Nice to have a little story published in Mslexia.
Mobile homes with a difference!
If what you read appeared as words on your skin, what would be written on you? Some words might be barely visible and fleeting, others bold and permanent. Hmmm… now what would be on my skin? I won’t bore you with my preoccupation with Brexit and UK politics right now. I hope that is fleeting! There would also be the ramblings and rants of my friends on Facebook, cake recipes and words such as “stylish”, “radiant”, “chic” – which by the way is sooo not me – that I’ve absorbed from the White Company catalogue (sadly without the luxurious beach house in California).
As for literature, I’d have a patchwork of long passages from various Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier’s books. Newer fiction would include The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I’m sure Neil Gaiman’s short stories might also find a prominent spot. My childhood favourites: The Blackberry Farm series, The Chronicles of Narnia, St Clare’s, may have faded a little, but the children’s stories my son and I read together: The Twits, Artemis Fowl and The Snail and the Whale will still be shining brightly over my heart. My workshop group’s chapters would come and go, along with Electrik Inc line edits, and whatever book or short story I happen to be working on. I can picture the same draft line scrawled across my forehead, getting darker and deeper the more I wrestle it into shape. Then there would be my research material on subjects such as Norse mythology, alchemy, 16th century witch trials, fox behaviour. Good conversation starters, perhaps. “Why exactly have you been reading about how to rob a bank, Kim?”
I could go on, but I think I’m probably running out of skin. I’d love to know what would be written on you.
Inspired by the display window of Mr B’s bookshop in Bath.
Blog post by Kim Donovan
A quirky short story.
Mr Oddmore looked out of the kitchen window, frowning at the rhinoceros with two horns rolling in his vegetable patch and squashing a neat row of carrots.
‘What would you like for your birthday?’ Mr Peculiar adjusted the burgundy cravat he wore inside his open-necked shirt. ‘I’m afraid you can’t have my Sumatran Rhino; he’s new to my collection. I discovered him in a forest in Malaysia. But what about Shakespeare’s signature? A red diamond or the DNA of a dinosaur?’
‘I’m not a collector of rarities, like you,’ said Mr Oddmore. ‘No, what I want is a certain type of scream.’ He turned away from the window, his long gangly limbs seeming out of proportion to the rest of his body. ‘Come, I’ll show you what I’m missing.’
He led the way to the room he used as a gallery for his collection. It had floor-to-ceiling shelves full of glass bottles with cork stoppers that contained screams. A cloud of colour swirled inside each one. The screams had been ordered by colour and sound, starting with a luminous white scream in the top left-hand corner and ending many rows later with what looked like a thunderstorm.
Mr Oddmore picked up a random bottle, released the cork with a soft pop and they both leaned forward and listened. A high-pitched scream whooshed out. Mr Oddmore shivered and smiled a contented smile.
‘It’s the scream a five-year-old French boy made after seeing a headless ghost in a haunted hotel,’ he said. ‘I had to hide under the bed for two weeks to get it.’
He re-plugged the bottle, put it back in its place on the shelf and then allowed Mr Peculiar to choose a different one. The scream he picked was bright pink. He opened the bottle and a thousand excited female screams filled the air.
‘They were made during a boy band concert at Wembley Stadium.’ Mr Oddmore didn’t smile as much this time. ‘Pop concerts are guaranteed places to get screams, although they are always candyfloss pink and sound very similar.’
‘Only the rare is of value,’ said Mr Peculiar, pushing the stopper into the neck of the bottle and shutting off the noise. He placed the scream back on the shelf.
Mr Oddmore pointed further along the row. ‘You’ll notice I have a gap between lavender purple and deep plum. I’m missing an aubergine-coloured scream; one that is full-bodied, intense and emotional.’ He sighed deeply and added, ‘I haven’t been able to find it. That is what I want for my birthday.’
Mr Peculiar put his arm around Mr Oddmore’s shoulder and squeezed it. ‘Then, we will set about getting it for you. Rarities are my speciality, Old Chap!’
Over dinner ─ Mr Peculiar had brought with him a very expensive gelatinous soup made from the saliva nests of cave swifts for them to try ─ they analysed Mr Oddmore’s collection to identify the likely owner of the missing scream. He had screams from babies through to the very old; from people of every single country; and the screams of animals. He even had Mr Peculiar’s.
‘I’ve got it!’ Mr Peculiar banged his spoon on the table, making Mr Oddmore jump. ‘You’re missing your own scream!’
Mr Oddmore frowned. Why hadn’t he thought of it himself? He ran back to the gallery to collect a bottle and returned a few seconds later sounding breathless.
‘Here we go,’ he said and screamed into the open top.
‘Well, that was easy.’ Mr Peculiar returned to his soup.
‘It sounded forced ─ false.’ Mr Oddmore shook his head and peered at the colour. ‘It’s only tinged with purple, as though it’s been watered down.’
‘If at first you don’t succeed,’ said Mr Peculiar.
‘Try and try again,’ said Mr Oddmore.
Over the next week, Mr Oddmore tried various methods he used on other people to extract a good scream from himself while Mr Peculiar headed off on an expedition to Eastern Russia in search of an animal close to extinction: the Amur Leopard.
