Easter’s Greatest Villain

First impressions of Barry Branford might lead you to believe he was one of the most hated men in town, looking and sounding for all the world like a cigar-chomping, greedy fat cat. He seemed to have a perpetual evil eye, he owned the Branford Cereal Company that produced bran flakes and other unfun cereals, he had lots of money but no wife or children. The people who knew him, however, didn’t hate him, though he was more tolerated than he was loved. The cereals his company produced were popular and his employees would mostly say they were paid well and they enjoyed their work. Someone who had worked for both Branford and a certain kangaroo said he much preferred the former to the latter.

His most noticeable quality, however, was his hatred of all things sweet.

When Branford started his company using money he inherited from his father, he at first only produced the cereal he shared his name with, later producing porridge, muesli and cornflakes after his bran sold well. Never did the Branford company produce sugary children’s cereal with a cartoon animal looking downwards on the box. They had cornflakes, but not frosted cornflakes, no chocolate ones. Especially not chocolate cornflakes.

Chocolate, said Branford, was the worst of all. ‘It’s the most persuasive one,’ he said, ‘Of all the sweets, it’s the one most promoted, most exposed. You can’t turn on your television without seeing someone munching on it.’ Every employee who gave him chocolate as a gift would have to watch said gift being tossed into a furnace.

At one point, the Branford Cereal Company ran a promotional competition where certain cereal boxes would hide a pass entitling the buyer to a free tour of Branford’s cereal factory – only for that competition to be overshadowed by a similar competition a chocolate factory was running. Barry fumed for days when that happened, but soon he calmed down and had apparently gotten over his chocolate hatred. Him speaking of chocolate became rarer and he accepted newer employee’s chocolate and sweet gifts.

This was not to last, for one day, he had an announcement for all his employees:

‘A rise for anyone who brings me the Easter Bunny!’

He then went on to explain that not only was this “fiendish creature” breaking into people’s houses, but giving their children chocolate when there were healthier treats to give out. ‘He should be easy to catch too,’ Branford added, ‘he not only delivers eggs to your home, but hides them around the place and writes riddles while he’s there. He lingers longer than a certain Christmas icon.’

None of Branford’s employees told him they refused to do it, for fear of being fired. A few of them said they would do so and spent the night before Easter sleeping. For most of the employees, however, money talked, and they spent all of Holy Saturday night sitting awake, with bear traps, cages and giant nets nearby.

The Easter Bunny made his rounds as usual. He dropped off the eggs in the best hiding places he could think of, wrote rhyming riddles for the children to solve in the morning and hopped off. With the cunning and trickery his species was known for, he avoided the traps set for him, chewing his way out of the nets and making cages land on his would-be trapper.

He couldn’t escape every trap, however. On what was fortunately his last stop for the night, he hopped on a pile of leaves covering green tarpaulin and a large hole. A trap set by Richard Rodman, a single father who cared so much about his work, he kept missing his son’s football games because of it.

Richard phoned up Branford about his capture, only for that son of his, Bobby, to come down and ask him why he did it. A few words from the child was all it took to convince Richard to not only free the Easter Bunny, but to join Bobby and the Bunny in visiting Branford and telling him off. Both Bobby and the Easter Bunny gave a speech about how the holiday is about friends and family and not just chocolate and Barry Branford told them he was a changed man and would never do anything like this again.

As Richard and Bobby left Branford’s office, Richard remembered he left his phone there; he used it to play inspirational music during Bobby and the Bunny’s speech. When he opened the office door, he saw the Easter Bunny hand a suitcase of money to Branford. ‘Everyone thinks Santa is so great because he vanquishes meanies who try to ruin his holiday,’ laughed the Easter Bunny, ‘Well, two can play at that game.’


The Rabbit

…when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it…

-Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll


Darla was far too old to believe in the Easter Bunny. The fact that Easter eggs, as well as tooth money and Christmas presents, were delivered by parents and not supernatural creatures was something she figured out long ago, even before most children did. Something like an anthropomorphic rabbit could not exist in reality; they didn’t belong in reality.

The Easter Bunny was said to only come to children who were asleep, yet Darla stopped believing in the Easter Bunny when she imagined just what it would be like to wake up and see a gigantic bipedal rabbit standing in your bedroom. The giant rabbits that walked around the shopping centre at Eastertime, with their oversized heads, eternal smiles and chubby fingers, were chilling enough without them coming into your home.

Easter Bunnies don’t exist because Easter Bunnies can’t exist. That’s what Darla told herself in childhood, and she carried that belief all throughout adulthood.

One Holy Saturday night, when she suddenly awoke from a dreamless sleep and found her body paralysed, she knew that giant, bipedal rabbit in the doorway actually was a giant, bipedal rabbit.

Its head looked almost exactly like the masks Easter entertainers wore, only given flesh and fur. It had gigantic eyes, bulging and bloodshot. It had a smile upon its face, revealing crooked, yellowed teeth, with saliva dribbling down its chin. Its fur was unkempt, which contrasted with the tweed jacket and smart black trousers it wore.

