Low Life (Extract)

Hello? Hello?! Eileen, it’s not working.

Try pressing the green button again, Pete.

I’m pressing the green button!

Well what did Michael tell you to do?

Michael said you press these buttons, and then the green button,
which is what I did. And then you wait.

What about the red one?

Hello? Hellooo?

Didn’t Michael say anything about the red one?

Red one? Oh, I don’t know. I’m going to try and give it another go.

I’m putting the kettle on!

Tea, please!
Okay, so, I put the numbers in…
0…79…5…8…2…67…0…5…1

We need some more milk, Pete.

And then the green button…

Pete? We need some more milk!

and…

Hello?

I have been waiting for your call.

Oh gosh, hello!

Hello.

Is this Martin at Wainsborough motorway services? It’s Peter.
I was given your name by Becky at the WHSmiths checkout.
I wanted to raise a concern about the long queue for the express coffee machine.

That is not my name.

Where do you want it?
Oh, did you get through?

Yes. Just there’s fine thanks.
Sorry about that Martin. Just the wife bringing me a cup of tea.
No queues at home!

That is not my name.

What’s that?

That is not my name. I am not Martin.

Oh, sorry! Well could you pass me on to Martin then please?

There is no Martin here.

Okay, well it’s important that he hears what I’ve got to say.
Could I leave him a message?

There is no Martin here. I am not Martin. I do not know Martin. Forget Martin. I am Gosh. I have been waiting for your call.

God? That’s funny!

Not God, Gosh. I have been-

Gosh!

Is it that Martin? What’s he saying.

I have been waiting for your call.

Not Martin. Gosh, apparently. He’s been waiting for my call!

Gosh? That’s funny.

Not God, G-oh, wait, yes. It is funny.

He’s been waiting for your call?
Gosh!

You are Peter Brick of 41 Peeley Close, Wainsborough aren’t you? Son of Patricia Samworth and John Brick?

Oh, yes, so I am, yes.

It might be one of those scams,
don’t tell him our address
or your mother’s name!

But I phoned him!

I have some valuable information for your family tree. You are working on the family tree, aren’t you?

When I can.

Then there is a story you must be told.

What’s he saying now?

I need to tell you about your great uncle Stanley, for it is he who makes your very family tree a possibility.

Stanley? Is that Brick, Samworth or Phelan?

Stanley Brick. Middle name Quentin.

Eileen, get the family tree and look up a Stanley.

Is that Brick, Phelan or Samworth?

Brick. Middle name Q.

You won’t find him in there.

Can’t find a Stanley Q. Brick in here.

Apparently you wont find him in there!

Oh, why not?

Why not?

He doesn’t exist yet.

Oh. He doesn’t exist yet.

He doesn’t exist yet? Gosh!

He doesn’t exist yet?

Not by your definition of existence. Let me tell you the story.

Is this one of those prank calls?

I phoned him!

Peter, please. Let me explain. Let me tell you.

Hang on, I think he’s going to explain.

Alright. Drink your tea.

A Thief In Plimpton #2

When noon came, the residents responded as Walter had hoped. Dawn, Scruffy and Scruffy’s six-pack of Allium’s all made their way towards number five and were each greeted with a sour glance from Walter who led them inside. Nora turned up soon after. They waited a short while in poorly orchestrated silence for Joe’s arrival but Walter was anxious to start.

“I’ll get straight to the point. One of you here has betrayed me.” Walter began.

“You what?” said Dawn.

“François! Someone has taken François.”

“You mean that pathetic toy of yours?” chuckled Scruffy. Walter’s dog growled at him.

“I mean, Mr Snogheart, my priceless artefact from my travels in Ublivia! My most valued possession, my life, my… my love! All four of you, including that unsavoury being from next door, are suspects.”

“Oh Heavens!” replied Dawn.

“So let’s get right down to it, shall we? Steven, it is clear that you are still holding a grudge against me for the measures I took against our mole problem.”

“Poor little buggers”

“Moreover, you are ignorant of the societal norms we all hold dear, though I don’t suppose you know what that means.”

“What? I was not!” Scruffy retorted, largely unaware of both his location, and the spittle that just vacated his mouth.

“Dawn, I know you see a lot more in art than many and while your tastes – if your creations are anything to go by – aren’t quite as sophisticated as mine, I’m sure you might know somebody who might be after it.”

“Well I’ll be!” Dawn said, but Walter continued.

