by M.J. Nicholls
Jennifer kissed her daughter Alison goodnight. She reminded her she was safe and how the ghosts were too busy haunting bad people to bother with little girls. It was important mummy kept the customers in the Dreghorn Travelodge safe from dirt and rubbish, otherwise the ghosts might be put off and not haunt them!
Alison curled into bed beside her FM radio as the front door slammed shut. She hated when her mother left her alone for the night, but if she didn’t go to work, they wouldn’t be allowed to eat or sleep in a comfy bed. She twiddled the knob on her radio, alighting upon the soothing sound of Classic FM.
A slight hiss crackled through the speaker. Alison was frightened of hiss: she thought ghosts were trying to escape and pull her into the afterlife. She wasn’t ready for the afterlife yet, not like her daddy. Wriggling under the sheets, the hiss intensified until the music was gone, replaced instead with a soft breathing.
“Hello? Hello?” the Voice asked.
Alison was petrified. Her comforting blanket of beautiful music was gone and the ghosts were drawing nearer. She wanted her mummy so badly, but she was busy keeping the customers safe all night, and wouldn’t be back until morning. It would be too late then. The ghosts would have eaten her soul, and she’d disappear, just like her daddy.
“Go away,” she murmured.
“Is someone there? I heard someone… it’s OK, please talk to me.”
The Voice asked this twice, the second time with a softer register that quelled Alison’s fear. She rolled the duvet down, peeping her head out the covers.
“Hello! There is someone there! How are you? My name is Eamonn.”
“No, Eamonn. Ay-mon. Who am I speaking to please?”
“Hello Alison! I am from the future, pleased to meet you.”
“The future? How can you be from the future?” Alison asked, calm enough in the Voice’s presence to take the risk.
“Because I am. Do you not believe me?”
Alison paused as the hiss faded. The voice was clear now – it sounded like her cousin Pete.
“No… I believe you.”
“Good. Listen, Alison, I want you to do something for me, OK? Things aren’t too happy for us here in the future, and we need your help. Do you think you can help us, Alison?”
“Um… sure.” She clasped the duvet to her chin.
“In the future, Alison, there are a nasty race of beasts known as the Haggistompers – the Hags for short. Now, these beasts, Alison, they like to eat little girls from
, like yourself. They also eat anything that is deliciously Scottish – shortbread, tartan, the novels of Iain M. Banks. What I need you to do, Alison, is I need you to come into the future to help me. Will you come and help me, Alison?” Edinburgh
Alison thought of the afterlife, where her daddy went after the money men came and took him away, and remained silent.
“Please, Alison. We are suffering here in the future. We need your help. If you do not help us, more of us will die. Can you be brave for us?”
Alison closed her eyes as a pulsing blue light emerged from the radio’s speaker, engulfing her and the bed. The light felt smooth against her skin, like the feel of her mummy’s bathrobe after an evening’s wash. When she opened her eyes, she was still in bed, but in a dark room. A gang of men in berets and black-and-white striped tops were staring at her.
“Hello, Alison,” the Voice said. A man who looked nothing like her cousin Pete appeared. He was wearing a smile and a ring of onions around his neck.
“Hello.” She spoke softly. The men around her were scary – their eyes fixed on her with gloomy determination.
“Alison. Thank you so much for coming. Now, listen very carefully. We have the Mother Haggistomper locked in a room behind us. You see that room?” He pointed to a door guarded by five burly men.
“Now, the Haggistompers feed off Scottish stereotypes. Do you know what that means? We are dressed as stereotypical Frenchmen to throw them off the scent, but they are clever, Alison. They sniff out Scottishness. What we need you to do is to get inside the stomach of the Mother and give whoever is controlling the beast a special message. Could you do that for us?”
Alison was scared. She wanted to help the sad-looking men, but it was cold, she was far from home, and she wanted her mummy.
“Please, Alison. Will you be brave for us?”
