Kevin was the office dogsbody, the ‘gofer.’ It was ‘gofer this Kevin and gofer that. Photocopy this for me, take that lot down to the printers. Where’s that bloody Kevin put my copy this time and this tea’s bloody cold, warm it up, moron. And, ‘Kevin, where’s that little creep got to now, just when I need him.’
Oh, Kevin had heard all the insults the English language could muster. And some more, beside.
Kevin only got the job because of some idiot policy handed down from Group. ‘Group says we have to get ourselves a trainee, put something back into society, that sort of thing. Never said we had to get ourselves an imbecile, just sent him down one day and that was it.’ That was the Editor speaking, the Big Boss. No. 1 cheese on a small provincial weekly. Big fish in a tiny pond and full of ire and jealousy because he knew it. In his heart, that is. ‘Bully, bully, bully, that’s my motto. Can’t go wrong that way. Terrify the little buggers.’ He’d start talking like that on a Friday evening, when he’d taken on three or four pints, secure in the knowledge that the local rag was in the shops and all the had to face next Monday was the libel lawyers. If at all. Some of his reporters claimed the Editor could empty a bar in five minutes, flat, once he started on that line.
But Kevin really did want to be a journalist. More than anything else, he wanted to see his name in print. He wanted to write his own copy, chase up his own stories, fill in the background, do the research, expose the cheats and conmen, stand up for the little man.
Kevin had ambitions. Not that he let on.
Once on the bus back in the evening, different driver, none of the ‘misery line’ stuff, from this one, he’d wonder if he’d chosen the right calling. Perhaps, he’d be better off doing local radio or the ‘tele.’
‘Watchdog,’ Kevin liked ‘Watchdog,’ thought the world of Nicky Campbell. ‘Now there’s a programme I could do blindfold. ‘Easie, peasie. No problemo.’ He woke up from his daydream, when the driver pulled into the depot and shouted ‘Oy! You! I said ‘all change,’ didn’t I? Now oppit. Pronto!’ and looked quite kindly at him as he huddled off into the rain. Six stops back and no raincoat. Where the landlady yapped at him for not taking his shoes off before slopping across her newly cleaned floor.
One day, in high summer, with three reporters off to the Costa Something with the kids and another one ringing in with a blatant porkie about a headache, the Editor, needing a couple more stories to fill the paper, found he had no-one left. Till he remembered Kevin.
‘Oh! My God,’ he moaned loudly, ‘it’s come to this, it really has, I’m going to have to send the boy, Kevin, out to cover the story. Or do it myself. No! No! That’ll never do. I have to be here in the office in case something really big breaks. Osama bin Laden found hiding in seaside boarding house, etcetera, etcetera.’ Actually, he was a lousy reporter and kidded himself that none of his staff knew it. They did.
The Editor sent for Kevin, who shuffled into the office, staring at the carpet. ‘Yes, Chief,’ said Kevin, braced for an early morning rocket.
‘Kevin,’ said the Editor, wheedling a bit and trying to sound kindly and coaxing, ‘you’re always asking to be sent out on a job. He paused for effect. ‘Well, here’s your chance, you’re going to be a real reporter, to get your teeth into a proper story. You’re going to do a little bit of investigating for me. I’ve got something for you, just up your street, in fact.
‘Ho, Hum,’ the Editor muttered under his breath. Lying through his teeth came easily to the man, he’d done it all his life.
Kevin did vaguely remember a bruising encounter with the Editor, some months ago when he had had the temerity to ask to be sent out on a job and brought down on his head a torrent on invective, the core of which seemed to have something about having got himself a Mickey Mouse degree, a third in Media Studies, to be precise, and no experience of the real world, whatever that was. He hadn’t tried again.
The Editor tuned down to half confidential by lowering his voice and came over all avuncular. ‘Kevin,’ he said, ‘old chap, now you are going to pay me a lot of attention, you are going to listen to me very carefully, indeed.’ ‘He’s slipping over the edge into being patronising, the old bastard,’ thought Kevin,’ and kept his mouth shut. Kevin put on his listening carefully face. The Editor went on, ‘there’s a church in one of the villages near here, where they say they’ve seen a ghost. Not that I believe a word of it, of course. No such thing as ghosts, if you ask me.’ Kevin wouldn’t have.
