Monstrous Tales - Volume 2 by Dorothy Davies

EXTRACT FOR
Monstrous Tales - Volume 2

(Dorothy Davies)


Monstrous Tales Volume 2

CONTENTS

 

Woodenhead Haunts My Dreams – David Turnbull

 

The Death Of Each Day’s Life – Brooke MacKenzie

 

DJ vs. the Corona-Dogman - Edward R. Rosick

 

Hellen On Earth – R W Goldsmith

 

The Ghost Of Christmas Past – Dorothy Davies

 

Until The Light Takes Us – Paul Edwards

 

High Stakes – Terrance Mc Arthur

 

The Boundary Waters – Brooke MacKenzie


 

 

Woodenhead Haunts My Dreams

David Turnbull

 

I am haunted by Woodenhead. He fills my nights and invades my reality. Woodenhead, you ask. Who or what is Woodenhead? I’m going to tell you. Whether you believe a word of it is entirely up to you.

If you grew up in the UK in the late 60’s and early 70’s, as I did, you’ll recall that the BBC used to show kids’ TV programs from other parts of Europe. They were mostly in black and white, sometimes with subtitles, but more often quite badly dubbed into English and supplemented by a narration in English as a fall back in case you didn’t quite manage to follow the plot.

Some of these shows were downright weird and pretty damn scary. Take the Singing Ringing Tree. It was based on a dark fairy tale by the brothers Grimm called Hurleburlebutz. The BBC broadcast it regularly between 1964 and 1980. It has often been described as the scariest children’s TV series ever.

I don’t agree with that assessment.

To my mind the crown goes unequivocally to Woodenhead.

Almost everyone I’ve ever mentioned Woodenhead to thinks I burdened myself with a false memory. But I vividly recall myself curled up and terrified, in an armchair in my parents’ house watching it play out on the TV screen. My big brother Jeff sprawled out on the sofa, hurling insults at me for being such a cry baby.

I confronted Jeff numerous times about Woodenhead during his life and how we’d watched it together. He always denied ever having seen it. Like everyone else he said I was imagining something that never happened. I knew he was lying. Whenever I spoke to him about Woodenhead his upper lip would gleam with sweat.

For a few years, when I was in my early to mid-twenties, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was Schizophrenic. The psychiatric doctor who handed down this diagnosis told me that bizarre beliefs, delusions and hallucinations were classic symptoms of Schizophrenia.

She claimed that Woodenhead seemed undeniably real to me because my condition ran so deep. She said my subconscious was clearly covering for some traumatic experience I had endured in my childhood around the time I believed I had watched Woodenhead.

I asked Jeff if he remembered anything that happened in our family that I might have blanked out and replaced with a false memory. He couldn’t think of a single thing. As far as he was concerned, we had a normal suburban childhood.

My doctor said whatever had happened to trigger my Schizophrenia was likely to be buried pretty deep within my psyche. For a while she even managed to convince me that she was right. After all there was no evidence to prove that Woodenhead had ever existed. By then I had a letter signed by the head of BBC Children’s Entertainment categorically denying that such a program had ever been broadcast by the Corporation.

My doctor told me to write down what I recalled about this phantom of my mind (her words) so that she and I could try to work out if it held any clues. I bought a little notebook, mined my memories and the filled the lined pages with every detail. I will recount here what I wrote, the comments and observations are recent additions.

 

Woodenhead

A children’s TV series

Shown in the summer of 1972

 

Episode One - introduces us to Gustav the woodcutter and his mischievous son, Jürgen.

Jürgen is always getting into trouble with the villagers while his father is off in the woods chopping down trees.

Gustav decides it is time Jürgen is taught some responsibility so he gives him his spare axe and takes him into the woods to impart to him the art of tree felling.

Naughty Jürgen wanders off and loses his axe. He sits down for a rest. He falls asleep.

When he wakes, he finds himself surrounded by a pack of wolves. (As I recall these wolves were actually a bunch of filthy looking, unshaven actors with bad teeth and flea-bitten costumes. When I was ten this just made them all the more terrifying.)

When Jürgen sees the wolves, he lets out a yell and goes fleeing through the trees. The wolves give chase, howling and growling. Jürgen trips on a branch and smashes his head on a rock. The wolves set about devouring his legs.

