Jenny and the Monster

liljennya

This is Jenny. She is six and a half years old. She lives with her mum and dad and her dog Spot.

jennychris

Jenny’s house is close to a lovely field and a big forest. So is the home of her best friend Chris. They like to come to the field and play.

cjwoods

Chris liked to come to the field, but he didn’t like the forest because it was dark and spooky. ‘I hear there’s a monster in there,’ said Chris.

‘No there isn’t,’ said Jenny, ‘There’s no such things as monsters. I’ll go into the woods and show you.’

jenfor

Jenny went into the dark and spooky forest. It was so dark she could hardly see anything. Suddenly, she heard a noise.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

‘It’s not a monster,’ said Jenny, ‘It’s probably just an owl.’

Then she saw something move in the bushes. She was so scared she froze.

bertdark

Behind the bushes was a monster. It had purple fur and three eyes and long stripy arms that looked like spaghetti.

OOOOOOO went the monster again.

‘Why are you saying OOOO?’ asked Jenny.

‘I’m scared,’ said the monster, ‘This forest is dark and I’m afraid of the dark. I have no home and no mum or dad.’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Jenny, ‘You can come home with me!’

bertjenfor

Jenny took the monster by the hand, leading him out of the scary woods. ‘Thank you,’ said the monster, ‘By the way, my name’s Bert.’

Jenny and Bert came out of the forest. When Chris saw Bert, he screamed. ‘AAH! Monster!’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Jenny, ‘He’s a nice monster.’

‘Okay,’ said Chris, ‘but other people may be scared of him. We must keep him a secret.’

bertspot

Jenny brought Bert to live with her, her mum, her dad and Spot. Bert liked Spot, and they even shared a big bowl of dog food.

jenbed

That night, Bert slept at the foot of Jenny’s bed. The dark isn’t so scary if you’re with a friend!


2016

Sometimes Jenny wished the night would last just a little bit longer. When she was a kid, a restless little tyke, she begged for the day to come, especially when Bert would have a “relapse”. Nowadays, night meant pleasure. Night meant either going down to the clubs or getting some well-deserved shut-eye. If the night was a bit longer, Jenny thought, I’d get more sleep, and thus be more prepared for school. Did God have a complaints department?

Nonetheless, she showered and put on her clothes and makeup before stumbling down the stairs for breakfast. ‘Jen!’ cried Father before finishing off his coffee, ‘Remember what today is!’

jenstairs

Jenny slapped her face. ‘Oh right. That.’

‘Did you remember to buy a present? You did bring him here, after all.’

‘Yes,’ replied Jenny, rolling her eyes, ‘I didn’t forget.’

‘Well,’ said Father, raising an eyebrow, ‘aren’t you going to bring it down?’

‘Is he even up yet?’ She walked towards the basement door, and her question was answered by a loud ‘DAMN IT!’ coming from within. ‘I’ll get it.’

Ten years. An entire decade of that monster living under her roof, being given asylum by her and her parents, hiding from mankind. Bert the three-eyed, furry monster, unable to find his own kind, having to rely on human beings for shelter. When Jenny had found him in the forest when she was six, he said he didn’t know when his birthday was, so instead they celebrated the anniversary of when Jenny found him.

For the fifth anniversary, Bert had been bequeathed a laptop, allowing him a little gateway into the outside world. He had only spent brief spells outside, donning a hoody and baggy trousers, with his three eyes covered by gigantic sunglasses. Nowadays, he rarely ever left the basement, leaving only to make himself some coffee and to use the loo. With the laptop, he could watch movies, play video games, and utilise his creativity.

Not that long ago, it was decided that Bert needed to earn his keep, even if there weren’t that many jobs available for monsters. Bert himself even said he wouldn’t mind working at a ghost train, but ended up becoming a freelance writer. He had become a fairly regular contributor to a pop culture magazine, and had even started his own blog reviewing corny old monster movies and showcasing his art, complete with a big fat donate button. He hadn’t made a mint, he even took some free jobs, but still made a fair amount of money.

So what had Jenny gotten for her monster friend? DVDs. He liked to watch movies while he wrote, probably hoping the genius of Scorsese and Tarantino would rub off on him, so she got him a couple of cheap flicks from That’s Entertainment. He had also demanded a collection of Spongebob DVDs, simply because he heard writing about that show earned a lot of clicks.

Jenny grabbed the box and prepared herself, feeling the same tingle of excited fear she had when she first went into the forest she had found Bert in. It had been months since she had last been in his bedroom, and once or twice she had told herself never to go in again. Just install a cat door or what they have in prisons and slide the present in, she thought.

Father and Mother and Jenny knocked on the door and heard ‘C’min.’ The family entered to witness Bert losing at Amnesia: The Dark Descent before he turned around on his chair and opened his spaghetti arms.

‘Happy anniversary,’ said Father, as the trio held the presents to the ceiling.

bertbasement

‘Ta,’ said Bert, before snatching one away. A guide to writing novels – ‘Because you said you were thinking of writing one,’ Father said – a big book of street art, and of course, a couple of DVDs. Jenny gave him her gift, he opened it, looked at the contents, and said ‘Ta.’

