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'Artists at Sea
a short story by
Cassandra Solon-Parry'


Chapter 1
The Little Devil

ELIZABETH was in her bedroom busily drawing fish on the rose wallpaper using thick blue, green, red, yellow and purple felt tips. She wanted her room to look more like the sea so she could pretend that she lived under water. The roses clashed a bit with the fish but they were easy to turn into seaweed by adding long, wriggly green lines to the stems. Anyway, there were flowers under water ('enemies' or something). Elizabeth had seen a whole programme about them on the television.
     Elizabeth was five. Her brother, Jason, and her cousin, Jasmine, were meant to be watching over her while Mother was out shopping. Jason, however, had shut himself in the sitting room and had told his little sister she was not to come in, even if the house was burning down, so that he could play his video games 'in peace'. Jasmine, meanwhile, was in her bedroom writing postcards to send home. Jasmine hadn't made a point of telling Elizabeth not to come in but writing postcards had been of no interest to Elizabeth and so she was on her own.
     The children had already been on holiday for a week and Elizabeth was bored. Jason and Jasmine didn't take much notice of her and all her friends seemed to be away. Elizabeth really wished that something exciting would happen; something unusual; something which would make her cousin and her brother pay more attention to her. She carefully finished the tail of a fish that was swimming down from the windowsill and stood back to admire the effect. Her eyes glanced from the fish to the window and the next instant she was rushing out of the bedroom door and down the stairs, shouting as she went. "There's a monkey in the garden, Jason. Jason, there's a monkey in the garden!" yelled Elizabeth. She tore through the kitchen and out the back door.
     "What do you mean, 'there's a monkey in the garden'?" Jason yelled back. He came out of the sitting room looking irritable. He supposed he had better find out what his little sister was up to. "Elizabeth!" he shouted after her again but got no answer.
     "What's happening?" asked Jasmine from the top of the stairs.
     "It's Elizabeth," said Jason. "She says there's a monkey in the garden."
     "Perhaps there is," said Jasmine open-mindedly. Jason rolled his eyes disbelievingly and stomped out to investigate as Elizabeth's voice called out, "It's pulling horrible faces."
     The garden was simple: A big square lawn good for running around on and having tea and cakes in the middle of, and a bright border of flowers rather in need of weeding. (Weeding was Jason's chore but he hadn't done it for a while.) A clothes tree took up a sunny corner of the lawn and from this, scattering newly hung laundry in every direction, was swinging a very strange creature.
     "What on earth..." began Jason in amazement.
     "One thing's for sure," said Jasmine. "It isn't a monkey."
     "It's got the trifle," observed Jason indignantly. He watched appalled as the evening's dessert was unceremoniously guzzled at the same time as the creature pulled the last remnants of the laundry off the clothes tree.
     The creature was like nothing the three children had ever seen before. It was the size of a small child, its skin was reddish and it had a long, barbed tail and two short, curving horns. Its tail was firmly wrapped around the trifle from which it took sticky handfuls and swallowed them down, making greedy eating noises and smacking its lips, while simultaneously tearing down the laundry and pulling awful faces at Elizabeth. Elizabeth was standing under the clothes tree and pulling awful faces back at it. Noticing the arrival on the scene of her brother and her cousin she momentarily straightened out her face and said, "Isn't it wonderful?"
     "No, it isn't wonderful at all," said Jasmine firmly. "Look at your poor mother's washing - and the trifle."
     "Let's catch it," said Jason. "We can take it to the zoo." Matching deeds to words he launched himself at the... what-ever-it-was.
     "Catch it. Catch it!" shouted Elizabeth, squealing with delight as she raced into battle. Jasmine thought that perhaps a more scientific approach was called for. Trapping it, for instance, was definitely a safer option than jumping on it. But it was too late for an alternative plan and she hesitated only a moment before joining in the chase.