Darla wanted to scream but couldn’t even open her mouth. She wanted to run but she couldn’t move at all – it was like her body was glued to the bed.

The rabbit came closer, and though it was small, every step it took shook Darla’s bedroom. Cracks formed on the walls, with parts of the plaster falling to the ground, the colour fading, and cockroaches crawling across. The rabbit’s body elongated as it approached, as did its claws and its teeth – its fangs.

Darla, still paralysed, could do nothing but look up at the gigantic rabbit looming over her bed, heavily breathing as it stared at her. Though she readied herself for the rabbit clawing her face or ripping straight through her neck or biting off her head with its massive teeth.

It did none of that, however. Instead, it just stared while breathing a little while longer before it opened its mouth and let loose a high-pitched whine which stung Darla’s ears before it disappeared, and her bedroom returned to normal.

No longer paralysed, Darla sat up and looked around the room. No cracks on the walls, no cockroaches, no rabbits. Yet she knew it wasn’t a dream.

She knew the rabbit would be back.

Everything has a price. That’s what the Mad Hatter said.

For years I had been looking to escape this world, its struggles and strife, and my friend told me about a being simply known as the Mad Hatter, who could take me away to a better place, a Wonderland.


It had a price. That’s what the Mad Hatter said. The Hatter had been like me before he created his idyllic world, and the magic he used had the price of making most of his face wither away. He could still talk and hear, yet his head looked like a wrinkled radish with eyes and a few hairs.

At first I thought the only price I had to pay was my transformation into a rabbit. It seemed to me, at least at the time, worth it. I had always had contempt for the human race anyway, so being turned into a cute little bunny rabbit seemed much more preferable.

There was another thing I had to do to remain in the Mad Hatter’s paradise. The Hatter had another “customer”, and I was to help that customer’s wish come true. This customer didn’t want to go to the Hatter’s Wonderland, no, he wanted a young woman called Darla Fromford to suffer vicious nightmares every night for the rest of her life, based on her fears.

Other customers of his have had worse requests, worse thoughts. That “Edward” and his “Carol” still give me the creeps.

The first night of this “delivery” was Holy Saturday, and the Hatter knew that Darla had, since a child, found the concept of the Easter Bunny more sinister than whimsical.

So for the night, I underwent a further transformation. My features became more frightening, and when I tried to explain to Darla what was happening, all that came out of my mouth was an awful, awful sound.

I’m supposed to do it again on Easter Sunday night. Then the night after that. Then the Hatter is planning on making a ghost train which she’s going to ride on and see her worst fears manifest before her eyes, and she’ll see worse and worse things every night for the rest of her life.

I’d be willing to give up my role in this if it just meant losing my paradise. I know the Mad Hatter will do a lot more, a lot worse to me if I do, however.

She was terrified of me. She thought I was going to kill her.

Perhaps it would be better for her if I did.

The Mad Hatter has previously appeared in Dear Susan and The Garden of Live Flowers.

A Night Out


Have you ever gone out at night without a real plan on what to do? Like you had no real pub or nightclub in mind, you’d just go to the first one you see? That’s how humans are, I suppose. Well, that’s what I and Her Evilness were doing one Saturday night. Sometimes when she went out at night, she knew just which bank she wanted to rob, which museum exhibit she wanted to steal or which hero she wanted to fight.

That night, however, she didn’t know what evil deed she wanted to do, so we went out to get some inspiration. Maybe, she said, we’d find some superhero contemplating turning to evil, and we would convince him that was the right thing to do. Or maybe we would find a baby with a lollipop, and steal the lollipop. Classics never die, that’s what Her Evilness always says.

And I believe you’ve heard of her too. Dr. Sarah Sumpford, better known as The Evil Dr. Meow. She gained that alias after a failed experiment involving her pet cat mutated her into an anthropomorphic cat herself. She was shocked at first, but after I told her the advantages of such a form, she came to embrace it.

What she brought up as well was that a supervillain isn’t really a supervillain unless their crimes have a theme, and her mutation meant that we had giant cat-shaped robots, missiles shaped like scratching posts, and balls of wool that could tie up heroes.

One of her few machines that wasn’t cat-based was me, for I was built long before her transformation. In fact, I believe I owe my very existence to a joke made when Her Evilness was in University. Her housemates threw a party with some of their friends. She originally didn’t want to join them, but realised that being social would be beneficial in trying to take over the world. One of her housemates, or one of her housemate’s friends – even she can’t remember – brought up Dr. Meow’s science studies and joked that she should build a robot butler. Apparently, she left the party immediately, back to her bedroom where she put all that scrap metal she had to good use.

So I was born because of a drunken university party. I’m sure I’ve heard of some humans who were too.

