Sam always did his best thinking on the top of Goose Hill. He lay on
his back on his favourite UFO-spotting rock and
cuddled Graham against his chest. It was a miracle really, that a three-legged dog could ever make it up Goose Hill, but as well as being
mystic Graham had a determined streak.
Sam screwed up his eyes and allowed his mind
to drift. The best thing about thinking was that you didn't
stutter in your head. He just hoped that when the aliens came they communicated by mind-reading. It was possible they might come today - a
dirty paintwater day when no one would notice.
Today was special. Sam had dressed
carefully. He'd dug out a Homer Simpson T-shirt, baggy shorts and a matching
pair of grey socks and scrubbed them in bleach in the kitchen sink. He'd
made enquiries about an iron but Dad just shrugged and carried on saving the world on his computer. The ironing had stopped on
the day Mum disappeared. Stuff had been pretty crumpled since then. Except for
this summer of course.
Sam's eyes burned. He held on tight to
Graham. Today was a day for very serious thinking...
was Mrs Jellicoe next door who'd first noticed Graham's special powers. She
read tea leaves on a part-time basis and
bred clouds of fluffy Bichon Frise puppies. Sam had wanted one more than anything but Dad just said, "I can't be doing with
all that poncy pedigree business. I'll get you a proper lad's dog."
And he did. He gave a fiver to a man in the pub who'd got a
greyhound for sale that wasn't winning races any more. They soon found out why.
Sam was a bit disappointed about the missing
back leg at first but then Graham rested his bristly chin on his knee and
gazed up at him with one of his wonky crossed eyes; one ear pricked and the other sticking out at right
angles. Sam had just failed his maths project on symmetry so he felt an immediate bond.
"That dog sees things," said Mrs
Jellicoe, leaning over the fence with a cotton wool pup under each
arm and a smear of chocolate round her mouth. "See how close together his eyes are? That's the sign of a mystic, mark my
Mrs Jellicoe's suspicions were confirmed when Princess Margaret
died. Graham, who usually fell into a deep
snoring sleep across the bottom of Sam's bed, sat by the back door and howled through the night. The next morning it
was the main story on the telly news. Princess
Margaret had died peacefully in her sleep. Tony Blair sounded all choked up
when he said she'd be remembered with
a lot of affection.
"What did I tell you?" Mrs Jellicoe stood in the kitchen
doorway with a casserole dish and a
gap-toothed smile. "That dog's in tune with momentous events."
Sam's dad snorted into his Coco Pops. "More
like bellyache after that vat of semolina you brought
round. You coming in or what?"
such a charmer, Kev. I don't know why I bother." Mrs Jellicoe winked at
Sam as she shuffled over to the table, pushed a pile of newspapers and junk
mail out of the way and plonked down the
casserole. "Beef and garlic this week, boys. This'll put hairs on your
Sam hoped she was right. That'd show the tough kids who
pushed him in the playground.
Mrs Jellicoe bent down to tickle Graham who was catching
up on his sleep under the table. "Don't you worry, Grahamy boy, your
Auntie Trace can see things as well."
"Perhaps Auntie Trace would like to see the door on her way out
Sam nibbled his charcoal toast and flinched.
He couldn't bear it when his dad was rude to Mrs Jellicoe. She couldn't help
being fat and psychic.
Graham's tail thudded as he slurped his tongue over Mrs
Jellicoe's apple face.
"Flippin' dragon breath - you want to
brush his teeth, young Sammy. Come round to mine now and I'll give you a
special toothbrush and check your tea leaves."
Sam jumped to his feet and raised his eyebrows at his
"Bloody Mystic Meg. Go on if you must."
Sam whistled Graham and they scampered off after Mrs Jellicoe. It
was the other half of their semi but it was like a different world in her
house. It smelt of polish and hot cakes and the kitchen tiles were all sparkly.
You could write your name in the chip grease in Sam's kitchen and he often did.
