Last night I dreamed of Groaningsea. The closed railway station had a train again – it was a shiny, black monster with a leering face hurtling down the track towards me. A pop eyed toad, wearing a railway cap, hung out of the window and flicked its tongue to catch the flies that clustered around its head. The station was full of clowns and puppets dressed in stripy jackets and straw hats. A shrieking voice caught my attention as Mr Punch hit Judy with a policeman’s truncheon. Suddenly, a weasel faced ferret, with razor sharp teeth, poked me in the ribs with his walking stick and I woke up sweating.
I threw back the blankets and rushed to the window but nothing had changed. The sky was vast with heavy, black clouds almost meeting the roaring, grey sea in the distance. Groaningsea was still dead. Could I imagine it being returned to the days of the ghost train and donkey rides when people would come for miles to get the sea air?
The door shuts heavily behind me as I pull on it and then run across the empty road to the deserted beach. I try to remember my dream full of stripy clothes, fried onion smells and the tinkling circus music that makes the horses dance.
A sharp nip stings my cheek and my specs are gone. All I can see is a head resembling a dead bat moving towards me; it has to be The Toad. You can always tell him from the fake, leather jacket he wears.
Always watch your back; it will save you frantically sticking your hands out when you’ve been shoved.
I ask them for my glasses back but my voice sounds weak and I feel like an ant before a shoe takes away the daylight.
My glasses hurtle over my head and I get a short, sharp pain in my back. The Ferret cackles that he thought I was a football. Ferret is the other sidekick of The Toad. He is small with pointed teeth and omits a malodorous odour when excited. I suspect he is very excited. I swallow deeply to rid my throat of the lump in it. I dream of being Robert the Bruce – the freedom fighter who beat his oppressors. The sea rages in the background and I wish it was me with all that power and fury. I try to get up but Snot pulls my legs from beneath me and I hit the sand again.
My grandma believes in angels and when I hear the croaky voice of Toad’s mum shouting for her crumpets, I believe in them also.
The Toad answers to the name of Elvis only to his mam, as he calls her. I hear him shouting back to the croaky angel as if he too is sweet and heavenly.
The Ferret sniggers as he drops my specs in the sand. My breath comes quickly and heavily through my lips as I watch their outlines saunter away. My belly is determined to shoot my Weetabix out through my mouth and my legs want to give way beneath me. I gulp down a sob and get on with the job of finding my specs.
I kneel down thinking I am automatically going to set hands on them but all I grab are millions of tiny grains, an empty Dandelion and Burdock bottle and a piece of soggy seaweed. The Thunderous Mother will go bonkers if I go home without my specs. If I tell her about The Toad she will march around to his house and complain to his Mum. She thinks being nice is slamming the door in someone’s face so I’d better keep digging.
“Thine intestines wilt be mine!”
I glance around. I am alone. The sky is almost black and the furious rush of the sea is urgent. A shiver runs down my back as I edge my blue scarf further up my neck. The sound of the wind often gets distorted on Groaningsea shores, although it has never sounded like a threatening voice before. I shrug at no-one in particular as my fingers grasp something smooth like glass.
“Thou wilt regret this warty nose.”
I rub my ears with my free hand. A voice without a body is not possible.
“Leave me be, thou fetid, old skanky breath.”
I freeze as I hear the clucking of a tongue.
“Thou art nought but a worm eating corpse.”
Without a word of a lie, the threat appears to be coming from my hand. I slowly look down at my fingers wrapped around the stone and then quickly spring them open as if on a mechanism. The stone is clear like glass. My eyes widen at the shock of being able to see it clearly without my specs.
A boy, the size of my palm, is in the stone and scowling up at me. He is in a prison cell. It has bars on it and there is a small bed at the far end, a desk and a chair. There is a writing quill sitting on the desk.
“Who art thou? I thought thou wert that devil Ravensmite.”
I open my mouth to reply but nothing will come out. The boy has long, dark hair with black, piercing eyes. He is dressed in a green knickerbocker suit with a frilly ruff around his neck. Huge, shiny buckles sit on the front of his shoes. I stare at him like a goldfish.
“Mule’s manure, that is what thou art.”
I finally manage a few words.
“What… What are you?”
“Marry, I am a grand warlock.” The boy struts up and down within the stone prison cell, like a male pheasant. I am sure that I should be saying something important or clever or well, anything really. It’s not easy when faced with someone who is dressed so oddly. I decide to act as if this type of thing happens to me every day.
“You’re a minute boy in a stone.” I wrinkle my nose to throw doubt on his personal hygiene.
“I can slay thou withal one breath, thou bent nosed fool.” He puts his fists up.
I scratch my head. I’ve never been in a situation like this before.
“Why do you want to fight me?”
“So thou art not an agent of Corpsehound?” The boy in the stone drops his fists.
The boy’s body becomes like a glove puppet when the hand has been taken out.
“Does thou hast a dwelling, thou springy haired oik?”
My hand shoots to my hair and I pat it down frantically. The boy’s voice is suddenly soft and sweet, it makes me want to eat marshmallow.
