Nathaniel Northcott heaved a sigh of resignation as one by one his corkscrew curls combusted in a musical series of 'pfft's. The oh-so-carefully controlled scientific experiment had gone wrong again.
Gingerly he pressed a finger against one of the raw pink patches left on his scalp. It hurt.
“Ow,” he said, in a redundant sort of way.
Then footsteps outside heralded the arrival of a visitor, as though to advance the plot a fraction.
“I brought you some tea and sandwiches,” came his mother’s voice from the other side of the door. “I thought you might be hungry.”
Of course really she just wanted to have a nosey. Parents are prone to wonder, you know, what you are up to all alone in the shed for days at a time. Shouldn’t he be slumped in front of the TV, they wonder to themselves, and am I a bad mother for letting him potter around in an old shed? There are spiders in there…
“Come in, mum,” he called back cheerfully.
“Oh,” she replied, crestfallen.
She hadn’t actually brought any tea or sandwiches, as she wasn’t expecting to be allowed in.
This was awkward.
“Hold on love, I think the phone’s ringing.”
Actually, by the time she got back up the garden path it turned out that the phone was ringing, and it was Nathaniel’s mother’s mother calling. This meant she would be occupied for quite some time, as Nathaniel’s mother’s mother – or grandmother, if you prefer, was almost entirely deaf. It was a mystery as to why she bothered to use the phone at all. It might have been a running joke if any of Nathaniel’s family had ever developed a sense of humour.
This was a shame, thought Nathaniel – the removal of his mother, not the deafness of his grandma. It would have been quite nice to drink some tea and eat some sandwiches.
He turned his attention back to the potion, ignoring a plaintive rumble from his tummy.
The thick black mess swirled angrily and glowed at him with a cool silverish hue.
Last time, he remembered, it was a spring-like, new bud sort of green. He pulled out a notebook covered in Pokemon stickers and scribbled something down.
Abruptly his attention was snapped away by the farting sound of a text arriving on his phone. It made him do that thing where you’re writing and then the pen slips and then there’s a big line through what you’ve done.
Nathaniel retrieved the offending item from the bench but barely glanced at the message – he already knew what it would say.
Is the stuff ready?
Nathan gazed back at the seething potion. It was bubbling around the edges, and giving off a smell of cabbage. He wrinkled his nose at the memory of drinking the stuff. It was pretty far from ready, and he was running out of ideas on how to make it work.
He toyed with the idea of typing back Yes.
The initial sight of Gray’s bald head would be entertaining, but life wouldn’t be worth living after that.
Not yet, he wrote. Nd btr ingredients. Soz.
Not that life was going to be too amazing when Gray received that news back.
The potion grumbled in its container, as if in agreement with this sentiment.
Then there was a tinkling of cracked glass, and the viscous mixture seemed to rise up in front of him as a solid mass, in the form of a large rabbit.
“That’s weird,” Nathaniel said. It was like something in a cartoon.
His first instinct was to reach for the notebook again, but to do that he’d have to get past the potion bunny somehow.
“Your face is weird,” said the potion bunny petulantly. It sounded like a small girl sucking a bumblebee.
“Not as weird as yours,” Nathan retorted, “look.”
He gestured to a dusty mirror that leant against the wall, part of an old dressing table that had been dismantled and dumped and forgotten about.
The potion bunny hopped over to the mirror.
“I can’t see anything out of the ordinary,” it said stiffly.
Nathan peered closely at the creature’s face.
“That’s probably because you haven’t got any eyes,” he decided, rather unceremoniously the bunny thought.
“NATHAN,” came an angry voice followed by a hammering on the door so loud that Nathan and the potion bunny jumped out of their woolly jumpers (or they would have, had they been wearing woolly jumpers), “WHAT ARE YOU PLAYING AT?”
It was Gray, or Graham Campbell to give him his full title.
Graham Campbell knew that his was not an impressive sounding name. Maybe that is the type of thing that would undermine his confidence, causing him to become the school bully. Or maybe it didn’t bother him that much. We just don’t know his motivation in this story.
Nathan opened the door to reveal a great big ginger Viking of a man. Well, he was fifteen, but he was tall, and his chin was dotted with tufts of ginger beard alongside much picked-at acne.
“YOU LITTLE – WHAT THE FECK IS THAT?” He stopped in mid-flow on seeing the whirling potion in bunny formation studying itself intently in the mirror.
“I dunno,” Nathan mumbled, “it’s the latest batch of potion, it went… well, wrong.”
“OI,” Gray said, addressing the bunny-thing in as menacing a tone as he could muster through his confusion, “YOU.”
The potion bunny ignored him and went on examining its whiskers.
Gray took a few tentative steps towards it.
This was the point at which the potion bunny chose to explode. Apparently this brief spell as a rabbit-thing had made the molecules rather volatile.
It had also made them little on the deadly side.
The doctors said that Gray must have been killed almost as soon as the liquid touched his skin. If he did feel any pain, they explained to his big ginger Viking of a mother (whose name was Hildegarde Campbell – you’ve probably heard of her), it was over almost instantly. The boy responsible is safely under lock and key now anyway, they told her soothingly.
This was not true, however. In actual fact, Nathan was taken on by a top secret government agency who made biological weapons. They charged with recreating the bunnies, and offered him lots of money for his trouble.
“They’ll help us to win the war, old chap,” a delightfully old fashioned man in a boler hat encouraged him. He didn’t say which one.
* * * *
Nathan is less lonely these days, although he can’t remember how he made the bunny potion. Nobody seems to be too cross though. Well, they haven’t flushed his head down the toilet to try and job his memory, which is his main frame of reference.
And he has managed to create a hair tonic that you only need drink once to forever change the colour pigmentation of your hair. It was quite simple really.
He just left out the carrot.