Have you ever tried explaining a spaceship to someone who has:
- Never heard of space
- Never seen a ship, and
- Never seen any vehicle apart from a donkey-pulled minecart?
I’m not gonna lie – it’s tricky.
After multiple failed attempts to get the concept across, I finally manage to get Nom to understand by describing a flying house. I think I do anyway, she’s nodding along like she gets it.
“But where does the donkey go?” she asks.
“Donkey? There’s no donkey. The donkey would asphyxiate.”
“Oh no!” Nom’s hands rise to her mouth. She looks as worried as if we’re talking about a specific donkey that through some remarkable misfortune has found itself on the wrong side of a spaceship’s hull.
“No, Nom, there’s no donkey,” I say reassuringly. “Look, you see Ash End down there?”
She looks back down the snowy slope, “Yes.”
“Well, you see how the buildings could fit together to make, like, a big tube?”
“Well, they did once. And it flew, pulled by that little building there. The True Portal or whatever you call it, which is not a building but a flying, um, cart. For space.” I probably should have utilised the actual spaceship earlier in my descriptions. Silly Shoo. Nom looks like she’s got it, for a moment, then her face starts to screw up in thought. I know what she’s thinking. “And the donkeys don’t go anywhere,” I tell her. “Because there are no donkeys.”
“Right,” she nods decisively. “No donkeys.”
“Did they leave them at home?”
I groan inwardly. She’s really hung up on the donkey aspect of space-travel, an endeavour not notable for its high level of donkey-implementation.
“Yes, they left them there,” I say. It’s easier. “Because they’re happier at home.”
“Right,” she nods and smiles endearingly at me.
“Got it?” I ask.
“Are there space-donkeys?” she asks, looking up at the clouds as if she could spot some wheeling about up there like oversized seagulls.
“In space. Are there space-donkeys?”
“Um… well, maybe,” I tell her. I mean, there could be, right? Who knows what’s up there? But I feel I shouldn’t mislead her. “Probably not, to be honest.” She starts to look disappointed and my resolve immediately crumbles. “Though maybe. You never know. That’s the thing about space,” I say, vaguely.
Yes, that’s the thing about space: there could be donkeys.
Nom nods intelligently like I’ve said something quite profound, “they probably used space-donkeys to pull the space cart.”
“Um, no, the cart pulls itself. Space cart I mean. Craft. Spacecraft.”
“It pulls itself?” Nom looks concerned again as she tries to get her head around this new concept. I consider just leaving it at that, but I can see her brain getting more and more boggled.
“It flies by magic,” I say.
“Oh,” Nom says, brightly. “Okay.”
She thinks about it.
“Good. Right then,” I look down at the town we’ve basically just been run out of. The sentries on the gate are watching us. “Come on. We better get moving or they’ll send some little blue bastards out to shoot us.” I start trudging up the snowy slope.
“Bastards,” Nom repeats, hurrying to keep up.
“Complete and utter bastards,” I tell her, educationally.
“Shoo, it’s good that the spacecart was so big,” Nom says.
“Yeah. Lots of room for treats. For the space donkeys.”
You know what? I’m just going along with it. I’ve seen adults do this to children before, I always thought it was a bit suspect, education-wise. Turns out it was for the protection of the parent’s sanity.
“That’s right, they probably fed them out of the window as they were passing.”
Nom’s eyes light up, “Petted them too?”
“Absolutely, you can’t feed a space donkey without petting it. They find it offensive.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. I’ll remember,” she looks like she’s actually trying to commit this to memory. Another thought pops into her head, I can see it happen, and it turns her wistful. “In the mine, I liked petting Pangold. He was a good donkey. I miss Pangold.”
“You miss the donkey? Not Pappi or the other kids?”
“Pfft! No. They were horrible to me.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s because I was different,” she says, rummaging in her bag for something to eat.
“Different? I thought you were all different, that’s why you were hiding out down there.”
“I was more differenter again,” she says and pulls out a handful of fruit with apparent delight. “They were all moots. They all came from the farms, but there aren’t any worm moots.”
“No?” This is news to me. “Okay, where did you come from?”
She pops a piece of fruit into her mouth, “The ice.”
“They found a great big…” she tries to remember a word. “Void of ice in the stone. I was in it.”
I stop walking and look at her, “Wait, they found you frozen in ice? Underground?”
She stops too and looks up at me like she’s done something wrong, “Yes.”
“Huh,” I say, making a show of not finding this off-putting information off-putting. “No wonder the cold doesn’t bother you. Um… Do you know how you got there?”
“Nuh-uh,” Nom says, eating another piece of fruit. “I just remember being dug out.”
“When was that?”
“About a month ago.”
“Crikey, I say and resume walking.
“Crikey!” Nom repeats, happily and trots along beside me.
I chew on my cheek as we walk and try not to stare at this little wormy person I’m somehow saddled with. If Nom’s not a moot, what the heck is she?