‘Are you sure you don’t want to have a little party or something this evening?’ asked Mother.

‘No, I’m fine,’ replied Bert, looking back at his computer screen then back at his family, ‘I’ve got a lot of work to do, and you know, I think privacy is actually a pretty good present too.’ He then focussed on Jenny. ‘Besides, Jenny, aren’t you going out tonight?’

‘Yeah,’ said Jenny, as she attempted not to cringe at the stench in the room.

‘C’mon, Jenny,’ said Father, ‘you were the one who brought him here in the first place.’

‘Look, Dad,’ said Bert – for Father didn’t mind Bert calling him that – ‘if Jenny wants to go off with her boyfriend, let her. She’s sixteen, she can make her own decisions and all that crap.’

Jenny almost sighed, but decided to nod instead. If this was Bert’s day, then he called the shots more or less, and thus she had permission to go out. Sure enough, Father turned to her and said, ‘Oh go on then’ and that was that.

‘Ta,’ Jenny said to Bert, then she turned to Mother and Father and said, ‘I think we should just leave him in peace. Like he said, he has a lot of work to do.’ For once, Mother and Father agreed, and they let Bert get back to whatever he was doing.

After grabbing her lunch money and her books, Jenny walked on over to school and had a very uneventful day there. When she got back home, however –

‘Chris?’

It had been years since she had seen him, yet it could be no other. People just have that feeling about them, Jenny supposed. She knew why he was at her house, the box with the shining wrapping paper made it obvious.

‘Hi, Jenny!’ he said, ‘When was the last time we saw each other? I know it’s been ages since I’ve seen Bert. I’ve been reading his blog though.’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ said Jenny, letting Chris in and taking his present. ‘I’ll give it to him.’

‘Can’t I see him?’

‘He’s a pretty private person.’

Chris narrowed his eyes. ‘Jenny, I’m like the only other person who knows that he exists. You know, years ago, I could have called the news or something. I could have come here in the night and captured him and sold him to the circus or a laboratory and I could be rolling in dough right now, but no, for ten years I’ve kept mum!’

chrisjen

‘Okay then,’ said Jenny, ‘I’ll let you see him. I doubt he’ll let you see him though.’ Feeling as if she were Bert’s butler, she walked Chris over to the basement, and knocked on the door. No answer. Jenny knocked again. Still no answer. Jenny had to resort to opening the door and screaming Bert’s name. Bert had his earphones in, and yanked them out when Jenny yelled.

‘What?’ Bert replied.

‘It’s Chris,’ shouted Jenny.

‘Who?’

Jenny buried her face in her hand, ‘You don’t remember…’

‘Hi, Bert,’ said Chris allowing himself in, holding his nose for a few seconds.

‘Oh,’ said Bert, turning his chair 180 degrees, ‘It’s you.’

‘It’s been a decade since we met,’ said Chris with a slight chuckle, ‘so I think I should just get you something to mark the occasion.’

Bert snatched away the gift and opened it. A cuddly King Ghidorah. Bert plopped it next to his laptop.

‘Um,’ said Chris, ‘I’ve read your movie blog. It’s good.’

‘Oh, ta,’ replied Bert, and looked back at his screen.

‘Sheesh,’ said Chris, ‘You know, I’m beginning to worry about you, really. I mean, I’ve been sending you tonnes of e-mails, but you’ve never replied to them …’

‘I get a lot of e-mails. My writing’s quite popular, actually.’

‘Okay,’ replied Chris, who then eyed a Spongebob DVD next to Bert’s keyboard, ‘It’s just…you don’t remember when we went to the seaside and looked for pirate treasure? That was fun, right?’

‘Very interesting,’ sighed Bert, ‘but really, why are you so concerned about me? I’m not human! People who care more about animals than people are nuts in my opinion. You ever see those crazy cat ladies?’

‘I know you’re not human,’ said Chris, ‘but you still think and talk like one. Look, I’ve still been trying to find others of your kind. I’ve been looking in the forest Jenny found you, and been looking at all the paranormal websites…’

‘Those are bullshit,’ snorted Bert, ‘if you’re going to use them to find more of my species, I’d rather it’d get extinct.’

Chris rubbed his forehead, staring at the floor. ‘Jenny, you’ve been trying to find more of his kind, haven’t you?’

Jenny said nothing.

‘I’m happy where I am, thank you very much,’ said Bert, ‘If you’ve come here just to give me a pity party, you can just leave now.’ He waved his hand as if shooing away a fly.

‘Well, fine,’ said Chris, marching away, ‘If that’s how you’re going to be, you’re lucky I don’t sell you to a laboratory.’

Bert said nothing, and let Jenny escort Chris out of the basement. ‘Jesus, is he like that to you?’ asked Chris.

‘We don’t talk that much actually.’

