DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. 01273 603766 - EMAIL [email protected] - www.fulltable.com/fj
text and images throughout copyright
THE MYSTERIOUS LODGER
Try to imagine a house. This house was a large, rambling building, on the corner of a quiet suburban street. It was surrounded by overgrown brambles and forsythia bushes, which isolated it from the rest of its surroundings. Built in the early part of this century, it was built of brick, with a number of bay windows on the ground floor, with smaller rectangular windows above. That rather severely, gave it some proportion. It contained several things: several bed-sitting rooms for temporary occupants, with small kitchenettes, and shared bathrooms at the end of each corridor, and a large flat, or apartment, for its owners, on the ground floor, opening at the right from a small central hallway. This is the scene for this story.
The house also contained three of our main characters: all ten years old. First there was Shona, a small bright-eyed girl with short, rather mousy hair, her brother, Liam, a short, stocky blond-haired boy, and their friend, Janyar, dark, with close-cropped hair. Apart from Janyar, who lived opposite, , the other two belonged to their parents, who lived in the large apartment. At this moment, they were sitting down in the central hallway, occasionally moving aside as the lodgers came up and down stairs, and talking, rather furtively, to each other.
Some words should be said about them. They did not, they considered make a nuisance of themselves, and most of the lodgers had become used to them. But, they were not averse to peering through keyholes, banging on doors and running away, and generally keeping an eye, as they put it, on the place. A kind of truce existed between them, their parents, and the lodgers. Now, they were discussing the new lodger, who had only arrived yesterday, and was now living in number 6, on the third floor. A new lodger was fair game.
‘ Come on, he’s a bit weird’, exclaimed Liam. ‘When he goes out, he vanishes. Where does he go? Where’s he working? He sits in his room in the evening, and never goes out again!’
‘Well, let’s describe him. He’s very tall, with a long coat, but we’ve never seen him from the front. He’s always muffled up. And he never carries anything. If he was working, why doesn’t he have a briefcase or something?’ This was from Shona, probably the most curious. She also liked detective stories, and she was really keen to find out more.
‘He might be a salesman, or a commercial traveller’, argued Janyar. ‘Or he might be a tourist’.
‘A tourist! What’s there to look at round here! sniggered Liam. ‘he might be a terrorist, for all we know. Or a murderer. Perhaps he cuts up bodies in his room! Anyway, game on. Let’s try to find out more about him. We all know how’.
They looked at each other and grinned. They had their ways of looking.
Later that evening, they made their plan. Janyar had come over too, after supper at home. They crept quietly up to the third floor, listening to the sounds of cooking coming fron the other rooms, and sometimes sniffing the smells of curry, or hamburgers, as they went up. They emerged onto the top landing. Number 7, the only other room on this floor, was unoccupied. Below the door of number 6, a faint light showed. Keeping to the wall, in true mysterious fashion, they approached.
‘Me. I’ll look first’. Shona, despite her small size, was always eager.
‘All right. But be quiet!’ said Liam in a whisper.
Shona went to the door, bent down and looked through the large keyhole.
What happened next was a shock to both boys. Shona’s body went rigid. She crouched there, as if she couldn’t pull away from the keyhole.
‘Shona! Come away now! Let us look!’
Shona pulled away from the keyhole. Her face was pale, and both Liam and Janyar noticed she was trembling. They looked at each other. Then Liam bent down and looked. And then he pulled away, and slid down the wall, looking every bit as frightened as Shona. Janyar stared at him, and bent down to look through that strange keyhole. What he saw made him turn away, his normally dark face as white as newly-washed sheets. Without a word, they all turned and scampered down the stairs, not stopping until they reached Liam’s bedroom in his parents’ apartment downstairs. Their parents looked up, surprised, and then turned back to watching the news on the television.
They were all breathing heavily. Then, with an effort, Liam spoke.
‘Did we all see the same thing? Or was it our imagination?’
‘No…we all saw it’.
Shona was the first to speak. ‘I saw him! He was sitting in his armchair, his back to us. He was reading a book. I could see his legs stretched out in front, by the…..television! But……he was in a garden! There was grass and plants, and little white flowers everywhere, growing up round his chair! They were growing up round and up his armchair! The whole room was full of them!’
‘I saw a big tree just behind him! All it’s leaves were hanging over him! It had a big trunk, all grey and glistening! It was like…..he was sitting reading in the middle of a forest!’ This was from Liam.
‘I saw all that too! cried Janyar.
‘But I saw something else! Didn’t you notice it? He was sitting in front of the telvision, except it wasn’t on. It just looked really luminous. But, and I swear this. It was looking right at me! It knew I was there! It just looked at me, as if it was a big eye! And it blinked at me!’ Shona shivered in fright.
‘Perhaps it was just a picture that he’d put in front on the keyhole.’ suggested Liam.
‘No, it wasn’t!’ from Janyar. ‘When I looked, he turned the page, and all the leaves rustled! I saw it!’
They fell silent. ‘Perhaps we should tell Dad’. said Shona. ‘No, he won’t believe us. He’ll just say that it was our imagination’. Liam pointed out. ‘No, if we’re up to it, let’s go back this evening and knock on his door and ask him. I don’t know what else to do’. All three of them nodded. Now they had got over their fright, they wondered who he was, and why he could make such things appear. They were still worried about that television. It was one, they knew, that he had brought with him. But the way it had seemed to see them was the most worrying thing. But they had resolved to find out the truth.
