My murdery horse

So, it’s the Eurovision final tonight. A friend wondered a few weeks back what it would be like to have a mashup of myths and music, where Eurovision was invaded by murderous horsies. I ran with this, because I’m me. I apologise in advance. Especially to Scott Mills and the Brotherhood of Man.

No-one will ever forget the last time the UK received douze points.

It was that time of year again. Across the country, flags were unfurled, dust was blown off fondue sets, and standards were lowered. Another year, another predictable round of ‘this is the year the UK will win Eurovision’ in the media. An increasingly careworn Graham Norton took to the airwaves and reassured the nation that honestly, the year we sent Engelbert Humperdinck was just a bad dream. The compilation shows were wheeled out, the catalogue of failures doomed to be repeated ad infinitum.

Still, at least that year’s entry was easy on the eye. An all-girl group from Scotland with a certifiably unpronounceable name. If anything, they’d capture the elusive dad-secretly-watching-for-fruity-birds vote. Nothing could go wrong with this plan.

As the trio breezed into BBC Studio One to film the big reveal show, they brought a trail of sour-faced assistants with them. Nobody was quite sure where they had sprung from. The sewer was a distinct possibility. Noses wrinkled at their dirty, matted yellow hair, and their tunics and pointed hats straight from a historical costume drama. They trotted along behind the women, muttering incoherent garbage and wringing their gnarled hands, causing several production assistants to point and whisper to each other.

‘Jesus Christ, ladies, what sort of time do you call this?’

Nathan hadn’t wanted the gig. He could have had a nice safe show to direct, like Eastenders. Everyone had told him that anything Eurovision was a career killer. It was a slippery slope from there to being gunged on Saturday morning kids’ TV, while an interchangeable member of One Direction chuckled and exchanged ‘banter’ with a crowd of ungrateful brats.

‘What’s the problem?’ asked the tallest woman, coming to a halt and causing one of her assistants to crash into her pale, slender legs.

‘The problem, Mhairi, is we were supposed to start filming half an hour ago. I’ve got cameramen dead on their feet here!’

The women smiled at each other. The shortest adjusted her sleek black hair and stepped forward, her boots clattering on the polished floor.

‘You have to understand that it takes us a wee bit longer to put our makeup on—’

‘Oh for f… it’s only Eurovision. It’s not the sodding Paris Fashion Show,’ grumbled Nathan, crumpling yet more wrinkles into his face.

‘Look, do you want to win this thing or do you want another year of nul points?’ asked the third woman, her dark eyes flashing under her perfectly-ironed curls.

Nathan opened his mouth to protest, but the group were already being herded into place. Under the studio lights, their skin glowed, pale, almost translucent. Six glimmering coals stared at the cameraman, who shifted from one foot to another and turned beet-red.

‘Uh, a quick word, Nathan?’

‘What is it now?’

The lighting operator mopped his brow and took a deep breath. ‘The boys were wondering if you could bring back the makeup person and get her to apply a bit more perfume.’

‘Is that really necessary?’

‘Well, the thing is… it’s just the crew are complaining about… the smell,’ said the man, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.

‘In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re surrounded by lights, so we’re all sweating—’

‘It’s not sweat, it’s seaweed.’

Nathan tilted his head, his auburn bangs falling about his face, and gave the lighting guy his best really? look. Surveying the rest of the crew, though, he could now see that many of them had screwed up their faces, eyes watering, several looking on the verge of either passing out or staging open revolt. He sighed and nodded.

‘So ladies,’ he said, pasting a false smile on and turning back to the source of his dead-end future, ‘Scott will do an introduction, ask a few questions and then you’ll perform the song. Anything unclear?’

‘Will this take long?’ asked the short woman. ‘I could really do with some more lunch.’

‘Muriel, if you can just sit here for another half hour, I promise you I’ll have catering bring in the biggest meal you’ve ever seen.’

Muriel grinned, her teeth flashing in the lights, as the makeup woman arrived and started liberally spraying fragrance on the trio.

‘Thanks, Regan. I honestly don’t know why we need all that, but if it wins us the contest, we’ll owe you one.’

Regan also didn’t want to be here. She’d asked for a glamorous show like Strictly Come Dancing but this was the only vacancy going. Now she was stuck at the beck and call of three stuck-up stick insects with all the social airs and graces of a lobotomised monkey.

