Until he was nine years old, Gabi had a happy life. He lived with his mother and father in a beautiful house beside the sea. There were always plenty of other children for him to play with, and there was always the sandy beach for him to run about on and the ocean to paddle in. It was the perfect life. But then one day, Gabi's mother and father went to the capital on business and disaster struck. A Mirzollith – an ethereal demon with lidless eyes and spectral talons – swooped down on them from the sky and took their life force and then flew off again. This was on a crowded street mind you, as dusk fell. But there is no defence against a Mirzollith for any ordinary man or woman.
This was a terrible thing to happen to two such gentle people, but in a way, it was worse for their son Gabi. The little boy found himself alone and frightened in a cruel world, at the mercy of the inept local council and their foster system. The council foisted him on a pair of spinsters, sisters named Opal and Onyx Tempest. I am sorry to say that they were really horrible people. They were selfish, lazy and cruel, and right from the beginning, they hit and kicked Gabi for almost no reason at all. They wouldn't address him by his real name. They always referred to him as, "you disgusting little beast!" or "You filthy nuisance!" His room was bare as a prison cell. They lived in a tumbledown house on top of a sea cliff. The cliff top was desolate. There was nothing but a long dead tree.
After Gabi had been stuck with this horrible pair for a week, they ordered him to chop wood for the fireplace while they sat and watched in deckchairs, sipping tall glasses of sugary glucosade, making sure he did not stop work for one moment. Opal was enormously fat, with small, piggy eyes and a sunken mouth. Onyx was lean and bony, with steel rimmed spectacles that magnified her eyes to make them look staring and threatening. This was an impression she liked to cultivate.
Opal and Onyx were droning on about how wonderful they thought they were. Opal had a gilt mirror that she held up to gaze at her reflection.
"I look and smell," Opal declared, "as lovely as a rose.
"Just feast your eyes upon myself, hark! Your envy grows!
"Behold my luscious locks and dainty toes…"
Onyx cackled and interrupted her: "But don't forget how much your belly shows!"
Opal bared her teeth.
Onyx began to crow:
"Such loveliness as I possess can only truly shine,
"On the silver screen. Oh wouldn't that be fine?"
Opal sneered. "You'd make a perfect Frankenstein."
Poor Gabi was slaving away. He thought of his Mum and Dad and began to cry.
"What's the matter with you?" demanded Onyx.
"Stop whinging," sneered Opal. "I've a good mind to lower you down the well and leave you there for the night. In fact, I think I will…"
"Look!" screeched Onyx, pointing down the garden. "Just look!"
"Look at what?" snapped Opal.
Onyx was pointing at the tree. "At the tree! Look! There's a skyfruit growing on it."
"Rubbish!" said Opal. "That miserable tree has never grown so much as a blossom… Well I'll be… There is a skyfruit."
Gabi looked up. What was a skyfruit? He saw a large, round fruit, deep blue with purple specks, growing on a high branch of the old grey tree.
"Look…" repeated Onyx. "The fruit… it's growing."
"Impossible. They don't grow that quickly," said Opal. "But… Well so it is!"
In seconds the skyfruit had swelled to the size of a melon. Then within half a minute, it was twice as big again. The branch began to bend further and further…
"The branch is going to break, surely?" said Opal. "Why isn't it?"
The skyfruit was now as large and round as Opal herself, but still it didn't break. It just bent so that the swelling fruit grew closer to the ground.
"Isn't it beautiful?" said Gabi.
"Shush!" said Onyx. "It's none of your business."
"Quite right, you're not going to benefit from it," said Opal.
Soon the skyfruit reached the ground. It was the size of a small house.
"It has stopped," said Onyx slowly.
"Fetch a shovel someone!" Opal was salivating, spit dribbling down her chin.
"Not yet…" said Onyx. "There's a pile of money to be made here. Just you wait and see."
The news that a fruit the size of a house spread like wildfire. Opal and Onyx charged the crowds for admission to the garden.
"Roll up, roll up!" called Opal. "One silver piece to see the giant skyfruit!"
