The Write Stuff: Stuff - a modern fairytale

ONCE upon a time there was a poor farmer who found some stuff growing in his garden. He had no idea what it was or how it got there. It didn’t even look like a plant. It seemed sort of solid but also kind of liquid when he touched it and it didn’t really smell of anything.

Illustration: Grant Paterson
Illustration: Grant Paterson
Illustration: Grant Paterson

He took it inside and showed it to his family. ‘What you think this is?’ he asked.

‘Give it to me, me, me,’ said his youngest daughter, ‘it’s a toy.’ But it was neither cuddly, nor soft, nor like a pet or a doll so she threw it down.

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‘Oh, that old stuff,’ laughed Grandpa, ‘it’s for my arthritis.’ And he smoothed some on his joints. But it did not ease his pain.

‘It’s obviously for me,’ the vain teenage daughter said, and dabbed a little of it on her wrists and behind her ear. But it did not smell of anything or make her feel more glamorous.

‘You’re all silly, I know what it is. It’s for cooking!’ said the jolly wife, and threw it into the stew. But when they tried to eat it, it was a bit like chewing modelling clay but without even the flavour, and they all felt rather sick.

The young son – whose name was Tom and who had been a bit sheepish till now – said, ‘Sorry, but I think it might be the stuff I made a wish for last night.’

‘Bahhhhh! Enough of this nonsense!’ shouted the father, who grabbed all of the stuff and threw it on the fire.

They all sat and watched the flames, waiting for the stuff to burn or something. But the stuff did not burn or anything.

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The next day the farmer woke early and found that even more of the stuff had appeared in the garden. ‘What on earth is it?’ he asked himself.

‘Get rid of it,’ his wife said. ‘I don’t like having it round here, the neighbours will start gossiping.’

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So the farmer picked up all the stuff he could and put it into two old boxes and loaded them on his rickety old truck and set out to the local dump. But it was a long drive, and the truck chugged and shook all the way and he had to stop for a rest. On a street corner, he saw a young man approaching.

‘What have you got there, farmer?’ asked the young man – because they lived in a land where there were few things to go round and people often went hungry, and it was rare to see farmers with boxes of anything.

‘Oh, just some stuff,’ the farmer replied. ‘It’s completely useless.’

The young man looked shocked. ‘Nothing is useless,’ he replied, repeating what he had been taught since he was little, and growing ever more curious. ‘Go on, what is it really? Can I see inside the box?’ asked the young man.

Then the farmer realised that maybe he could trick the young man into taking the stuff from him and maybe make a profit.

‘Well,’ the farmer said. ‘This is pretty secret stuff, not for just anyone.’

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The young man looked over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching. He looked very interested. ‘Go, on, give me a peek.’ He whispered and he went through his pockets. ‘I’ll give you two coins,’ he said.

The farmer shook his head.

‘OK, three coins and this ring from my finger,’ said the young man, ‘and I’ll take the lot!’

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It was a deal. The farmer helped the young man lift down the two boxes of stuff and drove off, thinking that would be the end of it.

Now, the young man was a crafty chap. As people passed him by on the street corner, he whispered, ‘Pssst, I’ve got some stuff.’ The bosses of the country hadn’t let anyone have anything new in many years and it was illegal to sell things without permission, so it had to be kept very hush-hush. Very soon, a small crowd had formed and were asking many questions in excited whispers. What’s it for? Will it help my hearing? Will it look good with my red hair? Will it mend my car? Does it stick things together? The young man kept them guessing and soon they were all haggling. The people in this country did not have much money, so they swapped things.

‘But what’s it really for?’ asked the baker.

‘It’s worth a leg of lamb,’ the crafty young man replied.

So for a little bit of stuff the baker gave him four loaves, and the cobbler gave him a pair of boots and so on it went. As there was less and less of the stuff the price went up, so that by the time he was down to the last bit of stuff, it was worth three silver rings, four pairs of boots, a churn full of butter and ten rounds of cheese – far too many things to even carry home.

Suddenly, there was a voice from above and all of the townfolk ran away. One of the men from the committee stared down.

‘Selling something without a permit are we?’ The committee man said, ‘what is it, lad?’

The young man was struck dumb. ‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘it’s just … some stuff.’

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‘Hmmm. You’d better come with me,’ said the committee man. ‘Leave the cheese, all these other things here and bring that so-called stuff with you.’

So the young man was led
 through the grimy streets to the grey town hall, down the long dusty corridors to the big dark office. There he was made to stand before the five members of the committee: old men in grey suits who were the only ones allowed to decide the price and use of things and what punishments should be given to those people who broke their rules. The young man trembled as he handed over the stuff. The committee men took their time touching, squeezing, sniffing and shaking it.

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‘It’s for cleaning floors,’ the old man with the stooped back finally pronounced.