Chris chose only to shake his head and leave. Jenny did consider waving and saying ‘Bye’ to him but decided it wouldn’t be worth the bother. Instead, she slumped down on the TV and watched Kerrang for a while before dinner. Dinner where she would take one tray to the basement and one to her own bedroom. She’d leave Mother and Father alone, they’d leave her alone, and all three of them would leave Bert alone. Mother had asked Bert if he wanted a birthday cake, and all he said was that he was too old for such a thing. An odd thing for him to say, thought Jenny, given how much he liked food and most of the stuff he watched, but whatever floats his boat or whatever.

When Jenny finished up her meal and took the tray downstairs, the doorbell rang. Oh crap, Mark. After putting her tray on the table, Jenny rushed up to the bathroom, freshened herself up and then went to the door.

‘Mark,’ she cried before embracing her boyfriend with a big bear hug.

‘Please don’t do that,’ Mark sighed, and Jenny instantly complied.

Bert doesn’t have anything like this suddenly popped into her head.

‘Have you got any poems to read out?’ Mark asked.

‘Oh!’ said Jenny and ran upstairs to get her notepad. As she did, her mind fixated on Bert’s loneliness. He was the only one of his kind, at least as far as Jenny knew, and had to stay hidden, so he couldn’t do…

No, he was happy by his lonesome, Jenny told herself while giving herself a smack for good measure. When she grabbed her notepad, she went off with Mark to the poetry reading in a taxi he had called. Just seeing it made Jenny wish she was just one year older so she could commence her driving lessons; she almost told Mark about it, but he said nothing on the ride, so she assumed he wanted her to say nothing.

Some people read out their own works, others read Whitman and Blake, and Jenny read out various trains of thought reworded to sort of sound like poetry. She almost nudged Mark to read something out, but he looked as if he didn’t want to, so why bother?

She did ask him if he wanted to come back to her house after the reading, but he refused, saying he was too tired. ‘What a bloody killjoy you are,’ Jenny said under her breath, though she knew Mark wouldn’t likely care. Bert didn’t give a shit when someone badmouthed him, neither did Mark. She was the luckiest girl in the world.


bertthink

Another article finished, thought Bert, puffing up his chest. The perfect end for a perfect birthday. Just leave it for a couple of days, then edit it and send it off. Bert had read somewhere that it was good for writers to give themselves a little reward, so he decided he’d treat himself to some more Amnesia and maybe some Spongebob. Everyone else had gone to bed too, so he had a little peace and quiet, for his species didn’t need to sleep as long as humans…

That, he suddenly realised, was the only time he ever acknowledged himself as a monster. Also, that was the only thing he really knew about his species when it came to how they differed from humans. Both he and humans liked coffee, both he and humans liked computers and movies and video games. How else did he differ, other than looking different?

Oh god, listen to me, thought Bert, I sound like some crappy kids’ cartoon about accepting people for who they are and all that crap.

He took a look at his Ghidorah toy, took it from its resting place and played with it, or rather just fiddled about with it. Chris had given it to him because he cared. Chris kept Bert a secret because he cared about Bert.

No, he just savoured the novelty, he did, thought Bert. He was a kid with a monster for a friend, and he only kept it a secret to give him a sense of superiority over other kids. Not only did he have a monster for a friend, he was one of two kids who did. He had power.

There was no chance he was going to blab, thought Bert as a smile crossed his face. If he told the government or something, he would lose that power. The feeling of having that power meant more to him than all the money in the world, as it did to Jenny.

He and Jenny never spoke that much, but he had seen her Tumblr. He had seen her writing. She had written a bunch of poems and even a piece of flash fiction or two, and had put them up online without the intention of profit. Bert remembered a quote from one of his favourite movies about that sort of thing, but then again, would Jenny’s poetry really sell?

Humans needed money and so did Bert. Then again, Bert pondered, if he did come from another world, maybe they needed money too. That was another thing he hadn’t thought about since he was young: the possibility that he was an alien. When he was eleven, when Jenny first found him, she asked him if he was an alien, and told stories of spaceships, meteors and twinkling stars. Bert had tried to remember flying around on what Chris had called “a UFO” but his oldest memory was being alone in the forest, eating acorns and mushrooms and leaves for sustenance.

Odd that now would be when he remembered that. Not after countless movies about invasions from space and creatures from beyond the stars. Then again, when he was eleven, he and Jenny watched a film about monsters coming from childrens’ cupboards, and after that, Bert spent days and days going in and out of Jenny’s cupboard, yet never found a portal to the world of monsters, if such a thing existed.

Still, this basement, and the house above it, had everything Bert needed. He had a computer that allowed him contact with the outside world without anyone seeing him, he had coffee and toast and toiletries, he had Mock the Week.

