!” cried the Rector. “We all need your delicious stews to ward off the baleful effects of the Blotch. Without it, we could all be infected and die.”

“So, will you do something?”

“No, I’m afraid not. The last time I went by the Bunbury residence, young Jack threw a stone at me. Oh-oh-oh-ohohhh…” The Rector wilted a little in his seat, then clutched tightly at its sides so he mightn’t slide off and shatter. “No, I’m well out of it.”

“But, the Blotch!”

“It’s a tragedy, but it seems we may all die. My only suggestion is that you grow that yew hedge of yours even higher. Surely, there must come a height at which he cannot jump it?”

Serennessa sighed. “Fine, that’s what I’ll do.”

The Rector smiled benignly. “You’re welcome.”

Serennessa followed the loose thread of her shawl home and sat in her parlour, thinking. There were spells to make yews grow taller, but how many would it take?

Then, she heard the muffled shriek of a mandrake and the squawk of baby Cedric.

Serennessa rushed outside. Jack was pulling up mandrakes with gleeful abandon and his little brother, with the head like the skull of a song thrush, was tugging up yet more.

“No!” she shrieked. This was the last of the crop.

Serennessa grabbed the large rock she’d hefted earlier and threw it at Jack. It landed by his feet and he leapt skyward, taking an ululating mandrake with him. She watched as he soared clean across the village and, though she didn’t see him land, she heard the crash and tinkle of broken glass.

She turned to see Cedric pull up the last of the mandrakes, before uttering a squawk that might have been a mocking laugh and bouncing out of the garden and into the lane and back to the Bunbury house.

She fell to her knees and sobbed. Serennessa had no doubt the Rector was dead and was certain all the rest of them would soon follow, consumed by the pestilential Blotch.

There seemed nothing left to do but go to the lake and throw herself in. But, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She hated to get wet. Instead, she went into her kitchen and made herself a cup of tea, then headed into her front room and settled down in her favourite comfy chair. She plucked a book from the nearby shelf, something to distract her mind as she waited for the inevitable blotchiness to spread across her skin.

Serennessa laughed. The book was 101 Recipes for Mandrake Stew.


DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing, was short-listed for the 2015 Carillon ‘Let’s Be Absurd’ Fiction Competition, and has been published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as More Bizarro Than Bizarro (Bizarro Pulp Press), and Irrational Fears (FTB Press), issues of Sirens Call, and Tigershark, and on Cease Cows, Strange Story Saturdays, The Flash Fiction Press, Space Squid, and Trembling With Fear.


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