For Calum Solan, the best Godson in the world…
A funny thing happened to me the other day, although I didn’t realise it at the time, well, you never do, do you? I was strolling down MacMiddle Street, around the corner from Bertie Bryant’s Book Emporium, my home away from home, passing by Margella’s Marvellous Magic shop, when Margella’s not too marvellous magician came tumbling head over feet out the door, with his magic wand between his teeth. With a mighty momentum, he rolled towards me, catching me in a mass of movement and we tumbled dangerously close the edge of the path and the whizzing wheels of cruising cars on the winding road. My heart was in my foot.
Curious Calum, the barmiest 10 year old to ever be called a magician, babbled away in a language I’d never heard of, and I am, by far, the greatest language recogniser for at least four blocks (my name is often mentioned in many a bookshop and library, only around the language section of course, but it still counts).
“Higgledy sprik bubbin,” muttered Calum through his teeth, which still held his wand, “higgledy sprik ewwey.”
We were knotted up good (the type of knot that would take an expert fisherman years to learn) and about to be considerably crushed by cars. The next thing that happened I fear that all the grown ups out there, the silly ones, the ones who only see things in black and white, will never for the life of them believe. But I’ll tell the rest of you who still see rainbows of colour when you close your eyes before you go to sleep at night.
As I rolled over him, I saw the path about to end and car wheels getting ever closer. I thought we’d be knocked over for sure until we rolled over each other again and, when I came back up, I noticed the size of the wheels had changed, I lie to you not. They’d become giant wheels, like the type of wheels that 25 foot people have on their cars but there’s not many 25 foot people left anymore on MacMiddle Street or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. Although, if you do see one, please tell them to contact me as I have a few pairs of 10 foot trousers left over at home from a 25 foot man who used to live there before me.
But back to the story. At the edge of the giant path, a drain hole came into sight, looking like an enormous black hole and I realised that it wasn’t the wheel or the path or even the drain that had grown, it was myself and Curious Calum that had shrunk. That must have been a spell he’d been mumbling in all the commotion and so the pair of us tumbled, head first, into the giant drain hole that smelt like stinky socks.
Well, when you’ve been shrunk to the size of a fly and plummeted into a dark blackness, a blackness so black that it bursts with colour, what do you say when you end up landing on a turtle and awake him from his dream of winning the 20 centimetre race in the Annual Animal Olympics, beating Pat Mac Paws, the Asian-Irish panther whose winning record had never before been broken?
“What’s all the commotion?” inquired the turtle, whose name was Tom, in a drowsy voice, “I was about to collect my medal and we were going to have a big party with lots of chocolate cake.”
“Oh well, how and ever, things to do, it’s now or never. I saved this boy from being run down, now let’s find the tunnel to get back up to town!” chanted Curious Calum who I saw crawling out from underneath Tom the Turtle’s shell.
“How in the love of lollipops did you ever end up down there when we fell from up above?” I asked the bumbling magician.
“I always do, I don’t know why, I end up under when I fall from the sky, but I saved you boy and there’s no time to waste, so we’ll take the tunnel and we better make haste,” answered Calum as he climbed up onto Tom, wrapped a blanket around our legs, tapped two times on the shell and off we went into a world of talking turtles and a mysterious magician who seemed to think he’d saved me when he was the one who’d knocked me down. I had a trillion questions and not a clue which one to ask first. I could feel my tummy rumbling and wondered if we’d stop for lunch soon as I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
An hour passed by and we hadn’t even gone a single mile. We were travelling by turtle and as most of you will know, when travelling by turtle, speed is not a factor that one considers or even mentions. In Tom’s defence, I must say there were quite a few obstacles in our way. Obstacles, which it must be said, proved rather dangerous for Curious Calum and myself when you’re sitting on the shell of a moving turtle with nothing much to hold on to but a crevice or two in the crusty formation of the shell and the seat of your own trousers. These moments of difficulty included twice having to carefully clamber along a swaying bridge made from what appeared to be giant lollipop sticks tied together with bits of coloured wool, the type your granny uses to make you a knitted jumper as a Christmas present, even when all you wanted was a either a set of shiny tools or a book on how to train insects to do summersaults on command or, if you were a girl, a party skirt made from glow in the dark pink satin with twenty million sequins in rosy red.
