THE H and M COMMUNITY

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By Elizabeth Cathie

Elizabeth says: Since beginning to write I’ve discovered the joy of seeing characters come alive, and stories grow from an idea. I write stories inspired by events in the lives of those around me, and by the community in which I live.

Something is amiss in the woodshed this cold and wintry Saturday afternoon. Something, or somebody, is in there; a thing or a body which should be somewhere else and not in their woodshed where they like to play. They’ve heard snuffling and shuffling.

“What is it?” the one asks.

“I don’t know,” the other, identical one, replies.

“We should go in and look,” declares one, pretending boldness.

Eight year old hands clasp each other as one child pulls towards the woodshed and one pulls away.

“It might be scary,” dark eyes look into the mirror of the other’s face.

“It might be horrid,” the mirror face replies.

“It might be a monster,” the one whispers, mouth close by the ear of her twin so that the monster might not know that it is being discovered. Two hearts beating fast now. No need for words. Minds thinking alike; sticky palm clutching sticky palm. Each pushes the other towards the shed. Each pulls the other away.

“You go first.”

“No, you go first.”

“I said it first.”

“I thought it first.”

Neither child wants to open the shed door but wants the other to do so. Anger at inaction mixes with fear as four tentative feet approach the old, gnarled door. Suddenly one leaps forward spurred on by a sudden surge of courage. She grabs the old, rusty door-catch with her free hand, pulls the door open. Cries of Nooo I’m scared echo around her head.

The two leap backwards together. The monster tumbles out of the shed, a rolling, grunting, squishy blob of purple and green iridescent flesh. 

“Arrrggh! a monster,” come the identical screams, gripped hands pulling bodies close.

The monster stops in his tumbling – bemused, confused by the sudden noise after the quiet of the shed. He turns his head around, leans down, looks at the two funny little human creatures, grunts sadly and then rolls himself down the garden path and over the garden gate into the field.

“A monster,” one whispers.

“A monster,” the other agrees.

Inside the shed the sisters see nothing amiss, everything is just as it usually is – if a little squashed by the monster.

“He was a big monster,” says one.

“Huge,” says the other, “very, very huge.”

“Such pretty colours.”

“Yes, so pretty and so shiny.”

They sit on the little wooden seats. They’re strangely quiet, pondering. It’s getting cold in the shed with the door open but neither of them wants to close it. The one gives an exaggerated shiver. She tucks her hands into her pockets hunching herself into a bundle. The other swings her legs up and down, scuffing her old red boots along the dusty floor of the shed.

“The monster looked so sad,” says one looking at her sister, her face blotchy red like it goes when she’s trying not to cry.

“Yes,” said the other, “he looked very sad.” She rubbed at her nose with the back of her gloved hand. After a while she said, in a voice incredulous with wonder, “Do you think the monster was scared of us?”

Back in the kitchen having tea and cake with their mother they’re oddly quiet, not able to share their afternoon adventures with her. The one is weighing up the possibility of being allowed a second slice of cake. The other – sure that the answer to that question would be no – doesn’t bother herself with such a thought. They both look towards the door when it opens to let their father come in. Through the doorway they see the dark outside and they feel the coldness of the winter afternoon around their legs as it slides in alongside him. 

“I’m having a word with those community leaders again in the morning,” he says in his cross voice as he sits down at the table, “what are they called?”

“The Human and Monster Community Project Steering Group Committee’” one child is very precise.

“H and M leaders,” the other child less so.

“Well – whatever they’re called there’s a real blind spot on that corner back there. I almost ran into a monster.”

The next morning the two return to the shed – their shed. The door is swinging gently on its hinges.

“Oh! It’s empty,” says one.

The other peers through the doorway with her, “Yes, empty.”

“So,” says her sister, “what shall we do?”

The other stands in the middle of the shed, looks around in the mode of a surveyor checking out a job, holds her chin between her thumb and forefinger then says,

“We’ll move out all of the rubbish then we’ll put all this stuff here,” she gestures towards an array of old, rusty ironmongery, “up onto the shelves. Then we’ll sweep it all out and clean up the window. Then we’ll bring in the blanket and the old quilt and we’ll make it all nice and snug and cosy.”

Her sister looks a little daunted by this list. She says quietly, “OK.”

Two hours later all is completed and they head off through the gate, into the field and then down into the wood.

“How will we find him?”

“We’ll call him – but just quietly so we don’t scare him.”

They reach for each other’s hand. Each wills the other to be brave and go first. Each is a tiny bit scared. They call, “Hellooooo! Monster! Are you there?”

“Monster, where are you?”

“We won’t hurt you Monster. We’re sorry we scared you.”

“Really sorry we scared you.’

And then, just as it’s getting to be home time – tea and cake time – they see him; a heap of squidgy, shiny, purple and green flesh lying at the base of a big oak tree.

“Oh, Monster, there you are,” says the one.

They crouch down side by side amidst the leaves and smelly vegetation.

“Don’t be scared, Monster. We’ve made you a lovely den,” says one.

“So you’ll be comfy and warm,” says the other.“We’ll bring you cake,” they say together.