Jimmy was running. The sounds of the city, including the slapping of his booted feet on the slippery cobbles, were muffled by the fog, but the wail of the street organ was clear and sharp. It seemed to be coming from ahead even though he had taken to his heels in order to leave it behind. Was there a scampering of paws beside him? Was there the faint clink of a chain in the mist? Surely it was just his imagination.
His mam would be worried if he wasn’t home soon but he daren’t head back towards the marketplace in case the organ grinder was still there. He would keep going on towards Dunoon Hill and cut through the park. That would be quickest. The oscillating meow of Ring a Ring o’ Roses herded him, stumbling blindly, towards a thinning in the murk.
Jimmy was breathing hard as he burst from the tendrils of brume and was hit with the forlorn keening of the organ ahead of him. The organ grinder was hunched over his instrument, nursing the noise before it fled his grimy fingers and sought cleaner ears in which to shelter. The musician’s face was hidden in the shadow of his creased top hat but Jimmy knew what he looked like. All the kids knew the organ grinder. Didn’t their mams tell them every night?
The organ grinder has one eye and pointy teeth. The organ grinder has the same face as his little monkey. The organ grinder has a mouth like a phonograph horn and that’s where the music comes out. The organ grinder eats little boys who are late home. The organ grinder has red eyes like a wolf. The organ grinder has no eyes and needs his monkey to guide him. The organ grinder will get you. If you hear the music; run!
Oh, yes, Jimmy knew the organ grinder alright. He was a pungent, rheumy-eyed old man with a rickety box and a flea-ridden monkey. Last week, Frank from up the hill had jeered at him while Jimmy had thrown stones at the animal. They were twelve, fer Chris’’s sake, and too old for the bogey-man tales their mams told them to make them behave. Little Jenny Goodhew was scared of the organ grinder. She was only ten and she said he whispered nasty things to her while she scrubbed the front step. That was why they had rushed to her defence with curses and cobbles flung in equal measure. Seeing the old man at the market recognise him and point morosely at the fiend who had been the cause of the bandage on his monkey’s tail had panicked the boy and so he had run.
And yet… This organ grinder was …different. He didn’t sway and hum along. He didn’t have a dancing monkey at his side. He was poker straight, yet slumped like a jacket on a hat-stand. He turned the handle sporadically as he shuffled forward. Lon-don-Bridgeisfall-ing-down – fallingdown-fall-ing-down, it wheezed forlornly. He didn’t look up as he approached and Jimmy was starting to wonder if his mam was right after all.
Step by shambling step Jimmy gave ground as the organ grinder took it. The boy was being pushed back into the fog. This time he was sure he heard the chime of a chain on stone and then there were claws at his neck. The monkey! It jabbered in his ears as it wrapped the chain around Jimmy’s throat and pulled with an unsettling strength.
Gagging, Jimmy stumbled forward into the shadow of the organ. The music was not coming from the horn on the side of the box; in fact, the funnel was sucking him towards it. The force of suction was so strong but there was no breeze, or any change in the fog. It was acting only on Jimmy. He clawed at the feet of the organ grinder, but he could not get purchase on the slimy corduroy trousers between his fingers.
With a crunch that stopped the music dead, Jimmy was squeezed into the phonograph horn. The organ grinder continued to turn the handle, but now the delicious waft of roasting meat was emitted in the place of strangled folksong. As the man walked off up the hill into the fog, the shape of the monkey grew beside him until it seemed almost child-sized. With each step, the white vapour cleared until a shabby old man with a tray of wares was clearly visible to potential customers.
“Hot pies!” cried the monkey-child beside him. “Fresh-made, hot meat pies!”