The Elf

elfornament

Trevor and I never really decorated our flat for Christmas. We thought it redundant; we spent Christmas Day at our families’ houses, both of which had tinsel, baubles and fake snow in spades. One January, however, we were looking over the bargains, and Trevor suggested, ‘Maybe this December, we can have just a couple decorations, eh. You know, just to show we have spirit.’

We looked at the unsold Christmas decorations on sale; tinsel that cost £2.99 now 75p, £1 for a formerly £4 teddy bear. Most of these decorations, however, really had little to do with Christmas. There were Christmas tree ornaments of Darth Vader – just plain Darth Vader, not wearing a Santa hat or holding a present. There were ornaments of Walter White from Breaking Bad and Batman, and the only thing Christmassy about them was that they were meant to be hung from a Christmas tree.

This gave Trevor an idea; that year, we would create a Christmas tree that was as “un-Christmassy” as possible while still being a Christmas tree. It would be a fir tree – a little plastic one – without red and green baubles or Santa, but would have Darth Vader, Walter White and Batman.

We bought the ornaments, and when December came, we bought a little tree to put them on. We added other things as well: a little plastic pumpkin we got for cheap in November, a couple of teabags, a novelty Daffy Duck necktie, a small joke book. We debated about whether or not some of those things actually were Christmassy – that necktie was a Christmas present after all – but we later agreed we had succeeded in creating a Christmas decoration that was as un-Christmassy as possible while still counting as a Christmas decoration.

A few days after we first put up the tree, Trevor came back home from work with another ornament, one that actually had to do with Christmas. A spherical elf head with a little green Robin Hood cap, with stripey arms popping right in front of its ears. It grinned widely.

‘Found this at a charity shop,’ said Trevor, ‘It’s supposed to be a Christmas decoration, but looks more Halloween to me.’ Indeed, last time I had seen eyes that big and a grin that wide was the plastic skull bucket I trick-or-treated with as a child.

We gave the elf a special place inside our tree. Yes, we made it look like he was hiding in the branches, waiting for his moment to strike, like a lion surveying its prey.

Both of us imagined the elf slaughtering the other ornaments, ripping apart the tea bags, nibbling every needle. We had a clear idea of how his laugh would sound; high-pitched, gleeful, dripping with sadistic joy.

It was that laugh I awoke to that night.

At midnight, I awoke to see the elf resting on my chest, breathing heavily. His grin was wider than ever, his eyes didn’t blink and he held a sewing needle in his hand.

I couldn’t bring myself to speak. I couldn’t bring myself to move. It felt like a thousand of those sewing needles were stinging my veins and my throat was on fire. Just as I thought of fire, I saw an orange light through the door crack.

‘Your Christmas tree wasn’t Christmassy enough,’ said the elf before he hopped into my neck, ‘so I fixed it.’ I then noticed in his other hand, he held a spool of thread. ‘We just need you and your friend to make some popcorn. I don’t know how to work a microwave.’

He took me to the living room, where Trevor already was. He was as speechless as I, staring at our updated tree. It had grown, and now just barely fit in the room. Baubles of red and green. Tinsel. Flickering lights of all colours.

And elves. Spherical elf heads with arms and wide eyes and big grins. Elves bouncing on branches, elves staring at us.

Elves that were here to stay.

Yes, when we tried to take down the tree on Twelfth Night, they snarled at us, as if they were about to do what they did to most of our non-Christmassy decorations.

 

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The Mouse Queen

mouseking

This story includes some blood and violence

Christmas Day. It was supposed to be a day of merriment, a day of joy, a day for getting drunk and regretting doing so on Boxing Day. It was supposed to be a day when dreams came true, yet this Christmas Day, when the Mouse King marched through the streets, brought nothing but nightmares.

Children, who were supposed to be unwrapping presents and annoying their parents, ran down the roads screaming and weeping for the loss of their dear kittens. Adults, who were supposed to be guzzling down on mulled wine, were either trembling in their hiding places or showing the Mouse King where their food was kept.

