Two young friends each have an unexpected visitor at precisely 3.00am which sends their mental health into a downward spiral.
Emma pushed open the heavy iron garden gate and raised herself up onto her tiptoes and, just like the ballerina she hoped to one day become, she glided gracefully up the garden path. She had to stretch up high to reach the doorbell. It jangled a merry tune. Emma soon heard heavy footsteps on the other side and a plump, red-cheeked face peered around the opened door. The delightful smell of baking bread floated into the afternoon air.
“Ah, Emma dear, please come in, Pippa will be delighted to see you. She’s a bit down in the dumps you know, it’s this virus that’s going around, but she’ll soon cheer up when she sees you,” Mrs. Brown pulled the door open wide and ushered Emma into the hall.
Emma put on her best polite face, “Thank you, Mrs. Brown, where shall I put my shoes? I’m sorry but they are a bit muddy.”
Mrs. Brown found a sheet of newspaper and placed it carefully on the hall carpet. “Put them here dear and don’t fuss, you nip upstairs, Pippa is in her bedroom, I’ll bring up some milk and biscuits in a minute.”
Yuk, thought Emma, “Milk. Gross. How horrible, I would rather have a Fanta and some Maltesers.” Emma straightened up and smiled a courteous reply and nodded her thanks to the ample backside of Mrs. Brown, who was now ambling slowly towards her kitchen.
She pushed open the bedroom door in one great heave; Emma found Pippa sitting in a flowery patterned comfy chair staring rather forlornly out of her bedroom window. Emma could hear her gently sighing and muttering incomprehensible words. The room was heavy with desolation. She skipped lightly over to her friend, gently gripping her friend’s bare thin pale arm. “Hi yer Pips, how’re tricks?” Pippa turned towards Emma, her face was careworn and drawn and Emma could see traces of redness around her eyes. She’s been crying, thought Emma. She pulled up a chair and sat next to her.
Pippa held Emma’s hand. She looked directly at Emma and paused momentarily before saying, “You’re my best friend, aren’t you?” Emma nodded and gripped Pippa’s hand tightly. “And we, like, tell each everything don’t we?” Emma nodded again and whispered, “Everything.”
Pippa continued to look earnestly at Emma, “Mrs. Hargreaves tells us at Messy Church that girls like us shouldn’t lie, doesn’t she?” Emma agreed. “So, like, when I tell you what I am about to say, you will believe me, won’t you?”
“Yes,” said Emma, frowning slightly, “Of course, I will.”
“He STOLE it from you!” Emma’s voice was raised and her face was wrinkled with confusion. “Say that again, he STOLE it from you? What did he do? Suck it out of your nose? Pull it out of your ears? How can anyone steal your happiness? It doesn’t make any sense.” Pippa loosened her hand from Emma’s and turned to look out of the window. She followed a brown leaf fluttering a spiralling path from branch to the ground. It came to rest on the stone patio.
“See, I knew you wouldn’t believe me,” Pippa talked sternly at the window, her voice lifted into a high pitch. She could see Emma’s doubtful reflection staring back at her. “It happened, it really did, I wasn’t dreaming,” Pippa felt Emma’s hand on her shoulder, her soft voice whispered warm breath into her ear, “I DO believe you … but … come on, you must admit it’s all a bit, you know, like, well, weird, isn’t it?”
The two girls sat opposite each other and each nibbled on a digestive biscuit. Two glasses of milk remained untouched on the small table between them. Neither had spoken for the last few minutes, both deep in thought. Pippa sighed deeply.
Taking on the last bite of her biscuit, Emma stood up and brushed some crumbs from her lap. Thinking hard, she absentmindedly jabbed her middle finger into her cheek. Looking down at Pippa, she said slowly, “So, this Joy Thief thingy only comes if you call it, right?”
“At three in the morning,” confirmed Pippa, a morsel of biscuit slipped from her mouth, “Sorry,” she said as she quickly popped it back in. “You have to say Happy, Happy, Happy three times at precisely three o’clock in the morning and it will appear, you know, the Joy Thief. Mandy Charlton told me all about it during the break two days ago. I thought she was just winding me up ……. you know what she’s like.”
Emma grimaced at the mention of Mandy Charlton. She was in the year above Pippa and Emma and had a bit of a reputation for being a bully. Recently there was gossip circulating around the school that she had been involved in drugs and that she had had a reprimand from the Head Teacher. Emma made sure that she kept a sensible distance from the redoubtable Mandy.
Emma circled Pippa’s bedroom, glancing at the posters and pictures that adorned the walls. They were entirely covered by the boy band, Pretty Much. “I didn’t know you fancied Edwin Honoret, Pips, he’s quite cute, isn’t he?” Pippa blushed and sighed, “If I don’t get my happiness back soon, I don’t think I’ll ever fancy anyone again.” A tear dripped slowly from her eye, and Pippa dabbed it away with a tissue.
“So,” Emma stopped walking around and sat down in front of Pippa, her serious face now was very evident as she gently grabbed both of Pippa’s hands. “Right, you leave this with me, I’m going to get to this little thief idiot and give him a telling off and make him give back your happiness. Nobody steals anything from my best friend.”
“But,” she continued, fixing an expression that she hoped made her look strict, “Don’t ever, EVER do anything Mandy Charlton says to you again, she’s horrible, she doesn’t go to church or anything.”
