Category Archives: CHILDRENS FICTION

PALINGENESIS ISLAND BOOK V 34 – 45

BLACKBOD MIASMA

CHAPTER 34

Serendipity was the last to slip through a hole in the hedge. But just as she was falling through to the other side, the hole was closing up.

Goodbye! thanks!” she shouted. But by the time she had said it, the hole in the hedge had completely closed as if it had never been there and she had no idea if Kamachal or his friends had heard it.

Because the Clenicline tablets were not in their bloodstreams yet, the nemotoxigen affected the three children. It descended in black clouds which once or twice covered them. It made Rosalind feel really ill.

In Grimley Wood, the trees were not as close together as in Threadbare Wood, so light permeated more easily down to walking level. Nevertheless, the sky had grown a barely illuminating dark green now,

Grimley wood also held other variations. As they progressed down a tortuously winding road, in the direction of the city Blackbod Miasma, the green sky turned a dark olive and its black woolpack clouds grew considerably in number. Many of the small clearings held rocky outcrops. Trees were sparser, the ground was springy, uneven, with sharp inclines followed by sudden falling into tree lined gorges. The pungent smell of nemotoxigen was overtaken by a worse stench as they approached a wide clearing. Rosalind held her nose and breathed through her mouth. But when she saw what was causing the stink she had to close her eyes. Before them was a hill, the height of a lampost, of dead naked human-looking babies. There must have been at least a thousand infants piled high, the pile looking so precarious no one could grasp why it hadn’t collapsed.

They circled the hill of babies listening attentively, trying to discern the sound of any crying against the blustering wind, but they heard no sound coming from any child. Many had their eyes unblinking, wide open. They all looked so vulnerable, thought Rosalind.

Let’s keep going,” said Maximouse, there’s nothing useful we can do here. Don’t allow yourselves to become despondent by what you see here. It’s a terrible place. Be strong in your heart! We’re going to stop the crimes of this monstrous woman.”

They continued into the black fog, along the exhaustingly windy bridle path. They passed a dilapidated signpost with two readings pointing in the same direction: ‘Chemgantrial 5 miles’ and ‘Blackbod Miasma 10 miles’.

It was difficult to estimate what time it was so Rosalind checked her pocket watch which still kept good time. It was only eight in the evening, yet it felt more like a doom laden early dawn.

“I’m really tired,” said Marie, “Can we have a good sleep for a change?”

Yes,” let’s make a temporary camp and get some sleep and wake up with the light,” agreed Serendipity.

CHAPTER 35

At dawn, they woke, roused themselves quickly and continued their trek. One thing had certainly improved for all of them: the tablets that Kamachal had given them had removed the dreadful smell that pervaded the air. But despite this, it was not a heart-warming ramble. Between the floating black clouds could be seen weeping trees; dead wildlife was strewn everywhere; bird song was not heard.

Although the tablets had cut out the smell of nemotoxigen, it had not cut out the open sores of cess pit streams, full of pus and bile and filthy chemicals. Most of these streams were stagnant, the arteries of the land were blocked.

I could swear I’m being watched,” said Marie

They all stopped and listened. No sound.

Not much further on, as the woodland began to thin out, a massive edifice in the shape of a purple cube, presented itself on their left. Serendipity said these cubes were full of Broudhous, a race of small people-like creatures who were made to work almost continually during their lives – like slaves. Each Broudhous was placed in a box not much bigger than themselves and here they worked all day. Each box was computer controlled with video cameras observing the performance of each worker. They had to do a certain amount of work within a given space of time. If they were failed to do they were given an electric shock. If they succeeded, then, gradually – over a the same period of time – more work would be expected from them. They were allowed five hours of sleep a day.

Ugh!” said Marie.

Let’s see if we can release them,” said Rosalind.

We really ought to put our foot down for our destination. This is a distraction,” said Serendipity. Then seeing the childrens faces, she smiled. “Okay. Let’s have a quick look.”

The gang crept up through the long grasses to the gigantic cuboid building. There were no windows, but a door was found on a west facing wall, which was not locked.

Go easily,” said Serendipity.

They all snaked down the grey corridor that faced them. The noise of repetitive mechanical noises were going on all around them.

Ah you’ve come to take the spent away?” said a voice behind them. They all turned round simultaneously in alarm to see the oddest of creatures. Rosalind thought it was half man and half washing machine. Its short stumpy legs carried its body, a large white box with a see-through circular door and a panoply of knobs and buttons. It’s human looking head bobbed about on a flat spring neck which stuck up from the white box. Short stumpy robotic arms stuck out from the side. She humourously wondered what she would call it. An Omotaur? Or a Persilosaurus?

Yes, that’s right,” bluffed Serendipity quickly.

They are in despatch room 1002, just carry on along the corridor to your left.”

Serendipity, positioned at the front, subtly beckoned the others to follow. She came to the door. It was locked.

The Omotaur was coming up behind them.

Forgotten the pass-number? Didn’t you have to give that to get past the outguard? That’s unusual for your lot, usually so efficient. He must be skiving again. The number 07125. That will let you in.”

Serendipity began pressing the numbers in the keypad outside the door. The Omotaur was now coming alongside the group.

I’ve not seen you before,” he laughed jokingly. You ARE from Blackbod Miasma I hope. They usually send the Buzzors up. Have they had a change of systems down at HQ? More than my life’s worth to let these out to aliens!” He laughed again.

Serendipity tried her best to laugh with him, but even she thought her laugh sounded hollow and false.

The door opened.

Serendipity hesitated, she wasn’t sure whether to go in or to wait. But the Omotaur had now rattled himself level past her now and he took charge of her indecision by leading into the room himself. “Come and take them away,” he said. They all followed him in.

Inside the room were a dozen Broudhous. Rosalind had never see such a sorry sight. They were about five feet tall, dark grey skinned, with white shiny teeth. They had large hands. They all wore shorts but no other clothes. They all had jet black hair that shot straight up for two inches before curving out towards their ears.

But the most terrible thing about them was their expressions and their postures. They were hunched over. They had bruises all over their arms and legs. Their faces were long, tired and weary. She wondered if they had always looked like this or if their features – which were still relatively young – had been transformed into this expressionless sludge by continual slavery.

Right you lot! It’s your lucky day! You are going to be terminated. Take them away,” he shouted to Serendipity.

The room was full of many humble ‘thank yous,’ coming from the Broudhous, as they formed a line.

Right! Lead the way out,” shouted Serendipity to Marie who was now standing in the doorway at the front. Marie was quick on the uptake and quickly led the Broudhous out of the building.

As the last Broudhous departed the giant cube the Omotaur stood on the threshold of the doorway and craned his neck out to watch them all walk away in single file. “Strange,” he muttered to himself, “They usually guard them at the back as the front and they don’t usually send so many. Something not quite right here. I’ll have to contact HQ. I’ll do it in a bit. And where’s that outguard got to?” He closed the door and went inside to have a lie down.

*** *** *** ***

After five minutes, getting out of sight of the Giant cube, Serendipity stopped behind a large rock and waited for everyone to catch up. She told the twelve Broudhous to stand by the rock. “Thank you, thank you,” they were all shouting.

We are not going to kill you,” she said. “We will set you free to go back and rescue all your companions.”

The eyes of the Broudhous opened a little wider.

She repeated her statement again, and told them the pin number to get into the main part of the building.

Eventually one of the Broudhous spoke. “We don’t understand. We don’t want any more electric shocks please. We just want extinction.”

You are free,” butted in Rosalind. “You no longer have to be in a cage. You can live as a free people.”

The earlier speaker looked very confused and began fidgeting. All of them looked uncomfortable, darting confused glances at each other, worry and anxiety beginning to deepen in their faces. “We don’t want any more electric shocks. We do what you want. We don’t want any more punishment.”

Go back to the grand cube,” said Maximouse, “Go in the door and open every single door and cage. If you can’t get into any of the doors break them down. If you meet resistance kill it. Free all your brothers and bring them out into the daylight. That’s an order!”

Suddenly the Broudhous expressions perked up. They could understand an order, but only if it came from without. They had never learned to listen to their own internal desires.

Go now!” said Serendipity or you will be punished.”

Suddenly there was a crash behind them. A large object had fallen out of a tree. It was a boy. He struggled quickly to get to his feet and began running off.

Stop him!” said Serendipity.

It didn’t take long for the youth to brought back down to the ground, as his only way of escape was by the way of the Broudhous. Responsive and effective in following commands, one blocked him, another took him at the legs, and another three sat on him.

The youth wore a helmet and a blue military costume with ‘R’ on its lapels.

“Bring some rope from the rucksack,” said Serendipity.

Within minutes the youth had been tied up. His body shook with anger and belligerence, but he spoke not. “I’ve seen him before,” said Marie. She recognised him instantly: I worked with him. It’s Rig from the city farm.

The boy scowled at Marie, but said nothing. He shut his eyes tight, as if by doing so he would make her disappear, he then thrust his sulking chin into his chest.

Serendipity turned her attention to the Broudhous.

Go and release your comrades!” repeated Serendipity to the Broudhous. Go now!” The Broudhous, eager to carry out any command, walked hurriedly off the way they had come.

Do you think that will work?” asked Tchi.

We haven’t got time to worry, we’ve done our best. Let’s hope their brains still work after the dreadful lives they’ve lived.”

Rig lifted his head derisively. “It’ll never work. You’ll never defeat them! I’m as good as dead. You’re all dead.”

We must be on our way,” said Serendipity, leading forward.

What shall we do with him?” asked Marie.

Leave him tied up. He won’t be able to do any harm for a while,” said Serendipity.

No!” squealed Rig, his eyes almost popping out. “Take me with you. I was employed as an outside guard of the Broudhous. You wouldn’t have got in if I’d have been doing my job properly. I’ll be boiled alive if they find me now. I’ll escape with you. I’ll help you. I’ll be able to show you the way out.”

We’re going to the Marcoomian Pyramid at Chemgantrial.”

You’re mad! You’ll never get there!.”

Leave him,” said Serendipity, turning round and moving her heel.

Wait! Wait! You can’t leave me here. The Buzzors will finish me off. You’ll never get past the Fearurial Gardens without me.”

You will guide us to the Marcoomian Pyramid?”

Some of the way.”

All the way, or we leave you here.”

Alright.”

No tricks?”

No Tricks.”

Serendipity looked round for confirmation. No one disagreed.

Please untie me,”

Stand him up and let him walk, but don’t untie his arms,” said Serendipity.

I need one of those bottles. I’m thirsty,” he complained when he was on his feet. The bottles of pop were being packed away.

No. We need to conserve our supplies,” said Serendipity sharply.

CHAPTER 36

After climbing the steep side of a hill they came to the edge of the wood. Before them spread a field full of the most unusual games, board games on a gigantic scale.

Directly in their path stood a massive chess set. The pieces were twice the size of the children. Tchi was the first to notice that it wasn’t a standard set. The black pieces had two kings and the white pieces had two queens.

Over the chess set, nailed to a tree, a sign read, “All competitors will play black”.

Well, that’s mad,” said Rosalind. “How could two kings win against two queens? Queens move much faster and all over the board.”

That’s right,” said Marie.

But on the other hand,” said Tchi, “It must be difficult to checkmate two kings.”

But how do you checkmate a queen?” retorted Rosalind.

“Forget about the chess,” snapped Serendipity, “We’re not here to play, but to get to the Comms Centre. Let’s move.”

Rig was shivering and impatient. “We have reached the Gardens of the Fearurual of Ursula the Unstable,” said the Youth. “She has a collection of strange games. On no account should you play any of them. There’s hopscotch with landmines. And that’s skipping ropes with trip wire. They’re all deadly. We should move.”

Look,” said Marie, “There’s a massive Monopoly board.” She had walked out into the field towards it. Everyone followed, ignoring Rig’s warnings. “It’s so big a person can stand within each square.”

Collect £200 before you pass go,” read Rosalind as she stood on the board.

I’ve never played this game before,” said Maximouse.

Come on!” insisted Rig.

It’s long winded and boring,” said Tchi.

I like it,” said Marie. “Hey, look!” She had noticed that all the prices of the properties around the board were moving in every square. “Look! Old Kent Road is going up in price with every passing second.”

“So by the time you’ve been round the board,” said Tchi, “and collect £200, the houses have gone up by £1000. Some version of the game this is.”

“It was like real life before the credit crunch,” muttered Rosalind.

“You can’t stand here!” hissed Rig as loudly as he dare, “We must move. Go across the field and get under the trees, or we will be seen by the Quark.”

The Quark! Rosalind suddenly felt dizzy. The word had filled her with fear and loathing. She remembered it from her experience here before. Had it been a dream, or a reality. It was a terrifying name.”

“Which way?” asked Serendipity. Suddenly they could hear some wheezing coming from the woods behind them, and a dreadful stink drifted over them.

“Over the course,” demanded Rig. “Quick. We must not be seen!”

Everyone looked confused and began bumping into each other being completely unsure which way they were going. And then at last they began to hurry across the undulating greenery after Serendipity.

Some strange statues were placed in the middle of the golf course simultaneously playing croquet and playing cards. Rosalind thought she recognised them but couldn’t remember where from. A history book?

They all got to the cover of the trees without incident.

“I don’t know what came over me, I just couldn’t think straight back there,” said Rosalind.

“Perhaps the Boddlegogs are around somewhere,” said Serendipity.

“Now, we need to get round the side of the house,” said Rig, “and pick up the path on the other side.”

“I don’t know if I can trust you,” said Serendipity.

“I’m in the same boat as you are. If they catch us, I’m dead,” said Rig.

“Hmm..” said Serendipity shrugging her shoulders. “Suppose you’re taking us to your employers?” she said.

“No way, now,” he said. “One mistake with this lot and you’re toast,” he said. “If I turned you all in, they still wouldn’t have any mercy for me.”

“I’m watching you all the way,” said Serendipity.

They knelt behind a bush, under the thick shade of many dark beech trees.

“What’s the Quark?” asked Marie timidly.

“It’s black and oily with tendrils that cling onto you,” explained Rig

“And it has a mouth positioned sideways in the middle of its body,” continued Serendipity

“That’s right,” concurred Rosalind.

“How do you know?” asked Marie.

“I’ve been here before,” said Rosalind, sometime long ago but I can’t remember it clearly.”

“Ssssh!” cautioned Serendipity. “Let’s go along this path, through those green hedges at the side of the house.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that,” said Rig, tugging at his bound hands in frustration. “Getting lost in the maze would be disastrous. “Let’s go along the path that runs along the wall at the side of the house. We’ll have to duck down by the windows but I think that will be safer.”

“How do you know those bushes are a maze,” asked Serendipity.

“I’ve been here before, working for the Fearurial’s prison squad. If you go in the maze you can’t find your way out because there isn’t one. And you can’t get back to the entrance. There are giant slugs in there that surround you, and then consume you. Ursula the Unstoppable loves to watch the sport from her balcony, when she is in residence.”

“Is she in residence now?” asked Serendipity.

“I hope not. All I know is that the slugs will get you if you go that way. We need to go along the wall path.”

“Alright then.”

“You’ll need to untie me. I can’t crawl with my hands tied.”

Serendipity looked at him carefully, and then untied the knots that bound his hands behind him.

Rig led, followed by Serendipity, Rosalind, Marie, Tchi with Maximouse at the end.

The narrow yellowish path was a couple of feet to the right of the brickwork of the house, between was a strip of soil covered in colourful weeds and plants, which thrived despite the lack of sunlight here. Rosalind studied them, as she crept along. One flower had a revolving head and snapping jaws. I wouldn’t want to be a bee collecting pollen from them, she thought.

The path had been chosen because it was the most protected path of escape round the house. A clump of tree branches overhung the roof of the house from the West, allowing little sunlight to penetrate down onto the path.

They moved slowly, ducking as low as they could every time they came level with the doors and the windows that ran alongside the house. They were also concerned about the balcony above for should anyone come out, as they were creeping by, they would be spotted immediately.

*** *** *** ***

Serendipity was thinking. She was curious about how confused everyone had got at the Monopoly Board game. Normally confusion only reigned when the Boddlegogs were around in force, but there had been no sign of them. She knew from experience that she, as a Sprite, was less affected by the Boddlegogs power than most other creatures. Then a poem came into her head that the edible dormouse had given them at Jill’s. It had said something about trees and losing the power of thought. But she just couldn’t remember all of it. Yet she knew it was important.

“Move along,” whispered Rosalind to Serendipity.

“Sorry,” said the fairy, quickly catching up with Rig, who had by now got himself under the balcony and was half hiding in the trails of black ivy which trailed down from it.

“‘Thought’. What rhymes with ‘thought’?” wondered Serendipity as she crept trying to keep hidden from anyone on the other side of the bay window. “Bought, caught, fought, nought, ought, sort, taut?” It just didn’t click somehow.

She got past the balcony now. Rig was leading up ahead to some french windows, and after that he would soon pass the last brick of the house and come out onto the path to leading to Blackbod Miasma. All the others were close on Serendipity’s heels.

Then it happened. Just as they were all feeling that they were going to make it past without incident! The French windows, where Rig was approaching, flew open. Out came the most horrendous creature that Rig – or anyone else – had ever seen. Rig had heard of the Quark, but he had never seen it, and now it was bearing down on him.

“Yoush are all deash!” It hissed. It made the sound of a whisper, yet it was loud enough to be heard all along the line.

Confusion reigned. Everyone shot to their feet and turned to run back along the path but no! A number of giant slugs had come out of the maze and were coming along the path. They had fallen into a trap.

“I like salty blood,” the largest was saying, his voice sounding like a low whistle.

“Over the fence,” shouted Serendipity, clambering over the wooden fence that ran along the side of the path to the South. On the other side of it was dense woodland.

Serendipity was over, Rosalind was right behind her.

But the Quark was not slow. Its torso stood like a big black tree, and yet when this torso moved it divided into two legs. In its belly was a large sideways pair of lips. Above this was a head with tentacles that flailed a metre out from its body. It’s head was eyeless.

The children had taken the Clemicaline tablets that defended them from the pungent smell of the South Darklands, but Rig had not and this proved to be his downfall. Everyone could smell the most disgusting and noxious stink the Quark exuded, but Rig took the full force of it and wilted on the path. The Quark’s tentacles enmeshed Rig’s body, lifted it, and pushed it head first into his mouth.

“Give us some salty blood,” whistled the talkative slug.

“Nice Foosh, like human foosh,” said the Quark and wheezed. He was then up by the fence.

“I’ve got to remember that poem!” shouted Serendipity to Maximouse, as he got down from the fence into the dense woodland.

“What!?”

“It’ll save us! The one from the edible dormouse.”

“Get into the wood!” screeched Maximouse.

CHAPTER 37

Rosalind was over, Maximouse and Tchi also. “Keep up with me,” shouted Serendipity and went deeper into the dark trees.

It was so dark in there that it was difficult to see the person in front. It was so overgrown that there was hardly room between the barks of the trees.

“Keep going!” said Maximouse in a low voice. Create space, as much as possible. I don’t care how dark it gets.”

“I’m sure he’s right behind me,” said Marie, who was last in line. “Where are you all.”

“I’ll go last,” said Rosalind, and slipped in behind Marie. However she soon realised that Marie’s had not been an idle worry. She could hear wheezing right behind her.

“I can hardly see where I am going. There are too many trees in this wood,” said Marie.

“That’s it! That’s it, that’s the beginning of the poem,” said Serendipity.

“Uh?” said Marie.

“When the wood’s lost for trees

When you’ve lost the power of thought

When there’s wheezing in the breeze

No I can’t remember the last line.”

Rosalind didn’t like being on the end at all. Then she heard in the near distance behind her: “You’sh will all my mysh breakshfast. I shall eat you all. A delicashy. Hoomanfoosh.”

“Keep quiet Serendipity, he’s following us and he can hear you. Just keep quiet and go faster.”

“It’s not ‘power of thought’” said Tchi, “It’s the power to think’, I think.”

“What rhymes with think?”

Suddenly there was an almighty scream. It was Rosalind. They turned and went quickly back. In the halflight they could see the Quark had his tendrils around her legs and she was on the floor. Tchi and Marie grabbed around in the dark and found Rosalind’s flailing arms.

“Drink!” shouted Serendipity. It was as if she were in another world completely. “Give me that!”

But no one was paying any attention. Maximouse had grabbed a branch and was sticking it into the soft tissue of the Quark’s body but, apart from keeping the monster at arms length, it caused no damage. As the Quark turned away from the stick, the holes in its soft tissue just filled up.

Tchi and Marie were losing the battle with Rosalind, who was squealing from the agony of being the rope in a tug of war. She would be either eaten or torn in half.

And then, in the darkness, they all got soaked and sticky. And then came dreadful squeals of agony. The hold on Rosalind’s leg began to relax. There was intense fizzing and strange noises that sounded like bad plumbing. Maria and Tchi pulled Rosalind towards them, and dragged her to her feet.

More sticky liquid came flying all over them. More fizzing and groans came from the direction of the Quark. The cries, continually evident but growing quieter, eventually subdued, but the fizzing had grown louder and sounded like an acid bath.

Suddenly there was light. Serendipity had struck a match, from a box she had found in the rucksack. “He’s dying,” she said. “We must get out of here as quick as we can. Go round him back to the house.”

But as they circumnavigated the Quark’s fizzing body, a body which was gradually melting into an ooze on the forest floor, they could hear the giant slugs coming nearer.

“Great!” tootled the leader, “It’s lots of salty blood.” Much to the children’s relief all three slugs leapt onto dissolving Quark. “It’s got human and Boddlegog salt,” said another, trying to eat and talk at the same time.

“Go!” said Serendipity.

Having circumnavigated the slugs and their fizzing meal they back tracked the way they had come to the fence. They climbed it and raced down the path towards the road that lead to Blackbod Miasma. “There’s a signpost here for Chemgantrial. This is the way to the Marcoomian Pyramid,” said Serendipity.

*** *** *** ***

Arm in arm, Marie and Tchi helped Rosalind along. Her face was flustered with shock. The lower part of both her legs, all the way up to her knees, were covered in a foul slime.

Serendipity and Maximouse were walking ahead keeping to the side of the wide path. Buildings of perfect geometrical shapes, cylinders, spheres, cubes and cones, were evident behind the trees, amongst the vegetation, although none were anywhere near the size of the Broudhous factory. There were no windows or doors in any of these buildings. No one was around, no sign of life at all.

They came to a bridge over a river. Everyone followed Serendipity down to the bank. They were all desperate for a wash – being sticky from head to foot.

“I threw a fizzy orange juice,” said Serendipity. “I remembered the poem just at the last moment. Tchi helped me. I thought it was ‘thought’ not ‘think’ and so couldn’t come up with the last line. Aha! Then I got it:

When the wood’s lost for trees,

When you’ve lost the power to think,

When there’s wheezing in the breeze,

Throw a drink to stop the stink.

“Earlier I couldn’t understand why you were all thrown into confusion by the nearness of the Quark – and then it brought back the poem, but I couldn’t remember it at all. The slugs revealed an answer though, somehow the Quark had eaten a Boddlegog. After eating the Quark was unknowingly contaminated by their confusing and negative influence. This affected you all. In fact, it also confused the Quark, because it never usually fails to capture its prey.”

“You mean the fizzy pop killed him?” asked Tchi.

“Yes.”

“I’m drinking that stuff again,” said Tchi.

Eventually everyone felt a little better. Most had washed their hair in the river water. The slime now removed from Rosalind’s legs, socks and walking boots, she was able to talk again. Occasionally she would burst into tears and put her hands over her eyes.

“How much further?” she asked. “I don’t know if I can do much more.”

“Just around the corner, according to my loose calculations,” said Serendipity. “The Marcoomian Pyramid is nearby.”

CHAPTER 38

Serendipity was right. The road carried on for a short measure and then turned to the South, where an urban sprawl of buildings presented themselves. ‘Chemgantrial’ was written on a white sign on the road.

“Get inside the trees again,” said Serendipity. “We may be seen.” They collected on the edge of the forest, able to see out into the light, but remaining hidden from prying eyes.

“They’re like the Buzzor’s globes in the city well,” said Tchi. Several large silver spheres stood up on their poles in the air some 100 metres high.

“Yes,” said Serendipity gravely.

There were four of them. Down below on the ground between them were two buildings. One a massive shiny black pyramid and the other a large grey cube. All around these, crane scaffolding was in the stage of erection, although no one was around doing this presently. From the girders and gantries black smog floated in whispery clouds. At the back of the buildings lay a field of concrete on which stood many vehicles. “That looks like a small airfield,” whispered Marie.

“We’re here,” said Serendipity. “In that Marcoomian Pyramid the bomb is to be detonated.

The three children smiled at each other in relief at having got here at last, pleased that the trekking, at least for the moment, was over. Nevertheless, now it was time, they knew, to really show their mettle.

“It’s not very well protected,” is it?” said Tchi, “you’d expect battalions of soldiers and tanks.”

“They wouldn’t expect anyone to get this far into the state,” said Serendipity. “The main battalions are on the West in the actual city of Blackbod Miasma, we are still about fifteen miles away from there.”

To the North of the road, woods ran along the complex. It was decided to track the edge of the woods and get as close as possible to the Marcoomian Pyramid. After that no one was quite sure what to do. Serendipity would lead, Maximouse would be backstop. Not following a path in the woods but manoeuvring between the outer trees would be difficult and everyone must keep close to avoid getting lost, or losing contact, said Serendipity.

*** *** *** ***

Soon, protected inside the wood under the trees, they were able to spy out. Outside the Marcoomian Pyramid, across the street, a big sandwich board stood by its front doors heralding: ‘The Biggest Explosion Tonight!’. It read: ‘Welcome to the destruction of worlds. 7.30pm Friday 24th October.’

“What time is it?” asked Serendipity.

“It’s six fifteen.”

“We have just over one hour,” said Serendipity, “to think of how we are going to stop this bomb.”

A figure came into view walking along the road. It was an ugly goblin. Then there were two. And then there were four figures in black cloaks, and then three more. They all filed into the Marcoomian Pyramid.

“I’m going to try out an idea,” said Rosalind. “I was going to try this out at Kamachal’s but forgot about it.”

“Don’t go off. If you got lost that would ruin everything,” said Serendipity.

“I’ll just go behind those trees – I‘ll go no further.”

After she had gone Tchi suggested they burn the building down. “We’ve got some matches,” he said.

“We don’t know if that material would burn. And how long would it take to make a fire? We’d be captured in seconds,” said Serendipity

“If they are going to set off a bomb, a box of matches won’t do anything a bomb can’t do,” said Marie.

Tchi looked perplexed. “We need to get inside,” he said, “there’s no way we can destroy the building from the outside.”

“How on earth do we get inside?” questioned Marie. “Look at the video cameras and surveillance all over the place.”

“Hey look, there’s hundreds of them,” said Tchi.

The small dribble of creatures going into the pyramid had now turned into a flood. Cutless-carrying Wergs, evil looking Sprites, hoodies in all colours of cape, Pulwhisites in their original revolting shape and other creatures of shapes and substance beyond the imagination were all queuing to get into the Marcoomian Pyramid.

Suddenly they heard a shriek from behind the tree where Rosalind had gone. Maximouse instinctively ran into the wood to defend her.

But instead of finding Rosalind he stopped dead. A hooded figure in a black cloak stood beneath the tree. Maximouse began to cautiously back away.

“Wait! Wait! Its me! Rosalind!” she said, dropping the hood and revealing her face.

“I’m so pleased. I’ve done it,” she continued, beaming. “I now understand how I got those amazing walking boots out of thin air!”

Maximouse continued to stare at her.

Rosalind grabbed his hand and escorted the shocked Moonbeasley back to the others. They were equally surprised to see her in a long robe.

“I was given a pendant to wear around my neck in Wizicky Waxicky Wood by a fox when I got lost. He said it was a dress pendant. What he meant was if I touch it and wish for some item of dress I get it by magic! That’s how I got those walking boots. I must have been holding or touching the pendant at the same time as wishing for them. When I tried unsuccessfully many times later, I couldn’t have been touching it, so it didn’t work.”

“That’s fantastic,” said Marie, “that means I can have some comfortable walking boots.

“Does it work over and over again?” asked Tchi.

“Try it.”

Tchi put the pendant around his neck.

“Ask for the same robe that Rosalind is wearing,” said Serendipity.

Instantly he became clothed in a long black cloak that covered his body. It fastened around the waist with two tie cords. A hood covered his face.

“Brilliant!” shouted Serendipity. “Everybody borrow the pendant, follow the instructions, get a cloak and in we go!”

CHAPTER 39

The insurgents dressed in their new gowns waited until the crowd began to diminish before attaching themselves at the rear of it, hoping to call no attention to themselves whatsoever.

Inside the amphitheatre they held their breath. Two Buzzors stood each side of the single entrance and exit. Although the Buzzors were keeping guard neither asked for tickets or passes of any description. They were also lucky in that the back row of the amphitheatre inside the pyramid was still vacant and here they sat.

All around the room were rows and rows of seats – most occupied – gradually rising at the back like those in an amphitheatre or lecture theatre. The lowest and most central seats comprised of many white coated individuals who sat in front of in built computers

But what dominated the whole area was a black bomb in the centre of the room. It took up the height of the whole pyramid, it’s rounded nose almost reaching the apex of the spectacularly tall building. Two vent holes at its girth kept emitting belches of black smoke, which floated about the room in clouds.

Around the base of the bomb was lattice of benches facing back towards the audience. A number of broad headed Wergs, in military uniform, sat here protecting the bomb.

In front of this was a trestle table and behind this, facing the audience, stood a man. Rosalind recognised him immediately. It was Eggplant, Urusula’s chief scientist. Now he was here welcoming the guests. In between pleasantries to the guests he occasionally drew on a pipe which he inhaled with a big smile on his face, and black smoke occasionally puffed in clouds out of his nose mouth and ears. “It’s great to be home,” he paused, “but soon all the North will be our home too!” The audience burst into laughter and applause. “Soon we will all be breathing nemotoxigen all the time all over the island. And when I say ‘soon’ I mean in about five minutes.” Again everyone hooted and clapped with appreciation.

“Ladies and gentlemen, creatures, loyal supporters of Princess Ursula, monsters of wealth, gluttony and greed, welcome! WELCOME! I say no more, other than to pass you on to our divine and sublime head of state, Ursula the Unstoppable!”

Rosalind had never seen this woman before and – expecting a monster but not finding one – was surprised. She had jet black hair that rained down and danced around her head. She was pretty in a peculiar way, like the way of a doll. She had no lines on her face. No lines of frustration, frowning, wrinkles or even laugher, or lines of caused by suffering. Yet she didn’t look at all young for all her beauty or taut skin.

She wore a low cut long evening dress. On the necklace around her neck hung a huge black cut gem the size of a golf ball.

“Welcome to you all,” she began. People clapped.

“In a few minutes you will be witness to one of the universe’s’ major events. We are going to explode this bomb and release nemotoxigen into the Palingenesis Island and the whole universe. All old Gods will die. Life – for a short time – will then be about money power and status – and then eventually I will become the only God.”

More cheering, clapping and hooting.

“This has taken years of research and scientific and magical enquiry, but thanks to my brilliant scientist, Eggplant, we have achieved an absolutely remarkable feat. I will now bring him back to explain the details before returning to start the count.”

After thunderous applause for Princess Ursula, another ringing applause followed at the return of Eggplant. Gradually it subsided as he began talking.

“Many years ago a certain Arthur Hedgehog lived in the North in Wizicky Wazicky Wood with his family. Arthur was an explorer and he travelled to many strange worlds, way past these islands. When he returned on one occasion he bought a strange magical substance with his called triclinnium sulphite. After realising the importance of the chemical he had, Arthur, on his death bed, told his son Cedric that it must be guarded at all costs and that no one should have access to it. Cedric was concerned about the chemical. He decided to hide it in a pocket watch, which he stole from a girl who came from a parallel universe. He put the sulphite inside it and then gave it her back, knowing she would return to her own universe. This she did.

“When we set about making the nemotoxigen bomb it was critical we had the reactive qualities of triclinnium sulphite. As there was none of this island we set out to trace this girl, Rosalind.

“Having located her, we had to send some Buzzor troops to her domain, England, Earth, to get this watch back. As our troops were sent to do this I simultaneously made an amazing discovery back here on Palingenesis Island. I discovered a local indigenous chemical which had the same properties as triclinnium sulphite and was available on this island. You’ll forgive me if I don’t tell you where.”

Laughter.

“This chemical was christened plantophinnium. We immediately aborted our efforts to get Cedric’s pocket watch from the girl. It was proving a little difficult and it was no longer necessary. Now we had plantophinnium we could detonate our bomb!”

“The crowd gave another burst of applause.

“Incidentally,” he laughed, “that girl is presently in Palingenesis Island with a number of home grown insurgents. We know they have headed this way because we have a spy in their group, and should they manage to get through our state borders, our friend, the Quark will sort them out.”

Suddenly someone demanded from the audience: “Why haven’t we caught these monsters already?” It was a white coated half-human, half-Werg character seated in the second row next to a computer.

Eggplant was surprised to have a heckler, but came back with a prompt response.

“Have no fear. We’ve been watching them all the way down and they have absolutely no way of causing us any damage at all. They will walk right into our trap.”

Little do they know we’re standing in this room, thought Rosalind.

“Now, with plantophinnium we have no need of triclinnium sulphite. So here it is! The Unstoppable Ursula’s illustrious scientific team has set about building this bomb behind me. So, with no more ado, switch on the preactive stage!”

Instantly the metal cylinder behind began to hum.

“When Princess Ursula starts the countdown the computer will take over. However – as you are all sitting far enough away – there will be no danger for anyone here. The top part of the cylinder will shoot up through the apex of the pyramid and explode three miles up into the sky. Of course we will all get covered in delicious nemotoxigen, so sit tight and watch.” He pointed to Ursula who came back over to the table.

“Let the countdown begin!” she shouted.

As the countdown started, being called out in metallic speech by a computer on the side of the bomb, Rosalind didn’t know what she should do. It’s all very well asking us to stop the bomb, she thought, but how on Earth are we supposed to know how to do it. We’re not scientists!

The gang of insurgents all sat there, in desperation, wondering themselves what they should do. 10… 9…. 8….

Suddenly Rosalind in desperation jumped up out of her seat and ran towards the bomb. Her action was instantly contagious as all her friends ran after her down the steps.

For a few seconds confusion reigned. None of the gang even managed to get to the bomb before they were jostled to the ground or restrained in some way. Eggplant immediately stopped the countdown.

Eventually Eggplant waved for everyone to be silent as the gang were tied up.

“Well I did say they would fall into my trap, didn’t I?” he scoffed.

He kept requesting that everyone to calm down and sit down.

“These Northern insurrectionists have never had a chance from the first minute,” he quaffed. “Amateurish all the way through.” He looked with pleasure at the bright eyed Ursula, who smiled radiantly and clapped him from her seat. Everyone soon joined in.

Ursula stood up and said: “Place them round the bomb, so that they feel the vibration when the rocket is ejected.”

A few minutes later, each securely tied prisoner was placed with their backs to the metal base of the cylinder.

“Let history be made! Start the countdown!”

“10… 9… 8… “ began the metallic voice.

“7… 6… 5… 4…

Rosalind began to cry. This was awful. They had got so close but only to fail.

“3… 2… 1… Now!”

CHAPTER 40

But nothing happened.

No rocket shot out of the metal cylinder.

Silence reigned for a very long ten seconds.

“What’s happening?” asked Ursula of Eggplant.

Eggplant face flustered. “T-t-there appears t-t-o be some kind of m-malfunction,” he said hesitatingly. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”

“What malfunction?”

“Um…” he was fighting with the print-outs on the bomb computer.

“Your highness, its says here,” began the white coated technician in the second row who was reading the analysis on his own computer, “that plantophillium cannot combine with the radion to provide effective boost at such neutroniun levels.”

“What does that mean?” she asked her face reddening.

“It means,” he continued in a rather lofty voice, “that despite plantophillium working on laboratory levels it will not work at levels required in the bomb.”

“So?”

“What it means is that plantophillium is an inappropriate replacement for triclinnium sulphite.” The creature rubbed his toad-like brow with his hand. “I had been saying this all along but Eggplant wouldn’t listen.”

“But the tests all worked,” shouted a scientist sitting near eggplant.

“Only on a small scale,” said the scientific toad.

“Stop!”

Ursula walked over to Eggplant.”

“We need triclinnium sulphite. Get some now or we’ll be the laughing stock of the universe.”

“But the only place we can find that is with this girl,” he said pointing to Rosalind.

“That’s it,” said Ursula. “Search her!”

Rosalind had realised seconds before that she had granddad’s watch in the pocket of her robe and had began to wonder if and how she could conceal it, but it was too late now.

Despite resisting and screaming as much as she could (which was not a lot because she was tied up) she couldn’t stop them. They quickly found and took the watch.

“As the preactive stage has started we don’t have time to strip the watch. The triclinnium sulphite will work inside the watch casing,” said Eggplant admiring the pocket watch and grinning.

“Right!” said Eggplant, reaching up and putting the watch into the detonator shaft on the side of the bomb. “Now we mean business. Phew! That was a close shave.” He didn’t wait for Ursula but pressed the initiation button himself.

“Begin the countdown!”

“10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Now!”

But still the bomb still failed to explode.

CHAPTER 41

“It’s the wrong watch!” squealed Rosalind at the top of her voice. Everyone in the whole pyramid looked at her in astonishment. Something she should have kept to herself had suddenly been shouted out aloud to the enemy.

“It’s the wrong watch,” said Eggplant.

“It’s the wrong watch,” echoed Ursula.

“The watch that we need is still back there on Earth! We need to go back and get it.”

“We need to get it quickly,” said Eggplant. “I won’t be able to get the preactive stage running for another two years when the system shuts down.”

“How long have we got, bungler?” rasped Ursula.

“The preactive stage will run out of chemicals in fifteen hours. We need to get to the Comms centre immediately.”

“Bring me the girl!” demanded Ursula.

Rosalind was grabbed by a Werg soldier and placed in front of Princess Ursula.

“Bring me the Moonbeasley.”

He was soon standing next to Rosalind trying very hard not to shiver.

“You like the Moonbeasley, don’t you?” she said to Rosalind.

Rosalind said nothing.

“You will tell me where the other watch is or I will have him cut to pieces. Ear by ear, arm by arm, until there is nothing left.”

“I don’t care,” spat the brave Maximouse. “I’ll die for Gluid. Don’t tell her anything.”

“Shut your face, you pathetic creature!

Ursula the Unstoppable beckoned a Werg soldier and took the cutless from his belt. She placed the cutless behind Maximouse’s ear.

“I’ll tell you if you promise not to hurt him,” said Rosalind, carrying on, not waiting for a response, “it must be in my lounge, in my home town, we must have left the real one on the settee.”

*** *** *** ***

Suddenly there was a clamour all around them, as everyone in the room became seized by action. In a blur Rosalind felt herself grabbed.

“Put them in the sky dungeon,” Ursula shouted.

A Werg soldier was speaking over the public address system to the crowd, “If you have time to stay around and see the bomb exploded you may stay in our hotels for the duration. Should you not be able to do this the airfield will have transport available within minutes to take you home.”

*** *** *** ***

“How quickly can we get the task done at PC7 Comms room?” asked Ursula.

Eggplant was trying to ingratiate. “It will take about half an hour to get a replacement zico computer from the city down to the PC7 Comms room, half an hour to set it up and then half an hour to send the Buzzors across. Then add on the time for the Buzzors to carry out the task and get back. Not much more than three hours, I should think.”

“I’m calling alert red.”

“Oh,” said Eggplant, trying not to show his alarm.

*** *** *** ***

Amidst all the frenetic activity in the Marcoomian Pyramid, the five captives were shuffled out by the Werg soldiers. Behind the pyramid, floated the strangest of buildings. A black iron ring was held up by three almost invisible giant knitting needles coming out of the ground. The captives were shoved ungraciously towards a lift that rose all the way up to the circular building above the iron ring.

All of a sudden Rosalind felt tired and defeated.

Even the Werg soldiers began to miss their step.

And then Rosalind understood. They were coming over the airfield. Boddlegogs were coming in force.

“Get in that lift shaft,” said a Werg soldier, pushing them in, and pressing a button. The doors closed on them. They began ascending to the room in the sky.

“We couldn’t have escaped. The Boddlegogs are out in force. It looks like Ursula has called up all her monsters. I wouldn’t fancy being a visitor or a Werg at the moment. The Boddlegogs don’t care who they muscleize.”

“What does that mean?” asked Marie.

“Let’s hope you never find out,” said Serendipity.

Eventually the lift came to a stop and they climbed out into a circular room with two windows – neither of which had glass. As the lift returned to the ground, Marie – resting her arms on the low sill – looked down at the Boddlegogs. “Those creatures are vile, I hope we don’t get any Boddlegogs coming up in the lift.”

“It’s unlikely,” said Serendipity, “They usually travel in groups. And we seem to be out of their influence up here. We must be far enough away from them to not have our minds affected,” said Serendipity joining her.

“How are we going to get out?” asked Rosalind, keeping away from looking down. She didn’t like being cooped up, but she didn’t like heights either.

Maxmouse studied the lift shaft. He said the closed door was held tight with two bolts that went underneath. He gave that up as a non starter. He then turned his attention to a hatch which was open but had no controls with which to operate it.

“It must be for sending up food,” said Tchi. “it goes all the way down and is too small for a person to get into.”

“That useless too. Even if we could get down we’d just meet the Boddlegogs at the bottom.” He looked around the rest of the circumference of the room. He joined Serendipity and Marie at the window.

“We’ve had it,” said Marie. “We’re stuck.”

“There’s always a way,” said Maximouse.

“You have an idea,” said Serendipity, daring to turn her frown into a smile.

“A very dangerous and stupid idea,” said Maximouse.

“Tell us.”

“Do we still have the rope, knife and tools in the rucksack?”

“Yes,” said Tchi. “I’m still attached to it. Everything is still here. We’ve even still got some fizzy pop left.”

“Do you remember at Plasticia I was given wing humps that produced ego-gas?”

“Aha!” said Serendipity beginning to understand.

“Go on,” said Marie.

“I think I’ve still got some left and I could fly down to the ground, although I have little control of my flying.”

“I don’t like where this is going,” said Marie.

“If I have enough I could fly past the Boddlegogs.”

“But even if you got to safe land how could you rescue us?” asked Marie.

“You’d come with me.”

No one spoke for a moment, thinking of the risk and danger involved.

“Let me see,” said Maximouse, “One of you can hang around my neck. Another could be tied on at the front. And the other two could be tied on to my legs.”

“Urrrrh,” said Marie, “I’m not doing that. Count me out.”

“We have to try it,” said Serendipity, “it’s are our only chance.”

“But won’t you be too heavy to fly with all of us hanging on.”

“Possibly but we could try it with two and then add another two up here.”

They eventually agreed to try it as it was their only option. A small piece of rope was cut with the knife into long and short lengths and everyone drew straws to see who was going to go where. By this method it was eventually decided that Rosalind was going to hang on to Maximouse’s neck, for Serendipity to be tied at the front and for Marie and Tchi to be tied onto both his legs, the rope having been reinforced by being tied round his body first.

It was also decided to rid themselves of their hooded cloaks, as these could be problematic in flying. Rosalind’s dress pendant put them all in the lightest and warmest of tight fitting clothes.

First Maximouse had to see if he could still fly. He wriggled the humps on his back and slowly shot up to bump his head gently on the roof. “Pull me down,” he said. Once back down on the floor, he stayed there with no apparent need to float up again. “I’ve never quite got the hang of this,” he said.

“Don’t say that,” said Tchi, “just tell us you’re in complete control.”

After tying the slip-knots to go round his body and hang down from his feet, Rosalind got on his back and hung on to his neck. “Slip your feet under the ropes for extra safety,” he said.

Next, Serendipity – who was the lightest of them all – was tied on with a rope harness around his shoulders and under his arms. “Now let me go up again,” he said and began twitching his shoulder humps. Again he rose to the ceiling, but much slower this time.

“Now put yourselves in those rope harnesses that are hanging from my legs,” he said to Marie and Tchi, looking down at them.

Soon they were all connected up.

“I can’t test if we’re too heavy, because I can’t fly any higher in here.”

“I don’t like this at all,” said Marie.

“Marie, have faith. You two down below will walk to the window sill and stand next to it.”

“Oh God,” said Marie, “Please help us.”

As they neared the window Maximouse told them to stop. “I need to generate as much ego-gas as I can,” he said. After a couple of minutes of him doing the strangest gyrations, he said; “Listen. This is very important. You two below need to leave the ledge at exactly the same time. So I will count four, and on three you will stand on the ledge at the same time and on four you will both jump away from the building.”

“I feel sick,” said Marie.

“Hold my hand,” said Tchi.

“Right. Stand ready,” said Maximouse.

Marie shut her eyes and held Tchi’s hand.

“Okay. Everybody ready? Here we go…” said Maximouse

“One… two… three…..four….”

And Marie and Tchi leapt into the sky.

CHAPTER 42

At first they plummeted for about ten feet but their acceleration came to a halt and they stabilised. The two children at the bottom banged into each other a few times, and then started going up again.

There was breeze in the air and fortunately it took them away form the building.

“Can’t you steer properly,” shouted Serendipity.

“Steer? Who said I could steer,” said Maximouse.

Down below a couple of figures were stirring. One or two Boddlegogs had noticed the aerial escape. And within seconds all the Boddlegogs were pointing up in the sky.

The strange airship started to plummet down again.

“What’s going on Maximouse!” said Rosalind hanging on with all her might.

Down they went, ten feet, twenty feet.

“I’ve run out of ego-gas.”

“Find some more!” shouted Rosalind. She suddenly felt ghastly as if her mind was turning upside down. They were going to die, they were all going to die. She may as well let go. What was the point of Maximouse trying to agitate his wing humps. It was all worthless, hopeless and not worth the struggle.

“We are going to beat Ursula, We are going to beat her,” sang Serendipity at the top of her voice. “Sing with me everyone, sing your heart out!”

Suddenly they started going up again, Maximouse somehow having generated more gas. They were still singing as they leapt back up the distance they had dropped.

Rosalind, still trying to sing, suddenly felt better. “Keep singing,” said Serendipity. “If we drop down the Boddlegogs will affect our minds and make us depressed and negative, so keep singing something positive, especially if we drop down again.”

“On no!” screamed Maximouse.

“What wrong?” said Serendipity

“The transportation CD has dropped out of my pocket down to the ground. The pockets are too small on these shorts.”

“I wouldn’t consider losing a CD my priority at this particular point in time,” panted Serendipity.

*** *** *** ***

A breeze had taken the gang further towards the Marcoomian Pyramid, which was not the direction they wanted to go.

“If we could get over to the wood we might stand a chance,” said Serendipity trying to kick her legs as if to create a propulsive mechanism. But it didn’t work, in fact, now the breeze now started blowing them back from where they had come.

They gradually started sinking again. Down, down. Directly below them were the Boddlegogs. The gang sang as loud as they could, while Maximouse tried to agitate his wing humps to produce more gas, but this time it didn’t seem to be working. Down, down. Now they were at tree top level, their singing was getting more difficult. Gradually it slowed down and became quieter as everyone began to feel very depressed. Down, down. Below her Rosalind saw hundreds of dreadful gas mask looking creatures. Down, down.

Who cares. We never thought we would stop Ursula. We always knew we were mere children playing with big cosmic problems. And what’s wrong with Ursula anyway. She may have a good idea in releasing the nemotoxigen bomb. Perhaps we should help her. Down, down, down.

And then out of the sky, from the setting sun, came a white figure, flying directly towards them. It was a swan, a massive swan, and on immediate collision course.

But the swan pulled up its wings just in time and took the rope around Maximouse’s shoulder’s in his mouth. Instantly the swan flipped its wings and flew off with the five hanging below. The speed of lateral flight suddenly increased dramatically, shaking the dangling Marie and Tchi about. But the swan took them higher, and within a minute, as they left the Boddlegogs behind, their minds were emptied of negative thoughts.

“You’re getting a bit heavy now,” said the swan.

“Put us down,” Said serendipity. “Can you put us down in the wood by the Marcoomian Pyramid?”

“Of course I can, Serendipity.”

“How do you know my name?”

“Aha! Now thereby hangs a tale.”

*** *** *** ***

The swan gracefully descended into a small clearing in the wood opposite the Marcoomian Pyramid.

“Thank you very much,” said Serendipity.

“We would be dead without you, muscleised by the Boddlegogs,” said Maximouse.

“And I would be dead without you,” said the swan. “You don’t recognise me, do you?”

“That voice sounds familiar,” said Marie. And then she opened her eyes wide with disbelief.

“That’s right, I’m DagDag. I’ve been reborn on this island. I went into the water and suddenly I just saw light and a great heaviness, the heaviness of worlds was lifted from me. And the next thing I knew I was a swan.

“I flew around trying to find you but didn’t know which way to go and then by luck I came across Kamachal and he told me what had happened. I came after you but had to fly low to see where I was going because of all this terrible smog. Also I had to take care to avoid the flying Buzzors.”

“DagDag, I’m so pleased,” said Marie giving the swan a hug around his neck.

“We told you, Marie, that things would be okay,” said Serendipity. “Anyway, this is not over.” She continued. “We need to get to the Marcoomian Pyramid to stop them getting Buzzors over to get the other pocket watch.”

“Follow me,” said Tchi, “it’s only a 100 yards away through those trees, how on earth are we going to get in…”

“The Boddlegogs are bound to be on our trail – they must have seen where we landed,” said Maximouse.

“And the Buzzors will be guarding everywhere,” said Serendipity. “We must be careful.”

They hurried to a vantage point allowing a view across the road to investigate. Now they needed to come up with a strategy.

Suddenly a figure stepped out from behind a tree.

“It is in my interests,” said the white coated figure, “that you are successful in sabotaging this mission.”

Rosalind recognised him as the scientific heckler inside the Marcoomian Pyramid who had been criticizing Eggplant.

“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dr. Schurncoat.

No one spoke.

“We have a mutual interest,” he said. “You do not want the mission to succeed and neither do I. If you sabotage it I will be very pleased.”

“So will we,” sighed Rosalind.

“Eggplant will be finished and I will have his job. I do not care what happens to you after you have destroyed the computers, I just want to make sure you are successful.”

“You can get us into the Marcoomian Pyramid?” asked Tchi excitedly.

“They are not there. They are in PC7 Comms, where the control desk and computer banks are. There is no way you could get in there but, as it happens, I have a key to get you in the side door.” He held up a chubb key.

“Will we meet a lot of resistance?” asked Marie.

“Because many Buzzors have been despatched to stop a Broudhous revolt that has broken out some miles East, it would seem unlikely. The Quark has also gone missing so we are somewhat overstretched at the moment. However there will be resistance and I have something which may help you in that regard.” From over his shoulder he pulled forth a large rumpled sack and opened it. He showed them doughnut shaped objects. “These are jam and dog food bombs. I’ll hand these out in a minute. You may never have heard of them, but they send the Buzzors into complete chaos. It takes them ages to wake up again.”

“Oh we’ve heard of them,” said Rosalind.

“Allow me to lead the way,” said Dr. Shurncoat.

He led through the forest for five minutes of walking to a technical looking building, not unlike a mobile classroom. Once inside he started walking down a staircase for several floors until they came to a cellar. He inserted a key into a solid door. “This is a defence tunnel which leads all the way to the PC7 Comms,” he said.

“These are underground bunkers for the operatives in case of aerial attack,” he said. On each side of the tunnel were bunk beds, sinks and telephones.

“Before we approach the door at the end of the corridor to go back up the stairs that will lead you to the HQ you will need to take some water bombs with you -“

“They destroy the electronic circuits, don’t they,” interrupted Tchi.

“That’s correct. But I have prepared some acid solution bombs which will do the job even better. Put these water bombs in your pockets,” he said handing them out, “and now hold your jam and dog food bombs in your hands. One for you, and you. Everybody take what they need. Alright. And now we shall walk down quietly and I will open the critical access door.”

The lock turned slowly and noiselessly. The door opened.

“Now go up two floors as quiet as mice. The swing door you will find will take you straight to your enemy and your mission. Do not fail me.”

Maximouse led creeping quietly up the stairs, Tchi next, the girls and the Sprite following.

CHAPTER 43

“Are you ready to teleport the Buzzors over yet!” screamed Ursula inside the control room.

“We’re still having a problem linking to a live TV set,” said Eggplant.

“Trouble! Trouble!” she screamed. “You’ve made us all look completely stupid today. You better sort this out or I’ll have you boiled in oil on a public holiday.”

“Yes, I think I’ve linked a TV in that area now,” said Eggplant, in as a calm a fashion as he could muster. “It’s a bit of a weak signal but I think I can amplify it to make it useable.”

“Are you ready, Buzzors?” asked Eggplant turning his head towards the two Buzzors standing beside him, a TV set flickering between them. Wa!”

The swing door had suddenly burst open and mayhem had taken place. The Buzzors didn’t stand much of a chance due to the surprise and unexpectedness of the attack. Jam and dog food bombs went everywhere and very successfully rendered the two Buzzors completely ineffective. As Eggplant was fighting with a sword Ursula grabbed the mic and began shouting for reinforcements from the Boddlegogs, but Rosalind knocked the microphone out of her hand.

Eggplant ran out of the door chased by DagDag pecking at his neck. The Buzzors had sunk to the floor, soporific insects rendered ineffective by their obsession for jam and dog food. Rosalind, serendipity and Maria dragged the fighting and screaming Ursula down off her chair and she fell heavily to the floor. Rosalind saw the switch on her pelvis toggle back on to air. Princess Ursula screamed: “I can’t breathe air any more. I must breathe nemotoxigen. Help me. Help me.” She said and fumbled trying to reach down to toggle the switch back so that she could breathe her heavenly gas.

“Hold her tight,” said Marie.

“I must breathe nemotoxigen. It’s what I live on, that beautiful foul air.”

“Call everyone on your intercom and tell them to head West and to leave the town. .”

“Too late I’ve already called the Boddlegogs. They’ll be coming from the forest. You’ll all be dead in a few minutes.”

“Call your forces, call them off!”

“If you let me put the switch back.”

“Okay.”

They let go of her arms and immediately her arms rushed down to switch back the toggle switch. Click. Before they could stop her. She grabbed the microphone and shouted, “All forces to PC7 Comms. Attack! Attack!”

She had been wrestled back down to the ground again and the mic had been taken out her hand.

“I’ll do it!” said Marie impatiently, and clicked the toggle switch into the air breathing position. Ursula screamed. “No! Nor air. I hate air. I love pollution, I love nemotoxigen.”

“You will be forced to breathe air all the while unless you tell your forces to stay away.”

“I think we should trash the computers and get out of here before its too late,” said Tchi looking at the Buzzors who’s whiskers were beginning to twitch nervously

“We can’t. Not until we have got her to send her troops off.”

The Buzzors were now beginning to stir from their binge stupor.

Holding her down they put the microphone to her mouth.

“I’ll snap off your toggle switch,” rasped Marie aggressively into Ursula’s ear, “so that it can’t be toggled back. It will remain permanently in the air breathing position – and you won’t be able to breathe nemotoxigen at all.”

Ursula didn’t take any time to think about this and responded immediately by bringing the microphone to her mouth: “All orders cancelled,” she shouted into it. “Fly East to sort out the trouble with the Broudhous.”

Much to everyone’s surprise – including her own – , Rosalind then suddenly grabbed Ursula’s toggle switch and, forcing it with all her might, quickly snapped it off. Ursula the Unstoppable writhed about on the floor screaming.

It took four of them to hold her down, while Maximouse and Tchi poured the acid solution all over the computers and control desks.

Suddenly DagDag returned by the front entrance. “I lost him in the car park. I think he’s hiding out there,” he said.

“Are there any troops out that way,” asked Tchi.

“Didn’t see any when I came in.”

“Quick, let’s go out that way. I don’t trust that Schurncoat, if we go the other way, he’s likely to have locked us in.

