Well now, this week certainly proved to be an interesting one. For the third round of my yearly challenge I was given what, it has to be said, is probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. At least, within the realm of putting words down on paper anyway. I had to write a children’s story.
I think it’s fair to say that the majority of my writing isn’t catered for children. I’ve got a lot of friends who write/read young adult novels, and I think that would be sort of OK to write because at least you aren’t having to use drastically different language. But a proper children’s story? That’s a different matter.
Anyway, a brief is a brief, and like I said in week one I’m not in this for an easy ride. The whole point of this exercise is to develop my skills as a writer, and one way of doing that is embracing other styles of writing than I am used to. And I certainly had to do that this week. The brief, from my uncle Haydn, was as follows: ‘A story suitable for a 4 year old called Rosie and a 2 year old called Sam, set in Muswell Hill and featuring Rosie, Sam, Highgate Woods and pain au chocolat.’
So without further ado, I hope you all enjoy ‘The Mouse of Muswell Hill and the Hedgehog of Highgate Wood’.
2014 – A Year In Stories
The Mouse of Muswell Hill and the Hedgehog of Highgate Wood
One sunny Saturday afternoon a little girl called Rosie and a little boy called Sam were playing in their garden in Muswell Hill. They had been runnng around and laughing all morning playing a game of tag and now they were thirsty.
They sat down on a bench and just at that moment their mummy came outside and brought them each a nice glass of cold lemonade.
“That was a very fun morning, wasn’t it Sam?” said Rosie as she sipped her lemonade.
“Yes it was,” Sam replied. “But what are we going to do this afternoon? I want to have even MORE fun this afternoon!”
Rosie thought for a moment. “I don’t know. Playing tag is a very fun way to spend time! Why don’t we see if we can think of anything more fun?”
So Rosie and Sam sat there for a few minutes trying to think of some more fun things to do. All the time they were sipping at their lemonade and feeling more refreshed and ready to play.
Just as they both finished their lemonade they heard a noise coming form behind the bench. It was very quiet but if they listened very hard they could just about hear something.
“Can you hear that, Rosie?” Sam asked.
“Yes, it sounds like someone crying!” Rosie replied.
“But they’re very quiet!” Sam said. “I wonder where they are.”
Sam and Rosie both started to look around to try and find out who was crying. They searched and searched, but they simply could not work out where the noise was coming from.
As they were about to give up, Rosie had an idea.
“I know, Sam!” she said, excitedly. “If they are very quiet it must mean that they are very small!”
“And if they’re very small,” Sam replied, “then they must be on the ground.
They both dropped to their knees, and right there behind the bench they could see a little mouse. The mouse was sat on its own and she was crying.
“Hello, little mouse,” Sam said. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, hello. I didn’t think anyone could hear me crying,” the mouse said.
“Well we heard you!” Rosie said. “My name is Rosie, and this is my brother Sam.”
“Hello Rosie and Sam, my name is Molly the Mouse.”
“Why are you sad, Molly?” Rosie asked.
“I was on my way home to my mouse hole to have a lovely lunch of pain au chocolat when I saw a horrid hedgehog stealing them all from my garden. You see, I have some pain au chocolat trees, and they were just ripe enough to eat.”
“Oh no!” Rosie and Sam both said together. “Stealing pain au chocolat is not a very nice thing to do!”
“No it isn’t!” Molly agreed. And now I don’t have anything to eat for lunch!”
Rosie smiled and said to Molly “Don’t be sad. What if we helped you get your pain au chocolat back?”
“You would do that?” said Molly, who straight away felt a lot happier.
“Of course!” Sam replied. “We’ve been looking for something fun to do this afternoon, and what is more fun than helping people?”
“Thank you. That is very kind of you both!” Molly said.
“Let’s go have an adventure!” Rosie said.
As they were leaving the garden Molly said “I saw the hedgehog going towards Highgate Wood. Maybe we can find him in there?”
So they set off in the direction of Highgate Wood. Once they got in to the wood they started to look around for a hedgehog with some pain au chocolat. “Hedgehog!” the three took turns calling. “Hedgehog, are you there?”
After a few moments they heard a rustling in some leaves and a little hedgehog poked his head out.
“Hello?” he said. “I am a hedgehog.”
“Did you take some pain au chocolat from a pain au chocolat tree a while ago?” Rosie asked.