Mr Oddmore walked along a dark alleyway at midnight and tapped his own shoulder; he didn’t scream. He dropped a spider inside his shirt collar; it tickled on its way down and made him giggle and wriggle, but not scream. At bedtime, he turned off all the lights and played a recording of ghostly moans; every dog in the neighbourhood began howling, giving him a thumping headache. He sobbed rather than screamed.
As soon as Mr Peculiar returned home from his trip, Mr Oddmore went to see him at his manor house. He rang the bell and various animals answered with shrieks, barks and chattering.
Mr Peculiar opened the door a fraction and peered out. ‘Give me a second, Old Chap’ he said. ‘I just need to shut the cat in.’
He disappeared inside.
Mr Oddmore heard a low growl and a hiss and, somewhere deep inside the house, another door being banged shut. He wondered if he should come back another time, but a moment later his friend welcomed him inside. Mr Peculiar’s ginger hair looked ruffled and he had a jagged rip in the sleeve of his tweed jacket.
‘So, what have I missed?’ asked Mr Peculiar, showing Mr Oddmore into his study and opening a rare bottle of wine thought to have belonged to King Henry VIII. ‘Have you managed to perfect your scream?’
‘No.’ Mr Oddmore slumped on a tan leather chair. ‘I can’t make it sound convincing. I think it needs to be spontaneous, and I so very rarely scream.’
Mr Peculiar’s eyes sparkled and a smile started at the corners of his mouth. ‘Leave it to me. Collecting rarities is my specialty!’
‘What are you planning?’ asked Mr Oddmore.
Mr Peculiar poured the wine and said, ‘None of your business.’ He chinked his glass against his friend’s. ‘Here’s to a magnificent scream.’
‘I second that,’ said Mr Oddmore, smiling back at him.
Several days passed. Mr Oddmore expected to see Mr Peculiar’s face pressed against the window when he opened the curtains, or for Mr Peculiar to dangle him from an upstairs window. He wondered if his friend would tie him to a train track… He had constant butterflies.
But nothing happened, and the thrill of anticipation turned to sadness. He thought Mr Peculiar had forgotten all about making him scream, especially after the thought-to-be extinct dodo bird was found alive in Madagascar.
On the day of his birthday, Mr Oddmore felt thoroughly depressed. He went for a walk and got caught out in the rain. His shoes squelched from where he’d plodded through puddles, rather than edging around them.
When he arrived back home, his front door hung open.
Must have forgotten to close it, he thought. But part of him was worried he’d been burgled and he strode straight to his gallery to check on the screams.
He breathed a sigh of relief at finding nothing out of place. It wasn’t until he reached the middle of the room that he saw a leopard with rusty-orange and spotted fur crouched under a table, watching him. It padded out from its hiding place with its head extended forward and eyes fixed on its target.
Mr Oddmore ran for the door, screaming. The leopard catapulted towards him.
Mr Peculiar appeared in the doorway with an open bottle in his hand, blocking the way out. ‘It’s a good scream, but I think you can do even better!’
The leopard caught the back of Mr Oddmore’s shirt. Mr Oddmore screamed a terrified scream and pulled away. The material ripped, leaving his skin exposed.
‘That’s more like it!’ said Mr Peculiar.
Mr Oddmore began climbing the shelves, trying to keep his feet away from the bottles. The shelving rocked and creaked.
He glanced over his shoulder at the leopard looking up at him. His heart was thumping in his chest.
‘I don’t want you to make me scream any more,’ Mr Oddmore shouted to Mr Peculiar.
‘No need.’ Mr Peculiar held up the bottle. It was the shade of purple Mr Oddmore had been missing. ‘Happy birthday, Old Chap!’ He took a bag of cooked chicken out of his pocket and turned to the leopard. But before he had a chance to say, ‘dinner time,’ the big cat leapt onto the shelving, its paws knocking off bottles as it scrabbled upwards.
Glass cracked, screams escaped and flashes of colour criss-crossed the room.
Mr Oddmore screamed and cried, ‘Make it stop!’ as he climbed higher.
‘Come down this instant,’ Mr Peculiar said to the leopard in a commanding voice.
It took no notice of him and lunged for the shelf above. The shelving tilted in the direction of the floor. The leopard fell off, but twisted in mid-air and landed gracefully on its paws. The remaining bottles flew off the shelves and shattered, producing an orchestra of screams.
But no scream was more intense or vibrant than the one Mr Oddmore now made as he watched his entire collection being destroyed.
The shelving followed the bottles and crashed to the floor with Mr Oddmore still gripping onto it.
‘My collection ─ it’s all gone,’ he said, his eyes filling with tears. ‘The only scream I have left is my scream.’
‘There is no point in you keeping it,’ said Mr Peculiar, sealing the bottle with a stopper and popping it into his blazer pocket. ‘I’m the one who collects rarities.’
Mr Oddmore thought about starting his scream collection again from scratch. But he remembered his own scream and decided against it.
Instead, he accumulated the world’s largest collection of rubber ducks.
Story by Kim Donovan. Illustration by Julia Draper. Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved.
The story continues. I love the idea of puddles going to places.
