The Trials of Inch Bream
The World is full of new opportunities,
And he who would not see it,
Should live alone
And smash his mirror!
Le Petit 1686.
Translated and adapted from the French
Prologue: Car Crash - The Shattering
Tcch-cuh, tcch-cuh, tcch-cuh!
Inch Bream’s head nodded, his pale eyes heavy: hypnotised by the swaying windscreen wipers.
Shhh! Shhh! Cars rushed past. He stared at his warped reflection in the wing mirror. Why couldn’t Dad have left things just the way they were? Why had he gone off with Rachel? Why had Mum let him? What did Mum see in Matt? And WHAT ABOUT ME?
His mind burned: he flicked on the radio.
“…And now on Central FM, it’s time for ‘Legends of Soul’…”
“Switch that off, right now. You know it upsets me.”
“No! Now here, put your story tape on, until we reach the hospital and see your wonderful father and Rachel.”
“Oh, all right (Loser!)” and Inch pressed play…
‘Welcome to Rosy Blobuster’s The Magic Mirror, read by Fern Spythe. Chapter 1: The Shattering…
The Great Mirror’s living waters had shielded the Dreaming Citadel of Lagrin-sha, since time began. Its sacred surface replenished by the tears of the Thirteen Sorrowful Sisters and guarded by the Five Martyrs of Nesse. The Neuro Council ruled with a just and even hand and all the citizens of Lagrin-sha lived in peace.
However, outside, in the Bloodlands of the Spider-Witches, there was one who despised the tranquillity of Lagrin-sha: Queen Rakhni. She spun her webs of intrigue, wove her spells of deceit, and watched and waited for a sign. A sign of weakness. A sign to invade…
Inch pressed pause. “A sign of weakness! A sign to invade! I wish Dad had given me some signs.”
“His signs couldn’t have been any clearer if you’d bothered to pay attention!” Mum rasped, more to herself than to Inch. “The late night practices, the disinterest in… Anyway everything’s fine now, so stop wallowing!” and she stabbed play.
In the living surface of the Great Mirror suspended at the heart of the Citadel’s central chamber, the silvery images of two clandestine figures shimmered: a Sorrowful Sister and a Martyr.
“It’s over Ghost Hawk. You, the foremost of the Martyrs, have betrayed me and the land of Lagrin-sha for the last time,” Sister Meenakshi gasped.
Krong! The Gathering Bell tolled.
“Now go back to your ivory tower and I hope you can see beyond your new love’s smile, before it’s too late.”
The two departed and the clouded Mirrorhall fell silent.
Then, from behind one of the statues of Insha, somebody sneezed. “Oh how delightful! My chance has come. Oh, how pleased My Queen will be when She hears!”
“How pleased she will be!” Inch mocked. How pleased? His new stepmother, the hip and trendy soul star, everyone’s favourite, Rachel Webster, was never pleased. Not since, she’d caught his dad, floundering Jack Bream, in her net and he’d stupidly said, ‘Yes.’ No, no matter how hard he tried since the wedding, she was never pleased. And Dad said nothing!
Inch glared at the tape player.
‘Time passed. Meenakshi and her twelve sisters kept weary vigil on the ancient cliff tops of Lagrin-sha and every evening she tried to fathom out what had gone wrong, why Ghost Hawk had deserted her. Every evening, she delved deeper into the great tomes on old magic to discover a way to right the wrong, until eventually…
“Arrogant, stupid man,” she ranted. “How could he have done it? He has ruined everything. If only he could have kept his vows, his promise to me, my sisters, our Lord Insha. Did he not believe that I could serve our Lord and love him too? There could have been another way. My sisters would have understood, helped. But now what? Nothing, nothing but misery. All my dreams destroyed. I cannot bear this… I now know there is just one way to make amends I must leave Lagrin-sha, go to another world, escape, recharge and then if the ancient texts are true, return with our Lord Insha to restore.”
And with that, Meenakshi tugged the stopper from a red phial and drank its vile brew. But, even though its deadly linctus stung her reluctant tongue, it was as nothing to the bitter pill of Ghost Hawk’s rejection and betrayal that caught in her throat.
A few seconds passed, then suddenly a surging black wave of despair swept over her, throwing her off balance, tipping her over the precipice and forcing her to scream: a wild uncontrollable, lung-ripping scream.
Ah-reee! Inch had heard that sound before. He glanced at his mother and remembered that awful wet Thursday. That was the day Dad had sent him a text to say he was jetting off to Amsterdam with the band. The same day he’d found Mum…
He’d forged a note to get out of school early, hoping to fit some quality gaming time in, before Mum came home from the library and Dad had rehearsals. But, Mum’s little red run-around was already there, bumped up, awkwardly, on the kerb and Dad’s new coupe had gone. The front door was open: Smokey Robinson blasting out.
Inch peered into the lounge. Nothing... Just Dad’s CD collection blitzed across the carpet. He wandered through into the dining room. Empty.
And then he’d heard that sound. The wail… Ah-reee! He switched off the music and shivered. But there it was again, this time followed by a stomach churning series of deep sobs. It was coming from upstairs. His throat went dry, his hands clammy against the woodchip wall, as he edged his way one step at a time towards the bathroom, his mind racing terrified by what he might find. The wailing stopped.
Mum was slumped at the side of the bath staring at a piece of crumpled paper. She didn’t even look up, as Inch prised the tablets from her shaking fingers, and picked up the yellow note. He didn’t read it; he knew what it said. Dad wasn’t coming back.
“Hmm, and what was I supposed to do?” Inch muttered.
“What’s that Vincent?”
“Uh? Oh… nothing.” And he focused on the tape…
‘Ghost Hawk swaggered through one of the five Etar Gates and carelessly dipped his iridium staff into one of the sea pools. He stood a while, thinking about his new love and as he did so a heady perfumed mist of lilies snaked around his neck and up into his nostrils. Then, a frosty blue glaze passed over his eyes; he smiled stupidly and let the staff slip beneath the waves.
The silhouette of a woman floated towards him. Gormlessly, he turned and laughed.
“Ah, it is you, my love?” He stroked her familiar white gown. The woman grinned; behind her stood a boy sniffing. Ghost Hawk frowned.
“Yes, my dear Martyr,” she licked her icy lips, “it’s me! And I think it is time we became much better acquainted.”
Without warning, the beautiful woman scratched at her pallid skin, and it began to split and peel away. And there stood Queen Rakhni, the Spider Witch…’
Queen Rakhni – Queen Rachel, what’s the difference? Inch thought. Playing games, tricking me into thinking she cared and all the time planning a new life, a new family with Dad, but not me.
The tape wound on.
“No! It can’t be true!” Ghost Hawk gagged. “Oh, Meenakshi, what have I done?”
“Ah, but you men are so easy to deceive. I’ve been masquerading as your latest conquest for weeks. Playing you like a flute; drawing you deeper into my web, whilst all the time it was I who was conquering you.”
Ghost Hawk groaned and dropped to his knees.