‘It wasn’t just because of that remark I made you, Bert,’ Dr. Meow said to me as she told the story, ‘I had been planning to make a robot assistant ever since I wanted to become a supervillain.’ She did want to become a supervillain from a young age too; she showed me a picture of her performing in her primary school “When I Grow Up” play, a little girl wearing a lab coat, holding a large cardboard planet Earth.

That was what I thought about that Saturday night when we went out with no real plan, and I was broken out of it by Her Evilness saying, ‘Let’s go up to the top of that building. We can get a better view of the city.’ As I said, ‘Yes, Your Evilness,’ I held onto her tightly. I pressed a button on my bowtie, which caused a jetpack to pop out of my back. Up we flew to the top of the skyscraper, and it was one with a lot of gargoyles, too. Those were Dr. Meow’s favourite type of buildings.

As soon as I gently set her down, I closed my eyes and accessed my internal clock. One hour to midnight. Plenty of time.

Her Evilness walked over to a gargoyle, sat down and surveyed the city with binoculars. She had seen countless superheroes do this, and she knew that in order to defeat heroes, you have to think like them. Sometimes, however, I think she doesn’t really want to kill the heroes – trying to kill them is too much fun for her.

As she surveyed the city, I remembered our most recent battle. Dr. Meow had invented a machine that would give powers to animals, and was planning to use it on the same cat that had given her her mutation. It didn’t seem to work, so she threw it away, and a few days later, we learned about a super-powered dog solving crimes not too far from where our lair was. That couldn’t have been a coincidence.

Dr. Meow and I attacked the city with another of her giant cat robots soon afterwards, and sure enough, the dog destroyed it. The next day, we flooded the streets with mechanical mice, and the dog smashed every one. The day after that, we attacked with a bigger giant cat robot and the dog destroyed that too. Though a machine that had cost Her Evilness hundreds had been destroyed, I had never seen her so happy as she was that day. For you see, the machine had also given the dog the power of speech, so she could call Dr. Meow her “arch-enemy”.

Dr. Meow had fought several superheroes in her criminal career and none of them had ever called her their arch-enemy, a title she had been longing for since childhood.

It was no surprise that on that Saturday night, she told me to “keep an eye out for that dog”.

I rarely ever lie to my mistress, but when I said I thought I saw her and wanted to make sure, that wasn’t the reason I flew away from the building. It was to commit a little crime of my own. As I soared into the air, I quickly saw the shops I wanted to steal from and dove into them.

I didn’t return to the building until midnight struck.

‘Where have you been?’ said Dr. Meow, ‘Did you find that…’

I showed her what I had stolen.

A box of cat treats, a bouquet of dead flowers and a card reading “Happy Mother’s Day”.

‘Oh, Bert,’ she said with a smile, ‘I had forgotten.’ She snatched the cat treats I stole and poured them down her gullet. ‘Good. Now I have a bit more energy. I saw a rich-looking woman cross the street. Let’s rob her.’

‘Yes, let’s,’ I said, ‘speaking of…’ I pulled out a pen. ‘I also stole this pen to write the card. You can have it if you want. It is Mother’s Day.’ She took it, and off we went to commit another crime and hopefully battle another hero.

Me and my mistress. Me and my creator. Me and my Mum.

My Roommate is a Comic Character

Now when I say that, you might imagine him being a superhero or a detective and the story I’m telling you is going to be about me constantly being threatened by supervillains and criminals. No, the problem with Bill is not that he’s too different from me. Quite the opposite, in fact.

One morning, I awoke feeling a little more refreshed than usual. I savoured it for a moment, then all of a sudden, I remembered that not only did I have an overdue library book, I hadn’t finished the book either. As soon as I remembered that, I heard a thump which shook my bedroom. I ran to see what the noise was, and found Bill under a large cartoon anvil labelled “Things To Do Today”. I screamed, but Bill, still alive, said, ‘No, don’t scream. This is you.’

He spent all morning with the anvil on his head, still walking and talking as usual. Though I kept telling him I should call an ambulance, he kept telling me not to and saying, ‘This is you.’  When I returned the library book and paid the overdue fine, Bill’s anvil disappeared.

That night, we watched a movie with a big bowl of popcorn and a couple of beers, like we did every Saturday night. The next morning, I walked into the living room to find that neither of us had cleaned up, with the floor covered with popcorn bits and beer cans. I felt a slight pang of guilt for being so careless yet when Bill walked in, so did someone else. What looked like a man in a green morphsuit labelled “GUILT” ran in, kicked Bill between the legs and left.

‘Oh god!’ I cried as I ran to him, ‘You okay.’

‘This is you,’ he replied.

‘I’m gonna call the police!’

‘No, this thing happens. This is you.’

‘A man broke into our flat and kicked you! This is something we call the police about!’

‘No, this is you. And you know, things can’t get any worse.’

Another man in a morphsuit burst through the door, this time wearing a blue morphsuit labelled “LIFE” and wielding a hammer. He hit Bill in the face and ran away. I tried to chase after him, but he disappeared.

