Scribble Desk’s Take: Fancy yourself an Adult who knows what a child sees and imagines? I bet my friend Kurt Chambers’ brilliant short story can change your mind. It changed mine.
The World in Johnny’s Back Garden
The window misted with Johnny’s breath as he gazed out upon his garden with eager anticipation. Trails of raindrops raced to reach the windowsill, settling in pools on the white, glossed paintwork. “Can I go outside, Mum?” he asked, his chin resting in his hands.
“I don’t think so,” she replied, joining him beside the window. She ruffled his blond, spiky hair and peered through the glass. “Why would you want to go out in this miserable weather anyway?”
He gave a shrug. “I just wanted to have a look around the garden.” He turned to see a wide smile light up her face.
“You know what it looks like. You’ve played in it like a million times.” She flicked back her curly, auburn hair, exposing the wrinkles around her eyes. Her grin widened.
He tried to think of a reasonable response, but none came to mind. He turned to look outside again, leaning his head back in his hands. “I hate Sunday’s.”
“Why don’t you watch some telly? Put a DVD on or something.”
“Na, that’s boring. I’ve seen them all anyway.”
She let out a tut and turned to leave. “I wish I had time to get bored. You could always help me with the laundry, or do the washing up? I’m not bothered which. I have a whole host of things to keep you entertained.”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “I think I’d rather be bored.”
His mum left, closing the door. “Don’t say I didn’t offer,” came her muffled voice as she descended down the stairs.
Within a moment his door burst open again. “Hi, Johnny.”
His little sister’s sharp voice made him jump. “Don’t you ever knock?”
“No,” she remarked in a casual tone. With one hand stuffed into her faded jeans pocket, she wandered around his room flicking through the jumble of assorted items that filled every bit of space on his shelves. “I’m bored. Do you wanna play a game or something?” she asked, gazing through the window to see what he was looking at.
He screwed up his nose. “Er, no thanks.”
“Oh, go on. There isn’t anything else to do.” She slumped on his bed with her arms sprayed out, staring at the ceiling. “Well, what are we going to do then?”
“You could go and play in your own room?”
She lifted her head and frowned. “Not on my own!” She pulled herself into a sitting position and hugged her knees to her chest. “Will you tell me a story, Johnny?” Her eyes widened with anticipation.
“What, right now?”
“Yeah!” She bobbed up and down, her curly, blond hair bouncing with her. “I love your stories. Not a scary one though.”
Johnny took a deep breath and let it out slowly, as though reluctant. In all honesty though, he loved telling stories at any time of the day. He gazed out of the window at the giant standing in the back garden and a grin spread across his lips. “Did you know that thousands of years ago the whole world was full of giants? Long before people were around.”
Sarah raised her eyebrows. “Yeah, everyone knows there was dinosaurs.”
Johnny eased his slim frame onto the edge of the bed. “I’m not talking about dinosaurs. They were tiny in comparison to these giants. These were massive, and they were here way before dinosaurs even existed.” He waited for a reaction, but his sister sat gazing wide-eyed in silence. “And they still live here on earth to this very day!” he continued.
“No way!” Sarah squeezed her legs even tighter to her chest. “That’s impossible.”
Johnny shrugged his shoulders. “Well, if you don’t believe me there’s no point in telling you then.” He went to turn away, but she tugged at his arm.
“No, don’t stop. I believe you.”
He made himself comfortable and thought for a moment. Then he began.
“A long, long time ago, way before any creatures lived on our planet, the world was inhabited by giants.” His eyes widened as he emphasised the word. “They lived almost everywhere. Not all of them were really huge, but the biggest ones were colossal; as big as the tower blocks down the town. Some of them could live for more than a thousand years.”
Sarah folded her arms and frowned.
“It’s true!” Johnny confirmed, nodding his head. “When they’re born, they never move from the same spot for the rest of their lives.”
“That’s stupid,” Sarah interrupted. “How do they eat and stuff if they can’t even go shopping?”
Johnny threw his head back with laughter and almost fell off the bed. “Not everything goes shopping for food. That’s just people that do that.”
She gave him a hard stare. “You’re making this up. Why didn’t they move around then?”
“They didn’t need to. Everything they need is already there. They drink water when it rains and they eat by sucking all the goodness out of the mud.”
“They eat mud?” She held her hand over her mouth. “That’s sick!”
