...brew yourself up some hot chocolate, ignore the poltergeist in the attic and the ghost in the garden shed, and sink into three more of my Hundred Nightmares!
Nightmare Thirty-Two: The Tooth Fairy
Martin is asleep in bed. It is six o’ clock in the morning. It is dark in the bedroom, because it is winter.
It is a nice bedroom. It has Gerry the Giraffe wallpaper. Gerry the Giraffe is Martin’s favourite TV cartoon. There are lots of toys on the floor, stacked neatly. They are stacked neatly because Martin’s mother has taught him always to be neat.
Martin is a good boy. Most of the time.
Now time has gone by and the big hand on Martin’s clock points to twenty. The small hand points to six. It is twenty minutes past six.
Martin wakes up. He has brown hair and brown eyes. He is wearing white and red striped pyjamas. He is lying under a duvet with pictures of moons and stars on it.
As soon as he is awake, he sits up. He looks excited. He puts his hand out and switches on the lamp on the table beside his bed. Suddenly, the room is bright.
He turns around on the bed and lifts his pillow. Underneath, there is a shiny coin. Martin is happy.
He jumps out of his bed and runs out of his room. He runs to his parents’ bedroom, and knocks on the door.
Very soon, his mother and his father come out, still wearing their pyjamas. His mother wears red pyjamas, and his father wears blue pyjamas. His father wears glasses and has a moustache.
“Look, Mammy”, says Martin. “Look, Daddy. Look what the tooth fairy brought me!”
Martin’s mother picks up the bright coin, turning it round and round in her hands, smiling. “I told you, Martin”, she says. “When you were crying yesterday because your tooth had fallen out, I told you to put it under your pillow. I told you the Tooth Fairy would bring you money for it.”
“Let’s go into the kitchen and have breakfast”, says Martin’s father. “Then we will talk about what you can buy with your coin.”
Martin and his mother and father go into the kitchen. They have buttered toast, orange juice, and porridge. They drink tea. Martin drinks tea from his Gerry the Giraffe mug. He got that mug for his fifth birthday. He is very careful with it because he loves it.
“You can buy so many different things with your coin”, says Martin’s father. “You can buy a chocolate bar. You can buy a lollipop. You can buy a comic. You can buy a balloon”
“I wish I had more than one coin”, says Martin. “If I had more coins, I could buy a chocolate bar and a lollipop and a comic and a balloon.”
“No, Martin”, says Martin’s father, shaking his head. “Now you are being a greedy boy. You must never be greedy. Greedy boys want more and more and never have enough. They are always sad because they are never happy with what they have. Do you want to be a greedy boy, Martin?”
“No”, says Martin. “I don’t want to be sad. I want to be happy with what I have.”
“You’re a good boy, Martin”, says Martin’s mother.
They finish breakfast. Martin helps to wash up the plates and cups. He helps to put them away. They get into the car and bring Martin to the shop.
The shop is full of pretty things. Martin spends a long time looking at the sweets and comics and toys. He picks out a comic called Tommy and his Friends. His mother takes his coin and buys the comic with it.
Martin and his mother and father get back into the car. The car takes them to Martin’s school. Martin reads his comic all the way.
Martin loves his school. He loves the posters on the wall. He loves playing with the other children. He loves singing songs and learning new words.
He likes to help the teacher, too. This week it is Martin’s turn to tidy up the classroom while the other children play in the yard. The teacher drinks a cup of coffee at her desk and reads a grown-up magazine while Martin tidies up.
Today, while the teacher is not looking, Martin takes a small piece of chalk from the blackboard and puts it in his pocket. He has an idea.
That night, when he has washed his face, brushed his teeth, and put on his pyjamas, he puts the piece of chalk under his pillow. Then he puts his head down on the pillow, closes his eyes, and goes asleep.
He wakes up when the small hand of the cock is at six and the big hand is at twenty. It is twenty minutes past six o’ clock. Martin’s mouth feels strange.
He sits up and looks under his pillow. There is nothing there. He is sad. He goes into the bathroom to brush his teeth.
When he looks in the bathroom mirror, he gets a big surprise. Instead of teeth, his mouth is full of coins. He tries to pull them out, but they are stuck in. Martin screams and screams and screams.
Nightmare Thirty-Three: Sixty Seconds
Todd was waiting for it, of course. It always came at the same time.
And it always came when he was alone.
He had been waiting for it all day long, ever since both Shirley and Colin had phoned in sick. He could have contrived not to be alone when it came. He could have had a pizza delivered to the office, or simply left early. But he wasn’t going to spend his life running away from this thing. Whatever it was.
It had been trying to kill him— what else could it be trying to do?— for the past eight years. And it had only succeeded in bruising and scratching him so far. For a would-be assassin- a supernatural one, at that— it was singularly unsuccessful.
Even still, his heart was pumping as he watched the second hand of the clock ticking down the moments to the thing’s arrival.
Switching all the lights off didn’t work. He had tried it. The thing was made of darkness. It didn’t need light to give it life. At least he could see it when the light was on.
He stood directly under one of the lighting panels to see it better. He was ready.
How often had he confronted it now? Several dozen times? A hundred? But it never felt routine. What could be stranger, now matter how often he experienced it, than looking at his own shadow and knowing it was going to become something else in an instant?
It started with a laugh. His laugh. It had taken him a while to realise that it was his own laugh. Who doesn’t wince in incredulous embarrassment when they hear a recording of their own voice? But one night in the cinema, laughing at a black comedy, he had heard his own laughter. And that was when he realised that the thing mocked him in his own voice.
Then, as always, it lunged at him.
The tenebrous hands went for his neck. He blocked them without much difficulty. As always, his flesh cried out in protest at the thing that was touching it, the phantasmal body that had no place in the world of matter.
