I (sometimes) call myself Mr. Pondersome. I'm a rather wordy, weirdy person. I say hullo a lot. I write a lot more. While you're here, why not give some of it a read?

Thursday, 4 March 2021

The Fluffy Book Above the Pool (a.k.a. A Textured Anecdote for World Book Day)

During my early work days, I attended a course to become a Reading Friend. This was held at a local sports centre.

In order to get to the session, we had to notify the front desk and then turn abruptly up an unexpected stairwell. As I ascended, the lights became more artificial and the smell of sweat and chlorine was smothered by lavender carpet cleaner.

When I arrived at the necessary floor, I had to cross a long thin burgundy walkway with windows on the left, looking down on the swimming pool below. Every now and then, I turned to observe a hasty splash of some childish swimmer, hoping to startle an adult who was focusing hard on her butterfly stroke.

At the end of the walkway was a conference room with white tables, at the centre of which sat a man and a woman amid an assortment of board books and picture books. The most important book of all was at the centre: the one in which we signed our attendance.

Throughout the two-hour session, the man and woman held up different books and showed how to coax the interest of a young child, the importance of asking questions about what they think might happen next and drawing attention to the background detail of the consistently impressive illustration. Then, when they both ran out of puff, the man and the woman told us to turn to the person immediately to the right of us and practice. Pretending that another grown-up was a baby was immensely weird until you had to be the baby yourself. I had fun with it until I heard myself actually say, ‘goo-goo ga-ga’.

Then after a quick and energetic feedback, the man and woman brought out the pièce de résistance: a pink fluffy board book. This was to show the tactile nature of reading with babies and how it helps early development. We all got to stroke the woolly cover and flip a couple of fabric pages before hastily passing it on, fearing that a thorough inspection might seem like outright fetishism. It was just a shame that the dyslexic teenagers I would be dealing with wouldn’t benefit from such soft tomes.

Once everyone had tickled their fingertips with book fluff, the man and woman moved the precious touchy-feely book out of sight, never to be used again. When I left the session, I glanced under the table and noticed a thin metal case between them, the kind you expect to carry precious cargo. I imagined the book inside, strawberry-scented wool and feathers pressed between two pads of protective foam.

Years later, after working in libraries, I learnt more about tactile baby books and how well they last. A metal case isn't nearly enough.

Friday, 1 January 2021

Little Daunting (a.k.a. A Guide to a Place We All See at the Start of a New Year)

So you’re off to Little Daunting.

A lot to take in for such a small village. Some might call it a hamlet though they’ve had their chance to go up and down all its paths and trails, taken in the full scale of this awe-inspiring place.

It’s hard to say what’s so intimidating about Little Daunting. All you or anyone else can really know for sure is what you see on arrival, how the village appears to you. It has been described as crammed full of towering structures, having deceptive proportions when you're stood at the road sign. This sign reads ‘welcome’ but that’s not quite the meaning conveyed. All descriptions of the place from returning travellers vary but remain at some level indecipherable and untrustworthy. You distrust your own faculties most of all.

Little Daunting messes with the head but there’s a reason why it’s called ‘Little’. Any fear you might have drains away as you tread its grass, dissipates with every echoing footstep along the modest cobbles. It’s true when they say this place doesn’t quite look the same with every hour you pass within its limits.

Whether you stay or not depends on how easily you feel settled. As such it’s rarely crowded for long.

You may or may not return from Little Daunting. This village might even break you down but know that we have all been there for a while and some of us can remember it well.

Friday, 25 December 2020

The Boxing Day Grotto (a.k.a. Santa Receives Feedback)

Richard loved being Father Christmas. It was the highlight of his year to don the red velvet suit with white cotton trim, to squeak around in weighty black boots and take the light-adorned seat in the local mall grotto. Alas this period of work lasted for only two thirds of December before ending rather abruptly on the 24th.

            Then again Richard didn’t do it for the money. He had received a decent retirement package from his years working focus groups at Ruddlesden Superstore, plenty to live on in his dotage. It was just lovely to be able to listen to what kids wanted for a change. They certainly had a better grasp of such things than their parents.