Just then he thought that maybe he was the lost prince of his world, destined to overthrow the evil overlord. Well, that was all the more reason to stay on Earth, then, wasn’t it? He was ill-prepared to face against such an overlord, and if he did destroy the overlord and reclaim his royal title, that would mean too much responsibility. Too much attention. Too many people asking him questions and too many babies to kiss. Bert was also pretty sure merely being a politician did something to your brain. Jenny’s poetry may have made his eyes roll, but he did see some truth in her ‘Fuck the Prime Ministers’ poem.

So, thought Bert, it’s better if I stay here because then I won’t get attention. Then he thought if he didn’t want attention, why did he submit so much writing to so many different places. Well, there was a difference between a person getting attention and their works getting attention, wasn’t there? Bert thought of himself like Banksy or maybe even Santa Claus, an unseen being that brings people what they want. Kids didn’t like Santa Claus. They liked what he brought.

He knew Jenny liked some of his articles, but she didn’t like him. He could live with that.


‘Trick or Treat!’

When Jenny answered the door, she was greeted by a skull-faced figure wearing a black robe, yet didn’t feel an iota of fear or surprise. And it wasn’t just because she lived with a monster.

‘Chris,’ she said with an annoyed laugh, ‘act your age.’

Chris took off his mask and rested his scythe against the wall. ‘I actually don’t want any sweets. I was just wondering if you and Bert wanted to come along to the Halloween dance…’

‘Bert?’

‘Yeah, this is the one night of the year he can go out and about, isn’t it?’

‘I don’t think he wants to go out though. Round this time, he just sits around watching horror movies and then reviews them. Besides, the dance is for under 18s and he’s like twenty.’

‘Well,’ said Chris, scratching his chin, ‘I just thought, no-one else knows…’

‘You want him to get put on a watchlist or something?’

‘Hey!’ Jenny turned around to see that Bert had emerged from his hole, now donning his hoodie and jeans, as well as what seemed to be her old witch mask. At first it seemed like Bert was just getting his evening coffee, but then he began shuffling over to Jenny and Chris. It was then Jenny realised how ridiculous Bert’s “human” disguise looked; it reminded her of the wobbly guy from Noddy.

berthoodie

‘Oh,’ he said, ‘It’s you again.’

‘And a Hello to you too,’ said Chris, ‘You know, you don’t need to wear that tonight.’

Bert took off his mask and eyed Chris. ‘Well, maybe I want to wear this hoodie. Maybe I just felt like it. You ever think of that?’

‘It’s just, I thought that’s why you have a little cartoon version of yourself on your blog’s logo? You know, so if they see you they’ll just think you’re a costume?’

‘Huh, you figured that out,’ said Bert.

‘Anyway,’ said Chris, looking over Bert’s costume, ‘does you dressing up like that mean you’re thinking of going out tonight?’

A moment of silence followed, with Bert wringing his fingers – he was wearing woollen gloves – his mask dangling around his arm. ‘I did consider it, just to get some fresh air.’ Jenny laughed. ‘Shut up,’ he hissed at her.

‘See, this is why I came,’ said Chris, ‘Look, Jenny, you brought Bert into this house. Bert, you and Jenny used to be inseparable. What happened?’

‘Okay, Mum,’ said Jenny, grabbing Bert by the hand, ‘me and Bert will go out like a nice brother and sister!’ As Bert pulled his mask down, Jenny shoved him out of the door. ‘There, happy now?’

Bert began taking a few deep breaths. When Jenny shot him a look, he replied, ‘Like I said, fresh air.’

‘Well, fine then,’ sighed Chris, ‘guess I’ll go to the party by myself then.’ So he walked away while Jenny and Bert watched.

‘You were planning to go out,’ smirked Jenny, ‘where were you planning to go?’

‘Why do you want to know?’

Jenny just shrugged.

‘Well….maybe I just wanted to go back to the woods where you found me. You know, because Halloween’s spooky and those woods are spooky, I guess.’

Jenny chuckled. ‘You sure it’s not because you’re hoping there’ll be a female you there?’

‘No, like I said, just for some fresh air.’

Jenny looked down on her feet and saw that she had gone outside on the wet autumn grass without her shoes. With a ‘Well, knock yourself out’, she went back inside.


Bert took a look around at the pavement. There actually weren’t that many people around aside from a couple who weren’t even in costume. They didn’t seem to notice him, so off Bert walked, his mind flooded with images of him cowering under the claw-like branches. Thinking about that actually put a spring in Bert’s step; he had matured now, and knew that there were scarier things out there then trees. He had rarely been out, but he had seen the news. He had seen copious amounts of movies, not just monster movies. He had seen the bombs blow up in Dr. Strangelove, he had seen a backdoor abortion in Alfie, he had seen much more. Mere trees could not compete with those.

Soon he found the field where Jenny and Chris played football, and the nearby forest. It hadn’t changed one bit, well, at least not physically. It seemed to exude a different, for lack of a better word, air. It used to have an oppressive cloud hovering above it, harsh whispers that reminded Bert that he was alone and a unique type of chill that Bert had never felt since. When an adult Bert walked into the forest, he was reminded more of Wonderland or Oz or some other magical fantasy world. There seemed to be a tiny iota of magic hovering about.