“Oh, but I’m forgetting myself,“ the Witch continued, “I haven’t introduced you to my new son. Sharva say hello to the incorruptible Ghost Hawk.”
The boy peered spitefully from behind the Queen’s thigh. In his hand, he held a silver pipe.
The Spider Witch clicked her fingers. Sharva put the pipe to his lips and blew. There was a slight hiss, Ghost Hawk recoiled, gasped, but it was too late. A slither of black abyssite pierced his chest. And he was hers.
“I believe our beloved Martyr has just had a change of heart!” She crowed and with a flourish of black silk left.
Sharva hobbled over to Ghost Hawk and kicked him in the ribs. Then he smirked and spat in the Lacrys pool.’
Inch flicked the volume switch to zero, “I think Sharva’s alright, but the rest is boring! Can’t we listen to the Chillies now?”
“NO!” Mum flicked the volume switch to twelve.
“Boring, boring, boring!” Inch flicked the switch to zero.
Mum snarled, flicked it back and slapped Inch’s hand before he could change it again.
‘Sharva’s green glob fizzled and popped. The waters churned, boiled, surged. And then the voices began… Inininini Shishishi Lalala Groo!
Until Whumf! The Great Mirror shattered into a blizzard of white-hot splinters. A million shards of silver lacrium sliced into the Martyr and boy and out through the great Etar Gates.
There was no past, no future. All time was now. The time of the Shattering!
Inch ejected the tape, abruptly. “The time of the Shattering… What total rubbish! Do we really have to listen to this again?”
“Yes! We do. I thought The Magic Mirror was our favourite. And, there’s no point getting stroppy with me. I’ve told you already: Your stepmother went into labour early, so your Dad couldn’t make your concert and Matt’s out of town, so even though the doctor told me I should be resting, I have to take you.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.”
“I’m not arguing about it. That’s life. Your father didn’t plan to miss your big performance. Anyway, I thought you’d understand. We thought you were fine about the new baby. Now, give me the tape.”
Inch scowled and tossed it across the dashboard. Krunk! It bounced off the side window and landed in a tangle on his Mum’s lap.
“Now look what you’ve done!” With one hand on the wheel, she fiddled with the spool, then leant over and rammed it back in the player. Suddenly, the car swerved.
“MUM! WHAT ARE YOU…? THE TRUCK! LOOK OUT!”
Screeching brakes, squealing pigs. A kaleidoscope of splintering glass and flashing blue lights, burst into Inch’s head. His left eye burned and his brain ached: a squeezing, wringing, churning ache that shredded his thoughts.
Chapter 1 – Separation Anxiety
Inch woke, his heart racing. “Shangri-bloomin’-la! What a dream!”
He sat up and stared bleary-eyed around the room. Now where was he?
He staggered over to the oriental mirror opposite his bed. Just for a second, the fuzzy reflection quivered in to sharp focus. It looked like him, but not quite, then it blurred. He reached for his glasses and sighed.
Inch wandered around the room. Everything seemed familiar, but he was sure he’d never seen it before. He picked up a picture frame. A friendly old woman stared back at him. She looked familiar too, but who was she? Somewhere in the back of his mind a name floated forwards on a thought cloud: Mrs Atkins.
“Of course!” Suddenly, he remembered. He’d been at Old Minnie’s for days. She’d laughed and wittered, “Only since Shatterday!” and then uttered some stupid rhyme, ‘Stunday, Moanday, Tearsday, Wailsday, Thumpsday, Frightday…” but he had no recollection of arriving and no memory of his parents ever mentioning Mrs A before. It was just like when he had been younger and in the way and his parents had dropped him off at Gran’s for ‘a little while.’ Exhausted, he flopped on the bed and dozed off again.
“We need an ambulance. Yes, it’s serious. A car crash at Hedley Bridge near Leonard’s Castle. A pregnant woman and a boy. No, I don’t know CPR! Hurry, he’s slipping away!”
Arrrgh! Inch jumped. Boring, boring, boring! Another boring, rain-stopped play day. Another tedious day stuck in doors: washing pots and swatting wasps. Why was he stuck here? What were Mum and Dad up to? He kicked a pile of what his Mum had selected as “suitable summer reading” across the floor. And, when could he go and see her? Every time he asked Old Minnie Atkins, she just twittered, “You’ll know.”
Two of the books smacked against the dining room table, scaring Jazzy, Minnie’s weird cat, and sent her into a spitting, kicking frenzy …
Tattle-raddle-tattle-… Old Minnie’s favourite golden china tea urn wobbled to the edge of the table… and stopped -Guk.
A strange mischievous spark glinted in Jazzy’s eyes.
“Shangri-La! That was close,” gasped Inch, panting, as visions of more days caged in Mrs Atkins’s florid flat for a crime he did not commit, zipped through his head.
He picked up an old leather bound book. ‘Kasibah? Sir Richard Barton?’ This wasn’t on Mum’s list. It fell open. ‘Truth is the shattered mirror?’ His fingers tingled: his eye ached more.
Phzzz! Inch jumped. A pesky black wasp crawled across a picture of a knight wearing red armour. With a swift Kruksh! It was squished. Urgh!
Carefully, Inch peered between the pages, and was just wondering what the pest must have been eating to stain the paper such a gross shade of red, when…
The doorbell rang.
He trudged to see which fantastically, exciting and interesting person it could be. Billy the window cleaner? Don the milkman? Janice the post-woman? Half-heartedly, he swung the door open, fixing a cheesy smile. “Yeahhh…s!?”
But, no one was there, so he stepped outside.
On the ‘Here dwells an annoying cat’ mat was a small blue paper dragonfly. Inch frowned, and then shrugged, probably one of Minnie’s, she was always dropping little origami creatures.
Inch stomped over to the steamed up window of the living room.
How did Mrs. Atkins manage alone? And where was she anyway?
Even Whist or ‘Minnie Atkins’s tales of the Otherworld’ sounded good, compared to the endless chat shows, makeovers and quizzes he’d endured over the last few hours, and he was starving.
But no. Nothing to eat and nothing to do.
He stared out of the window, at the dark clouds reflected in the still waters of the boating lake. His eyelids grew heavy. From the kitchen, the radio buzzed into life...
“And now on Central FM, instead of ‘Legend’s of Soul,’ we continue with Chapter 2 of Rosy Blobuster’s ‘The Magic Mirror.”
‘After the destruction of the Great Mirror, the coming of Queen Rakhni the Spider-Witch was swift, and the ferocity of her attack, took the Neuro Council by complete surprise.
In an instant, Rakhni’s ink-black gloom had strangled the west light like a colossal octopus. Her army, with twisted bloody tentacles, had violated the carved coral halls and hallowed columns of Amber’s palace. Her monstrous weapons vomited out sepia clouds that billowed and flooded the empty opalescent corridors, drowning out the echoes of ancient songs. Fleeting phantoms of fun stole their final dances, before succumbing to the impenetrable cloud of endless night.’
