Thursday, 23 September 2010

The House of Djinns

Do you know what a djinn is?

Mischievous sprites they are, who tinker and tamper with the way the world runs.

Made of smokeless flames that dance like embers in a night sky, they exhale the scent of chocolate and their bony fingers mess with your hair until even a bird wouldn’t consider you for a nest. Sometimes they steal children’s baby teeth from the fairies that collect them and use them to make necklaces that rattle and chatter.

The djinns live in an old house at the end of a twisty lane in the middle of the ancient city. Everyone knows they are there, for the sweet smell of chocolate hangs in the air like mist, and sometimes, if you listen very, very carefully, you’ll hear cackling like so many dried up old witches – it’s not a horrible sound, but it does make a shiver creep deliciously down the back of your spine.

Half of you wants to enter the house through the blue front door decorated with golden handprints, but if you do, the djinns will spin you round and confuse you so much that you feel dizzy and can’t find the door of the room you are in. My advice is to tie a piece of string to the door handle and keep hold of it at all times.

Be careful of the staircase, it’s extremely old and some of the treads have been eaten away by woodworm. That doesn’t matter to the djinns of course; they fly up through the house, burning tiny holes in the ceiling. Once, when the house was new, each room was painted the colour of a different jewel, and although the paint has peeled away, you can still see dusty patches of emerald, ruby and sapphire.

If you do make it through the house, you’ll find some peace in the garden, for the djinns don’t venture outside in the daytime. They’re afraid of the tall trees that whisper secrets about them, and the blackbirds, who loop around the rosebushes singing, ‘go back, back, back’ to any curious djinn who’s even so much as stuck a fiery toe outside. But don’t you do as the blackbirds say – climb over the back wall as fast as you can and run down the twisty lane to tell your friends of your extraordinary adventure.

Clock Goblin

In the middle of the park is a curious thing: a tall thin tower, a hundred years old, with a small door and a clock at the top. The clock is always five minutes slow. It has been five minutes slow for as long as anyone can remember.

And for a hundred years, small children have run around and around the clock tower, wondering what is for, knocking at its door. ‘There’s no one in there!’ call their mothers. ‘Come on!’ The children give one last knock, just in case, and run away laughing and shouting at each other.

But there is someone there. And every time there’s a knock at the door, he has to get up from his armchair in the tiny room at the top of the tower, slowly shuffle to stairs and make his way carefully down each creaking tread until finally he reaches the bottom. And every time he unlocks the lock, slides the chain and opens the door, inch by little inch, all he sees is an empty space where a visitor should be.

‘Blather and botheration,’ mutters the Clock Goblin crossly. ‘Wretched children, with their banging and hammering and not a blithering thought for my tired old legs and aching back. Grrrr.’ And he closes the door again, slides the chain, locks the lock and eases himself back up the stairs.

The Clock Goblin has been doing this job for a hundred years, before him his father, and his father’s father: their family is a long line of Clock Watchers and Time Keepers. His father is now retired but still comes to the Clock Tower early every morning with that day’s time. And once a year, in May, the Clock Goblin’s parents come to relieve him for a week while he goes on holiday. He never goes very far, just sits grumpily under the slide kicking his feet in the dust and complaining about life in general. It is important to be cross if you are a goblin.

So next time you are in the park and are tempted to knock at the Clock Tower door, spare a thought for the Clock Goblin. And in case you are wondering why the clock is always five minutes late, I’ll tell you. The Clock Goblin’s father delivers the time every morning, like I said, but it takes the Clock Goblin five minutes to climb back up the stairs to set the clock. That’s just the way it is, and the way it will always be, until a younger, fitter Clock Goblin arrives to take over and our Clock Goblin can eventually retire himself, to be contentedly crotchety under the slide.