I was very excited to introduce George and his friends to the world on 10 July 2016! So happy birthday, George and the Gargoyle who lived in the Garden!
Thank you very much to everyone who participated in the online launch, and congratulations to the winners – you may already have received your signed copies of the novel!
A little fact about Gargoyles:
Did you know that Gargoyles were viewed in two ways by the church throughout history? Often gargoyles were used to assist the Church in conveying messages to the common people. Since literacy was uncommon, images were the best way to constantly convey ideas. Gargoyles were used as a representation of evil. It is thought that they were used to scare people into going to church, reminding them that the end of days was near. It is also thought that their presence assured congregants that evil was kept outside of the church’s walls.
The eBook and paperback is now available on Amazon uk here: http://tinyurl.com/zm3yej6
And Amazon.com here: http://tinyurl.com/h2nf3ov
I’m very grateful that the wonderful award winning YA author of The Du Lac Chronicles, Mary Anne Yarde, had this to say about George and the Gargoyle who lived in the Garden:
“It was the same dream, every single night…
First there was this horrid, ear-splitting, squawking sound. And then a dreadful sense of fear, followed by the largest and brightest purple eye that George had ever seen. And then, he would wake up!
George knew his parent were right. He was too old to be having such dreams and perhaps going to see a counsellor was the right thing to do. But how was a councillor going to help with the school bullies?
George longed for the school holidays, where he could escape the bullies and his unsympathetic father.He would be spending his summer with his believed Aunt Di and he could not wait.
George, however, had no idea, that his aunts garden was a magical place and that he was about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.
What a fantastically gripping middle-grade story about a young boy and his exploits in a beautiful enchanted garden. The story was full of mystery and magic, with just enough suspense to keep me on the edge of my seat.
I could easily visualise George’s garden and his many friends he made there. I loved his relationship with Aunt Di and the evil witch certainly made me shiver!
A great story and an enjoyable read. I think this has the makings of an exciting series.”
To whet your appetite, here are a few chapters from George and the Gargoyle who lived in the Garden:
CHAPTER 1 – THE DREAM
GEORGE WAS RUNNING; he was running as fast as he could, faster than ever before in his life. Faster, and faster.
His scrawny, skinny legs were scampering up the little hill and down into the forest beyond.
The backwind swept his dirty-blonde floppy fringe from his face. Streaming tears clung to his eyelashes and blew backwards into his ears. His nose was running, too. But there was no time to stop to find a tissue. Very likely, he knew, there would be none in any of his pockets.
Dodging left and right, he managed to avoid running into the trees.
This was by no means an easy feat. There were hundreds of trees, thousands maybe, he reckoned. All different kinds, and in some places they grew so close together that he scraped his knees and elbows as he tried, without slowing down, to get through the narrow gaps between them.
He could not keep up the murdering pace, of course, and when finally utterly exhausted, a tree mercifully broke his fall. Instinctively, he braced for the collision. But nothing had prepared him for the fire in his hands as the violence of the impact ripped through his body.
Had he given himself whiplash?
Ignoring the pain, he darted behind the tree. Its trunk felt hard and comforting on his back. He leant against it for a moment, gasping for breath. His throat was drier than toast, his lungs on fire.
But even resting against the tree was too much for his tired legs. He slid down the tree’s moss-bedecked trunk to the forest floor. Once there, he sat panting, sweat running down his back and face, his burning hands in his lap. The frenzied thumping of his heart created a kind of out-of-body sensation.
He tried to remember if he had ever heard or read anything about hearts exploding from exhaustion. It certainly felt like his was trying to do just that.
Slowly, as his breathing returned to normal, he realised that the forest was unusually quiet. In fact, it seemed to be deserted. Nothing moved. He could not hear the usual bird song, or the little squirrels scampering up trees.
As he continued to strain his ears for any kind of sound, however, he fancied he could feel the entire forest holding its breath. It seemed to be waiting with him. Waiting, he realised, for any sound of…the thing.
There! He heard it.
At first, the sound was very faint. But it grew louder and louder. It was a loud squawking sort of sound. A sound unlike anything he had ever heard before. The thing was definitely following him, and it was getting closer.
He was way too scared to peep around the tree trunk. He sank lower, instead, maneuvering himself behind some sparse shrub that grew there. He hoped that whatever the thing was, it would pass him by. But loud swishing noises now joined the squawking sounds. They were getting even louder, which meant that the thing was getting nearer and nearer. It sounded humungous.
George shut his eyes tight, and tried his hardest to control his breathing. Perhaps, if it could not hear him, it would not find him?
The thing made no sound at all; no more squawking sounds, no more swishing noises. It did not even breathe. If it breathed at all…
The abrupt stillness was far, far worse, because now George could not tell where it was. At least, when he could hear it, he could tell that it was someplace behind him.
He forced himself to peep, first using just one eye. Satisfied that all he could see was the green of the trees and the darker green of the shrubs, he opened both eyes and turned his head slowly to the left, intending to glance behind the tree. But just then, an enormous, great big, giant, purple eye appeared. It blinked at him.
George screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed.
“Georgie! Shush, now. Hush. It was just a bad old dream. Hush now,” George heard his mum say before he was completely awake and felt her comforting hand on his arm.
“What’s this bloody racket in the middle of the night?” his father bellowed from the door way. His pyjama bottom was twisted and his hair stood up, matching the mood of his ruffled eyebrows. It would have been quite funny, but with glasses balanced on the bridge of his nose and his arms folded tightly across his chest, Mr. Faraday managed to look as fierce as he always did. “every bloody night.”
“It’s alright, Mike,” George’s mum said in her soothing voice, but her eyes said, ‘no swearing.’ “George was just having a bad dream. Go back to bed. I’ll stay with him.”
“But every bloody night.” His father was obstinately ignoring his wife’s warning looks and yawned through his words. “When will it ever stop so that we can have some peace and quiet in this house? You’d better buck up your ideas, my lad. Some of us have to go to work in the morning to keep you in food and clothes, and a roof over your head. The least you can do is to show some consideration and let me sleep, damn it.”
“It’s okay,” Mrs. Faraday said again, a little sterner this time. “I’ll make sure he’s alright. Go back to bed. I won’t be long.”
“But this nonsense has to stop now. It’s been going on since he was a kid. I’ve had enough,” Mr. Faraday said, as he walked farther into the room.
He seemed to be working himself up into a state of fury the more he talked. His face was becoming an alarming shade of crimson.
“And you’re encouraging him to be a wimp. My father would never have stood for this. We’re too soft on the boy, I keep telling you, Miriam.”
“It was just a bad dream, Mike. He’ll soon go back to sleep, and then he’ll be alright, you’ll see.”
It looked as though his mum wanted to add that George was still a kid. But she clearly thought better of it than to start a debate with her husband in that state, at that hour.
George’s mum stroked his damp hair from his forehead.
Together, they listened to his father’s angry footsteps stomping down the corridor. All the while, he continued to grumble something about how George could not possibly be his son, as no son of his would be such a wuss, oh, no, his son would be strong; a hero, in fact. His son would not be screaming like a girl, night after night, because of some silly dreams.