It was the next evening. All day they had thought about it, and this time they were absolutely resolved to find out once and for all what the mystery was in that dark room, and who the strange lodger was. As they walked quietly up the stairs, each of them had their own thoughts. Shona was still thinking about that luminous television. Was it a guard, a watcher? Or was it something more terrifying? Liam kept thinking about the great tree he had seen. Why was it there? Janyar was concerned with the mysterious whispers he had heard from the leaves and foliage. They were all wrapped in their own fears.
They stopped in front of the door of number 6. Shona hesitated, and then turned the door handle. The door began to swing open. They all shut their eyes, and then opened them. The room was dark, but they could see that it was filled with branches, leaves and flowers of all kinds of shapes and sizes, that rustled and whispered. They could just make out the huge tree-trunk at the back of the room, grey, roped and knotted with ivy, up to the branches that hung from above. The armchair was festooned with tendrils of multi-shaped leaves, and within it, most horrible of all, was the television – a great, luminous, bluish-green eye, that stared at them.
They stood, rooted to the spot, in the long grass in the doorway. And then, a sudden blinding flash of light! Silhouetted in the doorway to the kitchen, stood a tall figure. It moved forward one step, and all of them saw a sight they would never forget. It was naked and the end of its arms were bushes, that grew bigger and bigger. It walked on small tree-trunks, blossoming into yellow flowers. It’s body was enveloped in flowering stems, that burst into bright red roses. They looked up.
The head was large and squat, gnarled and twisted like the tree-trunk. Large pointed ears, filled with catkins and holly. A huge squat nose, with nostrils filled with primroses. And a wide mouth, half-open, from which tendrils of leaves and berries began to sprout, from each corner. Then it laughed.
‘Haaaaaa-eeeeee-iiiiiii-oooooohhhhhhhhh! Yyyyyyy-aaaaaaaa – hrh-hrh-hrgggggg!’
This was too much. The three of them turned and ran out of the door, and down the landing, crashing and bumping into each other in their fright! Shona looked around once, and saw, to her horror, leady tendrils snaking ut of the doorway and pursuing them as far as the stairs. They heard that awful laugh again as they fled.
Without looking they all fell down the stairs together, and landed in a heap at the bottom. They all got up and ran all the way down the next flights of stairs, until they reached the front door, stumbling away until collapsing in a heap on the gravel path outside. Panting, they clung to each other.
‘D..d..did you see the television! Liam! Janyar! It…it…it winked at me! I swear it did! It was the last thing I saw! It really did!’
After that, there was nothing else to say. They picked themselves up and felt their grazes and bruises, from falling down the stairs and onto the path. They couldn’t even talk to each other. So they went home to bed.
Next morning, Liam got up late. His sleep had been filled with the sound of that awful laughter, and visions of that sprouting figure chasing him. He walked slowly into the kitchen for breakfast, though he didn’t really feel hungry. His father looked up at him from the paper.
‘You lot haven’t been up to your usual mischief, have you?’
‘Er…no no, not at all. Why?’
‘Well, one of our lodgers left very early this morning. With his television. Never even see him go. But he left his key, and the full rent, so that’s all right’.
‘Which one was it, dad?’
‘Number 6 – the one on the top floor. Hope he wasn’t too fed up’.
Now we come to a finale to this story. Even if Liam and the others might not be believed, this part is genuine and real. Liam went out after breakfast to empty some kitchen rubbish into the garbage can outside. As he took the lid off, he noticed something shiny and glittering on top of the potato peelings. He picked it up, and gasped. It was a small silver-plated metal thing, but as he looked at it he recognised it. It was the head of the creature he had seen last night: the same squat face, and tendrils of foliage curling out of the corners of its mouth. It had a mischievous expression, but with no evil in it.
He took it in to show his mother. She was born in the countryside, and might know what it was. She wiped her hands on a tea-towel, and looked at it carefully.
‘Oh, yes. I know what it is. It’s what we used to call the Green Man. My granny used to tell me about him’.
‘What was he, Mum?’
‘Well, some people say he’s a goblin or an imp. Others say that he was a nature god, who controlled natural things, particularly green things like trees and bushes and flowers. He’s supposed to be very mischievous, and forever playing tricks on people. Just like you. He’s being around for a long time, but there’s no harm in him. I always remember my Gran saying that he was a ‘bit of a lad’. He sometimes sticks his tongue out at you. Fancy you finding that’.
Liam wondered outside, still looking at this little image. He clenched his fist to throw it away, but stopped. Why was it there, where he had found it? Was it meant to be a memento, or a good luck charm, or simply a souvenir? Suddenly, he burst out laughing.
‘Wait until I tell Shona and Janyar about this! That was a really good trick you played on us! But never mind. No hard feelings’.
As he walked back into the house, he thought to himself about how the Green Man had actually come to stay with them, and frightened them out of their wits. But that was all part of the fun, wasn’t it? The Green Man.
The Green Man – up to his usual tricks.
Frank Jackson (14/08/07)