Another tricky situation occurred when we climbed what looked to me like a mountain made entirely of cracked egg shells and boiled potatoes, still with their skins on. We managed to climb up successfully but the slide down the other side left my tummy in my mouth and my breakfast almost coming back up. For the first time in my 11 years, I was glad I hadn’t had any lunch.
After the bridge, which only had a drop of about three feet, proving it to be rather pointless, and the messy mountains, we came across a shallow lake of mud that we had to wade across. This was the only time I saw a hint of energy from Tom as he splattered and spluttered through the mud, throwing as much coffee coloured muck into our faces as there was in the whole of the lake. Twice Curious Calum almost fell in due to slipping on the shell that had become wet and slimy from the splash back. The first time I didn’t even notice until I heard a strange sound of swallowing and looked behind to see the magician holding on for dear life to Tom’s back leg which was flapping about the place, flinging Curious Calum from right to left and under and over the muddy lake.
“If you could, if you please” he shouted in between spitting out mouthfuls of mud “ give me a hand to get out of this squeeze.”
After dragging him back to safety, using the blanket as a rope for him to grab on to and so enabling me to pull him up, we sat back on our positions on top of Tom the Turtle only to be hit with not one but four angry fish, who, as they flew past my face offered me such downright insulting language that, for the fear of offending all you readers out there and putting you off keeping goldfish in your house ever again, I’m not going to repeat what they said whilst blowing bubbles of stale air from their gills into my face. Enough to say that I’ll never again feel funny about eating a few fish fingers for a Friday dinner and washing them down with a glass of milk!
Eventually, when we reached the other end of the tunnel, another giant hole opened up above us and I could hear, once again, the familiar sounds of my world above the ground but I had no idea how we’d get back up there until, low and behold, two clacking gulls soared down to greet us.
“There’s fierce weather approaching just over the Millach Mountains to the east, young Curious Calum. We had better be getting you top side before the rains set in,” said one of them to my magical turtle shell companion, who was then introduced to me as the Great General Gilbert Glacklan-Glack, the grandest gull of the Garrick Group Brigade who fought the foggy storm of 1998 with his troop of Glacken-Glack Go-For–It Gull air force.
He was an elderly bird, by anyone’s terms, and the oldest active General for many a blue sky. He wore old brown flying goggles, made from what appeared to be clear circles of plastic joined over the beak by sticky tape, trimmed with brown paper and held on with an elastic band. Beneath both his wings, which he kept to mint army regulation condition, he wore with pride his medals of honour for his heroic years of sea gull service and every pose he struck while with us enabled him to left up one or the other wing so as to show them off without ever having to directly bring our attention to them.
“The rain can fall but not before we fly, let’s take our positions and take to the sky,” shouted Curious Calum as he grabbed me by the back of my coat tails, almost causing two of my favourite books to fall from the inner pockets of the lining, I always travel book prepared, and pushed me onto the back of the Great General while he took position on the back of Commanding Officer Gregory Glacken Glack, a distant nephew of the Great General, and they swept us up towards the drain hole above without even the time to say thank you or goodbye to Tom the Turtle, but, as we ascended, I could hear the echo of his snore coming up from below us and realised that he was back in dreamland, probably devouring a delicious chocolate cake at his celebratory Annual Animal Olympics After-Party.
With the wisp of a wing and the flip of a feather we flew through the hole and came out top side once more just as I heard Curious Calum chant another one of his spells. In the blink of an eye and a blip and a pop, we leapt off our Glacken Glacks who took to the sky and landed safely on the path, on the opposite side of MacMiddle Street, were we’d started, once again returned to human size and almost without a single scratch or a scrape.
“Now, Damien Does’Accents,” Curious Calum said to me as he dusted off the back seat of his trousers, “you watch out how you walk down the street in future, I won’t always be here to save you, you know.”
Well, I never. First of all, he’d stopped speaking in rhymes and, second of all, I am very proud of how I walk down the street and have had a whole 8 years of practice, even though I am 11. Mother said I was a slow starter. But before I could respond, Curious Calum turned and crossed the road to Margella’s Marvellous Magic Shop to join in the magic show with Airport Emma, Fearless Fiona, Dangerous Derek, Daredevil Dympna and Magic Mona, leaving me wide-eyed, full-sized and speechless.
Oh, what a day that was.
All Words and Pictures by Damien B. Donnelly