Joe’s Imaginary Friend
"It's ME!" came a booming disembodied voice "I'm bleeding!"
As a scientist, Richard Hadwin was particularly opposed, not just to Mr Big, but also to fairy tales, magic, heroes with supernatural powers, assorted legends and God - anything, in short, that couldn’t be measured by a twelve-inch ruler.
"I think the boy needs a psychiatrist," he'd growl.
"Just who IS this Mr. Big?" asked Mrs. Hadwin.
"I don't know his real name," said Joe. "I call him Mr. Big because he's very strong and he looks after me."
"Look, Joe!" sighed Mr. Hadwin, exasperated "Once and for all, there is no such person as Mr. Big!"
"There is! There is!" yelled Joe. He knew what he believed and no one could persuade him otherwise.
"Now, let's try and be rational about this," suggested Mrs. Hadwin as she drew the boy onto her knee. "You've got a Mummy and Daddy who love you very, very much and there's nothing we won't do to keep you safe. So if you ever have any problems, all you need to do is come to us. Okay?"
Joe nodded and his Mum gave him a kiss, and his Dad ruffled his white-blonde hair affectionately and sent him off to play. Yet, that night and every other night before he went to sleep, Joe would talk to Mr. Big.
The Global Order Brotherhood
Miles squinted under the orange glow of a nearby streetlight and eventually made out what looked like a metal ball with a piece of rope hanging down from it. He then realised it wasn’t a rope, but a snake twisting upwards before splitting into three heads, which coiled around the ball. Whether it was the night air or the image, Miles couldn’t tell, but he began to feel cold and shivery, as though a hundred cubes of ice had been poured down his collar. “What is it?” he asked, scarcely able to breathe.
“This,” said Jeff, “is Babel - the symbol of the Global Order Brotherhood. You see the globe? That’s the world and each head of the snake represents a different means of controlling it - Fear, Corruption and Lies. Take a good long look at it, Miles.”
“It’s horrible!” said Miles. “I wish I hadn’t seen it now.”
“Promise me something, Miles” Jeff’s hands gripped his shoulders even more tightly and his voice became harsh and urgent, much as it had when talking to Miles’ parents.
“Promise me! If you ever see this symbol, the three-headed snake, you’ll run. Run for your life! For your own sake, your parents’ sake, the sake of the whole world - run! Run and never look back! Promise me!”
Men in macs
Then something awful happened. Joe let go of Alice’s hand and stopped. He didn’t know what was happening. He didn’t know why Miles and Alice were running, or who the big men were. All he knew was he wanted to be with his parents. Slowly and deliberately, he started to walk home.
In her panic, Alice didn’t notice Joe slip away. She and Miles kept running, not daring to look behind them, jumping over ditches, scrambling under barbed wire, panting until they felt their lungs begin to burst. At last they reached the trees and flung themselves into a mass of dense undergrowth until they could catch their breath.
Only then, did they realise that Joe wasn’t with them anymore. “Where’s Joe?” cried Alice, looking around frantically. “We’ve lost Joe!”
"It's ME!" came a booming disembodied voice "I'm bleeding!"
"Who are you?" yelled Miles.
"I'm Larch," was the answer, and a man's head suddenly appeared from the high branches of the tree which Miles had started to strip. "When you cut me with a knife, I scream!"
"I'm Beech" another head popped down from the tree," and if you steal my bark, I'll die!"
"And I'm Horse" said yet another head "and if you hurt me, I will whinny and kick and bite you - hard!"
All at once, dozens of people started jumping out from all over the place; down from the trees and out from the enormous ferns that fringed the forest. At first, it was almost impossible to distinguish the men from the women, as they all sported beads and smocks and dreadlocks, and their faces were smeared with greeny-brown gunge, and their makeshift clothes, dyed to blend into their surroundings, were decorated with assorted leaves and feathers.
"I didn't mean any harm!" cried Miles "I'd never hurt a tree on purpose! Honestly I wouldn't."
Beech bent over him menacingly, his face contorted with rage and his breath foul. "The trouble with you townies, you never think! You just don't care about the environment, do you! Well? Do you?"