            Regardless Christmas Eve soon came around again and he found himself especially broody. One thing that had always bothered Richard was how nobody ever followed up on these kids, checked that they got what they wanted or else were happy with what they received. Perhaps it was his old business brain working overtime but he saw a definite opportunity here.

            So it was that he set up a new grotto in the communal field round the back of his cottage, just far enough away so that the local kids didn’t get too suspicious. Richard didn’t officially open for business till Boxing Day morning.

            The first person he saw was Aneesa, the nice girl from two doors down. He had mentioned to her what he was thinking of doing when they crossed paths in the park and she was keen to help out. Seeing her jingle across the grass, adjusting her pointy elf ears was a sight to behold.

            “Excellent elf costume, dear,” Richard said. “Hope you didn’t go to too much trouble?”

            Aneesa shook her head. “My brother leant me these ears. He’s a big Trekkie. As for the costume, I improvised with one of Mum’s old dresses.”

            Richard regarded the rather vibrant red and green swirls that came to a glittery halt at the hem of a rather short skirt.

Aneesa shrugged her shoulders. “She wore this stuff in the 60’s.”

Richard nodded, wondering if his electric pink bell bottoms were somewhere in the back of his wardrobe. “I’m not sure what to expect today. Could be nobody comes. If you get bored, feel free to head back home.”

“Thanks but Dad’s on with making enough Peshwari Naan for the neighbourhood. At such times, it’s better to be out of the house.”

“Right.” Richard put on his Santa hat. “Let’s see who turns up then.”


True to prediction, the first two hours were incredibly quiet. Their only visitor was Mrs Ashcroft from Hogarth Lane, dressed in her orange Mackintosh while exercising her fox terriers. Aneesa flinched at the sudden appearance of a furry snout so Richard stepped outside. As soon as seeing him in his outfit, Mrs Ashcroft chuckled.

            “You do know what day it is, don’t you, Richard?” She spoke slowly though this was mostly a tease.

            The fairer terrier, Sandy, scratched at the toe of Richard’s boot. “Yes, Imelda. Did you not receive the note I posted through everyone’s letterbox?”

            “I did. Our Wesley is a bit too old for this sort of thing now.”

            “Really? He came to Ruddlesden last year.” Richard squinted as he remembered. “Asked for the full latest Power Ranger set if I’m not mistaken.”

            Mrs Ashcroft’s eyes shined with surprise. “You’ve got a good memory.”

            “I do my best.”

            Sandy had now taken to sniffing the behind of her darker brother, Brody. Richard thought the intensity with which she did this a bit indecent but Mrs Ashcroft wasn’t at all fazed. She just tucked a stray lock of white hair back beneath her hood and chuckled again. “So what is this then? Customer feedback?”

            “In a way.”

            “Well, I suppose if any Santa can ask the right questions, it would be you.” She winked. “I’ll remind the Fosters and the Brickleys. One’s to the left of my bungalow and the other’s to the right. We often have little back garden gatherings.”

            Richard smiled. “Thank you.”

            Mrs Ashcroft set out again, pulled by both Sandy and Brody who apparently wanted to investigate a nearby fencepost. “I’ll look forward to your eventual presentation at the next town meeting.”

            She was a snarky one but Mrs Ashcroft had a kind nature. Though she obviously didn’t believe in his project, she wouldn’t see Richard sat out in the cold for nothing. Once she and the dogs had disappeared, he returned to the grotto. Aneesa was watching from the window.

            “Still not a dog person then?” Richard asked.

            “I know it’s silly.” she grimaced. “Mum loves dogs but Dad still doesn’t trust them.”

            “Parents give a lot of themselves to their kids. More than they’ll ever know.”

            With a reassuring pat on her shoulder, Richard got his portable kettle boiling. They both had their tea strong, fingers wrapped around thick mugs.

            Not long after the steam had dissipated, Richard set his tea down and answered a small but firm knock at the door. Little Tommy Brickley stood in the doorway, eight years old and scowling. Richard gave his loudest ho, ho, ho but the belly laugh did nothing to appease the stiff-lipped lad.

            “Hello, Tommy. How are you this chilly Boxing Day?”

