THE ODD CHILD

© 2015 Michael Skywood Clifford

A01

As Kate walked through Middleton Wood she felt she was losing her mind. What a year this had been. She had had so  many things to look forward to last Christmas yet they all came to nought. And it was all such a shock, so unpredictable. She left a trail of anguished thoughts behind her as she walked.

Suddenly she became more aware of her surroundings.   Her hearing picked up. She had walked in these wood after work for over three years in the dusk after work yet had never felt even the smidgeon of unease. Instead of hurrying up, she slowed, occasionally flicking her mousey hair about her, looking to see if her sense of being followed was accurate. In all her life she had never had trouble with stalkers, prowlers or madmen. She didn’t want that history to change in any way.

Then she heard a slight footfall behind her. She turned her whole body round. The noise hadn’t come from the bridle path but from the undergrowth to its side. With her senses heightened, she kept still, listening hard but all she could hear was the buffeting of the breeze. Then a movement. A glint of synthetic blue through the organic greenery. Then it was gone.

“Who’s there?” she called in a firm voice, but not a loud one. She didn’t know whether she should bolt for it. Yet she suspected that whatever was following her was smaller than a human being.

“You are going to play a big part in my future,” said a soft voice from the undergrowth.

“What?”

There was no reply.

“Who’s there?”

“I am Mir.”

A boy, she thought he looked about ten, suddenly stepped out on to the bridle path.

“Are you following me?”

He had wavy brown hair, falling into a soft fringe. He wore a light blue t-shirt and full length jeans. On his feet were stylish and unusual blue plimsolls. His left hand held onto some white fabric, a large white glove. It made her think of Mickey Mouse.

“Yes,” he said.

“Why?”

“I’m lost,” he said.

Exasperation flashed across her face.

“I need your help,” he said. The boy kept looking back, his face now filled with alarm.

“Where’s your mum, or your dad?”

“I haven’t got one,” he said looking worried.

Silence again.

“What was that you said about the future?”

“I don’t like to repeat myself,” he said, suddenly showing a cocky expression. He looked up and then said, “Will you look after me?”

“And why should I do that? Don’t be silly and get off home.”

“I don’t have a home.”

“You must do. You will have a mum and dad somewhere, so skedaddle and stop annoying me.” She felt quite concerned for him but she didn’t want him to know.

“How old are you?”

“Oh,” he shrugged, “I don’t know.”

“You look about ten to me. Is that right?”

“Ten? If you say so.”

“Can I walk along with you and talk for a little while?”

This was bizarre, meeting this odd child on the outskirts of the woods. “Aren’t there other walkers you could talk to? Why did you pick on me?”

“I feel good with you. You are nice, if only you would stop being suspicious. I mean you no harm. And I really need your help.”

She sighed. Everyone always said she was a soft touch to a lame dog and that’s why she always got herself into trouble. “You can walk along with me for five minutes – and THAT’S ALL,” she emphasised.

Wary that the boy might be in the process of carrying out a scam on unsuspecting walkers, she relinquished neither suspicion nor caution as she walked along with Mir. Then, suddenly to her surprise, he grabbed her hand.

“I don’t really understand what is going on here,” said Kate, shocked at how events were moving beyond her control.

“I really need you to look after me,” said the boy, looking behind him.

She stopped and looked hard at him and repeated her question: “Where are your parents?”
“Don’t ask me difficult questions. If you could just let me stay with you for one night I would be very grateful and I would be far less frightened.” Earnestness was written all over his cute little face.

“But you must have come into the wood from somewhere.”

“Yes, I did. I slept here last night.”

“You must have been quite cold at the end of September sleeping out here in those clothes.”

“No. I was in a box.”

“A box?”

“Yes, a sort of large box.”

She stopped again and pulled her hand away. “You speak in riddles. You are playing with me.”

“I only want you to put me up for one night and then I will be gone.” He shrugged his shoulders and looked like he was going to burst into tears.

“And what’s that you holding there? That white glove.”

“Oh this?” he said, lifting it up. “This is mine. It’s important to me,” he said.

“Can I have a look?”

He thought for a minute and then hugged the glove almost possively to his chest and said, “Maybe later.”

Kate was unsure. He seemed genuine enough, but how crazy to go out for an evening stroll and come back home with the acquisition of a child. His parents could be looking for him, he could have escaped from somewhere, he may be some psychopathic feral criminal. Yet as she looked at him, she felt compassion for his appeal. He looked considerably worried and his plea had appealed to her feelings of nurture.

“One night,” she whispered quietly to herself. “My mother will go mad.”

“Don’t tell her,” he said hearing her whisper.

She looked at him sharply not realising she was articulating her own thoughts aloud. “I will have to. I live with her.”

She looked at her watch again. “I’d better go,” said Kate. “I promised my mum I’d do the cooking tonight,” she heard herself explaining.

“You are not married then?”

This question shocked her, coming from the youngster. “No, I’m not married!” she shouted, making the boy back away.

“I live with my mum,” she said more calmly.

A few minutes later, as she approached where she had parked her car she asked: “And what was your name again.”

“Mir,” he said.

“You must have a mum, somewhere,” she said as they headed towards the light at the wood’s edge, just past here her car was parked in the nearby car park.

“I had better say goodbye now,” said Kate, adopting a firm voice.

“You can’t leave me here.” He started sobbing. “I really don’t want to spend another night in the wood. Honestly I am all alone.”

“All right. All right. You can stay with me and my mum for one night. One night only. You can get cleaned up, have some food and stay for one night. Then I will arrange it for you to go and live with other children.” She had been thinking of the social services but she also had a intuitive sense that a children’s home may be inappropriate for this child.

“I don’t want anything like that. I just want to have you look after me.”

“One night only,” she said resignedly, “and when you meet my mum don’t say anything. I will do the explaining.”

She smiled at the irony. Last year she had been jilted. She was childless at 39. Now she suddenly was a mother for a night, but how would she explain it to her mother?

A02

Moments later, close to where the boy and woman had met, branches creaked, pulled apart by a pair of rough hands revealing the emergence of a short mascline figure.

A hessian body-shirt clad the short humanoid. The garment ran down to his knees with a brown belt pulling in too tightly at the waist. A black bag – holding a black flask with a red cork – hung around his neck. Below hair of straw, a dwarfish face undulated like an overexercised bull terrier, its vermillion pupils now searching the panorama. Suddenly they fixed in the distance. Over the border fence of the wood a woman was driving a car away. A boy sat next to her.

A03

“Oy you! I want a word with you!”

As Kate drove into her Larkrise Crescent, her mother’s neighbour, Alf Buntin, was screaming at her.

She wound down the window and pulled a face.

“That bloody cat of yours, he’s been crapping on my garden again and ruining all of my prize vegetables.” Buntin was sweating with rage, his blotchy face distorting with anger. “If you don’t keep the cat off my garden I won’t be responsible for my actions.” He was so worked up, Mir thought his eyes would pop out.

“I can’t control a cat. Who can tell a cat where to roam?” she reasoned.

“Well you better had or else. You better had! Keep it locked in.”

“Try orange and lemon skins, that’s supposed to keep cats away from gardens,” she said, winding the window down, cutting his noise off as he was still blustering.

“He’s really mad,” said Mir.

“You said it,” said Kate. “He’s been a pain since he moved in last Christmas. Neighbour nightmare of the decade.”

A04

But Kate now had a more important manoeuvre to navigate. As she turned into the kitchen, all set to explain to her mum that she had brought her a special friend, she noticed the presence of her sister, Alice. Now that could complicate things.

Both women were introduced to Mir and shook his hand politely.

“He’s a good looking little mite but he could do with some clean clothes,” said Alice as she was leaving. “Who’s his mum?”

Kate lied. “She’s one of my customer’s at the supermarket.”

Mum eyes had sparkled with delight when introduced to her cute little companion but that soon transformed into a heavy grimace when Kate – unable to restrain herself no more – burst forth with her account of their meeting. The boy kept quiet, as instructed, looking troubled and lost. Then he became distracted and a lot more cheerful when Kate’s cat, Harry, came through the cat-flap. Mir began stroking it and playing with it. Kate went on detailing the meeting in the wood to her mother.

Emily Leaning, Kate’s mum, expressed her concern at her daughter’s story. She was extremely certain that the boy couldn’t be taken under the wing without the correct paperwork.

“Boy come over here.” She beckoned.

“Now where is your real mother and father? Have you run away.”

“I have not run away. I don’t have a mother or father. I don’t want to talk about my past. I like Kate and I like the cat. It’s nice to be here.”

“You realise you can’t live here. I’m sure that would be illegal.”

“You can stay for a few days, Mir, until we have decided what to do with you,” said Kate.

“A few days!” Mir beamed. “Thank you.”

“Would you like to go and have a bath?” asked Kate.

“Yes please. Show me the bathroom and leave me to it. I am very independent.”

“Use the towels and things in there.”

“Where is his suitcase, his clothes, his possessions?” asked mum.

“He has none except that glove on the table,” said Kate, shrugging her shoulders.

“Can you show me where I will be sleeping?” he asked going over to pick up the glove.

“It’s the small bedroom next to the bathroom,” said Kate. “It has a single bed. It’s made up because we keep it for guests.” Mir nodded, turned and clattered up the stairs.

The mother and daughter wrangled about the plight of the boy for another hour until Kate grew so frustrated she put a stop to it.

“Leave it for now, let’s just put him in the spare bedroom and worry about it tomorrow. No doubt a guiding light will shine when I phone the social services,” said Kate.

“I would think about what you say to them before you do,” said her Mrs. Leaning.
Kate looked at her surprised.

“You wouldn’t want a nice young boy like that to be institutionalised. He needs go back to his real mum.”

“But perhaps they could help us foster him for a few weeks.”

“If you do speak to the social services, I would suggest telling them the whole thing is a hypothetical situation to write fiction. As soon as they know you’ve adopted a boy off the streets they’ll send round a van for strays.”

A05

Not far away, a small girl of golden hair, ruddy cheeks and and an expression of determination. ran at breakneck speed through a barren field trying not to trip on the stubs of wheat all around her. Once, and only once, she slowed her pace to jerk her head round to look behind her to see if she was pursued, and then instantly resumed her fastest pace. She couldn’t be sure. She would surely make the safety of the woods and hide there. As she reached the perimeter of the woods she was relieved to hear a car drive off from the nearby country road. She was alone, she hoped.

Where the hell was she?

Ever cautious of danger, she followed the bridle path through the spinney. From its dry stone wall she could see a farmhouse in the next field. She had no choice but to knock on the door.

A tallish man in his late 70s grinned at her as if he was not quite in this world. A fringe of grey down curled down form his scalp to reveal twinkling eyes behind. His pronounced and fluent accent was hardly the accent of a farmer, more an army officer or a university lecturer.

“Excuse me sir but where am I?” she asked.

“Oh dear,” he said, “A little girl lost. “You’re on the outskirts of a little town called Middleton.”

“I don’t suppose I could I stay here, could I? I could help around the house.”

“Hm… Well be thankful for what the good lord brings. I live alone now my poor Madeleine has gone,” he said.“ I would welcome someone tidying up,” He opened his arms wide like some ham actor. “And I could do with some company. So welcome!”
She went in. The house was spacious, dark, damp and a total mess.

A06

The short dwarfish figure walked cautiously through Middleton wood. Occasionally he would stop, slowly circle around, scanning everything about him. Sometimes, if he heard something coming in his direction, he would hide. After any passing dog walker or rambler was firmly out of sight, he would quickly rejoin the bridle path, heading for the footpath that led to the town of Middleton.

Eventually he stood by the gate at the boundary of the wood that opened onto this footpath across fields to a road. Assuring himself once again he was completely alone in the landscape, he popped out the red stopper from the black flask. His hoarse whisper was authorative.“Come out, Globule.”

