Bradie Law and the Grumpenmire by John Patrick Pazdziora

Scheherezade's Bequest 14

Bradie Law and the Grumpenmire
by John Patrick Pazdziora

This happened so long ago, it might have happened somewhere else. It happened on a farm just over the hill on the crooked path from the village. But that’s not news to anyone, because everyone knew something would happen someday to Bradie Law. He’d come to a bad end, they’d say, sure and certain.

If ever there was a worthless fellow, he wasn’t half so worthless as Bradie Law. If ever a ploughman was idle, he wasn’t half so idle as Bradie Law. And if ever a fishwife were tiresome, she wasn’t even a third as tiresome as no-good Bradie Law.

On market days, you couldn’t hardly sneeze for fear Bradie Law would pop up behind you, asking about your health, whether you needed a handkerchief, and wouldn’t you want to buy this bottle of Sneeze Remedy he’d brewed?

That was all Bradie Law was good for. He spent his days fussing with bottles and chemicals and herbs and incantations, blowing things up and trying to make something — trying to make anything — that would make his fortune. Bradie Law had a dream, and made no secret of it. He would someday be so rich that he would never need to work again.

The villagers agreed he would come to a bad end.

On a week with three Tuesdays, Bradie Law got up on Tuesday morning and swung down the crooked lane to the village. It was such a rare thing even then for a week to have three Tuesdays that the burgomaster had announced a special Tuesday Market Festival to honour the occasion.

“Why, here it is and this is it,” thought Bradie Law. “If I’m not a rich man by the third Tuesday, I’ll come to a bad end sure enough.” So off he went with a bag full of tonic for shakes and mallender. It smelled like eggs, he reasoned, so it must be good.

Now, no one told Bradie Law because no one remembered, but there’s nothing so unlucky as a week with three Tuesdays. The wall between worlds grows thin. Things slip through the cracks, and shadows creep by unnoticed.

Bradie Law didn’t know. He didn’t notice the raven screaming from his chimney pot, or the one-eyed black cat that darted across his path. But he noticed, sure as thinking, when he came round the bend and met the Grumpenmire.

It sat on a stone and leered at him. “Hallo, hideous,” it said.

Bradie Law thought this was a bit much from a Grumpenmire. “Hallo yourself, prune-head.”

“What’s in the bag, skeleton nose?” said the Grumpenmire.

“It’s your old mum, an’t it?” said Bradie Law.

“No, it an’t,” said the Grumpenmire. “I ate me old mum years ago.” It waved its fingers and shouted, “Smatterwrack!

Bradie Law’s bag began to shiver and shake. The bottles inside rattled together, and squeaked, “Law’s Tonic for Shakes and Mallender! Law’s Tonic for Shakes and Mallender!”

“Well, badness me.” The Grumpenmire grinned evilly. “That sounds like a bad end if ever I heard one.”

“No it ain’t,” said Bradie Law. “It’s me fortune, that’s what it is. I’ll be getting a bag of gold for this lot, you’ll see.”

“A bag of gold, eh? Well, well. I think not. Can I just say a poem for the love of me foul old mum?”

“What?” said Bradie Law.

The Grumpenmire cracked its knuckles three times, and muttered,

“In the bag go
shake and shudder,
headstone crack.”

Bradie Law shivered. “Well, thanks very much and all, but I’ve got to get to market.”

“Oh, it’s to market you’re going,” said the Grumpenmire. “But it ain’t gold you’ll come back with.”

Bradie Law hurried down the road to get away from the horrible sound of the Grumpenmire’s horrifying cackle. As he climbed up over the hill, he shivered and shook, chattering his teeth even though it was midsummer. He thought this odd, but didn’t think to look in his bag.

The village square was decked for a festival, with brightly coloured booths and gaudy decorations. Even the monument to the village founder, Sir Rolford Graves, was wrapped in wreaths and garland. People were singing and dancing, vending wares and buying them, eating and drinking, and having a grand old time.

Bradie Law swung into town with a skip and a dance, and perched on the monument to the long late Sir Graves. “Now then!” he shouted. “Have you got a shake? Have you got a shiver? Have you got a shudder in your side? Mallenders got you down? Then step up, friends, step right up. Law’s Tonic for Shakes and Mallenders is what you need! Finest scientifical chemications bring back that spring in your ear and the song in your eye. A spoonful here, a spoonful there, and the ladies will beat you away with sticks!”