            Tommy ripped off his black bobble hat and stuffed it into the pocket of his silver puffer jacket. “A Snottyhead.”

            Richard adjusted his half-moon spectacles. “Pardon?”

            “I asked for a Snottyhead,” Tommy spoke slowly, a rumble to his voice. “You gave me a Grinspan.”

            Richard glanced at Aneesa for help.

            “Father Christmas, aren’t Snottyhead and Grinspan from the same line of action figures? The ones with green goopy hair?”

            After a moment Richard nodded. “Yes. I believe Snottyhead is the goodie and Grinspan is the baddie.”

            “No,” Tommy snapped. “Grinspan is Snottyhead’s partner! Grinspan has a big smile but no bogey hair. He’s smaller too.”

            Richard locked eyes with Aneesa but she just shrugged. With a huff, he knelt down to the boy’s level.

            “Oh, I am sorry, Tommy. Unfortunately Snottyhead didn’t have any toys to spare me this year. However Grinspan was kind enough to pass on one of his.”

            Tommy grunted. “Snottyhead and Grinspan aren’t real. They’re on TV.”

            “Is that what they tell you, eh?” Richard tried a wink but he had the feeling this wouldn’t quite work. The boy was now shaking with anger. “I am sorry, my boy. We’ll see what we can do next year, eh?”

            “You’re Santa!” Tommy shouted. “You’re supposed to make the toys yourself!”

            With that he stormed back out onto the frosty grass, crunching all the way home.

            “Blimey,” Richard said, sinking back into his grotto chair.

            “Not sure what Elaine was playing at there,” Aneesa replied. “Snottyhead figures are in all the supermarkets as well as the toy shops. I even saw one on Christmas Eve.”


            “Yes. Dad needed me to pick up some ingredients.”

            Richard was downcast for some time after that. Of course it wasn’t his fault that Tommy’s Mum didn’t buy the right action figure but Tommy didn’t know that. He honestly thought Santa handled the entire arrangement himself, as if he were contractually obliged. The more Richard thought about this scenario, the more bizarre it seemed. Food for thought but certainly not the kind he had expected, at least not at first.

            Fortunately there was another half an hour or so of quiet. Aneesa got up to stretch her legs out on the field and when she returned, it was with Mr Foster and his twin daughters Ophelia and Katie in tow.

            Richard did his best to perk up, even pinching his cheeks to add colour.

            The girls went silent when they saw him so Mr Foster tousled their long black hair to get them to talk. Instead Katie burst into tears. Her father looked momentarily powerless, glancing at Richard as if he might be able to fix the mistake.

            “Now, now, petal,” he said. “What’s wrong?”

            Katie sniffed and wiped her cheek with the sleeve of her woolly overcoat. She then turned to Ophelia, lifting one white fluffy ear warmer to whisper.

            Once she was done, Ophelia cleared her throat. “You forgot our puppy, Santa.”

            Richard locked eyes with Mr Foster who shook his close-shaven head.

            “I see,” Richard replied. “Well, there’s a funny story about that. You see, the elves and I were about to make you the cutest puppy ever but unfortunately we ran out of stuff. We had plenty of lovely soft fur but couldn’t fetch the right sparkle for the puppy’s eyes.”

            “Silly me,” Aneesa added. Richard smiled his thanks for alleviating the responsibility.

            “But puppies aren’t made,” Ophelia said. “We saw one being born.”

            Richard paused. “You did?”


            Richard wasn’t quite sure what to say. He could stick to his story but then that might complicate the life lessons the girls had already been taught. Judging from the wide-eyed look on Mr Foster’s face, he had no idea how much they already knew.

            “That must be where we’re going wrong then,” Richard replied conversationally to Aneesa.

            Ophelia gawped at them while Katie set off crying again. At last Mr Foster took the initiative to lead them both out before any further damage was done.

            Richard reached for a handkerchief and mopped his creased brow. “My goodness. It’s all go today, isn’t it?”

            “I’m afraid so.”

            He turned to Aneesa now who was still watching the Fosters from the window.

            “Do you think this was the right idea?”

            “Well, Santa does have a lot of explaining to do. All those kids asking for things their Mum and Dad can’t give them.”