Just when you think he will surely be eaten alive Gustav charges the wolves and chases them off with his axe. The show ends with Gustav carrying his son’s bloodied body through the trees.

 

Episode Two - Gustav is so overcome with grief that he takes a huge cart of kindling to the witch’s hut deep in the darkest part of the woods. In exchange for the kindling she agrees to give Gustav the wherewithal to bring Jürgen back to life. She grinds a magical potion of dark, sooty dust in her mortar and pestle and whispers into Gustav’s ear what must be done.

Back home Gustav shaves a slice from a hunk of wood and uses panel pins to nail this to the deep, dented wound on Jürgen’s head. Then he removes the back from his rocking chair, takes his axe and chops off Jürgen’s gnawed and mangled legs. This horrendous amputation scene is shown as an eerie silhouette of Gustav, cast against the wall by the flicker of the fire in the hearth, axe raised high above his head and sweeping in a downward motion.

Following the witch’s instructions Gustav uses his tools to attach the remainder of Jürgen’s body to the seat of the dismantled rocker. Then he takes the witch’s powder and sprinkles it over his dead son. The background music rises to a crescendo.

Jürgen’s eyes snap open.

“Papa! I’m alive!” he goes. (His voice is dubbed into English and the words don’t quite synchronize with the movement of his lips. This accentuates creepiness of the scene.)

Jürgen begins to laugh as he rocks back and forth. The camera pans in and out in time with him. You can see the blood that oozes from the nail holes in the wooden repair to his head.

He rocks

He laughs

He rocks

He laughs

“I’m alive. I’m alive.”

(It is this image more than any other that haunts my nightmares. This is also mainly the manner in which Woodenhead manifests himself in what has been described as my frequent hallucinatory episodes.)

 

Episode Three - commences with Jürgen learning to get around by rocking back and forth and putting the rockers on the chair into motion.

He rocks his way to the village and waves happily to the stunned villagers. On the way home he rocks past a field and calls out to a shepherd tending his flock. When the sheep see him, they stampede over the nearest hill, much to the shepherd’s consternation. Back home he rocks around the yard, chasing geese and chickens, laughing all the way.

What he doesn’t realize is that he is being spied upon by a little band of robbers. They are watching him through a telescope, passing it back and forth between each other. There are four of them, played by the same filthy, unshaven actors who played the pack of wolves, only now they are dressed like gypsies, rather than in the mangy wolf costumes.

When Gustav sets off into the woods with his axe slung over his shoulder, the robbers rush down to the cottage and kidnap Jürgen. They lift him up, rocking chair runners resting on their shoulders, like they are carrying a Prince in his sedan. Jürgen screams and wails for his father. The final shot fades out to the robbers hefting Jürgen away into the distance while chanting a discordant little rhyme.

Hiddle Diddle

Hearts full of joy

Today we have stolen

A wooden headed boy

 

(I have to confess that rhyme burrows into my head like an earworm so often that it drives me to distraction and destroys my attention levels. It’s played a huge part in me never being able hold down a decent job.)

 

Episode Four - the robbers have Jürgen locked up in cage on horse drawn trailer that they transport from town to town. They advertise him as Woodenhead, the Rocking Chair Boy and charge an entry fee for people to come and see him. (In the show the words on the sign are in a foreign language with subtitles as an explanation. It taxes me severely trying to remember those words. Because finding out what language they were written in might be a huge clue as to the program’s origins.)

Jürgen, or Woodenhead, sulks in his rocking chair whenever the curtain is pulled back to reveal the cage. The ugliest of the robbers has to constantly poke him with a long stick to get him to rock back and forth. When they see this the audiences mock him and call him a monster.

But word gets out and more and more people come to see him.

The money starts rolling in for the robbers.

One day the witch from the woods pays a visit. She realizes that this is the son of the kindly woodcutter who fetched her kindling in exchange for a potion. She sneaks a little knife into Woodenhead’s hand and whispers that it has magical properties which will help him escape if he slashes it through the air.

That night, alone in the cage, behind the closed curtain, Woodenhead begins to rock back and forth. He takes the knife and slashes it through the air. Immediately a tear appears on the TV screen. Woodhead laughs. He rocks and slashes, rocks and slashes. And with each slash the tear grows wider and wider. Till finally on the last slash his mended head comes right out of the TV screen and into your room, laughing maniacally.

