The stars shone brightly that night. They stabbed through the broken roof of the derelict house and fleetingly surrounded the fugitives in a cage of brilliant light. Then heavy grey clouds rolled across the night sky to seal the sleeping earth beneath a thick and foggy blanket.
In a three-storey Georgian guesthouse somewhere in Leicestershire, Lionel Crump was woken from his slumber by the sound of raindrops splattering and sizzling through the open window. He was still half asleep as he got up and closed it. Then he returned again to the foetal protection of his bed and was unconscious before his head touched the pillow.
Elsewhere, in a flimsy wooden bus shelter, Nigel snuggled deeper into his bed of leaves and damp newspaper. He had no place here amongst the dirt and litter, and the broken bottles.
He stretched and looked skyward so that the rain could gently wash the grime from his eyes. A hundred million stars stared back at him; a hundred million dew drops. Nigel watched them glimmer then vanish beneath the clouds, to reappear briefly on the other side.
He sat up, with his head tilted back so that he could see the sky. He was cold and wet, frightened and hungry - but what did these things matter? In his mind was up there amongst the stars: the pure, untarnished starlight lying across the void like fresh snow. He was up there, amongst those infinite, empty spaces.
Slowly he reached across to his right shoulder and prised off the dead parrot that had been glued to his coat for the past eight years. He let it slip from his fingers and into the dirt. Poor Polly. Then he took hold of the eye patch that was hanging around his neck like a crucifix, and with one sharp tug he snapped the elastic. The breeze lifted it from the palm of his hand and rolled it down the road. Gradually he drifted off to sleep. He woke up a little later when the bus shelter spontaneously combusted.
The sudden warm feeling across his back made him jump up quickly, and as he desperately tried to douse the flames that were licking around his arse, he noticed a pair of headlights coming towards him. As they got closer he could see that they belonged to a largish, reddish, bus-shaped object. It soon became apparent that the reason that this object was bus-shaped (and this also went some way towards explaining why it was largish and reddish) was that it was precisely that: a large, red double-decker bus.
By a curious coincidence, its driver was also largish and reddish, though it would be a mistake to assume that he was also a bus. His name was Herbert Knuckle, and it was widely known back at the depot that he was a stickler for the rules.
The bus pulled up and Herbert disembarked in accordance with guidelines laid down in section thirty-four, subsection three of the bus company's official manual, headed:
BUSES, DISEMBARKATION THEREOF (DRIVERS)
Nigel watched him as he paced around in a tight figure of eight, looking at the ground. He scratched his bald head with his bald fingers, then stopped, nodded mysteriously to himself, then carried on for a few more circuits. He stopped again and looked Nigel straight in the eye. It was a regulation look, carried out in accordance with section twenty-three, subsection eight of the manual, headed:
SUSPICIOUS LOOKING BEARS STANDING NEXT TO BURNING BUS SHELTERS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, LOOKING STRAIGHT INTO THE EYES OF.
"Have you seen a bus shelter around here anywhere?" Herbert Knuckle asked, and his eyes narrowed.
Nigel cast a fleeting glance at the bonfire behind him. "No," he replied.
Herbert gnashed his teeth together. Then he returned to his bus, rummaged around beneath the seat and returned with a grimy piece of paper in a clear plastic sleeve. He did these things according to sections fifty-eight, seventeen, two hundred and twelve and eighty-two respectively.
"Going by my map," he said, for that was what the piece of paper was, "there should be a bus stop here."
Nigel shrugged. "Could be a mistake on the map?" he suggested.
"I s'pose so," said Herbert. He looked at Nigel through narrowed eyes. "Did you know your arse was on fire?" he said.
Nigel shrugged and casually put himself out.
"It's funny," the driver continued. "I did this route yesterday, and the shelter was here then... Hang on a minute! What's that?"
Nigel wheeled around. The glare of the fire made him squint, and he felt the fur on his face prickling in the heat. "What's what?" he asked.