            “I never say yes.” Richard straightened up. “It’s always been my understanding that Santa only ever says ‘I’ll see what I can do’.”

            Aneesa wrinkled her nose. “Doesn’t he also talk about them being good?”

            “I hope you’re not suggesting I indulge in emotional blackmail.”

            “Not you.” Aneesa chuckled. “Santa. One way or another, Father Christmas has always been about giving gifts to only good kids. Still it all comes down to what their Mum and Dad can afford or are willing to do. The whole philosophy runs the risk of good kids feeling punished for trying their best but not quite succeeding.”

            Richard massaged his temples. “I’ll agree it’s not a perfect system. All I can say is that I try my best to represent the better part of Father Christmas. The open ear.”

            “And you do. Which begs the question, why check up on what kids got or didn’t get when the answer is taking such a toll on you?”

            Richard needed a moment to think about this. It was dawning on him that the grotto idea might have been a little selfish. He was hoping for satisfied customers or customers who recognised the efforts he had personally gone to. Really years of focus group work should have taught him that you needed to take the rough with the smooth. There are many reactions to even the simplest transaction. There is a danger to pretending to be responsible for a moral decision that really comes down to money.

            He fell quiet for a while but then Aneesa didn’t pressure him for an answer. Instead she gave him some space and set about making them another cup of tea. As the kettle began to hiss behind him, he raised himself to his feet and began peeling the Christmas lights off his grotto chair. There was really no point carrying on with all this. Whatever happened next would just disappoint him.

            Richard didn’t notice that the girl had wandered in till he turned around. He gasped, clutching his chest. “Deary me! You’re light on your feet!”

            The girl giggled. Something told Richard he was on a good wicket here so sat back down. The girl looked about eleven or so, tall for her age and rubbing her pink mittens together. Aneesa appeared behind Richard.

            “Hello, Kelly!”

            “Ah yes. Kelly, pet. How are you?”

            “I’m okay,” she said. “Just want to say thank you.”

            “Thank you?” Richard couldn’t disguise the shock in his voice.

            “Yes.” Kelly pulled the toggles on her red trapper hat. “I got what I wanted.”

            Richard smiled carefully. “I’m glad to hear it.” Unfortunately he could not recall what ‘it’ was precisely. That was one of the other issues of doing this, he was accepting thanks for other Santa impersonators.

            “Okay,” Kelly replied, turning back towards the door. “Have a nice day, Father Christmas.”

            “Before you go…” Richard began. He was going to ask what she had got for Christmas. His desperation would have had him come right out with it. Then again that would have shown that Santa did not know what he had gifted Kelly with. It would have completely dispelled the girl’s already fragile belief system. In a year she might very well no longer believe. Did he really have it in him to ruin that so early?

            No. To hell with customer service appraisal or whatever this was. For now Richard was Father Christmas, one who had apparently delivered. Better to leave the dream alone.

            “Merry Boxing Day, Kelly,” he said.

            Kelly giggled again. “Thank you. You too.”

            “See you, love,” Aneesa added.

            Once the girl had gone, Richard turned to Aneesa. “Well, that was something, eh?”

            Aneesa patted him on the shoulder. “Are we packing up?”

            Richard took in a refreshing breath of air. “Yes. We’re done here.”

            True enough, there were no further visitors as they took down decorations. Though Richard huffed and puffed with the work, he was quietly relieved. He wasn’t sure about the presentation at the town hall that Mrs Ashcroft suggested but he was content with the overall results. So long as one in three little customers left satisfied, he was too.  

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Pompier (a.k.a. A Whiff of Commercial Nightmare)

Perfume adverts have extraordinary artistic license. Normally they get a fair bit of playtime throughout the year but this intensifies on the run-up to Christmas.

    Diana tends to sit through advert breaks, unless she has a hot chocolate on the go. She did marketing at university ever so briefly but now she is certain that she can decode what these companies are trying to stimulate with their non-sequiturs and manipulation of nostalgia. She also enjoys the occasional nonsensical advert, one that is so bizarre that it can only be striving for ‘high art’.

