The water ran down the window in rivulets. Outside the weather had turned. It was late autumn and apart from the days drawing in, many days were grey and sunless.
He was looking out of the window, looking straight ahead. Unpredictably something moved his head, or an arm, his body or leg. Charlie had to rely on others to move. By himself he was helpless, paralysed. Others often twitched him; I suppose to make certain every joint moved, and at other times he was left motionless. This was his life.
Suddenly he saw something, a person beyond the fence. He had paused for some reason while walking past. The man appeared at first to glance back, but then immediately looked down as if he had lost something. He bent down. Maybe he was going to tie his shoelace but no, he appeared to be patting something that he couldn’t see. Maybe a small child, he could only guess.
The man suddenly moved on and for an instant he had a clear view. It was a small dog that briefly sniffed the railings of the wrought iron gate before disappearing out of view again, hidden by another clump of turf.
Instantly he felt sorry for the poor animal, out in the rain, he certainly wouldn’t like it himself. But he supposed the dog was used to such inclement weather, this was probably just normal to him, a part of his daily life.
He hadn’t seen the man before. Must be new to the village. Over the years Charlie had met most people, often at village fetes or sometimes in the church hall. The children were always the kindest to him. He loved to bring joy to their little faces and hear their shrieks of laughter. These were his best times, he was an entertainer at heart, he lived for these moments, this was everything for him.
Suddenly he was faced into the room behind, he could no longer see outside or see the man walking his dog. He wouldn’t forget them though. Their image was now burnt into his mind. The interior of the room that he could now see dimly was dark and traditional, intricate hand-woven tapestries hung on the wall and large oriental kilims covered most of the floor, except for broad polished dark floorboards poking out at the room’s edge, completing the look was carefully positioned heavy antique furniture.
His eyes were not yet accustomed to the darkness and it took several seconds to fully acclimatise to his new surroundings. Then he suddenly started to animate, he had an unexpected visitor. Charlie could now see a small girl in front of him on the sofa wearing a pink dress. His arms started to move, his body quivered, this was what he lived for …
George had not lived in the village long. He had moved down from London shortly after Ruth had died. He couldn’t bear their old house any more. Too many memories of their life together, he just had to get away. A clean break was what was needed, and the country beckoned. This was now his new life.
He had settled in a quintessential English village with a collection of pretty houses and cottages of several ages and styles built over hundreds of years. Idyllic really.
Of course Rusty his dog loved the country. He loved his new walks, the fresh air, he was always eager to accompany his master, to explore and mark his territory. It was only the village shop he didn’t really like going to. There he was always tied up securely outside, attached to a heavy metal post by the entrance. Rusty always hated this. Forbidden to enter the shop. When outside he was always being tantalised, because the smell of food inside would constantly waft through the open door; propped open in the warmer days and despite there being no smells when the door was closed, forced to crouch patiently on the cold ground outside. No, this was not his favourite place at all. What Rusty really loved was walking freely in the countryside, where he discovered he was constantly being confronted by oodles of new exciting smells.
George as now was his morning habit, was about to take his dog for his usual walk along the country lanes surrounding his cottage. Rusty was predictably already very excited, bursting with eagerness to go outside, clawing relentlessly at his owner’s trousered leg as he tried to attach around the dog’s neck his well seasoned collar. Finally ready, the pair were soon bouncing down the garden path. The inclement weather didn’t seem to matter to either. They had now walked the same route many times before. So many times in fact, they could have walked it almost blindfolded. Today for a change George decided that he was going to try a different route, passing houses in the village where they didn’t normally go. After a while when they were passing an old rundown Georgian house something caught his eye. He suddenly saw a strange luminous figure peering out at them from a window of the house as they were passing it.
He couldn’t see too clearly, but it looked like a boy or a short man was starring out at them. This person seemed almost motionless, close to the window inside the house and behind almost transparent net curtains not completely drawn across. George couldn’t make out really any distinguishing features, but even from this distance he felt the person’s intense stare, which seemed to follow them as they slowly crossed the house’s ample frontage. The lawn and flowerbeds between them looked unkempt, and the house clearly was in need of some redecoration. As he arrived at the open grid gate, the persistent drizzle paused briefly giving him a brief and better view of the figure in the window observing them. A cold chill inexplicably ran down his back. The features of the little man that he could see suddenly unnerved him. Immediately crouching down towards the ground, he dragged the dog’s collar forward a little; soon the pair had moved off down the road and out of sight of the intimidating stare. This brief encounter for some reason remained in his mind unnerving him all day and in subsequent weeks he avoided taking the same route again…
Months later, in the middle of a glorious summer, George and his dog walked along the main road into the heart of the village. It was now a hot sunny day, the air felt thick, sweet and warm, and the grass all around them had a dry parched appearance having lost most of its green lustre. He firmly clutched a small flyer in one hand and his dog’s lead in the other. Rusty was constantly dragging him ahead, excited so he thought to be going somewhere new. This was their first complete summer in the village and they had no idea of what to expect, particularly as the village was today unusually lively.
In the centre of the village was a large green space surrounded by various houses on three sides. The road ran along the fourth perimeter closing the rectangle. At the weekend in the summer months, cricket was normally gently played often by players dressed in grass stained whites, but today the space was filled with colourful marquees and trestle table stalls, there was an ever present hum of activity and people’s chatter.
The pair wandered around almost aimlessly, looking at the produce on offer, even trying their hand at many of the novelty stalls; trying to win one of the many prizes going. Many stalls offered traditional games like throwing round wooden rings over pegs set in the ground, and with both hands firmly behind your back dunking for bobbing toffee covered apples floating in a large wooden tub of water.
Then they went into one of the marquees. Inside it smelt strongly of the enclosed grass floor. In front of them were many young children looking eagerly upwards at a little black-framed stage. They were watching a show and every few seconds shrieking with laughter.
No soon had they started watching the show, then they became distracted by a gloved white hand waiving vigorously at them from the stage, as if greeting the new arrivals as they entered like old friends.
Rusty quite unusually for him started to growl when he caught sight of what was happening on stage.
George could not believe what he was seeing. There in front of him high up on the stage was the little man that he had been so fearful of and had kept his distance from all this time, but this person had not been really alive at all, he now realised. The strings attached to his arms, legs and head gave it away. He was looking at a puppet!
Above the stage was a hand painted sign “Charlie and Friends.”