The chill wind blew from the north-east. Prestwick ignored the wind even though he felt the cold more than he should. It’s what was expected.
They all stood in their allotted places as their chief rallied them to go out and cause mischief. Last year he’d been eager. This year he just wanted to stay behind and sleep the day away.
Speech over, everyone began to move out. Feet tramped over the familiar grey earth. Where they were headed would not be grey. It would be all shades of colour. Some would go to the hot, orange places of the earth, some to the cold, white places. He was to go back to the same sad, green city he’d visited last year.
Last year. He still hated thinking about it. His assignment, all of their assignments, had been mayhem. Trip someone up when there was nothing to trip over, knock a glass to the floor that had been placed perfectly safely on a table, gather pollen to blow up someone’s nose to make them sneeze.
His older brother Ripper specialised in causing people to ‘gas up’ as he called it so that they’d fart in a lift. Either a full lift or one where there was no one else around, but where there was someone calling the lift at the next floor. Both had their merits as far as Ripper was concerned.
His sister Jello liked to stop up people’s ears, so that what they said to each other was misheard, misunderstood, causing rifts among friends, neighbours, families. If the goblin kingdom had thought to make war between humans, they’d do well to employ someone with Jello’s skills to make it happen.
For Eric, it had been cars. He was intrigued by these mechanical machines that so many humans used, that they seemed unable to do without. He studied them, worked out what made them work. And how to make them go wrong. He understood that if he tweaked the exhaust valve on some of the older models just enough, he could case them to backfire. And this, of course, startled humans.
But last year had been different. Last year he had caused a car to backfire, a particularly successful backfiring if he was honest, just at the moment when a woman named Meredith was passing with her little dog. The resulting bang not only startled the driver, but Meredith dropped her shopping, let go of the dog’s lead, and the dog, also scared, ran into the road into the path of a council truck.
There was only one outcome for poor Mitzi, and Meredith, who relied on this small creature for comfort and company since the death of her husband, had been distraught.
“It’s only a dog”, Ripper had said when he’d told him later.
“So what?” said Jello. “I’ve got humans to kill each other on three separate occasions.”
Yes, thought Prestwick, but the humans Jello targeted were ones that were prone to argument, to violence. They weren’t nice little old ladies like Meredith.
It was with a heavy heart that Prestwick started out that day, wondering if he should change tack, and if so, how. First, he felt he needed to check on Meredith, see how she was doing. He saw her walking down the street alone, no companion at her side as she took her meagre supplies home. Her face said it all – she was not doing too well, existing rather than living since the loss of her pal the year before.
Prestwick sighed. What now? He followed her along the street, reluctant to cause another backfiring afraid of what it might do.
A crowd had gathered at the end of the street, he noticed. He hurried ahead, not wanting it to be anything that would further upset Meredith. As he peered through the people, he noticed an elderly man lying on the floor. Someone was on the floor beside him, pressing rhythmically on his chest, another blew into his mouth. But it was obvious to Prestwick that he was quite dead; he was after all standing alongside the man’s spirit.
“Oh bugger,” the spirit said. “Should have gone to the doctors with those chest pains after all.”
“You had chest pains?” asked Prestwick. So, it wasn’t mischief that had killed the man.
“Yes, I did. And who the bloody hell are you?” he asked, becoming aware of the malformed creature beside him. “Come to think of it, what are you? A demon? Does this mean I’m going to hell? I didn’t think I’d done too much in life that was all that bad. Certainly nothing like Jack Carson. Now there’s a bad ‘un if ever I saw one.”
“No, I’m not a demon. Only a goblin. We get to cause mischief once a year on April 1st.”
“Oh? And what mischief have you caused?”
“None today as yet. But I’ll have to start soon.”
“Well, if you can cause problems for that Jack Carson, you’d be doing some of them round here a favour.”
“Why, what’s he done?”
“Well, he owns that apartment block over there. Wants to knock it down to build luxury apartments. He can’t just chuck us out, so he’s trying to force us all out by putting up the rent so we can’t afford to stay. Has a fancy car, personalised number plate, JC1. I mean, how pretentious is that?” He looked down at the people who were continuing to work on his ever more livid body. Distant sirens indicated an ambulance was on its way. “They’re wasting their time, aren’t they?”
“Yes, I’m afraid they are.”
“Ah well, I’ve had a good innings, I suppose. But what’s going to happen to my Poppy?”
“Yes, my little dog.” It was then that Prestwick noticed a small Jack Russel quivering against the wall. “You see, my daughter can’t take him on account of the fact that her husband is allergic. What’ll happen to her?”
“Leave Poppy to me. I know just the person to take care of her. And I’ll see what I can do about Jack Carson. JC1 you say? Cars are my speciality, you know. Now, if you’re ready, that’s the way you need to go now.” He pointed towards a path of white light that had appeared.
Meredith was surprised when the small dog ran up to her from the crowd. She picked up the lead, moved to the crowd to see if it belonged to anyone there, but no one claimed it – they were too intent on the inert form in front of them. No knowing what else to do, she took the animal home. It wore a collar which said its name was Poppy.
The dog looked at her, barked and wagged its tail.
The collar also had a name and address on it, in the same apartment block as she was. She wondered if the owner had been the person lying on the floor. Whatever, she had a duty to return the dog, so she wrote a note, and taking Poppy with her, she went to the address on the tag. It was a place that Poppy seemed familiar with and eager to return to, but when she knocked and did not receive a reply, she posted the note. A week later, a suited young woman knocked on Meredith’s door, explained the whole situation about her father and the allergic husband, and asked Meredith what she wanted to do next. If she wanted, the woman was sure she could arrange for the local shelter to pick Poppy up, but Meredith assured her that she was only too happy to continue caring for the dog; she and Poppy had already formed a bond.
Jack Carson drove into the area later that day. He’d heard one of the residents had died, and he wanted to make sure that no one else could claim a right to live there.
On entering the area, a stone flew up and chipped the windscreen, causing a large crack to spread across his vision. He tried to ignore it, this was not an area to stop in for long, but a sharp sighted officer saw him, and made him stop and call for it to be replaced. A few local residents watched. He was sure there was one that went to the local shop three times while they were waiting for someone to replace the windscreen.
Once the windscreen had been fixed and the officer had left, Jack drove for five minutes before a discarded bottle gave him a flat tyre, and he had to wait an hour before someone came to repair it. He’d given precise instructions as to where he was, but for some reason, the breakdown truck could not find him. All the time, the locals watched him, not one of them offering to help, though many would have been capable.
Once the tyre had been fixed, he’d not gone far when a sudden torrential downpour made it difficult to see. Not wanting to stop in this area, he carried on, making what he thought were the correct turns, before something inside short circuited and the car died, refusing to start again. It wasn’t until the rain slowed that he realised he was well and truly lost, and it was getting dark. There were no local residents looking at him, but he was sure there were hungry eyes watching him from that alleyway. Man or beast? He couldn’t be sure. Unable to get a signal for his phone – how could that be in the city? – he could do nothing but wait in his car for dawn, when the rain stopped, and he felt safe to get out the car and to an area where he could get a phone signal.
Once rescued, he decided this latest acquisition was more trouble than it was worth and sold the apartment block to someone who was a lot more sympathetic to the incumbent residents. After all, his father-in-law had, until his recent demise, been one of them.