As Inch came to, he noticed something…
Squh, squh, squh! Panting, he wiped the condensation away.
Despite the drizzle, a group of children, about his age, was playing football in the park. A little plan began to form in his mind. OK, so he wasn’t supposed to go out until he was better, well tough luck. Anyway, he’d be back before tea. Mrs. Atkins might even forgive him if he made all the right noises, and brought back her favourite treat, Battenberg Cake.
Inch stumbled down and round the endless concrete steps.
“Whoo-ah! Shangri-la!” He dodged past an odd little man squinting at the address chart …
“Black velvet suit? Silver-capped walking stick! Ha ha! Nice!”
… and shot out the time-lock-buzzer-operated security doors.
“Yes, yes, yes! Free!” he wheezed. Then for a moment, he leant against a wall, before splashing through the dark puddles to the park.
“So that is our brother, the grub,” sniffed the odd little man.
Inch was soon allowed to join in with the game; they needed a ‘targ...erm… goalie!’ But he didn’t care and before long, he was dirty, sweaty and smiling.
In the distance, the bells of St. Olaf’s church clanged. Inch stopped to listen. They reminded him of the dreaded Mr Malden, his teacher, who had two hobbies, ringing bells and terrorising ‘snivelling little snurdges’ like Inch…
“BREAM! VINCENT CHRISTOPHER BREAM! I’m talking to you!”
“Shangri-la! It’s Malden the Mauler.”
“Answer the question you snivelling little snurdge! Bream, can you hear me you sad excuse for a worm?”
“S-s-sorry Mr Malden, I-I didn’t sleep much last…”
“I don’t care about your nocturnal exploits you pathetic dormouse! This is a pris... a school not a holiday camp! I want to know where you put my championship bell!”
“I-I can’t remember, I mean… it wasn’t…”
“Right I’m phoning your father.”
“Noooooo! Please he’s not... I mean he’s away on…”
“Stop that whinging Bream, I’m not moved by crocodile tears. Making ticks like you cry each day is one of my hobbies, and KEEP STILL, you’re spraying spit on my parish council tie… BREAM!”
“Dreamy Bream!” Barked Big Mike, the eldest of the boys.
Inch snapped out of his daze as the ball rocketed past his cheek, skimmed his ear, and buried itself in a spiky clump of bushes. Inch looked at his watch, “Shangri-la! Tea! See ya tomoz!”
Big Mike grabbed his arm. “Wow-ho, not so fast. What about the ball?”
After Inch had ‘volunteered’ to find the ball ‘the very next day (or else)’; he made his squelching way back towards the flats.
“Shangri-la! The cake!”
He fumbled in his pockets for change, turned on his MP3 and legged it to Toppy, the local shop.
Mrs. Atkins was already home, and hovering about with joss sticks and a dream-catcher, when Inch let himself in.
“Mandarin oranges, where’ve you been? I was worried sick, you know how the damp can set you off,” she snapped, then she shivered and her mood changed and she burbled, “the bad spirits are everywhere today, I must restore the balance”.
“Don’t you remember? I said I’d nip out and get you a cake” he lied.
“Hmmm.” Minnie’s eyes narrowed. “Did anyone call for me today, Wormy?”
“Uh, oh no. No one.”
Mrs. Atkins murmured to herself something like ‘Omeewatoo’ and tried to settle into her favourite saggy green armchair. Agitated, she rearranged the items on the coffee table and switched on her old radio set, then fiddled with her favourite pearl pendant.
Mrs. Atkins had a favourite everything, and her favourite everything was old, worn and usually cheap, especially the dusty pre-war rations she called food.
“Shall I do tea?” Inch enquired, hoping Mrs. Atkins would say yes, and he could at least conjure up something edible. He looked at Mrs. Atkins. Her electro-blue perm seemed to fizzle and flicker, above her wrinkled walnut head and her twitching almond eyelids drooped.
What a transformation? To think it was the same woman as the sparkling beauty in the old photo on the mantle-piece. Minnie drifted off and started rambling to herself as the radio announced...
“And now, we continue with Chapter 3 of Rosy Blobuster’s ‘The Magic Mirror…”
‘Queen Rakhni’s invasion was almost complete. Eleven of the Thirteen Sisters were encased in cocoons of indestructible abyssite, Ghost Hawk the Martyr captured, another martyr slain, three more scattered beyond the shores of the Five Seas and the people enslaved in a red web of choking darkness. But, at what cost? Rakhni’s son, Sharva, lay mortally wounded after the Shattering.
“Sharva must live. He must undergo the Transmigration. But, time is running out, it can only take place at the moment of the Great Confliction.” Queen Rakhni cooed.
Now desperately, her agents hunted across the Nine Realms in search of the only means to his salvation, the components of the Transmigration: the Five Martyrs’ Sensory Staffs and a sacrificial host: a boy.
And Lagrin-sha slipped into a fitful sleep and dreamed of a champion…’
Champion? Tosh! The radio seems to be stuck broadcasting the same old repeats, Inch thought, as he rummaged around in the kitchen. Every conceivable shelf was cram-packed with exotic looking teapots, cups, caddies and saucers. There was no denying it, Mrs. Atkins loved her tea.
“Nothing for me Wormy, just a nice cuppa, to wash down my cake,” Mrs. Atkins’s quivering voice floated from the lounge. Inch brought in Mrs. Atkins’s favourite old cup and saucer, filled with her favourite old herb tea.
When everything was set out in the correct positions, Mrs. Atkins shuffled forwards to inspect.
Light American Oak. OK.
Sweetness? Her violet eyes narrowed, “You haven’t put a spoon in this tea have you? Only there are bubbles in the middle and I definitely see swirling. You know I like to stir up my own troubles!”
Inch shook his head and frowned. Every time Mrs. Atkins drank, she would ‘read the leaves’ afterwards, to predict her fate, but Inch suspected she just did it for affect.
“You’ll have to do me another Wormy,” she warbled, “and turn up the radio!”
Inch groaned and disappeared into the kitchen.
“And now, we continue with Chapter 4 of Rosy Blobuster’s ‘The Magic Mirror...”
Chapter 2 – Schism
‘Alorah Khaolin, the last of the Sorrowful Thirteen, perched on the giant finger of Amber’s statue and gazed steely eyed into the dark. How could Meenakshi have let herself be fooled by love? How could Ghost Hawk, the eyes of Insha, have been so easily corrupted? Alorah lifted the delicate argentarach shell, threw back her head and blew …
An ear-splitting screech followed by a blinding flash gushed in through the old net curtains drenching Inch in a phosphoric glow. Voices sliced his thoughts…
“The missing shard.” “Firth, Heggarty, Harris.” “Sugar we’re losing him!”
“Tears for tears.” “Buried in the cortex.” “Trepan.” “Positive, negative ions.”
“Resus.” “Stand clear.”
Inch recovered in time to see Mrs. Atkins’ favourite old teapot slip off the shelf. He juggled frantically to keep hold of it. Suddenly, Jazzy leapt from the top of the fridge straight at his face. The handle twisted and scalding tea splashed on to his trousers. The teapot lurched out of his grip and thumped… undamaged, (Phew!) to the kitchen floor.