‘Don’t mention it.’

‘You know, you should come on one of the crew nights out when we get to Vienna,’ said the curly-haired woman, pulling down her black sequinned dress. ‘Might do you some good to let your hair down.’

‘That’s very kind, Morag, but I’m not a nights out kind of person,’ Regan replied, gripping the perfume bottle a little too tightly. She cast a sideways glance at Nathan, hoping he would take the hint.

‘Okay, places everyone, and where’s Scott?’ Nathan smacked his face gently with his clipboard, trying to wake himself from the cheesy nightmare he was trapped in.

‘He was in his dressing room last time I checked,’ said Regan. ‘Want me to go check on him?’

‘Actually, he won’t be coming,’ said Mhairi, her face a studied picture of disappointment.

‘Won’t be… why would Scott Mills not be coming?’ cried Nathan, feeling his promotion chances slipping down the toilet with every mishap. ‘If he can get up for Radio 1 every morning, he can make it to this studio.’

‘He’s not feeling very well,’ said Muriel, clasping her hands on her lap, her eyes wide. ‘Think it was something he ate.’

The crew began murmuring uneasily to each other. Regan frowned. She’d had exactly the same spaghetti carbonara as the host, and she felt fine.

‘Why don’t you let Regan present it?’ trilled Morag. ‘It’s not like this is going out on the major channels. I’m sure at least reading the autocue is within her capabilities.’

Regan caught herself mid-snarl, twisting her face into the sort of smile women give each other when they’re circling, about to go in for the kill, but too polite to scatter the canapés. She smoothed down her long red hair and fixed her smile in place.

‘Yeah. Sure thing.’

~

Crowds heaved and churned in the Wiener Stadthalle, the atmosphere fizzy and bright with excitement. Above the fans, great arcs of rainbow lights swooped and whirled, while behind them the acts walked towards the waiting media across a metal gantry, serving as the sort of crude metaphor for ‘Building Bridges’ young men in suits come up with several lagers into a brainstorming meeting.

Eurovision stage

The UK broadcasting crew had been availing themselves of the green room facilities for the past hour. In the end, they’d found Scott Mills, or at least what was left of him, scattered around his dressing room in bloody chunks. The police were called, of course, but after hours of combing the scene and scratching their heads they left none the wiser.

In a cramped glass studio above the gathering fans, a national treasure clamped on his headphones and gulped down the third whisky of the evening. Somewhere in the depths of his brain, he could hear Terry Wogan’s dulcet tones cautioning him. Pace yourself, he’d said. It’s over three hours of live TV. Save the whisky until the juries announce the results. Graham scratched his rapidly greying beard, replaying the story he’d been given by a nervous assistant. It might have been stretched and embellished on its way to Vienna, but still, he had to admit the whole killing thing was baffling as well as sickening. Whoever had done this was seriously unhinged. Maybe it was a bitter contestant, he thought. If Turkey were that pissed off about losing all the time, he dreaded to think what Russia would do if their act was booed again. Storm his booth and cut his balls off, perhaps.

He’d probably be fine though. Conjuring up the largest grin he could, he resumed the show in his inimitable understated way.

‘Goood eeevening Euuurope!’ he boomed, nearly taking out the sound engineer in a wave of camp enthusiasm. ‘And welcome back to the sixtieth Eurovision Song Contest, here in the wonderful city of Vienna!’

The camera panned round the hall, taking in the front row who were waving their country’s flags and doing their best ‘hello Mum’ at the lens. From the side of the stage, Regan watched the festivities with something approximating interest. The video screen was being lowered into place by a pair of dark-haired stagehands almost as beautiful as the trio of madams waiting backstage, while the odd scruffy assistants stood in a row, staring intensely at the restless fans.

‘We’ve been incredibly lucky with the running order draw this year,’ continued Graham, ‘as the UK get to perform last with our glamorous ladies… erm…’

He riffled his notes, looking for the pronunciation guide and nearly knocking over his drink.

‘…Foo-ah. They are, of course, Mhairi, Muriel and Morag, they hail from the very north of Scotland, and they’re performing their song, “Ride Of Your Life”.’

