This morning I dream of Groaningsea again. The desolate railway station has a train once more – a large, black monster with a leering face hurtling down the track. I am invincible. A pop eyed toad wearing a railway cap hangs out of the window. It flicks its long tongue to catch the flies that cluster around its head. It lifts its cap respectfully at me. The station is full of human sized, black cat puppets dressed in stripy jackets and straw hats. They tootle by, walking on hind legs encased in long boots. They stop their promenade to let me pass. A shrieking voice catches my attention as Mr Punch hits Judy with a policeman’s truncheon. Silence reigns as they become aware of my presence. A seated, weasel faced ferret with razor sharp teeth spots me. He stands quickly and points to his seat with a walking stick made of liquorice. I grab the stick, break a piece off and put it in my mouth. As I taste soggy eiderdown, I wake up.
I throw back the blankets and rush to the window. Nothing has changed. The sky is vast with heavy, black clouds almost meeting the roaring, grey sea in the distance. Groaningsea is still here; even if the railway station has gone and taken the ghost train to bigger seaside towns which are easier to get to.
The front door shuts heavily behind me as I pull on it. I run across the empty road to the deserted beach. I try to remember my dream full of stripy clothes, liquorice walking sticks and being treated like a king but a sharp nip stings my cheek and my specs are ripped off my face. A head resembling a dead bat moves towards me. It has to be The Toad. You can always tell him from the fake, leather jacket he wears.
Always watch your back. It saves you frantically sticking your hands out when you’ve been shoved.
“Bet you didn’t see me.” It is the voice of Snot, The Toad’s sidekick. A dried crust of mucous always covers his face, hence the name.
“Give me my glasses,” I bleat pathetically. You know how your voice quakes when you feel like an ant before a shoe takes away the daylight.
“Let’s see what you look like with these on,” shouts The Toad. My glasses hurtle over my head and I get a short, sharp pain in my back. The Ferret cackles.
“I thought you were a football,” he shouts. He is the other sidekick of The Toad. He is small with pointed teeth and omits a malodorous odour when excited. I suspect he is very excited. I swallow deeply to rid my throat of the lump in it. I dream of being Robert the Bruce – the freedom fighter who beat his oppressors. The sea rages in the background and I wish it was me with all that power and fury. I try to get up but Snot pulls my legs from beneath me and I hit the sand again.
“Elvis! Elvis! Where’ve you been with my crumpets?” shouts a croaky female voice.
“Coming mam,” replies The Toad. The Ferret sniggers as he drops my specs in the sand. My breath comes quickly and heavily through my lips as I watch their outlines saunter away. You know how it is when your belly is determined to shoot your Weetabix out through your mouth and your legs want to give way beneath you. I gulp down a sob and get on with the job of finding my specs.
I kneel down thinking I am automatically going to set hands on them but all I grab are millions of tiny grains, an empty Dandelion and Burdock bottle and a piece of soggy seaweed. The Thunderous Mother will go bonkers if I go home without my specs. If I tell her about The Toad, she will march around to his house and complain to his mum. She thinks being nice is slamming the door in someone’s face. I’d better keep digging.
“Thine intestines wilt be mine!” a small, shrill voice shouts. I glance around. I am alone. The sky is almost black and the furious rush of the sea is urgent. A shiver runs down my back as I edge my blue scarf further up my neck. The sound of the wind often gets distorted on Groaningsea shores, although it has never sounded like a threatening voice before. I shrug at no-one in particular as my fingers grasp something smooth like glass.
“Thou wilt regret this warty nose.” I rub my ears with my free hand. A voice without a body is not possible.
“Leave me be, thou fetid, old skanky breath,” says the same threatening voice. I freeze as I hear the clucking of a tongue.
“Thou art nought but a worm eating corpse,” orders the voice. Without a word of a lie, the threat appears to be coming from my hand. I slowly look down at my fingers wrapped around the stone. I spring them open as if on a mechanism. The stone is clear like glass. My eyes widen at the shock of being able to see the stone clearly without my specs.
A boy, the size of my palm, is in the stone and scowling up at me. He is in a prison cell. It has bars on it and there is a small bed at the far end, a desk and a chair. There is a writing quill sitting on the desk.
“Who art thou? I thought thou wert that devil Ravensmite,” says the boy. I open my mouth to reply but nothing will come out. The boy has long, dark hair with black, piercing eyes. He is dressed in a green knickerbocker suit with a frilly ruff around his neck. Huge, shiny buckles sit on the front of his shoes. I stare at him like a goldfish.
“Mule’s manure, that is what thou art,” says the boy. I finally manage a few words.
“What… What are you?” I ask. Okay, you don’t need to snort and look superior. You try thinking of something clever to say to a tiny, insulting boy in a stone.
“Marry, I am a grand warlock,” says the boy. He struts up and down within the stone prison cell, like a male pheasant. I clear my throat. I am sure that I should be saying something important or clever or well anything really. It’s not easy when faced with someone who is dressed so oddly. I decide to act as if this type of thing happens to me everyday.