“Nora, you’re a self-confessed kleptomaniac and that Joe… Well he’s avoided this meeting all together. And that is highly suspicious! Scruffy, where were you yesterday morning?”

“As per usually, I was at the café. Oh an’ I saw Nora go by with quite a face on ‘er” replied Scruffy.

“How dare you!” said Nora, borrowing the dog’s bark “Suggesting such a bloody thing! I’d been at work all morning! But, but Scruffy was spitting insults about you, Walter!”

“It couldn’a’been me, Wulter, it couldn’a… couldn’a been me! The ‘ole bleedin’ village knows I can’t sneak about for nothin’ after a few pints. Why don’t you ask ‘er?” Scruffy lazily flopped his arm in the rough direction of Dawn Peters. “She…er… she…woah…” His eyes glazed over, finding a deeper meaning to life in the ever expanding eyes of the dribbling dog.

“Erm… well?” Walter questioned Dawn.

“Surely you’re not serious? What would he know? Lord knows I wouldn’t steal! By the word of God himself, I’m no sinner. It must have been Joe! All those secrets. That ridiculous get up. It isn’t right! He’s up to something, I tell you. You can’t trust a man who doesn’t dress as God intended! ‘No socks, no service’ as our John used to say! The heathen! Why, I bet he took your lawnmower last winter too, Nora.”

“I lost two pennies and a guinea-pig as well that winter. It was a cold and lonely Christmas without Martin by my side. I tried CPR, I tried the mini-guinea defibrillator but his little heart just couldn’t take any more. It’s a miserable old life… Oh Martin, if only you could see the grass now! Your little legs would be lost in it…”

“See! In the name of the Lord, let’s execute the bastard!”

“Yeah!” Screamed Scruffy, throwing his final, half full can across the room. “Wait…what?”

Walter left the room, leaving the two present residents, and the semi-present Scruffy to get riled up while he weighed up his options.

A few minutes passed before Walter returned, hunting rifle in hand like back in Ublivia.

“To Joe’s!” commanded Walter. His dog ran out before him to dig his paws into the earth. They all followed Walter through the door and collided on the hippo-hide door-mat. Joe was standing a few metres in front of the house with a pistol in his hand. The residents hung, paralysed in the doorway. Walter held his rifle tight, Dawn clutched at her crucifix and Scruffy grabbed for a beer that wasn’t there. Joe lifted the gun and turned it, pointing into his mouth.

“I-I’m sorry” whispered Joe. He squeezed the trigger. A small, white pellet came out the barrel. It refreshed his gums. It was a novelty mint dispenser.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I’ve got to tell you something. I saw who took François. It was-” but before he could finish, Walter’s dog ran by them with something in his mouth… It was François.

A Thief In Plimpton #1

There was a momentary air of vinegar as an almost comatose Scruffy Snogheart slipped into a black pudding and treacle sandwich. It was spring. He loved this time of year; there was an ever more endearing sense of joy within the village. He was Steven Jeffery Snogheart where legalities were concerned, but with his mouldering, misbuttoned shirt and fragrant lack of self-respect, he had acquired the nickname ‘Scruffy’ within the neighbourhood. He had sat outside the same café behind his house on the edge of Crooked Close every morning of every year since he had been able to walk there, missing only a couple of occasions for reasons he simply couldn’t remember. Though it must be said, he couldn’t remember half the occasions in which he did attend, either. Scruffy was known to host a many a pint of Allium’s Garlic Pale Ale and would rarely regret indulging in the half-eaten sandwich scraps from the previous day. Wiping the crumbs from his beard, he took a breath of the cool morning air and let out a long, contented sigh. By this time, Scruffy was very drunk.

It was his nose hairs that first noticed the familiar haze of a local woman waddling in his direction.

“How do, Scruffy?” said Nora Clarke, a stout woman who had recently moved into the village cradling a supposed doctorate.

Scruffy mumbled something in a mild gibberish.

“Nice day for it anyhow” Nora said, and while she half-heartedly attempted to veer away, he cleared his throat and announced “my name’s W-Wulter Ben-den-gendigo! And I love myself! I just care about… about… ha! I don’t care about moles! Listen to my… all my stories ‘bout affffreecah… pfffffff-f-f-f-f-f… ”  … Mornings are very much left to the individual in Plimpton.

The five residents of Crooked Close were all going about their own alleged morning routines.

