I Love October

I love October. It’s the other months I can’t stand.

From November to September, I have to live in unbearable places filled with unbearable people. I have to live in bright, sunny forests with joyful pixies and fairies. I have to live in caves invaded by gallant knights and handsome princes who plot to vanquish me. I have to haunt roads of yellow brick and meet giggling little Munchkins.

I have to live in bedtime stories. I have to live in fairy tales, picture books and pantomimes.

I’m a witch. I’m the witch.

I’m the witch with the pointed hat and the tattered dress. I’m the witch with green skin and a broomstick that flies. I’m the witch that tries to eat Hansel and Gretel. I’m the witch that curses Sleeping Beauty and poisons Snow White. I’m the witch who is always defeated by adventurous children and brave princes and other people who are constantly too nice and too happy.

For eleven months of the year, I am trapped in a world that’s far too happy and nice inhabited by people far too happy and nice. People who are almost never sad, who have perfect lives and perfect personalities. People happy twenty-four hours a day, 366 days a year. I’m forced to listen to their ear-stinging laughter until October comes.

For eleven months, I live in saccharine storybooks and cheery fairy tales. In October, I live in ghost stories, partyware, decorations and costumes. I leave the green forests for monochrome graveyards and abandoned Victorian mansions.

The people there are also nice and happy, but they’re only nice and happy in October.

For most of the year, Dracula is the embodiment of evil. In October, he smiles, drinks cola and eats sweets. He’s nice, but it’s a genuine niceness; not the constant artificial one I see most of the year.

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein’s Monster as a tortured, anguished soul, and that’s how he is most of the year. In October, he’s a funny, silly party animal. It’s a happiness, but a deserved happiness.

In October, I’m the witch. I’m the witch on the sweet bags, partying and playing with ghosts and zombies who are mindless and miserable most of the year. I’m the witch on the posters, smiling at a werewolf who acts like an overgrown puppy, instead of lamenting the beast he becomes during the full moon. I’m the witch in the novelty songs who dances with skeletons, symbols of mortality turned symbols of fun.

I’m the witch who, most of the year, tries to end the happiness of those that have too much of it. I’m the witch who, in October, encourages the happiness of monsters that need it.

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Night of the Pumpkin Woman

Yet another character from Even More Nightmare Rhymes returns here…

pumpkinwom

I decided to summon the Pumpkin Woman.

I thought that she could only be summoned on Halloween Night. No, it was the end of September, and I heard she had been sighted in a nearby cemetery. I suppose when they said she could only be summoned on Halloween, they meant she could be summoned when the shops sold masks and chocolate skulls. Theoretically, she could be called on as early as late August.

I could have probably summoned her any time I wanted; every day is like Halloween for me.

The Pumpkin Woman was exactly what the name implied. A woman whose head is a jack-o-lantern with flaming eyes and big sharp teeth, usually seen with a knife like those used to carve her brethren.

Using a certain ritual, you could summon her and give her a request. It was entirely up to her whether or not she accepted your request, but people have used her to frighten their enemies, get revenge or even murder someone.

I had to summon her.

The ritual was simple. You had to be in a spot with some relation to Halloween; I was in the room where I kept all my masks. Draw a square on the ground with chalk and place an uncarved pumpkin on each corner. There was nothing she hated more than the desecration of pumpkins; she has been known to attack those who so much as drink pumpkin spice coffee in her presence. Not that I wanted to carve those pumpkins; I don’t think I could do such a thing without vomiting.

Over every pumpkin you had to put a drop of your blood, or in my case, what counted for blood. If I actually had blood, I wouldn’t be summoning her.

Then say the incantation. I did so, and flames erupted in the centre of the circle, making me cower. Thankfully, the heat subsided as soon as the flames cleared, revealing the Pumpkin Woman in all her glory.

‘Who summons me?’ She snarled, revealing all her yellow fangs, yet when she actually looked at me, her mouth shrank and her eyes bulged. ‘Oh…’

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘I thought I was…’ She looked around the room. She looked at my masks. A collection of synthetic human faces for me to wear when I go out. Necessary for my survival and for summoning the Pumpkin Woman, yet often it feels like these masks are silently mocking me, reminding me of what has pursued me. Reminding me of what I could never be. ‘You really don’t pretend to be human, do you? They’re the worst.’