Bert went deeper into the woods, embracing the dark corners and the cold breeze. As he walked, he tried to think of all the horror games he played, and his mind conjured up images of monsters – angrier and more bestial monsters – lurking behind the trees. That was more or less what he did when he was a kid, but this time, he welcomed the manifestations of his mind.

When he was certain no-one but him was there, Bert slipped off his hoodie, letting the witch mask flop to the ground. Off went the gloves and jeans and sneakers and in no time, he was naked as a jaybird, just like his first days in this setting.

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The breeze grew stronger, yet Bert didn’t shiver. The wind seemed to cleanse him, wipe away all his doubts and frustrations. Even the forest seemed to grow lighter. Once again he could see the pudgy face of a young Jenny discovering him, and all thoughts of articles, coffee and Chris dissipated.

With his body completely cleared of negative thoughts, energy began to surge through him, and he ran down a path, and then between the trees, jumping over thorns, letting the leaves crunch under his feet.

Just then he felt something he had dismissed as make-believe, something he was certain he had never felt before.

Hope.

He hoped there was a portal in this forest, and when he would arrive, more of his kind would emerge. His true parents, willing to welcome him in with open arms. There’d be no need to hide anymore; in his own world, everyone was like him.

It was just like when he was a kid.

All that energy suddenly vanished.

Bert leaned against a tree, rubbing his face, only know feeling cold. There was nothing in these woods. No portal, no secret door to his world.

If he came from a world.

Bert took another look at the trees, what he used to see as gangly demons. This was his first memory, being lost among them. He scrunched up his eyes and tried to think further back. He thought about what Jenny had, what she had grown out of. She had a crib, building blocks and teddy bears. Countless photos of Jenny as a baby in a nursery had been shown to Bert, yet he had no evidence of having a similar childhood.

Bert laughed, he let loose a hoarse chuckle at what was swimming around in his head. He was home, he was in his own world. He had everything he could ever want, why would he want to go back to a world that likely didn’t even have the internet? If he did come from another world, that world was unlikely to have any TV shows as good as Breaking Bad, if it had any TV shows at all.

But there was no-one like him here. Everyone here made him hide.

He was alone.

Just then he noticed he was near a couple making out against a tree. In seconds, he crouched down, attempting to impersonate a bush, and slunk off. He crawled on the ground back towards his home, back to his clothes. Back to Jenny coming down the path holding those clothes.

‘Jenny,’ said Bert, ‘What are you doing here?’

‘You wanted to find more of…you, didn’t you?’

Bert rubbed his face. ‘No, of course not, why would I…’ Jenny smirked, tossing him the clothes. ‘It was just, you know, a bit of fun.’

‘Look,’ said Jenny, ‘sometimes I feel I don’t belong, either. Times I think I’m adopted.’

‘Well, you would, wouldn’t you?’ said Bert, putting on his hoodie. ‘Don’t pity me. Sometimes I pity you.’

‘What are you on about?’

‘You know, all that poetry you write, all that music you listen to, it’s a cry out for attention.’

‘You’re the one who goes on about horror movies!’

Bert groaned, tying his last shoelace, ‘You’re always so miserable and I have no idea why. You have a boyfriend, you have a nice home. I’m not even human, and I’m happy as hell!’

Jenny stood there, grimacing somewhat.

‘I think about you, I do what you want. You want me to leave you alone, so I do that, because I’m nice! So why not go back home right now?’ Jenny stood there, only for Bert to wave his hand. ‘Come on, get!’

Bert turned away, and suddenly the trees seemed to grow, engulfing him in their shadows. Once again, he was a child, one with no memory of his parents or his home, if they even existed at all. The dark, the blackness grew wider and wider.

He collapsed onto the ground.

He couldn’t help himself.

‘OOOOOOOOOOO.’

He covered his face with his elongated fingers and let loose the howl, as tears streamed from all three of his eyes.

Jenny approached him. Jenny put her hand on his shoulder.

‘Bert,’ said Jenny, ‘I have nowhere to be tonight.’

‘Yeah,’ snorted Bert, wiping away mucus, ‘so?’

‘Well,’ said Jenny, ‘is it okay if I watch some horror movies with you or something? You know, for old times’ sake?’

‘Okay,’ sighed Bert, ‘if that’s what you want.’

So off they went back home, and Bert booted up his laptop to play Mutant Ghouls From Mars. He had already reviewed it on his blog, he watched it just for fun, and so did Jenny. She laughed when he laughed, she added her own colour commentary – apparently one of the ghouls looked like her math teacher – and when the movie was done, Bert let her pick another.

He felt like a kid again.