For Walter Cartermain Bendengo this was going to be a most eventful day. Every morning for thirty-two years he had followed his routine of pulling his trousers up over his belly button, lifting his prized possession from its glass cabinet and removing every perceivable imperfection (save one small speck of something he referred to only as ‘the canteen medal’). Walter had often assured his neighbours that this was an ancient artefact from Ublivia, worth a billion Ublivian dollars[1], though to all who saw it, it seemed no more than the sort of cheap children’s toy that you might find in an extra-large Christmas cracker. The figure of his obsession was a well-dressed humanoid statuette that he had dubbed ‘François’, whose sole irregularity was the flower he had for a head. So for Walter, the day began no differently to usual. He began with the dusting, followed on with the polishing and finally, placing François in the safety of the nearby work surface ‘to breathe’, Walter headed on out into the back garden for his daily rifle drill.

At number two, local artist and part-time preacher Dawn Peters was in her art studio happily rendering the glorious golden hues of her latest work – ‘The Sodomy of the Sheep’[2]. Just as she finished shading the final yearling, she turned to the mantelpiece. On it sat a professional picture of a man with his arm round a crocodile in a suit. Both beings looked equally bemused by the experience. She could see her reflection in the glass frame; she hunted down the hairs that strayed from the flock, and guided them back into place. Next to the photograph was a clock, and next to the clock was an urn. For the clock, she had no time, but to the urn she licked her lips and blew the ghost of a sloppy kiss. There was of course no such response on behalf of the urn, and Dawn responded accordingly, stabbing her paintbrush through the misshapen eyeball of a lamb before snapping the easel and throwing the canvas out of the room. Moments later she could be found apologising to both the urn, and her God, as she recollected the scattered fragments of her studio.

Nora Gregory Clarke had been returning home from ‘work’ when she passed Scruffy at the café. She had been refused entry to the doctor’s surgery once again. It seemed there was a connection between Nora’s huge teddy bear collection and the surgery’s depleting supply of cotton wool. She hadn’t been in Plimpton long, but already the Neighbourhood Watch had a variety of nicknames for her. In fact ‘Her’ was one of them. It was the sudden disappearance of her distant relations, the Walton sisters that allowed for her arrival, and despite them leaving all their possessions in the care of Nora, she soon found space for all her own things in assorted nooks, crannies and hidey-holes. It was out of one of these hidey-holes that the screams for ‘more’ first came. What exactly the voices from the dark wanted ‘more’ of remains a big mystery in Plimpton, and even now they scream. Nora has often claimed it to be the mating call of a particular species of moth that has infested her loft, but the neighbouring residents are still to be convinced. That morning, upon returning from the surgery, she set about ironing all her paper plates and stacking them in the nearest space available. She dug out her stethoscope, removed a slipper and, placing the cold metal on its toe, she blew deep inside to test the volume of the noise, and to therefore work out how thin they have become from frequent use. With her paper plates readied for reuse, and her slippers assessed, she headed outside to prepare the garden for an invite-only luxury tea party with her favourite teddies, Ms Fluffstuff and Dead Ted.

Next door – number four – the conspicuous being, Joe, who could often be found wearing stick-on facial hair[3] was just waking up. He opened the net curtains just far enough to peep through and watch Walter Bendengo’s dog shifting the dirt between their houses. Joe put on his tights, his maternity dress and his dressing gown and proceeded downstairs to get himself some breakfast.

Later that morning, when he returned to take his prized, polished possession back to its cabinet, Walter discovered that all that was left of François was a small smear of polish on the work-top[4]. His trousers sank back down to his waistline. Walter was devastated. His heart had caught the express route to his mouth and he could taste the haemoglobin. It was like he’d lost a child. Immediately he began jumping to conclusions and blaming anyone and everyone that had ever set eyes on François. He even sent four carrier pigeons with tear stained scribbled words to contacts of his in Ublivia. A fifth carrier pigeon was sent out to the Neighbourhood Watch, and a sixth to the local police department.

It was the Neighbourhood Watch who responded first, sending a basket of assorted tinned goods along with a note reading ‘We see your struggle, we see everything’ followed in very small letters by the words ‘P.S. We didn’t see who took François’.

The next party to respond was the Plimpton Police Constabulary who sent an officer to get more information from Walter. She arrived promptly with nothing more than a notepad, and appeared to be wholeheartedly taking note of all the information Walter was conveying to her. However, it would become apparent to anyone who saw her notepad that all she had ever done in such a situation was write the next in her collection of ‘Poochie Love Songs’; this one was for Walter’s dog.

