Hello hello hello!
Not one, but two Granny Battle chapters all in one go to delight (hopefully) and confuddle (probably)!
To catch up with the story so far, click here… (As usual, I’ve added these latest chapters to the end).
“Location: Chuntie Knowe, Glenbourach”
Ellis felt his tummy turn upside down, inside out, twist sideways, do a backflip, then settle down into a state of indescribable jitter. He dragged his gaze away from the phone and looked up at Granny, who appeared to have dissolved slightly. In fact, it looked like there were about seven of her. Numerous appendages extended and something white zoomed towards his face.
‘Have a tissue,’ Granny said.
Ellis blinked, took the tissue, and rubbed his eyes hard. Granny settled back into the singular, and Ellis became aware of a gentle kneading sensation on his tummy. He looked down to see Ian gently treadling him with his front paws and staring intently into his eyes. Ellis automatically tickled him under his chin, and Ian closed his eyes, stretching out his neck contentedly. Dabbing his eyes again and feeling a bit self-conscious, Ellis blew his nose. There was a faint creak from his lap, and Ellis saw – without much surprise now – that Ian had returned to his scaly self.
He looked up at Granny, who appeared to be extremely busy in her bag with her back to him. There was a muffled parp, which sounded suspiciously like someone trying to blow their nose in secret.
She turned, giving her loud glasses a final polish on her cardie before shoving them back on her face, and squinted at Ellis.
‘Ok?’ she asked, ‘Ready to carry on?’
Ellis took a deep breath and exhaled. The exhale came out a bit more wobbly than he’d have liked.
‘Yeah,’ he croaked, then cleared his throat and tried again. ‘Yeah, it’s just – well…’ he shrugged, ‘It’s proper real now, isn’t it.’ He looked up at Granny. ‘He’s… my dad… he’s not…’ Ellis struggled for the right word. ‘He’s not lost anymore, is he?’
Granny smiled a little tight-lipped smile. ‘It’s always been proper real, lad. And no, he’s not lost anymore. Never was, really, not in that sense; but he needed finding. And we done it.’ She smiled again, a little less tightly. ‘And that’s your fault that is. Right, come on now, let’s get your old man into our maps so’s we can keep our eye on him and find him properly.’
She switched her phone back on, clicked on the words “Ellis’s Dad” and selected the option “Add to map“. The orange dragon span lazily on the screen for few seconds, then the map app automatically opened, and Ellis saw the three coloured blobs that were himself, Granny and Ian, clustered around Lower Brimpton. Then Granny pinched the screen a few times to zoom out and Ellis’s jaw dropped.
According to the map, Lower Brimpton was a small town, just south of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
‘Berwick?!’ exclaimed Ellis, ‘No way can we be right up there! We were only on the train for, what, half an hour? Forty minutes? It’s impossible – it must be at least 200 miles to Berwick from Arnotts Hollow!’
Granny pushed her glasses up her nose. ‘There’s shortcuts,’ she said quietly.
‘Shortcuts?’ asked Ellis.
‘Yeah, that’s one of the reasons that bloke closed all those railway lines down donkey’s years back. Kept that part of it quiet tho, didn’t want people knowing. Not good for business. But this side found a way to keep them open, but hidden, see. Until a few years back, when all The Trouble started. That’s what we were fighting against when It happened.’
Ellis looked incredulous. He’d read about the time lots of railway lines were closed – including the one that ran past Granny’s house. But… shortcuts? Then he replayed the last bit of what Granny had just said.
‘We?’ he asked.
Granny looked uncomfortable.
‘We who?’ pressed Ellis, but in the back of his mind he thought he knew.
Granny took off her glasses and started polishing them on the bottom of her cardie again. ‘Me and your dad,’ she said quietly.
Ellis once again felt as though his world was going backwards and sideways all at once.
‘You and dad? Hang on, so you’ve known all along that he wasn’t…’ Ellis paused briefly, ‘…dead?’ It seemed easier to say now that he knew he wasn’t. Or at least, had some very peculiar sort-of-evidence that he wasn’t. ‘And you didn’t tell us?’ Ellis voice rose in pitch and got louder, ‘You didn’t say anything to us?! You just let us believe that… that was it?! He’d gone?!’