“We need to get back to Kamachal,” said Maximouse, “If we can get back there we can use Grudger’s computer. Let’s march, we just have to back track the way we’ve come.”

“That will take about two days,” said Marie, “and we have got to get through the ring of thorns. How are we going to do that?”

“Why don’t we steal a boom-jet from the air field.

“I think that might be Eggplant’s idea,” said DagDag

*** *** *** ***

Not long after the rebels had gone out of the front door of the building, Dr. Schurncoat came in through the swing door. He appeared distressed to find Ursula rolling about on the floor.

“I need nemotoxigen,” she screamed, “my toggle switch is in the wrong position and as it’s broken I can’t switch it back.”

“I’ll get you a gas cylinder, Your Most Divine, just give me a moment.”

Promptly he returned with one. He sat her up and inserted the gas nozzle under Ursula’s nose. He released the gas and she calmed down. “You’ll have to breathe these until you get your surgeons to repair the damage,” he said, with the gentlest of bedside manners.

“Kill these insurgents!” she shouted, stumbling to her feet. She grabbed the microphone and began a series of commands, but then the horrible realisation spread across her face that nothing worked.

“First, Your Most Divine, I think we should get the Buzzors to Earth to get the original supply of triclinnium sulphite. They’ve destroyed the control desk and the computers. It would normally take a day to get it all replaced, but I have several computers in my car. It will only take me several hours to set them up and the preactive stage of the bomb is still running for another fifteen hours.”

“Look. The Buzzors, are waking.” The Buzzors opened their terrifying eyes, their heads began nodding, their tongues panting, and they stood to attention. “The Buzzors are ready to go,” said Dr. Shurncoat.

“Excellent! Thank the Putrefaction that you have come to save the day. I would have Eggplant destroyed immediately if I knew where he was and I could communicate with my troops. I always knew you were the best scientist.”

“Thank you, Your Most Divine,” he said taking in a big gulp of nemotoxigen that was rapidly invading the room. “We should have this done in a short time. Off to work!”

*** *** *** ***

When the gang had burst out of the PC Comms front entrance, they had been wary of facing a wall of opposition but neither Buzzors nor Boddlegogs were to be seen. A few visitors to the Marcoomian Pyramid spectacle were still milling about the site, some were waiting to board air and land vehicles, but most had gone.

“I don’t like this,” said Serendipity. “It all seems to quiet somehow.”

“How on earth are we going to steal an aircraft? if we ever get one we wouldn’t be able to fly it.”

“What about you, DagDag, could you fly us to Kamachals?”

“I could carry all of you for a short distance, or I could carry one or two of you for a long distance. If I did the latter and came back to get the others, by doing repeat journeys, it would take an awfully long time,” he said sighing. “I do have an idea though. I’m off and good luck. If we lose each other I’ll see you at Kamachal’s.” And so saying fluttered his wings and flew away.

They crept along the slabs laid around the PC7 Comms building, keeping low, protected from the gaze of any evil force by keeping behind the strange small shrubs sporting black dripping leaves. At the back of the building the could see across the large flat sea of concrete that constituted the airfield and vehicle park.

Only a few aircraft remained. On the edge of the airfield was a large boom-jet, a machine that reminded Rosalind of Star Wars. It was a brilliant green, oval in shape.

Suddenly the doors opened and a young girl was ejected. She landed with a bump on the concrete. Eggplant appeared in the doorway. “Go and say hello to your mum,” he shouted and began to turn away.

She stood up and screamed for him to stop but the doors closed before she could get back into the ship again. The machine began to hum and the girl ran in the direction of the PC7 Comms building.

But then came a strange sensation which affected everyone. A sensation of dread, and a stomp, a familiar stomp.

“They’re on the mulch,” said Maximouse, “get down..”

Now they could see them.

The Boddlegogs were walking over the concrete of the airfield towards the boom-jet. It began to taxi, towards them, but after a few yards it stopped dead and the hum of its motors stopped.

Rosalind felt like she was going to be sick, like she wanted to die, like all was over. She would never see any of her family again, and she didn’t care, she didn’t care about anything.

Marie groaned, which caused Rosalind to look up at what was happening. Eggplant had opened the boomjet door and was walking down the ramp towards the Boddlegogs.

“He’s mad,” shouted Tchi.

“He has no choice, they’ve locked onto him and he’s now completely in their control.”

Eggplant was surrounded by the Boddlegogs, and then seconds later, all the Boddlegogs almost floated into him, as if they were all ghosts returning to a body at the same time. There was a dreadful uncanny scream and the body of Eggplant that everyone recognised suddenly became something else. He was now like jelly, an amorphous mass crumpled up on top of his shoes, with blood pouring out of his nose, ears and mouth.”

“They eat the muscles and leave everything else,” said Serendipity.”

“Do you think we should move?” asked Tchi lazily.

“I can’t be bothered,” said Rosalind.

“Keep saying to yourselves in your mind: ‘we will escape and prevail and keep heart’, over and over again,” insisted Serendipity.

Rosalind tried it. “We will escape and prevail and keep heart.” It made her feel a bit more lively. They began to crawl back, but not the way they had come, but back round the other side of the Comms building.

“Keep your head down, it’s a window.”

When they had cleared it, Tchi said, “I saw Shurncoat and Ursula and two Buzzors. I think they are replacing the computer systems.”

“We need to attack again?” moaned Marie.

“We’d never do it without bombs,” said Serendipity. “I think Shurncoat would be against us this time. I suggest we get as far away from the Boddlegogs as we can for the time being and work out what we can do.”

“We’re never going to stop them getting the other pocket watch,” said Rosalind.

“Let’s make it over the road to the forest again,” said Serendipity.

*** *** *** ***

Resting briefly in the forest they felt uneasy. They had foiled the bomb explosion plan for a short time but they had certainly not stopped it, and they had no way they could do so. Also Ursula was now hell bent on their destruction, and the Boddlegogs were no doubt trying to find them right now.

“We can’t just wait here until we come up with a plan, it’s too dangerous,” said Marie. “Let’s try and march back to Kamachals.”

“But that will take forever, and how will we get out of the Ring of Thorns,” asked the exhausted Rosalind who was struggling to keep her eyes open.

“It’s the only plan we have and it’s the safest,” said Tchi.

“But it’s not stopping the bomb which is what we came for,” said Serendipity.

“But if we got back to Earth before they did we could hide the pocket watch,” said Rosalind.

“Little chance we’d do it in time.”

“Yes,” she responded despondently.

“Let’s create some space between here and the Boddlegogs, and head back. At least we’ll be able to sleep better.”

Having decided this was all they could do, they began walking, making sure they kept hidden within the forest. After putting several miles between them and the Chemgantrial they settled down for a well deserved sleep in a small clearing. But they soon woke unrefreshed, flapping and slapping was going on all around them.

Alarmed they jumped to their feet, only to have their anxiety sent sky high by finding themselves surrounded by strange creatures that looked like flying dinosaurs.

“Scavenger birds!” said Serendipity backing away under the trees. “Take cover!”

“Stop! Stop! Stop!” cried a familiar voice. It was a swan, it was DagDag.

“I wish you had waited where you were – I’ve wasted hours trying to find you. I’ve bought my friend over to help carry you all to Kamachal’s. Jump on and hang on and don’t delay. Time is of the essence. After some gulping and eye rubbing, Rosalind and her friends did as they were instructed and with no harnesses or security hung on tightly to the birds thick necks.

Up and away into the night. It was a dark and starless sky. A full moon was out and look wasted and diffused.

*** *** *** ***

Once back at Kamachal’s they wasted no time at all. Grudger was hauled out of bed and his computer was put on, as was the TV. His copy of the CD was placed in the computer tray, and then Maximouse took over.

“I need to locate a TV set that’s on, that’s near your house,” he said looking at Rosalind. “According to the info here it’s 6.35pm in your town at the moment, so we should get quite a few sets on. A minute later he shouted with pleasure. “Yes, we have a connection at a TV shop which is close to your house. All three of you, stand near the TV.”

“What about you and Serendipity, what will you do?”

DagDag replied, “We’ll be safe up North. That is, if you stop them getting the pocket watch. My friends, the scavenger birds will help me take these two back up North as soon as you have gone. We wish you the best of luck. The whole future of the Island and the universe is in your hands. I just hope you’re not too late.”

“Gee thanks!” said Rosalind, “that’s not much of a responsibility is it?”

CHAPTER 44

“No more talking, here we go,” said Maximouse.

Suddenly everything was pulsating, light was operating in stripes. Parts of the room around her began to be completely missing. She started to feel sick, like she was being turned around in a mental spin dryer. Down a tunnel, down a corridor, at incredible speed, as if she was flying, with thousands and thousands of doors on either side. It went on and on, being jettisoned out of a white spot in the distance, infinity, but not going away from it, despite being spewed out from it.

Flashes, flickering lights, sunlight, red brick, and then she found herself standing next to the familiar TV shop in the High Street. Tchi appeared like a ghost gradually forming into reality, like being transported on Star Trek, but completely different. Then Marie.

They all looked startled at each other.

“We’ve got a job to do,” said Marie.

But as they stepped to cross over the road they noticed three girls on the other side were coming towards them. It was Marissa, Sade and Della. “After what I’ve been through,” said Rosalind angrily, “I’ll punch their lights out.”

“No time. Let’s get out of the way, we have more important things to do,” said Tchi.

So the children began running down the High Street.

“Get them!” shouted Marissa, and the pursuers began, but not for long. As they ran along the street pursuing their victims, two creatures suddenly formed in front of them. The two Buzzors solidified directly in front of the pursuers and Marissa, Sadie and Della stopped dead in their tracks. Two gigantic wasps topped with dog’s heads now stood a footfall away from them. The girls screamed and fled in the direction from which they had come. They almost collided with Constable Bill who was cycling along on his bike. He swerved to avoid the girls, saw the Buzzors, and went crashing through a hedge.

The Buzzors did not remain stationary for long, and were neither interested in the delinquent girls or the policeman, but sped after Marie, Tchi and Rosalind. They took to the air with ferocious buzzing and flew directly to Rosalind’s mother’s house, only a few hundred yards away.

As they got there, they saw Marie running in the front door, but she wasn’t able to close the door before they got to it. The two Buzzors forced their way through into the hallway to the screams of the retreating children. They pushed Tchi aside on and went into the lounge, where they found Marie cowering near a window and Rosalind holding the pocket watch containing the triclinnium sulphite.

One of the Buzzors walked over and with one of its tentacles grabbed the watch.

Rosalind, Tchi and Marie thought they would be killed but it seemed that the Buzzors had no time for such sport and fled the house. The children ran to the front room window and watched the Buzzors flying into the air, and watched them gradually dematerialising, both things happening virtually at the same time.

“We’re done for,” said Rosalind.

“Palingenesis Island is doomed,” said Marie, bursting into tears. “Whatever will Maximouse, DagDag and Serendipity think of us? We’ve let them down.”

Tchi had sat on the sofa and was staring at the wall in total despondency. “After all that!” he was thinking. “After all our combined efforts!” He was furious with himself.

The phone went. Ros picked it up, tears now coming down her face.

“Hello there, I’m from the local UFO society organisation and there has been some reports that you and some of your friends were seen with some strange creatures, aliens, in the High Street about ten minutes ago. Could we come round and get an interview?”

“No. Get lost,” said Rosalind and put the phone down.

CHAPTER 45

When Rosalind’s mum came home she found them sitting slumped on the settee in the front room.

“I’ve bought Granddad home,” she said, smiling. “He seems fine now.”

Rosalind grunted.

“You lot don’t seem very happy. You all look most depressed.

Once Rosalind would have been in complete panic at having lost Granddad’s pocket watch, but now that didn’t seem very important. She couldn’t stop thinking about Maximouse, Serendipity and all the great creatures she had met, and how she had let the watch be taken out of her hand.

“I think you’d better come in here dad,” said Mum. “They need cheering up.”

He smiled and sat next to Tchi on the settee. “Good as new, now, he said.

Rosalind thought she had better get it over with. “I’m sorry Granddad but I’ve lost your watch.”

“Oh, that’s what you’re all so miserable about.”

“I’m really sorry.”

“That doesn’t sound like you, Rosalind, you’re usually so careful.”

“Huh,” she said, almost rudely.

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter. It was only a copy. I copied it because I wanted to keep the original one that you gave me, so I had that one copied for a doctor friend at the hospital. The watch was in a jeweller’s anyway being repaired.”

“You’re joking!” said Marie. All the children were sitting up, listening avidly.

“Yes, that’s right. The original watch you gave me for my birthday I’ve got it here now.” He put his hand in his pocket and retrieved a pocket watch that looked identical to all the other ones. “I just collected it. It works fine now, look it’s seven o’clock. This is the original one, so no harm done. I’ve just got to get another one copied to give to my doctor friend.”

The children simultaneously screamed with joy and leapt out of their seats to dance around the settee. “Granddad, you’re a hero!” shouted Rosalind, and soon Marie and Tchi were shouting the same thing over and over again.

“What on Earth have you done, dad? They certainly look at lot more cheerful now that you have been talking to them,” said mum coming in with a mug of coffee for the recovering patient.

Granddad – you must keep that watch safe!” said Rosalind earnestly.

“Well I’ve kept it safe so far, haven’t I?” he laughed. And the children burst out laughing again.

68,072

PALINGENESIS ISLAND BOOK IV 25 – 33

ESCAPE

CHAPTER 25

Tchi put his foot down and sped off to the cries of everyone in the car. He shot over the grass of the adjacent park, the way being clear of cars, litter and creatures. Maximouse was sitting in the front of the car shrieking with grief, Serendipity was sitting on his lap with her head turned to view the tragedy in the back seat. Gluid positioned between Marie and Rosalind had his head leaning on Rosalind’s shoulder. Marie was sobbing, her head in her hands but Rosalind was unaware of everything because she had gone to sleep.

“We must bury him,” said Serendipity.

“We can’t,” said Tchi. “We have to get out of here!”

Maximouse was dithering with the map. Serendipity grabbed it. “To the left,” she said.

They drove for miles along a wide main road, where a few cars were littered along either side, but on the whole progress was very good and soon they were heading East into the countryside.

Any sense of relief at being out of Plasticia, was thwarted by the dreadful losses of Gluid and DagDag, but even without this, any sense would have been short-lived as they soon heard the hum of the Buzzors growing louder. Tchi put his foot down hard on the accelerator and travelled at speeds he had never dared before. At least the road was straight and apart from one car – travelling some distance behind them – there was no other traffic on the road.

As the humming got louder the children grew more fearful.

After a few more miles, Rosalind awoke. She couldn’t believe that Gluid had been killed. But she didn’t have long to take it in because a missile came down to the off side of the car and burst into flames. Fortunately the engine did not stop, tyres miraculously did not melt, and the car continued along its way.

“There’s a tunnel ahead,” said Maximouse grabbing the map back off Serendipity. “We need to get out of the car” said Maximouse, a burst of inspiration in his eyes. “Yes. Here it is. We need to jump out in the Albumic tunnel.”

“They’ll wait for us to come out,” said Rosalind.

“Trust me,” he said. “I’m doing this for Gluid. I want it for a memento.”

The Albumic tunnel was directly ahead as he had predicted. Rosalind thought it was barely the width of a train tunnel, but it was light inside with strips of electric lights going all the way along. Maximouse quickly told everyone what his plan was, and what they were to do.

*** *** *** ***

Once inside the tunnel, Tchi, as instructed, slammed on the brakes and brought the car to a halt. With the speed of a military operation everyone leapt out, except Tchi. Starting the car again, Tchi left his door ajar. He began to drive the car in a straight line towards the tunnel exit. He took Gluid’s shoe that Maximouse had given him and wedged it under the accelerator peddle. Simultaneously he let out the clutch and rolled out of the car, and it shot off away from him. The car was only going about six miles an hour as he rolled out, but as soon he was out it accelerated away.

He watched the car drive out into the daylight and speed off along the straight road. Only seconds later he saw it turn into a fireball as a Buzzor torpedo hit it squarely on the roof. The red car turned orange and yellow with flame. The petrol tank exploded and Tchi was thrust back against the tunnel wall and held his hands over his face. He ran back to find the others.

“You were right. It’s worked,” said Tchi, “They’ve blown the car up. We wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

“They’ll come back for us,” said Serendipity.

“Possibly,” Maximouse said, “but they will most likely think we were in the car and that we’re all done for. At least it will give us some time. And look, here’s the car that was behind us is approaching the tunnel.”

“Action stations,” said Serendipity.

The three children stood in the middle of road waving their arms. The blue car came to a halt. A creature half-way resembling a man and a frog wound down his window.

“I can’t stop, I’m on a government mission.”

“Your car’s on fire at the back,” said Rosalind.

“Oh dear. And I’ve got such a long way to go.”

Leaving the engine running, he opened the door and stepped down onto the ground. He was short – about the same size as Serendipity – and wore a blue suit and a white shirt with a pink tie.

“Round here,” said the fairy pointing at the back of his car.

The instant he came to the back of the car, Maximouse threw a length of rope around him, pinning his arms to his side. The man-frog was angry, frustrated and frightened. “

“Everyone get in,” shouted Maximouse, as he firmly tied up the man-frog.

Shouts of anger and frustration were coming from the little man frog. Serendipity had cut a short length of rope and was tying the man-frog’s legs. “See what’s in the boot of his car,” she called to Marie.

The boot was not locked and contained a carrier bag of provisions, a brief case and camping equipment. “Keep the brief case and the provisions in the car and leave the rest behind, Marie, and let’s get going,” shouted Maximouse.

Within seconds Rosalind had jumped in the back seat. Serendipity jumped onto Maximouse’s lap. “Go, go, go,” shouted Maximouse. Tchi slammed his door and sped out of the tunnel’s exit.

As they came out they all gasped as they saw the remains of the red Vauxhall Chevette charcoaled and blistered by the Buzzor’s torpedoes.

“Gluid was cremated,” said Maximouse, “It’s what he would have wanted. Moonbeasleys are never buried.”

“So that was what it was all about.”

“It came to me in a flash. You could say that Gluid saved our lives. I realised there was no way we could escape, they saw us drive off in that red car. They wouldn’t let us get far. And there’s something else I want to do for Gluid. Give me that brief case, Marie.”

“There’s a letter inside it.”

“Well throw that away and give me the empty briefcase.” Marie passed it over to him. “Now stop by the red car. I want to collect Gluid’s ashes.”

“Is that safe?”

“The Buzzors have gone,” said Maximouse, “They think we’re all dead.”

*** *** *** ***

They drove for miles silently and sullenly. They passed through dingy suburbs of Ufromides, heading towards the Edgeland Mountains. Then in the late afternoon, Tchi realised they had another problem. They were short of petrol. Luckily they found a petrol station not much further along.

“It’s difficult to believe that you have petrol stations on Palingenesis Island. Although if you had cars I suppose you must have,” said Rosalind.

“Many have closed down now,” said Serendipity.

Unluckily, this happened to be one of those. No longer a boom business, no one was attending the pumps. In fact, no one was present on the premises at all, and worst of all the power wasn’t on, so even if there was any petrol, none could be taken.

“You need a special card at some of these places to get petrol. I bet that frog-man had one if he was working for the government. We should have searched his pockets,” said Serendipity.

“I bet by now he’s told someone in authority that we are still alive and driving a blue car,” said Marie

“I doubt it,” said Maximouse, “I tied him up good and proper and there aren’t many vehicles that pass through there in a day – I doubt if he’ll be found within twelve hours.”

“What are we going to do about petrol?” asked Rosalind.

As we still have a little bit of petrol left, I think we should drive to the river,” said Maximouse. But several miles later the car ran out completely of petrol and they had to get out and walk.

CHAPTER 26

Standing on a country road, near a small stream, they stood around trying to work out the best strategy.

“We could steal another car,” suggested Serendipity.

“There aren’t many cars around that work these days. And how many cars have we seen travelling today? It’s not going to be easy to find one – and find one in working order,” said Maximouse.

“Let’s try and hide this car because as soon as they find it they’ll know we’re not far away. We need to disguise it,” said Tchi.

“We need spades to cover it in earth,” said Rosalind.

“Have a look to see if there are any matches in the rucksack.”

“I wouldn’t set it on fire,” suggested Marie.

“If we did that it might be noticed from the air, it might draw attention,” said Rosalind.

“And if we did that we would need to douse it with petrol and if we had any of that we would put it in the petrol tank,” said Tchi.

“Okay, folks not my best idea,” said Marie.

“A better idea would be push it down that stream by the side of the road, and push it down that bank by the big tree. The tree should obscure it to some extent from the air,” said Maximouse.

“We could cover it in twigs, leaves and branches,” suggested Marie.

“Let’s try that.”

First they took out all the haversacks and food that was in the car. Then twenty minutes, and a lot of puff, later the car was down the bank, its nose dipping in the shallow water of the stream, it body now hidden by the stones, rocks and vegetation the gang found to camouflage it.

“Let’s walk,” said Serendipity.

“Where are we heading?” asked Rosalind.

“We’ll head East down to the river,” said Maximouse. “It’s another long walk, but stealing a boat is another way of diverting our pursuers – they won’t expect that.”

So they walked and walked through the landscape, up hill and down dale, taking a short cut across the land, leaving the roads of transport behind.

*** *** *** ***

After an hour Rosalind’s feet were really hurting. She didn’t want to moan to her companions, not after all the hardships that DagDag and Gluid had suffered for a noble cause, but she knew she would collapse soon if she didn’t take her shoes off.

“I wish I had a comfortable pair of walking boots,” she moaned in frustration under her breath as she trudged along.

Suddenly, right before her, in the path she trod, were a pair of sparkling new walking boots. She picked them up.

“Stop a minute!” she shouted. “I’m putting on these boots.”

“Where did you get those from?” enquired Tchi coming back a few paces. “I could do with a pair.”

“I just wished for them and they appeared.”

She put them on and immediately her feet felt wonderfully refreshed, as if she had soaked them in warm water.

“I’ve just wished for some and nothing’s happened,” complained Tchi.

“Perhaps Rosalind needs to do the wishing for you,” suggested Marie, who had also come back to see what was holding Rosalind and Tchi up.

“I wish Tchi to have a wonderful pair of comfortable walking boots,” wished Rosalind aloud.

They waited and waited but nothing happened.

“Come on, you lot,” shouted Serendipity, from way ahead. She wondered what was holding them up.

“The magic doesn’t work anymore. How peculiar?” said Rosalind, now walking along in her new footwear. “This island is weird – nothing seems to make any sense.”

“But it couldn’t have been a coincidence,” said Tchi, “you just wishing for a pair of comfortable boots and then they suddenly appear. If you’ve done it once you must be able to do it again.” But however many times Rosalind wished again no more boots appeared.

Perhaps these boots will suddenly disappear, she thought, but as the course of events unfolded, she found her anxieties were false, and the boots remained on her feet, keeping them free from soreness and pain.

*** *** *** ***

Eventually they came to the river. There were many attractive houses and gardens backing on to the water. Rosalind thought the houses looked exotic, like far eastern photos of houses on stalks. What was however not exotic about them, she thought, was that they all had boat garages, just like the sort of garages a car would have, with roll down shutters keeping the boats free from vandals and thieves. Above the garages were living quarters and these ascended to three or four stories. Most dwellings were of wooden planks painted white.

“At last,” said Maximouse, and turned the briefcase, he had been carrying, upside down. Gluids’s ashes floated down the rushing river. “Now his spirit is free,” he said. “He always told me he wanted his remains carried away by a river.

They all stood silently in respect as Maximouse expelled every remnant of ash from the briefcase. “Goodbye Gluid,” he said, choking back tears.

“Well done, Maximouse,” said Serendipity. “You’ve given him a fine farewell.”

They were quiet for a moment and then Maximouse brought everyone back by slapping his hand on his thigh with a big crack. “We’re going to do this for Gluid’s sake! Yes we are!”

“I can’t see any boats, so I don’t know how we are going to get down the river,” said Marie.

Nor could anybody else. All the boats – if they were at home – were safely protected by the boat garage doors.

From behind the group came a deep dark voice. “Are you looking for a ride along the river?”

They all turned round. The children were amazed by what they saw. It was not unusual to see a duck by the river’s edge but it was certainly unusual to see a talking one, and impossible to see one this size! It was about the size of a bubble car.

“Yes, we are,” said Serendipity

“Well, me and my brood are heading South this evening to see our family. We could take you all, as I have eleven of the little things. If any of them get tired from bearing your weight, then you can swap over onto another one. Where are you trying to get to?”

“We’re going to Threadbare Wood,” said Serendipity.

“Oh,” the duck looked a little surprised. “We never go down that far. Are you sure you want to go that far South?”

No one answered.

“Oh well, where you go and what for is your business, but if you’d like a lift about two thirds of the way then we can take you. All you need to do is to sit on our backs and hold onto our necks. The river is fast, but I know it well and am teaching my youngsters. They’re all so talented.”

“Thank you,” said Serendipity.

“Your rucksacks can stay on your backs.”

“Fine,” said Serendipity.

“You’d have to go on my back,” said the duck to Maximouse, “ you look much heavier than the others, which made Rosalind giggle.

Everything was agreed and the duck went off briefly, and returned with some string. “We leave at six o’clock,” she said. “I can’t tell you what time we will get to my sisters, but hopefully not far off midnight. Sometimes we fly but only with baggage and never with live creatures on our backs – far too dangerous.”

“Excellent,” said Serendipity, but really wondering where they would sleep when they got there.

“That will be 120 frozoids.”

“Aha, we don’t have –

“- That’ll be fine,” interrupted Maximouse quickly, “and you may even earn a few extra frozoids if non of us get wet.”

“Oh jolly good show,” said the mother duck.

“It’s a deal then,” concluded Maximouse.

“Errrr… a little irregular, but you all have trusting faces, so alright,” said the duck. She then turned and walked off, saying as she went, “remember, six o’clock sharp, and we’ll meet here.

*** *** *** ***

The duck and her brood returned, as good as her word at 6 o’clock, and soon the five adventurers were heading with current down the River Doomweald, each – with the exception of Maximouse – on the back of a brown duckling.

They went from a narrow river to a wide ride, through twists and turns of the old river valley, past towns and suburbs and large swathes of countryside and woodland. Occasionally they would come to a weir or waterfall. With Maximouse on her back and a great deal of baggage, Mother duck flew up in the air and glided down to land in the lower water. Maximouse had this treat, but the other passengers on the ducklings had to disembark on the bank and walk along for a short distance until the ducklings, who also had to become land lubbers for a short walk, were shipshape again.

The late afternoon had turned to early evening, then gradually into the dim light of oncoming night. Rosalind thought it was the most wonderful journey she had ever been on. Sitting on a giant duckling cruising at speed, like a motorboat with an engine of webbed feet. She felt so stable on the duckling that she didn’t even hold on all the time, so she could slip her hands in the water and make patterns. And when the moon and stars invaded the sky, and their reflections danced on the swirling mercurial irregular patterns of light that came towards her, she couldn’t help giggling with pleasure.

At last Mother Duck told Maximouse that they would soon be at their destination, and they would be going no further. Maximouse didn’t quite know what to do about the promised fee for the journey, as none of them had any money. He liked Mother and had no desire to cheat her, but he thought he’d let her get as far as she was going before he told her that she was not going to get paid that night.

Eventually all the travellers were out on the bank. Mother Duck or any of her brood were still in the water, waiting for payment before turning off down a small tributary on the other bank.

“Mother Duck, could you come up here for a moment,” asked Maximouse. She consented and waddled up towards the group.

“I’m afraid we have no money,” said Maximouse.

“Oh dear. That’s a rotten trick. We brought you all the way here, and now you tell us that we have been deceived.”

“We are on an important mission,” said Serendipity jumping in. We will return and pay you at some stage in the future.”

“Well, if you are going into Threadbare Wood I doubt if you will ever be seen again,” said the duck looking crestfallen. She grunted and began to turn away. “We are very sorry,” shouted Rosalind, feeling very sad about disappointing the ducks.

“Huh!” said Mother Duck, and sank into the dark water and started paddling ferociously to round up her brood.

“Oh dear,” said Rosalind.

“Come on, let’s get some sleep,” said Serendipity, “This mission is more important than paying bills – it’s about saving the whole island, and your world as well.”

*** *** *** ***

“I’ve got to eat something,” said Tchi, “I’m starving.”

“Perhaps it would be a good idea to stop and eat of some of this food. It would give us a rest and make the baggage lighter,” said Marie.

“We’ve still got a way to walk,” said Serendipity. “We can make it to the Rabbit’s house. We need to get there as soon as we can so that we can sleep indoors safely.”

“We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves so we can’t camp and make a fire, but we can eat cold food. We’re heading South, so we could walk up to that little shrubbery on the hill and rest for an hour and all have something to eat.” suggested Maximouse, to which all agreed.

It was quite dark now but the sky was a kaleidoscope of stars, that cast much light on the landscape and the rolling hills.

*** *** *** ***

“What on earth is this stuff made of?” asked Rosalind, “It tastes like camel puke.”

“It’s made of seaweed and Palmazan, which is a type of flower that’s grown in the North which looks a bit like your primrose but it changes colour twice a day,” said Serendipity.

“This is nice, this stuff,” said Tchi. “What’s this?” He held up a bottle of lemon liquid that he was drinking with a straw.

“That’s Buzzor’s nose dropping.”

Instantly Tchi spat it out. “Ugh!”

“Don’t worry it’s synthetic. Yes, it’s difficult to believe that anything so sweet and tart can come from such vile creatures, but occasionally dead Buzzors have been found flying towards the South and somebody made the discovery that their lemon coloured nose droppings are beautiful to our sense of taste. They’re also rich in every vitamin. It was sent off to the Sprite university to have it rigorously tested, and then they analysed it and made it synthetically.”

“I think I’ll pass on that,” uttered Marie, felling absolutely tired out. “If you drink a bottle of it do you turn into a Buzzor?”

“No!” laughed Serendipity. “It’s been drunk by Human’s, Sprites, Fairies, Drummonds, Wergs and everyone, and all it does is good. It’s not a drink that will turn your teeth green or is laden with unnatural sugar.”

“Hey, look at this!” said Tchi. He had opened the envelope that had originally been in the briefcase taken from the frog-man. He had stuffed it in his pocket and had removed it to throw away. He had opened it out of curiosity. “Its from the Council Of Ursula to the Government Commission at Blackbod.”

Serendipity leapt over to have a look and took it out of his hands. “Princess Ursula and her daughter will be arriving on the morning of Friday 30 September at The Marcoomian Pyramid in Chemgantrial to set about the detonation of nemotoxigen,” read Serendipity aloud. “It is essential that with great haste you establish all factors are in place, together with our greatest scientific brains, and invite our most trustworthy supporters to this historic event. We couldn’t perform such an act without inviting all our friends to witness how ingenious we are!”

“Wow!” said Rosalind.

“This is brilliant!” echoed Serendipity. “There’s a thumbnail map here that shows a route through to Blackbod, with Chemgantrial about ten miles to its East. This is a fantastic piece of luck. We now know exactly where we are heading and we have a map which covers much of the South Darklands,” she said with glee.

“That’s great,” said Maximouse, but his voice belied his sadness. “It’s a shame Gluid won’t be with us.” He groaned and looked deep in thought. “I’m just…g- going for a short stroll,” he stammered.

“Of course,” said Serendipity.

He was taking the loss of his friend very badly.

Five minutes later Tchi said, “That feels better,” rubbing his stomach. “I’m fit for walking now. Even without a comfortable pair of boots like Rosalind, this discovery has given me a new interest in walking on.”

Rosalind laughed. “I think we’ve been here long enough,” she said. She had been looking at the time on her granddad’s watch. She put it back in her pocket, laughed and stood up. “I’ll go and get Maximouse.”

She wandered past several trees and came into a clearing. She could see Maximouse with his nose in his lap sobbing. She felt dreadfully sorry for him. She instantly thought about her grandfather, in hospital after collapsing. She didn’t know how he was. She didn’t even know if she’d ever get home to see him again; and if she did if he would still be alive. She said a silent prayer for her granddad.

She tapped Maximouse on the shoulder, “We’re ready,” she said.

“You go back and I’ll follow you in a moment,” he said.

She walked back with Maximouse following behind her. Then she thought this was a bit odd. Why didn’t he walk along with her?

She turned to say something about the danger her granddad had been in, but as she did so, Maximouse’s shadow fell across her path. Yet, it couldn’t be the shadow of Maximouse because it was enormous. Instantly fearful, she turned to face the figure behind her. A pair of enormous yellow eyes – as bright as street lamps – about seven feet behind her, looked down on her. They had elliptical green black pupils. She screamed and instantly there was a noise in the bushes and the creature had gone. Within seconds Maximouse was by her side.

“I’ll tell you about it later,” she said shivering. “Let’s get the others and get out of here.”

CHAPTER 27

Walking in the dark in the early hours of the morning, the gang surmounted the summit of a hill, and Rabbit’s home came in sight. They could see a bungalow, but larger than the one in Wizicky Wazicky Wood.

There was a sign post by the path. “Shine a match here,” Rosalind said to Tchi. It read: ‘Land of Kill Yourself For the Crowd’.

Rabbit’s cottage was set in a small hamlet of other bungalows, houses and cottages lower down the escarpment. A brook ran next to his home. Fifteen minutes later they approached his front door.

When they arrived at the bungalow, Serendipity knocked and knocked. “Perhaps it’s not too polite to wake him up at this late hour, but I don’t think it advisable to sleep out in the dark,” she said, now trying the door. It was locked. She knocked again. Then a newt, taller than Serendipity, opened the door and stared at the visitors with big bulging gormless eyes. “What on earth do you want?” he mumbled, and then yawned revealing the cavern of his throat. The tone of his voice was quite rude. Serendipity said she wanted to see Rabbit. The newt blinked twice and then stood back from the door. “He’s in bed now.” He said pointing to an inner blue door on his right. “The party’s over. You’re too late.”

Serendipity decided this conversation with this newt was getting her nowhere. She pushed him aside as she went into the hall. The others followed her. The newt, still blinking, watched them.

If you want to go in there and wake him up, that’s your affair, I don’t care,” said the newt. “I’m going home.”

Serendipity wasn’t sure. “Perhaps it wouldn’t be a good idea to wake Rabbit if he’s asleep,” she said. Is there somewhere we could just lay down and sleep ‘til morning?”

That’s what I was trying to do before you clobberlocking lot arrived,” he said in his offhand manner. He opened the green door on his left. “See if you can find somewhere in the lounge.

Marie, being tired out, went through and felt for the light switch. But as soon as she switched it on, she met a reception she hadn’t been prepared for. From all around the room groans and swear words, expletive deletives were being fired at her. All around her creatures were gradually sitting up rubbing their eyes, complaining, furious at having been woken up by the light. Both of the settees were full of bodies, as were bean bags on the floor.

Serendipity came into the room, closely followed by Rosalind. The place was an absolute mess, with bodies, bottles, ash-filled ashtrays and upturned glasses everywhere.

It’s a fairy,” said one of the weasels, pulling a face. “Let’s go, they’re are always so goody goody. It’s green pea, man.”

The females watched as the whole group struggled to its feet and gradually left out the way they had entered. Even the newt who had let them in, had slithered off.

What’s going on?” said a soft voice behind the girls, coming from the hall. It was a the rabbit.

It’s me,” said Serendipity. “Oh hello, I was trying to avoid waking you up. Sorry.”

Oh… “ said Rabbit, pulling first a very shocked face and then a very sad one when he saw Serendipity. “What on Immelda’s circle are you doing here?”

Can we tell you in the morning?” she asked. “We’re all really, really tired – exhausted in fact.”

Yes, if you can find somewhere to sleep. I’m going back to bed. I don’t like to be awake.” And with that he left them to it.

Serendipity looked at Maximouse and frowned. “This is all a bit peculiar, isn’t it?”

A bit of a mess,” said Rosalind, running her finger through the dust on a coffee table, “This place has not been cleaned for months.”

*** *** *** ***

Rosalind was the first to wake. It was lunchtime. Gradually everyone else began to stir.

They found Rabbit in bed, snoring. Serendipity decided to wake him.

Carry on,” said Rabbit and turned away as if to return to his slumber.

A wave of irritation passed over Serendipity’s face. Then Rosalind thought she did something completely out of character. She pulled his spotted counterpane off Rabbit’s bed, and all the blankets and sheets as well. “You’re getting up,” she said. “You’re going to be the perfect host and we are going to be the perfect visitors.”

Anything, anything,” he concurred, rubbing his eyes and looking quite frightened.

And I want to know what’s going on. You seem to have had a personality transplant I last saw you.”

Rabbit looked down at the carpet and crumpled his face up in the expectation of getting a telling off. He slipped off the bed and led them into the kitchen. “Not now. I feel sick. I need some sugar.” And he went to a cupboard and brought out a big sweet jar full of Malmals and rapaciously swallowed four.”

You never used to take Malmals,” scolded Serendipity, sounding like a vexed mother. “And what’s going on here? You and your house are very unkempt, this is not like you.”

Not now,” said Rabbit. You can stay as long as you want and eat anything in the cupboards. If you want anything there’s a shop around the corner. Help yourself, but don’t give me a hard time,” said Rabbit sounding as if he was going to burst into tears. He opened the back door and walked out into the garden

Very well, for now,” shouted Serendipity after him, “but your mother would expect me to check that you are looking after yourself and I shall want some explanations before we leave,” said Serendipity.

But Rabbit had walked off and appeared not to have heard her.

*** *** *** ***

There was enough in Rabbit’s cupboards to make some eggs and toast. In the mid afternoon Marie and Tchi went to the shop to restock the cupboards.

They all spent the afternoon quietly, in a sort inner meditation. Rosalind sat on a bench in Rabbit’s garden and didn’t feel like talking and nor did anyone else. She realised that even though this journey had been hard, it was likely to get much harder. Maximouse had been consumed with grief again and had hidden down the bottom of the garden and sat near the shed.

Marie joined Rosalind in the late afternoon, although they didn’t talk much. They both enjoyed sitting quietly in the garden. Serendipity came up to talk to them in the late afternoon.

I think we’re all so exhausted that we should stay overnight and leave first thing in the morning.”

Will we still get to Blackbod in time?”

Chemgantrial is where we are heading now. I think so, but we’ll have less time to play with, because we are using an extra night here. But I personally think we need to rest for another night. What do you think?”

What about the Buzzors – won’t they be following?” asked Marie.

Yes, they never give up,” said Serendipity. “But I don’t think they know where we are, otherwise they would be here by now, on our tracks already.”

Are they all over the island?,” said Rosalind.

Not in the far North. They never used to get up as far as Wizicky Wazicky Wood, but they’re almost control the South and the Midlands of the island now. Ursula’s original base is in the South Darklands, where she began her tyranny, and that’s where we are heading.”

I’ll leave it to you to decide about sleeping over,” said Rosalind, “You’re the leader.

Same here,” said Marie. “You decide: you know the distance and the terrain,” said Marie. Tchi agreed.

Yes, I’ve been South before,” Serendipity said, “but not actually into the South Darklands, although I’ve been given lots of information about it.”

So what will we do?”

Serendipity looked up at the sky, great concentration on her face. “Oh great Creator, help me to make the right decision.” Then she turned back to the girls and smiled.

We’ll stay and go first thing in the morning,” she said. “We will stay a little longer so that Maximouse can come to terms with his loss. All Moonbeasleys take a long time to get over losing friends and family. And we all need some rest. Here he is.”

Maximouse was walking towards them, coming away from his solitary contemplation at the bottom of the garden.

I’ve got it,” he said, with the first burst of enthusiasm they had heard from him for some time. I’m going to make one of Gluid’s great dishes: Gluid’s pie. And we can all appreciate it’s wonderful flavour, and his culinary genius.”

*** *** *** ***

The last time me and Maximouse saw you, you were happy,” said Serendipity over the tea table to rabbit.

Yes, I remember those days,” he said, “but everything’s…. It’s lonely down here.”

Those people who were here last night, are they your friends?”

Oh those creatures are cool – not green pea at all – and they keep me happy. They stop me from getting sad, bored and frustrated. So what’s wrong with the alcopops, the boozy and the Malmals. It stops me getting bored.”

That’s not very good, Rabbit! That doesn’t sound like you. What happened to your self respect and pride. Something awful seems to have happened to you, since we last saw you. If you feel you are worthless or you are worse than others, you just let yourself go. You have to believe you are worthwhile, made by Immelda the great Creator.”

I don’t know. I don’t feel that way anymore. I hate the dark forces that are taking over. And there’s nothing I can do.”

I thought you were going to come here to paint landscapes?” said Serendipity.

I tried that,” he sighed. “come in here.”

He took them into a room that led off the kitchen with an old fire place and all sorts of strange pictures and objects. He had a goldfish bowl in which floated a miniature submarine. “When I came down I was fired with enthusiasm. This used to be my studio then. I met Mathilda, and she was lovely. We became two rabbits in love. She really supported what I was trying to do. She said I was a great painter, I even did a portrait or two or her, but,” he stopped and looked sad, “I’ve burnt those all now.”

Why?” asked Serendipity.

She left me. She left me for another artist. He was a rabbit as well. They left the area and have gone for good. I was shattered. The universe of worlds lost its colour and meaning. I just stayed in bed for days crying. I got this letter from her, I’ll read it to you all.” As he read it a ghostly genie came out of a bottle and played a sorrowful melody on a violin.

“…Dear Rabbit,” he began, “I don’t ever want to go out with you again. You are a useless rabbit and I don’t think you’ll ever be any good at anything. I was just wasting my time going out with you. I’m now in love with a talented rabbit and he paints far more pictures of me, not boring trees, Goodbye John, Mathilda.”

The genie disappeared.

That’s a very cruel letter,” said Tchi.

If it hadn’t of been for the party animals I think I would have ended it all.” He stopped and caught his breath. “I got lonely, like I said. Yes, you’re right, I take too many Malmals and drink too much and continually have parties with these creatures. But I’m not guilty of watching porn on the telly though.”

Porn?” interrupted Rosalind.

Yes, I’ve heard about that in the lower regions,” said Serendipity, “since Ursula has taken over these cities the TVs are full of pornography, gambling and freak shows. It’s disgusting!”

Yes, well you can’t blame me on that – I threw the old TV out. I don’t watch it anymore at all, and so I just get bored.”

That’s very sad, Rabbit. But you have to get over things like this. This Mathilda sounds a highly superficial and nasty person to me.

Oh she was lovely,” he said putting the letter down.

Tea is served!” shouted Maximouse, and they all filed back to the kitchen and sat at the laid table. Before Maximouse served his great tribute to Gluid, Serendipity resumed the conversation.

Won’t you continue the painting that you came down here from Plasticia to do?”

In those days things were fresh and I was inspired. Now they’re tainted and I have no self discipline at all. I’m just not interested.”

So now you take so many Malmals washed down with alcohol,” she continued, “Isn’t that just a cop out? An avoidance of what you really want to do. An avoidance of who you really want to be?”

Don’t make me feel worse than I do already. But you’re right I need to change. I need a cigarette.” Desperately he searched his pockets, and pulled out a crumpled cigarette packet.

We’re beginning to ban tobacco on our planet,” said Tchi.

It’s a shame they haven’t banned it here,” Said Serendipity, “but the evil Ursula likes all foul smelling noxious gases and intoxicants. The woman is pure evil.”

You can say that again,” said Rabbit banging his head on the table, “my life was much better before she came to power. It all went wrong when Mathilda began smoking nemotoxigen. They’re trying to sell it everywhere in the shops down here. I thought about taking it myself.”

No, Rabbit, you mustn’t do that!” pleaded Serendipity. She told Rabbit how they were all off to the South to stop the mass production of that dreadful gas.”

You are brave,” he said, lighting a cigarette. He coughed and then spluttered, “but you’re stupid because you won’t come back. You won’t even get through the enchanted border.”

Serendipity reached over and pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and stamped on it. She tried to speak, but frustratingly the words wouldn’t come out of her mouth.

We have to try,” said Maximouse turning away from the steaming saucepans on the cooker and looking at directly at Rabbit. This was the first thing he had said since he had been cooking in the kitchen. “And we have to try and succeed!” he said, his voice gradually rising in volume and passion. “We can’t let Gluid or DagDag down now. We’re going all the way whether we come back or not.”

I’d like to come back,” said Marie. “In fact I’d like to go back home. I’d like to go home now.”

Of course you would,” said Serendipity, “but if we’re not successful your Earth would not be worth living on in a very short while.”

Enough discussion,” said Maximouse, “have some of this super pie so that we can fill ourselves with loads of energy to achieve success.”

*** *** *** ***

Gluid’s pie consisted of broccoli, cheese sauce, tomatoes, olives and a strange textured ingredient that was made of sweet corn and nuts: it was absolutely delicious, even the despondent Rabbit said so. For desert they had another of Gluid’s recipies: warm custard doughnuts with a dribble of raspberry jam and brandy poured over them.

As they sat there at the end of the meal they gently chatted about pleasant things, things that didn’t remind them of the perils they would be soon facing. But reality was brought back by Rabbit.

You’ll never ever get to Blackbod.”

Why?”

There are many reasons, not least that there is a giant mad cat that stalks the area from here Southwards. He has killed tens of creatures in these last few months. He’s a complete psycho. He has staring eyes and massive claws and walks on his hind legs. He’s about the size of a large door. He’s called Kamachal. Everyone always locks their back doors at night to prevent him from squeezing in and eating them.”

You didn’t last night,” said Rosalind.

No we were all too far zoobied last night, but even when we party we are usually careful.”

Just at that moment there was a knock on the door.

They all looked at each other in surprise.

It’s alright. It wont be Kamachal. He’s not around in the day and he wouldn’t knock – he would just barge in. It’s the gang, they’ve come round for another celebration.”

Tell them to get lost,” said Serendipity.

You certainly start your parties early,” scoffed Marie.

Perhaps I should tell them to go,” said Rabbit.

Go on,” said Serendipity.

There’s no two ways about it. Have you got any backbone or are you just a walk over for people to take advantage of?”

But they are my friends.”

Friends are people who tell you the truth about what’s good for you, not encourage you to do things that are bad for you. These are false friends. Where’s the strong dignified old Rabbit I used to know? Do you really want to live your life in dissipation?”

Rabbit pulled his ears over his eyes and wobbled his head from side to side. “Yeah, you’re right,” he said grudgingly, quietly acquiescing.

He stood up from the kitchen table, the wooden chair screeching on the quarry tiled kitchen floor as he pushed it back. He went to the door. Everyone at the table could hear the hooting and cheering when he opened the door.

Hi, Sad Rabbit,” shouted a hedgehog that Rosalind could see through the door from the kitchen seat. “We’re all zoobied up already and ready for another crazy night.”

Voices rang out from behind him in agreement.

No, sorry Hedgehog,” said Rabbit, “I’ve given up smoking, I’ve given up booze and I’ve just given up Malmals. I’m going to do something I’m good at.”

Suddenly there was an almighty boo from the creatures outside. “You’re a green pea! Whoever would have thought that Sad Rabbit would have gone green pea!” shouted the hedgehog, followed by taunts and shouts of ‘green pea’. “Sorry, furball, you just ain’t cool any more,” jeered the hedgehog still trying to come through the door. Rabbit stood in his way.

No,” said Rabbit and shut the door.

Rabbit limped back to the kitchen table with his head down.

Well done!” said Serendipity.

I’ve blown it now,” said Rabbit. “I’ve now got no friends and I’ll be lonely. And I’ll feel completely screwed up without Malmals, alcopops and tobacco.”

You just sit it out,” said Serendipity, caressing one of Rabbit’s long ears.

You’ll be okay,” she said a moment later, “Just get on with your painting. Do what you were sent to this planet to do. Do what is essentially you. Anybody who helps you to find yourself is a friend. Anyone who takes you from that path is not a friend. Okay!”

Suppose so.”

So what is it you want to do?”

I want to be Palingenesis Island’s greatest painter. Huh!”

Great. Get to work and when we come back from the Southlands you can show us what you’ve done.”

Rabbit looked up somewhat concerned. He went to say something but then changed his mind. Then he said, “I’ll start tomorrow, I’ll start a painting celebrating Gluid – I’ll do a painting of his pie and varnish it and hang it on the front door.”

That’s so kind. Thank you very much,” said Maximouse, slowly, slightly choking over his words.

Let’s clean and tidy up your house,” said Marie.

It certainly needs it,” said Serendipity.

I’ll slip out the back and go and buy some provisions from the shop,” said Rabbit.

Rosalind slept well until about three in the morning when she suddenly found herself awake and her eyes open. It was quiet and all about her was dark. Occasionally she could hear the breathing of the others as they lay around on the settees and cushions in the lounge. They were obviously in deep sleep. The she heard a noise. It was something outside. It was like someone walking in short bursts, but even though it sounded close, it was barely audible. It was now quiet again. She hoped she had been dreaming and wouldn’t hear it again. Then she heard a tapping sound. It was coming from another room, possibly the front door. She didn’t know whether to wake anyone up. She quietly slipped out from under her blankets and carefully stood up. She made her way, dodging sleeping bodies on the carpet, towards the door. Once she got there she stopped and listened again. It was there again, a tapping, louder this time, and coming from another place. It seemed to be coming from the kitchen.

She was very concerned. She didn’t want to open the door into the hall to be greeted by a seven foot psychotic cat. It was quiet again. She stood there for some time. She was just about to walk back to her blankets when the loudest tapping began at the front door. This time it was loud enough to wake others.

What’s that,” said Tchi, his eyes springing open.

Sssssh,” said Serendipity, She slowly got out of bed. She walked over to the door and jumped when she found Rosalind standing up. The tapping was still making a considerable noise.

The door handle suddenly began turning. Rosalind’s hand was immediately on it. Someone was trying to open the door and come in.

It’s that mad cat! We’re all dead,” came a voice from behind that door. “I bet they told him to come and get me because I’m a green pea,” it whimpered.

Let Rabbit in,” said Serendipity.

The tapping had stopped again. They all listened very acutely for any more sounds. Nothing. They waited and waited. Nothing.

Everybody get back into your beds,” said Serendipity.

I’ll sleep in here with you,” said Rabbit.

There’s not much room.”

I’m not that big,” he said. “Anyway, it’s my house and I’ll sleep in whichever room I like.”

Alright, alright.”

After five minutes of no more noise, Serendipity and Rosalind were both back under their blankets, although they hadn’t resumed sleep. Eventually however sleep took them and no one woke until the sun had come up in the morning.

They discussed it over the breakfast table, much to the interest of Marie and Maximouse who had slept through the entire episode.

It was that terrifying cat,” said Rabbit. “They say he plays with his victims like a mouse before he eats you. He’ll tear you apart limb by limb slowly with his claws as if its all a game, but he’ll make sure you’re still alive. And then he eats you head first.”

We’ll have to be very careful, when we go outside to depart,” said Rosalind. “I don’t want to meet any more nasties.”

“Cats are nocturnal. He only comes out at night,” said Rabbit.

Despite Rabbit’s assurance, everyone acted as if they had not heard it. They looked out of the windows but nothing unusual could be seen. Maximouse even volunteered to scout the garden to see if anything was hiding out the back. He said he saw nothing, heard nothing and nothing had been disturbed.

Eventually it was time to leave. Like Jilly Jerbil, Rabbit was determined to give them something to help them on their way. He went up to his loft and came back with two rucksacks which he filled with food and drink. He told them to be very careful.

CHAPTER 28

It was when Maximouse pulled open the front door that the whole proceeding stopped. He shrieked. He laughed, he screamed. The girls directly behind him couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t move forward, and Rosalind thought that Maximouse was not quite the full ticket. As they say in these parts, he was an elephant short of a Safari Park.

But he did proceed eventually. He turned to the girls and, with tears in his eyes, he returned his gaze outside and then solemnly marched forward. He gave no indication of his happiness which was evident only on later reflection.

When everyone else moved forward they immediately cried noises of astonishment. They now saw what Maximouse had seen. Lying in front of Rabbit’s door was DagDag. None other than DagDag. He was lying in the dry stony ground, blinking, dazed by the sunlight, looking dusty, tired and confused.

It took a moment for anyone to speak as they were all so shocked.

DagDag!” screamed Serendipity, “How wonderful to see you!”

Maximouse was full of tears and laughter at the same time.

Come inside Rabbit’s house and we’ll look after you.”

I’ve been trying to get in all night, tapping on the windows and the doors, and none of you noticed,” he said.

It was you,” said Rabbit, standing behind everyone in the doorway. “Come in, I’ve heard about your daring exploits. You are a guest in my house for life.”

I could do with a cup of tea,” he said, “and a good brushing down.”

*** *** *** ***

What on Earth happened to you?” asked Rosalind.

Everyone was firing questions at DagDag, asking him how he had escaped. He looked around the table at everyone blinking, not able to answer their questions because of their noise. Eventually everyone went quiet and waited for him to speak.

Rosalind thought he had lost weight, although he was still a massive size compared to the ravens she had seen at home. His eyes looked tired as if he was drunk and as he began to talk she thought his speech was lazier than it had been since she had last seen him. He seemed much more hesitant and indecisive. He must have been through a lot she thought.

Of course being pinned to a door by a crossbow bolt meant I couldn’t escape. The pain was terrible. I was relieved when they removed the bolt and put me in a big black sack,” he was saying. “I pecked through the sack but found myself no better off. I was in some sort of metal box, so no way could I escape. I was in there for so long I have no recall of how long it was. Then they opened the lid. I figured out I was in some sort of kitchen. Two Buzzors were lifting me out to put chains on me. I thought if I don’t get away now I never will, so I mustered all the will power I had and started pecking at the eyes of the Buzzors. One of them dropped the padlock they were applying to my foot and I then stabbed another one in the cheek. I knew if I made a mistake I would die, so I attacked with everything I had. He dropped the chain he was holding and fell back. There were another two Buzzors there, but they were standing behind these two, and so I was suddenly free of captors for a split second. I seized my chance and started wildly beating my wings. My left wing gave me great pain because of the crossbow bolt wound.”

I’m sorry we had to leave you there,” said Tchi, “It was a dreadful moment,” he added.

You did the right thing,” said the raven, “if you had waited a moment longer we would have all been captured.”

I managed to fly over their heads,” continued DagDag a moment later, “before they realised what was happening. Then they became airborne themselves. I knew I was outnumbered and up against not one formidable adversary but four. I have great flying powers but now I had a damaged wing. I was in a small room and looked around hopelessly for inspiration.

And I found it. To my left was a serving hatch, which I instantly flew at and flew through. I came out into a dining room full of slave-Wergs and many other creatures. Once through the hatch I saw a door open at the end of the dining hall and, despite being in pain, flew for my life. The Buzzors weren’t small enough to get through the kitchen hatch and so I gained valuable minutes a head of them but I knew soon they would be on my tail.

I flew out of the canteen and into the tower where we were originally. I headed upwards as I had when I escaped before and came out of the top of the building into the sky. I knew the Buzzors would be coming out within seconds themselves so I needed somewhere to hide. I found an ego-gas balloon with a basket and hid in there. How long I was in there I can’t remember. Whether I passed out or just fell off to sleep through exhaustion I’m not sure. However when I awoke it was night and the stars were out.

I knew that we all had planned to stay with Rabbit when we approached the South Darklands and I thought this was the best place to catch up with you all. I knew if I flew directly South I knew I could get here quicker than by following the main road, so that’s what I did. I arrived last night and tried knocking on the door and tapping on the windows but I was too tired to persist and fell off to sleep outside.

So it was you all the time!” said Rabbit.

“Indeed, it was me.”

DagDag looking around the table. “Where’s Gluid?”

Eyes were averted and expressions changed.

He’s alright isn’t he?”

He’s not with us anymore,” said Maximouse, “he was killed by one of the Buzzor’s bolts, and he’s gone.”

Oh no,” whispered DagDag.

Everything went silent.

Well, I’m glad we have you back again,” said Maximouse, breaking the silence and trying to sound as positive as he could manage. “Losing Gluid was terrible, but at least we have one of our soldiers back.”