‘Well, it’s just…’

‘Don’t worry, I won’t do anything to you. I know how it feels. Now why did you summon me? What is your request?’

‘Well, I thought I’d get into the Halloween spirit a bit early and watch some horror movies. Would you like to join me?’

‘I’d love to!’ replied the Pumpkin Woman.

lisadvd

‘Thanks,’ I replied, ‘by the way, the name’s Lisa.’

The Hunter

thehunter

The grass tasted terrible.

My first thought of the day. Every time I wake up it takes a while for my brain to start thinking, and it only did so only after I automatically nibbled the grass. It had none of the refreshing flavour grass usually had; instead, it felt like the inside of my mouth was being sliced up.

This wasn’t my grass, and it wasn’t my countryside either. It looked like my countryside; same rolling hills, same shades of green, and yet I could tell this wasn’t my countryside. It certainly wasn’t my farm.

I wasn’t supposed to be out here at this moment. Today was the day of the fair, the day of the sheep race which I was supposed to run in. Yet here I was all by myself, out in the open with the new countryside, the disgusting grass and what looked like a big blob of bubbling tar.

Seeing that made my brain fully awaken, and finally I had the energy to run. Run where I didn’t know, just away from wherever that blob came from. Instead I ran right to it.

Before me stood a man, dressed no differently from most men I’ve seen. Flat cap, tweed jacket, waistcoat, boots. Most men I’ve seen, however, didn’t have green skin. Most men I’ve seen had noses, mouths and ears. The face of this man was nothing but a pair of large yellow eyes and a tube where there should have been a nose and mouth.

Next to him was a dog. At least what substituted for one. What looked like a giant sentient wig with fangs and legs that reminded me of needles. As soon as the hairy lump snarled at me, I ran in the opposite direction as another blob of tar soared over my head.

I turned around quickly to see the man launch the blobs from the tube on his face. That, and his “dog” scuttling towards me.

Faster, faster I ran, as much as it pained my legs to do so. I tried to convince myself I was overtaking the dog, yet I swore I could still feel its breath against my wool. I was even certain I could hear its master laughing at me.

I forced my body to run through the empty fields, clenching my teeth in an attempt to lessen the pain in my legs. I turned left towards a fallen tree, leaping over it in an attempt to confuse the monster.

Then I ran right into another. What looked like a naked deer with skin as green as the hunter, whose antlers looked like skinny human arms. With a high-pitched shriek, it charged towards me, and again I ran, my legs throbbing all the more.

I ran to the direction of a voice yelling, ‘Over here!’

This led me to a wood, with trees similar to what I saw back home, and even an animal I actually knew. A stag, an actual stag, not a green shrieking parody of one. It moved its head to the left as a gesture to come closer, and as I ran into the wood, he backed away. As soon as we moved deep enough into the wood that we were sure neither the furry beast nor the green creature could see us, he spoke again:

‘I suppose he still isn’t satisfied.’

‘Who isn’t? The hunter?’

‘Yes.’ The deer nodded. ‘He got tired of hunting the animals in his world so he went and pulled animals from our world.’

‘How is he doing it? Can I get…’

‘If I knew how to get back, I wouldn’t be here!’ snapped the stag before taking a deep breath, and saying, ‘Sorry. It’s just…I’ve been evading him for so long, and I don’t know how much longer I can do this…’

‘I’ve got a race today and…’

‘That’s…’ snarled the stag before quickly recomposing himself, ‘…not really important right now. What’s important is that we get back. I know where the Hunter’s house is. You’re smaller than me, so you can probably sneak.’

Another screech made me run further into the forest instinctively, only for me to return to the stag once the dreadful noise ended. He lay dead, a bird digging its claws into his flesh. A bird with wings like those of a bat and a forked tongue springing from a twisted beak.

