The white leather ball looked like a perfect shot, for all of two seconds. If there had been a crossbar it was even odds whether it would have hit it or sailed perfectly in through the corner. The problem was that with jumpers for goalposts there wasn’t actually a post, or a crossbar, so the ball continued to shoot through the air and vanished through a hedge in a shower of leaves, dislodging a particularly peeved pigeon.
“Bollocks,” said John, who – at the ripe old age of eight, had mastered the dark art of swearing. “I’ll go get it.”
“No!” cried Rob, at the head of a triangle of other, suddenly bashful and ashen-faced kids.
John turned, mid step and nearly fell over. That ‘no’ had been particularly forceful.
“Why the bollocks not?” that was the trouble with swearwords, when you mastered one you felt the need to use it all the time.
“Ol’ Mr Gaiman lives there!”
“So?” John was genuinely confused. Maybe they’d come up with this silliness while his mum had him at her house for the first half of the summer.
“He’s a monster!”
“No such thing as monsters.” His dad had told him so and his dad worked in a pub, so he knew things.
“He is one! He’s a witch with crazy grey hair, and he talks funny, and he has a human-skin jacket and he’s married to a banshee!”
“It’s an Irish ghost, only this one’s American. Anyone who hears her singing, dies!”
“Bollocks,” said John, again, though it was more heartfelt this time.
“No, it’s true! Toby’s nan kept complaining about her singing all the time, calling her a banshee, and then she died.”
“Of an anti-rhythm in her brain!” offered Toby, helpfully from behind Rob’s legs. He was only four. “Though dad said it’s just because she was angry all the time…” he trailed off, less helpfully.
“And the first week of summer break,” Rob continued. “Luke lost his toy plane over there and went looking for it and nobody saw him again.”
“Didn’t the police come?” John hesitated by the gate to the Gaiman house, hand on the handle, feeling a little unsure.
“He paid them off with his book money to leave him alone! Please, don’t go in there!”
“Nah, it’s bollocks.” John stuck out his chin – you had duties being the big kid – and in he went.
“And that,” said Ol’ Man Gaiman, picking young, delicious meat from his teeth with shards of the broken dreams of lesser writers. “Is where I get my ideas.”