“And she hangs out with those boys from the estate,” added Pippa with a snarl.
Both girls furrowed up their faces and curled up their lips in disgust.
He always knew when he was about to be summoned, it was a sort of premonition spirit that had built itself into his senses. The tingle started in the soles of his clawed feet, ran up his murky green spindly legs, across his grimy, scaly chest, resting gently under his pointed chin. He knew what that feeling meant. His dark yellow eyes gleamed and his white sharp teeth poked invitingly out of his pink mouth. A pale green tongue licked his thin lips in anticipation of another victim. He was running low on happiness and he needed replenishment urgently. As the pale moon drifted in a shadowy beam of light through his open window, his pointed ears pricked up at the faint peel of a bell in the distance.
Bong, bong, bong.
It was three in the morning, time to fly. He pulled on his tall hat and slung a dark bag over his shoulders.
Emma watched her clock as it flipped towards 3.00 am. Initially, it had been a struggle to stay awake. However, her older brother’s ‘clubbing pills,’ (the ones she had seen in his stash that was placed carefully out of sight from their mother) were definitely helping. She had heard him say that he used them to stay awake when he was out with his mates and their effects were now working on her.
Emma’s eyes stared unblinking at her bedside clock, she was reasonably sure that Pippa’s imagination had got the better of her and all this Joy Thief nonsense was just a dream. Emma’s mother had told her that Pippa was probably taking medicine for her virus and Emma guessed that this was messing with her head. But as the clock moved slowly to the appointed hour, Emma could begin to feel an uneasy, queasy lump starting to form deep inside her stomach, churning at her insides. She also felt an eerie faint whistle rustling uncomfortably in her ears.
“Pull yourself together Emma Smallwood,” she said quietly to herself, “Pffftt. Joy Thief. It’s rubbish.”
Her clock displayed: 2.56; 2.57; 2.58, 2.59.
“Here goes.” Emma took a deep breath and looked out of her window; earlier that evening she had drawn the curtains back; it was a clear moonlit night. With her knees bent up to her chin, she pulled her bedclothes tightly up to her neck and said softly and clearly, “Happy, Happy, Happy”.
The first thing noticed was the smell. “Eek, yuk, rotten eggs, that’s vile,” she whispered. The pungent aroma swirled around her nostrils making her gag. She waved her hands in an attempt to clear the stench. As the smell slowly dissipated, she saw a little figure appear from behind her clock. It sat jauntily on the edge of the clock face and stared directly at her with pasty yellow eyes. She rubbed her eyes in disbelief. Frightened to speak, she instinctively pointed at it, simultaneously pushing back hard against her headboard. Its’ tiny green body reflected in the glow of the moonlight, as it waved a tiddly white claw at an astonished and wide-eyed Emma.
“Hi Em. What’s up? “The creature had a distinctive squeaky voice. It attempted an ugly smile, its bright white teeth clashed against its deep pink lips. “Dunno why you are looking at me like that. You know who I am, Pippa has told you all about me; I’m known as the Joy Thief, but Em, chill, ‘cos tonight I come in peace.” The creature gave her a little bow.
Pippa knew. Yes OK, so her mother had driven her to see stupid people with their dense questions and then given her horrible white pills that they made her take daily. Her emergence from the depths of dark inert sadness into the bright sunshine of gleefulness had nothing to do with idiot people with their dumb words with their useless medication; it was all down to her best friend’s early morning encounter with the devilish Joy Thief.
With her own happiness restored, she set off to visit Emma; she hadn’t seen her at school and the cryptic text she had received this morning from Emma confirmed to her that a visit was important.
“You kissed it, didn’t you?” Pippa was sitting on Emma’s bed idly fiddling with an iPad. Emma’s chin dug deep into her neck. Pippa detected a slight nod from a red-eyed Emma. A pear-shaped tear formed underneath her left eye. She let it drip unguarded. Pippa jumped off the bed and stamped forcibly towards the window. White snow covered the garden. It looked cold and kind, just like Emma. “That’s what it told me to do. You know kiss its cheek. It said it’ll be harmless, and that’s when my whole happiness drained from my soul. And now you’ve gone and done it too.”
“It’s all my fault, Emma. I’ve got us, you, me, into this. I shouldn’t have listened to Mandy and…” Pippa hesitated as her eyes looked down at the floor; she started to wring her hands. “I took that pill from her … she said it would make me dream great dreams. I swallowed it the same night that the Joy Thief came.”
Pippa rolled onto the bed and clung to Emma her arms seizing her waist. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“They did a great job on my Pippa, Mrs. Smallwood, the Medway Children’s Mental Health Service was really good, I’m sure that they will help your Emma,” Mrs. Brown had the telephone fixed to her ear. “Give them a try, Mrs. Smallwood. They gave her some great counselling, yes, she does have to take some medication, you know, anti-depressants, but they assure me this won’t be long-term. I can give you the name of the lady that helped Pippa, I’m sure it will turn out OK.
He settled back in his rocking chair. The bright moon shone brightly through his open window. His belly was full, his heart had expanded. Serene contentment oozed through his veins. “Ah,” he sighed. “I’m full to bursting, happiness enough to kill. Oh, hail to the Joy Thief! He raised a glass, “Here’s to impressionable kids”