"That large yellow fiery thing," said Herbert Knuckle.
"Oh that," Nigel said, and he paused in the vain hope that someone would drop by and answer the question for him. No one did. "Dunno," he finally replied. "I can't say I'd really noticed it."
"It looks like a burning bus shelter," Herbert observed.
"Can't be," said Nigel.
"It is, I tell you," said Herbert.
"Look, I know a burning bus shelter when I see one," Herbert insisted.
"All right," Nigel admitted. "I agree with you that it does bear a certain similarity to a burning bus shelter. But you really shouldn't take these things at face value, otherwise you'll be jumping to all sorts of wrong conclusions."
"You set fire to our bus shelter!" Herbert accused him.
Nigel reeled at the charge. "No, no," he said, stammering a little. "It caught fire entirely of its own accord."
"A likely story!" Herbert responded. "You have wilfully destroyed a public amenity. Do you realise the trouble you're going to be in?"
"Honestly," Nigel protested, "I didn't do a thing. I think it just lost the will to live."
"You're a vandal!"
"No look, it's like this," Nigel began, then he stopped and sighed loudly. "Oh to heck with. I give up."
As he spoke something peculiar caught his attention. He was staring at the bus parked at the side of the road, the headlights still blazing into the night. A sickly yellow light shone from each grimy window, like luminous pus. Suddenly he had noticed an old woman's face staring out at him. He could have sworn the bus was empty when he had first seen it approach. He certainly hadn't noticed this woman before, it was as if she had just materialised there. Now, aside from being terribly disconcerting, this also happened to be impossible. Unless, thought Nigel, she was really an alien from the planet Mondo who had just slipped through an interspatial warp matrix interface. No, impossible, Nigel thought to himself, and he promptly abandoned this ridiculous line of thought…
…The old woman on the bus blinked out into the dirty night, looking through the spiralling patterns of filth that caked the windows. She was a very prim old lady. Her hat was perched pertly on her grey head. Her cardigan was buttoned to the neck and she sat forward in her seat, clutching her shopping bag on her knee.
She was also a very bemused old lady. Earlier that morning she had been stealthily winging her way across the clear turquoise skies of the planet Mondo, sitting astride a magnificent Grumbledragon as it took her to the supermarket to get a joint for Sunday lunch.
All of a sudden she had fallen through an interspatial warp matrix interface and had been most perplexed to find herself on the top deck of a Number 32 Shopper's Special. Deciding to make the best of a bad situation she had resolved to do her shopping at Tesco's, although she was disappointed to discover that they had no Flagwellan Spronk cutlets.
She had spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in a drab bus station, waiting for a bus to the Magellan Cluster. Eventually she had interrupted an official looking man to ask his advice. He had admitted that he had never heard of anywhere called Mondo, so he asked her to describe the place.
"It's a beautiful world," she had told him. "The skies are filled with purple incense. Gold and silver Grumbledragons swirl and soar and twist between the peaks of vast ice mountains, whilst great Fumbleknurks graze peacefully in the meadows below."
The man put her on the next bus to Gateshead.
And this was as far as she'd got, sitting on her own in this dirty double-decker. She clutched her shopping tighter, sighed wistfully and turned once more to the window and its cloudy interpretation of the night…
…Nigel turned away from the bus, blearily aware that the bus driver was trying to solicit some kind of a response from him.
"Well?" the bus driver asked.
"I'm sorry, could you repeat the question," Nigel replied, a little irritably.
"I'm supposed to pick up passengers from this bus shelter," Herbert Knuckle said. "I can't very well do that if it's on fire."
"There aren't any passengers," Nigel said.
"That's hardly the point," said Herbert. "Just put yourself in my position for a moment."
"My God, what an exceptionally brilliant idea!" Nigel suddenly enthused, and he slapped his forehead. The resourceful young grizzly jumped into the bus and drove off, leaving Herbert Knuckle to frantically consult his rulebook as the taillights snaked away into the night.