Shortly after Jack Sprat left and Dame Nettle disappeared into her room to write a wish to the Fairy Godfather, there was a rat-tat-tat-tat on the door. For one brief wonderful moment, Willie thought it was his new family here to collect him. Then he realised who it would most likely be – Doctor Foster.
Jack and Jill hurried to the door to answer it at the same time as Willie. He glanced nervously back at Dame Nettle’s room. Through the wall he could hear the TV show Who Lives in a Castle Like This?
Willie got there first and opened it. As expected, the doctor stood on the doorstep, still dripping, holding his bag.
‘I want to talk to whoever’s in charge here,’ he said in an abrupt tone.
‘Oh, please don’t tell Dame Nettle what we did to you,’ whispered Jill.
‘She’ll get out her whip if you do,’ added Willie.
‘She has a whip?’ said Doctor Foster, sounding shocked.
‘Is it someone about the house?’ It was Dame Nettle’s voice.
Willie turned to see her hurrying towards them with her back bent and feet pointed slightly outwards.
‘Goodness, Mr Sprat works quickly. ‘Come inside. Come inside. Out of the cold. We’ll soon get you warm and dry,’ she said.
‘Thank you. That’s very kind.’ Doctor Foster’s feet squelched as he walked in, leaving a trail of watery footprints on the floor. ‘I’m sorry – I appear to be making rather a mess.’
‘Oh, don’t worry about that. Jack will clear it up. Come and sit by the cauldron where it’s nice and warm.’ She took his bags, pulled a chair out for him and he sat down.
‘I’m Dame Nettle and you are?’
The doctor frowned.
‘This is Doctor Foster,’ answered Willie.
The doctor mouthed his own name and nodded. Willie hoped this meant his memory was coming back. But the bump on his head seemed to bulge more than ever and his eyes still looked wide and glassy. ‘Good heavens, this really is a boot,’ he said.
Dame Nettle beamed. ‘Yes, yes. It’s the real thing. I’ve been in it since my house got flattened by Jack’s giant.’
Doctor Foster looked at Jack and frowned. ‘You have a giant?’
‘No, not him.’ The other Jack – although they look horribly like each other with that black hair and blue eyes. I’m talking about the one who got the Golden Goose, the Golden Harp, almost EVERYTHING. ’
Doctor Foster muttered to himself, ‘This is all a dream.’
‘Yes, live the dream!’ Dame Nettle sat opposite him and drummed her fingers on the table. ‘Let’s not beat about the mulberry bush. You want to buy the boot – I can see that – how much money will you give me for it?’
‘I don’t want to buy the boot,’ he replied. ‘That’s not why I’m here.’
Dame Nettle’s smile vanished. Her chin jutted out and her eyes closed to slits. ‘Then why are you here?’
The doctor looked at Willie and his two friends, and Willie shook his head.
Doctor Foster gave him the slightest nod. ‘I’m just trying to get home – only I can’t remember the way. You see, I banged my head. I don’t remember much at all,’ he said. ‘I’m hoping you might be able to help me.’
Dame Nettle scraped back her chair and stood up. ‘It’s time you were leaving.’
‘What is the last thing you remember before coming here?’ Jack said quickly.
‘I went to Gloucester in a shower of rain. I stepped in a puddle right up to my middle – ’
‘That’s a crazy thing to do. Everyone knows that puddles go to places,’ said Pinocchio.
‘No, they really don’t.’ The doctor smirked at the suggestion and bent closer to Pinocchio. ‘You’re made of wood.’
‘Of course he’s made of wood. He’s a puppet.’ Dame Nettle pulled the doctor up by the arm until he was on his feet. ‘Now, clear off back to Gloucester or wherever it is. You’re making a mess of my nice clean floor.’
‘A talking puppet? I need to go to hospital.’ He just managed to pick up his bags before she frogmarched him to the door, keeping a tight grip on his sleeve.
‘I’ve never heard of Gloucester,’ said Willie. ‘And I’ve lived here all of my life.’
‘Perhaps he’s from another world,’ said Jack. ‘Puddles are mysterious things.’
Dame Nettle took a sharp intake of breath and let go of the doctor’s sleeve. She smoothed the fabric. ‘I wished for a man who could do jobs for me around the boot and you’ve magically appeared. The Godfather sent you to me – he granted my wish! I never expected it to happen so soon! I’m so happy!’
‘Please, I just want to go home, have a hot bath and an early night, and tomorrow go to work as normal,’ said Doctor Foster.
Dame Nettle sucked in her cheeks and said nothing for a moment. ‘Do the jobs I need done and I’ll help you find your way home.’ She pointed to the leather ankle and the hole in the roof. ‘I’d like you to climb up there and mend the broken tiles. That’s your first task.’
‘But I have a head injury. I shouldn’t be going up there.’
‘Take my offer or leave it – that’s the deal.’ She placed her hands on her bony hips.
‘And you’ll help me if I do this for you?’
‘Cross my heart and hope to sleep for a hundred years,’ she said.
But Willie Knew Dame Nettle never kept her promises.
This story is dedicated to Tom Donovan, my nephew.
Story by Kim Donovan. (c) copyright. All rights reserved. Image: pixabay.
I love a good ghost story at Christmas – I’m currently re-reading The Woman in Black. Here’s a spooky story with a quirky twist. I hope you like it!
