by Jacky Hotchin


“Where’s bloody Luke? We said to be back for four, and it’s half past now.”

“Probably not got his phone on him.”

“He has. It’s not charged though. You know what he’s like.” Rosie smiled.

“Sodding useless is what he’s like. I think we should just go.”

“No, that’s not fair. Let’s give him a bit longer. Something might’ve happened.”

“What, like he’s met the big bad wolf?”

“Or been locked in a gingerbread house by a wicked witch?”

“Maybe he’s gone on a bear hunt!”

“He could be hurt. Or lost. Let’s see what we’ve got while we wait.”

Evan flourishingly presented a wooden herb grinder etched with a hemp leaf. Laurie proffered a purple haired troll in a pink bikini. Claudia’s fur trimmed handcuffs provoked a smirk, as did Rosie’s laminated fold-out prayer card, featuring Our Lady of Fatima.

“Bet they belong to the same person,” snorted Evan. They squabbled about the relative merits of their trophies in the “most surprising find” category.

Half a mile away, Luke clung precariously to a slender branch high up a tulip tree. Liriodendron tulipifera. His favourite. He loved trees and he loved to climb them. Up here was a soaring green world, whence he could watch unseen. The black-clad figures beneath him were certainly unaware of their audience. A short young man with a red beard straightened his tiara. A couple in PVC mini skirts and fishnet tights prodded each other diffidently with riding crops. A buxom character sporting a “My eyes are up here” t-shirt twisted green hair around heavily ringed fingers.

“I’m just not sure about this whole concept.”

One of the players had a papier-mâché model of a blotchily pink backside on his head. He wrenched it off and threw it to the ground.

“I suppose you think we should be all flower fairies and twinkly lights?”

“Well, why not? That’s what people like.”

“What they like?” His furious spittle landed on the comely one’s platform Doc Marten.

“What are you even doing in this company? Have you actually read our logo? Confront and Proclaim. That’s what Oculus Oblique do. Not entertain and indulge.”

“D’ you know what? You don’t need that costume. You’re a pretty convincing dickhead without it.”

Luke swung down the tree. Red Beard’s tiara slid off as he vigorously championed Green Hair. The riding crops fought a duel. Dickhead spluttered a raging defence of his creative vision. Amidst the passionate cacophony, no one noticed Luke lift the papier-mâché model.

He rammed it onto his head and raced back to his friends.

“Help! Help! Look what’s happened! This is your fault, Evan! You’ve called me an arse so many time,s I’ve turned into one!”

By the time they had all stopped laughing and declared Luke the irrefutable winner, he was gone. He had found himself suddenly reluctant to share what he had seen, and possessed of a fierce desire for that tiara.

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