She thought about what her mummy had told her when the money men took her daddy away: be brave for me, sweetheart. She looked at the dour-faced men in their stripy tops and hats, shivering in the cold, then into the kind eyes of the Voice, and nodded.
“Thank you, Alison. We are so grateful.”
The Voice lifted Alison from the bed. He asked her to put on a tartan blazer and sprayed her with a mixture of fish batter and lager. It smelled exactly like her daddy. A bunnet with red hair was placed ceremoniously upon her head, covering her short auburn locks. The Voice whispered the special message twice in her ear. She knew something awful was about to happen, but she remembered: be brave for me, sweetheart.
The Voice led Alison to the guarded room, pushed the doors open, and gestured inside. Be brave. She stepped into the darkness. From the gloom, a monstrous beast, its skin made from haggises, its mouth dripping Irn-Bru, emerged from the shadows. Alison paused. Be brave, sweetheart. She stood as she had before the money men, defiant in the face of evil.
The Mother Haggistomper bent its neck down, shedding Tunnocks snowballs from its nose, and opened its mouth wide. Alison peered inside: it was as though the monster was beckoning her in. Closing her eyes, the monster swiped her up, swallowing her whole. She slid down its throat, coasting down a flume of Irn-Bru, coming to land on soft bed of Mackies ice-cream.
Before her, in tartan skirts and painted blue-and-white faces, were one hundred little girls, hunched against the stomach wall. It was made from tablet. They stood stock still, their eyes goggled at Alison as she walked past, approaching a door marked YON CONTROL MITHER.
She tapped on the door. A loud belch could be heard inside, followed by a protracted grumble. An obese man in a string vest appeared at the door.
“Whit d’ye want?” he asked.
“I’ve been sent to give you a message.”
“Aye? Whit is it?”
Alison paused. The man was disgusting. He was fat and ugly like daddy’s friends at the funeral. There were crumbs of haggis around his mouth and a ring of thistles around his neck. He loomed over Alison, his chin casting a large enough shadow to immerse her entire frame.
“They said to tell you that…” – she searched her memory – “…that the tourists have gone, and the… pree-tense is over.”
The man paused. A slogan on his vest read ‘Minister For Tourism’. He cast a solemn glance at Alison.
“Is… is it true? Are the tourists really gone? You mean we don’t have to do this anymore? We don’t have to out-Scottish ourselves, year in, year old? Could it really be true?”
Alison could see now that man wasn’t frightening. He had the same lost look in his eyes as the money men: he too was frightened of not being allowed to eat or sleep in a comfy bed. Maybe he too was afraid of being left alone, of being taken into the afterlife.
With a great whoop of delight, he bounced onto the ice-cream bed, past the children, and began hurling himself against the tablet wall. Soon, a crack opened up in the skin of the beast, and he threw himself out. As he fell, the Voice produced a gun and shot him.
“No! No!” Alison cried out. It had happened again, as it had with the money men and her daddy. They had given him no chance to make up his mind. The Voice gestured for Alison to jump.
“Come on, Alison! It’s OK! You did it, you helped us!”
“Why… why did you have to shoot him! He didn’t do anything!”
“We had to, Alison, we had to. Now, come to me.”
“No! No, you didn’t have to shoot him! Why did you have to do that!” She broke down and began sobbing.
“Believe us, Alison. It was for his own good. It was for his own good.”
She shuddered as the blue light engulfed her again. Before she could protest, she was back in her room, Classic FM was on the wireless, and the Voice intoned his last message through the music:
“Thank you, Alison. You did the right thing.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR & ARTIST
is a callow manboy clacking out experimental, sometimes amusing, but otherwise awkward fiction in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is currently undergoing creative irrigation. His works have been published in Gold Dust Magazine, the Delinquent (UK) and Piker Press and New Paradigm (US).
N.C. Wyeth (October 22, 1882 – October 19, 1945) was an American artist and illustrator.During his lifetime, Wyeth created over 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books, 25 of them for Scribner's, which is the work for which he is best-known.Wyeth was a realist painter.