“You’re a minute boy in a stone,” I say and wrinkle my nose to throw doubt on his personal hygiene.
“I can slay thou withal one breath, thou bent nosed fool,” says the boy and puts his fists up. I scratch my head. I’ve never been in a situation like this before.
“Why do you want to fight me?” I ask. The boy drops his fists.
“So thou art not an agent of Corpsehound?” queries the boy in the stone. I peer at him intently. If only I had help.
“Corpse what?” I ask. A light is switched on in the boy’s eyes. His posture becomes less rigid.
“Does thou hast a dwelling, thou springy haired oik?” My hand shoots to my hair and I pat it down frantically. The boy’s voice is suddenly soft and sweet, it makes me want to eat marshmallow.
“A dwelling?” We don’t seem to be speaking the same language. Some people have started flying to Spain for their summer holidays. I wonder if he has come from abroad. For some strange reason he starts to sob. A tear shaped bit of rock, like a piece of dried snot, falls into my hand. At this point, I feel like running away but I need to know more.
“Hast thou got a dwelling young ruffian? What name do they give thee? It must be Turnip Head,” says the boy.
“Will Blyton. I live at that house over there.” I point to my home across the road. I thought that the boy was strange from the beginning but when he gets down on his hands and knees and starts to pray – I am sure he has come from somewhere far away.
“Take me to thine abode Blyton, thou jug eared clown. I am a powerful magician who can grant thee any wish,” boasts the boy. I don’t believe him, of course. His face leers up at me, I stand back in shock. He is handsome until he smiles. His teeth wear a thick, yellow coating as if they are covered in custard.
“I don’t know,” I say doubtfully. “Do you have a name?” I ask. The boy sticks his small chest out.
“I am Hamnet.” I eye Hamnet carefully and wonder how he can be of use to me. Would it be possible… I wonder…
“I will take you home if you can send me back to the fourteenth century,” I say eagerly. “I need to ask Robert the Bruce how to decimate The Toad.” Hamnet stands up quickly.
“Will he helpeth me?” asks Hamnet.
“Who?” I ask. Hamnet pushes the palms of his hands out quickly and nods eagerly.
“Robert the Bruce – the great magician who can turn evil creatures into a thousand pieces,” says Hamnet. For a moment, I can’t work out what is going on. l look up at the darkening sky. I then realise what the boy is getting at.
“No, he is not a magician. He is a freedom fighter. Oh never mind. Make me time travel,” I say impatiently. Hamnet blinks quickly and closes his eyes for a moment. He slowly opens one. I peer at him hopefully. Hamnet opens the other eye and tries to smile.
“I wilt make thou travel through the mists of time if thou takest me to thine abode,” says Hamnet.
I clutch at the stone and think about the forthcoming journey back in time. If I take the strange boy home, he will call me names and I get enough of that from The Toad. I don’t fancy it. I glance down at the boy again. It would be worth it if he could take me to Robert the Bruce though. I decide to give it a go. After all, I am never going to get another opportunity like this and I can always take the stone back to the beach. I will take a chance but first I need my specs. I fall to my knees and rummage through the sand at ninety miles an hour with my free hand. Sand flies everywhere but there are no specs to be had.
“Get off thy knees thou feeble minded dog,” shouts Hamnet. “I do not care to hang around this dreaded place too long.” I stand up and hold my palm out so that I am looking at the boy.
“I have lost my specs and I can not see very well without them,” I explain. Hamnet scratches his nose and his eyes start to gleam.
“Marry, the seeing instrument is there. I see it! I see it!” he shouts excitedly and points to where my specs are sitting.
I sink to my knees again and grasp at my specs. I wipe them on the bottom of my jumper and quickly put them on. Hamnet is jumping up and down and waving his hands about.
“Hurry Blyton, we have no time to waste,” he shouts. The boy is bossy; anyone would think he has someone after him. I cross the road to go home. The fury of the sea lashes behind me. I will be glad to reach the warmth.
Once inside the house, I tiptoe up the stairs, missing the third one altogether as it has a wailing creak. Scurrying quickly across the landing before anyone sees me, I rush into my inner sanctum and close the bedroom door shut. I lean against it and listen. All is quiet, it is safe to pull the stone out of my pocket.
“Right, I have brought you home,” I say. Hamnet peers through the stone at my bedroom.
“Are thee a servant Blyton?” he asks. I shake my head vehemently. Hamnet looks around the room again.
“I thought not, thou hast many objects but thine chambers are a pitiful size,” he says. My bedroom holds a bed, a wardrobe, a set of drawers and a bookcase full of my adventure stories and annuals. All of these have been painted blue to cover up the scuffs and scratches which they have gained over the years. There is also my special curiosities cabinet which holds my old coins, bones and fossils. On top of it is a pea shooter, water pistol and catapult. Hamnet obviously hasn’t seen the precious treasures like my cassette recorder and my camera. I had to wash up, empty the bins and dust forever to get that camera. It seems he is not that well up on the latest technology. I wonder if I should show him my dark room down in the cellar. I know for certain that room will impress anybody; he doesn’t deserve to go there. I will ignore Hamnet’s comments. He never says anything nice.