“Wormy! What’s all that fuss?” Mrs. Atkins called.
But there was no answer. So, she huffed and carried on listening to the radio.
“Silly, pitiful, old diehard. How easily love blinds one’s mind to folly,” Queen Rakhni simpered and lay down alongside the unconscious Martyr, nursing his broken body in her sleek purple arms. Then, with elegant red fingers, she teased the bloody mat of silver hair back from his face. She sighed, lifted his head to one side and inspected the gaping white wound cutting through his left eye. Then, with tender skill, she sewed the gash up with a thousand tiny silky stitches. When she had finished, she neatly clipped the thread, and dabbed Ghost Hawk’s contorted brow. Gently, she rocked backwards and forwards humming. Finally, she yawned, stretched and jumped nimbly up.
Thup! The Martyr dropped to the ground like a discarded rag doll. Rakhni spun around and coughed, “Still perhaps, he can yet make amends for darling Sharva’s suffering.”
Eight salivating servants scurried to her side and began dusting her down, with nervous strokes of their little silver brushes.
“Dryll, let me know when the stool pigeon wakes, I may have a special duty for him to perform!”
“Yes, my Queen!”
For what seemed like minutes, Inch’s body writhed above the floor, spinning and arching inside a plasma ball. His eyes blinked a thousand times blinded by the searing white light.
“Look twitching, we might have a chance! Quick, radio ahead!”
“Hey, watch what you’re doin’ there!” Inch protested.
Oblivious, the paramedics tapped needles, ripped open dressing bags with teeth and swabbed down wounds to stem the blood. Eventually, they seemed satisfied, eased a woman’s body onto the stretcher and slid it into the ambulance. The doors slammed, the doctor rapped the wing and the ambulance screamed off.
He stood cold and alone in the rain, stunned in mid-wave.
“What about me?”
Saliva rushed around Inch’s teeth and gums, as his face contorted. He dropped to the ground with a bone-crunching thud, his heart buzzing in his chest like an angry wasp. Every muscle in his frail body burned and his brain throbbed.
Pain-wracked, Inch raised himself up on to his knees and heaved against the cooker to regain his feet. He heaved a deep sigh of relief and picked up the undamaged teapot.
Minnie appeared in the doorway, nodding with a strange empathic look on her face. She turned softly, mumbling, “How much more can the boy take?” Then she turned the radio up.
‘At the little shrine of Lagrin-sha, Alorah Khaolin gazed at some spiral hieroglyphs.
“Drown in the tears of time, the deep blue ocean wails, the ice splinters scream of sorrow, tears for tears in the pool.” Lagrin-sha: - The Tears of Inch, Bringer of life.
From under her dusty green cloak, she took out an old cage.
“Go my little droplet, go my little tear; go my little dragon bird through the Etar Gate. Bring back my lord Amber Lagrin-sha!” The little creature let out a plaintive moan. Alorah placed the silver cage into a blue box, then on to the surface of the still water inside the ornate jade cauldron.
It bobbed up and down for a few moments, sending tiny shimmering ripples out towards the rim to be reflected back. Alorah stood tight-lipped watching the trembling pot.
Somewhere in the desolate distance, a sleeping spirit felt the tremors and gasped into predetermined life. It wafted up out the cracks in its ancient burial place and started to whisper a name. Insha-Insha-Insha-Insha!
Then from out of the ground, the call was answered by another voice, and another, and another, and another, until the vast plain surrounding the shrine was whipped in to a swirling sandstorm, churning up the prehistoric dust and shards of broken offerings. And a thousand voices breathed the name, Insha-Lagru!
In an instant, the voices collided with the cage and a blinding white light seared up into the sky creating a great gaping chasm. There was a deafening roar and a sudden rush of searing heat, then Zip.
Total stillness and silence.
Alorah pulled away the silver filigree mask from her face, and smiled.
The cage had gone.’
Deep ominous blue rain clouds crowded the sky above Minnie’s flat.
“Oh great!” groaned Inch, “another fun packed afternoon in alone”.
The old porcelain clock on the mantelpiece seemed to smirk as it chimed twelve.
Inch stamped up and down the willow-patterned hall hoping for some one, anyone, to ring the doorbell again, and rescue him from the oriental teahouse Minnie called home. But no one did. He stormed into the lounge and threw himself on to the couch creating a cloud of dust and cat hairs. His left eye felt very sore and all at once he was overcome with a great tiredness.
“This one’s still alive: you check the woman…”
“Damn, I can’t seem to get a line in this one!”
“No problem, I’ll deal with it, but haul him inside first!”
In Inch’s head, the radio announced, “And now, we continue with Episode 5 of Rosy Blobuster’s ‘The Magic Mirror.”
“Yes, yes, yes! Of course, I know it was a small item, you slimy great slug! But, do you really think that I would risk all my machinations again, by lubricating them with the slippery spoors of a mollusc like you!” Rakhni’s cruel lips clicked. Her sharp words spilt down the twisted abyssite steps like needles and pricked Agitor Sloch, her Chief Spy, in his bubbling toothless maw. Then she smiled and sauntered towards the quivering gelatinous Sloch, on long athletic limbs. She stroked his damp chin and caressed his eyestalks.
“You do realise, my syrupy saliva spot, I can not let this tiny little mistake go unpunished. I do, after all, have a reputation to keep up, and so as much as it sickens me to do this, my dear Agitor, I am afraid its time for you to contemplate a slight career change. And I think I have just the position for you. No, no please, no tears, I know and I am extremely touched by your loyalty, but what are old friends for if they can’t help each other out.” And as she cooed, she traced her bony finger under his weeping eye and, with a venomous scowl, flicked the yellow fluid into the bottomless stairwell. She stopped for a moment, her eyebrows arched with expectation, listening. Then she let out a gentle satisfied sigh of delight as a distant ‘ting’ told her the greasy secretions had hit their freezing mark.
Former Agitor Sloch whimpered and his mottled brown skin puckered.
“Oh, but how rude of me, I haven’t told you where you’re going,” Rakhni giggled. “Here I’ll give you a tiny clue.”
As the last icy syllables trickled from her tongue, Rakhni sprinkled a pinch of rubidite on to one of Sloch’s hearing funnels, and kissed him. Sloch’s once ochre clitellum turned green.
“Guards! Set the new Rubidite Mines Warden to work on his labours!”
The Rubidite Mines, the very name conjured up images of abject squalor and misery in Sloch’s invertebrate brain. The Rubidite Mines: source of the addictive red crystals the Spider-Witches used to subjugate and control their wolf spider thralls.
Rakhni glided across the chasm on thin threads of silk, allowing her servants to scoop up the rapidly dissolving Sloch into a black chitin tank.
Draping a diaphanous veil around her naked body, she swaggered over to a small table, concealed by a leathery curtain, and poured herself a long black drink.