Slowly a black mist hissed out of the bottle, slowly, disorderly at first and then growing in speed, until the mist became blacker and so dense that it formed itself into something like a black balloon, yet it still kept the qualities of a gaseous entity. “Yes, Blowfortine, my masterful wreckel, I am here to offer you my best advice.”

“These people wear strange clothes. I will be noticed when I go out of these woods?” said Blowfortine.

“Yes. That is what I receive. I am assessing your previous brain wave experiences and being informed by my uniclopeadic memory banks.” Moments went by. “I am informed that red eyes would be considered very odd here. And the sort of dress that you wear is more akin to the agricultural dress they wore over a thousand years ago.”

“What do you advise, Globule?”

“I cannot be legally responsible for giving you wrong information in this ponderous situation with limited data and my creators, Gartykin and Borjons, are in no way legally responsible if the advice I give you should prove eronious or harmful in any way. “

“Cut that out and give me hard information.”

“I advise you to sleep in the wood tonight, as any other course of action would raise the danger-probability to unacceptably high risk parameters. First thing, just before dawn when there are few people around, walk into the centre of the nearby connurbation which is called a town centre were there are retailers. Here you will find shops that sell clothes. As soon as they open you must find one and change from your present attire into some of their trousers and shirts in their changing rooms. You will then have to run out because you do not have any currency for this place. It is unlikely they will pursue, they are generally fat and lazy and there is very little in the way of official regulators. I especially advise you to get some dark glasses so that they cannot see your red pupils, which will be a giveaway of your foreign qualities. However, should someone notice, you can claim to be some sort of albino. They would understand that as a quirk of nature.”

“Anything else?”

“I cannot be held legally responsible –

“Enough!. And make sure you switch my language to the one the natives use tomorrow.”

“Of course.”

“We will head back. Now go back in.”

“And am I soon to be released if I serve you well?”

“We are not talking about that until this mission is over.”

“Yes, Oh imperious Bowfontine.” And the black cloud hissed quickly back into the black spherical flask.

A07

Kate really did not want to make the phone call. She really didn’t know what the effect of her telling the authorities would be. She decided to take her mother’s advice and be judicious, she would reveal nothing; pretend she was doing research.

“Hello. Leicester Social Services.”

“Um.. I wonder if you could help. I am just trying to establish a point of law,” said Kate.
She found she had to to ask her question many times: If a stray child was found and looked after by an adult, what was that adults responsibility on informing the authorities and what would happen?

She was referred to six different departments: including ‘the adoption team’, ‘the fostering team’ and ‘child protection’ and even at these she was referred. No one seemed to know the answer. She was eventually referred to the duty solicitor. “I’m afraid I cannot answer that question. We are unable to give advice to the public. You will need to see a solicitor to establish these details.”

She phoned the biggest courts in the area and they said they were unable to give advice to the public. The best information she could get was for her to refer to ‘The Children Act 1989’ and the ‘Adoption and Children Act 2005’. When she looked them up on the internet she found that it was all a matter of legal interpretation.

Finding her answer was like searching for a particular star in the infinite universe.

A08

Kate was at work behind the counter of the supermarket petrol kiosk. Pricesmart Supermarket had employed her for over two years and it had been a happy relationship.
“Pump number four,” said the public school accent in the plush suit as he came to the counter.

“That will be £41 exactly sir,” said Kate.

He selected a Mastercard from a variety of cards in his wallet, slid it in the card receiver and tapped in his pin. He smelled of Eau De Cologne. She gave him his receipt.

When the man had gone, her friend and colleague, Maureen said, “You know who that was?”

Kate didn’t.

“Giles Levine, the life-coach guru the royal family rave about. He tells you how to live your life, gives you all the right answers. Written loads of books. He supposed to be brilliant.”

“Oh yeah, I could do with advice like that with the daft decisions I make.”

“You can’t blame yourself for that!”

“He’s giving a talk at Middleton’s town hall at the beginning of next month,” continued Maureen, “It’s being televised by the MBC. I’m going. Why don’t you come along. You’d be impressed.”

“Okay. I’ll bring Mir, if I can,” said Kate.

“Anyway you should never have got mixed up with that cretin,” said Maureen.

Kate disapproved. “Who, Mir?

“No, your ex.”

“Oh, him. When is this guru on?”

“Town Hall, 7.30 November 8th.”

“I’ll put it on my calendar.”

A09

Over the days, Mir fitted into Mrs. Leanings house like a missing part of a jigsaw puzzle. His laughter, his curiosity and his helpfulness quickly won over Emily Leaning. He was polite, bright and often quite funny. He was almost a model child. He was useful too, he ran lots of erands for everyone. He seemed to infuse the house with energy.

Kate loved her cat, Harry, but to her astonishment, the cat now seemed to prefer Mir. “It can’t be cupboard love,” she laughed to her mother because I still feed him.” Most cats were wary of children but this furball with attitude loved the boy. Kate warmed when she saw boy and animal tangled in complete accord together asleep on the sofa.

The cat seemed so taken it was as if the boy was another cat. Kate could swear she heard Mir talking to it in a strange tongue. “It’s Acorian,” he said. “Cat’s understand it.” She just laughed not sure what to say. She never asked again.

Mir and Harry engaged in a silly game where the boy tried to touch Harry’s forehead with his finger, and Harry in response would grab it. The cat usually won but never once did the cat have his claws out which amazed Kate.

One night Kate thought she thought she heard Mir talking to the cat in his bedroom. He stopped as soon as she knocked on his door.

“Who are you talking to?” she asked on entering. “I’m praying to God,” he said.
She was startled to find that he was religious.

A10

Kate’s sister, Alice, blustered into the house the next afternoon, complete with her turned up nose, her permanent frown and her retro existentialist beret. She said she had come round because she and Kirk, her man, had become concerned. Who was this boy was and why he had been allowed to take over her mother’s house?

“I think we must grill him about his past,” said Alice.

“You won’t get anything out of him. Don’t you think we haven’t tried?” said Kate.

An hour later Kate, Alice and Mrs. Leaning were sitting in the lounge. Mir was sitting on an armchair reading a book on science. Televisions and computers were off.

“Mir…” began Alice.

He looked up from his book. “Yes.”     “We really need to know about where you have come from,” said Alice. “You won’t get into trouble for telling the truth.”

“Oh not that again.”

“It’s only right you tell us. My mum is putting you up and looking after you so you really should tell us where you come from.”

“I don’t like to go into my past,” he said, slamming his book shut as if to close the subject firmly.

“It won’t change anything, my dear. You can trust us. We won’t throw you out or anything,” said Emily Leaning.

Mir stood up. “One day I’ll tell you,” he said and let out a deep sigh and left the room. He didn’t come back down until the following morning.

A11

On the Saturday, Kate and Mir decided to have a refreshment break in the local Woodland Garden Centre restaurant. As Kate returned to the table that Mir had allocated she placed the tray down on the table – with teapot, mugs and two chocolate eclairs – she felt someone behind her touch her on her shoulder. She turned and stared into the eyes of a man she knew. It was the man who had jilted her the year before.

“Hi Kate, I thought I ought to come over and speak to you.”

She couldn’t speak but an audible grunt came from her windpipe. She tore away her gaze from his familiar face and moved the bought items off the tray onto the tablecloth.

“I just needed to apologise,” he said.

She fixed her gaze on the silver teapot. She was without words. She didn’t even think Danny was still living in the area.

“I got frightened and lost it. I left Middleton and went off to the south coast. I’m really, really sorry.”

“I heard you’d gone away.”

“I really made a mistake. I was a fool, a coward, I’m really sorry about the hurt I gave you, I was just so weak. I want to make it up to you if you will let me.”

She remained standing because she didn’t want to have to invite him to sit down. She didn’t want to appear a push over. Yet strangely she didn’t feel that angry, just amazed.
“I’m really glad I’ve seen you. I was planning to come round,” he said

She felt the need to be strong. “I haven’t got energy for this at the moment. It’s a bit of a surprise.”

“Of course. I’m sorry. Are you still on the same number?”

“Um… yes.”

“I’ll be in touch.”

He walked off disappearing into the large garden mall.

“Who’s he?” asked Mir.

“Someone I used to know,” said Kate.

“Is he the one you were going to marry?”

“How did you know about that?”

“I hear you and your mum chat sometimes. He’s not the one for you.”

“I did love him.”

“He’s trying to win you back.”

“Do you think so?” she asked pouring tea for Mir.

B01

“Perhaps fate is giving you a second chance to make something of your life,” said Mrs. Leaning to her daughter.

“Are you suggesting being 39 and unmarried that I am a hopeless spinster? Things are not quite like that any more,” said Kate. “haven’t you heard of Feminism?”

“It’s a shame you haven’t.”

“Ouch.”

“Look Kate, I would agree with you if your were not the family type but you are. Look at the way you enjoy the company of Mir. You’re definitely not a career girl type. You’re such a softy. You always did wear you heart on your sleeve. What do I know? Perhaps this could be the making of you, if you can trust him. If it was me I would tell him to sling his hook, look at the misery he put you through, rejecting you a week before you married. ”

“Even if I married I’m probably a bit old to be a mum. I would have liked to have been a mum.”

“Talking of mum’s, what are you going to do about Mir? He’s someone else’s child. You can’t keep him like a pet.”

“If I tell the authorities they will likely take him away. And we can’t sent him back to that tent in the wood.”

“But he needs to go to school.”

“Yes, he does. Isn’t he bright? He can read. He’s always borrowing books in the library. But you’re right he does need to go to school.”

“He is a well adjusted child – he must have very sound parents, but where are they?         That is the mystery, we must find out where they are. It’s only right that we find them, they will be worried sick about that boy, unless he’s an orphan.”

“He clams up.”

“Don’t we know.”

B02

“I’m looking for my little brother,” said the short man wearing dark glasses to the shop assistant.

“Oh,” she replied, “Well, he’s not here,” she said curtly looking around at the empty shop. What a strange man. Why would anyone wear sun glasses in the autumn?

“He lives around here,” said Blowfontine, “His friend who is looking after him has a Ford Focus.”

“There’s lots of those about. Don’t tell me he has two legs and two arms. That won’t help to find him.”

“I have good news for him.”

“Has he come into an inheritance then?”

“Yes. Inheritance. Exactly.”

“What’s his name?”

“Mir. Mir Ahraduypi.”

“Errh… there is a Mir who lives in Larkrise Crescent but I’m sure he hasn’t got a foreign name like that. And he’s only a child.  About ten years old, so it can’t be him.”

Blowfontine pulled a strange expression. “No, that can’t be him.” And without further ado turned and walked out.

B03

“But how can you even consider it when he jilted you a week before you planned to get married,” asked Maureen with wide eyes.

“Yes. That was terrible and I was devastated by it. Yet I did love him, Mo. And now he’s come back and apologised and wants to do it right this time,” Kate sipped her latte.

They were sitting outside a cafe in High street in a rare day of mild weather and hazy sunshine, the dying embers of summer, the final capitulation to engulfing autumn.

“If he jilted you once, he could do it again.”

“I doubt it. I think he’s learned his lesson. He does seem genuinely damaged by what he did.”

“It’s none of my business,” said Maureen,” but if any guy lets me down in such a big way like that then I wouldn’t even waste my eyesight on him.”

“We organised only a registry office wedding with a small guest list. Even the reception was a small scale affair.  So it’s not as if we were having a massively expensive society wedding. Now that would have been a disaster.”

“But you must have been taken apart by it. A guy that can let you down once can let you down again.”

“I know. It was bad. But I still feel for him, I can’t help it.”

“You’re too soft.”

“Everyone says that. There’s no law against it. I like being who I am. If I hardened up I wouldn’t like myself.”

“And what about this boy you have taken under your wing. What about him?”

“He’s a lovely kid. Don’t quite know what I’m going to do about that.” Kate took another sip of her latte and sighed.

B04

One night the family were watching television and the news was on BBC1. Mir, who had been sitting on the sofa watching intently and stroking his white glove, suddenly stood up and said, “These televisions are boxes of evil propaganda.” He pointed his gloved hand at the television and it flickered and died.

