© Simon Totten
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* denotes proverb definition in italics*
The Grass is always greener….
on the other side
*- Circumstances that seem more desirable often aren’t*
Like a red alert warning the words, BREAKING NEWS: SIXTH CHILD MISSING IN NAPIER WOODS, NORTHUMBERLAND slide repeatedly across the bottom of the TV screen. A young reporter, slightly bedraggled in the rain, her hot breath whirling into the chill morning air, steps forward to the camera, eager to deliver a news flash.
‘This sleepy close-knit community near Blyth in Northumberland is in shock today. Rumours began circulating at around 6pm yesterday evening but this morning I can now officially confirm that nine-year-old Ben Winston is indeed the sixth child to disappear mysteriously from Napier woods in the last two months.
Ben’s parents Bill and Maureen Winston made this emotional appeal on television a few minutes ago.
'If anyone out there knows or has seen anything in or around the woods please, we beg you to come forward,' said Bill. ‘We just want our little boy back, safe again. Please Ben, come home, we love you,’ said Maureen.
A police statement issued today read: ‘Families of those children who have disappeared can rest assured we will leave no stone unturned to find these children. Further updates will of course be forthcoming as we continue our investigation.’
While the usual questions remain on everyone’s lips, is it a killer? A kidnapper? A paedophile? A traffiker? Pressure is mounting on the Police to find some answers.
Devastated locals are doing their best to pull together.As we speak a search party with sniffer dogs, appeals on internet and social media and a poster campaign are being organised.
But the longer this mystery goes on, fear is growing for the lives of these missing young children. This is Jo Renwick reporting from Napier woods in Northumberland for News North.’
In the front room of the terraced house on 68 Northcote Street, Amy and Zak Rice are sitting on the sofa. The TV has been on for two hours but nobody is watching it.The news isn’t really twelve-year-old Amy’s thing. As far as she is concerned if it’s not ‘Love Island,’ ‘I’m a Celebrity get me out of here’ or ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ you can forget it. She knows what she likes.
Anyway, she has far more important things on her mind at the moment. Like how big she can blow her bubblegum bubbles without popping them and worrying if her latest pouty posting on Facebook and Instagram is as sick as everyone else’s.
Next to her, is her brother Zak, younger by three years and seven months. If there is a more annoying little brother on the planet Amy would love to know. Most things go over his head but when he’s locked in mortal combat with a bunch of mutant zombies on his ipad, the world could end and he wouldn’t notice.
‘Are you’s two deaf or what? Ah’ve been shoutin’ mesel’ hoarse in that kitchen and nee bugger answers,’ says their mum Emily, wagging her finger.
Amy and Zak look up. ‘What?’ they reply in tandem.
‘Oh, I swear I’m gannin’ to put those contraptions in the bin. Maybe then, you’ll enter the real world noo and then.’
Amy and Zak glance at each other, astonished by their mother’s tirade.
‘What mam? What is it? What do you want?’ says Zak.
‘Instead o’ sittin there watchin the gogglebox all bliddy day…’
‘We’ve not been watching telly, mam honest… we been,’ says Zak.
‘Well why’s it still bliddy blarin? I cannot hear mesel’ think,’ she says zapping it on the remote. ‘Reet that’s better,’ she says breathing a sigh of relief. ‘What with the move n’ your dad buggerin’ off with that tart from Tescos, ah’ve got jobs comin’oot me ears. Do you think it would be too much to ask to help yer auld mother ‘oot a bit?'
‘Ahreet mam,’ says Zak. ‘Keep your hair on.’
Amy folds her arms, omitting a smouldering scowl from beneath her shock of frizzy blonde curls and stays silent. She never wanted to move to this house in the first place. She liked the old one. It was much nicer. Her school was just down the road and her friends, especially her BFF Hannah, were perfect. She’d never be able to make new ones here. But she didn’t have a choice. It was dad. He was to blame. It was all his fault.
‘Listen,' says her mam, her voice softening slightly. ‘For a start off, ya can you make a start on unpackin’ them boxes in ya room?’
‘Awww, mam, do I have to?’ asks Amy.
‘Won’t take long. One step at a time eh? That’s all I ask,’ she pleads, tweaking the dimple in her chin affectionately.
‘Ah won’t. And you can’t make me,’ insists Amy.
‘Don’t you want your new home to be perfect?’
‘Perfect?’ Mmm. That was the last thing Amy wanted. Perfect was boring. Amy can see no way out of this one. Her mam is serious.
‘Look,’ says her mam, taking Amy’s hand and squeezing it gently. ‘It’s a new start for us all so we’ll all have to muck in. I understand everything’s new and different but you’ll soon get used to it, trust me?’
Amy isn’t convinced.
‘Can you be a lamb and keep an eye on Zak for us?’