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Even More Nightmare Rhymes

Nightmare Rhymes
More Nightmare Rhymes

olddrhubbard

Old Doctor Hubbard,
Got out from the cupboard,
Some organs, some skin and some bones,
Then she put together,
Her best project ever,
A little dog of her own!

hickory

Hickory Dickory Dock,
Beware the Monstrous Clock,
It’ll eat your head,
And make you dead,
Hick Dickory Dock.

well

Ding Dong Bell,
There’s something in the well,
What’s coming out?
It has fangs and a snout!
What’s it gonna do?
It’s coming after you!

pumpkinwoman

There was a man called Peter,
He was a pumpkin eater,
He saw a pumpkin-headed woman,
And then he tried to eat her.

The woman said, ‘You sinner,
Don’t think you’ll be a winner,
I’ll slice you into ribbons,
And have you for my dinner!’

Reindeer – Now Available!

reinncover

Santa Claus never lived at the North Pole; he lives and operates in Purgatory. He brings presents to those that have not yet ascended to Heaven in order to give them hope. His elves and reindeer are the spirits of those who died during Christmas.

Meet his newest recruit, Randall, a Christmas-loving human turned into a confused and curious reindeer. It’s bad enough for Randall that he now has to live in a world where happiness and saccharine is forced onto him daily, but then he learns that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has history with Santa, and a crooked man is practicing necromancy so as to ruin Santa’s operation.

Can Randall thwart the evil plan and save the holiday he loves?

Now available as an eBook on Amazon:

Buy on Amazon.com
Buy on Amazon.co.uk

Everybody Loves the Baddie

First Story
Second Story

Everybody loves the baddie. The heroes are kind and caring and want to save the world and all the fluffy animals but the villain is more over-the-top, gets the best lines and songs, and though the kids are scared of them, it’s the good kind of scared. The baddie is the most fun to watch and is the most fun character to play.

That was what I had to keep in mind when playing the Witch in Hansel and Gretel.

There was more pressure on me than there was for even the actors playing the title characters. The show was called Hansel and Gretel, but nobody was watching it for Hansel and Gretel. They were the “straight men” of the story, simply going through the story everybody has memorised. Get lost in the wood, find house made out of sweets, escape house. The kids and the adults watching the show watched it for the characters that acted over-the-top and made lame jokes that still got a laugh. They watched it for the Witch and her treacherous ghost henchman Gus.

From the pantomime’s very inception, it was decided that these two characters would be the ones most beloved by kids. The Witch used and abused Gus, and Gus heroically helps defeat the Witch and her evil plan, but kids were supposed to love both characters. It was like the Aladdin pantomimes; the two superstars were meant to be Aladdin’s well-meaning brother Wishy-Washy and his evil uncle Abanazar, even though the two had different alignments. Both, however, were silly, and kids liked silly.

So that was the best part of me playing the Witch and Harry playing Gus; we could be as silly as we wanted because that’s what they came to see. The story was set in Medieval times, yet we had the Witch say, ‘I will conquer the world and bring suffering to all!’ and Gus reply, ‘You mean like Donald Trump plans to?’ We had the Witch create a potion with body parts, and Gus quip, ‘Ugh, not exactly Mary Berry, more like Mary Shelley.’ The jokes were awful, but they were supposed to be awful, and the audience still laughed. I had never been the best comedian, so I liked getting laughter for bad jokes.

I admit, the Witch in the play had things I wanted to have. I mean, I didn’t want to wear a pointed hat and a Ronald McDonald wig, but who wouldn’t want the power to conjure things just by throwing random objects into a pot? The Witch in the play had a ghost helper (he betrayed her, but still) and an army of skeletons; if I had those, I’d never have to do housecleaning again. If I had a ghost helper, I’d be nice to him, so he wouldn’t even betray me.

The Witch and Gus were not exactly the best of friends in the play, but Harry and I got on pretty well. We’d have a chat before and after our rehearsals, and after work was done, we’d have a pint or two. Even then, we’d briefly practice our lines outside the pub, laughing at each other’s performances. We even discussed our characters and made up backstories for them; Harry claimed that Gus was the ghost of the Witch’s ex-boyfriend who she killed when she found out he was having an affair.

It was our penultimate show. Just this one and one on New Year’s Eve. We had our usual silly fun on stage, but with a twinge of tragedy to it, knowing full well it was not to last. Still, everything went according to plan. We delivered our lines, told our awful jokes and everyone laughed and booed at me. Booing is associated with hatred, but this was the good type of booing, like the Witch brought the good type of fear. Everybody loves the baddie.

The Witch captured Hansel and Gretel, only for them to escape thanks to Gus. The Witch raised a skeleton army that recaptured Hansel and Gretel, only for her spell to be reversed and for her to be turned good. Gus called up this little girl to come up on stage to receive a goody bag, one with chocolates that he called “magic”.

So with another performance done, off me and Harry went for our celebratory pints. We ordered at the bar and then went outside onto one of the picnic tables. We were the only ones outside again; good, all the better to get silly.

We didn’t rehearse right away, however. Instead, we spent some time just chatting about what we did over Christmas. We spoke about our respective families, our respective gifts, our respective dinners.

Then we decided to do a bit more practice.

Then the skeletons came.

