End of Year Poem for Teachers

I wrote this poem to say thank you and farewell to the first school I taught at.

The original was highly personal, with names and memories specific to my school, so I have re-written this version so it is relevant to all teachers, wherever you are!

Why do you do it, Sir?


Why do you do it, Sir?

What do you mean?

You know, be a teacher,

Well, I get help from caffeine.


Yeah, but to do what you do,

Day in, day out,

The hard slog,

When us kids just muck about.


I know I couldn’t, Sir,

You must be insane.

I’m not sure what you’re getting at,

Please do explain.


For a start, how you get through winter,

I just can’t conceive,

When it’s dark when you get here,

And dark when you leave.


And all those big boxes,

Of books piled high,

Packed full of marking,

Right up to the sky.


And you have to be bright,

On a cold soggy morning,

When thirty odd children,

Arrive snotty and yawning.


And when you finally reach break-time,

And switch on the kettle,

Those calls of “Wet Play!”

Surely must test your mettle.


It’s not even as if,

In summer it’s better,

Cause the sweat-infused classrooms,

Make it ten times wetter.


It’s not all bad,

(Or so I say,

But this ‘ere child’s,

Got me full of dismay).


And why do you put up with,

The grief and the jip,

Of those ungrateful spanners?

It must be a drip!


Like when they say you look tired,

All haggard and grey,

Or, Don’t worry, Sir,

You’re not as ugly as usual today.


And, Sir, you must get tired,

You must get bored,

From shouting all day.

Your voice must get sore.


I’m nice, I’m kind!

I’ll have to do an impression, Sir,

I hope you don’t mind…


*child stops to put on teacher’s tie*

You there, tuck in your clothes!

And you! Take your finger out of your nose!

And you, child, get in the line!

And why are you late? It’s twenty past nine!


It’ll be fifty lines for you,

And for you, child, fifty more!

If you don’t right this second,

Peel yourself off the floor!


And you, child,

How many times have I mentioned?

Pick up your pencil,

and write your Learning Intention!

Boss. Screaming angry man pointing out
Well two can play at that game,

I can do impressions too.

Let’s see how you like it,

When I give you a few.


*teacher puts on pupil’s tie*


I didn’t get time to do my homework, Sir,

I had things to do.

My schedule was busy,

Don’t you like my hair-do?


My dog ate it,

It did Sir, it did.

My baby brother chucked it in the bin,

And sat on the lid.


But I definitely did it,

I promise, I swear.

You can count on me, Sir,

First thing Monday, it’ll be there.


See, Sir,

It seems you agree.

But you still haven’t explained,

How you put up with kids like me.


You know, child,

You’ve got me thinking,

How on Earth I keep going,

When your attitude’s stinking.


Like the time that boy,

Was simply unable,

To explain why he was sat,

Under the table.


And the milk bottle left in the locker,

What a stench!

And the amount of kids who’ve asked me,

Are you really from French?”


And when all the kids have gone home,

And one’s always still there.

Sometimes I do I wonder,

Will “Sluggy” ever beat that hare?


And the infuriating kid,

Whose every story,

(Whether witty or scary,

Or dreamy or gory,

Or the one about dragons,

Medusa, or Nessie),

Their hero was always,

Lionel Messi.


And don’t get me started on fidget spinners,

Or dabbing every day.

Don’t even try to do the Fortnite dance,

And don’t ask me if I know dee weh?



Those silly crazes,

They just make me cross,

Like when I’m trying to teach,

And you’re trying to floss.



So what is it, Sir,

That keeps you going?

When you’re so mad at us,

You’re this close to throwing,

Us out of the window,

Pulling out all your hair,

Til you’re blue in the face,

Why do you still care?

I do it for the mugs.  The mugs?

Yes, didn’t you hear?

You mean our school photos?

No – the ones teachers get at the end of the year.


If you’re that bothered about mugs,

Why don’t you buy them yourself?

Let me explain,

Look at these ones on my shelf.


This one says, Thank you for listening.”

So that’s why it has ears for handles!

And this one says, Thanks for brightening each day.”

Ah, that’s why it looks like a candle!


Sir, why is this one

shaped like a bee?

It’s to say, “Thank you

for bee-lieving in me.”


And this one with the flower,

Don’t tell me, I know!

They wanted to say, “Thank you

for helping them to grow.”


This one says, “Thank you for staying positive.”

That’s why the sun’s shining through the cloud!

And this one’s a picture of my whole class,

They all made me so proud.


So, you see, I do it for the mugs,

That’s when you know it’s been worth it.

A child’s nod for helping them to grow,

That’s why I do it.


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I am the Tree


I am the sapling

And this will be my park


I give up seasons past

Welcome in the new

My roots dig in

I stretch out my branches

And open my first can


Take my first sip

Sweet nectar

Just a tipple

No harm done


And the rains begin to fall




The haze clears

So I crack open another

…and another


Drink my fill




Liquor seeps through my veins

Warms my branches

Fuzziness tingles the edges of my leaves


…and my old friends walk by…


They glance my way

Walk on



But then they stop


Double back


Shake their heads

Check their glasses

Stare at me

Like an art gallery piece


And they hold out a branch

Say it’s not too late

But I have enough branches of my own

“Just the right amount,” so I say,

“and pulling my roots out of the ground…

it’ll never work.”


Their little one smiles at me

So I grin back



But their busy lives call them homeward

And they take their child by the hand

And on they go


“Wasn’t that…?” they say

As they leave a trail of my life that was

But it’s too late now


For I am the sapling

And this will be my park



I am the tree

And this is my park


Solid, steady, fixed

(maybe a little wobbly)


The sun lifts my spirit

And I dance to the music of

The warm breeze

The flutter of wings

The patter of a thousand feet


The pigeons, my children

Flock to my chant

I name them





On and on, the rains fall

Drenching me in spirit

Running thick through my veins


And now I am full

Thirst quenched

Wounds cleansed

But still I drink more


Singing and chanting

With all who pass by

Colours so bright

At one with the world


…and my old friends walk by…

Little one kicks a ball my way

I offer it back

Hands out


But they snatch their child

Hurry away


“What about your ball?”

They’ll get a new ball, so they say.


And it’s just me and my pigeons

Nest for the night


For I am the tree

And this is my park


I am the great tree

And this is my park


Weary now

The sun bakes my limbs

My fruit ferments


Sap oozes from my sores

A slow bubbling froth


My leaves fall off





Crumble and flake apart

And I forget now

Why the haze returns


Heavy now the rains

Drum and thrum

Batter and pelt


…and my old friends walk by…


Conker season

Little one

On the hunt


I can help

I am the great tree after all

So I shake a branch

Or twenty three

And conkers rain down


Little one gleams

Bag full

To bursting


But parents scorn

Sneer at me

Leave off, so they say


So I spit at their feet

And they snatch their child

Flee under

A hail of conkers


“I’ll never leave,

For I am the great tree,

And this is my park!


I am the withered tree

And this has been my park


Haze grips me again

Stark branches

Shrivelled fruit

And I shiver


Can’t go back now

Easier to face what comes

Than uproot


Where else is there

For an old park tree?


…and my old friends walk by…


Mittens and scarves

Bobbles and buttons

Little one lobs

A snowball


Hits my bottle

Clean out of my hand


With a smash

My last dregs of life

Pour across the ground


And there’s sniggering


And for them, the promise of





I should feel pain

But I don’t feel a thing

For me and my park

We face the void together


I am the withered tree

And now I am done

Categories: Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fridge Boy


Here sits Fridge Boy,

Upon his white steed.