‘Nonsense, it’s for making 
bombs,’ declared the angry-looking man.

‘No, no, it’s obviously a kind of hair restorer,’ said the baldy man.

As they could not agree, they became more and more cross.

‘You shall pay us three sheep, a cow, a bicycle and ten rounds of cheese as punishment,’ they told the young man. He nodded, thanked them, apologised and went to pick up the remaining stuff, but they snatched it away. ‘And we shall confiscate this!’ they said gruffly.

The young man was glad to be set free of the stuff and as soon as he was out of the office, he ran for his life.

The committee argued over the stuff and soon sensed that it spelled trouble. They decided to send a sample to the bosses in the big city. They thought that was the last they’d hear of it.

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When the box of stuff arrived in the huge grey palace of the central committee, the officials prodded and sniffed the contents, before passing it on, perplexed, to the scientists. In air-tight rooms with reinforced glass windows, the stuff was burned, frozen, melted, cut, blended, squashed and exploded with careful measurements being taken. As the scientists gathered their results, they became afraid. So did the central committee as they read the report.

They had no choice but to present their findings to the Glorious Leader – a big old man with a deep voice and a huge grey moustache and bald head from the burden of ruling the country all his life.

‘What?!’ he raged. ‘A thing of no use?… It’s not possible!’

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He scattered the papers from his desk. ‘You have one month to find a use for this stuff’, he screamed. ‘And keep it secret! Or I shall send you all to rot in the darkest, coldest prisons.’

The top committee member did not want rot in prison so he passed the stuff onto the second member of the committee. But he did not want to touch it either, so he passed it onto the third member. And so it went on, with no-one taking responsibility and everyone passing the stuff down the line till finally the junior office managers took the stuff home to show off to their wives and girlfriends. Then the wives passed it onto their friends. With every passing the stuff got broken into smaller pieces and spread to more and more people. And as it was split up it seemed to grow and multiply. Soon everyone in the country had heard of this secret stuff and wanted to catch a glimpse of it.

Every day, the Glorious Leader stared at the piece he had hidden in the secret drawer of his desk, and it tormented him. As the month passed, he took to his sick bed. He raged and screamed at his assistants. You see, everything in his country, from the tallest building to the smallest grain of sand, had to have its place, its use, its price fixed and its purpose known. Nothing was ever wasted. Millions of lives depended on this system of planning. A thing of no use could shatter everything.

When the Glorious Leader heard of how the committee had let the stuff escape to girlfriends and strangers, he had them executed. And the first committee too and the young man and the farmer and his wife and the teenage daughter and the old grandfather – everyone, in fact who had ever come in contact with the stuff, all killed by bullet. Only the little boy from the farm – Tom – escaped, by running and hiding from the secret police and gradually he too made his way to the big city, where the crisis over stuff was unfolding.

The Glorious Leader screamed to his assistants that all trace of the stuff had to be erased. Buying the stuff or even talking about it was to be punished by death. Spies listened to phone calls. Children were to report on their parents if they mentioned the stuff. The Glorious Leader had a vast hole dug in a hidden place, and the stuff was to be thrown in there and buried forever. He stood by the deep hole gazing down. As a gesture he was to throw in his one piece of stuff, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. In fact no-one could. No-one came to dispose of their stuff.

This was because as soon as the stuff had been made illegal, everyone wanted it all the more. They whispered about it in dark corners. Those who had not even seen it, agreed to hide it for those who had it. Groups got together and hid their stuff under floorboards and inside wells. Soon, police and secret agents were being fought by angry mobs. Thousands took to the streets with banners shouting: ‘WE WANT STUFF, WE WANT STUFF!!!’ They had heard so many things about it: it was a cure for every sickness, it made you look younger, it made your muscles grow and you car go super-fast. They dreamed of stuff. With spades and rifles and bricks they attacked the Glorious Leader’s palace. Alone in his palace rooms, the Glorious Leader made one final call and commanded his army against the people - ‘Shoot to kill!’ he screamed. Terrified, he watched from his high window as his soldiers betrayed his orders and joined the protestors. A brick smashed his glass as thousands chanted. ‘WE’VE HAD ENOUGH, GIVE US THE STUFF!!’

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When the free people broke in to the palace with their guns, they found the Glorious Leader on his knees on the floor weeping like a madman, trying to stuff all of his stuff into his mouth.

‘But … it doesn’t taste of anything’ were his final words as their guns put him out of his misery.


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Ewan Morrison is the winner of the Scottish Book of the Year (SMIT) Fiction Prize 2013, the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award for Writing 2013, and was a finalist in the Saltire Book of the Year Award and the Creative Scotland Writers Award in 2012. The feature film adaptation of his novel Swung should be appearing in cinemas later this year. To read the conclusion of the story “Stuff”, you can buy it on Amazon for 99p