The skeleton army from the play, the men in the black jumpsuits with printed bones. As soon as I saw them, I laughed, thinking maybe Harry had a surprise for me or this was some weird way of giving me my Christmas present (the thought that it might even be a proposal crossed my mind as well).

Harry didn’t seem to be expecting them though, if his pale face and bulging eyes were any indication.

They weren’t men in jumpsuits. They were human-shaped piles of dripping black oil, with human bones stuck in them. Their heads held skulls, with oil dripping from their sockets and noses. Their torsos held ribs, their arms and legs held the corresponding rotting bones. They stunk of mildew.

I couldn’t run. I couldn’t scream.

One of them grabbed me by the wrist, and it felt like its hand and my arm had fused together into one. It leered at me, the skull in its head seemingly laughing silent laughter.

‘Here you are,’ it said to me in a raspy voice. It turned to Harry. ‘The girl didn’t eat the magic chocolates,’ it said to him in a sing-song tone.

‘You liked playing the witch, didn’t you?’ Another skeleton creature neared me, holding a cup of what looked like hot chocolate. ‘Well, how would you like to have the witch’s power? All the witch’s evil?’

The creature that had me in his grasp chuckled. ‘It was so much fun pretending to be evil. Just imagine how much fun it would be actually being evil! You could finally do all the things you’ve ever wanted to do, but were too afraid to!’

My stomach twisted, but I wasn’t sure if it had more to do with the monsters standing before me or because I felt there might actually be some truth in what it was saying. In my mind’s eye, I could actually clearly see myself commanding this army, not just to tidy up my house but ripping the flesh off of people who I have wanted to see suffer. The miserable little politicians we mocked in the panto. That bloke who played his radio too loud. The thought made me smile a little, and I hadn’t even drunk their hot chocolate.

‘All you have to do is drink this concoction,’ said the creature leering over me, snatching the cup from his companion, ‘and we’re all yours.’ He brought it to my nose to give me a good smell; it wasn’t too different from the whiff of the gingerbread hot chocolates they sold around this time of year.

‘Now drink.’

Before it could even touch my lips, it fell to the ground.

I was free from the creature’s grasp, for the creature no longer had anything to grasp with. Its arm had eroded away, and the bones that it contained clattered to the floor next to the sizzling liquid. In seconds, it fully eroded away into nothing but bones as its fellow monsters retreated.

Standing before me was another strange creature: a young girl with bleach-white skin and hair and long black fingernails. A toy bunny rested under her arm.

‘I couldn’t let them get you,’ she said, gesturing towards her bunny, ‘The witch was his favourite character!’

Everybody loves the baddie.

Magic Chocolates

You might remember the story I told you about why I don’t buy my daughter sweets anymore. Well, after that bizarre Easter, we had a mostly normal Christmas.  We put up the decorations as usual; I wasn’t strangled by the tinsel and our fairy on top of the tree didn’t get into a fight with the plastic reindeer. We opened presents on the 25th – Elaine got her DVD of Wreck-It Ralph and her racecar set, and I not only got a House boxset from Rob at the office but Elaine gave me a picture she drew.

The drawing? Me, smashing the chocolate monsters from Easter under my foot.

Keep in mind I said mostly normal.

I don’t buy my daughter sweets anymore. We had turkey and potatoes and stuffing and broccoli but we had no mince pies or selection boxes. Elaine got a tangerine in her stocking but no chocolate oranges. And when we went to see a panto after Christmas Day was done, we chose Hansel and Gretel, the ultimate anti-sweet PSA.

We were always looking for a good father-daughter activity, and while Hansel and Gretel was a children’s play based on a children’s story, the leaflet promised “fun for young and old”. The leaflet also requested that children bring along their favourite toy, but Elaine thought that a little silly. She ended up the only child in the whole theatre without a teddy or a doll.

The play began. A giant house made out of cookies and candy canes and gumdrops, surrounded by candy floss trees and chocolate flowers was the first backdrop the show used. A house of sweets, owned and used by an evil witch that looked like Margaret Hamilton from The Wizard of Oz with a clown wig. She leapt onto the stage, cackling wildly, as everyone, including Elaine, booed. The witch grinned widely, reminding me of the rabbit with the mouth on his stomach, raising her arms as if she revelled in the booing.

The wicked witch explained her plan. She needed children so she could cast a spell that would allow her to rule the world. ‘Any volunteers?’ she sneered as she looked over the audience. She was only met with more boos. ‘No matter,’ she said, as she gestured towards the backdrop, ‘no child can resist a house made out of lovely sweeties!’

I knew one child who could.

She even pointed out that her house was made from “magic sweets”, which made me twitch. ‘Isn’t that right, Gus?’ We were then introduced to her helper, Gus the bedsheet ghost. ‘Yes, mistress,’ he said, nodding. The witch danced away to the chorus of boos, as Gus sighed. ‘She’s a meanie, isn’t she, boys and girls?’ Gus asked the audience, ‘She likes scaring people and gives them cavities too, she’s bad news!’ Instantly he was my favourite character in the panto.