The boy said something about a dwelling. We don’t seem to be speaking the same language. Some people have started flying to Spain for their summer holidays so I wonder if he has come from abroad. For some strange reason he starts to sob and a tear shaped bit of rock, like a piece of dried snot, falls into my hand. At this point, I feel like running away but I need to know more.
“Hast thou got a dwelling young ruffian? What name do they give thee? It must be Turnip Head.”
“Will Blyton. I live at that house over there.” I point to my home across the road. I thought that the boy was strange from the beginning but when he gets down on his hands and knees and starts to pray – I am sure he has come from somewhere far away.
“Take me to thine abode, Blyton, thou jug eared clown. I am a powerful magician who can grant thee any wish.”
I don’t believe him, of course. His face leers up at me and I stand back in shock. He is handsome until he smiles; his teeth wear a thick, yellow coating as if they are covered in custard.
“I don’t know.” I try to play for time to help me think. “Do you have a name?”
The boy sticks his small chest out.
I eye Hamnet carefully and wonder how he can be of use to me. Would it be possible… I wonder…
“I will take you home if you can send me back to the fourteenth century; I need to ask Robert the Bruce how to decimate The Toad.”
Hamnet stands up quickly.
“Will he helpeth me?”
Hamnet pushes the palms of his hands out quickly and nods eagerly.
“Robert the Bruce – the great magician who can turn evil creatures into a thousand pieces. Thou really art a wart headed fool!”
For a moment, I can’t work out what is going on. l look up at the darkening sky; I then realise what the boy is getting at.
“No, he is not a magician. He is a freedom fighter. Oh never mind. Make me time travel.”
Hamnet blinks quickly and closes his eyes for a moment. He slowly opens one, I peer at him hopefully. Hamnet opens the other eye and tries to smile.
“I wilt make thou travel through the mists of time if thou takest me to thine abode.”
I clutch at the stone and think about the forthcoming journey back in time. If I take the strange boy home, he will call me names and I get enough of that from The Toad. I don’t fancy it. I glance down at the boy again. It would be worth it if he could take me to Robert the Bruce though. I decide to give it a go. After all, I am never going to get another opportunity like this and I can always take the stone back to the beach. I will take a chance but first I need my specs.
I fall to my knees and rummage through the sand at ninety miles an hour with my free hand. Sand flies everywhere but there are no specs to be had.
“Get off thy knees thou feeble minded dog, I do not care to hang around this dreaded place too long.”
I stand up and hold my palm out so that I am looking at the boy. I explain to him that I have lost my specs and cannot see very well without them. He has his fingers lurking near his nose again and I wonder if it helps him to think. The next moment, his eyes start to gleam and he is pointing and shouting to a spot in the sand.
“Marry, the seeing instrument is there. I see it! I see it!”
I sink to my knees again and grasp at my specs. I wipe them on the bottom of my jumper and quickly put them on. Hamnet is jumping up and down and waving his hands about.
“Hurry Blyton, we have no time to waste.” The boy is bossy; anyone would think he has someone after him.
I cross the road to go home. The fury of the sea lashes behind me so I will be glad to reach the warmth.
Once inside the house, I tiptoe up the stairs, missing the third one altogether as it has a wailing creak. Scurrying quickly across the landing before anyone sees me, I rush into my inner sanctum and close the bedroom door shut. I lean against it and listen. All is quiet so it is safe to pull the stone out of my pocket. I proudly tell him that I have brought him home. I wait for him to be flabbergasted at my fantastic bedroom.
Hamnet peers through the stone.
“Are thee a servant Blyton?”
I shake my head. Once again, I am lost for words as I watch Hamnet gazing around my room. I feel a sinking feeling in my stomach as he wrinkles his nose; anyone would think it was a pig sty.
“I thought not, thou hast many objects but thine chambers are a pitiful size.”
My bedroom holds a bed, a wardrobe, a set of drawers and a bookcase full of my Sherlock Holmes detective stories, Doctor Who books and annuals. All of these have been painted blue to cover up the scuffs and scratches when I have barged into them.
There is also my special curiosities cabinet which holds my old coins, bones and fossils. On top of it is a pea shooter, water pistol and catapult. Hamnet obviously hasn’t noticed the precious treasures like my cassette recorder and my camera. I had to wash up, empty the bins and dust forever to get that camera. It seems he is not that well up on the latest technology. I wonder if I should show him my dark room down in the cellar. I know for certain that room will impress anybody. He doesn’t deserve to go there. I will ignore Hamnet’s comments because he never says anything nice. To get my own back, I order him to make me time travel.
Hamnet sits down at his desk. He rummages around in the drawer and then takes some parchments out and places them on the desk. He runs his index finger along the parchment and tuts. He then mutters to himself. I am impressed. Suddenly, Hamnet springs up and reads aloud from the parchment.
“To the fourteenth century, send this
To behold a squire, a knight, or a
Hamnet waves his hands about grandly whilst my stomach churns but nothing happens. He picks his nose with his little finger; removes a bogey, looks at it and then flicks it in the air. He then seems to remember me standing there waiting.