"Come on in and park your bum." Mrs Jellicoe
bustled around clattering cups and arranging homemade crumbly biscuits on a
china plate while a flurry of yapping pups chewed at her
slippers. "Now drink your tea and we'll see what your future's got in
store." She pulled up a stool next to Sam at the breakfast bar and stroked
Graham's bony head. Graham closed his eyes
and let out a long shuddering sigh. Sam knew how he felt. There was something about Mrs Jellicoe that made you
"Thank you." Sam formed his words
carefully as he passed his empty cup. He didn't normally speak much, not since
his mum disappeared three years ago.
remembered her pale and sleepy in the big bed in the dining room. She told him
she'd been to the hospital to have something taken out but it was okay because
she could manage without it. He'd just started
school then and one dismal Monday he came home to find the bed had gone. His mum had gone as well and no one
ever mentioned her after that. It was hard
to talk to his dad. He didn't do hugs or tear-wiping. He was more of a plug-it-in
sort of dad.
"My goodness, Sammy, your
future's looking dead exciting!" Mrs Jellicoe peered into his cup. "I can see that you might be moving
house soon - not very far away but it'll be great."
Sam's eyes widened. "G-g-graham?"
"Oh don't you worry, Graham will be going as well. In fact
there'll be loads of dogs and a fab new auntie to look after you." Mrs
Jellicoe squeezed his hand. "Do you think you'd like that, Sammy?"
Sam could hear his heart pounding. Mumbo jumbo his dad called it,
but he knew Mrs Jellicoe wouldn't lie to him.
There was silence for a
moment and then Graham scrambled up on the squashy sofa in the corner, rolled over on his back and started to snore.
"You see, Graham knows. He's chosen his bed for
when he moves in."
On the day before the Queen Mother died, Mrs Jellicoe married Sam's dad
in a quiet ceremony at Hereford register office. The
wedding night was less quiet. Graham sat by the back
door and howled at the moon. Sam sat with him and wondered who was going to
disappear this time.
"We've lost a symbol of Britain's
decency and courage," announced Tony Blair next morning,
sounding even more upset than when Princess Margaret died.
It was funny sitting round Mrs Jellicoe's
table and seeing her and his dad in matching white
towelling dressing gowns. Almost like a proper family.
"Now come on, Kev, you have to admit
that dog's psychic." Mrs Jellicoe took a huge bite of croissant and strawberry jam oozed down her chin.
"What planet are you on, you daft bat."
Mrs Jellicoe laughed, spitting crumbs all over the table, and hit
him with the tea cosy. "I knew I should
have waited for Johnny Depp. A fine honeymoon this is turning out to be."
They were interrupted by the post thudding
onto the mat and the usual display of histrionics from Mrs Jellicoe's
Candyfloss as she shot off into the hall to try and maim the postman.
Kev jabbed a finger. "I don't know about psychic - your
precious Fluffybum's a bloody psycho!"
Sam watched and wondered. Did they really
like each other? Certainly his dad smiled and shaved more these days but he
didn't call her darling or hold her hand. Their old house next door was up for
sale (Chip Fat Villa as Mrs Jellicoe called it) and they'd moved most of their stuff in but Sam still couldn't quite believe it
"Let's do something fab this afternoon," said Mrs
Jellicoe. "Let's load up the dogs and drive
to the beach for a picnic."
wriggled in his chair. This was more like it. This was the sort of thing
"Get a grip, woman." Kev drained his Bucks Fizz.
"It's flippin' freezin' and we're not exactly on the coast."
But Mrs Jellicoe wasn't listening. She was already
boiling the eggs for the sandwiches.
Sam was in charge of the dogs. He packed towels and
biscuits and water, then did his special whistle
and Graham and Candyfloss and her pups raced after him to Mrs Jellicoe's big red estate car parked on the front drive. The Jellicoe dogs knew all
about outings and they piled into the back
like an explosion in a cotton wool factory, but this was a new experience for Graham. Sam turned to help him in
but Graham lowered his head and backed awkwardly away.
"G-g-graham?" Sam held out his hand. A low warning growl
rumbled through Graham's skeletal body and
he curled back his lip, showing pointed yellow teeth.
"Don't touch him." Mrs Jellicoe stood on the step with
the bulging cool bag. "He's seeing something."
Graham was doing serious wolf impressions
now. His hair was standing on end as though it had been gelled.
Sam felt his legs turn wobbly - this was a new Graham and he
didn't know what to do. He wouldn't bite,
"It's not you he's growling at, Sammy love - it's the car.
