Read stories from Anthony Holcroft’s published collections, as well as an excerpt from his novel, The Candle Trees (unpublished).
A Visit to the Orchards of Heaven
Once, long ago in China, a travelling musician visited a small kingdom near the Kuang Lu mountains. Every day he set up his stall in the market-place and astonished the people with his feats of magic.
When the king of the land heard what was going on, he summoned the magician to perform before his court. ‘I am a man who is easily bored with life,’ he told the magician. ‘If you keep me amused, you will be sent on your way with many precious gifts. But if you cause me to yawn, even once, I am sorry to say, you will have to be executed. It is the penalty, you see, for causing grievous displeasure to the king. Is that understood?’
The Magic Thread
Once, not so far from here, a girl lived with her grandmother in an old stone house. The child’s parents had died when she was a baby, and Grandmother was now her guardian. Day after day, year after year, the girl sat locked in her small attic bedroom, seeing and speaking to no one, speaking to no one but her grandmother. ‘People are treacherous,’ Grandmother told her. ‘Someone might try to steal you away from me.’
At breakfast Gary looked up, suddenly remembering something. He had just come back from a holiday with his cousins in the city, and was still reliving the wonder of it all. ‘We stopped at a garage,’ he said, ‘on the way to the beach. There was a sign up that said “Free Air”. That was a funny thing ... free air. Nobody has to pay for the air.’
‘They might,’ said Hazel, ‘if there wasn’t enough good air to go round. Like if it got too polluted, or something. We’d have to build containers to store the good air in, like the petrol tank in the yard — only bigger. Wouldn’t we, Dad?’
It’s funny the peculiar things that can happen to you, sometimes. I mean, weird things. Bizarre. Like what happened that time I bought the cottage, over at the bay. I knew as soon as I saw the place that I was on to something good. There was the view, for a start: the beach just down the road, and the steep bit of bush at the back, and the house, all neat and tidy and shining, as if something had just licked it all over. You’d have been hard put to find a speck of dust anywhere.