Nigel found that driving a bus was child's play. He really didn't know what all the fuss was about. He skilfully negotiated a bend, demolished a telephone kiosk and two dry stone walls, then found himself on a stretch of straight, unlit road. Nothing lay on either side, save for the starlit moorland, where shadow lay upon shadow and ghosts flitted invisibly through the spaces in between.
It was a lonely road. After a while, Nigel thought he could hear voices, softly ingrained in the insistent throbbing of the engine. He also became aware of a sharp ringing in his head.
Ping. Ping. Ping. That's how it went.
He shook his head and tried to concentrate on the road. He could still hear that damn noise.
Ping. Ping. Ping. It continued in a most irritating and unpleasant fashion.
He looked in his mirror and further down the bus he saw the old woman clinging on to a handhold and stabbing the stop button repeatedly. He halted the bus, braking a little too sharply. The woman stumbled forwards, struck her head on the windscreen and slumped to the floor, moaning painfully. The automatic doors opened with a pneumatic fart and allowed a cool breeze to gently revive her. She gathered up her shopping bag, gathered up herself, thanked Nigel and disembarked.
Nigel was puzzled. There was nothing around for miles, just the empty moor. He waited, watching with fascination to see what she would do.
The old lady whistled to herself as she waited by the roadside, but the tune was stolen by the wind, which decided it was going to play it secretively somewhere else. At the edge of the vague, blank space that defined the moor, the tiny yellow lights of some filthy industrial sprawl danced beneath the stars.
Then, from the midst of that flickering light show, a new star rose above the horizon, climbing high into the air. With the sound of a great torrent of wind, it fell towards her.
The woman bent down and picked up her bags.
All of a sudden, a metal giant was descending from the heavens, a spaceship the size of an office block. Not one of those really big office blocks, just a small one. The old lady felt the hot rush of exhaust gasses as the steel beast sank onto the heath.
There was silence: a profound, unbreakable silence.
There was stillness: a deathly, deadly, impenetrable stillness.
There was a penguin: a large, mean-looking penguin in a safari suit and carrying a snooker cue.
The wind held its breath.
Then, with a warbling boom that shuddered through the ship's hull, a door opened and a metal ramp began to extend towards the ground. A bright light lit up the moor for miles around as the hum of machinery grew louder and louder, until it came to sound like a million angels' voices. The ramp embedded itself in the soft earth, and once more there was silence.
"About time too!" the old woman muttered. She started to shuffle up the ramp, squeezing past a very bemused looking policeman covered in dragon shit, who was coming the other way.
PC Gibbon reached the bottom of the ramp and slowly turned around. From inside the ship he heard two voices: firstly the old woman, asking for a ticket to the Magellan Cluster; then the driver asking to see her pass.
The ramp retracted, the door closed and the spaceship blasted off, blowing Gibbon's hat off in the process. He looked around mournfully. His only companions were the whispering wind, and a double-decker bus waiting on the road.
Now there was a stroke of luck.
PC Gibbon was on that bus in a single bound. "I'll have an Off-Peak Young Persons Super-Saver to just around the corner please."
"One pound eighty-nine please," said Nigel as he reeled off the ticket.
Daddy Bear stepped out into the morning; into the light and the sparkling frost that coated everything. It was on mornings like this that one appreciated the simple pleasure of being alive. A morning such as this reinvigorates the soul, fills one with hope.
"Aha! This day, this brave new morn'," Longtower the philosopher announced as he stepped from the house and winced at the fresh air. "Nature is resplendent at this time of day."
"Is it?" Daddy Bear asked. His mood had suddenly swung from carefree optimism to glum depression.
"I think so," Longtower said. He took a deep breath, then threw up.
"Very poetic," Daddy Bear said as he watched it dribbling down Longtower's chin. Daddy Bear went inside and kicked Mary to wake him up.