I’m very glad to be back,” said DagDag.

“But you will get no rest I’m afraid. We must leave now,” said Serendipity. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”

*** *** *** ***

I’ll walk with you, “ said DagDag. “I hope I haven’t caused my wing irreversible damage. My wing still hurts a lot after all the flying I did yesterday. I need to rest it for some time.

Everyone got up to organise themselves, and having done so they bade farewell to Rabbit.

*** *** *** ***

They walked again – no other transport option being available – until they approached the Freeholt gap running between a break in the mountain range that led into the Plain of Quiglan.

As they marched Maximouse made up songs of courage and determination, and taught them to everyone else. Soon everyone was singing as they walked along. Maximouse led the way, with the three children following, then DagDag. Serendipity was backstop.

What’s that smell? I’ve come across it before,” moaned Rosalind.

It’s nemotoxigen,” said Maximouse. “You will smell much of it down here because they’ve been pouring out the stuff on Ursula’s request. You encountered it as we were fleeing Wizicky Wazicky Wood.”

It’s foul.”

I’m afraid it will get much worse.”

*** *** *** ***

The smell might have been unpleasant but the landscape was interesting. The rolling hills of the Plain of Quiglan were populated with large outcrops of granite and occasional trees and shrubs.

After half a day’s walking, gradually they found themselves in new terrain. The sky seemed to be greening and small clouds were forming over them, like woolpack clouds which were not white but black. The landscape flattened into a mildly undulating plain and woodland began closing around them on all sides. At first the trees were planted like a pine forest with distance between them, but as they followed Maximouse along a narrow roadway through the trees, the trees became closer, compacted together, not unlike Wizicky Wazicky Wood.

As it got darker, Maximouse stopped and waited for everyone else to catch up. Everyone arrived except Serendipity, who was backstop. They waited so long for her to arrive that Maximouse began to fidget. “When did you last see her?” he asked DagDag who was the one in front of her.

She was around behind me in the plains,” he replied, “but I’ve not seen her since we’ve been surrounded by trees.”

After waiting another quarter of an hour, Rosalind said, “We’ll have to go back.”


“We can’t,” said Maximouse, “time is running out. We need to press on.”

I’m not moving unless we go back and find her,” said Rosalind stubbornly.

I wish I could fly and look for her but I can’t,” said DagDag.

Serendipity can look after herself,” said Maximouse.

I think we should go on,” said DagDag after a minute of contemplation.

I’m not moving. She could be in great trouble. We need to go and look for her.”

Tchi didn’t offer his opinion but Marie wanted to go back and see what had happened to her.

Alright,” said Maximouse to the children, “you three stay here Me and DagDag will go back and see if we can find her. We’ll walk back for an hour, then if we still can’t find her, we’ll return, and then we must proceed.”

Alright,” said Rosalind.

For the next hour the children made a makeshift camp in the wood and sat talking and eating. Two hours passed but it took another half an hour to hear the rustling of the undergrowth. DagDag had arrived.

Isn’t Maximouse here?” DagDag asked.

All of the children looked at DagDag in surprise. “No,” said Marie eventually.

Oh dear, that’s not good at all. I had hoped he had come back.”

Didn’t you find her?” asked Rosalind sadly, feeling she knew what he was going to say.

No. And I lost Maximouse after we left the wood and headed back over the plain. I just turned around and he had gone.”

Nobody spoke. Nobody knew what to say.

All the effort they had put into this trek suddenly appeared to be wasted effort of no value or use whatsoever. None of the children said it but they all thought it: how could they go on without leaders.

Maximouse had the map didn’t he?” said Tchi at last.

No. He gave it to me,” said DagDag, holding it up.

Should we go back and have another look?” suggested Marie.

I don’t think we have any choice,” said Rosalind.

No! I don’t think so,” said DagDag adamantly. “I think we should have followed Maximouse’s advice before and gone on, leaving Serendipity to her own fate. Now we have lost another of our soldiers. I’m not going to lose any more by going back!”

Let’s wait another hour before moving on,” said Marie, “to see if either of them find their way back.” This was agreed to by all.

CHAPTER 29

An hour later they uprooted from their makeshift camp. Night was falling outside the wood and light was growing ever scarcer inside the wood. In a state of group depression, no one was saying much at all. DagDag assumed command and led the way following the map as best he could. Rosalind’s face was crestfallen. She had felt some optimism in achieving their task with the knowledge and experience of Serendipity and Maximouse but now they only had DagDag and he seemed somewhat bewildered himself. “I can find a way there but I’m not sure what their plan was when they arrived,” he admitted.

The wood was dark but not silent: the waxing and waning patter of scurrying in the undergrowth, the shrieks of unearthly birds and the howls – similar to a wolf’s – but more pained. It was a frightening and intimidating trek made all the worse by the sudden disappearance of their two friends, but nothing further untoward took place. By the morning they were coming back into the field land, as the trees became sparser and sparser and they found themselves on the edge of furrowed earth that stretched on relentlessly over rolling hills. Occasional hills, that stood proud of the undulating land, boasted minor copses on their summits. It was windy which they were partly thankful for because it blew away much of the horrid smell that pervaded the woods.

“That was the North part of Threadbare Wood,” said DagDag consulting his map. We catch up with more of it again after these hills.

*** *** *** ***

A long way back from the children, in the Plain of Quiglan, on the top of a small hill, behind a towering outcrop of granite, sat two friends. Both were bound from head to foot with rope. Maximouse had his back resting on a rock, and above him Serendipity was equally restricted, lying flat, unable to move and feeling the heat of the sun and the insects biting in her clothes. Neither could shout or communicate with each other because a gag had been tied around each of their mouths. Then they heard loud footsteps coming up the granite. And then the owner of the footsteps appeared and loomed over them. It was a big cat with yellow eyes. It had a glint in both of them.

*** *** *** ***

“Are you sure you are going the right way?” asked Marie to DagDag, noting that he seemed to have them map upside down. “You’ve got North pointing South,” she said.

“I never was much good at reading,” he said turning the map the right way up.”

“Look, you’ve taken a wrong turn – we should still be in Threadbare Wood. We need to go back a bit.”

“I’m good at navigating when I’m flying but I’m useless when I’m on the ground.”

No great harm was done, as they only had to walk back for five minutes to get back on their correct route.

CHAPTER 30

In Plasticia, in a dark room full of foul smoke a girl with a white face and tangled hair was once again trying to placate her mother: “But it wasn’t me, mother.”

“It was you. You are such a deep disappointment to me,” said Ursula. “You kept me back from the banquet. If I had been there sooner more security checks would have taken place. I always have my food checked by someone when I’m at home.”

“But it was you who wanted me to go and sit in those classes.”

“Nonsense. Now stop! I don’t want any more bickering.” Veekricide frowned and knew she had better not say another word.

Just at that moment a knock on the door sounded. It was Eggplant.

“What a delightful smell of nemotoxigen, your Highness,” he said.

“What do you want, you creep? I’m still furious, in fact, I’m even more furious,” Her tone was sharp and ungrateful. “Do you realise I could have been killed in there? We were all made to look absolutely stupid! Have you found the individual who was responsible for security.”

“Yes, Malady,” said Eggplant. “Of course. Do you wish to see him?”

“Of course not. Bring in the papers for me to sign and just obliterate him. And do it as publicly as possible so that others tremble when they prove as inept given such great responsibilities.”

“Yes Malady.”

He made to add something more but hesitated and stopped himself. He began to turn away.

“You were going to say something,” she said, “and I can imagine what it was. You have no idea of the whereabouts of the rebels that made fools of us.”

“We lost them along the main highway to Ufromides,” he admitted, looking down forlornly. “We thought we had incinerated their car, but we found a government inspector who was tied up in the Albumic tunnel. They car-jacked him and took his car, but despite aerial surveillance we have not been able to trace any whereabouts of the car.

“Well you can relax!” said Ursula suddenly grinning at him. “Because, in this case, it is my finger on the pulse. I have friends. And those friends tell me they know where that little rag-band of saboteurs are. If you gave me a map I could point out exactly where they are now. We have a little friend in a cottage down there who has been keeping us informed. They don’t stand a chance. They will never get near the bomb, and if they approached it the Quark would dismember them.”

“Very good, your Highness.”

“Very good for you all! Now is the boom-jet ready? Are we going down today to Chemgantrial to be ready for the detonation on Friday?”

“That’s what I wanted to ask. It is all ready for you both,” said Eggplant.

“I hope your team are ready as well?” said Ursula.

“My team have already departed, flying off this morning. Can I make a request to travel with you and your daughter on the flight out? I could try to find another boom-jet?”

“Well, we won’t get very far at the detonation without you. Yes you can on this occasion.”

CHAPTER 31

Rosalind walked through the wood with Tchi, Marie not far behind, all keeping quite close to each other for fear of suddenly disappearing. DagDag was leading still, but he was still within eyesight.

Suddenly a small lamb stood in front of them. It had the fluffiest of coats and the most alluring and doleful eyes that Rosalind had ever seen. She was no longer amazed to hear it talk, every animal seemed to speak on Palingenesis Island.

“I’m lost in the world,” it bleated. “I wonder if you could help me?” it said and dropped its eyelids and its head in a cowering position.

“Poor little thing,” said Marie.

“We can’t help you to find where you are going because we’re pretty much lost ourselves,” said Rosalind.

“You’ve not seen a big Moonbeasley or a Sprite wandering around the woods have you?” interjected Tchi.

“No, I’ve seen no one. You’re the first creatures I’ve come across since I got separated from my mum. Can I stay with you. I do feel a lot safer. You sound like nice creatures.”

“Of course you can,” said Rosalind, “but I don’t think that will help you to find your mother. We’re in a hurry to get somewhere so we won’t be able to spend any time looking for your mother. You might be better off looking for her yourself.”

“No. I’ll walk along with you.”

Suddenly they heard the noise of branches falling, and a shriek in the distance.

“Where’s DagDag?”

“He’s gone so far forward I can’t see him.”

“Quick! Further along the footpath. I’m sure that was him.”

“They hurried along and in front of them was the opening to a clearing. What they saw quickened their pulses even more.

DagDag was struggling to free himself from under a massive net which had been dropped on him from the trees above. The children ran to give him assistance, but suddenly stopped in fright before they reached the net. A giant cat, standing on its hind legs had come out from the clearing and was heading towards the net.

Tchi started running again and his sense of courage must have inspired the girls, because throwing caution to the wind, they ran along just behind him.

However he didn’t go to free DagDag but to stand in the way of the enmeshed bird and the cat. The girls now stayed back, and then in response to DagDag’s cries they started to try and help the raven. The lamb stayed back at the edge of the mesh, watching in complete bewilderment.

As soon as the cat saw they were trying to release DagDag he sprang forward. As Tchi went to stand in his way the cat clubbed him with one of his paws and knocked him to the ground. The girls leapt up from the net as the cat came on them. Tchi, now up again, grabbed the cat’s tail from behind and Marie and Rosalind started trying to kick it.

The cat span round releasing his tail and knocked Tchi back down on the ground again. He then side-stepped the girls. In front of him was the lamb. Kamachal let out a horrific squeal and sank his powerful claws into the lamb, which shivered, shuddered and trembled with a fatal wound. The cat pulled the lamb up to his head and then flung it like a cricket ball into a tree. There was a dull thud as the lifeless lamb rebounded off the bark and hit the ground.

“You monster!” screeched Rosalind and went straight at the cat, hitting its breast with both her fists. Simultaneously Tchi began hitting on the back of its neck. Marie came and started kicking from the side. Even though Kamachal was tall and fierce, the impact of the force of three furious and vengeful teenagers parting blows from three sides made the cat lose his orientation and he began to sink to the ground to avoid the thrusts. However as he sank lower the children vented their spleen much more effectively now that his head was in the range of their boots, in spite of him having his paws around his ears to protect himself. The cat began to lose its strength and sank and fell on its side.

“Stop! Stop!” shouted a figure running out of the clearing. Everyone was so sanguine with anger and fear that it took a lot of shouting for them to stop and turn to the voice’s owner. There were two figures shouting now: Serendipity and Maximouse.

The children were startled.

CHAPTER 32

“Leave Kamachal alone. Stop kicking and beating him up. Move away now.”

Rosalind thought she was going mad. Let this thing get up and attack them again!

Serendipity seemed to read her thoughts. “He could have killed all three of you!” shouted Serendipity. “He didn’t. He has terrible claws – but he never used them on you. He’s a friend. Now step away from him.”

Ros, Tchi and Marie stepped back from the cat. Rosalind began walking over to the dead lamb.

“The lamb was an enemy,” shouted Serendipity. “That was why it had to be killed immediately. Just because it was sweet, vulnerable and charming didn’t mean to say it had your interests at heart. Far from it.”

Kamachal gradually lifted himself back on to his feet, patting his fur with his paws. “Well they certainly pack a punch these three,” he said. “I think they’ve bent one of my whiskers.”

Marie had bent down to try to resume untangling DagDag from the net.

“Don’t do that Marie,” shouted Serendipity. “DagDag is not a friend. He tied me up and then he tied Maximouse up. He is not the DagDag we once knew. He was brainwashed in Plasticia to follow us and to sabotage our mission.”

“It’s rubbish! Rubbish!” squawked DagDag. “Don’t listen.”

“That’s terrible,” said Rosalind, feeling suddenly so tired, she was near to tears.

“Kamachal here came and found us both tied up on the Plain of Quiglan and he untied us. He showed us a route to cut you off and capture DagDag,” said Serendipity.

By this time both Serendipity and Maximouse had walked over to the net and were looking down at the raven, who was still trying furiously to peck his way through the sticky net that had been dropped on him.

“We have brought some rope to tie him up very securely now and then we will cut the net from around him afterwards. We don’t want him to do anything with his wings or his feet. I suspect somewhere on his body he conceals a phone with which he communicates with our enemies.”

“I can’t remember anything!” said DagDag.

While still enmeshed, DagDag was securely tied up. Serendipity was correct about him carrying a mobile phone. It was found in a little pouch on the belt around his breast. Maximouse put it in his pocket. Marie was given a pair of scissors and instructed to cut around the net. Then they bundled DagDag into a sack and this was tied securely at the neck.

“What will you do with him?” asked Marie, very concerned. Maximouse turned away without answer.

“Should we bury the lamb?” asked Rosalind.

“What lamb,” responded Serendipity. “It is a Pulwhisite. They are terrible creatures. They adopt different appearances – like I said – charming, cute, vulnerable, sweet, but they are a poison on the inside and are a very large sort of super parasite. They have no conscience whatsoever. If you go and look at the body in a day or so you will see the corpse of a strange looking insect.”

“Ugh,” said Rosalind.

*** *** *** ***

“This way,” said Kamachal, throwing the sack over his shoulder and tramping off through the undergrowth. They left the clearing and entered back into the dense wood again.

Marie was walking along with Maximouse.

“Where are we going now? This is not the direction we were originally going in. Why?”

“Because…., you’ll see.”

“You’re not going to kill DagDag are you?”

“No, but you must understand that we must stop Ursula from exploding the nemotoxigen bomb and sometimes we have to make very difficult decisions to do that.”

Marie squeezed her thick pink lips together in confusion. She stopped Maximouse.

“What are you going to do then?”

“We’ve all come on this venture to stop the evil ones from taking over the island and from destroying your world and our world. We can’t stop now. Look at Gluid – he gave his life to make the mission a success. Stop asking questions and walk or we’ll lose the others. We don’t want to get left behind. We’re going to a big lake and then we’re going to Kamachal’s house.”

“Ummm,” said Marie, although she was somewhat concerned that she hadn’t been given a direct answer to her questions. DagDag had rescued her from the farm, it might be time for her to return the favour.

Not long after they came to a massive circular lake in the middle of the wood.

“It looks like tomato sauce,” said Rosalind.

“Not that bit,” observed Tchi pointing. In the centre of the lake, the water as clear as daylight, the effervescence of a slight whirlpool of clear spring water lay at the centre of the lake, whereas all around it lay red thick liquid which looked motionless as if it were being set for jelly.

“It’s goblin blood,” said Kamachal, pointing to the edge of the lake, where the red liquid stained some of the grasses of the banks.

“Ugh.”

“Now we need to get into one of those boats,” he said pointing to a gang of large rowing boats moored at the edge, to their right.

“There won’t be enough seats for everyone, so can we have volunteers who will stay on the bank?”

“I’ll stay behind,” said Tchi.

“And me,” said Maximouse.

“Make sure you stay close to the bank and don’t wander off,” said Rosalind. “We don’t want to lose anybody again.”

Marie, Rosalind, Serendipity and Kamachal – with the sack over his shoulder containing DagDag – got into the boat and on Kamachal’s instructions began rowing towards the clean plume of water that was coming up like a mild underwater geyser in the centre of the lake.

“Don’t put your hands in the goblin blood,” warned Kamachal, “or get it on you. It’s nasty.”

“No fear,” said Rosalind, who had absolutely no intention of putting her hands in the vile stuff.

Soon they were circling around the plume of fresh water. Kamachal instructed Marie and Rosalind to keep rowing round the gentle vortex, while he fished DagDag out of the bag.

“You’re not going to throw him in?” Marie asked.

“Hold on to him, Serendipity, while I get him out,” said Kamachal, revealing a very unhappy DagDag as he unpeeled the sack from around him. The raven was still bound in rope and the netting was still sticking all over his body. He could hardly open his eyelids he was so tightly bound.

“Now listen, Mr. Raven,” said Kamachal. “You have been cursed and a spell has been put upon you.”

“Uhhh… I don’t think so,” said DagDag.

“When you were at Plasticia you were brainwashed and you are now in the power of Ursula the Unstoppable.”

“Can’t remember, don’t think…” began DagDag, but then his eyes closed again with a big sigh, as if he just ran out of energy.

“We will untie you, but you must have a bath in this whirlpool. This will probably cure you.”

“Don’t know if I want to…” muttered DagDag.

“Hold him while I untie him,” said Kamachal. As the real feathers of DagDag became disentangled by the mesh and rope, Serendipity got her hand around him. He was a big bird and not much smaller than the fairy, but she held on to his legs tight. Eventually the last piece of netting was disentangled from his head. He still looked a ruffled exhausted and defeated bird, despite now being free of any restraints.

“Keep a hold on him,” said Kamachal.

“I’ve got him,” said Rosalind.

“Now, DagDag,” said Kamachal, “this is really important. We want you to dive into the clear water. Will you do it?”

“I don’t feel too good…”

“You must do it.”

“He doesn’t want to do it,” said Marie, feeling she was witnessing bullying.

“Sssshh,” whispered Serendipity, and scowled at Marie.

“I’ll do it,” he said, “but then, can I fly off.”

“You can if you have the strength,” said Kamachal, trying to be honest.

“What do you mean?”

“It means I’m a cat and you’re a bird and if you don’t do what I want you to do then I shall tear off your wings and eat you.”

“That’s horrid!” snapped Marie.

“Alright. I’ll do it,” said DagDag.

“Make sure you do,” said Kamachal, grabbing him from Rosalind’s grip and holding him over the boat’s side, over the clear water. DagDag was hung upside-down, his beak about a foot above the water.

“Let go, then,” said DagDag, “I’ll take a bath.”

Kamachal let go and hauled himself quickly into the boat. “Row away, quickly!” he shouted at the girls.

DagDag went straight into the water, beak-first. There was an instant hiss and then flame broke out on the surface of the water. Marie missed much of what happened as she was on the wrong side of the boat, but Rosalind saw it all. Feathers wings, claws, all were thrown into the air. DagDag had disintegrated the moment his head hit the water. DagDag was more than dead, he had been pulverised into many tiny pieces.

“All is well with the world now,” said Kamachal. “This is in accordance with the light of Jelahda’s wisdom. I had to get DagDag to agree to do it because otherwise he wouldn’t have gone to Divine Peeleo. If I had pushed him in he wouldn’t have stood a chance of any afterlife. It’s a sad business when good people become enchanted.”

Tears rolled down Serendipity’s face. She looked out of the boat, away from the children.

Marie was furious. “You said he would be okay!” she was screaming over and over again.

“No one said anything,” said Serendipity, looking back, revealing her red eyes.

“Some creatures do survive,” said Kamachal putting the rope back into the rucksack, “but they are usually large creatures who have not been badly cursed. I thought the raven stood a chance, but you saw what happened. But at least he will have the chance of an afterlife. If he had flown off in the condition, he would have been a great threat to us and absolutely no use to himself.”

“I don’t like it in this horrible place!” said Marie, “I want to go back to Earth.”

“The next place you’re going is to my place to have a rest. You all look absolutely wiped out with exhaustion,” said Kamachal.

CHAPTER 33

Once they had circumnavigated the circumference of the Waters of Surrender it was only a short walk to the large cat’s domain.

He lived in a cave at the side of an outcrop that was only just outside the wood. It was no natural cave though – but had doors and tens of separate rooms, and was furnished with taste and expense. Rosalind was introduced to his guest who had been staying there for several months. She instantly recognised them but couldn’t understand why.

“Why, it’s that little girl,” said the badger with the hat on. “We’ve not seen you for ages and ages.”

“I know you but I can’t remember where from,” said Rosalind.

“This is Nudger Badger,” said Kamachal introducing the badgers to everyone, “And this is Grudger Badger.”

“Oh, I remember,” said Rosalind, “I met you when I got stuck in Wizicky Wazicky Wood many years ago.”

“That’s right,” said Grudger, who was waving at them with one hand and playing with a computer mouse with the other.

“This is all very well,” said Serendipity, “but let’s get some food because we really ought to be on our way.”

“You’re going to have a rest, wash and a meal before you go,” said Kamachal pointing down a corridor, “I have lots of guest rooms.”

“Thank you, I’d love to stay overnight,” began Serendipity, “but I don’t think we’ll be able to get there in time if we don’t get off tonight. We need to get there by tomorrow afternoon, and that means we’ll have to sleep out of doors. If we left in the morning, it would be too far to go.”

“Well, first of all go and find a room, and get a couple of hours sleep. If you like the bedrooms dark there’s a switch on the bedside table that will that make them as dark as you like, so that you can get a good sleep. Before you go to sleep, leave your dirty and torn clothes outside in the hall by your door and we’ll collect them and Grudger here will put any clothes you leave out in his new invention: the super-washing machine. This will clean, rinse, dry, iron and fold your clothes within half an hour.”

“Oh that sounds great,” said Rosalind.

“Sure does,” said Tchi.

“And if any of your clothes are damaged or torn, I can probably find some sort of replacement,” said Nudger, “As I sell clothes on the markets and have a lot of my stock here.”

“Now you can have a bath or shower before you sleep or after you get up, or both if you like, but I’ll arrange for you to be woken up after three hours and will have a meal cooked for when you come back,” said the smiling cat.

Tchi and Rosalind expressed their pleasure that they had stopped off at Kamachal’s cave, on hearing all this welcome information. Marie just scowled and looked deep in thought. She was angry.

*** *** *** ***

Rosalind went to her appointed bedroom. She took off her clothes. From her jacket and took out Granddads pocket watch from her jacket, and removed other valuables before she dropped all her dirty clothes out in the corridor.

She had a lovely shower which made her skin tingle from head to foot. When she came back from the bathroom all her clothes she had left in a pile were now neatly folded on the bed having been completely processed. She was really impressed.

Then she lay in fresh flannelette sheets and turned the light down. Within minutes she was fast asleep.

A bell rang some time later and she opened her eyes. She would have liked to have slept for longer but she remembered that they still had some way to go.

She was putting her lovely comfortable walking boots on, when she suddenly had an idea about them. “Aha! That’s an interesting idea. I’ll try that out,” she said to herself, but her idea was quickly forgotten as an intercom in the room announced that dinner was being served.

She headed back up the corridor to the enormous dining room. “Welcome,” shouted Kamachal, “Come and sit down, dinner is being served.”

Dinner was sumptuous, all eaten on a long table with candelabras and crystal glasses.

Afterwards Kamachal asked them all to relax in the drawing room for while before they got themselves ready to move on. “Nudger has just popped off to collect a few gardening tools,” he said. Everyone sat and watched Palingenesis Television. The cat had a large TV on the wall in front of his sofa.

Grudger, the other badger, was in there but away from the crowd. He sat in a recess in the drawing room working on a computer. Maximouse went over to talk to him. Rosalind, not in the slightest bit interested in the wall to wall adverts that were appearing on the TV, also got up and went to see what they were doing.

“You’ve copied it?” Rosalind could hear Maximouse saying as she came up. She saw Grudger hand over a silver CD to Maximouse.

“Is that the CD software that helped us get over here?” she surmised.

“It is,” said Maximouse. “Other people will need it too, in case we don’t survive.”

*** *** *** ***

An hour later, as the late afternoon came and the early afternoon started, they put on all the rucksacks, fully loaded with provisions and tools, and set forth back into Threadbare Wood.

“It’s due East,” said Kamachal, “Me and the badgers will walk with you for a short while along the way. We’re going to help you get into Blackbod, there’s no way unless you have some help.”

The gang, together with Kamachal, Nudger and Grudger walked through Grimley Forest and then along the edge of Threadbare Forest.

“Take these Clenicaline tablets, swallow them now” said Kamachal. “They will reduce the smog of nemotoxigen, they will almost completely remove it’s smell and keep you safe from the negative affects of it for about three days. I don’t have any more to give you, so you had better achieve your mission in that time!”

Soon they entered into Grimley wood, and then about a mile further on they came to an enormous hedge the height of a terraced house. “This is The Ring Of Thorns,” said Kamachal. “It is guarding the outer ring of Ursula’s estate. It is virtually impossible to either get in or out of. However we have found one way: to cut your way through, which is why we’ve bought garden cutters. The trouble is, as soon as you start cutting this particular hawthorn hedge, the branches begin growing back. We need to cut and cut as fast as we can and make a small hole. We will be cutting furiously and continually, so you need to slip in the hole as soon as you can, one by one.”

“However are we going to get out again?” asked Marie

No one said anything for a minute and then Kamachal said, “There’s a main gate leading to the North Passage, which is not affected by this.”

“But isn’t that miles away?” queried Maximouse.

“Come on, Mr. giant cat, start cutting,” said Serendipity, “and let’s get in there. We have to get in today, not tomorrow!”

PALINGENESIS ISLAND BOOK III 18 – 24

PLASTICIA CITY

CHAPTER 18

Rosalind and her companions now found themselves standing on a ledge inside a wide tower. They stood on a slanting balcony, which they soon realised was part of a spiral stairway. It had no steps, just a winding ramp that went both up and down. They could see the ramp spiral up above them. It was like being on the edge of some strange ‘Wall of Death’, thought Tchi, only with a fenced ledge around it, upon which they stood. Looking down into the dark muddy brown light of the tower he noticed small arrow slit windows in the cylindrical walls.

In the middle of the stairway, some way above them, hung a giant shiny golden ball, like an gigantic Christmas tree globe, suspended in space without any visible means of support.

Deep down below, on floor level, everyone could see a moving hemisphere. Everyone leapt back from the wall of the balcony when they realised it was an enormous eye resting in a mechanical socket which, like a lizard’s, kept flicking around, always looking up, first to this side and then to that.

Oh no! We’re in the wrong place,” said DagDag. “This is the headquarters at the entrance to the city. This place will be crowded with military!”

Be ready with your swords,” said Serendipity. I think I can see Buzzor dust.” She bent down and picked up a piece of yellow fluff off the green carpet that ran all the way along the spiral balcony. “You’re supposed to get lucky if you find some of this,” she said, smiling whimsically. “And we could certainly do with some.”

They all thought so as they looked up to see where a sudden hum was coming from. Four Buzzors were coming from behind the golden orb. They were swooping down towards the new arrivals. Within seconds they had grasped a foothold on the balcony wall.

Gluid was not restrained, he leapt forward with his sword and as the first Buzzor put its insect forefeet on the plaster wall of the balcony, the sword swung and chopped them from the insect. The Buzzor fell back but went flying upwards, unable to steady itself. Serendipity took the wolf head off another one, which almost made Rosalind quail. She knew, however, she had to put aside her fear and join in and help her friends. She leapt to the balcony edge and swung her sword about, not entirely sure of its direction. A Buzzor was flying towards her. She summoned up her courage as it came closer and then – as it was almost on her – she feinted a move to the left but moved to the right and bought the sword down on the side of the massive insect. A sickening thud was heard and the Buzzor and one of its wings separated and both tumbled down into the lower tower, towards the lizard eye. Another Buzzor which had been approaching suddenly changed its mind and flew back up behind the golden ball and became obscured by it.

It’s gone back for reinforcements,” said Maximouse.

We did better than I thought we would,” said Tchi.

It’s because they can’t quite get into the balcony,” said Serendipity. “This is their headquarters and guard house – they have never fought anyone in here before.”

They didn’t have their crossbows with them this time,” said Rosalind.

Watch out,” said DagDag, “They’re coming back.

And he was right. Another four Buzzors were spinning round out of the golden ball and heading towards them.

Serendipity’s gang crouched down, hidden by the solid balcony wall, and waited. As soon as the first Buzzor had alighted onto the wall top, they simultaneously leapt up and started stabbing and thrusting with their swords. It was mayhem and Rosalind was lucky to step back just as Gluid swung his sword round to decapitate a Buzzor or she would have lost an arm first.. The fighting was furious and frenetic, but the Buzzors still could not make headway and after the leading two fell away with injuries the remaining two remaining flew into retreat.

The gang were quite exhausted, but they didn’t have a great deal of time to rest before another onslaught began. However this time it came from three directions at once.

Tchi noticed it. He was looking down over the balcony trying to observe what the lizard eye was doing when he saw eight Buzzors walking up the spiral balcony, two floors below. Then he looked up. Two floors up, on the opposite side of the stairway, another eight Buzzors were walking down the balcony towards them. He warned the others. They all leant over to have a look. “We’re trapped,” said Maximouse with a long sigh.

We’ll die like heroes,” said Gluid. “We’ll stick it up ‘em.”

But there was more. Another four Buzzors were coming out of the golden orb above. Two Buzzors drew a light air vehicle, like a sleigh, behind them. Two Buzzors flew behind it. Inside sat a strange looking man.

In that air chariot,” said Serendipity, “is one of Ursula’s supporters.”

The air chariot quickly came alongside the foreigners.

You will not succeed this time,” the tall spindly man said. He wore a yellow singlet. On it was printed a symbol Rosalind recognised, a black triangle within a ‘’U in the middle of it.

You’re dead, Eggplant!” swore Gluid swinging his sword over his head.

The man turned a metal dish which he held in both his hands towards them. “My new device will finish you off.”

Suddenly everyone felt a force on their metal weapons. The swords they had been holding on to began to be drawn away from them. Serendipity’s soldiers hung over the edge of the balcony wall desperately gripping their weapons, but the pressure was too great, and one by one they sprang out of their hands towards the air chariot. The metal weapons began to hit the Eggplant’s dish, clang, clang, bang. Rosalind not only felt her sword being pulled away from her by an invisible force, but also her grandfather’s watch in her pocket. Letting go of her sword, she fell face down behind the balcony wall, the weight of her whole body now lying on top of the watch. Suddenly, and with great relief, she felt the invisible force, which was still trying to tear the metal watch out of her clothes, stop.

You are finished now,” said Eggplant. “You’re pathetic attempt at insurrection has failed. Ha! And look how far you have got! You are defenceless and our soldiers are coming for you.”

Marie put her head in her hands.

You are mere amateurs!” he scoffed, holding his sides in laughter. As one of his eyes looked continually straight ahead, the other seemed to roam around freely, as if he had a glass eye.

Both divisions of Buzzors had now arrived on the same level as the children and surrounded them. The children were sandwiched between those coming up and those coming down. Their only escape was to leap over the edge and that would have been to certain death. They were finished.

Unfortunately we cannot kill you yet,” shouted Eggplant. “We have to inform the great and magnanimous and Unstoppable Ursula of your capture and then we can completely erase the island of you puny terrorist intentions, once and for all, and make an example of you for all to see.”

Marie was screaming as the Buzzors manhandled her into a cage that was brought alongside. As they were trying to get her in, DagDag suddenly burst into the air and sped upwards flying for all he was worth. As two Buzzors gave chase, the rest of the prisoners, Gluid, Maximouse, Serendipity, Rosalind, Tchi and Marie, continued to be herded into the prison cage and clung to its metal spokes like grim death. The cage was like a giant birdcage on its side, and it would have been easy to have fallen between the large spaces between the wires. It was transported like an air chariot, with two Buzzors at the front and two at the back, all connected by silver wires. They floated down towards the lizard’s eye, but at one floor above it they were docked into a large entrance into the side of a tunnel, a tunnel that had not been visible from where they had previously stood.

A Werg – as Serendipity described him – instructed them. This Jailmaster, as he described himself, ordered them to disembark from the prison cage. Standing next to him, but saying nothing, stood a rather overdressed Buzzor who wore a powdered wig on his vulpine head.

The prisoners were led up a short measure of wooden steps to a corridor with windows, a bridge of windows between two buildings. Rosalind got the chance to look out over the streets of Plasticia. She couldn’t make head or tail of it. Not only were tethered air ships flying all over the place, but so were creatures of all types – some looked human – flying in the air, all leashed to the ground by long ropes. Down on the ground were hundreds of cars and other modes of transport, but none of them were moving. She tried to make sense of it by stopping, but the Jailmaster came back and shouted a command at her to move along. She followed him on up some more steps back into another corridor, this one without windows. Soon they turned into double swing doors to find herself in a large wainscoted court room. A man sat high up in front of them who Rosalind correctly ascertained this to be a judge. Above him was written in big fancy letters: ‘The House of Correction’. Under this was written in smaller letters. ‘Guilty unless proven innocent’.

CHAPTER 19

Rosalind, Serendipity, Maximouse, Gluid, Marie and Tchi were all constrained at the back of the court in a wire mesh cage. Over the course of the next hour, one by one they were brought out of the cage, put on a strange machine and then led to the dock where their crimes were read out and they were sentenced. Rosalind looked around for a jury, but no jury was to be seen. There was a court secretary who spent most of his time tapping on a machine, and a couple of court officials who sat to the left of the judge, but down at floor level.

Rosalind sat down on one of the uncomfortable pews in the cage. The Jailmaster and the bewigged Buzzor, who had both helped to bring them in, sat next to their cage, so she strained her ears occasionally trying to make out the quiet comments they occasionally made to each other.

Oh it’s not him again, is it?” said the lawyer.

Perhaps he’s in a better mood today,” said Jailmaster.

The Judge, who they had obviously been talking about, then spoke aloud from his bench. He directed a question at them.

When is this banquet, Jailmaster, I could do with a bit of fun?”

It’s tomorrow, m’lud, at three in the afternoon,” answered the legal wasp, despite the question not being addressed to him. “It’s in the banqueting rooms next door.”

Oh jolly good, I shall look forward to trying some of that excellent Drummond wine they have on these important occasions.”

You can say that again,” whispered the Jailmaster sarcastically to his colleague, and out of earshot of the judge, although Rosalind caught every word.

Bring the first defendant forward to the Pollyploy,” said the judge.

Gluid was brought forward and put on the machine that stood next to the dock. After he had stood in it for about half a minute it stopped making whirring noises and printed out a sheet of paper which was passed to the judge.

You are accused (hic) of undermining the government of this City and being a dissenter to the Magnanimous and Benevolent Ursula the Unstoppable. We need to wait to see how she considers your terrible crimes, but as we will have to wait until she arrives, I – “ Here he picked up the sheet of paper from the pollyploy, “ – it says here you have a talent for cooking – will condemn you to the work of assistant cook and galley slave in the banqueting hall. You are dispensed forthwith. Enjoy it because you will not live long. Guards!” He pressed on a red buzzer in front of him and the double swing doors at the back of the room opened and two Buzzors came in and marched Gluid off.

After the doors had swung to, the judge put his head in his hands and sighed. Then he sat up and somewhere from the judge’s high bench the sound of a liquid being poured could be heard. This was followed by the judge putting his head down out of sight of the rest of the court. When it reappeared Rosalind noticed that his lips looked a lot fuller and redder.

The Jailmaster expressed her thoughts. “He’s on it again,” he whispered to his legal companion.

That means he’s going to be lenient again,” said the lawyer. But if he was showing lenience, Rosalind hated to think what sort of sentences he handed out when he wasn’t lenient.

Everyone who followed Gluid to the dock was accused of exactly the same crime as Gluid. The next to come before the judge was Maximouse, although why he was called next, Rosalind couldn’t fathom, it all seemed quite random. “The fat Moonbeasley next!” shouted the judge pointing his wiry finger at the creature.

Maximouse protested at the insult but was bullied along to the pollyploy and the dock by the one of the court Buzzors who stood at the back of the room.

I see by your pollyploy information,” the judge was now saying, “that you like eating. Well we can’t employ anyone as an eater, I’m afraid. The simple truth is that you are a lazy lounge lizard and a fat computer nerd. We treat obesity as a dreadful crime in Plasticia. I hereby condemn you to a life of ego-gas.”

Jolly good,” said Maximouse.

Jolly good! Are you mad!”

I’m not mad,” said Maximouse.

The judge yawned and ducked his head again. When he reappeared his lips looked red again. “Tell him, Secretary, what this means.”

The court secretary was caught unawares. He stopped tapping away on his recording machine and stood up and addressed the defendant. “It means two fleshy humps will be constructed on your back in our plastic surgeon hospital,” he said. “These humps will contain super light ego-gas. You will then be sent up, tethered to the ground, to float over the city. This will serve to set an example to the rest of the population not to break the law.

You will be able to control the height at which you hover, “he continued, “because you will be able to regulate your own gas, but if you come down too low you will be shot with the cross-bows bolts of the Buzzors. You will not be able to steer yourself away and escape as one of your feet will be tethered to the ground – you can only go up or down, and drift a little in the wind. Eventually your gas will run out, and you will descend, and at that time you will be shot. You will be given a long tube from a 7th floor window to drink from. You will be allowed six hours sleep a night on the ground. You will be dressed in a convict’s shirt. You will float continuously over the city as an example to all other city dwellers of how not to behave.

And to scare away the scavenger birds and provide a useful public service,” added the judge.

“Couldn’t I do some cooking like Gluid?,” asked Maximouse.

That’s awful!” shouted Rosalind from her cage.

Silence in court, or it will happen to you too. Take this stupid creature away!” The judge pressed the yellow button on his bench and Maxmouse was marched off by more Buzzors.

Serendipity was next up. She stood in the dock quietly fuming as she was sentenced to working in the Banquet hall orchestra pit playing a harp.

He keeps forgetting to ball and chain them,” said the lawyer.

She won’t need a ball and chain if she’s down there,” said the bewigged Buzzor to the Jailmaster, sniggering, “Nobody could ever climb out of there.”

Marie was less composed and was sniffing as the judge, having noticed her aptitude for cooking and herbs, condemned her to work in the City farm as a weedkiller.

Put her in a ball and chain,” shouted the powdered wigged lawyer, unable to contain his frustration at these weak punishments.

Okay then,” said the judge, “with ball and chain.” Again, the Buzzors marched their prisoner away.

The next up was Tchi. After the judge had studied Tchi’s pollyploy read-out, he said, “You are good with old cars. You will serve as a Mechslave, in the city. We can never get anyone who has the ability to do that.” Again he pressed his button, whereupon Tchi was marched away like Gluid by two Buzzors.

Whatever’s a mechslave?” asked Rosalind to Serendipity.

I think you call them grease monkeys. The city has too many old cars everywhere. He’ll be conscripted into helping to remove them.”

By the time Rosalind – who was called up last to the dock – stood in front of the judge, he seemed to have become very confused. He became greatly confused by her pollyploy print-out as it didn’t give a lot of information that was useful to him. He eventually decreed that she would be incarcerated in the penal Education unit.

Rosalind wasn’t marched away by the Buzzors only, the Jailmaster decided to join her as well.

I’ll take her over to the penal Education Unit, I’m going in that direction,“ shouted the Jailmaster to the judge.

Take the two Buzzors as well. Remember these insurgents are very devious and dangerous.”

They all descended in a lift and came out at the bottom floor where the hooded lizard’s eye rose up before them like some monstrous poached egg. Rosalind thought it was hideous as they all walked around it. They steered round the eye passed a floor marked ‘Cyclops-Psycops’

You don’t like that eye, do you,” said the Jailmaster sneering.

What’s it for anyway,” said Rosalind.

Don’t you know? It’s our Secret Service and burglar alarm. The eye, in conjunction with the brain below that it’s connected to, scans the building for intruders. That’s how the Buzzors knew you were here. And they can make anyone talk and dance. Our secret service can interrogate or brainwash anyone.”

I can’t say it’s something I would want for my birthday,” said Rosalind.

Don’t bother thinking about escape. We’ll be keeping our eyes on you. The judge should have put a ball and chain on you, like your friend.”

I don’t even know why I’m here,” said Rosalind angrily. “I don’t even live on this island.”

A likely story.” He led the way with the two Buzzors to a door that led past several more rows of guards into an open street. For the first time Rosalind stood outside in a street in Plasticia. It was a sunny day. Everything around her was in bright clear colours. As they walked creatures of every shape and size gave them wide birth, fear written on their faces at the sight of the Jailmaster and his guards.

The first thing that struck her was the amount of discarded cars on the side of the streets everywhere, forcing the walkers to continually change direction so as to avoid them.

She complained about it to the Jailmaster who walked beside her.

Plasticia has had its troubles,” he said. “Those are from the days when we had so many cars that it just all grid locked and it then took so long to get anywhere that people found it quicker walking. You’ll still see some cars driving around, if they can find a way though the mountains of advertising literature. Since the availability of aircars and boom-jets, some of the wealthier citizens bought have them and prefer to get around that way. Look, there’s some up there.”

Rosalind could see two red and yellow fairground bumper type vehicles that were flying around the sky above.

Why are there so many people flying in the air on leashes?”

Didn’t you listen to the judge? Fat and lazy people are inflated and shamed in the air. That will happen to that fat Moonbeasley friend of yours. We also have prison airships if you look a little higher,” he said pointing.

Then she noticed a number of creatures sitting on a public square all looking straight ahead as if in a trance. “Who are those?” she asked.

They’ve had too many Malmals. The government likes everyone to take two Malmals a day but they take packets and all they can do is stare and do nothing.”

What are Malmals?”

The sweets that the government gives to everyone to calm them down. They make you feel nice. You’ll be given some in the Penal Education Unit. Malmals are produced in the South Darklands, and issued everywhere.”

And what’s that big fence over there?”

That is where the rich citizens live. The hospitals are in that complex as well. It’s heavily fenced off. You need a permit to go in there.”

Rosalind couldn’t get over all the advertising. Apart from all the junk mail on the ground, which at times was knee deep, advertising was on every brick, on every building, on all the awnings on the shops and on virtually all the clothes on the backs of the city dwellers. Everything advertised some business or concern. Most of them were advertising two firms: SOOPERBUY and GETITCHEAP. She commented to the Jailmaster.

Yes,” he said, “They are both competitive companies and both owned by Ursula the Unstoppable.

She must be very rich,” said Rosalind.

Oh she is,” said the Jailmaster. “She also owns the company that produces Malmals.”

Eventually they came to a cobbled side street. The massive building taking up most of the street, was architecturally peculiar. On its top three floors it had the elegance of a dashing English country house. Its stone buttresses led up to a roof topped with baroque gargoyles. Along its upper floors were an abundance of tall arched windows. Yet this style changed completely at the ground floor. This was dressed in glass, steel and concrete, making it lack any personality at all.

Steps led up to its grey door. The lower storey walls contained hardly any windows. In the sombre foyer there were two signs. One was in fancy calligraphic writing: ‘The Gooniversity of Doshification’ and pointed upwards and the other, in bold sans serif letters read, ‘The Penal Rectitude Unit,’ and pointed downwards.

In here,” said the Jailmaster leading the way into a small room at the side. “Sit here and someone will come for you. You won’t be able to escape.”

What will happen to me?” asked Rosalind.

It’s tough. You’ll be stuck below in the dungeons with the festering bodies of dead rats and forgotten prisoners until they decide what to do with you. It’s too bad. It’s unlikely you will survive.”

CHAPTER 20

Rosalind was left locked in a grey sterile room, with a ticking clock and a grey filing cabinet for company. Every piece of furniture, even the chair she sat on, was bolted to the floor. In the dimness, she waited her fate.

She didn’t wait long. Ten minutes later the lock turned and the door opened.

Oh Hello. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know you’d arrived. I just came in here for some rubber bands,” said the be-suited, bespectacled man, now looking in the filing cabinet.

Hello,” responded Rosalind.

The tall thin man now regarded her again, looking a little exasperated. “I’m so sorry I must be behind time, or you must early. Sorry about that. Come with me. We’re all upstairs. It’s the full analysis, isn’t it?” He said in a high frenetic voice.

Rosalind didn’t know what he was talking about, but decided that this sounded better than being locked in the dungeons – unless that was what ‘the full analysis’ actually meant.

Yes,” she lied.

Your name is Veekricide, is that right?”

Um…yes.”

Well I’m honoured to meet you. I’m professor Argle-Phark. I’m so sorry you’re in the wrong room. Follow me.”

From the foyer, they entered a lift, which climbed up through the building. Rosalind then followed Professor Argle-Phark up the embroidered olive carpet of an elegant staircase into a room where a man and a woman sat behind a large desk. She was invited to sit opposite them. Professor Argle-Phark sat down and introduced his colleagues.

“This is Dr. Malwapin,” he said, pointing to a man who looked like a tortoise without a shell, having been replaced with a suit. “And this is Ms. Loomey.” She wore glasses and had her hair in a bun. She looked very old fashioned.

Pleased to meet you,” said Rosalind, starting to offer her hand, but then realised her interrogators were too far distant across the desk to attempt a handshake.

It is a great honour to welcome you to the Gooniversity and to help you to decide what it is you want to do with your life and to put you on the right course to do that,” said the Professor. He then sighed and rummaged around with the paperwork on the table. He had very dimpled cheeks and an elongated head.

Thank you,” said Rosalind earnestly. She decided it would be best if she didn’t say too much.

Yes, we’re all here to help you find yourself,” said Ms. Loomey.

Good, I could do with knowing where I am,” she said.

Now, from the pre-doshification reports that I have received,” said the professor picking up one folders of paper, “I can see that you haven’t had the easiest of times finding a natural propensity for the direction of those talents which would be deemed useful for a person in your position,” said the professor, slightly raising the frenetic speed of his speaking as he went on. “I read that although you have an empathy with animals, this is not the sort of aim in life that would create satisfaction in the responsibilities that you will have on your shoulder in the future. For that reason I would recommend that we start you on the BMC Course II in Rice Pudding Diplomacy. This will set you up in life properly. Not many people of your age realise how a knowledge of talking to Rice Puddings can benefit you in the higher echelons of society.”

Rosalind could understand each word he spoke, but had no idea at all what he was talking about.

Rice puddings? ” queried Rosalind.

There are other options,” said Mrs. Loomey quickly, staring at Rosalind, “You don’t have to make your decision this very moment. For example you may be interested in our split-arts M. Phil course in ‘Going to the toilet elegantly’, which has been running from our department.” Her face lifted with pride. “It’s been refreshed this year and it’s in the new prospectus.”

I saw a course in your new prospectus, Mrs. Loomey, for an evening class: ‘Love Making’’ on Thursdays. Can I sign up for that?” asked Dr. Malwapin.

“I’ve told you before, that was a printer’s error. It was ‘Lace Making’”

“Oh I can do that,” said Malwapin. “Talk about dumbing down,” he added, muttering more to himself than anyone else.

Rosalind couldn’t contain herself any more and fell about laughing, hardly able to get her words out. “Going to the toilet!” she screamed with laugher, “I can’t see what any of this has to do with me? It’s crazy!”

Aha! How many times we have heard that?” countered Mrs. Loomey in a robust voice, “just you mark my words, young girl, in many years time, you’ll be saying, “How I wasted my time in my younger days. If I had studied that course my life would have worked out wonderfully. They all do, you know, they all do.”

It is true,” said the professor, coming to Ms. Loomey’s defence, “students who have studied the module: ‘Going to the toilet elegantly,’ do lead a very stress free life.”

You do need to go on the best of courses,” said Ms. Loomey.

That’s right,” agreed Dr. Malwapin, “there’s no substitute for proper doshification, there’s no substitute for a good Gooniversity.”

Indeed!” said both of his colleagues.

So what happens there then?” giggled Rosalind.

Here, at the Gooniversity?” said the professor, “Well, you learn important but elementary things, like how to shine your shoes, how to handle your knife and fork, things like that. Do you know, I think you’re the sort of talent that might enjoy our tremendously popular course in ‘Gossip’.”

Gossip!”

Yes, that stuff that turns the planets round. I think it could be very useful to you later in life, and by reading your report it would seem as if you do possess a talent for it.”

Rosalind thought he was getting personal, but bit her lip.

People can be hurt by gossip,” he continued, “it can be rather tacky stuff, but it does no good to pretend you can escape it. You cant, even if you set about being the blandest person in the universe. You have to remember that gossip is all quite meaningless in the long run, you know. My course is always over-subscribed every year, and I have a 100% pass rate.”

But what do they gossip about on your course?”

Anything and everything. For the first couple of days, my teachers introduce all the new students to each other and lots of Doshification tasks to be carried out. And then, after about 24 hours, we find there’s so much gossiping going on by the students about the staff and the other students we just let them carry on for the rest of the course. It’s not only easy for them and easy for us – it’s jolly interesting too.”

That’s silly,” said Rosalind.

Shame on you! They all love it. In fact, they rarely bother to attend our lectures in Celebrity, Political and Royal gossip, because they are too busy gossiping about each other to attend.

Nevertheless,” he continued, “we do get quite a large number interested in our ‘Malicious Gossip Study Group’, and our ‘Play-One-Off-Against-Another’ Master Class. They adore these. When they pass their degree they can apply automatically for their post graduate award a year later, because they will have learnt so much outside of our Gooniversity that we give it to them anyway. After this they automatically become Doctors of Back-stabbing “

I shouldn’t think you’d want to meet them by that time anyway.”

Absolutely not. Quite horrible people – but usually very successful.”

It doesn’t sound the sort of course I’d like at all,” said Rosalind.

It isn’t always about the sort of course you’d like,” said Ms. Loomey, “but the sort of course that would be useful to you to do.”

Just start her on our compulsory Commerce and Retail Course and have done with it,” said Malwapin, looking irritated. “She can be thinking about further courses while she’s doing that”.

I do agree we need to make some sort of decision here to get things started,” concurred the professor.

*** *** *** ***

Rosalind followed all the three lecturers down a maze of corridors until they came to a room which looked like a large shop.

Welcome to the world of Commerce and Retail, isn’t it wonderful?” said Professor Argle-Phark.

It’s alright. It looks like a supermarket,” said Rosalind.

Right. What are you going to buy?” coaxed Ms. Loomey

I don’t need anything at the moment.”

No? Come on, a girl of your age, cosmetics to make you prettier, more attractive to the boys? New clothes? There is a delightful fashion department. They could make you look like a supermodel, almost. Although you may need to take a little off that nose – ”

Well, there’s plastic surgery for that,” said Malwapin, “That’s upstairs.”

I see,” said Rosalind, “I think I’m beginning to understand. I’m not good enough as I am, as I stand here, I have to buy all these products to make me into a better person.”

Hello, can I help?” interrupted a man, also wearing a suit and tie.

This is the shopping centre’s trainer, Mr. Stock,” said Ms. Loomey, slowing down her machine-gun voice.

“I couldn’t help overhearing what the girl said,” said Mr. Stock, turning to Rosalind. “And you are quite right. All consumers are stupid, useless and ugly. But we make them feel better. In fact we can make you so clever and sexy that you will feel superior to everyone else.”

Why should I want that?”

Surely, everyone wants to look down on everyone else?”

I don’t. That’s preposterous.”

Then surely everyone wants to better themselves, make their lives better in every conceivable way. And we have every product that you can imagine to do that.

And they are so easy to buy! You can buy over the counter, or on the escalators, or in the lifts, or on the stair cases. You can phone for them to be delivered, you can press buttons on your TV remote control, or order from your computer – if you’re lucky enough to have a government licence to own one. You can come and get them or you can have them delivered. Whatever you buy you will then receive, free of charge, hundreds of mail order offers to buy more of the product sent free to your address. And if you take advantage of one of these offers you will automatically become entered into our grand shopping lottery which takes place every month, and you could win up to £50 million.”

Why would I want £50 million,” asked Rosalind.

Well…just think of the shopping you could do.”

But….”

And you should buy now because everything will be going up soon, and we have limited stocks,” continued Mr. Stock.

But I don’t want anything,” said Rosalind. “I’m quite happy with the things I’ve got and with who I am.”

Professor Argle-Phark, Ms. Loomey, Malwapin and Mr. Stock all looked at each other, and for a moment no one spoke. Shocked, they all made a deep sigh and looked down at the floor.

Then Malwapin said, “But what about self-improvement?”

What do you mean?”

We could send you onto more training courses to make you a better, more skilful or a nicer person.”

And if you’re too sensitive, we also have an alternative training course that could make you into an assertive and desensitised person as well,” said the professor rubbing his hands with glee.

Well I suppose I’m not against people improving things, and developing inventions to make things better, but what I can’t understand is what happens to all the stuff that isn’t sold.”

It’s sold off cheap.”

So that means if I wait long enough I will be able to buy what I want cheaper?”

It’s all a case of supply and demand,” said Malwapin.

That’s complicated,” said Rosalind

If there is a great demand for a product it becomes expensive because everyone wants it.”

I see,” said Rosalind.

And if there is hardly any demand for a product it – “

“ – is cheap because hardly anyone wants it,” interjected Rosalind.

No. It becomes more expensive because it is scarce,” said Malwapin.

So everything is continually getting more expensive,” said Rosalind, shrugging her shoulders and looking quite exasperated.

Not exactly,” said Malwapin.

Oh never mind, don’t tell me anymore. All this money stuff seems to confuse me.”

But you’re n-n-n-not suggesting that we don’t need all these things, these labour saving devices and beautiful objects?” stammered the professor.

It seems that people work all day and night for things that are labour-saving,” said Rosalind, “And it seems that the energy we waste in providing these so called desirable things create a world of pollution and land-fills of yesterday’s goods,” she added.

Well, well. I think she should be a left wing politician, don’t you everybody?” said Professor Argle-Phark.

CHAPTER 21

The Politician Course!” shouted both the professor and Ms. Loomey in unison. “Hooray!”

So you want to be a politician?” said Malwapin.

I don’t know,” said Rosalind, yawning. “I don’t care what I do at the moment. Go on then, I’ll have a look at that course.”

Malwapin leapt onto the desk and shouted, “We’ve got one! Somebody wants to be a politician!”

She was bemused, and getting tired. What on earth was this all about? She was not clever enough to be in politics. It was a dry, legalistic type of job, where you had to keep changing your mind everyday. But she was pleased they was pleased at last.

Professor Argle-Phark and Ms. Loomey were standing around Rosalind clapping. “Brilliant!” said the professor. “Let us show you our ‘So You Have Political dreams’.”

Without another word they bustled Rosalind out of her seat and took her off through more corridors, these crammed with glass cases and exhibits. They climbed the stairs to the next floor and went into a small room containing a central chair with lots of electronic apparatus placed around it.

Sit there! Sit there!” said Ms. Loomey.

Put these on!” said Malwapin, clamping a pair of headphones on to her head and clipping a pair of crocodile clip electrodes on her ears. A whirling noise began accelerating behind her as the professor flicked a switch and threw a handle.

I’m not sure about this. This is like being at the dentist’s,” complained Rosalind, lines creasing in her forehead.

Switch it to Earth language and English history,” said Malwapin.

Done,” said the professor, “just lie back and learn to pontificate for your country.” The professor hovered over Rosalind enthusiastically like a mad surgeon. “Soon you’ll be in our new multimedia educational package: ‘So you have a Political vision.”

