by Dawn Knox
Previously: After being struck by lightning, Doggett the Fishing Gnome wins the lady Gnome of his dreams but he’s a worrier. He consults the Hermit. A big mistake. Now Doggett is really worried…
“What the…!” Sylvester squeezed the brakes with all his strength.
Crispin, who was behind him on the tandem bicycle, nearly flew over his shoulder. “I told you not to brake sharply,” he said and then spotted what Sylvester had seen.
“Just like traffic lights,” said Sylvester, and Crispin poked him in the ribs.
“Remember what I told you about being tactful, Sylvester?”
Sylvester nodded. “Look a person in the eye and lie, lie, lie.”
“I don’t remember putting it quite like that,” said Crispin. “Anyway, in this instance, leave the talking to me. Keep your mouth closed and just nod.”
“Just nod,” said Sylvester, “I’ve got it. But can I laugh?”
“No. Definitely no laughter.”
“In that case, can’t we turn around and pretend we haven’t seen her?”
“Seen who?” asked Nina, who’d suddenly appeared next to them.
“Err…Wendy,” lied Sylvester, then remembering he should have left the talking to Crispin, he started to nod.
“Is he all right?” Nina asked Crispin, frowning as she watched the nodding Elf.
“Well,” Nina said eventually, “what d’you boys think of my new look?” She patted her hair.
Sylvester nodded harder, his chin bouncing up and down off his chest.
“It’s very…err… red,” said Crispin.
“Yes, but do you like it?” Nina patted it again.
“Oh yes, it’s very…err…lovely.”
“D’you really think so?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” said Crispin “and it goes so well with your outfit.”
“Like traffic lights,” said Sylvester who couldn’t help himself.
“What he means,” said Crispin quickly, “is that a green skirt, orange blouse and red hair are just like traffic lights because they are… um, they are so striking, they’d stop traffic.” He mopped his brow.
“Striking, eh? How wonderful! So, d’you think Doggett will like it?”
Crispin and Sylvester nodded so hard, their eyes seemed to rattle in their sockets.
“Definitely,” said Crispin uncrossing his fingers. After all, Doggett was besotted with Nina and would find her attractive if she’d just crawled out of the cesspit wearing a sack.
Doggett peered into the pond. His glowing, blue reflection stared back at him balefully and beneath the surface of the water, fish lined up to bite his hook and experience the tingles that passed from his body, down his fishing rod and into the hook.
If fish had been able to speak, they would have been saying “Ow!”, “Oooh!”, “Mmm!”, as they nibbled his bait and were hoisted to land. He was catching so many fish, he’d taken to throwing them back, where they joined the end of the queue, jostling to get a bite of his hook once more.
I’ve got everything I ever wanted—more fish than I know what to do with. I’m popular with everyone and Nina says she loves me, thought Doggett gloomily. What more could a Gnome ask?
It was all getting him down.
And to make matters worse, Crispin and Sylvester had just pulled up on their tandem bicycle next to the pond.
“Need a hand?” asked Sylvester leaping from the bike. Doggett knew what was coming next and didn’t bother to say “No.”
Sylvester would find any excuse to shake his hand or clap him on the back, to get a dose of the tingles.
“Ow!”, “Oooh!”, “Mmm!” said Sylvester, wandering off into the woods with a soppy smile on his face.
“Everything all right?” asked Crispin, who’d noticed Doggett’s despondent expression, “You look like you’re a bit under the weather.”
Doggett sighed and shook his head.
“Why don’t you go and see the doctor?” suggested Crispin.
“Nah. He doesn’t like me. He said I’m putting him out of business because I keep healing people with my superpowers.”
“Well, what about the Hermit? He knows about herbs and stuff. P’raps he can help… that is, if you can get an appointment. He’s a bit reclusive.”
“What seems to be the problem, my son?” the Hermit asked.
“Well, I… that is, I… um…”
Where to begin? thought Doggett. How can I tell him I’m afraid people only want me for my superpowers and so they can get a dose of the tingles? Suppose they wear off? What then?
“Take your time, my son.”
“Well, Father, it all started the night of the storm…”
“What started, my son?”
“Well, I.. that is, I… um…”
“Is it the flies that are bothering you, my son?”
“Yes, the flies buzzing around your head.”
“Well, I suppose they’re a bit of a nuisance. They’ve been doing that all day but the frogs have been eating them.”