Amy rolls her eyes.
‘Make sure he tidies his room as well?’
Amy flashes her a filthy glare, letting out a tortured sigh. She turns on her heels, stomps up the stairs, marches into her new bedroom and slams the door with the Top secret, Keep out,’ sign on it.
She glances around the room. It kills her to admit it but her mam was right, it’s a bombsite. Boxes of clothes, toys and random junk lie all over the floor. It would take days to shift that lot. She’d never get it finished. She slides her back down the wall, gazing folornly at the fresh spring day outside. Perfect for playing out.
‘Boo,’ says Zak, popping up, in the brand new super slinky Spiderman suit he’d got from Auntie Susan, for his birthday.
‘How did you get in here?’ asks Amy convinced she was alone but pretending not to be surprised. Even though Zak was always sneaking up on her, spying on her, stealing her stuff, she is actually quite pleased to see him.
‘Aren’t ya supposed to be tidyin?’ she asks. ‘Mam'll kill ya.’
‘No,’ says Zak. ‘I can’t, I haven't got time, I’ve got Doctor Ock to dispose of first. And then Sandman.’
‘What?’ asks Amy, pausing to decipher his incomprehensible witterings. ‘This isn’t fair ya knaa,’ she says as an idea, a wonderful, if rather mischievous idea shoots like a bolt of brilliant lightning from inside the dark cloud of misery in her head.
She takes Zak’s hand in hers and drags him towards the door.
‘Come on,’ she says.
Zak refuses point blank. ‘I’m playing,’ he says, jerking his index finger skywards, firing spider webs at the ceiling.
‘I’m busy,’ he repeats.
‘Come on, it’ll be great, ya’ll see,’ she says dragging him to the top of the stairs.
Checking the coast is clear, they creep downstairs. Mam is in the kitchen loading the washing machine. They reach the patio doors leading to the garden. Amy pulls the latch on the back door carefully, expecting to be scolded at any moment. Outside, the gentle hum of traffic, the tweet of birds and the jingle of an ice cream van arouses her curiosity.
‘Made it,’ she whispers, sniffing mischief and adventure in the air and giggling nervously as she closes the door behind her.
‘What now?’ whispers Zak.
‘Follow me,’ says Amy skipping across a lawn scattered with weeds, dodging abandoned bikes.
‘Howay man, ya donut,’ she says impatiently cajoling Zak as he blows hard, his stick legs struggling to keep up with her.
‘See that,’ she says, pointing to the bottom of the garden.
‘What? The washing line?’ asks Zak.
Amy grumbles and growls, pointing again. This time more forcefully.
‘The shed?’ asks Zak.
‘Nah, ya numbskull, the fence of course.’
‘What aboot it like?' asks Zak.
‘Arrgh,’ she protests. ‘Ah yee completely, totally and … unbelievably like… stupid?’
Zak’s pet lip curls.
‘Da dah!’ she says, magically producing a set of garden shears from behind her back.
‘I seen it on the telly. In that film dad likes. ‘The Escape, The Great one or summit. Anyway, they’re for cuttin holes in fences.’
‘Why would you want to do that?’
‘Why do you think, dumbum?’
‘Oh no,’ says Zak, his pale face draining. ‘Not that. Not me. Mam says we weren’t to go anywhere. Anyway…. we’ve got loads of tidy jobs.’
‘Proper little mammy’s boy aren’t we?’
‘No,’ complains Zak. ‘But… but …'
‘Don’t worry,’ smirks Amy setting about the fence with the shears like Edward Scissorhands, snipping, slicing, mangling and cutting the wire. ‘Ah’ll sort it, you’ll see.’ A child size hole appears in it.
‘Come on, you first. I’ll help you through,’ says Amy, convinced her little brother who was as skinny as a rake and weighed even less would fit through easily.
Zak twists his face and pokes his head through the hole as if he were putting it on a guillotine. He thrusts himself forwards but gets stuck half way, leaving two feet dangling inside the garden.
‘Ahh bum!’ says Amy, yanking impatiently, pulling his trainers off. Then, with a bit of extra oomph, she shoves as hard as she can, posting him headfirst through it. A muffled thud follows and an ‘Ow!’ from the other side.
‘You ok?’ she giggles. Without bothering to wait for a reply she throws his trainers over the fence and wriggles herself like a juicy worm into the hole.
‘Bum!’ she exclaims, as the sleeve of her pink hoodie with princess’ emblazoned on the front snags on a stray wire. She unhooks the torn material and forces her not inconsiderable weight down and through.
After landing with a hefty thump she lies on the ground. A volcanic laugh erupts from her belly. When she calms herself down, she dusts herself off and stands up.
‘Wow, look at this! This is…. wicked,’ she says gawping at woods that are a ready-made adventure playground. She looks across at Zak, expecting a similar reaction.