And they were right. Rosalind felt herself leaving the room. She felt she was on a helicopter flying into a golf course. There were credits rolling up in front of her eyes, but it was a different than watching TV. This was all in three dimensions and, although she knew it wasn’t really happening, she felt that everything around her was actually happening. Nevertheless she felt quite safe.

There was lots of talking going on, although it didn’t seem to coming from anyone in particular, but more of a general narrative going on her left ear. It was talking about wanting to do good in the world, and that sorting out the world’s problems was the best job in the world. It talked about people called Ghandi and Churchill whom it said were good politicians and Hitler, Saddam and Castro who it said were not.

Then the names of the people who had created this educational package were written on the end credits. Namely: Dr. Malwapin, Professor Argle-Phark and Ms. Loomey.

Well, didn’t you think it was brilliant?” asked Professor Argle-Phark, when Rosalind returned to consciousness.

Around her were the expectant and proud faces of her three advisors.

It was okay,” she said, not wishing to disappoint them.

And do you still want to be a politician?”

I don’t think I’d be clever enough.”

Nonsense!” said Malwapin, “All you need is to be confident, thick skinned and stupid.”

I’m certainly not thick skinned and I hope I’m not stupid!” retorted Rosalind.

Malwapin moved to Rosalind’s ear and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “Most people start by standing for the local council.”

Don’t you have to join a party first?”

Yes, usually.”

But they’re all the same,” she complained, “They all say they want law and order, and the best economic prosperity for everyone – but who doesn’t?”

To succeed at your age,” said Malwapin, “I would advise you to join the party that has the least votes because in a few years, when you are an adult, their time will come round – it always does – and you will get into power.”

She won’t need to get into power,” said the professor, “she already has it.”

Aren’t you supposed to join a party because you believe in what it stands for?” asked Rosalind.

By Immelda’s kneecaps, no! Haw! Haw! Haw!” chortled Malwapin. “You have to join the party that you think will turn out best in a few years time.”

Surely you can’t just join up and become a counsellor?” queried Rosalind, “Longer standing members in that party will be first in the queue to be a candidate before any new member, surely?”

Oh isn’t she a darling!” cried Ms. Loomey.

The other two educationalists chuckled and chuckled.

Rosalind couldn’t understand the joke.

No one wants to do it!,” explained Ms. Loomey at last. “For most of the parties there is no waiting list. Parties are desperate for local candidates. They are so desperate that they would put up my cat for council if my cat would agree. He doesn’t. No one wants to do it.

But they get paid don’t they?”

They get a few pounds expenses, but they have to put in all that reading, letter writing and time taken at meeting after meeting for nothing.”

Well, I suppose you would have your finger on the pulse of the city or town then,” said Rosalind trying to grasp it.

No. Most of it is about homeless people knocking you up in the middle of the night demanding that you find them somewhere to live – ”

And about dogs pooing on the pavement.”

And about people’s drains.”

But don’t you get paid as an MP?”

Now that’s different,” said Professor Argle-Phark. “Yes you get loads of money for being an MP, and there’s always lots of people who want to do that.”

I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” said Malwapin. “We’ll stand you as a local councillor within the Plasticia, you lucky person, you!”

I think I’d like some time to think about it,” said Rosalind.

Don’t be a wet blanket,” said Ms. Loomey, “You can do it, gal. We need to make up the same number of males and females on the council, and we are short of females.”

No. It’s not for me. I can’t stand up and speak a load of what I know are lies.”

Suddenly, all the good cheer around her vanished.

Oh dear,” said the professor.

Oh dear, oh dear,” said Malwapin.

She’ll have to be a journalist then.”

What, me? A reporter?” Said Rosalind.

Yes, the fourth estate. If you can’t utter lies, you’ll have to write them,” said Ms. Loomey, “it’s the way of the world.”

Come this way and we’ll put you on apprenticeship at the local city newspaper,” said professor Aggle-phark.

Whatever,” said Rosalind, yawning again.

Professor Argle-Phark, Ms. Loomey and Malwapin took Rosalind out of the building and across to a small office on the other side of the street. It was a dingy place, full of the sound of typewriters clicking. Rosalind’s mentors didn’t seem so keen to stay with Rosalind at the Daily Torch, so they left her with the editor of the newspaper, Night Owl, and Seahorse the Arts correspondent.

Night owl was busy and rather vexed at having this girl plonked on him, when he had deadlines to meet. He got to the point quickly, trying to type at the same time.

“I’m told you need a general explanation of the job of journalism and reporting,” said Night Owl.” Sit down at my desk here and I’ll give you a crash course in a matter of minutes. Help me with this one, Seahorse.”

Okay boss,” said Seahorse putting down a can of aerosol glue.

Rosalind sat around a table filled with piles of documents.

Answer this question. Why has an author more freedom than a king?” asked Nightowl typing simultaneously.

I’ve no idea.”

He stopped typing. “I’ll tell you. An author has more freedom than a king because he can chose his own subjects.”

And as an author you must put your grammar right,” said Seahorse.

Put my grandma right about what,” retorted the Night Owl. He started typing again.

Now girl,” continued Seahorse, “concentrate and listen to this story and tell me what’s wrong with it. ‘Mind you don’t hurt the kittens, Peter,” called mother as Peter was carrying them along to show a visitor. ‘It’s okay mum,’ Peter replied, ‘I’m carefully carrying them by their stems’.

That’s daft,” said Rosalind.

Of course, but the point is ‘you must use the precise word’.”

I see,” said Rosalind laughing.

Now listen to this conversation: ‘Did you notice that pile of wood in the yard?’ ‘Yes ma’am I seen it.’ ‘You’re careless about your grammar, you mean you saw it?’ ‘No I don’t. You saw me see it but you haven’t seen me saw it.’

That’s just as silly,” said Rosalind. “Who would ever write like that.”

Night Owl stopped typing again. “Answer this exam question on Defamation of Character and libel: why do solicitors make good soldiers?”

I don’t know?”

Because they love to charge.”

“Now to be a reporter you have to learn two basic questions and vary these accordingly,” said Seahorse. The double act they were doing was making Rosalind feel dizzy.

“A wife and 4 children are killed in a fire. You then must ask the surviving father: ‘How do you feel?”

That’s horrid.”

That’s the business,” interjected Night Owl.

“And you have to ask: ‘Why have you made a big cock-up?’”

Who to?”

It works pretty well everywhere. Politicians, football managers, entertainers, business leaders, teachers, doctors, police commissioners.”

Also you really need is be super hot on psychology, don’t you?” asked Night Owl, stopping his typing again.

What’s that?”

It’s the study of what people are thinking.”

Really?”

Now, you’re a clever person, tell me, what am I thinking?”

You’re thinking that I’m trying to think of the answer.”

No I wasn’t. I wasn’t thinking that at all. Try again.”

You’re thinking about having a big tea.”

No. Wrong. So what does this prove?”

You’re lying.”

I may have been lying, but you can’t tell, can you, whether I was lying or not. What does it prove?”

It proves that I can’t tell what you are thinking.”

Correct. And therefore what does that make psychology?”

I’m not sure.”

It makes psychology a load of nonsense,” said the owl.

Golly!” exclaimed Seahorse

Now, little girl, did you notice something wrong there?” asked Night Owl.

Psychology is really okay?”

No. You weren’t listening to Seahorse. You’re not allowed to say certain things anymore. Gosh is all right but Golly is politically incorrect.”

I think I understand that,” she said.

And then of course you need to understand celebrity,” said Seahorse.

You mean someone’s who’s really clever and good and has a fantastic lifestyle and loads of money, like David Beckham.”

Never heard of him,” interjected Night Owl.

What do you mean?”

Exactly. You take my point? Stars flare up and burn out. Here today gone tomorrow. They sell newspapers and products for a while but after a while we need a new face. Eventually it’s a case of ever decreasing circles for them, the less they appear the less their promotional appeal. In the end their Public Appearance requests dry up and their toast – until ten years later when media nostalgia sets in.”

Rosalind yawned again. “OK, is there anything else I need to know.”

Lots. You might wonder why the Human Torch newspaper is printed on lavatory paper?” asked Night Owl.

I’m sure you are going to tell me.”

Because it’s a tissue of lies.”

He continued: “You need to understand we do not print the truth, we print what our rich customers and advertisers want to see written down. So we flatter all of those people with money and we criticise all those without any money or power. It’s quite disgusting.”

If you don’t like the Human Torch why do you run it?”

I edit it because everything in my life is a fake. All the artwork I have been collecting for years was recently found to be fake; I had bought it off a crooked agent. The paper money in my pocket isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. My marriage is a con. And recently I found out that I am adopted, so my parents are a con.”

Oh dear,” said Rosalind, quite genuinely concerned for the state of Night Owl’s soul. The telephone rang on owl’s desk.

Hello, Human Torch, Night Owl speaking. I see. Yes, yes of course. Immediately.”

After he put the phone down, he looked at Rosalind and winked. “Now I have to stop the front page. I was running with a story: DANGEROUS RAVEN ESCAPES BUZZOR GUARD but the Cylops-Psycops department have rang me and told me I can’t put it to bed.”

Rosalind blinked. When she unravelled what he was talking about, her eyes lit with excitement. DagDag had successfully escaped.

You wouldn’t understand that expression – it means I can’t print the newspaper.”

Why can’t you print what you want if it’s your paper,” she said.

I don’t own it. I only put in it what they allow me to put in it, like all newspapers.”

Really?”

It’s not what you know, it’s twit twhoooo you know. I do enjoy revealing the truth in part. I tell stories, exaggerations, fictions, malicious rumours, fabrications, falsehoods, inventions, mis-statements and lies, all with a smile in my eyes. I con, deceive, trick, cheat, fraud, hoax, sham and perjure my way into and out of every situation.”

Well I’m sure that not all reporters and editors are like that. I certainly wouldn’t want to be, and I don’t want to be a reporter on this newspaper.”

I thought so,” said Night Owl, and began typing furiously again. Then he stopped and made a quick phone call.

Within minutes Malwapin, Ms Loomey and the professor had come back to collect Rosalind.

How did you get on?” asked Ms. Loomey.

I’m just too tired to concentrate now,” said Rosalind. “I’ve been awake for an eternity.”

Oh dear,” sighed Malwapin as they walked back out of the Human Torch, “you are a extremely hard person to please.”

This is a 24 hour Gooniversity,” said the professor. “We go on all night.”

What about a Self Improvement course to make her into a more effective person,” said Mrs. Loomey

She seems a bit dim to me, what about a kitchen course?” suggested Malwapin.

Anything, if you let me go to sleep,” said Rosalind.

Very well,” said the professor, “Take her to the Queen Bee Suite and we can continue with the employment advice section in the morning. We might have to start again at the beginning.”

CHAPTER 22

While Rosalind was experimenting in an absurd world, Marie was experiencing a dreadful one. From the moment she arrived at the city farm she had been balled and chained and put to work, weeding the furrows of the massive fields. She had been chained in tandem with a boy who said he was not human but a Drummond, although to her he came across like an ordinary boy, scruffy, shabby and obviously not very bright, as he could remember only his first name: Rig. He’d been caught as a vagrant in the city pick-pocketing and sent to the farm as a penalty. He had been there for over a year, and had four more years to do.

Before they started he told her that they had to remove at least one weed a minute, or they would get flogged by the Baronarki, the farm regulator’s ghastly cruel and merciless sadist. “They know if you slack because they have a surveillance time and motion computer wired into the ball and chain,” he sighed wearily.

So the ball and chain is like a guard that spies on you?”

Yes, they’re switched on while we’re working, just to make sure we bend down enough times.”

This is hell.”

Yes. And if you think a weed a minute doesn’t sound too bad, think again – bending down 60 times an hour for nine hours soon makes you realise you’ve got a back. You have to go fast and then rest for a bit. There’s a knack to it.”

What time do we finish?” asked Marie.

We start late in the morning, just before midday and then carry on until ten at night. We have fifteen minutes to eat daily rations out of the food boxes.”

And what do we do in the morning?”

They come round and give us Malmals. They’re sweets that make us feel a little better about what we do. And we have to go into the barn and listen to government tapes about working hard.”

Sounds like drugs and propaganda to me.”

And so they spent all that day in wearisome work, pulling out weeds, while another gang came along with a weedbarrow and collected them.

It was just before they had their short break that Marie spotted some plants growing wildly that she didn’t recognise. “Oh by the saints of the Illumination,” said Rig looking around furtively to see if anyone was near or within earshot. “Those are Rubscumscum herbs. They are rare and potent. They have high street prices. In light doses they send the Buzzors to sleep and if the dose is heavy enough it actually kills them. If the Buzzors spot it, or the farm stewards, then it will be destroyed immediately, and if anyone is found in possession of it, then they’re in big trouble.”

Let’s pull them up quickly before the weedbarrow comes. We can put them in our pocket,” said Marie.

Working furiously they pulled up all the Rubscumscum plants and stuffed them in their clothes just before two prisoners in the wheelbarrow gang arrived. Rosalind saw that she had missed a plant and quickly stood on it, so that no one noticed it.

You haven’t been doing much weeding,” said one of the weedbarrow pushers. “We’re supposed to report you wasting time.”

She’s only started today,” said Rig. “That’s why we’re a bit behind.”

Well, it will be noted on the ball and chain electronics, so I’ll have to report it. You will be sent up to Baronarki tomorrow to be reprimanded.”

Don’t do that,” said Rig, “Please don’t do that. Look it was all this black girl’s fault. She suggested it.”

Shut up! As you argue, you are wasting more time and making it worse for yourself. As an instant punishment you can miss your break time. Keep working.”

At ten o’clock that night, “End of day” was shouted all around the field. The prison labourers took themselves off to parts of the field to rest. Marie and Rig sat under a tree, lit by a full moon. Marie was crying, whimpering from the cold, her depression and exhaustion. How did she ever get in this dreadful place? Perhaps she should take the Rubscumscum herb and finish herself off. She didn’t think she could stand another day of this. Marie watched in the distance all the other prison labourers eating out of their lunch boxes, and she opened hers for the first time that day. Rig, her continual and somewhat annoying companion, connected by a foot chain, had fallen off to sleep.

She ate a sandwich. The bread tasted stale, the contents tasted slightly of fish-paste, although what it was she had no idea. She only ate one sandwich. It left such a horrid taste she drank the whole bottle of orange juice that accompanied it. At last she pushed the box down on the soft earth and shivered. She put her head in her hands and tried very hard not to sob.

You must stay very quiet,” said a voice in the dark.

She looked in the direction from where the voice came but could make nothing out in the darkness, but she recognised the voice.

Keep very quiet,” it whispered. “It’s me.”

Hello,” she said softly.

Don’t let anyone know you’re talking to me. Don’t speak unless you really have to, and then keep your voice very low.”

Okay,” she whispered.

She felt his feathers on her arm. She knew who it was now. She was so pleased he had come.

I’m going to set you free,” he said.

How can you do that?”

I’ve been to see Tchi,” said DagDag, “He’s working as a mechanic. I’ve bought some metal cutters from his workshop. With these you can cut the chains from your manacle.”

She felt round and found the cutters near the raven. She slowly began finding the thinnest chain near her ankle and exerting pressure on the cutters.

Try not to make any noise,” DagDag whispered into her ear, now having hopped up next to her shoulder.

Marie didn’t want to do that, as she didn’t want to wake up Rig. Despite only one day of attachment, would she be pleased to be free of her Siamese twin!

A small crack ricocheted into the night as the link broke under the power of the cutters. She used the end of the cutters to lever the link open to release the restraint on her leg.

How did you find me?” she whispered.

I lost the Buzzors and hid on a roof outside the courtroom waiting for one of you to come out. Some of you came out of different entrances but I saw Tchi. I followed him. I eventually spoke to him and he told me what had happened to every one of you. Although he had no idea of what had happened to Rosalind.”

What’s err… happening?” said Rig, stirring.

Neither Marie nor DagDag spoke. Rig sat up.

What’s going on?” he said aloud.

Shhhh…shhhhh,” whispered Marie slowly and quietly holding up the broken chain. “If you’re quiet you can escape with us.”

What?”

Keep quiet. I’ve undone the chain. Don’t wake anyone up.”

Oh. I see. Okay.”

A few minutes later Rig had cut off the ball from his chain.

Okay, then,” said DagDag, “both of you follow me. And be very quiet. Keep down on all fours. If you lose sight of me, just stop and wait and I’ll come back to find you. Any remaining bits of chain hold in your hand or it will rattle. Bring the metal cutters. Marie first, Rig you follow.”

Thanks DagDag,” she said, “you’re my friend.”

They followed him towards the large hedge at the edge of the field. Following DagDag’s command, they stood up and walked crept down a jitty avenued with tall hedges. At the end they came to a tall gate that was padlocked. “Snap this,” he said.

The gate insisted on squealing as they pulled it sufficiently ajar to slip through.

Five minutes later they were in the road, full, as before of litter and vehicles. The abandoned cars gave them some cover from any potential pursuers or spying eyes.

Where are we going?” said Marie.

Somewhere safe, I hope,” Said DagDag.

I’ve got some stuff that puts Buzzors to sleep,” said Marie.

DagDag stopped and looked at the two escapees in the moonlight.

It’s Rubscumscum herb,” said Rig.

DagDag insisted on stopping and having a look at how much Marie had got. It wasn’t enough, he said.

Rig’s got some in his pockets too,” said Marie.

You can’t have mine,” said Rig. “I want to keep that.”

Come now, Rig,” said DagDag, “I’ve just got you out of the city farm. I think you need to pay me.”

Yeah, well I’m out now, aren’t I? I can’t say I’m not grateful but you should have extracted your price when I was in there. Now I’m free and I ain’t giving this away for nothing.”

Then I shall fly back and somehow let the Buzzors know where you are.”

You’re bluffing.”

There was a long silence and then Rig thought the better of it. He shrugged and pulled all the plants out of his many pockets. Marie took them while DagDag grubbed through the litter on the ground. He came up with a plastic bag, into which he put all the plants.

I’m off,” said Rig. “I want to get out of this city alive, not by hanging around with your two. I’ve got ambitions.”

Marie was quite relieved, as she had found him, from the moment she had met him, irritating and untrustworthy.

CHAPTER 23

The following morning, the enslaved cook, Gluid, was stirring a massive cauldron of soup in the kitchen of the banqueting hall, when he heard a tapping. It seemed to be coming from the pantry. Through the open door, he realised it was coming from the frosted window. Nobody could be outside the window because it was so high up off the road – and consequently was no use for escape – which he had already thought about. Shutting the pantry door behind him and checking that none of the other cooks were around, he unlatched the window and slid it up. The black shape that had been wobbling about behind the frosted glass now presented itself as DagDag.

Gluid’s face beamed with shock and pleasure but he was just mindful enough to suppress his squeal of hope. DagDag didn’t mince words and told him that he had a plan. He came straight to the point.

There is to be a banquet here, this afternoon, for all the high and mighty in Plasticia, at three o’clock,” rasped DagDag quickly.

Yes, we’re slaving away on preparations.”

Put all these herbs in the soup that Ursula and her cronies are going to drink. It will send them to sleep. When they are asleep I will return with Marie – who is safe with me – at half past four and we should be able to able get you out of there.”

Serendipity is in here too, but we will never be able to rescue her. She’s in the deep orchestra pit,” said Gluid. “It’s so deep with sheer walls.”

Don’t talk, just listen. Yes. Put this in the soup and wait for me to return.” DagDag passed over the plastic bag full of Rubscumscum. He began to beat his wings, in preparation to fly off.

Wait!” said Gluid. “Take some food for the you and the girl.” A minute later, he had filled a bag full of bread and provisions from the pantry.

Don’t forget, they need to be asleep before 4.30.”

I’ll do my best,” said Gluid.

One other thing. You remain in the kitchen during the banquet. I’ll come back and tap on the window and you can tell me if the plan’s worked, then we can set about releasing Serendipity.”

Okay,” said Gluid.

DagDag flew back to Marie who was now waking. They had both hidden overnight in a old windowless van in a side street in the city.

*** *** *** ***

A black shadow lowered down into Plasticia, blotting out more and more light as it descended. The helicopter came down through the busy skies and eventually landed outside the steps of the ‘Gooniversity of Doshification’. On the inside of the helicopter’s opaque windows, sat two females. They sat stiff-backed on a luxury black leather sofa, somewhat obscured by a black cloud of smoke floating between them.

The girl had dark hair, interwoven with fly-agaric mushroom caps. She was complaining. The older one, her mother, sat next to her and smiled like a corpse, her mouth fixed and lopsided. She smiled in her way but did not appear to be listening.

But mother, I don’t want to go to the Finishing School.

Veekricide, you’re disappointing me.”

“I don’t want to learn any of their snobby arts. Mother are you listening? Oh, I see. You’ve switched on that blasted nemotoxigen again haven’t you?”

Yes, dear, but don’t worry.”

But I am WORRIED!”

The mother grimaced, then turned her head and looked her daughter squarely in the face. She saw the annoyance written there. She put her hand to down to her waist and flicked the toggle switch located on her hip, accessible through a hole in her clothes. Suddenly her expression transformed from a frozen complacency to one of considerable anxiety.

I don’t want to do this stupid course.”

But I have booked you in with Professor Argle-phark and his illustrious colleagues.”

Well, you control the country, cancel the booking.”

Oh well, if you are sure my cherubim, then you just won’t have to bother.” Ursula, for she it was, once again flicked on her hip switch and went back into her trance of inapproachability. Then she sent instructions to her pilot through an intercom to fly off back to her hotel at the North of the city.

*** *** *** ***

When Rosalind woke from a deep sleep that morning she found herself in a delightful antique bedroom with a four poster bed. She set her mind to wondering how she could escape from this silly school she was in. Her first lesson didn’t inspire her to stay there any longer, ‘How to use cutlery’. Despite telling them that she understood it all, they appeared to have given up listening to her and no longer paid attention to what she said.

By the beginning of the afternoon, Rosalind was in another consultation abut her career with them across a desk. Her face ached from trying not to laugh every time Malwapin, Professor Argle-Phark and Ms. Loomey said something daft – which was usually every time they opened their mouths.

She knew they had obviously mistaken her for somebody important, and she wasn’t going to inform them that she really was a prisoner who should be rotting in the dungeons below. Her pretence to be who they thought she was, was going swimmingly well, until an owl, dressed like a guard, came into their room, followed by a couple of Buzzors.

A prisoner escaped yesterday,” said the owl. “Have you seen anyone suspicious around the building?”

Rosalind faced her teachers, and had her back to the guards so that they were unable to see her face. She didn’t turn round, she didn’t want to risk that they might recognise her.

Do you mind!” said Malwapin angrily. “We are holding a very important educational consultation in here and you dumb-heads burst in, without so much as even a knock.”

Sorry Doctor, but it is very important. This prisoner is very dangerous.”

I saw a girl that could be your prisoner running off, about an hour ago,” offered Rosalind without turning round.

Did you indeed?” said Dr. Malwapin.

Someone opened the main door for her and she ran off down the street,” added Rosalind.

Well you heard the young Cherubim, are you going to stand there all day?” he shouted at the owl and his two rear guards.

This was enough for them, and they turned for the door. “If she’s gone missing on my watch then I’m toast!” screeched the Owl running off.

Half an hour later, Rosalind’s new teachers informed her that she was to be taken to a great feast at three o’clock. They would be informing her further and testing her too on the great etiquette and behaviour that she had learned with them that morning. “I like parties,” said Rosalind, but secretly wondered how quickly she would be able to find a way to escape.

And you’ll meet your mother there,” said Prof Argle-Phark.

Uh?” said Rosalind very perplexed, but then thought better of making any other comment.

So you’ll have an doshificationally rewarding family time,” said Ms. Loomey.

The banquet hall must be very close if it is beginning soon,” said Rosalind, looking at the cuckoo clock on the wall.

Oh gawd! The girl’s right. The banquet!” said Malwapin. We’ll be half an hour late by the time we get there.”

Oh no! She’ll have our heads off,” shouted the professor.

We’ll go in the side door at the back, no one will notice, and hopefully we’ll escape with our lives,” said Mrs. Loomey, going crossed eyed.

Can we get an air-cab?” suggested Malwapin.

No it’s a public holiday and all services like that are suspended. No one’s around today, apart from a very few street guards like the owl, everyone is at the banquette.”

There’s no way around it, we’ll have to run!” said Argle-Phark.

Come on! We have to go!” said Malwapin, highly exasperated

*** *** *** ***

Malwapin, Ms. Loomey and the professor escorted their charge through the city streets. Following in the wake of Malwapin, Rosalind climbed over the litter. She meandered between the jalopies, when she saw something that made her heart race. She caught sight of a massive TV screen affixed to the buildings. A head and shoulders photograph of a boy was depicted who had escaped from captivity. ‘Dangerous prisoner escaped from City Farm’, was written below.

They put all escaped criminals on the ASBOID screens,” said Malwapin, noticing that Rosalind had taken quite an interest. “They give a reward for anyone who leads to their capture, and the caught criminal is executed.”

Then Rosalind swallowed hard. The next mug shot to be shown was a photo of Marie with the same words printed below. Suddenly it passed through her mind that she may be next up on the screen. She had to get her crazy mentors away from the screen. “There’s something over here, I don’t understand,” shouted Rosalind, taking over the lead from Malwapin and leaping over more litter and forging ahead. “Come on, don’t dawdle, follow me.” She knew she was heading the right way as a black signpost above her directed: ‘Great Banqueting Hall’.

The teachers – who were not in their prime – were already hurrying as fast as they could, and were somewhat irritated to be told to hurry up by a student, however important she might be. Rosalind had almost managed to get them round a corner, leaving the ASBOID screen behind. Then Rosalind noticed Mrs. Loomey hanging back. She looked behind her before catching up with them all.

I could have sworn I saw you on that ASBOID screen,” laughed Mrs. Loomey.

Rosalind tried to laugh as much as she could. Then she quickly looked around for something to point and marvel at, so as to change the subject.

Look, what’s that?” she asked.

Rosalind pointed up to a crowd of creatures and humanoids floating up in the top storeys of the sky scrapers.

Oh, they’re Ego-gassers,” said Malwapin. “Come on, we haven’t got time to stand and stare.”

Rosalind scrutinized the floating bodies condemned to a life in the sky. She tried to spot Maximouse. Then she saw him, floating a 100 yards above, connected to the ground by a long thick rope. But she didn’t have time to study him for long, the teachers pushed her forward, complaining that they were late enough.

CHAPTER 24

The kitchens at the banqueting hall had been a mania of speed and industry, emitting the hiss of steam and shouts of frustration, the kitchen complex contained a vast amount of kitchen hands and cooks that were involved in preparing an enormous amount of food that had to be perfection itself. Their lives depended on it. Tables had been laid out in row after row with white silk tablecloths, laden with a mint of cutlery and a lorry load of crockery. Busy bodies squeezed past each in kitchen corridors desperate to execute a chore that had strayed wildly beyond its deadline, waiters and organizers blocked every doorway; crisis stood brimming at every doorway and in every pan. Because of all this, Gluid found great difficulty putting the Rubscumscum herb in the vast cauldron of soup that was simmering. But at last, there was a moment when all the chefs, drafted cooks, waiters, and organizers had left the kitchen. He couldn’t wait for a second chance and in went the herbs. He stirred and stirred for all his worth, furtively looking around to see if anyone had noticed what he was doing. The herbs were not dissolving as quickly as he had hoped. Within seconds he heard the corridor to his left fill up again with running feet and more manic instructions to kitchen staff. The kitchen once again swelled with intention and employees.

But, probably due to the panic, no one noticed the added herb, which looked like sprigs of Rosemary floating on top of the soup. He occasionally hurried past it, intent on carrying out his orders, but secretly praying the herbs would have dissolved. Gradually they did, and their presence gradually diminished every time he passed the cauldron. He looked at his watch. In half an hour – if all went to plan – the soup would be served to the entire guard of the city.

And everything did go to plan for once. There was a brief welcome to all the guests and especially the great and magnanimous Ursula for coming to the first great Midland banquet for five years. Everyone looked up on a balcony above the stairs, the same black figure that had previously arrived by helicopter, stood up and took a bow to thunderous applause. After she had sat down, Eggplant stood on the stage and spoke into the microphone. He declared the banquet had begun! He invited everyone to tuck in and everyone followed his orders with relish. Down below in the deep orchestra pit, Serendipity – out of sight of all the diners – was now commanded to play her harpette. The acoustics of the pit was so well designed that her music radiated at a soft level all around the massive hall.

After about forty five minutes, the three course meal was now coming to an end and everyone knew that Ursula or one of her ministers would address the entire audience with a serious speech about how Palingenesis Island was changing. Those closest to Ursula and her supporters were happy with the changes, but there were rumours that one or two Blackbod scientists were wary of her plans.

While Eggplant rattled the microphone, and coughed a few times, and Serendipity’s beautiful lyrical playing came to a close, a side door at the back of the hall opened. Malwapin, Professor Argle-Phark, Mrs. Loomey and Rosalind slipped into the room like soft shadows. They were lucky. Desperate to avoid attracting any attention by walking around looking for an empty table – a nearby waiter noticed them immediately and led them back to a dark part of the hall under a staircase, where – now that the bulk of kitchen work was over – most of the kitchen staff and organizers had been eating themselves. Gluid had done as DagDag requested that morning and stayed in the kitchen, keeping in view of the pantry window. Rosalind was relieved to be sitting at a table, hidden to most of the other guests, as she certainly didn’t want to be noticed. There was still plenty of food left, so the waiters quietly served them with the meal courses. As all this was going on Eggplant had began to talk into the microphone.

Once again, welcome everyone to this wonderful day when we can all see the great and magnanimous Ursula in our home city. What a day this will be to tell our grand progeny about.

As you all know, the boundaries only changed five years ago, when Ursula and her allies, took control of our wonderful city. Today she is stronger in her position than ever, due to her increase in the Buzzor guard – not only here – but right across the island, due to her increase in Malmal prescriptions for everyone, due to her segregating the rich from the poor, due to her crack down on criminals and insurgents.

These are some of the great things that she has done, but she will soon do her greatest. She will introduce nemotoxigen into the Northern part of the island, and you will all be invited to breathe it – aha – you will have no choice!”

They all laughed.

It has a wonderful flavour and – although it takes a little getting used to – it makes everyone’s life so different. Malmals calm us down but nemotoxigen will get you up and about. Last week, we were still short of supply of the wonder-gas, but within days we should be able to create enough to cover almost the entire Southern and much of the Northern part of the island. And I can say I am proud to be a part of that scientific turn around.”

Here the entire hall burst into applause, which Eggplant let go on for quite a while.

And all of this has not been done without a struggle against opposing forces. Even today we have had insurgents try to invade the city. The Buzzor guard – and I have to say I had a little hand in this – captured six of them and they have been dealt with, however one remains at large: a big black raven called DagDag. We have known of his activities for years, he has always been an opponent of our changes for the better. If you see him, do not tarry, kill him on sight. He is a danger to Ursula the Queen of our island.”

Here many of the guests put down their eating implements and banged the table with great accord and agreement.

And so I keep my speech quite … quite short because… because …” here he coughed and then began spluttering. “Because we have the magnanimous Ursula on the balcony.. on the balcony…” Here, to the astonishment of his audience he sank down on to his knees. “Oh dear,” he said, but no one could hear him because he had left his microphone in the stand. Slowly. gradually Eggplant rolled over and lay flat on his back, as if he was dead. People weren’t sure if it was a part of some act or it was real. A Buzzor on a table near him eventually stood up and went to his aid, as did another from the table to his left. Neither made it to the stage as they both began coughing and spluttering and then sinking to their knees. Another Buzzor stood up from another table, and another, but they both met the same fate before they had even left their tables, and within seconds sank back on to their seat and lay their heads on the table cloths or in their plates and began snoring. Another Buzzor, near the large entrance door, stood up and shrieked, “We have been poisoned,” and then collapsed back into his seat.

Kill the cooks!” screamed a manic voice from above.

All around the hall the sound of screeching chairs being pushed back filled everyone’s ears as Buzzors and guests tried to get up from their seats, but it was hopeless. Within seconds their heads fell into their plates or they missed the tabletops completely and fell onto the floor beneath.

Rosalind and her teachers were completely astonished.

It must be some performance that they are all involved in,” said Malwapin.

I hope our food isn’t poisoned,” said Rosalind.

Don’t be daft,” said Argle-Phark, “If it were, then we’d all be going out like a light.”

But we started our food -,” began Rosalind, but stopped. She could see her friends! DagDag was flying into the hall with Maximouse and Marie behind him. She jumped out of her seat and ran screaming with pleasure towards them.

Where on earth is she going?” asked the professor.

I think we might have said something to offend her,” said Mrs. Loomey.

I don’t like the look of that bird, down there,” said Malwapin. “Is that the DagDag that Eggplant’s just been on about?”

They all looked astonished at Rosalind who seemed to know this band of villains.

Thank God you’re okay,” Marie greeted Rosalind, “We had no idea where you were.”

Grab that rope ladder and throw it down to Serendipity,” said DagDag.

The only way into or out of the orchestral pit was by way of a rope ladder, which had been pulled up and coiled on the side. Because it was so long, it took a lot of hauling to throw it back down into the pit, which Rosalind and Marie did as quickly as they could.

I’ll fly down and tie it around her,” said DagDag.

But Serendipity had already climbed six feet of it by the time he got to the bottom, but she wasn’t happy.

I’m no good at heights,” she said to the raven, “I can’t climb all the way up there.” DagDag quickly flew back to the top.

Quick,” said DagDag to Maximouse, “Give Marie your rope.”

Maximouse had coiled the rope that had kept him in the air all around his body, from his left foot all the way up to his arm pits. He quickly turned as Marie and DagDag threaded the rope into the pit. “I’ll go down and speed it up. Give me some slack!” shouted DagDag, and grabbing a part of the rope in his beak he leapt up over the small wall and flew down once again into the blackness.

Can you hear us Serendipity?” shouted Marie. “Its your friends. Tie yourself on to the end and we’ll pull you up.”

The pit was so deep that she couldn’t see the fairy at all, but they could hear Serendipity’s reply as they acoustics were so good.

I’m doing it,” shouted Serendipity

Then they could hear DagDag telling her to be still while he flew around her allowing the rope to attach her securely. By the time most of it had uncoiled, Maximouse had twirled around so many times he had gone dizzy.

Gradually the Maximouse, Marie and Rosalind pulled Serendipity up from the pit. As they did so, DagDag went into the kitchen to fetch Gluid. Everything had been going excellently, but as Serendipity gradually came up the pit, the escape began to go down hill.

For not everyone in the hall had eaten the soup. There was a table of four Buzzors who had also come in late. The Buzzor who had ordered for the rest had not noticed the first course and had omitted it from the table’s order. Also, even though Rosalind’s teachers had cogitated at their table for quite some time as to whether they had made a mistake, they had now decided that they had and now it was their duty to apprehend DagDag and all his revolutionaries. So as Serendipity was hauled towards the lip of the pit, four Buzzors raced towards her three rescuers intent on destroying them all. Not far behind them on the other side of the room was professor Argle-Phark and Malwapin racing down an aisle, also trying to do their duty for the city. Mrs. Loomey, however, was so upset she remained at her table, unable to move or talk.

From one of the Buzzors a crossbow bolt now fired across the hall, but fortunately missed all of the escapees. Then Gluid came rushing out of the kitchen carrying a sack over his shoulder and a carving knife. Seeing what was happening he put down the sack and ran towards the armed Buzzor, who himself was heading for the girls. Gluid flung the knife and took off the giant insect’s tentacles, sending the insect reeling to the floor, the crossbow landing in a plate of seafood at a nearby table.

Marie concentrated on pulling on Serendipity’s rope as hard as she could, but her eyes almost popped out when she spotted another Buzzor coming at her. She screamed. Rosalind turned and quickly kicked over a small table in the path of the horrible adversary.

DagDag appeared and landed on the Buzzors head and started pecking at it’s dreadful red and black eyes. As this was going on Serendipity’s hands came over the edge of the pit and grasped a firm hold, allowing her to pull herself into the room.

Out of here, everyone!” shouted Rosalind.

You’re not going anywhere,” shouted Malwapin, grabbing her around the throat. “You’ve been taking us for a right little ride, you little…. You are one of the prisoners and to think we thought – ouch!”

Rosalind elbowed him in his stomach and ran towards the main door. DagDag was in the air just above her, leading the way. Behind her was Marie and Serendipity. Gluid was the last to get out. He collected his bag, threw it over his shoulder and walked out backwards, defensively waving his knife threateningly in the air.

But now more and more of the Buzzors were beginning to wake. It only took them seconds to remember where they were and what was happening.

Outside to the left,” shouted DagDag to Rosalind, “Tchi’s waiting!” She followed the raven down a main street and then a side street, which ran alongside a park. And there was Tchi standing in front an old red car.

Where have you been!” he shouted, “You said you’d be here ten minutes ago.”

Things didn’t go to plan,” said DagDag landing on his head. “Get in the car quick!” Tchi quickly jumped into the driving seat.

DagDag flew back to Gluid to see how many were chasing them. It was not a wise move. Buzzors were pursuing at speed and arming their crossbows. He was soon leaping about in the air trying to avoid the bolts.

Everyone was clambering in the car. The last to get in was Gluid, but as he did, a bolt flew through the air travelling straight at him. The tip rent his back, the bolt going all the way through, the arrow tip sticking out at the front of his body where his heart was placed. His inert body and the bag it carried fell into the car and slumped over Rosalind on the back seat. She yawned – rapidly losing consciousness from drinking the soup – and tried to push him off. The car engine started immediately, and was now throbbing eager to pull off, but waiting for DagDag to fly in the open back window. But as the raven dived down another bolt came along and swept the bird away. He cart-wheeling uncontrollably away, his wing becoming pinned to a nearby wooded barn door. “Go without me,” he barked in pain, “Get out of here! Now! You must stop this woman!”

PALINGENESIS ISLAND BOOK II 7 – 17

ARRIVAL

CHAPTER 7

Noise was everywhere. Glass was shattering. A crossbow bolt whizzed through the window and past Rosalind’s face and embedded itself into the wall paper. Marie, next to Rosalind, screamed. Tchi’s eyes were wide open with astonishment and confusion. All around the sparse room frenetic activity was taking place. Everything was utterly strange. A fat mouse-like creature – as big as Tchi – was working frantically on a computer keyboard next to a TV with a black horizontal line rolling on its screen. The creature now had his hands in the air and was staring at the children with big eyes and shouting with apparent glee: “I’ve done it. Praise be to the Great One!”

They’re attacking!,” shouted a fairy-like female at the top of her voice. “In the kitchen, now! Quick! Or we’ll be surrounded!”

Then more glass breaking. The upper petition of the door was smashed by another crossbow bolt and the three children trembled as giant insect like tentacles came into the room and tried to undo the bolts on the bottom of the door.

Another mouse-like creature – smaller – who had gone into the kitchen came running back into the lounge and threw a white paper bag at the door. It split open and all sorts or red and brown stuff dribbled down the doors frame.

Kill the lights! Gluid!” shouted the computer-mouse, thrusting a CD in the pocket of his waist coat. “They’re coming. Everybody into the kitchen! Now!”

As the lights in the room went off, Rosalind suddenly came out of her trance. She hurried through the kitchen door.

Come on you, two!” shouted the fairy-like figure at Marie and Tchi who were still frozen with fright. “NOW!”

Another pane from the bay window shattered behind them, throwing glass all over the patterned carpet, making the children jump into action.

Once in the kitchen, the fairy spat out instructions. “Take as many bombs as you can from the Moonbeasleys and then follow Maximouse, out of the back door. Be quick.

Maximouse’ appeared to be the big one who was looking out of the side window. The smaller ‘Moonbeasley’ was taking trays full of white paper bags out of the refrigerator and putting them on the table. While this was going on, Serendipity was unbolting and turning the key in the back door.

Maximouse, you’re leading,” said the fairy, “and Gluid, you walk in the middle of the line just before the boy. Rosalind you stay behind Maximouse. And the girl,” she pointed to Marie, “behind you. Everybody keep in a single file, and be as quiet as the grave.”

Whatever you want, Serendipity,” said Maximouse.

While Serendipity was giving instructions, Gluid, the small mouse, thrust paper bags into everyone’s hands, and anywhere else they could put them. In order to receive a paper bag in both hands. Rosalind pocketed Granddad’s watch which was still in her hand.

Gluid then took the tray – with the remaining paper bags that had not been given out – and flung it all into the lounge.

Out! Now!” the fairy demanded and opened the back door.

**** **** **** ****

As the door opened the sound of howling wind came in, and the strangeness of the night invaded the small bungalow. Maximouse took the lead, with Rosalind just behind him. Crouching, keeping low behind a hedge, they all snaked along a garden path.

Maximouse had considerably increased his pace and so Rosalind had to sped up to keep up. They went further into the darkness, the light obscured on all sides by dense tall trees. They were in the middle of a wood.

You supposed to be following me. Have you got any brains?” squeaked Gluid, telling off Tchi.

Rosalind approached the end of the back garden, She heard a low hum coming from the trees. But there was little to see apart from dark silhouettes in front of her.

**** **** **** ****

Maximouse had crouched under a giant oak near the gate at the bottom of the garden. He waited for everyone to crouch beside him. “Over there,” he said pointing with one hand, and placing a finger over his lips with the other. “Aim just behind those shrubs. Throw, but quietly. Now” His paper bag bombs were the first to be thrown and then everyone’s paper bags were flying like hailstones towards their target.

**** **** **** ****

It literally raised a hornet’s nest. Suddenly the buzzing that Rosalind had heard earlier became alarming. An orange glow, like warmth from a fire, shone up from behind the shrubbery into the treetops. Then the light above was blotted-out by an enormous winged creature flying over their heads. It was a wasp, with black and yellow stripes and enormous in size, at least six foot long. It had the strangest head. A shiver ran down Rosalind’s spine.

It’s returning from a mission. Keep throwing your bombs,” insisted Maximouse, as he flung one of the meat-jam paper bags up at the air-borne wasp above him. It careered off into the dark, although Rosalind was unable to tell if the bomb had hit it. Then Maximouse seemed to have run out of bombs to throw.

He whispered into Rosalind’s ear, “Quick! This way. Try not to make any noise.”

Rosalind followed as best she could, but she found it difficult to see where she was putting her feet. She almost fell over three times, and Marie and Tchi were doing no better.

**** **** **** ****

After an exhausting run through the trees, they found Maximouse waiting for everybody to catch up again. “Are any Buzzors following, Serendipity?” he asked the fairy.

I can’t feel them. The bombs will slow them down a bit, but we know how persistent they are.”

Where are we?” asked Rosalind.

Yes. What the hell are we doing here?” asked Marie.

Sssh,” said Maximouse. “We’ll explain later. I am leader, so I will get you safe. Just follow.” So saying, he instantly turned on heel and was off again, climbing over logs, and pushing branches and twigs aside, so that those behind could proceed with less difficulty.

**** **** **** ****

They were feeling very wet and cold. Rosalind felt especially weak because she had not been long out of hospital. Her shoulder wasn’t hurting especially, she just felt weak all over.

**** **** **** ****

After a mile of difficult terrain, at exhausting speed, they at last slowed down when Maximouse came out onto a stoned path. Although the children were still unable to see where they were going in the dark, progress was easier, making it less likely to stumble. It must have been at least a mile mile later that Maximouse stopped and waited for Rosalind and the others to catch him up.

Marie and Tchi were blowing on their hands trying to keep warm. They would have given anything to sit inside by a warm fire. All of the group were together now, standing in a huddle, beneath a big oak tree. There was more light around now, as the clouds broke to let allow through a chink of starlight.

At the moment we are going through Wizicky Wazicky Wood,” said Maximouse to them all. He spoke in gasps, ever alert as to what was around him, often looking above, and screwing up his eyes as if he could see into the dark infinity of the forest.

You have been here once before, Rosalind, in your life, but we have to go much further than this, if we can. This wood is much more dangerous than it used to be.”

Rosalind remembered her dream of long ago, and the strange inscription on the back of the watch.

I’m dreaming again, aren’t I?” she said.

No. Not at all,” said Maximouse, “you are here at last. I’ve been trying to get you over to our parallel universe for a long time but today I succeeded. It was a strange transportation. Quite difficult, much more than it should have been. I didn’t mean to bring over your friends with you. I don’t understand that irregularity.”

What do you want me for?”

You don’t know?” he said looking surprised.

No.”

Oh.” He hesitated. “Anyway, all be will be explained later, when we can get to a safe base. We never expected the Buzzors to be so far North in the island. Our bungalow – praise Allah – has always been safe in the past.”

Was that a Buzzor, that big wasp thing?” asked Marie

Yes,” said Serendipity. “That one was a spy on its way back to base, otherwise it would have stayed with the others. The Buzzors are chimeras created by genetic engineering, half dog and half wasp. They are very loyal and very aggressive. That’s why the bomb jelly works. It’s half jam and half meat. This throws them into complete confusion and distraction and stops them flying if we can get it on their wings.”

They’re real nasty!” squeaked Gluid.

They are controlled by Ursula the tyrant. Ha, the ‘Unstoppable’ she calls herself,” squeaked Gluid. “We shall see about that!”

Where are we going?” said Rosalind.

We have a long journey,” interrupted the fairy, “But we’re not out of this wood yet. They will know that we have tried to transport someone from Earth. Now they will be furious at our success. They will not give up.”

How did you get me across?”

Everything electronic here is illegal, except TVs, but even those need a special license,” explained Maximouse, “I used an illegal computer and an illegal software programme. These, in conjunction with an analogue or digital TV, can transport objects from one parallel universe to another through the penta-quark neutrino tunnel. I’ve still got the software on a CD in my pocket, but all the other technology in the bungalow will be destroyed by the Buzzors.”

When can we go back?” asked Rosalind.

The bungalow will be destroyed by the Buzzors, there’s no point going back there now.”

No. Back home to earth?” said Rosalind.

There was a pause.

I don’t know,” said Maximouse.

Can you get us back?”

Um, yes… I think so,” said Maximouse. “I just need a computer and a working TV. The only times I could get you across was when you were near a TV set. We were always working blind.”

Oh,” said Rosalind, remembering the times she went dizzy. “This is really happening isn’t it?”

Serendipity was listening hard to the wind in the forest.

**** **** **** ****

We need some driving rain,” she said at last. “Flying in a wood is difficult at the best of times, but this drizzle won’t stop them,” she said.

Let’s move,” said Maximouse, scrunching up his nose to flick the raindrops off his whiskers. “It’s still a long way.”

I can’t hear any hum now,” said Marie.

Don’t let that fool you,” said Serendipity

These Buzzors, are the personal guard of Ursula the Unstoppable. They have collars with electronic receivers on, so they can all receive instant orders from her headquarters. No one else –”

Suddenly a crossbow bolt hissed across the conversation and winged into a tree, landing just above Marie’s head. She screamed, but Tchi put his hand over her mouth to instantly quieten her. The hum began again. Another crossbow bolt flew through the group, this time narrowly missing Gluid.

The travellers took to their heels instantly, into the darkness they went. Not knowing where they were heading, they scurried over crackling twigs, anywhere, but away from direction of the hum.

Rosalind’s jacket caught on a tree branch. She struggled to disentangle it, which seemed to take her an eternity in the darkness. By the time she had, she discovered she was all alone.

CHAPTER 8

Where had they all gone? Rosalind daren’t cry out for her friends, for the fear of bringing herself to the attention of the Buzzors. Her ears tuned into the sounds of this silent wood. The buzzing had stopped but it was not silent. Rosalind could make out the occasional sound. A sniff from over there, and in the distance, a croak, the hoot of an owl, and then she thought she heard a deep sigh in the bushes some way to her side. And often the leaves rustled and the bracken crackled as if party to some mysterious watcher, who wished to remain invisible.

Help,” whimpered a soft voice.

It must be one of her gang, she didn’t recognise the voice. She pushed the branches back and directed herself to the soft cry.

I’m sure there’s someone there. Please help me,” pleaded the quiet voice.

She slowly, carefully, pushed back leaves unleashed her feet from clinging briars and straddled a small ditch, leaping over onto a small footpath. In front of her she could make out an animal lying to the side of the footpath.

Hello. Please help me,” it said, sounding exhausted.

There was enough light here, as the trees were not so densely packed, to see a fox with its forearm caught in a trap, a trap with fierce crocodile teeth.

How long have you been here?” she asked.

It feels like about three hundred years,” he said.

She didn’t have to search long before she found a branch strong enough to level back the jaws of the trap. “When I say pull, pull your arm out.”

He did as bid, with a squeal of pain, and rolled away from the trap. After a minute he pulled himself onto his back legs up by clinging onto a nearby tree with one hand.

Can you walk?”

There never used to be traps in Wizicky Wazicky Wood before that woman took over the island. My arm will never be any good now, but I can still walk.” He shuddered with pain.

Have you seen my friends? Five of them altogether?”

Thank you for saving my life,” he said, ignoring her question. “Take this. With his healthy paw he took off a necklace he was wearing. She couldn’t even see it in the dark. “It’s my pendant. You look as if you could do with some clean clothes,” he said as he clumsily put it over her head. “Oooh. Things are worse than I thought. Can you smell that dreadful stink? Let’s get out of here.”

She turned round, alerted by breaking twigs behind her. She could hear voices.

What is that awful sensation?” she said, turning back to the fox. But the fox had gone

She felt quite nauseous. Then her both her arms were grabbed.

Got you! This way.”

She was relieved. It was the two Moonbeasleys: Maximouse and Gluid.

The smell of the forest was beginning to get Rosalind down but the Moonbeasleys didn’t seem to notice it. “It smells of bad eggs round here,” she said, “it’s foul.”

That dreadful woman comes further North these days. Perhaps we are in danger of getting used to it,” said Maximouse, pulling her along as fast as he could.

The smell made her quite faint. It seemed to seep inside her body and make her weak, make her sleepy.

You were going the wrong way,” said Maximouse, “It’s lucky you talk to yourself or we would never have found you. You would not have survived. We don’t intend to lose you now.”

Rosalind didn’t bother to explain about the fox.

The wind had picked up again and for a moment the smell was gone. The clouds had closed the gap for starlight to enter and so it was very dark again, and a trickle of rain had begun

They rushed through the bushes as fast as they could go. Rosalind knew that danger was still on their heels for such a necessity of speed.

They climbed down a ridge, down a wide bridle path. At last in the dim light she saw Tchi, Marie and Serendipity waiting for them.

Thank Immelda, the Queen of Peace, you’ve found her,” said Serendipity. Marie came and put her arms around her. Tchi was smiling. It was nice to see her friends.

What are we going to do?” Maximouse addressed Serendipity in a whisper which no one else was meant to hear.

Lose the Buzzors or we’re dead,” she said. “You’re the navigator.”

Yes,” he said.

Maximouse led the way forward off the bridle path and back into the wood, it became very dark in here again, as black as night. Rosalind tried to keep him close as she followed him but the terrain was like trying to climb through one broken window pane after another, the shards of glass, or branches in this case, always ready to scratch and entangle.

**** **** **** ****

Then Rosalind caught a whiff of the stink again. And then she began to feel that terrible sense of evil, like she had in her dream.

We need some Clenicaline for these children,” said Serendipity.

No hope of that,” said Maximouse.

Someone else was sensing it too. “It’s the Boddlegogs, isn’t it?” whispered Gluid, wearing a grim expression.

What are they?” asked Marie, but nobody answered.

Keep calm Gluid, we’ll lay low somewhere.”

We’ll fight!” said Gluid. “We’ve the Buzzors behind us and the Boddlegogs in front. Give ‘em a poke in the eye.”

It’ll be our last stand,” said Serendipity tartly. Follow Maximouse, he knows the wood,” said Serendipity.

They took a diversion down into a valley, towards a small stream, which Rosalind could just see glinting in the meagre light.

**** **** **** ****

This way now,” said Maximouse. They came out on to a ledge looking down over a gorge. They gradually climbed down stone steps into the darkness beneath the treetops.

The heavens opened and driving rain poured down from the sky. The starlight, blurred by the deluge, created a diffracted light, which flickered around the tree barks like moths of light.

They entered a den of trees, hidden from the outside by foliage.

I sense them again,” said Serendipity, putting her head together with Maximouse and Gluid.

We’ll be most at risk when we hit Vaudeville Clearing, said Maximouse, “we will need to get across that quick.”

The arduous march through the forest continued until they came upon a muddy track.

It began subtly, like the changes of the moon. Rosalind felt tired, wet, cold and highly confused, but now she was beginning to feel utterly despondent. She was tetchy with everyone, angry about being in this God forsaken wood. Marie was moaning as well.

Serendipity noticed. She had a quiet few words with Maximouse, not meant for the ears of the others.

Once again he stopped and waited under a thicket of entwining barks. Serendipity and Gluid stood at the back, Tchi, Marie and Rosalind stood in front of him. Maximouse began to speak quietly.

Children,” he began, “We have a big problem. We must all keep heart. We must all believe we will get to safety. One thing that will reassure you is that I am a great leader! I will not get you lost and will lead you to safety. However we must keep up our spirits. It is not easy to do that because evil forces tap our strength, making us feel that it is all a hopeless uphill trek, and that we will never succeed in our endeavours, but we will, believe me.”

Gluid contributed in his nasal whine, “Yes. these creatures will sap your strength, they will make you feel like giving up, they have tremendous powers.”

Who are you talking about?” asked Marie.

The B-B-Boddlegogs,” stammered Gluid alarmed, “They’ll muscleise us all!”

Now let’s not frighten everyone,” interrupted Maximouse. “The Boddlegogs are pretty dreadful things, so we need to hide out of their way.”

They have a physical presence but you can never see it, you only see them in your mind,” said Gluid. “They are individual soldiers, but they all act as if they are one negative mind. You must not try to imagine them, because if you do they will come into your mind and drag you down, and they will know you are there. They are mind-reading entities who breathe nemotoxigen, they are so foul that proximity to them can almost make you go mad.”

They sound grim!” said Rosalind. “What if – “

Whooh!” screamed Serendipity, “The Buzzors are behind us!”

No sooner had she said this than a Buzzor flew into the canopy of space straight at them.

In the trees!” hissed Gluid.

CHAPTER 9

It was the first time Rosalind got the chance to really see a Buzzor face to face. The large black and yellow striped monster flew over Gluid and straight towards her. Never had she seen such a peculiar creature. It had a wolf’s head, with dribbling jowls and wide staring eyes. Its irises of bright vermilion floated on pupils of fluorescent yellow. It wore a collar like a dog, with metal studs. It’s whiskers were short and bristly. Its body was hideous, the soft pulpy mass of a wasp, with all its insect limbs and wings. It had no tail at the end of its abdomen, but was honed to a point. It stank of stale meat. Under its soft underbelly was a long spear-like sting. It carried in its fore-tentacles a loaded crossbow and had a belt round its neck with many crossbow bolts. Its eyes were unthinking, as if they were mere video cameras.

A crossbow bolt flashed through the air and pinned Gluid’s gown to a tree.

They were doomed, as another, and yet another Buzzor came into the wide cave created by the trees.

Rosalind grabbed a big bough lying on the floor and crashed it on the side of the Buzzor’s head as it closed in on her. It somersaulted and ensnared its wings on the jagged fingers of a beech tree.

**** **** **** ****

Gluid tore his nightdress from the crossbow bolt and leapt out with Maximouse into Vaudeville Clearing, a completely exposed part of the forest. Serendipity and the children immediately followed. The rain out here thundered down over the plain. Maximouse shouted that within a hundred metres they would be under the cover of forest once more, and be a lot safer. They ran as fast as their legs could carry them.

As they followed Maximouse round an outcrop of granite, towards the West, they should have been able to see their next place of safety. But they all stopped dead. Standing between them and their sanctuary was a cohort of Buzzors. Hundreds of them, shoulder to shoulder. The Buzzors had obviously been waiting for them, and now began walking forward like Roman soldiers, with staffs in hand and their crossbows at the ready towards Rosalind and her friends. The whole marched slowly, purposefully and hideously. The buzz coming from them was like a chain saw on full speed.

