‘Mind your own business,’ said Rebecca.
‘It’s a toad, isn’t it? Yuck! Isn’t it
‘Let’s squash it!’ said the other boy.
Glubbslyme quivered but he didn’t say a word.
‘Take no notice. They’re only pretending,’ she whispered.
they were pretending. They were only
boys. But there were two of them.
‘Hold on tight, I’m going to run,’ she gabbled to Glubbslyme, and she charged across the grass towards the park gates.
The boys shouted and the bigger one turned his bike round and started riding after them, but he soon gave up. They had both ridden off in the opposite direction by the time Rebecca and Glubbslyme got to the park gates. Rebecca was holding Glubbslyme so tightly that his eyes popped, but he didn’t complain.
‘It’s all right now. They’ve gone,’ she whispered.
Glubbslyme nodded, still not capable of speech. A woman walking a dog came up to the park gates. The woman didn’t notice a thing but the dog started barking hysterically at the sight of Glubbslyme. Rebecca decided she’d better try to carry him down the front of her frock after all. She tried stuffing him down her collar but her dress had always been on the tight side, and it had shrunk in the pond. Even in his diminished state Glubbslyme made a very large lump in her bodice. It looked as if Rebecca had suddenly grown half a bosom. She tried folding her arms across her chest but she still felt conspicuous.
Then she spotted an old Sainsburys’ carrier bag tucked in the top of a rubbish bin. She investigated it carefully. It seemed to be clean enough.
‘You can hide in here, Glubbslyme,’ she said, extracting him from her dress with great difficulty.
She put him gently in the bottom of the carrier. He lay limply, gasping.
‘I’d better make you some air holes. My Dad says plastic bags are very dangerous,’ she said.
‘I thank you for the kind thought,’ Glubbslyme murmured.
It was much easier carrying him in the bag. Rebecca started to get a spring in her step. She even started swinging the bag but there were immediate protests from within.
She couldn’t wait till Dad came home from work. All right, he’d been very cross with her over poor Dandelion, but Glubbslyme was right, he really wasn’t a pet. Wait till Dad heard him talk! She wondered about showing Sarah too, but she didn’t want that Mandy in on the act. A toad that could talk! She’d heard of budgies and parrots, and she’d once seen a singing dog on television, but never a toad. Perhaps Glubbslyme could appear on television too. He could talk and everyone would clap. And Glubbslyme could do much more than talk – he could do magic. Perhaps he might end up with his own television show. And it was such amazing magic. Imagine being able to make the sun shine whenever he wanted! They could go to Brighton or Bournemouth or Blackpool on a cold rainy day and make a mint of money.
Rebecca was so taken up with thoughts of fame and fortune that she started swinging the Sainsbury’s carrier again. Glubbslyme clambered up the inside of the bag and stuck his head out, infuriated.
‘Will you cease swinging the bag in that nauseating manner? I am in danger of vomiting.’ Then he stopped and gasped.
Rebecca looked at him worriedly, scared she really had made him sick.
‘Look!’ Glubbslyme croaked. ‘
Rebecca looked all about her wildly.
‘What are we looking
?’ she asked.
‘When was this terrifying new town built?’
‘This isn’t the town,’ said Rebecca, puzzled.
‘Is this not Kingtown?’ said Glubbslyme, his eyes almost crossing in his perplexity.
‘Well it is. But it’s not the
town. Not where the shopping precinct and the leisure centre and the multi-storey car park are. That’s the town.’
Glubbslyme muttered ‘shopping precinct’, ‘leisure centre’ and ‘multi-storey car park’ as if they were foreign words.
‘Shall I show you?’ Rebecca offered.
‘I think I would prefer to go straight home,’ said Glubbslyme weakly. Then he clasped the top of the carrier bag in terror. ‘What is
‘You don’t mean that car, do you?’
‘The roaring monster!’ said Glubbslyme. ‘Make haste, Rebecca. Run! But hold the bag tightly lest I fall.’
‘It’s not a monster, Glubbslyme, honestly. It’s just a car, a big carriage on wheels with an engine inside.’
The car drove past. Glubbslyme cowered in his carrier, choking on exhaust fumes.
‘It roars and reeks like Beelzebub himself,’ he murmured.
‘Wait till you see your first articulated lorry,’ said Rebecca.
They saw several on the main road. And buses and vans and hundreds more cars. Glubbslyme moaned faintly from the depths of the carrier, but he perked up a little when Rebecca crossed the little bridge over Bramble Brook. He sniffed the air excitedly.
‘Yes, it always smells a bit round here in the summer,’ Rebecca apologised.
‘That beauteous dank aroma is unmistakable!’ said Glubbslyme. ‘We are by the brook. My dear Rebecca dwelt beside the brook. I will see my own home!’
He hopped up and down inside the carrier in his eagerness. Rebecca was scared he might hop right out, so she pierced his carrier with her hair slide, making him two little peepholes. Glubbslyme peeped and peeped, but to no avail.
‘I think it’s all changed now,’ said Rebecca. ‘There aren’t really any houses down this road. There’s just the shops and the Old Oak, that’s the pub on the corner.’
