HARRY’S GRANDAD’S WOODEN LEG
‘The what-no-tist Grandad?’
‘The Wishnotist. Be very careful if you ever bump into her. Not that you will bump into her. She’ll probably bump into you. That’s how she catches people.’
‘I won’t let her bump into me, Grandad. Not if I can help it. But why shouldn’t I let her bump into me. Will she knock me over?’
‘Worse than that, Harry. She’ll give you a wish.’
‘But isn’t that a good thing, Grandad. Getting a wish?’
‘It can be,’ said Harry’s grandad. ‘But sometimes it isn’t. You have to be really careful what you wish for. It has to be something you really, really want. You have to want it more than anything else. If you don’t wish for it with all your heart, things can go badly wrong.’
‘Don’t listen to him, kids.’ Harry’s grandma came in with a pot of tea and some hot crumpets on a tray. ‘He tells so many tall tales. Take everything he says with a pinch of salt. She sat down and began to butter the crumpets.
‘I don’t want any salt thanks, Grandma,’ said Harry. ‘Salt’s bad for you. Mrs McGammon told us at school.’
‘You should listen to your teachers,’ said Harry’s grandma. ‘They talk sense. Unlike your grandad.’
We were sitting in Harry’s grandparents’ front room. They were looking after me and my brother Luke for the afternoon while Mum and Dad went into town to order a new bed. I could have gone with them but Dad said I’d probably be bored. He’s right. I’d rather listen to Harry’s grandad tell stories than walk around looking at beds. I mean, a bed is a bed. You only sleep in it, or be ill in it.
Harry’s grandad tells great stories. Like the one about how he had his wooden leg bitten off by a shark. He says he first lost his leg in a motorbike accident and had to have a wooden one fitted. It was like the one Long John Silver, the pirate, used to have, not like the ones they have today. He got a job as a deep-sea fisherman and used to sail round the world catching big fish. One day, when they were out in the ocean somewhere, he went for a swim while the boat was parked up and a big white shark bit his wooden leg off. Harry’s grandad had to hop about the ship for about a month until they landed and he could get a new leg fitted.
Years later, Harry’s grandad was on holiday in Australia when a huge whale was washed up on the shore. The local people tried to save it but the poor thing died. When they cut it up, they found some shark bones inside it, and inside those, was his old wooden leg. He was really pleased to get it back because his new one wasn’t as comfortable.
He’s funny is Harry’s grandad. He knocks on his wooden leg with his fist and says, ‘is anybody in?’ Luke says he’s only pretending to knock on his leg and he’s really knocking on the wooden table at the side of his chair with his other hand, but Harry still believes his grandad.
Harry’s grandad says he has a new sort of leg these days, one of those like the disabled Olympic runners have. He keeps his old one in the shed. He says it’s got woodworm in it and Harry’s grandma wants to throw it away, or burn it on bonfire night, but he won’t.
We all sipped tea and nibbled at hot buttered crumpets. Harry wiped some butter off his chin and took another bite. ‘Have you ever seen the Wishnotist, Grandma?’
‘No, because she doesn’t exist, that’s why.’ She gave Harry’s grandad a stern look. ‘And you shouldn’t fill their heads with your silly tales. Wooden leg indeed.’
Harry’s grandad ignored her look and carried on talking. ‘I’ve never seen the Wishnotist either, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t exit. Polly Stolly disappeared after meeting her, and her best friend, Natalie Flatley, was turned into a lamp post.’
‘A lamp post?’ I cried. ‘Why was she turned into a lamp post?’
‘Because she wished it, that’s why.’
‘Why would anyone wish to be turned into a lamp post? If I only got one wish, I’d make sure it was something a lot better than that.’
‘You have to be careful with wishes,’ said Harry’s grandad. ‘Wishes are tricky things. If you wish for the wrong thing you can end up in big trouble.’
‘I know what I’d wish for,’ said Luke. ‘I’d wish that I could get out of this wheelchair.’
‘Now see what you’ve done, Ted,’ said Harry’s grandma. She got out of her chair and put her arm round Luke. ‘We all wish you could get out of your chair, Luke. But it’s not going to happen. The doctors said so.’
‘I know,’ said Luke. ‘But I can wish for it, can’t I?’
Dad picked us up after lunch and we drove back home. I had to help Dad with Luke’s chair when we got back. We got him into the house and then I told Dad I was going out to play football with my friends on the park.
‘I want you to play with Luke while we set the bed up,’ said Dad. ‘The delivery van will be here in a minute.’
‘Oh, Dad, We’re playing St Peter’s school next week. I need to practice, we can’t lose to them or we’ll never live it down.’
‘You can practice later, Jack. Now do as you’re told and sit with your brother.’