We’ll never pass them,” said Tchi.

At least they can’t fly,” said Serendipity, not in this driving rain.

**** **** **** ****

But another noise was going on beside the hum, and it was coming from behind them. It was a squelching noise sound, and the mechanical sucking sound of shredding which was getting louder by the second.

It’s those vile –“

Don’t even try to imagine them!” shouted Serendipity looking highly distressed

The gang instinctively moved back from the Buzzors, but knew they were only walking into the path of the oncoming Boddlegogs.

Suddenly Rosalind could see them vividly, but she couldn’t describe them or even tell where they were. There was a banging sound in her head, as if her own pulse had gone mad, yet she also had a whisperish feeling of nothingness, she felt like her own mind was failing, diminishing, if it was being taken over by something else.

“Get down! Get down quick!” shouted Serendipity.

A noise, a ghostly whine, so high pitched that it was almost inaudible, began to pervade Rosalind’s senses. And then a spark of light like a form of fork lightning sizzled past her into the undergrowth.

The Moonbeasleys and the fairy ran off into long grasses and the few sparse trees. Hiding down in the bushes, the children quickly copied them, a sense of panic quickly affecting them. Evil was approaching, and approaching from two directions.

They lay there – the Buzzors advancing on one side and the Boddlegogs on the other, Maximouse moaned, “I’m sorry children,” said Maximouse, “I’m not much good at this,” and put his head in his hands in despair.

Down here” spat out an urgent voice.

CHAPTER 10

It was dark, the rain water sloshed down the fall of the plain towards the small river. Now all the Buzzors had collected together, the hum became painfully intense. The squelching and the shredding of the Boddlegogs could be felt through across the entire plain.

Over here, quick!” shouted the black thing in the ground. It was very large. It was a raven’s head.

By the mighty Immelda,” said Serendipity, crawling quickly over to the raven. “DagDag!!

Down the hole here, in the ground, but hurry.”

He pointed to a hole in the ground, just big enough to squeeze into. “Maximouse, you see well in the dark, you first. It’s a chasm. It goes down about fifty feet. Be careful how you go or you’ll get to the bottom too soon.”

Maximouse went in first, but Rosalind had to be persuaded. “Go in, Rosalind, or its certain death for us all,” said Serendipity. “I’ll come in last because I’m not so susceptible.”

Rosalind began to climb down, feeling her way with her feet. She could see very little. She was drenched from head to foot, and getting wetter by the second. The rainwater poured down into the crevice over her and then onto Maximouse. “Hurry up, “ shouted Marie, who was coming down above her.

Now Rosalind was in complete darkness, with clammy rocks breathing next to her cheeks, with freezing water dribbling down by the side of her face. The rocks were slippery to touch, she almost lost her footing and then decided she had had enough. She was going back up.

Go down further,” said Marie, “Gluid is trying to stand on my hands.”

Maximouse shouted up to Rosalind that he would place her feet on the next foothold, for her to keep coming down.

Moonbeasleys see well in the dark,” he said. “I will help you but you must hurry.”

Rosalind swallowed and forced herself to resist her inclinations. She relaxed her foot. Maximouse found a safe foothold for it and then he repeated the process with each foot, one after the other. Gradually Rosalind descended further into the chasm. A message was sent down by Serendipity eventually: just another metre.

Rosalind tried to switch off her thoughts of terror. As the water splashed on her face, she doubted she would ever find her way back up. She was pitch-black blind and soaked. She would go mad down here; she would be buried alive; she would never get out and see the sunshine and never get home, and never see her family again, and no one would ever find her. The only thing that gave her courage was holding onto Marie’s legs above her.

The ledge is a bit thin down here,” said Maximouse below her. “I’m going to climb up a little so you’ll have to squeeze in.” Then he added, somewhat inappropriately for the dreadful situation they were in, “I really must lose some weight.”

He climbed up and his nose was now level with her knee. In the same way that contact with Marie gave her some hope, feeling the nearness of Maximouse gave her reassurance. To feel a friendly person next to her helped Rosalind to put off her panic.

Booming came from above, like the sound of a small earthquake a long way away. “We’ll have to stay here for at least two hours,” said Maximouse.

The effect of the Boddlegogs, on those near to them, is to create a sense of despair; positive thoughts are turned negative,” said Maximouse

The noise above was now at its loudest: an icy wind on the mind, cold, a cruel wind.

Two hours! She’d go crazy.

Don’t worry children,” said Maximouse. “Everything will be alright. We just have to be patient. We’re very lucky to be down here. Otherwise we would have been shredded by those….” He stopped, he couldn’t bring himself to mention the name, “but my leadership has got you safe and sound.” It was at this point that Rosalind wondered if Maximouse was right in the head.

Then, what seemed like an eternity later, but was, in fact, only fifteen minutes, Maximouse said, “I need to come up a bit higher, Rosalind.”

Rosalind felt rather pressurised by this because she didn’t think she’d be able to find the footholds in the blackness to get herself back up the pot hole.

You’ll have to move up a bit,” said Maximouse, “The water is rising quickly down here, and I’m up to my waist in it.”

Not only was water pouring in overhead and down the walls, but it was collecting at the bottom of the shaft. Those at the bottom would all be drowned. She had to move or Maximouse would be drowned. So motivated, she pulled on Marie’s leg and managed to stammer out what was happening. Marie passed the message up and gradually they all climbed up an extra yard, virtually conga-ing themselves into the chasm, squashed together like sardines.

When it was Rosalind’s turn to climb up she wanted to feel with her hands where to put her feet but she couldn’t get her hands down to locate footholds. Her feet groped about in frustration, then she felt relief when Maximouse took hold of her ankles and found reassuring footholds for them.

The booming above had been going on for sometime, but now after half an hour it began to fade. Then, at long last, Serendipity sent the ‘all clear’ and a few minutes later they all began to climb up the chasm, out from the soaking wet pothole.

Slowly they began to extricate themselves. All went well until Marie slipped. Fortunately she became wedged, her shoes scuffed Rosalind’s head but then deflected onto a small ledge, saving Maximouse and Rosalind from cascading all the way to the bottom of the chasm.

When they had all climbed out no one spoke for a while, still in a sense of shock.

“They were on a Mulch! Phewww!” said Gluid.

“Urgh, I feel horrible after that,” whispered Marie. “I’m soaked. I’ll die of pneumonia.”

“It’s bad enough when they get into your wood, but worse they get into your mind.” Said Serendipity

Rosalind, dripping and filthy, was hugging everyone in sheer relief.

DagDag was impatient. “The Boddlegogs have gone East,” he said. “The Buzzors have returned back to Kaukus because of the rain. Nevertheless be vigilant, there may be some still lurking around. Follow me. I will take you to Jill’s house in Moonglade. I can’t absolutely guarantee your safety but it is a place that Ursula’s forces have never gone to previously. You all need a rest, and she will surely look after you.”

CHAPTER 11

The rain poured down.

It was still another arduous walk, and there was no let up in the weather. Rosalind was so cold that she could no longer feel her fingers, or the skin on her legs. The thick and claustrophobic wood allowed only a smidgeon of light to penetrate down from the stars above.

She asked Maximouse: “Why did you say we’d be down there for two hours?”

I thought if you tried to imagine that, then you’d be able to stand it for one hour. In fact, we were lucky, it proved quicker than I anticipated. I’m quite clever really,” he said.

The tightly packed woodland thinned out, giving way to pine trees.

Not much further,” said DagDag.

He was accurate, for just around the corner was the largest cottage Rosalind had ever seen. It had a thatched roof and a chimneystack at the end of its gable. She had never seen one with so many doors and windows

DagDag flew up and tapped on a bedroom window with his beak. A bedroom light went on. Within a minute the downstairs door was opened by a large gerbil wearing a nightdress. It had curlers in its hair. Rosalind was beginning to get used to the humanoid size of these animals. “Come in at once,” she whispered hurriedly to Serendipity. As everyone stepped into the cottage, she observed, “We’re going to need a lot of towels.”

Inside the lounge, Maximouse did a twizzle around the room. “Thank the Great One, Tingo! Yes, didn’t I do well! We are all alive and safe!”

And so we must remain,” said Serendipity having a quick peek out of the window.

*** *** *** ***

Within half an hour, Jilly the Gerbil and Amelia, her daughter, provided showers for all the gang. Bath towels, bed sheets, old curtains – in fact everything that could be found to dry the sodden, and even more to wrap around themselves, while their clothes were being dried around the kitchen stove.

When everyone was clean and dry they sat on settees and bean-bags around a blazing fire in the lounge.

We’ll make you a meal,” said Jilly, when they had all been furnished with big mugs of hot tomato and basil soup.

No!” shouted Gluid. “I will be Chef. I love to cook.”

If you wish,” said Jill.

I’ll be glad to give a hand,” said Marie.

Don’t let her into the kitchen, Earth children can’t cook! She’ll ruin it,” shouted Maximouse.

Thanks very much,” said Marie.

Some other time, but not now,” said Gluid. “The meal is a celebration of us all being led here safely by Maximouse,”

Hmmm…” said Serendipity.

*** *** *** ***

Eventually they were all warm, dry and full of delicious food. Even Marie had to congratulate Gluid on his gastronomic skills. Serendipity played her harmonica and Gluid recited one or two poems which were as good as his food.

Everyone was satiated dry and exhausted. Yawning became a contagious disease and many had already developed the more severe shut-eye.

Don’t go to sleep,” shouted DagDag. “There’s a job to be done.”

Can’t it wait until tomorrow,” said Maximouse, “I’m beat.”

Maximouse Moonbeasley!” shouted Serendipity in obvious disgust.

He opened his eyes wide again and sat up. “What do we do now then?”

It is essential we explain to the children what is happening,” said DagDag.

I’ll make some strong coffee to keep us all awake,” and went off to the kitchen.

CHAPTER 12

DagDag began by explaining why they had teleported Rosalind into Palingenesis Island.

It is written in the historical records of our holy book, ‘The Illumination’ that when Palingenesis Island is in crisis, an Earthling child with high PSI must be called to deliver their special talents. Without this even the slightest chance of success is impossible,” said Maximouse.

You are the one we chose because we had an appendix by Tapir, who said you were a girl of magical qualities. You had the biggest PSI factor. Although you don’t remember much about it, you – and your pocket watch – have been on the island before. You have been called over for your special talents.”

What talents? asks Rosalind.”

. All of the creatures looked at her, including Serendipity, their faces full of concern.

Well surely you know what talents you possess?” said DagDag. “We are not sure what those talents you possess are. That is not written, but it is prophesied that they will be revealed.”

Why are we here?” asked Tchi, pointing to him and Marie.

Well…we don’t know really. Something went wrong with the teleportation. Maximouse must have made a mistake and pulled you two across as well.”

Maximouse’s eyes crossed at this point, but he remained silent.

You were all physically close to Rosalind when we called her over, weren’t you, but it’s unusual. Nevertheless, as you are here as well, you will help Rosalind and ourselves to carry out a critical mission. You have to help us destroy the nemotoxigen bomb, which will be detonated in five days; it must be destroyed within that time.”

If the bomb is detonated it will kill all creatures who breathe fresh air in Palengenisis Island. Also, it will cause chronic mayhem on your Earth.

The bomb will create such a vast amount of toxic gas it will leak through to your Earth. Small amounts of nemotoxigen has existed on Palingenesis Island for 300 years, and much of this has leaked to your Earth over that time, but the amount that will be released by the bomb will be apocalyptic for both Palingenesis Island and Earth.”

Is that where we are?” asked Marie. “…on Palingenesis Island?”

Serendipity nodded affirmatively.

DagDag said, “The bomb is being created and will be detonated by Ursula the Unstoppable, the evil queen, and her forces. As we speak, Eggplant – her insane scientific collaborator – and his team are putting the finishing touches to the bomb.

Ursula is 457 years old, yet she looks as young as a princess, having regular operations of macro-cellular cloning surgery. She now breathes nemotoxigen most of the time.

Nemotoxigen is an addictive black foul gas, which comes from evil and perpetrates evil. Once people get used to breathing it as a pollutant they become only concerned with themselves and their own selfish and depraved wants. They have no interest in others, or in community, except for reasons of power and vanity.

Ursula became addicted to breathing nemotoxigen. At first she wore a gas mask and breathed it for her own pleasure, then she had large amounts of it dumped in Blackbod Miasma. It is a gas that forms clouds and displaces fresh air more than dispersing in it,” said Serendipity

Ursula was content for some time. However, ten years ago she decided she wanted to breathe it all the time, so Ursula’s physicians were commanded to convert her lungs to breathe nemotoxigen, so that she no longer had to wear apparatus to breathe it.”

However,” resumed DagDag, “because nemotoxigen was only available in small areas in the South, Ursula still needed to be able to breathe ordinary air when she was elsewhere in the island. So they fitted her with a hip-switch she can toggle off to breathe our air when she is out of her region.

Ursula hates breathing ordinary air so much she has now decided to rid the whole island of it, and replace it with nemotoxigen. It is a royal decree that everyone must breathe nemotoxigen by the end of the five seasons.

Already some of her foul supporters have gone over to breathing the gas, the Boddlegogs are a good example. Anyone, in her court, who has converted to the black gas is looked upon most favourably by Ursula.

If Ursula detonates this bomb it will kill all creatures who breathe ordinary air.”

Maximouse continued, “Eggplant, Ursula’s scientist, at first had trouble making the bomb due to a lack of rare triclinium sulphite. The only place it could be found was on Earth in a magic pocket watch owned by your grandfather, which originated here. As you know, they tried to get this from you, but on the day you gave them the fake watch, Egghead had been informed of an excellent substitute for triclinium sulphite, found in the province of Werg, on Palingenesis Island. Because they had a substitute for the chemical they no longer needed your watch. He organised the extraction of the chemical and they are now in the final process of completing the bomb.”

This bomb must be stopped,” said DagDag. “It is critical for us, and critical for your Earth. Nemotoxigen is already leaking into your world, and has been doing so or 300 years, but if this foul bomb is detonated, your planet very soon, like our island, will be doomed in smog, pollution, evil and poisonous air.”

Having heard this the children were amazed and were full of many questions. Marie asked, “Where is the bomb?”

Serendipity said, “We aren’t quite sure. We believe we will need to travel to the city of Blackbod, in the province of South Darklands, without being observed or captured. We cannot march the direct route, through the North Passage, as it is too heavily guarded, so we will go South East to Plasticia City to meet allies on the moorings by the river in the city. It will take days to reach Plasticia by foot. We require horses or cars but as we have none, our plan is to go by way of the Ippleberg Tunnel if possible. Then we shall go west of the city of Ufromides and travel South along the River Doomweald to Grimley Wood and Threadbare Forest, where we will plan to stay with Rabbit, if we can find him. So far we have not been able to communicate with him. From there we go South and then West to Blackbod.”

We still need to find the keys to get into the Ippleberg tunnel. It’s been closed for years,” said Maximouse.

Who has the keys?”

I don’t know,” said Jilly the Gerbil, “but if you go outside tomorrow, behind the house and eat a meal out there, the Edible Dormouse will appear. He’s very clever and he can tell you all sorts of things that many people do not know. He seems to be an encyclopaedia of everything.”

Although the information is rarely digestible,” said Amelia the Gerbil.

Listen!” said Gluid, “isn’t that the sound of scavenger birds?”

Yes it is, put the lights off!”

It’s very late. I think we should all put our heads down and go to sleep,” said Serendipity, but most of the gang already had.

——

In the morning, Maximouse woke up first. Thinking he would show how clever he was, he went – first checking there were no scavenger birds around – into the garden. He carried a tray of late breakfast out onto a table at the bottom of the garden on the edge of the wood. Not long after he tucked in, he heard a squeaky voice. “I am the Edible Dormouse. I will give you information for a baked bean. You will be grateful for the giving of it.”

Maximouse proffered a baked bean as requested and watched him eat it. He took a long time. “What do you ask,” he eventually said.

Who has the keys to the underground tunnel?”

The dormouse thought for a good time and then recited:

Closest to us for all our years

Some are lost and some are hidden

Once they’re lost our psyche cries tears

Lord’s for doors and Lady’s for singing.”

Although he didn’t understand it, Maximouse wrote this down and gave the dormouse another bean for his useful information. The edible dormouse was again pleased and begged him to hear another piece of information.

When the wood’s lost for the trees

When you’ve lost the power to think

When there’s wheezing in the breeze

Throw a drink to stop the stink.

He took the rhymes back to the house, where by now, everyone had risen from wherever they had lain their heads. Maximouse corralled everyone into the lounge for a meeting where he related the riddles. Soon everyone was locked in discussion trying to understand what they could mean. Serendipity – not being modest about her ability to solve crosswords – thought the first puzzle was all about keys, singing keys and door keys and latch keys.

The odd words in the rhyme is Lord and Lady, and the only Lord and Lady in the area is Lord and Lady Moonwrinkle in Glassdale Clearing,” she said with conviction. The Moonbeasleys and the fairy agreed that this must be the answer. The children watched the discussion in bewilderment.

*** *** *** ***

Although they had had a big meal – a very late breakfast in the early afternoon, Amelia gave them a haversack, left over from her camping days, which contained a torch, a box of matches and various penknives. On top of these she had placed some food and fizzy pop for their trek. Marie strapped the haversack on her back. DagDag said they could get some more food at the River moorings in the city.

Not long after the meal, full of thoughts and anxieties, the children prepared themselves for another trek.

I’ll fly there,” said DagDag. “I’ve got a few things to do. I’ll either meet you before you go underground, or in Plasticia City,” he said.

Come with us on the train or we might get parted,” pleaded Serendipity.

How can that happen with me leading the way,” scoffed Maximouse somewhat peeved.

I’ll try and come back soon,” said Dagdag, ignoring the comment and flew away.

Come on then, lets walk to Glassdale Clearing,” said Maximouse to the Rosalind, Marie and Tchi. “It’s not far away at all.”

The children were relieved to hear that.

CHAPTER 13

A circus tent was in the middle of the clearing. Clowns and circus folk were everywhere, and practising seemed to be still going on in the marquee, although the circus was winding down. Tchi noticed all the circus vans and lorries and was highly entertained. “Some of these vehicles are so old they are collector’s items. And yet some I’ve never seen before,” he said, his face full of curiosity.

The clearing was full of strange animals, peoples: Humans, Drummonds, Wergs, Sprites and many other strange creatures.

Out of curiosity, Tchi and Rosalind decided to step inside the marquee. A big sign hung inside: Barny Slade’s Last Ever Animal Circus. An elephant was being led out of the ring and they saw its rump and tail disappear behind the curtains. A clown uni-cycled around the lip of the ring in front of them. “What do you want?” he shouted.

We want to know where Lord Moonwrinkle is having his garden party today?”

We’re performing there tonight, but I can’t give you directions. Hang on, I’ll find out,” shouted the clown and somersaulted over the handlebars of the bicycle and landed on his two feet in the ring. As he ran out a troupe of horses circled into the ring, all of them wearing coloured plumes over their manes like classic Greek war stallions.

A man came in and started thrashing his whip. He had long scruffy ginger hair which fell past his shoulders in tight curls. On top of this he wore a black bowler hat. Around his body clung an ill fitting suit, which crinkled in all the wrong places as if it was too tight, yet seemed too long at the arms and legs.

That’s the leader of the circus,” said a juggler, “Barny Slade.”

As the man thrashed his whip, the horses circled into two groups, each group running in the opposite direction to the other, around the periphery of the ring. Occasionally after a crack of the whip, two horses would break free and would bound across the diameter of the ring to join the horses on the other side. To Marie and Tchi, who were sitting watching, the horses looked as if they were going to leap straight at them, but at the last minute they dissolved into the circular motion of the nearside ringside horses.

I’ve seen circuses on telly,” said Tchi, “but they’re much more impressive when you’re sitting watching the real thing come towards you.”

The clown came back out as the horses retired. Acrobats came out into the ring.

Let’s practise the quarter swing” said one of the acrobats in a what sounded to Rosalind similar to a Russian accent.

I can’t find out,” shouted the clown, “they never tell you anything in this place.”

But I thought you were on the way there tonight to do a performance for his guests,” said Rosalind to the clown.

Now he’s stopped rehearsing with his horses, I’ll go and ask the boss, but I doubt if he’ll tell me anything.”

After he had gone another member of the circus came by. He stopped. “Are you here by invitation?” he asked. “This is a private rehearsal.”

We’re just trying to find out where Lord Moonwrinkle is having his party. Today, we’ve been told you’ll be performing there, so you must know where it is.”

Well I’ve only been here for eighteen months. In that time you get to know nothing. I’m a fire eater all the way from Werg. I was considered the greatest fire eater in the land, and won plaudits wherever I went, then I came here! The way I’ve been treated in Barny Slades circus is criminal, quite criminal.”

Oh, I’m sorry,” said Rosalind.

He wondered off.

Tchi suggested to Rosalind that they asked the roller skate acrobats. The acrobats had come into the ring and were now whirling about, all four holding hands, the two older men staying in a circle but the two younger men with legs flying out into space. Their bodies only secured from flying off into space by the clenches and strength of their hand grips.

I think they’re a bit busy at the moment,” said Rosalind drolly.

When the younger acrobats had put their skates back down onto the level table that they were performing on, they at last pirouetted to a stop, Tchi called out his question.

One of the men, Vladimir, who was quite close by, came over. Rosalind repeated the question. He said it was just North of Moonvale on the Eastern side of the Moonwrinkle estate. “He’s having us over to perform this evening, but we’ll be setting off in about an hour.”

Rosalind decided to be a bit cheeky. “Can we get a lift with you?” she asked. Her feet were sore and fed up with walking.

Ya. We can get you two on our wagon,” said his brother Boris, “but don’t tell the circus leader, he won’t like it at all. He won’t let you breathe unless you get permission first.”

There’s six of us,” said Rosalind.

Oh well, I’m sure we can get three of you on one wagon and three on another. It won’t take long to get there about half an hour, but it will take a while to take the marquee down.”

Half an hour of driving is a lot of walking thought Rosalind.

She offered help in taking the marquee down but the acrobats put up their hands. “No, no. He mustn’t know anything about it. You just jump on when we are moving off. I’ll blow this whistle and you jump on the second and third wagon.”

She went out and found Gluid, Marie, Serendipity and Maximouse.

You’ve been ages,” said Gluid in his high naval squeak.

We’ve got a lift,” said Tchi. “They’re going to take us there in an hour.

A few minutes later, Tchi turned to Rosalind and said, He’s not a popular boss, is he?”

*** *** *** ***

The food box that had been prepared by Jilly and Amelia was opened up and everyone tucked into a variety of sandwiches: cream cheese and chives, egg and tomato, cheese and onion, egg and cress and Victoria sandwich with a creamy lemon jam in place of the normal raspberry. This was all washed down with the freshest lemonade that Ros had ever tasted in her life. It tasted like spring water, but Maximouse was not impressed.

I prefer Gluid’s cooking,” he said.

Give me your share then!” said Serendipity snatching his sandwich and laughing. Maximouse wasn’t too pleased. It was the first time the children had ever seen a cross expression on his face. At last his protestations made him back down from his statement. “Yes, the sandwich was good, “ he said, “it just isn’t hotel premiere standard.” Serendipity returned his sandwich back. Maximouse’s eyes almost crossed in annoyance to see that she had taken a bite out of it.

Almost dot on an hour later Rosalind heard a whistle blow. She knew it would be coming soon because she had watched the circus marquee being taken down and packed on their wagons. Now she heard the signal to board the second and third wagon.

Unfortunately the wagon had been assembled in a different order that afternoon. The front wagon was required to go at back due to an extra trailer to tow. Consequently when Marie, Serendipity and Tchi got on the second trailer, circus people were waiting to receive them – it being the original third trailer. When Maximouse, Gluid and Rosalind got on the what they thought was the third trailer – in fact the fourth – no one was expecting guests at all.

As the wagons stopped at the edge of the muddy field before turning onto the road, all of the six individuals were clambering into the back doors of the vans.

The two Moonbeasleys and Rosalind fell into the back of the dark van, but the only thing that welcomed them was a small growl.

What are you doing in my van? Get out!”

All three turned to see who the deep voice belonged to because it wasn’t immediately obvious. Then Rosalind saw that it belonged to the passenger in the front seat.

Everyone else noticed him as he leapt over and landed before them – in fact landing on Maximouse’s foot.

Gluid’s lay before him on his back, his teeth chattering. “Sorry, Mr. Lion,” he said, “Please don’t eat me.”

Could you be so kind as to get off my foot,” asked Maximouse in his most charming voice.

CHAPTER 14

The lion obliged but then he gave the bone juddering roar. “Stop the van!” he shouted, “We have stowaways on board.”

The driver, a man with a flat cap, a sweeping walrus moustache and a nose like a ping-pong ball was looking over his shoulder.

No,” said Rosalind, “One of your colleagues said we could get a lift to Lord Moonwrinkles by jumping on the third lorry.”

The lion looked at Rosalind, thought for a minute, then much to Maximouse’s relief, leapt over both of the Moonbeasleys to Rosalind, his large head now only inches from hers. He licked his mouth and said, “Hmmm.. A likely story.”

It’s true, it was the roller skate man.”

Do you want me to stop?” shouted the driver to the lion.

No, I think I see what’s happened,” said the lion. “Drive on Laramie, we’ll give them a lift.”

Why aren’t you locked up?” asked Maximouse rather pointedly.

I’m a circus act,” said the lion. “Laramie over there,” he pointed to the driver, “is a lion tamer.”

But you supposed to be kept in a cage.”

Nonsense. I’m the star of the show. I can roar.” He roared and everybody shook.

I can growl,” he continued, “I can leap about in an unpredictable and menacing way, scaring the pants off the audience. Barry comes in and tames me and I leave the cage like a little puppy dog. They love it, the audience lap it up.”

You mean it’s all a sham. You’re not a nasty ferocious man-eating lion?”

I used to be years ago, but you know, you mellow a bit as you get older. I just wanted to run my own head -hunting business and live a comfortable life without any hassle. All that biting the rear ends of antelopes on nature programmes is quite hard work. Laramie and me are partners. We are called Lion and Toorooth, which is Laramie’s second name. It would be great now if we weren’t in this crappy circus. We’ve had better days than this, didn’t we Laramie? Before he met me Laramie used to be in a Wild West show.”

Oh tell me about it,” said Larry, looking back and missing a derelict car on the side of the road by fractions.

You mean you cheat!” said Maximouse. “That’s awful. I’m surprised people don’t want their money back.”

The lion turned back and within a leap he was licking his wide lips behind Maximouse’s shoulder. “I don’t think I like you very much.”

Rosalind was a bit concerned what the Moonbeasley was going to say. In the short time she had known him, she realised he was not a great exponent of tact and diplomacy.

He doesn’t cheat, Maximouse, he’s an entertainer. He gives the public what the public wants,” she said.

That’s right,” said the lion. He strutted as much as he was able on the bare metal floor of the van. “I’m a professional. I can bring the house down with my menacing noises and expressions.” He went down on one knee, and held his arms out wide as if he had just scored a goal.

He’s a big pussy really,” said Laramie from the front of the van.

Meow,” said the lion, now bowing his head.

Well that sounds very nice Mr. Lion. I’d love to come and see your show sometime,” said Rosalind.

Come tonight. We’re playing for Lord and Lady Moonwrinkle, we always do at this time of the year. I really do my super fierce act inside the cage and knock Laramie down with my paw. We practice this quite often. And then I get on top of Laramie as if I’m going to eat him. The audience are going mad! And then I get up and roar at them as if I hate them, and Laramie gets to his feet and grabs a chair and fends me off with it. Eventually he finds his whip and I cower and do all his tricks. We bring the house down.”

Yeah,” shouted Laramie, “we’re the best in the circus.”

You seem to have a whopping big head to me,” said Maximouse.

He didn’t mean that,” said Rosalind, “What he meant was that lion’s heads are big in size, not in big-headedness.”

This Moonbeasley really thinks he’s something, I think,” said the lion. Once again he went over and stuck his very large wet nose against Maximouse’s black one.

Well I’m quite clever,” said Maximouse. “I look after everyone. I got everyone away from the Buzzors and the Boddlegogs.”

Don’t mention those dreadful things in my presence,” shouted Laramie, grimacing, and swerving his van in shock.

You may have got away from them, Moonbeasley, but you haven’t got away from me, “ said the lion.

Now Mr. Lion,” said Rosalind, “you are such an eminent and well respected lion that I’m overjoyed to meet someone of such great talent. I met a lion once who I thought was also great, but he turned out to be a bully who picked on stupid people – people with as many brains as half an ounce of grasshopper – now what I like about you is that you’re not like that, are you?”

The lion took his claws away from Maximouse’s ears and dropped his arms down by his side and backed away from Maximouse. “I wouldn’t hit someone so stupid,” said the lion.

Excellent,” said the Rosalind, “Can I be in your fan club?”

Of course,” said the lion. “See Laramie and he will take your money and tell you all about my web site where you can communicate with me on-line.”

Rosalind turned to Gluid and said, “Now why don’t you get up off the floor Gluid and discuss your recipes with Maximouse.”

Great idea,” said Maximouse. “How did you make that Waldorf salad.”

I’m not going to tell you, you’ll be stealing all my ideas,” said the nasal squeaking of Gluid, who was obviously not in the best of moods.

You can sit in the front with us, little girl,” said the lion, and Rosalind decided this would be wise – and fun. Who else ever sat in front of a something the size of Ford Transit with a lion as a passenger?

She didn’t sit there long before they were driving between two pillars. A sign stated it was the South Eastern entrance to the Moonwrinkle estate. Poplar trees avenued the perspective as they drove into the massive gardens.

Rosalind watched the leading wagon turn down by the enormous mansion and park in a field near a lake with a cascading waterfall.

Soon everyone was out of the wagons.

Who are you!” shouted a voice at Rosalind as she ran up to her friends. It was Barny Slade laying into Marie, Tchi and Serendipity. Rosalind ran up to try and get them out of trouble but Tchi had already come to the rescue.

No, Mr. Slade, we have not been travelling with your circus. We merely jumped on as you were arriving into the estate. We are friends of the Moonwrinkles and we love your circus so much we wanted to meet your performers before they disembarked from their lorries.”

Huh. Is that so, China face?” he said looking at the faces before him disbelievingly and pushing up his bowler hat and as if he thought the wool was being pulled over his eyes. “Well if I find you’ve been given a lift, then some people will be getting the sack. It’s not company policy in Barny Slade’s circus.”

Excuse me! Excuse me!” shouted Serendipity to the ostentatiously dressed Lord and Lady Moonwrinkle. Rosalind ran up alongside.

Mrs. Moonwrinkle was talking to a woman with a black parasol who Rosalind thought she recognised but couldn’t remember where from. Then Mrs. Moonwrinkle walked off and began talking to her husband. It took a while for Serendipity to get the chance to address Mrs. Moonwrinkle.

She was talking to her husband and ignoring both Serendipity and Rosalind as if they were invisible. “But Donald I don’t like the woman. All she wants to talk about is horseracing and awkward butlers.”

But she is a very important person, my delicious. It would be good for us all to make her a good friend.”

Well I’m not interested. You talk to her. I just want to go home and be with my poodles.”

Please stay, my sweetness,” said Lord Moonwrinkle to his wife, “the presence of your scintillating personality is critical to us all having a wonderful celebration.”

Excuse me,” said Serendipity again.

Who are you,” enquired Lord Moonwrinkle.

I’m with the circus,” lied Serendipity. “We were interested in knowing where the keys to the underground railway is. Someone said you had the keys.”

The underground railway,” scoffed Lord Moonwrinkle. “My oh my. That closed quite a long time ago. Yes, you’re right. They did come and tell me they were locking it up, but I can’t remember what happened to the key.”

They didn’t give you a key, you big idiot,” complained Lady Moonwrinkle, “you agreed to let them build that fairy tower, and leave it in there, so that they could reopen it again should they wish.”

Oh yes. That’s right, my divine creature.”

So could we get the key from there then?”

Ha!” laughed Lady Moonwrinkle. “You’ll never get the key out of the fairy tower. It’s three stories high and there’s no door or stairs. They built it to protect the key.”

Oh dear,” said Serendipity.

Can we get a ladder?” suggested Rosalind.

Well yes, I suppose you could. There is a window either side of the tower. The key is placed in the top room on top of a table.”

Thank you.”

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

There was many ladders owned by the circus, and quite a few trapeze ladders also, but the children could not get one. Barny Slade would not lend them anything under any conditions. He was so incensed when they asked him he chased them out of the tent, raging and cracking his whip. Nor could they get their hands on a rope ladder. However Laramie and Lion said they would come along and see if they could help. The roller skate acrobats were invited as well, but they seemed more concerned with having another practise before the night’s performance.

The tower was not far away, at the top of the rising field, south-east of the mansion. It was a simple brick circular tower. It had no door, and no windows, apart from right at the top, two small windows either side. It was topped by a roof that looked like an upside-down ice cream cone.

Above each window hung a hanging basket, rich in nasturtiums and fuchias.

I could lasso one of those brackets the hanging baskets are attached to,” said Laramie. “I used to be a top horseman with a lasso when I performed in the wild west show. I could lasso it and someone could climb up.”

Serendipity looked at it. “It’s about three floors up in height. We need DagDag. He could fly up and just pick up the key in his beak. But we can’t hang around. If you can get a rope up there, I’ll climb up.”

Within minutes Laramie, as good as his word, had thrown a noose around the hanging basket bracket and tightened it. Serendipity hauled herself up the rope until she got about ten feet from the ground and then she seemed to run out of energy. She came back down the rope to the ground.

I can’t do it,” she said. “It’s got a spell on it to stop Sprites – that’s what I am – getting near it. It wouldn’t stop any of the children or Moonbeasleys from climbing up it though.”

No one was eager to offer. In fact the silence lasted for over a minute before a volunteer came forward. “I’ll do it,” said the lion. He made Marie jump and Tchi backed off quickly.

It’s alright,” said Rosalind, “He’s a friend.”

Are you any good at climbing?” asked Serendipity timidly.

My claws aren’t much use, but my paws and my teeth are excellent for such a job. No problem. I’ll be up there by the time you say ‘dashing Errol Flynn playboy daredevil’.”

And he did not hang around. Soon he was half way up and climbing quickly. It was not a graceful action, thought Rosalind, but highly effective. Then, on looking higher, she noticed the hanging basket was beginning to dip. The bracket was straining under the weight of the lion.

Not wishing to disturb everyone, she whispered her observation to Laramie. Laramie nodded, he had already noticed, she could tell by his expression, but the lion was three quarters of the way up now. He had to get there before the bracket gave way.

However the bracket had bent so much with the lion’s weight, that the loop of the hanging basket slipped off the edge and came crashing down, narrowly missing the lion as it fell. Fortunately the lasso knot remained. The lion looked up and instantly realised what a big crash he would make if the bracket broke or the lasso noose slipped.

Which is exactly what happened as they all looked up. The bracket bent down another inch under the weight and the noose suddenly slipped down. By some amazing luck it didn’t slip off but caught on the wrought iron curl of the bracket. However the extra weight applied to the bracket was pulling it out of the wall. Ping! Went a nail out of the brickwork. Ping! Went another nail and the bracket began to become detached from the wall.

While the lion had been climbing the roller skaters had arrived and quickly noticed the predicament the lion was in. Quickly, they shed their roller skates and leapt upon each other’s shoulders, just in time to get under the lion as the bracket gave way and came out of the wall.

The lion went from one precarious position to another. Instead of hanging on for his life he was balancing for his life, and balancing was not a skill he boasted about being good at.

His feet were on the shoulders of Rastik, Rastik’s feet were on the shoulder’s of Vladimir, Vladimir’s feet were on the shoulders of Boris and Boris’s feet were on the shoulders of Piotre. Piotre’s feet were on the ground.

As the lion wobbled for his life, Piotre walked – with everyone swaying above him – towards the tower, bringing the lion and his troupe closer towards the window. The lion may have had many talents in his life but balancing on the top of four acrobats was evidently not one of them. However when he fell – for fall he did – he had the perspicacity to fall into the window. He threw out his claws and his head, his arms and the top part of this torso landed over the top of the window shelf, leaving his legs, bottom and tail hanging out which was all the people on the ground could see.

As the lion hauled himself into the window Rastik beneath him put out his arms to stabilize the column of people on which he was balanced. Seeing that the lion was now safe, now pulling himself into the room, Rastik now clambered down his brother, as did Vladimir, and then Boris until they were all safely on the ground.

Lion went into the room. It had a red carpet and a massive oak table, which took up most of the space. In the middle of the table was a key ring. On the key ring were two keys: a latch key and a mortice key.

Lion picked up the key ring and went to the window.

I’ve got them,” he shouted.

Throw them down,” shouted Serendipity.

Nobody tried to catch them as they landed on the grass. Serendipity walked over and picked them up.

Catch the lasso and tie it onto something that will bear your weight,” shouted Laramie to the lion. “I don’t recommend that other hanging basket bracket!”

Within minutes the lion was shimmying down the rope. He had tied the lasso to two of the oak tables legs and – in the unusual but effective way he had climbed up – he came down.

Right let’s get to the entrance of the tunnel,” said Serendipity. “It’s not far, only in the spinney in the next field, near that copse of trees.”

Rosalind said goodbye to the lion, who was grinning inanely beside himself with his own swashbuckling prowess, and joined her gang as they followed Serendipity.

CHAPTER 16

Soon they were standing around a trapdoor buried in the grass.

Serendipity was having a quiet word, a whisper in fact, to Maximouse. Rosalind could hear them arguing.

It’s not good, Maximouse,” she was saying, “It’s profoundly bad. Now -”

Yes, the mine shaft is full of dreadful Tripegs,” he said.

Thanks for speaking so loudly!” said Serendipity, looking furious.

What are they?” asked Marie.

They’re three-legged creatures who live under the ground who love eating flesh and meat,” said Gluid, licking his lips and crossing his eyes.

Gluid!” shouted Serendipity, obviously very vexed. “Stop teasing, this is very serious.”

But it’s true,” said Gluid. “Horrid things. You should know that.”

Rosalind, Marie and Tchi looked to Serendipity for an explanation.

Yes, that’s true, but if we can get the train going and keep our wits about us we should be okay. It will only be an hour’s ride.”

I don’t like the sound of that,” said Tchi, “Aren’t we taking risks when we don’t need to?

It’s a risk, but we have to do it,” said Serendipity. “We have to make haste. If we walked to the City we wouldn’t have time to achieve our mission.”

And it’s likely we’d be captured upon the way as well,” squeaked Gluid. “But I’ll stick it up em!”

Fairies used to own the railway,” said Serendipity,“ but it was taken over by the Tripegs and there was constant underground fighting. The fairies closed it and, as you know, held the key. What, or who, is down there now, we don’t know. Probably it’s completely empty.”

There won’t be any of those Buzzors though,” said Maximouse,” because they can’t fly in underground tunnels and they hate being in the damp.”

Hey look!” said Rosalind, “DagDag’s come back.”

The raven spiraled above them, coming down, eventually landing in the circle of their discussion.

Once they had opened the trapdoor with the keys, they tried to pull it up on its hinges. It took some effort as it had not been opened for a long time, but it eventually it squeaked open. They looked down. A ladder led down into a damp darkness. Maximouse went down first, carrying a torch, and everyone else followed. Soon he was at the bottom of the ladder where he found a big cupboard, which he opened with an electronic key. “Here’s the main switch to connect all the electro-magnetism to the underground shaft,” he said.

Maximouse pulled the switch as the children arrived at the bottom of the ladder. Much to the relief of Rosalind – she hated being in the dark – underground electric lights came on to reveal rails disappearing in perspective down a tunnel the size of a mineshaft. Pumping engines and other machinery came to life.

At least he’s quite good with technology. Sometimes!” said Serendipity sarcastically.

In the distance stood the abandoned train, positioned on the left set of two sets of rails.

The technology and the train was originally put in by the fairies,” added Serendipity.

They cautiously walked the hundred yards to the abandoned train. The atmosphere was weird and creepy, with sounds of water dripping and the intense echoing of machinery. Then occasionally they heard a horrible sound like a groan, but it was highly pitched. “Ugh, what’s that?” said Marie. The reverberation of their footsteps and their speech was spooky.

The train was like a miniature steam engine, although, Marie suggested it was more like a holiday camp train. “It works on electricity,” said Maximouse. The carriages – much to Serendipity’s concern – were open. They had no roofs or doors.

At first, Maximouse didn’t understand the controls, but with Tchi’s enthusiasm for anything mechanical, he soon figured out the most of their functions.

After pushing what they thought were the appropriate buttons, the were pleased to see that the train moved forward, albeit slowly, sluggishly, creaking and clanking. The accelerator and the brake both worked. Serendipity was getting her hopes up – they would be in the city of Plasticia quite soon at this rate. She was still a little concerned that the coaches were open, which meant they had no cover against any attacking enemies.

Maximouse and Tchi offered Serendipity the chance to drive at first, which she accepted, but then DagDag wanted to be engine driver, so she let him. They both found the train easy to drive, as it just went along by itself – it didn’t need filling with coal. However Maximouse warned both drivers that the needle on the temperature gauge had to be kept beneath the red line. Tchi and Rosalind were keen to drive but DagDag insisted on staying in charge.

Gluid sat near the end of the train, like a Moonbeasley guard, with Marie in the very last seat behind him. She sat back to enjoy the ride, glad to be off her feet. She enjoyed it for about five minutes when suddenly her heart was in her mouth! She had company!

A Tripeg had dropped from the roof of the tunnel, making a high-pitched groan, and landed next to her. She screamed, alerting Gluid, who quickly jumped over his seat and stood defending his friend from this invader. Although they expected it to leap in attack, the Tripeg surprisingly stayed motionless.

Tickets Please,” it said in a wimpy voice, with its metal box beginning to click into life.

Tickets?”

The Tripeg was essentially a table on three legs. On its tabletop was a black metallic box. From this sprang a large spherical head, the size of a football and this sported one cyclopean bloodshot eye and two ear-like suckers which moved about like arms.

Well, if you haven’t got any, you can pay for your journey in cash.”

We haven’t got any tickets, and we’ve got no money.”

Oh Dear. That’s not right.”

So what are you going to do?”

Nothing, I suppose. In fact, I’m very pleased to have some passengers who I can talk to. There’s been very few on the train these last few years.”

Gluid, nervously looking around, asked him where the other Tripegs were.

I hear they all went off to a tunnel in Werg,” said the Tripeg slowly. “Some of us got left behind, we were never told that they were leaving.” He looked and sounded very sad.

As you don’t have any money I will accept conversation in replace of a train fare.”

They agreed that he could stay on the back seat of the carriage and talk to them providing he didn’t try any funny business.

But Marie was not convinced that the Tripeg was as passive and relaxed as he seemed. Even though he made attempts at conversation, he occasionally emitted, for no apparent reason, the blood curdling shriek that he arrived with. He also kept muttering ‘flesh’ under his breath, as if he couldn’t contain himself. Gluid sat in the open carriage in front of him, so as to continually keep an eye on him. He wanted to throw him off the train but daren’t. He knew that Tripegs were not to be tangled with.

I don’t think anyone likes me,” said the Tripeg. “Nobody ever remembers my name,” he said. “My parents thought I was hopeless at hunting meat and kept telling me I was useless. They insulted me by saying I had the brains of a rabbit.”

What is your name?” asked Marie.

Floppsonberglewocket,” he said. “It’s an awful name.”

It sounds a bit like a rabbit,” said Gluid rather tactlessly.

And my teachers used to ignore me, I was neither clever nor stupid. I was somewhere in the middle so I never got any attention or special treatment. I’m hopeless as a Tripeg. I should have been something else.”

Nothing else has three legs,” said Gluid.

I almost died when I was young because the Boddlegogs surrounded our tunnel. I was told after I was born – I was only a few days old – that the Boddlegogs came down adjacent mine shaft to where my family were living, and they stayed there a few days. It was lucky that they didn’t know we were only a wall away otherwise I would have died and my family – “

What did you say your name was?”

See. No one remembers.” Suddenly he said in a low creepy tone, “Fleeeesh,” and then made a strange squeal.

What is it again?” asked Marie, trying to keep him calm.

Floppsonberglewocket,” he said. He seemed to be back to normal again. “but you won’t remember.”

No wonder you think bad things about yourself, if you were born in a room next to the Boddlegogs,” said Marie.

He is boring though,” said Gluid.

Ssssssh,” said Marie, glowering at Gluid. “Give him a chance.”

Don’t psychoanalyse him and make him better, or he’ll eat us,” squeaked Gluid. “Never trust a Tripeg.”

My life improved when I joined the Tripeg Wondertoe FC Fan Club. I was even going to play for one of the small cavern league teams but one of my feet was damaged in a train accident, and I could no longer run on two legs and kick with the third. I used to fall over and everyone used to laugh. I was devastated. Nowadays there’s no league because everyone’s moved to the East. And I really miss being a spectator.”

How can you play football underground?” asked Marie

We play in large spacious caverns. There are quite a few around. There’s one coming up in a minute just as we go over the fairy bridge.

I remember,” he continued, “when the Big Eye Twelve beat the Subterranean Bears three years ago when Piddleypongong scored a hat trick in the second half-“

I said he was boring,” said Gluid as he noticed Marie stifling a yawn.

Suddenly they heard a scream from the front of the train. The Tripeg said quickly, “It’s okay. Calm down. It’s as I said, only the bridge. It takes everyone by surprise the first time.”

The train sped on past the close granite walls but now the walls were beginning to open up into a vast cavern above and below them; an auditorium that held as much light – albeit electric – as there was above ground in daylight.

Marie looked around and went to scream herself but nothing came out. She watched as the train sped to the edge of a cliff, the railway was doomed to go over it, as the rails ended at the edge of the cliff. Yet the train continued over the large and deep ravine, travelling straight, even though there were no rails and no bridge. All the passengers could see below them was the train flying unbelievably over the a cavern.

It was made by the fairies,” said the Tripeg. “It’s an invisible bridge. They made it so that everyone would get a better view of the wonderful cavern. We’ll be back on rails again as soon as we’re over the ravine.” And he was right. Marie breathed out as she watched the train wheels once again engage with the grey rails.

They travelled past strange underground trees, their tops meeting with the stalactites hanging from the cavern’s vast and distant roof. The cavern seemed the size of a county.

Then they came into a train station. Rosalind, who was sitting at the fore of the train, thought it was quite normal for this strange place. She thought there would be people on the platforms as another locomotive was parked on the adjacent line going in the opposite direction. There may have been two trains and ticket office but there was no one to buy tickets because there were no passengers. There were also two benches, a restaurant, toilets, a newspaper shop. They decided to go and see if they could get some food from the deserted café but there was no one there either, although they did discover that the deep freeze was full of food.

Serendipity and Flopsonberglewonket disembarked from opposite ends of the train but as soon as they saw each other, hostility began between the two of them. It is written in stone that Tripegs hated Fairies and Fairies hated Tripegs. Serendipity was a Sprite, a fairy who cannot fly, (with stunted wings that did not work) and although she couldn’t fly, she could certainly ignite verbal abusive sparks that did.

But as they sat at the café verbally abusing each other, a cheese sandwich got stuck in Flopsonberglewonket’s throat. Serendipity, for an instant forgetting her Sprite inheritance, leapt over and she slapped the Tripeg on the back. Never before, said Maximouse, has there ever been a record of a Sprite or a Tripeg helping each other. The Tripeg thanked Serendipity for stopping him choking, but the process of thanking her, everyone could see, made him almost choke.

Eventually, they realised that they needed to move, as time was getting on. They all boarded the train and continued onto Plasticia. As Rosalind watched the underground countryside go by she noticed that the light was beginning to ebb very quickly. They were leaving the brightness of the cavern to enter the darkness of tunnels.

And then, deep inside a tunnel, everything went wrong. There was a loud bang, all the carriages jolted. The train came to an abrupt stop – but everyone in the train carried on moving! Fortunately no one was hurt but even though the train remained on the track it was going nowhere else.

Because of the low speed the train was travelling coming out of the station, the children, although shaken and disappointed, were unhurt. A landslide in the tunnel had stopped the train. And it had filled up so much of the tunnel there was no way they could clear it.

The gang collected together and began to look for Floppsonberglewocket and eventually found him sitting outside the tunnel by the side of the rail, eating a frozen chicken that he had brought with him from the station canteen. “Flleeeeeesssssshhh,” kept coming out of him as a word, but it didn’t seem to be coming from his mouth, as he was using that to consume the frosty bird.

After a very long burp, he turned and said “There is a fairy’s web in the floor above. The steps are just over there, I think that will get you to Plasticia.”

Are you coming with us?” asked Marie timidly.

No. Thank you for asking. It’s nice to have company down here, but I can’t cope with real light.”

Okay,” said Serendipity relieved. “Thank you, I hope you enjoy your chicken.” She said, which made the children laugh. It didn’t matter how hard they tried, Sprites just couldn’t help being sarcastic to Tripegs.

Rosalind, Marie, Maximouse, Gluid, DagDag and Tchi followed her as she walked towards a bay of stone steps.

CHAPTER 17

After climbing the steps they came out into wide tunnels with framed windows the size of pictures. Daylight shone through each window. “I’ve seen this sort of thing before,” said Maximouse. The windows operate using water-mirrors, which capture daylight from the surface and take it below.”

Hey look, there’s a signpost,” said Rosalind. “The City of Plasticia half a mile,” she read aloud.

After walking for a quarter of an hour the children came to a sliding door. Over the top hung a sign. ‘Questionnaire Labyrinth.’

The door automatically opened as they approached. They peered through without stepping inside and committing themselves.

I don’t think we should go in there,” said Serendipity, “I know fairies and they love to lead you into a maze.”

On the other hand I don’t particularly feel like walking back,” said Maximouse.

It would take ages to get back to where we came in,” said Marie.

I can see a question on the wall,” said Tchi,” but I don’t understand them.”

DagDag read the question on the neon sign out loud.

Who is the most evil person in Palingenesis Island?’

Two doors stood either side of neon lit question. Both doors contained a neon lit sign with a different answer. One sign said ‘U’ and the other said ‘Q’.

I think we should go in, “ said Maximouse, “We’re all highly intelligent creatures, especially me, and we should all be able to answer a few daft trivia questions.”

What happens when you decide on an answer?” Marie asked Serendipity.

I think you touch the door that has the correct answer,” said Serendipity. “And it opens and then you go in there.”

So getting the right answer is essential,” said Marie. “I don’t like it.”

What happens if we get the wrong answer?” asked Tchi.

We’ll go somewhere else other than Plasticia. Heaven knows where,” said Serendipity looking worried.

I’m in,” said DagDag. “We have to forge ahead, and we have neither the time nor the energy to back track. Let’s do it!” So saying he flapped his wings and flew through the door into the room. Everyone else, silently agreeing with his wisdom, tentatively walked between the sliding doors and stood before the lit up panel containing the question.

As Marie – the last to step over – had placed her two feet firmly in the room, the sliding door behind him slammed shut. “There’s no going back now,” she whimpered.

The answer is easy,” said Serendipity, “The most evil creature on this island is U – which means Ursula. Q stands for the Quark, who is a dreadful smelly monster, who lives in Blackbod Miasma and used to belong to Malady. He is foul but she is worse. Does anyone disagree with that?”

As she had no dissenters, and the children could not really contribute, knowing little about where they were, they all followed her over to the door where their answer was lit up. Serendipity touched the neon sign and the sliding door opened. This time they could not see into the room before them, as it was dark.

Here we go,” she said, and walked through the door. Everyone followed and once again when Marie – who was last again – had gone through, the door behind her slammed shut. Immediately a light came on. This time the question made the children burst out laughing:

Who makes the best custard?’

The answers were written, as before, on two doors: the Wergs or the Fairies.

There were some disputes about this between the Sprite and the Moonbeasleys. The Moonbeasleys, considering themselves great connoisseurs of cooking and culinary pleasures eventually persuaded Serendipity it was the Wergs. They went through the appropriate door once again they faced another question.

Which is the most important: the past, the present or the future?’

I think it’s the future,” said DagDag. “After all, we are all heading into the future, and everything will be better in the future.”

How do you know that,” said Marie. “The future can be worse.”

I like to think about all those gorgeous meals I’ve eaten in the past. It’s the past,” said Maximouse. Gluid nodded his head violently in agreement.

What do you think Rosalind?” asked Serendipity.

Rosalind wasn’t sure, she thought they were all important.

It’s the present,” said Tchi. “The only thing we have is the present moment. Our impressions of the future are only built on what we know now. Our past is only how we remember it.”

That’s clever,” said Rosalind. “I agree.”

I don’t,” said DagDag, and headed towards the door marked ‘Future’.

But Serendipity beat him to it and touched the door marked ‘Present’ before he could touch the ‘Future’ door. DagDag was not happy about that and squawked his annoyance.

The door closed behind them after they had gone through it and a light came on, but no questions revealed themselves, but a very long tunnel, with a moving escalator going up an incline. Rosalind thought it was a bit like the London Underground, the only difference being that you couldn’t see where it ended.

They travelled for about five minutes on this, until it stopped inside another well lit cave room, and there were now more questions to answer.

What should we seek: ‘To be loved’ or ‘To learn how to love’.

Everyone wants to be loved,” shouted Gluid. “I love it when somebody gives me a squeeze and a snog.”

I know the answer to that,” burst out Serendipity. “The honourable thing is to learn how to love and not expect anything back. It is written in the Illumination. That must be the correct answer.”

No one had the time to argue with her because she had already touched the answer. Soon they were in another tunnel. This time on another escalator. After some time they arrived at yet another question. This one was different though because it had thirteen doors, and thirteen answers.

What is the right religion to follow?’

Immeldism’ ‘Asophianity’ ‘Tingoism’ ‘Secliat’ ‘Barbarsoquat’ ‘All and none’ ‘Islam’ ‘Christianity’ ‘Aetheism and Secularism’ ‘Buddhism’ ‘Sihkism’ ‘Hinduism’ ‘Other’

Serendipity suggested it should be Immeldism because all Sprites believed in that, but Maximouse demanded it should be Tingoism. Rosalind wanted it to be Christianity, and Tchi wanted to be Buddhism as he and his parents were followers of Tao. Marie said “I’m an American Quaker and we believe in the value of all religions. I know I’m right,” and so saying she took a leaf out of Serendipity’s book and walked over to the door and touched the panel which said, ‘All and None’. The door opened and she bravely stepped through it, the others eventually following her.

Inside the room they all got a surprise. For once they received an answer. It was written on a big sign:

It doesn’t matter which creed you follow, but the continual correction of selfishness by a creed is good for the people. It is how much good and bad you do in the universe that matters. Some join a doctrine to relieve themselves of the need to do acts and works of good. Good thoughts, good words, good works, good deeds are all.’

Well done Marie, you got that answer right,” said Serendipity.

Below this in large red lettering, a message came on the screen.

Congratulations. You are now approaching Plasticia.’ Instantly the questions and the letters on the screen completely disappeared and became an electronic sort of window.

Look, you can see the city,” said Gluid. “That’s Plasticia.”

Seen through this strange window, the City of Plasticia, seemed like a claustrophobic mass of towers that rose and rose and rose and disappeared up into the sky. No buildings could be so huge,” said Rosalind.

Woooowy! There seems to be so much movement in those upper stories,” observed Marie.

Rosalind tightened her eyelids to see the city’s column of fuzzy blackness indeed become more animated the higher up she looked.

Rosalind’s became awestruck as she came close enough to discern what the movement in the upper tiers was. She stared upwards, which now being close to the ‘window’ she could. Balloons and air ships, most tethered on long thick hawsers, dominated the air space. The sky was like an overcrowded mooring ground for yachts and small boats. Thousands and thousands of zeppelin like craft jostled with each other over the city with hardly a gap in between, each with massive lettering on it, shouting out advertisements, sponsorships, logos or contact numbers. However very few of them could now be read because of the massive overcrowding and discolouration of the messages from the up-drifting smog and pollution from the city below.