While Graham spoke, the ‘postcard’ VT ran, Eurovision’s equivalent of the shameless tourist agency advert. The camera swooped over gleaming snow-capped mountains in the Highlands, skimming across the glassy surface of a loch, and finally cutting to a village pub, complete with roaring fire. Fuath were laughing and joking among themselves, their slender fingers clutching glasses of whisky. In the last scene, they danced on the shore, the sand sparkling under their dainty feet, the giant hearts they had drawn visible from the air. Regan rolled her eyes and made pretend vomiting gestures as the video ended.

‘No, you can’t have them up on stage. It’s a six person onstage limit. Those are the rules,’ said Nathan, his patience fast evaporating. ‘Tell them to wait in the green room.’

‘We really need them with us—’

‘Oh, just shut up, will you?’ Nathan jabbed a finger at Mhairi. ‘I’ve had it up to here with you dizzy tarts. We’ve put up with you for months. You’re not the only divas here, and you still behave like you own the place.’

At this the women exchanged knowing looks. Muriel checked the backstage area. All clear. She closed in on Nathan.

‘Well, I’m afraid we have some bad news for you. We do own the place. Or at least we will very soon.’

Nathan glared at Muriel and made to leave, but found his path blocked by the other women. Long dark shapes lashed back and forth in their wake. He blinked and rubbed his eyes; he could have sworn they looked a lot like…

‘Tails?’

‘See, Mhairi? They’re not as dumb as they look.’ Morag laughed, baring her fangs, as she moved in for the kill.

~

After a delay that most put down to good old live TV gremlins, Fuath took to the stage at last. The crowd erupted into wild cheering, several UK fans flapping their flags so hard they were in danger of taking off. Graham peered at his monitor and frowned.

‘Well, it looks like they didn’t have much time to finish putting on their makeup tonight. Obviously can’t wait to get to the green room like the rest of us.’

The red smears certainly looked like lipstick from a distance. It didn’t matter to the wide-eyed fans as the ladies began to sing. They’d chosen a ballad tinged with Celtic flutes and drums, obviously a nod to the viewers at home carefully lining up their bottles of Bucks Fizz for the drinking game. ‘National instruments’ had to be at least one shot, up there with ‘key change’ and ‘gratuitous pyrotechnics’. The crowd lapped it up, swaying along with the lilting, pure voices, lost in the group’s sparkling smiles.

 

Regan stared at the long dark hairs trailing from the back of the women’s dresses. She hadn’t  spotted those hanging in the dressing room. Then she saw Morag shaking her leg, throwing off one of her towering boots. The strobe lights caught the glossy surface of her hoof, and a woman in the front row gasped.

‘If you have any spare security, I’d get them right now,’ said Regan to a nearby burly guard. He craned his neck up at the stage, nodded mutely, and ran off.

‘Well, I have to say this is one of the more unusual gimmicks I’ve seen at Eurovision,’ said Graham as the instrumental bridge came in and the women’s features began to change.

They crouched down, fingers lightly touching the stage, their backs lengthening into bristly muscles. By the time Graham had finished his fourth whisky, the glass left his hands and shattered on the commentating box floor. Where Fuath were standing a moment ago, three tall black horses now snorted and stamped, their breath steaming into the white spotlight beams. The horse that used to be Morag looked at one of the creatures down below, her red eyes flashing, and nodded. Whistling to his companions, it began tearing down the metal barriers separating the crowd from the stage.

Black Horse

Before the horrified crowd could react, the horses leapt towards them in a graceful arc, hooves raised, foam dripping from their hungry mouths. A man in the front row held up his Serbian flag uselessly, only for Mhairi to tear through it with one swipe, burying her mouth in his neck. The cheering and clapping had become a cacophony of screaming and crashing, fans making a desperate sprint towards the exits. The stumpy creatures had planned ahead, though; they stood by the locked fire doors, baring their sharp teeth and growling. One of them took a swipe at a blonde woman wrapped in a French flag, and she fell to the floor clutching a jagged wound on her stomach. The crowd shied away at the sight of the single, jet-black talon curving from the creature’s wrist, scarlet drops falling from the tip.