“It wilt happen later, septic earache. Hamnet will keep thee safest when thou goest to the fourteenth century.”
I open my mouth to protest but Hamnet walks to the back of the cell and the stone becomes a dull pebble. I rub it and knock on it but nothing happens.
I look through the bedroom window. The rain pours down like a river and the wind sounds like a giant cow mooing. I sigh, nothing has happened. I hold the stone and stare at it. No matter how hard I stare, I am in the twentieth century. Even when I screw my eyes up and grunt hard, I am still in my own 1970s bedroom. As you can imagine, I do not know what to do. One moment, I am on the brink of a time travelling adventure with an insulting boy in a stone – the next moment – nothing. Life just isn’t fair.
I grab a book called Medieval England off the bookshelf. I hurriedly flick through the pages to find what I want and then leave it open on the bed. Perhaps I am not concentrating enough. I hold the stone in my hand and place it over the book to give Hamnet a flavour of what I want. There is a picture of Robert the Bruce fighting his oppressors, the English, on one page and monks outside a monastery on the other page. I sigh; the Slade posters still hang on my bedroom walls and the stone lies flat and grey.
I shout out that I wish to travel back in time. It doesn’t work but I can’t give up. I would never have a flashy camera if I wasn’t a determined sort of person. I squeeze the stone, it changes to glass and the boy appears.
“Does thee never restest that flubbering tongue Blyton?”
I take my glasses off and rub my eyes. I put on my best cross voice and give him pain because he has gone back on his promise to make me time travel. I finish off by loftily telling him that there is no way that he is a magician. I wait for him to try to better that.
Hamnet shakes his head and wags his finger at me.
“Thou! Thou! Thou leaking guts. Goest to the fourteenth century and fall in a dung heap.”
I pull the stone up close to my mouth and loudly whisper that I am taking him back to the beach in the morning. I accuse him of telling me lies about time travel and as I am sick of him calling me the most stupid names I have ever heard, I tell him that too. Suddenly, I don’t feel as glum.
Hamnet clasps his hands together and falls to his knees.
“I wilt take thee back in time Blyton. Marry, I need to work on it.”
I put my glasses back on. Things are looking up. I’m not going to let him off that easily though. So I make it clear that the name calling has to stop.
“I promise thee, thou mangy rat’s bum, that I will give thee only names of nobility.”
I am about to point out that I have just been compared to the worst part of a rat when I hear a distant rumbling again. I count three strides across the floor to look for the storm through the bedroom window.
The wind tosses the waves about across the road. If I stand to one side of the window, I can see the Floating Wreck Lighthouse which The Thunderous Mother runs as a museum in the summer months. A force of electricity flashes behind the lighthouse in the shape of a fork, this eerily lights the white building up. The huge waves slap angrily against the sea wall and the rain lashes down non-stop onto the pavements.
I give my specs another quick clean on the bottom of my jumper and put them back on. Standing under the yellow street light is a monk with his hood up; he goes down onto his knees and starts to pray. The rain falls heavier as if whipping the ground but the monk does not seem to notice it.
I open the window and stick my head out as far as it will go. The window creaks open and the monk stops praying. As he looks up at me, the rain hits his face. His lips are cracked and thin under the street light. He stares at me so strongly that my stomach churns; I can only imagine the rest of his face and I back away.
In the safety of the room, I hold my hand out as my fingers tremble and I hold onto Hamnet. A shiver travels down my back; I have never seen anyone like the monk before.
I grab the book from the bed and hold it in front of the stone. I prod the book harshly as I tell Hamnet that there is a similar monk standing outside. Hamnet gives that wave of the hand again; it is as though he can get rid of all our problems by waving them away.
“Thine seeing instruments are bewitched and playing tricks on thee Blyton.”
I prod the book again as hard as I can and argue that the monk outside is exactly like the one in the book. I am beginning to wonder if Hamnet only listens to what he wants to hear and that I am wasting my breath. He leers at me with a yeasty smile and I wonder what is coming next.
“Hark, clothead, it was not really my fault.”
A prickling sensation begins at the back of my head as I see the fixed grin stuck on his face. What does he mean, it is not his fault? The prickling sensation comes down all over my head and I know exactly what he is saying. I must be dreaming, surely this cannot have happened? I point my finger at him and accuse him of making the grotty monk time travel instead of me. My heart sinks as Hamnet clutches his hands together and smiles generously at me.
“Thou dost not need to give me thanks; it was nothing, old flatulent one.”
My head is going to burst, no, my whole body is going to burst. It is not just the fact that he gets things wrong but he acts as if he is so clever when he does it. I can’t let him get away with thinking he is so much better than I am. I tell him that he could have at least brought me a knight instead of a grotty old monk. I am on the verge of telling him that he is a rubbish magician when The Thunderous Mother shouts up that dinner is ready. Nobody keeps The Thunderous Mother waiting and so I let her know that I am on my way.
I look back through the window but the monk has gone. I put Hamnet in my pocket and wonder where the monk can be.
I go downstairs and sit at the dinner table.
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