“Now, Silver Weevil, my dear new Spy-Master, to business. I have a little someone who, I am certain, is dying to see me, please be a darling and bring him here, and in return, of course, you shall have your ex-master’s Staff!”
The dark squat figure, at the table, put a velvet glove to his twitching nose and squinted at Rakhni.
“Agreed. The grub is as good as yours, Mot… My Queen and even as we speak my trap is being set,” he sniffed coldly.
In his dream, Inch floated above a group of vaguely familiar figures huddled around a hospital bed sipping tea, and whispering in concerned tones. But, then it wasn’t a bed; it was a teapot with someone’s head popping out saying,
“I breathe when I sleep and I sleep when I breathe.”
The scene drifted in and out of focus, as though Inch was dipping his face in and out of a pool of water. The sensation felt at once invigorating and disorientating.
Flash! He was one of the figures. His mother smelt of warm lilies and her hand felt soft. Then snap, he was floating again. Flash, snap, flash, snap, flash, snap, flash, flash, flash… A dull ache washed over his head, then the deep, dark red nausea returned and he was at the top of a swaying steel tower, clinging to a chain link railing, but it seemed to be made of thin wires and plastic tubes.
“Umuph! What the…?” Inch woke with a start and gingerly pressed his fingers down the side of the arm. Slowly, he drew out a strange looking silver whistle. It was, like every object in the flat, covered with tiny dragons and magnolias.
The doorbell rang, at last, saved! Inch dashed down the hall and flung open the door.
“Can I help you? Oh, er…” Inch blurted. But, as before, no one was there. Strange, he thought, leaning out. Jazzy snaked around his calves.
“Wow-ah! Crikey that was close” Inch’s legs wobbled, bowed and his body swerved trying to keep his balance and at the same time, he managed to dodge a green and silver package sat on the step.
The small parcel was covered in strange writing. There was a tag stuck to the side. It said:
Keep the faith.
The parcel smelt like salty old salmon. It also seemed incredibly heavy. He slid it on the sideboard, wiped his hands on his shirt and grumbled back onto the couch to try the whistle.
He gave it a few hard blasts, but it was either blocked with ancient fluff, or it was one of those stupid dog whistles, because nothing happened. Frustrated and even more bored he threw it across the room.
“Shangri-la!” Inch muttered, as the whistle disappeared through the half-opened sash window and into the miserable September twilight. He grabbed his blue fleece jacket and shuffled to the door.
“I’m sure I put that parcel near the mirror,” he puzzled, as he slipped onto the cold concrete landing.
Outside underneath what he guessed, judging by the radio blare, to be Minnie’s window, he searched for the whistle. His heart raced. He felt hot. He needed to rest…
Upstairs, in the hall, the parcel hissed
“Inch, INCH! Mr Partridge, your new flute teacher, is here!”
“And, you’ll never guess. Matt… I mean Mr Partridge’s on the same psychology course at Shelton as me.”
Inch looked up, with fake raised-eyebrow interest, from the whining computer, and smiled thinly. “Great!”
But he’s not Dad.
‘Ghost Hawk woke exhausted and racked with pain. His right eye rolled lazily around in its deep-set socket. Every creaking, aching joint was pinned with little needles. Each needle was suspended from a single steel wire of gossamer thinness that radiated out and disappeared in to the cavernous umber gloom. Dried spit and mucus sealed his parched grey mouth.
And there he hung contorted, at the core of a vast web sphere, second after second, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. He cursed the Sisterhood, he cursed the Martyrs, but most of all he cursed himself. He was still alive; still alive to suffer the guilt; still alive to bear witness to the results of his own grasping egocentric greed.
Each night he would be woken by a persistent tugging on one of the threads attached to his eyelid, and the thin sibilant tongue of Trepan Dryll, Queen Rakhni’s favourite interrogator, would whisper,
“Wakey-wakey, my little marionette! Are you ready to play?”
And every night through stitched lips, Ghost Hawk would snarl back, “Never!”
So, with a pant of demonic glee, his tormentor would tighten the martyr’s bindings and daub vinegar on his cracked mouth.
Until one full, moonlit midnight, the thread tweaked, ever so lightly, and Ghost Hawk’s wizen head lolled forwards wearily.
“What now?” he mumbled.
“It is I, Ghost Hawk, little Alorah. Drink from the waters of hope, old friend.”
The Sister placed a green phial to his lips, then took something from around her neck and pressed it into his withered hand. Helpless with surprise, he sipped the sweet pure liquid and the pain in his heart was eased for a moment, as happy memories seeped back.
“I have news Ghost Hawk,” Alorah chimed, “of a new portal, and the coming of Insha, prepare yourself for absolution!”
On hearing these words, Ghost Hawk’s tormented face twisted in to a crooked smile. “But how will I…? A snort and grunt cut him short.
“You will think of something. Farewell Martyr, your place at my Lord’s table is set.” The Sister’s voice trailed away, and Ghost Hawk thought he must have been hallucinating, but then he looked at his hand and there was a large teardrop pearl pendant. A loud yawn announced the return of Trepan Dryll, humping his slimy carcass off his bony bed and down the tunnel to the winch. Ghost Hawk clenched his fist and felt the threads tighten.
“What’ve you got to be so pleased about, Cyclops?” Dryll belched. “Got wind, or lost your marbles altogether?”
Ghost Hawk blubbered back, vacantly.
“Right then, are you ready to play with the Queen or not?” The tormentor shrugged, apathetically, already certain of the same answer he had received for years.
But, Ghost Hawk flexed his muscles and whispered, “Yes!”’
“Ay you, Breamy!”
Inch jumped and turned, quickly slipping the whistle into his pocket. In front of him, he was surprised to see the four children he’d played ‘target practice’ with the day before.
“We thought you was never goh-na show,” the girl, Alex, whined in mock concern, “after all, you owe us a ball, remember?”
Inch snorted and skulked over to the park, escorted by his new ‘friends’. They directed him to the dark thicket of brambles and berberis, where the ball had been blasted.
They’ve been planted to stop dogs and rabbits, so how am I supposed to rescue a probably already flat ball?
The barbs and spines nicked at his fingers and arms, as he teased his way tentatively through the dense tangle of twigs. His hands squelched in a mass of soggy leaves, litter, worm casts and fungi. But, eyes closed, face screwed and turned right trying not to let flies and dust up his nose, he prodded further… then, his fingers felt something. Something soft and slimy. His heart fluttered.
Phew! It was the ball. Inch sighed with relief and pulled gently. It was stuck, wedged, jammed by the power of Big Mike’s shot. He tugged harder, but the ball remained fixed.
“Ow! Blasted wasps!”
Inch wrenched the ball, and…
… banged his head on a low branch.
The thorns scratched his scalp.
“Perhaps, I can be of service,” a strange hoarse voice coughed.
The whiff of menthol filled Inch’s nostrils. He blinked his left eye, wincing. Out of the undergrowth, two dead eyes winked back from behind sunglasses and he felt large gloved hands grab his wrists. Inch resisted for a while, then gave in.
