Little Big Nose wasn’t the first helpless creature that Christopher had looked after. He had nursed back to health many baby frogs and small birds that had strayed too far from their ponds or nests. They were his summer projects and he had fed them with worms and spaghetti hoops, tickled their chins and given them talks on how to survive in the wild. When they were old and fat enough he released them back into the garden, secretly keeping an eye on them with his dad’s binoculars.
Christopher figured a sick nose couldn’t be that different from a baby bird or frog.
He wrapped Little Big Nose in a thick rugby sock and placed him in an old shoebox filled with cotton wool.
“Right! Let’s get you well again,” he said and held a hanky to the nose’s chapped nostrils. “Blow!”
With a huge puff Little Big Nose filled the hanky and more besides. Christopher looked down in horror and slowly spread his fingers. His hand looked like it belonged to some strange swamp creature. Green, slimy and webbed.
“That was pretty disgusting!” He grabbed a T-shirt and wiped off the goo. “But I suppose I better get used to it.”
Christopher threw the snotty shirt over his shoulder and looked hard at the dribbling nose.
“O.K! Do you think you can manage some dinner?” He jumped to his feet. “What do noses eat anyway? My nose doesn’t eat anything. But you have to be different, everything that’s alive needs food.”
Christopher thought for a moment. What would he normally start with in this situation?
“Well, let’s try some worms and see how we go.”
Later that week Christopher glumly sneaked out of the house carrying a tray of glasses all filled with thick, dark mucus. So far he had made no progress with the nose whatsoever, if anything, Little Big Nose was getting worse. Christopher had tried all sorts of things from his parents cupboards but couldn’t get him to eat anything. Little Big Nose had spent the whole day sneezing out more and more green ooze.
He had held the nose in his hand, saying soothing words and catching the endless flow in the various glasses. He had filled up six. It had been a long day.
He slowly shut the back door behind him, wincing at the hinge’s slow creek. It was early evening and a strange hush had fallen upon the garden. Christopher glanced at the full moon that peered through a cloud and a shiver whispered down his back. He decided the best thing to do with his collection of gunk was to pour it down the drain as quickly and quietly as possible.
“What you doing?” Christopher jumped and nearly dropped the tray.
It was Lauren, his little sister. She had red hair and a hundred thousand tiny freckles. She pushed her glasses up her nose and grinned at him.
“Oh its you,” said Christopher edging around slightly, trying to hide the tray. Although they were born barely a year apart Christopher often wondered if they were related at all. They were complete opposites. She thought school was fun and interesting; he thought it was boring. She was always smartly dressed; he always looked like he had been pulled backwards through a hedge, even when he hadn’t. She wanted a horse; he wanted a tiger. They never agreed on anything and what was worse, she was always following him around.
“What do you want?”
“Oh, not much,” said Lauren. “Just finished my homework so I thought I’d pop out for some fresh air.”
In the dusk sky a lone bat zigzagged overhead.
“You’ve spent even more time than usual hiding away…” said Lauren casually as she watched the bat’s dizzy display. “Locked up in your room …”
She turned to Christopher and narrowed her eyes. “Are you up to something?”
“Oh you know. Same as you … homework.”
The moment he said it Christopher knew it was a mistake. He’d been doing homework? She would never believe that.
“Homework?” Lauren looked at him over her glasses. “What homework would that be then?”
“The maths project about triangles or the history essay about the ancient Egyptians?”
“The Egyptians…” said Christopher. “The urm … the building of the stinx…”
Lauren laughed. “Its Sphinx not stinx! And besides, we’re not doing the ancient Egyptians this term, I made that up. You haven’t been doing homework at all, have you?”
“I’ve been busy,” said Christopher trying to get past her whilst still hiding the tray.
“What have you got there?” Lauren stood on tiptoes to peep over his shoulder.
“Nothing. Go away.”
“Yuk! It looks disgusting whatever it is!”
Christopher stopped and thought for a moment. Lauren hated slimy, icky things … this might be fun.
“It’s snot,” he said and proudly pulled the tray from behind his back.
“SNOT!” spluttered Lauren, stepping back. “Where did you get all that from?” Then she froze and her eyes widened as another thought struck her: “What are you going to do with it?”
Christopher frowned and looked at the green mucus filled glasses in front of him. He hadn’t really thought this through, showing her the goo had been fun for a second, but now he had to explain it. He could tell her the truth but the thing with Lauren was: she would never believe him. She thought there was a logical explanation for everything whereas Christopher liked to believe in the mystery and magic of things. Most importantly: he liked having the secret of Little Big Nose all to himself.
“It’s for my garden,” he said in a flash of inspiration. “I’ve had a bit of a cold and I’ve been doing some experimenting and it turns out that snot is excellent for killing thistles.”
Lauren stared at him blankly.
“So you collected all that snot to kill weeds?”
“Just thistles,” said Christopher. “I don’t mind the other weeds.”
Lauren narrowed her eyes. Christopher met her gaze with a look of blank innocence. Lauren tilted her head to one side and raised an eyebrow. Christopher held his breath.
“Well, don’t let me stop you;” she said. “It’s getting dark. Go on. Weed away.”
“Good! Thank you ever so much,” said Christopher sarcastically. “I don’t see what its got to do with you anyway!”
Christopher disappeared into the garden with his tray, thanking his lucky stars and considering himself very clever for his quick thinking.
Lauren watched him go with a confused look on her face. He really had changed over the last year. These days he spent nearly all his time on his own, either working on his garden or in his room. She worried about him. She thought she knew what was wrong but he never wanted to talk about it. Whenever she tried he always changed the subject.
And he’d become even more distant than usual recently. She huffed with frustration, he was a puzzle she couldn’t work out.
“Gardening with snot…” she mumbled. “Whatever next?”
In his garden Christopher looked at his tray of goo and then at a rather nasty-looking thistle that had sprung up right in the middle of one of his ornamental displays. He peered back at the house, Lauren was still on the doorstep and he could tell she was watching him through the trees. He shrugged and began to tip the snot-filled glasses all over the weed.
“Oh well; it might work, I suppose.”
By the time he had finished, the thistle was well and truly covered. In the evening light Christopher thought it looked like a vicious space alien, spiky, green and slimy.
“IT CAME FROM ANOTHER PLANET TO DESTROY OUR GARDENS!” he boomed in a silly over-the-top movie voice. “ONLY ONE YOUNG BOY COULD STOP IT! THE THISTLE MONSTER FROM THE PLANET JUNIPER WOULD LEARN TO FEAR THE NAME…”
“Christopher Postlethwaite!” His mum was calling him. “Dinner’s ready!”
Christopher looked the thistle right in the stalk and sneered : “I’ll be back.”
“Christopher!” His mum’s call was a little sharper this time. “It’ll get cold.”
And then he was off, over his mother’s nice neat lawn and through the back door, slamming it behind him.
Then there was silence…
High above, the clouds crept off into the darkness and the full moon shone down, drawing long dark shadows across the lawn and painting everything silver.
In the centre of Christopher’s garden the thistle started to gently sparkle.
Slowly, steadily, each spiky leaf twinkled under the moon’s gaze. Then the slimy thistle began to glow, dimly at first, but as the moon continued to shine, its strange light glittered and grew.
As the trees swayed silver in the breeze and the shadows slid from the bushes an incredible green light engulfed the garden.