Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov

I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. ~Markus Zusak

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Adventures of Barnabas T. Trenchdigger: The Hawthorn Bush

Hedgehogs normally make a noise something akin to a grumble, but being cute creatures (ignoring the pointy stabby exterior), it was a cute grumble. The grumble of someone you love.

The Hawthorn Bush

“Quack,” she masqueraded.

Last time Barnie had seen his hedgehog, she’d been purple, and blurry. But that was a week ago. Seven long days, long enough apparently for a hedgehog with purple spines to dye them fluorescent orange, get numerous facial piercings, and become unblurred. They were two distinct looks that should have belonged to two distinctly different, but with equally outlandish taste, hedgehogs.

“You’re orange?” he spluttered, and was shocked at how normal the question seemed to him. Why shouldn’t a hedgehog be orange?

“You’re sober.” It was good to establish obvious facts about the other verbally before anything could actually begin.

“I got your note.”

“What note?”

“The note on my door.”

“I didn’t put a note on your door.”

“It was nailed to the door by a purple spin.”

“I’m orange. You must be looking for a purple hedgehog.”

“You used to be purple.”

“I would have remembered if I used to be purple.”

“You used to be purple!” More assurity that time. Convince her first.

“Oh yeah, so I did.”

Barnie stared at her. He had no idea what was happening there and then. He was having a conversation with an awkward, sharp-edged traffic cone. And the cone was winning.

“Did you bring the drill?”

“The drill?”

“I asked you to bring a drill.”


“So the note didn’t mention a drill?”


“Must have been the other mole I dragged home after he collapsed. Did I mention any kind of pneumatic work equipment?”


“I always forget about the pneumatics. Which means...” She paused for a long time, like she was waiting for someone to hell her what it was that it meant. “...that we’ll have to find something else to do.”

The glint in her eye both scared and excited Barnabas. There was just something about her that tickled him behind the aorta. She tiptoed through his mind like an elephant wearing a tutu.

“How about a walk?” bet Barnie, choosing to stand on twelve.

“A walk? Quaint.”

They walked for nearly an hour, round and round like a merry-go-round at the beach. Barnie became a child again; giggling helplessly at her essence as flowing rhetorics of incomprehensible partnerships spewed from her lips like ants from a nest. She talked about tap-dancing skylarks, and tattooed toads, and heavy metal voles, and a secret army of brainwashed squirrels that believed in a God that shaved the grass with silver teeth, and never did anything seem the least bit peculiar. It would be safe to say that within seconds of bathing in her personality, Barnie was entrapped. His mystery date, on the other hand, was much more of a conundrum. While she listened carefully to Barnie’s monotonous monologues, and even seemed to enjoy hearing about his job at the soil shop, it was light trying to light a fire without the flint. A spark was missing.

At night, the whole above the ground was the diamond reflection of the world below. Fireflies busied themselves around bushes that were homes to caterpillars and ladybirds, swinging Chinese lanterns around the chlorophyll stems. Pigeons and blackbirds and sparrows and blue-tits swam through a sky of midnight, occasionally touching the purest moonbeams of summer. The world tasted of fresh rain and smelled of life and love.

“I don’t think I’m being very fair on you,” she said, after a long while of silence. “Here you are, eyes puppy-dogged up, and I’m just... Bleh!”

“I don’t mind.”

“But I do,” she cried. Her voice was growing louder, but failing in strength. Her arms pirouetted desperate gestures, leaving echoes of movement behind like sparkles in the firework fog.

“Don’t.” Barnie didn’t know what else to say. He wanted to lunge at her heart, wrap his fur around her and tell her that everything was going to be alright. Hell, he didn’t even know that anything was wrong.

“It’s just...”

“Look,” Barnie was growing in confidence now. He didn’t really have any choice. “I’ve had a wonderful time, and I want nothing more than to see you again. Honestly, this has been the highlight of my adult life. Just getting to talk to you. You’re amazing. So how about we have another go? I know a little place,” Don’t’ do it! Don’t do it! his conscious screamed, “it’s a bit of a secret really. But I think you’d love it.”

She threw her arms around him. Lost in the moment, she forgot about spines and spikes and their ability to stab other animals and dived into the embrace like a rabid animal. Barnie just stood there, trapped between agony and bewitchment.

“But it has to be done secretly, this meeting,” he said slowly. “Come here tomorrow, at noon. There’ll be a map, hidden in the soil, right where we stand. As soon as you get it, follow the map. And I’ll be there, waiting for you at the end.”

She feigned to speak, but Barnie just touched her lips, shushing them.

“We’ll pick this up tomorrow. Until then...” And he leaned in, slowly, silently, and gently kissed her cheek, accidentally on purpose grazing her lip with his.