‘Ahh, what’s the matter now? I thought you’d like it. Why the face?’ she asks.
‘We promised to help mam. Do our jobs, remember?’
‘Don’t worry, it’ll be fine, we’ll be back before she even notices.’
Temporarily won over, Zak starts swinging on the white metal sign bolted to the mouldy stained grey posts poking out of a bush on the outskirts of the wood.
‘That’s a queer name for a wood,’ says Zak. ‘I mean… why would anyone call it Nappies wood.’
‘Aw Zak ya divvie! Ave ya even been gannin to yer special classes at school like yer sposed to? Ye need to learn spellin’ proper like.’
‘Whey aye, of course ah have, what yer on aboot like?
‘Eeeh what you like? The sign man, it doesn’t say that at all, ya knacker. It says Napier. We’re in Napier Woods.’
Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire
*- Moving from a bad or difficult situation to a worse one*
Amy’s plan has worked a treat. No more boring jobs, no more nagging and no more staying in. The sweet earthy smell surfing the breeze tingles down her spine. At last, she’s free.
She runs fearlessly at the trees, manages to get a foothold on one and starts climbing. Perched half way up she draws breath, taking in a bird’s eye view of Zak below.
‘Up you come, scaredy-waredy,’ she taunts.
Zak throws his leg up to reach the first branch but it’s too high, his legs aren’t long enough. It’s no use. When it came to climbing and heights, Zak was worse than useless. Perhaps that was why he dressed up as Spiderman so often. Close to tears, he admits defeat and storms off in a huff.
Amy climbs down and leaps into the air, landing safely on both feet. ‘Zak? Zak, where are ya? I was only kiddin’ man, where are ya?’ she shouts, peering into the light, at a haze of pink rhododendron flowers.
She looks everywhere. Pangs of dread somersault inside her. ‘What if he’s run off home to tell mam?’ she thinks.
Just as she is about to give up, a twig snaps and leaves rustle.
‘Zak? This isn’t funny, howay oot now!’
Obscured by leaves, glimpses of the scuff marks on Zak’s trainers are visible. Then his cheeky grin appears at the top of a bush.
‘Zak, ya idiot, divvent run off like that. You’ll get us into trouble, you hear?’
‘Let’s play hide and seek,’ says Zak, beaming excitedly. Anxious not to upset him again, Amy gives in.
‘Ok, but I’m hiding first,’ she says.
‘No me. Me, me, me, my turn. Count to fifty. No. Fifty million zillion,’ he suggests. Then he runs off, before she can argue back.
For the next half an hour Amy regrets agreeing to play at all. She searches high and low in bushes, up trees, everywhere. Amy is about to give up when she sees her brother pulling at the dead roots of a fallen tree.
‘What the… where have you been?’ asks Amy.
‘Where have you been you mean? I got bored. You’re a rubbish finder,’ says Zak.
Amy’s caring big sister act quickly turns to a murderous rage. She draws her clenched fist back, taking aim at his nose, ready to knock him into next week but when she sees what’s in his hand she stops.
‘Arrrgh!’ screams Amy. ‘Put it down. Noo! At once.’
Grinning from ear to ear, Zak teases her with a green and yellow striped wriggling centipede.
‘Ye kna ah hate creepy crawlies. Don’t be so mean,’ she says, cowering.
Cackling, Zak throws it in her direction.
Amy jumps out of the way, almost falling over the dead dusty roots of a large birch tree, upended by subsidence.
Zak pulls at a rotten branch, tearing it off. A surge of beatles, worms and lice run for their lives from the light and squirm back inside. Zak scuttles along the fallen tree trunk to the end.
‘I’m the captain,’ he screeches. ‘This is the ‘Jolly Roger.’ I’m sailing the high seas in search of the island with all the treasure, buried six feet under with the bones of an English Admiral in 1796. Look! I got the map right here, me heartie,’ says Zak.
‘Look out!’ shouts Amy, with a pretend stick gun. ‘These here be special silver bullets. They got poison in ‘em that kill cut-throat pirates like you. ‘Bombs away!’ shouts Amy as Zak ducks under the hail of stones she’s throwing at him.
After five minutes and several direct hits he abandons ship and progresses to a spreading chestnut. It isn’t long before he’s throwing sticks at it.
‘What ya dein?’ asks Amy.
‘Conkers. Ah seen ‘em at school. They put ‘em on strings, Micky Tait in year 8’s got a 39er. Says he soaked it in vinegar for a month. Now it’s rock hard.’
‘You’re such a div Zak. Conkers only come in autumn. It’s springtime now,’ says Amy haughtily.
‘How do you know that like?’
‘At school. We learned all aboot trees. Look, this is a sycamore. Its seeds are like helicopters, watch,’ she says, spinning one into the air.
