Saturday, September 9, 2006

On The Road

"Blast!" hissed Penhill, dropping his teaspoon and glaring out the window of Molly's Cafe.

Sneaveweedle followed his stare to the street, where a large bearded man was walking toward them. The man's neatly trimmed beard was salt-and-pepper grey, more salt than pepper, and his hair shaved close in concession to the male-pattern baldness pushing up from his temples. His barrel chest thrust from an open pea coat as he strode powerfully toward the cafe, drawing on a long churchwarden pipe. As he reached the cafe door he tapped out the contents of his pipe, stamping them out with his shoe, and slid it into an inner breast pocket.

As the man stepped inside, he glanced quickly at Sneaveweedle and then beyond him to Penhill. He grinned and said, "Bore da, Dr. Penhill," in a deep baritone voice.

"That's Sir Penhill!" boomed the aforementioned indignantly.

"I'm afraid, doctor, I only acknowledge titles that are earned," the man said.

Penhill crossed his arms and drew in a deep breath, staring with simmering contempt at the man. His eyes then darted to his travelling assistant.

"This," Penhill growled to Sneaveweedle, waving a hand toward the man, "is Dr. Rhys Davies. He is a colleague of mine in the Department of Very Ancient Things. You will recall, of course, that you stole his banana!"

"Oh," Sneaveweedle moaned, trying to melt from his chair.

Davies raised an eyebrow at Sneaveweedle then looked back at Penhill who was wearing a self-indulgent grin. Penhill carried on.

"Don't worry, boy. As you can see from his rotund figure, Davies had no need for that banana," Penhill said. "Indeed, Davies, I may be good for your diet. You will find that young Molly has run out of sausages this morning. Can you guess who got the last of them?"

Davies simply looked at the gaunt Englishman and waited for him to answer his own question.

"Me!" Penhill shouted gleefully. "I got the last of the sausages! Ha! The early bird catches the worm, Davies! Your typical relaxed Welsh attitude has left you sans saucisses, as the French might say."

"I'm only out of sausages temporarily, Dr. Davies," Molly said, placing two full breakfasts before Penhill and Sneaveweedle. "The delivery man is running late, that's all. He should be along soon."

"That's quite alright, Molly," Davies said, turning to grab a copy of The Grivelsby Yodler from the counter. "I am quite happy with toast and tea for the time being."

Davies took off his coat, draped it on a chair and sat down at a table facing Penhill. He fluttered open the paper then looked up and pointed at Sneaveweedle.

"Who is your little banana thief, Dr. Penhill? I've never known you to be particularly chummy with the students at Charlesfield," he said.

"Oh, I'm not a student, sir," whined Sneaveweedle. "I'm Sir Penhill's travelling assistant."

"His what?" Davies chuckled.

"Travelling assistant, Davies," Penhill interjected, wagging a fork. "He is an assistant who travels. It is a tremendous opportunity for Sneaveweedle here, who will, of course, benefit from my presence."

"A young boy in the tutelage of an elder gentleman. How very Greek," chuckled Davies.

"I'm afraid I didn't hear that juvenile remark, Davies," Penhill boomed. "I was too busy enjoying my sausages."


Penhill grimaced at the dirty, rattling embarrassment of public transportation that had pulled up at Platform 4 of Cardiff Central train station. There were five carriages in all, being pulled by a sooty old diesel locomotive. Of the five carriages, three bore the familiar paint scheme of Virgin Trains, but the word "Virgin" had been sloppily painted over and someone had slapped an "Arriva Trains Wales" decal next to it.

Penhill tapped one of the carriage doors with his shillelagh and eyed it suspiciously.

"Apparently, Sneaveweedle, our little trip to Ireland detours through the Third World. I shan't be surprised to see Hindis climbing atop this thing to sit on the roof," he boomed.

"Hmm," Sneaveweedle whined in agreement. "Although, this really is quite exciting. The locomotive is an old Class 37. Most of them have been retired in the last few years, so this is a treat. This is engine 37425, or the 'Batchdeery Commode.' It was built in the 1960s and refurbished in 1986. I'm quite a fan of trains, you see, and..."

"That's enough, Sneaveweedle, thank you," Penhill said, half-heartedly swinging the shillelagh at Sneaveweedle's shoulder. "And the name of the engine is 'Balchder y Cymoedd.' It's Welsh. It means 'Pride of the Valleys.' Pride of the valleys, indeed. Well, come on, boy. Let's get aboard and see if we can't find a car we won't have to share with livestock. I hope all your vaccinations are up to date."

The two stepped onto the train and found seats that faced each other and allowed for more legroom. Penhill slapped his seat a few times and swatted at the dust that had kicked up, and then sat down.