George blushed at his father’s harsh words. He lowered his head, hoping that his mum had not noticed his red face. But his heart burned, as it had umpteen times before, with shame, and the yearning to find some way to be normal, at least in his father’s eyes.
“I’m okay, mum. Really,” George said moments after his parents’ bedroom door slammed shut in a way that sounded disgusted and final.
George was drenched with sweat. His mother retrieved dry pyjamas from the wardrobe for him to change into. She left the room on the pretext of getting some water, when a perfectly good glass of water stood on his bedside table. George was grateful for her sensitivity in giving him some privacy.
When she returned, her mouth smiled at him, but her eyes looked worried. “Your father is right, you know,” she said. “You’ve been having these bad dreams most of your life. It can’t be good for you to keep having your sleep disrupted like this, every night. I’m wondering if we should go to see the doctor. What do you think?”
The next day, the pleasant lady doctor recommended that George see a counsellor who could help him to work through the reasons why he was having such bad dreams.
The doctor’s smile was fascinating, mostly because she had a ruby set into one of her front teeth. As a result, George nearly missed the important piece of information that the counsellor might also be able to help him to stop having the bad dreams.
That was news.
It had never occurred to him that he could choose to stop himself from having bad dreams. His apprehension lessened a little. The more he thought about it, the more curious he became about the mysterious counsellor, who sounded more like a magician than a doctor.
“But,” his mum told him in the car on the way home, “we’ll have to wait till after the Easter holidays for you to see the counsellor, Georgie. You know your dad and I will be leaving for South Africa soon. I don’t think we’ll be able to fit it in before then.”
George already knew he was staying in London whilst his parents were going on holiday to South Africa. He also knew that it was not really a holiday, but rather yet another fishing trip for his angling-mad father.
George could not help wondering why his mum would tag along to something so boring. But honestly, he was much more excited about staying with his mum’s outrageous, arty sister than he was about seeing some silly old counsellor. This would be the first time, however, that he would be staying with his aunt for nearly the whole Easter holiday.
His mind reeled at the possibilities of what she might have planned for them. A smile lurked at the corners of his mouth. He admired the secret whiz-kid schemes she concocted to hide the surprises she so adored to spring on him. She loved doing that almost more than the actual surprise itself. The lengthy processes leading up to the surprises, however, almost always sorely tested his patience. But no matter how hard he tried, not once had he ever been able to find out her schemes beforehand. Her ideas were amazing, and indeed, surprising, every time. Around his zany aunt, it always felt like a mad kind of Christmas, regardless of the time of year. Mind you, anything that deviated slightly from his usual boring existence, would have counted as a welcome surprise.
What he liked best about his aunt was that she always treated him like an adult, even when he was still a little kid. It made him feel so much better than he usually did.
Coming to think of it, Aunt Di’s home also always felt completely safe, in every way.
But his excitement flagged quite a bit when they got home, and he saw his father’s car parked in the driveway. He was back from work early.
His father must have been watching out for their arrival. No sooner had they driven up to the house, than his father appeared, grinning, opening the car doors, and practically shoving them inside the front door.
For the first time since George had known him, his father seemed as excited as George had been just a few moments ago.
“George,” he said, sitting down on the sofa opposite his son, “you’re too young now, but in a few years’ time, you can come along, too.”
He pushed a glossy brochure towards George. “I’ll be getting into a galvanized steel cage, which is then lowered into the ocean. See? Like this one. It’s the very best way to observe sharks, and those guys in Cape Town are the most experienced in the world. I’ll take lots of pictures and tell you all about it when we’re back. But boy, it’s going be something, don’t you think?”
His dad’s toothy grin reminded George all too vividly of sharks.
Thank goodness he was staying in London, George thought. A shiver ran through his body. He could not imagine anything more nightmarish than sharks. Although, perhaps his father’s new excited persona was a close second.
One more sleep, George thought, as he got ready for bed that night, and one more school day. Then…holiday, yay!
CHAPTER 2 – TULLY TUCKER AND THE FEARSOME FOURSOME
TULLY TUCKER, AND his gang, collectively known as the Fearsome Foursome, were already lounging at the school gate the next morning when George arrived.
Oh, no, thought George when he saw them. He tried to walk slower so that he could duck past them, unseen.
Somehow, he was one of only a few in his class who had managed to avoid any entanglement with the four bigger boys the entire year so far. He wanted to keep it that way. But it was too late. They had spotted him. All smiles and faked friendliness, they advanced towards him, scattering smaller children in all directions.
“Hey, Georgie, how’s it hanging?” Tully shouted.
A few of the younger students glanced at George, and sniggered.
George decided the best way to deal with Tully, who was clearly on a mission, was to play along and not let on how much he hated being called ‘Georgie.’
Tully grabbed George by the arm and started marching him away from there, towards the trees opposite the playing fields. The gang’s furtive glances towards the school building, presumably to make sure a teacher did not spot them, confirmed George’s suspicions that they were up to no good. He braced himself for whatever they were going to throw at him. One thing was for sure; it would be ugly. He had seen them working over younger boys often enough to know what might be in store for him.
“Tully,” George said, “you’re here early.”
“Waiting for you, Georgie-boy, waiting for you,” Tully said, and clapped a confidential arm around George’s narrow shoulders. He pressed George’s head into his chest with his other hand.
Tully and his gang members stood a whole head taller than any of the boys in George’s class, because they were supposedly a year older. There were rumours that they had been expelled from previous schools and had to repeat a year at St Paul’s. But no one really knew for sure, and George did not expect them to admit to it anytime soon, even if it was true. But he knew that many of the other students accepted it as gospel and thought the Fearsome Foursome a bit dense because of it.
George, on the other hand, had never once thought of any of them as stupid, only lazy maybe, and unmotivated. He had witnessed once too often the ingeniously cruel ways they dreamt up to torment others. Tully, especially, regularly and easily won all his debates, and consistently came up with diabolically clever new ways of torturing the younger students.
Somehow, George freed his head from underneath Tully’s arm, aware that his hair had been severely ruffled. If he had known this was going to happen, he would not have bothered to comb it this morning. Trying to make his actions look natural, he faked a cough, and tried to squirm further out from Tully’s grasp. But the grip around his shoulders only tightened.
George ended up walking squashed against the bigger boy. The sharp scent of Tully’s surprisingly sophisticated cologne invaded his nostrils. He was taken aback by how muscular Tully’s body felt beneath his clothes. Tully, somehow, always seemed to dodge out of any physical activity at the school, and was not generally known for his athleticism.
“Poor Georgie. A little birdie told us that Georgie wasn’t feeling all that well,” Tully said in a mock-childish voice.
George could not decide whether Tully was referring to his fake cough of a few moments ago, or something else.
“The birdie said that poor Georgie-porgie had to go to the doctor-woctor yesterday.”
George was not reassured when Tully continued in his normal voice, “We only want our little friend, Georgie, to know that we’re behind him all the way, don’t we lads?”
In response, the other three laughed uproariously.
Turning back to glance at them, George saw that they were, in fact, all walking right behind him.
“Erm…Tully,” George said, “Mr. Wallace is expecting me before school.” He prayed that Tully believed him. “Can’t we talk about this later?”
