The winter sun threw its final beams of light from beneath the horizon as the crisp evening air began to set in. Joyously, she hopped up and down the gutter, innocently making her way along the street. Little Annie Fletcher, a shining pebble among a ton of coal, was a pretty girl hidden beneath a pauper exterior. Oblivious to the depression riddled neighbourhood that surrounded her, she mindlessly sung her favourite nursery rhyme; humming where she forgot the words.

“…there was an old woman who ate a spider…dum dum de dum…it tickled inside her…there was an old woman, da dum dee dum…”

As she tried ever so eagerly to jump between the shadows, something familiar took her eye. She stopped to gaze up at number six; an ominous old house in front of her. The owner Mrs Edgley was one of the only people who really talked to Annie. She always loved seeing her in the garden, watering her flowers. Sometimes Mrs Edgley would even pick one for her to have. Annie felt special, like a princess and would carry that flower with her all day. At night she would carefully place it on the straw pillow, hoping it would still be there by morning.

But Annie hadn’t seen Mrs Edgley for a little while and her garden was overgrowing. Her beautiful roses had turned brown on the edges and were drooping downwards. Annie would sometimes go knocking to see if she had returned…but no answer.

So this time, Annie just stared up at the house in fond memory, until a shadow moved behind the lacy curtains in the front window. Her curious mind began racing as to what she thought she saw. Now she knew it wasn’t Mrs Edgley, because she would always show her face; checking to see which naughty children were throwing rocks on her roof.

Maybe it’s a new kitten! She really hoped it was, since Mrs Edgley’s old cat Alfred had died a few months ago. Annie loved it when she was allowed to feed him and stroke his fur. She pleaded for her to get a new one, but Mrs Edgley didn’t want any more pets. Maybe she changed her mind!

Annie’s excitement was about to burst until her attention was pulled away by the distant rant of boys approaching; a trio brat pack of bullies who took consistent pleasure in teasing Annie where possible. Although she knew that she could easily stand up to them, if she wanted to, the consequences weren’t worth the bother…and her bruise hadn’t healed from the last encounter. So as their bicycles rattled closer, Annie scurried through the little rusted gate and up the path towards the front door. She lunged for the door knob and went to turn it.


Oh no. She could hear them getting closer, so hid among the weeds that towered nearby. She kept as still as she could and dared not to utter a breath.

“Annie?! We can see you!” the boy’s voices rang in unison.

With a little gasp, she scurried down the side of the house to the little garden gate. Furiously she yanked on the latch, but it wouldn’t budge. She looked down to see a big padlock holding it shut. Darn it. She knew Mrs Edgley was very cautious about keeping people out – but right now, she needed to get in!

She could hear the boys skid their bikes out the front yard and drop them on the ground, coupled with the raucous, “Get her!”

Annie took a deep breath and pulled herself up onto the gate. Without thinking she rolled over the top and fell to the ground below.

Ow. She winced, holding her sore arm until something caught her eye that was even worse than another bruise. Her dress had caught on the wire sticking out from the fence and made a big rip.

Annie scowled in frustration. This wasn’t just her favourite dress it was her only dress! Before she could worry about how she was going to fix it, the menacing boys were running towards the gate. She quickly found her feet and began running around and into the backyard. She immediately bee lined for the back door – also locked!

“Annie? Come on we wanna play!”

She could hear them laughing. She hated it when they laughed, because it usually meant they had some awful plan to hurt her again. Panicked, she ran to the window and could see it was slightly open. She lifted the sill with all her might, just high enough for her to crawl through and inside. Once in, she fumbled for the top frame and slammed it shut.

Without a second to catch her breath, she ran into the kitchen where there was a small window she could peep through to see them.

Outside, the three boys were hovering around, still calling her name until one spotted her. She ducked out of sight and behind the curtain – but too late.

“We know you’re in there! Why don’t you come out?”

She did notice they seemed a little nervous to go around the back yard. Mrs Edgley scared most kids in the neighbourhood. She waited a bit more, and soon the boys returned to their bikes, calling out on their way – “We’ll get you brat!”

“Yeah you just try.” Annie muttered bravely behind the safety of the lace curtain.

Feeling her heart rate finally slow down, she turned to notice the kitchen was unusually dirty. The delicate little tea pot and cups were draped with small spider webs. A dirty bowl sat in the sink and the whole bench covered in a layer of dust. Annie scrunched her face in disapproval, so much her freckles squished into each other.

