WIZICKY WAZICKY WOOD

©  1978 Story and illustrations Michael Skywood Clifford

CHAPTER ONE

“I’ve got it at last!” squealed Rosalind as she stepped out of the antique shop into the sunshine. The warm summer air breathed over her, making her skin tingle with delight.

Gripping a carrier bag in one hand, Rosalind bounced her way out of Palingham village. Under a rich blueberry sky smeared with ice cream clouds, she hurried along a country lane, giggling with pleasure.

Keen to get home as quick as she could, she crossed the road, climbed a fence, wandered across the golf course and arrived at a hedge under which she crawled to take a short cut through the spinney at the back of the golf course.

Inside her carrier bag lay the reason for her joy – in fact, so much so, she just couldn’t wait until she got home. She wanted to have another look at what she had  bought!

Once beneath the canopy of leaves in the spinney, she picked her way carefully through a carpet of bluebells, past some wild honeysuckle, and pleasantly becoming engulfed in a cloud of its heady scent. Near a gurgling stream, she plonked herself down on a fallen log and opened her carrier bag.

She withdrew a small white cardboard box. After taking its lid off, she removed three separate wrappings of tissue-paper. Moments later, a silver prize lay gleaming in the palm of her hand: a heavy Victorian pocket watch with elegant carved Roman numerals! Rosalind wound it, set it and put it to her ear. Tick-tick-tick-tick….. It sounded brand new, not over a hundred years old. She was sure Granddad would love it! At last, after all her saving and planning, today was the day she would be able to give it to him.

Mum was collecting granddad from hospital at three o’clock, now that his operation had been successfully completed. He would be as fit as a fiddle after a few days rest and be able to potter about the garden just as he used to. Granddad loved antiques and finely engineered instruments and this watch would look perfect in the pocket of his burgundy waist coat. She wrapped it as before, boxed it, placed it back inside her carrier bag and put the bag down and looked around her and giggled again.

She stared down at the woodland floor below, at the moving shadows formed by leaves touched with the lightest of breezes. A nightingale chirped above happily. It was delightful to sit still…..to sit still and allow the peace of the place to work its magic. Then a scurrying sound in the undergrowth caught her attention. She went to investigate, and grinned.

Behind a holly tree, a stone’s throw away from her, was an enormous raven. Having never seen one before, she was determined to get a better look. She crept closer hardly daring to breathe. The black raven, oblivious of Rosalind, grubbed in the earth, its huge beak scattering the leaves and twigs in all directions.

Closer and closer she crept. And only when she was the length of her own shadow away did the enormous bird freeze, fix her with a fierce unblinking eye, and take to the air with such an undignified flapping that Rosalind squealed with laughter!

What a day! Everything was wonderful!

But then…..Disaster!

CHAPTER TWO

For when Rosalind returned to collect her carrier bag she had a shock. Even though she’d only been yards from it, her carrier bag lay on its side and was completely empty.  She checked inside the bag and around the log to find Granddad’s watch – but the watch had gone.

It surely must have fallen out amongst the leaves, but no. Despite frantic searching, no sign of it could she find. Brushing leaves and twigs from her dress and knees she tried to keep calm. She couldn’t have left the watch at the shop because she had looked at it only five minutes ago. How could anyone have stolen it? She would have  heard if anyone had crept up to the carrier bag. She pricked up her ears and scoured the surroundings, listening and looking for any sound or sight that would give her a clue.

Apprehension ran across her face as she spotted something small and white a few yards down the path. She went over to examine it and groaned: as she feared it was the white cardboard box top. After picking it up, she noticed at a further distance, another white object in the brown landscape. This was the bottom of the box. Ten yards further along, she found the first of the tissue paper wrappings.

“And whatever’s that?” she gasped aloud, “I’ve never seen that in here before.”

Past another patch of bluebells stood a sandstone wall about twice her height. All she could see above it were tree tops.

“It’s like a wood inside a wood,” she said to herself. “It must be someone’s private garden.”

She walked along the wall for some distance until she rounded a corner to come across a most extraordinary entrance made of white stone. Quite astonished by her discovery, her eyes widened to read a carved inscription on the archway:

    ‘Wizicky-Wazicky Wood’

and her mouth fell open at the sight of two sculpted lions that towered over her and stood at either side. As the gate between these was wide open, Rosalind peered through. The dim light beyond the gate picked out trees that seemed very odd – being far too closely packed together. Nevertheless, a long way ahead, Rosalind could see another small white object on the path -which must be another piece of tissue paper – so if granddad’s watch was in there, she was going in there, whether the place was spooky or not!

Once through the gate, the narrow path stretched straight before her, fading in the dim distance. Way above, branches tangled and twisted, only allowing the feeblest watery green haze to filter through. Rosalind felt mistrustful of these colossal trees – how could all these exist within her small spinney. Wide trunked, and tightly-packed, they crowded either side of the narrow path, inviting her to walk their gauntlet.

Advancing along this path, She wondered what was it about the place that so unnerved her? Was it the chilled air on her cheeks, or the silence, or the light that failed to illuminate? There seemed a lifelessness about the place – it was as if she’d left a sunny beach behind to enter a dungeon! It was so unnatural, so cold, and.. it also had a rather unpleasant smell, something she had only just noticed.

Further and further along she walked until eventually she stood before the piece of tissue paper which lay on the path. Which way now? The robber must have gone straight ahead as that was the only way to go. Was she mad!

Deeper and deeper she adventured on, only too aware of the light dimming with every increasing step. And that smell – whatever was that awful smell that came in waves? Ugh! it reminded her of school toilets.

Then suddenly – behind her – a movement!

Almost yelping with fright, she leapt into the air, and simultaneously spun round, to catch the maker of the sound, but after a faint scurrying in the undergrowth, it had gone and silence returned.

With her pulse hammering in her ears, and her breath rising through the dank air in white twists, she whispered to herself, “Calm down! You’re just allowing yourself to be scared by a rabbit or a squirrel. Calm down.”  Steadying her nerves by taking several more deep breaths, she wondered whether to go back or not. Pushing the hair out her eyes, and taking another deep breath, she tip-toed forward, now desperately trying to ignore the noise of her heart beat. Occasionally she would shiver: it was silly she knew – but she couldn’t escape the sensation of being watched……..and then something happened which defeated all her courage.

As if an engine under the earth had been switched on – as if an earthquake was imminent – the ground beneath her began to tremor. Increasingly, trees began to shudder, branches started to vibrate, leaves – now flung from their stems – began to fill the sky and helter-skelter down. Now, the tremors became violent judders; and Rosalind found herself uncontrollably swaying at the centre of a vortex surrounded by leaves, twigs, soil, whirling in a frenzy around her head. As she clutched at her hair, and covered her ears, she could feel the air beat back and forth at her skin . Shrieking – she took to her heels – as the whole cacophony crescendoed to a booming sound that shook through the forest for over a minute.

As strangely as the noise had grown, it had now faded, and gradually died, leaving the wood once again as ominously silent and still as before.

But now Rosalind was both alarmed and confused.

She had run back along the path to the entrance exactly the way she had come, but there was no entrance. And whereas minutes before this path she was on had been straight, now it contained many twists. This couldn’t be the same path, yet it must be, as it had been the only direction she could have followed.

Rosalind arrived at an intersection of five paths all going in different directions which she knew she hadn’t seen before. No pieces of tissue paper gave her any clue which way to go, and all the paths looked very much the same.

She couldn’t work it out at all. In the end she went in the direction furthest from where the awful noise had sounded; but it led nowhere she recognised. She didn’t remember these ash trees, nor this fizzy stream. She couldn’t have been this way before.

She retraced her footsteps again – but now the amount of paths confused her hopelessly. She wondered around for hours desperately trying to find the entrance, as by now she given up trying to find the watch.

After trying another path which was just as confusing as all the others she began to run and shout, “Help! Help!” Overhead she could see the sun was setting and knew that soon she would be lost and it would be dark as well.

“What a vile place! I’ve really done it now. Mum and Granddad will wonder where I am – and I don’t even know! The more I try to find my way out the more I seem to get lost!”

In disappointment, frustration  and fear, tears began to well up in her eyes. Resting against a tree bark she wondered what to do? She was cold, tired and lost, and granddad’s watch had been stolen?

But then….

She could hear something. It sounded like a song.

CHAPTER THREE

    Yes, straining her ears, she could make out a tune, but she couldn’t quite make out the words. It sounded like, “….dum de dum de diddle de plobble de dum de dum de dum….” and it was getting louder all the time.

When Rosalind looked down she could hardly believe her eyes. At the end of a long ridge of cracked earth which zigzagged across the woodland floor, a mound of earth had erupted before her and leaves and soil had fallen away to reveal a pink wiggly object emerging from the ground. At first she thought it was a worm but no…..it was a snout attached to a mole’s head. Bigger than she’d ever imagined a mole’s head to be, it now stuck out of the ground, its pair of squinty eyes blinking, staring straight at her. And she could hardly believe her ears either: it had broken off its singing and was now speaking to her!

“Stolen my dice, have you?” protested the queer creature, rubbing its eyes and brushing the soil away from its whiskers with its large digging paw.

“Erhhh…..?” said Rosalind staring in amazement.

“Are you deaf? Have you stolen my dice?” tootled the voice – a voice that could have been blown from a flute – “’cause I want it back if you have.”

“What?” asked Rosalind.

“Give it me back if you’ve got it, whoever you are. Come on . Don’t just stand there. Give it me and I won’t be angry with you and go away I will.”

“But….”

“Give it me back please. Do you have it?”

“What?”

“Told you, didn’t I? My dice. Want it back I do. Come on, own up.”

“But….you can speak?.. Am I dreaming? ……er?”

“Find your observations interesting I do not. I merely want my possession returned.”

“…er….I haven’t got anything. I haven’t stolen your dice.”

“Oh. Should have said so earlier then, shouldn’t you,” sang the mole’s reedy, soprano voice. “Thought I that you looked too woeful to be a successful thief. Well, wonder I who has it, then?”

The mole dropped his head for a moment as if deep in thought. He looked up again. “Have you seen anyone go this way with a dice under their arm?”

“No.”

“Oh,” said the mole, and he quietly studied her again before he spoke again. “Eat Rowntree’s fruit gums?”

“What?” asked Rosalind bemused.

“See it in your face I can. Unhappiness. Yes that’s what it is. Thinking I was what would cheer you up and then I thought of my fruit gums but I scoffed them all yesterday. Shame. Actually ….have you got any sweets on you? Like I a Kit Kat or those really old fashioned Spangles with the stripy wrappers. Have you any of those?”

“No of course not.”

“Introduce myself I shall. Rodney, my dear. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Tell me now please why your face is so downcast?”

“My name’s Rosalind….” She stopped and gulped, feeling for a minute as if she was going to burst into tears again. “I’m lost….” she stopped and sniffed. Then she said,  “I’m upset. Please tell me how to get out of this awful place.”

“Extricate myself first then I shall help you if I can, ” he said, breaking into his singing again. His head wrestled free from the soil, then his shoulders, and then his other shoveling paw emerged. Soon Rosalind could see all of him: a sprawly, wriggly, underground, torpedo covered in short, close fur, and bigger – she thought – than any mole should be.

“Dum-dee-dum-de…..Now let me think. Been ages since I lived outside this wood,” said mole making his eyes so small they almost disappeared into his fur as he tried to remember, “Lived I once on a golf course-”

“- Yes, there’s a golf course near where I live -”

“- but that was such a time ago. Forgotten have I all those old paths. Hated it, I did. Do you know I’d be sitting in my rocking chair, as snug as a mole in a hole, watching TV when a white rolly-polly would plonk down the chimney and bonk me on the bonce. Used to happen all the time! Couldn’t put up with that could I? Got a much more select place now, or at least I thought I had until I discovered someone’s been in and pinched my dice.” He now puffed up so much Rosalind thought he would burst. Suddenly he began to chuckle. Then, in between giggles, he burst into his dum-de-dum song, but the song and the giggles became so hopelessly mixed up he fell over onto his back puffing and panting. Rosalind knelt and put him back on his feet.

“I’ve had something stolen too, Mr. Mole. Somebody has pinched a lovely watch that I was going to give to my granddad.”

“Did they now?” said the mole, one eye closed and the other open wide. “You seem to have the same problem as me. Perhaps Grudger will be able to help us both.”

“Grudger? Who’s he?”

Rodney mole, trying to restore some composure from his recent tumble, began to brush the several dead oak leaves that had become attached to his fur. “Lives in the wood he does and is a very trust worthy gent indeed,” he explained, his voice rich with admiration.

“How could he know who’s got my watch and your dice?”