‘What I want you to do is go out there, in the bus, of course, suss the thing out, talk to some locals, bring me back facts, names, lots of names, Kevin and get them right, for heaven sake, get the names right, nothing worse than a torrent of abuse for spelling the Squire’s name wrong, bring me all the gubbins and then I’ll turn the whole thing into something printable. O.K, Kevin? Kevin was hovering. ‘The name of the village, oh yes, I nearly forgot,’ They call it Little Snufflebury. Or something like that. Now piss off, Kevin and don’t take too long, there’s piles of cuttings to sort when you get back.’
Kevin buggered off, like he was told and caught the bus to Little Snuffleton, its real name and settled back into his day dream about Nicky Campbell refusing point blank to go on with the show till the BBC had signed Kevin up.
Little Snuffleton was only half an hour’s bus ride away but might as well have been buried and forgotten all about somewhere back in the eighteenth century. Or even earlier. Round a tiny church with a short, stubby tower, leaning ever so slightly, as it had done for hundreds of years, was a cluster of cosy little thatched cottages, with smoke from a couple of wood fires curling up into the late summer air. The main street and a couple of side streets twisted and turned, all higgledy, piggledy. A huge and ancient barn dominated one end of the village as it had done since all the produce from all the neighbouring fields used to be stored there.
Kevin sniffed the air and found all sorts of smells. Wood fires and cider apples and the crisp dampness of last night’s rain lying in puddles and ruts, where the tractors had left their wheel marks. There was mud on the winding streets too.
Beyond a small paddock and on a slight hill stood the remains of an old Norman Castle and beside that stood a far more recent addition, a fine looking Tudor mansion, with a vast conservatory tacked onto the back. On the front drive stood a couple of expensive looking 4 x 4s and a brand new Jaguar. The owner, he assumed it was him, was loading what looked like fishing rods into one of the 4 x 4s. A classy looking Springer Spaniel gazed excitedly out of the rear window. Kevin decided not to ask the man about ghosts. New money seldom believes in anything, except the latest news about the FTSE.
Kevin headed towards the church. Even if there was nobody around and the place did feel decidedly quiet, there would almost certainly be a notice board with the name of the vicar. So that was one name for the book and he certainly couldn’t get that one wrong.
As he threaded his way among the old gravestones, Kevin listened to the silence and found it full of themes and patterns. A distant tractor, some hens, a boastful cock crowing and a cow yelling pitifully for its lost calf. Sheep bleating. A lorry backed up, beeping a reversing warning. A child called out and an adult scolded.
The village felt warm, it felt cosy, Kevin felt he would like to live here, in this rural idyll, with the wood smoke and the tractors and the pace, all slowed down.
He found a path through the graveyard and felt more at ease than when he was stepping among the graves. His father had spooked him once about walking over graves. ‘Got to be careful, some of them might still have air in their lungs and you standing on them could push all that lot out and then you’d hear them go ‘Whooooooo, like that, Whooooooo.’ And then you’d have to take to your heels before they got you in their clutches.’ His father died soon after and that was about all Kevin remembered about his dad.
Kevin was getting a bit peckish, a pie and pint would go down nicely and the landlord, like all landlords, would be good for a quote or two. Then a couple more locals would be happy to have their names in the local rag and the job would be done. He’d ring the vicar from the office, she lived a couple of parishes away and only came here once a month for Communion. That’s what the notice said.
Kevin was heading out through the Lych gate and off to the pub when it happened.
So he never did get to ask the landlord of the King’s Arms at Little Snuffleton about the ghost someone may or may not have seen in the village church. He missed out on that bit because, without any warning at all, Kevin suddenly stepped into a totally different world.
One moment, Kevin was walking through a village graveyard with a pint of real ale and a nice steak and kidney pie at the very front of his mind and a tiny part of a split second later, he was somewhere else, somewhere very, very different. Kevin was on a completely different planet.
