The Pictographic Entertainment

The Pictographic Entertainment

In each of the last twelve days a gentleman had come a-calling. On each day my brutish manservant had refused them entry, picked them up bodily and hurled them into the street. Many of their landings were poor, pitching headfirst into dubious street waste, paving slabs or iron railings. It’s the advantage of having an orangutan butler. Though he lacks the gift of speech (not, I assure you, through lack of effort on my part – the lazy beast just will not use the vocal cords I painstakingly grafted into his throat, donated by a luckless burglar), his great flat face and lanky arms are marvels of self-expression.

Why, you might well ask, would a marvellous yet spurned creator such as myself, Franklyn de Gashe be so violently turning away erudite fellows of the Society on daily basis. It has long been the policy of the Society to reject my scientific overtures, the remarkable discoveries that I have wrought both in the basement laboratories of my home and in my travels overseas, tracking down lost secrets and improbable beasts. Of late however, their tune has grown sweeter, cloying even, seeking to repair the gulf between us with a thickly poured tide of honey. Thus far I have placed my nose firmly in the air, and their buttocks firmly only the cold pavement. The cause of their obsequious visitations hangs beneath the chandelier of the hallway. It’s not the ideal place to display one’s fresh pride and joy, but the damned thing is intractable.

Some months ago, while perusing the cave paintings of ancient French wretches, my ever-curious eye was drawn to a near-obliterated section of art, almost entirely blackened, covered over by fitful slappings of ashen hands onto the rough granite. What my peers had taken for either the correction of an error or a misguided attempt to paint the sea, my keen senses cut through their confusion and laid a finger upon the truth. After ensuring no other scholars could enter the cave, I set about cleaning off the top layer of paint and ashes. Thankfully I’d brought my usual equipment, beginning with a gas mask and rubberised canvas suit, and the regular-sized vacuum flask of mushroom-infused absinthe. Removing the marks of paint and ash that has decorated a bare rock wall for countless millennia is a somewhat destructive process, and the sulphuric acid that I misted the wall with would take not only the paint, but the skin from one’s bones. Alas, when I sealed the cave with a minor rockfall to ensure my seclusion, I had neglected to check deeper within the cave itself. Only the screaming, when it finally penetrated the sound of my compressor out pumping the noxious fog, alerted me to my error. By then of course it was far too late. From the remnants of their garb and the lead fillings in their teeth, I deduced that they were likely American. Very sad. I shook the bones out of the tattered cloth and scattered them deeper in the cave where they’d be less noticeable.

I returned to my area of special interest, and sat to observe the acidic mist erasing the top layer of markings as I’d hoped. Now the walls were bare save for the spot that had been crudely scratched out by its makers. As I had half expected, the figures and depictions therein showed a hunt in progress. Yet rather than little arrow gentlemen tossing their spears at some rustic beast, instead this was clearly a beast hunting them. The artist had not been especially talented, but even their illiterate mitten had sketched out a fascinating creature, winged with talons half the length of its body and a head like an anvil trapped in a suitcase. A second set of pictographs showed a number of unrealistically skinny tribesmen stuffing the beast into a rude cage and enclosing it in a cavern. The reasons for its erasure were instantly clear to me: a beast that had mastered its human aggressors, having been once pursued by them, was now feared, imprisoned and to be forgotten. Even back then, humanity’s natural pride had checked its reason, causing this censorship and the loss of its knowledge for generations. I, Franklyn de Gashe, would uncover the truth. The lost daubings included a handy map, featuring landmarks that even now were apparent in the landscape, and the usual number of dire warnings and images of dead people.

I left the cave in a pristine state, having preserved the formerly unseen paintings via chemical means on my trusty photo-camera, and hurried off to make the discovery of a lifetime. Repacking my rubberised suit and mask into the saddle-bags of the rather attractive horse – Dominique – whom I’d leased for this adventure, I paused for a luncheon of devilled eggs, jellied pigs trotters, and a banana. I’d grown quite addicted to the curiously dry yet sticky yellow fruit and rather admired its priapic powers. Traveling on horseback is not the ideal time for such warm in the loins, yet it proved a comfortable distraction from the spinal jolts of surmounting the nearby hills.

