By Russell Palmer
Russ and Dan loved Crazy Uncle Devlin. Their parents did not. It was always interesting when he came round to visit, like the time he brought his air rifle and shot apples from their next door neighbours’ tree.
How was he to know that their children were cowering in fear on the other side of the fence? Or the time he babysat for them and made them watch Jaws and Predator back to back, their little 6 and 8 year old minds racked with fear.
It was ok though, as Russ said to his mum the next day, when he awoke from the nightmare of the Predator riding Jaws in through his bedroom window, Uncle Devlin was there to give him Dr. Daniels’ special go-to-sleep medicine from his hipflask. He didn’t babysit again.
He was generous too, each week he would bring them copies of Viz, their mum thinking they were a comic book akin to the Dandy or Beano, so she did not refuse them. It was only when Dan put a “Roger Mellie says Bollocks” t-shirt on his Christmas list that their mum investigated and removed all copies and gave Devlin a telling off.
To apologise Uncle Devlin bought them a gift, it was the last thing he ever bought them. He sat a box on the table with a sheet over it, and the minute he took his hand off the box it shook violently. He then Magician-like whisked away the sheet to reveal a hamster rattling the bars of his cage like the Incredible Hulk‘s bigger, angrier brother, Kenneth Hulk. Devlin just smiled and shouted:
“He’s called Smiley.” As he ran out of the door.
Now Smiley was not a people-person. He was not a Hamster-person either. They later found out that Devlin had bought them a hamster each but the other had mysteriously disappeared on the way home from the petshop. Each time they would go near the cage, a clawed hand would reach through the bars, grasping at their hand, trying to pull a finger towards his gnashing teeth.
Russ really started to worry when one day, he noticed the little mirror in Smiley’s cage was smashed, and as he leaned in to look, Smiley’s arm shot out through the bars and cut Russ’ face with a shiv he’d made from a shard of glass stuck into a sweetcorn kernel. He was getting organised. Russ became paranoid, as Smiley would sit staring at him through the bars, just smiling with his long sharp teeth.
He then started chewing phrases out of his newspaper bedding and leaving them like ransom notes by the door to his cage, Like: “Four found dead, revenge will come” and then, he chewed out the word “Russell”, and he didn’t sleep for a week.
Then one day he escaped. His door was sealed, there was no hole in the cage, no bent bars, he just vanished. Russ lived in fear. Never leaving his feet on the floor, running from one room to another. Leaving a torch by the bed. Then the really bad things started. Russ was woken in the night by a strange grating sound, having already been having a nightmare about Smiley he flicked on the torch and turned it’s beam to the cage to find Smiley running in his wheel, staring at him with his wicked smile unmoving.
Russ screamed, lights came on, parents rushed in, stories were told, and reassurances made. Patting a shaken Russ on the back his Dad said:
“He was probably in his cage all along, just hiding.” Russ knew he had been out but couldn’t prove it.
A couple of months later, Russ had taken to hiding under the sheets every night to avoid Smiley’s constant gaze. Every night he would have the same nightmare of waking to find Smiley on his chest, and looking behind him to see his family all tied up and gagged in the corner, he’d usually wake in a cold sweat by the time Smiley produced a tiny chainsaw and said:
“They’ll get their turn, but it’s your turn to hibernate first.”
He awoke and shone the torch to the cage, now a reflex reaction, only to see smiley laid on his back. This was new, he turned on the lights to investigate, Smiley was perfectly still. Russ couldn’t keep it in, he screamed:
“Smiley’s dead, I think Smiley’s dead.”
His parents came rushing in to console him. The following day, they buried Smiley in the garden and Russ felt awful. He didn’t want him to die, he just wanted him to be less mess-yourself scary.
That night he slept soundly for the first time in months, he even had a lay-in. He finally got up when the sun somehow managed to sneak it’s way under the curtain and into his face. He opened his sleep filled eyes to find Smiley running in his wheel, staring as ever, teeth glistening.
Russ bolted from the room screaming, slamming the door after him, out into the garden. There in the centre of the lawn was a hole, and in the hole was the empty tissue box that had once contained Smiley. Russ fell to his knees and screamed into the air:
His brain knocked him out, before his heart could explode, and he lay unconscious on the wet grass in his jim-jams.
Russ awoke on the sofa, and had to be restrained by his Dad as the terror came back to him. His Mum in her calming tone spoke softly to him:
“I think we’ve got some explaining to do. We noticed how distraught you were when Smiley died, so we went out and got you a new hamster this morning. We were going to surprise you when you got up.”
Russ’ heart slowed a pace or two:
“But what about the hole in the garden.”
His Mum dragged Dan by his ear to the fore, and he spoke in forced guilt:
“That was me, I dug the hole and buried him somewhere else. I was going to tell you that Smiley had come back from the dead, and that the new hamster was a zombie Smiley.”
Their mum cracked Dan on the back of the head. Russ sighed:
“So Smiley is dead then?”
Russ’ Dad put his hand on Russ’ shoulder:
“We didn’t want to tell you this but, remember when you said Smiley went missing and came back? Well he did escape and you looked so sad always looking at the floor trying to find him, not putting your feet on the floor for fear of standing on him. That we bought you another hamster who looked just like him and snook him into the cage that night. So really we don’t know where Smiley is.”
Russ’ face drained to white, and under the television cabinet it was pitch-black apart from a tiny white smile, and a small glint of light from a homemade shiv.
Words: Russ Palmer
Drawing: Glenn Miller
Editor’s note: Russ told us this started when his pet rabbit ripped out his name from a newspaper and put it in its little hutch. As it did happen, here’s the photo.