After nodding his head, left and right, to fling off any soil that had remained on his whiskers, he sighed and then cleared his throat five times.  Then he said, as if he was going to address an audience, “Guarantee I will he’ll be able to tell you how to get home as he’s such a clever fellow, and he might also be able to figure out who’s stolen our things as well.”

“Can we go to see Grudger now?” asked Rosalind, “I need to find the watch and get home as quickly as I can.”

“Come back to my home first. Love I to guzzle Vimto and I’ve got some old original bottles of it in my fridge, and then make you will I, my cordon bleu speciality, bananas and custard.

“Yummy yummy,” said Rosalind. “Let’s go.”

The mole however remained where he was and in a less excited voice he asked, “Is your eyesight good? Can you read well? Making poems I do well but my eyesight is poor.”

“I’m a good reader,” said Rosalind, “but I don’t know what that’s got to do with anything?”

“Know I a signpost to put me in the right direction for home. I do not have my spectacles with me,” sighed the child-like voice, “and it’s too tall for me to see.”

“Let’s go there now!”

“Say I Right! Follow me!” and in a flash the mole had disappeared into his hole.

“Wait! Wait!” shouted Rosalind.

“Want me again, do you?” he asked, sticking out his nose out again.

“I’m too big for one of your tunnels.”

“Do I everything earth backwards! Ee ee ee ee! Use my legs I shall. Come, we’ll slip through the leaves like wind.

CHAPTER FOUR

    The darkness had now fallen but Rosalind could see well enough to follow the mole as he led the way along a footpath illuminated by patches of moonlight that fathomed the forest floor. After some time they turned right at an enormous bulbous oak tree, descended a slight incline and entered a small clearing. In its centre stood a tall signpost, which was placed at the intersection of two footpaths.

The signpost shone a glossy white in the moonlight; at each end of its four signs, a carved hand pointed a finger. Rosalind ran over and shouted out their directions painted on each of the signs, one after another. “East,” read the first. ‘North,’ read the next. Rosalind sighed when the next said ‘West’. The fourth pointer was surprisingly different: it read: ‘Blackbod’.

“Need to go west.” said the mole who was absent-mindedly snouting in the earth for worms.

“That’s that way,” said Rosalind pointing, “but whatever is Blackbod, Mole?” she asked.

“Is a bad part of the wood. Is not a good idea going there. Are so many stupid people in this wood these days, you know. Wish that people were nice and decent like they used to be. What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“Shhhhh….Think I hear something,” he whispered, and came closer to her. A moment later he asked, “Heard anything unusual did you?”

“No.”

“Ssssssh….”

They strained their ears for any sound but the wood was perfectly quiet.
Rosalind yawned.

“Keep awake now,” whispered the mole, “Feel me a lot safer somehow when I get home too.”

“I’ll try,” she said and yawned again.

“Come along with me as I go westwards and eat some slurpy pudding with me. Find we Grudger Badger later.”

“Lead the way,” she said.

As they travelled onwards mole began to chat again. He seemed particularly interested in the subject of what he ate. “Eat I sometimes so much chocolate it makes me ill,” he was saying, “and it doesn’t do much for my teeth either, but I got sick of all those worms and slugs and things along time ago.”

“But moles are supposed to eat insects not sweets,” laughed Rosalind.

“You know when I used to eat slugs I was very generous with them. If I had five slugs I would give at least four of them away.”

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Rosalind pulling a face.

“I try to be generous with my sweets but I admit I am be a bit selfish with chocolates. Still nobody is perfect. Can it do harm if I go round making up my poetry and eating my own Milky Ways? Tell you what I really goggle over: chocolates with brandy in. Write I some really good poetry when I have one of those!”

“I’m glad I’ve got you to talk to in this creepy place,” chirped Rosalind, grinning broadly at the mole. “Hhhhhhhh… oh dear. Excuse me for yawning. I’m so tired that I could sleep for a week.”

“Feeling rather tired myself although I should be at home BUSYING, ” said the mole, taking the left of two paths as he talked, “Writing poems is my first hobby, drinking Vimto is my second hobby, cooking cheese surprises is my third, and water dancing – well that is the best.”

“What’s that?”

“My tufty dove! You don’t know?”

“I wouldn’t ask If I did.”

“Is everything it is. Praising to the sky is the highest of arts. Shining back at the moon, a mirror is laid aground and I dance on top. Appearing silhouettes form in the shiny surface while I glide by the light of the stars.”

It took Rosalind a minute to picture what he meant. “Errr……You mean you dance on a mirror?”

“Do I indeed! I drink Vimto, I eat cheese surprises and then dance and sing into the night and shout out my poems. I’ve been making this one up recently for the festival. Listen:

In Wizicky-Wazicky Wood
In Wizicky-Wazicky Wood
There’s metal and plastic
And glass and elastic
and Wizicky-Wazicky Wood

In Wizicky-Wazicky Wood
In Wizicky-Wazicky Wood
No should, no shouldn’t
No can’t, no couldn’t
’cause Wizicky-Wazicky could

When Wizicky-Wazicky did
When Wizicky-Wazicky did
Turning night from dark
To light he did
Some Wizicky-Wazicky good…….”

He shrugged his shoulders and looked concerned. “That’s as far as I’ve got so far,” he explained.

“This is a very strange place,” said Rosalind. When I first came into Wizicky Wazicky Wood I heard a horrible noise,” she said, and went on to describe the strange booming noise. As she explained the mole grew thoughtful and slowed his pace until he came to a complete stop.

“Errrrrrrhhhgghh…,” he groaned nervously, “This is serious. It must be that evil woman.”

“Who’s that?” asked Rosalind.

“Never mind now. Look, go faster we must. Forget we to look about cautiously as we have wandered. Listen to every whisper about you. Come, we will silently breathe through the leaves until we get to my bananas and custard.”

For the next fifteen minutes, the mole led quickly along a path which wound in and out between silver birches and oaks. When the path was partially blocked by a fallen tree, the mole pulled up short and put his paw to his ear but only rustling leaves driven by the cold wind could Rosalind hear.

“Followed I’m sure we are,” he whispered, looking a timid mole now, different altogether to the one she had met earlier. She picked him up and stroked him reassuringly. She whispered, “What do you think it is?”

“Dwell I not on it. Put me down and let us move again,” he said with an urgency that didn’t exactly comfort Rosalind.

They climbed over the tree and continued onwards now with greater caution and hardly any speech between them. After some distance from where the path sheered right they came to the end of the dense woodland. An area presented itself filled with trees, shrubs and grasses, so blackened they appeared burnt and brittle. Lit by moon beams, branches loomed out in ugly twisty shapes, and a pungent smell of soot tightened Rosalind’s throat.

“I don’t like the look of that? Do we have to go in there?” said Rosalind.
“Shhhh…I think I…Arrrgh!.”

“What’s wrong?”

Rosalind couldn’t understand what was happening. The mole squealed as if he were in pain. “Move! Move! Move!” he kept shrieking.

Across the clearing he shot, with Rosalind following without knowing why. Only when she looked up did she understand why he had fled. Something that didn’t make any sense at all was coming across this desolated earth.

Not one thing but many things. Hundreds of them. Even in the poor light, her eyes could see but her mind failed to believe. An army of leaves, of nettles, of giant green stingers with grotesque eyes, and thin spindly arms were coming in her direction. Each nettle was at least as tall as a fully grown man, carried a staff and wore terrifying spiked boots. Ranked up in wide rows like soldiers, the nettles advanced closer and closer with every second. Mesmerised, all Rosalind could do was watch them as they came upon her.

“Move you!” screeched the mole, and her trance was broken.

She dashed after him only to discover another wall of nettles were advancing from this side too. These were taller; much, much taller.

“Back! Retreat!” the mole shouted  – but where to? There was no where to go, they were trapped between the two ranks.

“Get over here! Follow me!” squealed the mole.

For a moment she hesitated, but then she was away!

“Climb the tree! Climb that tree!” he shouted.

With the marching boots stomping just behind her, Rosalind grabbed one of the lowest branches and pulled herself up, but she lost her grip and – crunch! – fell back breathless on the ground. The stinging nettle’s boots now thundered on the ground like an evil drumbeat, the gap between them now reduced to only fifteen metres. Panicking, she ran to the a smaller tree with lower branches, and although she could reach these she still couldn’t get a foothold. Then she could.

Now they were ten metres away!

Scrabbling with her feet, and with her arms outstretched, she gripped up onto a higher branch. For a moment she hung on while her feet found another foothold. Then with an almighty effort she hauled herself up – just as the nettles stormed beneath her!

A moment later, safely but breathlessly sitting on a branch, Rosalind looked down and trembled at the expressionless eyes of each giant nettle as it passed beneath. The sight of their fine hairs oozing a colourless poison, only an arms length away from her, made her shiver with fear.

“Mole! Mole!” she cried out in concern for her newly found friend, but her shouts were immediately overwhelmed by a terrific thunder, a noise so deafening she almost fell from the branch.

Over the next fifteen minutes Rosalind sat on the branch, most of the time unsure whether to cover her ears or her eyes with her hands. Below, the stinging nettles had clashed with the taller army, which Rosalind could now see were dock leaves – not another rank of stinging nettles at all. The clanging of metal on metal, the rips of metal slicing through material, the unheeded cries of mercy,  the wails of agony, and the screams of hostility all spiralled up at her in discord. The furious rage and speed with which the nettles dispersed their adversaries was shocking. No dock leaf seemed able to defend itself against the nettles poisonous sting. Once they were stung, the nettles trampled over them in their spiked boots leaving each dock leaf reduced to shreds.

An hour later the wood was ghostly quiet. The stinging nettles had long gone. Rosalind, knowing she would fall out of the tree soon through weariness, climbed down to the blackened earth, now covered in shreds of dock leaves. She shouted for the mole but the only reply was the strange echo of her own voice. She called up into the trees. No answer. She went back to the path to see if he was there, but he wasn’t.

Rosalind sat down on the path and drooped her head and yawned! She felt so sorry. Had she followed the mole’s advice more speedily he would have surely escaped.

Sad, weary, but too tired to be frightened, she looked around for Rodney, but her eyes kept blinking, and she kept getting confused. She searched for Rodney,  but woke seconds later to find she had been searching for him in a dream. It was too difficult to think clearly. Determined to stay awake she lay down in a more comfortable position on the path and fell fast asleep.

But the mole had been right all along. Something had been following.

CHAPTER FIVE

Click-click-click……

Rosalind opened her eyes and yawned. It was dark and teeth-chatteringly cold.

“Is that you, Rodney?” she whispered.

It started again: a slight rattle, then silence.

“Who’s there?” she said.

Suddenly, as if in reply to her call, two yellow eyes loomed out of the charcoal darkness, and writhed all about her, one moment dancing brightly overhead and the next, zipping behind her, only to reappear once again to stare into her eyes.

“Hey! Keep still,” she said. “Stop darting around all over the place.”

“So pleased to meet you,” said a goading, sibilant voice.

“Who are you?”

“I’m the Civil Serpent,” said the voice, “and I’m your friend.”

“Oh? My friend?…….How can you be if I don’t even know you?” asked Rosalind.

“Oh I am, so much, so much,” it hissed.

“Well, I’m relieved to hear it,” said Rosalind.

The voice grew sweeter and louder, “You can trust me, little girl. I’m sure that I can help you, can’t I? You have a need, you see, as everybody has a need, and I’m here to provide for that need. If you have any obstacles that prevent me helping you, I want to know what they are, so I can do something about them, can’t I? Now do you have any money problems?”

“What you are talking about? Listen: do you know where Rodney Mole is?”

“I want to help you, little girl,” continued the Civil Serpent’s tones, full of encouragement, “but surely that’s not your real need. Trust me – as only I have your best interests at heart. Come, let me give your arm a little squeeze. No?  Okay, then maybe a little later when you appreciate my lovely caring nature. Philanthropy runs in my veins, you know, I just can’t help helping people. Now come on, what is your real need?”

“Can you get me home, please. I’m stuck in this awful place and if I stay here much longer I’ll…”

“Miss breakfast, eh? So you want to get home and have your Rice Crispies, eh? Yes. Surely I will help to you to get all the muesli and corn flakes that money can provide. I shall give you, Miss Breakfast – as I now name you – an excellent service. Yes. Easy! Of course I know the way home. Come with me and hm…I’ll show you.”

The Civil Serpent’s incandescent eyes backed away and immediately the rattling noise could be heard again. For the first time, Rosalind could see her new ‘friend’ fully illuminated in the moonlight: a snake with a rattle tied on its tail.

“Wait a minute! Wait! Wait!” she called. Standing, she asked,  “Are you taking me home?”

“Yes, I’m taking you home.”

“But how do you know where my home is?”

The snake puzzled over this for a moment, “Yes. I saw you with the mole, you see. You said you lived near a golf course, I took it upon myself to come and help you, little girl.”