“Frogs?” asked the Hermit, his eyes opening wider, “Have you seen many?”
“Quite a few. They live down by the pond.”
“How about crickets?”
“What about them?”
“Have you seen many, my son?”
“I saw one this morning. Why?”
“Oh dear, oh dear,” said the Hermit, wringing his hands. “I fear you have a terrible curse on you, my son.”
“A curse?” wailed Doggett. Panic welled up in his chest.
“I fear you may be a One-Gnome-Plague-Incident.”
Doggett was beginning to wish he’d never come. What had started as a mild case of the blues had escalated to something of gigantic—one might even say, Biblical proportions.
“Now, you must look out, my son, for the other plagues…”
“Other plagues? You mean it’s going to get worse?” The panic in Doggett’s chest was squeezing his heart.
“I fear so, my son. There are ten in all.”
“Slow down!” said Crispin later when Doggett appeared at his door, “Take a deep breath, I can’t understand a word you’re saying!”
Crispin wanted to pat Doggett on his shoulder to comfort him but it didn’t feel quite right to self-administer a dose of the tingles. He hovered, waving his hands in what he hoped was a sympathetic way.
“I’m doomed. We’re doomed and it’s all my fault,” wailed Doggett.
It took three cups of tea, two currant buns and lashings of sympathy before Crispin managed to get anything sensible out of Doggett. As he was a bit hazy on the details of the ten plagues, he consulted the dusty encyclopaedia that was used as a doorstop.
“But Doggett, most of these things occur naturally anyway. You find flies, gnats and frogs in gardens everywhere. They’re nothing to do with plagues,” said Crispin adopting the Voice of Reason. He batted away a fly that was hovering over Doggett’s head.
“But what about the thunder and hail?”
“It’s called ‘weather’. It happens everywhere.”
“Well, technically, one cricket isn’t a plague of locusts.”
“We don’t have any livestock.”
“Trilby’s got a cold, I heard him sneezing…”
“He’s a cat and that doesn’t count,” said Crispin firmly.
“No one in the Garden has boils.”
“Gusty Bob’s got warts.”
“Not the same.”
“The sun’s shining. It won’t get dark until later. But that hardly counts as a plague. It’s called ‘night’.”
“Well, what about the blood?”
“Blood? What blood?” Crispin’s voice shot up an octave.
“There was blood coming out of the tap this morning.”
“Well, I didn’t see it coming out of the tap exactly but there was blood in the sink, so where else would it have come from?”
Crispin was silent while he took this in.
“And the only thing that hasn’t happened is the death of a firstborn… yet…”
“No,” said Crispin, “there’ll be some explanation for the blood. And no one is going to die.”
Doggett wrung his hands and looked about wildly.
“I’ve thought hard and the only firstborn I can think of is Po Lin Jnr…”
“No,” said Crispin whose Voice of Reason was turning into the Voice of Panic. He was about to add there were plenty of firstborns in the Garden beside the Gardener’s son. Wilmslow was Bartrum’s firstborn son, for example, but he thought better of it. He didn’t want to stoke Doggett’s fears.
“More tea?” asked Crispin. He needed a plan, and more tea would give him time to think. He hurried into the kitchen.
“Have you got any more buns?” Doggett called after him.
Doggett regretted leaving Crispin without saying goodbye but it was probably for the best. He could have done with another cup of tea and a couple of buns but he was a disaster zone and he needed to do something before someone got hurt—or worse.
But what to do?
He swatted the flies circling his head. The frog on his shoulder shot out his tongue and snatched one of them from its orbit.
There was nothing he could do about flies, frogs and the other things that had already happened, but he could prevent anything happening to Po Lin Jnr—if he could find him.
He was out of breath by the time he’d searched the Alpine Garden but finally, he spotted Po Lin Jnr behind a large boulder, strumming his guitar.
“I hate this Garden. I hate it, hate it, hate it and everything in it. La, la, la,” sang Po Lin Jnr in a tuneless voice.
Doggett didn’t know what to do. The boy seemed to be all right but just as he was about to creep away, Po Lin Jnr started to cough.
“Oh no!” gasped Doggett, breaking into a run, “he’s choking and it’s all my fault.”
Mr Po Lin had asked his son to weed the Alpine Garden but Po Lin Jnr was bored. He’d decided to take a break and hope his father didn’t spot him.