As I hid behind a tree and tried to ignore the giant writhing blob of guilt in my gut, the bird picked up the stag and flew his carcass over the trees. I snuck after it and saw the Hunter and his dog again, the former raising his arm. The bird dropped the corpse near the Hunter and landed on the Hunter’s arm, nibbling on his fingers. In fact, it bit the Hunter’s fingers right off, only for them to grow back.

The bird then perched on the Hunter’s cap as the Hunter grabbed the corpse and drug it away. I followed, trying to make as little noise as possible, my eyes fixated on the stag who would probably still be alive if I hadn’t been teleported here.

Soon we arrived at a huge monochrome mansion, looking like a giant tombstone with windows and a door. In front of the house was a stone table, which the hunter placed the stag’s corpse onto. As I dove into a nearby bush, the Hunter pulled a knife from his pocket and slit open the stag’s stomach. Then he walked away as the dog and the bird feasted on the stag’s entrails.

I closed my eyes, yet they were forced open when I heard a slurping sound followed by the stag’s scream.

The Hunter had extended the tube on his face, and it dug into the stag’s neck. The stag writhed and screamed.

I bleated in fear, only for the bird to dive for me.

I woke up. I woke up and my brain switched on instantly. I so wanted to say, ‘It was all a dream,’ but then I heard, ‘That was too easy. Let’s have a more challenging hunt this time.’

Joke Books

Telling bad jokes incessantly was a habit that it took a long time for me to grow out of. When I was a kid, I owned pretty much every joke book ever published, and I spent more time memorising them than I did my history and maths books. Every knock-knock, every doctor-doctor, every creature that had ever crossed the road or found itself in someone’s soup; I knew them all and I recited them constantly to my friends, even if they had heard the same ones multiple times.

It even continued to my adulthood. I did tell more “adult” jokes, but I still remembered the ones from my childhood.  On a snowy day, I couldn’t help but mention a fusion of a snowman and a shark, or the happy schoolchildren who had been promised a test “come rain or shine”.

It only got worse when I started dating Harriet, who worked at the local library. She did introduce me to a lot of her favourite novels, so she did help me expand my horizons. However, my favourite books remained the ones from my childhood, so when I walked into the library to meet up with her as her shift was finishing, I couldn’t help but ask for An Encounter With A Tiger by Claude Armoff or The Hangover by Ed Ache. Every request would be met with an eye-roll and a ‘Very clever’ and never a genuine laugh, yet I kept doing it.

That is, until that one Autumn day.

I had just finished work and Harriet was finishing her shift, so off I skipped to the library, not even noticing the leaves sticking on my shoes as I neared the entrance. What I did notice, however, was a book that sat outside the front door. A book adorned with a picture of a crumbling Victorian mansion illuminated by a flash of lightning.

The Haunted House by Hugo First. A book I had “requested” from Harriet several times.

As I walked into the library, I picked up the book and opened it. I figured Harriet had designed a cover with the jokey title and plopped it over some other book, so when I opened The Haunted House, I expected to find the text of Pride and Prejudice or something. No, the inside had Hugo First’s name, and there was a full story relating to the title, though not what I was expecting:

Into the house of nightmares marched Harold and Lance, both of them entering at the same time. Though they heard creaks and groans and scratching, neither of them were scared and both of them stuck together.

The library was empty.

It was near closing-time, but usually even at this time there were people checking books out, kids on the computers, people on the chairs reading. This time, however, there were no human beings other than I, and the floor was littered with books. Books I had “requested”.

I picked up one and turned to a random page. A Day at the Seaside by Rhoda Donkey:

Gone. All gone. Those words echoed through Trevor’s head as he walked across the seaside, or what was once called a seaside. There was now not a drop of water to be found, and where there was once holiday-goers and energetic children, there was only sand and the bones of the dead.

A Visit to the Doctor by Ben Dover:

‘The Doctor strikes again,’ bellowed Detective Harry McFinland as he looked over the corpse. This killer was known as “The Doctor” due to how he dissected the corpses of his victims after he killed them and removed their kidneys. Shaking his fist, Harry said, ‘It’s time to pay a visit to the Doctor.’

How to Get Money by Robin Banks:

Get a job.