“Have you seen the mole?” she quickly pleaded, her eyes widening with concern.

“Ahhhhhhh,” the snake’s descending sigh must have lasted half a minute. “It is so sad: the stinging nettles are such barbarous creatures, aren’t they?” said the snake.
“Did you see what happened?” she asked fearfully.

“Ah, is not good to talk of such sad things. To see a fly go under a steamroller is not something I like to ponder upon,” said the snake, “If only the poor creature had taken out a pension with me all would be well. But then think of the good things! And you were so lucky! What a dramatic escape! Tragically, moles aren’t good at climbing trees, are they? So sorry.”

“That’s awful!” said Rosalind.

“Now let me take you home, and allow me to share some information with you on the way..”

Rosalind didn’t trust this creature very much for some reason. “Why have you a baby’s rattle tied on your tail?” she asked.

“Ahh…. I’ve had it since I was as long as a mere tadpole. I’ve always wanted to be a rattlesnake – a sort of complex my analyst called it. My wretched life was hopeless until I dressed up like one. My wonderful boss gave me the baby’s rattle. She was so pleased with my care-taking of Wizicky-Wazicky Wood she gave it me with…a few other things.. didn’t she? Do you like it?”

“Not much.”

“You are not too cheerful at the moment, little Miss Breakfast, but you will be ever so happy when I tell you about my money box scheme that will fill all your needs.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s simple. I can do you a favour that will beat all favours.”

“Taking me home will be good enough. Unless you can find my granddad’s watch.”
“Pah! Who cares about your granddad’s watch. If you do what I tell you, you can buy a thousand town clocks!” said the snake darting about all over the place again. “Listen, Miss Breakfast, if you let me have your pocket money every week I will turn you into a millionaire by the time you are twelve.”

“How?”

Because I will invest all your money in one of my special ‘Mature Feet’ trust-fun policies, and these will earn more money than you can ever get in a post office account. The best one for you is the Big Bovine Encowment Plan where you not only get a Farmhouse money box, but a Big Moo cheque book and your very own personal ball point pen with your name printed next to a picture of a Big Moo Bagpipes. You also get a Big Bovine plastic card which when you show it in a toy shop will allow you to buy any game you want. And for each ice lolly you buy you get another one free.”

“I think I’m too young to invest my money,” said Rosalind.

“No! Not at all. With my assistance you will be very wise to do it.”

“Well I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve spent all my pocket money,” said Rosalind.

“Well why didn’t you moo-ing well say earlier!” rasped the snake.

“Come on little girl, this is the way home. Hurry now,” the snake called.

Rosalind wasn’t sure whether following him was wise but perhaps it was better than being alone in the wood. She wondered if he knew anything about her granddad’s watch, but she didn’t like to ask him.

As they progressed the tree crowns above grew so dense they cut out most of the moonlight again. She knew from a trickling sound that a stream ran before her, for she could hardly see it. The snake swam over, while Rosalind made a giant leap in the dark and landed safely but untidily on the opposite bank.

Once again the snake led the way but now its pace was slower and its nonsensical chatter had quietened. An hour later to Rosalind’s relief it had stopped altogether. As it climbed up a steep incline, the snake suddenly came to a halt, looked back, and waited for Rosalind to catch up. Its yellow eyes stared closely into hers.

“Now I have a need, little Miss Breakfast, and as you are my best friend who will always remember that I have your best financial interests at heart – it would please me if you grant my need and be quiet now, little girl – I don’t want to wake anyone…..”

Rosalind didn’t quite know what the snake meant, but thought it best to follow its advice.
The snake, slipped along in the dank undergrowth so slowly that his rattle made no sound. He continued leading up the embankment of the steep plateau until he reached its top. The overgrown grasses here were tangled with sharp thistles, but at least there was some light available.

Rosalind sat down to rest on a tree stump, but the snake quickly returned for her.

“You mustn’t sit down!” it hissed, “We must move quick but quiet! Hssssss!”

“Go away for a minute, you smarmy thing! I need a rest.”

“Quiet! Quiet! I look after you and you do as I say, yes, my Weetabix friend. Come with me a little further and then you can rest as much as you like! We mustn’t wake any nasty people up. Doesn’t pay good dividends does it?”

If the snake thought someone was nasty then they must be! thought Rosalind. She quickly jumped up and stepped forward  – but oh knickers! – she had moved in too much haste and landed on the snake! Screeching like squeaky chalk on a blackboard, the Civil Serpent howled and leapt forward. And what a din – the world’s largest rattlesnake could never have made as much noise as that rattle!

Hissing and spitting the snake dived at Rosalind’s legs but she kicked it away.

“Get off!” she said kicking at it.

Then, for no apparent reason, the snake acted as if completely defeated, and lay flat on the ground and grovelled before her. Simultaneously a sickening smell attacked Rosalind’s nostrils.

“What’s wrong with you now?” she asked.

But then she looked up.

Rosalind caught her breath.

CHAPTER SIX

Between two tree trunks, and blocking the path, stood something quite hideous. Shiny black from top to bottom, with skin  like polished leather, it stood taller than an adult. Its head – if that’s what it was – was eyeless, and topped in a horde of tendrils, like black worms which continually twitched. The stink of dirty socks slumbering in a mucky pond filled the air.

“You’ve brought me a humansh to playsh with, sherpentsh.” it said in a loud whispery voice, while its tendrils squirmed about more furiously.”Gim mesh this humansh,” it demanded. A cold shiver ran down Rosalind’s spine.

“N-n-n-no Quark, lovely Quark, this is not for you. All right, Quark, I know I’ve been spotted, but you’ve got to wait for the spoils. You must admit that I have always done you a good service, and now I get treated like the office junior. It’s not fair. You can’t have her yet. That’s not in the rules, you know. You can’t play games with her now, you know. You must remember I fixed you a good unit-linked assurance plan, so don’t forget that,” replied the snake.

“I like to playsh my nashty games, shnake. One daysh I will playsh a nastysh game with you, shnake, and yoush’ll need good death benefits.”

“Now, now, Quark. Calm down. I really must come by. I have to go to Malady.”

“Wantsh to playsh licking the armpits. My favourish gamesh.”

“No Quark, let us by.”

The Quark didn’t move.

“When I’ve introduced her to Malady I promise you can be as nasty as you like,” said the snake.

The Quark seemed satisfied with this comment and moved off. As he went he muttered to Rosalind’s amazement, “Wansh to do nastysh things. Chsssssh.”

Rosalind didn’t like the sound of any of this at all!

As soon as the Quark was out of sight the snake snapped angrily at Rosalind with his teeth. “Move!”

Where the Quark had been standing smelled so yukky Rosalind thought she was going to pass out.

Now, the snake’s so-called friendship disappeared, and instead of leading, it forced Rosalind along by snapping at her ankles. This frightened and irritated her, and she kicked at it more than once. The snake grew ever more impatient, and began chattering aggressively.

“It’s a little game, you see,” he was saying, “I help the Malady by patrolling the wood. I have to tell her about anyone I see. One day she caught me doing nasty things to a human I hadn’t told her about and she was mad. MAD!”

“I think I’m going off you, even more,” said Rosalind.

“Listen! Listen!” said the snake diving at her ankles again. “Malady was so angry she turned a nasty game on me. She said that I had to take every human I found to her. Now the Malady lives in Blackbod, you see, and to get there you have to go past that smelly Quark. The Malady said I could keep any human I could get passed the Quark. But if the Quark catches me creeping through his plateau then I lose: he gets the human.”

“I don’t think I like the sound of that,” said Rosalind.

“It’s maddening – the Quark gets them all!” said the snake. “And he always hears me creep by. Since that baby I’ve never had any human to play with.”

“Stop snapping at my ankles!” cried Rosalind, “I can’t go any faster!”

“So you see I’ve lost you little girl. It’s always the same – the Quark always wins. It’s not fair! He always gets the humans to play his nasty games with. The last one he covered in itching powder. Why  don’t I get any fun?”

“If you think I’m going back there to let that thing cover me in itching powder you’re entirely mistaken,” said Rosalind angrily, kicking out.

“It serves you right,” said the snake sourly, “You woke it up. I hope it does horrid things to you. I hope it licks your armpits!”

“No thank you!”

“Its just not fair!” continued the snake a moment later, his voice now shrill and climbing in pitch all the time.  “I don’t see why I should stand for this! Perhaps I should take you home and lock you in the pantry, and only feed you Happy Shopper Dog Food sandwiches for months. What fun! I could say you escaped and nobody would be able to prove anything. Yes. I think I ought to take what’s rightfully mine, don’t you? It was me that found you – you are my prize!”

The snake flung himself again at Rosalind’s heels, which was no surprise to her, but this time – as she side-stepped – his teeth caught firmly on the inside sole of her shoe. Thrown off balance, Rosalind went head over heels and in so doing, flung the snake over her shoulder into the trees.

She jumped to her feet and ran with all the strength she had: over branch and briar. When she could no more hear the tell-tale rattle she lay back against a tree and waited quietly.
She wanted to sleep again but a horrible smell prevented her. She listened attentively.
Sure enough she could hear a loud whisper that she recognised instantly, growing louder, coming closer. “Humansh near heresh. Csssssh! Wansh to be nashtysh.”

Eeeiiirrgghhhh!

Rosalind couldn’t actually tell from which direction the Quark was approaching. Then suddenly she heard the screeching of an animal.

“Lovelysh rabbit. Letsh me pull off your head!” She could hear the Quark saying, “Opppsh! Droppshed itsh!  Wheresh humansh? Wansh to licksh humansh armpitsh.”

Rosalind didn’t wait any longer. She jumped out from the bushes onto the path fearing the Quark would be standing before her. But it wasn’t. With energy she didn’t know she had left, she fled from the smell, running, picking her self up when she fell, scrambling at times on all fours to get through thorny shrubbery, until she had put hundreds of trees between herself and the Quark.

At last completely exhausted, Rosalind came to a wide, flat clearing. Cold, hungry and unable to go any further she sunk down by a tree was asleep.

CHAPTER SEVEN   

    “Oh Clobberblockers! How irritating! Haven’t you been listening to a word I say? Even a hibernating bat doesn’t stay asleep for ever. Get up and shove off!” Rosalind became conscious of a deep and pompous voice somewhere behind her. “This is that flippaflopping hedgehog’s fault – I know it is!” it continued, “I keep telling him but does he do his work and organise everything? He couldn’t organise a blow-out in a chip shop! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: that hog is as efficient as a burglar running Neighbourhood Watch. And he takes time off too, skiving like it was a virtue: if idling was an occupation, he certainly would be its world authority. It’s not flippaflopping good enough! That hedgehog thinks he’s a star because he’s always the Master of Ceremonies. Huh! Master of mistakes more like. And if it’s not some clobberlocking hedgehog, it’ll be a moronic badger or rascal rat who has to ruin it for everybody. Some people shouldn’t burden this wood with their grotty little bodies – that’s what I say! Then they’d save the air for useful creatures – creatures like me. In this wood there’s always some peasant who won’t pull their weight. All you need is one rotten apple at the bottom of the barrel to taint the rest. I ask you – it really gets up my bo-bo!”

Rosalind opened her eyes to see who was complaining so much. Ouch! She felt stiff all over. She was still in this crazy place, but at least the sky was lightening now, and dawn must be near. Granddad and mum would be worried out of their minds about what had happened to her – they’d most likely have the police out by now!

The animal that was snorting and complaining in no quiet way, stood a small distance away. It looked like a tiny horse but she never had seen one with such funny black markings. Every now and again it would look at her, between snatching mouthfuls of grass.

“Oh do get a move one!” the animal was saying, “Haven’t you got a home to go to. I ask you – some people! I have to cut that grass you’re lying on and I want to do it NOW.”

After burying his head in the grass for a few more minutes, he looked up again, more sternly this time and began stamping his foot on the ground. “Oh, do shove off. Why don’t you go and have a game of football pools with someone – that’s suitable for a lower class drongo like you, ” he said impatiently, “I’m fed up. This is boring. What do you think I am? I suppose you’re one of these people who think my whole aim in life should be to sit around and cook you bacon sandwiches? Well you’re wrong! Listen, I’ve been working all night and now I’m tired. I want to go home to my beauty sleep. For goodness sake – the moon has gone on it’s milk round. Just go and make someone else feel sick in another part of the wood, will you?”

It was the strangest horse Rosalind had ever seen. It was too small, had the wrong markings, had a ridiculous nose and looked a bit like a pig.

Rosalind decided to forget about finding granddad’s watch now – her only aim was to get home. Perhaps this extremely grumpy animal could help. She began to get up.

On hearing her moving, the creature cautiously sprang back several feet. As it reversed it almost tied its legs in knots.

“Go away, go away. Keep your teeth away from me. I only want to do my job,” it said.

