Excerpt from Stanley Stickle For One Night Only

Miss Shrieker was tall and thin with a long scraggy neck, a beak for a nose, and piercing grey-blue eyes that stared at Stanley through a pair of round, steel-framed spectacles. Her white hair was tied back in a bun.

‘You must be Stanleeeeey,’ she trilled in a high pitched voice. ‘Do come iiiiiiiiin.’

Stanley stuck his fingers in his ears, wiggled them about to stop them ringing and stepped inside. He was ushered into the front room which contained nothing except a piano, a small round table that held a vase full of dead flowers and a metal, sheet music stand on which sat a page full of dots and wiggles.

‘Let’s get our voices loosened up,’ said Emmeline. She began to screech in a high-pitched wail. ‘La la la la laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.’

Stanley watched, fascinated, as the music teacher’s throat wobbled as she warbled. ‘Come on Stanley,’ she wailed. ‘La la la la laaaaaaaaaaaaa.’

Stanley joined in. ‘La la la la laaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.’

‘Louder, Stanley,’ encouraged Miss Shrieker.

‘LA LA LA LA LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA,’ yelled Stanley.

‘Higher Stanley, hit that top note.’

‘LA LA LA LA LAAAAAAAAAAARRRRGH,’ shouted Stanley.

Miss Shrieker held up her hand for silence. ‘That was absolutely dreadful, Stanley. No wonder they sent you for lessons.’

Stanley took several huge gasps of air as he tried to get his breath back. ‘I… told them… I couldn’t… sing…’ he panted.

‘Nonsense, any fool can sing. It’s the quality that counts, Stanley, the quality. We’ll soon whip your larynx into shape.’

Stanley already liked the shape of his larynx, whatever shape it was. He didn’t want it whipped into a different one.

Miss Shrieker pulled out the piano stool and sat down. She turned around to face Stanley and opened her arms wide.

Do Re Me Do Re Me Fa So La Ti Do.’

Stanley looked blank. Why is she singing in a foreign language?

‘It’s the tonic sol-fa,’ said the music teacher.

Stanley didn’t care how far away the tonic was. He continued to look blank.

Miss Shrieker turned back to the piano and hit some single notes.

Do, re, me.’ When she got to, “me,” she hit the piano key repeatedly. ‘Me, me me me me me me meeeeeeeeeee.’ She pointed at Stanley. ‘Your turn.’

Stanley cleared his throat waited for Miss Shrieker to hit the note. ‘You, you you you you you you, youuuuuu, he sang.

‘No, Stanley, try again. ‘Me, me me me me me me meeeeeeeeeee.’

‘You, you you you you you you, youuuuuu.’

Miss Shrieker’s fingers crashed onto the keyboard.

‘Not you, Stanley. Me,’ she gave him an exasperated look.

‘Not me, what?’ Stanley was even more confused.

‘Sing, me, me, me. Not you, you you. Do you see?’

Stanley didn’t’ see at all. The music teacher locked her fingers together and pushed outwards. There were several loud cracks. ‘We’ll come back to this another time,’ she said.

Stanley nodded. Miss Shrieker turned back to the piano and crashed out a deep chord.

‘Rrrrright, let’s get to it, Stan-leeeeeeey. Miss Shrieker’s voice went from a low tone on the “Stan” part of his name to a pitch so high it made the vase on the table shake. Stanley had never heard anything quite like it. Gran’s wail could bring down a flock of birds in seconds, but this lady was in a different class.

‘Middle C, Stanley. Middle C,’ she pointed to the music on the stand next to Stanley. ‘And… SIIIIIING!’

Stanley looked at the words underneath the squiggly bits. ‘Au clair de la lune? Hang on a minute, I can’t even speak French so I won’t be able to sing it.’ He squinted as he stared at the song sheet.

Miss Shrieker whipped the page off the stand and replaced it with a different song. ‘Try this,’ she said.

Stanley nodded. Even he knew, “Sing a song of sixpence.”

Emmeline hit the keys with gusto. ‘And…. SIIIIING!’

‘Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye…’

‘Very good, Stanley, trilled the music teacher, now… higher.’

‘…four and twenty blackbirds backed in a pie…’ Stanley held the last note.

‘Very good, Stanley, now… HIGHER!’

Emmeline’s voice rose to an unbelievable pitch. Stanley tried to match it but his throat seized up and the only thing that came out was, Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee.’

‘Excellent, Stanley.’ Miss Shrieker continued to hammer away at the piano keys. She hit an even higher note. ‘NOW STANLEY. Let it out, AAAAAAAAAAH.’

‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH,’ screamed Stanley.

‘Again, Stanley, AHHHHHHHHHHHH.’

‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH, AAAAAAAAARGH!’ yelled Stanley, thinking he could hear a doorbell ring somewhere.

‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH AAAAAAAAAAAAAH AAAAAAAAAAAAAH,’ wailed the teacher.

Stanley cocked his head to one side and listened through the shriek. He was sure he could hear someone banging on a door.

‘SING STANLEY, trilled Emmeline. ‘Open up and let it out. AH AH AH AH AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.’

‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH…’ the sound stuck in his throat as the door burst open and in rushed two policemen carrying truncheons.

Emmeline stopped playing and looked at the policemen, her high C stuck somewhere between her epiglottis and her teeth.

The policemen looked at each other, then at Stanley.

‘Where’s the cat?’ asked one of them.

‘Haven’t seen a cat,’ said Stanley, looking around.

‘We had reports that someone was strangling a cat,’ said the other policeman.

‘There are no cats here, officers,’ said Miss Shrieker, firmly. ‘Stanley and I were just enjoying a singing lesson.’

‘What we heard wasn’t very enjoyable, I can tell you,’ said the first policeman. ‘We thought someone was being tortured. Are you sure a cat hasn’t got its tail stuck in something?’

Stanley shook his head.

‘Right, well, we had better go then,’ said the second policeman. We’ll, erm, send someone round to put the front door back on its hinges.’

An hour later, Stanley trudged his way home with the sound of Emmeline’s voice still ringing in his ears. Thankfully she had decided that Stanley wasn’t cut out to be a singer.

‘You haven’t really got it,’ she said with a sad shake of her head.

Stanley was delighted that he hadn’t got it, he never wanted it either, whatever it was.

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