Nevertheless many of the towers and spires from the city were so tall they seemed to pierce the sky, and were partly designed to anchor the aircraft. Getting as close to the ‘window’ as she possibly could Rosalind discovered other reasons for the darkness of the skies. Leaflets and creations of paper were pouring down from the clouds from the balloons and zeppelins.

That the mailing downpour,” said Serendipity. “It’s been going on for years in Plasticia. It’s banned in the Northern Cities. The mail order books, junk mail and advertising leaflets rain down from above and create mountains of paper that the city dwellers have to climb over to get along the streets.

There’s litter everywhere,” said Maximouse, “but it’s glossy litter.

Suddenly, the sign changed and another question came on the screen.

What is more important: ‘fame, gold and riches’ or ‘hope, sleep and laugher’?

Everyone wants fame and wealth,” said Maximouse.

I don’t agree,” said Rosalind. “We must go the way of hope, sleep and laughter. No one wants to end up like one of those dreadful celebrities who spend all their life wanting more and more publicity and who can’t be happy unless they have an audience to show off to.”

Gluid and DagDag tended to agree with Maximouse, although now Maximouse was now not so sure himself. Gluid was looking very concerned. “I don’t think we should have come this way, it’s a bit hard” he said.

Then Maximouse said, “Rosalind is supposed to have special gifts, perhaps this is one, she can answer difficult questions. Let’s trust her on this one.”

No!” shouted DagDag. As he shouted he touched the door marked, ‘fame, gold and riches’, “It’s my turn.” The door opened and they all looked through.

DagDag stepped through in to the next room. This time there were no screens or doors, and it was much darker than in the previous rooms. It had been the first time that, after the door had closed behind them, no bright light came on.

However there was a small light in the cave, further ahead, to which DagDag led the way. In the roof of the ribbed straw coloured cave was a flame which illuminated a chest beneath it. On the chest it read: ‘For those who pass this way.’ Tchi and Marie opened its lid and everyone gasped at the glinting metal they saw. The chest was full of metal swords and daggers.

Oh I like a fight!” shouted Gluid, looking at the children whose faces were not of same highly excited disposition.

I don’t think we’ve come the right way,” said Rosalind.

It’s too late now,” said Serendipity. The door behind us is shut, and the only way we can go is along the cave. If the fairies left swords here then we should arm ourselves because they would have done it for a reason.”

Reluctantly the children chose a sword of the weight they could manage. DagDag didn’t bother to even find one, he just chose a small dagger in a scabbard and flung it casually over his neck.

But I don’t want to fight anything,” said Tchi. “I’m not a coward but I’m against things like fighting.”

Same here,” said Marie, “but I am a coward.”

We will have to deal with whatever we meet,” said Serendipity. “Even if this is unpleasant we have to complete our mission.”

That’s right,” said DagDag.

They walked further along the cave, which gradually became more difficult as it seemed to be getting narrower and narrower. It was also inclined at a sharp angle, so it was quite an exhausting climb in itself.

I hate being shut in,” complained Rosalind.

After about fifteen minutes they were bending to get further along. It was beginning to become more like pot holing that walking. Serendipity, who was in front, shouted to everyone that she had come to a trapdoor. She shouted her concerns back along the line to Maximouse who was at the end.

The trapdoor has a window and I can see through it,” she shouted. “It leads into a big well with a balcony. It’s a bit creepy. I don’t like the look of it.”

We are supposed to come out at the docks,” said DagDag.

You obviously got that question wrong,” said Maximouse. DagDag ruffled his feathers in vexation.

Just then there was a gurgling sound along the tunnel from where they had come. It sounded like water. “Something is coming down behind me,” said Maximouse, “and it sounds as if its coming fast.”

He was right, for an seemingly endless thick wedge of pink ice was pushing up the tunnel towards him. Rosalind, who could also see it, felt that they were in a giant cone and someone was sucking the ice cream out at the bottom. “Go through the trap door now!” she shouted. They had no way to go but through the trap door. Within minutes they were all through, the pursuing ice having reached the closed trap door and stopped.

PALINGENESIS ISLAND BOOK I 1 – 6

©2005 by Michael Skywood Clifford
The sequel to Wizicky Wazicky Wood

THE SWAP

CHAPTER 1

On a late July afternoon it seemed that all was not well in the large village of Pallingham. The sun warmed the terracotta brickwork of a house at the end of Wilmslow Close. Sounds of children squealing, dogs barking, and the rumble of distant traffic drifted across the garden.

A bedroom window opened. A young girl leant out and looked first to the left of the garden, then to the right, and then back again, flicking her hair back to keep it out of her eyes. Occasionally an expression of concern, of sadness spread across her face.

Then she seem to notice something. She quickly opened the furthest window along the bay and then reappeared with an exercise book. She ran this up along the inside pane of the newly opened window. A grin broke across her face as a red admiral fluttered out from the bedroom and helter-skeltered down into a bed of red roses below.

*** *** ***

The girl stepped back into her bedroom and sat on her bed, and leafed through the exercise book that she had used to free the butterfly. On a new page she began to write the date in the margin. Then she heard her name being called.

“Rosalind.”

She put the book aside on the quilt and hurried downstairs, following the glorious aroma of tomatoes and garlic coming from the kitchen. She arrived with an expectant and hopeful look on her face, which her mother noticed.

“No, she’s not come back, Rosalind. I’m sure she will, darling,” said her mum. “Sometimes they do go off for a while. She’s only been missing for a night.”

“Why did you call me then?”

“Could you take some empty bottles to the bottle bank in High Street. I forgot to leave them out for the collection. There’s a carrier bag full. You could have a look out for Mitzi at the same time.”

“Okay. I’ll go in about ten minutes. I’ll change when I get back.”

“I will likely have gone out when you get back,” said mum. “Help yourself to the curry.”

As Rosalind ascended the stairs, she heard her mum shouting, “Oh. Dad phoned, by the way,” said Mum.

“He’s staying out in Canada for another two weeks. They’ve extended his schedule.”

*** *** ***

Rosalind, carrying a thick plastic bag full of bottles, walked the short distance into town. She scrutinised the front gardens of the many terraced houses she passed, for any sign of her missing cat, occasionally calling out her name. As she climbed the light incline into town, she passed a clinic with a small blue brick wall, with monkey puzzle trees behind. Her eyes combed the area thoroughly but no cat could be seen.

“Hi Ros!” said a boy approaching at speed on a cycle.

It was Danny from the 11th year. She liked him a lot. She gave him a big grin. He was a laugh and great at football. “Got to fly,” he shouted, “I’m late.”

Roads converged at the top of High Street, where lofty red brick buildings fell away in perspective down towards the bottom of the large village. The building on the corner was a pub, with window boxes and a little fake lantern standing over its red doorway. To its side was a red wrought iron gate leading into a yard at the back of a Chinese restaurant. Next to this was a snooker hall

Although the streets were unusually empty for six o’clock on a Monday, the doorway of the Snooker club concealed figures.

A ginger-haired girl threw down a cigarette and stamped on it. She turned towards another teenage girl with a short weasel face.

“It’s alright for you, Sadie” she said, “you only go in when they threaten you with the courts. Always with your head in some black magic book, you are. You never get into trouble because you never go in.”

“Gimme a fag. I ain’t got no money this week, and me mum’s been hiding her ‘andbag,” she replied.

“Well, if you’re so good at black magic perhaps you can conjure up some fags.”

“D-d-d-don’t give her one, Marissa” stammered the Indian girl, grinning inanely. “S-s-she don’t deserve nowt. You might have that old bag on your tail, but s-s-she gets away with doing nowt.”

“I gotta go in tomorrow, or I’m for it,” said Sadie.

“We’ll call for you in the morning,” said Della.

“Well if I never…” said the first girl, Marissa, her bullish head now peeping out into the street.

“What is it,?” asked Weasel faced Sadie, turning towards the High Street.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea. Have you got them dressmaking scissors on you, Della?”

*** *** ***

Rosalind crossed over the road towards Video International, a shop displaying flickering TVs in its window and hanging a variety of satellite dishes from its rendered wall. Rosalind looked down the alley way adjacent to it to see if she could see Mitzi. Nothing. She knew male cats went off, but she didn’t think female ones did.

That was when Rosalind felt that she was in big trouble.

CHAPTER 2

She first noticed them out of the corner of her eye.

They now stood around her, blocking her path. Then, to her horror, they had their hands on her, manhandling her, and pushing her back against the TV shop window. In shock, Rosalind was unable to stop the carrier bag slipping out of her hand. She heard the smash of glass as the bottles met the pavement. Two of the girls had pinned Rosalind against the window. Now the well-built ginger haired one stared at her, wielding a pair of scissors. “Get your mobile out, Sadie, and video this! Little pretty smarty is going to have a new hair cut!”

Rosalind felt as if she was going to faint. An intense hissing came in her ears. A dizziness, and a sensation of being sucked through the window. Blue lights seemed to rain down from the sky. She felt as if she was spinning. The hiss got louder, rushing through her ears. Then she felt the hands release her. Everything was spinning. She felt herself sliding to the ground. The hissing was fading, the blue lights had gone. She began to feel a little normal again. She opened her eyes.

*** *** ***

She was alone. Then a boy was standing in front of her.

Rosalind recognised him from school. He was a short Chinese boy called Tchi. He offered her his hand.

“Oh no,” said Rosalind looking at the glass on the pavement.

“Don’t worry,” said Tchi, “my dad’s restaurant is over the road. I’ll go and get a pan and brush and clean it up. Are you okay?”

“I’ve seen one of those girls at school,” said Rosalind.

“Infamous they are!” exclaimed Tchi. “The one in the blue anorak in Marissa Chard. She’s always in trouble with teachers. She’s a real bully. The small one is Sadie Horrocks, a nasty piece of work as well. I don’t know the other one. There’s a court order against her for shop lifting. I can’t imagine how many ASBOs they’ve got between them.”

He grabbed Rosalind’s outstretched hand and helped her up.

“What happened?” he asked. “As I came round the corner I caught sight of their faces before they ran off. They were as white as sheets.”

“I don’t know,” said Rosalind. “It was all a bit weird.

She looked down at the scissors on the pavement. “They were going to cut off my hair, but they must have ran off when they saw you coming.”

“No. I’m sure it wasn’t me that made them run off.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind clearing this up? I was on my way to the bottle bank.”

“No, I’ll sweep it up into a bag and drop it into the bottle bank round the corner.”

“Thanks.”

“Do you want these?” He held out the scissors.

“No. You can have them for your troubles.”

Rosalind felt she ought to stay around and help him clean up, but she felt low about everything, especially her missing cat. Yet she also felt a little light on her feet. She hoped she wasn’t going down with the flu or something.

He nodded goodbye and went across the road and into his father’s yard. She walked back home.

Mum had left a note to say she had gone out to see Aunty Wendy and would be back late. Rosalind helped herself to a little of the vegetable curry, did the homework which had to be in tomorrow and then went to bed at nine. She fell fast asleep.

*** *** ***

She was in a cold wood. It was dark, claustrophobic, the trees all seemed on top of her, as if they seemed determined to get in her way. She found moving along the path awkward, making it difficult to see where she was going. She felt afraid.

She came out into a clearing where the light lifted considerably. Earlier she had guessed it was the heart of night, but not here.

Then her heart took a great leap of optimism, for in front of her was an old friend. A friend she had not seen for years, although how many years she could not remember. It was Tapir, a black and white quadruped, the size of a small horse who could speak English. He was often very funny without realizing how big headed and realised he was looking troubled, fearful.

“Hello Rosalind beast,” he said, addressing her the way he normally did, “I am in great trouble. They are after me.”

“Who?” asked Rosalind.

“Stay here or you will be torn to pieces,” he whispered with gravitas.

He dashed off around the shrubbery and out of her sight. A few minutes later Rosalind heard a rumbling sound, as if an earthquake was imminent. She began to tremble. The small amount of light that shone into the clearing was now beginning to give way in patches of dark sky and her ability to see clearly was diminishing by the minute. It wasn’t just a sense of darkness but of overwhelming evil. Her mind flitted all over the place, from one unfinished thought to another, as if she had almost lost control of her mind. Now she could hear a dark, low squelching noise. Then she heard a terrible scream. It was the Tapir.

She didn’t know what to do. She wanted to follow where the tapir had led, but she felt rooted to the spot. She stood there for a minute shaking, then in great trepidation – with her heart in her mouth – she crept round the shrubbery. At first she saw nothing apart from a pathway between two spinneys of tall oaks. Through these she came into a clearing. She was horrified at what she saw.

She remembered the tapir lived in a caravan. Now it had been completely reduced to broken wheels, demolished walls and splinters of matchwood. Even the vegetation, small trees, shrubs, grasses and ferns around the area had been shredded, as if by some giant hover mower. The sound of squelching was far away in the distance now, but now she heard the sound of ringing bells. It got louder and louder….

*** *** ***

Suddenly she was awake. The telephone was ringing down in the hall. She heard her mum answer it. She looked at the bedside clock. It was almost midnight.

What a strange dream, she thought. And yet I remember that tapir from somewhere in the past. I had a dream about being in a wood with him. She yawned, turned over and within a minute she was back asleep again.

*** *** ***

She found herself instantly in the same place in the same dream.

She was standing over the caravan, looking around for the tapir’s body, when suddenly she heard a noise behind her. She jumped round and instinctively got down on her knees.

“Dear child,” said the woman before her. “Get up quickly.”

The woman was the most beautiful creature Rosalind had ever seen. She had the softest and warmest of faces, and her whole body radiated love, she was like an angel.

“Come with me,” she said grabbing Rosalind’s hand.

The lady, dressed in a long grey cape led her down a steep incline into a valley, not unlike a railway cutting in a hill. To their right lay a garden surrounded by tall hedges. The woman led through the garden and out of a gate on the other side, into a deserted village street. Across the road stood a post office and a library. In between these was a bench and a litter basket. “Come, sit down, we are safe for a few moments.”

“I have to tell you that we are in jeopardy. Evil forces are attacking us. I need your help, and time is running out.”

“Who are you?”

“I have many names that I am known for in the universe. Now look down there.”

Rosalind looked behind her and couldn’t see anything at first. Then in the gutter she noticed a drain. From it began to pour black smoke. It was thick and dense and opaque. As it came out and filled the air, its rate of input into the village street forever increased, as it spewed forth its black filthy oily smoke. The smell was of a billion filthy toilets and rotten socks.

Then Rosalind’s Granddad suddenly appeared on the street. He smiled at her and said, “Learn deep and think deep, my darling.”

He walked over the road into the church yard, She could see the village church behind it, gradually being blacked out, and she heard the peal of the bells, ringing, ringing…

*** *** ***

The light of the morning shone into Rosalind’s bedroom. She could hear the ringing of telephone again. She could hear her mother answering it, as she lay thinking about her strange dream. It had been so vivid. Then she thought about her missing cat. Had she come back? She quickly washed and dressed and went down for breakfast.

Mum was looking very upset when Rosalind arrived.

“It’s not bad news about Mitzi, is it?” asked Rosalind, her face crestfallen.

“The telephone call? No. It’s bad news though. You’d better sit down.” Rosalind stayed where she was, waiting on her mother’s words. “It’s your granddad. He was taken ill yesterday afternoon. He’s in the Nightingale Hospital.”

“I had a dream about Granddad. What’s wrong with him?”

“They’re not sure. He could have fallen down. The lady who cleans up for him found him. She lives in the neighbouring flat.”

“Is he badly hurt?”

“They don’t know. He’s a bit shocked.”

“How terrible.”

“I had a phone call last night.”

“Yes. It woke me up. Who was the one this morning from?”

“That was strange, that was from the police.”

“The police?”

“Not long after Granddad had gone off to hospital, within a couple of hours, his flat was broken into. The cleaning lady heard strange sounds coming from his flat. As she knew he was in hospital she couldn’t understand it. She phoned the police, but whoever was in there had gone by the time they arrived. The lights were on and the windows were wide open.”

“What has been stolen?”

“They’re not sure. The cleaner didn’t noticed anything missing – and she goes in there often – but they won’t be completely sure until granddad comes back and checks through everything.”

“Oh, that’s awful,” said Rosalind.

“We’ll go and visit him this evening. But I’ve got to be off. I’ve got so much on at work.”

“I’ll sort out my own breakfast, mum. You don’t need to drop me off at school.”

“I’m afraid Mitzi’s not come back.”

“That means she’s been away two nights. I’m worried.”

“I’ve got to go. Bye Rosalind.”

“Things are not going well,” said Rosalind lifting up a spoonful of Weetabix.

But things were to get worse.

*** *** ***

Twenty minutes later Rosalind went off in the sunshine to school. As she passed St. Paul’s Church, she climbed the steps to see if the door was unlocked. She went in and lit two candles, one for her granddad and one for her cat. She prayed at a pew and then came out into the bright daylight and continued her way to school. She didn’t notice who was behind her as she came out of the church, but she had been noticed.

“It’s that stuck up cow from 9B,” said Sadie, fifty metres further down the road.

“Oh. She’s a little Christian, is she? That ought to get your goat, Sadie.”

“I think we should sort out this little stuck up cow once and for all,” retorted Sadie.

“Good idea. Let’s find out which class she’s in just before break.”

CHAPTER 3

“I’m coming round to collect in your projects on the medicinal qualities of herbs and spices.”

“I ain’t quite finished miss,” said Julie.

“Julie I told you twice last week when the deadline for this project was. I’ll have to take it in anyway.”

“Oh Miss,”

Miss Millicent came round the class, collecting the folders. She collected Rosalind’s. Marie added hers on top.

“I’ll be interested to read yours,” said Miss Millicent smiling at the American girl. “They certainly gave you a good science grounding in Boston USA, Marie.”

“Yes Miss,” said the girl, giving a big grin, showing her splendid white teeth.

“How are you getting on this year?” asked the teacher.

“When I first arrived in England and came to this school I was a bit lost. You helped me a lot last year. This year Rosalind had been helping me a lot,” said Marie.

“Well done Rosalind,” said Miss Millicent, “Keep up the good work.”

*** *** ***

As the two girls walked together out of class, a boy came up, he grinned at Marie. It was Danny.

“Hi Marie. How are you getting on with Ms. Millicent? She’s my form teacher.”

“She was mine last year. She knows her stuff,” she said

“You actually learn something,” said Rosalind, wanting to join in.

“I wondered if you fancied auditioning for a part in end of term school play? We’re looking for a black girl to play Juliet,” said Danny.

“Cool,” said Marie.

“I’d like a go at drama,” interjected Rosalind hopefully.

“You as well. We could find you something I’m sure. I’ll see both of you down there in the music department next Monday after school then.”

As he walked off, Ros’s heart thumped. “Oh he’s lovely,” she said.

“Yes. Don’t worry I’m not after him,” said Marie.

*** *** ***

Rosalind needed to go to the toilet during break. Marie Said she’d come and find her after she had got some food in her body. “We’re in the Science block next lesson,” said Marie.

Rosalind walked over to Block E, the science faculty. On her left was the girl’s toilets. She went in, she had the place to herself.

But she wasn’t alone for long. Almost as soon as she had arrived, three figures slipped in behind her. She made her turn round. She gasped in horror.

She made an effort to bolt past them out of the door, but they quickly formed together and blocked her way.

Keep the door closed,” shouted Marissa to Della. “And don’t let anyone in.”

“I-I-I’ll try,” she stammered.

“Leave me alone,” shouted Rosalind as the other two girls approached her, the weasel faced one with a knife in her hand.

“We’re going to sort you out, you little Christian,” said the ginger haired Marissa. “We’re going to give you a little tattoo on your arm.”

“We’re going to inscribe you with the number of the beast, the devil, Satan: 666,” said Sadie, doing a little hand dance in the air with the knife.

Rosalind tried to bolt again. She screamed as she charged through them, but they grabbed at her clothes and tripped her to the ground. Then she was firmly pinned to the floor. “Come here, Della!” shouted Sadie as she prepared to make a mark on Rosalind’s arm.

Della rushed forward and, doing as instructed, pinned Ros’s arms up above her head, while the large Marissa sat on her body. Sadie wielded the knife just above Ros’s left arm, the jumper having been rolled up to reveal her bare flesh. Ros kicked and screamed but no way could she dislodge Marissa. Della was now kneeling on her hands, causing Rosalind much pain. Blood began to trickle out of the incision in Rosalind’s skin, as the knife went in.

Just at that moment the toilet door swung open and Maria and another girl, Trudy, jaunted in. They quickly saw what was going on.

Marissa spat at them. She screamed at Marie using the foulest and racist language she could summon. Marie – seeing that the situation was critical – decided in a split second that confrontation was not the answer. She fled the toilet, leaving Trudy standing there gawping. Marie was fortunate enough to find Mrs. Hemplewaite passing, who rushed back with her to the toilet.

But the girls had made themselves scarce. Rosalind was washing her bleeding arm in the sink. Trudy was nursing a her shoulder. “I tried to stop them,” she said.

“Thank God you both came in,” said Rosalind.

“What have they done to you?” asked the teacher.

Rosalind explained what had happened. “They only made a small cut. It will heal,” she said, holding up her arm for them all to see.

“This won’t do at all,” said Mrs. Hemplewaite. “I’m going straight to the head’s office to make sure something is done about this.”

The girls were pleased at this comment. Mrs. Hemplewaite always DID what she said she was going to do, not like most of the teachers.

*** *** ***

Someone else grabbed Rosalind’s arm at lunch, it was Tchi. He said he’d heard on the grapevine what had happened. They arranged to meet up later.

*** *** ***

If Rosalind thought the surprises of her day were over, the afternoon was to prove her wrong. When she went to collect her exercise books for maths she was amazed to find her locker unlocked. This was perplexing. She always locked it. And more: there was an envelope inside it addressed to her. Who could have opened her locker to put this inside? She opened an envelope and found a message inside. It read:

We will swap what we want for what you want. We will return your cat on Thursday at 7.30 during 10th and 11th years Open Day/ Parents Evening. It will be inside a cat box and placed on a chair in the corner of the Physics Laboratory, Room 76. You will bring your granddad’s pocket watch that you gave him on his seventieth birthday and leave it on the chair. Trickery of any description will not be tolerated.

The message was in an ordinary white envelope. The message was typed in ‘Arial’, a common type face. The paper on which is was written was white A4, but it was unusual because it had a printed border of symbols around its edge. They all looked like big ‘U’s in triangles.

Rosalind read and examined the letter so many times that it suddenly dawned on her she would be late for Maths. During the lesson she read it under the table several more times. She was beginning to dare to hope Mitzi was alive and well, although she also realised this could be a cruel joke.

She caught Marie as she was going out the gate after school.

“How weird,” she said. “If you get your Granddad’s watch, I’ll come with you.”

“I’m going to see him in hospital tonight.”

“You’ve got to get it.”

“I know. Let’s show the letter to Tchi, he knows a lot about these girls.”

They walked round to the Chinese Restaurant in High Street. Next to it was a yard full of old cars that were in a varied state of renovation. Tchi was sitting in one of the cars revving it up.

“You’re too young to drive,” mocked Marie through the car window.

“I’m off the road. My dad don’t mind.”

“Get out here, Tchi. We need your brains,” said Rosalind

Tchi switched the engine off and read the letter that was placed before his eyes.

“You say you locked your locker?

“Yeah, it was locked, I’m sure.”

“Wow, this is weird.”

“It must have been that Marissa girl?” said Rosalind.

“Didn’t you hear what happened,” said Tchi. “They’ve all been suspended. It appears Della Mahri’s family are really upset about it. They’ve been given school work to do at home now.”

“Good old Mrs. Hemplewaite,” said Marie.

“I can’t see how they could have got this note in your locker before they were suspended from school,” said Tchi. “How could they have got into your locker without a key, especially on a day when they were being roasted in the Deputy Head’s office.”

“But it could be a sort of revenge.”

“Anyway,” asked Marie, “Are you going to come with us when Ros tries to get her cat back?”

“I’m fascinated by puzzles. You betcha,” said Tchi.

“I don’t know if I can get my Granddad’s watch yet,” said Rosalind, looking at her own watch. “I’m off.”

*** *** ***

Granddad was awake when Rosalind and her mum went to see him in hospital that night, but only just. The doctor said he was very weak and wasn’t eating much at all, and during the day they had done several tests on him, but it was too early to be specific as to what was wrong with him.

Mum sat and talked to him for a long time telling him things that she thought might cheer him up. Rosalind did her best to amuse him by daft things that had happened at school, although she didn’t feel at all cheerful herself. All the time, she was dying to ask him if she borrow his pocket watch. Eventually she broached the subject, because he was looking dangerously like he was going to fall off to sleep.

“Granddad,” she began, “I’d like to borrow your pocket watch I gave you for your birthday a few years ago. I need it for a school project.”

His eyes opened unusually wide and looked at her. “It’s in the top drawer of the bedside cabinet. I asked them to bring it to me in hospital. It means a great deal to me.”

“Would it be okay to borrow it?”

“Don’t go bothering your granddad with things like that at the moment,” said mum.

“Of course, you can borrow it,” said Granddad, almost smiling.

“Whatever do you want that for?” asked her mum.

“I need to draw it for a project,” said Rosalind.

“Make sure you look after it,” said mum.

Rosalind went to speak to Granddad again but he had fallen off to sleep, so she opened the drawer and there it was: a Victorian pocket watch with Roman numerals. She put it in her pocket.

CHAPTER 4

As she lay in bed that night, Rosalind was highly agitated and confused about what to do. She felt guilty about lying to mum and granddad about the reason for borrowing the watch. But what else could she do? If she had mentioned the letter in the locker, mum would have marched straight up to the school and made a fuss, and the chance of getting Mitzi back may have been lost. She couldn’t take that chance.

But she also felt terrible about swapping the watch which she had bought specially for his 70th birthday. It was a strange watch she thought, because she remembered getting lost in a strange wood when she returned home from the jewellers. It was coming back to her: It was in this wood she had met the tapir. No that can’t have been right. Everything was getting very strange.

Yet if she swapped the watch for her cat, she would lose Granddad’s watch forever. She would have to pretend that she had lost it – another lie. Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!

But then she had a crazy idea. The more she considered it the more she thought it might just be possible. It would mean bunking off school for a day, but that was nothing if it meant not upsetting poor old granddad and getting her cat back. So resolved, she said her prayers but fell off to sleep before she had finished them.

*** *** ***

Rosalind stood outside Hawthorn’s Antique and Jewellery shop. This was the jeweller’s she had originally bought Granddad’s watch from. She was feeling optimistic because the window displayed – as she had hoped –several replicas of the same watch and she had brought enough money. She also noticed that they still did engraving service there. Eureka! This was better than she had dreamed. It looked like her plan was going to work.

She went in the shop and asked to see the specific pocket watch in the window. Close up, she studied it in detail. The only difference between the two watches was that on the back of granddad’s a message had been etched:

To Wizicky Wazicky Wood

To Wizicky Wazicky Wood

When set benign

You slip through time

And space to chime

Wizicky Wazicky Wood

The back of the new one was clear silver with no inscription. She asked the shopkeeper if they could engrave a message on the back.

“Yes of course, we do it all the time,” the woman said.

“Could you do it like this?” she asked, showing her granddad’s watch.

“Exactly the same. That type of font we use all the time. In fact,” she said, squinting at Granddad’s watch, “The message looks familiar. It must be all the rage.”

“How much will it all cost?”

“It will be just £51.35p including the engraving.”

Rosalind had brought enough. She asked her to proceed, but requested a sticker to be fixed on Granddad’s watch so that she would know which watch was which after they had completed the engraving. The shopkeeper, looking somewhat bemused, shrugged her shoulders, and did as the young girl ordered. She put a small white rectangular price sticker on the back of Granddad’s watch just above the message.

**** **** ****

While it was being done, Rosalind went outside and window-shopped in the jewellery window, but then she came back in and tried to settle in a chair placed for waiting customers. She was fidgety because she was nervous. Things have gone okay so far, but they could still go wrong. And the whole thing could be a mistake and a waste of £51.

But nothing had gone wrong yet. The engraving was a perfect copy. Without the sticker she wouldn’t have been able to tell one from the other. She paid, pocketed the watch and left the shop.

“How very odd,” said the shopkeeper to her colleague after Rosalind had closed the shop door.

**** **** ****

“So you’re not coming to see Granddad this evening?” asked mum.

“I feel a bit low,” said Rosalind.

“Granddad underwent tests this afternoon, so he’ll probably be a bit woozy, or asleep anyway.”

“I’ll stay here.”

“Have you given up about Mitzi?” asked mum.

“Of course not,” said Rosalind.

“Well you’ve not been asking about her much since yesterday.”

“No, I just hope she comes back,” she said.

“So do I,” said mum, We’re having a dreadful time this week. It can’t get any worse.”

But things can always get worse.

After mum had left, Ros’s attention was divided between watching ‘Friends’, doing homework and comparing and studying the two pocket watches. The latter gradually taking most of her attention. She held one in each hand. “What on earth would anybody need one of these watches for? I can’t see it myself,” she said.

She began to feel strange, like she had the other day, like she was going to faint.

Then the sensation got much stronger. She heard a rushing wind come into her ears, and out of nowhere came blue lights speeding towards her, as if from some central infinite point. She stumbled to her feet and began to make her way to the kitchen, yet strangely she felt drawn to move in the opposite direction, and was walking as if as against an opposing force. She forced herself to the door. She could see, in her minds eye, herself collapsing and had absolutely no control over it happening. Yet she didn’t collapse.

As suddenly as it had started, the sensations began to fade. The rushing white noise was subsiding, and the blue lights had now gone leaving her vision normal. She slowly, tentatively went into the kitchen. She put down the watch on the kitchen table, and took a drink of tap water.

She felt exhausted. She’d go to bed. Tomorrow was Thursday and she had to make sure everything went well. She needed to get some sleep because the world was going crazy.

CHAPTER 5

Even though Thursday was an open day for visitors, lessons were held as normal. However, like an OFSTED inspection, the children had previously been requested, begged even, by their teachers to be on their best behaviour, as committed parents and prospective parents roamed around the school.

At 7.30 that evening Ros, Tchi and Marie stood outside the physics lab in E Block. There were a lot of people, mainly adults, in the room as Rosalind went in. She smiled at the physics teacher, Mr. Boyle, but he was so busy in discussion with a parent, he didn’t seem to notice her. She immediately cast her eyes around the lab and there it was!

Placed on a chair in the corner was a cat box. She slowly – her heart in her mouth – walked down to it and as nonchalantly as she could – gripped the handle. She lifted it. It was heavy. Something was in it, and it felt lopsided, but no meows were coming from it. She put the substitute pocket watch on the chair and walked slowly back towards the door, wishing that she and her baggage were invisible.

“Hello Rosalind,” said Mr. Boyle, now seeing her for the first time. He had less to occupy him now the room was rapidly thinning of parents.

“What are you doing down here tonight? It’s only for 10th and 11th years.”

Rosalind just stared at him. She was really stumped for what to say. In a minute he would ask her what was in her basket.

“Rosalind is one our bright young scientists,” said Mr. Boyle, to a passing parent who was heading for the door. As the teacher was so commenting Rosalind made a dash to get to it sooner, pushed past the adult and ran into the corridor. With Marie and Tchi following, she turned left down the next corridor and came out into the playground – which that night was more like a car park.

Rosalind hid behind a car and waited for the others to catch up. She had heard no cries of ‘Stop!’ or the sound of being chased by a teacher, so after a few seconds they walked to the edge of the playing fields which was illuminated by a the lights from the Sports Centre.

“There’s definitely something alive in here,” said Rosalind opening the top flap of the cat box. She sighed as she looked in. As she lifted Mitzi out, tears welled up in her eyes.

“Is it your cat?” asked Marie.

“It certainly is. Stop wriggling.”

“Is it hurt or damaged in any way?” asked Tchi.

Eventually Rosalind got a firmer hold onto Mitzi. The cat was purring.

“No, she seems fine. You look as if you’ve been fed, don’t you, my little darling. Come on, I’ll put you in the box and get you home.”

“What did you do with the watch?” asked Tchi.

“I put it on the chair.”

“Let’s go back and look through the window and see if its gone.”

Rosalind pulled her cheeks in and looked doubtful. “No. You two go. I want to get Mitzi home and give her a check up and some food.”

“Okay, let’s go,” said Marie.

**** **** ****

A few minutes later, as Rosalind was going down the alleyway by the school, she caught the sound of a cry coming from the Physics department. She thought she could make a lot of voices, but she didn’t go back. Rosalind knew Mitzi wanted to get out of the cat box as soon as she could.

She examined Mitzi at home, both that night and in the morning and could find nothing wrong with her in any way. Mum was overjoyed. “I found her at school,” said Rosalind, realising this was a sort of truth, and it left out having to go into all the other business.

**** **** ****

The following morning Marie came into Rosalind’s tutor group and told her what had happened the night before.

“We were walking towards the windows of the physics lab,” she said, “when we heard this dreadful scream. Suddenly a woman came flying out the exit next to the lab into the playground. She looked terrified. A man, who turned out to be her husband caught up with her and stopped her. She was as white as a ghost. Then Mr. Boyle came and joined them in conversation, which we could only partly hear. She was shouting ‘It was horrid, horrid’. She made a lot of noise saying she didn’t want to talk about it. She would never sleep again after seeing such a weird thing. She must be ill. They tried to get her to calm down, but she was close on hysterical. Mr. Boyle seemed perplexed and couldn’t understand what was wrong with her. Eventually her husband put her in a car and drove her away.”

“I heard the cry, I think,” said Rosalind

“Then we went to the lab window. The room was empty – no parents, no teachers, nothing. We both noticed at once – the pocket watch had gone.

**** **** ****

But the pocket watch soon returned.

Rosalind had to go to her locker for her first lesson. Once again she was staggered to find the locker unlocked. And yet she had made sure she had locked it yesterday after finding the envelope. Rosalind wondered who could get into her locker when it was locked in the first place. The only people who could do that would be people with access to keys, and that was the caretaker and the teachers, especially the higher management teachers.

And then another surprise. As soon as she had lifted the locker’s hatch fully, the pocket watch she had swapped the evening before lay in front of her on top of a white piece of paper, a note.

After a fleeting look at the watch she put it in her pocket and grabbed the note. It read:

This is not your Grandfather’s watch. Although we no longer have need for it, you will die for your deception.

Die?

After Ms. Millicent’s class she hurried around to find Marie. She showed her the letter. Marie insisted that she go and show it to the head.

“That’s nasty stuff that is. You perhaps should show it to the police,” said Maria.

“I don’t understand any of it. I’ve now got two watches and my cat – and yet I didn’t need the watch in the first place.”

“You two! Aren’t you supposed to be in class. Stop talking and get a move on.” It was Mr. Cleaver the Design Teacher. He was always a bit of a stickler.

“Let’s meet up at Tchi’s tonight. I’ll get a message to him,” said Marie. I won’t be around much longer today because we’re all off to the Leisure Centre for the rest of it.”

“Okay. If you see Tchi, tell him I’m going home for lunch. I want to see if Mitzi’s okay.”

“Just be careful.”

“Of course.”

**** **** ****

Tchi was quickly informed about the note that Rosalind had received and desperately wanted to have a look at it. At lunch-time he kept an eye out and spotted Rosalind through the main hall window walking down the alley way. He called after her, but she was a long way ahead.

He dodged around students running after her. He could see her at the bottom of a steep jetty, she had reached Brennan Road. As he quickly closed the distance between them – calling her name again – she walked across the road. As he arrived at the end of the jetty, approaching the kerb of Brennan Road, his eyes locked on to a black estate car coming out of nowhere, out of some close, accelerating like a guided missile aiming straight towards his friend. Rosalind turned her head but had no chance of ducking away from it. It caught her shoulder bag, clipped her body and cart wheeled her onto the pavement.

With his mouth hanging open aghast, Tchi stood on the kerb of Brennan Close looking across at Rosalind’s body, prostrate on the pavement.

Rosalind wondered at first if she was going to die as they wheeled her into the ambulance. She should feel terrible, arms and legs broken, but apart from a sore shoulder she didn’t feel too bad. Maybe she was in shock. She even stood up at the hospital but they told her off. She had number of X-rays and was put in ward 11B. The next thing she remembered was waking up feeling terrible, with people, all around her, talking and staring at her.

“Hello darling,” said her mum.

“What happened?” asked Rosalind. She felt very stiff.

“A hit and run,” said mum, “But you’re going to be okay dear, for the love of God. According to the doctors, it appears nothings broken. You might be a bit concussed.”

“My shoulder hurts like hell.”

“It’s not dislocated or broken, just badly bruised,” said the nurse. “It will be sore for a while. You’ve been a very lucky girl.”

“Tchi called the ambulance services on his mobile, and then called me,” said mum, “so you have him to thank for getting you into hospital so quick.”

Tchi sat silently, looking down at his hands, more in confusion than embarrassment.

Rosalind remembered the threat to kill her. “Did they find out who ran me over?” she asked.

“No,” said the nurse, “but it seems that the police want to talk to you about it. Now you’ve had a sleep, do you feel strong enough to talk to PC Bill?”

“I don’t know anything.”

The nurse went and pushed through the swing doors. Through the glass panels she could be seen beckoning someone with her finger. A policeman followed her back into the ward.

“Hello Rosalind,” he said, nodding to everyone before continuing. “We’ve already talked to Tchi. Can you tell me what happened?”

“I can’t remember much at all. I was crossing the road and this big black car suddenly was coming at me, it was only inches away, and then bang! I can’t really remember that.”

“Well we need you to make a statement.”

“Can we do that later, when she’s a little better,” asked mum.

“Okay. I didn’t think you’d have much to add. We think we’ve found the car. Tchi described it as an old black Vauxhall Chevette Estate. He even remembered the number plate, although it wasn’t much use.”

“It was black, but all cars look the same to me,” said Rosalind.

“It was found abandoned only a couple of streets away. We’re having difficulty tracing its owner because the registration plates have been removed and all the engine and reference numbers have been also been removed. It was free of finger prints, although there seems to be a lot of rather peculiar hair on the head rests of the seats.”

“I told you,” said Tchi, his eyes looking slightly wild.

The policeman sniggered at Tchi. “You’ve been helpful, but there’s no need to be ridiculous, sonny.” He turned to Rosalind’s mother. “Let me give you the crime incident number.”

**** **** ****

Eventually the nurse turfed everyone out, as visiting time had ended 15 minutes previously, and Rosalind needed to rest. Tomorrow she may be released, but for tonight she would be kept in for observation. “Give my love to Granddad,” she said to mum.

“He’s in the ward upstairs above you,” she said. “Most of my family are in hospital,” she said to the nurse, “let’s pray they all soon get out and well again.”

Five minutes after everyone had gone, Tchi returned and popped his head around the end of Rosalind’s bed.

“There’s something I’ve not told you,” he whispered.

“Yes.”

He came closer. “I told the police – and they just laughed at me but I didn’t tell anyone else.”

“Spill the beans,” said Rosalind.

“Hey! You shouldn’t still be here!” shouted the nurse coming back from the end of the ward. “Come on, she’s tired out.”

“One minute!” shouted Rosalind. “Give him one minute.”

“If he’s still here when I get back from collecting a towel, he’ll be for it,” said the nurse going off again.

“Tell me,” said Ros, staring at Tchi.

“The car that hit you was driven by animals.”

“Animals?”

“I only saw the faces. There were two of them. One driving and one in the front passenger seat. They looked like dogs or wolves.”

“What driving a car!”

“That’s what the police said. But remember what PC Bill said about the hair found on the seats.”

“Possibly masks,” said Rosalind.

“Out!” shouted the nurse, who had returned and this time was not to be argued with.

CHAPTER 6

Rosalind signed out of the hospital on Saturday morning. Sitting in the car, mum filled her in on Granddad’s progress.

“He seemed brighter yesterday, when he was awake, but that was not for long. He’s losing a lot of weight, because he’s hardly eating.”

“Have they figured out what’s wrong with him yet?”

“They think he might have had a stroke with other complications.”

“Oh mum,” said Rosalind, the words coming out like a sigh, “is he going to be alright?”

“They say he’s satisfactory.”

Tchi phoned Rosalind that afternoon and asked her how she was. He asked if he and Marie could come to see her that evening and talk about things.

“Yeah that would be great. Mum’s going out, so we’ll have the place to ourselves.”

“Before we come, I’ll go round to dad’s kitchens and get some Chinese. Any particular dish you fancy?”

“I like mushrooms,” said Ros. “Anything with mushrooms in.”

Tchi and Marie arrived at Winslow Close a few minutes after six thirty, laden with brown paper bags and white plastic cartons, which effused mouth-watering sensations. They laid the goodies out on the kitchen table. They decided to slum it and put their meals on trays and sit in the lounge with the TV on.

Marie was simultaneously picking at her food and examining both of the pocket watches.

“I’m really pleased the fake one didn’t get smashed when I hit the pavement,” said Rosalind. “It cost me over fifty pounds.”

“Phewy!” whistled Marie.

Tchi asked to have a watch to examine. The children passed the watches between them at the same time as they ate, chatted and half-watched MTV. “You’re dad’s restaurant does good food,” said Rosalind.

“Why do you keep passing me the same watch?” she asked several minutes later.

“I didn’t,” said Tchi. “I’m just passing along the one that comes to me.”

“Where’s the real watch, the one with the white sticker on it?”

Marie put her finger to her thick lips and guiltily looked at Ros. “I took that off, I wanted to see if there was anything underneath it.”

“Oh you idiot,” said Rosalind. “That sticker was how I could tell one watch from the other. Now I won’t know which watch to give Granddad back.”

“Sorry,” said Marie.

“Does it really matter?” asked Tchi.

Ros looked at the watch that was in her hand to see if she could detect any glue on the back, but something odd was happening.

Her hand seemed to be vibrating, and the room was filling with hiss, an ever-increasing distortion in her ears. The room began to throb. Blue points of light began to come towards her making her feel she was spinning, yet simultaneously moving at breakneck speed. The hissing had become so loud her eardrums must burst. She got to her feet, but the room all around her was white. Then the blue lights began to recede, and the hissing diminished, but other noises invaded her ears: shouting and rumbling. She can’t recognise the purple walls or the strange patterns of suns and moons by her feet. One hand clings to the pocket watch, but the other hand trembles and lets a fork slip. The moons and suns of the carpet are now covered with a mouthful of mushroom foo yung.

HAPPENINGS AT BLACKAMOOR MANOR

 ©1990 by Michael Skywood Clifford

Simon Alterman was a nerd. No one liked him and all the boys in my tutor group teased him rotten. He now stood before me, bespectacled and swamped in his maroon anorak. His badges shimmered in the moonlight, like milk bottle tops. He was shaped oddly, with a body like a pillar box, topped with a babylike head that was too far too big. He didn’t only look like a baby but usually acted like one, not like a kid of thirteen. I was now discovering just how cowardly he was.

“I don’t think I want to do it anymore,” he said.

“Yes, you do,” I said dropping down into a crouching position like a frog, “I’ve got to. I don’t want to be called chicken, now get on my back.”

He was no heavier than a medicine ball as I straightened up bearing his weight on my shoulders. I could feel him stretching up for the brick wall. I felt his feet lift off my shoulder, return again and then lift off again. At one point I thought he was going to fall.

“How am I going to get down? Its a long jump,” he griped. He sat above me now, with his legs out of sight, dangling over into the garden

“Hold on. I’m coming up.”

I’ve always been something of a fly so it didn’t take me long to join him, and soon we were both staring into the dark grounds of Blackamoor Manor.

Blackamoor Manor and its brick walled gardens had always frightened me ever since I was a kid. The house was old and ramshackle building that would make an ideal dwelling place for Dracula. All the times I had known it I had never seen anyone come in or out. It had been the talking point in the school playground for years with some of my mates. For all its thousands of decaying rooms only one room had ever been seen with a light on, and that was the room right at the back of the house near the east wing. One day when we were talking about it Mary Lawrence bet us all that we were too chicken to go and visit the window at night time.

Sitting on the wall I thought that next time any girl dares me to do something they can go and take a running jump.

Everybody at school fancied Mary Lawrence from 3C and when she had said that she’d go out with anyone who would show how brave they were everyone’s ears pricked up. All the lads in our class fancied themselves as having lots of bottle so we decided to draw lots to see which two were going to attempt it first. I never thought I’d come up with the right numbers and nor did the pale figure who sat on the wall beside me. It all sounded exciting when we were talking about it at school, but now I wasn’t so sure. But I wasn’t going to chicken out….yet.

I clambered down the wall, and helped Simon down. He was shivering. Once inside the trees I felt his arm tugging my shoulder.

“Don’t go too fast, Steve. I might lose you, and then I wouldn’t be able to get out.”

“Stop whingeing,” I whispered.

About twelve yards past the dark trees we came across another wall – only about three foot high – which surprised us both; it couldn’t be seen from the road. It surprised me particularly which probably explained why I walked into it. We were saved the trouble of climbing over it though because we found an archway further along it which saved us any further trouble. Once through it we carried on along a dimly lit path tightly avenued with tall bushes which obscured our view of the manor. Eventually this path came out onto a brightly lit semi-circle of lawn, together with many other paths. Stepping back quickly out of the cast light from the lone window I could now see the room we were heading for.

We now stood at the edge of the long velvet lawn which was floodlit by the window light. From here the manor looked even more enormous and evil and creepier than ever, and when Simon arrived before it he stopped in his tracks with awe. I quickly pulled him back out of the light that strayed across the grass. He eyes blinked rapidly for a moment and then he said “I’m off,” and would have been if I hadn’t grabbed him. He was going nowhere.

When I glanced at the window again it was easy to see what had bothered him. It wasn’t just the creepy-crawly nature of the place, but something far more eerie. Three hundred yards before us the room that we had promised to spy on not only had a light on but something in it which made our knees knock together. A silhouetted figure stood motionless in the lighted window.

I ducked back and try to discuss with Simon what to do. I don’t think he heard a word because his chattering teeth made more noise than my whispers. Somehow though he got the message. I had figured out that if we went back to the garden’s inner wall we could approach the window from the side of the house instead of approaching it directly down the garden in the spotlight of the window. Any sort of retreat was popular with Simon.

It didn’t take us too long to find our way round to the house, although it was very dark and we had to be careful not to fall over anything, like brambles, and discarded bits of gardening equipment. I lead the way of course, making sure that Simon was following. Mary Lawrence was going to be mine. She would never speak to me again if we ran off, and I had to have a witness, so Simon was definitely coming.

We could see the glare of the window from the side as we began to corner an old buttress. I knew that once we’d got round this we’d be standing adjacent to the window. I took a deep breath before I sidled up against it. I could make sure that I’d be out of sight of the figure to start with, but what would happen when I peeked in. I had no idea how close the figure had been to the window, but it must have been close. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the window had had some curtains, but it hadn’t. I silently moved into place, and then heard Simon wheezing behind me. I could have kicked him. I didn’t want to get caught now.

I had the whole of my spine, the back of my head included, pressed like a sardine up against the cold clammy wall. My breath was turning into jets of steam as it met the rays of light that shone from the window. My fingers were cold and all the joints in my body felt stiff. It seemed an age before I turned and looked into the window. Then I did.

My heart was in my mouth. Standing in front of me was a big black figure towering over above me, without a head and only one leg. I must have squealed or something to upset Simon because he fell into me and found himself looking as well.

I don’t know who began laughing first. I think we started both together. It took about thirty seconds to realise it wasn’t a big black monster at all but a tailors dummy placed right in front of the window. Our laughing became louder and louder and I kept pushing Simon on the shoulder and giggling, then he’d do the same to me. It was all so silly.

But then Simon’s laughter stopped and his expression changed. I didn’t notice this at first because I couldn’t see what he could see over my shoulder through the window. I kept giggling and pushing him, but his forehead had furrowed and his face, pale enough in this light anyway, seemed to have become drained of blood, and in a short moment his eyes seemed to turn to slits. I gradually got the gist that something was up and felt a cold shudder up my spine even before I turned round and saw it. I twisted my neck round, swivelling my eyes to catch a peek of what Simon could see in full glory. It was a white ghostly figure floating down the bare floor boards of the room towards the tailor’s dummy and towards us. All I can say is that this had the same effect upon me as a super-power laxative. Suddenly I was running.

But it was not so easy to leave as it had been to arrive. Blackness descended upon us. The window light had been obliterated – and the moon was no help as it was obscured by the house. I’ve never been so frightened in my life. Blackness everywhere, with the occasional hoot of an owl. I stumbled around hopelessly; having no idea in which direction I was travelling. I heard a door slam behind me so I began running in the opposite direction. I just kept running, and at last I could see a dark blue sky cutting through the tall verticals of the trees above me giving me the slightest hint of direction. I found the inner wall and fell into it again in my haste. Without time to find the archway through I climbed over it scratching my legs badly. Soon I was scaling the outer wall of Blackamoor Manor. Then I was on the pavement. I didn’t stop running until was two blocks away. Poor old Simon. I’m sorry Simon, but I can’t come back and help you out now. You shouldn’t have volunteered.

Poor old Simon.

The next morning when I went into school I was taken aback by the first person I saw. Simon. Smiling from ear to ear. But worse was to come. He had his arm in Mary Lawrence’s. While I stared at them both in total amazement my brain almost fizzled to a milk shake as she leant down and gave him a kiss on the lips. There was something wrong here. She supposed to be doing that to me. I walked over. It was Mary who began the conversation.

“So what happened to you last night then?” she said with her nose in the air. ” I always thought you were a bit too big for your boots. Scared off by me wearing a sheet over my head were you? Simon here wasn’t. He just stood by the window waiting to face the ghost. That’s what I call courage.”

I looked down at Simon who looked some what like a cartoon cat who had got the cream. I felt like hitting his smug baby’s head. He looked up, his smile spreading even more, which was impossible.

“It was her house, you see, ” he was saying. “She did it to see who was brave enough to go out with her.” She lives with her dad in a flat in the front part of the manor. You can’t see it from the back. That room is usually lit up because it is usually used by a teacher who does dress-making work in the evening.”

“When I heard all you lads going on about how haunted the manor was I thought I’d play a bit of a trick on you,” said Mary smiling. “I decided I’d go out with the boy who showed the most bravery and..” she gave Simon a cuddle, “I have.”

I couldn’t believe it. Not Simon. Yuk! Not Simon!

“Simon’s very sweet,” she said.

Ends

word count1973

THE BLACKSMITH AND HIS WIFE

©1980 by Michael Clifford

Near the village of Balar Beimann, in a small cottage, lived a skilled blacksmith and his wife. On the first day of autumn the smith returned home from his forge to find his wife sitting at her loom with tears running like a stream down her face.

What is wrong, my love?” he asked.

We have waited for seven years to have a child and no fruit have I born. I have much around me to make me happy but I am barren and the love for own child burns within and will soon be extinguished.”

Hearing this made the smith downcast for, like his wife, he dearly longed for a son, or a daughter. He went to the village and sought council of the wise old man of Balar Beimann who, in turn, advised him to travel to Gascony to find the revered magician of the mountains.

The blacksmith travelled for seven days and seven nights. At last, on the eighth morning he emerged from a thick forest of dark oak to find the magician’s castle before him. He sought out the magician and spoke to him of his desire. The magician at last spoke: “It is not wise for you to have a child, some fields need to be barren to enrich the earth. Be proud of your fruitfulness in all else. Tell this to your wife: love other’s children. You need no child. You have everything you want. Heed this well.”

The blacksmith was vexed and upset by this advice and ranted and pleaded for his need to be fulfilled, but the magician would only repeat the same words.

When the blacksmith arrived back at his cottage footsore and weary, he found his wife sitting at her loom with tears like a river running down her cheeks.

What is wrong my love?”

We have waited for seven years and seven months to have a child and no fruit have I born. I have much around me to make me happy, but I am barren and the love for my own child burns within and will soon be extinguished.”

he told her the purpose of his travels and of his meeting with the magician. He spoke the magician’s words. “Some fields need to be barren to enrich the earth. Be proud of your fruitfulness in all else. Love other’s children. You need no child. You have everything you want. Heed this well.” At these utterances the blacksmith’s wife fell to weeping on the kitchen tiles and her river of tears became an ocean.

Now the blacksmith dearly loved his wife more than he loved himself and was much grieved to see her in such melancholy. After the magician’s words he resolved to live without a child, but he knew his wife would die or wane with the moon unless she conceived, and used her burning love.

He had a plan, but it lay on him with much fear. He had heard from one of the forge apprentices who lived in the nearby town of Cruahawn the tales of a wicked but powerful witch, evil beyond measure, who was reputed to live in the country by. Without telling his wife the purpose of his journey he bade farewell and he travelled ever in the neighbouring county to find the witch. At last in a wood of braying wolves and with the leaves adance in the moonlight above, she appeared to him.

She was dressed in red scarlet gossamer which floated down from her slim body and her outstretched arms. To either side of her were tiny women, of whom each only had one eye. The floated above her, wearing the same loose red swathes of silk crepe. The blacksmith was transfixed with fear.

The beautiful witch began to speak. “I understand, blacksmith, why you are here. Now listen hard: I shall agree to your request upon this one condition: When you hear a clock strike the hour you will say aloud, ‘Oh ‘tis true, ‘tis true like my heart!’ After every stroke. If you do not do this your wife will surely turn to stone. Do you accept this condition?”

If I agree to it, you will make my wife with child?”

Surely.”

I agree.”

Then it is done.”

As soon as the apparition had vanished the blacksmith became so fearful of what he had seen he sped home as fast as his legs would carry him and resolved to tell no one, not even his wife, of his meeting.

One year later the blacksmith’s wife gave birth to a red-eyed daughter, which they called Rapoza. She was a sickly child and often in bad spirits, but apart from her humours her mother and father were happy.

Now the blacksmith had not told his wife of his bargain with the witch in case it should frighten her, but as a caution against the witch’s trickery he had removed all the clocks from the house and buried them. To replace them he erected a sundial in the yard. His wife found this new arrangement irksome and very impractical.

Seven years had gone by without event when one afternoon the wife heard the knocking of a hand on the outside door. It was a tradesman whose horse had lost a shoe on his way to Cruahawn. While the blacksmith led the horse away to be shod, the wife eyed with glee the trader’s furniture on his cart. Rapoza took a fancy to a large brown clock and also her mother too. She wound it, set it and placed it on the mantel, and all three stood back to admire it. At that moment the smith returned and when he saw the clock he became sick with fear and insisted the trader remove it hastily and go.

I like the clock,” said his wife. “I wish to keep it. I have paid silver gilder for it.”

It is of no matter, the clock must go!”

You may be the master of this house, but I wish to keep the clock. Do I have no say? Am I just a provider of meals?”

At he began to reply the clock struck loudly.

Oh ‘tis true, ‘tis true like my heart.”

You don’t consider me or your daughter at all!” she cried. The clock struck the second time.

Oh ‘tis true, ‘tis true like my heart.”

So now, I know you have never care for me at all. Is that so? I darest though to say it.”

The clock struck again.

Oh ‘tis true, ‘tis true like my heart.”

And when the man’s gone you are going to set about chastising mummy with blows, aren’t you,” said Rapoza

The clock struck its forth stroke.

Oh ‘tis true, ‘tis true like my heart.”

This was too much to bear for the blacksmith’s wife and she implored the tradesman to take her and Rapoza to Cruahawn, to her mother’s cottage. Upset by what he had witnessed he agreed in spite of the pleas of the blacksmith. The blacksmith cried out in anguish as his wife and daughter, sitting in the trader’s cart, rode off down the hill.

The afternoon following the blacksmith’s head was laid heavy as lead upon the table when he heard a hand knock at the outside door.

They are but returned,” he said with joy. He rose quickly, but his brightness left him when he found two men in King’s colours with frozen faces appear before him.

You are to come with us. You are summoned to appear before the county courts.”