As he walked away, he refused to turn around. He screamed at his neck not to bend and his spine not to swerve, to betray his desperate desire to look back, just once, and see the girl that he’d most certainly fallen in love with. But he kept his head down until he was back underground and out of sight.

All composure flooded from his body then. He fell to the floor, gasping. In the days and weeks to come, he would struggle to believe what had happened. He had been... normal? More than that, he’d been wonderful.

On shaky legs, he staggered home drunk with delight, rehearsing the map he would draw to the place he’d sworn he would never tell another soul about.

The Adventures of Barnabas T. Trenchdigger: Memory Loss

The hawthorn bush


A week today


Memory Loss

The note hung in Barnie’s mind like a fly on the water. It hung on the door like a piece of paper speared to a door. Everything about it was incomprehensible to him, although this could just have been the hangover, which made his senses reach out into the world and drag back all the painful sounds and irritating smells it could find.

“She can’t have liked me,” he said matter-of-factly to the walls.

Several more times Barnie told himself that one fact throughout his morning routine. In the shower. With the toast. In front of the mirror. With the last steps out of the door. The shower washed in the doubt and the toast tasted of insecurity and the mirror reflected disappointment and, by the time the door closed, it only clicked shut with regret.

He replayed the night before over and over again in his head. The drink. The boredom. The drink. The mystery guest. The drink. The fall. It flashed past his eyes like a cinema reel, and he could only catch fragments. But what he caught, he clung to.

A dog? The question squash-balled around between his ears. She can’t have been a dog...

Barnie worked in a little place down Hedge Way that dealt in mainly in analysing the density and consistency of soil. It occasionally branched out to looking at trees. In hard times, it would assess rocks. It was a business based on poor puns and even poorer demands.

“Morning, Gumball”, slithered out of his lips, directed at the dark scraps of cat that rocked in the corner. Marcus Milktray had once been a prominent member of the feline community. Then, he accidentally nuzzled up to a trapping of chewing gum. His fur had to be shaved from his skin. Now, he was Gumball, and lived underground.

“You’re late,” was hair-balled back.

“Let me see today’s soil.”

“It’s brown and mucky and looks just like yesterday’s soil and tomorrow’s soil.”

“Uhm... Where’s it from?”

“Dunno, somewhere near the hawthorn bush, I think.”

The hawthorn bush!

Six days to go.

Woke up. Got dressed. Went to work. Looked at soil. Thought about a girl he couldn’t remember. Went home. Slept. Dreamt about a girl he couldn’t remember.

Five days to go.

See previous day for details.

Four days to go.

See previous day for directions to the day before that.

Three days to go.

Something changed.

By this time in the week, Barnie’s memories of the night that would eventually changed his life were little more than languishing tendrils of thought and imagination. He’d dreamt about it and her and them and her and the noises so many times that reality was as much a part of his dreams as his dreams were a part of the world around him.

At work, he would see reflections of purple in the soil, or hear barking where once there was just the squeaking of a rocking chair, or even see hope in what, essentially, is a hopeless feline. Like a fever, his dreams were throbbing through his body. He was making them real.

But a part of him had to know what was real and what was fake. His brain.

Two days to go.

The next morning, Barnie woke extra early, dressed with surprising haste, ate with insatiable greed, and left the house with dancing heels and inquisitive thoughts.

The pub was closed when he got there, but he’d expected nothing else. Inside, he could hear movement. He rapped on the door. The activity within stopped.

“We’re closed,” a voice called out, pushing years of lingering smoke out of tar-filled lungs.

“I just want to come inside for a minute.”

The living tar depository paused. “We’re closed!”

“Just a minute, then I’ll be gone.”

The inside of the pub was different in bright light. The void of people drew eyes to the walls and the ceiling, both a dull, faded brown. Soil brown. West Country soil brown.

“Do you recognise this?” he said, and held out a purple spine.

“What is it?”

“It’s a spine, like from a hedgehog.”

“It’s purple.”

“Yes, thank you, but do you recognise it?”

“Hedgehog’s aren’t purple.”

“This one was, I think.”

“...but hedgehogs aren’t purple.”

Barnie made to leave. He had left the house knowing two things: hedgehogs were not purple, and that this had to belong to a hedgehog. He needed an explanation, not a repeated fact. Maybe she wasn’t a hedgehog, his mind whispered. Maybe it was just a dream.

“She’s a hedgehog.” The voice came from deep behind the bar, but Barnie didn’t care. He didn’t care who said it or how they knew. He cared about one thing: she was real. His dream was real. She was a hedgehog. He was out of the door faster than any mole had ever moved before.

The next few days flew by.

Two days left.

One day left.

Zero days left.

Best suit on. Fur washed and fluffed and combed back down. Contact lenses on (blue tinted, they matched the tie). Half an hour early. Sweaty hands. Pacing and pacing and pacing and pacing and pacing...