When I walked into the lounge, Luke was in his chair in front of the big plasma TV.
‘Dad says I’ve got to keep you company for a bit,’ I said. ‘What do you want to do?’
‘Nothing,’ said Luke.
‘Well, that’s not fair is it? I have to keep you company instead of playing football and you don’t want to do anything.’
‘Just go and play football,’ said Luke. ‘I don’t care.’
I began to feel a bit sorry for Luke. ‘Shall we play on the Xbox?’ I suggested. ‘See if you can beat me at Dragon Wars?’
‘I’m fed up with Dragon Wars,’ Luke said. ‘I want to play football, I want to run, I want to climb a tree, I want to swim and catch frogs. I want to play cricket, I want to score a hundred for England at Lords, but I can’t do any of that because I’m in this stupid chair.’
I thought I’d try to cheer him up.
‘They might find a fix for you one of these days, Luke. Don’t give up. I bet there’s a pill just waiting to be invented that will make you move your legs again. It’s only been six months since you got ill. They can fix all sorts of stuff now.’
‘They won’t,’ said Luke. ‘They’ll probably make a pill that fixes someone else’s legs and mine will be useless forever.’
‘I bet they will find a cure,’ I said. ‘I bet they’re working on one right now. You might get it in the post tomorrow. I bet the postman will come rattling up the road with a sack-full of new pills for people in wheelchairs.’
Luke laughed. He was a happy kid really and it never took much to cheer him up. ‘I bet mine’s the biggest pill. I bet it has to come in a huge padded envelope and I bet he has to bring me a new one every day. It will be so big it won’t fit through the letter box and he’ll have to Frisbee it over the fence.’
‘And we’ll have to make sure Bungle doesn’t catch it and run off with it,’ I laughed. Bungle is our dog and he loves playing Frisbee.
‘Okay then.’ Luke grabbed a remote and swung his chair round to face the screen. ‘Prepare for yet another thrashing. I’ll thrash you at penalty shootouts when the postman’s been tomorrow, too.’
He did thrash me too. He always beats me. He’s good at everything is Luke.
On Monday morning, I crawled out of bed late, argued with Luke about how many bowls of Shredded String, breakfast cereal a single person could eat in one sitting, and tried to get out of going to school because I’d forgotten to do my history homework.
‘You don’t look ill to me,’ said Mum.
‘I am,’ I said with the croakiest voice I could muster. ‘Feel my forehead. And look, my eyes are all blurry.’
‘You’ve been sitting over a bowl of boiling water with a towel over your head for the last five minutes, that’s why you’re hot,’ said Mum. She must have seen me on the back doorstep with the bowl. ‘Better luck next time.’
‘It’s not fair,’ I said. ‘Luke’s got a day off.’
‘Luke has a hospital appointment,’ said Mum. ‘It’s hardly a lazy holiday is it?’
I looked at Luke jealously. ‘I need to go to the hospital; I’ve got a pain.’
‘You are a pain,’ said Mum, much to Luke’s enjoyment.
Mum pointed to the door. ‘Off you go, the bus will be here in a minute.’
‘Have a nice day,’ said Luke smugly. ‘I know I will. Mum always takes me to the burger bar after the hospital…’
‘The burger bar…’ I was outraged. ‘I’ve got double PE.’
‘I’d swop in an instant,’ said Luke, softly.
That made me feel guilty again. ‘I know. See you tonight, enjoy your burger.’
‘I’ll save the wrapper so you can smell what you missed.’
I shoved all the books I was going to need that day into my bag and headed out of the front door. The bus stop was about fifty yards down the road. When I got to the gate, I spotted a funny looking woman, wearing a long green cloak and brown boots. She had short silver hair with a blue beret thing perched on top. She looked at me and smiled a very weird sort of smile. Her mouth moved but her eyes didn’t smile, they remained fixed on me.
I tried to look away. I didn’t like the look of that smile.
Her voice was seriously creepy. ‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘Got to run, I’ll miss my bus.’
‘The bus won’t go without you. I’ll make sure of that,’ said the woman.
I tried to quicken my pace to get away from her but my feet felt like they were wading through treacle. I stopped and turned to face her.
‘How do you know my name?’
‘I was sent to find you. Your name appeared on my list.’
‘List! What list?’ I don’t like being on lists. It usually means extra homework or volunteering for something.
‘You’re on my wish list,’ she said.
‘Ah,’ I said, trying to make out I wasn’t interested. She knew I was though.
‘What would you say if I were to tell you that I could grant you one wish?’
‘I’d say that sort of thing only happens in books.’
‘But I can grant wishes,’ said the woman. ‘At least I can grant you one wish. So, come on, Jack. Make sure it’s a good one. What would you like most in the world?’