Book after book I picked up and flicked through, not even really in control of my body at that time.

Don’t Wake the Dog by Elsie Barks. The book cover was completely black except for the title and the name of the author.

All of the pages were blank except for the first page.

It read: Now you’ve done it.

Before I could ponder on what that meant, the whole library shook.

A bark. A bark that dominated the air of the library, a bark so loud I was certain the windows would crack.

A book’s title and contents fully complimented its author’s name at last.

I dove for the front door, almost tripping on the books scattered across the floor, but I froze when I saw nothing but darkness through the door’s glass.

The barking got louder.

The library rumbled all the more, books falling off of their shelves. Another rumble and I fell to the floor, covering my head in my hands. Whatever was making that barking, let it come, I finally thought.

I screamed at the next sound I heard:

‘Hey, you okay?’

I lifted up my head and there was Harriet. Harriet, and other human beings. An old woman leaving with some books under her arms, a young girl getting off from a seat and putting a book back on a shelf, a kid walking towards the exit with a picture book open. Not a single book lay on the floor.

So after that incident, I was no longer the joker I was. I could barely even stand to listen to them. In fact, when one of my friends asked if I wanted to hear a “shaggy dog story”, I fainted.

Oh wait.

 

 

Lerrs

You know, you shouldn’t drink so much of this stuff,’ laughed Louis as he scanned the four-pack of cola.

‘It’s not all for me,’ I replied, ‘You know how it is when the guys come over for movie night. Stuff just disappears.’

‘Yeah, but still. Drinking this stuff makes you feel like your insides are eroding.’

‘Well,’ I replied as I handed Louis my money and readied my shopping bag, ‘at least we aren’t getting drunk.’

‘Oh, come on, movie night is much more fun when everyone’s drunk!’

‘Whatever you say,’ I said as I shoved the four-pack into my bag, along with my milk and microwavable meals. After waving goodbye to Louis, I stepped out of the store and into the night.

It was midnight – with Louis’s store being the only place near my flat open – and I had work in the morning. Nighttime, however, was when I felt the most energetic, so I decided to take a stroll down the streets. There always did seem to be a beauty in the graffiti-covered walls illuminated by streetlamps.

Against one of these walls leaned a shadow. A shadow that immediately turned towards me and raised its arms, creating a pair of pseudo-bat-wings with its large black cape. It was a tall man, dressed in a smart black suit with a crimson waistcoat and cravat. He was completely bald, with pale skin and pointed ears, but his most noticeable feature were his elongated fangs, which he licked as he stared at me.

He beckoned me to come to him, and although I knew I shouldn’t have, I approached. ‘Join us,’ he hissed.

‘Oh, give it a rest,’ I said.

‘Come on,’ sighed the vampire, gesturing at my clothes, ‘you really go out in public dressed like that?’

‘I could say the same about you,’ I replied, looking over his outfit. ‘Ah, you got the real deal. Last lerr I saw was wearing a £25 Dracula costume from the party shop. I would say “at least you aren’t him” but it’s sad that you’re willing to spend so much on this farce.’

‘Farce?’

‘Yeah. And you got the Mr. Spock ears too? How much did your parents piss away on that?’

‘Parents? I am a child…’

‘…of the night, yeah, yeah. Bet you haven’t even drank any blood.’

With that, he covered himself in his cape and ran away.

Another lerr. That’s what we call them. A vampire who acts and dresses like the Hollywood stereotype. Most vampires try to live among humans discretely, but there are some that find the capes and tuxedos too tempting. Lerr, as in their idol Dracu-lerr. Lerr, as in but-lerr, for that’s how they dress. Like Alfred Pennyworth trying on his master’s cape.

If I had a penny for every one of them who tried to get me to act like them, I could probably afford their ridiculous clothes and ear modifications.

I ended my stroll early and returned home. There were no “guys” and there was no movie night; I guzzled down the cola myself. Drinking this stuff makes you feel like your insides are eroding, along with your bloodlust.