The traffic slowed to a stop in the darkness. Jeremy sighed and stared through the windscreen at two lines of blurred car lights glowing in the pouring rain. A traffic report interrupted the song Driving Home for Christmas he’d been half-listening to on the radio.
‘The A30 southbound is partially blocked due to an accident at Okehampton. Emergency services are on their way,’ said the reporter.
Jeremy shook his head. The clock on the dashboard flashed 20.00hrs. He was still a good two hours’ drive away from his parents’ house in Lands’ End.
God knows when I’ll get there now, he thought.
He was at a junction, and in a moment of impulse indicated left and pulled off the dual carriageway. The Sat Nav told him to ‘take the 3rd right at the next roundabout.’
He passed through small towns with please drive slowly signs and then onto the wild, rugged moor. The so-called beast of Bodmin moor had been blamed for slaying livestock again. It was out there somewhere, watching, waiting, concealed by the night. The roads became narrower until they were only one car wide and Jeremy prayed not to meet another car, or worse a tractor, coming the other way. The windscreen wipers swished back and forth. Jeremy’s eyes stung from concentrating so hard on the road.
This is taking me miles off course, he thought. But Jeremy wasn’t going to admit defeat ─ he never did ─ and he kept going. He hoped he might come across a country pub to take a break from driving, but there hadn’t been a village for miles.
Just when he was thinking things couldn’t get any worse, he lost control of the car’s steering. Luckily, there was a lay-by nearby and he wrestled the car into it. He threw on his coat and climbed out to check the tyres. He expected to find one flat tyre, but not three.
He tried to call the AA for breakdown assistance. No signal.
Lightning flashed and thunder boomed only a split second apart. Momentarily, the sky lit a large, ivy-clad house set back on the other side of the road.
He hurried across, pushed open the creaking gate and zigzagged his way through a tangled garden to the house. Candle flames trembled in the windows and, oddly, the door had been left wide open.
Jeremy knocked on the door and called, ‘Hello.’
No-one appeared, but he could hear fast tapping coming from a room on the right.
‘Hello,’ he said more loudly. ‘My car’s broken down. I was wondering if I could possibly use your phone?’
The tapping stopped briefly and then continued.
He turned away from the door and looked for another house. Blackness had consumed the entire landscape.
He swivelled back, hesitated for a moment and then stepped inside.
‘Hell─ooo,’ he said again, as he wiped his squelching shoes on the doormat and then followed the tapping along the corridor. Even more oddly, the walls, staircase, ceiling and floor were all made entirely of books: old, new, hardback, paperback, a hotchpotch of colours and sizes.
A girl of about ten years had been making the tapping noise. She sat in a room behind a chunky, black typewriter with silver keys. The table the typewriter rested on was made of books too, as was her chair. She had long, blonde hair and wore a pale blue dress underneath a starched, white apron. A small glass bottle, containing purple liquid, had been left next to the typewriter. A brown label hung around its neck.
‘Is your mum or dad at home?’ asked Jeremy.
The girl didn’t answer, but kept hitting the keys.
He walked over to her and glanced at what she was writing. She had nearly reached the bottom of the page.
‘Are you making up a story?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ she replied without looking up.
‘Is it about a princess?’
She smirked and said, ‘No, it’s about you.’
‘Me!’ He looked closer at the page and read:
The traffic slowed to a stop in the darkness. Jeremy sighed and stared through the windscreen at two lines of blurred car lights glowing in the pouring rain. A traffic report interrupted the song Driving Home for Christmas…
‘You’re a new character,’ she explained. ‘I get most of my cast from the other stories.’
Jeremy only half heard her. He re-read the paragraph, unable to believe his eyes. It was as if she had been in the car with him, could read his thoughts. His skin prickled as if ants were crawling all over him.
‘I’m going,’ he said.
‘But we’re getting to the exciting bit now ─ the climax.’ She paused, her fingers suspended over the keys, and glanced up at the books that together made one of the walls: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Woman in Black, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, The Arabian Nights… She narrowed her ice-blue eyes. ‘Hmmm,’ she said and then resumed writing.
A vampire walked in through the door, his face white and glowing like a full moon. He still had blood smeared over his mouth from his last kill, but he was still hungry…
Jeremy’s head snapped towards the door. Just as she had written, a vampire appeared out of thin air and walked slowly and carefully towards him.
He scanned the room for a weapon but only saw books. How could he defend himself against a blood-thirsty vampire with Jane Austen? He moved in the opposite direction to the vampire, keeping his eyes locked on him. The girl’s typing grew faster and louder.
The typewriter! he thought (and she wrote).
He tried to pick it up, but it was unbelievably heavy. The vampire stepped too close for comfort and Jeremy grabbed the glass bottle instead. The label on the bottle brushed his hand, and he noticed the words: DRINK ME.
He knew the book it was from. Another quick glance at the girl confirmed to him that she had come out of the same book too. He lifted the bottle to his mouth, knowing its contents would make him huge or tiny, but then stopped. It wasn’t the answer to his problem. The writer would still decide what happened to him in the end.
‘You’ve forgotten to include something really important,’ Jeremy said to her.
‘No, I haven’t.’
