Sunday, 20 July 2008
Red Devils Bowling Club
In a dry hot place, the devils set up a bowling club. At first they began by using human bones, but Old Harry put a stop to that. It was liable to get people talking and that would never do.
So the little bowling club carried on in its own little way for some time until not far from the club a retired couple moved into a house. Bill and Moira Sugden had once been high up stockbrokers in the City of London. But they had taken early retirement and left England. They had saved their money well and come to this far away place to live out the rest of their lives. Old Harry thought this was fine for he had his eye on them both.
Now, being the type of couple who like to keep busy, both Bill and Moira wanted to join the club and do a bit of bowling now and then. Seeing 'The Red Devils' on the sign, Bill didn't take it quite as literally as perhaps he ought to have. He thought the Red Devils were the flying aces and was happy to hang out with old military types who could talk about planes with him.
At first, the devils didn't know what to do. The club wasn't for human beings after all, but Old Harry was happy for the old couple to join the club. If they could win a hundred games against the devils, he agreed with the Big Man Upstairs that Bill and Moira could go with the Big Man. Otherwise they were his for eternity.
Of course, he didn't tell Bill and Moira that. He didn't want to put them off their game. Besides, he fully expected them to lose. It did not occur to him that possibly their competitive instincts might be roused by the game. After the first four games, Bill and Moira began to seriously study the game and to practice.
After the twentieth game played, they were six games up on the devils. Old Harry did not fret, after all, there was time. The couple found a new lease of life in the game. They had always been competitive, which was one reason they had done so well in their jobs. The devils did not practice, the game was a way of having fun, letting off steam before they went looking for the wicked to take away to Hell with them.
The six game lead of the Sugdens increased to fifteen and now Moira organised parties at the club too. The devilled lobster and pasta with 'inferno' chilli sauce went down particularly well. The devils' drink of choice was the Bloody Mary, but Moira preferred champagne. The devils found themselves a little concerned at becoming attached to 'Good old Bill' as he became known at the club. Old Harry grinned at this, thinking that the devils would have fun with these souls in Hell. Moira's cooking was notable, she made sure of that, but her bowling was soon the envy of the devils. And devils do envy particularly well.
It was at the annual general meeting called by Bill that Moira suggested opening up membership to the farmers in the area. The devils were not terribly in favour of this, they had enough of dealing with lost souls during their working hours, but Old Harry was cheerful about it and not wishing to upset their 'employer', the devils complied and voted for a wider membership.
The club grew and before long, Moira's recipe for Chicken Inferno with cream was much sought after. Though the devils preferred the dish without the cream and with the extra chillies. The Sugdens were soon winning a sixty game lead and it was at this point that Old Harry became nervous. He told his devils to cheat if necessary, but to make sure that Bill and Moira did not increase their lead. This was tricky. Bowls is not the sort of game that is easy to cheat at. It requires a considerable degree of chance and skill. Fortunately, the devils distractions were more than capable of making up for any degree of either chance or skill.
Balls gently rolled veered wildly off their target. One was given a little more impetus than it originally had and overshot. Bounced flew up and hitting the edge of the green came to rest in the flower bed. Some prize gerberas were squashed flat as a result. Game after game was lost to the devils. The Sugdens could not understand their sudden run of ill-luck at all. A championship game was arranged. The Sugdens dared not enter for their confidence had been effectively broken. So they did not expect to be put forward for it. However, they were informed by one of the members, Gabriel Nicely that they had been put forward.
"We've clearly not been practicing enough Moira," Bill said one evening.
Moira nodded morosely and agreed. It did not occur for a second to either of them that the other members had been cheating. They went down to the cellar and practiced for two hours. The following morning they practiced some more. By the time of the championship they had practiced seven hours a day for three weeks. They were effective bowling champions. In those three weeks a group of young charming people had joined the club and the devils put them with the Sugdens.
The Sugdens found their companions and team-mates a charming lot. They loved the dark eyes of their team members and if the young people did seem a little hunchbacked, well Bill and Moira did not mind such things. So long as their team could play well.
The game began at nine in the morning. By lunch-time, the devils were winning and Old Harry had a smile on his face. He had placed a bet with the Big Man Upstairs that if the Sugdens won the championship, they could have an extra twenty years of life (which would take them both to 110 years old) in which to win their hundred games. If they lost however, they would die the following morning of an explosion caused by a gas leak and be Old Harry's for all eternity.
Knowing that Old Harry would get his team of devils to cheat, the Big Man had sent half a host of his own angelic lot to help the Sugdens. His team would ensure fair play. The Sugdens practice ought to therefore earn them victory. The first time Bill bowled, his ball seemed to veer off course as usual, but suddenly hit the raised edge of the green, returned and gained him a fine start. By the end of the game, the Sugden's were on form again and the devils were wondering what had happened. Old Harry looked like thunder.
The Sugdens team-mates played extremely well. Their hunchbacks did not seem to hamper their play at all. They would fix their dark eyes on the jack and bowl gently at it. Nothing the devils could do would stop the team winning. By tea-time, Old Harry's face looked like a wet weekend in Scunthorpe and he was considering which pit of fire to hurl his team into for losing the match. The devils played nervously until one of the devils murmured in a stage whisper,
"For an ex-stockbroker and his merchant banker wife, the Sugdens do play well, don't they?"
The Sugdens team seemed to pause and frown. One of them went off to the loo and when he came back he wore a frown. He began to murmur to his fellows and they glanced at the Sugdens pointedly. The Sugdens were on form however and did not notice the whisperings of anyone. Moira sent her ball carefully down the middle of the green pushing aside the devils bowls in its wake and kissing the jack sweetly.
"One more loss to the old devils!" Bill remarked triumphantly.
At that, his team straightened, glanced at the old devils and smiled to each other. For an hour they played terribly, though the Sugdens made up for that. The devils rubbed their hands with joy and began to regain their confidence. But in the final hour, just as Old Harry cheered up and began to wonder which fiery circle of Hell to put the Sugdens in, his bet was lost.
The Sugdens gathered their team together and cheered them on. Suddenly the angelic team seemed to play - well, divinely. Their bowls crowded out those of their opponents and the team began to win. Old Harry was so furious that he lit the gas at the Sugdens house and it went up in a huge ball of fire. He was considering their car, when a stunned silence made him look up.
The devils had lost utterly. The Sugdens had won, not only the championship but so much more. The Big Man re-created their house and Gabriel Nicely said that they would celebrate at the Sugdens house. The Sugdens were thrilled. They congratulated the old devils on a fine game and great sportsmanship. This done, they went home.
It was said that during the late afternoon, where the Bowling Club had been there was a furious storm. Thunder, lightning and balls of fire as well as ice, sleet and hail were all concentrated on the Bowling Club. Gabriel Nicely and the rest of the team did not, I am afraid to say, come to celebrate and in any case, Moira's devilled kidneys with angels-on-horseback were burned in the oven. Still, there was the champagne.
The following morning they had forgotten about the club or anything to do with it, as had all the people who had joined it. It seemed to have vanished in any case. The few devils left did not mention bowling to Old Harry ever again. It was thought prudent not to.