Kevin was sitting, somewhat precariously, on a steep, rock-strewn hillside, looking dangerously down a sheet of almost sheer scree, into the bright orange waters of what he assumed was some sort of lake. Except it was spectacularly the wrong colour. Water isn’t orange. Or shouldn’t be.
There was a lot wrong with everything, in fact, or different, but, for the moment, Kevin’s only real concern was not to slide down into the lake, or crash down those rocks, which studded the slope below him. He needn’t have worried but he wasn’t to know that. Yet.
Kevin tried to take stock. Perhaps he was dead. Maybe, as he was going though the graveyard he was suddenly and unexpectedly struck from behind by some sort of missile and, after a short spell lying in the local hospital in a coma, he had passed away or over or through or whatever old people and chaps, who had accidents do, and now he was here. Somehow, he’d been expecting the afterlife to be a somewhat crowded affair, given the number of people who had died before him. He certainly hadn’t expected all this emptiness.
The hills around ranged off into the far distance, miles upon miles upon miles of barrenness, folded hill after folded hill after folded hill till his eyes watered just from looking at them. And they looked odd too, in a way he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Anyway he needed his fingers for holding onto the rocks. They were dug in so hard they hurt, now he thought about it.
He went back to looking at the hills and mountains around him. And they were worrying him too. They didn’t look right. Then he spotted it. A sort of movement. Something was moving out there. Something that shouldn’t move. One of the mountains was playing grandmother’s footsteps with him. Kevin shut his eyes and then opened them again. And there it was again. That mountain was stalking him, creeping up on him. He could have sworn that mountain was definitely nearer than when he first saw it.
A sudden nearby movement caught his eye. A boulder suddenly shot out of the orange water far down below him and with terrifying speed and a fair degree of malice was bouncing and bounding up the hill towards him. Other, smaller ones were doing the same. He was watching an upside down landslide. And it was aiming straight at him. At Kevin’s head. Only just in time, Kevin flattened himself against the mountainside.
There followed a cascade of lesser ones, like the big one. Then they all settled themselves on the scree slope far above him. And it was all done completely noiselessly. Nearly killed him, too.
A voice startled poor old Kevin out of his shock, a voice, which seemed to come from right inside his ear, his left ear. The voice said something like ‘You’re a funny looking little fellow, can’t say we’ve seen one quite like you before,’ and then, before he had even had time to spin round and see where the voice was coming from, Kevin felt his hair being ruffled. Like his dad used to do to him when he had done something well or pleased his father. It was a sort of kindly ruffle, a gentle, teasing ruffle, like a grown up man might bestow on a little boy.
Kevin was going to do something or say something when he suddenly felt utterly overwhelmed by a power far beyond anything he could possibly find words for and in that moment he suddenly understood that the mountain he had been watching was now actually right beside his right shoulder and, ever so gently, was reaching down towards him with a huge towering cliff and ruffling his hair with it. Or with the very top most tip of it.
‘Sorry about that,’ said the mountain, in the most kindly voice imaginable, ‘he does get quite spiteful sometimes, can’t abide surprises, that’s what it is.’ The mountain was somehow nodding his topmost cliff down towards the orange lake. ‘And you appearing all of a sudden right above him, gave him a bit of a shock. Threw a boulder at you, did he? Still, no harm done.’ Kevin wanted to argue, stand his ground, so he said, without thinking too much about the ridiculous side of talking to a mountain top, ‘Bloody nearly killed me, he did, and the only reason no harm was done was because I flattened myself into your hillside. Too right I did.’ He added more to himself than to the hill. In the short silence that followed, Kevin felt his hair being ruffled again.
‘Don’t do that. Leave me alone.’ Kevin snapped and felt immediately the ridiculousness of the conversation.
‘Please yourself, then,’ said the mountain, rather archly and a sort of silence settled onto the situation. Kevin looked away and by the time he had turned back, his mountain friend, or at least he had tried to be friendly, was far away in the distance and moving into the furthermost range of mountains. How Kevin knew which mountain was which was another puzzle. But before he had time to work that one out, something else caught his eye. A pile of rubbish, some old Coke cans, a couple of cardboard boxes, a burger pack, about fifty yards away.
‘That’s odd,’ said Kevin, aloud but to himself, because there wasn’t anyone else to talk to.
