The Pardoner’s Tale

Written by Dan Stathers

A scruffy pub on a run-down estate,
you know the kind; smashed windows,
blood-stained pool table and a landlord
with tattooed forearms and a sawn-off shotgun.
Outside, a trio of skunk blazing scallies sit
in the concrete excuse for a beer garden,
soaking up the sun with bare chests
and bragging about their wasted heads.
Now anyone of these droogs
would pawn his own grandmother for a hit,
and when they’re not dropping it,
they’re dealing it; cutting their dust
and pushing their pills all over the estate.
There’s Bungle, he’s the muscle,
you could make a bed with his rap sheet.
Porno; the wannabe pimp who likes
to film himself, and the youngest ‘blud’,
that’s Tealeaf – can make things disappear.
They all drink, snort, gamble and grope
down the Black Dog – a right den of thieves,
many of whom are unwittingly related –
and that, my ‘andsomes, is where our tale begins…

It’s never a clever idea to walk past
three rotten, greedy, ‘orrible toerags;
head down and texting on your gleaming
new, fresh out the box Blackberry Classic –
but that’s exactly what young Lenny Daniels did.
Oh dear. A split lip later and Bungle’s scrolling
through poor Lenny’s text messages with a smug grin
on his boat race: “Ere, Porno, check this aaat.
Sum picture of a geezer lookin’ propa brown bread.

Now standing over Bungle’s shoulder is ‘one tooth Bob’,
landlord of the Black Dog, and he recognises the stiff:
That’s ‘Mothball Micky’. Kids found him OD’d
and blue in the face dan the allotments, yesterdee.
The Grim Reaper strikes again
,” says Bob,
and carries on collecting empties.
Wots he mean, Grim Reaper? I ain’t never erd of ‘im,” says Porno:
Us ‘ad better find this goon and learn ‘im sum respect.”
Yeah,” says Bungle: “Who does he fink he is whacking people on our manor?
Yeah,” says Tealeaf, who always agrees with everything:
Let’s teach this Grim Reaper a lesson he won’t forget.”
And so our three unlovable rogues wage turf war
against the Grim Reaper, embarking on one almighty,
intoxicated binge, including several trips
to a well-known fast food outlet, branded by a scary looking clown
whose allegory will soon become pertinent to their misadventure.
Bungle, having taken the advice of Porno,
sells the stolen Blackberry to ‘Harry the handset’
for half a dozen ponies shy of a monkey,
and this is spent in earnest at Oggles pole dancing club.
Tealeaf gambles their last twenty on a crooked dog race;
enough for a tray of Jagerbombs and a bag of blue boys,
and on returning to the Black Dog for last orders,
our merry band of scoundrels, mashed off their mangled swedes,
are finally feeling feisty enough to take on
the murderously mysterious Grim Reaper…

The gang decide to get tooled up;
Bungle finds a loose brick, Porno smashes
a bottle and Tealeaf slips a cue ball down a sock.
Armed to their rotten teeth, they roam the estate
like a cackle of hyenas; shouting and hollering,
laughing and pissing – textbook anti-social behaviour.
“He’s gawn ‘n’ scarpered. Must ‘av urd we woz after ‘im,” says Bungle.
“He’s ‘ere somewhere. We’ll flush ‘im aaat like a sewer rat,” says Porno.
“Yeah,” says Tealeaf, ready to pick a fight with his own shadow.
Despite the bravado, it’s clear our braggarts’ attention
is in deficit; the odds on them hotwiring a motor instead
and donutting it around Asda carpark,
are shortening by the second. But that wouldn’t be
much of an ending. I vote for something far more creepy…

The lift in the tower block had been out-of-service for months;
rumour had it condemned along with the flats.
Despite the cables being removed and the motor defunct,
the arrow flashed green, and very slowly, the dented steel doors
begin to slide open, leaking an eerie, pulsing fog.
Dem mugs from the council ‘av fixed the elevator.
Let’s smash it up again,” says Bungle.
‘Old up,” says Tealeaf: “I fink there’s someone inside.
Don’t be a dimlow,” says Porno: “It’s just gawn ‘aywire that’s all.”
But Tealeaf is right. Standing behind the opening doors,
in a bed of clearing wisp, is a geriatric figure;
withered hand on stick, head bowed under cloak.
Wot the ‘ell is that?” says Bungle.
It’s the Grim Reaper!” says Tealeaf.
Don’t talk daft,” says Porno: “It’s just sum old granddad.”
The decrepit figure shuffles out from the lift on buckled legs,
bones click as he straightens his turtled neck revealing
his sunken face: “Is that you mother?” he says on toothless gums.
Urrrrrrrrr! Look at the state of ‘im,” says Bungle.
Gorrrrrrr! Doesn’t ‘arf stink,” says Porno.
Let’s nick his wallet,” says Tealeaf.
The old man continues to shuffle forward,
each slow step looking like his last.
Been stuck in that lift for three, long years,” he says:
Begged the Grim Reaper to take my life, but he never answered.
How much longer must my tired bones ache?