Despite what Bill had been telling me, I called the police and the ambulance straight away. When I told the doctors and the officers what had happened, all they did was laugh and say, ‘That is so me!’

Bill recovered quickly, and while I still live with him, I don’t interact with him much. I spend more time with the people who live in the flat next to mine. They spend all day playing video games, watching Disney movies and making sex jokes about them. They’re pretty funny.

The Monsters of Bremen


To say I worked at the farm for years would be an understatement. For almost my entire life, I helped the farmer move heavy loads and plough fields, and even when the farmer worried I was getting too old, I made sure to let him know I wanted to continue my work. I couldn’t speak to him, but he knew when Old Agnes was ready when I nudged my head towards the sacks or the field.

This old girl sadly couldn’t last forever, but even after I died, I still tried to help out around the farm. Sadly, I was invisible, so the farmer could no longer see me nudge my head towards work I wanted to aid in, and I couldn’t pick up the sacks or ploughing equipment myself, given that I had no hands.

I don’t know how long it was I attempted to get the farmer, his wife and his customers to notice me before I realised I could make myself visible, just by concentrating hard enough. Though he looked for all the world like he was going to scream and run away, he thought of another use for me.

The farm was advertised as “the haunted farm”, so not only did it sell eggs and flour, people came to see the ghost donkey. They would stand and watch the transparent animal or a levitating sack of corn. Children too would ride on my back or pretend to levitate.

This helped the farm to profit, yet I couldn’t help but silently seethe at the fact I had been turned into a sideshow. Still I kept on doing it; the more sacks I levitated, the more sacks I sold.

The farmer died himself, and I expected his ghost to haunt the farm as well, but I never saw his spirit. Instead, his son inherited the place, and used me the same way his father did. Farmer after farmer came and went, and soon enough, my novelty wore off. People began to think I was merely wires and mirrors, and of course, there were newer, better ways to move goods and plough fields, so I walked the roads invisible.

Where to? I had no idea where. Another farm, perhaps, I thought, though I would either be reduced to be a novelty there or rejected. I passed a funfair and considered joining their ghost train, but then, I thought, being a fairground prop for people to stare at was what I was trying to avoid. Days passed, and I kept on hoping I could pass on, a light would appear, and I’d be teleported to a special afterlife for donkeys, one with endless carrots and sunny green fields.

Then I wondered, why was I even on Earth at all? To help the humans? The same humans who did nothing but stare at me? Why should I care about them?

Well, I said to myself, they gave me a home. They gave me food.

But, came another voice in my head, they just wanted you to live longer so they could get more use out of you.

But they gave me a name. Old Agnes they called me. Never “that donkey”, always Agnes, I was. Like I was one of the family.

The voices in my head were silenced by a yowl.

I was invisible. I chose to be. In the days since I had left the farm, no humans had seen or sensed me. Even when I was alive, I heard stories of animals sensing ghosts that humans couldn’t, so I expected something like this to happen.

What I didn’t expect was a skeletal cat wrapped in bandages.

‘You can sense me,’ was the first thing I said to the cat.

‘Of course I can,’ replied the mummified cat, ‘I’ve been among ghosts for centuries.’

‘You have?’

‘I joined my master in the afterlife,’ the cat said, ‘it was a wondrous place, but too many times I sharpened my claws, knocked over things, bit people…oh, they really don’t like when I bite them. So they kicked me out. I just got out of the museum.’

‘The afterlife,’ I said, ‘how do you get there?’

‘I tell you I’ve been kicked out,’ sighed the cat, ‘and the first thing you ask me is how you get in? Self, self, self.’

‘Sorry,’ I replied.

‘Don’t be,’ said the cat, ‘we both seem to be in the same boat here. You know when I came back to Earth, they all thought it was part of the tour. The museum had installed some animatronics. I tried to ask them how I could get back to the afterlife, but I don’t think they understood me.’

‘Well, I’ve been dead for quite a while without going to the afterlife,’ I said to the cat, ‘but I’m sure I’ll reach it sometime. Maybe I’ll find a way to get you back there.’

‘Thank you,’ said the cat, ‘Hey, can I travel with you? We’re both undead, we have no idea where we’re going, so why can’t we be that together?’

How could I refuse?

‘Thank you,’ he said again, ‘by the way, my name’s Sobek. It’s my fangs that got me the name.’

So the next couple of days I spent walking with Sobek, mostly sticking to fields and places humans rarely went. I may have been invisible, but Sobek wasn’t, and we both feared people from the museum would be trying to reclaim him. Both of us thus looked for the deepest, darkest woods possible, the type creatures like us are said to live in. We thought we had found one such forest, but in a little deeper we went and we saw a tent. We couldn’t take any chances.

We found our forest though. A forest where nothing lived except bats. Fellow animals, fellow monsters.

There we spent a whole day, just sitting, discussing what to do and where we were going. When night fell, Sobek described the afterlife, a place of beauty where only the truly worthy go. When humans went down there, their heart was weighed against a feather and if their heart was lighter, only then would they be allowed entry. There was no need to do that with cats, however.