‘Who’re you calling odd, old chap?’ came a distinct voice, right in his ear, ‘not me, I do hope.’ Nor me, neither,’ came a different, slightly squeaky one. Kevin, who knew a thing or two about grammar, ignored the double negative and said, not knowing quite whom he was addressing, ‘Sorry, Sir.’ A schoolmaster had recommended the occasional ‘Sir,’ in times of stress or danger, ‘didn’t mean to upset you, Sir, actually I was just talking about that pile of old rubbish over there, not you at all, Sir. Thing is, Sir, some of it looks….,’ he would have gone about the labels on the boxes, Ikea, Peter Jones , Murphy Richards, and so on, if the voice hadn’t broken in across him and whispered, menacingly, ‘I think you had better be very careful what you say about old rubbish, young man. Very, very careful. Indeed.’
‘Now you, Come here. At once. I’m talking to you, Kevin. And I’m serious. And if you know what’s good for you and you don’t want to fall into the lake and get the old fellow really angry, you’d better come over here. On your hands and knees.’
Kevin decided getting anywhere, except where he was, could be a good idea and set off, in the general direction of the pile of rubbish. Mainly, though, on the grounds that it was on a much flatter piece of ground than where he was now perched.
On his hands and knees. Like the voice said.
And that was when Kevin noticed the wind. And the voices.
That wind. There was something decidedly peculiar going on with the wind. Kevin, back at home, always knew about winds. Cold from the North and the East, rain from the South West, warm from the South. But this one was coming from all ways at once, swirling and whirling, spiralling, twisting and turning, blowing hot, blowing cold, tearing at the rocks, scrabbling and grabbing. Tugging and pulling. At Kevin’s sleeves, at his shirt, at his trousers.
Kevin had to hold on tightly to the rocks or he would have become airborne and flown away or been, heaven forbid, tossed into the greedy waters of the orange lake.
It was a vicious tearing wind, full of anger and revenge taking. This certainly was not a nice wind, a beneficent wind, like Kevin was used to. As he inched his way along the scree towards the rubbish; that was where the voice seemed to have come from, Kevin started to hear other voices. Odd snatches of conversation from far away. His father saying ‘Whoooo’ at him, the Editor, slightly drunk and slurring his words.’ The bus driver with his stale old jape about the Kevin’s accent, the landlady moaning incomprehensively about her floor and the Vicar, saying, ‘Hello? Hello? Who’s there? Are you a Junk call?’ And putting the phone down. All these voices and lots more beside, from Kevin’s past.
And future. Though Kevin wouldn’t have recognised them.
And snatches of music too. Some of Kevin’s favourites, a Bach fugue, a tricky passage from something by Borodin. A theme by Tallis. All jumbled up, like Classic FM gone completely mad.
The wind suddenly caught one of the cardboard boxes. And tearing it from its secure anchor on the rock surface, carried it high up into the air, till it was no more than a speck in the far distant sky. The other cardboard boxes, Kevin noticed, clung ever more tightly to their precarious perch. They certainly didn’t want that sort of thing to happen to them.
The box was taken so far into the sky it almost disappeared. Kevin watched it till it was no more than a disappearing dot.
After a while, the box was getting bigger again. And bigger. It was coming back to where it started from. With a sort of ‘Whoosh,’ like a vulture landing on a dead cow, the cardboard box, the air-born one, settled back with a contented sigh.
‘Phew,’ said the box, ‘that was fun. Enjoyed that. A lot. Thanks, mate,’ speaking to the wind, who replied, ‘Don’t mention it, old fellow, any time.’ And was gone, ‘like the wind,’ as Kevin later recounted.
Kevin got to where the pile of rubbish lay. He recognised a lot of what lay there. The sort of stuff you can see, any day of the week lying in the gutters outside any junk food shop up and down the high streets of any seaside town, the length and breadth of little old U of K.
‘You spoke,’ Kevin said to the cardboard box, the erstwhile air-born one, accusingly. ‘I heard you. Quite distinctly, I heard you. Yes, I did. It was you, I know it.’