“No,” the hedgehog replied. “I don’t like pain au chocolat. Sorry.”
“That’s OK!” Sam replied, and the hedgehog disappeared back in to the leaves.
So they moved on further in to the wood, looking around for hedgehogs, and again taking turns calling out “Hedgehog! Hedgehog, are you there?”
After another couple of moments a second hedgehog poked his head up through the leaves.
“Is everything OK?” the hedgehog asked. She was much smaller than the first hedgehog.
“Did you take some pain au chocolat from a nearby tree earlier on?” Rosie asked.
“No,” the hedgehog replied. “I LOVE pain au chocolat, but as you can see I am much to small to reach it in a tree!”
A bit further in to the woods again Sam spotted something.
“Molly, Rosie! Look!” he said, pointing at a pile of pain au chocolat next to a hole in the trunk of a very big tree.
The three ran over to the tree and knocked on the trunk.
“Excuse me!” Rosie said, poking her head inside the dark hole. “Is there anybody home?”
Sure enough a hedgehog poked its head out of the hole.
“I see you have lots of pain au chocolat!” Sam said.
“I do!” the hedgehog answered. “Isn’t it delicious?”
“Where did you get it?” Rosie asked. “Our friend Molly the Mouse has had some stolen!”
“Oh gosh!” the hedgehog said. “I would never steal it. Stealing other people’s things is wrong! I grew it all on my pain au chocolat tree!”
And so he showed them the small tree behind his house, that looked much like the one outside Molly’s mouse hole. “I hope you find your pain au chocolat!” the hedgehog said to them as they left.
So Rosie, Sam and Molly searched on and on, and they spoke to a great many hedgehogs in the woods. But none of the hedgehogs had taken Molly’s pain au chocolat.
They had been looking for what felt like hours, and they were about to give up, when suddenly they all caught smell of something delicious. They all looked at each other and straight away they knew what the smell was. “Pain au chocolat!” they cried out together.
They followed the smell until they came to some bushes. Behind the bushes they could hear someone whistling a very cheerful tune to themselves. As they pushed the bushes aside, sure enough they saw a hedgehog cooking some pain au chocolat over a small fire.
“Oh, hello!” the hedgehog said to them cheerily. “My name is Henry! What’s yours?”
Rosie stepped forward. “I am Rosie, this is my brother, Sam and this is our friend Molly the Mouse.”
“Well it is lovely to meet you all,” Henry said. “Is everything alright? Molly looks sad.”
“Somebody stole my pain au chocolat!” Molly said, glumly. “I was just on my way home to have a delicious lunch and I saw someone stealing them.”
“Where did you get those pain au chocolat?” Sam asked.
“I found them on a pain au chocolat tree in Muswell Hill a little while ago!” Henry said, smiling.
“Those are my pain au chocolat!” Molly said. “That was my tree outside my mouse hole!”
Henry stopped smiling and looked very sad. “Oh gosh,” he said. “I am very sorry. I didn’t think the tree belonged to anyone. I didn’t see your mouse hole.”
“I only need a very small hole, because I am only a very small mouse,” Molly replied.
“I am so very sorry!” Henry apologised again. “If I had known the tree belonged to someone I would not have taken them. They are cooking at the moment but when they are done please take them all back and enjoy your lunch. I will find something else to eat.”
The whole time the pain au chocolat were finishing cooking, Henry looked very glum, so Rosie took Sam over to one side.
“Henry looks very sad. Now he doesn’t have anything delicious to eat for lunch!” Rosie said.
“Poor Henry,” Sam replied. He didn’t know they were Molly’s or he wouldn’t have taken them.”
“Look Sam,” Rosie said, pointing at the pain au chocolat cooking over the fire. “There is plenty of pain au chocolat for both of them.”
“You’re right,” Sam agreed.
So Rosie and Sam went over to where Molly was sitting and waiting for the delicious lunch to cook.
“Molly,” Sam said. “We think it would be very nice if you shared your pain au chocolat with Henry. He didn’t mean to steal them from you and he is very sorry for making a mistake.”
“Yes,” Rosie added. “And there is plenty of pain au chocolat for both of you, and there will still be some spare!”
“I know!” Molly said. “Why don’t we ALL have pain au chocolat for lunch? You must be very hungry having helped me search all that time, and I really want to say thank you for helping me! Like you say, there is plenty to go around!”
“That is a wonderful idea!” Rosie said.