    Some of her favourite twenty second motion picture puzzles include the advert where a Frenchman huskily reciting a haiku about ‘her passion’ to flashbulbs and recording equipment, the commercial about a glamorous Swede stripping off in a tundra with her every line badly-dubbed and, of course, the advert featuring that Hollywood actor whose name constantly eludes her, being splashed in green paint while fondling a gas station pump. The real joy of these isn’t in definitively solving them but figuring out how on earth they might relate to a glass bottle full of pretty scents.

    The only person Diana makes chuckle with her often ridiculous suggestions is herself. She lives alone and has done most of her adult life, spending her evenings wrapped in a fuzzy pink bathrobe and steadily draining the bottles of Chardonnay her workmates buy her every Christmas without fail. She takes a swig every time one of these baffling perfume adverts plays which, as previously mentioned, happens a lot.

    After the eleventh sip of her night, she gasps and waits for the latest ad break to end which it does with a light and fluffy laundry detergent infomercial starring a comedian known for her bitterly sarcastic stand-up. It is as if her paradoxically white smile triggers the blackout.

    Tapping the remote, Diana rises to her slippered feet and shuffles over to TV to check if it’s still properly plugged in. As she reaches for the main cable a pensive piano solo begins.

    Glancing behind her, Diana sees that snow has started to fall on her sofa. Not only this, it trickles down slowly, long enough for her eyes to take in the shimmery intricacy of each individual flake. Breath catching, she gazes up at the ceiling to see if the rooftiles have somehow fallen loose without her noticing. What she sees is a giant human hand reaching down towards her, as if asking her to dance.

     Against her better judgement, she takes the forefinger and is raised out of her living room and up into a starry night sky. A sun draws in close behind her and the hand but it burns neither of them. In fact she reaches out to feel for any kind of warmth only to receive a flare to her chest. This turns her robe to cinders and reveals a tight-fitting platinum ballgown underneath. Diana can see that she looks a vision from the mirrors that are now surrounding her.

    With a single gasp, these shatter and she discovers that the giant hand has disappeared though a normal-sized version has taken its place, proffered by a suave gentleman who looks the spit of that Hollywood actor. Oh, what’s his name again?

     They dance through outer space till he falls to his knees and sinks into an invisible floor. Diana glances downward and gravity soon takes effect on her too. Shutting her eyes a little too late, she lands in a varnished red cedar canoe in the middle of a gorgeous green ocean. Reaching for a diamond paddle, she begins to move on to destinations unknown. The sun returns but now it is distant and steadily melting a painted blue sky.

     As she rows towards it, the water's current becomes viscous and she feels her grip on the paddle slipping. When at last it falls completely out of her grasp, she peers down into the crystal-clear depths till her own sight ripples and fades.

    At last Diana stirs from her sleep, noticing that her show is back on and has been for a couple of minutes now. She is dressed in her usual pink robe and can see no hole in her roof, let alone snowfall. Shaking her head, the dream lets go but not totally. Even as she rubs her eyes alert, Diana can perceive the faint smell of cinnamon and citrus, of mint and melting chocolate. She takes a deep sniff of her robe collar.

    “Pompier,” she whispers.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Incarnations (a.k.a. A Legacy Story for Doctor Who Day)

At one point in their lives, both my parents were Time Lords. Well not just Time Lords, the same Time Lord.

            As in all things, my mother went first. Katherine Canavar joined Doctor Who in 2027 as the fifteenth incarnation. Her costume was not completely unlike her personal style: brown leather dress and crimson shawl. She did make her hair more extravagant, darkening the natural red and curling it.

            "For my look, I turned to past companions," she explained in an interview once. "I settled on the sexy savagery of Leela with Mel's fiery head of hair."

            Her performance was described as Earth Mother, a look that was generally agreed as being very new for the role. Nevertheless she managed to strike a balance between witchy and alien, moving about the TARDIS like it was her own walk-in crucible.

            The most recurring villains for her time were the Autons.

            "It just made sense," she said. "My Doctor couldn't stand the unnatural getting in the way of the natural. She was a true environmentalist surrounded by plastic fakery. Of course, she would try to recycle it into something better."

            In 2032 she regenerated into my father. Bilal Zaro not only met Canavar on set, he did so in the same outfit as her.