‘Though with the way they talked about me,’ said Sobek, ‘I wonder if they may reconsider the rules a bit.’

‘And how would you describe the afterlife?’

‘Well, I…the only way I can describe it is it’s like life only better.’

Hearing that made me think of my life, and my lack of it at that moment. So many years I had been a ghost, so many years without food or water or feeling the sun against my back. I closed my eyes and tried to remember what it was like to be of flesh and blood, the sound of my heart, the taste of carrots…

Then we heard a thump.

‘What was that?’ Sobek asked, before hiding behind a tree.

Out from the bushes sprung a sheepdog, looking in my direction.

‘Relax,’ she said to me, ‘I’m like you…sort of.’ Sobek peeked from around the tree. I bent down to get a closer look at her, and that was when I noticed the red stains on her fur. ‘My name’s Sophie,’ she continued, ‘and…I could really use a friend who isn’t alive right now.’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

She opened her mouth and gestured towards her fangs, longer and thinner than what you’d expect a dog to have. As if that wasn’t enough to convince us what she was, she stood on her hind legs and shook her forelegs until they transformed into a pair of giant bat wings. Another shake and they reverted to forelegs, before she covered her face with one of those forelegs.

‘So,’ said Sobek, still peeking from behind the tree, ‘you’re a…’

‘Yes,’ replied Sophie, ‘yes…you know, when I was at my farm, everything was great…I rounded up the sheep, and the sheep and I got along…Sean and Neil and Lucy and all…’ She bit her lip as she looked up, watching as a bat fluttered from a branch. ‘One of those came to the farm. One of those but bigger. It bit me and then when I was with the sheep…’ She gestured towards the red on her fur, looking as if she were about to burst into tears.

‘There, there,’ I said to her, ‘it’s…’ I couldn’t finish the sentence. After what she had done, after what she couldn’t control, how could I say it was going to be alright?

‘Hey,’ said Sobek as he walked out from behind his tree, ‘we’ll help you.’

‘Can you?’

‘Of course! We’ve been undead a lot longer than you have. Old Agnes here has been a ghost for decades, and I’ve spent centuries in the afterlife. There, I learnt a lot about the world and how it’s changed over the years. I’m immortal and I know a lot; I’m sort of like Santa Claus.’

I inwardly snarled at Sobek; though I knew his intentions were good, I wanted to bring up that neither of us had to deal with uncontrollable bloodlust.

‘I suppose that’s comforting,’ Sophie replied, ‘so you won’t mind if I stay with you?’

‘Of course not. Also, Sobek here,’ I said, ‘has escaped from a museum and he thinks the people from it are trying to reclaim him. I don’t know if you want to fly up and look for them.’

‘Well, okay,’ she said with a shrug, ‘I mean, what are friends for?’

‘Yeah,’ I replied, ‘we’ll be your friends.’

Sophie stood on her hind legs and again let the toes from her forelegs elongate with webs springing between them. In seconds, she shrunk and from where she stood, a bat flapped upwards, over the tree tops. After a few minutes, the bat dove down and became Sophie again.

‘I see no museum people,’ she said, cringing, ‘but…’

‘But what?’

‘I saw another farm not too far from here.’

After Sophie pointed to where she saw the farm, we all agreed to walk in the opposite direction. Not only for Sophie’s sake, but because even living animals could sense supernatural creatures better than humans and we felt we should stay discreet for the time being.

‘Also,’ I said, ‘a farm is the last place I want to go.’ Then I told Sophie why.

‘You didn’t like being entertainment?’ Sophie asked, ‘Come on, I love entertaining people. Me and the…’ She scrunched up her eyes before she resumed talking. ‘I’ve always wanted to go into music. I heard that there’s a lot of CDs where songs are sung by dogs, and I sing a lot…to keep my mind off…we should be a band!’

‘I don’t know,’ replied Sobek, ‘I wouldn’t call myself musical.’

‘You have all eternity to learn,’ laughed Sophie, ‘we all do.’

‘But,’ I said to her, ‘I don’t really…’

‘Well, you know, if we entertain people with music, and not levitation and things,’ Sophie said, ‘maybe we…they’ll forget we’re monsters. They won’t see “ghost donkey” or “mummy cat” but us as singers.’

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll give it a try.’ I sang the first song that came to my head – one I had overheard a child sing about the judge and his wife.

‘Not that kind of song,’ Sophie chuckled, ‘I was thinking more of…’ She sang that lullaby. You know the one, everyone’s heard it. Halfway through singing the song, she burst into tears, and I heard her say, ‘If you don’t feel like counting yourselves…’ Sobek and I weren’t the first ones she sang that lullaby to, I realised.

‘That was very good,’ I said.

‘Yeah,’ said Sobek, ‘We can all sing that!’

‘What’s it called?’ I asked.

‘I don’t know,’ replied Sophie as she dried her eyes.

