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