A crowd had gathered for a laugh. “What’s it this time, Bradie?” shouted someone. “Pickled cat guts?”

“Dog sick?”

“Old Mother Shrewsbury’s piccalilli?”

“You cads!” shouted Bradie Law above the laughter. “Finest scientifical research has proven that a spoonful here and there of Law’s Tonic will cure the worst mallenders known to medical types.”

The burgomaster shouldered his way through the crowd, resplendent in robes and jewels. He waggled his head and laughed, moustache billowing. “You’ve not got a cure for anything Bradie! I’d stake a guinea your tonic is just trouble!”

“I’d stake my hat it’ll cure shakes and mallenders,” said Bradie Law recklessly. “Boundless energy in five minutes. In fact, I take it myself every day. Watch!” Amid raucous laughter, he pulled a bottle of tonic out of the bag.

It was frozen solid.

Bradie Law gaped, looked at the bag. Steam curled off its coating of frost. Long tendrils of ice crept round the monument. He dropped the tonic, shattering the bottle. “Run, everybody run!” He jumped off the monument, ran into the crowd. “Something’s going to happen!”

Everyone was still laughing, jostling him good-naturedly. Then the sky went dark as night. It began to snow, deep drifts swirling in a deathly gale. The monument shuddered. Ice frosted and cracked round it. The very stones of the marketplace trembled. With a noise like grinding hinges, the monument broke, opening a gaping hole into nowhere.

Out of nowhere echoed a long rising moan. Something glowed terribly blue. A translucent old man hopped out of the monument, swinging a sword cane. “Curses! Trespassers and varlets! Where’s the Grey Duke and his vengeful army with iron shoes as thin as a whisper, eh? Where’s me noble steed, what?” He glared about severely. “Who’s the ruddy sorcerer mucking about with me eternal rest, what, what? Out with you!”

The villagers didn’t answer, or even hear, as they were too busy screaming around the marketplace and back to their homes, knocking over booths and destroying decorations. Bradie Law hid under an overturned apple cart.

The spectral old man noticed the bag of tonic. He prodded it savagely with his sword cane.

“Peddlars,” he snorted. “Miserable hawkers, eh? Bah!” He ground the bag derisively beneath his heel. “I’m going back to bed.” He climbed back into nowhere, pulled the monument upright behind him with a snap.

Bradie Law scrambled to grab his bag. He turned to rush out of the village and nearly collided with the burgomaster.

“Well, Bradie.” The burgomaster waved his hand toward the wreckage of the marketplace. “Trouble. I think you’d agree?” He snatched the hat off Bradie Law’s head. “You’ll come to a bad end, Bradie Law, sure and certain.”

The next morning, Bradie Law woke with a terrible headache that did nothing to help him forget the day before. He noticed with some disgust that, apparently while trying to forget, he’d botched the labels he’d been writing. But he shoved the re-labelled bottles into his bag and set out. A raven perched on the chimney worried him. A one-eyed black cat darting across his path worried him further.

The Grumpenmire sat on the rock as before, picking feathers out of his teeth. “Hallo, horrid.”

Bradie Law winced. “Hallo yourself, muck-nose.”

“What’s in the bag, pear-face?”

“Four little kittens I’ve been roasting on the fire,” said Bradie Law wearily.

“If I didn’t know you were lying, I’d begin to think we might get on quite well.” The Grumpenmire waved its fingers. “Smatterwrack!

The bag began to shiver and shake. The bottles clinked together, and squeaked, “Law’s Enchantum Magicalllly Cure Alls! Scribble Smudge! Blot!”

“The pen leaked,” said Braidie Law defensively.

“Well, badness me,” said the Grumpenmire. “You haven’t been brewing unlicensed potions have you? Naughty, naughty!”

“Not brewing nothing,” said Bradie Law. “This is genuine ghost-trod tonic, it is. Authentic spirits. I’ll come back with a bag of gold.”

The Grumpenmire cackled. “Trying to get rich off your ghostly friend, eh? I think not. How’d you like to get a raven’s view of things? Get a little undead wisdom.”

“No thanks,” said Braidie Law.

“Oh, it’s no trouble!” The Grumpenmire smirked. “It can be my bad deed for the day.” It cracked its knuckles three times, and muttered,

“In the bag go
load of feathers
break his back!”