"Hmm, you speak Welsh, sir?" Sneaveweedle moaned.

"Of course," Penhill huffed. "I wouldn't make it very far as senior lecturer of ancient Celtic history without knowing Welsh."

"Oh moan. But you seemed quite upset at Dr. Davies' speaking Welsh this morning. Why..."

"Sneaveweedle," interrupted Penhill, "just because I can do a thing doesn't mean I want to. Just as I am capable of speaking Welsh, I am also capable of stabbing myself in the eye. I prefer to do neither."

"Hmm" sighed Sneaveweedle, turning his attention to the large black smokestack in the distance and wondering why anyone would call a beer "Brains."

As the train clicked and jerked and rattled away from the platform, a frazzled young woman carried several bags into the carriage and sat down across the aisle from Penhill and Sneaveweedle.

She looked to be in her late 20s. She wore an orange sundress with a sort of white daisy pattern printed around the waist. Her dreadlocked hair was dyed bright red and held up by what appeared to be twine. She was that strange sort of dishevelment that is immaculate and beautiful. As she settled herself and her bags, she was an orchestra of clinking bracelets.

Penhill spotted that she was wearing a Celtic talisman around her neck and rolled his eyes. He crossed his legs, folded his hands on his shillelagh and decided to himself that he would like a cup of tea.

"A Celtic Heart Stone!"

"What?" Penhill jumped, suddenly pulled from his thoughts.

He looked at Sneaveweedle, who was looking at the woman across the aisle. She was looking at Penhill and pointing at the ring on his right hand.

"That's a Celtic Heart Stone, innit?" said the woman in a deep sing-song Welsh Valleys accent.

"Oh, yes. Yes, it is," Penhill said dismissively. "But before you go assuming that I buy into that rubbish, I will inform you that it was gift from a friend. I only wear it to be polite."

"I don't believe you," the woman sang. "The Celtic Heart Stone is very rare and very special. Very powerful. Yours points to your brachial artery and it's deep blue! That means..."

"It means, young lady, that my friends are not very skilled in choosing gifts," Penhill snapped.

"No. It means somethin'. You don't want to believe it, but that doesn't change truth, does it? The world is made up of all kinds of things we don't understand and things we don't want to understand, innt? We hide the truth from ourselves, don't we?" she said, moving across the aisle to sit opposite Penhill.

Sneaveweedle gave a little moan and pressed himself against the carriage window as she sat down.

"There are all kinds of things that don't make sense, but there they are," the woman said. "Like, last week I was in St. Louis, USA, and I saw a tiny winged horse in a jar. And a testicle the size of your head."

"Oh, I say!" Sneaveweedle yelped.

"Yeah! It's true!" the woman exclaimed.

"The latter, perhaps, but your pickled Pegasus -- hardly," Penhill sniffed.

"That's what a lot of people say, innit? But I know what I seen," she sang. "And if you leave yourself open to the truth, certain things are revealed. That's how I make my livin', see. My name is Moonfloat Rivershine Glastonbury Jones. They call me 'The Clairvoyant of Caerphilly.'"


The above is a slightly late post for Flickr Fiction, based on this photo from Flickr user masticanotte. Also writing pieces this week are: Donal, Elisa, Isobel, Sarah and Tadmack.
This is part four in a series on Penhill and Sneaveweedle. You can read the other parts by going here. I would love to see any comments -- good or bad -- you might have about the story, and I would love to know where you think it should go. Since the story is being written week to week, your input helps determine what happens.


Anonymous said...

'A testicle the size of your head' brilliant! I hadn't even spotted that strange growth in the second jar.

Also I love the fact that young Sneavelly and Penhill STILL haven't gone anywhere.

tanita✿davis said...

Favorite lines:
"How very Greek!" My juvenile sense of humor responded.
"She was that strange sort of dishevelment that was immaculate and beautiful." "...she was an orchestra of clinking bracelets."
I, also, am deeply amused by the fact that there is a bunch of getting on and going somewhere, but ending up nowhere. (And my lack of beer knowledge needs that 'Brain' thing explained. Sorry!)

Oh, and I kind of hoped that other thing in the jar? Was ...A biiig potato. A rutabaga. A ball of mud... Hadn't thought of a testicle. Thanks for taking me there.

Well done!

Anonymous said...

I'm loving the fact that they still haven't actually got anywhere yet too. I'm interested to see how the rest of the train journey pans out.

Thomas said...

A whole day since your last post, Chris? What is the world coming to?

Sarah Stevenson said...

I hope the Clairvoyant of Caerphilly comes back next time. I already am highly amused by her. I also did not see the giant testicle.

Anonymous said...

'Moonfloat Rivershine Glastonbury Jones' is a great name. Prophetic prophecies for our dashing adventurers to follow please.