Available in eBook format on Amazon.
Table of Contents:
Pour your Beer Slow
People need People...to Eat
The Last Cold Day
The Dead Have Feelings, Too
The Giant Inside
Playing Blackjack with Mr. Paws
The Dancing Car
Sample/Mr. Wobble (in full):
The rainbow curved perfectly from the church spire to West Lake, where it seemed to sink into the water.
Dean Archer checked his rear view mirror for traffic and pulled to a gentle stop by the side of the road. He stared at the rainbow, trying to count the colours. Richard of York gained battles in vain, he remembered. Images from way back popped into his head, of his old school, of the wire haired teacher that had taught him the mnemonic. He could picture her face, her thick glasses and the frizzy grey halo of her hair. For the life of him he couldn’t remember her name.
The colours of the rainbow were unbelievably crisp. He couldn’t think of a rainbow this stunning, this sharp, in all his years. Black clouds massed behind the rainbow and the sun set amidst towering white clouds behind him.
He resolved to tell Yvonne when he got home. She’d have loved this. He wished they’d shared the rainbow. A quiet moment, sitting in the countryside, enjoying one of nature’s greatest spectacles.
He counted the colours again.
Eight. Under the violet, a kind of greenish, yellowish band he’d never seen before. She’d love that, too. But then would she have seen it? Was he really seeing it? There were only supposed to be seven colours in the rainbow. But it was there.
Still watching the rainbow, he pulled back onto the road and drove the last mile to pick up essentials – a tub of ice cream, two litres of skimmed milk, and a couple of beers for him.
He passed a young girl on the way home. She was talking on a mobile. Her back was to him and she stood by the side of the road. It was a tight bend, and a pretty dangerous place to stand. There wasn’t a house within at least two miles.
Her hood was pulled up, so he didn’t see her face until he was past, in his rear view mirror.
Too damn young to be out on her own, he thought. Certainly too young to be all the way out here.
He drove another mile, thinking about the girl. Thought back. She’d looked soaked to the bone.
He thought about the rainbow. The extra colour in the rainbow. Like it was a sign.
He pulled into a dirt lay by on the side of the road, created by decades of traffic pulling over to let other drivers by on the narrow country lane. Swinging the wheel hard to the right he managed to bump up the opposite verge and turn the car.
When he got back to the corner the girl was still there. He reassessed his initial evaluation. She wasn’t that young. Probably fourteen, fifteen, maybe.
Her hair was plastered to her head underneath her hood, like she’d forgotten to put her hood up in the rain. Her hair was a shock of green and yellow. Obviously a dye job. It was really hideous. Some kind of statement. Outlaw chic, more puke than punk, though. The right side was green, the left yellow.
It was a damn shame, thought Dean, because she could’ve been a looker. If she sorted her hair out, she’d be a heartbreaker in a few years time, for sure.
He wound down his window. Smiled.
‘You alright, love?’
She looked wary, ready to bolt. He stayed in the car. Didn’t make any threatening moves. You had to be careful. A single man, middle aged. A teenage girl.
What the hell was he thinking?
But then it looked like it might rain again. She was soaked, in the middle of nowhere, and she just looked so damn lost.
There might not be any people about but him and the girl, but even so, you had to be careful.
He kept his hands on the wheel.
‘Are you lost? There aren’t any houses around here, but there’s a little village about two miles that way.’
He didn’t remove his hands from the wheel. Just kind of nodded his head toward the town of Red Mile, where the church was. That and the lake were the only landmarks around for miles.
‘You can see the church spire. It’s a pretty good marker.’
‘I’m not lost,’ she said. He noticed she didn’t look wet anymore. Bone dry, in fact. Of course she wouldn’t be wet. She’d had her hood up when the rain came. Her hair struck him afresh. Shocked him, almost. It was jarring to look at. So bright it was almost hard to see.
He nodded. ‘OK. Just checking. You know. A young lady, out on her own. Just worried.’
‘I lost Mr. Wobble.’
With her hair dry, like that, she looked familiar. He didn’t like to say, though. Just smiled and tried to place her. It was no good though. He had a terrible memory for faces.
Christ, Dean, seriously?
You’d recognise the hair, surely?
He almost laughed, but he didn’t. Just nodded again. Friendly, easy.
‘My friend. I’ll find him, though. It’s OK.’ She shrugged. Relaxed.
That was good. He wasn’t freaking her out. That was the last thing he wanted to do.