‘I think it’s called “Bremen’s Lullaby”,’ said Sobek, ‘Let’s make it our signature song. We’ll be the Musicians of Bremen!’

After a “one, two, three” from Sophie, we all joined in in singing Bremen’s Lullaby, and for a minute, I felt alive, more solid than I usually felt. As I sang, I felt a prang of pain – a good pain – in my non-existent throat, and I swear I heard a heartbeat.

As soon as we stopped singing, another shadow emerged from the bushes. Sophie leapt backwards as a rooster approached us. ‘It’s alive!’ she cried.

‘You know,’ said the rooster, ‘that’s exactly what he said when he made me.’

I took a closer look at the rooster and saw the stitches all over his body. Stitches along his wings, one bigger than the other, stitches along his neck, stitches along his forehead.

‘I heard you singing,’ he said, ‘it was beautiful. Teach me how to sing, please. Maybe the master will take me back.’

‘Master?’ asked Sobek.

‘In the farm where I’m from,’ explained the rooster, ‘the farmer is a strict, cruel man, especially to the roosters who fail to wake him up at the proper time. If he sleeps in just once, kapow!’

‘Well,’ I asked the rooster, ‘why would you want him to take you back?’

‘He’s not my master, his son is. His son, Percy, hated that so many roosters had failed to wake up his father, so he wanted to make a rooster that could. He collected the corpses of all the roosters, took them apart, put the best parts together, and I was the result.’

Just then, he opened his beak and let loose a sound that shook the forest and stung even my spectral ears. Both Sobek and Sophie squirmed.

‘It worked too well,’ the rooster continued, ‘I awoke the farmer, but he yelled about the ringing in his ears, and demanded my master dispose of me.’

‘Don’t worry,’ Sobek said, approaching the bird, ‘you’re safe with us.’

‘Am I?’ The rooster looked us over. ‘I know what you cats are like.’

‘I’m dead, I don’t need to eat anymore.’

‘What about her?’ He turned to Sophie, her forelegs over her mouth, humming Bremen’s Lullaby to herself.

‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I’ll make sure no-one eats you. We all will. We’ve all been through what you have.’

‘Thanks,’ sighed the rooster.

‘Do you have a name?’ I asked him.

‘Well, the farmer did say “Get that thing out of my farm”, so I guess I’m That Thing.’

Sophie turned to look at That Thing, her eye twitching. ‘I don’t think you deserve that name…I think we should call you Percy.’

‘But that’s the name of my master.’

‘Yeah, you’re the first of your kind, created by Percy, so you’re a Percy.’ Again she bit her lip.

‘I like it,’ said Percy, for that was his name now, ‘It sounds better than That Thing.’

We then continued walking away from that farm, that farm where Percy came from. We all felt it was for the best that Percy should avoid it, at least until we could do something about his crowing. All three of us told him our stories, and he paid rapt attention, especially to Sobek’s descriptions of the afterlife.

‘I don’t remember going to an afterlife,’ said Percy, ‘and I think I should, given that I’m made up of so many dead roosters.’

‘Maybe the souls of the roosters you’re made up of are in the afterlife,’ said Sobek, ‘and when your master created you, he created a new soul.’

‘You know, Sophie,’ I said, ‘Sobek and I are proof there’s life after death, and Percy is the dead brought to life…maybe your sheep friends are happy in the afterlife. Maybe they’ve forgiven you.’

‘Maybe…’ was all Sophie said in response.

After that, we told him about Bremen’s Lullaby, and we tried to teach him how to sing. He was a better singer than he was a crower, though he did almost let loose that horrible crow from time to time. ‘With a bit of practice,’ Sobek said to Percy, ‘you’ll be a Musician of Bremen yet!’

‘Hey, look!’ Percy fluttered up slightly as we came towards a house. An old, rotten house, with barely any windows and moss growing on the walls. The type of house monsters like us were supposed to live in. In fact, Percy said, ‘We could use a roof over our heads.’

‘He’s got a point,’ said Sobek, ‘it could rain at any minute.’

‘Agnes,’ said Sophie, ‘you’re invisible. Could you just double-check there isn’t anyone there?’

‘Doesn’t look it.’

‘We can’t take chances!’ snapped Sophie, ‘We thought we were alone when Percy came in!’ Percy shuddered, covering his face with his wings. ‘I…I didn’t mean anything by that!’

I walked up to the house, and as I got closer, I could more clearly see a light. A candle was lit, and as I poked my head through a broken window, I saw two men sitting at a table, looking through money they kept in briefcases sitting next to balaclavas. I listened to their conversation, and from what they say, I could tell their money was ill-gotten.

‘Robbers!’ I cried as I ran to the others.

‘Living ones?’ hissed Sophie.

‘That’s the first thing you think of?’ snarled Sobek.

‘Let’s get out of here!’ cried Percy.