"What time is it?" Mary managed to mumble.
"You don't want to know," said Daddy Bear.
Mary climbed to his feet, then slumped against the most conveniently placed wall. "What time is it?" he asked again.
"I really don't think that information would benefit you in any way whatsoever," Daddy Bear warned him.
Mary was quite insistent. His stamped his foot, which is just the sort of thing that's certain to strike fear into the heart of any seven foot grizzly bear with razor sharp claws and vicious teeth.
"All right, all right," Daddy Bear said. "It's six o'clock... Well it's no good doing that. I knew you'd go to pieces if I told you. Put that hacksaw down and stop being so stupid."
"I've never been up this early before," Mary said, on the verge of tears.
"Ah yes, but you've never been a hardened criminal before, have you?" Daddy Bear reminded him.
This was true. Mary adopted a sly expression and his body tensed. He was a fugitive, living on his wits. His enemies could discover him at any moment, so he had to be alert. But that was just the kind of guy he was. Agile! Cunning! But above all, dangerous!
He zipped up his pyjama case and sidled over to Daddy Bear. "Okay chief, I'm ready to go. I suggest we head north, following the river. If we walk in the water we won't leave a trail for the dogs to follow."
Daddy Bear looked down at the sad little man. This is what a lifetime of selling double-glazing did to you.
"No, hang on, I've got a better idea!" Mary said. "Let's disguise ourselves as wandering minstrels and bluff our way through roadblocks by performing interesting tricks with unusual parts of our bodies."
"Tell you what," Daddy Bear said. "Let's just take the train, shall we?"
A set of worn steps led down into the lonely rural station. A single track ploughed between two platforms. Attached to a lop-sided concrete post was a timetable in a plastic case. The front of the case was cracked and the timetable flopped limply forward, sodden with dew.
Daddy Bear lifted it distastefully with his finger and tried to decipher the smudged print. "It says that the next train is at six twenty-one." He paused to study the timetable a little closer. "Well either that, or it says we've got a badger in the loft extension. On reflection I'd plump for the former."
"Pardon?" asked Mary, who hadn't been listening to a word.
"You what?" Daddy Bear asked.
"I said what?"
"Badger," said Longtower.
"Come again?" said Daddy Bear and Mary together.
Longtower wandered off down the platform and breakfasted on half a bottle of Drambuie. Mary stood and shivered in the brittle morning air, and was about to say something when Daddy Bear held up his paw.
"Do you hear that noise?" he asked.
"It wasn't me," said Mary quickly. "It must have been Longtower."
"That's not the sort of noise I was talking about," Daddy Bear said.
"Oh I see," Mary said bashfully. He listened carefully. "Yes, yes, I can hear it," he hissed. "It sounds like someone's heading this way."
What they could hear was the sound of many rapid footsteps, all falling in unison. A troop of commuters suddenly appeared at the top of the steps. They all seemed to be dressed the same, each of them trussed up in a grey suit and carrying a little black briefcase. They walked quickly, heads down, rear ends stuck out behind them.
As one animal, the group descended the steps. Not a word was exchanged between them, not a single sign of acknowledgement. They reached the platform just as the train pulled up, and without breaking stride they infiltrated the carriages. Daddy Bear, Longtower and Mary were swept along with them, like flies trapped in amber.
The doors closed. The train pulled away. As if at some unspoken signal, each commuter whipped out a copy of the Financial Times and opened it out, filling the carriage with a swarm of fluttering pink wings. Again, there was not a word of dialogue between them. Not a single 'Good Morning' nor a solitary 'Lovely Weather' passed their lips. The only sounds were the rumble of the carriage over the track and the occasional rustle of many pages being turned simultaneously.
Two stations later the train slid to a stop. Newspapers were rolled up, tucked beneath arms, then the busy commuters disembarked, leaving our heroes in an empty carriage.