‘So?’ Came the answer. ‘So? So? So? So what, if I spoke? All of us speak. We’re cardboard boxes, for heaven’s sake, what else are we supposed to do? That’s what we do. We speak.’
‘Oh, my God,’ said Kevin, who was beginning to be seriously thrown by all this. He put his hand to his head and would have started to weep, if one of the little boxes hadn’t suddenly piped up.
‘I think he’s rather sweet, actually. Let’s make him our new friend. We need a new friend, we haven’t had a new one for ages and ages. I know. Let’s have a mud pie party with our new friend. Oh do let’s, do let’s, do let’s, come on, let’s have a mud pie party with our new friend, please, please, please,’ and would have gone in that vein, it being a rich one, for ages and ages if one of the bigger boxes hadn’t shut him up by closing his lid and sitting on him.
Kevin said, all innocently, ‘What’s a Mud Pie Party?
And started a small riot. ‘A Mud Pie Party? You don’t know what a Mud Pie Party is? You serious? And, no sooner had the big box, the one who had flown up into the sky, asked the question, than boxes of all sizes and descriptions and shapes and makes had started to appear, as if by magic from all corners and from every nook and crevice on the whole of the mountain range. And far beyond. There were hundreds and hundreds of them and all of them, in a sort of discordant unison, like a strike meeting back on Kevin’s Earth were chanting, ‘Mud Pie Party, Mud Pie Party, we want a Mud Pie Party. Give us a Mud Pie Party before we all go mushy, Let’s show him a Mud Pie Party, let’s show out new friend how to have a Mud Pie Party. Mud Pie, Mud Pie, Mud Pie.’
The biggest box, the senior one, it seemed, sighed deeply, from right inside his emptiness, looked at Kevin, or at least, seemed slightly to turn towards him, so Kevin felt himself drawn willy-nilly into the conspiracy and said, ‘Oh alright, then,’ like an adult giving in to spoiled children, ‘why not, why not? After all, it isn’t everyday we see one of these. He inclined, or sort of bent in the middle, towards Kevin and all the other boxes let out a sort of ‘aaaaah’ noise.
It was amazing how quickly Kevin took for granted that on this planet, empty cardboard boxes did all the talking. In a very short time, Kevin lost all the curiosity and amazement that would have been his normal response and accepted that here, the boxes took the lead. Anyway, this box seemed to have a bundle of charisma and personal authority. If everyone else did what he said, why shouldn’t Kevin? Why not indeed?
‘O.K.’ said the big box, ‘you guys, give us a mo to get sorted and we’ll have a party.’
We need mud. And some more mud. And lots of mud and loads and loads and loads of the stuff. And, because we’re going to have one hell of a great big party we’ll probably need lots more. Mud, that is. Now, off you go you guys and bring me mud. Go on, scram, now scram.’
And off they all went, scattering in all directions, like children overdosing on Es and Kevin could swear he heard at least one chorus of ‘Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud, there’s nothing quite like it for cooling the ….’ But he may have simply have been hearing something on the tricky wind.
The big box and Kevin were left alone on the mountainside. The wind died down. Night started to close in and with it came a kindly sort of warmth, a cuddliness, an intimacy which Kevin, being new to this sort of thing, mistook completely by reaching out his hand and pulling the box towards him and kind of putting his arm around it. Or trying to.
‘Do you bloody mind?’ said the box, inching away and Kevin could swear he felt a little, gentle tap on his hand. Kevin was always getting this, the brush off, from girls, so he put his hand back in his lap and backed off. Why had he taken it the box was a girl, moments earlier he had thought of it as a boy?
‘I don’t even know who you are,’ said Kevin, to fill an awkward silence and wondered how you shake hands with a cardboard box. The cardboard box seemed ever so eager to introduce it, him, herself and immediately stood up, bowed low and nearly fell over, righted itself, put on a rather pompous voice and solemnly intoned, ‘Absolutely delighted to make your acquaintance, Old Chap, allow me to introduce myself, the name’s Dell, IPod Dell and, in case you hadn’t already gathered, I’m the Clan Chief in this part of the mountains and we,’ here he paused for maximum effect, ‘are the Ever-So-Sweetlies,’ and sat down, utterly exhausted by all the effort he had put into his announcement.
