The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Spring 2009 Results


Copyright © Gayle Beveridge 2009

Danhooden was a bulb baby, which was an accurate description even though he was grown to adulthood, since standing on his tip-toes he was no taller than Merryl Conch’s big toe was high.  I can say this with some authority, as on more than one occasion I had the harrowing experience of watching Danhooden dancing dangerously close to Merryl’s big toe while Merryl, with a roughness driven by a decidedly grumpy disposition, stomped about in his garden at number 21 Duclose, attacking weeds and flowers alike. My concern was not in any way prompted by a liking of Danhooden; he was without doubt the most annoying little creature I had ever had the displeasure of meeting.  It was just that he may well be the only bulb baby left in existence and protecting an endangered species came naturally, no matter how unimposing the subject at risk.

Danhooden had in many ways the appearance of a man, except that his overly stocky legs were hairy as a thistle stem, his finger tips tapered orange, like closed pumpkin flowers, his hair crimson as a rose and his face, wrinkled brown from summer sun, made him look, contrary to his nature, as though he might wither and die at any moment.  He was a joker, happy and gleeful, always jumping here then there, sprite-like.   Back in the old days when there had still been a colony of bulb babies in Merryl Conch’s garden, Danhooden had amused himself endlessly playing practical jokes and taking the mickey, which might have all been well, were bulb babies not generally a serious and sombre folk.  I had long suspected, though the secrecy with which they conducted their affairs make it impossible to know for sure, that the bulb babies having been tortured long enough by Danhooden’s joviality, had snuck away during the night, deliberately leaving him to his own devices.  Rumours had surfaced many months later that a bulb baby colony was, to the last individual, buried alive by a backhoe, at number 23 Duclose.  I believe that on hearing that sorry tale, Danhooden and I came simultaneously to the conclusion that he was the last of his kind; this to the best of my recollection being the first of only two times that he and I agreed on anything.

Merryl Conch was by no means an endangered species; a sad misfortune for a world far too heavily populated with such malcontents as he.  Soon to reach his 70th year, he had been born disgruntled.  Blaming the world for whatever perceived injustice his embryonic state had taken upon itself to absorb, he had cultivated bad temper with the same care and attention an oyster might bestow upon the pearl within its charge.  Having never found a suitable partner, for none who came to know him were persuaded to contemplate even part of a lifetime at his side; he had courted loneliness, caressed her with isolation and bestowed upon her the gift of bitterness.  He was a balding man with scattered tufts of hair upon his head, gathered in no particular fashionable order.   His hands were gnarled tree-like from arthritis and he had a hunched and wizened body.  His thin lips, dry and cracking, curled unevenly.  His eyes, in need of glasses for which he was too miserly to pay, were ever squinting and the bottom of his nose turned at a 30 degree angle to the bridge.  So fixed was his belief that happiness was no more than a tempting deceit, he was said to have blackened out that word in his copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, this being the only literature allowed permanent standing on his mantel.

Only a fool knowing Merryl Conch for what he was would hold even the faintest glimmer of hope that a heart tainted nearly 70 years’ black could be softened and if not washed the pure white of happiness, at least be sponged contentment grey.  Danhooden was such a fool.  Having passed dippy on hearing of the loss of his fellow bulb babies, he had been charging headlong down the road of delusion bound for the valley of the deranged.  He had fostered the belief that fate having endowed him with merriment in such abundance as to exceed even his requirements, had placed him squarely in Merryl Conch’s garden at number 21 Duclose for the purpose of balancing Merryl’s most unappealing demeanour.  So fixated had he become on this concept that he held it to be his ultimate purpose in life. 

When Danhooden imparted to me his plan to make contact with Merryl Conch, so taken aback was I that I cannot here describe to you how I felt, the shock having caused me to forget all that went through my mind at that time.  It was bulb baby lore, written long ago into history, that their existence would never be disclosed to human kind.   I protested most vigorously this ancient edict, under which protection the bulb babies had survived the centuries.  Danhooden argued that as the last of his kind, the lore held no further relevance and on contemplating that, I was forced to concede, this being the second and last time we ever agreed.

The challenge of making contact with Merryl Conch, a man so self absorbed as to be oblivious to almost all around him, had proved to be more difficult than Danhooden had imagined.   Armed with exuberance, a dazzling smile and his best sing-song voice, he danced and shouted around Merryl’s feet, day after tiresome day, ducking and weaving by the concrete path at garden’s edge, as Merryl’s monstrous clod-hoppers came dangerously close to treading him into the dirt.  Dizzy and weak from frequently holding my breath in fearful anticipation, I begged Danhooden to abandon this folly.  He remained resolute, his happiness and joviality fighting to retain their home in his soul as disappointment and frustration jostled for the right to batter down their door. 

It was at the shining of the full moon that the fates of Danhooden and Merryl Conch were sealed.  Bulb babies bask in the light of the moon and in its rays their creative juices flow.  So it was that Danhooden came upon his most daring plan; to step out from the dirt of the garden and onto the stark white of the concrete path where his bright colours would be plain to see, even to one as inwardly focussed as Merryl Conch.

Despite being as preoccupied as ever muttering his grievances, kicking at dirt and tearing at greenery, Merryl Conch did see Danhooden jump upon the concrete path; the sight of him stopping Merryl mid step, his eyes agog and mouth gaping.  I can only surmise the old man thought himself mad and succumbed to the shock of that revelation, for in that moment his heart ceased to beat and he fell dead to the path, crushing Danhooden beneath his ugly giant form.  Garden legend tells the story of a bulb baby, overflowing with joy and happiness and a mean spirited old man, brought together by destiny, their souls merged at the moment of death to balance each other in eternity.