• terror and wonder

The Reprehensible Tot (after ‘Terror and Wonder’ at the British Library)

terror and wonder

Frank went to see the exhibition Terror And Wonder : The Gothic Imagination at the British Library. On his way home, he fell into a hypnagogic trance. When he awoke, he found he had scribbled the following story in his pocketbook…

One foul and thunderous day, Prince Fulgencio was much pained to learn that there was, running amok in his castle, a reprehensible tot.

“Whence comes this reprehensible tot?” he asked the henchman who had brought him this news. Prince Fulgencio hated all tots, infants, and tinies, with a hatred that burned his black soul.

The henchman was ignorant of the provenance of the tot, but he was rightly terrified of Prince Fulgencio’s rages, so he made up a story about the tot having been delivered to the castle in the talons of a fierce and gigantic bird of prey. There were many holes in this tale, and it would not have stood up to the merest scrutiny, but in his petulance and rage the Prince did not listen to it carefully, and he accepted it without question.

“Find the tot and throw it down the deepest well in my domain,” roared the Prince, “And then find the bird of prey and trap it in a net!”

The henchman wrote these commands down in his henchpad, so he would not forget them, then clanked away in his armour to one of the many pantries, where he joined other henchmen who were carousing and glugging great flagons of fermented goaty milk and henbane. Not long thereafter, all the henchmen were sprawled on the floor of the pantry in a stupor, away with the fairies.

Meanwhile, up in his chamber, Prince Fulgencio’s rage was unabated. So terrific was his temper that he began to see hallucinations, not the least of which was the reprehensible tot itself, grown to an enormous size, and banging a spoon against a bowl.

“I am at the end of my tether!” shrieked the Prince, “I am become unhinged!”

It was rare for Prince Fulgencio to demonstrate such a level of self-awareness, though had he but paused to consider the matter he would rapidly have apprehended that there were neither tethers nor hinges about his person. On the contrary, he was dressed in his finery, silks and satins and rich brocade, garish, bright as fire, brighter than the sun which had not shone on his castle for years uncountable.

“I have no need of sunlight,” the Prince had said, in his calmer moments, “For I pour forth my own princely effulgence, so dazzling it blinds all those who have the temerity look upon my countenance.”

This was of course a delusion, but there was nobody in the castle who dared to tell Prince Fulgencio what was what. Nobody, that is, save for the reprehensible tot, who now came scampering into the Prince’s chamber. It was much, much smaller than the phantom version born of the Prince’s visions, yet no less alarming. It was unkempt, and spotted with patches of milky sick, and emitted a deafening keening.

“Why are you not at the bottom of a well?” cried Prince Fulgencio.

But the reprehensible tot had not yet learned to form coherent words. Gazing directly into the Prince’s face, it screamed and wailed, and then belched up another gobbet of sick.

The Prince called for his henchmen, but they did not come, for they were still away with the fairies. And it was those very same fairies, of course, not a bird of prey, which had delivered the reprehensible tot to the castle, into the presence of the Prince. From that day forth, the tot would cling to the Prince, like a witch’s familiar, keening into his ear and splattering him with sick, until, truly at the end of his tether and truly unhinged, Prince Fulgencio gave up the ghost, and anointed the tot as his dauphin, his son and heir, whereupon the tot of a sudden broke into human speech, and called for the henchmen, and had Prince Fulgencio thrown down the deepest well in his domain. For years uncountable, thereafter, peasants would often see, circling over the well, a fierce and gigantic bird of prey which, when peered at closely, dissolved into a shower of fairies, fairies stained with sick.

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.