Kevin, thinking it right to respond in similar vein, put on his posh accent, the one that annoyed the bus conductor so much and said, ‘Kevin, I’m Kevin.’
There was a long silence.
‘Is that it? Said the cardboard box. ‘I had been expecting rather a lot more. Anyway, your name isn’t Kevin. Not to us it isn’t, to us you’re Adrian.’
‘Adrian? Why Adrian. I’ve always been called Kevin. Anyway, I like being called Kevin.’
‘Simply, because I don’t, at this moment choose to muddy the mud,’ replied the box, ‘you are called Adrian, because you look like an Adrian. You have these ridiculous dangly things hanging down all over you, you come from somewhere else and you don’t look anything like any of us. Therefore you must be an Adrian.’ And that was the very first time in his whole life that Kevin had felt embarrassed about having arms and legs and hands and feet. He tried to tuck them away.
Adrian, or Kevin and the cardboard box fell silent again. Kevin resisted the temptation to feel all cuddly and the two of them, the alien and the cardboard box stared out into the gathering night.
The Earth rose from across the valley. And rose and rose and rose till the whole of it was filling more than half of the sky. Kevin knew it was Earth because there was Africa dipping down on the far right and South and North America coming up on the horizon. As Earth moved across the sky, the vast expanse of the Pacific left the surface looking empty. Australia and Japan loomed as the lights of San Francisco twinkled on.
Kevin felt homesick and wondered if he would ever get back. Another voice inside him was asking if he really wanted to. After all, if he did get back, everything would be the same. Nothing would have changed. And he, Kevin, wouldn’t find a single soul who would believe even a tiny word of his story. They’d lock him up more like.
‘Hope I didn’t upset you, didn’t really mean to. Actually, you’re a bit of a Muppet, Adrian. Hope you don’t mind me calling you that.’ And Kevin, who was sensitive to that sort of thing, realised the box, the biggest box on the block, you might say, had inched just a little closer to him. Was touching him, in fact. He could feel the warmth, could Kevin and blushed to the roots of his hair. ‘You’re blushing, Adrian,’ said the box and Kevin then realised that by the light of the Earth, he was far more visible than he would have been back home, where the moon gave only a paltry light by comparison.
Kevin was tongue-tied, couldn’t manage a single word, no-one in the whole of his life had ever spoken to Kevin like that before and in that moment, Kevin realised he had fallen in love. With an empty cardboard box of an uncertain sex. But, what a cardboard box. This was a champion, a king, or was it a queen, among boxes, a totally superior one, which had only just a few weeks earlier, contained a complete, state of the art I Pod, with all the bits and accessories. This was top of the range stuff and no argument about that. No wonder this was the boss of bosses. Kevin felt very proud.
‘Bit of a Muppet.’ The words rolled round Kevin’s head. No-one had ever called him that, before. Kevin’s cup was, indeed, overflowing. He didn’t even mind if the box was a he or a she. The whole issue seemed remarkably irrelevant. Kevin was in love. He or she or it or what the hell. This was Love and Kevin knew it. To the bottom of his soul.
The box leant her, or was it his, top flap on Kevin’s shoulder.
Just as Kevin was beginning to tremble with excitement and mystery and a sort of curious feeling of seeming to drown in a whirlpool, the moment was shattered, broken in bits and in its place came the sort of mayhem Kevin usually experienced at football matches when the home crowd thought the referee was being paid by the visitors.
You see, all the other boxes had come back all together, all at once, with their mud.
Later, when Kevin thought about that moment, he did ever so slightly wonder if they hadn’t all been spying on the pair of them and had prearranged their sudden and disruptive appearance to cause the maximum embarrassment.
Together the cardboard boxes had brought enough mud to fill a swimming pool.
The box, the big box moved swiftly away from Kevin’s side and Kevin thought he heard a sort of muffled sigh. But, again, it could have been that wind.
You could have started your own private mud slide with all the mud those ingenious and nimble little boxes had, like swallows and house-martins, gathered up and brought along to this Earth bright spot to have their party with. In a great tumble of cardboard flaps and folds and clever shapes, each box in turn lined up and then, most orderly and under control, disgorged its small or larger offering at the feet of Kevin and the other box whose name Kevin never did catch. If it ever indeed had a name, apart from the brand name on its side, which didn’t always seem to match.