A few moments later and the pain au chocolat were ready. “Here you go,” said Henry, picking one up and offering it to Molly. “Enjoy your pain au chocolat,” he added, with a deep, sad sigh.
“The first one is for you!” Molly said, and straight away they all saw Henry’s face brighten up.
“Really? Do you mean it?” he said.
“Yes,” Molly replied. “After all, you cooked them for us!”
And so they passed out the pain au chocolat and the four of them had a delicious lunch.
When they had finished Rosie stood up and said “We should go home. Our mummy and daddy will start to worry if we’re not home soon.”
“Thank you Sam and Rosie for all your help,” Molly said. “I couldn’t have found my pain au chocolat without you.”
“You’re welcome, Molly,” Sam said.
“Rememeber, Henry,” Rosie added. “You should always ask before you take something, because it might belong to someone else.”
“I will always ask from now on!” Henry replied.
So Rosie and Sam walked back home, and Molly came with them. When they got to the garden Molly said “Thanks again Rosie and Sam. If you ever want some pain au chocolat just look for the little mouse hole with the little pain au chocolat tree outside and come and say hello. We can have a delicious lunch together.”
“That would be lovely!” Rosie said.
“I told Henry that he can come by any time and have lunch with me as well, as long as he lets me know this time!” Molly added.
“Goodbye Molly, thanks for taking us on an adventure!” Sam said as they both waved to their new friend.
“Goodbye, Rosie and Sam. See you soon!” and with that Molly disappeared in to her mouse hole, and Rosie and Sam went back in to their garden.
When they got back in to the garden their mummy was sat outside on the same bench where they had started their adventure.
“And where have you two little rascals been?” she asked.
“We’ve been on an adventure!” they both shouted.
Well, that is, as they say, that. I’ve got to do a fairy tale somewhere around April but until then that seems to be my lot for the children’s fiction market for the moment. Of course this is blatantly just going to end up with people making me write 10 kids’ stories in a row now, but so be it. Bring it on I say. BRING. IT. ON.
Next week we have a delightful tale about a dictator who realises the error of his ways, kindly suggested by mein dear papa. So a bit of a change of pace, then.
The second story in my challenge to write a short story a week in 2014 was, it has to be said, a lot easier to write than the first. It came from my good friend Edward Murphy on Facebook, and the brief was as follows: ‘a story of someone who goes into the wilds on a geocaching expedition but runs into trouble as night descends. Inadequately prepared, with no food, they half-slide down a very steep valley only to realise that they can’t get across the river and even if they could there’s no way out. And then the fat one (you can call him Ed, if you like) goes hypoglycaemic from lack of food.’
Very, err, thorough. I took some liberties with a couple of details, simply because it wouldn’t have been a very nice ending to have them stuck on the mountain for the night, but otherwise I hope I’ve managed to stick true to the brief. I’m sure I’m legally obligated to tell you that this is ABSOLUTELY NOT based on a true story HONEST and that character names have DEFINITELY NOT been only slightly modified to make it completely obvious who the story is about. Enjoy.
2014 – A Year In Stories
“Will you just admit it already? We are LOST!” Lillian said, folding her arms across her chest.
“We’re not lost as long as we have this!” Edwin replied, holding up his GPS device and waving it at her demonstratively.
“Well where the bloody hell are we then?”
Edwin fiddled with the device for a few seconds. He squinted at the screen in the fading light, cursing that he had not shelled out the extra £40 for the model that was backlit.
“Well?” Her tone of voice was becoming more and more impatient.
“I, uh,” Edwin began. “I don’t know.”
“So we ARE lost?”
Lowering his head in defeat, Edwin replied “Yes, I suppose we are…”
“Well this is just bloody MARVELLOUS, isn’t it? I didn’t even want to come on this stupid Geocaching trip with you in the first place, and now here I am lost halfway up a bloody mountain in the middle of nowhere with fading light and no idea how to get back down.”
“We could go back the way we came…” Edwin suggested, rather feebly.
“And do you have a torch with which to guide us back along this path?” Lillian enquired. She took her fiancé’s lack of response to indicate the negative. “We’ve been walking for hours. We would need a bloodhound to find our way back to where we started!”
Lillian paused and took a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself down. “There will be plenty of time for me to shout at you later. What are we going to do?”
