Saturday, July 19, 2008

Arthur Mutton, 10 years, 2 months and three days, threw his satchel over his bony shoulder and set off home. He hardly noticed the rain as it sprayed over Sheffield City, soaking him right through to his school vest and making the streets smell of raw mushrooms. He was hungry and ready for the warmth and comfort of his home. He hoped the pub wasn’t too busy as he enjoyed it when his mum had time to sit with him as he ate his tea. Mr Mutton bought the pub in Sheffield with his retirement money when he left the army 12 years ago. He married Mrs Mutton, a London girl, and they had Arthur, their only but much loved child. The Muttons were hardworking and honest. They weren’t well off and often Arthur had to wear second hand clothes but they were a happy family.
Arthur turned into Neepsend Lane where the pub was tucked into a corner. Bright red peonies sprouted from the hanging baskets and pots dotted about the entrance and a big Welcome sign hung in the window. Arthur pushed the heavy door and his heart sank as he peered through his misted up thick, bottle-glass spectacles and saw the pub was full to the brim with football supporters. Not being particularly sporty, he’d forgotten about the Sheffield Wednesday match. Sighing he wrestled his way to the kitchen where his mum was struggling with a huge tray of sandwiches.
“Watch yer back young’un. Let me set these down in the Function Room for this hungry lot and I’ll see if I can rustle you up some dinner. ” Red faced and slightly harassed she bustled away leaving Arthur to dry himself off with a tea towel and help himself to a glass of orange juice. His mum always kept some especially for him in the fridge. The doors swung open again and Mrs Mutton reappeared. “Oooh, I’m sweating buckets, this lot are making me work that ‘ard. Now darlin’ ‘ow does fish fingers and chips suit yer?”
“Thanks mum,” said Arthur slurping his juice. Mrs Mutton, tucking a damp, stray curl behind her ear, got busy with the frying pan and Arthur settled to watch her.
“So, ‘ow was school?”
“Did you ‘ave to do games in this awful weather?” Arthur wrinkled his freckled nose remembering the long, wet cross country run they’d had to do.
“Them teachers!” Mrs Mutton tutted, “A load of sadists if you ask me!” She presented Arthur with a steaming plate of fish fingers and chips. “’ere take this into the Snug. It’s nice and quiet in there.” She opened the door and Arthur trotted out. The snug was quiet and Arthur sat down at one of the tables, soaking his fish fingers in a thick, scarlet lake of tomato ketchup. Ignoring the excitement and loud camaraderie of the footie fans next door he devoured his meal within minutes.
“You were hungry.” A growly voice came out of the shadows making Arthur jump. “I suppose all school boys are hungry.” The growly voice was dressed from head to foot in a long, black hooded cloak and it slid behind the table opposite to Arthur’s. It brought out a pipe and soon puffy, blue clouds began to float from beneath the heavy hood. Arthur shrugged his shoulders. Weirdos sometimes visited the pub and occasionally stayed in one of the bed and breakfast rooms his mum offered.
“You got a tongue in your head boy?” the voice grated and exploded into a storm of coughing. A white hand protruded from beneath the black cloak and gripped the table. “A disgusting habit,” he rasped trying to control the terrible choking feeling he had in his chest. At last with one almighty sneeze the coughing stopped and the dark, mysterious hood was thrown back revealing the stranger’s head. Arthur gasped in amazement and horror, sending his empty plate crashing to the floor. ©Nikki Salt