Going nowhere.

He picks apart the plastic.

It will come off,

It will.


Here lands the ladybird.

Tucks his wings,

Fluffs them out,

Takes off.

Going somewhere.


Here lies the plug.

Dangling lazily,

Over rusted iron railing –

Guardian of this once grande façade.

Now a cable hanger,

For old plugs.

Going nowhere.


Fridge boy’s legs dangle,


He kicks the fridge door open,


It should hurt,

Shouldn’t it?


His foot he taps,

His trainer sole flaps,

In rhythm,

With the old milk carton lid,

In rhythm,

With the swinging door on tired hinges,

In rhythm,

With the pick, pick, pick,

Of his fingernail on plastic.

It will come off,

It will.


Here are the passers-by.

They don’t see him,

Do they see themselves?

Do they even know,

They’re going somewhere?


A man in a suit,

In a hurry,

In a huff.

Going somewhere.

A lady in pink,

Nauseating pink,

In a hurry,

Out of puff.

Going somewhere.


Fridge boy could try whistling,

Could make a song for them,

To make them see,

That where they’re going,

Is not where they are.


Here is a mother,

With her flock,

A girl, a boy, a dog.

All smiles,

All noise.

All going somewhere.


Fridge Boy picks at the plastic,

It will come off,

It will.


The flock alights a moment.

Mother does up the buttons,

On the little boy’s duffle coat.

Nice buttons.

Long wooden ones.

The sort from a Christmas film,

Or posh catalogue.

Push through and clasp,

Push through and clasp,

Push through and clasp,

All snug.


The little boy complains,

As his mother fusses.

His hood will stay up,

It will.


It should feel cold then,

Shouldn’t it?

Here are the goose pimples,

Swimming right up his arms,

Up, up, to his neck.

Yes, it should feel cold,

It should.


For a moment,

The dog spots Fridge Boy.


For a moment,

He’s noticed.


Then the collar is pulled.

And the flock take flight.

Going somewhere.


In his mind,

Fridge Boy does up his duffle coat,

Push through and clasp,

Push through and clasp,

Push through and clasp,



And here is the plastic,

See, it did come off.

He knew it would!

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Coraline and the Other Mother

In our class, we loved reading and studying the novel Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. To help the children box up the events of the full novel into bite-sized chunks and re-write their own versions, I made them this 2-page condensed version. Fans of the original will notice a few tweaks here and there, although I tried to stay as close as possible to the original. Enjoy!


Coraline Jones was bored of her new home. “A luxurious Victorian apartment,” her mother had called it. “Very classy indeed,” she had added, grinning annoyingly as she made smug, satisfied noises at the different furnishings and fittings. Dilapidated old pile of bricks more like, thought Coraline, as she slumped against the windowpane, watching the dull, grey clouds trudge across the sky.
“Steaming up windows again, Coraline?” said her mother, with a smirk.
“I’m bored,” replied Coraline.
“I’m off to town to pick up some groceries. Why don’t you come with me?”
“Cause it’s even more boring!”
“Why don’t you help unpack then? I’m sure you’ll find your sketchpad if you look hard enough.”
And with that, the door slammed shut.
“Hmmph,” said Coraline. “Boring mother. Boring house. Boring LIFE! I wish my mother was more interesting. I wish my house was more fun. I wish my LIFE was more exciting!”

Coraline 3

At first, it had been quite enjoyable, being in the house all by herself. However, there were only so many empty rooms and cardboard boxes a girl could rummage through before she became utterly fed up. She decided to explore outside, and that’s when she heard the pained meowing of a cat. She found the poor creature by the old brick well in the back garden, with its paw twisted in barbed wire. It had a silky black coat, although it was matted with fresh blood.
“It’s okay,” Coraline said softly, as she gently untangled his paw. “You’re free now. See?”
The cat hesitated for a moment, studying her curiously before nuzzling its head against her hands. Then suddenly the cat spotted something in the bushes and darted off after it.
“Hey, come back!” Coraline shouted, and she gave chase, but it was no use. The cat was gone. As Coraline returned to the house, she had no idea what she had just done. Her only thoughts were on what she could possibly do to get rid of this bored feeling, although that was soon to be the least of her worries.

As Coraline entered the hallway, the smell of sweet baked pastry wafted right up her nostrils. How funny, she thought. She could have sworn her mother’s car had not been in the driveway, nor had she cooked anything this tasty in months. It was all cardboard-flavoured microwave meals these days. The smell of pastry, however, was too delightful and she soon forgot about that. The kitchen had an unusually warm glow, like an Indian summer’s evening, and at the cooking stove stood her mother, baking. Her mother? Baking? Something about her hair wasn’t quite right. It wavered through the air like lazy snakes, and her fingers skittered over the dough like spider’s legs, and when she turned around, instead of eyes, were two black buttons!
“You’re not my real mother, are you?”
“Why, I am your Other Mother, dear Coraline.” She had said, “You wished for me, after all.”
It was true. She had wished for a better mother, but she hadn’t meant it, not really.
“Where is my real mother?”
“Oh, she is being kept safely around here somewhere,” she said, and her hand clasped protectively around a pendant hanging from her neck. Strangely, it had an image of a frightened woman with her hands held up against it, as if it were a cage. “But you won’t need her anymore. You have me to love you now. I will bake your favourite meals every day and we can play together all day long. All you have to do is love me. Forever.”
For a moment, a brief blind moment, Coraline actually considered this. The pastry smelt so good and her real mother never played with her these days. However, those black button eyes were empty, not full of love and Coraline knew this Other Mother could never really love her, nor could Coraline love her in return.
When Coraline refused, the Other Mother’s face turned pale and shadowy and she grew to twice her height. With her spidery arms, she snatched Coraline up and threw her into a pitch black cupboard beneath the stairs. There, Coraline sat hugging herself and shivering uncontrollably. She was cold and frightened and hungry. What was she going to do? Then, as the tears streamed down her cheeks, an idea struck her!

Coraline 2

Sometime later, maybe hours, maybe days, the bolt on the cupboard door rattled and it creaked open. Coraline squinted, blinded by the light when a spidery silhouette slinked before her.
“Are you ready to love me now, child? You won’t be asked again.”
“Yes, I’m ready now. I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking straight before. I’ve had time now to realise how silly I was. May we have a cuddle, to make up?”
The Other Mother’s eyes glinted, her lip curled into a crooked grin. “Why of course, my dear! Let us seal our love with a precious cuddle.”
As she reached for Coraline, instead of arms the shadows of eight spindly limbs crept across the wall, and when the Other Mother was but a whisker’s breadth away, the limbs raised like a spider ready to strike! Coraline held her breath. Her heart thumped in her chest. This was her only chance.

Coraline 4

Coraline held out her arms as if to hug back, but then quick as a flash, she snatched the pendant from the Other Mother’s necklace. She darted for the front door. The Other Mother shrieked in shock. “Foolish child! You will suffer for this!”
Her scornful snarls screeched through the hallway, sending shivers down Coraline’s spine. Coraline reached the door but she was shaking so much, the handle trembled uncontrollably in her hands. The sound of spidery limbs skittered against the stone floor, getting louder and louder. Any second now, Coraline would be caught. But then the handle released, and the door swung open. Coraline flew out and tumbled down the steps, landing on the gravel. She didn’t stop to think about the pain, for the Other Mother was scuttling recklessly down the hallway.

