Siobhan lives in one world with her parents and grandmother. Warloc lives in his world, lamenting his wife's kidnapping by the evil Emperor Strangles. Soon they will meet...
It was always difficult to fall asleep with someone standing over you.
Warloc tried to ignore the figure looking down at him, as it had done every night for the last two years. He hated these apparitions. Every night they'd appear in his room and try to keep him talking until morning. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a good night's sleep.
The figure was still standing there.
'Warloc, wanna play a game?' it said. Its voice was grating and cut into his head like a knife.
He stuck his head under the pillow.
'No. I don't want to play a game.'
'Come on, old bean. No need to be such a spoilsport.' He heard the figure pad over to the window. 'Wanna see how far out you can jump?'
'I can go out really far. How far can you go out Warloc?'
'Clag off, will you?'
The figure pulled the pillow away. Warloc gazed into the eyes of a wrinkled old man with green skin. He'd seen this one before. It was a different apparition every night, but there were regular visitors.
'Come on Warloc. I'm not going to stop bothering you unless you play a game...'
Warloc swung a punch. It passed right through the old man and he laughed. The man had a cruel sharp laugh that hurt Warloc's ears.
'Just once...' he said, trying not to sound defeated, 'couldn't you leave me alone to sleep? This has been going on for too long.'
'Say you're sorry.'
'Go to the Emperor and say sorry. You might get lucky. He might lift the curse.'
Warloc sighed. 'I doubt it.'
'Play a game with me then!' the apparition shouted, grimacing.
Sighing, Warloc sat up in bed. He hated these things. They woke him up in the middle of the night, they talked to him, teased him, and sometimes they fought. Violently. And nothing he tried ever got them to leave. They usually went away by themselves, after a few hours.
'OK, you clagging thing,' he said, staring the creature in the eyes, making it grin nastily. 'I will play a game with you. But no tricking me or kicking or punching. OK?'
'Cross my heart and hope to die,' the old man smiled. Warloc could see his blatantly crossed fingers, but said nothing. 'Let's play a talking game. That's not violent, is it?'
Warloc said nothing.
'Let's see who can screech the loudest!'
'Let's invent lots of new swearwords!'
'Hmmmm...' the old man perched on the bed, thinking hard. 'Truth or dare!!!'
Warloc groaned. 'No, not again. I can't do this every night, you clagging clagger. Do you understand?'
'I'll go first. Warloc, truth or dare?'
'Truth or dare?'
'I can't -'
'Truth or dare?' the old man smiled.
'Truth! OK? Truth.'
'The old man's grin became so big it reached his ears. 'Alright then... Hmmmm... what's the thing that you're most afraid of?'
The man grabbed his head. 'You're not telling me the truth there, old bean. I'll ask you again, and you'd better tell me the clagging truth.'
The old man leaped forward, and before Warloc could stop him he was on his shoulders. Two wrinkly green hands gripped his head and started twisting.
'You said no violence!'
'What is it you're most afraid of, Warloc? Hmmmm? Spiders? Snakes? Big bad teakettlers?'
Warloc fought against the old man's grip, but he was too strong. The hands started twisting, and Warloc felt something in his neck click.
'I'm afraid of... afraid of...'
The man's face was right next to his. He smelt the foul smell of rotting flesh and fought the urge to vomit.
'Afraid of what, old bean? TELL ME!'
Warloc ripped one of the hands away and choked out 'My wife!'
The man dropped to the floor, looking surprised. 'What?'
'I'm afraid of... my wife getting hurt.' Warloc said. 'Now could you go away?'
He looked at the man, expecting him to jeer. But the mottled green face of the apparition merely looked thoughtful for a few seconds. Then he vanished completely.
Somewhere in Phalscam, England, Siobhan O'Leary sat in the kitchen. Her grandma stood before an open fridge, the light catching the lines around her eyes.
'Do you want a coke, Siobhan?' she was asking.
The girl looked up. 'Hmmm? Oh, no, no thanks.'
The old lady shrugged. 'Just me then.' She took a can from the fridge, and took a seat opposite Siobhan. 'Good job I don't have any teeth to rot.'
Siobhan nodded, not really paying attention. She hated this. She hated having to sit and be nice and normal when her mother was clearly suffering upstairs. When the two of them were silent they could hear her whimpers upstairs.
'I've always liked fizzy drinks,' her grandma said. 'I drank them all my adult life... I wish I'd taken better care of my teeth really. Still, never mind, eh?'
Siobhan nodded again. More whimpering drifted down from upstairs. 'Grandma, when will Dad be home?'
'Erm...' she checked the clock on the wall. 'He said about ten.'
'Ish,' she added.
'Tennish. You know, about - '
'I'll check on you mum before I go off to bed, don't worry.'
A brief pause. Grandma filled the silence with the slurping of her coke. Siobhan concentrated hard on the clock on the wall. It had daisies painted around it. She wondered what the average number of daisy petals were. She began counting. She gave up after about fifteen daisies. This was pointless. Why was she sitting here, making this pretence at normality? She wanted to go to bed.
She stood up. 'I'm off to bed, Grandma.'
'You sure, dear?'
'Yeah. I'm pretty tired.'
The old lady stood up, still holding the can of coke. 'Well OK. G'night then.'
Siobhan hugged her grandma round the shoulders, and left the kitchen. At the top of the stairs, she passed her grandma's room - the biggest, with it's own convenient bathroom - her parents' room - where the whimpers were coming from - and finally her own room. She went in, picked her way across the untidy floor and slid under the covers. A slight breeze blew in through the open window, making a small wind chime tinkle by the door.
Now was the time for magic. Now was the time to shut off all the noise. Outside the window, on the street below, cars rushed past and late-night workers walked home. Next door played an old ABBA record. Her mother whined and tossed and turned in the next room.
Siobhan stared at the ceiling, trying to shut out all the noise. She did the thing that made her magic work. She willed it to work, then kind of didn't, then felt a weird 'thing' hovering at the back of her mind - something she couldn't quite put her finger on.
As she focused on it, she felt a cool wedge of air envelop her face. It curled around her cheeks and seeped into her ears. And slowly, very slowly, the noise began to fade.
The cold, dark silence spread outwards, taking out the tinkling by the door, the sounds from the next room, then the sounds from outside. Siobhan bit her lip, letting the deep calm sink in.
She didn't know how long it lasted, but when something broke her concentration it was too soon. The noises flooded back. She heard the flushing of a toilet, and the whimpering was louder than ever.
Grumbling, she pulled the duvet over her head, wishing she could fall asleep.