Kate and her mother were confounded by his suddenly outburst and outcome.

“Have you just done that, Mir? Have you just switched off our television set in a pique?”

“I can’t repeat it myself, I’m sorry to inconvenience you.” He said and went off to his bedroom.

And so the Leanings television was inoperative for days. Emily was astonished to find that most of the street’s televisions had failed around the same time.

“What is going on with you, Mir? You have a remarkable set of tricks up your sleeve. How did you do break the TV?” Kate said to him over breakfast.

“Oh, when I get annoyed my emotions talk for me.”

“How come, for a ten year old, you talk with the wisdom of an adult.”

“I just can’t explain it.”

“There’s a great deal you can’t explain.”

B05

“I’m glad you came,” said Danny

“You asked me to,” said Kate.

“I want you to tell me you’ve forgiven me,” he said.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m really pleased to see you again. Just the sight of you has awoken many feelings I thought had gone.”

He grabbed her hand. She didn’t retract it. He said: “I still want to marry you, Katey.  I love you more now than ever. We could start a whole new life somewhere.”

“What’s wrong with here?”

“Middleton isn’t exactly the most beautiful place in the world is it? What about us living by the sea?”

“The South Coast, that would be expensive.”

“We both have money,” said Danny, “that shouldn’t be an issue.”

“But my mum lives here and so do my friends. My work is hardly important, working in the petrol station of a supermarket, but I like the team I work with and I enjoy the meeting the regular customers.”

“I see, well let’s worry about that later. Will you marry me so that we can begin our life together.”

“I’m thinking about it. You can’t rush me. It’s a serious decision. I have to know for certain why you ditched me last time and how do I know you won’t do it again?”

He sighed.

“Katey, I was ill. Something in me snapped. I went through a sort of illness of doubt, an illness of almost self loathing. I didn’t trust myself or respect myself at all. I didn’t think I was someone worth marrying. I had a crisis of confidence, a crisis of self belief. I even went to the doctor with depression. In the end I sent you that text message saying ‘The marriage is off.’ It was cruel message because it  explained nothing. Please forgive me.”

“What brought it all on? You were convinced enough earlier to book the wedding.”

“I don’t know. I just can’t explain it but I really regretted it when I found myself in Christchurch. I realised I had made a terrible mistake.”

“Why didn’t you phone me? I left so many voice mail and text mail messages on your mobile.”

“I couldn’t. I was too embarrassed. I felt awful. I even considered suicide. I was drunk but a mate talked me out of it. He told me to come back here and to try and mend things, otherwise I would never forgive myself. Even if you won’t marry me it would mean a great deal for you to forgive me.”

She squeezed his hand.

“Okay, I suppose I can forgive you but don’t do anything like that again.”
He grinned. She loved to see it, she hadn’t seen the beauty of his open smile for over a year.

B06

“Hello. Social services.”

“Hello. I don’t want to say who this is but I have something to report.”

“What is it about?”

“About a child that never goes to school.”

“Okay I will put you through to our duty social worker.”

A few moments passed as the caller was transferred.

“Hello, Mr. Mason speaking.”

“I’m reporting a child in our estate that never goes to school.”

“Your name?”

“I’d rather not give my name.”

“The name of the child?”

“I don’t know but the address is 27 Larkrise Crescent. He has been there for weeks but he never goes to school.”

“What is the age and sex of the child?”

It’s a boy about nine or ten.”

“Is he well looked after?”

“I’ve no idea. He looks all right.”

“And how long has this child not been attending school?”

“Ever since I noticed it, about four weeks.”

“Can we have a contact number for you in case we need more information?”

“I’m afraid not,” and the caller put the phone down.

B07

Emily Leaning could hear someone banging on her front door and shouting. She hurried down the stairs to hear abusive comments about her cat. She didn’t have to work out who was screeching, his lips pursed through the flapping letter box. It was the neighbour, Alf Buntin. Slowing down, she didn’t know if it was for the best to ignore him or answer the door. With his fists pounding and his high voice screeching, he presented an irritating if not frightening spectacle. Then she heard the most horrible noise, midway between a coughing sigh and the dying song of a swan. Suddenly noise turned to silence, and then came a crash. She opened the door to discover her neighbour had fallen into the wheely bin waiting for collection.

Her neighbour’s eyes were open, blinking. He lay on his back with his legs on her porch.

“Call the doctor,” came a little voice from the fence. It was his tiny and rarely listened to wife, Milly Buntin. She was diffident and rarely seen.

“I think he’s had a stroke. He had a weak heart,” she said.

Mrs. Leaning phoned the emergency services and the paramedics soon arrived. They checked him out, stretchered him and took him off quickly.

Mrs. Leaning wasn’t the type of woman to gloat about the unfortunate events that overcame her neighbour but she couldn’t help thinking that anyone who got so worked up was inevitably inviting a heart attack.

B08

Mir had gone out for a walk around the town. It was mid morning when he passed Horton High School. He stood at the railings looking at all the children, approximately if not exactly his age, engaging in the play ground. His gaze was caught by a girl who was on the same side of the fence as he was, a girl of the same age. She had golden hair that struck him as unusually bright. With an expression of great concentration, she was leaning against the fence, ticking off some things in a notebook. She looked up at Mir. Her eyes were bright and there was something in them he responded to.

“Are you okay?” he said

“You look like a friend,” she said.

“You look like you need a friend,” he said.

“I do. I’m Istina.”

“Mir. You’ve not had a good time?”

“I’m so glad to find you. Terrible. Although I am glad I have come to the Midlands.         Things are better now I suppose.”

“Would you like to go for somewhere for a chat?”

“I have a little bit of money.”

“Me too, I’ve been earning a little money washing the cars for the people who look after me.”

“You’ve fallen on your feet, as they say.”

Suddenly a young man in a suit walked up on the other side of the fence. “What are you two doing out there?” he shouted angrily. “You should be in here. Come back immediately.” Many of the pupils at this school didn’t wear uniforms and this student teacher was sure he had seen these two earlier in the morning in one of his classes.

“Follow me, Istina,” whispered Mir. “Now run!” he shouted.

And they both fled, Mir in the lead. The student teacher, Mr. Robinson, was in no position to give chase as the gate to the fence was a long way away. And as Mr. Robinson had another class to run in a few minutes, he decided he had seen nothing.

Later Mir and Irina talked over a coffee. She told him  she had come from Eastbourne. But she hasn’t been lucky like Mir. Promises had been made to her by many people and all had been broken. And then she had she had been given a lift which had turned out even worse.

B09

“And so you’ve been having a hard time?” said Mir, stirring his milk shake. They were sitting on the seats outside a cafe in the High Street.

“Six weeks of begging and meeting strange people.”

“You did well to get away from that perve.”

“A very strange creature, exactly what we are up against,” said Istina rolling her eyes.

“Did you know his name?”

“I know his first name, but I made sure I got a good look at his car. I would imagine it was a really expensive auto.”

“Did he actually do anything to you? You don’t have to tell me.”

“No. He implied what he wanted me to do and began to unclip the belt on his trousers. I checked the door and fortunately he hadn’t put the door lock on, so it opened. I was out of there in a flash, running off through the fields. I thought he would come after me, but when I turned round later the car had gone.”

“And you have some where to stay now?”

“Yes, a farm house, a short bus ride out of town. The guy is a bit eccentric. He’s not dangerous. I have clean clothes and food and he pays me for keeping the place tidy. And I get on with him okay.”

“So you’re not too far from me.”

“Where exactly are you?”

“I’m on an estate, further in town but on the same side. 27 Larkrise Crescent. I may not be living there much longer though, It’s getting a bit dangerous.”

“Where is the danger coming from?”

“I didn’t come down with you, I came later when we had visitors at home.”

“I see.”

“No, you wouIdn’t know. We had trouble. I was on the next wave to you and I arrived here more out of panic than design.”

B10

Blowfontine looked out of the window of his new home, a shed at the bottom of the long garden of Emily Leaning’s neighbour. He reached into his bag. He popped out the red cork from the black flask. “Out Globule!”

Globule, came out in a quick hiss and a large sphere of gas collected around Blowfontine’s ear.

“Sense data, Globule,” commanded the red eyed man.

“Let me consider, master.” A few seconds passed while Blowfontine flattened his lips in frustration.

“What  humans have you been watching?” asked the gas creature.

“In this house there is a man who has some sort of illness. He was a keen gardener but now he can no longer use his garden, or his garden shed, so this shed is safe for me. Next door is of more relevance. There seems to be a two women in the house and the boy.”

“Give me some data, Globule.”

“I sense a cat lives in the property. It is of a high probability that the boy communicates with it telepathically and he would have asked the cat to look out for strangers stalking this property. So we must either avoid or eliminate that cat.”

“You can descend upon it and suffocate it.”

“As you wish, oh imperious one.”

“And can we get into the house and get the Mysterium album manu senioribus?”

“It is hardly a secure house even for human entry. I could get in to suffocate the residents and the cat but you would the have to force the door and collect the Mysterium.”

“Should I move tonight?”

“That is a question only you can answer, master, depending upon how much you know the situation. Speed and boldness are always to one’s advantage – and we do not have a lot of time to fulfil this mission – but I suspect it may be more prudent to watch for a night or two to observe the pattern of the inhabitants. This may prove tidier with less mess in the long run, and may facilitate and aid our escape.”

B11
The following day, mid morning, Mir had gone out for Mrs. Leaning to get some milk and bread. He was returning from the local supermarket when a police car pulled up next to him. The windscreen came down and a policeman called Mir. He stopped.

“Come here lad.”

Mir walked over to the car window.

“How come your not at school this Tuesday morning?”

“I’m not too well,” lied Mir, sensing danger.

“You must be well enough to be sent out to go shopping.”

Suddenly Mir dropped the shopping bags on the pavement and ran. The driver of the police car quickly switched on the engine and gave chase which proved difficult. Mir had raced off down a jitty impossible for the police car to follow. By the time they had circled the square and arrived at the other end of the jitty, he was no where to be seen.

The police returned to the small supermarket to ask questions.

“I think he lives on the Larkrise Crescent,” said the bespectacled retailer. “He comes here quite often to buy basics. He doesn’t seem the sort of boy to get himself into trouble.”

The police drove to Larkrise Crescent. They made enquiries, calling at a number of houses to discover that a young boy lived at number 27, but when they knocked at that door no one answered. They sat waiting in the car to see if the boy would arrive but were then diverted by radio to a traffic incident and drove off.

B12

“Hello,” said Mrs. Leaning on the phone.

“Is that Mrs. Leaning?”

“Yes.”

“Hello, this is the social services. We have reason to believe that you have a boy at your house who is not attending school. Could you clarify this for us?”

“Hang on, I’ll put you on to my daughter.”

She put the phone down on the hall table and went into the garden where Mir and Kate were flying a kite. “It’s the social services on the phone,” she said sourly. “They want to know why Mir isn’t at school.”

Kate went in and picked up the receiver nervously. “Hello,” she said.

“Hello. Who am I speaking to?”

“Kate Leaning.”

“We have reports that you have a boy of about nine or ten who is not attending school. Is that the case?”

“Well…. “

“Is it your child?”

“Well.. no, not he’s not mine. I’m not his mum.”

“Could I speak to the boy’s mum.”

“We don’t know who or where she is.”

“Do you realise it is an offence to keep a child away from school?”

“Well, I don’t know the law about these things.”

“I think we had better send an officer around to see you and the boy.”

“All right.”

C01
Mir was sitting on his bed in his bedroom with the radio on. He was listening to the local pop station. Suddenly they announced Giles Levine would be coming on to show people how to improve themselves. Mir turned up the volume. He was interested in this man.
“What you all must realise is that there is nothing to be frightened of. Whatever unpleasant imaginings and worries you think about you dream them up and bring them to yourself.”
“Nonsense,” said Mir out aloud.

“There is no such thing as death,” said the well spoken guru.