Just stand still a mo." Mrs Jellicoe tiptoed
down the drive making cooing noises. Graham swung round as though he was going to jump at her, then seemed to think better of it
and slunk off into the house with his tail clamped firmly between his leg and his stump.
"Well I never!" Mrs Jellicoe threw her arms
round Sam. "You all right, lovey?"
He nodded but was glad of a hug. He just hoped the tough
kids across the road weren't watching.
dad swaggered out wearing his new leather jacket and a jaunty scarlet baseball cap. "What the hell's going on now?"
"Change of plan, Kev. We'll have to go
in your minging old rust bucket. Graham's had a premonition
about my car."
"Graham's had a what?"
"One of his premonitions - we can't just ignore it.
Not after Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother. How would you feel if we all
ended up dead in a ditch?"
rolled his eyes. "Bloody fed up."
Sam was surprised that his dad didn't shout.
He was even more surprised when he noticed him squeeze Mrs Jellicoe's arm.
The trip to the seaside was the first of many fab
outings, as Mrs Jellicoe called them. Sam's favourite picnic spot was up Goose
Hill where they all played tracking games and hide-and-seek in the undergrowth. One afternoon his dad and Mrs Jellicoe stayed
hidden in the bushes for ages but Sam
didn't worry- he felt safe with Graham to look after him.
They always went in Kev’s car. Mrs Jellicoe
stopped using her red estate after Graham's premonition. She said she'd seen a
similar warning in the tea leaves herself so they'd just have to sell it. Kev
said she was bloody bonkers but he still didn't shout.
Sam noticed a big change in his dad. Mrs
Jellicoe seemed to have cast a spell over him. He was still rude of course
but in a jokey way and he stopped playing killing games on his computer and dropping cigarette ends in his
coffee. The only bad thing was he stank of soap and after-shave.
"Is everybody happy?" asked Mrs Jellicoe one
drowsy afternoon at the end of August. They were
sitting on the riverbank eating chicken salad and drinking ice-cold lemonade.
"Dead happy, thanks, Aunt Trace." Sam bit into a plump
juicy tomato and closed his eyes. He could almost feel his taste buds exploding
into life after all those years of being coated in yellow fur.
"I'm very happy love."
Sam squinted through his lashes and saw his
dad smiling at Mrs Jellicoe in a way he'd never seen
before. He reached out a hand to stroke Graham, who was snoozing in the sun beside him
and felt his hand being thoroughly licked.
I might remember this moment forever, thought Sam.
That night Graham howled by the back door until he was
hoarse. Sam shivered and held him close. He could
feel Graham's bones vibrating through his own body. It went on until dawn when Mrs
Jellicoe crept down the stairs and made tea and toast.
"Who?" asked Sam.
"I don't really know, love, but Prince
Philip's been looking a bit peaky lately."
Graham paced up and down the kitchen on his
three legs, refusing to settle. Sam was so weary he wanted
"I tell you what," said Mrs
Jellicoe. "You go back to bed for a bit and I'll give Graham an early morning walkie. Don't you worry; he'll be fine with me."
It wasn't the riverbank moment that Sam would always
remember. It was the sound of the doorbell and
his dad screaming.
Throwing himself out of bed and down the
stairs, the words punched all the breath from his
"And the dog."
was beginning to fade over Goose Hill. Sam finally came to the end of his
thinking and wiped his wet face with Graham's old blanket. His nose and throat
were suddenly full of Graham and he held his
breath until he thought he might faint.
He'd felt the blood pounding in his ears all
through Mrs Jellicoe's funeral the day before. A celebration of her life,
they'd called it, and there'd been a lot to celebrate. Tony Blair hadn't said
He stroked the carved wooden box. It was hard to believe that so
much dog could fit in such a small space.
He was symmetrical now, all right.
only Graham and Mrs Jellicoe had been a bit more mystic, they'd have known it wasn't the red estate car they had to fear but the
postman in his van with the faulty brakes. Perhaps little yapping Candyfloss had been the psychic one after all.
Sam made a decision. He pressed the box against his
lips. Then he scattered Graham's ashes over the
UFO landing strip.
It was hard to know what else to believe in now.
©2008 Eileen Gilmour
Eileen would love to hear what you think of her writing - email her now