The voice sniffed, “You are the one they call Inch, are you not?”
“Uh, yes, what?”
“Good, then I think, Brother, you should come with me, you look sick.”
Inch blinked again, dumbstruck, only half aware of being dragged into the shadows.
“Shangri-la!” he recovered in time to scream, “Help! Help! Help!”
Instantly, the grip was released and he heard the voice curse,
“Damn, grub! This should be easy.”
Then, Inch passed out and his thoughts flushed down a dark red plughole.
All around him little black flakes of soot and smoke flitted and scudded, and far below, a great festival seemed to boil with a myriad brilliant flags and costumes of silver and blue. A charcoal cloud cast its shadow across the crowd. Inch shivered, as he became aware of someone else close by. He turned. Staring straight back at him were the empty eyes of his own reflection.
Immediately, everything started to heave and sway, then spin, faster, faster, faster… Inch staggered to his feet and found himself at the front of a procession, being jostled along towards the volcanic cloud. But, it wasn’t a cloud. It was thousands and thousands of hunting wasps and wolf spiders, and on each wasp or spider sat a warrior dressed in bloody black. And then, Inch was alone on a wind swept knoll, wrapped in a sense of foreboding and menacing shadows, as high above a little spark of neon light pierced the dark. Standing next to him was the upturned wreck of Mum’s red car. Suddenly, his empty eyed mirror image appeared and pointed at a wooden executioner’s block.
“I don’t understand,” he mumbled.
“Goodbye Brother!” a cold emotionless voice scoffed, “You’ve lost, and it was all your own fault!”
Inch felt himself, saw himself, thrust on to the bloody block and sensed the ice cold blade slice through the air. And he was plunging down the sickening dark red plughole, again. A man’s voice roared, “For God’s sake, someone increase the dosage!”
“I always knew you were smarter than the others,” Queen Rakhni chuckled. “Cut him down and see to his every need.”
Reluctantly, Trepan Dryll sliced the threads and Ghost Hawk dropped to the floor. Then, he wrenched the Martyr’s head back and held the ugly knife to his neck.
“You lucky little bird, I ought to have finished you…”
The Spider Witch jabbed Dryll in the stomach and shoved him out the way. Then, she helped Ghost Hawk up.
“Now, I have a vacancy coming up in my special services department. And, if you please me, I’m prepared to tell you where your beloved Meenakshi is. So, Lord Martyr Ghost Hawk, do you think you could handle it?” She enquired.
Ghost Hawk snorted and a thick gob of salty phlegm filled his dry throat. Then he curled back his lips, bared his teeth, arched his back and spat into Dryll’s green froghopper face. Then, he turned to Rakhni and nodded, “Of course!”
Chapter 3 – Split
“There you go Wormy, better out than in,” a familiar warble echoed.
Inch shuddered and sniffed, ‘Tea!’ He opened his eyes. He tried to move his arms, to wipe away the sick, but they were pinned down.
Inch panicked, a wave of fear swept through his body drenching him in a cold sweat, then he sighed deeply as he realised he was under one of Minnie’s special origami blanket folds, designed to prevent accidental departure from her rock, hard slab-like emerald futon. Lying there, listening to his heart pounding, reminded him of hospital. As exhaustion took hold again, one question rattled around inside his head: How had he gotten back to the flat?
“It’s always been about you, Vince, hasn’t it? Hasn’t it? Well I was hurt too. Did you think I wanted your Dad to run off with someone else? I suppose growing old gracefully, so you can refer to me as your ‘old queen’ or ‘Poor Mum’, depending on your mood, is all I’m good for? Perhaps, you thought joining the badminton club would enhance my ‘social circle’. Do you really think I want to spend every Friday for the rest of my life cruising the Plantation bar, with a string of new ‘uncles’ in tow, like the others in the Mad-Bad Brigade? Now, Matt’s moving in and that’s final!
‘Thanks again, Dad and Rachel( you witch)! Now I’ve got to put up with prattish Mr P because Mum’s feeling left out. But, at least, I won’t have to read any more, ‘To Tigger, Love Eeyore’, text messages on Mum’s mobile,’ Inch thought.
Phzzz! A wasp.
Hiss! Something else was hungry.
“It’s 10:37, time to wake up, time to wake up!”
Inch grunted and turned over. A shadow flickered on the wall.
“It’s 10:38, time to wake up, time to wake up!”
Something tickled Inch’s nose. Swiping it away, he groped for the alarm button.
His hand crab-crawled across the teak cabinet top,
But the clock had been moved.
Groaning and rubbing at his face, he rolled out of bed.
Snap! The something bit into the irritating insect.
Inch scanned his room.
“Minnie! Minnie!” he glanced in the dressing table mirror, (Ugh!) and noticed a letter lying on the writing pad.
Have nipped to the Square,
See you later,
P.S. Don’t open the windows or front door.
He sauntered in to the lounge and the radio seemed to switch itself on, “and now it’s back to the Land of Lagrin-sha with another episode of The Magic Mirror!”
“My Queen, your new consort has been prepared.”
The Spider Witch ignored the announcement and continued quivering and sighing with pleasure as warm water trickled over her naked body. Her servant hovered awkwardly at the entrance to the shower, near a recess in the black abyssite wall. Occasionally, he risked a furtive glance at Rakhni’s lithe wet limbs and licked his excited lips. His eyes half closing as he breathed in the intoxicating scent of stargazer lilies.
Splack! Her glistening sinuous hand shot out and grabbed him by the neck, lifting him off the damp floor. Then little by little, she squeezed his windpipe. The Spider Witch shook him for a few seconds, then tossed him effortlessly across the room.
“Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Really Blurk I thought you above all others would know a Queen needs her privacy, sometimes.”
She skipped over to Blurk and stood astride him shivering with satisfaction; then sensuously, with one eye watching his response, she smoothed back her glossy black hair, sending rivulets of water down her thighs, to fall into his freckled face.
“Well, send him in!” Rakhni purred, clicked her fingers and stalked majestically towards her private bedchamber followed by a small entourage of fawning handmaidens and dressers, ushering in Ghost Hawk. Then she stopped, poised perfectly in the ornate frame of the doorway and to Blurk added, in a hushed, but blasé tone, “Oh, and remember to dispose of his remains before I wake!”
Inch blinked, shook his head and ambled to the kitchen. Jazzy sat motionless, staring at the door to the pantry. Just a mouse again, Inch thought.
Phzzz! Another small black wasp skittered repeatedly against the windowpane. Oblivious, Inch carried on gathering up all his usual breakfast ingredients: Toast, butter, cornflakes, milk, sugar… no sugar… He reached over to the pantry door and …
Bam! Uhh! The tang of ozone. Seaweed, trout and… something else?
Thwich! He was hit across the back of his head.
Pwat! His eye.
Chok! His mouth. Within seconds, he was flailing his arms and legs in every direction, trying to fend off whatever it was that kept…
Twach! Skruh! Prink! Hitting him.