“Ha! Ha! What nonsense, physical death goes on every minute of every day, all the time,” said Mir to himself.

“Thinking that you are going to die just makes it happen. If you imagine you will live for ever, you will.”

“Pure sophistry. A con to sell books,” said Mir to himself.

“If you imagine you will be a millionaire by the time your are 30 and really believe it you will.”

“It is true that thoughts can move a mountain but what does ‘really believe’ actually mean?” scoffed Mir. “

“If you pray to God he will send you a BMW or a Mercedes or what car you want.”

“Focusing on an idea does bring it into your regular consciousness but it does not bring it physically closer. In fact you are the thing that moves, you move closer to it,” said Mir.

Mir listened for a few minutes more and then said, “Claptrap,” and switched the radio off.  “There will be many false prophets..” he whispered to himself.

C02

Mir slipped through the doors of the town hall and went into the hall. He was earlier than most. He found a seat, sat down and watched the road crew setting up the system, laying wires on the floor with Gaffer tape, and discussing between themselves the position of cameras.

It was the night where the great guru was to be interview by Channel Seven TV.
The audience was being warmed up by a young man in his twenties, who wore a crease-less blue shirt and a grey suit. He had a 50s short back and sides. He stood behind the pulpit, a bright centre piece decorated in a large logo of red and yellow flame.

“I was into drugs when I was a teenager but after listening to the advice of Giles I kicked all of that garbage out of my life for ‘rightful thinking’ and have never looked back. But I won’t go on about my experiences; Giles Levine’s philosophy will be more easily understood when MBC TVs charming Jenny Spicer interviews him in her brilliant incisive way. So first all, raise it up for, the imcomparible Jenny Spicer.”

A blonde about 40 entered grinning. She wore tight jeans and held an ipad. She sat in one of two stylish swivel chairs that had been placed upfront mid-stage.

“Now for a genius whose most controversial idea is that there is no such thing as death. Whatever happens to us happens because we dwell upon our fears and wish it upon ourselves. If we think ‘death’ we bring it to ourselves. If we think ‘wealth and riches’, they come instead. I present to you the ‘King of Wisdom’, Giles Levine!”

Loads of shouts, hoots and applause as a tall, dark haired man entered left wearing a plush black suit. A technician ran in directly behind him and attached a wireless button microphone to his tie. The guru bowed and addressed the audience.

“Welcome ladies and gentlemen. I hope today, after hearing someof my ideas, you will be go back to your homes with a new positive attitude, an attitude different to how the majority of people think. If you put my ideas into practise you will find life changes for the better in every way for you.” He then sat down opposite the television journalist.
And she began. “Hello Giles.”

“Hello Jenny.”

“Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little about your childhood.”

“I grew up in Western India, Bombay, as it was then called, during the Sixties…

***

Istina arrived just after the show started. She walked slowly down the main stepped gangway, stopping occasionally to fastidiously scrutinise each aisle of seats, as if she were looking for a lost £20 note. Some people rolled their eyes in irritation, a slow child unable to find her seat. Then her movements speeded up, she waved and entered a row of seats. She placed herself on the last seat of the row, next to a young boy. A woman sat on the other side of him.

Istina looked ahead, over the heads in front of her and in response jerked her head down. For the first time she had looked at the stage and seen its participants. The interview was in full flow. The female interviewer and Giles Levine, the guru of alternative living, were conversing annimatingly with each other.

Almost at once Irina began ferociously speaking into the Mir’s ear, for the boy next to her was Mir and next to him, Kate. He nodded strongly. Meanwhile the amplified stage voice’s were coming over the public address system.

“So what is the basic philosophy behind your wisdom?” asked Jenny Spicer, the main anchor woman for Channel Seven.

“Anyone who is sick has been calling sickness to him,” said David Guru. “Anyone who is rich has been calling wealth to him.”

“So you are saying that we call our fate to ourselves?”

“Exactly that.”

“But what about these people who have led blameless lives, have eaten correctly, have never abused their bodies and yet suddenly are stricken with cancer or some other terminal illness?”

“They have called it to themselves,” said Giles Levine.

“But isn’t that a bit harsh? I mean they have to suffer a major catastrophe in their life and yet they get the blame for ‘calling it to themselves’, isn’t that a bit much?”

“Not at all, it’s their fault. They believe in ill health, bad outcomes and essentially they believe in death.”

“But death exists, we all know death exists.”

“Death exists only if you imagine it in detail, but if you do not let it conquer your imagination death can hold no dominion.”

Their conversation went for a good ten minutes until Mir could hold his frustration in no longer.

Suddenly he stood up. He was shouting. “That is nonsense,” shouted Mir. One of the mobile TV cameras  swung round to him and a man with a mic on a boom approached him.
“We are getting some heckling from the audience. Perhaps now we should open this up to the audience,” suggested Jenny Spicer. “A question and answer session.”

“Of course. Nothing would give me more pleasure,” said the deep authoritative voice of Giles Levine.

Jenny Spicer pointed to the boy standing up on the end of the row. A  microphone was held in front of Mir. “You have a question?”

“If we reap the things that come to us, then it applies that you, Giles Levine, reap things that come to you.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then you are reaping the accusation of child abuse. I have your victim sitting next to me.”

Suddenly there was crescendo of shocked noises coming from the audience.
Giles Levine made hesitant gutteral noises.

“You tried to make this girl perform a sexact on you when you gave her a lift in your car. She escaped from your car in the countryside outside of Middleton.”

“That is a damn lie,” said Giles Levine angrily.

“No, it’s not,” shouted Istina into the boom microphone, now standing herself so that everyone could see her. He promised a lift up to the Midlands. When we got near Middleton he pulled up in a country lane. He told me he wanted me to pleasure him. I said he was being a peadophile which was illegal. He laughed and said I should get experience. He took off his seatbelt. He undid his belt and trousers and undid his flies so I could masterbate him. Fortunately the door was not locked so I leapt out of his car, Mercedes E-class saloon, and ran as fast as my legs would carry me.”

“And what sort of car do you drive, Giles Levine?”

“I refuse to engage in this,” said Giles Levine.”

“What is going on here?” said Jenny, her face contorting.

“You are a charlatan and a hypocrite of the first degree,” shouted Mir into the microphone, “You’re a paedo and a slick conman. Your only priority is your bank account. Not only are you a paedophile, a manipulator, but this whole philosophy of ‘calling to you things that happen to you’ is not only utter nonsense but it is cruel. Suddenly, those who are ill, blame themselves because it is their own fault, having have ‘called the illness’ to themselves. With these ideas anyone who is sad, depressed, widowed or dying is likely to be shunned by others because they have brought it on themselves. This type of philosophy creates a barbaric society, a barbaric system. You, Giles Levine, know no more wisdom that anyone else does apart from how to make money through sophistry. We do not need your false knowledge.”

“This boy spreads complete lies. I do not know…” Giles Levine began, but he the rest was unheard because of the noise of the tumult in the hall.

Mir kept shouting down the microphone. “What this man is saying is garbage. He preaches the false dream of American consumerism. He is a false prophet.

“All that matters to him – and others like him – is profit, profit and profit at the cost of all that is really worthwhile.”

Pulling the microphone up to his mouth, and cutting through all the noise in the hall, Levine was rebutting the accusations as best he could. “This is absolute nonsense. I have never seen that girl before. These are wicked lies against me and I have been set up. These people will be held to account when I see my lawyer and I will say no more apart from that I am innocent. This is the end of this broadcast.” And he stood up and stormed off stage to jeers and shouts from the crowd.

C03

Tuesday morning was the day that the social workers were calling at 27 Larkrise Crescent, and at precisely 9.30am, George Maycock and Evelyn Morris knocked on the door. After they had shown their social worker IDs, they were led into the lounge and parked on the sofa by Kate. Soon after, Emily joined the gathering.

After introducing herself and her colleague again, Evelyn Morris took the reigns as leader of the interview. She asked if the boy was available. He was upstairs getting up, said Kate. No matter, said Evelyn Morris, they would discuss the boy before he joined them. They went about a discussion as to who were the boy’s parents. They were astonished about how Kate had come across him, making no efforts to hide their incredulity.

“He must be a runaway,” said Evelyn Morris.

“Mir will shed no light on where he came from before he came here,” said Kate.

“He’s an odd boy, but very nice,” said her mother.

“Well, he must have come from somewhere. If we can’t obtain the real facts from him then we will have a child psychologist talk to him, they are very skilled in eliciting information from children.”

“I doubt they will get anywhere,” said Kate. “He’s very mature for his age in his thinking.”
Just at that moment Mir came into the room. His eyes widened to see so many people in the front room.

“Come over here, Mir. I’d like you to meet Ms. Morris and Mr. Maycock, both social workers. They have come here to help you so that you can have fun by going to school.”

“Hello,” he said cautiously, looking at the pair on the sofa.

“Hello. Mir,” said Evelyn Morris. “Now Mir, you don’t mind us asking you a few questions do you?”

“I don’t know.”

“So we understand you have been living here for a while. How long is that?”

“Oh, I’m not sure, about four or five weeks.”

“And were you forced to come and live here.”

“No.”

“And no one has forced themselves upon you or hurt you in anyway?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Everyone’s been nice. Harry too.”

“Who’s Harry?”

“Harry is my cat,” said Kate.

“Please don’t interrupt, Miss Leaning. I’m trying to talk to the boy,” said Evelyn Morris.

“Sorry,” she said, somewhat taken aback by this strict matron.

“He never scratches me when we fight,” said Mir grinning at Kate.

“And where are your real parents?”

“I haven’t got any.”

“Well, we will need to find out who they are? Perhaps you are from an orphanage, or a hospital? Or have you been living alone out in the open for a long time?”

“None of those,” said Mir, suddenly dropping his eyes to the carpet. The life in his eyes suddenly seemed to evaporate. He looked bored.

“Well how did you get into the wood?”

“I just arrived there.”

“But where from? Who bought you?”

The boy remained silent.

“I’m afraid we have to continue this line of questioning. We have to know where you came from to follow the law of the land. A child cannot simply arrive without coming from somewhere.”

George Maycock suddenly spoke, “What sort of things you do like doing?” he said gently.

Mir looked at him. “I like thinking, watching, listening, learning and helping people. I like to study phonies, facsimiles, falseness, duplicity and deception.”

The adults in the room became speechless. Even Kate had never heard such an expression from him before.

When she had recovered herself, Evelyn Morris said, “Tell us why you were walking around unsupervised in a wood.”

“That is not something I can talk about,” said Mir.

“Why not? Did someone tell you not to talk about it?”

“No, nobody told me to do anything.”

“So does that mean that somebody did?”

“Look why are you so determined to know why I was in the wood?”

“Because you must have got there somehow. You must have gone there yourself or somebody must have taken you there.”

“I went there myself,” said Mir.

“Who with?”

“I went on my own.”

“And why did you decide to go there?” asked George Maycock.

“Because I was instructed to.”

“By whom?”

“By my instructors of course.”

“And who was that?”

“Never you mind,” said Mir, almost grinning.

“Look Mir, you are being deliberately obtrusive and evasive and unless you explain how you got to the the wood and why you were there then we will have to take you back with us to interview you at central office.”

“I won’t come with you, I have too much to do,” said Mir.

“You will have no choice,” said Mr. Maycock in a serious male voice.

Mir threw him a disparaging glance, that made Kate force herself to suppress a chuckle.

“So Mir, let’s be serious about this.” George Maycock looked at the boy with considerable earnestness. “Why were you wandering around the wood?”

“We’ve come to instruct the human race,” said Mir

“That sounds a somewhat pretentious,” said Evelyn Morris. “And who are we?”

After recent events Kate was knew there was something uncanny about Mir but she wasn’t going to say anything.

Evelyn Morris took out her mobile phone from her handbag and dialled a number. “Hello Susan. Can you organise Debbie and Phil from the Contact team to interview a young boy this afternoon? It is a priority. Sure. Okay.”