Disbelieving his ill-fortune he prepared himself quickly to be accompanied to Cruahawn.

On the way he began to ask questions, but neither of the men’s faces thawed and less so did their tongues. He was much troubled in his heart that his wife, whom he loved so dearly, could put him to this.

He stood in the dock with the judge hovering before him.

How does the defendant plead?”

The blacksmith espied his wife and daughter in the court and waved to them.

How does the defendant plead?”

Excuse me, my lord, but I have no knowledge of what I be accused of.. apart from the sad affair of a disagreement. A small misunderstanding between me and my wife.” He waved at them again.

A man in a wig stood up and spoke. “M’lud, the defendant is obviously pretending to be unaware of the simple argument behind the prosecution case. Permit me to ask him a few questions before he answers.”

Objection,” said another wigged man standing quickly. “The defendant should not be cross examined at this stage M’lud.”

I see no harm in a few questions,” said the judge. “Objection overruled.”

The first man was back on his feet again and asked these questions of the blacksmith.

Yesterday afternoon your wife and daughter left your house with a furniture trader after an argument. Is that so?”

It is.”

You tried to stop them leaving?”

It was so. I love my wife and daughter.”

And you hated the tradesman?”

Aye. I did so, sir, yesterday.”

Why was that?”

Because he, unknowing to himself, started the argument.”

Surely it was because he ran off with your wife.”

Well.. not exactly.. Only in a manner of speaking.”

Let me put the truth to you like this. He rode off with your wife and daughter much against your wishes. You hated him, as you’ve already spoken on oath, and so you mounted a horse, overtook the cart by some circuitous route and then attacked it from behind. You shot him dead with a gun and rode back home.”

The blacksmith was overcome with such shock he had to hold himself steady against the dock.

You realise that we have one witness who says she recognised you attacking the cart.”

The blacksmith looked round the court as if he was deep in a dream. Then his gaze settled on his daughter with her hard red eyes staring straight back at him. His wife was sitting next to her with her head drooped, with tears running like a river down her face. He felt so much in his heart for his wife and knew she loved him. When he looked back to the benches he saw the judge was about to speak.

Let me ask again. How does the defendant plead?”

The blacksmith was so mortified by what he had heard and he heart was so full that his voice did not stir.

Let me put it plain to you,” the judge said, near to losing his moderate humour. “Did you murder the tradesman who rode off with your wife? Are you guilty?”

Just at that moment a clock – at the back of the court – struck the hour.

 

 

 

ENDS 1805

BORIS’S TALE

©1987 by Michael Clifford

A short story competition in the Writer magazine. Write a story – within stipulated word limit – ending with the last paragraph.

Boris, an overweight and out of condition grey mouse, fled down the hallway, nervously shooting rapid glances behind him as he went: first this way, then that, then back again. With his ears held sharply back and his tail swishing the floor, he scurried over the patterned tiles feeling terror, guilt and anxiety all at the same time. He blamed himself bitterly. Squeaker, his youngest son, had gone missing and it was all his own fault.

As Boris raced along he rued the evening he had told Squeaker of those wild adventures of the Great Grandpa Rigby, those adventures in which Rigby had always won the upper hand over the humans. If he hadn’t have told the tales so well Squeaker would be safe at home. But it was too late to think about that now. He had and Squeaker had silently slipped off to seek his own adventures in the world of humans and had not been seen for two days. The little fool had no idea of the danger he was putting himself in! He was so young and inexperienced he would surely get eaten!

Confound Grandpa Rigby and his adventurous lifestyle! For all his storytelling that sort of lifestyle had never appealed to Boris at all. It had been years since he had dared to move about inside the house during the day. He was quite happy, thank you, keeping to the safety of the wainscoting. Whoever was it who said that fiction didn’t influence young minds. Woodshavings! Whoever said it should be fed to a cat.

Boris slithered through the ajar door into the room at the front of the house. Squeaker must be in here! This was the only room he hadn’t thoroughly searched.

The door bell rang.

He stood on the carpet in the centre of the room. It seemed safe enough.

Above him blinding daylight flooded through a bay window making him squint as he looked around. A big sideboard was covered with ornaments and vases of flowers. The room was full of materials of all kinds hanging from walls, hanging by the sides of windows, and covering the floor. Humans liked material. He wondered if they ate it.

He carefully sniffed the carpet. His heart raced for a moment when he thought he could whiff his son, but then when his nose quickly raced back to the same spot he couldn’t find it. The carpet smelled pungent: of cat and human smells – particularly that plant stuff that humans smoke out of their mouths. After a while he had to stop sniffing because it made his nostrils sore.

His heart leapt; his body froze. Danger! Earlier he had heard someone come in the front door. Then he had heard voices in the hall. Now someone was entering the room. No four feet. That meant two people. He darted under the settee, but he could see them. There was a woman who wore some red dangling berries around her ears. (How strange – how did humans grow berries on their ears?). A man with a brief case. He wore black shoes. Boris’s twisty reflection dazzled back at him from their shiny surface. (Why did humans wear mirrors on their feet?) The door was closed.

Eek! How was he going to get out?

Well! What a surprise! My, oh, my, oh, my,” said the man.

It’s simply ages since I’ve seen you, Harold” replied the woman enthusiastically. “How long is it? It must be at least ten years since. Do you know I can’t bear to listen to Victor Sylvester’s records anymore because they remind me too much of those wonderful times we used to have. What a tremendous surprise. I didn’t know you lived around here. And to think – all this time you’ve been working down at the old council.”

Well yes… I must say you are looking very well. You look quite ravishing.”

If I’d have known there was a fiery old flame like you down in the old rat catcher’s department I’d have planted a few rats myself to get you up here, Harold.”

Ha! Actually I’m not a rat catcher, Marjorie, I’m a Public Health Inspector. Anyway I thought it was mice?”

Yes. Yes it is. Do you know what happened, Harold? Listen. Can I call you Harry, like the old times? It’s not as though we don’t know each other extremely well is it? You don’t mind?”

Not at all, Marjorie. You were saying?”

Oh yes… those creatures are.. despicable! I’ve never been so scared in my life. I was in here yesterday minding my own business, heightening the hem of one of my miniskirts – I can see by the smile you haven’t forgotten my old miniskirts, you rogue! Oh where was I, oh yes. Anyway, would you believe it, this damn little brown mouse started trying to climb my leg. Scream? You’ve never heard anything like it. I kicked it off and ran out of the room and shut the door. I tried to find Tiddles in the garden but he was nowhere to be seen. He’s never been much of a mouser at the best of times anyway. He seems to lack the killer instinct.”

Boris’s whiskers bristled with rage. How dare she kick her son off her leg! He was only trying to be friendly. There was no telling what these fiendish monsters would do next.

Ah, so it is mice?” said the man. “If you’ve seen one of the little blighters, it’s likely you’ll have them all over the house.” The man pointed to his brief case. “There’s a form you need to fill in about the poison. While you are doing that I’ll just check the place over for you to see where they are coming from Marjorie.”

Boris was thinking hard. Perhaps Squeaker was no longer in the room. Earlier when the lounge door had been open Squeaker might have escaped. Maybe he was hiding somewhere in the room? He’d better have a quick look round anyway if only to find himself somewhere to hide.

Don’t do everything in a hurry, Harry,” said the woman, purring louder than any cat. “Sit yourself down on the settee and I’ll get you a brandy. I need someone reliable and strong like you to help me fill in this form. There you are. There’s nothing wrong with getting nice and comfy is there? Is that better? Remember?”

Yes Marjorie, it’s very nice. I say… I wouldn’t say no to a brandy. That is… hey steady on there, you’re tickling me.”

Let’s save that for a moment, shall we? A brandy for the gentleman. Of course. I’ll also go and see if Tiddles has come in yet. He might make your work extremely easy if he’s in the mood. If he is in the mood, Harry, he certainly isn’t the only one. And it’s such a warm afternoon, Harry, I might just slip into something more comfortable.”

Could you make that a double brandy, Marjorie?”

Boris’s whiskers were now snuffling around the carpet, but he could still find no new fresh trail. He wished he’d known where she’d been sitting when she had kicked his son off. He wasn’t sure what to do.

Minutes later the woman returned. The woman’s re-entrance into the room further convinced Boris of the peculiarity of humans. She had said she was going to slip into something more comfortable and yet it seemed that all she had done was slip out of most of what she had been wearing. He watched her put a tray down on the coffee table and then go out again, calling behind her, “Tiddles is here. I’ll just go and get him.” She shut the door behind her.

Tiddles was not a particularly dangerous cat, but even the most lethargic cat was given considerable respect by Boris. He had to hide. He didn’t have to look far. The underside of the settee had many holes; the widest of which his teeth rapidly enlarged until the hole allowed him to pass quickly inside the foam webbing.

Sanctuary came none too quickly. He caught the woman’s voice and the waft of cat simultaneously.

Now Harold, here’s your brandy. And I’ve brought the bottle in as well to keep us company. Tiddles here..” Boris felt a nearby thump on the floor and vile cat-stench, “Tiddles here can go and find the mouse while you… while you … smother me in kisses.”

Oh Marjorie.”

Oh Harry I can’t believe it’s you.”

Boris didn’t understand human conversation at all. He thought they had already introduced themselves to each other.

Dad, dad…”

Squeaker. Is that you I can hear?”

Yes. I’m down here. Can you see my tail? I’m down here in the lining.

And there he was. Squeaker, with moist red eyes and wilted ears. He looked all in.

Are you hurt, my darling? Oh praise the Lord of the Long Tail! Oh you’ve been so naughty. You’re mother is furious and you can’t imagine how much you’ve upset your brothers and sisters and me.”

I’m sorry dad. Soz. I won’t do it again. No, I’m not hurt. I thought I’d twisted my ankle but I’m alright. I want to go home. What’s all that noise going on, and why is the settee shaking so much, dad?”

I don’t know Squeaker, just hold on.”

They kept completely quiet, swaying around in the foam as the settee seemed to pulsate this way and that. Suddenly they heard a loud cry of anger. It was the woman.

Damn it, Harold! Every time we start to show each other what we feel for each other that cat jumps on your blasted lap and you start to stroke it. How am I expected to feel!”

I’m terribly sorry, Marjorie. It’s just that I can’t stop it. Every time I put it down it simply jumps back up.”

Well, you don’t have to stroke the cat. It supposed to me you’re stroking. It supposed to be mousing. You’re encouraging it.”

No, I’m not. To be quite honest it seems to be more interested in my brandy than me, Marjorie.”

Well I’m not playing second fiddle to that thing. It can go back into the garden. And as for being more interested in the brandy than me I know what you mean!”

Boris and Squeaker felt the settee spring higher as someone got off it, and heard the whelp of the cat. “I’m putting him out the back door and then Harold I’m coming back and I’m putting you out the front door. Understand?.”

I’m going immediately,” said Harold tersely

Come on son. It’s time to go. Let’s hope they don’t close the door before it’s too late.”

Boris had no need to fear, when they emerged from the settee the room was empty and the door was open. A mad dash down the hall, across the passageway and they both arrived at home safe and sound.

That evening Boris described to his wife and children how exciting and dangerous the whole day had been. Boris felt quite grand over dinner, like a returned conqueror. He would add his own adventures to those of his great grandpas.

It had been pretty terrifying but it had made him feel young and adventurous again and he had found out many new things about humans. They grow berries on their ears, have to continually drink stuff called brandy, and they like to introduce themselves to each other lots of times.

In the end it had all been worth it. Somehow he felt the experience had deepened his understanding of this strange world. Nonetheless he knew he would never attempt such a thing again.

1952 words
I won third prize and £30

WIZICKY WAZICKY WOOD

©  1978 Story and illustrations Michael Skywood Clifford

CHAPTER ONE

“I’ve got it at last!” squealed Rosalind as she stepped out of the antique shop into the sunshine. The warm summer air breathed over her, making her skin tingle with delight.

Gripping a carrier bag in one hand, Rosalind bounced her way out of Palingham village. Under a rich blueberry sky smeared with ice cream clouds, she hurried along a country lane, giggling with pleasure.

Keen to get home as quick as she could, she crossed the road, climbed a fence, wandered across the golf course and arrived at a hedge under which she crawled to take a short cut through the spinney at the back of the golf course.

Inside her carrier bag lay the reason for her joy – in fact, so much so, she just couldn’t wait until she got home. She wanted to have another look at what she had  bought!

Once beneath the canopy of leaves in the spinney, she picked her way carefully through a carpet of bluebells, past some wild honeysuckle, and pleasantly becoming engulfed in a cloud of its heady scent. Near a gurgling stream, she plonked herself down on a fallen log and opened her carrier bag.

She withdrew a small white cardboard box. After taking its lid off, she removed three separate wrappings of tissue-paper. Moments later, a silver prize lay gleaming in the palm of her hand: a heavy Victorian pocket watch with elegant carved Roman numerals! Rosalind wound it, set it and put it to her ear. Tick-tick-tick-tick….. It sounded brand new, not over a hundred years old. She was sure Granddad would love it! At last, after all her saving and planning, today was the day she would be able to give it to him.

Mum was collecting granddad from hospital at three o’clock, now that his operation had been successfully completed. He would be as fit as a fiddle after a few days rest and be able to potter about the garden just as he used to. Granddad loved antiques and finely engineered instruments and this watch would look perfect in the pocket of his burgundy waist coat. She wrapped it as before, boxed it, placed it back inside her carrier bag and put the bag down and looked around her and giggled again.

She stared down at the woodland floor below, at the moving shadows formed by leaves touched with the lightest of breezes. A nightingale chirped above happily. It was delightful to sit still…..to sit still and allow the peace of the place to work its magic. Then a scurrying sound in the undergrowth caught her attention. She went to investigate, and grinned.

Behind a holly tree, a stone’s throw away from her, was an enormous raven. Having never seen one before, she was determined to get a better look. She crept closer hardly daring to breathe. The black raven, oblivious of Rosalind, grubbed in the earth, its huge beak scattering the leaves and twigs in all directions.

Closer and closer she crept. And only when she was the length of her own shadow away did the enormous bird freeze, fix her with a fierce unblinking eye, and take to the air with such an undignified flapping that Rosalind squealed with laughter!

What a day! Everything was wonderful!

But then…..Disaster!

CHAPTER TWO

For when Rosalind returned to collect her carrier bag she had a shock. Even though she’d only been yards from it, her carrier bag lay on its side and was completely empty.  She checked inside the bag and around the log to find Granddad’s watch – but the watch had gone.

It surely must have fallen out amongst the leaves, but no. Despite frantic searching, no sign of it could she find. Brushing leaves and twigs from her dress and knees she tried to keep calm. She couldn’t have left the watch at the shop because she had looked at it only five minutes ago. How could anyone have stolen it? She would have  heard if anyone had crept up to the carrier bag. She pricked up her ears and scoured the surroundings, listening and looking for any sound or sight that would give her a clue.

Apprehension ran across her face as she spotted something small and white a few yards down the path. She went over to examine it and groaned: as she feared it was the white cardboard box top. After picking it up, she noticed at a further distance, another white object in the brown landscape. This was the bottom of the box. Ten yards further along, she found the first of the tissue paper wrappings.

“And whatever’s that?” she gasped aloud, “I’ve never seen that in here before.”

Past another patch of bluebells stood a sandstone wall about twice her height. All she could see above it were tree tops.

“It’s like a wood inside a wood,” she said to herself. “It must be someone’s private garden.”

She walked along the wall for some distance until she rounded a corner to come across a most extraordinary entrance made of white stone. Quite astonished by her discovery, her eyes widened to read a carved inscription on the archway:

    ‘Wizicky-Wazicky Wood’

and her mouth fell open at the sight of two sculpted lions that towered over her and stood at either side. As the gate between these was wide open, Rosalind peered through. The dim light beyond the gate picked out trees that seemed very odd – being far too closely packed together. Nevertheless, a long way ahead, Rosalind could see another small white object on the path -which must be another piece of tissue paper – so if granddad’s watch was in there, she was going in there, whether the place was spooky or not!

Once through the gate, the narrow path stretched straight before her, fading in the dim distance. Way above, branches tangled and twisted, only allowing the feeblest watery green haze to filter through. Rosalind felt mistrustful of these colossal trees – how could all these exist within her small spinney. Wide trunked, and tightly-packed, they crowded either side of the narrow path, inviting her to walk their gauntlet.

Advancing along this path, She wondered what was it about the place that so unnerved her? Was it the chilled air on her cheeks, or the silence, or the light that failed to illuminate? There seemed a lifelessness about the place – it was as if she’d left a sunny beach behind to enter a dungeon! It was so unnatural, so cold, and.. it also had a rather unpleasant smell, something she had only just noticed.

Further and further along she walked until eventually she stood before the piece of tissue paper which lay on the path. Which way now? The robber must have gone straight ahead as that was the only way to go. Was she mad!

Deeper and deeper she adventured on, only too aware of the light dimming with every increasing step. And that smell – whatever was that awful smell that came in waves? Ugh! it reminded her of school toilets.

Then suddenly – behind her – a movement!

Almost yelping with fright, she leapt into the air, and simultaneously spun round, to catch the maker of the sound, but after a faint scurrying in the undergrowth, it had gone and silence returned.

With her pulse hammering in her ears, and her breath rising through the dank air in white twists, she whispered to herself, “Calm down! You’re just allowing yourself to be scared by a rabbit or a squirrel. Calm down.”  Steadying her nerves by taking several more deep breaths, she wondered whether to go back or not. Pushing the hair out her eyes, and taking another deep breath, she tip-toed forward, now desperately trying to ignore the noise of her heart beat. Occasionally she would shiver: it was silly she knew – but she couldn’t escape the sensation of being watched……..and then something happened which defeated all her courage.

As if an engine under the earth had been switched on – as if an earthquake was imminent – the ground beneath her began to tremor. Increasingly, trees began to shudder, branches started to vibrate, leaves – now flung from their stems – began to fill the sky and helter-skelter down. Now, the tremors became violent judders; and Rosalind found herself uncontrollably swaying at the centre of a vortex surrounded by leaves, twigs, soil, whirling in a frenzy around her head. As she clutched at her hair, and covered her ears, she could feel the air beat back and forth at her skin . Shrieking – she took to her heels – as the whole cacophony crescendoed to a booming sound that shook through the forest for over a minute.

As strangely as the noise had grown, it had now faded, and gradually died, leaving the wood once again as ominously silent and still as before.

But now Rosalind was both alarmed and confused.

She had run back along the path to the entrance exactly the way she had come, but there was no entrance. And whereas minutes before this path she was on had been straight, now it contained many twists. This couldn’t be the same path, yet it must be, as it had been the only direction she could have followed.

Rosalind arrived at an intersection of five paths all going in different directions which she knew she hadn’t seen before. No pieces of tissue paper gave her any clue which way to go, and all the paths looked very much the same.

She couldn’t work it out at all. In the end she went in the direction furthest from where the awful noise had sounded; but it led nowhere she recognised. She didn’t remember these ash trees, nor this fizzy stream. She couldn’t have been this way before.

She retraced her footsteps again – but now the amount of paths confused her hopelessly. She wondered around for hours desperately trying to find the entrance, as by now she given up trying to find the watch.

After trying another path which was just as confusing as all the others she began to run and shout, “Help! Help!” Overhead she could see the sun was setting and knew that soon she would be lost and it would be dark as well.

“What a vile place! I’ve really done it now. Mum and Granddad will wonder where I am – and I don’t even know! The more I try to find my way out the more I seem to get lost!”

In disappointment, frustration  and fear, tears began to well up in her eyes. Resting against a tree bark she wondered what to do? She was cold, tired and lost, and granddad’s watch had been stolen?

But then….

She could hear something. It sounded like a song.

CHAPTER THREE

    Yes, straining her ears, she could make out a tune, but she couldn’t quite make out the words. It sounded like, “….dum de dum de diddle de plobble de dum de dum de dum….” and it was getting louder all the time.

When Rosalind looked down she could hardly believe her eyes. At the end of a long ridge of cracked earth which zigzagged across the woodland floor, a mound of earth had erupted before her and leaves and soil had fallen away to reveal a pink wiggly object emerging from the ground. At first she thought it was a worm but no…..it was a snout attached to a mole’s head. Bigger than she’d ever imagined a mole’s head to be, it now stuck out of the ground, its pair of squinty eyes blinking, staring straight at her. And she could hardly believe her ears either: it had broken off its singing and was now speaking to her!

“Stolen my dice, have you?” protested the queer creature, rubbing its eyes and brushing the soil away from its whiskers with its large digging paw.

“Erhhh…..?” said Rosalind staring in amazement.

“Are you deaf? Have you stolen my dice?” tootled the voice – a voice that could have been blown from a flute – “’cause I want it back if you have.”

“What?” asked Rosalind.

“Give it me back if you’ve got it, whoever you are. Come on . Don’t just stand there. Give it me and I won’t be angry with you and go away I will.”

“But….”

“Give it me back please. Do you have it?”

“What?”

“Told you, didn’t I? My dice. Want it back I do. Come on, own up.”

“But….you can speak?.. Am I dreaming? ……er?”

“Find your observations interesting I do not. I merely want my possession returned.”

“…er….I haven’t got anything. I haven’t stolen your dice.”

“Oh. Should have said so earlier then, shouldn’t you,” sang the mole’s reedy, soprano voice. “Thought I that you looked too woeful to be a successful thief. Well, wonder I who has it, then?”

The mole dropped his head for a moment as if deep in thought. He looked up again. “Have you seen anyone go this way with a dice under their arm?”

“No.”

“Oh,” said the mole, and he quietly studied her again before he spoke again. “Eat Rowntree’s fruit gums?”

“What?” asked Rosalind bemused.

“See it in your face I can. Unhappiness. Yes that’s what it is. Thinking I was what would cheer you up and then I thought of my fruit gums but I scoffed them all yesterday. Shame. Actually ….have you got any sweets on you? Like I a Kit Kat or those really old fashioned Spangles with the stripy wrappers. Have you any of those?”

“No of course not.”

“Introduce myself I shall. Rodney, my dear. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Tell me now please why your face is so downcast?”

“My name’s Rosalind….” She stopped and gulped, feeling for a minute as if she was going to burst into tears again. “I’m lost….” she stopped and sniffed. Then she said,  “I’m upset. Please tell me how to get out of this awful place.”

“Extricate myself first then I shall help you if I can, ” he said, breaking into his singing again. His head wrestled free from the soil, then his shoulders, and then his other shoveling paw emerged. Soon Rosalind could see all of him: a sprawly, wriggly, underground, torpedo covered in short, close fur, and bigger – she thought – than any mole should be.

“Dum-dee-dum-de…..Now let me think. Been ages since I lived outside this wood,” said mole making his eyes so small they almost disappeared into his fur as he tried to remember, “Lived I once on a golf course-”

“- Yes, there’s a golf course near where I live -”

“- but that was such a time ago. Forgotten have I all those old paths. Hated it, I did. Do you know I’d be sitting in my rocking chair, as snug as a mole in a hole, watching TV when a white rolly-polly would plonk down the chimney and bonk me on the bonce. Used to happen all the time! Couldn’t put up with that could I? Got a much more select place now, or at least I thought I had until I discovered someone’s been in and pinched my dice.” He now puffed up so much Rosalind thought he would burst. Suddenly he began to chuckle. Then, in between giggles, he burst into his dum-de-dum song, but the song and the giggles became so hopelessly mixed up he fell over onto his back puffing and panting. Rosalind knelt and put him back on his feet.

“I’ve had something stolen too, Mr. Mole. Somebody has pinched a lovely watch that I was going to give to my granddad.”

“Did they now?” said the mole, one eye closed and the other open wide. “You seem to have the same problem as me. Perhaps Grudger will be able to help us both.”

“Grudger? Who’s he?”

Rodney mole, trying to restore some composure from his recent tumble, began to brush the several dead oak leaves that had become attached to his fur. “Lives in the wood he does and is a very trust worthy gent indeed,” he explained, his voice rich with admiration.

“How could he know who’s got my watch and your dice?”

After nodding his head, left and right, to fling off any soil that had remained on his whiskers, he sighed and then cleared his throat five times.  Then he said, as if he was going to address an audience, “Guarantee I will he’ll be able to tell you how to get home as he’s such a clever fellow, and he might also be able to figure out who’s stolen our things as well.”

“Can we go to see Grudger now?” asked Rosalind, “I need to find the watch and get home as quickly as I can.”

“Come back to my home first. Love I to guzzle Vimto and I’ve got some old original bottles of it in my fridge, and then make you will I, my cordon bleu speciality, bananas and custard.

“Yummy yummy,” said Rosalind. “Let’s go.”

The mole however remained where he was and in a less excited voice he asked, “Is your eyesight good? Can you read well? Making poems I do well but my eyesight is poor.”

“I’m a good reader,” said Rosalind, “but I don’t know what that’s got to do with anything?”

“Know I a signpost to put me in the right direction for home. I do not have my spectacles with me,” sighed the child-like voice, “and it’s too tall for me to see.”

“Let’s go there now!”

“Say I Right! Follow me!” and in a flash the mole had disappeared into his hole.

“Wait! Wait!” shouted Rosalind.

“Want me again, do you?” he asked, sticking out his nose out again.

“I’m too big for one of your tunnels.”

“Do I everything earth backwards! Ee ee ee ee! Use my legs I shall. Come, we’ll slip through the leaves like wind.

CHAPTER FOUR

    The darkness had now fallen but Rosalind could see well enough to follow the mole as he led the way along a footpath illuminated by patches of moonlight that fathomed the forest floor. After some time they turned right at an enormous bulbous oak tree, descended a slight incline and entered a small clearing. In its centre stood a tall signpost, which was placed at the intersection of two footpaths.

The signpost shone a glossy white in the moonlight; at each end of its four signs, a carved hand pointed a finger. Rosalind ran over and shouted out their directions painted on each of the signs, one after another. “East,” read the first. ‘North,’ read the next. Rosalind sighed when the next said ‘West’. The fourth pointer was surprisingly different: it read: ‘Blackbod’.

“Need to go west.” said the mole who was absent-mindedly snouting in the earth for worms.

“That’s that way,” said Rosalind pointing, “but whatever is Blackbod, Mole?” she asked.

“Is a bad part of the wood. Is not a good idea going there. Are so many stupid people in this wood these days, you know. Wish that people were nice and decent like they used to be. What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“Shhhhh….Think I hear something,” he whispered, and came closer to her. A moment later he asked, “Heard anything unusual did you?”

“No.”

“Ssssssh….”

They strained their ears for any sound but the wood was perfectly quiet.
Rosalind yawned.

“Keep awake now,” whispered the mole, “Feel me a lot safer somehow when I get home too.”

“I’ll try,” she said and yawned again.

“Come along with me as I go westwards and eat some slurpy pudding with me. Find we Grudger Badger later.”

“Lead the way,” she said.

As they travelled onwards mole began to chat again. He seemed particularly interested in the subject of what he ate. “Eat I sometimes so much chocolate it makes me ill,” he was saying, “and it doesn’t do much for my teeth either, but I got sick of all those worms and slugs and things along time ago.”

“But moles are supposed to eat insects not sweets,” laughed Rosalind.

“You know when I used to eat slugs I was very generous with them. If I had five slugs I would give at least four of them away.”

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Rosalind pulling a face.

“I try to be generous with my sweets but I admit I am be a bit selfish with chocolates. Still nobody is perfect. Can it do harm if I go round making up my poetry and eating my own Milky Ways? Tell you what I really goggle over: chocolates with brandy in. Write I some really good poetry when I have one of those!”

“I’m glad I’ve got you to talk to in this creepy place,” chirped Rosalind, grinning broadly at the mole. “Hhhhhhhh… oh dear. Excuse me for yawning. I’m so tired that I could sleep for a week.”

“Feeling rather tired myself although I should be at home BUSYING, ” said the mole, taking the left of two paths as he talked, “Writing poems is my first hobby, drinking Vimto is my second hobby, cooking cheese surprises is my third, and water dancing – well that is the best.”

“What’s that?”

“My tufty dove! You don’t know?”

“I wouldn’t ask If I did.”

“Is everything it is. Praising to the sky is the highest of arts. Shining back at the moon, a mirror is laid aground and I dance on top. Appearing silhouettes form in the shiny surface while I glide by the light of the stars.”

It took Rosalind a minute to picture what he meant. “Errr……You mean you dance on a mirror?”

“Do I indeed! I drink Vimto, I eat cheese surprises and then dance and sing into the night and shout out my poems. I’ve been making this one up recently for the festival. Listen:

In Wizicky-Wazicky Wood
In Wizicky-Wazicky Wood
There’s metal and plastic
And glass and elastic
and Wizicky-Wazicky Wood

In Wizicky-Wazicky Wood
In Wizicky-Wazicky Wood
No should, no shouldn’t
No can’t, no couldn’t
’cause Wizicky-Wazicky could

When Wizicky-Wazicky did
When Wizicky-Wazicky did
Turning night from dark
To light he did
Some Wizicky-Wazicky good…….”

He shrugged his shoulders and looked concerned. “That’s as far as I’ve got so far,” he explained.

“This is a very strange place,” said Rosalind. When I first came into Wizicky Wazicky Wood I heard a horrible noise,” she said, and went on to describe the strange booming noise. As she explained the mole grew thoughtful and slowed his pace until he came to a complete stop.

“Errrrrrrhhhgghh…,” he groaned nervously, “This is serious. It must be that evil woman.”

“Who’s that?” asked Rosalind.

“Never mind now. Look, go faster we must. Forget we to look about cautiously as we have wandered. Listen to every whisper about you. Come, we will silently breathe through the leaves until we get to my bananas and custard.”

For the next fifteen minutes, the mole led quickly along a path which wound in and out between silver birches and oaks. When the path was partially blocked by a fallen tree, the mole pulled up short and put his paw to his ear but only rustling leaves driven by the cold wind could Rosalind hear.

“Followed I’m sure we are,” he whispered, looking a timid mole now, different altogether to the one she had met earlier. She picked him up and stroked him reassuringly. She whispered, “What do you think it is?”

“Dwell I not on it. Put me down and let us move again,” he said with an urgency that didn’t exactly comfort Rosalind.

They climbed over the tree and continued onwards now with greater caution and hardly any speech between them. After some distance from where the path sheered right they came to the end of the dense woodland. An area presented itself filled with trees, shrubs and grasses, so blackened they appeared burnt and brittle. Lit by moon beams, branches loomed out in ugly twisty shapes, and a pungent smell of soot tightened Rosalind’s throat.

“I don’t like the look of that? Do we have to go in there?” said Rosalind.
“Shhhh…I think I…Arrrgh!.”

“What’s wrong?”

Rosalind couldn’t understand what was happening. The mole squealed as if he were in pain. “Move! Move! Move!” he kept shrieking.

Across the clearing he shot, with Rosalind following without knowing why. Only when she looked up did she understand why he had fled. Something that didn’t make any sense at all was coming across this desolated earth.

Not one thing but many things. Hundreds of them. Even in the poor light, her eyes could see but her mind failed to believe. An army of leaves, of nettles, of giant green stingers with grotesque eyes, and thin spindly arms were coming in her direction. Each nettle was at least as tall as a fully grown man, carried a staff and wore terrifying spiked boots. Ranked up in wide rows like soldiers, the nettles advanced closer and closer with every second. Mesmerised, all Rosalind could do was watch them as they came upon her.

“Move you!” screeched the mole, and her trance was broken.

She dashed after him only to discover another wall of nettles were advancing from this side too. These were taller; much, much taller.

“Back! Retreat!” the mole shouted  – but where to? There was no where to go, they were trapped between the two ranks.

“Get over here! Follow me!” squealed the mole.

For a moment she hesitated, but then she was away!

“Climb the tree! Climb that tree!” he shouted.

With the marching boots stomping just behind her, Rosalind grabbed one of the lowest branches and pulled herself up, but she lost her grip and – crunch! – fell back breathless on the ground. The stinging nettle’s boots now thundered on the ground like an evil drumbeat, the gap between them now reduced to only fifteen metres. Panicking, she ran to the a smaller tree with lower branches, and although she could reach these she still couldn’t get a foothold. Then she could.

Now they were ten metres away!

Scrabbling with her feet, and with her arms outstretched, she gripped up onto a higher branch. For a moment she hung on while her feet found another foothold. Then with an almighty effort she hauled herself up – just as the nettles stormed beneath her!

A moment later, safely but breathlessly sitting on a branch, Rosalind looked down and trembled at the expressionless eyes of each giant nettle as it passed beneath. The sight of their fine hairs oozing a colourless poison, only an arms length away from her, made her shiver with fear.

“Mole! Mole!” she cried out in concern for her newly found friend, but her shouts were immediately overwhelmed by a terrific thunder, a noise so deafening she almost fell from the branch.

Over the next fifteen minutes Rosalind sat on the branch, most of the time unsure whether to cover her ears or her eyes with her hands. Below, the stinging nettles had clashed with the taller army, which Rosalind could now see were dock leaves – not another rank of stinging nettles at all. The clanging of metal on metal, the rips of metal slicing through material, the unheeded cries of mercy,  the wails of agony, and the screams of hostility all spiralled up at her in discord. The furious rage and speed with which the nettles dispersed their adversaries was shocking. No dock leaf seemed able to defend itself against the nettles poisonous sting. Once they were stung, the nettles trampled over them in their spiked boots leaving each dock leaf reduced to shreds.

An hour later the wood was ghostly quiet. The stinging nettles had long gone. Rosalind, knowing she would fall out of the tree soon through weariness, climbed down to the blackened earth, now covered in shreds of dock leaves. She shouted for the mole but the only reply was the strange echo of her own voice. She called up into the trees. No answer. She went back to the path to see if he was there, but he wasn’t.

Rosalind sat down on the path and drooped her head and yawned! She felt so sorry. Had she followed the mole’s advice more speedily he would have surely escaped.

Sad, weary, but too tired to be frightened, she looked around for Rodney, but her eyes kept blinking, and she kept getting confused. She searched for Rodney,  but woke seconds later to find she had been searching for him in a dream. It was too difficult to think clearly. Determined to stay awake she lay down in a more comfortable position on the path and fell fast asleep.

But the mole had been right all along. Something had been following.

CHAPTER FIVE

Click-click-click……

Rosalind opened her eyes and yawned. It was dark and teeth-chatteringly cold.

“Is that you, Rodney?” she whispered.

It started again: a slight rattle, then silence.

“Who’s there?” she said.

Suddenly, as if in reply to her call, two yellow eyes loomed out of the charcoal darkness, and writhed all about her, one moment dancing brightly overhead and the next, zipping behind her, only to reappear once again to stare into her eyes.

“Hey! Keep still,” she said. “Stop darting around all over the place.”

“So pleased to meet you,” said a goading, sibilant voice.

“Who are you?”

“I’m the Civil Serpent,” said the voice, “and I’m your friend.”

“Oh? My friend?…….How can you be if I don’t even know you?” asked Rosalind.

“Oh I am, so much, so much,” it hissed.

“Well, I’m relieved to hear it,” said Rosalind.

The voice grew sweeter and louder, “You can trust me, little girl. I’m sure that I can help you, can’t I? You have a need, you see, as everybody has a need, and I’m here to provide for that need. If you have any obstacles that prevent me helping you, I want to know what they are, so I can do something about them, can’t I? Now do you have any money problems?”

“What you are talking about? Listen: do you know where Rodney Mole is?”

“I want to help you, little girl,” continued the Civil Serpent’s tones, full of encouragement, “but surely that’s not your real need. Trust me – as only I have your best interests at heart. Come, let me give your arm a little squeeze. No?  Okay, then maybe a little later when you appreciate my lovely caring nature. Philanthropy runs in my veins, you know, I just can’t help helping people. Now come on, what is your real need?”

“Can you get me home, please. I’m stuck in this awful place and if I stay here much longer I’ll…”

“Miss breakfast, eh? So you want to get home and have your Rice Crispies, eh? Yes. Surely I will help to you to get all the muesli and corn flakes that money can provide. I shall give you, Miss Breakfast – as I now name you – an excellent service. Yes. Easy! Of course I know the way home. Come with me and hm…I’ll show you.”

The Civil Serpent’s incandescent eyes backed away and immediately the rattling noise could be heard again. For the first time, Rosalind could see her new ‘friend’ fully illuminated in the moonlight: a snake with a rattle tied on its tail.

“Wait a minute! Wait! Wait!” she called. Standing, she asked,  “Are you taking me home?”

“Yes, I’m taking you home.”

“But how do you know where my home is?”

The snake puzzled over this for a moment, “Yes. I saw you with the mole, you see. You said you lived near a golf course, I took it upon myself to come and help you, little girl.”

“Have you seen the mole?” she quickly pleaded, her eyes widening with concern.

“Ahhhhhhh,” the snake’s descending sigh must have lasted half a minute. “It is so sad: the stinging nettles are such barbarous creatures, aren’t they?” said the snake.
“Did you see what happened?” she asked fearfully.

“Ah, is not good to talk of such sad things. To see a fly go under a steamroller is not something I like to ponder upon,” said the snake, “If only the poor creature had taken out a pension with me all would be well. But then think of the good things! And you were so lucky! What a dramatic escape! Tragically, moles aren’t good at climbing trees, are they? So sorry.”

“That’s awful!” said Rosalind.

“Now let me take you home, and allow me to share some information with you on the way..”

Rosalind didn’t trust this creature very much for some reason. “Why have you a baby’s rattle tied on your tail?” she asked.

“Ahh…. I’ve had it since I was as long as a mere tadpole. I’ve always wanted to be a rattlesnake – a sort of complex my analyst called it. My wretched life was hopeless until I dressed up like one. My wonderful boss gave me the baby’s rattle. She was so pleased with my care-taking of Wizicky-Wazicky Wood she gave it me with…a few other things.. didn’t she? Do you like it?”

“Not much.”

“You are not too cheerful at the moment, little Miss Breakfast, but you will be ever so happy when I tell you about my money box scheme that will fill all your needs.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s simple. I can do you a favour that will beat all favours.”

“Taking me home will be good enough. Unless you can find my granddad’s watch.”
“Pah! Who cares about your granddad’s watch. If you do what I tell you, you can buy a thousand town clocks!” said the snake darting about all over the place again. “Listen, Miss Breakfast, if you let me have your pocket money every week I will turn you into a millionaire by the time you are twelve.”

“How?”

Because I will invest all your money in one of my special ‘Mature Feet’ trust-fun policies, and these will earn more money than you can ever get in a post office account. The best one for you is the Big Bovine Encowment Plan where you not only get a Farmhouse money box, but a Big Moo cheque book and your very own personal ball point pen with your name printed next to a picture of a Big Moo Bagpipes. You also get a Big Bovine plastic card which when you show it in a toy shop will allow you to buy any game you want. And for each ice lolly you buy you get another one free.”

“I think I’m too young to invest my money,” said Rosalind.

“No! Not at all. With my assistance you will be very wise to do it.”

“Well I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve spent all my pocket money,” said Rosalind.

“Well why didn’t you moo-ing well say earlier!” rasped the snake.

“Come on little girl, this is the way home. Hurry now,” the snake called.

Rosalind wasn’t sure whether following him was wise but perhaps it was better than being alone in the wood. She wondered if he knew anything about her granddad’s watch, but she didn’t like to ask him.

As they progressed the tree crowns above grew so dense they cut out most of the moonlight again. She knew from a trickling sound that a stream ran before her, for she could hardly see it. The snake swam over, while Rosalind made a giant leap in the dark and landed safely but untidily on the opposite bank.

Once again the snake led the way but now its pace was slower and its nonsensical chatter had quietened. An hour later to Rosalind’s relief it had stopped altogether. As it climbed up a steep incline, the snake suddenly came to a halt, looked back, and waited for Rosalind to catch up. Its yellow eyes stared closely into hers.

“Now I have a need, little Miss Breakfast, and as you are my best friend who will always remember that I have your best financial interests at heart – it would please me if you grant my need and be quiet now, little girl – I don’t want to wake anyone…..”

Rosalind didn’t quite know what the snake meant, but thought it best to follow its advice.
The snake, slipped along in the dank undergrowth so slowly that his rattle made no sound. He continued leading up the embankment of the steep plateau until he reached its top. The overgrown grasses here were tangled with sharp thistles, but at least there was some light available.

Rosalind sat down to rest on a tree stump, but the snake quickly returned for her.

“You mustn’t sit down!” it hissed, “We must move quick but quiet! Hssssss!”

“Go away for a minute, you smarmy thing! I need a rest.”

“Quiet! Quiet! I look after you and you do as I say, yes, my Weetabix friend. Come with me a little further and then you can rest as much as you like! We mustn’t wake any nasty people up. Doesn’t pay good dividends does it?”

If the snake thought someone was nasty then they must be! thought Rosalind. She quickly jumped up and stepped forward  – but oh knickers! – she had moved in too much haste and landed on the snake! Screeching like squeaky chalk on a blackboard, the Civil Serpent howled and leapt forward. And what a din – the world’s largest rattlesnake could never have made as much noise as that rattle!

Hissing and spitting the snake dived at Rosalind’s legs but she kicked it away.

“Get off!” she said kicking at it.

Then, for no apparent reason, the snake acted as if completely defeated, and lay flat on the ground and grovelled before her. Simultaneously a sickening smell attacked Rosalind’s nostrils.

“What’s wrong with you now?” she asked.

But then she looked up.

Rosalind caught her breath.

CHAPTER SIX

Between two tree trunks, and blocking the path, stood something quite hideous. Shiny black from top to bottom, with skin  like polished leather, it stood taller than an adult. Its head – if that’s what it was – was eyeless, and topped in a horde of tendrils, like black worms which continually twitched. The stink of dirty socks slumbering in a mucky pond filled the air.

“You’ve brought me a humansh to playsh with, sherpentsh.” it said in a loud whispery voice, while its tendrils squirmed about more furiously.”Gim mesh this humansh,” it demanded. A cold shiver ran down Rosalind’s spine.

“N-n-n-no Quark, lovely Quark, this is not for you. All right, Quark, I know I’ve been spotted, but you’ve got to wait for the spoils. You must admit that I have always done you a good service, and now I get treated like the office junior. It’s not fair. You can’t have her yet. That’s not in the rules, you know. You can’t play games with her now, you know. You must remember I fixed you a good unit-linked assurance plan, so don’t forget that,” replied the snake.

“I like to playsh my nashty games, shnake. One daysh I will playsh a nastysh game with you, shnake, and yoush’ll need good death benefits.”

“Now, now, Quark. Calm down. I really must come by. I have to go to Malady.”

“Wantsh to playsh licking the armpits. My favourish gamesh.”

“No Quark, let us by.”

The Quark didn’t move.

“When I’ve introduced her to Malady I promise you can be as nasty as you like,” said the snake.

The Quark seemed satisfied with this comment and moved off. As he went he muttered to Rosalind’s amazement, “Wansh to do nastysh things. Chsssssh.”

Rosalind didn’t like the sound of any of this at all!

As soon as the Quark was out of sight the snake snapped angrily at Rosalind with his teeth. “Move!”

Where the Quark had been standing smelled so yukky Rosalind thought she was going to pass out.

Now, the snake’s so-called friendship disappeared, and instead of leading, it forced Rosalind along by snapping at her ankles. This frightened and irritated her, and she kicked at it more than once. The snake grew ever more impatient, and began chattering aggressively.

“It’s a little game, you see,” he was saying, “I help the Malady by patrolling the wood. I have to tell her about anyone I see. One day she caught me doing nasty things to a human I hadn’t told her about and she was mad. MAD!”

“I think I’m going off you, even more,” said Rosalind.

“Listen! Listen!” said the snake diving at her ankles again. “Malady was so angry she turned a nasty game on me. She said that I had to take every human I found to her. Now the Malady lives in Blackbod, you see, and to get there you have to go past that smelly Quark. The Malady said I could keep any human I could get passed the Quark. But if the Quark catches me creeping through his plateau then I lose: he gets the human.”

“I don’t think I like the sound of that,” said Rosalind.

“It’s maddening – the Quark gets them all!” said the snake. “And he always hears me creep by. Since that baby I’ve never had any human to play with.”

“Stop snapping at my ankles!” cried Rosalind, “I can’t go any faster!”

“So you see I’ve lost you little girl. It’s always the same – the Quark always wins. It’s not fair! He always gets the humans to play his nasty games with. The last one he covered in itching powder. Why  don’t I get any fun?”

“If you think I’m going back there to let that thing cover me in itching powder you’re entirely mistaken,” said Rosalind angrily, kicking out.

“It serves you right,” said the snake sourly, “You woke it up. I hope it does horrid things to you. I hope it licks your armpits!”

“No thank you!”

“Its just not fair!” continued the snake a moment later, his voice now shrill and climbing in pitch all the time.  “I don’t see why I should stand for this! Perhaps I should take you home and lock you in the pantry, and only feed you Happy Shopper Dog Food sandwiches for months. What fun! I could say you escaped and nobody would be able to prove anything. Yes. I think I ought to take what’s rightfully mine, don’t you? It was me that found you – you are my prize!”

The snake flung himself again at Rosalind’s heels, which was no surprise to her, but this time – as she side-stepped – his teeth caught firmly on the inside sole of her shoe. Thrown off balance, Rosalind went head over heels and in so doing, flung the snake over her shoulder into the trees.

She jumped to her feet and ran with all the strength she had: over branch and briar. When she could no more hear the tell-tale rattle she lay back against a tree and waited quietly.
She wanted to sleep again but a horrible smell prevented her. She listened attentively.
Sure enough she could hear a loud whisper that she recognised instantly, growing louder, coming closer. “Humansh near heresh. Csssssh! Wansh to be nashtysh.”

Eeeiiirrgghhhh!

Rosalind couldn’t actually tell from which direction the Quark was approaching. Then suddenly she heard the screeching of an animal.

“Lovelysh rabbit. Letsh me pull off your head!” She could hear the Quark saying, “Opppsh! Droppshed itsh!  Wheresh humansh? Wansh to licksh humansh armpitsh.”

Rosalind didn’t wait any longer. She jumped out from the bushes onto the path fearing the Quark would be standing before her. But it wasn’t. With energy she didn’t know she had left, she fled from the smell, running, picking her self up when she fell, scrambling at times on all fours to get through thorny shrubbery, until she had put hundreds of trees between herself and the Quark.

At last completely exhausted, Rosalind came to a wide, flat clearing. Cold, hungry and unable to go any further she sunk down by a tree was asleep.

CHAPTER SEVEN   

    “Oh Clobberblockers! How irritating! Haven’t you been listening to a word I say? Even a hibernating bat doesn’t stay asleep for ever. Get up and shove off!” Rosalind became conscious of a deep and pompous voice somewhere behind her. “This is that flippaflopping hedgehog’s fault – I know it is!” it continued, “I keep telling him but does he do his work and organise everything? He couldn’t organise a blow-out in a chip shop! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: that hog is as efficient as a burglar running Neighbourhood Watch. And he takes time off too, skiving like it was a virtue: if idling was an occupation, he certainly would be its world authority. It’s not flippaflopping good enough! That hedgehog thinks he’s a star because he’s always the Master of Ceremonies. Huh! Master of mistakes more like. And if it’s not some clobberlocking hedgehog, it’ll be a moronic badger or rascal rat who has to ruin it for everybody. Some people shouldn’t burden this wood with their grotty little bodies – that’s what I say! Then they’d save the air for useful creatures – creatures like me. In this wood there’s always some peasant who won’t pull their weight. All you need is one rotten apple at the bottom of the barrel to taint the rest. I ask you – it really gets up my bo-bo!”

Rosalind opened her eyes to see who was complaining so much. Ouch! She felt stiff all over. She was still in this crazy place, but at least the sky was lightening now, and dawn must be near. Granddad and mum would be worried out of their minds about what had happened to her – they’d most likely have the police out by now!

The animal that was snorting and complaining in no quiet way, stood a small distance away. It looked like a tiny horse but she never had seen one with such funny black markings. Every now and again it would look at her, between snatching mouthfuls of grass.

“Oh do get a move one!” the animal was saying, “Haven’t you got a home to go to. I ask you – some people! I have to cut that grass you’re lying on and I want to do it NOW.”

After burying his head in the grass for a few more minutes, he looked up again, more sternly this time and began stamping his foot on the ground. “Oh, do shove off. Why don’t you go and have a game of football pools with someone – that’s suitable for a lower class drongo like you, ” he said impatiently, “I’m fed up. This is boring. What do you think I am? I suppose you’re one of these people who think my whole aim in life should be to sit around and cook you bacon sandwiches? Well you’re wrong! Listen, I’ve been working all night and now I’m tired. I want to go home to my beauty sleep. For goodness sake – the moon has gone on it’s milk round. Just go and make someone else feel sick in another part of the wood, will you?”

It was the strangest horse Rosalind had ever seen. It was too small, had the wrong markings, had a ridiculous nose and looked a bit like a pig.

Rosalind decided to forget about finding granddad’s watch now – her only aim was to get home. Perhaps this extremely grumpy animal could help. She began to get up.

On hearing her moving, the creature cautiously sprang back several feet. As it reversed it almost tied its legs in knots.

“Go away, go away. Keep your teeth away from me. I only want to do my job,” it said.

“I don’t bite,” she said quietly.

“Of course you don’t,” said the creature now calm again, “as if anybody would dare bite me!”

Once more it chewed the grass.

“Excuse me horse, could – ”

“Horse!” he screeched, suddenly glaring at her. “Horse! Horse indeed!” Then blowing many horse-like snorts from his nostrils he bounded at her fiercely. As Rosalind didn’t move he suddenly stopped and quickly retreated showing even greater skill in not falling over his own legs.

“I’m sorry. You’re not a horse?”

“Horse? A TAPIR is what I am. I am a descendent from the Parsimonious tribe, which is – as you will have no doubt heard – the greatest honour that any tapir can have. Horse indeed! As if I could be mistaken for one of those common fly collectors. I – not that its any business of yours – am a great TAPIR! In fact there is a little song about it which I have committed to memory. It was written by that dreadfully boring mole who lives in the forest. It goes like this:

Who’s brave? The Tapir
He’s fearless but grave, dear,
He’s practical, no Shakespeare
Apart from a sonnet or two
So don’t go queer dear,
When you’re marred by weird smear
Just call the tapir here, no fear
He’ll find the rascals far or near
And boot them up their rear sphere
Into the lap of leap year
The brave and contemptuous tapir.
Where from? The Tapir
Malaysia, Malady, dear
Has four toes on forefeet here
But minus a toe on feet at the rear
The brave and contemptuous tapir.”

The tapir finished this last line by going down on his front too legs, making another horse like snort and demurely drooping his head, as if modesty prevented him from looking Rosalind in the face. After what seemed a most theatrical pause he bounced back on his feet and said, “Now you understand how wonderful it is to be a tapir!”

“Ah…oh yes. Very nice,” said Rosalind remembering that she had come across tapirs in an endangered species project at school. “I’m really pleased for you,” said Rosalind, dying to laugh. “Well, Mr. Tapir, please help me. I want to get out of this weird wood. My name’s Rosalind and I’ve been lost in this wood since yesterday afternoon, and no one seems to know how to get out of it.”

“A Rosalind, eh?” said the tapir., “hmmm…sounds very suspicious to me. My family goes back a long, long time and I’ve never heard of a Rosalind.” He paused briefly and then said, “I’ll come closer and assess your character. You don’t bite, do you?”

She couldn’t help sniggering at this formality, “I won’t bite you if you don’t bite me,” she said.

This comment had a strange effect on the tapir. He dropped his head again, sunk his teeth into the ground, tore out a large clump of grass and started fighting with it. He threw it into the air, kicked up more soil with his dashing feet and then deftly caught the grass in his mouth. A victorious dance followed, with him jumping up and down on the clump of turf so many times that his hooves sank down into the ground. Finally with his nose in the air, he said, “The Parsimonious Tapirs are a brave tribe. I have no quarrel with you so I assure that I will not bite.”

Considering his brave display Rosalind thought he approached her rather timidly. When he was only two paces from her he stopped and didn’t appear to want to get any closer.

“Can you assess my character from there?” she asked laughing.

“I can smell you from here.”

“How insulting!” laughed Rosalind, “You should be introduced to some manners, Tapir.”

“Who’s that idiot?”

“Manners are…..” Rosalind began, but then she found it too much trouble to explain. “Look Mr. Tapir,” she continued, “How I can find my way out of this wood?”

The tapir thought for a moment.

“Why ask me? I never leave the wood. I’ve heard about the chaotic world outside – it sounds horrid. The sort of creatures out there are not my class of creature at all.”

“Oh this is awful!” said Rosalind, suddenly feeling upset, “This place is making me mad – and so are you!”.

“Yes, those that live outside this wood are common horse manure: as common as they come. Aren’t you?”

“Huh! My granddad is a much nicer person than you!” snapped Rosalind. “At least he doesn’t go round complaining all the time.” Rosalind felt extremely irritated by her predicament and the tapir’s arrogance wasn’t improving her mood.

“Oh is h-h-he?” said the tapir, in a much softer and altogether friendlier voice. “Perhaps he belongs to baronial and lofty stock like me. Perhaps I could meet him and share a carrot with him. I do like to meet creatures of noble birth and blood, you know.”

“If you get me out of here I’ll try and arrange it for my granddad to share a carrot with you,” said Rosalind, not explaining where she hoped her granddad would stick the carrot.

“Well…..I could do with meeting some of the aristocracy, as most of the peasants around here don’t come up to my standards,” continued the tapir, “and….. as I’m such a kind and generous hearted creature….I will take you to my home, given you a bed and then, when I’ve had a good sleep, I’ll take you to a knowy-know-all egghead who lives in the wood who will surely to know the way out of the wood. We’ll catch him about lunch time. He’ll be busy making wine for the appalling festival that’s beginning.”

“Ah. Is that Grudger?….”

“Aha!. You know that trendy, supercilious highbrow, do you?”

“Well no…but…I’d like to. Your offer is the best idea I’ve heard this morning!” said Rosalind, “I might even get my watch back. I like that idea.”

“First, though,…ugh….I’ll have to finish off cutting this grass, it will only take a few minutes.”

Despite his pomposity, Rosalind felt safe with the tapir; he was much preferable to that awful snake! Memories of the Civil Serpent and the Quark was disagreeable. She looked at the tear in her shoe where the snakes teeth had gone through. Yeark!

“Clamber on my back, Rosalind beast,” said the tapir, when he had returned from cutting the grass patch where minutes before she had been lying. “My bed calls me. Parsimonious Tapirs could not be SO captivating,  SO deliciously charming without our beauty sleep.”

“You’ve got a whopping big head,” said Rosalind.

“Indeed I have!” said the tapir proudly, “and feel my ears too, they are overpoweringly sexy.”

Rosalind couldn’t help smiling at this stupid animal, as she mounted him.

With Rosalind gripping tightly, the tapir sped across the clearing, until he came out onto a wide bridle path with fields either side. They travelled ahead for some distance until he took a right turn.

CHAPTER EIGHT

And what a lovely ride it was! The sun’s golden circle was coming up slowly from the horizon and the dawn chorus bubbled and fermented through the trees. Not everything was bad in Wizicky-Wazicky Wood.

They turned again and rode along a roughshod road which ran parallel with a small stream. A small round shape could be seen on the side of the road in the distance.
“That’s where I live,” said the tapir.

“It’s a gypsy caravan!” said Rosalind, “How lovely. What an odd place for a tapir to live!”
“How dare you! There’s nothing odd about my home,” he insisted grumpily.

“Do you live alone?” she asked.

“I most certainly do. You wouldn’t expect somebody of my importance to have a pet elephant stomping around on my red carpet, would you?”

“You’re weird.”

“Ha! I’m a lot less weird than you are!”

After dismounting, she followed the tapir up the caravan steps. Putting his nose on the door handle, making an action with his nostrils like a hand inside a sock, he opened the door, stepped inside and then – to Rosalind’s utter surprise and consternation – he slammed the door in her face and locked it!