‘Shut up.’ Granny said sharply.
Ellis gaped at her and was about to reply when he realised she was staring coldly and rather dangerously over his shoulder. Then his nose noticed the smell – and this time it wasn’t Ian. This was a much darker smell, a bad smell. A smell that boded.
And not in a good way.
A rather whiney, scratchy voice broke the silence.
‘Well, well, well, if it ain’t the Old Woman and her scrawny pet,’ the voice said, sounding just as dark and boding as the smell. ‘And who’s this squirt? No wait, I can smell him…’
Ellis turned, his hot anger disappearing into cold fear as a tall, skinny figure in a raggedy robe – no, Ellis checked himself – it was more of a hoodie than a robe. A dirty, raggedy, floor length hoodie, with the hood up and the drawstrings pulled so tight that the face was lost in shadow. Ian had woken up and gone rigid in Ellis’s lap, his eyes narrowed to slits and the occasional spark flickering around his nostrils as he fizzed quietly. The thing leaned towards Ellis, who recoiled in disgust, and it sniffed deeply and snottily. Then it gave a huge involuntary twitch that raised one shoulder up to where its ear would be if it didn’t have its hood up, and its head appeared to twist halfway round on its neck. It spat a large gobbit, which splatted wetly onto the platform. ‘Aaaaaaah,’ the thing said, exhaling noisily, ‘The son…‘ it hissed, with a snickery giggle.
‘Mousole,’ said Granny coldly, ‘What are you doing here? I didn’t think you lot used the railways.’
‘We use whatever we like,’ the thing hissed, it’s head snapping towards Granny. ‘We knew you was here,’ it continued, ‘We smelled you.’
‘I’ll bet you did,’ said Granny, and to Ellis’s ears she sounded as though she was trying to sound annoyed, whilst also trying to hide a touch of smugness.
The thing gave a piercing whistle, and more skinny, be-hoodied figures melted out of the darkness around them. Well, three of them were skinny. The fourth was a lot smaller and definitely not skinny. It’s hoodie was stretched tight over an podgy belly and trailed on the floor around it, and a large pair of thick, round glasses protruded from the tightly draw-stringed hood. It hung back a little from the others and projected an air of nervousness.
‘All right Moleface?’ said Granny loudly and cheerfully, ‘still trying to burrow your way into the wrong crowd? Bet your poor old mum’s turning her grave.’ The figure jumped and tried to sidle behind one of the taller shades, mumbling inaudibly.
‘Leave him be,’ snapped Mousole angrily, then turning to the figure nearest to him, he hissed ‘I tole you not to bring him! Whatchew bring him for?!’ A muffled, hissy, argument ensued between the two of them.
Ellis leaned towards Granny, trying to make it look as though he wasn’t leaning towards her, which was a little difficult because he was.
‘Who – what are they?’ he asked out of the corner of his mouth.
Before Granny could answer, a deep, resonant voice, that seemed to have a hint of hootiness about it boomed out of the shadows making them all jump. The voice was accompanied by a presence which oozed authority and a total unwillingness to even slightly bend even the most loosest of rules. At all. Ever.
‘MISTER MOUSOLE! ACCORDING TO ITEM SEVEN CLAUSE OPEN BRACKET THREE CLOSE BRACKET OF OUR STATION BYLAWS, NO PERSON OPEN BRACKET OR OTHERWISE CLOSE BRACKET SHALL SPIT ON THE RAILWAY. YOU JUST DID. SO SOD OFF AND TAKE YOUR LITTLE FRIENDS WITH YOU.’
Gosh, what an earth will happen next?!
Incidentally, that station bylaw is true. As is this one, which made me giggle a bit:
“No person shall enter or remain on the railway if, in the reasonable opinion of an authorised person, he is in an unfit or improper condition or his clothing may soil or damage any part of the railway or the property or clothing of any person on the railway.” Section 219 of the Transport Act 2000: Station bylaws.
So beware, rail travellers – make sure what you wear isn’t likely to soil or damage stuff or staff…!