“I don’t bite,” she said quietly.

“Of course you don’t,” said the creature now calm again, “as if anybody would dare bite me!”

Once more it chewed the grass.

“Excuse me horse, could – ”

“Horse!” he screeched, suddenly glaring at her. “Horse! Horse indeed!” Then blowing many horse-like snorts from his nostrils he bounded at her fiercely. As Rosalind didn’t move he suddenly stopped and quickly retreated showing even greater skill in not falling over his own legs.

“I’m sorry. You’re not a horse?”

“Horse? A TAPIR is what I am. I am a descendent from the Parsimonious tribe, which is – as you will have no doubt heard – the greatest honour that any tapir can have. Horse indeed! As if I could be mistaken for one of those common fly collectors. I – not that its any business of yours – am a great TAPIR! In fact there is a little song about it which I have committed to memory. It was written by that dreadfully boring mole who lives in the forest. It goes like this:

Who’s brave? The Tapir
He’s fearless but grave, dear,
He’s practical, no Shakespeare
Apart from a sonnet or two
So don’t go queer dear,
When you’re marred by weird smear
Just call the tapir here, no fear
He’ll find the rascals far or near
And boot them up their rear sphere
Into the lap of leap year
The brave and contemptuous tapir.
Where from? The Tapir
Malaysia, Malady, dear
Has four toes on forefeet here
But minus a toe on feet at the rear
The brave and contemptuous tapir.”

The tapir finished this last line by going down on his front too legs, making another horse like snort and demurely drooping his head, as if modesty prevented him from looking Rosalind in the face. After what seemed a most theatrical pause he bounced back on his feet and said, “Now you understand how wonderful it is to be a tapir!”

“Ah…oh yes. Very nice,” said Rosalind remembering that she had come across tapirs in an endangered species project at school. “I’m really pleased for you,” said Rosalind, dying to laugh. “Well, Mr. Tapir, please help me. I want to get out of this weird wood. My name’s Rosalind and I’ve been lost in this wood since yesterday afternoon, and no one seems to know how to get out of it.”

“A Rosalind, eh?” said the tapir., “hmmm…sounds very suspicious to me. My family goes back a long, long time and I’ve never heard of a Rosalind.” He paused briefly and then said, “I’ll come closer and assess your character. You don’t bite, do you?”

She couldn’t help sniggering at this formality, “I won’t bite you if you don’t bite me,” she said.

This comment had a strange effect on the tapir. He dropped his head again, sunk his teeth into the ground, tore out a large clump of grass and started fighting with it. He threw it into the air, kicked up more soil with his dashing feet and then deftly caught the grass in his mouth. A victorious dance followed, with him jumping up and down on the clump of turf so many times that his hooves sank down into the ground. Finally with his nose in the air, he said, “The Parsimonious Tapirs are a brave tribe. I have no quarrel with you so I assure that I will not bite.”

Considering his brave display Rosalind thought he approached her rather timidly. When he was only two paces from her he stopped and didn’t appear to want to get any closer.

“Can you assess my character from there?” she asked laughing.

“I can smell you from here.”

“How insulting!” laughed Rosalind, “You should be introduced to some manners, Tapir.”

“Who’s that idiot?”

“Manners are…..” Rosalind began, but then she found it too much trouble to explain. “Look Mr. Tapir,” she continued, “How I can find my way out of this wood?”

The tapir thought for a moment.

“Why ask me? I never leave the wood. I’ve heard about the chaotic world outside – it sounds horrid. The sort of creatures out there are not my class of creature at all.”

“Oh this is awful!” said Rosalind, suddenly feeling upset, “This place is making me mad – and so are you!”.

“Yes, those that live outside this wood are common horse manure: as common as they come. Aren’t you?”

“Huh! My granddad is a much nicer person than you!” snapped Rosalind. “At least he doesn’t go round complaining all the time.” Rosalind felt extremely irritated by her predicament and the tapir’s arrogance wasn’t improving her mood.

“Oh is h-h-he?” said the tapir, in a much softer and altogether friendlier voice. “Perhaps he belongs to baronial and lofty stock like me. Perhaps I could meet him and share a carrot with him. I do like to meet creatures of noble birth and blood, you know.”

“If you get me out of here I’ll try and arrange it for my granddad to share a carrot with you,” said Rosalind, not explaining where she hoped her granddad would stick the carrot.

“Well…..I could do with meeting some of the aristocracy, as most of the peasants around here don’t come up to my standards,” continued the tapir, “and….. as I’m such a kind and generous hearted creature….I will take you to my home, given you a bed and then, when I’ve had a good sleep, I’ll take you to a knowy-know-all egghead who lives in the wood who will surely to know the way out of the wood. We’ll catch him about lunch time. He’ll be busy making wine for the appalling festival that’s beginning.”

“Ah. Is that Grudger?….”

“Aha!. You know that trendy, supercilious highbrow, do you?”

“Well no…but…I’d like to. Your offer is the best idea I’ve heard this morning!” said Rosalind, “I might even get my watch back. I like that idea.”

“First, though,…ugh….I’ll have to finish off cutting this grass, it will only take a few minutes.”

Despite his pomposity, Rosalind felt safe with the tapir; he was much preferable to that awful snake! Memories of the Civil Serpent and the Quark was disagreeable. She looked at the tear in her shoe where the snakes teeth had gone through. Yeark!

“Clamber on my back, Rosalind beast,” said the tapir, when he had returned from cutting the grass patch where minutes before she had been lying. “My bed calls me. Parsimonious Tapirs could not be SO captivating,  SO deliciously charming without our beauty sleep.”

“You’ve got a whopping big head,” said Rosalind.

“Indeed I have!” said the tapir proudly, “and feel my ears too, they are overpoweringly sexy.”

Rosalind couldn’t help smiling at this stupid animal, as she mounted him.

With Rosalind gripping tightly, the tapir sped across the clearing, until he came out onto a wide bridle path with fields either side. They travelled ahead for some distance until he took a right turn.

CHAPTER EIGHT

And what a lovely ride it was! The sun’s golden circle was coming up slowly from the horizon and the dawn chorus bubbled and fermented through the trees. Not everything was bad in Wizicky-Wazicky Wood.

They turned again and rode along a roughshod road which ran parallel with a small stream. A small round shape could be seen on the side of the road in the distance.
“That’s where I live,” said the tapir.

“It’s a gypsy caravan!” said Rosalind, “How lovely. What an odd place for a tapir to live!”
“How dare you! There’s nothing odd about my home,” he insisted grumpily.

“Do you live alone?” she asked.

“I most certainly do. You wouldn’t expect somebody of my importance to have a pet elephant stomping around on my red carpet, would you?”

“You’re weird.”

“Ha! I’m a lot less weird than you are!”

After dismounting, she followed the tapir up the caravan steps. Putting his nose on the door handle, making an action with his nostrils like a hand inside a sock, he opened the door, stepped inside and then – to Rosalind’s utter surprise and consternation – he slammed the door in her face and locked it!

He pulled back the white frilled curtain of the small window in the door and stuck out his nose. “There are some blankets down under the caravan and you can sleep down there. I can’t give you my torch because it’s been pinched, but you should be able to find your way around,” he shouted and pulled the curtain across as brusquely as he had shut the door.
“Sleep where?” she asked bemused.

“I said the blankets are below. Can’t you understand the Queen’s English. Get a good dictionary, that helped me!” he shouted from behind the curtains
He had shut her out! How RUDE! For a moment she didn’t know what to do. Shrugging her shoulders, she searched below in the low light for the blankets but all she could find under the caravan were a rusty old bucket and a number of soggy cardboard boxes full of saucepans, Eagle comics and garden tools. One box contained old soaking net curtains, but no blankets could she find. She was getting really angry!

“What a lot of rubbish!” she shouted. “Dirty tapir pig!”

At last, determined to stand up for herself, she picked up the soggy moth-eaten curtains and climbed up the steps to the caravan door. She shouted through its window, “Tapir! There are no blankets here at all! Just a lot of your filthy rubbish!”

A groan came from inside, but no tapir came to the door. The longer he kept her waiting, the angrier and angrier she became, and the louder she shouted through the window, until at last he stuck his head out. He appeared so ridiculous in his nightcap and pyjamas that Rosalind would have burst out laughing had not been so vexed.

“I shan’t invite a Rosalind Beast back to my house again!” He said, glaring. “Do you realise what you’ve done! You’ve aroused a Parsimonious tapir when he was almost asleep! I shall get bags under my eyes and I will have to apply more vitamin E to my skin! And it’s not cheap you know! ” Then he noticed the soaking curtains she held in her hand. “Huh! And all for nothing too! You’ve found the blankets – you’ve woken me up for nothing.”

“Are these the blankets?” asked Rosalind in horror.

“What do you expect? The Ritz?” he said and immediately his head withdrew and the curtain closed again.

Rosalind was mad!

“Tapir! I’m coming in there! You can’t invite me to stay with you and then expect me to sleep out on cold earth with wet blankets!”

The tapir groaned. “Oh, Go and stick yourself up a hefty trumpet!” And this was followed by a rude noise.

“I’m not standing for this!” she shouted.

Rosalind ran down and found two saucepans. Within seconds she was back at the tapir’s door, clanging them together (so fiercely she dented one saucepan) to produce a din loud enough to wake the real sleeping beauty. At last, the tapir stuck out his head and BONK! This was exactly what Rosalind had waited for! BONK! She biffed him on the nose with both saucepans. He howled so much his nightcap fell off.

“I don’t care if you are an endangered species or not! Open this door!” she demanded.

Seconds later, with the door open, the tapir cringed in the doorway before her, “Y-y-you  w-w-w-won’t bite me….?” he asked, rubbing his sore nose and blinking a lot.

“I’m  not sure,” said Rosalind stepping inside, “but I’m going to sleep inside and not outside. I want to be warm.”

“B-b-b-but I don’t want you in here. You might…. b-b-b-…”

“You are a stupid creature. If you had allowed me in earlier you would be asleep by now! Of course I won’t bite you. Why did you bring me back if you didn’t want me to stay here?”

“Well, how could a Parsimonious Tapir know that a thing like you would want to sleep inside a caravan,” he asked with some trait of his conceit returning,  “I thought only tapirs slept indoors and that you’d sleep underneath. I now realise that of course you won’t bite me and – as I am such a benign creature – you can stay in here.”

“Of course I won’t bite you. I could have bitten you on the way here.”

“No, I thought of that, I was going too fast, your teeth would never have caught me up.”
Rosalind sighed.

“My dear tapir,” she said, “please let me go to sleep now?”

“Indeed! You can sleep at the end of my bed. That’s quite sufficient for something of your station.”

Rosalind thought it was funny that an animal should sleep in the bed and a human should curl up at the bottom of it.

After the tapir climbed into his large bed (it almost filled one half of the caravan), Rosalind asked for a blanket, but the tapir didn’t seemed deaf to her request. On snarling for several seconds, she received one very quickly. At last Rosalind went off to sleep for the third time that night, but this time she was warm and comfortable, and this time her sleep wasn’t disturbed.

CHAPTER NINE

    Rosalind woke aching and hungry, but at least she was snugly warm, under the tapir’s pink and white striped blanket. The frilled curtains, that hung left of the swaying lampshade, rippled in waves, as a warm blast of air breezed in the window. To her immediate right she lip-read the slogan of a picture on the wall: ‘A tapir’s best friend is his own profound reflection’. In the corner next to an Edwardian table, a pale green stove seemed to urge that something must be cooked on it soon, and standing immediately before her on a vermilion rug, was the tapir, his head now bobbing up and down, hanging directly over her.

“Ah, you’ve woken up at last, have you, You lazy beast!” he complained, making a squinting expression full of mockery, and simultaneously sneering with his lips, “I’ve already been up an hour. We Parsimonious Tapirs are very early to rise in the morning. While you’ve been idling in your dreams, snoozling your life away, I have had a wash in the stream.” Having so asserted himself in the highest and mightiest of voices, he wrinkled up his nose superciliously, and added, “Tapirs are clean, not like poohy pongo Rosalinds!”

“G-g-good morning Tapir,” whispered Rosalind. “Now get lost, please.. hhhuuuhhhh,” she yawned and turned over.

“I am going down stream to get some fresh drinking water from the spring in this bucket,” he said, pointing to a metal pail he was holding, “A Parsimonious Tapir needs a thundering good breakfast before he sets off to do anything at all, so I’ll have to have  a super feast to put up with the tedium of a visit to a deplorably boring badger. In fact, I wish I had some water now. If I had, I would throw it over you, STINKY.”

“You are such a nice person,” said Rosalind. “Why don’t you go and dig a big hole and bury yourself in it. Yes, I’ll take a wash while your gone,” said Rosalind, now stretching.