"Don't push," said Onyx. "You're all going to get in."
Soon the whole place was a seething mass of people all pushing and shoving to get a glimpse of the miracle fruit. Poor Gabi was forced to remain locked in his cell.
"The disgusting little brute will get in everyone's way," said Opal.
That evening, when the crowds had gone, the Tempests ordered him to go and pick up the litter the crowd had left behind.
"I'm so hungry…" began Gabi.
"We're too busy to make food," said Onyx. "We're counting the silver."
"It's dark…" began Gabi.
"Get out!" said Opal. "And stay out 'til you've cleaned up the mess!"
They turned him out and the door slammed.
Gabi looked around. The night air was chill. The moonlight cast long shadows that twisted into unearthly shapes. The ethereal light of the Moon made the giant fruit look even more strange and unearthly. The grass was wet with dew and millions of dew drops sparkled like diamonds around his feet. The very air felt charged with magic. Gabi crept up to the skyfruit. It felt so cool and smooth and slippery. The he noticed a hole in the side of the fruit. When did that happen? It was as big as a fox or a badger hole. Overcome by curiosity, Gabi crept into the hole.
This isn't just a hole, he thought. It's a tunnel!
The tunnel was damp and murky and all around him was the sweet smell of fresh skyfruit. The sides of the tunnel was wet and juicy. Gabi took a bite out of the wall. The fruit flesh was marvellously refreshing. At the end of the tunnel, Gabi found a wooden wall. He touched it. Was this the fruit's stone? But now a crack appeared in the wooden surface. Gabi pushed hard on it and it gave way. He slipped inside.
"Why hello! I've been waiting for you!"
A voice that made Gabi give a start. He was in a room lit by a lurid greenish yellow light that seemed to come from somewhere in the ceiling. A terrible shape loomed in front of him. A great green mantis, as big as Gabi himself, with glassy compound eyes and jagged limbs.
"It is about time…" It spoke in a buzzing monotone.
Gabi leapt back, meaning to dive into the tunnel, but the crack in the wood had disappeared.
"Hey! Don't be frightened."
A lady's voice from the centre of the room… Gabi turned slowly, his heart pounding in his chest. A lady was reclining on a couch. Did she have bright green skin? It looked ghostly in the strange light. Gabi would have thought she looked strange, but she wasn't strange compared to the mantis.
"Come…" she beckoned to him.
Gabi stepped around the mantis and ran up to her. She put her hands on his shoulders. "Look at me…"
Gabi turned his face up. The lady had bright, brown eyes and long purple hair which cascaded down her shoulders. "Aw… why're you frightened, honeypie?"
"Him…" Gabi pointed at the mantis. His mouth was dry with fear.
The lady giggled. "Isn't he cute? I call him Korath."
"Hm… I can't stop you, Mistress," buzzed Korath.
"Um…" Gabi couldn't guess why she thought Korath was cute!
"I'm Wilhelmina, but you can call me Billie," said the green skinned woman. "I'm a witch."
"Is that kind of thing not obvious?" asked Korath.
"It is obvious," said Billie, touching her green cheek. "And speaking of the obvious… I know you're unhappy, Gabi." Her smooth green forehead crinkled as she scowled. "I know all about the Tempests too. Wanna know how I know about them?"
She pulled a little purple shell out of her purple leather satchel and opened it. It was actually a shell shaped container, but in the lid there was a little mirror. The mirror shone with a silvery light that lit up the contours of Billie's green face. Then Gabi could see pictures in the mirror – a scene in the Tempest kitchen. Opal and Onyx were counting a huge pile of silver coins.
"One thousand!" said Onyx. "Told you. I was right. There's a fortune to be made."
"Stop gloating," said Opal.
"I wonder where that brat is," said Onyx. "Perhaps he fell down in the dark and broke his leg."
"I hope he broke his neck," smirked Opal.
"I hope your perfect picket fence impales you through the heart, Opal," said Billie out loud. "But that's enough of watching those horrible people." Billie snapped the shell shut.