Bradie Law was already running up the hill as fast as he could run. The Grumpenmire watched him go, and whistled a revolting tune. The one-eyed black cat rubbed round its knees.

When Bradie Law reached the top of the hill, he was running so fast he didn’t even think to stop. The ground swept away beneath him as if his feet were hardly touching it. He clattered into the village. The villagers had redecorated everything. But the festive air was dampened, partly by large drifts of snow still melting here and there. A high fence wrapped round the monument now. The burgomaster was nailing up a sign that read, “KEEP OFF.”

Bradie Law was used to people staring at him in horror when he entered the village, so he didn’t think anything of it. “Morning, folks!” he shouted as he ran. “Happy Tuesday Two, everyone! Step right this way to see a wonder of the ancient world, enchanted tonic touched by ghosties, guaranteed to magically cure all your magical mallenders!”

He stopped for the very good reason that no one was listening. They were just staring at him. And, he realized with sickening dread, they were staring up.

He looked down. The ground floated happily some distance below. The bag at his back ballooned gently, swaying here and there in the wind. He was promptly sick. The crowd of villagers scattered.

“Bradie Law!” bawled the burgomaster. “Come out of the sky this instant!”

“Proves my point!” shouted Bradie Law. “How can mallenders get you down when you’re already up? This stuff is magic!”

“Magic be bothered and be blowed!” bellowed the burgomaster. “Come down!”

Bradie Law perched on top of the monument. “Anyone for six coppers a bottle? Six coppers only!”

“Bradie Law!” said the burgomaster. “I’ll stake six gold coins you won’t get half a copper for your wretched tonic.”

“And I’ll stake my coat I’ll get a bag of gold.”

The burgomaster laughed. “A bag of gold? You can’t even get down.” He walked away into the crowd. The crowd started laughing, and walked back to the booths and the festivals. Bradie Law clung miserably to the top of the monument. There didn’t seem much else to do.

He’d spent the morning watching the festivities below. Now that he was a safe distance away, the villagers seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. Occasionally someone glared at him in relief, but that was all. He could nearly taste the sizzle of hot butter and sugar, the crisp sweetness of midsummer ale. He heard the singing and saw the dancing, and watched the merchants do brisk trade, the clink and clatter of gold dancing round the market.

He wondered how he could get down.

The wind tugged at the bag, still floating beside him. Bradie Law looked at it. It seemed to be straining to fly again. Well, that would be absurd, he told himself. All sorts of nasty things could happen — wind, rain, fire, losing one’s way —

He jumped.

The villagers screamed as Bradie Law swooped overhead, hanging from his bag and laughing wildly. He spun the bag in circles. The wind was in his hair and in his face. Higher and higher he went until the village was a dwindling blot of colour on the wide world below.

Then he clung to the bag and dove, rushing down round the monument and away out over the crooked path through the endless hills. He snagged his feet carefully on the thatch of his cottage, and sat beside the chimney pot.

He carefully opened the bag the tiniest bit. A handful of sleek, black feathers burst out. He sneezed, gagged, and sneezed again. The feathers floated away.

Bradie Law climbed down from the roof with the bag of raven feathers, feeling thoughtful. The burgomaster was waiting at the cottage door. Bradie Law sighed, handed him his jacket.

The burgomaster folded it up, chuckling. “Bradie Law, Bradie Law. You’ll come to a bad end, sure and certain.”

The next day was Tuesday. Bradie Law swung along the path with the bag of feathers under his arm, jumping over the one-eyed black cat as it scuttled past. The Grumpenmire was waiting for him.

“Hallo, stupid-head.” It thumbed its nose at him. “Had a nice flight?”

“Wonderful, thanks,” said Bradie Law. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a bag of gold.”

“Oho!” sneered the Grumpenmire. “Badness me! Earth got you down? Put a feather in your shoe! Law’s Do-it-at-Home Seven League Boots! Coveted by kings and countrymen! I think not.”

Bradie Law stared at the Grumpenmire in horror. “How did you know what I was thinking?”

“Your old mum told me.” The Grumpenmire caught a passing sparrow in its teeth. “Funny things, feathers. Amazing how they can make — make people — make — a — ah-CHOO!” It rubbed his nose, grinned viciously. “The Seven League Boots to Make You Sneeze, eh?” It cracked its knuckles and muttered,

“In the bag go
snoff and sneezle
wheeze and hack.”