‘A fine young oak spread its boughs over our very cottage. My Rebecca used its oak-apples in many a magic potion,’ said Glubbslyme, abandoning his peepholes and peering round eagerly out of the top of the carrier bag. ‘But where is the oak tree now?’
They walked along to the end of the road. There wasn’t so much as an acorn.
‘I think they must have chopped it down,’ said Rebecca. ‘And now they’ve built the pub in its place.’
‘Dastardly rogues!’ croaked Glubbslyme. ‘Then they have also chopped down the dear old cottage. Oh woe! Oh misery and anguish! I did so desire to visit it once more. I wished to erect another memorial tablet in honour of my dearest Rebecca.’
He glared at the public house, eyes brimming with emotion. And then he blinked. His great gummy mouth smiled. He puffed up with pride, almost filling the carrier bag.
‘They have erected their own memorial tablet to the wise and wicked Rebecca Cockgoldde,’ he said, and he pointed to the Courage brewery’s pub sign. It was a golden cockerel.
Rebecca unlocked her front door and carried Glubbslyme over the threshold.
‘Well. This is my house,’ she said.
She laid the carrier bag gently on the hall carpet. Glubbslyme sat motionless, lurking under the plastic.
‘Glubbslyme, are you all right?’ said Rebecca anxiously, peering in at him.
‘I doubt it,’ said Glubbslyme weakly. ‘The whole world is swinging backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards.’ He hopped unsteadily out of the carrier, reeled down the carpet, and then froze by the stairs.
‘Pick me up!’ he commanded in a high-pitched croak. ‘Pick me up immediately!’
‘What’s the matter?’ said Rebecca, obediently lifting him.
It was strange how quickly she’d got used to handling him. She didn’t really mind the feel of him at all. In fact she wouldn’t have minded petting him properly, but didn’t dare try in case Glubbslyme thought it a liberty.
‘You said you were not allowed to keep pet animals,’ Glubbslyme hissed from her cupped hands.
‘Is the bear cub prowling on the staircase not an animal –
Rebecca burst out laughing.
‘That’s Shabby Bear. My old teddy. He’s a toy, Glubbslyme, he’s not real. I always used to sit with him on the stairs when I was little, and now I keep him on the stairs most of the time.’
Rebecca felt she was far too old for teddy bears, but when she had to come home to an empty house she liked to have Shabby there, waiting, ready for a cuddle if necessary.
Glubbslyme did not seem to understand. Rebecca abandoned her explanation and politely offered to show him round the house. She carried him into the living room. Glubbslyme blinked a lot. She thought he might be impressed by the television so she switched it on. It was ‘Blue Peter’ but Glubbslyme reacted as if it was ‘Driller Killer’. He hopped several feet in the air and landed inelegantly on his bottom, his legs waving.
‘What occult trick is this?’ he cried.
‘It’s only television, Glubbslyme. It’s not frightening, honestly. Look, I’ll swop channels if you like.’
Glubbslyme did not care for any of the channels. He croaked in terror at them all so Rebecca switched the television off. Glubbslyme lay on the furry rug, recovering. Then he sat up and flexed his feet several times.
‘Remove me from this dead sheep, if you please.’
Rebecca put him on the best armchair instead but it was Dralon, and it tickled him even more. He scratched. He shuddered. He sighed.
‘How about a little paddle to soothe your skin?’ Rebecca suggested imaginatively. ‘Come with me.’
She took him upstairs. Glubbslyme cowered as they passed silly old Shabby, mumbling about a performing bear that had once broken free from its chain and given his Rebecca a savage bite.
‘Well Shabby can’t bite you, Glubbslyme, he hasn’t got any teeth,’ said Rebecca.
She took him up to the bathroom. It was a very poky little room and Rebecca and her Dad didn’t always remember to clean round the bath or wipe the toothpaste stains off the basin, but Rebecca suspected that it would still seem luxurious by seventeenth century standards.
Glubbslyme wriggled free and scrabbled about the shabby floor tiles, exploring. He discovered an old plastic duck in a corner, left over from when Rebecca was a baby. He hopped around it, obviously puzzled by the shiny yellow plastic. He stuck out a leg and kicked it. The duck rocked crazily and fell on its beak.
‘It is dead,’ said Glubbslyme. ‘You seem inordinately fond of dead animals, Rebecca. Dead sheep, dead bears, dead water fowl.’
Glubbslyme was very much alive. He was fascinated when Rebecca filled the basin and bath for him. He had a hot soak in the washbasin and then jumped into the cold bath and had an invigorating swim. He floated the flannels as if they were water lilies but spurned the soap after one suspicious sniff.
He could not understand how the clean cold water and the piping hot were conjured at the mere turn of a tap.
‘It is sorcery of the highest sophistication,’ he said, sounding awed.
‘But it doesn’t scare you like the television?’
‘How could I be scared in my own element?’ said Glubbslyme. He jumped up onto the side of the bath and peered round at the lavatory. ‘I think I shall try the little pool now,’ he said, poised for a jump.
‘No! It’s not a pool,’ said Rebecca, hurriedly putting the lid down. ‘You can’t go paddling in there, Glubbslyme.’