He looked down. She looked down. Mirroring, it was called. Get people to fall into your mood. Calm them, then, after a while, they start to ape your movements. Like when you’re in a pub, you cross your legs. Maybe the guy opposite you crosses his legs. Or if you’re in an argument and both of you are shouting, you gradually lower your voice. Soon after, they lower theirs. Eventually you’re not arguing anymore. You’re having a conversation.
He looked down. She looked down. As she leant forward to see what he was looking at he opened his car door fast and hard. The metal frame around the window caught her in the middle of the forehead. She stumbled back, still bent at the waist. Then her legs crumbled underneath her.
Now, he thought, it’s a matter of speed.
She started to get up, obviously groggy and not really expecting anything, in so much as she would be thinking. It didn’t take much to subdue her. Not really.
He got her in the car and drove on. Checked his hands and his forearms for scratches. He didn’t find any.
One person saw him on the way to his garage. They didn’t worry him. They wouldn’t think anything of it. A successful guy, driving a Ford Mondeo. He was wearing a dark suit with a bright red tie. He looked every inch the salesman, or maybe a moderately high flyer, in some kind of business. Probably something to do with computers. Straight from work to pick up his daughter. His daughter tired from a late club at school. Something like that.
Bright green and yellow hair, but what the hell. Her hood was up. It was probably OK.
He took a long circuit to the small town that neighboured his own village. He pressed a button on his key fob and the lock up door heaved itself open.
He pulled inside.
Some time later he pulled out, in a white van. He drove back the way he came, passed the point where he’d stopped earlier, although at this point he could no more have remembered stopping than remembered what it was he was dumping, wrapped in thick rolls of plastic.
It was pretty big. Carpet off-cuts, or something, he reasoned. Always ended up with crap left over from work. It wasn’t like anyone used the lake.
The sun began its final curtain call behind him as he hauled the long roll of plastic with the off-cuts into the lake. There was a splash.
Twilight passed over into full dark.
When he pulled away again he wasn’t Dean Archer anymore. He was Deano. Always Deano to his mates. His van was full of paint. He had some dried paint in his hair and a rainbow’s worth of old paint stains on his overall. He smoked a thin roll up because Deano smoked roll ups. He smoked four in quick succession, until he smelled like he had been smoking all day. He rubbed a little bit of mustard into the thick hair on the back of his hand, from the sandwich Daisy had made him for lunch.
He eased his jaw with some stretches, just like a comedian or impressionist, loosening their muscles.
It wasn’t a long drive to his home, an unremarkable semi-detached box house. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms. They’d have to move soon, but it had been a good house, thought Deano with a smile, as he pulled into his drive.
He checked the back of the van before getting out. He was surprised to see he had company.
His heart raced for just an instant, fight or flight response, kicking in, until he realised it was just a toy.
It seemed he’d found Mr. Wobble.
The thought troubled him for a fleeting second, because he didn’t know who Mr. Wobble was.
Mr. Wobble wobbled long after the van had rocked to a stop on old rusty springs, slightly behind the times. Bells in his belly tinkled merrily. His fat bottom wouldn’t let him fall over.
The toy finally stopped rocking, and with it, the sound of tiny bells stilled. Deano took some deep calming breaths and wondered just how he had managed to forget the fact that he’d bought his son a toy.
It was a sorry looking thing, too. Fat and cute, but the colours were so bold they were almost sickening. And the thing’s hair – Jesus, he thought. Green and bloody yellow. What idiot thought that’d look good on a toy?
He shook his head and got out of the van with Mr. Wobble in tow.
He didn’t wonder anymore where it came from. It wouldn’t have done any good. He had no idea now, he would have no idea tomorrow, too, because everything that happened to Dean was forgotten when he was Deano, and vice versa, and the things that happened in the twilight in between never did happen at all.
‘Alright, sunshine?’ said Deano. He ruffled Miles’ hair. The boy giggled.
‘Daddy, yucky. Got muddard in my hair!’
‘Muddard, eh?’ he said. He gave his son a big sloppy kiss on the cheek with added raspberry, which just brought more giggles.
‘It’s nearly bedtime,’ Daisy told him, with a raised eyebrow.
Contrite, but not really, he kissed his wife on the side of her mouth and put his hand on her bump.
‘How’s the little lady behaving herself today?’
‘Kicking like mad. Oh! There she goes. I swear she kicks harder when she hears you.’
‘Way with the ladies,’ he said, with a wink.
Daisy shook her head. ‘You wish.’