Coraline 4

Coraline sprinted for the well in the back garden, where she turned to face the Other Mother. She dangled the pendant over the well, saying, “Step any closer and I’ll drop it!”
The Other Mother screeched to a stop. Her body had changed shape now. She looked only like an idea of Coraline’s Mother painted savagely over the form of her spider’s body, but she still had those black button eyes, although now there were eight of them!
“Stupid little brat! You would throw your own mother away forever?”
“If I can’t have her, you certainly can’t either!”
The Other Mother whimpered, with a hurt, saddened expression, and for a split-second, Coraline actually felt sorry for her. But it was a trick. A masterful, devious, scheming trick! With lightning reflexes, the Other Mother lunged out a spidery limb and snatched the pendant.
“Ha!” she exclaimed, with delight. “Two can play at that game! And now, child, you will become my tastiest meal in months!”
Coraline’s stomach twisted, and her legs crumbled beneath her. She gritted her teeth and waited for the fangs to sink in, when…

From nowhere, and with devastating speed, the black cat pounced. It scratched and scrawled and scraped at the Other Mother’s face. A flurry of fury, a whirlwind of whiskers, and a tornado of terror danced before Coraline’s eyes. The cat was winning, but not for long. Coraline had to act fast! She caught the cat’s eyes, and dived to the ground behind the Other Mother. “NOW!” she shouted, and in one final attack, the cat thumped the Other Mother with its hind paws. Startled, the Other Mother dropped the pendant, and as she staggered backwards, she tripped over Coraline and tumbled into the well. Coraline counted forty seconds before hearing a muffled splash.

Coraline 5

Coraline grabbed the cat and squeezed it tightly. It nuzzled into her and licked her face, before leaping free and darting to the front of the house. She held the pendant to her chest and wished for her real mother to return. She opened the pendant. Inside was the image of a spider, curled and huddling away from Coraline’s touch. She threw this down the well too, before lifting the giant wooden lid over it and placing a pile of heavy rocks from the old shed on top. Just then, she heard the sound of the car rolling over the gravel driveway.
Inside the house, Coraline’s real mother was unpacking the shopping. Microwave meals – thank Goodness! “Hello sweetheart,” she said. “I hope you’ve had fun on your own?”
Coraline said nothing. Instead, she simply hugged her mother tighter than ever before. Her mother hugged back.
“Why, what a lovely cuddle!”
“I love you Mum.”
“And I love you too sweetie. Hey, how about we skip all this moving in nonsense until tomorrow? I’ve bought hot chocolate and marshmallows and some of your favourite movies. Why don’t you pick which one you’d like to watch?”
“I’d like that very much,” said Coraline and she felt a warm, fuzzy feeling of home swimming through her whole body. It was wonderful! “Oh, and Mum?”
“Yes sweetie?”
“I hope you don’t mind,” she said, winking at the feline licking its paws at the windowsill, “but we have a cat now, too.”

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Where Are the Socks?

A very exciting moment for The Dream Shed blog – here be it’s first ever guest post, by Jacki French (I have to get it from somewhere). She has written a very witty poem about something that niggles us all, I’m sure you’ll agree…


I’d like to share a secret – although he’s got two legs,
My husband’s only got one foot, or so my story begs.

He doesn’t really have one foot, you know that isn’t true,
But I have got a problem, and don’t know what to do.

Perhaps you can help me? I keep on losing socks!
However much I look and look this problem has me foxed.

They say socks all come in pairs, but I don’t think they do.
I’m sure he only puts on one then gets me in a stew.

He asks me, “Where’s the black one? It should be on the bed.”
He’s sure he “put two in the wash.” Well, that’s just what he said.

I think the washer’s got a cave, and hides the socks in there.
Why else would only one come out when I put in a pair?

And I’m sure our washing basket has been playing tricks on me,
For it’s dark inside, and single socks are really hard to see.

Of course, it’s always my fault! And usually it is,
But sometimes socks take off and hide, where to is just a guess.

Sometimes a while goes by then one will turn up near.
Where it came from no one knows, but something is quite clear –

Socks have got intelligence, a sense of humour too,
So when you lose some, maybe soon, you’ll know just what to do.

Wait, wait, and wait some more, you don’t need to go buy new.
‘Cause very soon they’ll all come back from playing tricks on you!

Jacki French 2015

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Skippy the Naughty Kangaroo

A narrative poem I wrote for my class…


Skippy, Skippy, such a naughty kangaroo,
He’s uncatchable, untouchable, and uncontainable too.
Teachers quiver in fear,
While children chant and cheer,
For Skippy’s come to play his tricks,
And will soon have disappeared.

Bouncing, boinging, leaping and jumping,
With arms like a boxer, he’ll give a good thumping.
Springy and sprongy, he’ll leap fifty feet high,
Or kick your head-teacher right up to the sky.
He’s cheekily sneaky, and will often remind you,
How swiftly and silently, he can sneak up behind you.

Take, for instance,
The tale of Mr. Bunce.
Who, on one frosty morning,
Was caught yawning and yawning,
And as he opened his gob,
A snowball was lobbed,
And his face it did throb.
“Who dunnit?
Who chucked it?
Who’s spending break time inside?”
The poor teacher cried,
But the culprit had long since skipped off to hide.

Or did you hear,
About Miss. Tuneful,
Who was caught unawares,
By the banana skin placed at the top of the stairs?
At the top she did stumble,
And down she did tumble,
And at some point even managed a grumble.
The poor damaged teacher, eventually landed,
But as she looked for the fiend,
the hallway was stranded.

So, here is my advice to you,
Yes you teacher, yes you!
Don’t think you can take on the master roo,
Armed with your metre stick,
Board-rubber or tambourine.
Cause when you least expect it,
You’ll be thrown like a trampoline.
Bounced and bumped,
boinged and thumped,
Til you land in a heap,
Quite bruised and broken.
And you’ll know it was the rodent,
Who’s name you hate spoken.

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The Monster Scarer’s Son


Once upon a moon, there lived a boy called Peko. More than his whole world, Peko wanted to be a monster scarer. Unfortunately, he was too young. According to Moktok, the Witch Doctor of his village, only the bravest, most daring grown-ups ever became a monster scarer.
There certainly weren’t any in his village, not since his father died. Most of those who tried to become a monster scarer failed the test. The few that made it home again would return jellified (a word meaning a shivering, jibbering wreck). Others would never return home at all.
Peko didn’t know what all the fuss was about. He was already a brave and daring adventurer. Why did he have to wait to become a grown-up? But whenever he spoke about it, the grown-ups would just pat him on the head and smile irritatingly, saying, “Maybe one day, little one,” or, “Why don’t you go chase some piglets around the forest instead?”
This made Peko incredibly angry. He would run into the forest, but not to chase puny, pestering piglets. No, instead he would imagine he was on his way to Shadowland, where the scariest monsters lurked. In particular, Peko imagined he was headed to the Tomb of Boo! to overcome the Three Scarings and face the Horrid Tommy-knocker, a being said to know your greatest fear.
He knew all this because of the stories Moktok had told him throughout his childhood. He loved to hear Moktok’s captivating tales, but most of all he loved the tale of Shadowland, because, as Moktok would say, “To face the Horrid Tommy-knocker and return without becoming jellified, is how you become a monster scarer.”
“Wow,” Peko would say. “I can’t wait to go to Shadowland!”
But Moktok would frown a dark, furrowed frown and say, “You would not say that if you had been there, dear child. Do not rush to go to Shadowland, and hope you never venture there, for it is a place where nothing kind lives.”
“Okay, Moktok. I’ll stay near the village.”
This was a monster-sized lie, of course! Moktok’s warning only made Peko want to go even more, and he would spend all his days adventuring through the forest, looking for Shadowland. Sadly, no matter where he looked; in spooky caves, up the tallest trees, behind waterfalls and under bushes, he could never find the way. That was, until the night the bad things came.