He pulled back the white frilled curtain of the small window in the door and stuck out his nose. “There are some blankets down under the caravan and you can sleep down there. I can’t give you my torch because it’s been pinched, but you should be able to find your way around,” he shouted and pulled the curtain across as brusquely as he had shut the door.
“Sleep where?” she asked bemused.

“I said the blankets are below. Can’t you understand the Queen’s English. Get a good dictionary, that helped me!” he shouted from behind the curtains
He had shut her out! How RUDE! For a moment she didn’t know what to do. Shrugging her shoulders, she searched below in the low light for the blankets but all she could find under the caravan were a rusty old bucket and a number of soggy cardboard boxes full of saucepans, Eagle comics and garden tools. One box contained old soaking net curtains, but no blankets could she find. She was getting really angry!

“What a lot of rubbish!” she shouted. “Dirty tapir pig!”

At last, determined to stand up for herself, she picked up the soggy moth-eaten curtains and climbed up the steps to the caravan door. She shouted through its window, “Tapir! There are no blankets here at all! Just a lot of your filthy rubbish!”

A groan came from inside, but no tapir came to the door. The longer he kept her waiting, the angrier and angrier she became, and the louder she shouted through the window, until at last he stuck his head out. He appeared so ridiculous in his nightcap and pyjamas that Rosalind would have burst out laughing had not been so vexed.

“I shan’t invite a Rosalind Beast back to my house again!” He said, glaring. “Do you realise what you’ve done! You’ve aroused a Parsimonious tapir when he was almost asleep! I shall get bags under my eyes and I will have to apply more vitamin E to my skin! And it’s not cheap you know! ” Then he noticed the soaking curtains she held in her hand. “Huh! And all for nothing too! You’ve found the blankets – you’ve woken me up for nothing.”

“Are these the blankets?” asked Rosalind in horror.

“What do you expect? The Ritz?” he said and immediately his head withdrew and the curtain closed again.

Rosalind was mad!

“Tapir! I’m coming in there! You can’t invite me to stay with you and then expect me to sleep out on cold earth with wet blankets!”

The tapir groaned. “Oh, Go and stick yourself up a hefty trumpet!” And this was followed by a rude noise.

“I’m not standing for this!” she shouted.

Rosalind ran down and found two saucepans. Within seconds she was back at the tapir’s door, clanging them together (so fiercely she dented one saucepan) to produce a din loud enough to wake the real sleeping beauty. At last, the tapir stuck out his head and BONK! This was exactly what Rosalind had waited for! BONK! She biffed him on the nose with both saucepans. He howled so much his nightcap fell off.

“I don’t care if you are an endangered species or not! Open this door!” she demanded.

Seconds later, with the door open, the tapir cringed in the doorway before her, “Y-y-you  w-w-w-won’t bite me….?” he asked, rubbing his sore nose and blinking a lot.

“I’m  not sure,” said Rosalind stepping inside, “but I’m going to sleep inside and not outside. I want to be warm.”

“B-b-b-but I don’t want you in here. You might…. b-b-b-…”

“You are a stupid creature. If you had allowed me in earlier you would be asleep by now! Of course I won’t bite you. Why did you bring me back if you didn’t want me to stay here?”

“Well, how could a Parsimonious Tapir know that a thing like you would want to sleep inside a caravan,” he asked with some trait of his conceit returning,  “I thought only tapirs slept indoors and that you’d sleep underneath. I now realise that of course you won’t bite me and – as I am such a benign creature – you can stay in here.”

“Of course I won’t bite you. I could have bitten you on the way here.”

“No, I thought of that, I was going too fast, your teeth would never have caught me up.”
Rosalind sighed.

“My dear tapir,” she said, “please let me go to sleep now?”

“Indeed! You can sleep at the end of my bed. That’s quite sufficient for something of your station.”

Rosalind thought it was funny that an animal should sleep in the bed and a human should curl up at the bottom of it.

After the tapir climbed into his large bed (it almost filled one half of the caravan), Rosalind asked for a blanket, but the tapir didn’t seemed deaf to her request. On snarling for several seconds, she received one very quickly. At last Rosalind went off to sleep for the third time that night, but this time she was warm and comfortable, and this time her sleep wasn’t disturbed.

CHAPTER NINE

    Rosalind woke aching and hungry, but at least she was snugly warm, under the tapir’s pink and white striped blanket. The frilled curtains, that hung left of the swaying lampshade, rippled in waves, as a warm blast of air breezed in the window. To her immediate right she lip-read the slogan of a picture on the wall: ‘A tapir’s best friend is his own profound reflection’. In the corner next to an Edwardian table, a pale green stove seemed to urge that something must be cooked on it soon, and standing immediately before her on a vermilion rug, was the tapir, his head now bobbing up and down, hanging directly over her.

“Ah, you’ve woken up at last, have you, You lazy beast!” he complained, making a squinting expression full of mockery, and simultaneously sneering with his lips, “I’ve already been up an hour. We Parsimonious Tapirs are very early to rise in the morning. While you’ve been idling in your dreams, snoozling your life away, I have had a wash in the stream.” Having so asserted himself in the highest and mightiest of voices, he wrinkled up his nose superciliously, and added, “Tapirs are clean, not like poohy pongo Rosalinds!”

“G-g-good morning Tapir,” whispered Rosalind. “Now get lost, please.. hhhuuuhhhh,” she yawned and turned over.

“I am going down stream to get some fresh drinking water from the spring in this bucket,” he said, pointing to a metal pail he was holding, “A Parsimonious Tapir needs a thundering good breakfast before he sets off to do anything at all, so I’ll have to have  a super feast to put up with the tedium of a visit to a deplorably boring badger. In fact, I wish I had some water now. If I had, I would throw it over you, STINKY.”

“You are such a nice person,” said Rosalind. “Why don’t you go and dig a big hole and bury yourself in it. Yes, I’ll take a wash while your gone,” said Rosalind, now stretching.

“Ah! Copycat, eh? Copycat! Copycat! You’re only having a wash because you want to be like a Parsimonious Tapir. Although, I can’t blame you for admiring our grand habits and high standards. Ha ha! You’ll be expecting a cup of tea or coffee next!”

“One sugar, please” she said, now rubbing her eyes, showing signs of being even more awake.
“Now Listen here,” said the now vexed tapir, “I’m not giving my coffee to any Tom, Dick or Harry or….Rosalind. It’s stupid to give my hard earning pleas -“

“Grrrrrr!” snarled Rosalind, who – had the tapir wished to debate the point – would have been the first to admit that she wasn’t at her best in the morning. But he didn’t: he had fled out the door with his bucket.

After he was gone Rosalind threw off the blanket, jumped off the bed and catching sight of herself in the tapir’s looking glass, she had to agree with him. With scratched and muddy legs, dirty and torn clothes, an itchy scalp, and twig infested hair, Rosalind knew she needed, at the least, a car wash. One not being available, Rosalind went quickly outside – and being alone – took her off her clothes, stepped into the cool stream, and lathered herself all over with a borrowed bar of tapir’s, ‘Imperial Leather’. Gradually the sticky soil and wet grass floated off, up to the water surface.

This was a…ch-ch-chhhilllllly….but exhilarating way to wake up!

Now, pulling her clothes off the bank into the water, she pummelled and scrubbed them rigorously. When both herself and her clothes were squeaky clean, she leaped out carrying her clothes underarm, to drape them over a nearby oak branch to dry. Inside once again, she dried herself with one of tapirs blankets and wrapped herself with one of his quilts she found in a wardrobe – it being delightfully patched with silk embroideries of shining crystals and sun sets. Now tingling all over, she went out into the glorious heat, sat on the caravan steps and gazed around her.

It was all so beautiful. The walls of this world were rich in blue, with a ceiling of sunshine, and a floor of emerald. Wasn’t it strange, she thought, a wood where creatures could talk?  She must be in the middle of a cartoon or a story book, as nothing else seemed to make sense. Yesterday she had promised to introduce him to her grandfather, but had not believed it possible, but today- it seemed a great idea.

About five minutes later the tapir returned with a bucket, brimful of fresh water, and proceeded, with his nose in the air, up the steps and into the caravan. Rosalind quickly followed behind him – like his shadow – to see what he was up to now. Once inside he lifted the bucket up to the stove, and as he did so, he spilled at least half of  it all over his red rug.

“Oh! BUFFANTING CLOBBERBLOCKERS!” he snapped.

Rosalind who had been parked on the bed for only a moment, – who had been  intently watching him – was now, unable to retrain her heaving giggles, and fell back on the counterpane and made noises like a turkey into the pillow.  “Ha! Huh! Ho! He he! You are such a…heh-he-ho -hopeless creature,” she chortled.

“Oh shaddap you CLOBBERBLOCKING FLIPPAFLOPPER!”

“Ha Ha! he! he! he! Goodness, Tapir, you do need some help.”

“I don’t need any help at all, thank you!” he retorted.

“Some lessons in getting on with people, would be a good start. Simple manners wouldn’t be a bad idea to begin with,” she said.

“I can say anything I like in my own house, if I like!” he snapped, and grabbed a dirty cloth and began to mop up the water. Rosalind, however, refused to leave the subject.

“Manners are rules that parents used to give to their children,” she said, frowning at the dirty stain the tapir was making.

“Well I don’t need anything like that. I’ve never met any children.”

“You have: you’ve met me.”

“You told me you’re a Rosalind!” he gasped, exasperation rising in his voice. “Now you tell me you’re a children. I think you tell the flippafloppingest whoppers!”

“Actually, my mum could teach you a lot more besides manners. For a start she’d teach you how to clean a carpet properly. Fancy wiping up water with a filthy rag! And another thing – my mum wouldn’t put up with this messy caravan. Look at it: nothing is put away and it’s pretty filthy.

“If I was your mother,” said the tapir, looking around and rolling the whites of his eyes, his patience boiling, “I’d tell you you talk too much. You need a clobberblocking mouth plug!”

“There! You see, you do need tact and diplomacy. If you want me to be quiet, you should yawn and say something like, “….well, as I’ve got to organise a buffet for the golf club tomorrow…and as it is getting very late now….”

That’s what my mum says whenever she wants someone to go away and it always works. And she does it without offending them. I mean, if you wanted to get rid of somebody you’d just say, “Get out of my caravan and go and jump off a high building.” This is not the way you keep friends and everybody needs friends. My mum is very civilised, you know,” Rosalind explained.

“Is she, indeed?” said the Tapir, his eyes brightening, looking up and now giving Rosalind his full attention. In that case I might even know her,” he said in his softer voice, licking his nose with his tongue while he considered, “although it seems unlikely. I”m sure I’ve never met a Rosalind before. No, no I haven’t.”

“You must come and visit me, Tapir, and I’ll introduce you to both my mum and my grandfather. He’s got lovely manners too.  Oh how I wish I could see them. Yes, you must come….I could repay you for letting me sleep here and – “Rosalind added craftily – “by feeding me and giving me tea or coffee this morning.”

“Oh no trouble, no trouble at all,” said the tapir. “I insist you have both.”

Tapir was evidently so delighted with Rosalind’s invitation to meet some posh Rosalind beasts that when she returned from putting on her clothes – that had now dried – she found a teapot blowing clouds of steam, a large mug of coffee brewing and a home made jar of apple jam waiting to be spread on thickly buttered toast. Without decorum, she attacked the food as if she were on a military campaign, unlike the tapir whom seemed reluctant to begin his breakfast.

“Aren’t you hungry?” she asked him.. “Oh, I’m just waiting for the mustard to cool down,” he said.

A few minutes later he offered her boiled tomato and ant cream to go with her apple jam but Rosalind – demonstrating the manner of her civilised mother – politely refused.

As soon as breakfast was over Rosalind went down to the bank of the stream and washed up, the tea cups and bowls floating like boats on the stream, clinking together, as she scraped the pottery plates clean with a metal knife. The tapir, meanwhile, tidied up the caravan, made the bed, hoovered and put everything away – Rosalind having insisted that it was done properly. After locking the caravan door, Rosalind mounted Tapir and off they went!

Rosalind loved these tapir rides along the meadows! She marvelled at the unusual colours and delightful scents coming from the hedgerows; never had she seen blue and white chequered vetch, or red, amber and green poppies before.

At the junction they turned right. The tapir trotted along for the duration of a large cloud to pass out of the sky, before turning onto a sandy footpath.

After some considerable time, a small figure appeared in the distance. At first Rosalind thought it was a child, as it stood on two legs, but closer inspection proved it to be a badger. It wore a wide brimmed red felt hat with a purple feather. From its tightly fitted padded jacket with tartan pockets, a large bag hung from its shoulder. Sunlight glinted on the metal buckles of its tall boots.

“Hello Tapir, me ol’ chum,” it called cheerily, “How are we this smarning? Its a pleasure to be around in this ‘ere sunshine, ain’t it me ol’ pal? Who’s this on your back? She’s a pretty l’il girl if I aint to be mistook.”

“No. You’re hopelessly wrong. It’s a Rosalind,” said the tapir impatiently.
“I know I can’t see like the owl sees, Tapir, but I know what a ‘uman girl looks like – not that we see many of ’em around these days – the civil serpent sees to that. Hello there, Lassie.”
“Hello'” replied Rosalind grinning. “I love your hat.” she added.

My hat?  Yes I like it too. There’s a little poem about  it. Would you like to hear it? ”

“Oh no! He’s not going to recite.” groaned the tapir quite loud enough to be heard, and then added drooping his head, “Why did I have to come out today.”

“I would love to hear it,” said Rosalind, tugging at the tapir’s ears to shut him up.

“It goes like this, lassie,” began the badger:

“Of all the felt I ever felt
I never felt a piece of felt
That felt the same as that felt felt
When first I felt the felt of that felt hat.”

“That’s a mouthful!” said Rosalind impressed, and quickly tried to learn it herself, but her tongue got all twisted up, and the lines became so knotted up, that all she could produce after her attempt was helpless laughter.

“And where are you two off on this bright morning?” asked the badger, obviously pleased with himself, “You’re going the wrong way to the festival, to be sure.”

“Well, Mr. Nudger Badger, we are – believe it or not – looking for your knowy-know-all brother. We need the brains of a boring book-worm -”

“-Manners!” whispered Rosalind hotly in the tapir’s ear.

“Errrr……..” squawked the tapir in some alarm, quickly yawned and then muttered, “well, it’s getting a bit late now and I’ve got ever such a busy day tomorrow,…..or something like that.”

The badger stared at him and then at Rosalind who was giggling to herself.

“What wrong with him, then?”

“Indigestion. It must be indigestion. He had too much mustard for breakfast I think,” laughed Rosalind.

The tapir pulled an expression of utter distaste and looked away.

“You’re Grudger Badger’s bother, aren’t you?” inquired Rosalind.

“Yes, to be sure,” said the badger proudly.

“Could you tell us where he is? We need to see him as quickly as possible.”

“Me ol’ Grudger is sure to be at his set getting the wine ready for the festival. If he’s finished, then he will be delivering the wine to Glassdale Clearing, where the festival is being held. That’s where I’m going at the moment – off to help with the stalls. Why don’t you and ol’ tapir come along after you’ve found Grudger. It will be a splendid event.”

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it, Tapir?” said Rosalind.

“Oh yes… as pleasurable as having my nose bitten off by a crocodile,” said the tapir sarcastically.

“Haha! Anyway, as you please. I must be off now,” said Nudger. “Incidentally, Tapir, do you know I’ve moved home? I’m quite a near neighbour of yours. I now live in one of those houses by your canal.”

“Really,” said the Tapir, going slightly cross-eyed with concentration, “then someday I hope you’ll drop in.”

Rosalind stifled her giggles in the palms of her hands

Touching his brim, the badger bade them both good-bye. He wished the tapir good health in the future, leaving the tapir with a perplexed expression, to which the unfortunate tapir could only reply with another of his involuntary rude noises. After he had gone Tapir soon found his tongue.

“Ha! So much for your manners, tact and diplomacy! They don’t work at all. All they did was make me look stupid.”

“You did it wrong,” laughed Rosalind, “You shouldn’t have said that to the badger. My mum would have been friendly to the badger. It isn’t very nice to be rude about someone’s brother, is it? You should have said something clever like, ‘Your brother is such a clever badger I’m sure he could help us’. Good manners make good friends, see?”

“Hm…I’m beginning to suspect you are a clobberblocking swindler, who’s just out to bamboozle me, so that you can run off with all my tea and coffee,” scowled the tapir.

CHAPTER TEN

The footpath grew muddier now and as Tapir didn’t want to have to wash again that day he travelled slower so as to avoid splash marks.
Half an hour later, once through a small coppice, they cornered a large poplar tree to come upon another badger, sitting on a barrel, several yards to their right. As he wasn’t dressed up like his brother, Rosalind examined him thoroughly. Even though his throat, chest, legs, feet and belly were black, with irregular black bands running along his back, his overall colour was grey. For some odd reason he also wore black sunglasses.    

Grudger – for indeed this was he – seemed to be paying rapt attention to a construction of tubes and flasks held up by metal rods, that stood before him. “That’s a chemistry set, “Rosalind mumbled quietly to herself, “Whatever next? All these creatures around here are quite mad.” She watched the badger’s pointed snout ran along the glass tubes, tracing the path of a fizzling, bubbling liquid, which travelled from one tube to another. The liquid, having at last boiled up into steam, condensed onto a piece of cold glass, slowly reforming into large droplets. The badger seem to gurgle with pleasure, as each of these droplets fell, plopping into a swan necked bottle below.

The badger at last noticed that he had company.

“Ooh…hello there Tapir….” he said, moving his head up momentarily towards his visitors, and then down again. “Ooops, oooh, almost got it. Excuse me for a mo. Oooops. These dandelions had better produce something drinkable, or everyone will be very disappointed. I really shouldn’t have left it so late.”

Another film of droplets, larger than before, this time,  formed on the glass plate and began to drip down into the  large swan necked bottle.

“Flatten-myself-down-on-the-ground! I do believe it’s working at last!” he shouted, and angled his snout and sunglasses up again at his visitors, only this time he fixed his gaze at Rosalind. “Strike-my-smelliness!” he said, in a most exhilarated tone. “It’s a girl, aren’t you?”

Suddenly, he had bounced up on his feet and was giving Rosalind more scrutiny than he had the drops of liquid. He came so close to Rosalind’s face that his nose was almost touching hers. “Oh hide-me-from-the-hens-eggs!  I can never see anything with these stupid things on,” he said tearing off his sun glasses and squinting again at Rosalind. Now she could see his entire face. A broad black mark on each side started from near his muzzle and passed back over his eye round the ear to the shoulder. The patterns on his white head made him look like a grand clown.

“You are a girl.”

“No, she’s not. I’ve already told your brother, she’s a Rosalind!” said the tapir.

Rosalind asked him why he wore his sunglasses if he couldn’t see anything with them on.

“Aha! Noticed my sun glasses, eh? You must a girl with that sort of curiosity. Unless you’re a cat? No. The ears are wrong…and you don’t appear to have a tail. There’s a simple way to find out. I’ll ask you a question. Now can you tell me what is half of eight?”

“I can do sums,” said the Tapir, “Let me show you. Now, do you mean on top or sideways?” asked the tapir.

“What difference does that make?” asked Rosalind.

“Well half of eight on top is nought but sideways it’s three.”

” Oh Shut up, Tapir! Half of eight is four,” said Rosalind.”

“Absolute rubbish,” insisted the tapir. “I didn’t think this Rosalind creature had any brains.”

“Now let’s not get into an argument,” said the badger. “Four is the answer from where she comes from.”

“So now you now that I am a girl, and not a cat,” said Rosalind with some sarcasm, “tell me why you wear those sunglasses.”

“I’ll be delighted to,” said the badger. “As you probably know, badgers usually only come out at night – being timid and sleepy creatures as we are – but as I tend to be so busy, I come out a lot during the day, and these sunglasses stop my eyes getting sore in the sunshine. Also – and I don’t mind admitting this – I like to try and keep up with the fashions in that chaotic world of yours – that’s why I bought some of Vera Lynn’s records and am saving up to buy my own Reliant Robin car. And that’s why I wear white socks.”

“White socks! Vera Lynn?” said Rosalind once again trying to stifle a snigger, but unable to.
“Well it has been a long time since I’ve been out in your chaotic world. I only manage to import the odd newspaper…- but I do my best. One has to keep up standards,” retorted the badger, sounding slightly hurt. “To be Arthur, or Frank, or whatever you say, even though I like some of your culture, I am on the whole quite ponderous about the human beings in your world. I class human beings with those woolly creatures – hmn – sheepy things – as they always seems to want to do what their neighbour does. Most unoriginal if you ask me. And humans have this obsession with being more important than each other. I’m convinced that most humans don’t enjoy the things they own, they just use them to gloat over other people…”

“She smells as well,” said the Tapir.

“….and they always seem to hurt the people they claim to like – and simper to the people they claim they hate the most. Most odd if you ask me. And the older they get they worse they are. I suppose there are one or two who are not like that.”

“She is a complete trickster, if you ask me,” said Tapir.

“Some people aren’t very nice, it’s true,” said Rosalind trying not to get angry, “but most of the people I know are very nice indeed,” said Rosalind, thinking of her granddad, her mum and her friends at school.

“Yes, to be fair. I have met one or two nice little girls in my time,” said the badger.

“Who are these boring girl things anyway?” asked the Tapir.

“Girls are the human females, Tapir, – as opposed to boys, which are the human males. Girls are the ones that speak in higher voices and when it gets near their birthdays they smile a lot at their daddies. And they usually have pictures of men dressed up as orang-ou-tangs on their bedroom walls playing guitars. And they love to chatter, and wear pretty fabrics. Very strange – but the real world of humans is so incomprehensible to me – it always has been.”

“I know lots of both boys and girls who are lovely,” said Rosalind.

“In this part of the wood,” said the badger, “we know that kindness is the quickest and nicest way of feeling good about yourself, and everyone else. I suppose one or two humans might have learned this, but most haven’t. Nevertheless, as I say, not all human beings are weird.  And have they got some great games, records and comics! Yes! Musty-smell-of-a-badgered-earth! I wish we could get the Hotspur in Wizicky-Wazicky Wood. Yes! Stuff-a-mouse-up-my-snout! Or Wizard! It would be most popular!”

“I’ve got some copies of the ‘Eagle’ and that’s rubbish,” said the Tapir.

“Those comics are hundreds of years old. There’s much better ones around now,” said Rosalind.

“Really. Then next time you visit me bring some with you. Oh! Strike my smelliness! Look at the sun moving across the sky. Oh no! I’ve got to finish the dandelion wine for the festival this afternoon or I won’t be ready in time! Let me have a look at it. Yes I’ve got half of the retort full. So far so good.”

“You’re a clever badger from what everyone has told me,” said Rosalind.

“I read somewhere that most clever creatures act stupidly, so by that definition I probably am clever. But I’m not really. I just like badgering away at things, that’s all. On the whole I’m quite an indolent and lazy thing. I like to read lots of books. And I also like go to jumble sales. About 24 copper moons ago I went to a car boot sale at the other end of the wood and bought a lot of ‘Understanding Science’ magazines. They’re new aren’t they?”

“They’re ancient. My granddad used to read those.”

“Oh. Anyway, after I read them a lot of people started to call me Brock the Boffin. How ridiculous! Anyway one good thing about reading books is that you can learn things you didn’t know. That’s how I’ve learned to make wine. I hope you are both coming to the festival to drink some?”

“No!” interjected the tapir, “Beer is boring, wine is weedy….and festivals are foul. As soon as you’ve answered this Rosalind’s question I’m going home.”

“What question?” asked the badger.

“She wants to leave the wood,” said the tapir. “Of course I’d  tell her but the answer’s momentarily slipped my mind.”

“Ah! That’s a difficult problem. I’ve thought of that before when I wanted to go out into the human world and do some scouting, but I only half solved it. Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that.” He gazed up at the sky, screwed up his eyes, and began muttering to himself. “Now where did I get to….if z equals little girl and x equals exit, then multiply by G which is Grudger and then…….” After he had mumbled on to himself for about five minutes, his mood seemed to go as grey as his fur. Suddenly, he began to stamp his feet. “No that’s not right!…..Turn a badger’s fur into paint brushes! – this is a maddening problem indeed!” he shouted up at the tree branches, bristling his thick hide with its long coarse hair. “No that can’t be right either!”

“If this is what intelligence does to you, I’ll bet you’re glad you’re an idiot, aren’t you?” whispered the Tapir into Rosalind’s ear. She snarled and he quickly backed away..

“Um..yes…Tell me, little girl,” asked the badger, “which part of the wood do you wish to leave from?”

“I came from Palingham, if that’s any help.”

“Ah yes….it must be, for – as you know – at the heart of all magic is the naming of things. It just occurred to me that being lost in the wood is actually the opposite to that famous riddle isn’t it? What is it that goes all around the wood but can’t get in?”

“I don’t know.”

“The bark of the tree,” explained the badger.

“What a clobberblockingly awful riddle,” sneered the tapir.

The badger, now began again to mouth his calculations to the sky, but was interrupted by Rosalind. The swan-necked bottle was full, she shouted.

“Aha! Thank you!” shouted the badger. “At last! At last!” he said and grabbed the retort and held it up in the air. “Grudger’s Chateau Dandelion. Now all I have got to do is to dilute it five hundred to one! I’m so sorry. I’m so late. I’ll have to go. I have to take this along to the festival and bottle it. Cheerio, nice to meet you, girl. Next time you come, bring me one of these great new comics.”

“But you haven’t told me how to leave the wood,” appealed Rosalind dejectedly.

“Aha! No, no. Hmmm….yes that is a most interesting equation, I’ve wanted to work out for years. Come along to the festival and as soon as I’ve sorted out the refreshments I’ll sit down and solve it for you. Plaster-up-a-foxes-nose! I’ve got to put up the balloons on the refreshment stall as well. Bye bye.”

“Perhaps I could help?” shouted Rosalind.

“Please do.”

“We’ll go there now…..” said Rosalind.

“I really must dash -” and suddenly the badger slid down a large hole in the ground that was behind his strange chemistry set.

    “Let’s go, then,” said Rosalind to the tapir.

“Go? Go where?”

“Haven’t you been listening? To the festival.”

“How boring. I’ve done my bit for the festival. I cut the grass.”

“Is the festival being held where I met you?”

“Yes. It’s being held in Glassdale Clearing. Cutting all that grass has made my mouth sore. Nothing on earth would drag me back there.”

“Please come, Tapir,” she coaxed, stroking his forehead. “I’ve grown very fond of you and I promise to tell my mum and grandfather all about you if I do. You see, I’ve got to go to this festival or I’ll have to wait for the badger to return home, and that means I may have to wait here for ages.”

“I hate festivals.”

“Please take me.”

“They aren’t really my sort of people.”

“I’ll bite you.”

“Now that’s not fair. You said you wouldn’t. I’m a Parsimonious ungulate from the family Tapiradae, and I won’t listen to threats. I’m not frightened of you. Stop snarling at me. Perhaps we could compromise. Listen, I’ll take you, but I’m determined not to enjoy it.”

Rosalind clambered onto the tapir and half an hour later they came to the clearing that Rosalind had seen in the moonlight.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

    As the tapir carried Rosalind into the festival Rosalind’s eyes almost popped out in astonishment. She gasped! She could never have imagined so many strange creatures as she saw now: grey squirrels dressed in bright red capes and flowered bonnets, hedgehogs wearing monocles and top hats, badgers carrying musical instrument cases, a hare who wore a policeman’s helmet; even a rabbit driving a pedal car. As tapir continued along the festival street, Rosalind couldn’t help squealing in delight at the passers by, all of whom seemed to be in the most pressing hurry. Tapir explained that everybody was panicking because the festival supposed to open very soon and everything was behind time – it happened every year.

    Planks of coloured wood, rolls of stripy plastic, checkered and patterned paper, Sellotape, various tools, decorative streamers, balloons, coloured light bulbs and much more was being delivered to the animals erecting the village around her. The stalls for darts playing, winning goldfish or coconuts, and the tent for fortune telling, nearby were almost complete. Tapir did not seem in the least excited by any of it. He gave the impression one festival was very much like another.

He meandered, making several side street twists, through the festival village streets, before he found the enormous, ‘Badger’s Beer Shop’. The stalls of which took up both sides of the whole street and were covered with kegs, barrels and bottles of strange refreshments like mushroom juice, pickled onion juice, and pure central heating water, as well as the standard lemonade, dandelion and burdock, orange juice and a some ‘Home Ales’ beer. Three of the stalls were empty; yet to be filled with Grudger’s wine when he turned up.

Rosalind noticed the many ladders propped up against the stalls, upon which several hot and flustered mice, wearing yellow badges and green shirts, continually scurried up and down to collect balloons, inflate them and then tie them onto the roof. These mice, which proudly wore the special uniforms, were the few Official Festival Helpers that had volunteered that year, explained Tapir. Then Rosalind noticed Nudger at the far end of the stall, looking exhausted, so she went over and offered her help. Nudger threw his arms around her in relief. He gave her a bag of balloons of various shapes and colours and said she could start where she liked.

Tapir yawned with ennui and said he would wander about to see any of the aristocracy were around, although it were unlikely – it was usually only the peasants who came to these weedy affairs.

Rosalind climbed a ladder and began blowing up the balloons, knotting them and tying them onto the wooden beams of the stalls. Because her fingers were more suited for such finicky work Rosalind completed four balloons to everyone of Nudger’s. He was delighted and was sure they would be finished on time.

About fifteen minutes later Tapir returned.

“I’m bored,” he said, “I’ve come to show you around. Come on, you can do that later.”

Seeing that there were only three more balloons to tie on, Rosalind agreed and climbed onto tapir’s back. Had Tapir changed his personality? “What a thoughtful tapir!” she shouted happily.

    The tapir carried her through the Festival village, turned left, and then went out of the village into a wide clearing. A green band-stand stood to their left. Several squirrels were getting brass instruments out of black cases.

“That’s like the one in our park,” Rosalind observed.

Rosalind beheld to her right a massive circle of seats, like a circus arena only twice the size in every way – and with a centre containing grass, not sand.

“Oh, that’s for the festival entertainments,” explained the Tapir, “They will start after the band begins. It will be very soon.”

“This is brilliant!” she shouted.

“Is that Rosalind? Yes?” squeaked a voice from behind her.

Rosalind was surprised that anyone would know her name here, yet somehow the voice sounded familiar. Rosalind twisted round and squealed with glee when she saw who it was.

“Rodney Mole!”

“Thought you it was you,” he said. “Would you like a pear drop?”

“I thought …..,” began Rosalind, hardly able to believe her eyes, “That horrible snake told me you were dead!”

“Oh no. Not I. But what happened to you? Back I came to find you but you were no where to be seen. Don’t you like a pear drops?”

“Oh yummy, thank you. The snake promised to take me home but I escaped.”

“Ah! Thank goodness. To see you alive and well is wonderful! Celebrate I shall by writing you a special tune. How about this: dum de dum de de dipple pom pom?”

The Tapir expressed his appreciation of this as he had the offer of a pear drop: with a rude noise.

“Don’t you like it, Tapir? Well, always you were a hard to please animal. I’ll try again later and think of something. Ee ee ee ee! See I can, Rosalind, that you haven’t found your way home.”

“Not yet, but Grudger Badger is going to help. Tell me, Rodney, how did you get away from those nettles?”

“Can’t climb trees, us moles,” he said, and sighed, “but put me on the ground for a minute and I’ll have disappeared into the earth. Back I came to look for you – but I must have taken the wrong tunnel for when I came up I couldn’t find the place for ages. Silly me! Ee ee ee ee!”

The tapir agreed.

“…and then you were no longer in the tree. I  started to……”

But Rosalind failed to hear this, as it was drowned in music, the first bars of a rising march, played by the brass band on the band stand. “Ooops! Must dash,” shouted the mole, putting his white bag of pear drops away with one paw, and waving with the other.

“Started has the Festival and supposed I to be helping Grudger finish his wine. Later will I catch you!” he mouthed, waving his paw.

“What an idiot,” said the tapir.

“Don’t be rude. He’s my friend,” said Rosalind.

“Well that doesn’t surprise me at all. Anyway, let’s go and sit in the arena , Rosalind beast,” said the tapir, “Nudger will have finished tying on the balloons by now, and Grudger should be arriving with the wine soon. It’s a Festival tradition for Grudger and Nudger to come into the arena and toast the audience. As it’s so tediously uncelestial out here I suggest we go and get a seat. You can watch and I can practice my snoring.”

“Okay,” said Rosalind.

“I’m glad you’re not giving me any trouble now,” said the tapir stuffily, “I couldn’t be doing with it. I’m under stress as it is.  I’m a bit too well connected to be able to relax at these functions. I’m particularly vexed to be at this one – for as you have seen – there’s simply nobody worth talking to.”

The smug tapir carried the smiling Rosalind to the arena, and as they were among the first to arrive, they both found a ringside seat.

After five minutes delay, during which Rosalind studied the awesome audience, a hedgehog, one she had noticed earlier, came out of the performer’s marquee. Wearing a monocle, a top hat and carrying a brown bag, he walked down the entrance and into the arena. He received thunderous applause.

“That’s that stupid Master of Ceremonies, Cedric Hedgehog,” shouted the Tapir in her ear.
“Is this the hedgehog you were complaining about earlier?” asked Rosalind.

“It is indeed.”

“Ladies and gentleman,” began Cedric hedgehog in a very loud voice, “it is the usual custom to start the festivities with a toast, but as those respected and wonderful friends of yours and mine, namely Nudger and Grudger badger….” he stopped, waited for applause, but received none. He repeated their names, “Nudger and Grudger badger….” this time their names received a smattering of hand clapping, “…are a little behind with their wine making, we will have the toast as soon as they are able to bring it to the arena.” Here the crowd gave a loud boo. The hedgehog continued as whistles and shouts poured over him. “This will be as soon as possible. So, by way of an extra treat, I intend to do something which I have never done on any previous occasion. What is this treasure you ask? I hear you bate your breaths in anticipation at this thespian pleasure. I, your MC, your affectionate and subservient  host, Cedric Hedgehog am going to juggle with the universe. Watch this! Music please.” Without further ado, the hedgehog opened his brown leather bag and produced three objects. As he produced each one Rosalind grimaced with anger. And when the third was produced the Tapir growled too. First the hedgehog had pulled Rosalind’s watch from his bag! Secondly, he pulled the mole’s white dice! And the third object he revealed was Tapir’s torch! Here indeed was the thief that had caused all the trouble, and now he was standing in the middle of the arena juggling with all their possessions!

“I’m going to get my watch back!” shouted Rosalind, standing up.

“Sit down! Sit down, Rosalind beast, otherwise you will cause a scene and I hate scenes,” cried the Tapir. “The hedgehog is not a crook he’s just a buffanting flippaflopper. He’s also one of those creatures who borrows the odd thing and keeps it for ever. That’s normal enough where you live, isn’t it? Calm down. I should know because I work for him. He’s just inefficient and has some odd habits, but he will give us our possessions back later.”
“But….”

“Sit down, or you’ll ruin the show.”

“Eh? I thought you hated festivals.”

“Shhhh….I’m so important I have to make it look like I’m enjoying myself.”

After a time the hedgehog’s juggling of the aforementioned objects came to an end and were quickly returned to the bag. Now he stood proud and erect, and harvested the thundering applause of the entertainment hungry audience with obvious pleasure. As the clapping and appreciative shouts died, he began to speak again in his cutting and liquid voice. “Thank you one and all,” he said, turning a full circle and  clapping the audience as he did so. “So kind, so kind,” he said, bowing again to another burst of gratitude. “And so, from the acorn of ability, we go on to that well known oak tree of mastery! So, without further delay,” his voice grew feverish and excited, “…and to our mutual delight I now introduce you to that wonderful and exciting dancing act that you have come to know and love! Accompanied by those wonderful musicians, ‘The Fur and Brass Band Ensemble’, ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce, ‘The waltzing Teapots’.”

Instantaneously the Blue Danube Waltz burst from the bandstand and the hedgehog and his brown bag dashed off down the entrance. As soon as he had disappeared into the marquee four teapots – florally  patterned in delicate Victorian style – appeared from it. They spiralled out, just narrowly missing each other with their spouts and handles, into the ring. They froze motionless for several moments, but when the accent of the waltz returned they suddenly leaped into a dance which spellbound the entire audience.

They pirouetted, they paired, they blew steam from their spouts; they performed with such elegance that spontaneous clapping broke out during the middle section when, by delicate artifice, they appeared to swap each other’s lids. Rosalind wanted it to go on and on, for the teapots to go round and round; to keep cleverly surprising her – as they continually did: the highlight being when they spiralled into the centre and embraced each other with their handles and spouts. The crowd became so enthralled they began to cheer. They threw their hats in the air and several weasels stood up on the back seats and started to dance together, intoxicated by the Austrian music and the teapot’s swirling and hypnotic rhythms.

The excitement grew. More spectators jumped into the aisles to dance, and row upon row of the spectators began to sway. Cedric Hedgehog returned to the ring and embraced one of the teapots which brought tremendous roars of joy, and some envy. Two small badgers jumped into the ring and began waltzing.

No one knows who first noticed the music sounding slightly wrong, but Rosalind was certainly quickly aware of it. No one knows who first noticed that single continuous note that sounded slightly out of key, that was marring the performance, but it was quick to make Rosalind’s blood run cold. As the wrong note got louder, more and more creatures began to perceive something was amiss. Perhaps a mole, or possibly a weasel for that matter was the first to look up in the sky, and then to nudge his neighbour in the next seat. What was certain was that it didn’t take long for a change in atmosphere to spread until the change had engulfed the entire arena. The wrong note was coming from the sky.

Rosalind knew the effect it was having on her – now she could see the effect it was having on all around her.

A moment ago there had been the roar of appreciative cheers. Then it had subsided leaving only an irregular clapping of hands. Now even that had stopped.

A moment ago, dancers had been fluent, exciting and natural. With the arrival of the noise, they had slowed to a jitter, like robots with their energy draining. Now they were static with arms and limbs in dramatic positions.

The music from the band had fallen away in discord all at once, like a dying swan.
Now all the eyes of the audience looked up.

CHAPTER TWELVE

    Rosalind knew this ever increasing noise was the same she had first heard when she entered the wood. Above her, a dark shape, way up in the sky, grew larger by the second. All the audience – silent and frozen in their seats – knew the same thing: the black object was coming down.

The teapots, the first to submit to this terror, broke the dreadful suspension of the arena, and darted towards the exit, but the front two crashed into each other and one of the beautiful blue spouts shattered. Pieces of broken pottery were left lying on the grass as the teapots fled into the marquee with the hedgehog.

Seconds later a black helicopter landed in the centre of the arena . The noise cut out, and the rotor blades of the aircraft began to slow, slow, slow down. At last they stopped. During this time no one in the entire audience spoke or moved.

At last the door in the side of the helicopter slid open to reveal a figure standing in the entrance. It was the strangest woman Rosalind had ever seen. And it wasn’t her chin, which seemed too distant from her the nose, or her greasy dark hair, or even that her eyes seemed to look in two different places at once. It was her impression of size: she seemed enormous. She seemed bigger than the helicopter yet she was inside it.

“Hello, my creatures!” she screeched piercingly, as she began to step down the steps from the aircraft. She wore a long-sleeved, white dress with only a black zigzag pattern around its collar for decoration. A small black cape – which swung behind her as she walked – was attached at her shoulders by two black bands.

“What mirth it gives me to pay you a visit! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeek! Didn’t expect to see me, did you?” she continued, moving her chubby hands and fingers around in the air as she did so, and exhibiting on her ghostly complexion the falsest grin that Rosalind had ever seen. “Aieeeeeeee! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeek!” Her laugh sounded as if she was going to  sick.  Rosalind took a glance at the tapir, but he didn’t say anything. He just looked ahead and his teeth chattered.

“I’ve come to liven up your Festival! Aieeeeeeee!” Her screech was the squeal of bus brakes. “You didn’t realise that Malady would pay you a gracious visit, did you? Well – I HAVE – and as I’m here, my loyal subjects, I thought we might as well have some fun. Aieeeeee! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeek!”

Not a sound came from the audience.

“I’m sure you don’t mind if I take over as  compere. What great fun this is! I always thought I should have been on telly. Aieeeee! Firstly I’d like to introduce you to my humble secretary my financial consultant and my untrustworthy spy – the Civil Serpent!”

Now, down the steps slipped the adder, still fully attached to  his baby’s rattle, which was as noisy as ever. Rosalind went to grab the tapir but discovered he was shaking more than she was.

Suddenly the attention was diverted from the centre of the arena to its entrance. Something had made a loud noise, which startled everyone.

“What’s that! Who dares interrupt me?” shrieked the long-faced woman.

Breathless, everyone waited for an answer. Then Grudger Badger came forward pushing a wheelbarrow full of bottles.  Nudger badger came following behind.

“It’s m-m-me, Malady,” began Grudger, “I was b-b-bringing bottles of wine for the festival toast and some of them dropped out of the wheelbarrow.”

“Festival toasts! Haiiieeeeeee! Celebrations for this rabble! What do you think of that serpent? Now, now, snake! Don’t get impatient! We’ll have lots of fun and games first, and then I’ll let you eat who you like afterwards. What do think of this fool badger, here, snake? Wine for these wombats! What a waste! Aieeeee! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeek!”

Suddenly she stopped laughing and shouted, “Filthy creatures!” in what Rosalind thought was not a nice voice.

“Let’s play Malady’s laughing game,” said this horrible woman, while smiling at the snake, “Its very easy to learn the rules. In fact there’s only one. And that is: the first member who stops laughing is given to the Civil Serpent! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeek!”

The whole audience suddenly burst into laughter. Rosalind started as well, realising that in this case laughter was a life saver, but she could see the tapir was having difficulty. Laughter just wasn’t  the sort of thing Parsimonious Tapirs were good at. He was making an awful noise, more like a duck quacking than anyone laughing. Rosalind kept shouting at him, encouraging him – but it was hopeless – he just couldn’t get the hang of it. His glum expression was returning.

During this time the Malady had been walking around the edge of the ring looking carefully at the horrible faces of false laughter. Now she was staring at the tapir.

“Stop!”

Everyone stopped.

The tapir was shaking for all his Parsimonious courage.

“It looks very much as though you’re the snake’s first prize, doesn’t it,  fat horse!”

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

    The snake looked at the tapir with revulsion. “Ugh! I don’t want that horrid thing,” it gasped.
“I’m…..I’m….” attempted the tapir.

“Yuk! You’re repulsive!” rejoined the snake.

“He does look a bit on the tough side for the dinner table,” sympathised the Malady. “However, you should never look a gift horse in the mouth, you know, especially if its from me. If you can’t eat him, why not have him stuffed and stuck in your garden as an ornament? ”

“I suppose that’s an idea…..” answered the Civil Serpent in his most diplomatic tones.

Suddenly the tapir, overcome by fear, made one of his rude noises, which caused slight tittering in the rows behind.

“That’s completely put me off,” said the Civil Serpent, disgusted.

“Its a good idea to have some manners when you are in my presence, you old horse-pig!” shouted the Malady angrily.

“Your brother is a clever badger and I’m sure that he could help us with our problem,” said the tapir.

The Malady’s eyes glared at him.

The tapir tried again.

“Well, as I’ve got to organise a buffet for the golf club tomorrow…and as it is getting very late now….”

Several members of the crowd, including Rosalind, burst into real laughter. The Malady’s cheeks crumpled up and glowed pink with rage. She angrily flung herself round to face the audience. The laughing stopped immediately.

“So you like laughing do you?” she bellowed at the crowd. “Right! We’ll play the game again and – this time -I assure you there will many of you who won’t find it AMUSING at all! This time, anyone who stops laughing will have the HORRIDEST things done to them by the HORRIDEST creature! Start laughing. Aieeeck! Aieeeeeeee!”

The laughter began again, but as the crowd were even more nervous now, it sounded forced and strained.

“Can’t laugh loud enough, hey?” said the Malady, “You will now. The people who stop laughing will have their armpits licked by my next guest: the Quark!” Immediately the doorway of the helicopter opened and there stood the Quark. Rosalind froze from head to toe: she couldn’t imagine a fouler thing existing anywhere. Its eyeless, writhing head and its black shiny skin were bad enough but now for the first time, she saw its mouth: a large, fleshy black hole that slopped about in the middle of its body. The creature had two legs but when it stood still the effect was that of a single trunk.

Mumbling obscenities to himself the Quark came slithering down the steps onto the grass. Its prurient smell wafted over the arena.

The crowd’s laughter became louder but Rosalind was struck dumb. She wasn’t sticking around here! Rosalind jumped into the arena and ran towards the entrance for all she was worth.

“Catch her! Catch her!” shouted the Civil Serpent putting down a bottle of Grudger’s wine he’d been drinking that had fallen off Grudger’s wheelbarrow. “That’s what I want! That little girl! I want her! She’s mine! Come here! I’ll get you!”

Immediately the Quark was in pursuit. Then calamity, her escape into the marquee was suddenly cut off by the snake. She was forced to circle around the helicopter.

“Let’s spice things up!” screamed the Malady. “The snake can have her if he catches her first! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeeeeee! What fun!”

“Niessshh humansh. Wansh to licksh the armpish,” Rosalind could hear the Quark whispering from around the other side of the helicopter. She dashed past the Malady who lay back against the helicopter shrieking with laughter. “You catch her, Quark! You always catch them!” she squealed in delight.

Rosalind ran back to the other side of the helicopter again, but the snake lay there coiled waiting to spring. He had found the bottle of wine again and was smiling and humming to himself: ‘Little Miss Breakfast for me, little Miss Breakfast for tea!”

Rosalind turned back again only to confront the Quark coming towards her, it’s smell beginning to make her swoon. The next thing she remembered was something wet touching her leg! Ugh! But it was the tapir’s nose and he was shouting instructions at her. How she managed to get on his back she had no idea, but the next moment he had shot off, manoeuvred himself past the snake and was bounding up the exit towards the performer’s marquee. From the arena they could hear the Malady laughing and screaming: “Come back! Come back! it’ll be the worse for you if you don’t. No one ever escapes the Malady.”

They sped through the tent and came out on the other side of the field.

“Oh no!” shouted Rosalind, for there was no escape here. Lined up and facing them, at the edge of the field were hundreds of gigantic stinging nettles. The moment they saw the tapir and his rider the trumpeters began to play short staccato fanfares, and the army began to march threateningly forward. “Back through the Festival Village!” squealed Rosalind.

The tapir retreated, sped back through the marquee, back into the arena, and passed the Malady, whose laughter increased as she saw them.

They would have easily slipped away if the tapir had not stumbled over Grudger’s bottles of wine that had fallen off the wheel barrow. Down came the tapir, down came Rosalind; both crashed to the ground. Tapir jumped up and, in confusion, ran off leaving Rosalind lying on the floor.

Rodney Mole was standing over her.

“Quick! Take this note from Grudger – it’s the answer to your problem. Got back your granddad’s watch from Cedric hedgehog. Here – take it. Now run!” Then the mole followed his own advice and ran off, leaving Rosalind holding a piece of paper in one hand and her granddad’s watch in the other.

A putrid smell began to fill the air. “Myssh favourite toysh. Gotsh yoush at lashtsst. Slovelyshhh to lick humansssh armpitsssh.”

The Quark was a whisper away.

Rosalind jumped up, weaved herself past the Civil Serpent – who was rapidly drinking another bottle of wine – and ran towards the Festival Village. The snake, beaming with a new confidence, threw down the now empty bottle and joined the chase.

Rosalind found herself in a maze of streets. She turned left, then right, then found herself by Grudger’s stall. As she considered which way to go, the snake slid up beside her. She saw him just in time to step aside as he leapt for her, but she dropped Grudger’s note. There was no time to retrieve it. And then, to her horror, approaching her from the other end of the street was the Quark. She was trapped.

The snake wriggled nearer. The Quark slithered closer. She was done for: there was no escape. But wait a minute….

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

The ladder she used to tie on the balloons….it was still there. She ran over and began racing up its rungs. Only a few inches behind, the Civil Serpent quickly grasped where she was going and – now believing all things were possible now full of Grudger’s wine –  flung himself at Rosalind and successfully coiled himself around her leg. Kicking and shouting she try to prize him off.

“You didn’t realise snakes – hic! – can go up ladders, did you little girl?” he was saying, “Ooooh, stop it, you’re making me dizzy. Herrrr, her – hic! – herrrrr. You didn’t realise – hic! – what happens to little girls who go up snakes – hic! – ooops! I am a little giddy. I’m – hic! – an adder who’s been up a ladder and I’m at last going to bite you, little whoooo….”


At last Rosalind’s violent shaking loosened the snake’s grasp and he fell all the way down the ladder and crumpled into a heap on the ground. The Quark, who was standing below, picked up the Civil Serpent and – much to Rosalind’s surprise – gobbled him up. All the time it was crunching and chewing Rosalind could hear it talking to itself, as if it were purring.
“Niiiesh foosh. Cssssssh! Quite a goodsh insurance man but a lousy spyshhhh. Alwaysh fancied eating shnake. UUUURRRRRRRRRRRKKKKKK!….” This last noise was the biggest burp Rosalind had ever heard in her life.

She didn’t hang around. She quickly climbed over onto the roof of the stall in the next street. Realising, she had to get down quickly, she swung herself on the lowest roof bar and dropped seven feet. She bounced but only scratched herself. Immediately she began running again fearing that the Quark would soon be on her heels – and he was – for he suddenly appeared before her, stepping out from a side street.

She fled down a road on her right and soon found herself out of the Festival Village and into another part of the clearing. She recognised where she was: there was the bridle path that she had travelled along earlier, and there was the tree where she had first met Tapir. Which way to go? The Quark was sure to be close behind, as well as the stinging nettles, the fanfares of which she could hear.

Suddenly she heard that horrible earth shaking sound again! It must be the helicopter.
“Rosalind!” said a familiar voice. It was the tapir. “Get on my back! They’re coming after you!”

Rosalind jumped on.

“I’ve got a note from the badger. I saw you drop it on the ground. Read it as we go along.”
Rosalind opened the note and found it very confusing.

It read:

Dear little Girl,
I solved your problem using that old stand-by formula of mine:
Possum x gew gaw = anything
over x under
I put in the data
f = festival
s = swan-necked bottle
p = Palingham
w = wood
t = tapir
g= Grudger
and reduced it down to :
pg  = ouaywt
pfsg
and then cancelled and rearranged:
one = wayout
sf

Therefore the answer to your question is to travel straight forward on your own. If you do this you’ll find your way out.

Yours faithfully,

Grudger

“What does it say?”

“It says I have to go straight ahead on my own,” explained Rosalind hoping she had deciphered it correctly.

“Right, Rosalind Beast, I can go faster than you because I’ve got double legs. I’ll take you to the crossroads, that should give you enough time to escape.”

“But what about everyone at the festival? That horrible woman will do something nasty to them.”

“No she won’t. As soon as the Quark and the Civil Serpent came after you, everyone ran off to safety. Was she angry! You saved them all Rosalind with your diversion tactics. Pretty good I should say for a Rosalind beast. Now jump on and let’s go.”

The tapir immediately put his head down and thundered along as fast as he could go. Rosalind was very proud of him; he was a brave Parsimonious tapir now – even if he hadn’t been earlier.

At the crossroads they had a short parting as the stinging nettles’ fanfares  were getting louder with every passing second. Tapir said he would come and visit her civilised mother and grandfather as soon as he was able, and that he wanted to learn more about manners as they had saved his life. She kissed him on the nose, affectionately pulled his ears, and shouted, “And you’ve saved mine. Goodbye Tapir! I hope I see you again!” and dashed off into the forest.

Rosalind ran through the vegetation as quickly as her feet would carry her. She hoped the thick undergrowth would delay  – even stop  – the stinging nettles. But she was wrong. After twenty minutes she could hear their stomping feet trampling the vegetation underfoot more clearly than ever.

She went ‘straight ahead’ as far as was possible. Sometimes a rock or a tree would block her way and she would climb it, or go round it, until she could resume her path. She reached a stream with no bridge and wasted a few minutes wondering how to get over it. Eventually she waded across.

Soon, she came out of the trees onto a long corridor or grass, a long flat strip the length of a cricket run. After crossing it to enter back into the thick trees metres ahead, she looked behind her to see the nettles just arriving at the other end! They were carrying big cream coloured objects but she couldn’t make out what they were. Quick, she said to herself, get a move on!

She felt completely exhausted and didn’t know how long she could keep going; travelling straight ahead was very awkward.

The trees had thinned out, and now the rough undergrowth was grassy again and running was easier. Behind her the stomp of the nettles’ boots and the trumpet fanfares had grown deafening! She looked over her shoulder and began to despair. They were gaining on her so fast that she would never make it. Then she saw something she recognised. A brick wall in the distance. A boost of hope! At last she knew where she was.

But then something whizzed past her shoulder. And then something else. Splat! Something had hit her on the back. Splat! Ugh! Something had hit her on the neck! Ugh! It was all yellow. It was custard. The stinging nettles were pelting her with custard pies. Yukky! For one minute she got mad and felt like stopping and giving them a mouth full – but then she decided it wouldn’t be such a good idea!

She had nearly made it. Just before her was the entrance where she had come into Wizicky-Wazicky  Wood. There were the two white lions carved in stone. Thwack! Another custard pied hit her on the leg! She was at the entrance. Keep going!

She ran out of the entrance of Wizicky-Wazicky Wood into the trees and sped away through all the bluebells. Whiz! went another custard pie. But a moment later the sound of the stinging nettles’ trumpet fanfares had died away. She nervously looked around. What a relief! They had all stopped at the entrance! They were still throwing custard pies but she was too far away now. It was as if the magic in spellbound wood didn’t allow for any of its creatures to leave it. Thank goodness!

As she rushed home she looked at her granddad’s watch. It was still going and looked undamaged. It was almost four o’clock. She had been away for a complete day and night!

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

“Hello darling,’ said her mother when Rosalind burst into the back door.
“I’m really sorry, mum…” Rosalind pleaded even before she was fully through the door, “It wasn’t my -“

“Sorry about what, darling?” asked her mum, filling the kettle with water from the tap, “Whatever have you been doing? You look as if you’ve run a marathon.”

Rosalind fell silent and stared at her mother. She seemed remarkably calm. “Well,” said Rosalind taking deep breaths and calming down. “I’m really sorry about being away for ages and for all this mess I’m in.”

“You haven’t been long. I’ve only just got back with your granddad. I’m so pleased. We’re sure he’s made full recovery and he’s already cracking his awful jokes again,” said mum with a radiant smile. “You look very hot and flustered though. Is anything wrong?”

“But where’s the custard?” Rosalind asked, looking down at her clothes, unable to understand where all the dirt and custard had gone. It had all disappeared. Rosalind rather felt as if she had been cheated!

“Custard, darling? Is that what you want for tea? Yes, I can probably manage that. Now why don’t you go and rest in the lounge and talk to granddad. He’ll be dying to have a chat with you.”

“How long have I been away then?” asked Rosalind.

“I dropped you in the village centre about three quarters of an hour ago. Is that what you’ve got in your hand? That looks nice. Is that what you bought for granddad?”

“Yes…” Rosalind said. She went to say something else but bit her lip. Instead she lifted the watch up to her ear and felt its gentle confident tick. “Yes, here, have a look,” she said and gave it to her mother.

A few minutes later she at last gave it to granddad. She was so pleased as he adored it! And then, as he was carefully admiring it, he discovered something. He said, “This is strange. Look there is a funny verse engraved on the back of the watch. Can you read it as it’s a bit too small for my old eyes.”

In the smallest print she read:

To Wizicky Wazicky Wood
To Wizicky Wazicky Wood
When set benign
You slip through time
and space to chime
Wizicky Wazicky Wood

Rosalind thought it was all very strange. Perhaps it would be best to keep quiet about Wizicky-Wazicky Wood at the moment. Perhaps one day she might go back there and see Tapir, and the other friends she had made, but for now it would be nice to keep it to herself: a very special secret indeed.

END