It wasn’t long after the police officer left that Walter realised he was going to have to take matters into his own hands. He had narrowed his list of potential suspects down to the only four individuals who knew of François, and could have gotten easy access: Steven Snogheart, Dawn Peters, Nora Clarke and Joe from number four. That afternoon, each of the four suspects received a cut of boar skin parchment accommodating the words ‘NUMBER FIVE, TOMORROW AT NOON’, written in pigs blood. The only suspect to react was an inebriated Scruffy Snogheart who had just returned from the café. Even so his response was no more than a mere mumbling of “Fruity Nora.”

[1] While the exact exchange rate is widely contested, by Walter’s calculations it is likely to be about the same value as a backstage pass to a concert of Marxist chickens counting their money. Of course, the exact value of such a thing as that is also widely contested.

[2] Her other works have such titles as ‘God Looks on Ye in Misery’, ‘Flossing the Nooks of the Cross’ and, from her private collection, ‘Wetting the Cat’s Ear’.

[3] Whether he was merely showing off his flamboyant costume collection or concealing a much belated puberty, his behaviour was undoubtedly the lifeblood of many a local curtain-twitcher.

[4] The whereabouts of the can of polish still remains a mystery.


Check out part #2 at https://stevenokey.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/a-thief-in-plimpton-2/

The Moles of Endwood

In a hole in Endwood, pacing near the end of a grand banquet table, was the bulging, brooding brow and private school posture of Lord Kent VII: the current leader of the Mole Council. With a snout practically probing Kent’s right arm pit, the sniffling secretary Lord Sussex followed close-by. Across from them, at the other end of the room was the appointed host Lord Mercia trying desperately to avoid getting cornered by an overbearing Lord ‘Wessie’ Wessex. The table was crawling with worms, and there were baked beetles, braised baby mice and of course, the often untouched side salads. The banquet was set for ten, with Kent at the head.

“Brothers! If we could all be seated it would be most preferable.” Began Kent, observing the lack of moles in the room. Each of the present members found their place around table: Sussex sat close to Kent’s right, Wessex occupied the western front and Mercia sat opposite Kent. Each mole was spilling out of their three piece suits, in their own personalised fashion.

“Normally, of course, I would ask Lord Sussex to go through the register as is tradition. However, as notably few of our members have decided to turn up to this most important of meetings, I assume we are in little need of it.”

“Oh, that’s most wise of you, Lord Kent.” Replied Sussex.

“Well, I’m here if that helps!” Burped Wessex, stirring beetles into a bowl of worms.

“Noted.” Sussex gave the distinct impression that he was taking minutes, but to any good eye it would be no more than a few misplaced squiggles.

Kent began the proceedings.

“Now, you should all be well aware of why you’ve been called here today.  Oh and thank you, Lord Mercia for agreeing to host. Us moles have been suffering for many a century under the scrutiny, nay, the oppression of humankind.” Kent took the largest braised baby mouse and held it tight in his paw. “We are gathered today to answer one question: will we wage war on humankind?” With this final word he twitched his nose and scoffed the baby mouse whole, slurping up the tail.

“I-I’d like to begin, if you don’t mind” said the perforated outline of a voice.

“Certainly… Lord Mercia, do go on.” Kent said, preoccupied fighting Sussex over a handful of beetles, which of course, he won.

“Well let me start by saying that um, yes, I agree that err, something needs to happen. We certainly are in need of some kind of errm social reform. Something that will work for every mole. But umm, well I’m just not sure that something is war.” He watched the worms make a desperate attempt for freedom before shovelling some more to his mouth. “We umm…. We need a system whereby us and the humans can err, co-exist, so to speak. Not… not war, no. War will put too many of our moles at risk. Why don’t we just send out a few good moles – perhaps even ourselves – to go down to Whitehall and strike some kind of agreement with the humans?”

“Bah, nonsense! Come on Mercy, wake up! Co-exist? Bah! They’re vermin! There’s no reasoning with ‘em! We have to stop ‘em now! Can’t you see?” Said the slovenly Wessex.

“I happen to be very sensitive about my eyesight… oh b-b-but we don’t even know how many humans there are. I’d say I’ve counted 30 or 40 of them just in Derbyshire!”

“I’ll have to check the records” Said Sussex, nosing his papers.

“Bah! This is precisely the problem! There are too many of them, they all look the bleedin’ same! They come down here and they undermine our workforce and what have we done to stop it? Nothing! Nothing spare the few brave attempts by some well-bred moles to disrupt their farming and spoil their perfect suburban gardens.”