One special night every year, on the Night of the Jade Moon, all the grown-ups would leave the village and travel to Totem Rock. This was a deep cave, where they believed the spirits of their ancestors lived. On this special night, just for a few moments, the moon would glow an intense shade of green.
No one knew why this happened, but the magical light would shine through a deep hole, down into the cave. It was said to illuminate the pitch-black cave in a brilliant blanket of jade light. At this moment, the spirits of the ancestors would reveal themselves, and the grown-ups could thank them for protecting the village from monsters, and ask for their protection in the year ahead.
Sadly, something went wrong this year, the year when the bad things came. Peko never saw them, but he could feel them scuttling and scurrying through the forest, and when the screams echoed in the night air, he knew something was wrong.
All the children huddled together with the elderly folk by the village fire. Eventually, some of the grown-ups returned, but they were shivering and wobbling, with eyes as grey as ash. They had been jellified!
“Tonight is the night,” said Moktok, placing a comforting arm around Peko’s shoulder.
“You mean, the night?” replied Peko.
“Yes, the night you journey to Shadowland.”
“But I’m too young!”
“No, you are the oldest child here, and the elders are too weak. Tonight, you become a monster scarer.”
Peko’s stomach swished like a sea storm. All his life he’d waited for this moment, but now it had come, he felt terrified. “Okay,” he said, gulping. “How do I get there?”

Just as the jade-coloured moon returned to its usual white, Peko arrived at Totem Rock. Moktok had said that this place, as well as being a Holy place for the villagers, was also the gateway to Shadowland.
He fumbled his way into the darkness, further and further, until he reached the place where the moonlight shone through the gap in the ceiling. This was the exact place where Moktok had directed him.
Peko couldn’t believe what he was about to do, but he trusted in Moktok, so he reached into his pocket and took out the item bestowed upon him by the witchdoctor; the Blade of Blackness. The blade’s face was a perfect black mirror, reflecting Peko’s face in a way which seemed to show his very soul. It was quite astonishing. And strangely, the moonlight seemed to bend around the blade, as if terrified of its mysterious power. This made Peko tremble.
“Be calm,” Motkok had said. “Let your mind clear, and the blade will open the way.”
Peko reached into the moonlight, and although he felt frightened, he let Moktok’s words wash over his mind like a calming breeze. All of a sudden, he felt an irresistible force pull his hand forwards and gently downwards. Strangely, it felt like pushing a knife into a watermelon. Then, as quickly as it had arrived, the force disappeared, but what remained was the hole.
Darker than the cave itself, the hole hung there like an open pocket. Peko gasped. He had cut a way into Shadowland! And so, one foot after the other, he slipped his way in.
Here, the air swayed and rolled across his skin, and the smell of burning ash crept into his nostrils. There were odd-looking objects all around. Maybe they were plants, or possibly buildings, but they were too dark to see properly, and besides, they too rippled and wavered like liquid.
Behind him, the pocket zipped-up shut. It was at just this moment, Peko decided he didn’t want to visit Shadowland after all. Maybe he would turn back. All he had to do was make another hole in the air.
Peko reached for the blade. Felt its cool handle on his skin. He began to unsheathe it, but hesitated, shook his head, and put it back.
A deep sigh escaped him…
…the first of the Three Scarings pounced!
A snake-like creature slithered from the shadows. “Turn back now, little flesshling!” it hissed. “Run away, while you sstill can!”
Peko felt its tongue flickering on his face. His heart pounded. He wanted to run away, but he thought of his jellified family, and stayed put.
“No!” shouted Peko. “You will not stop me!”
“How amusing flesshling. If you insist on sstaying, I sshall have to eat you for my ssupper.”
With that, Peko grabbed the slithering tongue and yanked it as hard as he could. The snake-like being winced, startled, just for a split-second, but it was enough for Peko to rush past. Incensed snarls and exasperated snaps chased him into the darkness.
He seemed to run forever. The snake-like sounds eventually died off, but he was too terrified to stop. He kept going until…
…he ran into a wall.
“‘Yeouch’ indeed!” replied a deep, groany voice.
“Who said that?” said Peko.
All of a sudden, two giant eyelids, which had looked just like bricks, opened to reveal a huge, grey pair of eyes, and then larger bricks below the eyes separated to reveal an enormous mouth.
Peko nearly screamed, and as he did, the eyes in the wall glinted, hungrily, but he but stopped himself just before the sound could escape his lips. He must not be scared, he reminded himself. He must not become jellified like the villagers.
“I need to get past.” He said, “Please will you help me find a way?”
“Childling,” said the Face in the Wall, “There is no way around my wall, or under or over it. I go on forever, you see!”
“But I must get through, there has to be a way!”
“No, there is no way through. Your journey is hopeless. Poor childling, you look so tired. Why don’t you stay here and take a nap. I will watch over you, you can trust me.”
Peko did feel exhausted. Maybe he would have just a little sleep. The Face in the Wall held his gaze in a strange way, a calming, soft way, and Peko felt intensely relaxed. He watched transfixed as its great stony eyelids shut slowly together, and felt his own eyelids become heavy pillows. He was slipping into a dark and deadly slumber, when from the shadows came the slithering sound of the snake-like beast. This startled Peko.
“Close your eyes, childling. No harm will come to you. I prooomiiise.”
The Face in the Wall yawned an enormous yawn. Peko found it irresistible. He began to yawn as well. He nearly slipped into sleep, but the slithering sound was close now. He had to resist!
Just as his eyelids touched together, the Face in the Wall yawned once more. Maybe Peko was dreaming, maybe not, but he glimpsed a light deep inside the huge stony mouth, and as that familiar, flickering tongue darted across his neck, Peko made the bravest, craziest choice of his life.
He jumped into the Face in the Wall’s mouth.
Peko landed inside a dark tunnel. A quick glance back reassured him the Face in the Wall and the snake-like being had gone. However, the blackness which now occupied the space where they had been, held an evil inkiness of its own. He couldn’t quite explain it, but he could feel it watching him, like a spider waiting to pounce. Best to go forwards then!
The tunnel was illuminated by candles hung every ten steps or so. In the distance ahead of him, Peko heard a high pitched cackle. A terrible sound it was, but he knew he had to face the last of the Three Scarings. As he headed further into the tunnel, the cackles became louder and louder. The closer he came, the more terrified he felt, and he wanted to run away.
All of a sudden, a chill wind blew behind him. As he turned, he saw a candle blow out, and then another, and another. The darkness wanted to devour him, he could feel it. A fourth candle snuffed out. Three more and the darkness would envelop him, so he sprinted, headlong toward the howling laughter.
Whoosh! Whhhooosh!! WHHOOSHH!
Closer and closer blew the wind, chilling the back of his neck, each gust extinguishing another candle. The faster he ran, the louder the cackling and more hysterical the sound ahead. Peko wished for nothing more than to turn the other way. Surely it would be better to give in? Let the darkness take him.
But no, that was what it wanted. He would stop and it would swallow him whole, and all of this would have been for nothing, and his tribe would be forever jellified.
He could not let that happen. He had to be brave. So he sprinted as hard as he could.
Three more candles. Horrible howls! Two more. Crippling cackles! One.
At the precise moment the final candle blew out, the laughing stopped, the terrible wind abated, and Peko was left alone in the dark once more. Thankfully, he was at last past the Three Scarings, but his heart still thwomp-a-domped, because he knew he had to face the Horrid Tommy-knocker.
“Whatever you do,” Moktok had warned. “Do not look into its eyes!”
“Why not?” asked Peko.
“It will try to trick you. But you cannot let that happen, for if you look into its eyes, it will show you your greatest fear, and you will become jellified, for ever!”
“How will I defeat it then?”
“You must show it its own greatest fear, before it can show you yours.”
“How will I do that?”
“That is something I cannot say. Only a true monster scarer will find the way.”
Remembering those words made Peko shiver all over, but he soon forgot them at the sound of the crying woman.
“Hello? Is somebody there?”
Nobody replied, but the crying drifted closer. He would follow it. It must be one of the villagers. Lost. He would rescue them. So he ran toward the sound.
Soon, he saw the figure, huddled on the floor with her face hidden. She was sobbing inconsolably. The poor woman.
“Hello Mufana, is that you? Or Tumula? Kico?”
The figure only sobbed and sobbed. Peko crouched beside her. “Everything’s going to be okay. You’re safe now, I’m here to rescue you.”
He placed a hand on her shoulder, and the figure turned to face him. Curious to see which villager it was, he nearly peeked into her eyes, but the figure gripped his hand in a death-like grip, and he knew it was not a villager. It was the Horrid Tommy-knocker!
Just as the glimmer of its eyes could be seen, Peko reacted like lightning. His hand snapped into his pocket and snatched out the Blade of Blackness. He held it in front of him, and instead of the Horrid Tommy-knocker’s face, his own was reflected back to him.
That’s when the most horrific scream escaped into the air.
“How could you?” it bellowed. “My fears! My greatest fears reflected back at me! This is torture!”
It grasped at his wrists, trying to shake the blade free, but Peko held on as if… no… because his life and the lives of everyone he loved depended on it. The beast screamed and wailed and howled and yelled, until eventually it vanished into nothingness, and its ragged clothes dropped to the floor.
It worked! The Horrid Tommy-knocker’s greatest fear was its own soul!
Peko trembled as if he’d been swimming in Lake Tuhu in winter, but he had finally won. He was now a monster scarer!