‘You have, and it’s going to ruin the story.’ He kept moving in time with the vampire; it was like a strange macabre waltz. ‘A white rabbit hops into the room and disappears down a rabbit hole; the vampire stops to watch it and Alice follows it into Wonderland.’
She paused, wrinkled her brow and said, ‘That sounds familiar.’
She returned to typing the story.
Just then, a rabbit hopped through the door and disappeared into a hole at the base of the wall of books. Jeremy could see it led to a tunnel full of swirling sentences.
Alice jumped down from her chair and shouted, ‘Wait for me!’
The vampire froze in time.
Jeremy sat at the typewriter and used one finger to clunk the keys. He wrote:
Jeremy left the house and drove away in his new Porsche. He never went there again and lived happily ever after.
Thanks for reading my story. Wishing you a very happy Christmas. Kimx
Story by Kim Donovan. (c) copyright. All rights reserved. Image: pixabay.
Willie, Jack and Jill pushed the trunk over the top step and ran after it as it bumped down the rest on its own. The trunk landed on its side on the grass. Quickly, they heaved it back upright and dragged it towards a blackberry bush not far from the staircase. Tick Tock donged again, warning them of trouble.
They hid behind the bush and looked through small gaps. Willie watched the boot’s door swing open and Dame Nettle march out. She stood on the raised platform, looking in all directions – scowling.
The estate agent started to thump on the inside of the trunk. Willie’s insides flip-flopped.
‘We’ll let you go if you stay quiet for a wee minute,’ he whispered. ‘Starting from now.’
The banging stopped.
Pinocchio followed Dame Nettle outside. ‘I told you it wasn’t Mr Sprat. It’s dwarf miners. Their tunnels stretch for miles underground.’ As he spoke his nose grew.
‘See his poor nose – that always happens when he lies,’ said Jill. ‘Oh, I hope she doesn’t look at his face.’
Luckily, Dame Nettle didn’t. She spun on her heel and headed back inside. ‘Tick Tock, if you don’t stop donging at the wrong time I’ll chop you up and turn you into firewood,’ she shouted.
Pinocchio hurried after her.
‘Leave the door open,’ she said to him.
Willie glanced at Jack. He held a hand to his forehead and said, ‘Phew – that was close.’
Jill kneeled beside the trunk. ‘Are you okay in there?’
‘I stayed quiet as you asked. Now, please let me out,’ the man’s muffled voice begged.
Willie squatted down and spoke into the keyhole. ‘There’s one more thing – you’ve got to promise to go straight home.’
‘And not come back,’ added Jack.
‘Come back! Do you really think I want to see you lot again?’
Willie turned to the other two and they both nodded. He slowly lifted the lid.
The estate agent sat up in the trunk and took several gulps of air. He had a bulging red bump on his forehead and his eyes were unusually wide. ‘Where am I?’ He frowned. ‘Who am I?’
Willie and Jill turned to Jack.
‘It seems that bump on his head has made him lose his memory,’ he said.
‘We hit him with the lid!’ Jill covered her mouth with a hand.
‘Sorry. We didn’t mean to hurt you,’ said Willie. ‘You should have ducked.’ He thought again how odd it was for an estate agent to wear a stethoscope around his neck.
‘Your name is Mr Sprat and right now you’re at Old Boot House,’ said Jack slowly.
‘And you’re on your way home.’ Willie straightened back up.
‘But he can’t go home now,’ said Jill. ‘We need to take care of him – fix his head with vinegar and brown paper.’
‘No – he has to go,’ said Willie.
Jack nodded in agreement.
‘What if he can’t find his way home? It’s so cold out here he could freeze to death,’ continued Jill.
At that moment, Pinocchio darted around the bramble bush. Willie hadn’t heard anyone leave the boot and it gave him a fright.
‘I thought you were going to stop the estate agent.’ Pinocchio paused to catch his breath. ‘He’s just flown in on a flying carpet.’
‘He can’t have. This is the estate agent.’ Willie gestured at the man being helped out of the trunk by Jill.
‘It’s not,’ said Pinocchio.
Willie looked at their estate agent and so did his friends. He was stocky, middle-aged and had wiry brown hair. His clothes and shoes were soaking wet. A name badge fell out of his trouser pocket as he climbed free of the trunk. Willie picked it up and read: ‘Doctor Foster’.
‘We’ve got the wrong person.’ Jack took off his glasses, squeezed the bridge of his nose and put his glasses back on again.
Willie cringed and Jill said, many times, how sorry they were.
‘Come on, quick. We’ve got to get back to the boot,’ said Willie.
He sprinted off with Jack and Pinocchio.
‘I’ll come back,’ he heard Jill say to the doctor and she ran after them.
Willie and the others charged through the door together. Dame Nettle stood with the estate agent, staring up the boot’s leather ankle at the circle of daylight showing through the roof. Mr Sprat didn’t look anything like the man they’d locked inside the travelling trunk. He reminded Willie of a grasshopper on account of his bald head, skinny body, long legs and the lime-green tailcoat and tight brown trousers he wore.
Dame Nettle’s head snapped in their direction. ‘Back from the market so soon,’ she said and gave them a fierce glare. Her hand instinctively reached for the whip in her pocket, but then her eyes flicked to the estate agent and she let go of it.