The Mouse King, a mechanical monster that scuttled around on metallic spider legs. The Mouse King, which had claws and drills and missile launchers. The Mouse King, which had seven mutated, organic mouse heads attached to snake-like necks, the heads much larger than a regular mouse’s entire body.

There were regular mice around too, thousands of them swarming the streets, entering houses they were previously shunned from. House after house had been emptied of all human presence, and filled with mice and rats and other rodents, for that was the will of the Mouse Queen.

Dr. Stahlbaum shuddered as he pondered on the horrors that he had unleashed. It was he that had brought the Mouse Queen into the world, and it was the Mouse Queen that brought the Mouse King into the world. Despite the names they had given themselves, the Mouse Queen was the Mouse King’s mother; she gave birth to seven sons, and she constructed the machine she attached the sons’ heads onto.

Stahlbaum was a scientist, and had created many weird and wonderful devices in his lifetime. Whenever he had any ideas, no matter how absurd, he made sure to act on them as soon as possible. When he found out his daughter Marie had secretly been taking care of a mouse and its seven children, he thought ‘My daughter treats that mouse like her friend’, then thought ‘I could probably make it more than a friend’ and impulsively tried to make that idea a reality.

Days and weeks he spent on the mouse, using every piece of machinery, every drop of every chemical he had to make the mouse grow, give the mouse intelligence, make it capable of speech. It would be a friend for Marie, who sadly wasn’t the most social of children, and, given the appropriate knowledge, would make a good assistant for him around the lab.

The experiment was a complete success. The mouse had been enlarged to six-foot-tall, it – she, rather – was bipedal, she could use her paws as hands and was capable of speech and understanding scientific principles. Her first few days after her mutation she spent trying to comprehend her new form – picking up and observing objects that once towered over her, testing her speech by saying random words and singing songs she heard on the radio and looking over Stahlbaum’s machinery and potions. Soon, she assisted Stahlbaum with other experiments, and even created little devices of her own.

In the middle of the night, both Stahlbaum and Marie were awoken by the sound of high-pitched screams. Down into the laboratory they descended, where they witnessed Stahlbaum’s experiment conducting an experiment of her own; making her sons grow even larger than she, while building a body for them.

She turned to the two humans and snarled.

One of her sons instantly pounced on Marie, looking at her like a stray dog would look upon a piece of meat. Stahlbaum could do nothing to stop the beast from ripping his dear daughter to shreds.

mousequeen

‘You gave me power,’ said the mouse to Stahlbaum, ‘Power that I need to get revenge on the humans that have tormented our kind for so long. Your daughter is merely the first of many.’

All Stahlbaum could do at that moment was run. Run away from his laboratory, away from his home, carrying the only piece of Marie he could save from the mutants – her brain. He knew another scientist – Doctor Drosselmeyer – who had performed experiments in reviving the human brain after death, so that was why he found himself running through the city, trying to avoid detection by the soldiers of the Mouse Queen.

His experiment was a success. In fact, it had worked too well, and the Mouse Queen had abilities Stahlbaum hadn’t intended to give her. Every command she made to mice, every mouse followed. When she said, ‘Brothers and sisters, let us attack the humans that have tried to kill us!’ that’s what they did.

When Stahlbaum emerged from an alleyway after believing the coast was clear, the voice of the Mouse Queen echoed throughout the city – ‘There stands he who is trying to defeat us! Eliminate him!’ and Stahlbaum turned around to see the Mouse King, a camera and a loudspeaker having sprung out of its mechanical body.

Again, Stahlbaum ran, with the Mouse King clattering by in hot pursuit, followed by the Mouse Queen’s army. As fast as he could run, the mice caught up to him and the Mouse King, with all his weapons and machinery, just watched as the mice devoured Stahlbaum’s flesh.

All of a sudden, Stahlbaum suddenly saw the wizened, bearded face of Drosselmeyer looking over him, his mechanical eye whirring away. ‘It worked!’ he cried.

Stahlbaum could no longer feel pain. He could no longer feel fear.

He could no longer feel anything.

The last thing he remembered before seeing Drosselmeyer’s face was his heart pounding against his ribs, yet now he had no heartbeat at all.

