Day 10: A plot at last

And not just any old plot, dear readers, but a spooky one, which is the best kind.[1] Spooky plots, plural, to be precise, and their names are Queen’s Wood and Highgate Cemetery. Narratively speaking, these plots both wander and wind before finally coming to rest, as all plots do, with death.

Or perhaps (and that’s the point of this dispatch’s title, courtesy of John Mortimer), death, on the contrary, is not the end of plot but an opportunity to seize a new one and, moreover, to shift genres.[2] The zombie I saw in Queen’s Wood certainly seemed to be experiencing no dearth of plot. But the duck-rabbit is getting ahead of itself.

Queen’s Wood, you may recall, was briefly mentioned a few dispatches back as the location of a summer fair where the elder flopsy duckit had woven his willow crown. Before the crown-weaving, there was a scavenger hunt. We hadn’t necessarily known that we wanted to embark on a scavenger hunt as we wandered idly into the woods, but the three middle-aged kindly looking women who were sitting at a makeshift table at the wood’s entrance soon beckoned us over and set us straight.

One of the ladies hailed He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved: “Are you a Friend of Queen’s Wood?”

There was a pause.

“Well,” offered He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved, uncertainly, “I’m not an enemy of the Wood.”

The ladies explained that they represented the Friends of Queen’s Wood and tried to get us to join their cult, enticing us with the prospect of regular newsletters. We demurred, and, unfazed, they encouraged us instead to embark on a scavenger hunt.

And so we set off. At first it was just the duck-rabbit, the elder flopsy-duckit and the duck-rabbit’s mother while He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved wheeled the younger flopsy-duckit around in her stroller, trying to get her to sleep. We turned out, unexpectedly, the child, the old woman, and the absent-minded duck-rabbit, to be a scavenging unit of deadly efficiency. Hornbeam seeds? Done. Holly? Done. An acorn? This is too fucking easy. Done. And so on and so forth.

But while we aced the collecting portion of the scavenger hunt, we fell apart when it came to finding specific places within the wood. We stood, the three of us, contemplating a small bog. “Could this could be the Frog Pool?” asked the duck-rabbit’s mother, doubtfully. We were starting to tire. Then He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved showed up, the younger flopsy-duckit now sleeping soundly in her stroller. Feeling drowsy too, the duck-rabbit elected to sit in the middle of the wood with the sleeping flopsy-duckit, while the others went on valiantly in search of the one remaining item on the scavenger hunt list: to count the number of trees surrounding the Witches’ Coven. They walked off down the path, deeper into the woods, their voices soon growing faint.

The duck-rabbit sat for a while, looking up at the trees and listening to the birds. But, eventually, bored of sitting, and with no sign of the others returning, it decided to take a walk. Slowly, the duck-rabbit made its way down the hill, deeper into the woods, gingerly pushing the sleeping babe in her stroller down the gravelly path. It grew darker as the path dipped down steeply and the trees grew thicker. And that’s when the duck-rabbit saw them, a group of figures, way off the path, only faintly visible through the trees. Craning its neck, the duck-rabbit strained to get a better look and saw a man with a camera on his shoulder; a boom operator with one of those proper dead-cats-on-a-stick; a woman with a clapperboard; another woman in some kind of futuristic looking armor; and finally, yes, a zombie, unmistakably a zombie, who caught the duck-rabbit’s eye and flashed it a mega-watt grin.

Be still my heart.

The actors assumed their positions. The clapper-board was clapped. Someone yelled “Action!” And then the zombie and the woman warrior proceeded to have a good old-fashioned knock-down fight. The woman seemed to be getting the best of the zombie, leaping on his back, but then losing her grip and falling to the ground with a thud at which everyone broke into giggles and someone yelled “Cut!”

 ***

As we walked back to the entrance with all but one of the items for the scavenger hunt discovered, the duck-rabbit explained breathlessly to the others how the zombie had smiled at it through the branches. When we arrived back to the three Ladies of the Wood, who were now sipping steaming mugs of tea and eating cake from the Queen’s Wood Café, they had been joined by a shy young man who seemed to be an expert on the local botany. He and the ladies together looked over the contents of our little box of treasures, and authenticated our discoveries; hornbeam seeds; yes; holly; yes; acorn; yes; and they also commended the elder flopsy-duckit on his discovery of a leaf from the rare and oddly named Wild Service tree.

But we were forced to concede that, in the intelligence-gathering portion, we had failed in our bid to verify the number of trees surrounding The Witch’s Coven because we had been unable to find the Coven. One of the ladies enlightened us. Thirteen oak trees surround the clearing known as The Witch’s Coven. “And witches still gather there,” added the lady brightly. “But,” she added, on seeing the elder flopsy-duckit’s furrowed brow, “they’re White Witches.” She paused. “At least we hope they are,” she added darkly. The elder flopsy-duckit looked at her uncertainly.

The duck-rabbit mentioned the film crew it had seen and asked the ladies if they knew what was being filmed. “Filming? No-one’s filming at the moment,” one of the ladies said a little sharply. “They have to ask our permission if they want to film,” she explained. “They have to pay us.” Were they perhaps film students just larking around, she asked the duck-rabbit? Not wanting to get her zombie into trouble, the duck-rabbit answered yes, they must have been students.

It turned out to be one of those scavenger hunts where the “prize” for completing it, to the elder-flopsy duckit’s disappointment, was the satisfaction of learning about the history, flora, and fauna of Queen’s Wood. We decided we needed a better reward than that so we headed to the café to get our own tea and cake. There was chocolate cake for the flopsy-duckits and carrot cake for the grown-ups.

“I’m afraid it’s a bit warm because I just took it out of the oven,” said the lady serving us, apologetically, because we all know how disgusting warm cake is.

“Ooh, lovely,” my mum and I said in unison.

Stay tuned. The plot is about to thicken.

[1] Even the duck-rabbit’s daughter knows this and she’s only three and a half. This morning the duck-rabbit asked its daughter what her favorite kind of story was. Scary stories, she answered without hesitation. “Tell me one, then,” replied the duck-rabbit. “No. Only at night. Only in the dark,” said the younger flopsy-duckit. “Is the dark scary?” enquired the duck-rabbit; “are you scared of the dark?” Again, without hesitation, and with an assuredness that took the duck-rabbit’s breath away, the younger flopsy-duckit replied, “I’m not scared of anything.”

[2] This comes from a quip from the late John Mortimer, who in a column in which he was bemoaning his writer’s block, observed, “I think of the poor playwright who had written on his tombstone the simple words: ‘A plot at last.’

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