“Oh Mrs Edgley you really need to come back and clean this place.”

She swirled her finger in the dust canvas, making circles within circles and playfully humming her favourite tune until…


Her finger stopped moving. She remembered Mrs Edgley had noisy floorboards and Annie would sometimes deliberately step on them for fun…but this time it meant someone was here.

Annie would get scared when bullies tried to hurt her, but she was never worried about how dark and creepy Mrs Edgley’s house was. It always reminded her of a castle when there were dragons and kings and princesses. She wasn’t afraid of the dark and found more curiosity as to what lay within it…but she was also a bit nervous.


She stepped a little closer.

She could sense someone hovering in the darkened corner on the opposite side of the kitchen.

“I know you’re there.”

Squinting a little more, she could just make out the feint outline of a tall man; way too big to be a kitten.

“If you’re worried about those bullies they’ve gone now, so you can come out if you like.”

She could hear his soft, wheezy breath – but he was still unmoveable.


She waved into the darkness, feeling somewhat impatient, until she was gripped with a sudden thought.

“Did Mrs Edgley go on holidays?  Because I haven’t seen her for ages! Do you know when she’ll be back?”

With no response yet again, Annie plonked herself on the chair by the table, poking her fingers through the lace tablecloth. She loved to see how many fingers she could fit in the tiny holes before Mrs Edgley saw her – she always got cross when she did that.

“Da dum dee dum…that tickled inside her…”

She stopped with another thought; one that made her gasp with a rush of excitement.

“Are you her new boyfriend?! I don’t remember her saying she had one, but she did tell me about this nice man Reggie who would come and cut her lawns for her…ohhh…you must be Reggie!”

She hopped out of the chair and curtsied.

“Pleased to meet you Reggie! I’m Annie.”

She took a step closer and whispered. “It’s looking like a jungle out there Reggie. You might want to cut the grass soon, before Mrs Edgley comes back, or she’ll get cross with you.”

Still no response.

She thought she’d done everything right. She was polite, friendly and very very patient. But she was growing tired. She sulked back in the chair, twiddling her finger in the hole of her dress.

“Alright Reggie. Maybe you want to be alone. I can go if you want me to.” she sighed and turned to look towards the window. “I just hope those boys don’t come back.”

She rubbed her arm.

“The rocks really hurt when they throw them extra hard.”

She turned to face him.

“The bruise is still there from last week when they hit me with a stick. See?!”

She overtly stuck her neck out to show him.

“I think a vein might be popping out! I could even die!”

The old man shuffled anxiously in the shadows. For a moment she thought he might be ready to talk but the long gap of silence that followed made her feel defeated as she turned back to the door.

“Okay Reggie. I’m going.”

She shuffled slowly, pouting all the way, hoping he would notice. She gave once last chance as she approached the back door, reaching for the handle while letting out the biggest and saddest ‘sigh’.

A beat. She waited. He clearly wasn’t buying this performance.

Then a surge of defiance took over. Preening herself, she cleared her throat to prepare for her best posh voice – one that she knew Mrs Edgley would be proud of.

“Actually Sir Reginald, I think you are right. It would be rude of me if I didn’t stay for a spot of tea. I’m sure you could use the company.” She turned to glare at him cheekily. “Especially if Mrs Edgley is away.”

She paused, then propped her hands firmly on her hips. “I’m not leaving until we have our tea Reggie. And that is final.”

With a quiet, exhausted sigh, he reluctantly shuffled out from the shadows balancing on a cane. His face very pale, his eyes bloodshot. He coughed, trying to suppress his ill health.

Annie’s eyes widened with surprise and awe. She wiped the dust from a second chair and gestured for him to sit, which albeit reluctant, he was comforted by the chance to rest.

She beamed the biggest smile. “Wonderful.”

She ran towards the door. “It’s a bit dark in here. I’ll just turn the light on.”

He flinched.

She tried the switch, but it didn’t work. She flicked it on and off at least a dozen times to make sure.

“You really must change these light bulbs. Mrs Edgley never liked a dark kitchen. Oh well, it’ll have to be a tea party by candlelight.”

She rummaged through the drawers and found a half-used candle and matches. She took them to the table and after striking a dozen matches, she eventually found a healthy flame – gazing at its wonder.

“Mrs Edgley said it’s okay for me to use matches now because I watched her do it so many times.”

She slowly moved the burning match ever so careful to light the decaying wick. The old man stared into it mindlessly.

“There we go. Now…tea!”