His Adam’s apple bobs like a cork behind the wrinkly skin of his neck.
How do you know the Grim Reaper?” says Porno:
You ain’t going nowhere ‘til you tell us where he is.
The old man limps forward, taking an age
to raise his hand and point a bony finger upwards:
He’s been waiting for you. You’ll find him on the top floor.
He continues on his way, tapping his stick and muttering:
Mother. Is that you mother?” and soon he’s lost to the night.
Wot if he’s lyin’ to us?” says Bungle.
Then we’ll catch up with ‘im later,” says Porno.
Not trusting the lift, our angry trio climb the stinky stairwell,
stopping only to powder their hungry noses.

The top floor of the block was beyond scuzzy;
front doors smashed in, dead flies frazzled
in heaps on window sills, carpets alive
with wriggling maggots below mouldy, black ceilings.
All, that is, apart from one. One flat, last in the row,
had its door intact and a light on in the kitchen.
Porno places his finger to his lips: “Sssshhhh.
Bungle and Tealeaf follow him down the walkway,
tiptoeing like cat burglars. They arrive at the door.
Porno gives Bungle the nod. Crassshhh!
A size fourteen forces the lock
and our mob of three burst into a pokey hallway.
Where are ya?” says Porno, broken bottle in hand.
We’re ‘ere for yer!” says Bungle, brick aloft.
No good hidin’,” says Tealeaf, swinging his sock.
The gang scatter through the flat but it’s soon
apparent that there’s no one home.
Wot’s that?” says Bungle.
Wot’s wot?” says Tealeaf.
That!” says Bungle, pointing towards the coffee table.
It’s one of dem Bonzo trees,” says Tealeaf.
No, not the plant you mug. That thing wot looks like a bag!
Porno wades in, grabbing the black holdall from the floor
and landing it on the table.
Wait!” says Bungle: “Wot if it’s a bomb?
Porno sighs and shakes his head.
He slowly unzips the bulging duffel…

Cash! Bundles and bundles of cash;
wads and wads of fifties,
there on the table, the mother lode.
Limited imaginations run wild:
Porno’s driving around the estate
in a pimped up five series with tinted windows;
Bungle’s sipping champagne
and eating a bottomless bargain bucket;
Tealeaf is in the bookies smoking a fat cigar
and hogging the fruit machine.
After exhausting excited expletives
and an outbreak of body popping,
our three chancers guesstimate the value
of the Grim Reaper’s unlaundered stash
to the tune of a very big number with plenty of noughts.
All this money countin’ ‘as made me ‘ungry,” says Porno.
Me too,” says Bungle, having already emptied the fridge.
Porno looks over at Tealeaf: “‘Ere, Tealeaf.
Go un get us somein’ to eat will yer. And grab some tins while yer at it.

Tealeaf is instantly suspicious:
Why do I ‘av to go? Why not Bungle?
Porno pulls rank: “Because you’re the youngest ain’t yer.
Me ‘an Bungle will stay an’ guard the stash.

Tealeaf half-heartedly agrees.
Porno waits by the kitchen window
until he sees Tealeaf dragging his heels under the streetlight below.
Wots yer maffs like Bungle?” says Porno.
Dunno,” says Bungle, already puzzled by the question.
Wots better than a big bag a notes divided by three?” says Porno.
Dunno,” says Bungle, counting up to three on his thumb and fingers.
A big bag a notes divided by two,” says Porno,
picking up Bungle’s brick and smiling.