“Oh, it won’t take long, Georgie-boy, not long at all. Not even a minute,” Tully said.
“Or two,” Neville Dunn said, and laughed. His greasy hair stood up in all directions, uncombed.
Glancing at him, George saw that Neville was taking off his tie, rolling it around his hand, and then stuffing it into his blazer’s creased pocket.
Huh-oh, not a particularly good sign, George thought.
“Or three,” Wayne Bailey said, and snorted. He took off his glasses, and carefully, deliberately stowed them in his top pocket, patting it as if to make sure they were really in there.
“Or four,” John Ellis said, as he looked down at his muddy shoes, apparently having spotted something of absorbing interest on them.
Were they going to hurt him, or were their actions merely intended to scare him? Whatever the case, it worked; George was scared.
By now, they were nearing the trees on the far side of the playing field. George looked back to see if anyone had noticed. But as he suspected, no-one was following them, least of all Mr. Wallace. Why would he? Even though George did not really have an appointment with him, he had hoped that Mr. Wallace, who sometimes intervened when he saw fights in the playground, might have come to his rescue.
“Now, Georgie,” Tully said, and pushed George against a tree so viciously that his top teeth connected hard with his bottom ones. A momentary feeling of whiplash passed through his skull. It reminded him of the unpleasant sensation in his dream the night before.
The four of them stood facing him, grinning, arms folded across their bodies.
George had a sudden mad sense that he was auditioning for some reality TV show. He certainly felt exposed and nervous enough.
“We know an interesting little fact about you,” Tully said. “A little fact, we’re thinking, you wouldn’t like others to find out about. A little fact, we feel you’d do almost anything to keep…erm…private, shall we say.” Tully’s voice made George go cold all over.
They could not possibly know about the dreams, could they, his shameful secret? He would give anything not to keep having the dreams, those pests from childhood, which filled him with disgust at his own inability to grow up. The worst of it was that his father was right, of course; they were for girls and wusses.
No, he decided, there was no way they could know about the dreams.
He looked from one boy to the other. Their eager, shining eyes rested expectantly on him. They wanted something from him, he realised. But what?
George took a deep breath. “I’m not sure what you think you know,” he said, hoping they were bluffing, too. “Perhaps, if you tell me, I’d be able to say if it is something private?”
“Oh, we know it is, Georgie,” Tully said. “There’ll be no denying it. See, it came from my mum, and she knows everything.”
He made his voice sound like he was doing a voice-over for a horror movie, “We know about the counsellor.”
The others clearly found this hilarious and fell about laughing.
George nearly collapsed. But he was not sure if it was from the relief that they did not know about his dreams, or from the shock that they actually knew about the counsellor. How did Tully’s mum find out? He was grateful for the tree behind him. It kept him standing upright.
“You see?” Neville said, “I told you it would work. Just look at his face. He obviously doesn’t want the whole world to know about it.”
“Yes, interesting,” Tully said, rubbing his chin, which seemed to have sprouted a few fluffy, beardy hairs.
Tully was apparently deep in consideration, staring so hard at George, that it made him feel yet more uncomfortable.
“I must remember to thank my mum for that little fact,” Tully said. “I don’t think she even realised I could hear her gossiping with the neighbour. They’re always at it: yackety-yack,” he demonstrated with his thumb and forefinger. “And such juicy bits, too.”
It was Tully’s turn to laugh.
“Come on, Tully,” John said, and glanced nervously over his shoulder towards the school building, “… quit fooling around. Ask him.”
“Waddaya mean, ask him?” Tully said, suddenly serious. “There’ll be no asking. There’ll be only telling.”
He turned to George, and stuck his face so close that their noses nearly touched, forcing George to inhale his toothpaste minty morning breath. “So, Georgie-boy, I’m telling you, if you want your little secret to stay private, you’ll write all our essays for next semester, right?”
That could have been so much worse, thought George as they walked back towards the school building. He wondered if he should feel lucky that he got off so lightly. At least he did not get beaten up. Would it really be so hard to write four extra essays each time? It would give him more practice at something he enjoyed anyway. The trick would be to write like they would, he reckoned. That would be the challenge.
But during the first period, George realised he had not been so lucky after all. Constant remarks about maddos and psychos, crazies and loonies, and a lot of winks in his direction, started others in the class whispering and glancing his way, too.
By the end of the day, the whole school seemed to know that George Andrew Faraday was scheduled to see a counsellor. Even those students who never knew of his existence before, now seemed to know his news, too. Seeing a counsellor apparently immediately translated into the fact that George was a nut-job. Something several students had evidently suspected for a long time.
When the bell went, George hung back, trying to avoid any further trouble, but he knew he could not stay in the room for the rest of the day. His heart was beating in his throat. He sauntered through the door, trying to maintain an air of casual confidence.
In the corridor, a baying commotion and students with their backs towards him barred his way. He stayed just long enough to understand that someone was fighting. Then, he walked briskly in the opposite direction, refusing to look back.
Of course, it did not come as a surprise to learn later that it had been Neville fighting with another boy in his class. The boy had dared to defend loonies. It turned out that the boy’s mum had suffered with mental illness all her life, and he did not find the Fearsome Foursome’s comments funny at all. The boy’s dad turned up and he was suddenly removed from the school.
The Fearsome Foursome was given detention for the first month of the next semester, something they wore with glee as an achievement, rather than as the punishment it was meant to be.
After school, George waited self-consciously by the gate for his mum to collect him. It seemed everyone who walked past him had some comment or other to make about his state of mind and his appointment with the counsellor.
The whole school knows. Really?
When he saw the Fearsome Foursome walking towards him, he knew for the first time what people meant when they said, “I was praying that the earth would open and swallow me…” because that was exactly how he felt at that moment. But the earth did not open, and it did not swallow him, and there was nowhere for him to hide.
Tully’s face looked like thunder about to strike, and the other three looked equally unhappy.
George shrunk back. But they seemed to ignore him. Until they got level with him. They stopped, blocking the gate and glared at him, hate naked in their eyes.
Tully’s finger nearly took out George’s eye as he mouthed, “I’m going to get you.”
Behind them, children were beginning to shout to be let through, but the boys ignored them. After what felt like an eternity to George, the taller boys finally moved on.
George shifted against the gate, and exhaled. It came as a surprise to him that he had been holding his breath. What could he do? He so did not want to be on Tully’s radar. And he was innocent. If they had not played the fool in class, no one would have known anything about it. This whole thing was their doing.
On the other hand, George could understand their unhappiness. Now, they no longer had anything with which to blackmail him into writing their essays for them.
Outside the gate, Tully stopped again to glare at George. “We know where you live, Georgie-porgie,” he said.
The Fearsome Foursome’s wildly forced laughter rang in his ears as they deliberately ambled down the road to the bus stop. They were four unkempt tearaways to the uninitiated, but George knew better.
Thank goodness no bus for him today. George sighed with relief.
Running towards the gate, his floppy black hair tousled by the breeze, came the most popular, most good-looking boy in the school, Davy Morgan.
Davy’s mum’s silver BMW was already waiting outside the gate. But before he dashed off to join his mum, Davy stopped in front of George. Davy’s handsome face was slightly flushed from the football practice he had just finished.