Longtower yawned and spread himself luxuriously over one of the seats as the train set off once more. "Ah, what a wondrous thing science is!" he exclaimed, for his own benefit entirely. "For I might climb aboard this contraption at, say, Plymouth and step off just a few hours later in, say, Newcastle."
"Inverness," Daddy Bear said. "We're going to Inverness."
"Bah! 'Tis but a trifle," Longtower said nonchalantly. "The gist of the point of the argument that I'm trying to get at is that I am in awe of this great achievement."
The door at the end of the carriage suddenly slid open to admit a steward in a comical hat. He was pushing a metal trolley that groaned under the weight of a quarter of a ton of lager, fizzy drinks and dubious looking sandwiches. From the way the trolley was leaning it was obvious that most of the weight was in the sandwiches.
With some difficulty he rattled his rickety contraption down the narrow aisle and parked it on Mary's foot. Satisfying himself that the protruding bolt behind the front nearside castor was firmly embedded in Mary's big toe, he looked up and gave a brief smile.
"What's all this?" asked Daddy Bear.
"This is the friendly face of modern rail transport," muttered the steward, and he spared another grin. "So do you want anything from the bleeding trolley or not?"
"May we inquire of you as to the precise nature of the comestibles you have for trade?" Longtower asked. He poked a disgustingly filthy finger into a jam bun, extracted it and proceeded to sample the globule of jam that adhered to it.
"What's he saying?" the steward asked Daddy Bear.
"He wants to know what you've got on the trolley," Daddy Bear enlightened him.
"Oh well, there's some cans and stuff." The steward waved his hand uncertainly over the trolley, as though he was trying to magically transform it into a frog. "There's some lager, but it tastes like piss. There's some cake that's gone a bit off, some chocolate bars... Oh you can see for yourself what there is, can't you?"
"Hmm, what is in this sandwich?" Longtower asked, pointing to the article in question.
"Dunno," was the steward's fast and efficient reply.
Longtower was about to fox him with yet another dazzlingly devious conundrum, when suddenly the train shuddered violently and they heard the ear-splitting squeal of brakes. The steward was thrown forward onto the trolley where he met a painful end, impaled on a tuna fish sandwich.
Then there was a terrific crack and the train stopped dead.
Nigel had driven through the night. At about four o'clock he had been overcome by fatigue and had decided to stop for a breath of fresh air. By this time PC Gibbon had fallen asleep on the back seat, which suited Nigel fine since his presence was making him very nervous.
He had parked the bus in a lay-by on the outskirts of a little village, and then wandered out into the early morning frost. In the distance, dark clusters of houses were huddled around the silhouette of a church spire. His thoughts turned to the people wrapped up in their warm beds, blissfully unaware of him as he stalked the night, flitting back and forth this country lane.
There was a yellow glow above the village, the reflections of randomly dotted streetlights. Nearer the horizon the sky was lighter, anticipating the dawn. He had never realised before that darkness could come in so many different shades and textures.
He had stood and watched the trees swaying silently in the wind, dark shadows moving. Then the cold had seeped through to his bones and he had returned to the bus.
Feeling refreshed, he set off once more, travelling through the sunrise on his inexorable journey northwards. After some distance his weariness returned. He felt his concentration slipping… his eyes beginning to close… But he kept going regardless…
And then suddenly there was a terrific crack and the bus stopped dead.
The now stationary carriages were still swathed in the cotton wool clouds of early morning. Immaculately coiffured, clean-shaven heads were periodically poked out of windows to assess the nature of the delay. Occasionally they were heard to say things like, "This is disgraceful, utterly disgraceful," or, "I'm going to write to my MP about this, I really am!"
A door opened in one of the carriages. Three lonely figures jumped out onto the track and started stomping towards the front of the train. Their passage was marked by shouts of encouragement from the starched heads of their fellow travellers, no doubt under the impression that this plucky threesome were going to give the driver a piece of their minds. In truth, Daddy Bear, Mary and Longtower had simply decided that it would be quicker to get out and walk.