‘No!’ cried Sobek as he leapt up, ‘Don’t you see? This is our big chance! This is how we get what we want!’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

‘We’re monsters! Monsters scare people! So we scare the robbers so badly they turn themselves in! Agnes, you’ll be a hero, not a novelty! Sophie, you’ll have redeemed yourself! Percy’s master will take him back if he finds out he stopped those criminals and maybe they’ll let me back in the afterlife!’

We all took a moment to contemplate Sobek’s idea and we accepted, with him planning our scare. I went in first, trotting through the front door, making sure my invisible hooves were as loud as possible. Sure enough, the two criminals stood up, pulling on their balaclavas, and looking around the room. Then I made a sound I hadn’t made in decades: ‘Wooooooooo! Wooooooooo!’

‘Hey look, Fred, some donkey wondered in.’

‘Isn’t she cute, Gary?’

They didn’t even seem to notice I was transparent.

‘Wooooooooo!’ I repeated, adding, ‘Tonight you will be haunted by three monsters!’ I wasn’t sure if they understood that last part, but Sobek told me I had to say it.

Sure enough, as soon as I said that part, Sobek leapt through the window, raising his forelegs.

‘Look, Fred, we got a little mummy!’ Gary, instead of running away in terror, stroked Sobek. ‘Nice kitty, nice kitty!’ When Percy walked in, holding his wings in front of him and moaning, Fred’s response was to say, ‘Aw, reminds me of my little conure!’

‘And look, Fred, they’ve got a sheepdog with them!’ Sophie stood in the doorway, with her forelegs become giant wings. ‘Since we got so many animals here already, Fred, think we’ll see any sheep? Baa baa!’

When he said that, Sophie’s wings folded away and she cowered to the floor. ‘Sophie!’ I cried, ‘Let’s get out of here!’

‘Hey, come on,’ said Sobek, still being petted by Gary, ‘it’s been ages since someone’s done this to me!’

‘What?’ barked Percy, ‘This was your idea!’

‘Well, yeah, but…’

‘That does it!’ Again Percy let out the sound that got him banished, the sound that seemed to shake the very foundations of the house; I was almost certain it would collapse on top of us. Sobek shook and covered his ears, as did Sophie and Fred and Gary and I would have covered my ears if I had hands.

And he did it again. And again.

He hopped around, shrieking and squawking, even hopping out of the house. When he did that, Sophie sprouted her wings again, grabbed him by the comb with her teeth and flew as high as she could.

‘What the hell was that?’ asked Fred.

‘Dunno,’ replied Gary, ‘but I don’t find these animals cute anymore.’

With that, Sobek leapt onto Gary’s face, his claws digging deep into his skin and Gary letting loose a howl almost as ear-splitting as Percy’s. As soon as Fred tried to help his friend, I did something my species was famous for, and kicked him backwards with my hind legs into a pile of dust-covered boxes.

I did the same to Gary, and then I sang Bremen’s Lullaby again, in hopes that it’d soothe the savage beast, or at least soothe my own nerves.

‘Listen, Fred, she’s singing.’

‘Not that bad either.’

Soon enough, Percy and Sophie dove in through a window, and they were followed by the police, looking for the source of the terrible noise they just heard. They found that, and two criminals who had until then slipped through their fingers.

Sobek, Sophie, Percy and me. We all teamed up to look for a place in this world, and we found it with the police. My invisibility allowed me to sneak in on perps and eavesdrop, and my hind legs proved useful too. Sobek used the knowledge he gained from the afterlife to help piece together clues. Sophie surveyed areas with her flight skills and was the most effective police dog on the force; thanks to the steaks they fed her, there was little chance of a sheep massacre happening again. Percy was the best method of riot control and their best replacement siren.

And it gave us all an opportunity to work in tandem; nothing helped soothe the others in stressful moments like our rendition of Bremen’s Lullaby…actually they told us it was Brahm’s Lullaby and Bremen is a German town. In fact, Bremen sounds nice; maybe my friends and I will visit sometime.

The Garden of Live Flowers

‘O Tiger-lily,’ said Alice, addressing herself to one that was waving gracefully about in the wind, ‘I wish you could talk!’

‘We can talk,’ said the Tiger-lily: ‘when there’s anybody worth talking to.’

-Alice Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

I had green fingers. My front garden had rows of roses, and there were even more varieties of flowers to be found in the back. Every room in my house had at least one vase or pot; my dining table always sported a vase full of daffodils and my front door was framed by two potted plants. So many plants, yet I was always looking for more.

You know how they say talking to plants helps them grow? I always made sure to talk to my plants as I watered them and fed them, each and every one. Every item of news I heard I told the plants. Anything that happened to me at work or outside I told the plants. Every secret I had, the plants kept. Though I lived alone, I was never lonely. It always seemed like I was coming home to a gigantic family, one that truly understood me.

Every week I had a look around the home and garden shops, looking for more friends, looking to extend my family. Most of the time, however, those trips proved fruitless, as none of the plants really spoke to me. I was more likely to pick up a plant at the market or at a summer fair – suppose they had more of a personal touch.