In his fidgety, fast-talking way, he told George that he had been seeing a counsellor for almost the entire term, and that he might have to continue to do so next semester as well. He did not say why.
“It’s not too bad,” Davy said.
He gave George a quick hug, picked up his bag from where he had plonked it on the concrete, and sprinted through the gate.
George, unused to male contact and having received it for a second time on the same day, felt himself blush at Davy’s hug. He dropped his head to try to mask it, and shifted his weight onto his other foot.
Davy’s fresh shower smell still hung in the air when his twin sister, Katy, came running toward the gate. She also stopped in front of George and, as fidgety and fast-talking as her twin, confirmed what Davy had said.
“Don’t worry,” she said, and standing on tip-toes, gave George a lightning fast peck on the cheek, before she, too, ran through the gate.
George felt his blush deepen, and lowered his head even further so that his chin nearly touched his chest, in an attempt to hide his red face. But his hand involuntarily went up to stroke the place on his cheek where she had kissed him. It felt tingly.
Others were walking past him, pulling faces and behaving in a generally silly manner as they went through the gate. They were presumably laughing at their superior sanity, and his perceived lunacy.
Thankfully, no one seemed to have seen Katy’s kiss, or Davy’s hug. That would definitely have done it for him, he reckoned.
Tully’s words drummed over and over in his head, like a mantra, “We know where you live, Georgie-porgie. We know where you live, Georgie-porgie. We know where you live…”
Maybe this holiday was not one to look forward to after all.
“You’re very quiet, dear?” his mum said in the car. “Are you alright?”
Her worried eyes flashed on him for a second before she turned her attention back to the road ahead.
George nodded and tried to smile, but was only vaguely aware that his mum was telling him how much she was looking forward to her first visit to South Africa. She seemed full to bursting with excitement, her lovely face glowing.
She had arrived a little late from her lunch with her sister, Di, where the South African trip had almost certainly been dissected to within an inch of its life. No doubt, clothes and shoes were discussed, and sites to visit, and promises extracted about photographic evidence. And, his mum confirmed, Aunt Di was equally looking forward to spending the holiday with him.
George did not doubt it. Not only was she his favourite aunt, he was her one-and-only favourite nephew. Since she had no children of her own, she indulged George’s every wish, with a touching selflessness and eagerness that he should, at all times, have fun and enjoy himself.
But his brain seemed preoccupied about where Tully Tucker was going to spend his summer holidays. The other part of his brain was wondering what his father was going to say when he found out about the counsellor, and then, as he was bound to, that the whole school now knew about it.
He could not decide which of the two scenarios was worse.
CHAPTER 3 – THE GARDEN
TJRRR, SOUNDED THE birds’ wings.
They took flight just as George entered the garden. He knew, however, once he had finished filling up the blue birdbath in the middle of the lawn, and stayed ever so quietly, that the birds would return. Then, he could watch them at his leisure.
The little robins, with their brave red breasts, were his favourite. But he loved all the birds. Well…almost all of them.
Aunt Di’s garden seemed to provide shelter to a particularly large variety of British garden birds. Probably because of all the birdfeeders, George reckoned.
He easily recognised a bullfinch, two chiffchaffs, and a number of swallows, as they flitted over the fences and flew off through the trees. He also noticed a number of greenfinches.
How did such small birds make so much noise, he wondered.
His second favourite birds were house sparrows. He kept a look-out for those, too, hoping that they were also perhaps nesting somewhere close by.
Maybe because they were bigger, he never really liked blackbirds, and he loathed pigeons and crows. But then again, he loved to watch the storks who nested in the trees by the stream in the park, nearby. They were massive, so perhaps his dislike had nothing to do with size, after all. He simply did not like pigeons, crows or black birds, just as for no particular reason, he did not like roller coasters or beetroot, either.
The can of water he was carrying was heavy. He had to use both hands to hold it, but managed to pour most of the water into the blue birdbath. The lawn underneath the birdbath, no doubt, was grateful for the water spilled there. A much darker shade of green than the rest of the lawn, he guessed it meant that the birds were regularly spilling water there, too.
Job done, he returned the watering can to the shed, and went to sit on an old tree stump from where to admire the work of a tiny red spider.
Before long, as he knew they would, the birds returned to drink and bathe in the birdbath’s fresh water. Engrossed, watching the birds, he jumped when a small, cheerful voice suddenly spoke.
“Look,” it said, “there’s a boy in the garden.”
George quickly looked around. He saw no one.
“Yes,” another, equally merry, little voice said. It sounded very similar to the first one. “I wonder if he’ll play with us?”
“He might, if we ask him,” the first voice answered.
Intrigued, and curious, George got up from the old tree stump. He was careful not to upset the delicate spider’s web he had been admiring there.
Again, there was the tjrrr from their wings, as the birds simultaneously took flight when he moved.
“Hello?” George called. “Anyone there?”
A thought crossed his mind. Could it be Tully Tucker? Please, no.
George got up onto the old tree stump and peered over the fence into the next-door neighbour’s garden. There was no one there either.
The voices reminded George somewhat of cartoon voices, rather like the chipmunks’, or like someone who had swallowed helium from a balloon.
Tully Tucker? he thought again. Could he really be here?
It took about three minutes to walk across the small garden. Once at the opposite fence, George balanced on a huge plant container, from where he could check the other neighbour’s garden.
No one there either.
Aunt Di’s small garden, tucked in behind her flat, was safely hidden from the curious eyes of nosey neighbours. The reason was because of the high fences that surrounded it. At the bottom of the garden, along an incline, London Underground’s Piccadilly line train-track ran. It carried passengers to and from nearby Arnos Grove station, which was not underground at all. But further down the track, George knew from experience, the train went into a tunnel. Only then did it go underground through Central London, before emerging again above ground somewhere along the line, on its way to Heathrow Airport.
His parents had travelled there on the Piccadilly line to catch their flight to South Africa.
The wickety-WACK, wickety-WACK of the trains as they passed by at regular intervals made him feel both safe, and excited at the same time. He felt safe because it was a regular, familiar sound. And he felt excited, because the trains were taking their passengers, not only to different destinations, but also on their way to different journeys through life itself, as his aunt liked to point out. What a thought. Mostly though, it made George think of all the places he would like to travel to one day, to see the world, and to discover how other people lived.
Yes, birds were fascinating to watch, but a close second had to be people. He really did wonder where the people on the trains were going, and why. He could not see them clearly, of course, because the trees that grew along the fence blocked out most of his view of the trains. That was a good thing, George supposed, because that meant that the people on the trains could not see into the garden either.
Almost all of the trees in his aunt’s garden had at least one, and sometimes two, or even three birdfeeders hanging at different levels from their branches.
In the left hand corner, at the bottom of the garden, lived the biggest old oak tree he had ever seen. George noticed that a bird box had been attached to it, just above the big, scary hole in its trunk that looked like a screaming mouth.
George approached the tree, wondering if the cartoon voices perhaps came from there. He stood on tiptoes and tried to peer into the hole in the oak’s trunk. The hole was too high for him to reach, so he crouched down in front of the tree, instead. He waited for the voices to speak again. But no one spoke.