Boxes arrived from all directions and every single one of them was carrying somehow or maybe simply contained as much mud as Kevin, in all his life had never seen before. Some of the littler boxes were bringing so much mud they couldn’t even see which way they were going and kept bumping into each other. Then they would suddenly sit down with great shrieks and giggles and peer around their sides and then realise who they had bumped into and collapse into more and more giggles like school-children at a sex lesson.
And the bigger boxes, the big and important ones from strange and imposing places like Ikea and Peter Jones were having fun, too. Even in spite of being so important and having cost so much money. They were crashing into each other or trying to outdo each other in the sheer size and scale and gooeyeness of the mud they had brought to the party.
The mud pie party started and what a party that was. Kevin knew he hadn’t really lived till that party got under way. Little boxes and big boxes shoved and jostled and poured mud over each other. They trickled it though, well I don’t know what they trickled it through, but does it really matter? They trickled and squeezed and poured mud over each other and got mud in their eyes and their mouths or, if they didn’t have mouths’ they should have, they threw mud at each other and shrieked with manic joyful laughter as great dollops landed with great splats on each others’ tops and sides, till you couldn’t see which box was which and who was winning of losing or even disappearing under a huge slurp of wet gooey stuff.
They even lapped it up and slurped it down, or it went somewhere anyway and they feasted on the mud like children back home feast on ice-cream.
‘Would you like some mud?’ guffawed a smart little shoe-box as he or she slopped a dollop all over Kevin’s head and then sat down because it couldn’t stand up with the laughing any longer.
Once or twice, Kevin, or Adrian as the hosts at this unexpected party insisted on calling him, thought he detected a familiar shape under its coating of mud, a giggly presence pouring mud into his ear or rubbing mud into his eyes or trying to push a great wedge of the stuff up his nostrils. And the odd thing was that he didn’t mind one tiny little bit. Except he couldn’t see who had done it, who had performed such an intimate little gesture, till he had rubbed the mud out of his eyes and by then it was too late.
The party went on and oh, what a wild and joyous time was had and everyone was so happy they quite forgot the time and their manners and who they were or how important or not but all and sundry tumbled and slipped and slid and laughed and giggled and threw more and more mud.
And then the mud started to dry out and the moon went in and there was no more mud left.
Suddenly the party was over and a great collective shiver, a sort of massed terror trembled and rippled through the boxes. ‘Oh, my God,’ whispered a voice almost in Adrian’s ear, a well known voice distorted and urgent, ‘now we really have done it, we’re far too late, or we will be. Quick, Kevin, we’ve got to get into the cave or the Oh Me Gollies will have their wicked way with us. Quickly, quickly, let’s go, let’s go, now, over here,’ and Kevin found himself being rushed and pushed and bundled into the mouth of a cave. And then, almost in less time than he had to take it all in, the boxes started vanishing.
Into each other.
All of a sudden, there were fewer of them. And fewer and fewer. The boxes were lining up in a perfectly straight line, sorted exactly by size and shape. And jumping into each other. Packing themselves away. One inside another, inside another, inside another. Smallest first, then bigger and bigger and bigger. And, as they jumped inside the next biggest one, so their numbers diminished and dwindled till there were just a few big boxes left.
And then, with just a couple left, I Pod, Kevin’s friend, rushed over to him and whispered urgently, ‘Adrian, dear Adrian, you’re going to have to do me the most enormous favour. Please, please, dear Adrian, dear, dear Adrian.’ And, of course, under that sort of pressure, Adrian was more or less a complete push over, as all men are. ‘ Whatever,’ gulped Kevin, ‘anything, I’m all yours, tell me what,’ and I Pod, pleadingly, said. ‘ Adrian, you’re on duty tonight. Sorry not to have mentioned it, sort of got carried away. Oh, you really are a proper darling, dear Adrian, thank you, thank you, thank you.’