He looked at his hands. Metallic claws, not unlike those the Mouse King had.

He looked at his feet. Large boots – which were not clothes but part of his new body.

Drosselmeyer showed him a mirror and a robot with a large square head and gigantic teeth stared back.

Stahlbaum wanted to scream upon seeing the machine he had become yet couldn’t bring himself to do so, even admitting inwardly he had been expecting to become a robot. Instead, his response was, ‘Where’s my daughter?’

Drosselmeyer gestured to his left and in entered an oversized metallic doll. A small robot with shimmering silver “skin”, wearing a white dress. ‘Daddy,’ she said as she shook.

This is what made Stahlbaum stand up and walk, noticing his mechanical body actually moved a similar way to his previous, organic body. The first thing he did in this new form was pick up his daughter and hug her. He knew she wanted to cry, yet couldn’t in that new body.

‘I’d hate to ruin this reunion,’ said Drosselmeyer, ‘but the Mouse King is still out there. I only managed to keep him and his mother’s armies at bay for just enough time to collect your brains, but they’re still strong. Luckily, I have you.

‘I’ve been trying to build a machine that could defeat the Mouse King, but what I needed to complete it was heart. And by heart, I mean brain. Love comes not from the heart but the brain, and you have love enough that you can defeat the Mouse Queen’s regime once and for all.’

Stahlbaum wanted to object, but remained silent, still hugging his now-mechanical daughter. As soon as Drosselmeyer told him about the abilities he now had, he left the laboratory almost immediately. Just a few steps outside and he saw the Mouse Queen, the Mouse King and several rodents approaching. He stood and let them come near him, and when the Mouse King backed away, Stahlbaum would have smiled if he could have. The Mouse Queen, however, smirked.

‘Son,’ she said, ‘are you pondering what I’m pondering?’

The seven heads all grunted in unison.

‘Exactly,’ said the Mouse Queen.

The Mouse King raised one of its claws, only for Stahlbaum to rip it right off. After that, he shoved it into his mouth and chewed on it while the Mouse King and his mother looked on in confusion. Before the Mouse King could retaliate, Stahlbaum leapt upon him like one of the heads had leapt upon his daughter, and then took bites out of his body, ripping out every nut and bolt and crunching them in half.

‘Son!’ cried the Mouse Queen, ‘How…’

Before the Mouse Queen could finish her sentence, Stahlbaum bit her head right off her body, watching it collapse to the ground with a fountain of blood spurting from her neck.

nutcracker

‘Just call me The Nutcracker.’

Two Christmas Trees

Two Christmas trees stood in a room. There was a real fir tree, planted in a pot. There was a small, animatronic tree, one that, when a button was pressed, moved his mouth and eyes and sung “Jingle Bells”.

‘You know,’ said the animatronic tree, ‘they only have to change my batteries some of the time, while they have to constantly water you to keep you alive. I require less maintenance, so in a way, I’m better than you.’

‘Ha,’ said the real tree, ‘without trees like me, there’d be no humans around to change your batteries. I don’t see you bringing oxygen to anyone.’

‘But I’ll last a lot longer than you,’ said the animatronic tree, ‘you’ll die and all your needles will fall off.’

‘You’re kept in a dark, dull garage for most of the year,’ said the real tree, ‘while I got put in the garden.’

‘But can you sing Jingle Bells?’

‘That’s supposed to be an advantage you have over me?’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘I’ve heard better renditions of Jingle Bells from my old owner’s cats.’ The real tree sighed. ‘I miss them.’

‘The owners or the cats?’

‘Both, you….’

‘I know what you meant, I was just trying to be funny to…I mean, isn’t that the real reason we were bickering just now?’

‘Yeah…’

Before the two could say anymore, the laboratory doors burst open, revealing the mad scientist that had stole them. Both trees screamed and cried in protest, but the scientist, like every other human, couldn’t hear them, and neither tree could move. The scientist sought to remedy that.

He took apart the animatronic tree, using pieces of it and other machines to construct robotic limbs for the real Christmas tree. The scientist rubbed his hands together as he imagined his army of half-robotic Christmas trees, marching down the streets, bringing forth terror while singing the most excruciating rendition of Jingle Bells anyone had ever heard.