After a while, all he could hear was the rhythmic wickety-WACK, wickety-WACK of the trains, the birds chattering and singing, and the occasional bee buzzing past. It was all so peaceful, it nearly lulled him to sleep.
The voices had disappeared completely.
George shook himself out of his sleepiness, and returned to sit on the old tree stump.
A painter by profession, his aunt’s artistic flair was clear in the extraordinary way in which she liked to plant vegetables, and herbs, and flowers all together in great big pots. They had been placed around her garden and included an assortment of unexpected containers.
George admired an old, wooden wheelbarrow that had been pushed up against a bay tree. Herbs grew at one end, and ivy trailed at the wheelbarrow’s other end.
More herbs and grasses grew out of three car tyres, stacked one on top of the other. They reminded George of a long over-due Mohican haircut, made all the more urgent, as several plants and flowers had started to peek out from between the tyres.
A hodgepodge of smaller bowls and vases were grouped together. Tumbling from those, more herbs and vegetables and bright yellow flowers formed a new and pleasing design in each container.
In another corner, three massive pots held carrots, and beetroot, a mixture of salad leaves, and an abundance of flowers in every colour imaginable.
At first glance, the arrangements did not seem to make any sense. But on closer inspection, they formed distinct and perfect pictures, ideal for creating paintings. It was undoubtedly what his aunt had in mind when she had planted them.
The containers were mini-artworks themselves. Each one was decorated with different colourful designs. Some of the more unusual colours were clearly invented by Aunt Di herself. Probably by mixing together two or three different colours, George guessed.
He smiled at the discovery of another of her quirky character traits, perfectly displayed in the garden. He loved her infuriating habit of hiding surprises, and congratulated himself for discovering this surprise.
Secreted amongst the trees and the shrubbery, sat multi-coloured statues of a gargoyle, and a unicorn, a dragon, and a griffin.
Each statue had been expertly painted to make it appear almost real. The effect was quite creepy. Their eyes kept following George around the garden, no matter where he went.
But he could never resist the birds for long, and his gaze returned to the blue birdbath in the middle of the garden that attracted most of the activity. Even the squirrels darted across the lawn to take swift sips of water.
George did not believe in magic, but this was the most magical place he had ever seen.
He fancied the trees and the plants were whispering his name, “Hello George. Welcome George,” he imagined they would say if they could talk.
Curiously, the little cartoon voices he had heard earlier continued to remain silent. Surely he had not imagined them, or had he?
The old tree stump on which he had been sitting offered the perfect seat, not only because from there he caught the warm sun on his back, but also because it gave George the best view of a tiny spider. The little spider was busy spinning its beautiful, deadly web between two twigs.
A robin came to sit on one of the apple tree’s branches nearby, and sang his hearty song. George was amazed again that such a big sound could come out of such a tiny body.
Each time he stopped singing, the little robin cocked his head and stared at George as if to ask, “Did you like my song?”
George wished this was his garden.
CHAPTER 4 – THE ECCENTRIC AUNT
HIS FATHER ALWAYS said that Aunt Di was eccentric.
But George loved that she was so passionate about having colour around her, from the vibrant garden, to each room in her flat, painted unexpectedly a different colour.
“Now, don’t be so silly,” his mum would say to his father. “She’s extraordinary because she’s an artist.”
But George suspected that his mother envied her sister’s unrestrained lifestyle, and therefore that she secretly agreed with his father.
“She’s like a feral cat, clean and neat, but wild and untameable,” his mum would add, a wistful expression on her face.
George loved his aunt’s small flat. Lots of interesting ornaments everywhere gave evidence of Aunt Di’s many travels around the world. She proudly displayed them on every available surface in each room. Several paintings, mostly done by Aunt Di herself, covered her walls. Surprisingly, the flat did not look cluttered.
Her flat also always smelled mouth-wateringly of food. It mingled together with the smells of incense, because, she explained, she liked to experiment as much with food as she did with painting. She felt that burning incense after a painting or a cooking session helped to eliminate strong smells. But in fact, it just added to the exotic scent that always reminded George so strongly of her.
In all aspects, Aunt Di’s flat was so very different from his house, which was always so neat and tidy, never a thing out of place and a place for everything. Just being there made him feel as though he was messing up the house. There were no exciting colours anywhere, either. Its main palette was magnolia, pale blue and dove grey.
At his house, which was very ordinary, George felt ordinary and sometimes even less than ordinary. Perhaps, that was why visiting his aunt felt so different, so exciting.
From the way his mum described it, their childhood had to have been marvellous and always exciting. It cruelly emphasised his status as an only child. But he comforted himself with the knowledge that in Aunt Di’s presence he felt extraordinary too. His mousy-blonde hair seemed a flamboyant gold, and his big green eyes, so similar to those of the females in his family, seemed happier, and shinier. He did not feel quite so skinny, and his usual attire of dark trousers, blue T-shirt and white trainers, somehow seemed a lot more striking, too.
“No son of mine shall wear jeans,” was his father’s mantra, “jeans lead to slovenliness.”
But most significantly, Aunt Di listened when he spoke without interrupting him. She laughed at his jokes, really laughed, although he suspected they were not all that funny. But it spurred him on to find new, witty ones, especially for her. She liked clever jokes that used language in unexpected ways. Surprisingly, the internet proved a great help in finding quite good ones.
Occasionally, mainly during holidays, when his mum had to work away from home, she would take him to spend the day with Aunt Di at her art studio in Islington. It was always an intensely special treat, too, because his aunt allowed George to paint there. The smell of the paint typically stuck in his hair and to his clothes for a whole day afterwards, which caused him to walk around in a haze of happiness.
“It’s my great pleasure having George here,” he heard his aunt saying into the phone. She was standing at the window above the little balcony that overlooked the garden.
George waved at her. His parents must have arrived at the airport.
“He’s making friends with the garden at the moment.” She returned his wave, and smiled. “You just go ahead and enjoy yourselves. George and I are going to have great fun here. Don’t you worry about us. I have lots planned.”
Aunt Di always reminded George of an exotic sort of bird. She was walking back and forth, back and forth, in her familiar distracted fashion. She looked particularly spectacular today, in her brown trousers, purple vest, orange shirt and large green-and-gold earrings. On anyone else, that combination of colours would have been hideous, George reckoned. But on her, it reminded him of some kind of fantastic bird-of-paradise. A bright pink band barely controlled her mountain of wild, flame-red hair.
She was touching and straightening things around the room. This was the room George always slept in when he came to visit her. He had grown to think of it as his room, made easier by the fact that Aunt Di also referred to it as “George’s room.” She had even fixed a blue plaque with his name in big, gold letters, on the door.
The walls were painted a cheerful yellow, the perfect backdrop for the calm blue of the bed linen and other accessories. The room offered the perfect view over the small balcony into the garden, through the trees, and onto the train track.
“Enjoy the fishing trip. Don’t get eaten by sharks. See you when we see you. Byeee!” Aunt Di said, and disappeared into the shadows beyond the window.