Edwin furrowed his brow and began to scan around, looking for a way back to civilisation. There were no towns or villages in sight, but in the gloom he could just about see a country road winding its way through the fields some distance away at the bottom of the mountain.
“Down there,” he said, pointing so Lillian could see. “There’s a road. That has to lead SOMEWHERE.”
“That’s bloody miles away!” Lillian pointed out, and then remembered that the alternative was spending a pleasant night asleep on this godforsaken mountain and realised that they had no choice. “…let’s go” she added, resignedly.
About twenty minutes in to their trek they began to lose the light.
“I can’t see a bloody thing,” Edwin declared loudly, “And I think I’m going to pass out.” The last part was said with more than a hint of defiance in the voice, and Lillian rolled her eyes. “I think I’m becoming hypoglycaemic.”
At this, Lillian rounded on him. “Oh is that so?!” she replied, angrily. “Well if we hadn’t come up here on some search for some bloody stupid lost treasure we could be filling our faces presently. Anyway, I saw you scoffing those three Snickers on the way up the mountain. You’ve got enough blood sugar to last five people for a month. There’s a Mars Bar in your rucksack. Eat that and shut up.”
Realising that this was not the time for impudence, Edwin did as he was told.
“Look,” he said after they had trudged on for a few moments. “I’m sorry. We need to stop bickering. We have to work together.”
“What do you mean?” Lillian asked, genuinely puzzled.
“Because,” he replied, pointing ahead of them, “of that.”
Directly in front of them, and comprehensively blocking their further descent, was a scree slope.
“We’re going to have to go down that, aren’t we?” Lillian asked.
“Yep, ” Edwin replied.
“And there’s no way around?”
“Doesn’t look like it, and I don’t fancy doing it when it’s any darker if we don’t find another way.”
“Good point. Shall we?”
They turned their heads to look at each other, and their hands met. All arguments were on hold for the moment.
“Together?” Lillian suggested.
“Together,” Edwin agreed.
They made their way gingerly to the edge of the slope, hands still clasped together.
They both took a tentative first step on to the loose rocks. Several skidded away at the slightest touch, and Lillian winced at the sound of slate moving against itself below her.
“I have an idea,” she said.
A minute later they were sat at the top of the slope.
“Remember,” she said, “edge down slowly and you should be fine. it’ll be much easier to control our descent this way.”
They nodded at each other resolutely, and pushed off. The going wasn’t easy, but they inched their way forwards slowly, until finally they were at the bottom. They leapt to their feet.
“We made it!” Lillian exclaimed, and they shared an embrace.
“I wish I could say the same for my trousers…” Edwin said, lamenting the now thoroughly ripped seat of his cargo pants.
“They gallantly offered their life to protect their commanding officer,” Lillian responded, in a questionable American accent. The pair laughed for the first time since they began their descent.
The going became a lot easier the further they got down the mountainside, and for a while they walked hand in hand as the darkness grew all around them. Soon they had to rely on the camera lights from their mobile phones to see, and they could no longer tell how far they were from the road, or even really if they were going in the right direction, but still they soldiered on.
After some time of ploughing on in the darkness, Edwin heard a splash as he put his foot down.
“Oh, my bloody foot is soaking!” he shouted, hopping about in an effort to dry his foot off that would have appeared vain and absurd had anyone but Lillian, whose phone was pointing dead ahead, been around to witness it. They stopped.
“A river?” Lillian asked in disbelief. “Why didn’t you mention that there was a bloody river?”
“I didn’t see it!” Edwin replied, defensively.
“How could you not see it? It’s a bloody river! It looks like a road except it’s made of water, they’re not exactly known for their stealth capabilities!”
“I wasn’t looking for rivers, was I?!” he protested.
They were interrupted by one of the sounds of civilisation. A car was approaching from somewhere out of the night. After a few seconds, as the engine sounds grew louder, headlight beams appeared just across the river, briefly illuminating it and the hedged boundaries of the road they had been questing toward.
They saw the vehicle speed past a gap in the hedges that was occupied by a gate.
“There it is!” Lillian cried. That’s our way out!”
“But how do we get there?” Edwin wondered.
“There must be a bridge around here somewhere. Use your GPS. That must be able to tell us if there’s a bridge nearby.”
Edwin rummaged around in his pocket and found the device. “Shine your light on the screen,” he suggested. He pressed the power button and prepared to search around the local maps, when he was briefly confronted with the Low Battery symbol, before the screen went blank. No amount of yelling or coercion would bring it back to life again.