‘Oh… what was that? Sounded like a bomb or something,’ asks Zak.
‘It’s just thunder. A rumble of thunder, ah think it’s gannin to rain.’
‘Ah divvent like it when it gets dark.’
‘I telt ya man, nee need to worry. Ah’ll look after ya,’ says Amy.
‘I’m hungry. I want a biscuit. I wanna gan yeme, any idea where we are?’ asks Zak.
‘Whey aye, course I do. What do you think I am? Stupid or summit?’ says Amy swallowing hard at the realisation that she didn’t actually have a clue where they were.
‘The trees are scarin’ me, that one’s a geet hideous cyclopse with warts, four hungry gobs and and….I don’t like it here,’ says Zak.’
‘Ah, shurupp man. Things always look worse in the dark. You read too many books that’s your problem,’ says Amy.
That one’s a ginormous, ugly rhinoceros dinosaur thingy with…’ continues Zak.
The thunder growls closer, lightning crashes across the metallic sky.
‘We’re gannin to get soaked. Mam will know we been oot, I telt yee this was a bad idea, didn’t ah?’ says Zak.
‘Arghhh, give it a rest man, ya big babby,’ says Amy flicking her index finger on her lower lip. ‘Look!’ she cries, pointing at the dark hollow of an ancient oak tree with a gnarled, charred trunk. Amy shivers in the cold gusts swirling around her. She climbs inside and gestures for Zak to join her but he stands rigid outside, rain trickling down his ghostly face.
‘Come on. Get in, just till the rain stops,’ says Amy.
Zak shakes his head.
‘Nee way. I won’t gan in there,’ he says. ‘Not never, ever. It’s a monster that swallows children.’
‘Howay man, ya idiot. Are ya crackers or what?’ she says. ‘You’ll catch your death oot there,’ says Amy.
Amy reaches out and pulls her brother into the hollow. Inside the darkness is absolute. She brushes a cobweb out of her face. Amy puts her arm around Zak’s warm presence.
‘I don’t like it,’ says Zak. ‘Not one bit, ah wanna gan yeme. There’s devils and witches in here. You promised.’ says Zak, tears streaming down his face. ‘You promised…you said you’d look after me,’ says Zak, shaking like a leaf.
Darkness swamps Amy. Suddenly, she can’t see a thing. Something crawls over her arm. She brushes it off. An icy shiver cuts through her as she reaches across the darkness for the comfort of Zak’s warmth but all that remains is a cold, empty space.
‘Better the devil you know
than the devil you don’t’
*- It’s easier to deal with something or someone familiar than to deal with someone or something that might be worse*
‘Zak? Are you there?’ she whimpers.
‘Zak!’ she calls again, in a small, shaky voice, she didn’t recognise. There’s no reply.
As if blindfolded Amy takes short, painfully deliberate, steps into the expanding darkness of a long cold tunnel. Reaching out for something to grab hold of, she only finds thin air. She’s sure the inside of the tree was never this big.
She keeps walking for about ten minutes. A small circle of light appears in the distance. The nearer she gets to it, the larger it gets. Bravely, she keeps going. Near the end, a ferocious furnace of light burns.
At first she has to shield her eyes from it but after a while they adjust to it. The gut wrenching fear of being lost settles back inside her as the woods in front of her look even less familiar than before.
‘Zak?’ she calls out, nervously, wishing he or at least something she recognised would appear magically. She wonders why the rain has stopped. How the sky is a clear cobalt blue and the clouds so light and fluffy? Where the brooding mass of angry darkness has gone? The thunder? The lightning? The rain? It’s strange that on such a lovely day the birds aren’t chirping happily. Something isn’t right.
She wanders further into the woods. A scattering of bluebells cover the ground under tall silver birches. Home seems a long way away now.Huge spreading oaks and tall birches surround her, as she gazes in awe at their silent strength, imagining them as kings and queens ruling over their kingdom with powerful majesty and splendour. She wonders how such grand cathedrals and temples of nature could possibly have come from tiny seeds.
A shiny, well preened blackbird swoops down in front of her, looking her straight in the eye.
‘What do you want here?’ it says.
Amy rubs her eyes in disbelief. A talking bird? Her grandma’s parrot used to say ‘Pieces of eight’ whenever it was hungry but a blackbird?
‘I…. I’m lost,’ stutters Amy.
Seeing the unsatisfied glint in the blackbird’s beady black eyes she thought it best to elaborate.
‘We sheltered in a tree and we… I ended up here. I… we got lost.’
The blackbird seems unimpressed.
Afraid it might fly off before she could get her words out she asks ‘Have you seen a skinny lad in a Spiderman suit?’
‘No…’ replies the blackbird, appearing disgusted by such a ridiculous question. ‘It’s far too good a day to waste on that nonsense,’ continues the bird, while pecking ferociously at the soil.