“What do you mean, we’ve come to instruct the human race?” asked George Maycock.
“That’s what I said,” said Mir. “I think the human race is on its last legs.”

“Why?” asked George Maycock.

“You seem to have destroyed, or are destroying all the gifts you were given.”

“Go on.”

“I’ve said enough,” said Mir.

“What exactly were you going to advise the human race?” asked the male officer.

“I was going to tell them to forget their wallets and minds and go back to their hearts.”

“Yes?”

“Yes.”
“And how would that make a difference?”

“It will make a difference if the plan works.”

“What plan?”

“I don’t want to say any more, it’s not the right time.”

Then Evelyn cut in and said to Kate, “I think it best if Mir comes with us to HQ. We will bring him back later today. He can remain here for a while but it is important to say that until we discover his legal status we cannot easily move forward with this case.”

“You would be happy to do that Mir, wouldn’t you?” asked Kate of the boy. “You would be back later. You do need to go to school and you don’t want to get either of us into trouble, do you?”

“No. Of course not. I suppose so, but it’s not a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t be responsible for my emotions.”

Once again the adults went into a period of silence. Not quite sure of how to proceed with this precocious child.

Evelyn’s mobile rang. “Sue? Yes, oh fine. Thanks. Have Dr. Cockron attend too. We’ll be setting off now, so if you could arrange the interview room for an hours time? Okay.” She put her phone away.

“Perhaps we could leave now?” She looked at Kate. “Would you like to accompany us, Miss Leaning?”

“No, she can’t come,” shouted Mir. “I will come on my own.”

“Very well,” said Evelyn Morris, looking somewhat perplexed.

Kate rolled her eyes at this sudden explosion from Mir. Life was never dull with Mir – he was unpredictable.

“Then let’s go,” said George Maycock, his face perspiring a little, he looked intent on bringing their domestic interview to an end. They all stood up and drifted towards the hall.

“And you will bring him back this evening,” said Kate, it being more a statement than a question.

“Yes. If there is any reason for a delay in bringing him home we will let you know. However,” she said drawing Kate as far away from the earshot of the boy as she could, “I should warn you that due to the odd circumstances of this case it maybe likely that you will lose possession of the boy unless we can ‘t locate his parents and then you will need to apply for guardianship. But there could be mental health issues here from the things he was saying which might change everything. But that’s the future, you should have him back sometime today.”

“I just need to go upstairs and get something,” said Mir.

A few minutes later he returned carrying his white glove. He was escorted out by the Kate and the social workers. He sat in the back of the Ford Escort and stared at his clutched knees with a crestfallen face. The door closed and he was driven away from the home of Kate, her mum and Harry the cat.

C04

“So what sort of sports do you play, Mir?” asked George Maycock as they drove out of Larkrise Close.

“I’m not sports fan,” Mir said. “That is all about competition to me not co-operation.”

“Not if you’re in a team game, there’s plenty of co-operation there.”

“That’s worse. That’s co-operation for competition.”

Silence.

“Didn’t you see the Olympics this year?” asked Evelyn Morris.

“No.”

“Where were you when all that sporting TV was going on? Almost everyone in Britain was
glued to the television.”

“I don’t watch television unless I have to.”

“Most children of your age enjoy TV,” said Evelyn Morris.

“They are not brought up very well then.”

Evelyn Morris laughed. “How can you say that when you won’t even tell us who your parents are or where they are.”

“I have told you that already.”

“No you haven’t, remind us,” said George Maycock.

“I don’t like to repeat myself.”

“You sound to me like you’d make a good lawyer,” said  Evelyn Morris, “always dodging the question.”

“You don’t listen and you didn’t listen to me when I said this wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“Well let us worry about that.”

C05

It was about four in the afternoon when a key slipped into the door and Mir returned into Mrs. Leaning’s house.

“Where have you been?” asked Kate, looking surprised.

“I’ve been with the social workers.”

“Can you explain why we got a phone call from social services asking where Mr. Maycock and Mrs Morris and you were. They said none of you turned up.”

Mir shrugged.

“Don’t mess me about, Mir. You left here about one o’clock and they rang up about two thirty saying they hadn’t heard or seen from either Mr. Maycock or Ms. Morris. Now what has been going on?”

“I told you all, I didn’t want to go with them and if I was forced to it would be a bad idea.”

Kate looked really concerned. “You haven’t done anything bad, have you? Now what happened when you went out?”

“I left them and came home.”

“So where are they?”

“I’m a bit tired. Where’s Harry?”

“This is really worrying me, Mir. I’m beginning to think you’re telling lies. You’re not being entirely honest with me and I don’t like that.”

Mir’s face scrunched up and he looked down on the carpet. He looked very serious.         “Why can’t everyone leave me alone, I’m not doing anyone any harm.”

“Did you have the interview?”

“They asked me some questions.”

“And what about the doctor, what did he say?”

“What doctor?”

“You need to tell me exactly what happened or I’ll phone them now and they’ll come down and get you – and no doubt keep you over night.”

“You wouldn’t do that.”

She looked at her watch and realised he was right. “No,  because I have to meet Danny at 6.30 for a couple of hours and I haven’t the time to bother with all this hassle, but I hope you haven’t done anything you’ll regret.”

Mir ascended the stairs like an old man worn down with worry.

Kate noticed Mir’s fearfulness and tension. His playfulness for once had fled, he was suddenly oh so serious.  Kate watched him until he was out of sight.

C06

Kate met Danny in the Harvest Festival, a pub on the estate. It had won awards for both beer and food but none for its plastic décor. It was more a family eating house than a quality watering hole but it had music just loud enough to prevent eavesdropping so it was a good place for a discrete conversation.

“I’m really pleased you’ve come.”  Danny grinned, showing his perfect set of teeth. He immediately stood up and pulled a chair out for Kate. She like that, remembering his politeness and charm.

“Have you eaten,” he asked.

“No. I thought we were going to have a meal.”

“Fine.” He passed her the menu

The waiter came over and they ordered drinks and food.

“I still want to marry you,” he said.

“You keep saying that.”

“It’s true.”

“I’m not.. not sure. Why don’t we just see each other and see how it goes. I don’t want to even think about what happened last year. It maybe me that pulls out this time if I’m rushed into something I’m not sure about.”

“I’ve never been so certain in my life.”

“You’re looking well,” she said.

He ignored the attempt at change of subject. “We can date and walk out together for another year, or two or three, if you insist but I don’t want that. I want to move to a higher level. I want to be married to you, to make you my wife, for me to be your dedicated husband, for us to make home and maybe raise a family. We are no longer children any more and life does not give us unlimited time to make decisions. I need to stop behaving like a teenager and grow up and be a mature man and I know being married to you will help me do that. I have known many women in my life and you are the only one that could heal me of my silly vanities and raise me to be an honourable husband and father. You still want children?”

“It’s getting a bit late. I suppose it’s still possible. I’ve always wanted to be a mum.”

“Then we can’t waste any more time. We need to move forward and become adults.”

“What about Mir?”

“Who’s Mir?”

“He’s the boy you saw me with at the garden centre restaurant.”

“What’s he got to do with it?”

“Well, I’ve almost become his guardian.” She explained how she met the child and how he had moved into her mother’s house.

“How peculiar. He’s not yours. Turn him over to the social services.”

“I can’t do that.”

“What’s he got to do with your life? What do you owe him? You can’t give up your life’s options for a waif and stray you meet in the street – or in the woods in this case.”

“But I like him. I love him in a way. He needs me and I’ve discovered I need him somehow.”

“Somehow? I can’t see us being Mr. and Mrs. Doctor Bernardo’s,” said Danny with sarcasm.

“I don’t quite like that.”

“I would rather put my energy into raising my own son or daughter than someone else’s.”

“That’s typical. Millions of men these days raise other men’s children. What does it matter? Does it mean you can only love a child if its your own flesh and blood, and all the rest can go hang?”

“Kate. How can a child mean so much after only a few weeks?”

“Over a month now. He does very odd things. Yet he’s lovely and kind and funny. The social worker thought he might have mental problems.”

“There you are then. Why do you want a boy who even at his age shows odd tendencies. He’s likely to be an animal by the times he’s 12 or 14. You surely don’t want to tie your life to someone so potentially dangerous.”

“I don’t think he does. He’s a strange boy but he’s a good soul. I just think he is very wilful. You’re a bit like that. And I’m not enjoying your attitude one bit.”

“You are really not seriously suggesting that if we get married and live together I have to agree to having this kid along as well? Are you saying, ‘If I marry the woman I love I get a boy too’?”

“Yes… I think that’s what I’m saying,” she said.

“You don’t seem even certain about that.”

“At the moment I’m certain about nothing. I suppose ‘certainty’ is a man thing. Me, I’ve never been very certain what I wanted. I knew what I wanted last year but you took that away from me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yes. Okay. No need to go there again. I think I had better go, Here’s some money for the order.” said Kate standing up and handing over a note. Danny was now standing too and grabbed her by the arm.

“No don’t go. If it’s what you want I’m sure I can work around to it. It’s a bit of a shock. Let’s not argue.”

C07

The late afternoon of Halloween remained etched in Kate’s memory for the rest of her life. As she was driving back from work Larkrise Crescent she saw something in the gutter. A black shape. An animal. At once she knew what it was. Harry had been run over. Harry was dead. She braked and leapt out of the car. She struggled to look at the mess of the cat’s body with its limbs all lying in impossible directions. A horrible noise came from deep inside her. She couldn’t see for tears. She couldn’t think for grief. Suddenly Mir was by her side.

“Go and put the car in the drive,” he said quietly and I will sort him out.”

“He’s dead!”

“No, he’s not dead, but not far off. He must be inawful pain.”

“We will need to phone the vet and have him put down.”

“Leave it to me,” he said, “I promise I will do the right thing.”

She looked at his sensitive face reflecting back his great sadness.
She did as bid, got back in the car, drove it off the road and into her mother’s drive. Mir by this time had pulled out a heavy duty plastic bag and was considering the least painful way to get Harry in the bag. Somehow he managed it without the cat making any noises of protestation or maybe Harry was already past the point of complaint. Mir carried the bagged cat on outstretched arms back into the house where the door had been left open for him. He could hear Kate wailing in the kitchen. He took the cat out into the garden and down to the shed. Over the next hour he found a garden fork and spade. When he came back to the house he was physically and emotionally exhausted.

Kate was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking from a bottle of brandy. She had drunk about a third of it. She was crying silently.

“I’m sorry,” said Mir, coming up to her.

“There’s no need for a vet is there? It’s all over, isn’t it?” She quickly turned to look at him, “You haven’t buried him while he was still alive?” she said.

“Of course not.”

“It’s better he didn’t suffer for days on end. Thanks for what you’ve done. I just loved that cat,” she said.

Mir just cast his eyes down to the kitchen floor.

Mrs. Leaning came back an hour later, she had been out with a friend, and was horrified to hear the dreadful news. She helped finished off the brandy with Kate. For the rest of the day Mir stayed in his room. They didn’t dare disturb him, but Mrs. Leaning did call up and say that he could come down and join them if he wanted. They realised he probably wanted to suffer a private grief. The two women later tried to watch the television but there was a lump in both of their throats, a sadness which could not be spoken of and of which words could not assuage. And there was an occasional need to leave the room and walk around the garden to shed private tears.

“It’s strange when you cry more about the death of an animal than you do about another human being, but it happens,” said Kate to herself. And then she began to sob again.

C08

Earlier that afternoon, a figure had been observing what had been going on from a garden to the east of the Leaning’s. Blowfontine spied from the window of his new home, a shed never locked and never accessed it would seem. It would keep his existence in the area unknown. It was not a comfortable place to sleep but it did make an excellent observational post to keep watch on the comings and goings of 27 Larkrise Crescent.
Keeping a firm eye out of the window he spoke strongly. “Out Globule!” he commanded pulling off the red bung of his flask.

“Yes master, oh magisterial one,” said his hissing slave.

