"Now that's what I call a #heavyweight."

Pearl didn't like the way the stranger was leaning on her gate. Or how his eyes were greasing the length of her prize marrow, leaving a trail like a slug.

"What'll you take for it?"

Ten green fingers curled into budding fists.

Three days now. Different faces, same rotten question.

Pearl bit her lips into a polite smile, blinked her embers grey, and met the stranger's gaze.

"Sorry, not for sale."

"Suit yourself." He shrugged and strolled away, slowly #killing the dusk with each heavy step.

Pearl loosened her fist, watched night sink into the earthy creases of her palms.

Her heart swelled at the quiet #resurrection in soil, in seeds, in lines of peas, winching skywards.

But some strange unsowing was underway in Dunster, and the marrow looked perturbed.

It had started in March, with that odd busker, strumming soft green tunes on a scarred guitar, an upturned trilby at her feet.

Turning a coin in her pocket, Pearl had peered into the hat. It was full of seeds. Fat, thin, pale, dark.

"Please take one." The lady smiled.

Pearl had chosen a big, flat seed like the white of an eye.

"Good choice." The busker waved away the proffered coin. "Pay me back in kind one day."

"How will I find..."

The lady had turned to new passers-by, flicking through faces like a #ragpicker searching for silk.

"Yes, a good choice."

Pearl patted the marrow. It glistened in the moonlight. A fat whale risen from a sea of summer months and #rainwater.

Before this year she'd barely noticed the little patch of earth outside her cottage. Now, somehow, it felt like her only hope.

Mrs Japes was leaning on the kitchen counter, cooking nothing but hard- #baked opinions.

"You should dye that, you know. It ain't natural, woman your age!"

Pearl rested the mop, brushed a wisp of silver hair from her eyes. "Yes, I know."

"I didn't tell you to stop!"

Young Japes burst into the kitchen, waving fistfuls of unearthed garden treasure.

"Look, mum!"

"What? Euch! Get away, filthy brat!"

The boy recoiled into a snail shell of anger and stormed off, taking a deliberate, muddy-footed #detour across Pearl's mopped floor.

A bright promise of #sapphire sky slammed shut behind the boy. Pearl knelt to clean the mud.

"So, I hear you're growing a giant marrow?" Mrs Japes sneered. "Makin' a spectacle of yerself!"


"How about I take it off yer hands? You owe me for the new mop, anyhow."

"That woman... is... not... getting... my... yargghhh!..."

Pearl crashed backwards into a bramble as the old blue bicycle finally tugged free.

It careered out of the shed, trailing cobwebbed feathers and mouse droppings from its spokes, like a third-rate #dreamcatcher.

Pearl didn't know where to go, but she did know the marrow wasn't safe in Dunster.

She stroked its taut green skin, flicked her penknife and whispered, "I'm sorry, this is going hurt."

A single, fat #drop of summer oozed from the severed, needle-haired umbilical cord.

The spruced-up Kingfisher barely creaked as Pearl gripped the tangerine handlebars and leant hard on the pedals.

As she overcame the inertia of the marrow in its trailer, a #mandolin-sliced sun slipped thinly through the clouds.

In this pale light, an adventure began.

Each spin of the Kingfisher's wheels unspooled a thread of Pearl's polyester life.

The deference to people whose secrets she mopped, dusted and put away.

The bright smile she flicked on and off at the front door.

The #longueur of evenings tick-tocking to lonely sleep.

Despite the drag from the marrow, Pearl whirled along the lane. Her breezy delight whisked white foxgloves into approving nods. The edge of town tapered in the Kingfisher's wake.

Then, in the green #gloaming of an unexpected holloway, she struck a ripple in the road.

The lane turned #littoral, duning and caving under some unseen tide. The marrow rocked. The Kingfisher wobbled. Pearl tumbled, all limbs and confusion, into a ditch.

She rubbed her nettled arms, then her eyes. "What the...?"

"Run!" A small voice piped. "It's the wyrm!"

Pearl looked left. Right. Up. Finally down. There she found a trembling earthworm who suddenly sneezed and took out a hankie. "Bless me!"

"Did you just say?..."

"Not again!" The worm rolled his eyes. "This scene's like a #hydrangea. It keeps coming back into fashion."

"You've really upset her, you know." The worm flushed with a #potvalor of indignation.

Pearl was sure she'd banged her head, but there seemed no harm in asking...

"Upset who?

"The Dunster dragon! You sliced that behemoth off her back!" The worm glared at the marrow.

"Not you too! Why is everyone so obsessed with my marrow?!"

Pearl's #buckshot of fury sent the worm reeling.

"I... I... Maybe..."

"It was a rhetorical question! And you are just a bang on the head!"

"Says who?"

"Oh, for goodness sake. I'm off. Are you coming?"

Pearl didn't wait for an answer. She hauled herself out of the #slough, righted the marrow, flung a defiant leg over the Kingfisher, and headed down the holloway.

"I think I'll stay here," the worm muttered to her departing back. "I've got this runner bean to guard."

The holloway fought back. Unlikely corners threw the Kingfisher off-kilter. The lane whipped left and right. Taut #sinews of oak and beech puckered the scaly tarmac.

But Pearl rode on.