The story went on as it did when I told it to Elaine. Hansel and Gretel’s mother thought that she couldn’t afford to keep them anymore so she abandoned them in the woods. They try to find their way home, only to come across the house made out of sweets. Well, in this version, they don’t find it themselves; Gus the ghost lures them there, but not before he talks to the audience about Christmas presents.

The witch keeps Hansel and Gretel prisoner in a cage as she prepares the spell. Gus the ghost decides to betray his mistress and unlocks the cage. Hansel and Gretel run away, and though the witch chases them, they manage to escape. The witch didn’t get shoved into her oven but I always thought that was a little extreme for a kiddy story.

After the interval, the witch looked over the audience again. She gloated that she would still take over the world, for Hansel had dropped his hat while trying to escape, and this hat, apparently, was what she needed to raise an army of skeletons. Skeletons, as in people wearing black jumpsuits with white bones printed on them. So, as Hansel, Gretel and Gus tried to find their way out of the woods, the skeletons creeped behind them. No matter how much the audience screamed, neither Gus nor Hansel nor Gretel noticed the skeletons, thus they ended up back in the witch’s house.

No matter how hard you try to escape from sweets, they always come back.

I half expected the chicken or the bunny from Easter to leap out from the audience and chew off my other ear, and then watch the witch who they would consider their hero. My stomach twisted and writhed.

Hansel and Gretel found the witch’s spell book and used it to not only get rid of the men in black jumpsuits with white bones, but made the witch good as well. I would make a joke about using it on politicians, but the panto had made political jokes already, with Hansel comparing the witch to Farage.

With the witch defeated, Gus the ghost had one last thing to do: bring a child up to the stage to receive a prize. He scoped the audience for a child, briefly revealing the legs under his sheet as he did so.

He looked in Elaine’s direction.

‘You!’

Again, I expected the chocolate rabbit and chicken monsters to make their triumphant return. They were the ones under the ghost sheet, and they would choose this moment to reveal it. Out from the sheet they’d come and bite Elaine’s head off.

Elaine walked towards the stage and I almost grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back. No, let her have her magic moment. What would the other people think of me? Up the stage she went, almost skipping, and Gus welcomed her.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Elaine.’

‘Great! Now, if you want this goody bag,’ he said, shaking said bag, ‘you must answer some questions. Question one, what colour is a red house?’

‘Red.’

‘What colour is a yellow house?’

‘Yellow.’

‘And what colour is a green house?’

‘It’s made of glass!’

The butterflies in my stomach made way for a small glow of pride.

‘Wow, you are a smart girl.’ He was definitely my favourite character. ‘Now, here’s your goody bag. It’s got this headband with these little bobbly things that light up, it’s got a signed cast photo, it’s got a little ghost here, and these chocolates are magic chocolates, so eat them as soon as possible!’

After the cast had taken their final bows, we left the theatre. As we did, my ear for some reason focussed on a mechanical ‘I’m tired’ that reminded me Elaine didn’t bring a toy herself and that I almost regretted that fact. As soon as we had gotten to the car, Elaine took the “magic” chocolates out of her bag and handed them to me. A plastic bag of chocolate skulls – Halloween sweets that were still good to eat (as it were) in December.

I could think of no better shape for them.

I just put the bag in my pocket before we set off. While we were in the car, Elaine played around with the contents of her goody bag. She didn’t wear the headband but still looked at how the ends blinked, she stuck this little ghost finger puppet on her finger for a while and even gazed at the cast photo. ‘We’re going to have to frame that,’ I told her when we got back home.

I kept the skull chocolates in my pocket and kept them there until Elaine went to bed. Then, I pulled them out and threw them onto the kitchen floor. Elaine didn’t want them, I didn’t want them, so I mashed them under my foot, reducing them to something that didn’t look dissimilar to what dogs do on the pavement. After that, I tossed it in the bin, laughing to myself at the mental image of the bunny and chicken monsters suffocating.

I went to bed, only to be awoken by a loud thud.

No.

Instantly, I checked Elaine’s room. She was fast asleep, even wearing the headband she had won at the panto.

Mumbling, footsteps. They were coming from downstairs.

‘He didn’t eat them,’ I heard.

‘Look what he did to them though.’

‘They’re still magic, you idiot.’

I ran to the kitchen.

Skeletons stood before me. Skeletons, as in people wearing black jumpsuits with white bones printed on them. Skeletons, as in what only looked like people wearing black jumpsuits with white bones printed on them.

Dripping, sticky tar arranged into a humanoid form, with human bones sticking out of them. Yellow rib cages poked out of their torsos, skulls with missing teeth and hanging jaws stuck out from their heads.

One of them had the bag.

‘Didn’t you listen to what the ghost said?’ said one of them. I fully expected the skull stuck in his head to move its jaws, but it didn’t. ‘You should have eaten them.’ He slapped me across the face, knocking me against the wall.

They vanished into nothing, and as they did, I was certain I saw a pale little girl with long fingernails.