Cinderpizza

This story features Lisa the Pizza Woman, who appeared in my earlier stories Pizza Woman and Night of the Pumpkin Woman, as well as other characters from previous stories.

lisapyjamas

I woke up at 2am. It’s an incessant thing with me; often I’ll have a dream about something that’ll wake me up, and what inspired my dream will refuse to leave my head, so I’ll stay awake for hours even when I have work later.

I had a dream about fairy tales, and I woke up thinking about my failed auditions.

Christmas was approaching, and with it, panto season. Earlier on this year, I attended several pantomime auditions, and failed every one. Why not audition for a role, I thought. I spend a lot of my life playing a part. When I go out, I wear a mask. I pretend to be a normal person, so why not pretend to be Snow White or Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella instead of Lisa the mutant with a pizza for a head and a body made of mozzarella.

I told myself to go back to bed. I told myself I had work the next day, and despite the fact people at the office still try to nibble on me, pay is pay. Still I stayed awake, however. Still I found myself picking up a certain book I keep near my bed.

A book full of photos and mementos. On a page is stapled an old book of coupons. One of those coupons has been ripped out, and that coupon I owe my very existence to.

Mum heard a lot of good things about “The World’s Best Pizza Place”, so after a hard day of work, she thought the perfect pizza would calm her down. It did, but not in the way she thought.

They brought her a pizza that offered more than passata and pepperoni. A pizza that could talk and think, a pizza that could comfort her and have conversations with her and make her feel more confident. The perfect pizza. The world’s best pizza.

Dad.

Yes, they married, they started a family. In my book, there’s a photo of my birth. A little baby with a cheese body and a pizza slice for a head, but my mother’s expression is the smile of seeing a new life.

There’s a photo of my graduation, me in mortar board and gown. University was hell, for I am the staple food of students, but in this photo is not a weird cheese creature, but a woman with a future.

The latest photo in my book is a selfie. Me on the sofa with my latest, and currently only, friend, The Pumpkin Woman. Actually, her name is Natalie. She told me that. A creature that could only be summoned when Halloween was in the air, so I summoned her several times throughout September and October.

There’s still Halloween stuff in shops, in the clearance aisles. Perhaps, I thought, I could summon her again.

The picture I was drawn to, however, was my seventh birthday. My trip to Fairy Tale Land, where I went in a big blue dress and plastic tiara, sitting before my birthday cake – I know no living cakes or people with cakes for heads – with Mum and Dad and the other princesses of that park.

I wondered if that was why I went and auditioned for all those pantomimes. That birthday I felt like a princess, and I wanted to feel like a princess again.

I rubbed my face, disturbing the pepperoni slices on it, and walked to my bedroom mirror. There have been times in my life when I wished I could just collapse in my bed and weep, but I can’t cry. My eyes are mushrooms and my pupils are tiny pepperoni slices. I can see, but I can’t make tears fall.

So whenever I feel sad, I sing.

When I was a child, I saw a Christmas cartoon about a creature that melted – a possible fate for me – and since I couldn’t cry at it, I sang the song from it. I sang that song again in front of my bedroom mirror, quietly so as not to wake the neighbours, in hopes that would calm me enough that I could get back to sleep.

I didn’t feel any more sleepy. In fact, I felt more awake than ever.

Light filled my bedroom.

I turned around and there she was; a ghostly woman in a long dress, her head topped with a tiara not unlike the one I wore on my seventh birthday. A woman who glided towards me, holding out her hand. I froze.

‘You have a beautiful singing voice,’ said the woman, ‘and it’s a voice that deserves to be heard.’

I said nothing.

‘Hello, Lisa,’ the woman continued, ‘I’m your fairy godmother, and I know what you want.’

I remained silent and still, attempting to process this occurrence. This was something I had dreamed about for decades, that after all the suffering, all the mockery, all the drooling and licking of lips, someone would come along and end it with magic. They’d deliver punishment upon all those people who tried to munch on me, perhaps have rats chew on them to see how they’d like it. They’d give me an audience to watch me perform and sing.