“Stupid thing,” he declared. “I only put fresh batteries in this morning. What are we going to do now?”
“Did you see how deep the river was?”
“Not really,” he replied, “but it looked quite wide, and it’s getting chilly. I don’t want to risk hypothermia by wading across it.
“Then I suppose we’re stuck. We were so close as well!” Lillian sat down on the ground, defeated. After a moment Edwin joined her. “I don’t want to have to spend a night in the wilderness!” she lamented.
Edwin put his arm around her shoulders and drew her in closer to him. “Neither do I, but the only other choice is to wade through that river, and it’s too dangerous.”
For a few minutes they sat in silent contemplation of the night ahead, when they heard a low rumbling sound somewhere in the distance.
“Edwin, can you hear that?” Lillian asked, lifting her head from her fiancé’s shoulder. The noise got progressively louder.
“It sounds like it’s coming from the road, but that’s not a car.” Edwin replied, wondering what could possibly make a noise like that.
Eventually a set of high beam headlights swung around the corner and the culprit, an old tractor, came in to view.
The powerful engine was emitting a much lower rumble than the car had previously. But even the might of the engine was struggling to propel the vehicle, which was moving along very sluggishly.
The pair leapt to their feet and began jumping up and down and shouting at the tractor to try and attract the driver’s attention. As the headlights swung ponderously around the bend, they swept across the animated couple, and they heard the engine slow down and eventually cut out altogether as the tractor came to a halt.
“Is everything ok?” the driver asked, getting down from the cab. He was an old, wiry man with a grey beard. He wore a tweed jacket and flat cap, and looked as though he would himself have been made of tweed had he been given the option.
“We’re stuck,” Lillian replied. “We’re trying to get back to a village or a town but we can’t get across this river.”
“Well, there’s a village a couple of miles down the road with a nice guesthouse. I can take you there, no problem. First of all though we need to get you over here.”
“Is there anywhere we can cross?”
The farmer stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Not for miles,” he replied eventually. “But you may be in luck.”
He disappeared out of the glare of the headlights, fading away in to the gloom. The only indication of his continuing presence was the cacophony of noise that was coming from behind the tractor.
After a couple of minutes he reappeared clutching a long ladder.
“Had a problem with one of the barn roofs earlier, so it was lucky I had this with me.” He lowered the ladder to the ground and extended it to its full length. He began edging it across the river slowly, until it finally reached the other bank. “It’ll only hold one of you at a time, and you’ll have to be careful.”
It took some time but eventually both Edwin and Lillian reached the other side of the river. They were cold, exhausted and a little shaken, but at least they hadn’t taken a dip in the river to boot.
The ladder was withdrawn and stored back in the trailer, and they prepared to head to the village.
“There’s only space for two in the cab, I’m afraid,” the farmer said as he started the tractor’s engine. “One of you will have to ride in the trailer.”
“You go in the cab, Lil,” Edwin said, climbing in to the back. “This whole mess is my fault.”
When they were finally on their way back to civilisation, Lillian felt that she had recovered enough energy to strike up a conversation with the farmer.
“I’m so glad you found us,” she said. “We could have been out there all night.”
“Yes, it was a stroke of luck,” the man replied. “Were you up on the mountain?”
“Yeah, looking for treasure,” she laughed.
The farmer furrowed his brow. “Well then why didn’t you just come down the other side of the mountain? The village is just down there.”
Lillian’s eyes widened as she thought of everything that they had just been through, and how it all could have been avoided. She thought about what she was going to do to the stupid idiot when they got to the guest house, and if they had any sharp implements available.
But when she turned to look at him sat, asleep in the trailer she couldn’t bring herself to be angry with him anymore. They were both here and in one piece, and at the end of the day that was all that mattered.
Anyway, this would provide YEARS of excellent future blackmail material.
Up next I have to write a children’s story suitable for a 2 year old and a 4 year old. Right on my intellectual level, then.
So, the first full week of 2014 is drawing to a close and as such I am due to be up one story for my ‘2014: A Year In Stories’ challenge. And what do you know, I AM up one story.
My first brief came from John Muskett on Facebook, and was as follows. ‘A story about a circus Monkey suffering from ennui induced alcoholism, learning to love life again.’ Because apparently, despite being my friend, he hates me. Well, I never thought that any of this was going to be a walk in the park, so why not start out with a hard one, eh? So, please read on for the story of Barnabus the monkey. I present to you, Ennui.