He grinned. “Yeah. Well kind of. They have these long, gnarled tentacles that burrow deep into the ground and feed off of the decomposing bodies of dead insects and rotting vegetation. Anyway, they can’t move around ‘cos they haven’t got legs.” He leaned closer to her face. “They haven’t even got heads!”
Sarah cringed away. “You said it wouldn’t be a scary story,” she protested. “They’re not giants; they sound more like monsters.”
Johnny laughed and pulled a scary face.
“It’s not funny. If I have nightmares tonight I’m telling Mum.”
He patted her on the leg. “They’re not monsters, quite the opposite in fact. If it weren’t for the giants, you wouldn’t even be alive. Nobody would.”
She cocked her head, her frown deepened. “What’d you mean?”
Johnny lay on his bed, leaning his head in his hand. “I don’t think I should tell you anymore,” he teased. “I wouldn’t want to give you nightmares.”
She thrust her hands on her hips. “Johnny!”
He chuckled, relishing his captive audience. “Almost everything we have is all thanks to them,” he continued. “Cars, boats, houses, electricity, heating. The list goes on forever. Money, jewels, even the air you’re breathing…Everything! Without them we wouldn’t have any of it.”
“That’s rubbish. How come nobody else has heard of them?”
Johnny shook his head. “What you talking about? Everyone knows. They teach you all this at school.”
“My teachers never told me about them.”
“Yes they did,” he corrected. “You just wasn’t listening properly.”
She sat bolt upright. “No they didn’t! I’m sure if they’d taught me about giant, mud eating monsters with no heads, I’d remember.” She paused for a moment then scrambled to the edge of the bed. “I’m gonna ask Mum.”
“You’re wasting your time,” Johnny remarked in a casual tone.
“Why is that then?” She wore a smug grin. “‘Cause you’re lying?”
He sat up. “No, because Mum’s an adult. They see things differently from us.”
“What’s that suppose to mean?”
He let out a sigh. “Adults only see things a certain way. Mum’s seen hundreds of them, but she probably hasn’t even noticed. They’re too wrapped up in grown-up stuff.”
Sarah put her finger to her temple in a circular motion. “You’re mad!”
“Am I?” He rose to his feet and pushed his hands in his pockets. “Well, you’re blind. Why don’t you try looking out the window? There’s a giant standing in our back garden right now.”
She paused. Her mouth hung open. “I’m not going to look. You’re not making me look stupid.”
“You’re already stupid.”
She scrunched up her face and stomped over to the window, pulling back the net curtain. “Oh right, there’s a giant standing in my garden. Ooh, I’m scared…Not!”
Her sarcastic tone didn’t waver Johnny in the slightest. “See, I told you.”
She gave him a blank stare, then quickly glanced into the garden through the corner of her eye. “Yeah, whatever!” she remarked with an open-hand gesture.
Johnny pointed. “You must be blind if you can’t see it. It’s right there!”
Sarah turned and pressed her face to the glass. “That’s a tree, stupid. It’s not a giant.”
“What do you mean it’s not a giant? It’s bigger than our house. What would you call it then, a dwarf?”
She stood looking thoughtful. “I’d call it a tree.”
“You call it a tree, I call it a giant. It doesn’t matter what name you give it.”
She wandered back over to the bed and sat down with her hands on her lap. “So you made this all this up then. There weren’t really any headless, mud-eating giants.”
Johnny thought he saw a glimmer of disappointment in her eyes. “I didn’t make it up. It’s all true. Trees don’t have heads. They have long tentacles called roots that burrow underground and suck the rainwater and nutrients out the soil. They never move from the spot they were born.” He grinned. “What part of the story wasn’t true then?”
Sarah nibbled on the end of her finger, frowning deeply. “What was all that about the things they gave us. You said they gave us jewels and stuff. You don’t get jewels from a tree, even I know that.”
“Yes you do. Where do you think amber comes from?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. You dig it up, don’t you?”
“It all comes from the giants, or trees as you like to call them.” He gave her a playful nudge with his shoulder.
She smiled. “Really?”
“I’m not lying. Wood, paper, coal, oil, amber, even the air we breath. It all comes from trees.”
Sarah walked back to the window and stood watching the Scotts Pine that stood swaying at the end of the garden. “It’s cool having our own giant.”