‘What makes you say that?’ asks Amy.
Irritated by yet another interruption it turns to Amy and says ‘The rains, my dear. Makes the soil nice and soft. Makes juicy fat worms ripe for the picking. My young ‘uns need them. Must get on, got a nest full,’ it chirps before soaring out of sight.
At first Amy thinks she’s imagining it but to her horror, quickly realises she isn’t.
‘OMG,’ she mutters. The earth really is moving beneath her All Star kickers.
The tremors shaking the woods get louder and nearer. Amy almost wets herself. Hyperventilating, she wonders what’s going on. An earthquake perhaps? Surely not. As far as she knew, earthquakes happened in far off places, never at home.
She runs over the shaking ground beneath her feet, stumbling as far as the banks of a river. When the earth miraculously stops rumbling she walks along a path alongside a fast brown river.
On the other side of it, a cloud of midges swarm towards her. Closer and closer they come until they’re heading straight for her. They’re bigger than midges, much bigger with thick bodies and wings. More like dragonflies.
Amy turns her head to see if she’s lost them but if anything, they’re gaining ground. She runs, not daring to look back, until her legs are so tight she can no longer move them and her lungs are about to burst. She gives up, collapsing in a heap of lush green grass, heaving in gusts of warm air. Closing her eyes, she braces herself to be eaten alive by dragonflies.
She waits and waits but feels nothing. Nervously, she opens one eye. A portly woman, the size of a large dragonfly is fluttering her miniature eyelashes and wafer thin wings at her.
Amy closes her eyes and opens them again to make sure she isn’t dreaming.
‘Don’t be alarmed,’ squeaks a tiny voice. No need to run, little girl.’
‘You scared me to death.’
The tiny woman giggles so much, her podgy stomach ripples. ‘Oh no, don’t be silly. I know what you mean though. Nasty little bleeders, those dragonflies,’ she says. ‘Luckily, us fairies are quicker than light and the speed of sound.’
‘Erm excuse me but...’ says Amy swallowing hard. ‘Did you say fairies?'
‘I most certainly did. Need your ears testing?’
‘Wow. You’re a real life fairy? At last, I always wondered what you looked like.’
‘Forgive me, in all the excitement I’m forgetting my manners. I’m Audrey and these are my friends,’ she says, waving a wing at an army of fairies behind her. The flying little people are all shapes and sizes, young and old with old fashioned clothes and insect wings.’
‘Amy, Amy Rice.’
‘Well, pleased to meet you Amy. Charmed I’m sure Miss.’
‘I hope you don’t mind me sayin but… I never imagined fairies being a bit well… plump? I mean… no offence or anything.’
‘None taken. Us fairies pride ourselves on our ample figures. ‘Unlike all those paradoxics…’
‘Paradoxics? Do you mean anorexics?’ says Amy.
‘Yes, whatever. Well now… that you’re a bit closer, I can see you’re not exactly a slip of a girl yourself are you?’
‘Oh and about the earthquakes. Do you always get them?’ asks Amy, feeling self-conscious so she changes the subject.
‘Earthquakes? You sure?’
‘Yeah, the earth was shaking,’ says Amy never more confident of anything in her whole life.
‘Oh…’ laughs Audrey. ‘That would be Eddie and his gang, hunting in the woods. Clumsy oafs they are. I’ll have a word, see if they can’t be more careful.’
‘Eddie? Who’s Eddie?’ says Amy, screwing her nose up.
‘Mind you, they can’t help it can they, Delores?’
An elderly fairy in a grand ball gown, with gold lace trimmings and green leggings and the tiniest round spectacles, shakes her head. Amy tries to think if she had ever seen anyone with such an atrocious sense of fashion. Her aunt Susan perhaps?
‘No, not at all. One o’ them things innit?’ says Delores. ‘You can’t change the way you are. You get what you get no mistake. Clever, stupid, funny, face like a smacked bum, ugly as a Trog, beautiful as a princess, reet petite and very chic like us or big and clumsy like them. No. Can’t be easy being that sort of size can it? Lumbering around like mobile mountains,’ continues Delores unable to prevent the torrent of words pouring from her tiny mouth.
Audrey flies close to Amy’s ear lobe tickling it, and almost falling inside she whispers so Delores can’t hear.
‘Don’t mind er, she got the gift of the gab right enough. Once she starts, it’s hard to shut her up.’
‘Aye, I kna what ya mean…me mam’s a bit like that,’ says Amy.
‘What she’s trying to tell ya in a round about higgledy piggeldy kind o’ way is… They be giants, Miss,’ says Audrey.
‘Giants?’ asks Amy out loud. ‘OMG,’ she says, falling to her knees, suddenly faint, sweaty and dizzy.
