Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories: The Facts in the Case of Algernon Whisper's Karma

I'm not proud to admit that I wrote The Facts in the Case of Algernon Whisper's Karma on a dare.  And I'm even less proud to admit that it was a dare I dared myself.

Yet that's about the size of what happened.  The core concept - of a man who takes it upon himself to direct the course of his own karmic rebirth, with one very specific goal in mind - came out of a chance remark I made, followed by some bloody-minded part of my brain pointing out that it might just conceivably work as a short story, and hey, wasn't that just the perfect reason to give it a go?

Probably not.  But as it turned out it wasn't an altogether terrible one either.  Perhaps the reason for that was that it came together with another, equally odd concept that was then batting around my brain, though I'm not sure I quite realised it at the time.  Looking back, though, and put briefly, it was this: what if Sherlock Holmes was only a genius in John Watson's mind?  What if all the crazy was real but the rest of it less so?  What if - and I can't be the first Holmes fan to suspect this - it was Watson who was the real brains of the operation, or at least the only one with the requisite number of marbles?

From all of that came a story about friendship and sanity, and the toll that the years can take on both.  For something conceived as a joke, it also wound up as being quite serious, though of all the stories in the collection this one probably has its tongue wedged most firmly into its cheek.  It was originally published in a magazine called The Willows for very little money, at which point I'd imagine it was read by all of about a dozen people who weren't my mum.  One of the nicest things about the existence of this collection is that these older tales get to reach a (hopefully!) wider audience than they did the first time around.

With that in mind, here's a brief extract:
As I said, I've known Algernon since early childhood, since our schooldays.  Even in his youth, he was markedly eccentric; but perhaps these things pass unnoticed more easily in a child.  For my part, if I observed any signs of strangeness it was only as further evidence to justify my commitment to my friend, for I regarded Algernon with endless approval.  He was a source of constant fascination, of ideas both unique and, it seemed to me, impeccably wise.  He was also charismatic, witty and remarkable in appearance; he viewed the school’s drab uniform with contempt and chose to dress instead, from about the age of seven, in the manner of a man in late middle age.  It didn’t concern me in the least that I was his only friend, his only sympathiser.  Though Algernon's classmates and even his teachers viewed him with evident distrust, I reasoned that this was nothing more than further proof of how detached from the common herd my companion was.  
Of course, I could never have imagined then that he would go on to prove me right in so spectacular a fashion.

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