“Just make me time travel,” I say. Hamnet sits down at his desk. He rummages around in the drawer and then takes some parchments out and places them on the desk. He runs his index finger along the parchment and tuts. He then mutters to himself. I am impressed. Suddenly Hamnet springs up and reads aloud from the parchment.
“To the fourteenth century, send this young skunk
To behold a squire, a knight, or a monk,” says Hamnet and waves his hands about grandly. My stomach churns but nothing happens. Hamnet scratches his nose thoughtfully.
“It wilt happen later, septic earache. Hamnet will keep thee safest when thou goest to the fourteenth century,” says the boy. I open my mouth to protest but Hamnet walks to the back of the cell and the stone becomes a dull pebble. I rub it and knock on it but nothing happens.
I look through the bedroom window. The rain pours down like a river and the wind sounds like a giant cow mooing. I sigh. Nothing has happened. I hold the stone and stare at it. No matter how hard I stare, I am in the twentieth century. Even when I screw my eyes up and grunt hard, I am still in my own 1970s bedroom. As you can imagine, I do not know what to do. One moment, I am on the brink of a time travelling adventure with an insulting boy in a stone – the next moment – nothing. Life just isn’t fair.
I grab a book called Medieval England off the bookshelf. I hurriedly flick through the pages to find what I want and then leave it open on the bed. Perhaps I am not concentrating enough. I hold the stone in my hand and place it over the book to give Hamnet a flavour of what I want. There is a picture of Robert the Bruce fighting his oppressors, the English, on one page and monks outside a monastery on the other page. I sigh; the Doctor Who posters still hang on my bedroom walls. The stone lies flat and grey.
“I wish I could travel back in time,” I say out loud. I can’t give up. I would never have a flashy camera if I wasn’t a determined type of person. I squeeze the stone. It changes to glass and the boy appears.
“Does thee never restest that flubbering tongue Blyton?” asks Hamnet. I take my glasses off and rub my eyes.
“You promised to send me back to the fourteenth century. I don’t believe that you are a magician,” I say. Hamnet shakes his head and wags his finger at me.
“Thou! Thou! Thou leaking guts. Goest to the fourteenth century and fall in a dung heap,” shouts Hamnet. I pull the stone up close to my mouth and whisper.
“I am going to take you back to the beach tomorrow. You told me lies about time travelling and you keep calling me names,” I hiss. Hamnet clasps his hands together and falls to his knees.
“I wilt take thee back in time Blyton. Marry, I need to work on it,” gasps Hamnet. I put my glasses back on.
“What about the name calling?” I ask.
“I promise thee, thou mangy rat’s bum, that I will give thee only names of nobility,” says Hamnet. I am about to point out that I have just been compared to the worst part of a rat when I hear a distant rumbling again. I count three strides across the floor to look for the storm through the bedroom window.
The wind tosses the waves about across the road. If I stand to one side of the window, I can see the Floating Wreck Lighthouse which The Thunderous Mother runs as a museum in the summer months. A force of electricity flashes behind the lighthouse in the shape of a fork. It eerily lights the white building up. The huge waves slap angrily against the sea wall and the rain lashes down non stop onto the pavements.
I give my specs another quick clean on the bottom of my jumper and put them back on. Standing under the yellow street light is a monk with his hood up. He goes down onto his knees and starts to pray. The rain falls heavier as if whipping the ground. The monk does not seem to notice it.
I open the window and stick my head out as far as it will go. The window creaks open and the monk stops praying. He looks up at me. The rain hits his face. His lips are cracked and thin under the street light. He stares at me. My stomach churns; I can only imagine the rest of his face. I back away.
In the safety of the room, I hold my hand out, my fingers tremble as I hold onto Hamnet. A shiver travels down my back; I have never seen anyone like the monk before.
“There is a monk outside like the one in this book,” I say as I grab the book from the bed and hold it in front of the stone. Hamnet takes a deep breath.
“Thine seeing instruments are bewitched and playing tricks on thee Blyton,” says the boy. I stare at the monks and gulp. I glare at Hamnet.
“I saw him, he was just like the one in this book,” I say. Hamnet leers at me with a yeasty smile.
“Hark, clothead, it was not really my fault,” a fixed grin is stuck on his face.
“What do you mean? What is not your fault?” A prickling sensation covers the back of my head. Surely, it can not be.
“It’s you! You have made the monk from the book time travel instead of me,” I shout. Hamnet clutches his hands together and smiles widely.
“Thou dost not need to give me thanks, it was nothing, old flatulent one,” he says. My head is going to burst.
“You could have brought me a knight instead of a rotten old monk,” I say.
“Dinner is ready,” shouts The Thunderous Mother. I turn my head to reply.
“Hold on a minute.” I look back through the window but the monk has gone. I put Hamnet in my pocket and wonder where the monk has gone to.
I go downstairs and sit at the dinner table.
“Putrid bums!” shouts Hamnet.