There was simply nothing to do in this Garden. Well, actually there was plenty his dad wanted him to do but nothing he felt like doing.
He’d thrown rocks at one of the Garden Gnomes for a while until he’d broken a nail. It’s going to be hard to play the guitar properly now, he thought crossly.
Stupid Garden Gnomes. He hated them all with their smug, little faces, always cheery, always getting in his way.
When I’m a rich and famous rock star, I’ll buy this Garden and smash every one of them.
He closed his eyes and imagined himself performing to his adoring fans. Girls would fling themselves at him and he’d invite them to parties and… well he didn’t know what might happen then, as his imagination didn’t stretch that far. But once when he was in the Post Office in the village, he’d managed to read most of a rock magazine, and the life of a rock star was definitely what he wanted. There’d be lots of alcohol and he’d finally find out what it tasted like and why everyone seemed to like it. It was a mystery, but one day, he’d know. The other thing that puzzled him was why rock stars liked weeds. He hated them. His dad didn’t like them and made him pull them up. He’d risked asking Mr Willetts, the butler, why rock stars like weeds but he’d got a slap round the head for his pains. He later overheard Mr Willetts telling Cook that no good would come of the Gardener’s son and that he wouldn’t be surprised if the boy was smoking weed, even now, behind the garage.
Po Lin Jnr had gone to the back of the garage to see what was so special about it and to find out if there was anyone else there smoking weeds but other than a few old tyres and a rusty bucket, it was deserted.
It suddenly occurred to him that now was a perfect opportunity to find out about weeds. He had plenty he’d just dug up and he knew there was a bonfire where he could get a light. What was he waiting for?
He’d watched Mr Willetts outside the Old Priory when he thought he was unobserved and had a rough idea what it was all about, although the rolled-up weeds looked nothing like what Mr Willetts had been smoking. And in fact, they tasted pretty disgusting.
When Doggett arrived behind the boulder, Po Lin Jnr had finished coughing and was lying on his back, staring up at the sky.
“Oh no! I’m too late!” Doggett wailed. He slapped Po Lin Jnr’s face to try to bring him round but there was very little response. Climbing on top of the boulder, he cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled “Help!” at the top of his voice.
Something was very wrong, Po Lin Jnr decided.
He’d somehow inhaled a piece of leaf that had lodged in his throat, triggering a paroxysm of choking. Unfortunately, while he was coughing, he’d struck his head against the boulder and knocked himself unconscious.
But now, he was coming round. He opened his eyes and tried to orientate himself. Obviously, he was lying on his back because straight ahead of him was sky. Fluffy clouds sailed from one side of his vision to the other, accompanied by a steady drumbeat. He moved slightly and realised the drumbeat was actually throbbing, coming from the back of his skull. He groaned and that was when the world went mad.
Or perhaps he’d passed out again and was dreaming.
A small face came into his field of view. Blue sparks crackled from its head, giving the appearance of a halo.
Is it an Angel? Am I dead?
But the hammering in his head suggested he wasn’t, unless of course, pain accompanied you when you died.
He closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see that small, halo-encircled face. If he ignored it, it might leave him alone.
Something thumped him repeatedly on the cheek.
“Is he dead?” asked a tiny voice.
“I don’t know. Quick, you do chest compressions and I’ll see if there’s any reaction in his eyes.”
Tiny fingers tried to prise his eyelids apart but he held them firmly closed. Then, something pummelled him on the chest.
Enough was enough. Po Lin Jnr sat up despite the pounding in his head. He felt sick but he was going home before the small Angels took him.
“Hey! You’ve done it! Well done!” squeaked the small Angel with the blue halo to the other one.
By now, Po Lin Jnr was on his feet and was staggering away.
“Should we follow him?” asked Doggett, “He doesn’t look very steady.”
“No,” said Crispin, “you’re not responsible for him.”
“But the plagues…”
“There’s no such thing. Honestly, all the things that have happened have been quite natural.”
“But what about the water turning into blood.”
“There’s a logical explanation for that.”
“Nina has a new hairdo and I think you’ll find what you saw in the sink was hair dye, not blood…”
“Really? So, I’m not cursed? And Po Lin Jnr is safe?”
“You’re not cursed and Po Lin Jnr is fine.”
Doggett hugged Crispin.
“Ow! Oooh! Mmm!” said Crispin with a soppy smile on his face.