She looked around the kitchen bench and saw the old tea pot and cups. She climbed on the bench to reach and pulled it away from the cobwebs attached. She blew the dust off and coughed. Yuk!

Holding the tea pot under the tap, she turned it on but no water. She sighed, shrugged her shoulders and pretended it was filling up anyway.

“…there was an old woman who ate a bird to catch the spider that tickled inside her…”

“That should be enough.”

She returned with the cups on a tray, poured the pretend tea into two dusty cups, followed by the pretend milk.

“Now it’s not tea without milk and sugar.”

She popped in pretend sugar and stirred each cup a dozen times then waited.

He waited – confused.

He was then met with a condescending eye roll. “It’s ready.”

He slowly curled his bony finger into the handle of the tiny cup as Annie sipped hers delicately.

“How has your day been Reggie?”

She didn’t wait for an answer.

“Well, I’m glad you asked. I visited Mrs Griffiths for lunch, just around the corner. I wish you could’ve been there; she was so sweet. We had tea and crackers and she would talk really nicely…except when she got cross at me for spilling crumbs on her couch. Then I got cross, then she got crosser…but it all worked out fine.”

She noticed he hadn’t touched his tea and cleared her throat indignantly, motioning for him to drink.

He obliged with a small sip.

“You’d like her. She’s lonely…and old, just like you.”

He frowned; put in his place.

“Then on my way back those silly boys started teasing me again. Just because I wear the same clothes every day doesn’t mean I’m a dirty rat! They called me other things too which I’m not going to tell you because Mrs Edgley would say, nobody likes a little girl who uses those words!”

She sipped her tea, studying his face.

“You could smile a bit more Reggie. Here, I’ll show you.”

She put her cup down and beamed a big toothy smile, then spoke through gritted teeth. “See? Now your turn.”

He glared at her with no intention of smiling.

She sighed, disappointed, and continued studying his face.

“Hmmm. You’re hungry aren’t you?”

He shifted awkwardly.

“You look like you haven’t eaten for a very long time.”

She stared at him until the penny dropped. “I know what you need.”

He looked hopeful.


He deflated.

She hopped up and looked around the bench. Her eyes lit up at the sight of an empty plate which she ceremoniously carried to the table.

“Doesn’t this look lovely?!”

She placed the empty plate on the table between them. He looked at it bemused.

“I know Sir Reginald; it’s not cut up yet. Mrs Edgley still says I’m too little to use knives, so you’ll have to do it.”

A moment of standoff.

“Go on.”

She motioned for him to move, and he expelled a quiet grunt. He knew it wasn’t worth the effort to refuse so he begrudgingly pulled himself out from the chair. His shaky hand gripped tightly onto the walking stick as he slowly made his way to the kitchen. Spotting the grubby knife block on the dusty bench, he extracted the largest knife – its blade impeccable. A pristine polish that easily captured the light from the candle.  He paused in thought, glancing back to the table.

Annie sat at the table swinging her legs, waiting.

‘…spider spider, tickled inside her…da dummy dee dummy…’

He approached. One hand gripping the walking stick to ensure he made the long journey across the room, and the other with an equally firm grip on the blade handle. Soon, he stood above her, lifted the knife…and gently placing it beside the plate. He sat; exhausted from the walk, then used his cane to push the knife towards her.

Her eyes widened with wonder.


She carefully took the knife and looked at it admiringly, almost lost for words – until her eyes began to sparkle.

“You see, the maids don’t let me have cake very often. I don’t know why. Maybe because when I start eating it I can’t…”

She snapped herself out of the story when she noticed his teacup.


His tired old ears were growing more annoyed at hearing this stupid name.

“Now if you don’t drink your tea you’ll get thirsty. And if you’re too thirsty you’ll get sick. And if you get sick you might die. And if you die…well, then you can’t have any cake.”

His eyebrow twitched at her tone, growing tired of this charade which he would love to, and still easily could, end in a lightning-fast second. Instinctively his mouth began to crinkle. He was indeed hungry and would absolutely love some ‘cake’.

“You don’t want to die do you?” Annie added, gesturing with the knife for him to pick up the cup.

With his free hand, he slowly brought the cup to his lips, sipping the pretend tea. Easier to keep her occupied…for now.

“Good. Now you can have cake.”

She proceeded to cut the pretend cake. He watched her carefully with the knife.

“You’ve done such a lovely job with this Sir Reginald. The texture is simply marvellous. I must get the recipe from you so I can–”

Her hand slipped.