They’d make me beautiful. They’d make me like everyone else, a being of flesh and blood instead of mozzarella and passata.

This being before me, I felt she could do all that. She had teleported into my bedroom, after all, and she teleported me and her into a familiar place.

Fairy Tale Land. Abandoned for years, with the shoe house and the Three Bears’ cottage covered in graffiti. And there was I, standing in the middle of this abandoned place in my pyjamas. I never went out without a mask or an umbrella or a coat or a cooling vest like sports mascots wear. It was a cool night, so there was little chance of me melting, yet there was still the chance it could rain. I wrapped my arms around myself.

‘Don’t be scared,’ said the Fairy Godmother, a goblet in her hands, ‘I know you’re tired of being a pizza creature. Drink this, and you’ll have a better body. One not made of cheese, one lovely and attractive.’

Something rattled in my brain telling me to run, yet my mushroom eyes were drawn to the goblet. Years of anguish and anxiety, I thought, could be ended with a single sip of that liquid. I imagined guzzling it down and then, where once stood Lisa the Pizza Woman, there would be a beautiful woman who could never melt or be reduced to nothing by mice. I could sunbathe without worrying about melting, I could take a shower without coming apart, I could cry.

‘Come on, drink.’

I still stared at the goblet before me.

‘Come on.’

I reached out for it, only for it to be knocked away by a certain hand.

‘No!’ Natalie now stood before me. ‘It’s a trick.’

That’s why I hesitated in drinking it. It sounded too good to be true.

‘Stay out of this!’ hissed the fairy godmother, right before Natalie punched her head off. Yes, the godmother’s head came right off, revealing wires and circuits.

Natalie pointed to a display based on The Wizard of Oz. Behind the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Lion sat a little yellow possum, working some controls and speaking into a microphone.

‘Fairy Godmothers can be robots,’ she said into the microphone, ‘Don’t think me less legitimate…’ She looked up at us and snarled. ‘How dare you betray me,’ she said to Natalie, ‘I summoned you to do my bidding!’

‘Well, sometimes I don’t want to do bidding,’ retorted Natalie, ‘You were going to turn my friend into chocolate and feed her to…’

‘You got to admit,’ said the possum, ‘that would have been pretty funny. She hoping that she finally has a chance for a normal life, only to…’

It happened involuntarily. I stretched my arm towards the possum and it wrapped around her. As she bore her teeth, I tightened my grip, only for her to disappear and reappear on top of the Scarecrow. ‘Don’t do this!’ the possum snarled, ‘I am all-powerful!’

‘Yeah, yeah, sure,’ smirked Natalie, ‘hence why you needed that bucket of bolts there.’

At that, the possum whistled, and from behind a cottage, there came a pink moose charging towards us. ‘Get them,’ growled the possum.

Again, it happened involuntarily. I lifted my arm at the moose, and I actually shot some cheese into his eyes. After I did that, I grabbed Natalie and we both dove out of the way as he ran and then crashed into a wall. Now that I knew that I could do that, I shot another blob of cheese, this time at the possum. She flew backwards into her machinery before she and the moose disappeared.

‘Lisa!’ Natalie and I embraced each other in a hug. ‘Glad you didn’t drink any of that stuff,’ she added, gesturing towards the bubbling liquid on the ground.

‘That would have really turned me into chocolate?’ I said, shaking my head, ‘I almost did drink that, you know.’

‘Because you thought it would make you “beautiful”? It would make you “normal?”’

‘Yeah.’

‘Well, why would you want to be normal? Did you see yourself out there?’

Twenty-six years I’ve been on this earth, and it was only then I learned about my powers. I tested them out again, stretching my arms and legs, throwing another glob of cheese, with Natalie applauding me all the while.

‘You could be a superhero, you know,’ said Natalie, ‘The Amazing Pizza Woman! Speaking of which, the Lemon Possum has a prisoner we really should be freeing.’

Natalie was brought here to torture a prisoner. I was brought here to be turned into chocolate and force-fed to that prisoner who didn’t like chocolate. That prisoner was a kangaroo in a business suit; Natalie claimed his daughter summoned her at a party once.

