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14. Chaos

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The grounds of Button House thrummed with noise and colour.  Alison and Mike had found a company that hired out old fashioned fairground rides and sideshows. The inaugural Button House Summer Fete was in full swing.  Families had come from miles around to enjoy the beautiful summer afternoon and hopefully contribute to the roof fund.

The ghosts were also enjoying themselves.  The happy atmosphere was infectious and they had been drawn out to watch the visitors and wander around the brightly coloured attractions, being very careful not to get painfully stepped-through.  One person though, was less happy.

The Captain phased through the wall into the rear garden.  The archway had been roped off with a ‘permitted persons only’ sign and here it was blissfully quiet.  He made his way over to the weathered wooden bench.  He sat down then raised his feet on to the seat and lay back.  He let out a long sigh.  The chaos at the front of the house was exhausting.  The high August sun beat down on him and he let himself believe he could feel its heat warming him.  The bees buzzed drowsily around the lavender borders and the sounds of the fair were just a distant hum.  He closed his eyes gratefully.

“Mr Man?”

The Captain’s eyes snapped open.  Accustomed as he was to life literally going on around him, he had thought he was finally alone.

“Wake up Mr Man.”

The Captain turned his head to the side and flinched back in surprise as he came face to face with a small girl.  She looked to be about three years old, wearing a red corduroy pinafore dress and clutching a toy lion.  She seemed to be looking directly at him.

“Can you help me, Mr Man?”

The Captain looked around for Mike but he was alone in the garden.  As he sat up he was aware that the girl was following his movements, she could definitely see him.

“Me?”

The girl nodded vigorously.

“I can’t find my mummy.”  Her lip wobbled and she looked up at him with enormous brown eyes.

“You can see me?”

The girl frowned, fear forgotten for a moment.

“That’s a funny question.  Why are you wearing those funny clothes?”

The Captain looked down.  If small children could see him, any odd thing might be happening, perhaps he was wearing a ridiculous outfit.  Thankfully his usual green serge looked back.

“This is my uniform.”  He stared at her as his brain struggled to understand what was happening.

“Do you know where my mummy is?”

“No, I have no idea, run along now.”  The Captain gave a wave of his hand and moved to lay down again.  The little girl’s face crumpled.

“I want my mummy” she started to cry.

The Captain huffed and sat up again.  He reached out to awkwardly pat the child before remembering that it would be both futile and painful.

“There, there,” he said, pointlessly.  He scrabbled around for something more useful to say.  His face cleared as the lightbulb went on in his brain.  He crouched down to the girl’s level.

“Can you be big and brave, like your lion?” The crying stopped immediately.  The Captain huffed out a sigh of relief.

“His name is Leroy,” the child looked up at him, eyes rounder than ever.

“Hello Leroy.  Well done for being brave.  Who is your friend?”  The girl giggled.

“Don’t be silly, Leroy can’t talk.  You’re funny.”  The Captain found himself oddly touched by her words.  He stood up.

“Do you think your mummy is out by the fairground?” 

The little girl nodded.

“Right, come on then, this way.  Come on, Leroy, bring your friend.”

The girl’s face broke into a wide grin and she trotted after the Captain as he strode off across the garden.  He phased through the wall without thinking but when he turned to check she was following she was stood, stock-still, behind the rope.  There was no way to explain, he decided to pretend it hadn’t happened.  He waved the girl towards him.

“Hurry up, don’t want to be late for your mummy, I expect she’s worried.”

The girl ducked under the rope and scurried towards him, together they walked across the grounds.

“Er, Alison,” the Captain called out as they approached.  “I seem to have found this young lady and, um,” he lowered his voice, “she seems to have found me.”

Alison looked up in surprise.

“She what?”

“She can see me.”  The Captain shrugged. 

“Wow, ok, I guess some children can.”

“What you doing?” Robin ambled over, accompanied by Mary and Pat

“It appears this young lady is able to see us.”

“Who are you talking to?” the little voice piped up.  The Captain looked from her to the others but she seemed completely oblivious to their presence.

“These are my friends." The Captain gestured towards them.  The girl grinned. 

“There’s no one there, silly." Pat waved his hand in front of the child's face.

"Hello there" he said chirpily. The girl didn't flinch.

Robin shrugged.

“Dat weird.”  He sauntered away again, leaving Pat and Mary staring and chattering to each other in confusion.

“That really is weird.  Right, let’s find your mummy.”  Alison took the girl’s hand and led her towards Mike on the public address system.  The Captain followed behind, jigging and weaving around the living people coming towards him.

Within minutes of Mike’s announcement, a relieved and exhausted woman came to the tent, scooping up the little girl.

“Rosie, oh my goodness, we were so worried, where did you go?”

“I found a man and he was all in green and he had a stick and he talked to Leroy and…

“Rosie, what have I told you, you mustn’t talk to grown ups you don’t know.”

“But he was a nice man.  He’s got a funny moustache and he walked through the wall!”

The lady shook her head at Alison. 

“They have such imaginations don’t they.  Thank you so much for taking care of her.”  She turned to leave the tent, carrying the little girl who sucked her thumb and looked over her mummy’s shoulder.  She waved at the Captain and the Captain, a little self-consciously, waved back.

“Well, Cap, looks like you’ve found yourself a little friend there!” Alison smiled.  The Captain watched Rosie leave, feeling both oddly warmed and oddly sad.