Story Poem

The Tickle Imp

By Rhys Hughes

 The Tickle Imp
 I once explored a cave
 with a homemade
 flaming flambeau
 that sputtered and guttered
 while big bats fluttered
 and the waves of the sea
 lapped steadily
 on the shingle of the beach.
    I tingled
 as the shadows
 danced upon the walls
 and stalactites out of reach
 dangled like tusks
 in the interior dusk
 of that subterranean world.
 What was I seeking
 in that place?
 Why did I delve so deep?
 Was it simply a pleasure
 to look for treasure
 at the back of a gloomy maze,
 an iron chest full of gems
 hidden by a pirate bold
 one night in the olden days?
 The answer of course is yes!
 And there at last
 among scattered bones
 and the fossilised echoes
 of ancient groans
 I found what I was wishing for,
 a fantastic casket
 festooned with padlocks
 cunningly concealed behind sharp rocks.
 And whatever it held
 within its depths
 was mine to take and keep
 but first of course
 I had to break
 each rusty antique lock
 and disturb the sleep
 of any unkind ghost
 who might resent playing the part
 of my unwitting host
 in that bleak and slimy darkness.
 A hammer was my key!
 I knocked
    the locks off
 one by one with blows
 of savage glee
 and when that was done
 I had some fun
 throwing open the lid excitedly
 and feeling deep within.
 What did I feel,
 what did I see?
 Rubies, doubloons
 gleaming like moons,
 polished silver cutlery?
 Emeralds, sapphires,
 diamonds divine,
 opals smouldering with internal fires
 in colours that never fade?
 Or at the very least
 strings of pearls
 as long as the girls
 they were meant to adorn
 that would trail on the ground
 with a clicking sound
 louder than lawnmower blades?
 To my acute dismay
 on that momentous day
 there was nothing of that kind
 but just a strange little creature
 with disordered features
 and bulging eyes,
 a chin in the shape of a sickle
 and breath like ripe
   lime pickle
 who jumped out in surprise.
 He leapt onto my outstretched arm
 and clung there while I winced
 and though his claws
 spurted no gore
 the harm that was done
 left me rather sore
 and I roared in pain
 as I tried in vain
 to shake off the devilish thing
 but he refused to budge
 and when I paused
 he opened his jaws,
 undulated his tongue,
 and though he didn’t say much
 he spoke to me thus
 and it was quite enough:
 “Oh, tickle me under the chin,
   the chin,
 please tickle me
 under the chin.
 It might seem quite fickle
 or even a sin
 to make this request,
 to ask such a thing,
 but I must confess
 that to ease my distress
 there’s nothing so fine
    as a tickle.
 So please tickle me 
 under the chin,
    the chin.
 Tickle me under the chin.” 
 The flaming flambeau
 was propped in a corner
 and I snatched it up
 to scorch his nose.
 Then he relaxed his grip
 and I was mighty quick
 to run away
 without delay
 and never deviating
 left or right
 I lurched into
 a stalagmite. Ouch!
 Yes, I stumbled and tumbled
 and rolled on the ground
     all the way
 to the mouth of the cave.
 I guessed the demon
 was pursuing me
 but I never expected
 him to reach the sea
 before I did, and how
 it happened I never learned
 but there he was
 to my great concern
 prancing in the waves
    that washed
 the mingled shingle and sand 
 in front of the cave
 and while he surfed to shore
 he clasped his hands
 and made this request
 in the style of a demand:
 “Oh, tickle me under the chin,
   the chin,
 please tickle me
 under the chin.
 No doctor, nurse or
 could ever do half as much
 for me as a tickle
 under the chin.
 Why this should be
 I really can’t say
 but it’s all that I need
 to feel perfectly free
 and filled with strange glee
 to a tremendous degree
 like an emphatically happy
 ecstatic chappie!
 So please tickle me
 under the chin,
    the chin.
 Tickle me under the chin.”
 Shrieking I fled
 over jagged rocks
 and scuffed my shins
 almost down to the bone
 on pitted stones
 and the pincers of crabs
 snapped and snipped
 as they sidled up
 to the rude intruder
 who waded through
 their tidal pools.
 What a fool I had been
 to nurture that dream
 of wealth so easily acquired.
     All in vain!
 Rich and admired
 I never would be
 but dearly my life I hoped
    to retain
 and so I kept on running,
 bawling in pain,
 my leg still lame,
 as I tried to escape my fate.
 But my life would never
 be the same again.
 The dawn was breaking
 and my limbs were aching
 when I finally reached my home.