Graham rose slowly from his chair, taking in the increasingly gruesome scenes before him. Behind him, the crew were frantically scrabbling around, cutting the live feed to the UK and hunting for the backup tape of Eurovision’s greatest hits, hoping that millions hadn’t just seen the unfolding bloodbath. He could stay up in the relative safety of his glass box, hope that someone had just spiked his drinks and wait for security to sort it all out. On the other hand, the reputation of an entire nation was about to be ruined by a band of hungry beasts. His entire career was on the line.

‘I’m going down there. Man the microphones and keep everyone calm.’

The crew stared at Graham in stunned disbelief. He responded by throwing his arms in the air and setting his sarcasm gun to stun.

‘I’ll just stay here and watch the world end, shall I?’

‘You can’t be serious! If you end up like Scott and it’s caught on camera—’

One glare was enough to silence his detractor. Graham stomped out of the booth, weaving a crooked path through the desperate crowds. The horses had torn through a large chunk of their prey by now, the floor of the hall slick with blood. A couple of security guards were trying to wrestle Morag to the ground but found that their arms were beginning to stick to her fur, the gluey barbs hooking into their skin. By now the emergency tape had kicked in, blasting out Waterloo by Abba, barely drowning out the beasts’ triumphant howls.

~Waterloo, couldn’t escape if I wanted to…~

 

Regan clambered out of her hiding place behind the stage curtains, wondering how to stop a pack of carnivorous ponies from Hell. Just then, Muriel staggered sideways into the lighting rig, a small groaning figure crawling around under her hooves. Standing at the side of the stage was Graham, chair still raised aloft.

That’s what you get for ruining our chances.’

A loud creaking above Regan’s head made her dive sideways. One of the spotlights tumbled from its rigging, clipping Muriel’s hind quarters as it landed with an almighty crash. She uttered a piercing shriek, her hooves scrabbling in vain to keep her body upright. As she toppled over, a clear sticky liquid oozed from the gash on her leg, pooling on the fractured LED display set into the stage. The music had changed, Abba fading out and Lulu belting out her classic hit.

~My heart goes boom bang-a-bang, boom bang-a-bang when you are near…~

 

‘The metal. It doesn’t like hot metal. That’s it!’ shouted Regan, grabbing a loose pole from a barrier and crawling towards the spotlight. Muriel was flailing around, snapping her jaws at the humans, whinnying in pain.

‘Pucas.’

Regan paused at Graham’s utterance. ‘What?’

‘Pucas. Kelpies. Water horses. They don’t teach you about them over here? Oh for goodness… give me that.’

Graham snatched the pole from her and plunged it into the kelpie’s forehead. It sizzled and fizzed, the clear liquid boiling and bubbling around the wound. Muriel twitched and howled, then lay still, her red eyes staring up at the pair in accusation.

‘Well that was a close—’

‘Move!’

Regan launched herself at Graham and he ducked just in time to avoid her fist. One of the small minions, its hat stained with blood, crumpled in a heap. Graham stared at the petite girl in front of him, briefly dumbstruck.

‘If we get out of this alive, I’m hiring you as my bodyguard.’

Lulu had faded out, replaced on the emergency tape by Brotherhood of Man. Just then, the sound of stilettos rang out on the green room gantry, a shrill scraping above the din of hooves and panicked yelling.

‘Graham! Don’t you dare move. I’m coming.’

The figure towered above the battle, wearing a long black dress slashed to the thigh, diamante earrings dangling from her ears, her dark hair immaculately sculpted in neat waves.

‘Conchita!’ cried Regan. ‘Get out while you still can!’

‘Are you kidding me, honey? And have these things steal my limelight?’

She broke into a run, holding her dress in one perfectly manicured hand, setting a new world land speed record for a drag queen in high heels. Passing one of the red-capped creatures, she stopped and lashed out, aiming her stiletto at its head. There was a sickening crunch and the redcap froze, Conchita’s heel still embedded in its tiny brain. She shook her leg until the creature slid loose, causing one of the surviving kelpies to prick her ears up, eyes glittering in fury. Conchita turned round, looking the beast up and down with disdain.

‘That colour really doesn’t suit you, Morag.’

With a roar, Morag dropped the fan she’d been chewing and began to charge. Conchita sprinted towards Graham and Regan, pointing at the side of the stage.

‘The pyrotechnics controls. Quick!’