‘Jack Sprat. I sell homes in one second flat.’ He gave them a wide, toothy smile and strode towards them and shook each of their hands in turn.
Willie hoped he really couldn’t sell a house this quickly.
The estate agent headed back across the room to Dame Nettle and peered up at the roof again.
‘To achieve the marvellous price I mentioned, you’ll need to get that fixed,’ he said. ‘And the sink unblocked and – ’ he examined the floor ‘– the insole re-glued in places. We want property buyers falling for your house not falling in it.’ He laughed at his own joke. ‘Do you have a man about the house who can do these things for you?’
Dame Nettle rolled her eyes. ‘I’ve always thought men are more trouble than they’re worth.’ The wrinkles on her forehead grew even deeper as she thought. ‘But I do want someone to pay a lot of money for the boot. Perhaps I should wish for one.’
‘Well, you won’t be granted a wish unless you try.’ Jack Sprat scribbled something down in a notepad. ‘Some lucky person’s dream will come true.’
Dame Nettle walked him to the door, passing Willie and his friends.
‘I just have one last question. Will you be leaving any fixtures and fittings, like curtains and carpets?’ he asked.
‘Oh, yes.’ Dame Nettle smiled a huge smile. ‘I’ll be leaving the children.’
Jack Sprat frowned, tapped his ear and said, ‘Excuse me?’
‘The children, an ugly bird and a few animals come with the house,’ she explained.
He took a step away from her. ‘You can’t leave children or creatures behind – you’ve got to take them with you. The house needs to be left empty or no-one will buy it,’ he said. ‘Is that a problem?’
Dame Nettle pressed her thin lips together and she cast a sideways glance at Willie, Pinocchio, Jack and Jill. Then she looked back at the estate agent and said, ‘No, it’s no problem at all.’
Story dedicated to Tom Donovan.
Story by Kim Donovan. (C) all rights reserved. Image: Pixabay
Willie had fallen asleep imagining what his family would be like. His dad would be a music man and he’d teach Willie how to play the piano – pia, pia, pia-ano – and the big bass drum – bumdi, bumdi, bumdi-bum. He pictured his mum and him rowing a boat gently down the stream, and stopping his sister from pricking her finger on an enchanted spinning wheel. He thought about them arriving on a flying carpet to collect him.
‘Keep wishing. Dreams do come true!’ he’d shout to the boys and girls, as he flew off to his new home – over the rainbow.
But his wished-for family didn’t arrive at breakfast time, by mid-morning or lunchtime.
‘Are you all right?’ Jill touched Willie’s arm.
He spun away from her. ‘It’s just something in ma eye,’ he said, and quickly wiped his face with the sleeve of his nightgown. Daft to believe in magic, anyway, he thought.
At half past two, Dame Nettle singled out Pinocchio and Princess True Love. The princess wore a dirty ball gown. ‘You two stay here,’ said the dame. ‘You’ll make the place look homely.’ Then she shooed the rest of the boys and girls out the door. ‘I want you go to market to buy a fat pig,’ she said to them. ‘The last thing I want is for Mr Sprat to think the place is overrun with horrible children and – ’ she glanced at the bird with muddy-brown feathers ‘– ugly ducklings.’
Willie tried to catch Enid’s eye to tell her not to listen to Dame Nettle, but she bent her long neck towards the wooden slats and didn’t look up.
Jill stretched out her hand, clearly expecting some money to pay for the pig. But Dame Nettle touched the pocket with the whip in it, and Jill’s arm shot behind her back.
‘The market’s in Banbury. It’ll take at least two hours to walk there,’ Jack whispered to Willie, as they headed down the outside steps by the shoe’s heel.
‘She’s only sending us there to get us out of the way,’ replied Willie.
The North wind blew through his flimsy nightshirt, making him shiver. Pale grey clouds hung like heavy sacks in the sky.
‘I think it might snow,’ said Jill.
Willie heard the door to the boot shut. ‘Quick! Let’s hide under the staircase.’ He ran around the side and ducked underneath it.
‘She might see us.’ Jill didn’t follow him.
‘No, she won’t. This is our chance to stop the estate agent; come on!’
Jack and Jill joined him in the small space. The rest of the children waved goodbye and carried on across the field on their long walk.
Jill pulled her sleeves over her hands. ‘Do you think it would feel this cold if we lived under a bridge?’
‘Yes, and we’d have trolls to worry about too.’ Jack peered out of a gap between two steps.
Willie did his best to give her a reassuring smile. ‘We’re not going to live under a bridge or a staircase or in cardboard boxes. We’re staying where we are.’
Inside, Tick Tock donged three times and Princess True Love started to sing like an angel.
‘Dame Nettle must think music will put the estate agent in a good mood,’ said Jack.
‘Aye. She’s after the best price she can get for the boot.’ Willie looked out from their hiding position as well. He scanned his surroundings for a pumpkin carriage bumping across the field or a flying house twirling to the ground. His chest felt like he had fairies fluttering inside of him.
But he had not expected the estate agent to arrive by travelling trunk. The wooden box appeared as a dot in the sky one second and before Willie had time to say Jack in a Box it landed with an almighty bump on the raised platform above their heads.
Tick Tock donged twelve times in warning even though it wasn’t midday or midnight. He’d obviously heard the noise too. Hopefully, Dame Nettle hadn’t.
