Something Quirky

Les Sklaroff

Charles Atlas has a lot to answer for.

They used to say that something lurked in those laurel bushes half-way down Sheaveshill Avenue. Well, we lurked there, and perhaps we started that rumour to deter other kids. The bushes were part of our territory, and therefore sacrosanct.

In retrospect they were no more than a patch of dense suburban shrubs planted by a previous generation, but that summer their dusky dark-leaved seclusion was our secret meeting-place, our adult-free maze, our private network of narrow paths and intimate clearings. It was here we played hide-and-seek, engaged in mock Wild West shoot-outs and Flash Gordon adventures, drank home-made lemonade, sucked sherbet dips through liquorice straws, outdid each other’s embellished reports of real or imagined events. It was also a market-place for bartering marbles, bent nail puzzles, cigarette cards, magnets, lenses, model cars, or anything else of quirky interest.

Pete turned up one day with a small dull oval mirror in a reddish-gold frame, about the size of an old penny, which he said had been given to him by his gran, but which he later admitted he’d actually found on the path near the station. It was rather odd. The mirror was neither glass nor metal, and seemed to have a slightly resilient surface. And when put to the ear we were fairly sure a sound could be heard emanating from it, faint but continuous, something like the dragging of distant chains.

We all examined it and listened to it in turn, but it didn’t appear to do anything else. So although we were intrigued, no one was particularly enthusiastic; we preferred things that worked or had an agreed value. Dave cheerfully offered his little wooden squirrel (with genuine squirrel-fur tail) for it, but Pete declined. From time to time desultory offers were made and rejected: a thumb-operated hole-punching device, a tiny magnetic compass, a kind of flying propeller launched from a spiral shaft, a bird-whistle, a fossil ammonite. To my surprise, Pete finally succumbed to the undoubted charm of Charles Atlas, one of my pet mice, which I had only brought out for a spot of fresh air.

Sadly for Pete, Charles Atlas escaped within a week. The summer ended. We outgrew the easy camaraderie of the laurel bushes, and gradually pursued our diverse paths into adulthood.

These memories resurfaced this afternoon, when, rummaging through old boxes, as I seem to do every decade or so, I came across a St Bruno’s tobacco tin with a firmly jammed lid. I eventually managed to prise it open with my trusty fine-bladed dumpy screwdriver. It contained an assortment of once useful and possibly treasured objects, including a small coil of fine copper wire, a plastic badge from an industrial exhibition, a short thermometer in a tubular metal case and, wrapped in a swathe of yellow silk, the oval mirror.

I’m holding it now. It’s a strange sensation after all these years, having failed to spare it a thought for so long. Is it really as odd as we believed as kids? In these hi-tech days its surface now makes me think of a plasma screen, but that would be ridiculous. Anyway, there are no visible controls, just that shallow slot on the rim. Wait, what about that sound we convinced ourselves we could hear? Hell’s teeth! We didn’t imagine it. It sounds like, I don’t know, maybe a river of ballbearings, or something enormous trying to breathe. What did I do with that screwdriver? Supposing, very gently, I press the blade in this slot? Ye gods! I didn’t mean to drop it, but the damned thing’s expanding! And it IS a screen. There’s a reddish glow, and something moving about, cloudy, but getting clearer, and the sound is definitely louder now… What’s that? A hook?; no, I think it might be a claw. Fantastic 3-D definition. I can see the scales rippling. There’s an acrid smell. It’s… aaagh, the heat, the heat!

© L J Sklaroff 2012 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 18:25 Wed 22 Aug 2012
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