I thought about it.
‘Hmm, lots of things. I’d like a new phone. I’d like to be the best footballer in the world. I’d like to go to the moon, I’d like to…’
‘You’ll have to narrow that list down,’ she said. ‘You only get one.’
‘I’ll have to think about it,’ I replied. ‘When do you need to know?’
‘Well, now, really. I may be prepared to wait, but only if some of your little friends make wishes while you think about it. I’m only here for a few days.’
I wasn’t sure I wanted my friends to get their wishes before me, but I didn’t want to waste the opportunity. A wish is a wish and it’s not a something you should take lightly.’
I was still thinking about things when Jeremy Johnson walked past. Me and Jeremy have never got on. He’s my main rival for centre forward in the school team and he tries all sorts of tricks to try to get the teacher to pick him. He once told the sports teacher that I had sprained my ankle the morning of the game. Mr Striker believed him and put his name on the team sheet. When I went to tell him there was a mistake and I was fine to play, Jeremy gave me a kick on the ankle as I passed. It blooming well hurt too, but I still played. I got Megan from our class to strap it up with the bandage she was wearing on her sprained wrist. I gave it her back afterwards, it was a bit muddy but she didn’t seem to mind. She thinks I’m her boyfriend or something. (I’m not I can assure you… and her.)
Anyway, Jeremy chucked an insult my way as he walked by.
‘Hello, Miskick,’ he said. Jeremy has called me that since I mishit a penalty in a school match. When he spotted the woman, he shook his head and rolled his eyes. ‘Mad aunt come to stay?’
Before I could reply, the weird woman stepped in front of me and stooped down to talk to Jeremy.
‘No, I’m not a mad aunt. I’m your favourite dream; I’m the person you always wanted to meet. I am the person that can give you your most treasured desire.’
‘Eh?’ said Jeremy. He looked at me with a puzzled look on his face. ‘What did she say?’
The woman spoke before I could answer. ‘I am the wish granter. Go on, make a wish. I’ll grant it here and now.’
‘Really?’ said Jeremy. He looked at me for any sign that he was having a joke played on him.
‘Really,’ she said. ‘Go on, wish away. What can I do for you today?’
Jeremy pointed to his superhero comic. ‘I’d like to be able to fly,’ he said. ‘And I’d like to have super strength and be invulnerable and…’
‘Whoa there,’ said the weird one. ‘You’re only allowed to make one wish. What’s it to be? Think very carefully. What do you really want?’
‘I want to fly,’ said Jeremy. ‘I want to fly.’
The woman stood up straight and focussed on Jeremy. The whole world seemed to go silent as she stared deep into Jeremy’s eyes. She raised a finger and pointed it at him. Some sort of electrical charge zapped out of her fingers and hit Jeremy in the face. Jeremy’s eyes opened, big as saucers, and a spiral, whirly thing appeared in them.
Tell me now your heart’s desire
Bond with me, the wish supplier
Free your mind, you can’t resist
The power of the Wishnotist
Jeremy stared into the eyes of the Wishnotist: a few seconds later, he began to shrink.
As he shrank, his legs got very spindly and his feet became claw-like. Brown feathers appeared on his back, then on his head. His nose began to stretch until it formed a beak. A few seconds later the transformation was compete. Jeremy had turned into a little brown bird. He hopped around the floor and pecked the pavement.
The Wishnotist clapped her hands and Jeremy flew up into the air. He pulled a loop de loop, whistled a tune and flew towards one of the big beech trees that lined the road. Just before he reached the safety of the branches he was snatched out of the air by a sparrow hawk. I ran forward but there was nothing I could do to help. The sparrow hawk screeched and flew off towards Gibby’s Wood with Jeremy hanging from its talons.
I stared at the Wishnotist. She seemed to have shrunk a little bit. Her cloak hung loosely on her shoulders. Her eyes were red and her face was very pale.
‘What, where, how?’ I stammered. ‘That bird just took Jeremy.’
‘I know,’ said the Wishnotist. ‘Sad isn’t it?’
‘But that wasn’t what he wished for,’ I argued.
‘Oh yes it was,’ said the Wishnotist. ‘He said, I wish I could fly, and he did… for a short while at least.’
‘Can you bring him back?’ I asked. I looked to the sky but the sparrowhawk, and Jeremy, were nowhere to be seen.
‘No, he’s probably been eaten by now. He did get his wish though so you shouldn’t feel too sorry for him.’
‘He wanted to fly like Birdman in the comic, he didn’t ask to be turned into a sparrow and be eaten.’
The Wishnotist shrugged. ‘He wanted to fly, he flew. That’s the end of it. Come on now; let’s meet some more of your nice friends.’
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