2014 – A Year in Stories
Barnabus puffed contemplatively at his cigarette. In the background the dull repetition of the train running over the tracks was the only sound. In the dark carriage he was alone with his thoughts.
5 years now he had been living this life. No one place to call home and nobody he could really call his family. He pawed around on the floor for the bottle, and eventually he felt its cold, glassy exterior. He smiled, such as it was possible for him to do, and lifted the bottle to his lips.
A solitary drop fell from the neck on to his waiting tongue, but no more. It seemed he was out of luck. He shrieked in anger and hurled the empty vessel, sending it crashing in to the opposite wall of the carriage.
The loud crash raised a cacophony from the next carriage over. The corrugated sheet metal walls were thin after all. Excited hoots, hollers, whoops and whines flittered across the air for a fleeting moment before dying down again.
Turning his mind to his fellow passengers he considered how much they bored him. He was so much better than they. He knew it, his employers knew it, and even they probably knew it; those that had the capacity for rational thought at least.
It was pitch black and the cabin was stiflingly hot. He knew they had recently passed in to South America and the heat had been unbearable.
A light shone briefly through a gap in the sheet metal and tantalisingly illuminated the liquid that covered the spot on the wall that had so recently borne the brunt of his frustration. Perhaps there had been more of the sweet nectar in the bottle after all.
Barnabus picked himself up from the floor, stubbing his cigarette out on the wall, being careful to avoid letting any ash drop on to the dry straw that lined the floor. He definitely did not want a repeat of THAT incident.
Edging his way closer, trying not to be thrown from his feet by the bouncing train, he could not quite reach the wall. He strained harder, but the chain shackled around his ankle simply would not allow him to get any closer. “Eeeeek,” he uttered, soulfully, and was then thrown to the floor by a particularly bumpy section of track.
Rolling around the carriage, unable to right himself until, in desperation he cast his tail upwards.
He felt it catch on a metal bar and, using it to pull himself up, he got to his feet, before climbing up on to the bar. He breathed a sigh of relief, though he was no closer to the delicious whiskey that painted the wall of his mobile home.
Fortune was on his side, as moments later, disturbed by the jolt, a heavy metal box containing costumes wrestled free from its moorings on a high shelf and came smashing down to the carriage floor. He stared in disbelief. A few seconds earlier and he would have been killed. Those idiots. Didn’t they know how to secure their supplies? They could have lost their star attraction.
He felt a breeze on his face. It was almost imperceptible, but in the stuffy carriage it was a welcome change. It took him a moment to realise where it was coming from. He looked down at the floor of the carriage. The crate had dented the wall just enough to create a little gap, but still big enough for him to crawl through.
He could be free. Free from this life that he had loathed for so long. Free from the other animals, whom he found so intolerable. He could get his life back.
Barnabus made to go out of the hole, but stopped, suddenly arrested by memories of the good old days. He hadn’t always hated this life. Back when he was first purchased from the zoo he knew he had been destined for greatness.
The circus owners had spent a whole day pondering over the entire litter of infants the zoo had available to sell, and after a series of tests, Barnabus had been the lucky monkey selected above his peers to be trained for the circus.
He had been the star of the show, and still was, but the circus was a dying concept. Where’s once he had wowed audiences across the globe with acrobatic feats that even a highly skilled human could not hope to reproduce, now thanks to the rise of MTV and the apathy of Generation X audience numbers were dwindling. Nobody came to the circus anymore.
He felt a debt of loyalty to the circus that had given him everything, but he could not deny his misery. The decline in attendance over the last couple of years had contributed to a decline in his performances, and ultimately his descent in to alcoholism.
Suddenly he remembered vividly the day that, seeing the flap of the ringmaster’s tent open and unguarded, he stole in curiously. He saw what he thought was the apple juice they used to give him in an open bottle on the table. It had been a particularly hot day and he felt the need to quench his thirst. He had never looked back. Now the keepers knew to leave a bottle in his carriage on the longer journeys if they didn’t want to be mauled on arrival at the next destination.
Barnabus sighed. He had made up his mind. This life had given him so much but it was no longer giving him what he needed, and he reasoned that he may never get another opportunity.