‘Got you knocked up, didn’t I?’
Daisy bashed him.
‘What’s that?’ she said with a nod at the plastic bag he’d brought in with him.
‘Shh,’ he said.
Miles thought about things for a short while. Words arranged themselves in his young ears until he felt he could contribute adequately to his parents’ conversation.
‘Gnock pupped. Gnock pupped,’ he said, very pleased with himself.
‘Miles...I think maybe it’s time for bed now.’
Tone won over content.
‘’Kay mummy. Daddy.’ Little Miles held his arms out. Deano picked him up with a flourish and a whoosh into the air.
‘Daddy, calm,’ said Daisy, but she couldn’t help smiling.
‘Sorry, mummy,’ he said. ‘Make it up to you later.’
‘We’ll see,’ she said, shaking her head.
Deano carried Miles up the stairs, tucked under one arm like he was a rugby ball. Miles giggled all the way to bed.
Safely in bed, Miles snuggled down into his pillow. ‘Good day, Daddy?’
‘The best. You been good?’
‘The best, Daddy, course.’
‘Then I think you deserve a little bed time present.’
‘Yeah. A peasant.’
‘S’not my birthday.’
‘It’s someone’s birthday.’
‘Kid, used to go to my school. You don’t know him.’
‘Oh,’ said Miles. Deano laughed, a little. ‘Tada!’ he said, and whipped Mr. Wobble from the plastic bag.
‘Wow!’ said Miles. ‘Wow.’
‘Yeah, wow is right.’
‘Course for you.’
‘Can I name him?’
‘Sure. What do you reckon? Christopher Big Buns? Fat Toy Slim?’
Miles just looked confused at this.
‘Never mind. Anyway, you name him.’
‘I want to think. Got to be a good name.’
‘That’s my boy,’ said Deano, giving his son another kiss. ‘Always the thinker. Always a stinker.’ It was a fatherly kiss. Nothing more. But Deano’s eyes misted. Darkened. For a moment they looked like deep pools where the sun doesn’t reach the bottom and the big fish lurk.
Then he was back.
Deano shook himself. This was Deano time. Come on. Get yourself together.
He smiled and laughed, just a little. Just...so...
Like everything else he did, it was entirely natural not because he practised, but because he believed it.
‘Okay,’ said Deano, with a sigh. ‘You beat me. Dunno how you do it. Every night.’
Miles smiled as his Dad turned out the light, Mr. Wobble tucked under his arm. When his weight shifted tiny bells in Mr. Wobble’s belly tinkled.
‘Shh, Mr. Wobble,’ said Miles as he drifted off to sleep.
Deano didn’t have to practise his deception. It wasn’t a matter of being tripped up in a lie. He believed in his life totally. When he came home from work he had spent the day working hard keeping a roof over his family’s head. Painting and decorating was tiring work, but rewarding. He didn’t have any ambitions other than to love his wife and child. The pay wasn’t brilliant. Most days, he would leave the house at six, be back home around seven. It was long hours, but it was a job.
When he got home, he didn’t think about his day job, just as he didn’t think about Daisy when he was at work, on the road in his Mondeo, travelling from one meeting to the next. The people at work knew he was married, but they thought his wife’s name was Yvonne. Dean and Yvonne. He had a picture of her on his desk in his little office. It was just a picture he’d taken off the internet, some amateur photography website. Probably someone’s wife, somewhere. But not his.
Dean didn’t pretend his wife’s name was Yvonne. He knew it was. He remembered marrying her. He remembered their honeymoon in the south of France, remembered the heat and the sand between his toes, the lovemaking and the meals, the walks in the evening air and the storm that had hit on the third night. None of it had ever happened, but it was just as real as Daisy and Miles and his daughter in waiting.
One life during the day. One life at night and on weekends.
A lock up in a different town, big enough for the Mondeo and the van.
A girl who’d lost Mr. Wobble. But that was in the twilight time, the time between his two lives. That time was like the colours in the rainbow. There were only seven. Everyone knew that. Except for the times there were eight. A greenish, yellowish colour, just below violet. A kind of sickly colour that couldn’t really be there, but was there, nevertheless, waiting for rain on a sunny day, and when the light hit just so...
Deano’s wife bucked beneath him as she came. They kissed for a while. Then he rolled from her and tucked one arm behind his head and stared up at the ceiling, as he always did when he went to sleep.
Daisy glanced over at him with a small smile on her lips. She turned away onto her side, then she, too, drifted down to sleep.
