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The organisers were feeling very pleased. The 20th annual Conference of Villains had only just begun and already the Headless Horseman and Captain Hook were fast friends. The ‘Conversazione’ evening had obviously been a very good idea. There had been nibbles on hand at every moment—little cupcakes with pink icing and multi-coloured sprinkles, mini-kebabs with dipping sauce, and even ‘poisoned apples’ (actually merely caramelised) baked as a friendly gesture by Snow White’s wicked stepmother. The villains seemed to prefer pinot noir to the blood the catering manager had thought it necessary to provide, much to the relief of the public relations coordinator. The Treasure Hunt had exceeded expectations by being a raging success, along with Speed Dating, and so many villains had signed up for the Mystery Bus Tour that it was going to be necessary to book two more buses than planned. Of course there were a few minor incidents, such as when Count Dracula accidentally caught a whiff of the garlic dip. And there was the fact that nobody seemed to want to make friends with the Grim Reaper, and Baby Bear was still too shy to unwrap his arms from his mother’s legs. But all things considered, it was a very satisfying evening.

It was with enthusiasm that every villain looked forward to the parliament that would be held the next day. This was their only chance to really get down to business and to raise their concerns. They had already been divided into parties, such as Witches, Supernatural Beings, Stepmothers, Monsters (in subdivisions of Man-made and Natural), and so on, and although it had taken a long time, representatives had been elected. At first all the man-made monsters had seemed inclined to eschew democracy and fight it out. After some careful negotiation on the side of the medics, it was decided that as Frankenstein’s monster was probably the most famous of them, he should be leader. He would have the most political clout. Of the major groups, Count Dracula, who had recovered from his mishap of the previous day, headed the supernaturals; Cinderella’s stepmother naturally led her fellow women; somewhat surprisingly, a relatively unknown Norwegian witch was elected by the witches.

They all moved through to the conference rooms at 10:30. The room was abuzz with anticipative chatter and noise. Each villain was ushered into his or her seat and given a sticker that said ‘Hello! My name is…’ in bold red print and a bottle of fresh spring water. Dave Johnson, this year’s non-villain coordinator-in-chief (who, interestingly enough, had been apprehended by the permanent committee of Villains while horse-trekking in Spain), approached the lectern nervously, carefully looking at the back wall.

“Good morning, everyone!” He leaned closer to the microphone with a shudder as a witch in the front row barked, “Speak up, young man!”

“I’m s-sure you all know,” he continued, “that I am here to open the p-p-parliament of villains! But before we get down to business, there is a little housekeeping to be d-done. Our t-traffic manager informs me that someone has left the lights of a red Saab convertible with the license p-plate IH8PGS on. Would whoever this is please immediately s-sort out the situation?”

Everyone stared as the Big Bad Wolf rose with an embarrassed grin from his front row seat and rushed out of the room, almost tripping over.

“Thank you, sir,” gasped Mr Evans, who seemed to have lost his breath for a moment. “Now, ladies and gentlemen… I mean, villains,” he corrected himself as a werewolf booed, “the time has come for the parliament to proceed to b-business!” The crowd cheered, and he seemed to relax a little. “You will be g-given the opportunity to speak for your various groups until 12:00, when we will adjourn for a light lunch, after which proceedings will continue in the afternoon. And here is my… friend and c-colleague, the honourable Foxy Loxy, without whom—I’m sure you all know—this c-conference would not have been possible! Let’s give him a hearty round of cheers!”

There was an enthusiastic response as Foxy strolled onto the stage, dressed in an elegant black cloak with gold trimming. He waved cheerfully. “Thank you, thank you,” he said graciously, bowing slightly. “Now, please, we will start immediately! I will remind you how it works. Each representative will speak for about ten minutes, addressing the immediate concerns of each group. We will come back after lunch, and then individuals can bring their concerns forward, so please! Just official representatives for now! We will sound a bell when you have had ten minutes, again when you have had eleven, and after twelve, my lovely assistant here will… ah, let us say, will bring her bell into contact with your head.” He gestured to the left, where a hag stood in pigtails and a Swiss goat girl’s dress, holding a hefty cowbell and grinning. Everyone chuckled.

The conference began. Harwalda, the leader of the witches, was the first to the lectern. Any doubts over the witches’ choice of representative were immediately forgotten at the sight of her shimmering black hair, mesmerising eyes and commanding presence. “We witches have been mistreated and unfairly maligned!” she roared, eyes shining. “Why, in the last year, three humans have noticed I was a witch. Three! One was the daughter of a witch, one was a madman, and one was a three-year-old child. We witches are disgusted that this discriminatory view of our appearances has been allowed to continue! If we are to be true witches, it seems, we should have warts, a hook nose, and constantly wear a pointed black hat—black magic doesn’t come into the equation any more! That is why I call for an immediate attempt from the Committee of Villains to set right this discriminatory and wholly demoralising picture of witches. There must be attempts to educate children, to correct the old tales, to…” Harwalda continued for eleven minutes, before proudly stepping down to a standing ovation from the witches.

Count Dracula took to the stage soon after, sniffing slightly and sporting an extremely red nose. He spoke with a strong accent, which was made still more unintelligible by his blocked nose. “Murmur murmur murmur disgusting mutter mutter we need murmur murmur acceptance into society mutter stereotypes murmur murmur eet ees TOO MUCH!” There was a blank pause, although the other supernaturals soon began cheering.

An enjoyable time was had by all. There is nothing villains love more than to argue with each other and present themselves as victims. It was, however, a little too much to ask when the villains found themselves listening to representatives from the hero world. Snow White was one of the first. “It’s not that we don’t think you’re great people, in your own way, with amazing talents and strengths,” she said nervously. “It’s just that sometimes you have to think of others, and we feel that we’ve been given quite a bad time by you villains, at points.” Gasps of infuriation sounded around the room.

Goldilocks was next. “I am aware,” she said, “that I could have perhaps behaved better in the affair in question. However, I think I had every right to enter the home of the Three Bears and eat their porridge. If I had not, who knows what they could have done with it? Probably scalded some poor child or drowned some innocent squirrel!”

“Boo! Boo!” shouted the villains. “Go home, Goldispots!” yelled Baby Bear, forgetting his shyness in a fit of rage. Harwalda marched up to Foxy Loxy, demanding to know why he was subjecting them to such malicious and wholly unsubstantiated accusations. Frankenstein’s monster was heard to say, “Well, yes, but she is very pretty,” before instantly regretting it as hundreds of piercing, scowling eyes clapped upon him.

“Please! Ladies! Gentlemen! Do stop!” cried Foxy Loxy, wringing his hands in consternation, as the 20th Annual Conference of Villains ended, as usual, with the villains flinging themselves into the fray. Frankenstein’s monster lost a bolt. A vampire lost both his fangs. Cinderella’s wicked stepmother lost a fingernail.

Once again, a successful conference.


Alison Stedman is a senior fiction editor at Halfway Down the Stairs.

© 2005, Alison Stedman

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