Where’s Bungle?” says Tealeaf,
throwing Porno his extra double cheese burger.
‘Ere!” says Bungle, stepping out from behind the door.
Tealeaf doesn’t have time to turn his head.
Crack! – the sound of brick on skull.
Slap! – the sound of Tealeaf’s face on vinyl floor.
And the dastardly deed is done.
Porno and Bungle wrap Tealeaf’s dead body in bin liners
and stuff him in the airing cupboard.
Can I eat my chicken deluxe now?” says Bungle.
We’ll scoff these, neck those cans,
then grab the money and do one
,” says Porno.
But wait. All is not what it seems, isn’t that right, Tealeaf…
Who’s there?” says Tealeaf.
It’s the narrator,” says the narrator: “You’re speaking to us
from the other side
It’s blummin’ dark in ‘ere,” says Tealeaf.
Hardly surprising seeing as you’re wrapped up in bin liners,” says the narrator.
Am I really dead?” says Tealeaf.
Afraid so,” says the narrator.
I knew them sneaky bastards woz up to somefing,” says Tealeaf:
Are they eatin’ them burgers yet?
Yes. They’re in the kitchen where I left them,” says the narrator.
Ha! Good,” says Tealeaf.
Why’s that good?” says the narrator.
You know,” says Tealeaf.
Do I?” says the narrator.
Course ya do ya mug. It’s your story ain’t it?” says Tealeaf.
Actually, no, it’s not. I’m retelling a tale by Geoffrey Chaucer,” says the narrator.
Geoffrey who?” says Tealeaf.
Chaucer. You must have heard of ‘The Canterbury Tales’,
‘when in April the sweet showers fall’ and all that?
” says the narrator.
Wot you on about?” says Tealeaf: “Listen. I’ve gotta bounce.
Some geezer with a big
, white beard is staring at me and he looks proper vexed.
Why don’t you tell ‘em what I gone and slipped in those burgers
,” says Tealeaf #RIP
Oh thaat! Of course. Silly old me for forgetting your twist,” says the narrator.
Can you ‘ere a funny noise coming from the airing cupboard?” says Bungle.
Shu’ up and eat your burger you mug,” says Porno.

Now, what Porno and Bungle don’t know,
is that the burgers they’ve been scoffing are laced with more
than just ketchup, lettuce, gherkin and growth hormones.
Before his bonce was bashed in by Bungle’s brick,
Tealeaf had masterminded a devilish plot of his own.
He remembered the super, dodgy batch of pills the gang
had been pushing last month – fresh out the lab.
They’d picked up the street name ‘dodos’.
Once dropped, the poppers believed they could take flight
and felt avian enough to jump out of tall buildings. Ouch!
After a few near death experiences, Porno, Bungle
and Tealeaf decided that their punters were more useful
alive than splattered all over the pavement, and the venture
was shelved….that is, until Tealeaf’s stroke of evil genius:
because what’s better than a big bag of cash divided by three?
A big bag of cash divided by one. Tealeaf ground
down the pills into dodo dust, powdered up Porno and Bungle’s burgers
and climbed back up the stinky stairwell, all the way up, back
to the top floor of that very tall tower block –
I think you can see where this might be going…
Don’t them stars look pretty,” says Bungle, wide-eyed at the window.
Hurry up and grab the money,” says Porno.
I want to touch one,” says Bungle, opening the front door.
Where the ‘ell are you off?” says Porno, but Bungle isn’t listening;
he’s perched on the wall outside, flapping his flightless arms.
Stop dicking about will yer,” says Porno.
I can flyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy-” are the last words ever spoken by Bungle
whose aeronautics are rudely interrupted by the spiked railings below;
his body impaled like a giant, fatty, human kebab. #RIP

Porno stares down at Bungle’s punctured torso
and the puddle of intestinal fluid on the pavement.
He tightens his grip on the big bag of money;
clumsily refilled and too stuffed for zipping.
The scent of crisp, night air makes his head turn funny
and he begins to feel as light as a goose feather, free
as a bird. “Looks like it’s just me then,” he says:
Bout time I ‘ad an holiday. Fink I’ll go somewhere flash.
Vegas. I’ll takes me a trip to Vegas.
Porno climbs up on the wall, hypnotised by the bright lights of Asda:
What’s that Vegas, you want me to fly to yer?
I love you too, Vegas. Me and you is made for each other.

And that was the end of Porno: face down in the crumpled
roof of a Vauxhall Corsa, a few thousand miles shy of his destination. #RIP
Fifty pound notes gently tumble like a scene from a ticker tape parade,
each wearing a queen’s forged smile and a crooked tiara:
Tap, tap, sounds the old man’s stick, a sly rise
on his grim, cracked lips, a deathly glint in his reaper’s eye.

The End

The Pardoner’s Tale Retold

I present to you Gael Henry Smifferton, a modern, socially networked, cyber-bred, nearly-incarnation based on Chaucer’s pardoner, arguably the sneakiest, shadiest and most opportunistic pilgrim to saddle his way to Canterbury. This is his (my) adaption of the original tale, considered by many to be one of the best short stories ever written (not mine, his, as in Geoffrey’s). Everybody clear? If you enjoy a short story, although technically speaking it’s a narrative poem, like some gore and a good spook, be my guest and follow the Pilgrim’s Prize link below…

The Pardoner’s Tale Retold