He scurried for the safety of the living room and slammed the kitchen door shut.
Dum! There was a thud, followed by a soft whining.
Inch peered round the door. There, on the tiled windowsill, sitting in the branches of Minnie’s favourite tea plant was a dainty aquamarine creature licking its twiggy feet. Inch watched at once delighted and shocked.
“Shangri-la! A dragon?”
Inch shrugged. The little dragon carried on grooming its wings, as if in its own fastidious world, then jumped up and round to look straight at Inch, with its sparkling sapphire eyes.
Phzzz! A wasp hummed in Inch’s ear.
The little dragon let out a shrill whistle, then shot like a dart towards Inch’s face. Inch flinched, his eyes scrunched for the impact. Then, SNAP!
But nothing happened. He opened his eyes and gasped. The little dragon had stopped two centimetres away from his nose and was now hovering with a peculiar expression on its face, the crushed wings of the black wasp sticking from its tiny curved beak. Inch blinked and the little creature vanished.
Inch stumbled back into the living room and collapsed onto the couch. And the radio played on…
“What do you mean, Ghost Hawk has escaped? Blurk, you miserable beetle! I will have to think of something particularly special to do to you… Now let me see…” Rakhni sneered, “Still, it may be for the best… and we may yet retrieve his Staff.”
“Welcome back to ‘Nurture Nature’, here on Channel 57; the game show that lets parents play at Frankenstein and where you, the audience, decide which parent: ‘Keeps the kid’. Ladies and gentlemen, the modelling and moulding is over, the lecturing and learning are at an end, and the masks are about to come off, but who will it be? Tonight’s show has certainly surpassed all our expectations,” the bewigged hostess in the surgeon’s gown smarmed. “And I’m sure the final results are going to be pretty special. Her are our very worthy parents: absent father and virtuoso jazz pianist, Jack, and mother and part-time student, Mia. And let me tell you this pair has really nurtured nature for us this evening. So, let’s just recap on what emotional baggage both parents brought with them at the start and remind ourselves of how they displayed such unwavering dedication to their own idiosyncratic visions of what a dream son should be.”
A giant child’s freckled face, hanging behind them, turned into a screen showing clips from the programme. “Okay, now, the ultimate decision rests with you, the people.”
The audience, around the studio, rustled wrappers from humbugs in handbags. Ghoulish fingers hovered over voting pads. All the lights dimmed, except for a pair of spotlights flashing on the two wrapped figures standing by the two contestants. A drum roll rat-a–tatted.
“So, ladies and gentlemen, the tension mounts, the moment of truth nears. Who is going to be walking home with the exclusive ‘Nurture Nature’ Vincent Bream? Will it be blue bunnies or pink teddies? Mummy or Daddy? Cast your vote… Now!” And with that, the hostess whipped away the bandages revealing the results of Jack and Rachel’s child-care.
Inch’s mouth dropped.
A hundred and nineteen interfering busybodies clicked their sweaty keys, then gloated cross-legged and cross-armed at their equally puffed up neighbours. The hostess put her arms around Jack and Mia.
“Phew, it was a close one, but I think that, yes… the result is clear…it’s a win for…”
“NOOO!” It was too much to bear; Inch dived at his parents’ waxy-faced grotesques, smashing them as he plunged through the giant child’s face, leaving it viciously scarred.
Whee! The kettle boiled.
Inch woke in a haze trying to work out what had, or had not, just happened. Then, an amazing flash of brilliance leapt in to his head. The kettle! The whistle! He dashed for the spare bedroom, then stopped, as he heard the sound of keys rattling in the lock.
“Anybody home?” Minnie appeared in the hallway with a large parcel wrapped in brown paper plonked on top of her battered blue PVC shopping trolley.
Over tea, Inch scrutinised Minnie’s every move. Who was she, really? Surely not, it seemed, just the dishevelled old crone that doddered from tea break to tea break, playing whist and rummy down at the Centre. Inch could not believe the strange ideas buzzing inside his head. This had to be some kind of subtle side effect of the tablets he had to take.
Minnie sat shaking as she inspected the dregs of her seventh cup of tea.
“OO! I see great events unfolding Wormy, I see mysteries revealed, meetings and conjunctions,” her voice rose and fell with melodramatic flourishes.
“When? Where? Who?” Inch blurted out, with eager anticipation.
“Tonight…7:30…Appointment with Destiny…Channel 71, after the soaps! Ha! Had you going there, didn’t I,” she crowed, unable to contain her own smugness. Her eyes sparkled, as they filled with tears of laughter.
“Hmm, hey what? Oh yes, very funny, so how do you explain that smelly delivery yesterday and this?” Inch produced the parcel Minnie had brought in and tore away the paper in triumph.
“You mean that old bird cage? It’s for my new pet. A Corvus dracus agua. It’s very rare, apparently, according to the care manual. It reminds me of a little chick I had, as a child, long ago…” Minnie’s eyes glazed over, for a second before she continued. “Yes, well… It’s also known to ornithologists as a Himalayan Dragon Bird. It came as quite a surprise to me. I must have a secret admirer. Oh, look at the time. I must fly there’s a slide show and talk on at the Old Village Hall about reincarnation. Tidy up the dishes there’s a dear, and if you could think of a name for it, too, but nothing dreary dear, like Bluey or Dewy. We want drama, distinction, dynamism.” Minnie attempted a bow, then made a high-speed shuffle over to the coat stand, leaving Inch feeling deflated and quiet. “Oh, and don’t let it get too hot!”
Inch slumped on the edge of his futon twiddling the silver whistle.
“Himalayan Dragon Bird, fuh!” He put the whistle to his lips and blew it so hard his ears ached. Then he fell back on to the duvet and into a disturbed dream.
A giant black wasp with a hypodermic needle hovered near his face.
Inch shot up out of bed wide-awake and ready for action. He buzzed with renewed strength. He felt strangely refreshed and invigorated. He shot a fleeting glance in the mirror.
“Ha! Great! Just a dream.” Inch breathed in deep and long, then stretched. He took a quick slurp of the clear blue liquid by his bed, rolled off the futon in one easy movement, strode across the cold grey floor, and threw open the door.
Minnie’s entire front room had been trashed. A hurricane had hit, and smashed every piece of china in the place. Stranger still, every fragment formed part of an intricate pattern of concentric circles, like the weird designs in farmers’ fields he had seen on T.V. Inch stood dumbstruck, wondering where to begin, who to call, when…
There in the centre of all the mayhem, perched on top of a tea urn, was the little Himalayan Dragon Bird nibbling at a giant jet-black wasp. It whistled to itself, then screeched,
Deep, dark red nausea. Swirling, heaving, lurching, “Uh!”
For the second time, Inch shot up out of bed, but now he was shaking and sweating. He shivered and shuddered. He rubbed his sore left eye and cheeks, as though trying to rid them of the last stinging splinters of his nightmare, whilst at the same time squeezing them to reassure himself that he was really alive. Inch popped one of his blue tablets in to his parched mouth and took a long slow drink of the cheap apple juice by his side. Then he lay back waiting for his head to stop pounding. At last, he swung his stiff legs off the bed and groped his way across the warm blue Persian carpet, to the bedroom door.
