An Outrageous Christmas Eve Tale
It’s early Christmas morning and I hesitate to relate this account for fear people will think me deranged, deluded, or just plain mad. So I will take a sip of tea, draw a deep breath and begin in a whisper: A goblin lives on Wilden Marsh! He is a strange cunning, green-faced, rather ugly and intimidating creature, in spite of his small bent stature. The Goblin’s name is Voglestrom Fincklestein; he lives in a large hollow oak tree hidden along the edge of the Flooded Wood Pasture. I say “living in,” but more precisely, the tree is a doorway to a sandstone tunnel running east under North Pasture to a subterranean complex of interconnected caves, buried deep within Hoo Wood Ridge, very close to where I live. On dog walks along Hoo Wood Ridge I sometimes hear strange muted voices and smell fresh wood smoke and often wondered about their source; of course, I now know exactly from where they originate.
The Lower Stour Valley and Hartlebury Common have been home to ancient stone age communities and modern people alike, some living in extensive cave dwellings cut into the soft red sandstone. There are remains of one such sandstone cave home aside the Rock Tavern on Wilden Lane, and many more are scattered around this area. I believe there are still a few human occupied cave dwellings in Worcestershire.
Vogle has lived along the Lower Stour Valley for some five hundred years. He has seen and heard good and bad things that have changed the sanctity of life on Wilden Marsh. The banning of hunting with dogs in 2004 has made life less risky for an ageing goblin. It’s still legal to use dogs to kill rats and rabbits, though, but Vogel is thankful that hunting and shooting on Wilden Marsh, is strictly prohibited.
The only photograph I have of Vogle Fincklestein.
Every year, on Christmas Eve, I present Vogle with a small bottle as a seasonal gift. Last year he was not at home, so I left the whiskey outside his front door. It’s smart to stay in Vogle’s good books; he knows far more than I about marsh flora, what the animals get up to, and what is important and what is not.
My meetings with Vogle are always on dark nights and are mostly unexpected. It could be a strange smell or noise that I notice. A fungus fruit body or acorn might strike my head, or he suddenly jumps out from behind a tree. However he makes contact, it is always dramatic and often alarming. On one occasion I noticed dust floating around me, like on those warm summer evenings when willows shed their seeds en masse, filling the air with small wisps that are easily ingested and breathed in. Suddenly, things around me began to move and swirl, growing and shrinking; causing me to duck and dive to avoid imaginary attacks. Demons rose from the ground and gossamer ghosts mocked me as they floated gracefully into the night; some were open-mouthed phantoms, resembling the Edvard Munch painting “The Scream.” A thoroughly unpleasant experience!
Last night, Christmas Eve, I went to the marsh with the goblin’s present. I checked the cattle and wandered over to Vogle’s wood. It was dark and the freezing air crackled. I didn’t want to use on my head torch and tripped many times on the long bramble stringers that wait hidden in the grass to catch the unwary.
A faint, warm, flickering, glow from a low wood fire illuminated Vogle’s gnarled, sharp, features and those of his gnome friend, Vern. Neither acknowledged my approach. The goblin placed wood on the fire, motioned me to a log seat, and set down three old carved wooden goblets on a large log between us. Vern carefully poured liquid from a stone jug and Vogle added whiskey from the bottle I had given him. Vern poked the fire until it roared and lit an oil lamp hanging from a branch. The marsh cattle lay behind the North Pasture fence and settled down for the night. Two excited calves fidgeted and looked down on us expectantly.
A rustling sound to my right and a magnificent stag emerged from the gloom; it barked, bowed, and pawed the ground before settling down on a bed of dry oak leaves. “Good evening and welcome Ra Muntie,” said Vogle when the stag was completely settled. Shortly after the one-eyed bogler arrived, and then Red Dog and his vixen. Others arrived at intervals and Vogle welcomed them all individually.
When all had settled, Vern added more wood to the fire and presented me with one of the wooden goblets. Vogle stood, raised his goblet and announced, “Tonight, my friends, we drink to Grinmleck!”
Vogle raised his goblet and we drank a toast to Grinmleck. Apple and damson liqueur mixed with whiskey is an interesting taste combination, a little sickly at first, but it slipped down my throat very easily indeed, leaving a wonderfully warm glow in my stomach and a pleasantly relaxed feeling in my head.
A cheer of approval rang out. Vogle made himself comfortable and continued:
“ Tonight I welcome Grinmleck and celebrate our first meeting one fateful night on Wilden Marsh, not too long ago!” Vogle calls me Grinmleck. The goblin recounted his tale in a strange dialect of modern and olde English, punctuated will barks, grunts, screams and weird head gestures.
“The night was warm and dry so I decided to leave the party after a few hours, rather than spend the whole night at the Bogler’s,” recalled Vogle.” The Boglers (badgers) are well-known for their readiness to fight, the generosity of their hospitality, their wild parties, and the very strong ‘blow your brains out’ apple and damson beverages that are consumed in huge quantities on Christmas Eve.