‘Thank you,’ said Karl, for that was his name, as we undid his ropes and removed his gag, ‘any enemy of the Lemon Possum is a friend of mine.’ As we helped him to his feet, I explained what happened, and found myself talking about why I had woken up that night, my thoughts and my story.

‘Oh,’ Karl said as we left where he was being kept – Red Riding Hood’s house, ‘I’ve been in pantomimes myself, you know. I could probably get you a role in one, with what I have in my wallet…’

‘No, thank you,’ I said, ‘but you can listen to me sing, if you want.’

‘Very well then,’ replied Karl, and he and Natalie sat on the ground as I sang the song I sung before I came here. Normally, I sung when I was sad, but this was a song of relief, a song of happiness that served to emphasise the fact I was here with my best friend and I accepted who I was.

‘Very lovely,’ said Karl, before handing me a card, ‘you do remind me of my daughter; she had a beautiful singing voice too. You can call me when you need me.’ He gestured at the card before Natalie waved her arm and made him disappear.

‘Could you get me back too?’ I asked Natalie, ‘I have work tomorrow, and I think it’s about to rain.’

In an instant, I was back in my bedroom, with Natalie beside me. ‘You can call me when you need me too, you know,’ she said before we embraced again, giving a warmth that soothed me instead of melting me. When we let go, Natalie smiled at me and said, ‘And you are beautiful.’

lisandnatalie

A Duck, a Snake and a Costume Shop

This is a special Halloween story set in the same world as my book The Adventures of a Duck  and features the eponymous duck and her snake boyfriend.


Harry the snake opened the door wearing a black and red cape with a big fake moustache. ‘Ah, Lucy,’ he said in his best Bela Lugosi impression, ‘will you be my vampire bride?’

It was a greeting for his girlfriend, Anne the duck, who watched his little one-snake-show with a smirk. ‘Very funny,’ she said, ‘but I think of myself as more a Mina.’

‘Oh,’ sighed Harry, taking off his moustache, ‘but then I’d have to be Jonathan Harker, won’t I?’

‘No,’ replied Anne, ‘Mina and Dracula would work well together. Though I wonder with your moustache, would they think you were Snidely Whiplash and me your victim?’

‘Dracula had a moustache!’

‘Most people don’t know that though.’

Anne took another look at Harry’s costume and smiled as she remembered what it signified. The other day, her housemate, fellow duck Melissa, had not only invited Anne to her Halloween party, but said ‘Ask Harry if he wants to come along too.’ Despite him being certain Melissa’s friends insulted him behind his back, Harry accepted, so this party was special. It was not only Anne’s first Halloween party ever, it would be the first Halloween party Anne and Harry attended as a couple. Thus, to mark this special milestone, they both decided they would have couple’s costumes.

‘You know,’ said Harry as he spun around, ‘with this cape, I could probably pull off Erik the Phantom, and you can be Christine…’

‘Does it have to be Gothic literature though?’

‘Well,’ replied Harry, stroking his chin with his tail and dropping his moustache, ‘it’s just…we’re celebrating being a couple, and we became a couple because of our tastes in books…’

‘Yeah,’ said Anne, ‘but it does feel a bit, well, pretentious.’

‘Oh, come on. Everyone knows Dracula and Phantom. I’m not going as Lord Ruthven or anything.’

Anne picked up Harry’s fake moustache. ‘I know. I think I’ve got a black dress somewhere. With that and this moustache, we could be Gomez and Morticia.’

‘Can you speak French?’ Harry said, ‘Yeah, that’s a possibility. Hey, I think I saw a costume shop nearby. Maybe we could go look there for some ideas.’

So out the two went, and as they did, Anne felt a little quiver of nostalgia, as she remembered her Mum buying her a big pointed hat and broomstick to go along with her binbag robe. As they walked down the street, Harry said, ‘You know, if we buy costumes there, they really have to be good ones.’

‘Well,’ replied Anne, ‘nothing too expensive. I don’t think we’ll be using them for much else.’

‘Oh, I can think of a time when we can use costumes,’ said Harry with a sly expression on his face.