As they approached the engine, the reason for the delay became plain. The train had run smack into the front of a double-decker bus on a level crossing. The radiator grille of the bus was bent and one headlight was broken, but aside from that it had sustained little damage. The train, on the other hand, was a complete write-off.
As Daddy Bear and his two lunatic friends approached the scene, a heated discussion was taking place between the drivers of the respective vehicles.
"You broke my train!" bawled the train driver, tears streaming down his face.
"Oh grow up, you big nancy!" Nigel said. "You're far too old to be playing with trains anyway."
"Nigel!" said Daddy Bear.
The young bear spun around quickly at the sound of his father's voice. "Dad!" he said.
"Nigel!" said Daddy Bear.
"Dad!" said Nigel.
"Nigel!" said Daddy Bear again.
"Dad!" said Nigel.
"Son, you're a great disappointment to us," his father told him sternly. "Have you smashed up this nice man's train?"
"It was an accident, honest Dad," Nigel explained feebly. "It was a bit of a blind corner, and he didn't signal."
"Answer the question, Nigel," Daddy Bear said. "Did you smash up this man's train?"
"Well, yes," Nigel said. "But there's no harm done."
"No harm done!" the train driver roared. Train drivers don't roar quite as ferociously as grizzly bears, but the effect can still be fairly intimidating. "Look at it, you've trashed my train!"
"Well, it could be worse," Nigel ventured philosophically.
"Worse!" said the train driver, clearly disputing this suggestion. "How could it possibly be worse?"
"I could be sleeping with your wife as well," said Nigel with a shrug.
"Now stop this!" Daddy Bear demanded. "You're both behaving like children. I want you to shake hands and be friends."
"You what?" Nigel asked.
"Your dad's off his chump," said the train driver.
"Don't talk about my father like that," Nigel warned him.
"He's cuckoo," the train driver asserted. "A ruddy nutter."
"I know that," said Nigel, "but you don't have to tell everyone."
"Now I mean it," Daddy Bear insisted. "I'm not moving from this spot until you two have made up."
Nigel shrugged. "I suppose we'd better do as he says," he said to the train driver.
The train driver nodded. "All right, but just for appearance's sake."
They shook hands firmly. The train driver even gave Nigel a little peck on the cheek, which Nigel thought was carrying the pretence a little too far.
"Now that's better, isn't it?" said Daddy Bear, and he bundled Nigel towards the bus.
"What was all that about?" Nigel wanted to know.
"Listen son," his father said, "does your insurance cover train crashes?" Nigel shook his head. "So, can you afford to buy that man a new train?" Nigel shook his head again. "In that case," his father said, "I suggest we get out of here as soon as possible."
They reached the bus. Mary and Longtower were already aboard, pulling strange faces with their noses pressed up against the windows.
Daddy Bear was about to climb on board when his son laid a paw on his forearm. "Look, just what is going on here?" he asked. "Who are those two strange people with you? And where's Mum?"
"Really Nigel," Daddy Bear said impatiently. "We don't have time for this right now. Your mother and I had a bit of a tiff, that's all."
"Well where did she go?" Nigel asked.
Daddy Bear shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "Look, it's no good blaming me, Nigel. It was her that abandoned me."
"Okay, so what about the two weirdoes?" asked Nigel.
"One of them's a philosopher, the other's a double-glazing salesman," Daddy Bear said. "I met them a little while ago and I can't get rid of them. Now, can we please get a move on?"
Nigel stood aside and his father jogged up the steps and leapt athletically into the driver's seat. "So, how does this thing work?" he asked. "I've never driven a bus before. Always wanted to have a go though."
"It's a little complicated," Nigel said as he came and stood beside him. "First you have to twist this wotsit here, stick this bit in there, and waggle that thingy about over there. I'm not being too technical for you, am I?"