There was a soft tinkle, like small bells, muffled by cloth, maybe. A delicate sound. Dean remembered it from childhood. He had been in a curio shop, as his mother had called them. The shop was full of cut glass ornaments and things. Thimbles, ballerinas, sherry glasses, doe-eyed puppies. There had been a row of bells. Glass bells. Dainty, spiteful little things. He had rung one and it sounded like this. Crystal, melodic and arrhythmic.
Dean put the glass bell down on the glass shelf but he misjudged it and it fell to the floor with a crash. The sound of the glass breaking and a child screaming. His screams, as his father’s hand caught the back of his thigh. The blow left a welt there, on the meat between his buttocks and his thigh. The mark had stayed for days.
His mother, turning away.
It was a soft tinkle that brought the memory of that moment, but it was just a memory. It didn’t mean anything and it wasn’t real. It was from the time before Dean and Deano existed. It wasn’t real, just as his childhood wasn’t real. This was a dream. A memory of a dream. He was sleeping, that was all.
What happened in dreams stayed in dreams. He allowed himself to dream.
He stood beside a lake. An old lake, black water so dark you could see no more than an inch into it. Forbidding water. No one would swim in the old lake. No one would fish there. The water was poison, anyway. So said the locals. Sometimes, an out of towner without a fishing license might try dipping their rods, but they always went away disappointed.
Maybe it was for the best. That dark water held secrets. Secrets the sun would never reach, down where the really big fish swim. Fish so big they could be monsters.
The man that dreamed, the man that became Dean in the daylight and Deano when the sun went down, he put things in the lake sometimes. Dean didn’t do it. Deano didn’t do it.
Once, that man had been a little boy. He’d broken a glass bell. Just like the one pealing softly in his dream. But that boy was no more real than the bells.
He was a boy now, though, in his dreams. He wore shorts. He had chubby boy legs. In his dream he was no more than ten. The lake, black and hungry, swelled and surged toward his feet.
He took a step back.
‘It’s alright,’ he said to the girl, standing beside him. She wore a hood so he couldn’t see her face. He knew she was older than him. Probably a teenager, but only just.
‘You can’t fall in,’ he told her. ‘I’ll hold you.’
‘I know I can’t fall in. I can’t fall down,’ she said. She rocked to the left, rocked to the right, so far that her head almost touched the mulch and deadfall around the lake, but she sprang back up every time. The bells sounded. A jolly, depressing sound.
The little boy stepped back.
‘Shh, Mr. Wobble,’ said the little girl.
The girl turned. Below the hood was a jolly face. A depressing face. A clown with eyes painted red above rosy cheeks. His hair was a bright jarring yellow, but only on one side. On the other it was a sickly toxic green. Down his front blue buttons held together a harlequin waist coat of worn velvet. His trousers, too, were yellow, and within that enormous waistband the sound of bells came out, muffled, but clear, too. Like a bell made from crystal, falling to the floor.
The girl was a clown and the clown was a girl, but she couldn’t be a Mrs. Wobble, because that wouldn’t be right.
Mr. Wobble had no feet, but in his hand he held a girl with two-tone hair.
‘Shh,’ Mr. Wobble said. ‘I won’t let you fall.’
The little boy woke.
The tinkling sound followed Deano as he woke.
From under his arm.
Mr. Wobble was tucked tight into his shoulder. He’d been cuddling him in his sleep. It. Cuddling it.
He thrust the toy away from him with a start. It fell with a tinkle to the floor and rocked back and forth, bright idiot eyes watching him the whole time.
He shuddered as he looked at it. Felt cold. Cold to the bone.
His chest was drenched with freezing, foul water. The sheets were black with it.
He didn’t know what the hell was going on. All he knew was that he didn’t want it in the house anymore. The toy was giving him goose bumps. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, bringing him home. Bringing him from...where the hell did he come from?
He remembered giving him to Miles, though. He knew he’d done that. Miles had gone to sleep with him.
It. For fuck’s sake. It. A bloody toy.
He checked his wife was still asleep beside him. He could sense her breathing, unchanged.
The toy had stopped rocking. There were no bells.
He slid his feet out of the bed first, then swivelled his body upright, taking care not to pull the covers with him.
He picked up the toy oh so gently.
Mind now, boy. Mind the spiteful little bells.
Deano padded downstairs, as quietly as he could, the toy held away from him so the sway of his body as he walked wouldn’t set the bells ringing.