George resumed his bird watching activities, still keeping a hopeful ear open for the little voices he had heard earlier. Moments later, Aunt Di joined him in the garden. She had to walk through the garage, he knew, to get to the garden, because her flat was on top of her garage. She was carrying a tray with home-made lemonade and cookies. Her cats, Monet, who was white, and Matisse, who was ginger, accompanied her and snaked through her legs.
The second they arrived in the garden, the squirrels and the birds that had been flitting in and out of the garden to the blue birdbath, or to the birdfeeders, or had been pecking around in the dampness of the lawn looking for a worm or two, flew off somewhere safer, out of their way. Only a cheeky magpie remained, teasing the cats, deliberately fluttering to perch on the birdbath, and then dropping back down to the lawn. But the minute the cats came too close for his liking, he would rise up to perch on the birdbath again.
From somewhere among the branches of the old oak tree, safely concealed from the cats, the robin’s chirpy song suddenly sounded again.
“Time for refreshments. What say you, young master George?” Aunt Di said and smiled. Her green eyes twinkled her sense of humour and her zest for life, and deep dimples adorned her cheeks. She put the tray down on the small green garden table, and took a seat on one of the small green garden chairs that belonged to the table.
Monet jumped on the table, and mewed hungrily. He pushed his bushy white tail in George’s face. Meanwhile, Matisse purred, and pushed his head against George’s leg.
“It’s such a lovely blue-sky day,” said Aunt Di through a mouthful of cookie, something George would never have been allowed to do at home. “I think we should do our paintings in the garden. What think you?”
George giggled at the funny way she asked him, and said he thought it was a great idea, too.
After their tea, he helped by taking the tray back to the kitchen. In companionable silence, they took their painting things outside.
George set up his easel in front of the old tree stump. Aunt Di took one of the small green garden chairs to the front of the garden, where she had set up her easel in the shade.
George decided to paint the gargoyle by the old oak tree. On closer inspection, however, he came to the conclusion that it would be far easier to paint only his head on this occasion. A lot of paint had started to flake off his body, whereas the paint on his head was still very nearly completely undamaged. Underneath the paint, the gargoyle’s body was a dull grey. Presumably its original colour when Aunt Di had bought it at the garden centre, George supposed.
Painting was tough going, though, because Monet and Matisse were very keen to help. Matisse jumped onto George’s lap, and brushed his whiskers on the canvas, making it wobble off the easel, and fall to the ground. George picked it up and put it back on the easel, only for Matisse to do the same thing again. This went on for quite a while, until it dawned on George that it was a game Matisse was enjoying far too much to stop.
Monet, on the other hand, who apparently fancied himself a bit of an artist, too, jumped into the paint several times, and then not sure what to do next, walked off in disgust. His head held high, bushy white tail erect he shook his paws one at a time to get rid of the sticky paint on them.
Pretty soon, the duo’s psychedelic paw prints radiated out from where George was sitting, and could be seen all over the garden. Matisse’s stripy ginger tail had some red and black splodges on the end, and looked more like a paintbrush than a tail.
“Not to worry,” said Aunt Di. “We’ll have to remember to wipe their paws before we allow them back inside. Lucky it’s not oil-based paint, right?” she said, and laughed.
George saw how lovingly she stroked Monet and he heard her laughing at Matisse’s paintbrush tail. Still, he waited for his aunt to kick up more of a fuss about the paint everywhere. He wondered when she was going to start blaming him for it. His father, he knew, would have been furious with him by now if he were there.
That night, George lay snug in bed after an amazing day’s painting. He still smelt wonderfully of the paint despite a good wash in a bath the size of a swimming pool, in which Aunt Di had poured some great-smelling stuff. She read him a story, doing all the voices. She had a particular knack for accents and was a clever storyteller.
Normally, he adored listening to her, but now he was distracted. On the wall opposite his bed, his aunt had removed one of her own paintings. In its place, hung George’s painting of the gargoyle.
“Your painting technique has really improved, George,” she had said earlier, when they finished hanging it up and were standing back to admire it.
It was true. His painting of the gargoyle looked particularly hideous and life-like. Or perhaps not so ‘life-like,’ thought George, as he scrutinised again his painting of the gargoyle’s head. It was mounted on a shield, in the way he had seen hunters do with the animals they had killed.
“Old Gareth looks perfect,” Aunt Di mused, her head characteristically to one side, as though she was contemplating a real painting.
“You know his name?” George asked, surprised, and for a moment he thought she was serious.
“Oh yes,” she responded, and winked at him, “Everyone and everything has a name. Names are very important, you know. They have a lot to do with who we are.”
George thought his aunt was probably right about that. He had to confess the gargoyle did look like a Gareth. He admired Gareth all the more now that they had chosen a name for him.
“Is that why you named your cats Monet and Matisse?” George wanted to know.
“They were painters, you know; Monet and Matisse.”
“Really?” George teased back, because of course he knew they were the names of famous painters.
“Not the cats, silly,” she said, and laughed, pretending to fall for his joke, “…although based on today….” And at that moment she looked and sounded exactly like his mum, except for her wild red hair.
“…after the fiasco with the paint, perhaps I should have called them Mess and Messier.” His aunt laughed again at her own joke.
The wrench in his heart made George realise he was missing his mum. She had been working so hard lately that he had not seen her nearly enough. Now, she was on holiday on the other side of the world, and he would not see her at all until she came back.
Even though George thought he was really far too old for it, he allowed Aunt Di to tuck him in, not only because he felt sorry that she had no children or a husband of her own, but mainly because it felt good. He was grateful, though, when she did not close the curtains. He liked to watch the trains, all lit up. He loved to listen how they wickety-WACKED, wickety-WACKED past his bedroom window into the dark night, until he fell asleep.
Awesome day, George thought, as his eyes closed. Today was only the calm before the storm, he knew. The real excitement would start tomorrow.
CHAPTER 5 – GARETH, THE GARGOYLE
GEORGE opened his eyes slowly, sleepily.
He sat up quickly, wide awake. He blinked a few times. Then he rubbed his eyes.
There, quite alive, at the foot of his bed, sat the gargoyle.
George glanced at the painting of the gargoyle. It was still hanging on the wall like before, undisturbed.
He had heard of things coming to life after they had been drawn or painted, but had never actually believed it himself.
“George, you’ve got to wake up,” the gargoyle said in a voice that sounded a little panicky, uneven, and cantankerous.
It reminded him of the sound his mum’s ancient washing machine made on a Saturday, when the whole house became eventually filled with the smell of freshly laundered clothes.
Okay, don’t panic, he thought. It’s only a dream, probably because of the painting.
He could feel his body relax at the thought. His heart started to beat normally again.
Yup, just another night. Just another dream.
He looked back again at the grotesque creature sitting at the bottom of his bed. The gargoyle was pretty ugly. His tiny, black, button eyes blinked furiously. A mouth full of huge teeth, grimaced scarily in an attempt to smile, an action seemingly unfamiliar to his face. His short muscular legs, his long, hairy arms, and his round paunch of a stomach, looked way out of proportion to his tiny, leathery wings.
George wondered if he could actually use them. How on earth would he stay in the air with piddling little wings like that?
George sat utterly spellbound. He could not tear his eyes away from the monstrous little character before him.
