Sunday 24 April 2011

A Possible lead

by Kirsty Ferry

Babyccino -shot of hot, frothy milk enjoyed by small people...

It was raining and Jack was supposed to be going on an Easter Egg Hunt with Imogen and Lucy. He hovered by the kitchen door listening in while Mum spoke to Aunty Nicki.

‘So what do you want to do about it?’ Mum was saying. She nodded, agreeing with something. ‘Yes. You’re right. It is a bit wet out there.’ She peered out of the kitchen window where a woodpigeon was picking at a slug. Jack wondered if the woodpigeon’s feet were getting very wet. It was standing in what used to be the rose border. At least, it was the rose border yesterday. It was just mud today. ‘Yes, we’ll do that then. See you in twenty minutes,’ Mum continued. Jack pricked his ears up and bobbed hopefully from foot to foot.

‘Are we going on the Egg Hunt?’ he asked.

‘No. The girls are wearing spangly shoes and don’t want to get them wet,’ said Mum. Jack grimaced. The girls were OK, as far as girls went, but they had started to talk like Americans and Imogen had started chewing bubble gum. But she couldn’t actually blow bubbles. ‘We’re going to the garden centre and we’re going to have cake in the tea shop,’ said Mum.

Jack did a little victory dance. Cake was good.

‘OK,’ he said. ‘Let’s go. What are we waiting for? You are very slow today.’

They pulled up in the car park half an hour later. It had taken a while to decide what to take in the car. It was five miles. A long time to be sitting in the car, with nothing to amuse a person.

Jack squashed his face against the fogged up window.

‘Can you see them?’ he asked. He stuck his tongue out and pressed the tip of it against the glass. It felt cold and shiny and wet.

‘Not yet. I’ll phone them.’

‘Good idea Mum,’ Jack said. His voice was quite muffled as he still had his tongue on the glass. He pressed his face against the window, and began to pull some hideous faces. He could actually see the girls now, waving at him and pulling faces through their car window.

‘Hey Nicki, where are you?’ he heard his mum ask. ‘You’re where? Oh. OK. Ah. I see you now…’

‘We already saw each other,’ said Jack. ‘Is it time for cake now?’

It was nice and warm inside the Garden Centre. The children shook out their wet coats and bodies and Jack thought that puppies had the right idea. It dried you off quite well.

Aunty Nicki was already heading to the tea shop.

‘Can we look at the Guinea pigs?’ asked one of the girls. Jack pulled a face. Whoever had spoken had put on a horrible, wheedling baby voice.

‘We’ve promised them Guinea pigs this year,’ explained Aunty Nicki, hovering very closely over the scones. ‘Would Jack ever want a pet, do you think?’

‘I would like a rabbit,’ piped up Jack. ‘I saw one here at the Bunny Talk. But I got stung by a wasp. And I would have to Muck It Out. Ooh. You have a double chocolate muffin.’

It wasn’t really fair that Mum told him to get off the muffin in quite a cross voice.

The high stools in the teas shop which overlooked the lower part of it were an excellent vantage point. The children could see everyone. Imogen even saw a strange girl looking back at them.

‘What is she staring at?’ muttered Imogen. Lucy and Jack stared at the strange girl. Then Lucy pulled a face. Jack thought it was really clever, they way she could stick her tongue out and pull her nostrils half way across her face at the same time. The strange girl’s face sort of crumpled and she looked away.

‘Oh! Watch this,’ said Lucy. She lay almost flat across the stool and her long blonde hair went swish, swish, swish on the floor as she shook it from side to side. Jack was impressed. Lucy was being really good today. Normally she was really annoying. Sometimes, she even sat in the coat cupboard and refused to come out and play with them.

‘Shall we go and look at the guinea pigs?’ asked Lucy suddenly. ‘I know where they are.’

‘That’s a very good idea,’ said Jack.

‘Let’s go, kids,’ said Imogen. She was talking in that American voice again. They all slid off the stools and slipped away from the tea shop. Lucy was right. She knew exactly where the Guinea pigs were. The children leaned over the Guinea pig pen and the animals tried to hide in the corner.

‘That’s a marmalade one,’ said Imogen knowledgeably. She pointed at a hairy, ginger pig. Jack wasn’t sure which bit was its head and which bit was its bottom.

‘A marmalade one?’ Jack asked. Then he cackled, ‘I can spread it on my toast!’ The girls stared at him in horror.

‘That’s not kind!’ sniffed Imogen. ‘You can’t eat them.’

‘You get pork from pigs,’ said Jack. Imogen didn’t reply. She just went a funny colour.

‘I’m going to ask my mum,’ she said. They turned away from the Guinea pigs and headed back to the tea shop, arguing about eating baby animals.

Jack’s mum and Aunty Nicki were still sitting at the table chatting over their scones.

‘Mum. Can you eat pigs?’ asked Imogen loudly.

‘Yes. You can eat pigs,’ said Aunty Nicki.

‘I said so,’ nodded Jack. ‘And marmalade goes on toast.’

‘Marmalade is very good on toast,’ replied Jack’s Mum.

‘Then I am never coming to your house for tea again!’ cried Imogen and burst into tears. Jack stared at her in horror. Girls could be actually quite embarrassing. Imogen was causing a very big fuss in the garden centre. It was like she actually wanted people to stare at her. Aunty Nicki turned to say something to her, when she stopped and her mouth opened and closed a bit, but no words came out. Jack thought it looked rather odd and stared at her curiously.

‘Where’s Lucy?’ Aunty Nicki asked: quite suddenly. Jack looked around the tea shop. Lucy wasn’t with them there, that was for sure.

‘Um,’ said Jack. He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Has she gone home, perhaps?’