     "Lizzy, stop it getting out the gate," instructed Jason as the creature realised it was time to leave. Elizabeth threw herself at the gate and slammed it shut just as the creature was about to bound through it. The creature veered away and attempted to reach the apple tree by the fence. Jason launched a rugby tackle at it and caught it by the tail. It turned around to fight but Jasmine threw herself on top of it and held it trapped beneath her. Elizabeth jumped on top of the three of them for good measure. Fierce struggling ensued during which the children discovered that tails could be as hard to hold down as arms and legs, but at last the creature was overcome.
     "Thugs. Vandals. Bullies!" screamed the creature. "Let me up."
     "It can talk!" exclaimed Jason. Elizabeth had never doubted it.
     "Of course I can talk," said the creature. "Seventy-three languages. What do you think I am?"
     "We haven't a clue," said Jasmine. She loosened her hold a little as the creature had stopped struggling. "What are you?"
     "A devil, of course."
     "You're a very little devil," said Jason. "Where do you come from?"
     "Hell," said Elizabeth knowledgeably.
     "Uffinland, actually," said the devil.
     "Newfoundland?" said Jasmine. "I didn't know there were devils in Newfoundland."
     "Not 'Newfoundland'," corrected the little devil. "Uffinland."
     "Uffinland? What a funny name," said Jason.
     "I like it," said Elizabeth. "I wish I came from Uffinland."
     "No you don't," assured the little devil. "It's horrible there. Everyone's always fighting and it's never quiet and there's only coal to eat."
     "That sounds awful," said Jasmine.
     "It's horrible," repeated the little devil.
     "It must be underground if there's only coal to eat," said Elizabeth. "I wish I could eat coal."
     "You wouldn't wish it for very long if you never had anything else," said the little devil.
     "Have you run away?" asked Jason.
     "Not exactly," the little devil explained. "I came out with some of the other devils to help with a fire and found this sweet shop. I was just eating my two hundred and twelfth chocolate bar when I realised the fire was over and everyone had gone home and left me behind."
     "Two hundred and twelve chocolate bars!" exclaimed Jasmine, shocked. "It's a miracle you're not fat as a house."
     "I was pretty fat for a while," said the little devil proudly.
     "Were you sick?" asked Elizabeth.
     "Devils don't get sick," said the little devil.
     "I wish I was a devil," said Elizabeth.
     "Well, what are you going to do now?" asked Jason. Taking a monkey to the zoo was one thing but taking a devil, especially one that spoke in seventy-three languages, didn't seem right somehow.
     "I don't know," said the little devil, who didn't seem particularly worried about it.
     "You can stay with us," said Elizabeth.
     "Wait a minute..." said Jason.
     "That would be just devilish," said the little devil, sounding very pleased.
     "You would have to behave," said Jasmine, uncertainly.
     "Oh, I would," said the little devil. "I'm a terrible devil anyway. I think that's why they left me behind."
     Elizabeth was appalled. "What? They did it on purpose? The mean devils!"
     "Devils are mean," agreed the little devil. "It's one of the main things about them."
     "It's agreed then," said Jason, who rather liked the idea although he didn't like to admit it.
     "Margo and Dave won't like it," said Jasmine referring to Jason and Elizabeth's parents. (She called both Mr. and Mrs. Leonard by their first names, Dave and Margo, because 'auntie' and 'uncle' never felt right.)
     "It will have to be a secret then," said Jason and he glared meaningfully at Elizabeth. "Lizzy," he said firmly. "You are not to tell Mum or Dad or anyone. Do you understand?"
     "Oh, I won't say anything," promised Elizabeth. "It's a very small devil. It can live in the bottom of my toy cupboard."
     "That sounds fine," said the little devil. "I like toys, especially wind-up ones and ones with batteries."
     As the children discussed hiding the little devil a car was heard pulling up outside the house. "Mum's back," said Elizabeth.
     "The trifle!" said Jason.
     "The laundry!" said Jasmine. "What are we going to do?"

Chapter 2 - Devils and Chocolate Cake

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