Graham ran to a black box, its supervisor still slumped over the buttons, a ragged hole in his chest. Covering his mouth in horror, Graham shoved the corpse to one side and examined the controls. Simple enough: a power switch and a red button marked ‘Fire’. He flicked the switch and slammed his palm down on the button, hoping nothing had chewed through the cables. The whooshing and bright orange jet of flame erupting from the stage dispelled his fears.

Conchita snatched a microphone stand and held it in the flames, just as Morag reached the stage, snarling and rearing up, her hooves gleaming in the orange fire. A black shape streaked through the air, just as the red-hot metal in Conchita’s hands met its flesh. She watched the light die in Morag’s eyes, her mouth frothing with the strange clear blood still coating the floor. The kelpie keeled over sideways, curling up in its death throes. The corners of Conchita’s mouth curled up in a trace of a smile.

~Kisses for me, save all your kisses for me…~

 

‘Bye bye baby, bye bye.’

She climbed down to the others. Regan and Graham took in the sight of two thirds of the UK’s hopes lying dead on the stage, and Vienna’s Eurovision saviour inspecting her dress with disgust.

‘This stuff will never wash off,’ she huffed. ‘Well, can I get a high-five, guys?’ She raised a dainty hand, mostly free of kelpie blood.

‘Not till we get rid of her,’ said Regan, pointing at Mhairi.

The surviving member of Fuath stood in a pile of mangled bodies, scraping her hooves on the floor, her tail whipping back and forth furiously. Graham tensed, wondering if they could use the same trick on the largest kelpie. Sandie Shaw’s dulcet tones wafted from the speakers. The final battle had begun.

Mhairi galloped down the hall, her tail streaming behind her. Conchita waved the cooling metal weapon around in front of her.

‘We need more fire!’

Graham ran to the controls and jabbed the button. Nothing happened.

‘Have we got a plan B?’

‘Conchita, darling, the only other way is to get her bridle,’ said Graham, remembering the stories his parents would tell him. ‘But I’ve got more chance of becoming Pope than… Conchita?’

~There is never a doubt, just who’s pulling the strings…~

 

She was already halfway down the hall, feet away from Mhairi. The kelpie stopped, eyeing the puny human before her. Conchita folded her arms and frowned.

‘Well, dinner is served.’

She spread her arms wide in invitation. Mhairi bared her teeth, opening her jaws wide, while Regan crept up behind her. The kelpie lunged forward, her bridle’s silver bit dangling by her long neck, just as Regan tugged at the straps and the bridle came loose. Mhairi stopped, inches from Conchita; she stared at her prey in confusion, her breath warming the human’s face.

‘What’s happening?’ asked Regan.

‘I’ll tell you what’s happening,’ snapped Graham, grabbing the bridle from her. ‘Eurovision. The show must go on.’

~

‘United Kingdom… Royaume Uni… twelve points… douze points.’

The group of dazed survivors waved their tattered flags limply. The UK was shooting up the scoreboard for the first time in a decade. Then again, three countries had been hastily erased from the list due to finding the acts’ half-eaten remains in the green room. The stagehands had done a grand job of quickly mopping up the blood before the broadcast resumed, and Conchita was chatting to the juries as if nothing had happened.

‘That’s great, thank you Estonia,’ she chirped. ‘And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the final jury, so I can announce that the winner of the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest is… the United Kingdom.’

A shower of confetti and glitter rained down on the remaining member of Fuath, who had shifted back into her human form, her hair in disarray, and was standing in front of the other contestants, scowling. Her head was lowered in defeat, even as Conchita crossed the stage, beaming, and handed over the curved glass trophy.

‘Congratulations, Mhairi. Do you have an acceptance speech?’

Mhairi said nothing. The trophy was thrust into her hands and she forced a smile onto her face as the other contestants hugged and patted her and the credits rolled.

The_Kelpie_by_Thomas_Millie_Dow

Graham was back in the commentating booth, twirling the intricately tooled bridle in his fingers. There were a million useful things he could do with a tame kelpie. Hiring her out to whatever farmer had the toughest fields to plough, perhaps. He handed a glass of champagne to Regan, clinked his own with hers, and leaned forward into the microphone.

‘Well, I don’t know about you guys but this has been a Eurovision we won’t forget for a few years. As Conchita would say, it seems like we are unstoppable.’

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