“Yes well I’m sure every one of us understands the power behind the suburban garden.” Said Kent, and with mouths full, they all nodded in agreement.

“I say they’ve been here long enough now to understand what our customs are. But what efforts have they made to integrate? None! They dig up our homes! They catch us in traps and leave us to suffer and die! I know moles that are too scared to leave their tunnels, and they every right to be! There’s a storm coming. If we don’t stop them now moles will be slaughtered in their thousands. We will be forced under the whip of humankind to dig for their oh-so precious oil!” He gnawed on one of the tougher beetles. “The upturned soil will cover our slain only to wash away under the human reign. If we don’t act now, I will one day smell millions of fallen moles in rivers flowing with mud!”

“Now, let’s not exaggerate too much Lord Wessex.” Kent hastily interjected. “Give our moles some credit – I’m sure we won’t be so easily defeated regardless of our decision here today. However I do feel I agree somewhat with your sentiment. Brothers, we must think of our future and of the future of our children. We must think of our glorious nation and the might of our moles! We cannot let the humans continue their tyranny! We must fight them!”

“Hear, hear! Excellently put Lord Kent” Added Sussex.

“Lord Mercia,” Kent continued “do you really want to have to look your children in the eye and try to explain to them that their friends are dying because you decided not to stand up to this threat?”

“Terrifying prospect Lord Kent, most definitely” One of the side salads fell victim to the over-eager Sussex’s jerking arm and landed leaf down in the mud. “And what chances do we have of winning an all-out war with the humans?”  He said, gesturing towards the document he had already revealed..

“Ah, I’m glad you’ve asked! I’ve had the lower moles do some calculations and…” Sussex handed the document to Kent, who read it out, paraphrasing “within a week we can have 10,000 moles ready for battle. I have already taken the liberty of putting them on standby. The moment we all sign the document our forces will mobilise. We will have the element of surprise. We’ll bury them before they know we’ve attacked!”

Mercia poked at a braised mouse, testing the texture of the delicacy. He had long since become lost for words, and finding them was no longer a concern; it appeared the decision had already been made.

“Lord Sussex, would you kindly procure the declaration?” Asked Kent, holding out his hand.

Sussex extracted the wafer thin form and reaching into the jumble sale of his coat pocket, he pulled out his enormous, all-encompassing spectacles in order to dictate the document.

“Okay… ermm… hmm, it says here that umm… the… hmmm…”

“Oh come on!” Barked Wessex.

He could read neither the fine nor the large print.

“It’s about time these documents were updated to scratch and sniff!” Said Mercia, rediscovering both his language and his appetite. He took a helping of worms and was the first to opt-in to the salad.

“Oh bother!” Spat Sussex. “You’ll have to forgive me, brothers.”

“No matter Lord Sussex,” Kent hastened the procedure. “I’m sure we all understand what this document declares. Now can we get on? Is everybody willing to sign this? Lord Mercia?”

“Err I… um, well, yes. I suppose so. If it’s completely necessary.”

“I assure you, it is.” Kent exchanged offset looks ofencouragementwith the group.

Mercia took one last hollow attempt at standing up for his beliefs. “What of the other council members? Do we not need their approval also?”

“Well if you don’t turn up to vote, you’ve blown your chances, haven’t you?” Wessex licked the beetle juice from his fingers.

“Brothers, the fact of the matter is that we here are the leading members of this council. We have the most influence and we are undoubtedly the most popular. The only other person ever worth considering was Lord Pictland, and I don’t suppose he’ll want to be a part of this anyway after his independence fiasco.”

“Oh, Lord Kent, I’ve been meaning to inform you!”

“Yes, Lord Sussex?”

“It has come to my attention that Cornwall is considering independence now, too.”

“You see, my brothers, we are the only true and honest moles in the council. It stands to reason that we should go ahead and make the decision without them. Now, shall we sign?”

Each of the four moles signed the document, leaving the occasional, accidental smear of beetle juice among their names.

“This is a glorious day, brothers, I promise you.” Said Kent. “Each and every one of us will go down in history as the saviours of Moledom. You will not regret your decision. Gentlemoles, we are going to war!”