“Ah! Copycat, eh? Copycat! Copycat! You’re only having a wash because you want to be like a Parsimonious Tapir. Although, I can’t blame you for admiring our grand habits and high standards. Ha ha! You’ll be expecting a cup of tea or coffee next!”

“One sugar, please” she said, now rubbing her eyes, showing signs of being even more awake.
“Now Listen here,” said the now vexed tapir, “I’m not giving my coffee to any Tom, Dick or Harry or….Rosalind. It’s stupid to give my hard earning pleas -“

“Grrrrrr!” snarled Rosalind, who – had the tapir wished to debate the point – would have been the first to admit that she wasn’t at her best in the morning. But he didn’t: he had fled out the door with his bucket.

After he was gone Rosalind threw off the blanket, jumped off the bed and catching sight of herself in the tapir’s looking glass, she had to agree with him. With scratched and muddy legs, dirty and torn clothes, an itchy scalp, and twig infested hair, Rosalind knew she needed, at the least, a car wash. One not being available, Rosalind went quickly outside – and being alone – took her off her clothes, stepped into the cool stream, and lathered herself all over with a borrowed bar of tapir’s, ‘Imperial Leather’. Gradually the sticky soil and wet grass floated off, up to the water surface.

This was a…ch-ch-chhhilllllly….but exhilarating way to wake up!

Now, pulling her clothes off the bank into the water, she pummelled and scrubbed them rigorously. When both herself and her clothes were squeaky clean, she leaped out carrying her clothes underarm, to drape them over a nearby oak branch to dry. Inside once again, she dried herself with one of tapirs blankets and wrapped herself with one of his quilts she found in a wardrobe – it being delightfully patched with silk embroideries of shining crystals and sun sets. Now tingling all over, she went out into the glorious heat, sat on the caravan steps and gazed around her.

It was all so beautiful. The walls of this world were rich in blue, with a ceiling of sunshine, and a floor of emerald. Wasn’t it strange, she thought, a wood where creatures could talk?  She must be in the middle of a cartoon or a story book, as nothing else seemed to make sense. Yesterday she had promised to introduce him to her grandfather, but had not believed it possible, but today- it seemed a great idea.

About five minutes later the tapir returned with a bucket, brimful of fresh water, and proceeded, with his nose in the air, up the steps and into the caravan. Rosalind quickly followed behind him – like his shadow – to see what he was up to now. Once inside he lifted the bucket up to the stove, and as he did so, he spilled at least half of  it all over his red rug.

“Oh! BUFFANTING CLOBBERBLOCKERS!” he snapped.

Rosalind who had been parked on the bed for only a moment, – who had been  intently watching him – was now, unable to retrain her heaving giggles, and fell back on the counterpane and made noises like a turkey into the pillow.  “Ha! Huh! Ho! He he! You are such a…heh-he-ho -hopeless creature,” she chortled.

“Oh shaddap you CLOBBERBLOCKING FLIPPAFLOPPER!”

“Ha Ha! he! he! he! Goodness, Tapir, you do need some help.”

“I don’t need any help at all, thank you!” he retorted.

“Some lessons in getting on with people, would be a good start. Simple manners wouldn’t be a bad idea to begin with,” she said.

“I can say anything I like in my own house, if I like!” he snapped, and grabbed a dirty cloth and began to mop up the water. Rosalind, however, refused to leave the subject.

“Manners are rules that parents used to give to their children,” she said, frowning at the dirty stain the tapir was making.

“Well I don’t need anything like that. I’ve never met any children.”

“You have: you’ve met me.”

“You told me you’re a Rosalind!” he gasped, exasperation rising in his voice. “Now you tell me you’re a children. I think you tell the flippafloppingest whoppers!”

“Actually, my mum could teach you a lot more besides manners. For a start she’d teach you how to clean a carpet properly. Fancy wiping up water with a filthy rag! And another thing – my mum wouldn’t put up with this messy caravan. Look at it: nothing is put away and it’s pretty filthy.

“If I was your mother,” said the tapir, looking around and rolling the whites of his eyes, his patience boiling, “I’d tell you you talk too much. You need a clobberblocking mouth plug!”

“There! You see, you do need tact and diplomacy. If you want me to be quiet, you should yawn and say something like, “….well, as I’ve got to organise a buffet for the golf club tomorrow…and as it is getting very late now….”

That’s what my mum says whenever she wants someone to go away and it always works. And she does it without offending them. I mean, if you wanted to get rid of somebody you’d just say, “Get out of my caravan and go and jump off a high building.” This is not the way you keep friends and everybody needs friends. My mum is very civilised, you know,” Rosalind explained.

“Is she, indeed?” said the Tapir, his eyes brightening, looking up and now giving Rosalind his full attention. In that case I might even know her,” he said in his softer voice, licking his nose with his tongue while he considered, “although it seems unlikely. I”m sure I’ve never met a Rosalind before. No, no I haven’t.”

“You must come and visit me, Tapir, and I’ll introduce you to both my mum and my grandfather. He’s got lovely manners too.  Oh how I wish I could see them. Yes, you must come….I could repay you for letting me sleep here and – “Rosalind added craftily – “by feeding me and giving me tea or coffee this morning.”

“Oh no trouble, no trouble at all,” said the tapir. “I insist you have both.”

Tapir was evidently so delighted with Rosalind’s invitation to meet some posh Rosalind beasts that when she returned from putting on her clothes – that had now dried – she found a teapot blowing clouds of steam, a large mug of coffee brewing and a home made jar of apple jam waiting to be spread on thickly buttered toast. Without decorum, she attacked the food as if she were on a military campaign, unlike the tapir whom seemed reluctant to begin his breakfast.

“Aren’t you hungry?” she asked him.. “Oh, I’m just waiting for the mustard to cool down,” he said.

A few minutes later he offered her boiled tomato and ant cream to go with her apple jam but Rosalind – demonstrating the manner of her civilised mother – politely refused.

As soon as breakfast was over Rosalind went down to the bank of the stream and washed up, the tea cups and bowls floating like boats on the stream, clinking together, as she scraped the pottery plates clean with a metal knife. The tapir, meanwhile, tidied up the caravan, made the bed, hoovered and put everything away – Rosalind having insisted that it was done properly. After locking the caravan door, Rosalind mounted Tapir and off they went!

Rosalind loved these tapir rides along the meadows! She marvelled at the unusual colours and delightful scents coming from the hedgerows; never had she seen blue and white chequered vetch, or red, amber and green poppies before.

At the junction they turned right. The tapir trotted along for the duration of a large cloud to pass out of the sky, before turning onto a sandy footpath.

After some considerable time, a small figure appeared in the distance. At first Rosalind thought it was a child, as it stood on two legs, but closer inspection proved it to be a badger. It wore a wide brimmed red felt hat with a purple feather. From its tightly fitted padded jacket with tartan pockets, a large bag hung from its shoulder. Sunlight glinted on the metal buckles of its tall boots.

“Hello Tapir, me ol’ chum,” it called cheerily, “How are we this smarning? Its a pleasure to be around in this ‘ere sunshine, ain’t it me ol’ pal? Who’s this on your back? She’s a pretty l’il girl if I aint to be mistook.”

“No. You’re hopelessly wrong. It’s a Rosalind,” said the tapir impatiently.
“I know I can’t see like the owl sees, Tapir, but I know what a ‘uman girl looks like – not that we see many of ’em around these days – the civil serpent sees to that. Hello there, Lassie.”
“Hello'” replied Rosalind grinning. “I love your hat.” she added.

My hat?  Yes I like it too. There’s a little poem about  it. Would you like to hear it? ”

“Oh no! He’s not going to recite.” groaned the tapir quite loud enough to be heard, and then added drooping his head, “Why did I have to come out today.”

“I would love to hear it,” said Rosalind, tugging at the tapir’s ears to shut him up.

“It goes like this, lassie,” began the badger:

“Of all the felt I ever felt
I never felt a piece of felt
That felt the same as that felt felt
When first I felt the felt of that felt hat.”

“That’s a mouthful!” said Rosalind impressed, and quickly tried to learn it herself, but her tongue got all twisted up, and the lines became so knotted up, that all she could produce after her attempt was helpless laughter.

“And where are you two off on this bright morning?” asked the badger, obviously pleased with himself, “You’re going the wrong way to the festival, to be sure.”

“Well, Mr. Nudger Badger, we are – believe it or not – looking for your knowy-know-all brother. We need the brains of a boring book-worm -”

“-Manners!” whispered Rosalind hotly in the tapir’s ear.

“Errrr……..” squawked the tapir in some alarm, quickly yawned and then muttered, “well, it’s getting a bit late now and I’ve got ever such a busy day tomorrow,…..or something like that.”

The badger stared at him and then at Rosalind who was giggling to herself.

“What wrong with him, then?”

“Indigestion. It must be indigestion. He had too much mustard for breakfast I think,” laughed Rosalind.

The tapir pulled an expression of utter distaste and looked away.

“You’re Grudger Badger’s bother, aren’t you?” inquired Rosalind.

“Yes, to be sure,” said the badger proudly.

“Could you tell us where he is? We need to see him as quickly as possible.”

“Me ol’ Grudger is sure to be at his set getting the wine ready for the festival. If he’s finished, then he will be delivering the wine to Glassdale Clearing, where the festival is being held. That’s where I’m going at the moment – off to help with the stalls. Why don’t you and ol’ tapir come along after you’ve found Grudger. It will be a splendid event.”

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it, Tapir?” said Rosalind.

“Oh yes… as pleasurable as having my nose bitten off by a crocodile,” said the tapir sarcastically.

“Haha! Anyway, as you please. I must be off now,” said Nudger. “Incidentally, Tapir, do you know I’ve moved home? I’m quite a near neighbour of yours. I now live in one of those houses by your canal.”

“Really,” said the Tapir, going slightly cross-eyed with concentration, “then someday I hope you’ll drop in.”

Rosalind stifled her giggles in the palms of her hands

Touching his brim, the badger bade them both good-bye. He wished the tapir good health in the future, leaving the tapir with a perplexed expression, to which the unfortunate tapir could only reply with another of his involuntary rude noises. After he had gone Tapir soon found his tongue.

“Ha! So much for your manners, tact and diplomacy! They don’t work at all. All they did was make me look stupid.”

“You did it wrong,” laughed Rosalind, “You shouldn’t have said that to the badger. My mum would have been friendly to the badger. It isn’t very nice to be rude about someone’s brother, is it? You should have said something clever like, ‘Your brother is such a clever badger I’m sure he could help us’. Good manners make good friends, see?”

“Hm…I’m beginning to suspect you are a clobberblocking swindler, who’s just out to bamboozle me, so that you can run off with all my tea and coffee,” scowled the tapir.

CHAPTER TEN

The footpath grew muddier now and as Tapir didn’t want to have to wash again that day he travelled slower so as to avoid splash marks.
Half an hour later, once through a small coppice, they cornered a large poplar tree to come upon another badger, sitting on a barrel, several yards to their right. As he wasn’t dressed up like his brother, Rosalind examined him thoroughly. Even though his throat, chest, legs, feet and belly were black, with irregular black bands running along his back, his overall colour was grey. For some odd reason he also wore black sunglasses.    

Grudger – for indeed this was he – seemed to be paying rapt attention to a construction of tubes and flasks held up by metal rods, that stood before him. “That’s a chemistry set, “Rosalind mumbled quietly to herself, “Whatever next? All these creatures around here are quite mad.” She watched the badger’s pointed snout ran along the glass tubes, tracing the path of a fizzling, bubbling liquid, which travelled from one tube to another. The liquid, having at last boiled up into steam, condensed onto a piece of cold glass, slowly reforming into large droplets. The badger seem to gurgle with pleasure, as each of these droplets fell, plopping into a swan necked bottle below.

The badger at last noticed that he had company.

“Ooh…hello there Tapir….” he said, moving his head up momentarily towards his visitors, and then down again. “Ooops, oooh, almost got it. Excuse me for a mo. Oooops. These dandelions had better produce something drinkable, or everyone will be very disappointed. I really shouldn’t have left it so late.”

Another film of droplets, larger than before, this time,  formed on the glass plate and began to drip down into the  large swan necked bottle.

“Flatten-myself-down-on-the-ground! I do believe it’s working at last!” he shouted, and angled his snout and sunglasses up again at his visitors, only this time he fixed his gaze at Rosalind. “Strike-my-smelliness!” he said, in a most exhilarated tone. “It’s a girl, aren’t you?”

Suddenly, he had bounced up on his feet and was giving Rosalind more scrutiny than he had the drops of liquid. He came so close to Rosalind’s face that his nose was almost touching hers. “Oh hide-me-from-the-hens-eggs!  I can never see anything with these stupid things on,” he said tearing off his sun glasses and squinting again at Rosalind. Now she could see his entire face. A broad black mark on each side started from near his muzzle and passed back over his eye round the ear to the shoulder. The patterns on his white head made him look like a grand clown.