Bradie Law sprinted up the hill. As he reached the hilltop, he felt the bag grow heavier. He opened the bag in horror. The feathers were gone. The bag was full of fine black dust. He poked it dismally. A cloud of it whiffed round him. He sneezed and sneezed till he couldn’t see from sneezing.

Furious, eyes streaming, he shook his fist at the Grumpenmire. “I’ll still come home with a bag of gold!”

“Ha, haaa!” called the Grumpenmire.

Bradie Law trudged down to the village, his bag over his shoulder. An idea grew in his mind ‘” impossible, really — absurd — but, he thought, wasn’t that the point? As he reached the village, he started to shout.

“Now then, now then! Right this way, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen! Law’s Original Guaranteed Sneezes! Sneezes for sale, sneezes for sale! Buy them in bunches or purchase in pairs! Sneezes for sale, sneezes for sale! Who’ll buy from me bag of sneezes?”

A crowd began to form in spite of itself. Dancers stopped dancing and singers stopped singing. Vendors stopped vending and buyers stopped buying. Everyone started to follow Bradie Law through the village, pointing and laughing, hooting and catcalling. Dogs and children ran yapping alongside. By the time Bradie Law reached the monument, the whole village was at his heels.

He leapt onto the fence beside the sign that said KEEP OFF. “Sneezes for sale!” he called. “Who’ll buy from my bag of sneezes?”

Everyone laughed and shouted, but no one offered to buy anything. The burgomaster shouldered his way to the crowd. “Bradie Law, you harebrained fool! Get off of that this instant!”

“I’m selling sneezes, burgomaster,” said Bradie Law. “Would you care for a dozen or so?”

The burgomaster laughed till his face was twice as red. “Sneezes? Sneezes? You can’t sell sneezes in a bag!”

Bradie Law held up his bag. “I have here a bag of sneezes. I’ll stake my cottage that Law’s Original Guaranteed Sneeze will be the finest sneeze you’ve ever sneezed.”

The burgomaster guffawed. “You’ll come to a bad end, Bradie Law, I’ve always said so, sure and certain. So I’ll stake a hundred gold pieces to say you don’t have any sneezes in your bag, Bradie Law.” He turned gleefully to the crowd. “Anyone else care to say he don’t have a sneeze in the bag?”

Everyone did. The burgomaster jotted notes and sums, chortling, as people called out copper and silver and goods and gold. He turned back to Bradie Law, still laughing. “Are you ready to leave town, Bradie Law?”

“I’m ready,” said Bradie Law, “to show you my bag of sneezes.”

He shook the bag of dust over the crowd.

Everyone sneezed. The burgomaster sneezed. The vendors sneezed and the buyers sneezed. The children sneezed and the dogs sneezed. The dancers sneezed and the singers sneezed. They sneezed till they couldn’t sneeze for sneezing. The sneezing was so strong that a scientist who was looking for earthquakes on the other side of the world suddenly found one.

The dust settled. The sneezing stopped. The villagers stared at each other glumly. Bradie Law sat on the fence and whistled.

Bradie Law could hardly drag his bag down the crooked path, it was so full of gold. He saw the Grumpenmire waiting on the stone. “Hey beautiful!” he shouted. “Happy Tuesday! Thanks for the bag of gold!”

The Grumpenmire gibbered. “Gold? Thanks?

Bradie Law pulled out a handful of coins and threw them at the Grumpenmire. “Keep this! My thanks for your help and kindness!”

“Help?” spluttered the Grumpenmire. “Kindness! Smatterwrack! Gah!”

It burst in a cloud of putrid smoke. Bradie Law never saw it again.

Bradie Law kicked the one-eyed black cat, threw a stone at the raven, and went home a rich man. But he died of happiness a hundred years later, so the villagers agreed he came to a bad end anyway.

John Patrick Pazdziora (PGDip, Belfast Bible College) is a doctoral candidate at the University of St Andrews, and a freelance writer and editor. His poetry and fiction have been featured in New Fairy Tales, Enchanted Conversation, and Scheherazade’s Bequest. His articles have appeared in various academic publications, including Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment (Cambridge Scholars, 2011) and Harry Potter for Nerds: Essays for Lit Geeks, Academics, and Fans (Unlocking, 2012). He lives in Scotland with his wife and daughter.