            "The shawl doesn't suit," she remarked, "but the dress matches the brown of your eyes."

            He would have laughed more had he not been so nervous. My Dad was a consummate professional but still this was his favourite show from childhood. His first Doctor had been Matt Smith but my Mum had never really followed the show before or even much after.

            "You'll be fine," she told him. "The fans will be glad testosterone has finally returned."

            At this my Dad did laugh. "Not quite what I'm going for."

            As the sixteenth incarnation, Zaro was much quieter than most of the previous Doctors, Canavar especially. He preferred tinkering with machinery to talking and made a fraction of the rousing speeches that his immediate predecessor had.

            His eventual costume featured Paddington-inspired toggle coats and glasses with extra microscopic lenses. The majority of his adventures came to feature the Doctor discovering a piece of tech that he fiddled with until the third act where its use became apparent. He needed an intellectual sparring partner and, with the Master on a well-earned rest, the Rani returned.

            "Part of me thinks that the show runners saw an opportunity with my casting," he once mentioned to me. "An actual Asian in the TARDIS to make the Hindu Queen relevant and not racially offensive. However I was raised Muslim and I'm not even that anymore."

            When my Dad called Mum up for advice on the role, they got to talking about a lot more than method. To this day Mum insists that she asked Dad out.

            The announcement of their love affair was, of course, a coup in both fandom and media. Mum basked in it, but Dad was far more reserved. He was still in the role after all and already had to contend with remarks that Mum was the far better Doctor. And yet this only proved a point of contention long after he had given up the role and I was born.

            "It was your fifth birthday when we had the idea," Mum explained when I was in my early teens. "Your Dad and I still had our respective sonic screwdrivers from our times on the show."

            Dad shook his head. "I knew it was a bad idea from the start."

            Mum shushed him. "It was a symbolic gift-giving."

            "And an experiment."

            She rolled her eyes. "We gave you them at roughly the same time to see which you would play with more."

            "And?" I asked.

            Mum glanced at Dad. He sighed.

            "Your screwdriver was more tactile. Of course a toddler would want to play with it."

            "Yours was too simple."

            "It was a classic design! Like Troughton's!"

            She turned to me. "You didn't let go of my screwdriver for the rest of the day."

            "Well, yes. It was firmly wedged between the girl's teeth."

            Mum nodded. "I should have taken it off you sooner."

            "A choking hazard."

            "A choking hazard that would have paid for your college education. And then some."

            I had just started college when I truly began to see my parents for who they were. I had also watched their respective runs on the show without them eagerly pointing at the screen whenever they subtly emoted or delivered a brilliant line.

            Their performances did actually speak a lot to their personal characters. The fifteenth Doctor was more than a little hammy and you could always hear her coming. I couldn't go anywhere in the house without hearing Mum mangling Dusty Springfield from the kitchen.

            The sixteenth Doctor was a little unsettling with his small gestures and rarely saw people for the pieces of the puzzle they held in their hand. I stopped bringing friends over for dinner when Dad interrogated Tina about her dental degree studies.

            You would think I would have instead focused on the seventeenth Doctor and all who came after her but, well, I honestly couldn't get into the show. Of course, that revelation made uni life fun: the theme’s sting playing whenever I walked into common rooms. I should never have told Julio on that first night in halls. I always made sure the place was empty before allowing my parents to pick me up in the holidays.

            In that time though the cracks that I'd tried my best to ignore finally spread through their relationship.

            "We need time apart," Dad said. Still he was holding his head in his hands. "It's just your Mum doesn't let up about the roles I choose. She keeps interfering with my career. I know she doesn't mean to, but she does."

            Mum's side of the story was inevitably different: "I don't like his silences anymore. He doesn't realise how hard it is for a woman my age to find work. The conventions are a boon. I just wish he understood and gave them a try."

            When the split was official, the media had long since moved on. A borderline incestuous sci-fi romance wasn't so interesting when the stars had faded.

            They managed to be civil even after all was said and done. Mum kept living on the convention circuit, Dad found plenty of character work on ITV primetime.