‘Yes… this be the Valley of the Giants. No need to be scared though. They’re friendly like, wouldn’t harm a fly.’
Amy nods, reassured and relieved.
‘It’s the Troglobites you really got to watch out for.’
‘Troglobites Miss. Trogs for short. Little blighters. Smaller than dwarves they are. Little ginger men with beards but they can’t half bite. Worse than piranhas, they are.’
‘Really?’ says Amy.
‘Yeah, we don’t see ‘em often Miss and thank the blessed fairy queen for that! They’re too good for the likes of us see. Proper toffee nosed types they be. They keep themselves to themselves on their island.’
‘Oh and they eat a lot too,’ says Delores.
‘Eat? What do they eat?’
‘Well Miss… they be proper child gobblers.’
‘What? Ya mean they eat children?’ asks Amy.
‘That be correct Miss. Lots of ‘em. Too many I reckon. Round, meaty, juicy… ones mainly,’ says Audrey looking Amy up and down. ‘Oh, no offence or anything Miss, I didn’t mean… but right nasty little bleeders, the Trogs. If you want my advice stay well clear.’
Amy’s face droops. ‘Blinking heck man… what sort of place is this anyhow? So far ah’ve met a talking bird, fat fairies in horrible dresses, there’s giants what cause earthquakes, now you’re sayin there’s dwarfs that eat children. Jeez and I thought me new place was a bit weird….’
‘And I hate to say it, Miss but… that’s likely where your Zak got to,’ says Audrey.
Horror shoots from Amy’s sparkly eyes into her brain, loopng the loop making her dizzy. She swallows hard and turns to run but then imagines the look on her mam’s face when she shows up at home without Zak. Then the look on Zak’s angelic face as he’s about to be torn apart and devoured by a band of ginger bearded dwarves grows more vivid and torturous by the second. Amy starts sobbing.
‘I think I’m in biggest most terrible trouble ever,’ she sniffs. ‘You have to help me… please? Pretty please with bells on?’
Honesty is the best policy
*- Always tell the truth, even if it would be useful to tell a lie*
Amy squelches her bare feet in the mud on the riverbank, caking it over them, then waits until it dries before flicking the flakes off.
Audrey and Delores are locked in what appears to be a mid-air conference, a kind of team huddle. All she can see of them is two sets of matchstick legs and fluttering wings, four outlandish pixie shoes with orange silk bows and Audrey’s frilly knickers.
Just when she’s beginning to think her drama queen tears and heartfelt pleas have come to nothing, Audrey pops up, as if by magic, in front of her nose.
‘Ok, we’re in, we’ll help you,’ she agrees.
Amy punches the air like her dad on the rare occasion his football team score. She would have hugged them, kissed them or something soppy like that but she’s too scared she’ll squish them.
‘On one condition,’ she adds hastily.
‘You have to promise?’
‘Ok anything, I swear on Zak’s life.’
‘There’ll be no name calling. You have to be nice to us. Think you can do that?’
‘So I can’t call you fatty, or frilly knickers or frumpy frock or anything like that?'
‘Mmm,’ says Amy, clocking the fairies’ mortally wounded look. ‘Only joking. Agreed, done deal,’ she says. After spitting on her hand she hurriedly places them awkwardly by her sides, forgetting that fairies don’t do handshakes or high fives.
‘Ok, says Audrey, making herself comfortable. ‘Let’s get down to business. The only way to find Zak is to find Eddie. He can take you to Trog Island. He has a gift, see. He can run like the wind with them long giant legs. I’d say… what d’ya reckon? They can cover hundred twenty miles in 10 minutes.’
‘Eeezee! More… if ya feed ‘im cake,’ agrees Delores.
‘Only way to get to their village is across the hills. We don’t normally venture beyond them woods, too dangerous see, but we’ll risk it.’
Amy is so grateful she is about to offer them the ‘loveheart’ sweet she’s been saving. The special one with ‘I Love You’ on it. Then she realises it’s the size of a flying saucer to them and will take a lifetime to eat. She thinks better of it and stuffs the packet back in her pocket.
‘Mind you,’ says Audrey with more than a hint of caution. ‘Fairy wishes allowin’ you’ll be there in time to stop them chomping Zak to a messy mulch but knowing those Trogs, they don’t mess about.’
Amy swallows hard. ‘Lead the way then,’ she says. ‘Best get a move on.’
As she sets off, Audrey and Delores are engrossed, chatting ninety to the dozen on the riverbank. She notices the long reeds in the water swaying unnaturally. She walks closer to take a look.
Something dark and wet darts from the reeds past her muddy feet out onto the riverbank. In the corner of her eye, balls of wet fur and pinky brown tails scuttle past her towards the fairies. Three pairs of beady black eyes are fixed hungrily on their prey.
