Jennifer Moore - Winner

Competition: Subscriber-only writing for children competition 2017

Jennifer Moore’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Guardian, Mslexia and Short Fiction. She is a previous winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Competition and was the lucky recipient of last year’s Writing Magazine Iceland Writer’s Retreat prize.

Jennifer Moore

Slipper the Slimy Gets Slugnapped

Adventure follows Jasper and me everywhere we go. We call it ‘adventure’, anyway. Mum calls it ‘trouble’.
‘Boys and their invisible friends,’ she says, sighing loudly and rolling her eyes like the cleaning lady in our favourite PC Potty cartoon. ‘Nothing but trouble.’ Charming!
Sometimes we hear her talking to Dad when she thinks we’re asleep. ‘Shouldn’t he have grown of it by now?’ she says, as if friends are the same as too-tight jumpers or trousers that only come down to your knees. It makes me feel funny in my tummy when I hear things like that. But Jasper doesn’t care.
‘Mums,’ he whispers, rolling his eyes and letting out a big sigh of his own. ‘Nothing but trouble.’ And then we giggle so hard we have to stuff our pyjama cuffs in our mouths so no one hears us.
* * * * *
Most adventures begin with one of Jasper’s bright ideas. Sometimes with lots of bright ideas put together. It was his idea to name the slug Slipper. Slipper the Slimy. It was his idea to keep him as a pet. His idea to build a nest for him in the old bath where Dad grows tomatoes.
‘Perhaps we should check with Dad first?’ I suggested. ‘What if Slipper eats all his plants?’
‘No need,’ said Jasper. He’d already had an idea about that. ‘We’ll pick fresh cabbage for him every day so he’ll be too full for tomatoes.’
‘Okay,’ I agreed, like I always do.
We built a nest out of rhubarb leaves, with a soft grassy blanket in case Slipper got cold in the night, and a thick sprinkling of Dad’s best blue flowers for decoration. (The flowers were Jasper’s idea, not mine).
‘See? He loves it,’ said Jasper, as Slipper the Slimy nibbled the floor of his new home. ‘I’ve never seen such a happy slug.’ Neither had I. Of all the slugs I’d ever met, Slipper was definitely the slimiest. I mean smiliest.
For the next three days Jasper and I brought Slipper his cabbage breakfast, fresh from Dad’s veggie patch, and a selection of empty snail shells in case he wanted to play dressing up. But on the fourth morning, disaster struck. Slipper had gone! Vanished!
‘Someone’s taken him,’ gasped Jasper, hunting under the slimed tomato leaves, pulling up plants as he scrabbled through the soil, looking for our missing friend. ‘He’s not here. He must have been stolen!’
Perhaps he’s gone for a walk, I thought. Or a slide. I could see a shiny slime trail leading all the way up the bath and down the other side. But Jasper was off before I could say anything.
‘Come on,’ he called, already tearing across the patio. ‘Slipper’s in trouble. We have to save him!’  

* * * * *

Slipper wasn’t in Mum’s handbag. Lots of other things fell out when we shook it upside-down (Jasper’s idea, not mine), but no sign of any stolen slugs. And he wasn’t in Dad’s briefcase. Just big piles of paper that didn’t seem to fit back in afterwards.
‘I don’t think Mum or Dad have taken him,’ I said, as Jasper headed for the ‘Keep Out’ cupboard where all the dangerous tools and chemicals live. Going in there to look for our slug was a seriously bad idea.
‘Then someone must have broken into the garden and stolen him while we were asleep,’ said Jasper, as if that was the only other possible explanation. ‘The Dreaded Slug-Snatcher!’ His eyes gleamed.
Uh-oh. It looked like he was warming up to another bright idea. Another crazy adventure.
‘Maybe he just crawled away…’ I began, but Jasper wasn’t listening.
‘We need to go to the police station and report it,’ he announced. ‘Just like in PC Potty.’
‘They won’t care about a missing slug,’ I said, sensing trouble. ‘And Mum and Dad are too busy to take us.’
‘Then we’ll have to go without them,’ said Jasper, pointing to the open gate at the back of the garden. Double uh-oh. Dad must have forgotten to shut it when he put the wheelie bins out.
‘Quickly.’ Jasper grabbed my hand and headed back outside. ‘Before they notice we’re gone. Slipper needs us.’  
If Dad had forgotten to shut the gate we should be telling him, not sneaking through while his back was turned. We weren’t allowed out on our own and Jasper knew it. But he was already squeezing through the gap onto the pavement so I had to follow him. What else could I do?
He marched straight off up the street as if he knew exactly where he was going. Perhaps he’d been on an adventure to the police station before. Without me. Even thinking it made me feel funny. Best friends did everything together, didn’t they?
‘Wait,’ I called after him. ‘We shouldn’t be out here on our own.’
‘Don’t be such a scaredy-cat,’ he said, grinning back at me. ‘We’re doing this for Slipper, remember?’
How could I forget?
My legs were aching long before we reached the top of the hill but Jasper kept on going. He didn’t seem tired at all. He didn’t care about the funny looks we got either.
‘Who’s he talking to?’ asked one little girl, staring at us like we were crazy.
‘Don’t point,’ said her brother. ‘It’s rude.’
Jasper stuck out his tongue, which was even ruder, but I don’t think they saw.
‘Nearly there,’ he told me, as we passed a row of spooky buildings with broken windows. I could see water and an old car with no wheels, but no sign of any police station.
‘We’re lost,’ I said, trying not to cry. What would Mum and Dad say when they noticed we were gone? They might think someone had taken us!
That’s when Jasper started jumping up and down. ‘We must be really close now,’ he cried. ‘Look!’ He pointed to the police car heading towards us. ‘Maybe they’ll give us a lift to the station.’
But they didn’t. The car pulled up next to us and two long-legged policemen got out.
‘Hello,’ said the one with the furry moustache. ‘And what are you doing out here on your own?’
‘We’re looking for the police station,’ we said together.
‘Our friend Slipper’s been stolen by the Dreaded Slug-Snatcher,’ explained Jasper. ‘We’ve come to report it.’
Perhaps I should have mentioned the slime trail on the bath – given the police all the information – but I didn’t. ‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘We’ve come to report a slugnapping.’
‘We?’ said the second policeman, looking puzzled. ‘Who’s ‘we’?’
I was about to explain, to introduce ourselves properly, but PC Furry Moustache didn’t give me a chance.
‘Oh, I get it,’ he said, rolling his eyes and sighing. ‘Boys and their invisible friends.’ And then he chuckled. ‘I had an invisible friend myself when I was your age. Gus, I think his name was. Always getting me into trouble.’
Jasper pulled a funny face – the one he does when grown-ups tell us off – and I tried not to giggle.
‘I bet you never ran off without your mum and dad though,’ said the second policeman. He gave us a stern look. ‘Anything could have happened out here on your own. What if you’d fallen in the canal or bumped into a car, crossing the road? Your invisible friend wouldn’t be much help then, would he?’
I shook my head, sadly, and Jasper stared at his feet.
‘Now then,’ said PC Furry Moustache, more kindly. ‘I’m sure this slug of yours will turn up but we’ll keep out eye out for him just in case. Okay? And in the meantime we should think about getting you home. Do you know your address?’
Jasper nodded. ‘33 Girton Lane.’
‘Girton Lane,’ I agreed. ‘Number 33.’