“We don’t have to worry about that cat now. It’s been hit by a car.”

“Oh splendid. How wonderful for you to achieve your objectives.”

“It wasn’t any of my doing, just fate.”

“A good hand of fate then for our mission.”

“Mir’s gone into the shed. I’m sure he’s looking for a spade to bury the animal.”

“Oh jolly, jolly good. A dead cat. No more spies. But then…”

“What’s the hesitation?”

“He may have the Mysterium with him.”

C09

The following morning, Kate felt even worse unable to fight back uncontrollable bouts of tears. Customers in the petrol kiosk were very sympathetic.

“You need to get another cat,” said one. “You’re a cat person and your house will seem empty without one.”

“I couldn’t because it would just make me think of Harry. I need to wear widow’s weeds for a while, I can’t marry on the rebound of my husband’s death.” she smiled, trying to make a joke behind her tears. But it didn’t matter what words she said, there was a throb in her throat, it was enormous and demanded attention.

“How is Mir handling it?” asked Maureen later. “He really loved your cat didn’t he?”
“He’s been amazing. He buried the cat and somehow kept himself together, but I know he was upset, and he was upset to see me upset.”

***
When Kate got home she found Mir in the kitchen boiling the kettle.
“I thought I would make your tea but I wasn’t sure what to cook,” said Mir.
Kate said she wasn’t that hungry, she had eaten a bit at lunch at the supermarket canteen.
“Sit at the table and let’s have a chat,” he said pouring them both a large mug of tea.
She felt terrible. How could she have lost Harry after all these years. And how did it happen? Who had run over him. Her first thought was their mad neighbour. He was home now but he had that scare with his heart. But could anyone plan to run over a cat? It seemed unlikely.

She sipped some tea and looked at Mir. He grinned at her, and then she started sobbing again. The tears just started to roll down her face. She covered her eyes with her hands and looked away.

“Woman, why do you weep so?” asked Mir. “Look.”

She didn’t really understand what he was talking about.

“Look,” he said.

And she turned towards the boy and he was pointing towards the cat flap.

“What?” she sobbed.

“Look.”

And the cat flap rattled and lifted and Harry’s head suddenly appeared. He looked around, made one of his squeaky acknowledgement noises and the rest of his body followed his head into the room.

“What?” Kate was astonished. She daren’t believe.

“It’s Harry, he’s come back.”

“That’s impossible,” she said laughing, keeping her eyes on the cat. “I’m dreaming, I must be.”

“No,” said Mir, getting up and slowly picking up the cat. It started purring. He put it on Kate’s lap. Harry, pawed her jumper for a while and then jumped back on the floor and mewed asking for food.

“That’s definitely him, it’s not a cat that looks like him. But I saw him crushed yesterday?” said Kate.

“Forget about yesterday,” said Mir.

“Is this real, is this really happening?”

“Yes, it looks real enough to me.”

“But I thought you buried him in the garden?”

“No, he wasn’t dead, just very badly injured, and he had to go through over an hour of terrible pain before I could work some healing on him, which was very hard on him, hard on me too. I took him away because it would have disturbed you. But now he’s as right as rain.”

“How on earth have you don’e that?”

“Aha!”

“You’re a strange boy. What on earth is going on? Has he been resurrected like Jesus?”

“No. He never died. Are you going to feed him?”

“Am I going to feed him! Too right I am!”

Just at that moment Mrs. Leaning came in the front door. They both waited for her to come in the kitchen to watch her surprise.

“Mum!”

Her eyes almost popped out when she saw the cat. “It looks so much like Harry,” she said.
“It is Harry,” she said. He’s not dead.”

Her mother, not taking her eyes off the cat, looked utterly perplexed.

D01

Since their visit Kate had had several phone calls from the social services. The early calls enquired as to the whereabouts of their two social workers. Where had they gone to when they left? Why had they never got to the social services for the planned interview? How come that Mir had returned to his own house? Where had he left them?

Kate could only plead ignorance, saying that after being interviewed in the car, Mir had left them and walked home. They regarded this explanation as unlikely and extremely suspicious. Kate felt it odd too, and suspected Mir had been up to one of his strange tricks. Getting him to reveal his mystery was seemingly impossible however.

The later phone calls sounded more concerned, asking Kate if she could remember what had happened in the most exact of details, what time Mir had returned, had seen their car since they called. They sought precise information, wanting to know exactly what the officers had asked Mir in the car, exactly what time he had left them and where. The caller said some news had come to light but she would say no more when Kate queried it. She did gather that the social services were obsessed by the odd behaviour of George Maycock and Evelyn Morris. They said they would be sending an officer round shortly to run through it all again.

D02

“Hey! Come here, boy.”

Mir was kicking a football around in the drive. A man of about 40, tall and dressed in casual buy stylish clothes, was calling to him from the pavement a couple of houses down.
Mir eyed him warily. Mir didn’t dropped his gaze and remained silent. But the man was persistent. He walked closer.

“Come here, lad. I’ve something of interest for you.”

“What do you want?”

“Are you a relative of Kate’s family or something?” asked Danny, for that’s who it was.

“No,” said Mir in his usual acerbic and laconic way of closing down questions.

“How do you manage to live here then? She really likes you. It’s like you’ve taken over the family.”

Mir looked at him as if he was from another planet. “I haven’t taken over any family, It’s more the other way, they have taken me over. And I am grateful.”

“If you go away I will give you money”

“What do you mean?” laughed Mir.

Suddenly Danny’s voice became strained and insistent. “What can I give you to sling your hook?”

“You mean leave? I might have to leave.”

“I want Kate to myself. I don’t want you around. Would you like money to disappear, or some expensive toy? You have been involved with the social services, all you need do is go back and see them and they would find you a home.”

Mir just stared at Danny. “I recognise you, you are the man that wants to marry her. I like Kate. She’s a nice woman. A woman who is not naturally suspicious and always expects the best from people. And she is regularly disappointed.”

“You have to chose. I can give you something to go away. Or I can tell the authorities about you and they will come and take you away. Which do you prefer?”

“The authorities know all about me. And you should be careful who you threaten.”

Surprise registered on Danny’s face.

“So how much do you want to leave the house?”

“I think I ought to go now,” said Mir. “I don’t want to lose control of my emotions.”

“Hey come back.”

But Mir had walked off and gone into the house.

D03
“Are you seriously asking me to believe that one minute you were in Middleton and within seconds you, your car and your colleague all were instantly transported to Eastbourne.”

“Well, that’s about it,” said George Maycock, “ I can’t explain it. It’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“What happened immediately before you were transported?” asked the lean faced man with the public school voice.

“We had stopped at a red traffic light. And suddenly the boy in the back –

“Mir?” asked John Roister.

“Yes – he shouted he had to get out and opened the far side back door and jumped into the road. I should have put the child locks on but I never thought for one minute he would try and escape.”

“And then?”

“I vaguely remember a short figure running round the car after him.

“Where did this figure come from?”

“He had been standing by the kerb to cross the road.”

“Do you know who he was?”

“We’ve been over and over this. No.”

“And what happened then?”

“The lights turned green but we could hardly drive on with our charge having escaped, so Evelyn turned off and pulled up on the kerb. I turned my head and saw Mir point something at the short man who was chasing him. And then Evelyn and me found we were parked in some strange busy road which we did not recognise. We just couldn’t figure it out. Within minutes of driving around the area, the signs and the shops and the seafront told us we were in Eastbourne. We were utterly perplexed.”

“And how do you think you got there? Are you sure you didn’t just drop off the boy and go off on a jaunt?”

“300 miles in a few seconds? Give me a break.”

D04

It was on the Monday that Maureen from work made a surprise call to the Leaning household. She wasn’t alone.

“Hello Kate, this is Cheryl,” she said at the door. The woman next to her was a dyed blonde, pretty but with a pale, washed out, face.

They both smiled and greeted each other.

Kate began leading them into the lounge where her mum was watching the television and Mir were doing a very large Jigsaw on the table, but Maureen stopped her. Mutual smiles and greetings. “Can we go somewhere private where we can talk alone. Cheryl has got something important to tell you.”

As mum and Mir were in the lounge, Kate took them into the front room. They sat around the dining table.

She offered them a drink but they both refused. They seemed anxious. “What’s up doc?” she asked Maureen.

“It’s about Danny,” said Maureen. Cheryl is a friend of my sisters and I found out that she knew him, and then I heard what happened. Cheryl will explain.”

Cheryl smiled and then pulled a face of embarrassment. “I’m afraid me and Danny ran off to the South Coast on the week that you two were supposed to get married,” she said.
Kate’s expression didn’t change but her listening became acute and focus.

“We met at a party on the Sunday night and we both ended up in the sack. He said he was smitten and over the next 72 hours  – where we saw a lot of each other – he persuaded me to leave with him to stay in a friends flat in Christchurch on the south coast. I stupidly agreed. I suppose I was in love with him. I even quit my job. That was wild but that was the effect he had on me at that time. He didn’t tell me that he had planned to marry someone then. He told me that months later, when things were falling apart. He became quite nasty and threw me out. Then he came up here with the intention of marrying back into a family that ‘had some money’, as he put it.”

Kate sat silent for a while letting that last comment wash all over her.

“You see, Kate, I told you this guy was no good,” said Maureen.

“And what has happened between you since?” Kate asked Cheryl.

“Nothing. He refuses to even admit I exist. He refuses my phone calls, text messages and wouldn’t see me on the occasions I have been round.”

“I know that feeling,” said Kate.

“Are you trying to get him back?”

Cheryl’s face lightened with humour. “No! Not at all. He owes me a lot of money. While we were down there we got through all my savings. I want him to cough up.”

“He’s a bad un,” said Maureen.

“How do I know you are telling the truth?”

“I can’t prove anything but it is the truth. Just mention Cheryl Norton to him and watch his face, but watch out, he may explode. He can quite nasty when he doesn’t get his way. When Maureen told me what was happening, I thought I had better warn you. You don’t want to go through what’s happened to you twice, and you certainly don’t want to go through what I’ve been through.”

“Thanks Cheryl.”

“I just felt it right…”

“Are you sure you both wouldn’t like a drink?”

“No, I’d better be going,” said Cheryl.

“Me too,” said Maureen. “We’ll have a chat tomorrow at work,” said Maureen.

Kate saw them out and then went back in the front room and poured herself a whiskey. She sat on the sofa and meditated.

A few minutes later a young boys face stuck his head around the door. “Are you coming in to help me with this jig-saw then?” Mir grinned and she couldn’t help smiling too. She was just too soft.

D05

Although short in stature, Blowfonine adopted a crouching figure to make himself even less observable to anyone who may be awake as he moved in the night. Finding his way by the stars, he arrived at the conservatory at the back of Mrs. Leaning’s house. No window was open and there was no letter box. Breathing in the damp garden smells, he furtively edged himself along the slabbing that went around the side of the house and wiped off some of the gentle rain that had amassed on his bulbous cheeks.

Blowfontine, having arrived at the front of the house, his movements became even slower and stealthier. Next to the letterbox on the front door, he pulled the red stopper out of his black flask and summoned his lethal advisor out. He didn’t need to instruct the globule as what to do, they had already been through this in some detail.

The gas hissed out of the flask and poured through the letter box. Once inside it formed over a cubic metre of black gas which moved along the thick piled hall carpet. It travelled up the steps of the stair-case like a black snake until it had to decide which direction to travel.

The gas entity of Globule protected itself from corruption with the adjacent atmosphere because a thin membrane of fused gas created a skin around its volume, and so it could form any shape, yet remain untainted and wholesome. It had now found a bedroom. The leading edge of the gas cloud flattened out and began to slide under the door, the rest of the gas creature shape shifting to follow. Emily Leaning, completely unaware, lay asleep in her bed.