The map was an adequate guide, though it led me through several more recent streams, a ghastly briar that quite bedevilled my steed and ultimately to a cliff-face shattered by rockfall. I surmised that the imprisoning cave’s opening must once have faced me, before this unfortunate tumbling of boulders. Thankfully, I never travel in Europe without a sufficient supply of dynamite and other less common explosives. I’ve a fine associate in the Americas who spent a great deal of time building the railways who was more than happy to share his secrets of demolition over a bottle of well-aged port and a largely-abandoned Shropshire village. After stuffing sticks of dynamite in an optimal pattern throughout the huge stones, I merrily skipped off in retreat, hauling Dominique behind me and lighting another opium cigarillo. The poor horse had been rather scratched by the briars and I rubbed a healing balm into her injuries while we awaited detonation.

We had little time to wait, as I’ve a habit of leaving fuses slightly too short, the better to enthuse the mind and keep one’s senses sharp and alert. We returned to an exploded valley.  A number of boulders had been entirely vaporised, others tossed quite out of the area. Most importantly, a black hole now loomed open. I lit another lantern and hurried within. In all my travels and adventures, I’ve yet to uncover a cave that seemed truly suitable for human habitation – even those that infest the rocks of the city of Nottingham are mostly vile and noxious places, though that may simply be the presence of the city’s natives – and this cave was no exception. Dark, dank with dripping water and fierce stalactites made it appear like the mouth of some beast itself. To hide a monster inside another monster was apt, and a little spooky. However, my scientific mind slapped down the quailing fool within myself and we delved into the depths. At the very deepest point my lantern-light glowed off the bars of the cage I’d perceived in the drawings. In fact, the artist’s hand was better than I’d thought, for this structure was a crude thing indeed and surely would have as much chance of holding any creature as a silk purse. Alas, the beast within was quite dead. A considerable disappointment, yet in retrospect expecting a creature to survive alone in the dark for uncounted thousands of years had been a mite optimistic. I poked through its skeletal remnants with my walking cane, admiring the curious skull and daggered wing bones. And there I made my discovery. The thing had been female, for beneath it lay a rough nest and within lay an egg. Thrilled beyond reckoning, I kicked the cage down and retrieved the egg. It was quite unlike the chicken-spawning shells with which one may be most familiar. This was a thick and leathery thing, pulsing with heat. I bundled it in my knapsack, along with the more impressive skull and bones of its parent, and returned to Dominique.

Some months later, I presented my discoveries to the Society, with an enlargement of the image I’d taken in the cave. I’d grown accustomed to the scoffing of my so-called peers, but on this occasion it turned ugly, for it seemed that the cave I’d cleaned had been quite popular among scholars and they had been careless enough not to record the other paintings for posterity. Unfortunate. However, when I detailed the hidden cavern, displayed the skeleton and explained how it had terrorised our ancestors, they were more properly impressed. And yet, Professor Occulant Hotch could not help but bray that many members of the Society had uncovered bones and fossils – they were two a penny and my discovery worth less than theirs. In angry retort I whipped the covering from another box I’d brought to the podium and revealed the recently hatched juvenile to the members. Their shock, surprise, and growing applause enraged the little thing however, and the box rattled violently the more they clapped. Before I could do anything, the dagger-wing (I thought it a good name) broke out of its container and assaulted the now-screaming crowd. Alas, it did fully remove the face of Professor Hotch before I could net the little monster and drag it away.  Once more the crowd turned to outrage mingled with (I could perceive) respect and admiration for my triumph. However, given the gruesome attack on Professor Hotch, I was to be barred once more from the society.

And so I returned home with my little dagger-wing. Since then, my status has only grown and word has spread of my discovery. Jealously, other members of the Society now petition me at my door for access to the marvellous little predatory monster. Thus far I have refused them, for despite their acclaim, I feel entitled to a little sulking. Also, I cannot get the damned thing to come down from its perch, and I fear it may swoop upon me when I sneak downstairs in the middle of the night for a snack. Such are the trials of a fearless adventurer and wizard of science.