My local church had a summer fair every year, and every year, I attended as soon as it started. There were always stalls selling old books, stalls for old toys, stalls for homemade apple pies and a stall for plants. The last fair I went to, however, had a strange tinge in the atmosphere I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The same stalls were there, yet there hovered something invisible that made my stomach sink.

There was still a toy stall. Still books and pies. Still a plant stall, and I found myself drawn to a certain potted rose. It called to me with unheard words, beckoned to me with an invisible finger, and it was only 50p as well. As soon as I grabbed the rose and paid the man, I left the church and made my way back home, planning to plant it in the front as soon as I could.

Then I heard, ‘Nice place you got here.’

The rose I had bought, it had suddenly gained a mouth, with teeth and a tongue framed by petals, with two eyeballs atop stalks, making it look a hybrid between a rose and a cartoon snail.

I shuddered as I looked at the rose, almost dropping it to the floor.

‘Hey, what’s wrong?’ it asked, its tiny eyes widening, ‘I thought you liked talking to plants. Come, come.’

It leapt out of the pot, taking its soil with it. It dragged its soil around, clenching its teeth as it did so.

‘Are you okay?’ I asked the rose.

‘Sure,’ said the rose, ‘Just my soil’s a little hard. It has to be, so I can be awake.’

It dragged itself to the other roses. All it did was touch the ground with an eyeball and the soil froze. All of the roses in the bed sprung the alien eyeballs, and yawned, revealing they now sported tongues and teeth. Each of them greeted me with an enthusiastic ‘Hello!’

‘You’ll love it here,’ said an old rose to the new rose, ‘We’re treated really well, and we have such fascinating conversations!’

I probably should have screamed at the sight of these living plants, but instead I could only laugh with glee. This was something I had been wishing for, praying for, and not only had I finally received it, the plants had nothing to say about me but compliments. All of them raised what counted for arms, cheering me for feeding them and speaking to them when no-one else would.

‘That rose came from me.’

I turned around and saw a man looking over me. A man with a face like a shrivelled vegetable…well, it wasn’t really a face, for there were no facial features other than a pair of bulging eyes. His gigantic top hat seemed to be a way of diverting attention from it.

‘I know how you feel,’ he said calmly, ‘so many people these days are revolting, so who wouldn’t turn to plantlife?’ He pointed at his head. ‘I’ve faced so many horrid people in my time, but then I gained the power to find and make true friends! Sadly, it came with a price…’ He rubbed where his mouth should have been. ‘…but it was more than worth it.

‘That rose can bring every flower in your home to life, and you’ll always have a fine partner for conversation, several cheerful and faithful friends, and all you have to do is shake my hand.’

I shook his hand without hesitation.

Straight after that, every flower, everything in every vase and pot, came to life, all of them dragging themselves towards me, thanking me. We had long conversations, sang songs, told stories and jokes, and savoured the rain.

They’re still alive. I still talk to them. Life would be perfect if it weren’t for these thorns growing from my arms.

The Jigsaw Puzzle

Once there was a boy who bought a jigsaw puzzle, one of a happy dog skipping down a field. Despite the jovial picture, the puzzle was said to be one of the most difficult ever made, and it was said that once it was complete, something magical would happen.

The boy indeed found the puzzle was difficult, but determined to see what magical thing would happen once the puzzle was complete, he persevered. Months he spent on that puzzle, the first two months with several pieces in the wrong place. ‘At first you don’t succeed’ and ‘Remember that something magical will happen’ repeated throughout his brain as he attempted to put the pieces in the right place, and though at times he considered giving up, he forced himself to complete the puzzle.

He did complete it. Something magical did happen.

Two legs sprung from the bottom side of the puzzle, an arm sprung from the right side and another arm sprung from the left. A face formed in the middle, making it look like the dog depicted had eyes and a mouth growing out of its belly. The completed puzzle sprung to its feet and struck a pose before it admired itself in the mirror.

It was proud. Proud of its picture, proud of its difficulty. It named itself after what it thought the dog, the chubby, bouncing dog, in its picture was named.

‘Wow,’ said the boy to the puzzle, ‘I brought you to life!’

‘Yes, you did,’ said the puzzle with a smirk, ‘but it wasn’t exactly a speedy process, was it? Months you spent on me. Months!’


‘I am truly challenging, aren’t I? The greatest, most difficult puzzle there is! Everyone should know about me!’

Instantly, the puzzle ran out of the boy’s house, with the boy following it. The puzzle climbed the largest wall it could find and then sat atop it, calling one and all to come look at it.

‘Look! Behold the greatest puzzle of them all! A true challenge!’ It gestured towards the boy, standing below it. ‘He may have completed me, but do you know how long it took?’

The novelty of bringing a jigsaw puzzle wore off, and now the boy could now feel nothing but irritation towards the puzzle and its arrogance. He climbed the wall himself, snarling and…

Well, you know how the poem never mentions Humpty Dumpty is an egg?