The gargoyle was not red and black as in George’s painting, or in the way Aunt Di had painted him. He was grey and black, and that made him look exactly like a statue that could move and speak.
“B…b…but…” George started to whisper, despite his misgivings. His voice sounded strange and strangled in his ears.
“Yes, yes, I know. I am a gargoyle. Trust me; it’s as much of a surprise for me to be talking to you, as it is for you to be listening to me…” The gargoyle paused. A deep frown appeared on his already frowny face. He seemed to have confused himself with that statement.
He looked up, saw George staring at him, and shook himself out of his confuddlement. “No time to explain now. You’ve got to come quickly,” he said, and hopped onto the windowsill.
On his head, on either side of a pair of short curly horns, his pointy ears twitched, each in a different direction, as though they were tasting the air.
“Where are we going?” George asked, and struggled to put on his slippers.
“Shhhh. No time to explain. Come along,” the gargoyle whispered dramatically, and with a final glance at George, he disappeared through the open window.
Ah, George scratched his head. That must be how the gargoyle got in. He was sure that only the curtains had been left ajar, but obviously Aunt Di must have left the window open, as well.
George saw now that the curtains were flapping wildly in the strong wind coming through the window. He became aware of the howling of the wind through the treetops, a ghostly sound. George shivered.
“Come ALONG,” the gargoyle hissed. He suddenly poked his head through the window again, and nearly made George yell out loud in fright.
George grabbed his dressing gown. He followed the gargoyle through the window, and out onto the balcony.
Below him, the garden appeared to be in a state of great agitation. The wind was blowing at what must have been at least a hundred miles an hour, George guessed.
The robin was singing at the top of his voice; “twiddle-oo, twiddle-eedee, twiddle-oo twiddle.”
The trees were sighing and swaying in the gale. The flowers were all aflutter.
Below the balcony, the gargoyle was impatiently hopping from one foot to the other. He was glaring up at George, wearing a most fierce scowl on his devil-like face.
“Oh, no,” George said, shaking his head. The wind plucked at his gown and ruffled his hair. “I can’t climb down there. I’ll fall.” His heart was racing and his palms felt clammy just thinking about it.
“You’ve got to,” the gargoyle said. “There’s no time to waste.”
George looked back towards the window, wondering how quietly he could leave via the front door, instead.
But the gargoyle had evidently realised what he was thinking. “It’s serious,” he said, and in his panic, he looked even more hideous. “It’s an E-MER-GEN-CY,” he emphasised, his hands doing a kind of chopping action on each syllable.
George shuffled forward a few steps until he stood next to the balcony railing.
“No, I can’t,” he said, and took a step backwards.
“You won’t fall. I’ll catch you. Peleeeaze,” the gargoyle pleaded.
His face looked so comically serious, that George had to bite his lip to keep from bursting out laughing.
“Okay, I’ll try,” he said, and inched his way towards the railing again, his knuckles turning white, as he gripped it tightly.
Carefully, George clambered over the balcony railing. Rung-by-rung, slowly, he climbed down the trellis that connected the balcony to the ground below.
Angry clouds blocked out most of the light from a full moon. Thankfully, slivers of silvery moonlight, that managed to penetrate the fast-moving clouds, were more than enough for George to see where he was going.
The wind, however, had a mind of its own. It seemed to want to blow him away from the trellis, tugging at his gown as if with strong hands. His progress slowed to a snail’s pace. Just before he reached the bottom, the gargoyle shoved his hideous face into George’s so suddenly that George lost his grip and fell flat on his back on the damp lawn at the bottom of the trellis.
Immediately, the gargoyle appeared at his side, pulling George up and dusting him off, and making him feel quite dizzy. As he was trying to follow the gargoyle, George realised that the creature was dancing in a circle around him, helpfully brushing his vicious-looking claws at George’s clothes. It went on for quite a while. Finally, he was apparently satisfied that not a single speck of dirt or dust, real or imagined, remained on George, or on his clothes.
“There you are. There you are,” he said, satisfied at a job well done.
He grabbed George’s hand in his cold, hard, bony claw, and dragged him across the garden towards the back fence. All the while he was grumbling: “Hurry up, hurry up.” And because the gargoyle’s head only came up to George’s belly-button, he had to bend down on one side so that his hand would not slip from the gargoyle’s rough claw.
Probably not a good idea to upset him now, thought George. He followed the gargoyle as fast as his legs, and his lop-sided run, would allow.
When they reached the back fence, the gargoyle stopped. Standing with his claws cupped together, he grunted: “Up and over. Come along now. Up and over.”
“But, where…?” George started to ask.
“No time now,” the gargoyle said, his brutal eyes glistening with distress, “step on my claws and up and over. I’ll follow.” He dipped them encouragingly in George’s direction.
Since George could not see any other option, he put his right foot, ever so carefully, onto the gargoyle’s cupped claws. Pushing on the gargoyle’s shoulder, George reached for the top of the fence.
“It’s no good,” he said, glancing down at the gargoyle, “the fence is too high. I can’t climb over.”
“No problem,” the gargoyle said, and put George down again, none too gently. “We’ll use a chair.”
He scuttled over to the table, dragged one of the small green garden chairs next to the fence, and got up on the chair. Once again, cupping his claws together, he dipped his head encouragingly at George. But George was still not sure that it was a good idea, because despite the determined look on his face, the gargoyle’s whole body was wobbling along with the chair underneath him.
Just then, a deep sighing kind of voice whispered, “Grab hold of my branch, George. Gareth, you push, and together we’ll get George over the fence.”
Gareth, indeed, thought George upon learning the gargoyle’s name. Aunt Di would be tickled pink to know she had guessed the right name for him.
It proved once more that he was only dreaming. This dream seemed much more real to him than any of his previous dreams had been, however, especially since the little Robin kept up his cheerful singing so stridently, throughout.
George looked around to see who had spoken, but he saw no one. The deep voice sighed again. This time, George realised that the sound came from the old oak tree. The scary hole in its trunk seemed to be moving as it spoke.
“Good plan. Good plan,” Gareth muttered. He steered George closer to the fence.
“What about the trains?” George wanted to know. He knew it was extremely stupid to go onto train tracks. After all, he could get killed.
“No trains now,” Gareth mumbled, “Too late. Too late. Trains have all stopped. So we had to wait ‘till now, so we did.”
It seemed a huge speech for Gareth, but George realised he was right. There had been no sight or sound of a train for ages.
The wind blew one of the old oak’s branches towards him, and George grabbed hold of it with both hands. But he had to dodge a number of the birdfeeders that were attached to the branch, and had also been blown his way.
Meanwhile, Gareth was pushing George from behind until, whoosh…he practically flew over the fence. He landed with a thump on the other side. Luckily, he landed on some soft undergrowth.
The robin’s song suddenly changed to a sharp, clicking sound. There was no mistaking that it was an alarm call. When George looked up, he saw a striking, good-looking fox trotting along the train tracks towards him.
Quick as a flash, Gareth landed beside him, and practically shoved him up the incline towards the tracks. All the while Gareth was mumbling under his breath, “She’s over here, somewhere. Here. Quick. Quick.”
“Who…? Where…?” George began, but Gareth pushed past him until he stood on the train track.
