Clifford and the Bookmole
by Colin P. Davies
part 1 of 2
Two problems prevented Clifford King from meeting and marrying Zondra Amazon and probably becoming the happiest man on Earth.
One problem was their ages. She was twenty-one, though she looked much nearer eighteen and had a figure which could ignite puberty in parched twelve-year old boys. Clifford, by contrast, was fourteen and one week, spotty and spiky-haired, and had a tendency to perspire, though he endured all the grotty sufferings of his age with good spirits and always made the best attempt to be presentable. He was also rather shy.
The other problem — and by far the major obstacle to the love affair — was that Zondra Amazon was a character in a novel. However, never one to give up the race just because he’d lost a shoe and left a bloodied kneecap back at the first hurdle, Clifford determined to do something. What, he wasn’t quite sure, but the Yellow Pages seemed like a good place to start. He looked for Inventors, Wizards, Sorcerers, and God.
Unfortunately there were no entries for Inventors, Wizards, or Sorcerers, and God was out. Clifford left a message on His answering machine, but didn’t really expect a reply. Why should God be interested in his problems? Clifford, after all, was only a teenager, while God, let’s face it, was a wrinklie.
By no means admitting defeat, but accepting the need to put his brain on recharge, Clifford went reluctantly upstairs to bed. Outside his bedroom window the moon grinned. He wiped the smile off its face with the curtains.
And wasn’t it just like God to come calling in the night, to sweep in on the warm July breeze, to somehow climb in though Clifford’s open window.
The first thing Clifford knew of the miracle was when he was woken by a gentle rattling. Someone was thumbing through his CD collection. The blackness in the room was thick in Clifford’s eyes. He was scared — which no doubt explained why he was chewing his sheets.
“The Locomotion,” said an easy, sonorous voice. “Kylie Minogue? I remember that song the first time around. Come on Baby, do the Locomotion! I could do it now if it wasn’t for my joints.” A shadow shifted towards the window. “Little Eva, wasn’t it? Or was it Lulu?”
The curtains drew apart and moonlight fell upon a thin-haired, white-bearded, old man. Clifford switched on his bedside lamp. An old man wearing a beige raincoat.
“You see, I’m just a touch older than you, Clifford. You might call me a wrinklie.” There was a glint in his eye which Clifford took to be a reflection from the lamp. “Now... you have a problem, I believe.”
But the only problem Clifford had at that moment was how to wake himself up. He pinched his arm. He shook his head. He slapped himself in the face. Valuing his teeth, he decided to accept he was awake and that all this was really happening. He ought to say something; this was his bedroom after all. But what do you say when you meet...
“You say hello,” said the man.
“Hello, God,” said Clifford obediently.
“Hello, God... frey.”
The visitor chuckled and scratched at his beard. “Works every time!”
“Godfrey?” Clifford threw back the sheets — he wished he’d been wearing pajamas, but the nights were so damned hot. He clutched his pillow as a shield.
“Godfrey B. Strange, Sorcerer, at your service. No job too big. Service with a smile.” He showed a keyboard of yellow teeth.
“I thought you were God.”
“I advertise that way. It brings in more calls.”
Clifford considered a moment. Could this man do anything for him, apart from make him quit eating cheese for supper? “So what can you do?”
“What can’t I do?”
“Find a good toothbrush?”
Godfrey laughed for precisely one second. “I like you, Clifford. So I’m going to do you a favor.”
Holding the pillow in front of him, and keeping a good distance between himself and the visitor, Clifford circled to the door where his dressing gown hung. He slipped the gown on and dropped the pillow.
Godfrey surveyed him with a glance and nodded knowingly. “You don’t need to tell me your problem. I know what it is.”
Clifford snapped the front of his gown shut and sat down on the bed.
Godfrey leaned closer and whispered, as if sharing a secret. “Of course, you do realize the real problem is your age? It’s a funny time of life, you know. Hormones bouncing about like bingo balls.” He leapt back. “Ping! There goes another one.” He snatched at the air. “Missed!”
Clifford realized his mouth was hanging open. “You’re a strange kind of sorcerer.”
“So now you’re an expert on sorcerers. A disaster at romance, but a connoisseur of fine magic.”
Neither spoke then. The air was tense, full of expectation, like the charged silence following flatulence.
“And what can you do for me?” said Clifford finally.
“Ah... now there you’re in luck.” Godfrey began to wriggle. He danced on one leg and slipped his hand inside his raincoat.
“The bathroom’s just across the landing.”
“Very amusing, son. Very droll. It’s not as easy as it looks, this conjuring lark.” Godfrey pulled out a white box from inside his coat. It looked like a shoebox.
“That’s a neat trick,” said Clifford.
“Thanks. You should see what I can do with a camel and ten rolls of sellotape.” Godfrey placed the box carefully on the bed beside Clifford. “I picked up this specimen only last week. Open it!”
“Don’t spoil the drama. Open it!”
Clifford picked up the box and placed it on his lap. It was surprisingly heavy. Gingerly he eased the lid up. Before he could catch a glimpse inside, Godfrey snatched the box back.
“I’ll want paying, you know. And we haven’t agreed a price yet.”
Clifford laughed. “I’m not paying till I know what I’m paying for. I wasn’t born yesterday.”
Godfrey hugged the box to his chest. “From my perspective, son, you were born just after midnight.” From inside his coat, he drew out a pocket watch and held it up by its chain. It dangled close to his eyes. “ About three and a half hours ago.”
“Only my eyes... my brain is as sharp as ever. And I can see through your game.” Godfrey held the box up to his nose. He sniffed. Lifting the lid at one side, he glanced within, then snapped it shut. “You want something for nothing.”