Rummaging through the straw on the floor of the carriage he dug out his battered Fez and waistcoat, and donned them for the last time. He edged closer and closer to the hole in the carriage, nearly changing his mind when he saw the speed at which the ground was passing below him.
Steeling his resolve, he pushed through the gap and clung to the outside of the carriage. He tried to move off down the side of the metal sheet, using whatever hand holds he could find, but his progress was impeded. He had forgotten about one thing; he was still chained to the floor.
The scenery rushed by him as he wondered what he could do. And then it came to him. The wheels of the train would cut the chain. It was dangerous, but it was the only way. If he didn’t cut the chain and escape they would find him at the next station, clinging to the car still, and he had come too far to go back now.
Barnabus took a deep breath and leaped in to action. Using his tail he swung underneath the train and made a grab for one of the cables that ran along the undercarriage.
For a brief, horrifying second the cable swung away with the undulations of the train, and the ground rushed towards him at a terrifying pace. At the last moment the cable swung back and Barnabus managed to grab hold, safely pulling himself up until his body was flush with the metal undercarriage.
Breathing heavily after his narrow escape he gathered as much of the chain as he could in his paws and began to let out the slack in the direction of the nearest wheel.
He tried his best to lower the chain on to the wheel itself, using it like a grinder to bore down through the metal, but a bump sent the links flying from his hands and on to the tracks. The wheel bounced over the chain with an audible screech, nearly knocking the carriage off course. He could hear the screeching of his former colleagues in the next carriage along as the train teetered briefly before righting itself.
The chain was cut. He was free. He braced himself and then let go of the undercarriage, dropping on to the ground. Upon landing he bounced and rolled hard, but somehow managed to avoid ending up on the rails in the path of the wheels that had just granted him his freedom.
When the train had passed over him and the dust had finally settled he stood up on his hind legs. He had lost his Fez in the near fall, and his already battered waistcoat had practically been ripped to shreds, so he discarded it by the side of the track. Finally he checked his body over for injuries, but excepting some bruising he seemed to have escaped the events unscathed.
Dusting himself off with his paws he checked the landscape around him. He was surrounded by fields, but off in the distance he could see the faintest glimmer of green trees. Without hesitation he was off.
Several hours later, after the train had pulled in to Lima station and all the carriages had been transported to the site where the circus was due to set up, Barnabus’ keepers approached his carriage. One produced a key and after removing the padlock, swung the the large door aside.
“Barney!” he yelled in to the carriage. “Where are you?” There was no response. Helped by his colleague, he clambered up in to the car and cast about, looking for his monkey charge. But Barnabus was nowhere to be found. Spotting the hole in the carriage and the broken chain dangling through it, he turned to his colleague in shock.
“Where’s Barnabus?” she asked.
The ringmaster approached the sign with a solemn look on his face. A group of small children were clustered around it, trying to get a glimpse of what the attractions would be at the circus that night.
With a heavy heart the ringmaster pushed his way through the group, and with a marker pen crossed out the words ‘The Magnificent Barnabus defies gravity with his deadly leaps and bounds!’
A chorus of disappointment rose from the group of children. “I know, children, I know,” the ringmaster said in reply. “I am sad too.”
After what felt like an age, Barnabus reached the forest. When he finally reached the cusp of the trees it looked dark and intimidating, and he began to wonder about what a mistake he had made. There would be no whiskey in this forest, and no one to come and feed him. He was on his own now, and would have to fend for himself.
But there was no going back now. Even if he wanted to he had lost the train and would likely never find it again. He steeled himself and took a step inside the dark forest.
He was greeted with a high pitched shrieking noise. He turned, startled, to see another monkey, clutching a piece of fruit. Barnabus was so astonished that his tiny jaw dropped. For the first time since he left the zoo all those years ago he was looking at another member of his own species.
Shocked in to silence by this discovery he merely stood there, mouth agape. At first he thought the other creature was going to try and hurt him in case he tried to steal its food, but after a prolonged silence the tension dissipated and the other monkey, who had clearly decided that Barnabus was not a threat, broke off a piece of the fruit and timidly extended its arm in his direction, offering the morsel to him.
Gingerly he took it and was greeted with a satisfied “EEK” from his new compatriot.
Perhaps I won’t be so lonely here after all, he thought, and with a smile on his face and a newfound enthusiasm for life he followed his new friend in to the depths of the jungle.
Well, that’s one down and 51 to go. Next week, tune in for the story of a mountain trek gone mildly wrong.