‘Audrey! Delores!’ she shouts. ‘Look out! Water rats!’
With jet propelled precision of their tiny wings, Audrey and Delores flash into the air, leaving the rats on the ground running in circles, snapping their sharp yellow teeth at thin air.
When the rats have disappeared back into the water Audrey and Delores return to the riverbank. ‘Phew that was close. Filthy little bleeders. We owe ya, Miss. If it weren’t for you….’ says Audrey.
‘I didn’t think rats ate fairies,’ says Amy.
‘Oh yeah, right little fairy gobblers they are. They eat anything. Not called vermant dustbins for nothing are they?’
‘Vermin Audrey,’ says Delores.
‘Rats…. They’re vermin dustbins.’
‘Oh whatever, Miss here knows what I mean and don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking…’
‘Anyway, shall we go?’ asks Amy, embarrassed by their bickering.
‘Err yeah, hold on… a jiffy. I err… forgot to say,’ says Audrey.
‘Really? Not like you to forget something is it?’ says Amy.
‘To get to the Giants village we’ll have to cross the river.’
‘So….’ says Amy. ‘I’m wicked at steppy stones. Best in my class,’ she boasts.
‘You seen the water, Miss?’
Amy’s chin hits the floor. ‘Oh that’s….that’s different,’ she says wincing like she had been stung by a bee.
‘Is that a problem, Miss?'
Amy shakes her head and walks on, wishing she hadn’t lied. She would do everything, use every excuse and trick in the book to avoid swimming lessons at school. The truth was the very thought of any kind of water, still, hot, cold, fizzy, sparkly, in baths, showers, or basins brought her out in terror blotches, made her tongue stick firmly to the roof of her mouth and struck her temporarily dumb. She couldn’t even begin to contemplate dipping a toe in a river, never mind crossing one as high, fast and deep as this.
‘Easy, peasy, lemon squeasy,’ she says.
Audrey and Delores smile sweetly and lead the way down a grassy lane banked on both sides by high hawthorn bushes which smell of honeysuckle. Out of breath, Amy struggles to keep up with the fairies. The most exercise she got these days was plugging her iphone in to charge. On several occasions she loses sight of them, only to make a mad dash and find them waiting patiently at a safe vantage point.
‘Can yous two slow down a bit?’ says Amy, her cheeks bright red.
‘Sorry, Miss but there be no time to lose.’
Amy keeps going through the woods. A trio of cabbage white butterflies are having fun. She tramples over daisies and picks up what looks like a dandelion, except it’s red. She pulls the flower apart and tosses them into the air. Through the trees, a haven of heavenly bluebells greet her and beyond them, between dappled tree trunks and shady thickets of Hawthorn, flashes of sunlight streak across the river.
‘Phew, at long, long last,’ sighs Amy, exhausted.
‘This be the crossing point,’ says Audrey.
Amy tries not to look at the noisy rush of rapids cascading over jagged rocks, preferring instead to hum a One Direction song to herself to block it out.
‘We’ll never get across that,’ shouts Amy. ‘It’s too…’
‘Ah nonsense young lady. Know what your problem is?’ she asks.
Amy looks away, breaking into the One Direction song, she covers her ears with her hands to avoid hearing Audrey. When she takes them away and stops singing there is a short silence.
‘You give up too easy,’ says Audrey.
Amy stands impatiently, irked because she knows Audrey is right.
‘Don’t worry. Fairies are clever see.’
’Excuse me I figured it out first,’ says Delores.
‘Whatever…’ says Audrey.
The fairies lead her to a rope dangling from the bow of a sturdy oak on the riverbank. A piece of driftwood is knotted at the end of it.
‘There you go, what d’ya think?’ says Audrey.
Amy eyes the frayed thinning rope swing suspiciously.
‘No, nee way. You divvent seriously expect me to get across on that? Do ya?’
Audrey and Delores look at her sternly, arms folded. ‘What be your problem? Lost ones play on it all the time, they never fall off. Do you want to find Zak or not?’
Amy takes a deep breath, thrusts her right leg into the air and clambers onto the wooden seat at the end of the rope, readjusting her plump bottom on it. Leaning back and thrusting both feet in the air she begins to swing. Gently at first, as great swathes of sky and cloud float above, her swinging technique comes back to her.
‘That’s it, you’re doing it! Nearly there,’ encourages Delores, her whine barely audible above the roar of the river.
At first, the branch creaks under her weight. But then higher and higher she swings up into the branches of the oak and out over the river the further she swings the nearer she gets to the other side.
‘Swing harder and when you’re good and ready, jump,’ shouts Audrey.
Amy’s heart is pounding. She isn’t sure if it is the swinging or the gut wrenching fear of falling into the water that is making sick rise in her throat.