"Get a grip, woman, it's just concussion...And at least the talking worm has gone."

After what felt like days, the end of the savage tunnel blinked an #aurora.

Pearl leaned into a scything rain of leaves, pedalled hard, and burst out into the light.

She gasped, braked, checked the marrow. It was slick with sap, pockmarked by green acorns, but intact.

"Excuse me, madam."

Pearl looked up, #languorous with fatigue.

The voice emanated from a blue lampshade, atop a suited figure who was also clutching a bulging suitcase and a pristine Doctor's bag.

"Could you tell me," the lamp continued, "is this the way to Dunster?"

Pearl glared at the holloway. "Yes, but it may kill you."

The lamp gave a salty chuckle. "Is that so?"

Bag and suitcase hit the ground. An #effervescent smile bubbled up above the blue shade.

"I'm Warwick. Miss...?""

The proffered hand closed on Pearl's like a clam.

Pearl's default politeness stretched to a thin smile as she withdrew her hand.

"Are you the new Doctor?"

"Indeed I am. But I can't offer you a #panacea right now."

Warwick nudged his medical bag.

"Someone stole the key."

Pearl mused, why steal the key, not the bag?

"I wondered that too."

Pearl frowned. "How did you know what I..."

"Ah, thoughts are just less #sapid speech. With practice, you can taste unspoken words."


"Shhh!" Warwick dived to the ground and pressed a cowrie ear to the marrow.

"Did you hear that?"

The Doctor beckoned.

#Inured to enthusiasm by a life of small setbacks, Pearl knelt wearily beside the trailer.

"There! See?" Warwick beamed.

Pearl shook her head.

"Blast! You need a stethoscope. It's stuck in my bag."

"But what...?"

"I can hear stories, ripening."

"It's like #ambrosia for the ears!" Dr Warwick smiled as wide as high tide. Do you mind if I...?"

Fishing in his pocket, he drew out a scalpel. "...For scientific purposes."

Pearl snarled to her feet. "I knew it! You're just like the rest. Get away from my marrow!"

Once again, Pearl pedalled off in a defensive fury.

Crestfallen, Warwick gathered up his worldly goods. "I only wanted a story of my own."

As he neared the holloway's #penetralia, the lamp's loose cable lashed like an electric eel, and a blue glow lit the doctor's way.

"Ear ambrosia!"

The Doctor's nonsense spittled into the wind.

"Ripening stories!"

As if the trailer was a #carrel and the marrow was swatting for a creative writing class!

Pearl hefted her completely normal, giant vegetable up a hill, then freewheeled into the dusk.

The descent was steeper than Pearl expected.

The #zephyr on her cheeks turned snarky, the Kingfisher rattled in alarm, and the marrow swung sideways in a daring attempt to undertake.

Then a dog loped from the hedge.

One final swerve, and Pearl was in another ditch.

Pearl sprawled beneath a blackberried hedge.

Above, the deep, ocean dusk swam with a #benthos of speckled moths and fireflies.

She gazed at two glowing green specimens. Tried to recall how she fell into this sea.

The two flies blinked. A rough tongue smeared her face.

The dog's soft fern eyes, black-patched, were shaded by matching black ears. Grey speckles #constellated on a white muzzle. Its nose was busy speed-reading the encyclopedia of Pearl's scent.

She frowned and nudged the silky jowls away. "You could've smashed my marrow!"

Night was looming, and Pearl did not intend to camp in a hedge.

She righted the Kingfisher, patted the marrow and cycled on, until...


Her shadow was wearing a pale, dog-shaped #periapt.

A squeal of brakes.

"Shoo! Go home!"

The only reply was a wagging tail.

Pearl failed to lose the dog on the #submontane spin into Crowcombe.

Pulling up outside the Carew Arms, she shrugged.

"Okay, I give in, but you'll need a name."

Another long, lean tail wag.

"I'll call you Husband. That'll give mother something to stir into her tea."

Pearl's arrival sent a ripple through the cosy, mid-week #velleity of the Carew Arms.

"Yes love, we have rooms."

"Good. I'll fetch my..."

Pearl returned with Husband and the marrow.

"Oh, sorry love, you can't bring that in here."

"The dog?"

"No, the big courgette."

The marrow looked snug, back in its trailer, blanketed up to its stalk. But would it be safe, alone all night?

"Don't worry, love. No one in Crowcombe touches vegetables. Not since 'him'."


"Yes. #Tellurian chap. Half mud, half mushroom. Barrow full of sprouts."

It turned out half the pub had an alarming tale about the sprouts.

One looked like a dead grandmother, just less #rubiginous.

Another was found lurking in an under stairs cupboard.

And one, honest to goodness, had spelled 'we r d00m3d' in fridge magnets over night.

"The muddy man said the seeds must've set in an ill wind."

The landlady grabbed back the narrative, like an unpaid beer.

"But you don't go selling story sprouts without knowing what genre they've grown into."

"Story sprouts?" A #verdant thought rooted in Pearl's mind.

"That's what he called 'em." The landlady shrugged. "We thought it was sales #slather at first, but..."

"Where's this man now?" Pearl glanced round, as if hoping to spot a trail of telltale sprouts.

"Oh, he came from Corfe. Maybe he went back. Good riddance, I say."

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