The Marionette #4

Desperate to avoid aggravating his wounds by attempting to tidy up the debris, Arthur placed his puppets on the equally battered stool by his bed and left their remains to waste.  He lay back, kicked off his shoes and wriggled out of his jacket. Above him the mood had changed; the alcohol had set in. His parents were laughing, dancing and singing along to Vo-Do-Do-De-O Blues. The music was distorted and skipped occasionally; the record had been played a few times too many. Once more, dust fell from the ceiling; it too danced across the room, and as if dropped by a fairy, it seemed to glitter in the light.

His eyes were dragged up towards the solitary caged light dangling in the middle of the room. The light appeared brighter than before, bearing down, consuming him. His empty gut was pulling in all the energy of his body. He became light-headed. His senses numbed and all bodily boundaries began to disappear. He felt enormous and expansive like he could reach the distant stars and digest their cosmic energy. He was the pulse of the water, the convulsions of the earth, the breath of the wind and the explosive heat of the fire.

The Marionette #3

Arthur pulled his puppet parents out of the wardrobe and dragged them across the room by their necks. Sitting down on the bed to rest his leg, he grabbed the two wooden control bars of the puppets and hoisted them onto their feet. His parents hung before him helplessly – his father in his left hand and his mother in his right. Arthur was finally in charge. The puppet show began.

Arthur stared intently, imagining an old stage, huge red curtains and a packed audience in which he had a front row seat. He mumbled a fanfare and as his hands twitched and bounced, the smiling puppets skipped to centre stage and burst into a slapstick fight. His father swung at his mother and managed to chip her painted smile. She swung back at him, knocking off a loosely fastened eye. Whimpering, he half-heartedly looked around for his eye while she laughed at him through the gritted teeth of her broken smile.

Arthur could hardly believe that he was grinning. His jaw jammed ajar as though his joints had rusted or some higher being had possessed him. Perhaps he too had only a painted smile. Regardless, the two helpless demons continued fighting, getting increasingly battered by the brawl. Each hit brought whimper and howl as the parents deconstructed one another and the audience cheered.

This continued for a while until, arms aching a little, Arthur did away with the stage, the curtains and the audience. He sat his parents down on his lap and tilting their heads, he made sure they were paying close attention.

 ‘How do you like it, huh?’

He forced his father to nod his head and a response fell out with near perfect timing.

‘Rotten child.’

Arthur suppressed a scream and quickly discarded his mother before he began repeatedly striking his father. Soon, his anger bettering him, he hit his father a little too hard. He grazed one hand, and lost his grip with the other; his father fell to the floor. Reaching down to regain control of him, he noticed the puppet’s other eye had broken off and was lying beside him. His mother was damaged too. All but a few red and white spots of her painted smile had worn off. So with one blind and one mute, his puppet parents would no longer torment him.


Read part 4

The Marionette #2

So there he was, locked in his basement bedroom, battered and bruised for a few misplaced words round the dinner table the day before. Then – SNAP – the door unlocked. It opened. In the doorway stood the silhouette of his mother.

‘Come, Arthur. Dinner’s out.’
The words barely escaped through her gritted teeth.

‘You’d better hurry up or you won’t be getting any!’

Reluctantly, Arthur approached her with fists clenched, bracing for impact. As he walked forwards she put her hand round the back of his neck and forced him out of the room.

An hour later the defeated form of Arthur returned, trying his best to keep the weight off his right leg. His father was close behind. As Arthur turned he noticed the bulging, bloodshot eyes, gunning him down.

‘Rotten Child!’

Before Arthur could dare to respond, the door slammed shut and all that remained of his father was the pain in his right leg.

He hadn’t been given much to eat and it wasn’t long before his stomach began reminding him. However, the dinner wasn’t a complete disaster. Concealing them inside his jacket he had managed to smuggle a couple of bread rolls back to his room. Desperate to eat them, he devoured the first in a couple of seconds. It wasn’t easy to deny himself the other, but he knew better. He took his seconds to the wardrobe.

Opening the double doors, he stuffed the roll inside one of his shoes. The wardrobe was old and had been slowly dismantling itself for decades. Yet for many years the wardrobe had seemed the perfect escape for a young Arthur when the shouts and screams got loud upstairs. Above his shoes – some of which were still squashed from his refuge there – hung old clothes that no longer fit him and a pair of battered puppets that were dented and limp. Their strings were ragged and formed nooses round their necks. They appeared to have been hanged in a rush, as though there was a fear of them escaping.

One puppet was masculine, with a pointed nose and huge red eyes. The other character, with a poorly painted smile, was a woman. They were no Punch and Judy. These demons dangling in his wardrobe were a product of his plight – effigies of his parents.


Read part 3