The Babel Retreat
It was only once they’d driven through the trees that Joe had his first glimpse of the Babel Retreat, a large fortress, dark and gloomy, skulking at the bottom of the valley in the middle of a mass of dark, swirling water. The nearer it loomed, the more hideous it appeared, its outer walls impossibly high and laced with broken glass and vicious razor wire. Only the moorland springs gave any hint of life, and these bubbled merrily downwards from the hills before converging into the lake. This treacherous water served two purposes. Firstly, it formed a moat around the building making it impossible for unwelcome visitors to reach; and secondly, it provided a constant water supply through a series of aqueducts leading to the cellar.
On their approach, Joe heard an ominous creak as a large drawbridge was dropped, allowing the limos to cross the moat, and two enormous iron gates opened before them to reveal a large cobbled courtyard. Here, several women stood waiting, all dressed in long robes of purple and crimson, while their heads were covered with crisp, white veils and weird headdresses, which reminded Joe of the paper aeroplanes he sometimes made in class. The tallest of these women stepped forward to greet Mordant as he and the rest of his men left the comfort of their limousines, dragging Joe out with them. Grabbing the boy by the scruff of his neck, Skinner rasped in his ear. “Now mind your manners, you little scumbag. That lady there is Sister Prism, head of this joint and your boss from now on. Sister’s her title, so remember to use it!"
Slowly, Joe glanced up into those cold, dead eyes.
"Well?" said Prism, menacingly. But Joe was not going to be intimidated. Even if he was afraid of this tall, pointy-nosed lady with the alabaster skin, he would rather die than show it. Resolutely, he glared back at her, refusing to answer. Sister Prism was not accustomed to people defying her, especially rude little boys.
"Tell me your name, boy!" she warned, "Otherwise, I might think you are insolent, and insolent children have to be dealt with in a very uncomfortable way."
"I think he's shy," suggested Skinner "he's not said a word all the way here."
"Or perhaps he's dumb," said Sister Prism "which would be a pitiful waste of a tongue. Perhaps we should pluck it out and give it to someone who'll make good use of it. Like my cat, for instance!" She chuckled unpleasantly, and her finely chiselled nose began to wrinkle again.
The canal chase
"Is he coming after us?" asked Joe, anxiously.
"Just keep running, Joe!" Roots urged, but Odi couldn't resist a backward peek.
"He's coming all right", he said. "Is he gaining on us?" said Alice. "Heck no," Odi replied, "that guy's too cool to run!" Sure enough, Bevis had hardly accelerated. Even when the party he was following disappeared round a bend, he kept his pace to a confident stride, his long leather coat trailing obediently.
Roots led the way, feeling more unnerved by this stranger than by all the other agents put together. Somehow, he felt they wouldn't shake this one off so easily. How right he was. No matter how fast they ran, or how far they got, they had only to glance behind them to see the sinister figure advancing on them purposefully.
The narrow boat
As the Judith Rose cut a swathe round the bend, Miles saw the lock zoom into focus, getting rapidly nearer.
"What do I do?" he called to Roots. "I don't know how to stop it!"
"Switch off the key!" Roots called back, but it was no use. "It's jammed!" shrieked Miles. "I can't move it!"
"Try turning the wheel" suggested Roots. That didn't help either. In fact, the whole engine seemed to work automatically and simply wouldn't respond to anything. And, all the time, they were getting closer and closer to the lock. To make matters even worse (if that were possible), the men in the dinghy were hot on their trail. Miles took a deep breath and did the only other thing he could think of. Only yards from hitting the lock, he pressed the button marked 'Boost'!
The Blue John Cavern
Slowly and steadily, they continued along an underground river, the tunnel now so dark and narrow Odi began to hyperventilate again.
"Just what I need" he whined "another bout of close-to-phobia!"
"Claustrophobia." Alice corrected him. "Seems pretty close to me!" replied Odi, for once unable to think of anything clever to say. To his great relief, they soon reached another, bigger cavern. So big, in fact, it resembled a magnificent palace, adorned with shafts of sunlight from above. As the Judith Mary approached it's mooring, coming to rest on the banks of a crystal lagoon, all aboard gaped in astonishment. Not only was the cavern wonderfully bright and airy, it was like no other they had ever seen before.
"It's purple!" Joe cried. "All purple and shiny!"
"We must be in the Blue John mines." Laurel suggested.
"But it's purple!" insisted Joe.
"Blue John IS purple, Silly". Alice tutted despairingly. "Don't you boys know anything?"
"Oh, so that's why it's called blue!" said Odi with a good dollop of sarcasm. "The stuff's purple, so naturally, you call it Blue. That's cool, and not at all confusing!"