"No problem," Daddy Bear said. The engine roared and they set off.
* * *
Daddy Bear took to driving the bus much quicker than his son, and he whistled merrily to himself as they drove along. This little family reunion seemed to have lifted his spirits, and for the first time in a long while he felt a touch of optimism.
Nigel went and sprawled himself over one of the seats, hoping to catch up on some much needed sleep. Longtower, meanwhile, amused himself by extolling the virtues of bus travel to a fascinated Mary. They had travelled about ten miles when suddenly...
The mist tumbled down the valley slopes but dared not touch the water. Ripple followed ripple to the shore and burst there upon the bank, but dared not make a sound. Some ancient mystery remained at this place: something unseen, undetected. Only a slight eddy on the surface of the water marked its passage. Something was moving beneath the loch.
Daddy Bear wrenched the wheel aside. The bus skidded and swerved to a halt, slamming its handful of passengers into the seats in front of them. Nigel Bear stood up painfully.
"What was all that about?"
"Didn't you see it?" his father replied, visibly shaken.
"I was too busy head-butting the upholstery at the time," Nigel replied bitterly. "What exactly did I miss?"
"You must have seen it," Daddy Bear said. "It was a strange and inexplicable paragraph." He opened the bus doors and stepped outside, casting his eyes about the sky. "It came out of nowhere."
"I don't understand," Mary said, as he and the others followed Daddy Bear out into the open.
"Ask me if I'm surprised," said Daddy Bear.
"I'm not sure that I understand either," said Nigel. "This is a little too weird for me. Are you seriously suggesting we were attacked by a paragraph?"
Daddy Bear nodded, keenly surveying the horizon. "That's exactly what I'm suggesting," he told them. "A section of the narrative has somehow broken away from the rest of this story and is floating randomly through the pages."
"I fear your father is right," Longtower said gravely. He put his arm around Nigel's shoulders and breathed whisky fumes into his face. "The English language is a dangerous thing. Even a relatively small paragraph, without too many big words in it, could cause untold damage. LOOK OUT!"
The mist tumbled down the valley slopes, but dared not touch the water. Ripple followed ripple to the shore and burst there upon the bank, but dared not make a sound. Some ancient mystery remained at this place: something unseen, undetected. Only a slight eddy on the surface of the water marked its passage. Something was moving beneath the loch.
Daddy Bear ducked and Longtower roughly dragged Nigel to the ground. Mary, however, was too slow to react and the edge of the paragraph caught him right under the chin. He was carried off screaming over the horizon.
Daddy Bear got up and shook his head. "There was nothing we could have done," he said mournfully.
"We could have dragged him out of the way," said Nigel.
"No we couldn't," Daddy Bear told him.
"I feel, sir, that we could have at least warned him," Longtower said.
"No we damn well couldn't!" Daddy Bear insisted.
Nigel was keen to argue the matter. "We could have saved him if we'd - "
"Look, there was nothing we could do, okay?" said Daddy Bear, who was quite relieved to have Mary out of the way. "We just have to face it: he could be anywhere in this story by now. He might even be in a different story altogether."
Nigel pondered this notion. Now he came to think about it he felt sure there was someone fitting Mary's description in A Tale Of Two Cities. And wasn't there a sad double-glazing salesman with a woman's name in Lord Of The Flies? Well, at least he would be in a better place.
"So what now?" he asked as he shook these thoughts from his head.
"We must carry on to Scotland," his father said. "That's where that weird paragraph came from."
Daddy Bear climbed back on board the bus. Just as he sat down, a hand came to rest on his shoulder. It was a big, hairy, policeman's hand, property of one Police Constable Kevin Gibbon, who in turn was property of the Metropolitan Police Force.
"You're not going anywhere, my son," the aforementioned Constable Gibbon said gleefully.
"Oh yes," said Nigel to his stunned father. "I forgot to tell you: there's a policeman asleep on the back seat."