Once inside the bedroom, the cloud reformed into its natural sphere and hovered over her head, lying on its side on the pillow. Slowly, Globule slowly descended. Gradually the black gas filled her earlobe then crept round and began to fill her uppermost nostril. She opened her mouth and the gas strarted to enter. Moments later she involuntarily shook herself awake, unable to breathe. She coughed and wheezed and pulled herself with difficultly into an upright position. She couldn’t breathe. She lent over and put on the sidelight. All around her head was a swarm of blackness. She could just about see through it but when she moved her head, the black swarm followed. She started pawing at this black stuff around her until the whole black cloud had moved away from her but it was now coming back, like some wasp determined to sting.

She instinctively stood up, opened the door and shut the door behind her, shutting in the black cloud and luckily giving her valuable seconds of time. Startled by being suddenly awake, she opened Kate’s bedroom door and switched on her light.. “Kate,” she said blinking,  overwhelmed by the light, “There’s something wrong. I think I’m suffocating.”
Kate had been woken by her shutting her bedroom door and quickly atttended to her mum. She got her to sit on the bed, but this hadn’t calmed her mother. She was still gabbling, as if in panic. “It was a black thing trying to suffocate me,” she said.
“You’ve had a nightmare, mum,” said Kate.

“No, she’s not,” said Mir, who had suddenly appeared in the room. He was holding the white glove.

“Stay in here,” he said, “and shut the door behind me and block up the keyhole and the top and bottom of the door so that no air can get in or out.”

Kate had herself only just woke and these instructions confused her, as did this whole situation. Mir had gone out into the landing and closed the door himself.

“It was horrible, horrible,” said Mrs.Leaning.

Kate, not following Mir’s instructions, opened her bedroom door and looked out into the hall. There she saw it, about a metre of airborne blackness was chasing Harry along the carpet. Mir was pointing the finger of his glove at the blackness, and suddenly the blackness fled, all the way down the stairs, she ran out and watched it disappear towards the front door.

“I didn’t get it,” said Mir. “I have frightened it off but it will be back. It just tried to kill Harry. They now know where I am.”

“I don’t understand, Mir,” said Kate, startled.

“I will explain tomorrow,” said Mir.

And the both stood there and in the background they could hear Mrs. Leaning still rambling incoherently with shock..

“Is it safe to go downstairs?” asked Kate of Mir, with respect.

“Yes, I can keep it at bay.”

“Stay there mum and I will make you a cup of tea,” said Kate. “Mir tell me exactly what happened.”

D06

At 10am, Saturday morning, the Leaning doorbell rang again. A tall man, with black hair wearing a long Worstead coat stood in the porch. In his late fifties, he spoke precisely, authoritatively, perfect for reading the shipping forecast on Radio 4; his voice, deep and soothing as if he was some Gray’s Inn barister.

“Is Kate Leaning in?”

“Yes, that’s me.” He didn’t look like a social worker, she thought, although appearances often deceived.

“Do you mind if I come in, Ms. Leaning? My name is John Roister. I work for the Ministry of Defence.” He held a badge in front of her.

“Ministry of Defence?”

“I will explain if you’d allow me.”

She nodded and stood aside.

“I’ll just call my PA if you don’t mind.”

He waved to a slim women in her 30s, a formidable black widow of black, wearing a grey twin set, black spectacles and who emerged from a black Audi parked outside the neighbour’s house. She came over and followed behind him as they went into the house. Kate led them, as she had her last two visitors, into the dining room.

There was a preamble as they accepted Kate’s invitation to a cup of tea. Eventually when everyone was settled in their chairs, Mr Roister asked if the boy was in the house. He failed to appear when Kate called him. “He must have gone out,” she said.

“What I say to you may come as a shock,” began Mr. Roister, his calming voice sounding less reassuring. “We are very concerned about this lad of yours, Mir.”

“Um… everyone seems to be.”

“We are informed he was taken from here in a car by Mr. Maycock and Mrs. Morris on Tuesday last and he reappeared here several hours later. Is that correct?”
Kate nodded.

“However the two social workers and their car disappeared. They were nowhere to be seen.”

“They must have turned up by now,” said Kate.

The assistant seemed to be taking notes in a reporter’s notepad.

“Indeed. We received a phone call later that night from a rather inebriated Mr. Maycock. Maycock – his voice shaking with nerves – said that they were suddenly driving around a seaside resort. They were no longer in the Midlands but in a seaside resort! It took them a few minutes to work out they were in Eastbourne in Southern England.

“He claimed he had absolutely no idea of how they got there. Before he phoned the social services he had stiffened his nerves with a drink. His colleague confirmed his experience. Both of them were shattered to suddenly appear hundreds of miles away for no apparent reason.”

“That sounds bonkers. Are they alright?” asked Kate.

“Mr. Maycock has taken time off work with his nerves, Mrs Morris seems more durable,” said the secretary.

“Good.”

“Even though it sounds preposterous we believe that this strange trickery is something to do with this boy lodger or yours.”

“And why do you think that?” asked Kate, feeling protective and not thinking it was preposterous at all.

“Because we have noticed a trend. A very strange one.”  Roister paused for a moment and looked out of the front room window. He looked back at Kate. “Suddenly we find many children appearing from nowhere. And they are finding homes with strangers. There has been one hundred and seventeen cases of unregistered children asking people to home them. And these are the ones we know about. Wherever these children turn up we also see a number of strange events. The whole thing sounds utterly bizarre, totally implausible, but its actually happening. Each case that has come to our attenton is being documented as I speak. I believe you have one of these ‘wooden horse’ children in your house.

“How peculiar.”

“We don’t know where these unregistered children come from, it seems likely they are aliens of some kind, from another country or perhaps even another world. They seem to have strange powers and it is the responsibility of my government to find as many of these ‘lost’ children as I can.”

Kate’s expression showed that she didn’t like the sound of that and what it implied.
“Ms. Leaning, I’m sorry to say this, but finding this boy of yours has become an issue of national defence.”

“This all sounds like gobbledegook,” she said camly. “Transferring a car of social workers from Middleton to Eastbourne! You must be joking,” she scoffed. Secretly, however she knew he was not.

“I’m afraid I have interviewed the social workers and they are not lying. They literally were transported hundreds of miles in a very short amount of time. And that is of global and historical significance, because we know that in human terms it is impossible.”
“What do you expect me to do about it?”

“I’m afraid we are going to have to take the boy with us.”

You might end up in Eastbourne, she thought, but Roister was already pre-empting her. “We would have to sedate him before we took him away from here.”

“He’s out,” she said starkly

“We can wait.”

“But he might have gone out to play all day.”

“Yes.” He looked at his watch. “We will return at ten o’clock tonight. He will have to come home at some stage. We will pick him up. No harm will come to him, but we will need to make sure that he doesn’t get up to any of his tricks.”

“But I don’t want you to take him away. When will I get him back?”

“I’m afraid this whole affair is much bigger than you or I,” said the man from the ministry.

D07

But, despite John Roister’s hopes, Mir did not come back that night. Just after seven, Kate received a phone call from him to say that he wouldn’t be coming home but he was safe. She warned him the police were looking for him. He refused to be drawn on any questions such as where he was, saying it was better if she didn’t know. He said he would see her soon.

Mir had gone back to his ‘box’ in the wood. Istina had made him some soup when he came back. He sat down inside the spacious ‘box’ and put it to his lips. Tomato.

“Phone boxes only exist in villages now,” he said.

“Everyone here uses mobiles now. You should get one.”

“I got the shop keeper to let me use her landline.”

“You got through?”

He nodded affirmatively. “It appears that someone from the Minister of Defence has been round,” he said. “It looks like we’ve been rumbled.

”That’s no problem for you. Time to head back.”

“Not yet. there are still a few things that I need to deal with. I like Kate, it’s a shame the rest of the human race isn’t like her and her mum. They are a nice family.”

A police car arrived outside Mrs. Leaning’s that day and stayed there continually.

The police searched the wood but they failed to go anywhere near the large tent hidden within the copse at the heart of the wood.

D08

Kate had arranged to meet Danny inside the Middleton Sports Club. He was already there, waiting for her, sitting, sipping a lager. He stood up and greeted her warmly in his winning way. She could sense what a trickster he was now, but presently she was keeping her powder dry.

They ordered a drink and took a table.

“I have made a decision,” she said.

“About the boy?”

“About getting married.. and the boy,” she said.

“That’s sound ominous. I hope it is good news.”

“I think it is,” she said mysteriously, looking around as if she had lost something.

“What are you looking for?”

“A friend of mine said she would pop in.” She looked at her watch. “Oh it’s not nine yet, she will be here in about half an hour.”

“Will she be with us all evening?” said Danny looking a little worried.

“You’ll like her, she’s very attractive, and great fun, but I doubt she will stay long.”

“Okay,” he said putting his lager down. “So what decision have you made.”

“How suitable it’s Bonfire Night because we can celebrate with all the bangs pops and flashes. We are going to get married!”

“Oh Kate! That’s fantastic!”

“Not only that, I am going to put all my money into a joint account with you.”

“Really?” He eyed her suspiciously. “Why would you want to do that?”

“So that my love never goes without, you won’t have to worry about money at all.”

“We’ll talk about that later. What about the boy?”

“I don’t know where he is. He seems to have run away. He’s not been at the house for a couple of nights. Anyway I will do as my future husband wishes. I will leave him behind. We will go off to the south coast. If Mir returns he can stay with my mother until the social services sort him out. He will be able to look after himself because he is an alien from another world.”

He couldn’t supress laughter. “You are being really funny tonight, like you’ve really got it on you, like you are jesting with me.”

“Jesting with fire in my eyes! Haha,” she said, laughing.

“But I will get a job, Kate, I won’t just be blowing my sax in local venues, I will get a day job so that we will have lots of money. And we have what’s left of my father’s inheritance.”

“And my family are not short of money.”

“No, I remember now, your father left quite a packet behind. This bodes well for our long term future. I’m over the moon!”

As this conversation was going on, three figures of complexity were coming into the grounds of Middleton Sports Club all unaware of the approach and proximity of each other. Embodiments of unresolved issues: Mir, Cheryl and Blowfontine.

D09

Globule had informed Blowfontine that it was highly likely that Mir would go to the Firework celebrations at the sports club because Kate would be there. And the obnoxious gas was right. As Blowfontine was approaching the club house, he caught sight of a couple of small figures: Mir and Istina.

Keeping his eyes sharply on these small figures, he circled around them, making sure he wouldn’t be seen. It looked to Blowfontine as if Mir was heading for the clubhouse himself. He could either catch him before he went in or get him when he came out. The girl he did not know, she was an unknown quantity.

It was into this melee that Cheryl walked. As she entered the clubhouse bar, she was as appalled to see Danny as he was to see her. Waiting her arrival, Katey dashed out of her seat, grabbed her and pulled her over to the her table. “Just play it straight,” whispered Kate under her breath. “I’ll pour you a glass of wine.”

“Danny, this is my new friend, Cheryl.”

“Hello,” he said suddenly looking up. Both of the woman were looking deeply into his face, enjoying his discomfort. He stood up, not so much out of courtesty but as if he suddenly had to be somewhere else.

“Hello,” said Cheryl, looking at him but keeping her distance and sitting down at the same time.

“I believe you have met Cheryl before, haven’t you?” enquired Kate of Danny.

“I think I need to be going,” he stammered. “I need to get some cash out. I’ll come back later.”

“Oh yes, we’ve met before indeed. We lived together for months, didn’t we?” said Cheryl looking hard at Danny.

“That’s exactly what I heard,” said Kate.

Cheryl turned to Kate. She smiled ironically and said: “And then he kicked me out because I had run out of money.”

“Don’t listen to her, Kate,” said Danny. “She’s bitter and twisted and will only tell lies.”

“It’s the complete truth and I can prove it,” said Cheryl. “I’ve bought photographs to prove that we lived together.”

“I refuse to be drawn into this,” said Danny, “I am going before I lose my temper, I will not have my reputation dissed!” said Danny, suddenly grabbing his crotch in what must have been an involuntary need for defense.