She cut herself, wincing in pain.

His heart stopped a beat…his breath quickening.

Blood trickled from her finger, and he watched, mesmerised.

“Oh no. She was right. I am too young to use a knife!”

He trembled anxiously. The cup and saucer clinking in his shaky hands.

Annie sucked her finger and noticed his reaction.

“What’s wrong? It’s just blood. See?”

She held up her bloody finger to show him as it continued to trickle…just inches from his face…a single drop fell onto the lace tablecloth.

His body was losing control. He began to hyperventilate, dropping the cup on the floor – smashing into hundreds of tiny fragments. His heart rate intensified, followed by a deep wheeze as he struggled to breathe.

Annie gawked in shock.

“That wasn’t very nice was it?! Mrs Edgley would get very angry if she saw you broke her special china!”

He glared at her and growled angrily.

She mimicked his growl in return.

“You’re no fun.”

She hopped off the chair and stomped towards the window, huffing.

A few moments of silence before they eventually calmed down.

“I’m sorry Reggie. I don’t like getting cross.”

She twirled her fingers in the dust on the bench.

“It means I end up alone.”

She breathed a big, tired sigh.

“It’s not much fun is it?”

She turned to look at him.

“Being lonely?”

He looked away, staring at the flickering candle. He was used to solitude. It’s how he functioned. It’s how he has always kept going for so long…never…get…attached.

She sucked her finger clean and looked at it sadly.

“I know you don’t want tea, or cake, but it’s what friends do. You do want to be friends don’t you Reggie?”

He looked directly at her.

“Mrs Edgley was my friend, for a long time. But I don’t think I’ll be seeing her again will I?”

She raised her eyebrows knowingly and he turned away guiltily, staring back into the candle’s dwindling flame.

She took her dusty finger and drew love hearts on the window.

“That’s okay Reggie. I’m used to it. If you want me to leave just say so.”

He took a moment. He was growing tired by the minute and knew he couldn’t hold out much longer. Something had to give, or else, the little brat was right…he quite possibly would die right here in this dusty hovel.

With a deep breath to muster what strength he had, his wrinkly knuckles wrapped around the handle of the walking stick as he slowly rose out of the chair.


She turned back and gasped quietly in surprise to see him standing nobly before her. His gruff, scratchy voice curdled again. “My name. Nikolai.”

Annie’s face lit up with elation, a tear almost escaped her eye, but she held it together to respond with a ladylike curtsy.

“An honour to meet you, Sir Nikolai.”

Their warm moment was quickly disrupted as something caught Annie’s eye. She peeked through the curtains. “Oh no. They’re back!”

Nikolai creased his brow with contempt. He felt an unexpected pang of protection for his new friend. She didn’t deserve to be hurt again. He would make sure of it.

“Now that we’re friends Regg…I mean Nikolai, we have to do everything together! So, you just wait there, I’ll be right back.”

She scurried towards the long dark corridor that led to the front door. Nikolai moved with concern – he clearly didn’t want her to go outside.

She sensed his fear and turned back coyly.

“Oh Nikolai, don’t worry I’ll be fine. I just want to invite them in for tea. There’s plenty to go around.”

She smiled and raced down the hall.

Still perplexed, he waited. He could hear the locks clicking open, then the creak of the solid wooden door, followed by Annie’s squeaky little voice shouting out towards the street.

“Hey fat heads! I dare you to come in and get me! Unless you’re just a couple of scared little girls!”

He could then hear the distant rabble of boy’s voices hurling some kind of abuse. He could hear the words Mrs Edgley would disapprove of – words that grew louder.

They must be approaching.

His eyes sparkled with a new lease of life as his breath deepened with heightened anticipation. The scurried footsteps of tiny feet then came running down the hall.

“Here they come!” Annie said with beaming eyes, and as she entered the kitchen she saw Nikolai waiting. She could see a warmth in his eyes; a renewed sense of hope. Her eyes moistened with happiness.

“I’m so glad we found each other Nikolai.”

She stood beside him as they faced the hallway – the boys voices growing louder. She delicately held his hand and looked up at him with affection.

“You’re the first real friend I’ve had in a hundred years.”

They shared a smile.

He willingly brandished his visible fangs.

As did she.

Little Annie Fletcher blew out the candle, plunging the kitchen into darkness. The stomping sound of boy’s heavy feet and raging voices almost drowned out her melodious singing.

“There was an old woman who ate a fly…da…dum…dee…dum…”