            And while I very much remain a postgraduate History student, I have finally succumbed to acting. Julio managed to mount a student production of the lesser-known stage show Doctor Who: The Ultimate Adventure. Though there were many contenders for the lead, he firmly believed that no-one would be more appropriate than the lovechild of two canonical Doctors. My costume borrowed Mum's crimson shawl and Dad's specialised glasses. I picked my own sonic screwdriver design though.

            They watched from the audience together, laughing, crying, squabbling over whose acting method mine best resembled. And I watched them in turn, wondering at which point I stopped being a midpoint between the two of them and became the next incarnation of myself.


This is a fan fiction story about Doctor Who. All rights to characters and concepts mentioned are reserved by the BBC and relevant parties.

Saturday, 31 October 2020

The Talk (a.k.a. Part Three of My 2020 Trilogy of Halloween Tales)


Two short taps and one scrape of a nail against the door.

            "Come in, Mr Almond," Peter says.

            A man with a green tinge to his skin enters. He clutches his thick hands together. "Hope you don't mind, Peter? I realise I haven't caught you at the best of times."

            Peter doesn't reply, just sits up and makes room at the foot of his bed. 

            Mr Almond perches on the spot, briefly entranced by October's gloom as framed by the boy's window. With a curt breath, he returns to the moment.

            "You remember the last time we hung out, Peter?"

            "At the park?"

            "Yes. We were talking and then you saw a couple of girls on the swings." Mr Almond offers a toothy smile. "You got lost there for a moment, didn't you?"

            Peter shrugged. "Kinda."

            "You said her name was Mona, the strawberry blonde. You seemed quite taken with her. Definitely her...developments." Seeing Peter's frown, Mr Almond sighs. "Her breasts, Peter."

            'You were looking?'

            "Not intentionally. I just followed your eyeline."

            Peter's posture stiffens. "What's wrong with Mona?" 

            Mr Almond catches his eye. "It's alright, Peter. I get it. I went through the exact same experience that you are now. It was a long, long time ago but essentially the same. New excitement. Girls changing shape. Impure thoughts. To be honest I saw it coming when you started spending more time with Mark and Adam. Which is also fine. You boys are facing the exact same discoveries. You need each other's support."


            Mr Almond raises the hand with the long black nails on it. "A moment, Peter. This is a tricky subject, yes? I have to remember how it was said to me before I can figure out how to say it to you." He shakes his head. "There were lots of restrictions back then. Times have very much changed."

            Mr Almond clutches his bony knees and exhales.

            "Look, you know I'm going to eat you next year. Your parents and I told you how it works: when you're of age, I'll need your virgin blood to stay alive. All of it. And that's just it: virgin." Mr Almond takes another curt breath, well-practised. "Now I don't want to be the bad guy here but I know there are certain pressures coming from Mark and Adam. Big talk about who has slept with who, eh? Still none of you have exactly fornicated, now have you?”

            Peter opens his mouth. Mr Almond gestures it closed.

            "But therein lies the danger, Peter. While you chaps keep egging each other on, someone's bound to slip up and lose that precious virginity. And I really don't want it to be you. I really don't want all the years of hard work your parents have put in to making you a fine, upstanding sacrifice to be wasted. I don't want any of you to be wasted. Because then I'll just be devouring three sexually-experienced men and that would taste disgusting." Mr Almond sticks out a forked tongue and grimaces. "Do you hear what I'm saying?"

            Peter nods. "I'll try."

            "I know you'll try," Mr Almond says, reaching for Peter's shoulder but remembering the germs. "But boys will be boys and I really don't want to have to devour Mona too. She seems nice and not a part of this at all. Don't you agree?"

            Peter nods again. "Yes, Mr Almond."

            "You just focus on your education and having good clean fun with Mark and Adam and all will be well. When the big day comes you might briefly regret not having sex but..." Mr Almond shrugs. "Then you're gone."

            "Gone," Peter replies robotically.

            "Quick and clean, I promise. And don't forget I'm here to talk if you ever need me." He rises to his looming height. "I may not be one of your mates but I'm not like your parents either. You can talk to me. Understood?"

            "Yes." Peter is already turning away.

