Dedication For Jem. I hope you enjoy this one too.
Moving house is supposed to make life better. Dad had said it would make life better because it would be ‘a new start’. It was supposed to be a way to put the last year behind us. It was supposed to be better. It was not better. It was most definitely worse. In fact it couldn’t have been any worse. It started bad and then it went downhill and then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it went and did.
Dad had said that when we moved we could each have something we really wanted in the new house, to make it more like home. Dad wanted space in the garden to build his brew–house and so he got it, Angie wanted extra shelves for all her books and so she got that and I wanted a three metre long, two metre wide work–surface, suspended on pulleys from the ceiling in my room. I could build my models on it and hoist it up overnight so Dad and Angie didn’t touch them.
I didn’t get what I wanted.
Apparently the ceiling in my room isn’t strong enough or something. I wouldn’t have minded if Dad had even tried to fit one pulley but he just poked his head into the loft, shone his ’phone around for a bit – he didn’t even use a proper torch – and then came back down shaking his head.
Sometimes life is just not fair!
Dad said that he’d make some space for me at the back of the brew–house but I didn’t like that idea. For a start it’s not a “brew–house”, it’s a shed. Just because he was going to use it to try and brew his beer didn’t stop it being a bog–standard shed! For some reason he couldn’t see that giving me a cupboard at the back of a damp and dingy wooden hut was no substitute for a custom–made, spacious work–surface in my room to use whenever I felt like it.
It’s like asking someone if you can have one of their chicken nuggets and they give you a chip. Worse: it’s like asking for a chicken nugget and getting a cold chip. A cold, wet, soggy chip with mayonnaise on it. A cold, wet, chip with mayonnaise on it that somebody has dropped on the floor. Okay maybe it’s not that bad but it is bad and it’s just not the same thing as what I wanted.
The worse bit of this shed idea was that, because I’d be using it too, I had to help Dad put it up. This was patently unfair! Angie wasn’t asked to help. Apparently all she had to do was help Dad put her shelves up. That’s a doddle. All you have to do is hold the drill, the screwdriver, the spirit level, the wall fittings, the brackets, the screws and the shelves until Dad needs them and then pass them to him when he asks for them. Piece of cake.
I suspected, knowing her, that all she would do was put them on the floor and read until he asked for one of them. She’s a bit mad about books, my sister. Not just novels but non–fiction too. She has every Guinness Book of Records for the last nine years which is pretty impressive seeing as she is only twelve.
The trouble with helping Dad put something up is that he hates it when you point out that he’s read the instructions wrong. He did that with the Christmas tree and nearly ended up putting the branches on upside down. I kept trying to tell him but he wouldn’t listen. If I had let him continue we would have ended up with a tree that was narrow at the bottom and went wider as it got higher. You would have been able to sit a whole family of fairies on top of that thing. Dad said he knew what he was doing but I wasn’t convinced. You wouldn’t believe what he did with the lights! Angie and I spent days sorting that lot out afterwards. It was a nightmare trying to do without him noticing.
Anyway I had to help him put the shed up. So, shortly after we moved in, I found myself in the garden, colder than a frozen pizza at the north pole, holding onto a bunch of wooden stakes and some string while Dad marked out the area to dig for the base. Actually the idea of building the shed was more interesting than I let on. For me it was kind of like a huge model kit and I love models. I didn’t tell Dad that though otherwise he’d get ideas and think he could get me to ‘help’ with all sorts of things. As it happened the shed turned out to be a bigger project than we first thought.
It was when we started on the base that we hit our first snag – Dad couldn’t get the spade into the ground. It was quite funny actually. He carefully marked out the area and then measured it again and then fiddled with the stakes a bit more and then checked it all again and then got the hump when I pointed out that he had one of the stakes upside down. I think after the mess with the Christmas tree he was determined to get this right. So it came as a big surprise – after he had planned it so well – to find he couldn’t even get the spade into the ground.
As he pushed down with his foot on the spade he found it only went in just below the grass and then stopped. He moved the spade a bit and tried again and found the same thing. Then he moved a bit more and found the same thing again.
When he went to the other side of the marked out area the spade went in but on the side he first started it wouldn’t. No matter how hard he tried he could not dig down below the grass. Eventually he stood on the spade with both feet and jumped on it like a weird pogo–stick. Of course the spade didn’t go in and he fell off. I told him that I tried hard not to laugh but I didn’t really, it was just too funny seeing him laying in the grass with with his legs in the air.
After many attempts from both us we found that all we could do was lift the turf and expose whatever was under it. When we did that we found something really freaky. Below the grass was a trapdoor about a metre square. It was made of planks of wood, had large black metal hinges on one side and a small rope handle on the other.
We stood looking at it, not sure what to do. I thought it might be a hideout for pirate treasure but Dad said that was daft as we were miles from the sea. The trapdoor was covered in mud and dirt and so we started to brush it off to see if revealed anything more about itself.
Angie was shocked to see what we had discovered
Just as we finished, Angie came out with some drinks. She doesn’t normally get us all drinks so I think she had spotted us out of her window and came out to be nosey. She reckoned we should open the trapdoor but Dad said not to. I thought we should open it too but I let Angie do the talking so she would get in trouble if it went wrong.
Dad was just brushing the last of the dirt off when he stopped and stood up. In the middle of the trapdoor was a dirty white sign with bold lettering.
“What do you think that means?” I asked
“Well obviously it means you shouldn’t feed the troll, silly!” said Angie. I sneered at her as it was obvious that was not what I was asking.
“What do you think it means by ‘troll’?” Dad asked, bending down to the door.