Clifford shrugged. He wasn’t taking all this very seriously. After all, he must be dreaming. Either that, or once again he’d rolled out of bed and butted the radiator.
Godfrey put the box down beside Clifford. “I can offer you what I offer all my clients.” With a flourish, he handed Clifford a business card.
“Like it says, Godfrey’s Satisfaction Guaranteed Guarantee.”
“And what does it mean?”
“That means if you’re not totally satisfied with the service, or if you feel that you got less than a fantastic bargain for the price, or even if you just suspect you got short-changed, you can take a baseball bat and beat the living crap out of me!”
Clifford tossed the card onto the bed and crossed to the window. In the moonlight the back garden was silver. A breeze brushed the small pond so that the surface shimmered. It was a beautiful night. Romance was on the loose — but Zondra remained bound with the pages of a book.
Clifford gazed at the cloudless sky. “Do you have many satisfied customers?”
“We’re all satisfied one way or the other.”
“So what is this favor you can do for me?”
Godfrey cleared his throat. “How would you like to meet Zondra Amazon?”
Clifford turned around. Foolish or not, dream or not, it was time to make a deal.
“Name your price!”
* * *
It was Mum’s CD anyway! And chances are she had no idea it had found its way into Clifford’s collection. But he was still slightly troubled. Kylie Minogue seemed too small a price to pay for the magic Godfrey was offering.
Clifford stirred his soggy cornflakes. He was finally able to accept that last night had really happened. The box hidden under his bed was proof of that. He’d always considered himself a practical guy, open minded when it suited him, skeptical when put on the spot. Now suddenly it was as if his whole world had shifted sideways. If magic was real, then anything could happen.
“And don’t forget, Clifford. Come straight home after school. Auntie Flo can only stay an hour. She’s disappointed about missing your birthday and she doesn’t want to miss you today.”
Who had ever heard of a bookmole? That’s what Godfrey had called it. Intelligent, accurate, and trilogy-trained, it still looked like just a furry animal to Clifford.
“And don’t dump your bike on the drive again. I almost ran over it yesterday.”
Clifford sucked cornflakes from his spoon. Today was a big day, for Clifford at least. Zondra was due to be published in the third book of the Interminable Chronicles. The title escaped him at the moment, but Sword was in there somewhere. He would have to get to the bookshop straight after school.
“Are you listening to me, Clifford? And don’t slurp! You sound disgusting. You’ve got your father’s manners.”
Tonight he would send the bookmole in search of Zondra, possibly into the new book. Godfrey had given him instructions. It all seemed simple enough. Tonight he could have a girlfriend.
His mother tapped him on the back of the head. The shock made him drop his spoon into his cornflakes.
“Don’t be rude about your father.”
“Yes Mum. Sorry Mum.” He wiped milk from his tie.
“And don’t get milk on your blazer.” She went to the sink and began to wash the dishes. After a moment, she said, “Clifford. Have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying?”
“Of course, Mum.”
She turned to face him. In her hand, the dishcloth dripped. “I’m not surprised you’re Auntie Flo’s favorite nephew. You’re such a good boy. Get off to school now, or you’ll miss assembly.”
Clifford grabbed his bag and jumped up. “Oh, I’ll be home a bit late tonight. I want to go to...”
She swung the dishcloth at him three times. He dodged twice.
* * *
By evening Clifford was afloat on expectation. Telling his parents he was feeling a little dizzy, he retired early to his bedroom. He’d blamed the attack on a half-hour’s exposure to Auntie Flo’s chain smoking. In truth all the visit had left him with was a desire to introduce capital punishment for the removal of dentures in company.
Clifford closed the curtains against the twilight sky and switched on his bedside lamp. Then he jammed a chair under the door handle and took the box from under the bed. He flipped the lid. The bookmole was huddled in a ball. He picked it up. It was soft and warm and its short legs dangled. The creature reminded Clifford of a guinea pig — about the same weight and size. However, there were differences — not least the pink, heart-shaped ears and the central, single eye, which at this moment was fixed upon Clifford’s face. Its fur was the color of parchment and it had no tail.
“Why only one eye?” Clifford had asked Godfrey.
“It only needs one. It’s a book mole. Think about it. Writing on the page is two-dimensional. The reader creates the third dimension.”
Now Clifford turned the bookmole around in his hands. It had a nose like a fat blackcurrant and was equipped with claws... short, but sharp. He poked the creature’s nose, but withdrew his finger quickly when the pupil in its white eye contracted to a hard dot and began to tremble. Gently, he put the bookmole down on the bed.
Godfrey had told him that it fed irregularly and without pattern, as befitted a magical creature. It ate words and pictures: books, newspapers, magazines... It also occasionally ate slippers, which, Godfrey had explained, was evidence of insecurity and a need to be loved.
Clifford also had a need to be loved — by Zondra Amazon.
As he’d been unable to get to the shop for the new publication, Clifford only had the choice of two books. He opted for number one in the trilogy, in which Zondra was first introduced in a touching scene where she shakes free her prim, hoisted yellow hair, takes off her unsightly spectacles, and kisses the prince’s horse. He collected the book from a shelf and sat on the bed.
He flicked through the paperback, searching again for the scenes that could bring Zondra alive in his head. Feeding the bookmole was, of course, going to damage the book. He would need to buy a replacement. It was a price worth paying.
He placed the book in front of the creature and waited. The eye glanced at Clifford and then the book. Clifford. Book. Clifford. Boo... the book was in its jaws. Clifford’s flinch nearly tumbled him from the bed. He stood up.
The bookmole growled as it tore the book apart, tossing its head, showering confetti about the bedroom.
Now what were the words? He didn’t have long. Within seconds it would have finished chomping the novel. He had to remember the instructions Godfrey had given him.
Copyright © 2006 by Colin P. Davies