Perhaps it was getting stronger, because it threw him to the ground. His head struck against Colin’s desk as he descended, and his skull filled with pyrotechnics.
Knowing that the thing was going to make another grab for his throat, Todd kicked out. He felt his legs collide with his shadowy adversary. He even heard it grunt.
The blow to his head had made him lose count. He had reached ten seconds when he fell. How much time had passed since? Ten more seconds? Twenty?
Almost halfway there. He staggered to his feet and braced himself for another attack.
The grey shape was huddled in a corner, and Todd wondered if he should take the fight to it. Could he stab it? Could he choke it? Had it a brain or a heart to stop?
But a moment later, such considerations were irrelevant. The thing launched itself at Todd with uncanny speed. It had crossed the room before he had time to think, and then it was pressing down on top of him, its hands around his neck.
This is it, thought Todd. Consciousness was beginning to slip away. He felt a detached anger at himself for walking into this battle, for being too stupidly proud to step out into the street and safety.
And then it stopped. One moment, an iron grip was closed over his windpipe. The next, his lungs were filling up with delicious air, and his enemy had disappeared.
The minute had passed once more. All over the city, workers sighed with relief. Scott lay on the floor, panting, amazed to find himself still alive. The alarm on his wristwatch buzzed.
* * * * *
Todd’s sister Becky phoned him a few minutes later. She had missed her bus. Could Todd drive her home?
“Sure”, he said, and coughed.
“Are you OK?”, asked Becky. “You’re not coming down with it, too, are you?”
“I haven’t been sick this century”, said Todd. “Clean living.”
He could hear his sister rolling her eyes as she said, “Just come get me”.
She was already telling him about her day when she stepped into the car, but she stopped when she saw his face.
“Are you sure you’re OK?”, she asked, scanning his face. “You look a little...ruffled.”
“Just a touch of five o’ clock shadow”, said Todd.
Nightmare Thirty-Four: Your Spiritual Advisor
“How have you been this week, Heather, dear daughter?”
Heather forced herself to look into Servant Sawyer’s eyes, giving him a studiously sober smile.
“Well enough, Servant”, she said, bowing your head towards him. “I got that promotion I was talking about.”
Servant Sawyer didn’t congratulate her. He merely nodded graciously, almost as though he had arranged the promotion, and was accepting Heather’s thanks. His dark, deep eyes glinted in the candlelight.
“And your salary..?”
“I’ve already increased my tithe,” said Heather, quickly.
Servant Sawyer nodded again, approvingly this time. “You know we’ve opened a new drugs rehabiliation centre in Coventry?” he asked. “There is so much need out there, so many suffering brothers and sisters.”
“Yes, Servant Sawyer”, said Heather, hoping that the weekly interview was coming to an end. Of course, she loved Servant Sawyer—- how could she not love him, given his concern for her?-— but these meetings were so gruelling.
But hadn’t the Reconciler himself written: “The mildness of God scorches the ungodly?” And Heather knew she was still a long way from godliness.
“Is that all, dear daughter?”
Heather composed her features, hiding her eagerness to get away. “Yes, Servant.”
She waited for Servant Sawyer to release her with three splayed fingers—- symbolising the Three Moral Treasures-- and the blessed words Grace guide you. But instead he just sat there, staring at her, as though she had left something out.
“I think that’s everything, Servant Sawyer”, she said.
He sighed. It was a sigh of disappointment. “Dear daughter, you sadden me. You truly sadden me. I’ve...heard reports...that you have been watching lurid films in a house in Battersea.”
Heather was stunned. How could he have known about the films?
“It was our sister Alice”, said Servant Sawyer, as though he had heard her thoughts. “She listened to her conscience. I’m proud of her”.
Heather hung her head, trying to bite back the anger. Servant Sawyer would see her anger. He would see it, and he would assault it. There was no way to argue with Servant Sawyer. He was like a battering-ram of solid certainty.
“I didn’t think it was any harm...” she said, apologetically. “I mean, they’re just silly romances, chick-flicks...I grew up watching films like that”.
Servant Sawyer let the words hang in silence, as though they needed no refutation. As though they condemned her on their own.
“Silly”, he said, eventually. “Yes, silly. Films like that make promiscuity and selfish hedonism seem trivial, harmless. Can’t you see how sinister that is?”
“I guess so”, said Heather. She couldn’t bear to look into Servant Sawyer’s eyes. She was looking at the framed photograph on the table, the gently smiling face of Harold Tucker, the Reconciler. Looking at his handsome, understanding face always comforted her.
“These films must stop”, said Servant Sawyer. “You see that, don’t you? Look at me, Heather.”
Heather looked into her advisor’s eyes. He wore a sad smile now.
“Yes, Servant”, she said. “Of course.”
“You are not far from your twenty-fifth birthday”, said Servant Sawyer. “I am making researches into a suitable husband. Be assured that, with the guidance of the Reconciler, I will find a man who will help you lead a holy life, and make your marriage a blessing to all our brothers and sisters. After that, you won’t feel the slightest temptation to watch...chick-flicks.”
With that, he raised three fingers in the air, and intoned: “Grace guide you.”
“Grace guide you”, said Heather, returning the gesture. Relief seeped through her.
Ten minutes later, she was standing outside the little flat in Paddington. It was a bustling November morning. Life surged all around her, and the sky blazed a pure white.
She descended the steps, and navigated the thronged streets of Central London. She ran for a bus at Oxford Street, and just made it.
As she was paying her fare, the driver raised three fingers in the air. “Grace guide you”, he said.
“Grace guide you”, said Heather, doing the same.
Outside, on an enormous billboard, the face of Harold Tucker the Reconciler smiled down upon them.