It is the fate of some of us to live in a world peopled by dragons, unicorns and goblins. Yes, this is my opportunity and I will let my secret out: I am such a one (In my case an occasional pixie may also make a guest appearance, though rarely more than once, say, in every week; scarcely worth mentioning, the pixies).
Now generally speaking this is not an inconvenience. The creatures of the Nether World do not exactly dominate my existence, no: it’s just that from time to time, in certain phases of, say, the Moon, or when Jupiter aligns with Mars, they are especially active. They come out to play. And their celebrations, though so discreet as to escape general notice, are usually to my cost. Allow me to give you a recent example.
On Monday morning I am late for an appointment in town, so my normally sedate but very even-tempered car is politely asked to hurry a little. Nothing unsafe, you understand: just a brisk, business-like ten miles through traffic light-strewn suburbia.
Let me explain to those unfamiliar with our quaint British ways that we mount our traffic lights boastfully on posts over here. We offer them up for admiration, for the bold, artistic statements they make – we don’t string them across the carriageway on wires, as, for example, in the United States – as we should, of course. If we did it that way there would be no opportunity for goblins to make their homes within the hollow posts and I would not have a problem.
In the last twenty years or so whole families of goblins, reputedly from the Irish mini-travelling community or from Eastern Europe, have taken up residence in the poles of traffic lights throughout the land. The system works, I suppose, effectively. The head of the family is employed by the local council to operate the lights, throwing a simple switch to give best advantage to the traffic. At least, that is how it should work. But goblins being goblins…
From within the foot of the pole: “Michael, me darling, who have ye got up there?”
Michael, from his lofty position by the switch: “I t’ink that the auld writer-fella from the valley moight be on his way…”
“Well, that’d be grand! Stop him for me, will ye? I’ll get Fergal here to hitch a ride with him into town. There’s a few things I need from the Goblin Market. Fergal, are you list’nin’? I’ll just be makin’ ye a list.”
I am close to making up my lost time and the road ahead is clear. The traffic lights at the intersection ahead are on green and there is no-one else in sight. Happy in my universe I increase my speed a little (naughty!). The traffic lights change to red. I stop, grump, grump.
Michael, atop the post: “Fergal, will ye hurry up man! I’ll be havin’ to change them in a minute!”
Mrs. Michael, from below: “Patience, Michael, I’ve not finished me list yet! We’ll have not enough victuals for the Moon Feast. Hold him up for a bit, will ye?”
My fingers drum the steering wheel: tap, tap, tap. From a perfectly clear horizon to my left a large lorry suddenly appears, bearing down upon the lights from the road currently favored by a green. Free to pass through, it enters the intersection intending to turn right and gets stuck, its driver unable to force his big machine through the turn.
My light changes to a green.
The junction is blocked by the lorry.
I cannot move.
My light turns back to red.
By corrective maneuvering and a waved apology, the driver gets his massive charge under way, so with the next ‘green’ I am free to proceed, though not before I might think I hear the faintest, most barely detectable of taps upon my roof. I may recognize it, but where’s the point? I am late. I drive faster. Above me, Fergal clings to my radio aerial with his empty shopping bag streaming behind him in the wind, muttering complaints.
My appointment is at the top of the town, the Goblin Supermarket is at the bottom. It is as I approach the lower end of town that my car’s perfectly maintained engine develops an ominous knock. I stop to investigate. I drive on. The knock has vanished, and so, incidentally, has Fergal.
I am late for my appointment and there is an atmosphere I cannot dispel because goblin intervention is not accepted as an excuse for my tardiness. When the meeting has drawn to a torrid conclusion I take my car to the garage.
“I was hearing this ‘knock’ thing.”
The mechanic takes it for a drive: “There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Well, there was something.”
“There isn’t now. Must be an intermittent fault. If you hear it again…”
“I’m sure it was there…” I persist, even though I know ‘intermittent fault’ is polite garage-speak for ‘you are imagining it’. I am not prepared to admit the truth.