* * * * *

Mum and Dad were all smiles and hugs when we got home but I could tell they were cross underneath. We must have given them a real scare disappearing like that.
‘Thanks so much for bringing him back,’ Mum told PC Furry Moustache. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s got into him lately.’
The policeman smiled. ‘Looking for a stolen slug, apparently. Still,’ he said, turning to us, ‘you won’t be doing anything like that again, will you?’
Jasper and I shook our heads. ‘No,’ we said. ‘We’re sorry.’
‘Boys and their invisible friends, eh?’ said the policeman. Mum rolled her eyes and sighed.
‘Honestly, Jasper,’ she said, as the police drove away again. ‘You know you’re not allowed out of the garden on your own. And don’t try blaming that ridiculous invisible friend of yours,’ she added. ‘You shouldn’t have run off and you know it.’
Jasper nodded.
‘Sorry Mum,’ he whispered, as she cuddled him into her chest.
‘Sorry Mum,’ I said, but no one was listening. No cuddles for me. There never are. That’s the trouble with being invisible.  

Judges Comments

Jennifer Moore's lighthearted story Slipper the Slimy Gets Slugnapped, the winner of our Children's Short Story competition, is a delight: funny, silly, quirky, original and pitched at a child reading for pleasure. It's also kind and unpatronising, addressing the relationship between a child and and an imaginary friend in a way that demonstrates insight into, and empathy for, its target readership. The writing throughout shows a deep understanding of what a reader of that age enjoys, including the gleefully revolting idea of having a slug as a pet.

The competition was for stories with a theme of 'taken', which the 'slugnapping' covers – it doesn't matter, though, that we don't discover Slipper the Slimy's whereabouts, as the apparent quest story is a really the story of best friends having an adventure.The adventure is child-sized as well: slug goes missing, best friends do their best to find slug. The humour and word-play are whimsical, playful and age-appropriate ('...the slimiest. I mean smiliest'; PC Furry Moustache) and it addresses concerns a child might have, whether they're about a missing pet or an imaginary friend, with care and kindness. Using a first-person child narrator, Jennifer gives readers a bird's-eye view of a child's experience - even if, as it turns out at the end, the writer has been playing with the reader's expectations of who the narrator is.

There is, refreshingly, no element of the story being 'improving' or attempting to teach a child a life-lesson – a trap which a noticeable proportion of the entries in this competition fell into. It's a story written absolutely with a child in mind, and that child understood and amused, and not in any way patronised or talked down to. The conceit of the narrator being the imaginary friend and the reveal in the last line work perfectly, and our only criticism, small as it is, is that a publisher might find the final paragraph, with the line 'no cuddles for me,' a downbeat note after such an upbeat tale – but it would be no problem for a writer as skilled as Jennifer, and as attuned to her young readers, to find a workaround!

 

Runner-up in the ‘Taken’ Writing for Children/YA competition, whose story is published on www.writers-online.co.uk, was Kerriann Godwin, Southbourne, Dorset. Also shortlisted were: Susan Allen, Leicester; Deborah Gasking, Dover, Kent; Keith Hill, Alston, Cumbria; Josette Reeves, Ormskirk, Lancashire; Katherine Searle, Sandhurst, Berkshire; Jessica Woodward, Oxford.

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