“Quickly, George, quickly. He’s coming,” Gareth was waving his arms about and seemed to be dancing with impatience, groaning in a most inept way. “He’s upon us. He’s upon us.”
It was very frustrating not knowing who he or she was.
“STOP,” George said, and surprised himself that he could sound so authoritative. “You have to be clear. Are we looking for someone?”
“Yes. Yes,” Gareth said, staring off to the right and dancing more vigorously from one foot to the other.
“He’s upon us. Oh, do something, George. QUICKLY!” Gareth yelled, his arms whirring about faster. It made him look like a helicopter about to take off.
“WHO ARE WE LOOKING FOR, GARETH?” George yelled back.
That seemed to do the trick. Gareth stopped dancing and waving his arms about, and gibbering senselessly. For a moment, he just stared at George, shock clear on his hideous face. Then, as if he came to life again, he said, “The little chick, the hedge sparrow’s chick. The dunnock chick.” The frown on his gruesome face seemed to say, didn’t you know?
“Okay. Where is she?” George asked.
But Gareth was dancing again and staring off in the direction of the approaching fox, mumbling, “Oh dear, oh dear. He’s upon us.”
George realised Gareth was going to be no help at all.
He started looking for the chick on the ground, instead. He figured it would be the most likely place to find her. The wind must have blown her out of the tree, he reckoned.
He went a little closer to where the old oak tree grew near the fence. At that moment, he saw something glittering in a flicker of moonlight. When he stooped closer, he looked into the tiny shiny, black eyes of the featherless little chick.
“Found her,” he cried, as he scooped her up in both hands.
“Oh, that’s wonderful, George. Knew you could do it,” Gareth said, appearing suddenly at George’s side, a repulsive smile on his gaping mouth.
He nearly squeezed the breath from George’s body as he gave George a tight hug of thanks. A big, cold tear of gratitude fell ‘plop’ onto George’s knee.
“Quick, we got to get out of here,” Gareth said. He started to drag George towards the fence.
“Not so fast,” a beautiful, sonorous voice said behind them. “I think you have something of mine.”
George gently placed the tiny chick in his dressing gown’s pocket, praying that the fox had not seen him do it. He slowly turned around.
“Oh dear. Oh dear,” Gareth whispered, and hid behind George.
“Oh?” the fox said. “You’re new here.” He extended a paw. “How do you do? My name is Sly.”
“George,” George said, and shook the fox’s paw.
Yup, definitely a dream, he thought.
Sly was smiling, but his eyes narrowed as he spoke, “Like I said; I believe you have something of mine.”
Gareth had managed to work his shoulder underneath George’s right buttock, and his head under George’s right arm. George could feel that Gareth had started his foot-to-foot dancing routine again.
The robin’s alarm call seemed to be getting louder and sharper in his ears.
In his panic, Gareth’s grip around George’s body tightened. George felt quite faint.
Sly stepped forward, the scruff around his neck raised, his pink tongue lolling, a fixed smile on his attractive face, but his eyes were hard and glaring greedily at George.
“George,” came the old oak’s sighing voice, “grab ahold of my branch.”
Just in time, thought George.
Out of the corner of his eye, George saw a big branch swaying very close to his head. He grabbed it quickly, and felt himself being lifted off the ground. Gareth was still holding on to George as though his life depended on it. With Gareth’s extra weight, they did not go quite as high as George would have liked.
Sly jumped up at them, and caught Gareth’s foot in his front paws. “Get back here,” he cried. “I’m not finished with you.”
“Ouuuuuch,” Gareth screamed, and started kicking at Sly.
The old oak tree sighed again, his branches creaking and swaying in the wind.
Luckily, the ground was higher on the track side of the fence. They did not have so far to travel up this time. But George heard the panicky scrambling of Gareth’s feet on the wood as he tried to get over the fence.
Once they had swung over the garden, Gareth let go of George. With a mighty ‘umph,’ Gareth fell onto the lawn, rolled over and scrambled up, as though he was some kind of soldier out on manoeuvre. Then, jumping up and down, he tried to grab hold of George’s legs.
Meanwhile, Sly was trying to claw his way through the fence, a most ferocious look on his handsome face.
Finally, the old oak’s branch bent down a little lower, and Gareth got a grip on George’s legs.
“Let go of the branch, George. Let go,” he hissed, “I’ve got you.”
George let go, and together they fell down. They rolled over and over and over, until the blue birdbath stopped their momentum.
Immediately, George sat up. He braced himself for the fact that the chick might have been squashed in the fall. Carefully, he took it out of his pocket.
Beside him, Gareth joined him in heaving a sigh of relief.
The teeny, clammy little chick was still alive. Its bald head wobbled feebly on its thin neck. Its little beak opened wide and, with eyes shut, it uttered a miniature squeal of displeasure at being handled so roughly.
George looked up at the old oak tree. He assumed the little chick’s nest must be up there somewhere, but he could not see any obvious way to climb its gnarled old trunk.
“Bring her over here,” a bright, fast little voice said suddenly.
George looked around, and although he could not connect the voice with anyone in the garden, he was pretty sure it was the same voice he had heard earlier in the day.
“Quickly. Over here,” the little voice said again.
Right then, George saw the little robin’s red breast poking out from a hole among the ivy.
Where it draped over the back fence, in the dark, the ivy looked exactly like thick treacle flowing out from a bottle. It had poured over the back fence so completely, that none of the wood was visible anymore.
“Quickly,” the robin chirped, “she’ll be cold.”
George scrambled to his feet and took the little chick over to the robin.
“Here. In here,” the robin twittered.
A pair of Aunt Di’s old Wellington boots hung tied together over a nail underneath the ivy. It was particularly well camouflaged, because the boots had a leopard pattern. George would never have found the nest had the robin not pointed it out to him. Inside the right boot, was a perfect little cup made of leaves and twigs, and lined with soft hair. Not one but two robins sat on its edge, their bright red breasts an exact match.
“I’m not finished with you,” Sly growled on the other side of the fence, and scratched at it like crazy, “get back here.”
George was getting really worried that Sly might actually scratch his way through the fence.
“Go on, George,” Gareth said, and gave George an encouraging poke in the ribs, “put the chick in the robins’ nest.”
“We’re safe now,” Gareth said, and raised his voice: “SLY CAN’T GET IN, NO MATTER WHAT HE SAYS.”
There came a last set of threatening growls from Sly, and then, silence. They could clearly hear him slink away, no doubt flinging ugly thoughts of loathing at them.
Carefully, George placed the chick in the nest.
“Thank you, George,” one of the robins said. “She’ll be safe now.”
“Yes, thank you, George,” the other said. “Safe with us.”
“Better get you back now,” Gareth muttered. He was standing on tiptoes, peering into the nest. “I think you’ve had quite enough excitement for one night. I know I have.”
George felt he was getting used to his new friend’s hideous grin. The gargoyle’s general repulsiveness clearly hid the big old softy underneath. George noticed that a sentimental tear threatened to spill from one of the gargoyle’s ugly button eyes.
“Ah,” Gareth said, and sighed, apparently overcome by feelings of love towards the little chick. “Good. The chick is safe. So good.”