“Well it isn’t now.”
But I know it will be. And sure enough, it returns, as soon as I reach the lower end of town on my way home. This time, though, I am wise to its cause. I ignore it. It gets louder.
I continue to ignore it. It becomes louder still. Finally when I refuse to pull over and I am halfway down the valley road a set of traffic lights in front of me that has just changed to green changes instantly back to red and I am compelled to stop. Let me emphasize, I do not actually see him, or any more than suspect his presence, but I know a very sweaty and out-of-breath Fergal has hauled himself back onto my roof.
When I drive away it is no surprise that the knocking sound has vanished, nor am I more than mildly pleased that every other set of traffic lights is green and I reach the last set – Fergal’s home set – in good time. They, of course, will be red: I expect it.
The lights are green.
There is more than a little of the Fergal within me. I chuckle to myself because I know a mistake has been made. Impervious to knocks from the engine, squeaks from the suspension, flashing LED lights and warning bleeps I increase my speed. In twenty yards it will be too late to stop safely! With fiendish grin I set my hands on the steering wheel, envisaging the panic inside that post as someone runs frantically up the little spiral staircase to lunge at the switch. Too late! Ha ha! I am through!
I give way to laughter, to wild, demonic laughter! There are no more traffic lights for two miles and the knocks and squeaks cannot intimidate me! I throw the car through corners, imagining those little hands clinging desperately to my radio aerial, driving faster and faster; but then…
It dashes from a small paddock to my right; and once I have seen it, my eyes won’t let it go. Brilliant white it flares, it flies, it flashes; it prances with strong neck arched and golden horn thrust forth like the sun-child I know it to be: it leaps the hedge, it bestrides the verge…
Fearful I should hit something so royal and so fine I slam on the brakes, My car drifts for a moment, collects itself, then convulses as another car with brakes not quite so sharp hits it from behind.
The impact is loud, the silent moment which ensues complete. As the dust settles, a small, squat creature slithers through my window to stand before me on the dashboard and we meet, face-to-face, for the first time. How do you describe ugliness so profound it defies description? I shall not try, except to say a liberal quantity of mucus is involved. Fergal leers at me, waving a stubby, bulbous finger in admonition. Then he winks. Then he goes.
Apparently the car which collided with me is a police car. It seems I was speeding. The officer writing out the ticket also thinks I stopped needlessly and dangerously.
“But I had to stop – I would have hit it!”
“Hit what, sir?”
“Why, the unicorn!”
Yes, of course the bloody unicorn. There it is, lying as statuesquely as any wild horse has ever lain upon the grass verge, watching as I am given a breath test. But the policeman won’t see it; nor does he seem to notice that Stephanie, the girl who lives four doors down from me, is cradled against its chest, her long golden locks mingling with its soft white mane. Now I do feel it might be being slightly misled in this regard, because I’ve seen the way she behaves with her boyfriend and he at least is less than celibate, I can tell you. However…
At length the police car turns around and leaves. I am reading my new batch of literature as it passes, but I do glance up in time to see Fergal, full bag of shopping on lap, seated comfortably amid its cluster of blue lights. He gives me a cheery wave.
As for me? Well, I drive home in a car which now has a genuine knocking sound, and count myself lucky that the fines will amount to less than a month’s wages. From now until the end of this week (the end of Moon Feast) I shall only travel by taxi: my car is being repaired, anyway.
I feel it is time for all of us whose minds are open to creatures from the lower world to gather together and proclaim our beliefs. What about you? Have you any stories to tell about your encounters with pixies, or dragons, or maybe the odd Jabberwock?
NB: Some who read this post may accuse me of sizeism. I wish to make it clear I have no prejudice against PORGs (persons of restricted growth) or their freedom of movement throughout the European Union, however ridiculous and misguided I may believe it to be.