‘Quick, get him!’ Willie sprinted up the steps to the trunk, his friends at his heel.
A middle-aged man sat wedged inside the box with his arms and legs dangling over the sides, trying to pull himself out. He wore odd clothes for an estate agent – a white cotton coat and a stethoscope around his neck. His clothes were also very wet, like he’d been for a swim fully dressed. A leather briefcase and a plastic carrier bag lay on top of him.
‘Thank goodness you’re here. Please help me,’ he said, breathlessly.
‘We’re very sorry to do this to you.’ Willie grabbed one of the man’s legs and started pushing it inside the box.
At the same time, Jack worked on forcing his arms inside too. Jill half-heartedly tried to push the lid closed.
‘Oh, please lower your head,’ she said to him. ‘I don’t want to hurt you.’
‘We will let you out again,’ said Jack.
‘Help! Someone help me!’ The man kicked Willie and hit Jack with the plastic bag.
The boys stopped what they were doing and helped Jill try to force the lid shut. Eventually, it started to close… the estate agent only just managed to pull his fingers inside the trunk in time. But by the thump and the yelp he let out, he didn’t lower his head fast enough.
‘Sorry!’ whispered Jill.
Willie stopped dead still. The princess had stopped singing part way through the song.
‘Something’s wrong,’ he said. Quick – push. Down the steps.’
Once Upon a Wish is dedicated to Tom Donovan
Story by Kim Donovan. (c) All rights reserved. Image: Pixabay
By child request, here is chapter two for bedtime stories. I’m so pleased you want to read more!
Willie took a step closer to her so he could hear better.
Dame Nettle didn’t notice. She was too busy listening to the person on the other end. ‘Oh, thank you for calling me back,’ she said. ‘I’m planning on retiring soon, and I’d like to sell the boot I live in and move to Mermaid Creek.’ She started to walk, hunched over, towards her private room at the toe end. ‘An estate agent will visit tomorrow – hey diddle diddle!’ She tucked her grey hair behind her ear to hear better. ‘It’ll be Mr Sprat, the manager – cock-a-doodle doo! Three o’clock tomorrow afternoon – ’ She headed through her door and knocked it shut behind her with her whip.
‘What’s an estate agent?’ Jill asked Jack.
‘It’s someone who sells a house, castle or boot for you.’ They all listened to him. ‘The first thing he does is decide how much money people will pay for it. Then he puts it up for sale.’
‘Hoorah! She’s leaving us,’ said Patience Muffet, a girl with orangey-brown hair and freckles. The seven-year-old had ended up at Old Boot House after she ran away from a spider that sat down beside her. She had never been able to find her way back home again.
Children slapped hands and hugged each other.
‘It’s not a good thing,’ said Willie. ‘If Dame Nettle sells the boot we’ll have nowhere to live.’
‘I’m sure she’ll take us with her,’ said Jill.
Jack marched over to the table Dame Nettle had been sitting at. ‘I saw her circling some pictures of houses,’ he said, picking up the copy of Home Sweet Home.
‘Perhaps she’s looking for a bigger place for us all,’ said Puss in Boots. He was a silky grey cat in leather boots.
Jack started to leaf through the pages and Jill joined him at the table.
‘She’s not after somewhere bigger,’ he said, eventually. ‘All the houses she’s drawn rings around are tiny cottages.’
The boys and girls stopped celebrating and Jill pulled out a chair and flopped on it.
‘It might take ages for Dame Nettle to find someone who wants to buy the boot. It does smell of sweaty feet,’ said a boy made of wood. ‘By then we could all be back at home with our families.’
Willie turned towards him. ‘I’m sure your da will be found at sea, Pinocchio – and that he’ll come and get you,’ he said. ‘But I don’t have anywhere else to go. I don’t even know who my family are.’
Jill gave him a small smile. ‘You could wish for one.’
Willie shook his head firmly at her suggestion. ‘What good will that do? No-one’s going to wave a magic wand and make everything better.’ He noticed Patience Muffet and Tom Thumb looking at him. Their bottom lips were trembling. ‘Don’t worry yourselves.’ He paused to think. ‘All we have to do is stop the estate agent from coming here. That way he won’t be able to put it up for sale.’
Jack nodded. ‘I’ll do whatever it takes.’
‘Oh, please don’t get us into trouble,’ said Jill.
The two boys stared at her and Willie said, ‘Do you want to be homeless?’
Later that night, when all the other children were fast asleep, Willie lay awake in his hammock with the scratchy wool blanket pulled over him. He kept turning from side to side. He had far too many thoughts swarming in his head to sleep.
‘It’s daft to make wishes,’ he muttered. ‘They never come true.’ He wriggled onto his back and looked up through a hole in the roof at the moon and the stars. ‘So, all I have to do is ask for a palace and a teapot will magically turn into one!’ He made a false laugh. ‘I can’t believe even Jack made a wish before bed.’
He checked the hammocks nearest to him to make sure everyone was asleep and pulled a torn magazine picture out from under his thin pillow. He held it in the beam of moonlight coming through the roof. The photo was dog-eared and crumpled and showed a family : a mum, dad, a girl slightly younger than Willie and their pet unicorn. They were holding hands and flying through the air together with the aid of fairy dust. Willie always imagined being part of their family. Over the years, the picture had become fixed in his mind. As far as he was concerned, they were his family.