The women’s eyebrows raised at his reaction. Danny had gone into a variety of contortions, his hands quickly moving out, stretching all over his body as if he was in a convulsion of itches from everywhere.

And then Kate saw what was happening. They had company. Mir and Istina were standing behind them. Mir was pointing his white glove at Danny. And she knew he had come under Mir’s curse.

“I can’t cope with this,” said Danny, pulling the weirdest faces and groping all about himself in a mad itch-fest. He sometimes grinned insanely as he scratched himself in one part and then pulled the oddest expressions as he rubbed himself in another. “I-I-I am not right. I must go.” And he fled out of the door that not many minutes before Cheryl had arrived in.

Cheryl and Kate looked at each other and both laughed. Mir was grinning too, yet with an innocent look on his face.

And then Kate realised that Mir had been up to some wickedness. She looked at him. “I’ve put what you would call ‘ants in his pants’. He will be itching all over his body all over his body for days, until he has a bath,” He said.

“How cruel.” And Kate and Cheryl began laughing again. And Mir joined in until the laughing bordered on the  hysterical.

But suddenly Mir was in shock. His white glove had been snatched. Suddenly it was pulled slyly and skilfully from his hand. He swung round and saw Blowfontine running for the door. Mir gave chase as if his whole life depended upon it.

Down the steps he belted – with Istina close behind him – after the short wreckel. As he came out in the moonlight, into the roasting blaze of the field bonfire he was terrified he would lose the figure in the crowds of spectators. And that was exactly where the thief had headed – into the throng of the crowd. Mir, with his short gait began to despair that would be able to catch him.

But luckily, fortunately – and the whole of history would have been different had this not happened – the short little Blowfontine tripped over. Mir was on him in a minute. Not being an aggressive person the only thing he could think of doing was sitting on him. But Blowfontine was stronger than he and he turned himself over and in the process pushed Mir off onto the grass. They both found themselves surrounded by a scrum of people.         “Fight!” a loud uncooth voice shouted, as if it was more exciting than the fireworks.         “He’s a thief,” shouted Mir, “He’s stolen a possession of mine!”

“I should have killed you when I had the chance,” snarled Blowfontine. He grabbed his black flask and pulled the stopper out, but just as it popped, Mir Kicked the flask and it went flying out over the crowd. “Globule! Come and help me!” he shouted.
The evening was a lantern of flickering light phantoms.

Whizzing and sparkling fireworks dominated the world of the eye, yet the field was consumed with multitudes of black holes of impenetrable darkness. Here, down in the gloom of the night-black grass, legs and torsoes disappeared. Bodies lashed out, bodies tangled. Occasional action was highlighted by flickering lambent red and yellow flames of the firelight slipping through the opaque moving spectators. Suddenly Mir’s hands were free of Blowfontine. Mir triumphantly stood, suddenly captured frozen in a flashlight flicker, holding his booty, having recooped his white glove. Quickly, instinctively, aware he may lose it again, he to retreated, pushing against the kettling crowd with his back. But he had the foresight, the instinct to point the glove at Blowfontine.

Blowfontine was at this moment, in a milion moments, getting to his feet in a scary haste and screaming, wailing at the same time. Now he was pushing at the surrounding human bodies trying to force his escape from a vengeful Mir. A black fog, like a swarm of bees was hovering around his head.

Both Istina and Kate had run over and stood in the crowd trying to see what was happening by looking over the shoulders of others. Kate had run after Mir, feeling that something was wrong. Very wrong. Now she broke through and Mir was next to her. No, no, he signalled, keep away, keep your distance. Then a flash from an explosion on the bonfire froze an expression on his face. He was terrified as he looked at her. A face of fear. She looked at the short man who had stolen his glove. He still could not break out of the scrum of people and make any distance to safety. And he was still shrieking. Something was happening. Red bursts of light were emitting from Mir’s glove and Blowfontine was the target. Mir was killing him. Mir was a murderer!

And she recognised what was forming and disintegrating around Blowfontine’s shoulder. She had seen this moving fog before when it had run across her landing after trying to suffocate her mother. Perhaps Mir was trying to kill the fog, this evil mist. But then they were both gone in the darkness again. She was in a state of shock. And time drifted.
And then there were screams. Massive screams. All the public at the front of the bonifre spectacle were making a hell of a noise.

Not many minutes later she was informed that a small man had run straight into the bonfire and been incinerated. Nobody seemed to know who he was, and the police found nothing to identify him. In fact, it was reported later, that they found his teeth and bones extremely unusual.

D10

Mir, Kate, Istina and Cheryl were all sitting in Kate’s car.

“Drive somewhere where you don’t usually go, where it’s safe,” said Mir, “Don’t go anywhere obvious because the police will be looking for us.”

“I don’t understand what’s going on,” said Cheryl.

“Don’t worry,” said Kate. “It’s okay, you’re safe,” said Kate switching on the ignition, “we could go and park near the football stadium, I have never even been there. And the streets round there are quite a maze.”

Five minutes later she parked in a sheltered cul de sac, and switched off the engine.

“I want to thank you for looking after me,” said Mir. “I am   going to leave you all very soon.”

“We don’t want to lose a member of our family,” said Kate.

“He has to go,” said Istina.

“Yes, she’s right,” said Mir. “I have to go back. But I owe it to you to explain a few things.”

“How interesting,” said Kate mockingly. “You’ve told us nothing so far. You are a complete mystery. And that white glove, what is that thing?”

“My name is Mir,” he said.

“We know that.”

“I do not come from this planet or this dimension. I normally live in another dimension. A tunc planeta, as we say. I come from Acoranius.”

He stopped talking and waiting for a comment but both neither Kate nor Cheryl spoke.

“Acorians do have some small sense of prophecy and I felt instinctively that you were a good person. I felt very comfortable in your space. And I was right thank goodness. And your mum, she’s lovely. Say goodbye to her from me. And to your cat as well.

“This all sounds wacko to me,” said Cheryl.

“But let me go back to my origins. All the dimensions are interdependent on each other. If one collapses or declines it affects the other Dimensions.

“My people, my species, have been for many years trying to help the human race. It started as one of our projects. It is a very difficult mission.

“We had noticed over many decades that things were going speedily wrong. There had become an evil quality to your leaders. It is not merely a case of a barrel of good apples with a bad apple or two. No, this was becoming a  barrel of bad apples with a mere one or two good apples. And then these get railroaded, corrupted into wrong action. It all started to go wrong at the end of the Nineteenth Century. You humans have become very corrupt and very stupid. You all instinctively know this to be true but as a species you don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. You seem to think that nothing can happen to you that has never happened before. That is lazy thinking, total lack of imagination and completely wrong.”

“This all sounds a bit political to me,” said Cheryl.

”However, I criticise the human race yet the Acorians were caught short in the same way very recently.”

“Can I record this,” asked Kate, “because I’m going to forget everything you tell me.”

“Yes,” said Mir.

Kate fished in her bag and brought out her mobile and switched it on to ‘record’.

“As I say, I live on the planet of Acorianus. I am not an Earthling. I am an alien in your terms. I am not a child of the human type and I am not eight. I am 81 in our Acorian years. We never get any physically bigger than this. Istrina is 63.”

“64,” corrected Istrina.

“Weird,” said Kate, blinking. “Is this all really true?”

“All Acorians live exactly for 330 years. We do not have organ failure like humans. We do not go mad before we die, or have degenerative physical or mental illnesses. Our bodies fail everywhere, all at once, all over, within a few days. I know the difference between us and humans through experience, which is why I hate that nonsense that Giles Levine was perpetrating.

“The Acorians have a celebration ritual before we die. Death for us – at worst – only takes a matter of days. We are a very ethical and spiritual – you could say a religious – species. We do not believe that the end of life is merely the end of life but a form of transformation. Much like birth takes us from one state to another. Death takes us to another state. We go on to another life; we transform into another type of being. Humans have become so corrupted they have forgotten that. But we won’t go into that here. Do you have any questions so far?”

“Too many.” said Kate, “..but how about where are your mum and dad?’”
“I have neither a mother or father. We are not made like that. Look,” said Mir. He Turned round and pulled out his teeshirt. He rolled it up past where his navel should have been. All they could see was perfect unblemished flesh. “I have no navel. I am not human. I did come by way of the unbilical chord.”

“You want to know where I come from and how I got here. Yes I will explain that, but first I need to tell you what happened on my planet. And it’s recent history.

“The Acorians have always looked over the human race, partly out of guilt because the human race was one of their unfortunate projects thousands of years ago. However since the beginning of your 20th Century, we had noticed your species were getting into a dreadful loop of destruction through your folly and misapplication of science. We were alerted by the madness and insanity of your so called Great War. We sent waves of secret emisseries down to Earth to try and get some sense back into your global population but the policial system was so corrupt we could not get any of our small child-looking Acorians into useful positions of power. However we persisted – and still persist – in sending Acorians to try and counter-influence the dance of death that you humans seem to want to ever speed up.

“As a ‘desperatis rebus ethicae’, we were all prepared to send down a massive wave of Acorians when suddenly our own time-dimension was invaded by a mass of Wreckels. The Wreckels are foetido creaturae in every way. This was an unexpected attack and took us completely by surprise. And we were in great trouble. If the Wreckels defeated us you Earthlings would be finished within months.

“The wreckels have studied us well. They knew our needs and thus our weak points. They were determined to take away our ritual objects, one of them being the ‘Mysterium album manu senioribus’, the white glove, a very rare object, which would have destroyed much of our magic and our power.

“This all sounds a bit like double dutch,” said Cheryl.

“Shhh..” whispered Kate.

“Double Dutch? Many of our terms sound Latin because that language developed on Acorianus.”

“And what did you do to Harry?”

“I will explain that in a minute.”

He continued his narrative. “I grabbed the Mysterium and ran to a dim-nav ship which had already been programmed to set off to Earth. Wreckels chased after me from the Casadium. I ran, carrying the Mysterium, I ran into the time-ship, locking the doors behind me. I fired up her engines and escaped. Some time later I ended up in Middleton woods. I arrived in a time-ship, which to you would look like a big box. Blowfontine, a senior wreckel followed hot on my heels – as you say – in another time-ship. He mission was to kill me and return with the Mysterium.”

“And that was the man you had a fight with on bonfire night.”

“Yes. Not a man but a Wreckel. If he had took that Myterium back to Acorianus we would be hopelessly defeated. But now that he is dead, I can go back and surprise them. I have the Mysterium and I can turn it against them.”

“And you Istina?

“Switch off your recorder,” she said.

Kate did as requested.

“I should not reveal my mission, but as Mir trusts you I will tell you. I will stay here until I am called back. I continue to carry on the work trying to educate humans. We also can’t afford to fail in that either.”

“And Harry?” asked Kate switching her recorder on again.

“It wasn’t me that cured your lovely cat,” said Mir. “I knew enough about life-design on Earth to have kept him alive for a sufficient while, and then I used to magic of the Mysterium to bring him back to full health.”

“Who ran over him? Was it that horrid man next door?”

“I don’t know. I think it was just an accident,” said Mir. “I think you will find your neighbour is a lot more reasonable towards attacking vulnerable animals now that he is suffering himself, but you can never tell with some selfish humans.”

“And why did you hate that television guru so much?”

“Because he sums up the nonsensical nature of what you humans have become. My objection to your TV guru was that he is a perfect example of human sophistry and false wisdom. People are too sure of what they know, the wise man in never sure he knows anything.

“Any more questions?” asked Mir.

“Hundreds, but I need to think about them. What happens now?”

“Drive Istina to where she lives. I have instructed her to come round and visit your family while she is here. As for me, please take me back to the Middleton Woods and I will depart. I ave to get back to my home and fight the Wreckels.”

“Keep yourself safe my lovely boy,” said Kate feeling tearful.

“I hope we meet again,” he said taking her hand and squeezing it. “I shall miss you all .But I have to get back to my home and fight the wreckals. Please drive me to the wood.”

ENDS
20558

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