(I have no idea how they achieved this effect. It was long before computer generated CGI or 3D television. All I know is that Woodhead came straight through the TV screen. I remember screaming. I remember my brother, who was sitting on the floor, yelping and kicking frantically back with his heels to get out of the way.)

This is where the episode ends.

There was no Episode Five – although I was sure back then that there was supposed to be. It’s engraved into my memory that the continuity announcer specifically stated that it was a five-part serial before the start of each episode.

I remember coming home from school to find Jeff watching a repeat of a science fiction serial call Mandog. “Turn it to the BBC,” I said. I was dreading watching episode five. I’d been having nightmares all week. But I was gripped by a morbid fascination. I simply had to know how the story ended.

Jeff threw a cushion at me. “This is BBC, twat!”

“I can’t be. It’s supposed to be Woodenhead. The last episode.”

“Wooden what?” said Jeff.

This was his first denial.

“Woodenhead,” I repeated. “We’ve been watching it for the past four weeks.”

Jeff’s face seemed to drain of colour. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

I dropped to my knees and pressed the first button on the TV, just to make sure he wasn’t actually watching another channel. “This can’t be right,” I said. “It’s supposed to be Woodenhead. It’s supposed to be the last episode.”

Jeff pushed me out of the way. “You’re round the twist,” he yelled at me.

I stood up. “Woodenhead!” I yelled back at him. “The episode last week scared you so much you almost pissed your pants.”

Jeff was thirteen at the time and wasn’t to be messed with. He glared at me eye to eye. “What did you just say?”

“Woodenhead,” I told him. “The rocking chair boy.”

I saw his fist clench and if I hadn’t managed to turn my head the punch would have hit me hard on the nose. As it was it made contact my cheek, knocked me sideways and caused me to bang my head hard against the wall.

“Never mention the name Woodenhead in front of me again,” spat Jeff, twisting his hand into my school shirt and pulling me right up to his face. “If you do, I’ll knock your teeth straight down your throat.”

That night Woodhead made his first visitation to my room. I woke in the darkness and I could hear the robbers’ little chant inside my head.

Hiddle Diddle

Hearts full of joy

Today we have stolen

A wooden headed boy

I checked my watch. Twenty to one in the morning. I gradually became aware of a noise in the room. Something creaking and cricking, creaking and cricking, creaking and cricking. Faster and faster.

When I looked, he was there at the bottom of my bed. Woodhead. Blood had congealed around the nails that attached the piece of wood his father used to repair his head. Flaps of black flesh pinned to the seat of the rocker held him firmly in place. He grinned as he rocked back and forth and slashed his little magical knife through the air. I screamed so loud and for so long my parents were convinced one of the neighbours would report them to social services.

 

***

 

“Are you on a nostalgia trip?” asked the assistant behind the counter. She seemed a little young to be working in a charity shop. Her smile was genuine, anything but fake.

Look In was a British magazine which came out in the 70’s. It was dedicated to children’s TV. I glanced at the stack of six Look In annuals I’d discovered in a tattered cardboard box at the back of the shop. I was hoping against hope that somewhere, hidden in one of the pages would be a reference to Woodenhead.

“I’m researching for an article I want to write.” It was as good a lie as any.

The assistant looked at the picture cover of the annual at the top of the pile. “I used to love Follyfoot,” she said. “And the Tomorrow People and Junior Showtime. All of them really.”

The books were 50p each. She rang them into the till and I handed her £3.

“Is the article about anything in particular?” she asked.

“Woodenhead,” I replied.

She smiled again. There was a warmth there that I wasn’t quite used to. I felt a little awkward as I bundled the books under my arm. “Can’t say I remember that one,” she said. “But then again, Ben, you are a couple of years older than me.”

I cocked my head and looked at her. “You know me?”

She pushed her hair back behind her ears. “We went to the same high school. You were two years above me.” She blushed. “When I was twelve, I had such a crush on you.”

I didn’t know what to say. During my school years I was oblivious to everything going on around me, struggling with nightmares and insomnia. The fact that anyone might have actually had a crush on me was a complete revelation.

She held out her hand.

“Susan Harris.”

The name didn’t ring any particular bells. But when I shook her hand that smile spread naturally over her face again. “You could invite me for a coffee and tell all about this article you’re planning to write.”

So began the one and only romantic interlude in my life. It lasted a month and it was over on the very night it should, by rights, have progressed into something real and tangible.