SPOTLIGHT: Jack of All Tales by Alex Shenstone

He Didn’t Mean To

No-one believed the boy on the moor.
Not after all of those times before.
He’d raised himself well, they had to admit.
But he and honesty just didn’t quite fit.

They thought such a ruffian was naturally grim.
It was just what they’d always assumed of him.
They didn’t understand his fear for the night.
They had no belief for things out of their sight.

This little boy, with grass under his nails.
At the call of the dusk just wails, and wails.
Stay on the inside. Send nobody out.
Don’t tempt yourselves, please do not doubt.
Board up the windows, nail up the doors.
Do everything you can to keep out the moors.

They humoured him at first, trying to be kind.
Who doesn’t like to indulge a little child’s mind?
But those of a certain age could only half-listen.
To this landmarked feral boy, all fear ridden.

They saw his panic as a sick little game.
They didn’t believe in his beast, waiting to maim.
Their tongues were barbed when he opened his mouth.
Their harsh dismissals sending his hopes quickly south.

The boy tried, and tried, and tried.
Tugged at them, screamed at them. Cried and cried.
They paid him no mind and bade him stay back.
All kindness and patience, they did sorely lack.

They rolled their eyes at his wide-eyed wheezing.
Not noticing his skin melting, his bones freezing.
But they noticed when he cracked, oh so wide open.
His insides spilling, his structure broken.
They paid for their ignorance.
Suffering, from matured arrogance.

If you, the old, think me insincere,
then let me make this abundantly clear.
The boy was the wolf and the wolf was the boy.
This is no children’s game. No lie. No ploy.

Jack Of All Tales

His childhood friend.
Her face, even now, a memory with no end.
Chasing each other with pails of water.
The happiest son. The brightest daughter.
Cheering together, on their high crescent hill.
Gleeful when rain made the well overspill.
But when soft grass is sodden so slick,
it’s just too easy for a running child to

Tumbling. Gasping. Poor young Jack.
His crown now bearing a deep-set crack.
He was felled. Eyes shut. Feeling split in two.
So there was no-one to stop Jill from tumbling too.
Hair whipping. Neck snapped right through.
The filled pail tipped, right by her face.
Water spilling. Mouth filling. Soaking her dress of lace.
She was all that was fanciful.
She was all his delight.
She was all that was honourable.
She’d been his first light.

So he looked for magic, in his living days thereafter.
The only thing he could think of to match her laughter.
And one day he found it, in old, withered hands.
Three sparks, which when put in earth, could surpass all lands.
He relished in the climb. The unknown height.
Feeling so sick, churning his guts just right.
Each grapple for stalk. Each grip of stem.
Took him far, far up, and further from them.
The mother who told him to grow up, forget.
Thinking his child-brain would purge her, his dearest friend.
He never would, and would never pretend.
So he strived to scale it, right up to the end.

Taking the green softness in his desperate fists.
Up to the swirling vapours, around his head in wisps.
Until he found the darkened place.
With flickered flame in brass, showing him his face.
He had to weave between those flickers.
Those licks of waxen heat with their soft, soft whispers.
Jack be nimble. Jack be quick.
If you want to survive, you must be slick.
Slicker than the plains of water sodden grass.
But Jack had learned, so through those flames he passed.

Now was when he found the giant’s seat.
His blood boiled, like steam on swirling sleet.
He looked up at that tower of flesh.
He looked at it and thought a thought so fresh:
I shall break its bones to make my bed.
And he did. He felled the tower. Dead.

The broken crowned climber.
Washing stains of water from his clothes,
with pails of blood in gushing droves.
He plucked it apart.
Thus he plucked himself, at heart.
This boy displaced in giant’s bones and blood,
soon awoke as a man, in that same carcass flood.

The bone was his mahogany,
the sliding blood his silk finery.
But all blood dries.
And the craving for soft wetness tries.
Tries and tries his mind.
So now, new softness he had to find.

Even if he must descend from his glorious height.
To the dank and the cold. To a more lacklustre light.
He will find it. The warm. The bold.
He will find the bodies within which silk does fold.
Behind those glossing, flattering eyes.
He’ll rip them. Take the silk from their flesh disguise.
Rip. Rip. Rip.
They looked for him; he gave the whole world the slip.

He freezes and floats like a crystal of ice.
Out of the alleys and back up to the skies.
The man is the cold and the cold is the man.
He’ll shudder a woman’s collar. A playful plan.
No thaw. No mercy.
Not for this old boy, feeling naught for mortality.

No matter how safe you may feel you are tucked.
We are all oh so easily plucked.
Like drops of water from a too shallow well.
Or beans of magic, from where no-one can tell.
Like slicking drips of still hot candlewax.
Or giant’s blood seeping onto golden crown cracks.
Like eyes, plucked, from never blinking sockets.
Or frost sticking to long-held lockets.

He is a Jack of all trades. Unique in all tales, bar none.
But you will call him Master when you realise
that these are not many tales.

Just one.

Hang Me By My Window
Growing is so lengthy.

It is newness on the sunrise, and questions on the sunset.
New sounds, new words.
New leaves passing the window.
New birds on the little sill.
New drawings in bitted charcoal, picked from walls.

Not four.

Not like the ones in the picture books from Mother.
The square ones, from the outside.
She regrets telling me about that.
About the outside.

Knowing about it means I know more.
I know this is a trap, in my one wall.
Trapped only with pictures of the world
by a Mother who will keep me in one wall, not four.

I’m like my spiral staircase.
Running up to the locked door
and then back down again,
to my one stone floor.

I’m so up and down.
So round and round.
Like my eyes flicking inside my head,
seeing the same built stone all bound.

I feel like one of the crumbled ones.
A fragment, tumbling from a height.
Willingly weathered by a storm,
because I couldn’t hold myself on anymore.

That’s why Mother stopped being Mother, I think.
I didn’t hold onto being her little girl.
With big glad eyes and pigtails neat.

Now, my eyes are sunken.
My tress hair drags against the floor,
catching against the jagged wall.
She used to tell me to comb it.
I don’t remember how.

Now, I don’t think she remembers me.

She doesn’t come and tell me to comb anymore.
She doesn’t remind me that this is my home,
Now I have ideas all of my own.
I can have a thought in my head and finish it
without her saying no.

She blocked off the hole the last time she came,
but it’s okay.
I had it all painted in my head anyway.
That’s where it is now.
A little hole inside my head.

Now I could finally do it.
I could . . . go.

I did listen to Mother one more time though.
I combed my hair.
I combed the whole room of it.
It took me days, to set it up just right.
As the window in my head got bigger, over every night.

Now, today, it wants me.
I want it in return.

I’m going to swing out of the window and into the world.
I’ll spiral my hair tight like a staircase up my neck.
I can swing.

For the last time.
Eyes closed.

I stop breathing for a moment,
then I’m through the window.
No more picking at weathered stone.
Look Mother, see how much I’ve grown.


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