As Peko stepped through the hole in the air, into the cave below Totem Rock, Shadowland zipped shut behind him. This time, he did not hesitate. Not for a second.
With his new powers, he raced through the forest chasing all the monsters and scaring them away with their own reflections, and soon there were no more.
With the help of the other children from the village, Peko rounded up the jellified grown-ups and returned them safely home. It took Moktok a whole evening, and all of his witchdoctor powers to heal them, but one-by-one the grown-ups returned to full health.
His village was soon back to its old self, except that now of course, it had a monster scarer to protect it as well!
A week later, once everything had returned to normal, and Peko had thought everyone had forgotten what had happened, a surprise party was thrown in his honour.
“To the Monster Scarer!” they all shouted, as they threw him into the air and caught him, only to throw him up again.
It was the greatest day of his life. He only wished his father could have been there too.
But, as he looked to the stars, he saw the spirit of his father, the greatest monster scarer the village had ever known, smiling proudly upon him.

A short story by Luke French.

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The Park Bench – A Fable

There’s no denying learning to be a teacher has somewhat squished my writing energies, so I am seizing the half term by the throat by writing this story.

Here is the first in what I envisage will become a 3-part tale, although – for now at least – I hope you enjoy it as a story in its own right.


Act 1 – Seedlings

It was a clear day, in a hazy way, when the park bench spotted two dots on the horizon.
The dots grew arms and legs, and soon turned into little boys. Each, the bench supposed, looked as much like the other as his self, except one’s hair was combed this way and the other’s, that way.
The boys walked in apparent harmony, but the bench had seen his fair share of folk. He knew if you had asked the correct child, they would have said the other was dragging his feet more than they would have liked.
Soon enough, the boys arrived, where—as is the polite thing to do when one stumbles upon a lone bench halfway between here and there—they laid their packs down.
One of the boys stood a little closer to the bench than the other, and it was he who rested a hand upon him, soothing his old splinters. How nice, thought the bench, and a long-forgotten warmth coursed through him. The boy inhaled deeply and said, ‘Isn’t it wonderful here? Let’s stay a while.’
The other, who had already collected his belongings, turned to his companion, although his feet remained pointing onwards. ‘You know,’ he replied, ‘I really think we ought to hurry. We’ll miss the show.’
The first boy closed the debate by popping his bottom firmly onto the bench. The bench groaned. Little boys never did know how to sit without making a bump.
So together they sat, one swinging his legs, the other tapping his fingernails against the armrest. The latter annoyed the bench, but he had endured worse.
‘Well, this has been awfully nice,’ said the rap-tapper, with a hint of sour cabbage in his voice. ‘We must do it again. But I’m afraid if we don’t get a move on, we’ll never…’
finish that sentence, thought the bench, as the other boy put a finger to his lips. The bench creaked in amusement.
‘Look,’ said the shusher.
With a clip and a trot, along came a horse pulling a wooden carriage. It was all bits and no bobs, but the horse didn’t seem to mind. The bench wondered what it would have been like, to have been a wheel and seen the world, but on reflection, this was as good a place as any. Apparently, the wheels had been contemplating the exact opposite, as they fell off.
Out from the carriage stepped a very small man—so small in fact, he had to step twice more to reach the floor—and he looked like a shrivelled olive. He plucked a paintbrush from thin air and from his waistcoat pulled a canvas that really shouldn’t have been able to fit in there.
The bench didn’t understand Spanish, but from the wavy-wavy, pointy-pointy performance of the small man, he could clearly see what was being said. So he braced himself for a third bump (as little boys rarely grew out of it).
‘Yes, yes,’ one boy said, pushing the canvas away. ‘That’s enough of that. We really don’t have time for silly drawings. No, no. We’ll help you fix your wheel, Sir, and then you can be off. And so can we!’
With that, he popped off the bench, nudging the man’s paintbrush as he went. He attempted to lift the wheel, but all he achieved was a red face. The horse glanced over his shoulder, snorted, and resumed chewing grass.
The olive man looked grief-stricken. His masterpiece ruined.
The other boy placed a warm hand on the man’s shoulder. ‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘You can paint for me instead.’
The sun rose once more on the olive man’s face, and with a single brushstroke, he cleared the canvas anew.
The bench was beginning to enjoy this. It had been a while since he’d had company. He had begun to wonder if he was actually a footrest for puffed-out people with muddy boots. What strange folk they were, lunging at him from all angles. He never did know quite where to look.
Or maybe he was a crutch for the wobbly folk who came out at night. However, it always struck him that their vomit-infused displays of gratitude were somewhat unorthodox, and what with their unfavourable habits of swearing and farting and leaving by apparent means of payment, a crusty bogey or two; ultimately the whole thing lacked the sense of fulfilment he craved for.
Here, however, were two people who seemed happy to sit with him. And, nicely, they didn’t show any signs of hurrying off. Well, apart from the boy over there two jerks away from a hernia. He’d do well to learn to smile like his pal here. But all things aside, the bench was remembering what it was to be him again.
‘For me?’ said the boy on the bench.
The olive man nodded frantically. ‘Si! Si!’ he said, handing over the painting.
By the way the olive man beamed, and the look of wonder on the boy’s face, the bench couldn’t resist a peek. He wasn’t disappointed.
‘Oh my,’ said the boy. ‘This is… I mean… It’s truly… thank you mister. But I can’t accept it. I have nothing to give in return.’
The olive man shook his head, saying, ‘De nada.’ Then, as was his way, he leapt off the bench. As he passed the other boy, he said something to him which the bench couldn’t understand, but sounded like tears. The boy, however, was too bent on lifting the wheel to notice. The olive man sighed and untied his horse.
It wasn’t until the sound of clippedy-clip, clippedy-clop did the boy on the bench realise the man was leaving, for he had been too entranced by the painting. ‘But your carriage, mister!’ he shouted, now on his feet.
The olive man turned his horse not quite halfway around and met the boy’s eyes. Then a shocked expression befell his face and he pointed at the boy whilst tapping his ear.
‘What? Is it a wasp?’ The boy flapped around trying to swat whatever it was the olive man had seen, and when he found it, his jaw hit the ground. From behind his ear, he pulled out the olive man’s paintbrush! How the old goat had managed such a trick was a mystery, but the bench knew better than to ask about this sort of thing.
And what a brush it was. Carved into its handle were people, creatures and things, all telling their own, very different stories yet somehow, together, made heart-crunching sense (well, that’s what the bench thought, anyway).
Whilst the boy ogled at the brush, the bench caught the olive man smiling fondly at him. And a sheen covered his eyes, although the bench knew he would have dismissed it as old age, cataracts or something.
With a blink, the sheen vanished, and the olive man reared his horse for one last blast to the end of the field.