His heart was pounding when he reached the kitchen, but the house was quiet. Mr. Wobble hadn’t spoken.
He turned the key, holding the toy one handed, and pulled the handle down. Cold air rushed in. His wet chest was suddenly freezing. His teeth chattered.
Nothing for it but to do it. Slowly, because it had a squeak he couldn’t get rid of even though he’d drowned it in WD40, he pulled the door wide, leaving it open behind him and went down the sideway to the bins.
There was a hunter’s moon high in the sky. He managed the find the bolt on the sideway gate with the aid of the silver light glinting on steel. The sideway itself was bright. The moon, pale and bloated, looked down on him.
Like it was laughing at him.
‘Well, fuck you,’ he told it, and pulled open the non-recyclables bin lid.
‘Fuck you, too,’ he told Mr. Wobble and dropped him in amongst the rotten leftovers and crinkled plastic meat wrappers. He wiped his hands on his wet pyjama top and turned to head back to the house, a satisfied grin on his face, teeth darker than his skin in the moonlight.
The back door squealed.
Now stop. The voice was the part of him that kept his lives apart. Kept him from jail. It was the part of him that survived his transition to Dean and Deano. The child he was before.
The child who broke the bell.
He remembered the day when he broke the bell. God, it had felt good. Spiteful little bell.
He remembered his mother, turning away.
He remembered teaching her a thing or two before he left home for good.
Deano shook his head and pawed at his face, like there were cobwebs there. Anything that had passed was gone again, and he was just an innocent dad on a night time errand, caught out by the wife.
‘Sorry, honey. Couldn’t sleep. Remembered to...’
It didn’t matter. The lie would be there when he needed it. It always was. And the funny thing was, whatever he said, it would be true, too.
He watched his breath mist on still air. The noise came again.
‘Come on,’ Deano said. Gearing himself up. Getting ready to put a smile on his face for his wife.
‘What are you doing, honey?’ she would say.
But it wasn’t Daisy’s voice he heard.
A voice from the dark. He couldn’t see, because he was down the sideway, and the sound came from the back door.
A child’s voice, but not Miles.
It was a girl’s voice. A young woman’s voice, maybe.
‘Daddy?’ she called, but this time her voice didn’t sound quite right. She sounded, he thought, like she was talking through water. A burbling sound. Like him, trying to talk through mouthwash before he went to bed and kissed his wife.
Miles woke up. Mr. Wobble had gone.
He heard the bells, somewhere downstairs.
‘Mr. Wobble?’ he called. His voice was soft and low, because it was night time and we don’t shout at night.
He was sure he’d gone to sleep with Mr. Wobble. But he’d had a dream. He couldn’t remember the dream. It had Mr. Wobble in it.
He crept downstairs, because he wasn’t supposed to be out of bed. Daddy told him not to get out of bed. Sometimes he did, though, and came downstairs. Daddy was there, sometimes, but he didn’t hear Miles. Miles was good at being quiet.
When Daddy was downstairs he wasn’t always Daddy. Well, he was always Daddy, but sometimes he was a different Daddy. The kind of Daddy that made this funny sound in his mouth, like he was biting his own teeth. Miles didn’t know if you could actually bite your own teeth. He tried, but he couldn’t make the sound that Daddy made. It made him want to go to the bathroom when he heard it.
He didn’t like that sound at all.
On the rare times that Miles did go downstairs looking for a glass of milk or maybe a secret snuck cookie, if Daddy was there, whether he was a different Daddy or his usual Daddy, Miles always crept back upstairs, because he never was sure.
When the house was dark, and Daddy sat in his armchair, facing away, Miles never was sure.
He crept downstairs. He checked around, really carefully, because he didn’t want to meet anyone. Whoever they might be.
‘Daddy?’ someone called. Miles knew it wasn’t his voice, because in the night he would never call out Daddy, but mostly because it was a girl’s voice. He smiled, though, because he knew that voice. It was Pooky.
He didn’t call out, but if Pooky was downstairs, it was OK, because Pooky was cool.
Mr. Wobble came round the corner. Not exactly Mr. Wobble. Mr. Wobble was only a child’s toy made up to look kind of like a clown, but instead of big flappy shoes it had an enormous belly.
Mr. Wobble wasn’t a child’s toy anymore.
He filled the side way with his girth. One side of his belly rested against the wall. On the other side, his gut pushed out the fence panel. The fencing post splintered under the weight.