"I'm famished," buzzed Korath. "I demand a juicy morsel like I'd catch myself…"
Gabi didn't like the sound of that. He instinctively scrambled onto the couch with Billie who put her arms around him. An odd sweet cloying smell hung about her, but it was a great comfort to be in a lady's arms again. He hadn't met a lady since his mother died. Opal and Onyx were definitely not ladies!
Billie tossed what looked like a jar of dead flies to Korath. "Here." Then she grinned down at Gabi. "Wanna know how I did this? I'm rather proud of my giant fruit."
"You're a proud fruitcake, Mistress," buzzed Korath.
Billie stuck out her tongue at the Mantis. Her tongue was weird. It looked almost black.
"You made this skyfruit?" asked Gabi.
She touched Gabi's cheek. Her fingers felt strangely cold and clammy. "Anyway… Gabi, dear… I perfected a spell to make things grow with incredible vigour. I applied it to the roots of this tree. And I applied some to a little mantis as well. That's how I got Korath. He was my little bugaboo."
"You created me, but I owe you nothing," buzzed Korath. "I will not be addressed by any stupid pet name."
"Charming," said Billie. "Such gratitude."
"If you want loyalty, get yourself a spaniel," said the mantis in his buzzing monotone.
"Gabi will be my friend, so there," said Billie, sticking out her blackish lips in a pout.
"Yes, I will," said Gabi hastily.
"Aw, you're so kind," said Billie stroking his hair. Gabi leaned against her, feeling his tension ease.
"What else can you do?" asked Gabi. "Can you do other amazing things?"
Billie grinned. "Oh yes!" She took a jar out of her pocket. There was a little white worm in it which she tipped onto the palm of her other hand. Then she took a tiny crystal flask from her pocket that contained a glowing purple liquid – or was it a vapour? She poured this onto the little worm and it immediately began to swell with startling speed until it was so big, she had to cradle it in her arms.
Gabi could see it had a little mouth. Billie tickled the giant worm and it squirmed and made a giggling sound.
"A silkworm!" said Billie. "He can make our beds. Literally."
The silkworm created a stream of silk and began to weave it into three hammocks.
"Are you hungry, Bugaboo?" asked Billie, putting her arm around Gabi. Wasn't 'Bugaboo' the pet name that she had wanted to give to Korath, but he refused?
Gabi didn't want to make her cross. "Yes, I'm famished." Korath said famished. Gabi liked the sound of it.
"Have some of my favourite," said Billie. She reached into her satchel and took out a plate of a sticky yellow gungy stuff. Gabi had no idea what it was, but it made him feel great.
"Thanks!" He said, smiling up at her.
"Now, to bed!" said the witch.
She lifted Gabi onto a silk hammock. Oh how soft and comfortable it was compared with the hard bare boards that the Tempests had made him sleep on.
Billie leaned her green face close to his. "Goodnight, Bugaboo. Sleep tight. Call me if you need anything."
"Good night," murmured Gabi.
Billie got onto a larger hammock and closed her eyes. She soon began to snore.
"Lights out!" buzzed Korath.
Gabi looked around the room, wondering who the mantis was talking to.
"Turn out the lights!" grated Korath.
"Are you talking to me?" asked Gabi.
"Of course not, don't be stupid," buzzed Korath. "That mad glow-worm has left her light on."
Gabi looked up at the ceiling and saw what looked like a gigantic fly without wings. It was at least a meter long and its abdomen glowed with a bright greenish yellow light that illuminated the entire room.
"So that's a glow-worm? Weird. Doesn't look like a worm," said Gabi.
"Doesn't look like much at all, does she?" buzzed Korath. He pointed a jagged claw up at the glow-worm. "Wake up you useless, lazy brute."
The glow-worm opened an eye. "There's no need to be rude, mantis," she said coolly. She flicked her head towards Gabi. "Oh hello, Gabi. So glad you decided to join us, dear boy. Sleep well." Then click. Out went the light.
"Goodnight," said Gabi, before falling asleep.