 I kept glancing
 nervously behind just in case
 I was being followed
 by that impish face
 but the coast was clear,
 the imp was nowhere near.
 I felt a surge of relief
 as I opened my door
 and passed in before
 I was fully aware of the possibility
 that he had again preceded me,
 which in fact was really the case.
 And on the mantelpiece
 in the living room,
 dangling his legs,
 there he was,
 waiting for me,
 and what did he say?
 “Oh, tickle me under the chin,
   the chin,
 please tickle me
 under the chin.
 Alone for so long
 it can’t be wrong
 for my chin to crave a tickle.
 But if you refuse
 you stand to lose
 everything you hold so dear,
 your life and mind,
 I’m not unkind
 but that’s the truth,
 the facts are ruthless
 and uncouth.
    So tickle me
 under the chin,
    the chin.
 Tickle me under the chin.”
 I grabbed my wallet
 from the table
 and stuffed it in my pocket
 then out I dashed
 as fast as I was able,
 threw open the shed door
 to pull out my bicycle
 and it seemed that an icicle
 of fear was stabbing
 me in the rear
 as I mounted the machine
 and pedalled
 harder than ever before
 like a madman in a dream.
 Uphill all the way
 my journey took me
 to the mountains north of town
 and when at last
 I lay the bicycle down
 on the ground
 I was at the base of a peak
 so lofty and steep
 no one would ever think to seek
 a fugitive up there.
 Such an obscure sanctuary
 would surely suit me very nicely.
 I scaled the face
 of that glowering crag
 by my fingertips
 with painful slowness,
 compressed lips
 and no grace at all,
 but I finally managed
 after many long hours
 to conquer the
 forbidding tower of gloom.
 There was room
 at the top to accommodate
 one person only
 and the view
 would surely enable me to see
 far in all directions.
 If the imp was coming
 this way I would know
 and if he was really doing so
 I could deal him
 a crushing blow
 by rolling boulders on his head
 as he tried to follow
 me to the top.
 With bursting lungs
 and thudding heart
 I hauled myself to the summit
 of that granite block
 but to my shock
 the imp was already there
 with his charmless grin
 and his wispy hair
 and once again he had his say:
 “Oh, tickle me under the chin,
    the chin,
 please tickle me
 under the chin.
 Ages ago I came to your world
 from a distant planet
 and asked to be tickled
 but nobody could be bothered
 with the simple request
 of an alien guest
 and now on this ledge
 I have solemnly pledged
 that if you decline
 I’ll give you no rest
 until the end of time.
 So tickle me
 under the chin,
    the chin.
 Tickle me under the chin.”
 My nightmare continued
 and when I look back
    to review
 the subsequent hunt
 of man by imp around the land
 I shudder and shiver,
 tremble and quiver,
 gasp and grunt,
 and my mind goes limp.
 Oh horrid times!
 I even caught a plane
 to distant Spain
 in the other hemisphere
 but after safely landing
 in Andalusia
 and disembarking
 with the flight engineer
 this course of action
 ultimately helped me not at all
 for at the point
 of luggage retrieval
 instead of my suitcase
 on the conveyor belt
 there trundled that being of evil
 who leapt into my arms
 insisting on a tickle.
 I grew old prematurely
 then finally sickened
    and died
 but this blessed escape
 was just an excuse
 for one more jape
 in the mischievous career
 of the incorrigible imp
 who managed to appear
 even now, yes!
 I was buried in a coffin
 and as I reclined
 to enjoy my time of rest
 for all eternity
 I heard a knocking on the lid
 and it opened
 with a creak and into my
 poor sarcophagus
 without making undue fuss
 creeped the dreadful thing
 with his tickle hungry chin
 and he shut the lid
   behind him,
 snuggled up close
 and hissed in my ear
 in the style of a ghoul
 from a cruel and ancient year:
 “Oh, tickle me under the chin,
    the chin,
 please tickle me
 under the chin.
 There’s little room
 for a man entombed
 to comply with my request
 especially in a time of such distress,
 but as my grandma always said
 when I was an egg:
 what individuals won’t do alive
 they might do dead.
 Even your residual awareness
 ought to understand
 it’s best to help me with my quest
 for I can be the kind of pest
 no one can withstand.
 So please tickle me
 under the chin,
    the chin.
 Tickle me under the chin.” 

Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.



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