The Bowling Ball People

bowlingballpeople

I was always the first one at the alley on Bowling Night. We all agreed to meet there at 20:00, but I made sure to arrive there by 19:30 at the latest, so I could have some time to myself before the game starts, and to buy a round at the bar, ready for the guys when they got there.

Through the glass on the doors I saw all manner of activity: children running to and fro and playing on the arcade games, people chatting over drinks, and of course, bowlers bowling, knocking over pins. Yet when I opened the door and stepped inside, the bowling alley was completely empty.

Nobody sat at the tables.

Nobody played the arcade games.

Nobody stood at the lanes.

I rubbed my eyes, bit my lips, pinched my arm, and yet the place remained empty.

In fact, this was the cleanest I had ever seen the place; the carpets were vacuumed thoroughly, and there wasn’t a single discarded wrapper or cup to be found. My mind forced itself to explain what had happened here; I even said to myself, ‘Guess I really can’t hold my drink.’ As I looked around for the janitor who would show me the way out, my eye caught a sign on one of the arcade games:

‘This machine is for display purposes  only’.

At this I turned around towards the door, only to find…a different door. Not a double-door with little windows, but a single wooden door, looking more like it belonged in a mansion then in a bowling alley. There I stood, inwardly debating with myself whether or not to open it, when it opened by itself.

In stepped a woman wearing a white shirt with an id card. She had a bowling ball for a head.

In stepped a man wearing a tweed jacket and a mortar board. He had a bowling ball for a head.

In stepped several children in uniform, all of them with bowling balls for heads.

Big round heads with three holes – two eyes and a mouth. All of them green, but made of flesh instead of resin.

‘Oh, what luck,’ said the woman, clasping her hands, ‘we have a spokesperson! And I thought a portal would never appear in this room…’

I wanted to ask her about the portal, ask her how to get back home, yet all I could do was stand there and wheeze.

‘He doesn’t seem to want to talk,’ snorted the man, the teacher.

‘Well,’ said the woman, ‘this is a recreation of what our species inspired when we visited Earth. We explained to the humans our culture, our inventions, our discoveries and yet the only thing they paid attention to was our heads.’

‘And class,’ said the teacher to the children, ‘here we have an example of a human; as distasteful as I thought they would be.’ At that point I had a good mind to slap the teacher or punch him in his tiny face, yet I remained frozen.

‘Can you speak?’ asked the guide, ‘Maybe you’d like to tell us about this game our visits inspired?’

‘I…’ It hurt to speak, yet I forced the words out in vain hopes that they’d show me how to get back home. ‘You…have these balls that…’ I almost said ‘look like your heads’ but chose not to; I’m not sure if I did so to avoid offending them or if because they already knew that. ‘…are made of resin and you pick them up and throw them at pins.’

‘You mean the pointy things?’ asked a child.

‘No, pins are what you call these…well, they’re things you have to knock over. If you get them all, you get a strike…’

Another child spoke up. ‘Isn’t that when people march with signs and stuff?’

‘Well, but this is different…this is…’

The teacher sighed. ‘We had so much to tell the humans, and what do the humans tell us?’

‘Don’t worry,’ sighed the guide, ‘visits to other worlds are temporary ones. You’ll reappear in your own world soon enough.’ Then her, the teacher and his students all just stared at me, arms folded, waiting for me to disappear. I don’t know how long I spent staring at them before I rematerialized back in my own world, but I know it was too long.

When I came back to the bowling alley, no-one apparently noticing I had appeared out of thin air, I had to leave as soon as possible. In fact, I never again joined my friends for a bowling night; every bowling ball I look at, every disembodied head, seems to have a judgemental stare.

The Lemon Possum vs. Karl the Kangaroo Round 2

This story follows on from Karl the Kangaroo, The Lemon Possum vs Karl the Kangaroo, The Kangaroo and the Comedian and Karl’s Daughter so it is suggested you read those four stories before this one. In fact, this story takes place directly after Karl’s Daughter. The Lemon Possum also appears in The Lemon Possum, The Lemon Possum 2 and The Lemon Possum’s Evil Easter.