Closing her eyes, she pictures her mam screaming at her when she got home and a Trog tearing the skin off one of Zak’s detached arms and munching on it as if it were a Sunday Roast.
Anything would be better than that. Wishing she had told the truth about water, she takes a deep breath and leaps off the swing into the unknown.
Where there’s a will… there’s a way
*- determination can overcome any obstacle*
‘Ouch!’ says Amy writhing on the ground clutching her leg with tears rolling down her cheeks. ‘I’ve done summit. It’s me ankle, it’s knackered. It’s sprained or broken or...’ she protests. ‘Think I landed funny when I jumped off the swing,’ says Amy trying to stand and put weight on her right ankle.
Audrey and Delores raise their eyebrows at her histrionics but when they see her grubby sweaty face wracked with pain they swoop down to help.
‘Let’s be looking then,’ says Audrey.
She flutters close and studies hard. ‘Bugger,’ she says. ‘It be right fat and swollen. Needs time to rest,’ she says.
Amy rubs her eyes, bawling like a newborn baby.
‘What be the matter now?’ asks Audrey.
‘‘Bum,’ says Amy. My ankle isn’t gonna last that is it?’she sobs. ‘We’ve got no chance now. I’ll never get to the village in time, not with my ankle like this. We’ll never find Eddie, go to Trog island. None of it. They’ll have Zak for dinner and it’s all my fault.’
‘Wait a second. Slow down. Hold on to your fairy horses,’ says Audrey, unable to bare the despair in Amy’s eyes. ‘Think you can make it to the shade of that big cool chestnut over there, out the sun?’
Hopping on her left and dragging her right through the dirt Amy hobbles over to it and collapses. She props herself up on the bark of the sturdy trunk and catches her breath.
‘Delores! Be a darling and watch out for danger while we take five, won’t ya De?’ says Audrey.
‘Why me? Can’t you do it?’ says Delores.
‘Well I be lookin’ after our girl, see if she be fit for journey. Run along now,’ says Audrey.
Frowning with a squashed red face filled with fury, Delores zips high into the branches to find a decent look-out vantage point.
‘Listen you can’t go on like this,’ says Audrey.
‘Like what?’ says Amy.
‘Always thinkin’ the worst. What you need.’ says Audrey, fluttering her wings faster and arching her eyebrows, ‘is fixin.’
‘How do ya mean fixin?’
Audrey buzzes around Amy’s nose.
‘What ye dein man? Gerraway,’ says Amy trying to swat her like a pesky fly. Audrey twists doubling back. Too quick for her, she outfoxes Amy.
It’s a tight squeeze but Audrey just about manages to fit up Amy’s left nostril. After she disappears up it, Amy rubs her itchy nose. It tingles, like an enormous sneeze is brewing. The sensation is strong, like a volcano about to blow. Amy sticks her finger up it, rummages around and flicks out a humongous green bogey. Still no sign of Audrey. Amy tilts her head back.
‘Ahh, ahh, ahh, tishoo,’ she sneezes.
Audrey flies out of her nose like she’d been shot out of a cannon and lands with a bump on the ground, covered from head to toe in slimy goo but otherwise unscathed.
‘Ah yuck,’ says Audrey. ‘The things I do for you. I hate snot!’
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ asks Amy, outraged. ‘Invading my private… private nose like that?’
‘I had to sprinkle o’ course, with my wand like,’
‘The dust me luvvie. The do dust.’
‘Up me nose?'
‘Yeah, trust me see, that be the only place it works, nowhere else.’
‘Is it like a magic spell or summit?’
‘Well not really. It’s not magic exactly, we leave that up to wizards and warlocks and the like. Fairy dust be different see, See it be all in the mind, psychoswizzical like.’
‘Psycho what?’ asks Amy.
‘Well to be perfectly honest, I not be entirely sure whether it works or not. But it be psychoswizzical. It be all in the mind. If you believe in something enough you can do it.'
‘Is that right?’ asks Amy.
‘Well yeah... I mean people where you come from pay a lot of money for it. It's like hypnosis, counselling, psych psycho what’s it therapy all rolled into one. Its all about the power of positive thinking, helps you do stuff you wouldn’t normally be able. To be assertive, achieve your goals, that sort of stuff.’
‘What? Like bein' a bossy boots ya mean?’
‘Well kind of.’
‘Wow. Not sure I need any help with that but thanks anyway.’
‘Happy to oblige Miss. All part o’ the service,’ says Audrey.
‘Hey, I think it’s startin’ to work already,’ says Amy, able to put weight on her foot.
‘Whey ya bugger,’ says Amy. ‘I’ll be…that must be good stuff cos I think me ankle’s better…Howay what you waitin’ for then? Get your fat fairy bums in gear, I think we’ve wasted enough time already don’t you?’