Clunch turned away from the dusty window and jumped onto a pile of old suitcases. Swaying, she flung out her arms and jumped again, carving an arc through the air. Just as she began to fall, she caught the light cord between two paws.
With a click, the single bulb hanging from the ceiling lit up, yellow fingers pushing back the shadows that lurked behind boxes and in between stacked picture frames. Clunch dropped to the ground with a soft thump. The black eyes of the stuffed salmon in the glass case near the door twinkled. She shuddered.
“Hi wish you hwouldn’t do that,” said Nancy Blush from her usual position on the scarlet cushion on the broken chair. “Hyou know that hi dislike that borrowed light.” When Nancy had been made, electric light had been a newfangled idea, not to be trusted.
“Shut up, Nancy,” said Clunch. “Dolls should be seen and not heard.”
“All toys are supposed to be seen and not heard, you impertinent green monstrosity. You move about too much.”
“S’my job,” said Clunch. “I’m a protector. Keep the beasties and ghosties away.” And she had, once. When she’d had pride of place on Emily’s bed she’d slapped away the tentacles that crept from under the mattress, closed the wardrobe against the pale shadow that threatened to slither out.
More than once she’d wedged a paw under the bedroom door, making it stiff and difficult to open quietly.
For some monsters, that was enough.
But then Emily had grown too big to need a furry green bear, and Clunch’d been dumped in the manor house’s attic with Nancy and her habit of scattering extra ‘h’s through her sentences.
Nancy sniffed. “Hyou shouldn’t turn the light on, someone might see it and come hup here.”
“Good,” muttered Clunch, glancing at the window again. “Maybe they’ll take me away from you, you snooty old skizzle.”
“Hwhat did you call me?”
“Ssshhh,” said Clunch, ears twitching. “People!”
Both toys crumpled, all signs of life disappearing, as the attic door opened with the high-pitched whine of uncared-for hinges. A woman entered, followed by a young girl.
“Well you were right, Saffie,” said the woman, “the light is on. How strange.”
“I told you, Mum, I saw it, from outside.”
Over the years Clunch had developed a knack of falling in such a way as to allow her to see. The girl’s hair fell across her face, but it didn’t hide the purple circles under her eyes.
“Oh, look,” said the woman. “It’s Clunch! She slept on my bed every night when I was your age. What’s she doing on the floor?”
She picked up Clunch and handed her to her daughter, who stroked the soft, green head.
Clunch looked at Nancy Blush and thought that, perhaps, she saw the faintest of nods. She considered the man she’d seen through the attic window. She was a toy who protected children from monsters.
It was time to do her duty.
This story was runner-up in the monthly ‘Flash Comp’ in Writers’ Forum magazine (December 2017, #194). Great, except… there was no prize money for runner up, and the story was printed in the magazine. It was nice to see my words in print, of course, but it does mean I’ve lost first publication rights. Who knows if I could’ve sold the story but, in any case, there’s a lesson here for aspiring writers: read the terms and conditions! I didn’t pay to enter this particular competition, but there are lots of paid competitions out there that can look very appealing. It pays to check what they might do with your entry. And bear in mind that there are plenty of publishers who will read your work entirely for free. Very occasionally they’ll even pay you for it! Check out the Submissions Grinder for suggestions.