When Po Lin Jnr grew up, he was going to ban all adults. They were completely irrational. When his dad realised he hadn’t finished weeding the Alpine Garden, predictably he’d ranted and raved, using those well-used adult words, ‘lazy’, ‘ungrateful’ and ‘ne’er-do-well’. Junior had played the sympathy card and explained he’d knocked himself out but this only prompted those other well-used adult words ‘lies’, ‘dishonesty’ and ‘ne’er-do-well’. He judged that further explanation as to exactly how the accident had occurred would be unwise and would likely result in the use of words such as ‘disgrace’, ‘idiot’ and ‘ne’er-do-well’. As soon as he could, he escaped to the village. He’d saved up enough to buy a rock magazine in the Post Office so he could do some research. The sooner he became a star and ran his own life, the better.
Nina gently lifted the sleeping Doggett’s hat. There was nothing inside it except his head and she breathed a sigh of relief. Tomorrow, she’d remove it and wash away the fish slime but, in the meantime, why wake him unnecessarily, even if the stink of fish was still rather strong? She set the hat back in place and patted his head fondly. Doggett snored, his mouth sagging open. It was lucky the flies had gone, and the frogs. She lifted the bedclothes to check they had, indeed, disappeared.
Thank goodness for Crispin, she thought although she still didn’t understand what he and Doggett had been talking about. But it had been Crispin who’d spotted the fish that Doggett had forgotten he’d stored under his hat earlier in the day while he’d been fishing. And it had been Crispin who’d thrown it away. The flies had followed the fish into the bin in the Garden and the frogs had followed the flies. She’d been delighted to rid the Toadstool of the source of the fishy stink but nowhere near as delighted as Doggett, who’d danced about, giving Crispin high fives and almost sending him delirious with the tingles. There had been a lot of talk about “natural causes” and “coincidences” although inexplicably, when either of them mentioned “plague”, they both fell about laughing.
Oh well, she thought, boys will be boys. And Doggett had been very appreciative of her new hairdo although she wished he hadn’t kept telling Crispin she’d cheated a little with her new look. She’d have liked to have kept the actual details of how she’d achieved such a beautiful colour to herself. Exactly why dying one’s hair was so funny, she had no idea but she’d ask Doggett about the joke in the morning. Nina gently pushed his bottom jaw up to meet the top, cutting off the raucous snoring.
“Ow! Oooh! Mmm!” she murmured as she snuggled down beside Doggett.
Also tucked up in bed, but still wide awake, was Po Lin Jnr Every time he closed his eyes, he relived his near-death experience and felt those tiny fingers clawing at his eyelids and tiny feet bouncing up and down on his chest. He was wondering if what he’d first thought of as tiny Angels were actually small Demons. Sleep was impossible. And if he was honest, the rock magazine hadn’t helped a lot. There was so much in there he didn’t understand. But at least rock stars seemed to be accident-prone, just like him. The fact that a rock had knocked him out seemed a strangely good omen. If the magazine was to be believed, rock stars crashed into other people’s pads—whatever they were—and regularly tripped over acid. Yes, decided Po Lin Jnr, one day in the very near future, he was going to fit in perfectly.
About the author
Dawn’s two previous books in the ‘Chronicles Chronicles’ series are ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’ and ‘The Macaroon Chronicles’ both published by Chapeltown Publishing.
The Crispin Chronicles
Links to the previous chapters:
Chapter 1 – Her Ladyship’s Garden - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/04/the-crispin-chronicles-1-her-ladyships.html
Chapter 2 – The Letter from OFSGAR - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/search/label/The%20Crispin%20Chronicles%20-%20The%20Letter%20from%20OFSGAR
Chapter 3 -The Sweet Smell of Success - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-3-sweet-smell-of.html
Chapter 4 – A Visit from Peggy the Pram - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-4-visit-from.html
Chapter 5 – Nightly Disturbances - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-5-nightly.html
Chapter 6 – Just Desserts - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-6-just-desserts.html
Chapter 7 – A Little Girl at Large - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/06/the-crispin-chronicles-7-little-girl-at.html
Chapter 8 – The Halloween Party - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/06/the-crispin-chronicles-8-halloween-party.html
Chapter 9 – A Glimmer of an Idea - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/07/the-crispin-chronicles-9-glimmer-of-idea.html
Chapter 10 – Doggett Sees the Light - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/07/the-crispin-chronicles-10-doggett-sees.html