A passage from The Miseries of Mister Sparrows
In which two innocent cherubs are frightened
Out of their wits
Out of their wits
Thick yellow fog rolled down the riverbank to slide over the River Plew. Away across the black water, the lights of Trumpet’s Bridge blazed bright to illuminate the way of coach and pedestrian alike. But here, under the leaning wall of Minister’s Tower—far out of the way of any honest citizen—only the dimmest light penetrated. And it was in this sad, brown glow that two small mudlarks were picking their way through the muck.
“Wot’s that ya got, Nib?” said the first mudlark, a boy in breeches and a muffin-cap, puffing on a paper cigar.
“Dun know, Jack.” Nib—a malnourished boy whose prodigious ears and tucked-up morning coat gave him the appearance of a flightless bat—pulled a two-foot-long weapon like a miniature spear out of the muck. It had a broad, leaf-shaped blade that made up half its length and a carved wooden handle that made up the other half.
“Gotta be worth summat,” offered Jack.
“Summat, at least,” agreed Nib.
“Still,” said Jack, glancing up at the Tower that stood so tall and near, “I dun like bein’ so close to Minister’s.”
“Wa!” scoffed Nib, “You’re a milksop!”
“I’m not a milksop! But he lives here,” whispered Jack.
“Wa! You are a milksop!”
“And you’re a ginwit!”
“Wa! I found summat, didn’ I? More than wot you got!”
“I’ll show you wot I got!” Jack spat out his paper cigar and flung himself onto Nib with such fury that the two boys tumbled into the mud.
Nib punched, Jack bit, and the two struggled as if they had not been friends all their short lives. Back and forth they rolled crying and cussing and trying, in a brotherly fashion, to murder each other, till Jack, his legs wrapped around Nib’s arms and his full weight devoted to burying the other boy’s head in the mud, cut short their play with his urgent tone. “Wot’s that?” he said.
Nib raised his head with a slurping pop and spat out a lump of mud. “Plaaa! Wot’s wot?”
“That noise. It’s comin’ from the Tower!”
“No, I means it; listen!”
Nib wiped mud off his face and fished an eel out of his ear. Then he heard it: a soft, wailing yell from the Tower. It grew louder as the boys disentangled themselves and slipped and shifted to their feet, looking up at the vast base of the Tower with fear-round eyes.
“Minister’s!” whispered one of them. “It’s talkin’!”
Above them, where the wall of Minister’s sunk into the top of the riverbank, dimly to be seen through the fog, was a small archway of darkness—a tiny banshee-mouth that howled louder and louder down at the terrified children.
The mudlarks backed away from the Tower till their bare feet touched the cold river. Nib raised his newfound weapon before them with one trembling hand while grabbing Jack’s with the other. “Milksop,” he whispered feebly.
Suddenly the Tower spat at them. A formless, shrieking thing shot out of the tiny archway and bounced down the riverbank toward the two boys. It bounced and rolled and slid and came to rest at the boys’ feet. It was silent now and still, like a great, dead mollusk.
“Is it dead?” asked Jack.
In answer, Nib prodded the smelly thing with his foot.
It groaned. The boys jumped back. The water was now above their knees—the freezing, drowning current pulling at them weakly but insistently—but they did not care; they had eyes only for the horrible thing rising from the mud before them. It was some kind of monstrous dwarf, shaggy with slime and possessing a shifting lump of a head.
Staggering and wheeling about, it noticed the two boys and lurched toward them, groaning out incomprehensibly. Jack cried out and Nib hurled the odd knife-spear. The weapon struck the dwarf full in its shapeless head, but neither Jack nor Nib saw the creature fall. They scrambled up the muddy slope and ran crying into the foggy night, neither of them stopping till they had reached the safety of the nearest gin-shop.
Copyright 2016 Matthew A.J. Timmins