“You are a girl.”

“No, she’s not. I’ve already told your brother, she’s a Rosalind!” said the tapir.

Rosalind asked him why he wore his sunglasses if he couldn’t see anything with them on.

“Aha! Noticed my sun glasses, eh? You must a girl with that sort of curiosity. Unless you’re a cat? No. The ears are wrong…and you don’t appear to have a tail. There’s a simple way to find out. I’ll ask you a question. Now can you tell me what is half of eight?”

“I can do sums,” said the Tapir, “Let me show you. Now, do you mean on top or sideways?” asked the tapir.

“What difference does that make?” asked Rosalind.

“Well half of eight on top is nought but sideways it’s three.”

” Oh Shut up, Tapir! Half of eight is four,” said Rosalind.”

“Absolute rubbish,” insisted the tapir. “I didn’t think this Rosalind creature had any brains.”

“Now let’s not get into an argument,” said the badger. “Four is the answer from where she comes from.”

“So now you now that I am a girl, and not a cat,” said Rosalind with some sarcasm, “tell me why you wear those sunglasses.”

“I’ll be delighted to,” said the badger. “As you probably know, badgers usually only come out at night – being timid and sleepy creatures as we are – but as I tend to be so busy, I come out a lot during the day, and these sunglasses stop my eyes getting sore in the sunshine. Also – and I don’t mind admitting this – I like to try and keep up with the fashions in that chaotic world of yours – that’s why I bought some of Vera Lynn’s records and am saving up to buy my own Reliant Robin car. And that’s why I wear white socks.”

“White socks! Vera Lynn?” said Rosalind once again trying to stifle a snigger, but unable to.
“Well it has been a long time since I’ve been out in your chaotic world. I only manage to import the odd newspaper…- but I do my best. One has to keep up standards,” retorted the badger, sounding slightly hurt. “To be Arthur, or Frank, or whatever you say, even though I like some of your culture, I am on the whole quite ponderous about the human beings in your world. I class human beings with those woolly creatures – hmn – sheepy things – as they always seems to want to do what their neighbour does. Most unoriginal if you ask me. And humans have this obsession with being more important than each other. I’m convinced that most humans don’t enjoy the things they own, they just use them to gloat over other people…”

“She smells as well,” said the Tapir.

“….and they always seem to hurt the people they claim to like – and simper to the people they claim they hate the most. Most odd if you ask me. And the older they get they worse they are. I suppose there are one or two who are not like that.”

“She is a complete trickster, if you ask me,” said Tapir.

“Some people aren’t very nice, it’s true,” said Rosalind trying not to get angry, “but most of the people I know are very nice indeed,” said Rosalind, thinking of her granddad, her mum and her friends at school.

“Yes, to be fair. I have met one or two nice little girls in my time,” said the badger.

“Who are these boring girl things anyway?” asked the Tapir.

“Girls are the human females, Tapir, – as opposed to boys, which are the human males. Girls are the ones that speak in higher voices and when it gets near their birthdays they smile a lot at their daddies. And they usually have pictures of men dressed up as orang-ou-tangs on their bedroom walls playing guitars. And they love to chatter, and wear pretty fabrics. Very strange – but the real world of humans is so incomprehensible to me – it always has been.”

“I know lots of both boys and girls who are lovely,” said Rosalind.

“In this part of the wood,” said the badger, “we know that kindness is the quickest and nicest way of feeling good about yourself, and everyone else. I suppose one or two humans might have learned this, but most haven’t. Nevertheless, as I say, not all human beings are weird.  And have they got some great games, records and comics! Yes! Musty-smell-of-a-badgered-earth! I wish we could get the Hotspur in Wizicky-Wazicky Wood. Yes! Stuff-a-mouse-up-my-snout! Or Wizard! It would be most popular!”

“I’ve got some copies of the ‘Eagle’ and that’s rubbish,” said the Tapir.

“Those comics are hundreds of years old. There’s much better ones around now,” said Rosalind.

“Really. Then next time you visit me bring some with you. Oh! Strike my smelliness! Look at the sun moving across the sky. Oh no! I’ve got to finish the dandelion wine for the festival this afternoon or I won’t be ready in time! Let me have a look at it. Yes I’ve got half of the retort full. So far so good.”

“You’re a clever badger from what everyone has told me,” said Rosalind.

“I read somewhere that most clever creatures act stupidly, so by that definition I probably am clever. But I’m not really. I just like badgering away at things, that’s all. On the whole I’m quite an indolent and lazy thing. I like to read lots of books. And I also like go to jumble sales. About 24 copper moons ago I went to a car boot sale at the other end of the wood and bought a lot of ‘Understanding Science’ magazines. They’re new aren’t they?”

“They’re ancient. My granddad used to read those.”

“Oh. Anyway, after I read them a lot of people started to call me Brock the Boffin. How ridiculous! Anyway one good thing about reading books is that you can learn things you didn’t know. That’s how I’ve learned to make wine. I hope you are both coming to the festival to drink some?”

“No!” interjected the tapir, “Beer is boring, wine is weedy….and festivals are foul. As soon as you’ve answered this Rosalind’s question I’m going home.”

“What question?” asked the badger.

“She wants to leave the wood,” said the tapir. “Of course I’d  tell her but the answer’s momentarily slipped my mind.”

“Ah! That’s a difficult problem. I’ve thought of that before when I wanted to go out into the human world and do some scouting, but I only half solved it. Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that.” He gazed up at the sky, screwed up his eyes, and began muttering to himself. “Now where did I get to….if z equals little girl and x equals exit, then multiply by G which is Grudger and then…….” After he had mumbled on to himself for about five minutes, his mood seemed to go as grey as his fur. Suddenly, he began to stamp his feet. “No that’s not right!…..Turn a badger’s fur into paint brushes! – this is a maddening problem indeed!” he shouted up at the tree branches, bristling his thick hide with its long coarse hair. “No that can’t be right either!”

“If this is what intelligence does to you, I’ll bet you’re glad you’re an idiot, aren’t you?” whispered the Tapir into Rosalind’s ear. She snarled and he quickly backed away..

“Um..yes…Tell me, little girl,” asked the badger, “which part of the wood do you wish to leave from?”

“I came from Palingham, if that’s any help.”

“Ah yes….it must be, for – as you know – at the heart of all magic is the naming of things. It just occurred to me that being lost in the wood is actually the opposite to that famous riddle isn’t it? What is it that goes all around the wood but can’t get in?”

“I don’t know.”

“The bark of the tree,” explained the badger.

“What a clobberblockingly awful riddle,” sneered the tapir.

The badger, now began again to mouth his calculations to the sky, but was interrupted by Rosalind. The swan-necked bottle was full, she shouted.

“Aha! Thank you!” shouted the badger. “At last! At last!” he said and grabbed the retort and held it up in the air. “Grudger’s Chateau Dandelion. Now all I have got to do is to dilute it five hundred to one! I’m so sorry. I’m so late. I’ll have to go. I have to take this along to the festival and bottle it. Cheerio, nice to meet you, girl. Next time you come, bring me one of these great new comics.”

“But you haven’t told me how to leave the wood,” appealed Rosalind dejectedly.

“Aha! No, no. Hmmm….yes that is a most interesting equation, I’ve wanted to work out for years. Come along to the festival and as soon as I’ve sorted out the refreshments I’ll sit down and solve it for you. Plaster-up-a-foxes-nose! I’ve got to put up the balloons on the refreshment stall as well. Bye bye.”

“Perhaps I could help?” shouted Rosalind.

“Please do.”

“We’ll go there now…..” said Rosalind.

“I really must dash -” and suddenly the badger slid down a large hole in the ground that was behind his strange chemistry set.

    “Let’s go, then,” said Rosalind to the tapir.

“Go? Go where?”

“Haven’t you been listening? To the festival.”

“How boring. I’ve done my bit for the festival. I cut the grass.”

“Is the festival being held where I met you?”

“Yes. It’s being held in Glassdale Clearing. Cutting all that grass has made my mouth sore. Nothing on earth would drag me back there.”

“Please come, Tapir,” she coaxed, stroking his forehead. “I’ve grown very fond of you and I promise to tell my mum and grandfather all about you if I do. You see, I’ve got to go to this festival or I’ll have to wait for the badger to return home, and that means I may have to wait here for ages.”

“I hate festivals.”

“Please take me.”

“They aren’t really my sort of people.”

“I’ll bite you.”

“Now that’s not fair. You said you wouldn’t. I’m a Parsimonious ungulate from the family Tapiradae, and I won’t listen to threats. I’m not frightened of you. Stop snarling at me. Perhaps we could compromise. Listen, I’ll take you, but I’m determined not to enjoy it.”

Rosalind clambered onto the tapir and half an hour later they came to the clearing that Rosalind had seen in the moonlight.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

    As the tapir carried Rosalind into the festival Rosalind’s eyes almost popped out in astonishment. She gasped! She could never have imagined so many strange creatures as she saw now: grey squirrels dressed in bright red capes and flowered bonnets, hedgehogs wearing monocles and top hats, badgers carrying musical instrument cases, a hare who wore a policeman’s helmet; even a rabbit driving a pedal car. As tapir continued along the festival street, Rosalind couldn’t help squealing in delight at the passers by, all of whom seemed to be in the most pressing hurry. Tapir explained that everybody was panicking because the festival supposed to open very soon and everything was behind time – it happened every year.

    Planks of coloured wood, rolls of stripy plastic, checkered and patterned paper, Sellotape, various tools, decorative streamers, balloons, coloured light bulbs and much more was being delivered to the animals erecting the village around her. The stalls for darts playing, winning goldfish or coconuts, and the tent for fortune telling, nearby were almost complete. Tapir did not seem in the least excited by any of it. He gave the impression one festival was very much like another.

He meandered, making several side street twists, through the festival village streets, before he found the enormous, ‘Badger’s Beer Shop’. The stalls of which took up both sides of the whole street and were covered with kegs, barrels and bottles of strange refreshments like mushroom juice, pickled onion juice, and pure central heating water, as well as the standard lemonade, dandelion and burdock, orange juice and a some ‘Home Ales’ beer. Three of the stalls were empty; yet to be filled with Grudger’s wine when he turned up.

Rosalind noticed the many ladders propped up against the stalls, upon which several hot and flustered mice, wearing yellow badges and green shirts, continually scurried up and down to collect balloons, inflate them and then tie them onto the roof. These mice, which proudly wore the special uniforms, were the few Official Festival Helpers that had volunteered that year, explained Tapir. Then Rosalind noticed Nudger at the far end of the stall, looking exhausted, so she went over and offered her help. Nudger threw his arms around her in relief. He gave her a bag of balloons of various shapes and colours and said she could start where she liked.

Tapir yawned with ennui and said he would wander about to see any of the aristocracy were around, although it were unlikely – it was usually only the peasants who came to these weedy affairs.

Rosalind climbed a ladder and began blowing up the balloons, knotting them and tying them onto the wooden beams of the stalls. Because her fingers were more suited for such finicky work Rosalind completed four balloons to everyone of Nudger’s. He was delighted and was sure they would be finished on time.

About fifteen minutes later Tapir returned.

“I’m bored,” he said, “I’ve come to show you around. Come on, you can do that later.”

Seeing that there were only three more balloons to tie on, Rosalind agreed and climbed onto tapir’s back. Had Tapir changed his personality? “What a thoughtful tapir!” she shouted happily.

    The tapir carried her through the Festival village, turned left, and then went out of the village into a wide clearing. A green band-stand stood to their left. Several squirrels were getting brass instruments out of black cases.

“That’s like the one in our park,” Rosalind observed.

Rosalind beheld to her right a massive circle of seats, like a circus arena only twice the size in every way – and with a centre containing grass, not sand.

“Oh, that’s for the festival entertainments,” explained the Tapir, “They will start after the band begins. It will be very soon.”

“This is brilliant!” she shouted.

“Is that Rosalind? Yes?” squeaked a voice from behind her.

Rosalind was surprised that anyone would know her name here, yet somehow the voice sounded familiar. Rosalind twisted round and squealed with glee when she saw who it was.

“Rodney Mole!”

“Thought you it was you,” he said. “Would you like a pear drop?”

“I thought …..,” began Rosalind, hardly able to believe her eyes, “That horrible snake told me you were dead!”

“Oh no. Not I. But what happened to you? Back I came to find you but you were no where to be seen. Don’t you like a pear drops?”

“Oh yummy, thank you. The snake promised to take me home but I escaped.”

“Ah! Thank goodness. To see you alive and well is wonderful! Celebrate I shall by writing you a special tune. How about this: dum de dum de de dipple pom pom?”

The Tapir expressed his appreciation of this as he had the offer of a pear drop: with a rude noise.