‘And what would that…’ Anne said before realisation hit her. ‘Harry!’

Harry used that Bela Lugosi voice again as he said, ‘Come into my coffin…’

‘Let’s just focus on the party,’ said Anne as they approached the shop. “Funny Bunny Costumes”, it was called, and the storefront window boasted a pseudo-graveyard presided over by two mannequins: a Grim Reaper and a witch. Harry looked the display over and suggested he and Anne dress as characters from A Christmas Carol; ‘Well, the Christmas stuff is in shops already,’ he said. Anne ignored that joke and entered the shop.

The shop was called “Funny Bunny” and sure enough, a rabbit in a polo shirt sat at the counter. He didn’t exactly seem funny, looking at Anne with a bored expression while drumming his fingers, and according to his name tag, his name wasn’t Funny Bunny, but Larry.

Harry slithered in, and Larry actually smiled. ‘Hello,’ said Harry, which made Anne, who still had trouble talking to store staff, want to sigh with relief. ‘We’re looking for…’

‘…for costumes,’ said the rabbit with a wide grin, ‘So you can pretend, is that right?’

‘Well,’ replied Harry, ‘I wouldn’t say…’

‘Because the costumes in this store,’ Larry continued, gesturing to the wares behind him, ‘don’t let you pretend to be someone else, they show you who you really are!’

Harry turned to Anne and whispered, ‘This is my kind of guy.’

Larry pointed to a poster cellotaped onto the side of the counter, which showed none other than himself on stage. “Confessions of a Haberdasher”. ‘That’s what I did before I opened this shop. A one-rabbit show where I had a different name but it was the real me up there.’

‘I wouldn’t mind being an actor,’ said Harry, ‘I have all of Banquo’s lines memorised…’

‘But you’re an actor already, aren’t you?’ From behind the counter, Larry pulled out a pair of devil horns. ‘You, snake, I can sense a lot of darkness within you. You wear a mask, you pretend to be good, but there is a lot of evil in your soul. With this…’ He shook the horns. ‘…you can reveal who you truly are.’

He threw the horns at Harry. They landed on his head.

They became part of his head.

Harry’s scales changed from green to crimson. His fangs elongated and what looked like an arrow-head spring onto his tail. Harry roared in pain, breathing fire as he did so.

Anne could only stand and shudder.

‘And you, duck, you wear a mask too. You pretend to be braver than you actually are, but you don’t have guts.’

Before Anne could run away, Larry threw a skull mask at Anne. All of a sudden, it felt like everything within her had been scooped out, leaving only a cold hollowness. Her skin, her feathers, her entrails – they had all vanished. She felt her gut twist, even though she no longer had it.

So where there once stood a duck and a snake, there was a skeleton and a demon. Even Larry had changed: he now bore blazing red eyes, and his teeth were now like those of a shark, with saliva dribbling down his mouth.

‘Now you are what you truly are!’

Harry turned to Anne, swallowing as he did so. ‘Well, Anne, I guess our costumes being pretentious is the least of our problems now.’ After he said that, he belched another torrent of flame, though it singed nothing.

Though Anne lost her insides, she could still speak. She approached Larry, staring him straight in the eye, and said, ‘Why are you doing this?’

‘I said! To show that we all wear masks, we all pretend…’

‘You really think,’ said Anne, ‘that makes you deep? You really think…you really think you’re the first person to say that?’

‘What?’

‘You’re just trying to look smart, aren’t you? I’ve heard this stuff before; I’m a university student. “We all wear masks” has been used about a hundred times in the poetry classes…’

Harry joined in. ‘Did anyone come to your play?’

Larry roared, raising his arms into the air, then the entire costume shop was enveloped in red light.

The light subsided. Anne was again flesh and blood and feathers. Harry lost his horns. They stood on the streets, with “Funny Bunny” replaced with a closed-down fish and chip shop.

‘So,’ said Harry to Anne, ‘I think I have a jacket somewhere that’ll make me look like Gomez, eh, “Tish”?’

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.

Night of the Pumpkin Woman

Yet another character from Even More Nightmare Rhymes returns here…

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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.’