And, before he really had time to work this all out, the biggest box on the block had sort of folded poor Kevin inside something or other, which felt very nice indeed and, at the same time, the next biggest box, muttering something along the lines of ‘come on you two, no time for all that malarkey. Hurry, will you, had leapt into that one’s wide open spaces and now there was just the two of them left, Kevin/Adrian and Big Box.
‘But, what am I supposed to do?’ wailed Kevin, who was getting, by now, more than a little panicky. ‘Just guard us all from the Oh My Gollies. Back there, back at the back of the cave.’
‘But who are the Oh My Gollies?’ gulped Kevin, staring, wild eyed at Big Box.
‘Oh, you poor darling, didn’t I tell you?’ whispered Big Box. ‘The Oh My Gollies are plastic bags and there’s thousands and thousands of them. Whole armies of them, and they’re all so organised and they come for us. Every night, they come for us and they never ever let up.’
‘But, what do they, would they do to you?’ Kevin was getting desperate.
‘Recycle us, of course, take us all down the dump and put us in that dreadful crushi..’ Kevin didn’t hear the rest of it, because Big Box, by now heavily pregnant with the weight of all the other boxes, had rolled to the back of the cave and was fast asleep.
Kevin was all on his own. Again.
Talking to himself, because there was no-one else to talk to, Kevin said, ‘This is totally and utterly mad. Either I’m going, have gone completely insane or…’ but Kevin, sometimes called Adrian, though heaven only knows, only by a pile of old cardboard boxes, couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence. The world, or Kevin’s world had simply stopped making any sense at all.
Kevin, feeling all alone in whatever world this was, wandered to the back of the cave. It was very dark back there. He could hardly see at all, in fact if it weren’t for a curious sort of purple luminescence, like you get in pantomimes when magic is afoot, the back of the cave would have been pitch dark. Kevin wouldn’t have been able to see even his hand in front of his face. But, dimly Kevin could see. Something. Just a bit. By the purple, sometimes eerily green light of this, …well, something, which glowed.
The light pulsed, throbbed, very dimly but it did throb, or sometimes it just flickered. At first Kevin couldn’t work out the source of the light. Then, as he inched his uncertain way towards the back of the cave, feeling with first one foot and then the other, the surface of the floor, he began to make out where the light came from. It was coming from the cardboard box. The box was glowing, very slightly.
‘Ssssh, Adrian, ssssh, not a word, don’t say anything,’ Kevin heard but didn’t hear someone say. There was a voice but not a voice, a soundless sound, a noise but no noise. Kevin was taking in words without using his ears, inside his head but not audible. Like messages, unspoken messages. Kevin knew he had heard someone tell him to be quiet but there was no voice. Then the voice, which he couldn’t hear but which spoke to him, said, urgently, frantically, ‘Kevin, Kevin, watch it, watch out, they’re coming, they’ll be all around you, in a matter of minutes. Help us, help, help, kill them, pull them apart.’ And then the voice, the message went silent and Kevin was all alone again. Deep inside the cave, at the far end of the cave, with just the end walls, dripping with water and the big I-Pod box, snoring heavily.
And then he saw it. Just a floppy one, this one, from nowhere, a little whiff, a fragment of thin plastic, transparent and flimsy, like you get a couple of slices of liver in, when you go to the butchers, flashed past Kevin and flopped against the I Pod box and seemed to stay there.
‘It’s a pathfinder,’ screamed the silent voice in Kevin’s head. ‘Pull it inside out, rip it, tear it,’ screamed the voice inside Kevin’s brain and Kevin, without even thinking what he was doing, reached out and grabbed the sliver of plastic which had now flattened itself against Adrian’s old friend. Where it clung, like a limpet. Even with all his strength, Kevin couldn’t shift the slimy, sticky thing. And, inside his head, the voice kept on screaming, ‘rip it, Kevin, rip it’ and Kevin, shifting his grip, did just that.
The plastic bag came apart quite easily, once Kevin had got his finger nail past the first resistance. And, in less than a second, the horrible thing now lay, pathetic, useless and flimsily made of just about nothing at all, on the floor of the cave. Kevin had learned his first lesson about plastic bags, they’re nothing at all, if only you know to dig your nails in and pull them apart.
‘Well done, Kevin, good work.’