“Don’t you like it, Tapir? Well, always you were a hard to please animal. I’ll try again later and think of something. Ee ee ee ee! See I can, Rosalind, that you haven’t found your way home.”

“Not yet, but Grudger Badger is going to help. Tell me, Rodney, how did you get away from those nettles?”

“Can’t climb trees, us moles,” he said, and sighed, “but put me on the ground for a minute and I’ll have disappeared into the earth. Back I came to look for you – but I must have taken the wrong tunnel for when I came up I couldn’t find the place for ages. Silly me! Ee ee ee ee!”

The tapir agreed.

“…and then you were no longer in the tree. I  started to……”

But Rosalind failed to hear this, as it was drowned in music, the first bars of a rising march, played by the brass band on the band stand. “Ooops! Must dash,” shouted the mole, putting his white bag of pear drops away with one paw, and waving with the other.

“Started has the Festival and supposed I to be helping Grudger finish his wine. Later will I catch you!” he mouthed, waving his paw.

“What an idiot,” said the tapir.

“Don’t be rude. He’s my friend,” said Rosalind.

“Well that doesn’t surprise me at all. Anyway, let’s go and sit in the arena , Rosalind beast,” said the tapir, “Nudger will have finished tying on the balloons by now, and Grudger should be arriving with the wine soon. It’s a Festival tradition for Grudger and Nudger to come into the arena and toast the audience. As it’s so tediously uncelestial out here I suggest we go and get a seat. You can watch and I can practice my snoring.”

“Okay,” said Rosalind.

“I’m glad you’re not giving me any trouble now,” said the tapir stuffily, “I couldn’t be doing with it. I’m under stress as it is.  I’m a bit too well connected to be able to relax at these functions. I’m particularly vexed to be at this one – for as you have seen – there’s simply nobody worth talking to.”

The smug tapir carried the smiling Rosalind to the arena, and as they were among the first to arrive, they both found a ringside seat.

After five minutes delay, during which Rosalind studied the awesome audience, a hedgehog, one she had noticed earlier, came out of the performer’s marquee. Wearing a monocle, a top hat and carrying a brown bag, he walked down the entrance and into the arena. He received thunderous applause.

“That’s that stupid Master of Ceremonies, Cedric Hedgehog,” shouted the Tapir in her ear.
“Is this the hedgehog you were complaining about earlier?” asked Rosalind.

“It is indeed.”

“Ladies and gentleman,” began Cedric hedgehog in a very loud voice, “it is the usual custom to start the festivities with a toast, but as those respected and wonderful friends of yours and mine, namely Nudger and Grudger badger….” he stopped, waited for applause, but received none. He repeated their names, “Nudger and Grudger badger….” this time their names received a smattering of hand clapping, “…are a little behind with their wine making, we will have the toast as soon as they are able to bring it to the arena.” Here the crowd gave a loud boo. The hedgehog continued as whistles and shouts poured over him. “This will be as soon as possible. So, by way of an extra treat, I intend to do something which I have never done on any previous occasion. What is this treasure you ask? I hear you bate your breaths in anticipation at this thespian pleasure. I, your MC, your affectionate and subservient  host, Cedric Hedgehog am going to juggle with the universe. Watch this! Music please.” Without further ado, the hedgehog opened his brown leather bag and produced three objects. As he produced each one Rosalind grimaced with anger. And when the third was produced the Tapir growled too. First the hedgehog had pulled Rosalind’s watch from his bag! Secondly, he pulled the mole’s white dice! And the third object he revealed was Tapir’s torch! Here indeed was the thief that had caused all the trouble, and now he was standing in the middle of the arena juggling with all their possessions!

“I’m going to get my watch back!” shouted Rosalind, standing up.

“Sit down! Sit down, Rosalind beast, otherwise you will cause a scene and I hate scenes,” cried the Tapir. “The hedgehog is not a crook he’s just a buffanting flippaflopper. He’s also one of those creatures who borrows the odd thing and keeps it for ever. That’s normal enough where you live, isn’t it? Calm down. I should know because I work for him. He’s just inefficient and has some odd habits, but he will give us our possessions back later.”
“But….”

“Sit down, or you’ll ruin the show.”

“Eh? I thought you hated festivals.”

“Shhhh….I’m so important I have to make it look like I’m enjoying myself.”

After a time the hedgehog’s juggling of the aforementioned objects came to an end and were quickly returned to the bag. Now he stood proud and erect, and harvested the thundering applause of the entertainment hungry audience with obvious pleasure. As the clapping and appreciative shouts died, he began to speak again in his cutting and liquid voice. “Thank you one and all,” he said, turning a full circle and  clapping the audience as he did so. “So kind, so kind,” he said, bowing again to another burst of gratitude. “And so, from the acorn of ability, we go on to that well known oak tree of mastery! So, without further delay,” his voice grew feverish and excited, “…and to our mutual delight I now introduce you to that wonderful and exciting dancing act that you have come to know and love! Accompanied by those wonderful musicians, ‘The Fur and Brass Band Ensemble’, ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce, ‘The waltzing Teapots’.”

Instantaneously the Blue Danube Waltz burst from the bandstand and the hedgehog and his brown bag dashed off down the entrance. As soon as he had disappeared into the marquee four teapots – florally  patterned in delicate Victorian style – appeared from it. They spiralled out, just narrowly missing each other with their spouts and handles, into the ring. They froze motionless for several moments, but when the accent of the waltz returned they suddenly leaped into a dance which spellbound the entire audience.

They pirouetted, they paired, they blew steam from their spouts; they performed with such elegance that spontaneous clapping broke out during the middle section when, by delicate artifice, they appeared to swap each other’s lids. Rosalind wanted it to go on and on, for the teapots to go round and round; to keep cleverly surprising her – as they continually did: the highlight being when they spiralled into the centre and embraced each other with their handles and spouts. The crowd became so enthralled they began to cheer. They threw their hats in the air and several weasels stood up on the back seats and started to dance together, intoxicated by the Austrian music and the teapot’s swirling and hypnotic rhythms.

The excitement grew. More spectators jumped into the aisles to dance, and row upon row of the spectators began to sway. Cedric Hedgehog returned to the ring and embraced one of the teapots which brought tremendous roars of joy, and some envy. Two small badgers jumped into the ring and began waltzing.

No one knows who first noticed the music sounding slightly wrong, but Rosalind was certainly quickly aware of it. No one knows who first noticed that single continuous note that sounded slightly out of key, that was marring the performance, but it was quick to make Rosalind’s blood run cold. As the wrong note got louder, more and more creatures began to perceive something was amiss. Perhaps a mole, or possibly a weasel for that matter was the first to look up in the sky, and then to nudge his neighbour in the next seat. What was certain was that it didn’t take long for a change in atmosphere to spread until the change had engulfed the entire arena. The wrong note was coming from the sky.

Rosalind knew the effect it was having on her – now she could see the effect it was having on all around her.

A moment ago there had been the roar of appreciative cheers. Then it had subsided leaving only an irregular clapping of hands. Now even that had stopped.

A moment ago, dancers had been fluent, exciting and natural. With the arrival of the noise, they had slowed to a jitter, like robots with their energy draining. Now they were static with arms and limbs in dramatic positions.

The music from the band had fallen away in discord all at once, like a dying swan.
Now all the eyes of the audience looked up.

CHAPTER TWELVE

    Rosalind knew this ever increasing noise was the same she had first heard when she entered the wood. Above her, a dark shape, way up in the sky, grew larger by the second. All the audience – silent and frozen in their seats – knew the same thing: the black object was coming down.

The teapots, the first to submit to this terror, broke the dreadful suspension of the arena, and darted towards the exit, but the front two crashed into each other and one of the beautiful blue spouts shattered. Pieces of broken pottery were left lying on the grass as the teapots fled into the marquee with the hedgehog.

Seconds later a black helicopter landed in the centre of the arena . The noise cut out, and the rotor blades of the aircraft began to slow, slow, slow down. At last they stopped. During this time no one in the entire audience spoke or moved.

At last the door in the side of the helicopter slid open to reveal a figure standing in the entrance. It was the strangest woman Rosalind had ever seen. And it wasn’t her chin, which seemed too distant from her the nose, or her greasy dark hair, or even that her eyes seemed to look in two different places at once. It was her impression of size: she seemed enormous. She seemed bigger than the helicopter yet she was inside it.

“Hello, my creatures!” she screeched piercingly, as she began to step down the steps from the aircraft. She wore a long-sleeved, white dress with only a black zigzag pattern around its collar for decoration. A small black cape – which swung behind her as she walked – was attached at her shoulders by two black bands.

“What mirth it gives me to pay you a visit! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeek! Didn’t expect to see me, did you?” she continued, moving her chubby hands and fingers around in the air as she did so, and exhibiting on her ghostly complexion the falsest grin that Rosalind had ever seen. “Aieeeeeeee! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeek!” Her laugh sounded as if she was going to  sick.  Rosalind took a glance at the tapir, but he didn’t say anything. He just looked ahead and his teeth chattered.

“I’ve come to liven up your Festival! Aieeeeeeee!” Her screech was the squeal of bus brakes. “You didn’t realise that Malady would pay you a gracious visit, did you? Well – I HAVE – and as I’m here, my loyal subjects, I thought we might as well have some fun. Aieeeeee! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeek!”

Not a sound came from the audience.

“I’m sure you don’t mind if I take over as  compere. What great fun this is! I always thought I should have been on telly. Aieeeee! Firstly I’d like to introduce you to my humble secretary my financial consultant and my untrustworthy spy – the Civil Serpent!”

Now, down the steps slipped the adder, still fully attached to  his baby’s rattle, which was as noisy as ever. Rosalind went to grab the tapir but discovered he was shaking more than she was.

Suddenly the attention was diverted from the centre of the arena to its entrance. Something had made a loud noise, which startled everyone.

“What’s that! Who dares interrupt me?” shrieked the long-faced woman.

Breathless, everyone waited for an answer. Then Grudger Badger came forward pushing a wheelbarrow full of bottles.  Nudger badger came following behind.

“It’s m-m-me, Malady,” began Grudger, “I was b-b-bringing bottles of wine for the festival toast and some of them dropped out of the wheelbarrow.”

“Festival toasts! Haiiieeeeeee! Celebrations for this rabble! What do you think of that serpent? Now, now, snake! Don’t get impatient! We’ll have lots of fun and games first, and then I’ll let you eat who you like afterwards. What do think of this fool badger, here, snake? Wine for these wombats! What a waste! Aieeeee! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeek!”

Suddenly she stopped laughing and shouted, “Filthy creatures!” in what Rosalind thought was not a nice voice.

“Let’s play Malady’s laughing game,” said this horrible woman, while smiling at the snake, “Its very easy to learn the rules. In fact there’s only one. And that is: the first member who stops laughing is given to the Civil Serpent! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeek!”

The whole audience suddenly burst into laughter. Rosalind started as well, realising that in this case laughter was a life saver, but she could see the tapir was having difficulty. Laughter just wasn’t  the sort of thing Parsimonious Tapirs were good at. He was making an awful noise, more like a duck quacking than anyone laughing. Rosalind kept shouting at him, encouraging him – but it was hopeless – he just couldn’t get the hang of it. His glum expression was returning.

During this time the Malady had been walking around the edge of the ring looking carefully at the horrible faces of false laughter. Now she was staring at the tapir.

“Stop!”

Everyone stopped.

The tapir was shaking for all his Parsimonious courage.

“It looks very much as though you’re the snake’s first prize, doesn’t it,  fat horse!”

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

    The snake looked at the tapir with revulsion. “Ugh! I don’t want that horrid thing,” it gasped.
“I’m…..I’m….” attempted the tapir.

“Yuk! You’re repulsive!” rejoined the snake.

“He does look a bit on the tough side for the dinner table,” sympathised the Malady. “However, you should never look a gift horse in the mouth, you know, especially if its from me. If you can’t eat him, why not have him stuffed and stuck in your garden as an ornament? ”

“I suppose that’s an idea…..” answered the Civil Serpent in his most diplomatic tones.

Suddenly the tapir, overcome by fear, made one of his rude noises, which caused slight tittering in the rows behind.

“That’s completely put me off,” said the Civil Serpent, disgusted.

“Its a good idea to have some manners when you are in my presence, you old horse-pig!” shouted the Malady angrily.

“Your brother is a clever badger and I’m sure that he could help us with our problem,” said the tapir.

The Malady’s eyes glared at him.

The tapir tried again.

“Well, as I’ve got to organise a buffet for the golf club tomorrow…and as it is getting very late now….”

Several members of the crowd, including Rosalind, burst into real laughter. The Malady’s cheeks crumpled up and glowed pink with rage. She angrily flung herself round to face the audience. The laughing stopped immediately.