‘Don’t be silly,’ said Imogen, her tears magically drying up. (Jack thought she had maybe put the tears on for effect, but he couldn’t be sure.) ‘Mum still has the car keys. And Lucy’s feet are too short to reach the pedals anyway. She tried last week.’

‘I have to find Lucy!’ cried Aunty Nicki. She pulled the chair back from the table with a nasty scraping noise that made everybody stare and she started running around the cafe asking people if they’d seen Lucy. Everybody was shaking their heads. Mum started gathering the coats and bags up and looked a bit stressed. She herded Jack and Imogen up and made them stand very close to her, which Jack found rather unnecessary. Because they weren’t actually lost, were they?

Aunty Nicki rushed around the corner and started shouting at the lady on the counter. She shook her head too, and pointed at another lady. Then Aunty Nicki ran off in that direction and Jack, Imogen and Mum shuffled off after her. Mum was looking around as well, craning her neck, trying to see Lucy amongst all the people sheltering from the rain in the tea shop.

‘Did you see Lucy run off anywhere?’ Mum asked Jack in a low voice. He stared at Mum.

‘No, Mum. Lucy didn’t run off,’ he said. It was quite true. Imogen and Jack had left her by the Guinea pigs, perhaps, but she certainly hadn’t run off whilst she had been with them.

Just then, a booming, crackling voice came over the tannoy. It was calling out and asking people if they had seen a little girl with long, blonde hair, wearing a pink coat and sparkly shoes anywhere. If so, could they please bring her to the Customer Information Desk. Jack and Imogen looked at one another.

‘That girl sounds a lot like Lucy,’ said Jack.

‘She does,’ said Imogen, nodding in agreement. ‘Maybe that girl stayed behind to look at something as well... oh.’

‘Oh what?’ asked Jack. They were squashed together between Mum and Aunty Nicki, standing beside the Customer Information Desk.

‘Perhaps she’s still looking at the Guinea Pigs,’ suggested Imogen. Jack thought for a moment.

‘Yes. She could be. We’d better tell your Mum,’ he said. Imogen nodded and tugged at Aunty Nicki’s coat.

‘Mum. Mu-u-um. Mum!’ she said, trying to get her attention. Aunty Nicki kept shaking her off and trying to talk to the lady on the desk. She just wasn’t listening.

‘I think we should maybe have a look ourselves,’ said Jack. ‘And then we can bring her back.’

‘Yes. Let’s go back to the piggies,’ said Imogen.

The children wriggled their way out of the squashy place and headed off towards the Guinea pigs. Jack huffed as he was dragged back by the collar of his tee-shirt.

‘Ouch, Mum!’ he said crossly. ‘That hurts.’

‘Stay here,’ commanded Mum. ‘Where do you think you’re going? We’ve already lost Lucy today.’

‘We think we might know where she is,’ said Imogen. ‘We have remembered where we last saw her.’

‘Nicki!’ said Jack’s Mum. ‘We might have a lead.’

‘Where is she?’ asked Aunty Nicki. ‘Can you remember where she went?’

‘We think she is maybe near the Guinea pigs,’ said Jack importantly. ‘That’s where we last saw her anyway.’

‘What were you doing over there?’ squawked Aunty Nicki, bending right over Jack.

‘Looking at the piggies,’ said Jack, bending backwards, away from her. ‘We said so. We said can you eat piggies and you said yes, and...’

‘OK, OK,’ said Aunty Nicki. She looked at Mum and straightened up. ‘Will you...’

‘Yes,’ said Mum. ‘I’ll wait here, just in case. You go and check the animal section.’ Aunty Nicki nodded and raced off across the Garden Centre.

‘Can we...?’ asked Jack.

‘Yes. But hurry up and catch Aunty Nicki,’ said Mum frowning. ‘We came out with three children; we want to go home with three children.’

Jack and Imogen raced off after Aunty Nicki, weaving in and out of the other shoppers until they eventually reached the animal section. Aunty Nicki was standing there looking around her, trying to spot Lucy amongst the small children that were milling around the pens. Jack looked inside a hutch and Imogen checked the dog-bed section, just in case, but they couldn’t find her.

Then they heard a small voice, quavering from a stand half hidden behind bales of rabbit straw.

‘Help. Help me. Please help me.’ Aunty Nicki barged through the bales and came to a stop. Jack and Imogen rushed up behind her and bumped into one another as they pulled up short.

‘Lucy Pemberton!’ cried Aunty Nicki. ‘What are you doing there?’

Lucy was standing amongst the dog chains and leashes.

‘I’m trapped,’ she moaned. ‘Oh, please help me.’

Lucy raised her hands and stared at her mum with swimmy, green eyes. Her wrists were tangled up in a metal chain dog leash. Somehow, she had wound it around her hands, and trapped herself inside the leash like a handcuff. It was really, really knotted up and the more she pulled the tighter it was getting.

‘Lucy!’ cried Aunty Nicki and started to untangle her. She spent absolutely ages sorting it all out.

Jack and Imogen watched approvingly.

‘That is a very good idea for a game,’ said Jack. ‘Policemen. A policemen game.’

‘Or a spy game,’ said Imogen, folding her arms.

Jack nodded.

‘My mum was right, though,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘We did have a sort of lead on where Lucy was, didn’t we? And it was, actually, a proper doggy lead, wasn’t it?


Kirsty won the English Heritage/Belsay Hall national creative writing competition (2009) and the Wyvern Publications Burning Flash Fiction Competition (2010). Her work has appeared in First Edition, Peoples Friend, Ghost Voices, The Weekly News, Bridge House Publishing’s Devils, Demons and Werewolves, Wyvern’s Mertales and will be in BHP’s forthcoming Angels and Wyvern’s Fangtales anthologies.

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