‘But…’ the boy said, watching the dust cloud tail away. When it was no more than a wisp, a neigh from a faraway land shook the sky—the bench literally trembled—and the horse and the olive man were no more. ‘…I don’t know how to paint.’
For a moment, maybe a minute, maybe a thousand years, time stopped. The wind held its breath, the squirrels stayed in their nests, until…
‘Gyah, a little help wouldn’t go amiss! Hey, where’d Old Wrinkly go?’
The boy with the brush looked at his companion as if he’d just offered him a slice of dog-poo pie. ‘How could you not notice?’ he shook his head. ‘Never mind, look, he left us this.’
‘Pfah! A manky clump of hair on the end of a stick! And, what’s this—a poor excuse for a painting of, what, a pickled onion next to a lump of coal? Yes, very arty that, I‘m sure.’
The first boy snatched it back. ‘They’re seeds, actually. And look, they move.’
He wasn’t lying. When he rotated the canvas, the seeds bounced around the edges. And when he tilted it they rolled into the distance and back again.
‘Hmm, I’ll admit, that is pretty clever. Trick of the eye, I’m sure. Or a hidden mirror. You can put them anywhere these days. But still, pretty pointless if you ask me, and a complete waste of our time, which, if I might add,’ he said, as he thrusted his new-fangled wrist-sundial into his friend’s face, ‘is fast running out. We’ve already missed the start of the show, and I haven’t paid good money stand around one hunk of wood whilst sitting on another…’
Charming, thought the bench.
The noise continued, ‘…good quality leather, that’s the stuff! And heated rooms with lowly folk waiting on us hand and foot, yes that’s the life. It’s all here in the brochure.’
‘Shut up for a second. Haven’t you ever stopped to think maybe we can make our own show?’
A blank expression of cogs whirring was all the boy got for that one.
He tried again, ‘Look, can’t you see? This painting, it was made for us. All we could ever want or wish for. Our dreams, our hopes, it’s all here.’
There are no prizes for guessing which of the boys was now steaming from his spout, and it was he who grabbed the painting and threw it to the ground. And so began his rant.
‘Dreams and hopes? Pfah! Dreams and hopes are for people who can’t afford jam in their rice pudding! Dreams and hopes are what dim-witted half-breeds work their behinds off chasing, so they can make money for people like us. Dreams and hopes are silly little things we simply don’t need, not when we’ve got ivory tusks and red carpets and oak wall panels wherever we walk. Now come on, let’s go!’
Hmm, a wall panel, considered the bench. Much the same as being a bench really, except without the view, or the breeze, or the company for that matter.
‘I won’t go. You go if you must, but all I know is that I, no—we have been given a gift here. I don’t know much about a lot, but I do know this sort of thing doesn’t come around very often. And I‘m darned well staying here to do the best I can with what little I have.’
You know more than you think, little one.The boy who enjoyed the sound of his own voice went for the paintbrush next, except his companion held on. What ensued was a tug-o-war battle the likes of which the bench hadn’t seen since Princess Olga beat that donkey-faced Sir Charles Wimpsykins for the last slice of Edam. Ah, picnics, those were the days.
‘Let go this instant! We don’t need this rubbish!’
‘Rubbish? How can you say that, are you blind?’
‘It’s a pickled onion and a lump – of – coal!’
‘They’re seeds, idiot!’
‘Seeds. Onions. What’s the difference?’
‘You fool, it makes all the difference. Now give – it – back!’
…And so on, until certain laws of physics decided that none should have the brush. It arced through the air, creating a rainbow—literally—and landed in the middle of the fallen wheel, where, at its touch, a single bluebell sprouted, beaming like a proud child.
‘See?’ said one boy, triumphantly.
‘The flower was there already,’ dismissed the other. ‘We just didn’t notice it, is all.’
‘And the rainbow? I don’t see any rain around here, do you?’
‘It’s clearly a trick of the light. The brush must have thrown up some fine mist. Yes, that’s it. Mist. Now, we’ve had enough whimsy for one morning. We really must be off.’
His companion ignored him, instead went to collect the brush. On his way, he ran his fingers through the rainbow (because you would, wouldn’t you?), and as he did, each band of colour burst to life in an explosion of butterflies.
The butterflies danced a flutter, just for show, before settling upon the bench. At first, it tickled as they covered his splintered wounds with their wings, but then a warm healing power rushed through his old joints. And the butterflies were no more. For a second, he wondered where they had gone, but then he realised and he cried inside, for they had given their lives that he may have colour. Thank you, little butterflies.
One of the boys looked bewildered, whilst the other wore the grin of a thousand possibilities, and it was he who picked up the canvas, he who turned it face down to make the two seeds drop onto the grass, and he who raised the paintbrush into the air and said ‘What if?’
But it was the other who snatched the brush, and said, ‘I’ll show you what if. Here, watch this!’ And with a bellow, he cast the brush toward his seed of choice, the lump of coal.
The bench, being of wooden persuasion, felt for the poor brush—it wasn’t so much being handled back and forth, but getting thrown about was no way to be treated, no, no.
On contact, the lump of coal cracked, and a fetid root emerged. It sniffed the air before snaking its way towards the wheel, where it crept to the centre, carouselled up the bluebell’s stem, and with a sharp snap, killed it dead.
‘Well, what do you know,’ said the boy who had thrown the brush, ‘that was fun!’
The other boy’s face looked how the bench felt. His fists clenched and his jaw grinded and the bench thought he was going to do something regrettable, but then he mouthed something to himself, and his expression changed. Softened. And the brush throwing boy retained his good looks, for now.
Instead of retaliating with violence, he collected the brush and held it to his chest. He closed his eyes and sang softly to it and when he had finished, dabbed the air just once. A tiny cloud appeared. The boy blew gently, and the cloud became a raindrop and fell onto the pickled onion-looking seed.
At this, the seed sprouted a stem of its own. It yawned, stretched and sought out the fallen bluebell, touching it with the tip of its nose. By this gentle contact, the stem gave all its green to the bluebell, and it burst back to life, sprouting flower, after flower, after flower. Before long, a mini forest of bluebells bloomed, and suddenly the wheel didn’t seem so old or rickety anymore. This made the bench very happy.
And then something even more magical happened. Just when it seemed there was no more room for bluebells, the petals of the last to blossom peeled and drifted into the air, where they transformed into a cloud of butterflies, each an impossible, breathtaking shade of blue.
The butterflies headed to the carriage, where, as their cousins had done with the bench, they melded into the woodwork, infusing it with colour. And this time little leaves sprouted from their remains. The leaves grew into twigs, twigs into branches, branches into limbs, and before the bench knew it, a tree, a proper, full-on tree grew from the carriage.
The boy stared at the brush in disbelief. He was shaking.
‘Well played!’ declared his companion, with a hollow clap. ‘Still, all in all, a completely pointless exercise if you ask me.’
‘I don’t.’
‘Well, what now then? Is this our lot?’
‘This,’ replied the boy with the brush, ‘is more than many are ever privileged enough to have, and certainly more than we deserve. Now, my friend, we stay and cherish every moment.’