“So you like laughing do you?” she bellowed at the crowd. “Right! We’ll play the game again and – this time -I assure you there will many of you who won’t find it AMUSING at all! This time, anyone who stops laughing will have the HORRIDEST things done to them by the HORRIDEST creature! Start laughing. Aieeeck! Aieeeeeeee!”

The laughter began again, but as the crowd were even more nervous now, it sounded forced and strained.

“Can’t laugh loud enough, hey?” said the Malady, “You will now. The people who stop laughing will have their armpits licked by my next guest: the Quark!” Immediately the doorway of the helicopter opened and there stood the Quark. Rosalind froze from head to toe: she couldn’t imagine a fouler thing existing anywhere. Its eyeless, writhing head and its black shiny skin were bad enough but now for the first time, she saw its mouth: a large, fleshy black hole that slopped about in the middle of its body. The creature had two legs but when it stood still the effect was that of a single trunk.

Mumbling obscenities to himself the Quark came slithering down the steps onto the grass. Its prurient smell wafted over the arena.

The crowd’s laughter became louder but Rosalind was struck dumb. She wasn’t sticking around here! Rosalind jumped into the arena and ran towards the entrance for all she was worth.

“Catch her! Catch her!” shouted the Civil Serpent putting down a bottle of Grudger’s wine he’d been drinking that had fallen off Grudger’s wheelbarrow. “That’s what I want! That little girl! I want her! She’s mine! Come here! I’ll get you!”

Immediately the Quark was in pursuit. Then calamity, her escape into the marquee was suddenly cut off by the snake. She was forced to circle around the helicopter.

“Let’s spice things up!” screamed the Malady. “The snake can have her if he catches her first! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeek! Aieeeeeee! What fun!”

“Niessshh humansh. Wansh to licksh the armpish,” Rosalind could hear the Quark whispering from around the other side of the helicopter. She dashed past the Malady who lay back against the helicopter shrieking with laughter. “You catch her, Quark! You always catch them!” she squealed in delight.

Rosalind ran back to the other side of the helicopter again, but the snake lay there coiled waiting to spring. He had found the bottle of wine again and was smiling and humming to himself: ‘Little Miss Breakfast for me, little Miss Breakfast for tea!”

Rosalind turned back again only to confront the Quark coming towards her, it’s smell beginning to make her swoon. The next thing she remembered was something wet touching her leg! Ugh! But it was the tapir’s nose and he was shouting instructions at her. How she managed to get on his back she had no idea, but the next moment he had shot off, manoeuvred himself past the snake and was bounding up the exit towards the performer’s marquee. From the arena they could hear the Malady laughing and screaming: “Come back! Come back! it’ll be the worse for you if you don’t. No one ever escapes the Malady.”

They sped through the tent and came out on the other side of the field.

“Oh no!” shouted Rosalind, for there was no escape here. Lined up and facing them, at the edge of the field were hundreds of gigantic stinging nettles. The moment they saw the tapir and his rider the trumpeters began to play short staccato fanfares, and the army began to march threateningly forward. “Back through the Festival Village!” squealed Rosalind.

The tapir retreated, sped back through the marquee, back into the arena, and passed the Malady, whose laughter increased as she saw them.

They would have easily slipped away if the tapir had not stumbled over Grudger’s bottles of wine that had fallen off the wheel barrow. Down came the tapir, down came Rosalind; both crashed to the ground. Tapir jumped up and, in confusion, ran off leaving Rosalind lying on the floor.

Rodney Mole was standing over her.

“Quick! Take this note from Grudger – it’s the answer to your problem. Got back your granddad’s watch from Cedric hedgehog. Here – take it. Now run!” Then the mole followed his own advice and ran off, leaving Rosalind holding a piece of paper in one hand and her granddad’s watch in the other.

A putrid smell began to fill the air. “Myssh favourite toysh. Gotsh yoush at lashtsst. Slovelyshhh to lick humansssh armpitsssh.”

The Quark was a whisper away.

Rosalind jumped up, weaved herself past the Civil Serpent – who was rapidly drinking another bottle of wine – and ran towards the Festival Village. The snake, beaming with a new confidence, threw down the now empty bottle and joined the chase.

Rosalind found herself in a maze of streets. She turned left, then right, then found herself by Grudger’s stall. As she considered which way to go, the snake slid up beside her. She saw him just in time to step aside as he leapt for her, but she dropped Grudger’s note. There was no time to retrieve it. And then, to her horror, approaching her from the other end of the street was the Quark. She was trapped.

The snake wriggled nearer. The Quark slithered closer. She was done for: there was no escape. But wait a minute….

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

The ladder she used to tie on the balloons….it was still there. She ran over and began racing up its rungs. Only a few inches behind, the Civil Serpent quickly grasped where she was going and – now believing all things were possible now full of Grudger’s wine –  flung himself at Rosalind and successfully coiled himself around her leg. Kicking and shouting she try to prize him off.

“You didn’t realise snakes – hic! – can go up ladders, did you little girl?” he was saying, “Ooooh, stop it, you’re making me dizzy. Herrrr, her – hic! – herrrrr. You didn’t realise – hic! – what happens to little girls who go up snakes – hic! – ooops! I am a little giddy. I’m – hic! – an adder who’s been up a ladder and I’m at last going to bite you, little whoooo….”


At last Rosalind’s violent shaking loosened the snake’s grasp and he fell all the way down the ladder and crumpled into a heap on the ground. The Quark, who was standing below, picked up the Civil Serpent and – much to Rosalind’s surprise – gobbled him up. All the time it was crunching and chewing Rosalind could hear it talking to itself, as if it were purring.
“Niiiesh foosh. Cssssssh! Quite a goodsh insurance man but a lousy spyshhhh. Alwaysh fancied eating shnake. UUUURRRRRRRRRRRKKKKKK!….” This last noise was the biggest burp Rosalind had ever heard in her life.

She didn’t hang around. She quickly climbed over onto the roof of the stall in the next street. Realising, she had to get down quickly, she swung herself on the lowest roof bar and dropped seven feet. She bounced but only scratched herself. Immediately she began running again fearing that the Quark would soon be on her heels – and he was – for he suddenly appeared before her, stepping out from a side street.

She fled down a road on her right and soon found herself out of the Festival Village and into another part of the clearing. She recognised where she was: there was the bridle path that she had travelled along earlier, and there was the tree where she had first met Tapir. Which way to go? The Quark was sure to be close behind, as well as the stinging nettles, the fanfares of which she could hear.

Suddenly she heard that horrible earth shaking sound again! It must be the helicopter.
“Rosalind!” said a familiar voice. It was the tapir. “Get on my back! They’re coming after you!”

Rosalind jumped on.

“I’ve got a note from the badger. I saw you drop it on the ground. Read it as we go along.”
Rosalind opened the note and found it very confusing.

It read:

Dear little Girl,
I solved your problem using that old stand-by formula of mine:
Possum x gew gaw = anything
over x under
I put in the data
f = festival
s = swan-necked bottle
p = Palingham
w = wood
t = tapir
g= Grudger
and reduced it down to :
pg  = ouaywt
pfsg
and then cancelled and rearranged:
one = wayout
sf

Therefore the answer to your question is to travel straight forward on your own. If you do this you’ll find your way out.

Yours faithfully,

Grudger

“What does it say?”

“It says I have to go straight ahead on my own,” explained Rosalind hoping she had deciphered it correctly.

“Right, Rosalind Beast, I can go faster than you because I’ve got double legs. I’ll take you to the crossroads, that should give you enough time to escape.”

“But what about everyone at the festival? That horrible woman will do something nasty to them.”

“No she won’t. As soon as the Quark and the Civil Serpent came after you, everyone ran off to safety. Was she angry! You saved them all Rosalind with your diversion tactics. Pretty good I should say for a Rosalind beast. Now jump on and let’s go.”

The tapir immediately put his head down and thundered along as fast as he could go. Rosalind was very proud of him; he was a brave Parsimonious tapir now – even if he hadn’t been earlier.

At the crossroads they had a short parting as the stinging nettles’ fanfares  were getting louder with every passing second. Tapir said he would come and visit her civilised mother and grandfather as soon as he was able, and that he wanted to learn more about manners as they had saved his life. She kissed him on the nose, affectionately pulled his ears, and shouted, “And you’ve saved mine. Goodbye Tapir! I hope I see you again!” and dashed off into the forest.

Rosalind ran through the vegetation as quickly as her feet would carry her. She hoped the thick undergrowth would delay  – even stop  – the stinging nettles. But she was wrong. After twenty minutes she could hear their stomping feet trampling the vegetation underfoot more clearly than ever.

She went ‘straight ahead’ as far as was possible. Sometimes a rock or a tree would block her way and she would climb it, or go round it, until she could resume her path. She reached a stream with no bridge and wasted a few minutes wondering how to get over it. Eventually she waded across.

Soon, she came out of the trees onto a long corridor or grass, a long flat strip the length of a cricket run. After crossing it to enter back into the thick trees metres ahead, she looked behind her to see the nettles just arriving at the other end! They were carrying big cream coloured objects but she couldn’t make out what they were. Quick, she said to herself, get a move on!

She felt completely exhausted and didn’t know how long she could keep going; travelling straight ahead was very awkward.

The trees had thinned out, and now the rough undergrowth was grassy again and running was easier. Behind her the stomp of the nettles’ boots and the trumpet fanfares had grown deafening! She looked over her shoulder and began to despair. They were gaining on her so fast that she would never make it. Then she saw something she recognised. A brick wall in the distance. A boost of hope! At last she knew where she was.

But then something whizzed past her shoulder. And then something else. Splat! Something had hit her on the back. Splat! Ugh! Something had hit her on the neck! Ugh! It was all yellow. It was custard. The stinging nettles were pelting her with custard pies. Yukky! For one minute she got mad and felt like stopping and giving them a mouth full – but then she decided it wouldn’t be such a good idea!

She had nearly made it. Just before her was the entrance where she had come into Wizicky-Wazicky  Wood. There were the two white lions carved in stone. Thwack! Another custard pied hit her on the leg! She was at the entrance. Keep going!

She ran out of the entrance of Wizicky-Wazicky Wood into the trees and sped away through all the bluebells. Whiz! went another custard pie. But a moment later the sound of the stinging nettles’ trumpet fanfares had died away. She nervously looked around. What a relief! They had all stopped at the entrance! They were still throwing custard pies but she was too far away now. It was as if the magic in spellbound wood didn’t allow for any of its creatures to leave it. Thank goodness!

As she rushed home she looked at her granddad’s watch. It was still going and looked undamaged. It was almost four o’clock. She had been away for a complete day and night!

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

“Hello darling,’ said her mother when Rosalind burst into the back door.
“I’m really sorry, mum…” Rosalind pleaded even before she was fully through the door, “It wasn’t my -“

“Sorry about what, darling?” asked her mum, filling the kettle with water from the tap, “Whatever have you been doing? You look as if you’ve run a marathon.”

Rosalind fell silent and stared at her mother. She seemed remarkably calm. “Well,” said Rosalind taking deep breaths and calming down. “I’m really sorry about being away for ages and for all this mess I’m in.”

“You haven’t been long. I’ve only just got back with your granddad. I’m so pleased. We’re sure he’s made full recovery and he’s already cracking his awful jokes again,” said mum with a radiant smile. “You look very hot and flustered though. Is anything wrong?”

“But where’s the custard?” Rosalind asked, looking down at her clothes, unable to understand where all the dirt and custard had gone. It had all disappeared. Rosalind rather felt as if she had been cheated!

“Custard, darling? Is that what you want for tea? Yes, I can probably manage that. Now why don’t you go and rest in the lounge and talk to granddad. He’ll be dying to have a chat with you.”

“How long have I been away then?” asked Rosalind.

“I dropped you in the village centre about three quarters of an hour ago. Is that what you’ve got in your hand? That looks nice. Is that what you bought for granddad?”

“Yes…” Rosalind said. She went to say something else but bit her lip. Instead she lifted the watch up to her ear and felt its gentle confident tick. “Yes, here, have a look,” she said and gave it to her mother.

A few minutes later she at last gave it to granddad. She was so pleased as he adored it! And then, as he was carefully admiring it, he discovered something. He said, “This is strange. Look there is a funny verse engraved on the back of the watch. Can you read it as it’s a bit too small for my old eyes.”

In the smallest print she read:

To Wizicky Wazicky Wood
To Wizicky Wazicky Wood
When set benign
You slip through time
and space to chime
Wizicky Wazicky Wood

Rosalind thought it was all very strange. Perhaps it would be best to keep quiet about Wizicky-Wazicky Wood at the moment. Perhaps one day she might go back there and see Tapir, and the other friends she had made, but for now it would be nice to keep it to herself: a very special secret indeed.

END

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