Deano couldn’t move. He could run away, sure. He could run for the gate at the front of the house. Run out into the street, get the fuck away. Do something. But he couldn’t. He had places to go, but he could not move. Not an inch. Terror held his legs still and his mouth dumb.
Mr. Wobble couldn’t move. He was stuck between the fence and the side of the house, but somehow he moved anyway. He rocked a little this way, a little that way. The fence shrieked and splintered. Brick dust drifted through the air.
Bells tinkled, but this time they were large bells. Big fat man bells.
Mr. Wobble’s bells didn’t really tinkle anymore. They tolled.
The idiot smile Mr. Wobble usual wore was gone. He smacked obscenely fat lips. A bulbous tongue slid out and moistened his lips.
Noise was coming from Deano’s mouth, but nothing like words. Maybe an incoherent plea, but all thought but one had stopped.
The bells. He could hear nothing but bells. Deep bells, high bells. Bells of brass that tolled and bells of glass that dropped from a little boy’s hand.
Mr. Wobble’s girth squelched and sloshed, like he was full of water. Deano could imagine the water in that great belly. A deep dark pool. A black lake.
Deano was aware he was saying something under his breath. Whispering, because he didn’t want to wake his wife. Even though he was terrified, he was whispering. Quiet, because this was just a dream.
Over and over. Just a dream.
What happened in dreams stayed in dreams.
He remembered. Back in the twilight. A girl with soaked two-tone hair. She smelled exactly like the old lake. Black and foul.
Mr. Wobble smiled and the smile widened until her mouth became something deeper, something darker. She leaned forward.
But Mr. Wobble couldn’t be a girl. Of course he couldn’t.
‘Daddy!’ came a voice from deep within. And it sounded like his voice. His voice, and Miles’ voice, and the voice of a girl, just turned fourteen.
But it was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream.
He said it, but it didn’t make any difference.
Mr. Wobble’s gapping mouth sucked Deano deep inside. Her spit was brackish, her breath rank. He was drowning in her, his own mouth full of water. Full of the lake.
Then Mr. Wobble bounced back and rocked against the side of the house, his bells tinkling merrily and sadly, somehow expressing both in perfect harmony.
Miles saw that the back door was open and came out in a rush. He heard the bells.
Mr. Wobble sat on top of the green bin. Green bin for icky rubbish. But Mr. Wobble wasn’t icky rubbish.
Miles picked up the toy and cuddled him close. It was a bit wet but he didn’t mind. Miles carried him back to bed, put him on his bed side cabinet and gave Mr. Wobble a stern talking to, even though some of the words were wrong.
‘Naughty Mr. Wobble. You’re not post to go downstairs at night.’
Mr. Wobble nodded. ‘Because of Daddy,’ he said, gravely mimicking Miles’ serious tone.
The toy nodded again, tinkling as his head bobbed. Once down, then back up.
‘Sometime,’ Miles confided in Mr. Wobble, ‘Not-Daddy-Daddy scared me.’
Mr. Wobble understood. His red eyes looked sad, but though his smile was just a line of wool, stitched round to look like a smile, it seemed real enough to a little boy. When he wobbled this way and that way, his woolly crazy green and yellow hair flopped across his face. Just like Pooky’s used to do.
Mr. Wobble voice, too, reminded him of Pooky, even though she was a girl.
She used to baby sit him. He’d always called her Pooky. The first time he’d met her, he’d said her hair looked Pooky. She didn’t understand at first, but then she’d laughed. She’d laughed a lot.
He wished she hadn’t gone away.
A tear slid down his cheek. He sniffed, then his shoulders started shaking.
‘Shh, Miles,’ said Mr. Wobble, in that familiar voice of his.
He wanted it to be Pooky. He wanted it so much. But even little boys know you can only carry a wish so far.
But still, did Mr. Wobble just nod? A little back, a little way forward?
He cuffed his nose with his pyjama sleeve and leant a little way forward, toward the toy on his bedside cabinet. ‘Can I tell you a secret?’
Another nod, of sorts.
‘I’m scared now,’ he whispered. ‘I don’t know why.’
‘You don’t need to be,’ said Mr. Wobble. ‘Not if you don’t want to. Because I’m here, Miles. I’m here, and I’ll never let you fall.’
Mr. Wobble didn’t have arms, just hands. He was just a small toy, too.
But just the same, that night he held Miles tight and stroked the boy’s hair until he went to sleep, the bells in his belly a soft lullaby, like bells might sound if they could ring underwater.