At this early point in the story, I would like to point out that goblins draw a person into long intricate discussions when questioned about anything. It’s the way they are; they feel it’s expected of them. This behaviour can be very annoying and time-consuming. It might be the lack of television, radio, iPods or books to help wile away the long dark winter evenings, that encourage them to indulge is such long boring diatribes. Some of you readers might feel that I make a meal of my posts, but believe me, I can’t hold a candle to Vogle’s intricate verbal meanderings. So, rather than bore you all to tears with the goblin’s words, I will voice this story in my own way. This is a posting after all, and the object is to keep things short and to the point. And don’t forget, it’s you readers – some of you, at least – who have badgered me for another episode. So here goes! Let’s see which way this tale rolls:
After the Bogler’s party, Vogle made his way down the narrow path alongside Owl Brook (Hoo Brook) and onto the twin water pipes of the North Riverside Pasture, running parallel with the swamp. He was accompanied part of the way by his friend, the one-eyed Bogler (badger). “Lovely night,” barked Ra Muntie (deer), from somewhere in the swamp. “Indeed it is,” barked the goblin in reply – Vogle understands and talks to all the marsh animals in their own language. The Bogler crossed the river on the sewage pipe bridge and the goblin turned left to walk along the river bank fence line, heading for North Pond. He crept very quietly on his hands and knees past the home of the ferocious and much feared Mink.
Vogle sat on the soft mossy ground under the Lightning Tree and sucked on his pipe. He puffed away contentedly and recalled some of his most favourite wonderful nights spent fishing on his pond. His coracle and fishing gear are hidden in the reeds. The pond is one of the goblin’s most treasured of all places. There is nothing better, especially after a night out at the Bogler’s, thought Vogle, than spinning gently in my coracle on a dark starry night with nothing to disturb me.
Clouds of pungent pipe smoke billowed up through the Lightening Tree. The cooler birds (Pigeons) and nutlers (squirrels) coughed and wheezed as the smoke brought tears to their eyes. Within seconds they began to fall from their nighttime branches, stunned rigid, hitting the soft ground with sickeningly dull thuds. The goblin tittered as he counted six glorious thuds. Not bad, he thought. I fancy a fresh cooler bird snack right now.
The goblin picked up and inspected the largest and juiciest cooler bird; he wasn’t at all keen on the taste of nutlers. In an instant he removed the bird’s head cleanly from its body with one quick bite. Sharp pointed teeth shattered the bird’s skull and liquefied brain trickled down his beard forming a glutenous dripping mess. Vogle chomped away noisily until there was nothing left but feathers. With a full belly, he struggled to his feet and walked down to the edge of the pond. He plunged his head into the water and washed the blood and brain from his face and beard. “That was a really tasty snack,” he mumbled under his breath. Vogle washed his face and beard not because he wanted to be clean, for he is never even slightly concerned with his appearance; no, he didn’t want the marsh carnivores to smell the fresh blood and chase him. He is not afraid of the carnivores; he has many ways of dealing with vicious hungry beasts. No, he prefers not to be forced into running all over the marsh on a full stomach.
The goblin smokes a potent concoction of ground and shredded flower petals, fly agaric toadstools, and deadly nightshade berries. There have been times when breathing in this fragrant second-hand pipe smoke has fuddled my brain, and cause my head to soar to a weird and mystical dimensions where fairies serve me bowls of strawberries and cream, large whiskies in finely cut crystal tumblers, and big fat Cuban cigars from a sandalwood box.
Vogle decided to visit a friend living in the wood next to his. He would walk along the river bank where he is hidden from the moonlight and hungry marsh animals. Feeling thirsty after his snack, the goblin approached one of the marsh cow, threw a powdered concoction at its nose, and drank his fill from one of its teats.
Everything went to plan until Vogle crawled under the fence into the Tenant Farmer’s Corridor. He sniffed the sweetness of a long tall grinner. Slowly, and quietly he crawled along the edge of the river bank. Goblins are not good swimmers, and they would never ever think of venturing into a river. Vogle stood as still as he could. His body tingled with apprehension. He pressed himself tightly against a tree – nothing moved. He crept silently to the towards the next tree. Suddenly, a brilliant flash lit the night, severely frightening him and the pet bat living in his beard. The startled bat shrieked and flew away terrified into the darkness. Vogle wasn’t so fortunate! Temporarily blinded by the flash, the goblin lost his footing and fell headlong into the river. “Help me!” he screamed.” I’ve fallen in the water.” As he sank into the spiraling freezing, murky, watery depths, the goblin saw a large dark shape loom over the river bank. The water tugged at his feet, head and arms, dragging him further into a watery grave. Vogle felt life leaving his body as he slipped ever so easily into the arms of death. The roaring sound of the tumbling river slowly subsided and all became quiet and comfortable, a very pleasant feeling indeed!
Suddenly, it seemed that all hell had broken loose! Vogle was woken from his restfully slumber by something pounding on his chest. Awfully loud noises filled his ears again and he was feeling absolutely terribly sick and wretched. It was a thoroughly terrible feeling, and what was the unbearable pounding of his chest all about? “Let me go back to sleep!” he screamed.
Slowly the goblin regained his senses; a long tall grinner was pounding away at his chest, trying to kill him. “What are you doing?” shouted Vogle. The long tall grinner stopped his chest pounding and the goblin, seeing his chance, quickly picked himself up and ran home as fast as his little legs would carry him.
“So I owe my life to Grinmleck, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart!” announced Vogle.
By the end of the story, I was about as inebriated as it is possible for a person to be and still remain upright.
I struggled home in the early hours of Christmas morning with the help of Vogle and Vern to the north marsh Wilden Lane gate.
I was up at six o’clock this morning, feeling great, but never again will I drink apple and damson liqueur mixed with whiskey before bedtime. 😉