            Mr Almond claps his hands together. "Okay, Peter. I'll say hello to Mark and Adam for you."

            Having closed the door, the green-tinged man produces a small bottle of hand sanitizer from his grey wide sleeve and wipes the darkening wrinkles of his palm. Floating downstairs, he passes Peter's mother.

            "Peter understands," he says as she holds the front door open for him. "I will return if he gets confused again. You know how it is. Sometimes a lad needs a special confidant to get through these complications."

            "You're sure?" Peter's mother asks. 

            Mr Almond winks both crimson eyes. "It'll only be for a couple more months.” He then drifts down the garden path.

            "Where are you going now?" Peter's mother asks as he rests a hand on the latch of the gate. A blast of chill wind catches Mr Almond naked throat where the skin is most tender. He reaches up to cover it.

            "To Adam and then Mark." He lets out a gasping laugh. "In situations like this, it's important to visit all the lambs as fast as you can." Then, with a sudden whirl of grey and green, Mr Almond joins with the night.

            Back up in his room, Peter neither weeps nor warns his friends. Instead he masturbates.

Friday, 30 October 2020

Plaster and Slime (a.k.a. Part Two of My 2020 Trilogy of Halloween Tales)

I was teasing weeds from my garden fence when I heard grinding among the plant pots. These were plastic so I could only assume that something had disturbed their contents. Most of these pots were empty except for the one beside the lettuce patch. I have a terrible problem with slugs so it seemed entirely possible that one had slipped off a leaf and landed inside.

            Peering within I saw that the pot was full of colourful plaster. One of the gnomes had been wrenched loose from the soil by a gale force wind and dashed against the fence just yesterday. When the wind died down, I swept up the pieces with a dustpan and brush. It occurred to me that I might be able to do something with the plaster and so tipped it into the pot for the time being.

            In a way I was glad the slug had reminded me of the shattered gnome: now I could tip it into the bin and make proper use of the pot. Still I needed to coax the slug out first. While they may destroy my lettuces, I’m not the kind of gardener who poisons. They’re just doing what comes natural to them.

            I grabbed the lip of the pot and was about to turn it when I noticed a large chunk of gnome shift all on its own. It was the red cap, showing the white of the plaster beneath the paint. I watched as a slimy black limb wound itself around this then yank it deeper within the pot.

            I took a step back. Something odd was going on here and I wasn’t sure I wanted to see. As I took a moment to catch my breath, the internal grinding picked up again. It grew so loud that I worried that the harpy next door would poke her nose over the fence and screech at me.

            When shame overrode my irrational fear, I reached out for the plant pot again, this time with the toe of my boot. It only took a tiny nudge to tip the whole thing over. Still the grinding continued, much louder than before.

            I glanced inside and saw the cracked bits and pieces of the gnome whirling around. When the plaster finally scraped past the rim, I jumped aside and reached for a trowel. What was once the crumbling white beard of the gnome stretched out like an exploratory hand. It pulled the rest of the shattered gnome’s body out of the pot; all the limbs that it once had, now serving as others. The gnome’s nose and corncob pipe had become its feet, the torso had split into two to become its legs and the legs joined together to become the torso. Wherever plaster gnome parts weren’t in use, slimy black slugs acted as connective tissue, giving the shards' impossible movement an oily elegance.

            This peculiar hybrid of slug and garden gnome pointed its beard hand at me. Dropping my trowel, I ran right out of there, pace picking up as I heard the definite scrape and clatter of plaster on paving slab behind me.

            I came back an hour later, my partner leading the way. He didn’t believe my story, of course, and I couldn’t blame him. He had to see for himself and I had to know that I wasn’t going round the bend.

            And yet, as soon as we had set out into the garden, we could find no sign of the slug gnome beast, not even in the guttering above the bins. My partner shook his head at me and went back indoors. I made one final sweep of the garden, trowel back in hand, then closed the gate that I had left open.

            Wherever the slug gnome has gone, it has at least left us in peace. It occurs to me that this beast may not have actually meant any harm. Even so I refuse to say I overreacted.

            I certainly refuse the suggestion that throwing out the plant pot was a waste of valuable materials. To that I say, valuable to whom exactly?