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A Love Poem for Autumn

Inspired by a painting…

Autumn Love Poem

I wonder what it would have been like, to have been me.
But not this old me on this old armchair with these old hands.
No. The me in the water. The me with colour. The me whose spirit dances with the waves.
She stares at me from her window.
She waits for the day I jump in.
She sings for me, a song I will never hear.
The bell ringer pulls once more.
The last autumn leaves cling on.
Do I go to her today?
I dip my toe in and feel the edge of her smile.
Oh, how I miss that smile. The smile the me I never was, knew.
He dared to jump. Dared to lose everything he never had.
Dared to love.
So, while she waits for a me that’ll never come, I watch another crease grow upon my hands,
wondering what it would have been like, to have been me.
The bell ringer, punctual as a heartbeat, lifts up for one last pull.
And I take my hands off the railing.

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New Story: Reunion of the Class of Quackety-Nine

The last two months have been really exciting, having embarked on my other ambition – to become a primary school teacher! And after reading a chapter in The Magic Weaving Business, by Sir John Jones, which shows the power teachers have to build dreams, or steal them, I became inspired with an idea for a story.

With Halloween around the corner, this tale – with a pinch of horror and sprinkle of nightmares – should taste just right. Enjoy!


Reunion of the Class of Quackety-Nine

The thing to snap Martha Gander from her trance was the sound of the school gates clanging behind her. It was a sound she had said goodbye to. A sound she had tried to forget.
Glancing back, she could not recall her journey. In fact, she hadn’t thought a thing since leaving the house. But that sound had brought it all back.
The playground was empty, but she could see the other ducklings from her class running around, quacking wildly and hugging one another goodbye, as if it were yesterday. And above all the noise was Miss Fowl’s perfect voice, squawking perfect farewells to her perfect flock.
‘Don’t forget me, my darlings!’ she had said, twirling on ballerina tippy-toes, fluttering her flawless feathers.
‘We won’t!’ replied the girls, and together they sang the songs they had known so well and loved so dear.
But one duckling had not joined the festivities: little Martha Gander, whose eyes had peeked from the hole in the fence, over there behind the dustbins.
Martha was too big now to fit through, so poked her head in. She retched at the smell of cat urine mixed with cigarette ends left by the dinner-hens. Of course, you’d be sacked for smoking on school premises these days, but somehow the odour lingered.
Despite its flaws, this damp, cramped space was once a haven, especially on that final day. Only when the playground cleared did she crawl out and close the gate before waddling home, her whole life ahead of her. Now most of it was behind, although what had filled the years, she couldn’t quite tell.
She rubbed the rusted wire fence between thumb and forefinger, as she used to for comfort, although now it was to confirm it had been real. And there on the ground was her old friend—the crack in the concrete.
Sometimes she’d stare at it for hours, wondering if they’d notice if she slipped down and disappeared forever. But the bell had always sounded before she could.
Now, however, the bell did not ring. And maybe it was her mind playing tricks, but as she pondered why she had returned after all these years, she felt herself drawn into the crack in the concrete…


…where all that existed was darkness. Darkness and the whistle of a familiar tune—a tune unheard and indeed un-whistled for many a year. Soon it was accompanied by the sound of webbed feet pat-patting on the playground. And the darkness receded and out popped the figure of little Martha Gander.
Dressed in white blouse, navy-blue necktie and skirt, black pumps and her favourite pink hair-bobble, she skipped across the playground. Martha smiled fondly. Had she really been so full of life?
And she remembered why. For this was the eighty-fourth sunrise of the year of Quackety-Seven: the day when all the younger ducklings came of age and were allowed to join the school choir. Now Martha wasn’t the smartest in her class, or the sportiest, but she didn’t care, for she loved nothing more than to sing. This was her day to shine!
She received more than one telling off for fidgeting in class, but finally the bell had rung and she bolted for Miss Fowl’s classroom. The room was full, with many older girls present, but Martha didn’t care. She pushed to the front.
Miss Fowl beheld an air of elegance Martha could only dream of. She wished to be as perfect and beautiful as she was.
‘Hello Miss!’ said Martha, keen to be seen. ‘Umm. Hello Miss! I’m Martha, I’m so happy to join your choir!’
But Miss Fowl snubbed her, instead thrusting a song sheet into her hands.
‘Now girls, I’m going to ask you all to sing. I shall walk down the line, and if I touch your head, you are to stop immediately. You will of course remain here—we need your pretty little faces for our performances—but you shall mouth the words only, as singing, my dear duckling, is not for you.’
Martha thought this uncommon and unfair, but the music began and the ducklings sang, and she joined in whether she had wanted to or not.
Even above the music, Miss Fowl’s stilettos cracked the floor as she loomed closer, until she stopped before little Martha Gander, stooping inches from her face.
Curiously, Miss Fowl was not as faultless as she had appeared. Behind the wall of make-up, her feathers were crusted together, teeth stained yellow and her breath stank of rotten maggots.
Martha sung her heart out, her love of singing tainted by a bellyful of fear. But it was no use. Miss Fowl snorted dismissively, standing to full height before raising her wing for all to see.
‘Please Miss. Not me. Please! I love singi…’
Miss Fowl’s feathers sent a lightning bolt of shame through little Martha Gander. All the girls’ quacked in amusement, but their faces were painted clear—relief it was not them. Well, nearly all, for Della McFee and Edith Bullrush were also muted that day. And they bore the same cold, humiliated look Martha felt inside.
From that day on, the three silent ducklings were made to attend every practice and performance, where they wore the same outfits as the other girls and beamed false happiness at the eager faces in the crowds, even their parents.
And the bullying. Oh, the bullying.