Karl had trashed Sadie’s room. He tore down every poster, threw down the ceramic skulls and the monster figurines, ripped out pages from her books. For the grand finale, he lifted her guitar over his head and thrust it to the floor. He was sure he had seen one of Sadie’s musicians do that. A human musician.

He had just done something Sadie didn’t want him to do. Sadie wanted him to be honest, to admit what a nasty little creature he was. So he went and invited an employee to his home so he could pretend to be a welcoming host, he could pretend to be a loving father, he could pretend to be…

Well, he couldn’t pretend to be human. He pretty much was one.

More images from his past manifested into his mind. Sadie had tried to shave her fur to be more like her classmates, and Karl told her she should be proud of who she was. Later, Sadie wondered if she could have surgery. Surgery to remove her tail, make her ears rounder, make her nose pointier.

At that moment, Karl considered such a surgery for himself.

Karl looked around at the bedroom he had ruined. This is what Sadie would have wanted, he said to himself. She threw away her clothes so she could be a regular kangaroo. No talking, no computers, just hopping around….

Where was she? Did she get back to Australia? Karl forced pictures into his head, fantasies to combat his painful memories. Perhaps Sadie stowed away on an airplane, he thought, and she went back home. She was in the outback, hopping around with Karl’s grandson or granddaughter in her pouch.

No, thought Karl, if she had children, they wouldn’t be my grandchildren.

I’m not her father.

With that little wannabe-author out of the house, Karl thought he’d be further honest with himself. He’d be the lonely, miserable rich man everyone saw him as, because that’s who he was. Adopting Sadie, he thought, was probably an attempt to get away from that stereotype.

She was just a tool.

He was a wretched old miser and that’s what he was going to be for the rest of his life. Sadie didn’t matter anymore; he was going to care about no-one but himself because that was the way, it seemed, the world was supposed to be. No-one was going to come to show him the joy he was missing out on, no-one was coming to save his soul. The copywriter only wanted a bigger paycheck, as did the other workers.

They were humans, after all.

Despite thinking himself more man than kangaroo, Karl had a meal of a pile of grass before retiring to bed, staring at the ceiling before falling into a dreamless sleep. When he awoke, his mind randomly played back his days at the theatre, when he first learned to speak. He remembered every joke he made in every pantomime, including one parents found iffy: he held up a bottle of bleach and said, ‘If you drink this, you’ll die, but you’ll have a nice finish.’

The theatre. The beginning of the end.

A familiar figure appeared – yes, popped into existence – before Karl. She sat at the foot of his bed, leering at him like a goblin. The Lemon Possum, that overgrown magical rat who wanted him to sell games that promoted unhealthy eating. Karl could only laugh at her reappearance.

‘You’re not real,’ Karl said.

‘What?’

‘You’re not here,’ said Karl as he got up out of bed, ‘I’m just going to close my eyes, re-open them, and then you’ll be gone.’ He did just that, but not only was the Lemon Possum still there, she was waving a poster in front of Karl. A poster of a younger Karl, the Joyful Little Joey.

‘This is how you were supposed to be,’ the possum continued, ‘you made people happy by dancing.’

‘And look where that got me.’

‘Why don’t you go back to dancing?’ The possum smirked at Karl. ‘You could bring people much more pleasure and joy than you could with your mobile games and your mummy issues.’

‘I don’t bring anyone pleasure or joy. That’s just the way I am.’

The possum pointed to the poster. ‘Are you sure this is not the way you’re supposed to be? Everyone loved you when you were a happy, dancing little kangaroo, and now you want to be a grump.’

‘I’m supposed to be a “grump”.’

The possum let loose a vicious laugh that stung Karl’s ears. ‘Look at you, the mighty Karl the Kangaroo, who beat up little old me, now sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. You don’t scare me.  You’re pathetic. You wanted to entertain children, to bring them joy but all you do is mope. And all because of your mummy. Because of little Sadie…’

Karl looked the possum directly in the eye. ‘Don’t you dare mention Sadie to me,’ he spat.

‘But Sadie was a mistake.’

Karl gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes. ‘What have you done to her?’