“Phew! Definitely, just a dream.” Minnie’s china bazaar was just as it always had been: a higgledy-piggledy reflection of the scatty old woman that had furnished it.
“Ooo Wormy! It sounds like your dream was a right old storm in the teacups! No more chicken tikka sandwiches for you at suppertime.” Minnie effused, some time later, as she wobbled on the end of Inch’s futon listening as well as she could to his weird tale. She looked, Inch thought, like a baby orang-utan still recovering after falling out of its nest and landing in a spin drier. Still, she meant well.
“I’ve just thought of a name for the bird,” Inch sniggered, “MISS PEARL!”
Minnie fell off the bed and the bedside radio alarm lit up.
“Thway! Thway! Has the experiment been successful?” Queen Rakhni chattered, buoyantly.
Dronor Thway, the Spider Witch’s Royal Astrologer, peeped behind a silk veil and cast a large multi-lensed eye over the mummified remains of His Royal Darkness, Sharva the Sick. “K-k-k-kah! Exquisite workmanship. But, if you don’t mind me saying, Your Majestic Magicness, he’s never going to recover fully, k-k-k-kah, in the strictest sense of the word, is he? I mean it’s going to take more than the surgeon’s chisel, k-k-k-kah, to bring him back…”
“Precisely, dear Star Riddler. Nor do I wish to. I have a better plan and to be quite honest, I was growing tired of his lack of self-control. Which is why I have put you in charge of my new brain child,” the Witch smouldered, leading Thway gently away from the veil. “Since Splinter boy’s little… mishap, my new Chief Spy just happened to find some ancient texts and, after pawing through the sacred manuscripts, I believe there is a way to… upgrade him. For, in ages past, the Martyrs and Sisters were given the secret of transmigration. This godly gift enabled them, at the end of their natural lives, to transfer their knowledge and wisdom onto countless generations, fresh in spirit and vitality. And so, in effect made them immortal. Now, according to my research, I believe I can modify this process to create a better, brighter brother, for Prince Peewit. However, I still require the Five Martyrs’ Sensory Staffs, the Thirteen Sisters’ Tears, and that boy’s creative brain. Add to this my motherly guidance and… ” She patted her stomach gently.
“K-k-k-kah!” The Royal Astrologer scrutinised Rakhni’s bump, “and, how might I serve, Your Exultant Hexiness, in this most magnificent and maternal mission?”
“You, dear Comet Computator, must calculate for me the exact time of the Great Confliction; the time when the great celestial bodies, Lagru and Flagra, unite. For, it is said that only at this time can the transmigration be achieved!”
“K-k-k-kah! But, where will Your Supreme Sorceressness find these elements?”
“My dear Planet Ponderer, everything is under control. Now, if you can keep your eye off my curves, and on the sky, you might just live long enough to see a new and more beloved Prince born!” Rakhni spun round and poked Tway’s huge eye, then slapped all the charts and quills out of his blue barnacled pincers.
Over the next few days, if the weather was fine, Inch was allowed to join Alex and the other children in the park, where Minnie could ‘keep an eye on’ him. Miss Pearl the little dragon bird had taken a real shine to Inch. So, when Minnie wasn’t looking, Inch would let the little creature ride around on his head.
“Wormy dear! Oh Wormy! Be a cherub and nip to Toppy, I’m low on sherry, and I have a visitor tonight. You’ll never guess. Remember the talk? Well I met a very distinguished and charming, charming man there. And would you believe it he is as interested in tea and tinctures as I am. I’m sure you’ll find him fascinating, too. His name’s Professor Argentius Kurculian!” Minnie chirped, excitedly, one lunchtime, “You know where the paisas are.”
Inch grunted, “A-ha! The mysterious AK!”
“Oh yes, and by the way,” she giggled, “I’m going to have forty winks or two. A girl needs all the beauty sleep she can get, if she’s to look her best, I might even try a new hair colour. And finally, give that Nepalese lamb stew an occasional stir before you go, it’s a surprise for Kurculian. Well, have fun!”
“OK alright if you insist,” He called back in mock annoyance. Minnie toddled in to her ‘mystic boudoir’ and Inch grinned to himself, ‘I wonder if I’ll be bonkers when I’m that old?’
“Mr Bream! Mr Bream! There’s some one here to see you!” A woman’s bright and breezy voice echoed, “Let’s get ship-shape!”
“Urggh! Hey what?” Inch spluttered, swallowing chlorinated water.
“A visitor Mr Bream, your brother!”
“Bluh! Sorr... But I don’t have a… Phuh!” Inch coughed and wriggled in what felt like a canvas nappy.
“Up periscope! Prepare to surface, Rear Admiral! Permission to come aboard! The nurse winched the flotation chair, out of the white tiled physio-pool, and lowered Inch into a white wheelchair laid out with a crisp white towelling robe. The nurse rubbed his bony neck, shoulders and chest down, efficiently; she smelt of carbolic soap.
“Prepare to greet civilians…now!” and she spun the wheelchair around, sharply.
“Surprise!” Inch’s twin cheered and shoved a bouquet of limp white lilies hard into his face.
Urgh! The stench! Inch’s heart snapped, he clutched his pain-racked chest, staggered to the edge of the pool and stumbled off…
“Augh! I must try to stay focused.” Inch looked at the clock, “Y-es, only 12:15, perfect. That means I can still go rafting with the gang. I’ll whiz to the shops, drop the supplies off and then it’s cruising time!” He raced in to the kitchen, swinging round on the door jam.
“Shangri-la! Jazzy!” Minnie’s cat shot through his legs as though escaping a fire. Inch looked up. A distant roll of thunder rumbled. The lid on Minnie’s stew clattered and the little blue gas flame hissed, but there was no need to worry. Near the open window, the little dragon bird skipped up and down its ivory perch whistling, as warm gusts of air ruffled its emerald flight feathers. Inch shook his head and laughed, then climbed up on to the marbled worktop to reach Minnie’s secret stash, hidden behind an ugly looking Chinese lion. His bare feet trod in some spilt milk, sugar and margarine from breakfast. His fingers stretched, stretched, stretched and slipped along the grease and cobwebs on the top of the wall unit. Eventually, he managed to squeeze them into the filthy hole and brushed the rusted old tin with his fingertips.
Suddenly, a strong blast of hot air rushed in through the window. The nets caught Pearl’s cage and knocked it to the floor. The cage door sprang open and the startled little bird was tossed out straight on to the gas hob, where Minnie’s stew was bubbling…
The entire kitchen exploded in another blinding flash, and Inch was thrown by a giant invisible hand across the room and landed, slam, against the fridge. He looked up for a second and gasped as he saw the tiny dragon bird engulfed by scalding steam. But, the little creature appeared to be bathing in the hot vapours and growing with every flicker.
And the radio played on...