Presently, the school bell rang out, and Martha Gander was brought back from the crack in the concrete. When it stopped, her legs were trembling.
It was time to go in.
She stopped at the double doors. Even now they loomed over her. A banner with the words, ‘Reunion of the Class of Quackety-nine,’ hung over the doorframe. Muffled chatter and music drifted from inside, and through the window, coloured lights flashed off and on. She concocted a hundred different arguments for leaving, but before she knew it her hand was turning the olde-worlde handle.
Before the doors closed, she looked back at the hole in the fence, at the eyes of little Martha Gander. I’m sorry my dear, for not believing in you.
The last person Martha was expecting to see was the first person to greet her; someone who was supposed to be dead! She recoiled as that conceited smile glared at her from the stage, but then realised, thank goodness, it was just a painting.
It was adorned with a floral wreath, and the words, ‘In Memory of our Fabulous Teacher.’
Martha cursed herself for being so dumb. Of course this wasn’t the real her. But the artist had captured that cruel stare with frightful precision.
Fortunately, no one had noticed Martha’s embarrassing arrival, and for a precious moment, she was invisible. She could turn back now. No one would ever know. But she hesitated, just for a second, and it was too late.
‘Is that Martha Gander?’
Surrounded by ducks, Martha could not see who spoke, but she knew in the pit of her stomach who it was: Miss Fowl’s favourite.
‘My, my; it is you!’
The crowd parted and the timelessly elegant figure of Tawny Lilypond floated toward her. Martha braced herself for impact as that hug descended on her with all the pretentious love one duck could impart upon another. And it was just like it used to be, making you feel like her pet or dollie. Then, with the gentle abruptness of a door slam to the face, Tawny pushed Martha back a step or three and looked her up and down.
‘Why, you haven’t changed a bit! And what a pretty dress—only you could suit a dress like that.’
Tawny had a magical way of making you feel inadequate when paying a compliment. And now she kindly adjusted Martha’s dress for her, a bit here, a bit there, and even brushed some dust off her shoulder, before quacking approvingly.
‘Oh, this is so exciting, the gang back together again. It’s gonna be just like old times!’
That was what Martha was dreading, but she mustered a nod and hid her quivering lip behind a smile.
‘It sure is a shame about poor ol’ Miss Fowl ain’t it? They say she fell a hundred feet when that eagle done dropped her. Poor gal, not a bone in her body hadn’t broke when they found her. What was left o’ her, that is.’
Martha feigned sorrow, but inside felt not a scrap of concern. In fact, she commended the eagle for spitting the old hag out!
‘Now,’ continued Tawny, ‘you must tell me all about yourself. I bet you’re a high-flying career gal ain’tcha? No? Well, you were always the homely type. A great big quacking family you done got yourself didn’t ya?’
Tawny’s smile faded from expectant to perplexed to unimpressed as Martha, as always, failed to meet her standards.
‘Well, we’ve all done fantabulously. Me and the gals, that is. Climbed ourselves right on up that career ladder and done snatched ourselves a wealthy drake or two while we were at it! Me, I own a nesting estate agents, just opened my tenth branch, up on Old Mallard’s Lake. And Wanda McFlap runs the feather-salon, down in Appleyard Brook. And Daisy Doe? Well, she’s Daisy Dee now—got herself hooked up with that old charmer Donnie…’
Martha watched Tawny’s beak open and shut like a dustbin lid on a windy day. Apparently she had not lost her talent for droning. And she flapped her arms around to the sound of her own voice until she almost fell over!
Martha smiled and nodded as she retreated to the cosy place in her head, which she hadn’t visited since last she was here. But it was so easy to find again.
Eventually, she was brought back to the room by another of Tawny’s invasive hugs, this time accompanied by a kiss on the cheek. Had she really forgotten how much she’d hurt Martha?
‘It has been just wonderful seein’ ya, but I’ve just seen Heather Rushweed and I must say hello. Why don’t you catch up with the gals, I’m sure you’ve got loads to talk about. But a word of caution; I’d stay away from those two in the corner. Still not very talkative, I’ll say. Love ya darlin!’
And that was that.
The room was abuzz with conversation. It was amazing how cramped it felt, when it could have easily hidden thirty ducklings back then. But Martha was grateful, for she could disappear in the crowd, until she arrived where she belonged—the dark corner where Della McFee and Edith Bullrush huddled in silence.
To each, Martha gave a hug and they hugged back. And they smiled at each other like they used to; in a way which broke her heart. No words were needed, but it was a comfort to have them there.
Martha sipped her glass of snail juice, trying to figure out who was who. For some, the years had not been so kind, but it was clear all had been achievers in some shape or form. And as they laughed and danced and shared stories of success, she wondered what it would have been like, to be them.
Just then, the music cut out and Tawny Lilypond strutted onto the stage, microphone in hand.
‘Howdy folks! How lovely y’all could make it here today, to our very special reunion. It sure has been priceless catching up with everyone, I’m delighted to see you having such a good time. Now I’m sure you’ll join me in raising a toast to our absent friend. To Miss Fowl!’
The sound of approved quacking filled the room, although three ducks kept their beaks shut.
‘And to honour her in style,’ continued Tawny. ‘How’s about we all have a good old sing-song?’
The ducks roared in excitement, but Martha’s stomach wrenched in a knot. She considered making for the exit, but was grabbed by an over-enthusiastic, over-drunk pair of wings and pulled into the crowd.
Tawny thumped the piano keys, the voices rose in unison, and the room began to spin as if on a carousel. Just then, a flicker caught Martha’s eye. The painting. Miss Fowl had moved. She had definitely moved. And she was grinning at Martha.
Martha’s knees wobbled, her head felt fuzzy. She nearly fell but the girls crammed tighter, forcing her upright. Their voices tangled around each other, rising and falling like waves in a storm. Every plink-plonk pounded against her skull.
The room span faster. Streams of lights merged into one another and everything became smudged. All except for Miss Fowl, whose evil stare fixed upon Martha Gander.
Impossibly, her wingtips flicked free of the painting. Martha almost dismissed it as a party decoration, but then her dead teacher gripped the edge of the canvas and pulled herself onto the stage.
Dread flooded Martha’s stomach. This couldn’t be. Why had nobody else noticed? Why weren’t they doing anything? But the girls carried on, oblivious.
Maybe it was the drink. Yes, too much snail juice. But when she saw the horror painted on Della and Edith’s faces, she knew.
The singing was loudest now. The girls lost in chant. And there stood Miss Fowl, real as life.
True to character, she performed a pirouette, finishing with a bow. And as she stood to full height, she lifted her wing and flicked three feathers into the air. Carried on a current of song, they floated until they hung above the heads of Martha Gander, Della McFee and Edith Bullrush.
Martha’s throat coiled. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be! But she could do nothing to stop the dead teacher, whose eyes blazed with darkness, from lowering her wing.
And the feathers spiralled downwards.
With gritted teeth, Martha felt the song stir inside. You can do it, girl! The words streamed up her throat and tingled the tip of her tongue. This was it. This was why she had come. Martha Gander was going to prove them wrong. She was going to be somebody!
But it was too late.
Before she uttered her first chord, the cold, lifeless feather landed upon her head. Instantly her mind went numb, the sound sucked from her breath. She tried to force out the words—I must, I must!—but Miss Fowl’s feather pressed upon her until she could resist no more. Her legs snapped and her body fell.
The pain was terrible. She drove it away with the desire to sing just one note, but the feather drained her voice until she couldn’t even think the words. Odd shapes resembling letters floated through her mind but they drifted away, until nothing remained.


Thirty ducks attended the Reunion of the Class of Quackety-Nine, but only twenty-seven walked away—twenty-seven shell-shocked ladies, and as well they should have been, for nothing so awful had ever befallen their sugar-coated lives.
Martha Gander, Della McFee and Edith Bullrush had collapsed simultaneously upon the carpet. Someone had even said their legs had shattered under their own weight! And their feathers had fallen off, dissolving into nothingness, until only three beaks remained, opening and closing upon silent hinges.
Somebody had said something about calling the police, or hospital maybe? But then that would have meant admitting it had really happened, wouldn’t it? And nobody wanted that. Not after all this time.
So no phone call was ever made.
Tawny had been the one to get the dustpan and brush out, afterwards suggesting the party had probably come to an end. The ladies had all agreed, and went to collect their coats. By the time they had reached the front gates, they had forgotten any of it had ever happened.
Yes, all in all, it had been a wonderful reunion.

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