‘Ach, maybe I could make one wee wish… it’s only words.’ Willie chewed his lip. ‘Just a bit of fun to pass the time. That’s all.’
But his face looked deadly serious as he held the picture to his chest, stared up at the stars and whispered,
‘Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight;
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.’
He paused and said, ‘I wish for a family.’
This story is dedicated to Tom Donovan, my fantastic nephew.
I’ll post chapter three soon.
Story by Kim Donovan. All rights reserved. Image: Pixabay
There was an old lady who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread;
And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
I’m sorry to say the rhyme about Dame Nettle is real. She ran Old Boot House, a home for lost and orphaned children, in a brown leather boot with mustard-yellow laces that had once belonged to a giant. It was a horrible place for boys and girls to grow up. If only The Fairy Godfather would wave his magic wand and make all their dreams come true.
Willie Winkie’s story begins on a late afternoon in the middle of winter when the boot’s laces were tied up tight against the cold. Dame Nettle was sitting at one of two long wooden tables in the middle of the boot, flicking through the property magazine Home Sweet Home. She was dipping her toast into an enormous boiled egg, the size of a dragon’s. Whether she was standing or sitting her back remained rounded, and she had deep wrinkles from years of scowling. She looked like she could be snapped in half, but Willie knew she wasn’t as weak as she seemed. He had watched her attack a troll that jumped out on her on a bridge. From that day on the troll only chased after billy goats.
The children worked around her: sweeping the inner sole of the boot, cleaning the round windows, and tidying the hammocks where they slept high in the leather ankle. Tom Thumb, a boy no bigger than Willie’s little finger, dragged spoons across a table to set it for supper. A large duckling with light brown feathers dusted a cupboard with its wing. Willie had been put in charge of making the meal this evening, among other jobs. He stood watching the watery soup cooking in the cast-iron cauldron, making sure it didn’t boil over.
Some people called him Wee Willie because he was short for ten-years-old and rather scrawny, perhaps because he lived on a diet of only broth and porridge. Even so, he had grown since he’d been at Old Boot House. The faded nightshirt he wore, all day and every day, used to cover his toes, now it barely reached his knees. His feet had got bigger too. His heels hung over the backs of his tatty slippers.
At present only a cupful of thin, clear soup bubbled inside the cauldron, but the amount soon doubled all by itself and continued growing. It rose higher and higher in the pot. Once the soup reached just below the top, Willie said in a firm voice, ‘Stop, little pot’ and it did.
A loud cracking noise made him jump. He looked over his shoulder at Dame Nettle. She had put down her spoon, taken the whip out of her apron pocket and whacked it against the table. She was glaring at Willie’s friend Jack, as usual.
Jack gazed steadily back at her, but didn’t stop scrubbing the floor by the door. Unlike the other boys and girls Jack always managed to look clean and tidy. His glasses had no smudges on them, and his check shirt, brown waistcoat and knee-length trousers, which he’d been wearing for months, could have been clean on today.
‘Why, you’re as lazy as Little Boy Blue,’ Dame Nettle said to him. ‘Take the pail to the top of the hill and fetch some water.’
Jack sighed. ‘All right. I’ll go. But I probably won’t find any water at the top of the hill. I’m more likely to find it at the bottom.’
Willie looked from Jack back to Dame Nettle. Her eyes had narrowed.
‘The pail is too heavy for Jack to carry by himself. I’ll go with him.’ Jill quickly looked down at her welly boots to avoid making eye contact with her. Blonde ringlets hung over her face like curtains.
Some children thought Jack and Jill were brother and sister because they arrived on the same day, but they had just clung together because they were both new.
‘Did I ask you to speak?’ Dame Nettle scraped back her seat and stood up. She tapped the whip against her long, black skirt and stared at Jill.
Willie coughed. He raised an arm as Dame Nettle twisted towards him.
‘Yes, what is it?’ she snapped.
‘I’ll go with them – nae bother.’ He could feel his heart beating fast to the tune of one, two, buckle my shoe. Three, four, open the door…
He knew he was asking for trouble. He also knew they had to stick together, not be singled out. That’s how they all survived in Old Boot House.
Dame Nettle sucked in her cheeks as she looked at Willie and then at the rest of the children. ‘It seems you all need to be taught a lesson. Perhaps I’ll bake you in a pie like four and twenty blackbirds.’
‘Time for tea,’ said Tick Tock, the Grandfather clock in a deep, slow voice.
He stood against the side of the shoe, near the tables and chairs. His black metal clock hands showed it wasn’t supper time for another ten minutes, and his blue eyes looked everywhere but at them.
Dame Nettle ignored Tick Tock, but not the telephone that began to ring on the window ledge. She broke into a huge smile and hurried over to it.
Her smiled worried Willie. He had only ever seen her cheerful when she was up to no good.
Dedicated to my nephew, Tom Donovan.
I’ll post the next chapter in a few days. I’d LOVE some pictures by children if anyone fancies being an illustrator! Kimx
Story by Kim Donovan. All rights reserved. Image Pixabay.