“That’s what I mean,” I replied, “and what does it mean by feed. I mean if we guess the troll – whatever that is – is under the trapdoor surely it will be dead after all this time. What good will feeding it do anyway?”
The sign on the trapdoor
“Dead!” screeched Angie, “Martin, don’t be so cruel! How can you say such a thing?”
“I’m not saying I want it dead. I’m saying if something was in there, with no food or water, I can’t see how it could survive.” I shrugged, “To be honest I don‘t even know what a troll is.”
“Yes you do.” said Dad without looking up, “You remember, it’s one of those monsters from the stories. Don’t they live under bridges and eat rough goats or something?”
“Gruff Dad,” Angie sniggered, “Billy goats gruff.”
“Okay,” he smiled, “gruff then but either way they’re not real are they?” We shrugged in unison as if to say “Don’t ask me”. Dad wasn’t expecting an answer though. He was studying the trapdoor. “It looks real enough.” he continued, “I suppose there could be something beneath it. Wait a minute!” He stood up quickly and turned to face us. “Is this you two having a joke?”
We looked blankly at him and then at each other. Dad stared at us in that smug way adults do when they think they’ve caught you out and are waiting for you to confess. The thing was we had nothing to confess.
“Dad,” I mumbled, “are you suggesting we have put this trapdoor under the back lawn as a joke?”
“I don’t even know how to do that!” Angie said. I shook my head to say “Me neither”.
Dad looked at us intently and then shook his head. “No I suppose not but you have to admit it is a bit weird and it would be a good joke to play on me?”
“Blooming good, considering were only twelve and ten years old!” I said. “The question isn’t ‘How did it get there?’ Dad, it’s ‘What are we going to do about it?’”
“I think we should open it.” Angie said, folding her arms as if that settled the matter.
“I think we should leave it alone.” Dad said, turning back to face the door.
“So I guess it’s up to me to make the deciding vote.” I said. “I think we should –”
“Deciding vote?” Dad spun and looked at me, “What do you mean ‘deciding vote’? This is not a reality show you know? We’re not deciding which blade of grass gets to come back next week. There is no vote! I say we leave it alone and so –” but he didn’t get to finish because he was interrupted by the singing.
I say singing but it was more a sort of whimpering, kind of like a dog trying to get you to let it out if needs a wee. We all looked at each other and then slowly turned to the trapdoor, where the singing was coming from.
“Th–there’s someone in there!”, Dad spluttered, backing away.
“I think we should open the trapdoor.” Angie said excitedly.
“Shh!” I said, “It’s not just a noise, there are words. Listen!”
As we listened we began to pick out words in the whimpering noise. This is why I said it was singing because with the words it made it more like singing. It was hard to hear all of it but what we could hear was something about trouble and freedom and being grateful. The words kept repeating but we couldn’t hear them properly through the trapdoor. In the end Dad said “I think we should open it.”
“So do I.” I added.
“Oh,” snapped Angie, “so when Dad suggests it you think it’s a good idea!”
“I thought it was a good idea anyway,” I replied snarkily, “I’m just clever enough to keep quiet until Dad suggests it.”
“Crawler!”, she hissed between clenched teeth. I ignored her as it wasn’t the time for an argument.
Dad walked over and bent down to the trapdoor. Then he tapped it. Nothing happened. He took hold of the rope and wiggled it but again nothing happened. Then he gave it a gentle tug so all it did was tighten in his hand. Again nothing happened.
“Dad,” I grinned, “if you’re going to open it, then open it, don’t tickle it!”
“Okay, okay,” he said, “but before I do I want you two to stand back a bit. After all we don’t know what’s in there do we?”
We both rolled our eyes and took half a step back and then, as he took hold of the handle again, we shuffled forward to get a better look. There was a slight creak as it lifted but it seemed to come up really easily. Dad seemed surprised that it wasn’t stiff or rusty and to be honest I was a bit surprised by that too.
As the door lifted we saw that underneath was a hole. Well it was more like a pit but it was clean and neat and dry. It was lined with smooth, grey walls that made it look cold. All three of us stood there looking, although none of us were looking at the hole. We were all staring at what was in the hole.
Sitting in the middle of the hole was a small creature. It was about the size of a large cat but it didn’t look like a cat. It had the shortest legs I’ve seen. In fact its feet just seemed to poke out from it’s hairy, fluffy body. The weirdest thing about its fur was the colour. It was a kind of grey–blue–green–purple colour. In fact the colour seemed to change slightly as it moved.
Fat with short fluffy hair or thin with long fluffy hair?
Beneath a furrowed, hairy brow it had two big white eyes each with a large blue iris. It had no nose and no ears – not that we could see anyway. From the sides of its fluffy body stuck two small hands. It was hard to see whether it was fat with short fluffy hair or thin with long fluffy hair. It had a mouth though, a wide mouth with a toothy grin.
It didn’t fill the hole, in fact it was smaller than half the size of the hole but it didn’t move around very much. It just sort of wavered. As we looked at the creature we became aware that it was looking back at us.
None of us knew what to say so we just stood there. Eventually Dad spoke but he was obviously worried that the creature would hear him so he didn’t open his mouth much.
“Mm mm mmm mmmm mmmm mm mm–mm?” he mumbled.
“Pardon?” I replied, but instead of saying it clearer he just did the same thing again.
Angie looked at me and shrugged. Then she whispered “Dad, we can’t understand you.”
“Oh,” he said, opening his mouth. “I said, ‘do you think that is what was singing?’”
“Yes it was…”
The creature replied.