‘I’ve done nothing to her. After she left you, she decided to become a normal kangaroo. Now she’s at your local zoo.’ The possum smiled wider, revealing her fangs. ‘That’s how much she hates you. She’d rather regress than live with you. I haven’t done anything to her, but maybe you could. If she’s making you that miserable, why don’t you…’

Karl struck the possum across the face, only for the possum to laugh again. ‘Go ahead and pummel me, it won’t change anything. She’ll still hate you, your workers will still hate you, you’ll still hate you. That Joyful Little Joey will still be a waste of space.’

‘I’m not making your little game,’ snarled Karl, ‘so if this is…’

‘No, I just like seeing people who defeated me miserable. Now, if you excuse me, I have sweets to share.’ Then she vanished.

The first thing Karl did after the possum disappeared was go to his computer and look up the Larford Zoo. Sure enough, there on the newsletter, was Sadie, older and unclothed, but unmistakably her. The newsletter was congratulating her on giving birth. A son. Her son, but not Karl’s grandson.

The Lemon Possum or whatever she was spoke the truth about Sadie.

She had left the poster behind. Karl picked it up, his hands trembling.

The little joey, on stage with the stick and the straw hat and the big smile.

That was Karl. That was who he was supposed to be.

Karl wasn’t the creature he was meant to be. He hadn’t been for years, and he could never be again.

A voice within told him to go visit Sadie. He would go to the zoo, see her and her child and apologise. Sadie would forgive him, they’d let him into her enclosure and they’d hug. He’d hug her, and then the little joey gets a hug from both mother and grandfather.

No. That wouldn’t happen. Sadie wouldn’t forgive him. She went to the zoo so she wouldn’t be like him.

He was still pretending.

He pretended to be a good father. He pretended to be a miserable miser pretending to be a good father.

He pretended to be a miserable miser enough that he became one.

He was a joke. Laughed at and mocked by comedians and a stupid little magic possum.

Karl stumbled around his home, various images spinning through his mind. His past, the theatre, the hours he spent learning programming. Sadie, her new home, her possible reactions to him returning to her. His life, his fragile, fraudulent life.

Into the kitchen stumbled Karl. From his cupboard he pulled out a bottle of bleach.

‘If you drink this, you’ll die, but you’ll have a nice finish.’

That’s what they wanted, wasn’t it? The workers wanted their mean old boss gone, Sadie wanted to be rid of her father forever, even mother…

He threw the bleach to the ground. No. That’s what the Lemon Possum wanted him to do.

He was going to see Sadie.

After shaking his head as if that would knock the unpleasant fantasies out, Karl got dressed, putting on his head a porkpie hat that hid his ears. It made him look like an anachronism, but it did mean that Sadie would be less likely to recognise him.

Sure enough, when he walked over to the zoo, barely anyone seemed to recognise him. Though he thought he did hear the word “Karl” uttered near him a couple of times, he thought it was more likely someone else with the same name being talked about, or a mishearing. He blended in with the crowd as he entered the zoo.

Entering the zoo was a lot like entering the theatre; the air was filled with the cacklings of children and the stench of popcorn. Pantomimes had overpriced fairy wands; zoos had overpriced sticks with chomping animal heads.

Karl took a look at the other animals – the giraffes, the elephants, even the bats – and briefly wondered if, given the chance, they would live in a house or program a game or speak. None of these were human, or pretending to be, they were simple animals and seemingly content to be so. An uncomplicated life with nothing to worry about.

No wonder Sadie went here.

When Karl saw the signpost pointing towards the kangaroo exhibit, he took a deep breath, lowered his hat and walked slowly in that direction. He prepared himself for whatever reaction Sadie might have, he prepared himself for her spitting in his face, grabbing him by the collar, or slandering him right in front of the crowd.

She danced. A huge crowd had gathered around to see her put on a little dance. Her and her joey. She leapt about with her child in her pouch, before lifting the child and twirling him around. Then she held her child in the air and stood as the crowd applauded.

She was happy. She was comfortable. She was just like the little joey on the poster.

When Karl got back home, he tore the poster to pieces and threw them in the bin. He no longer had an urge to think about the past, but he had a good feeling about the future.