It was a cold night. The room was dark except for the light coming from the landing, through an open crack of door. Alex, curled up in bed, was just getting warm enough to drop off to sleep. Outside, a car door slammed and an alarm chirupped as it was set. Much closer, something slithered inside the chimney.

Olly Spellmaker and the Hairy Horror
Olly Spellmaker and the Hairy Horror

          Alex's eyes opened and stayed alert. He stiffened into stillness, and waited, and listened.

          Inside the chimney, a voice muttered, annoyed. Something scratched and slipped on the brickwork. Old dust and soot spattered into the grate.

          Alex snatched a breath to shout, but then held it. If he made a noise, whatever was coming down the chimney would know he was there, and exactly where to find him. If he kept quiet, maybe it would think the room was empty and go away.

He had never liked having a fireplace in his bedroom. What was the point, when he never had a fire? But his mother said it was ' a lovely old feature of the house.' His father always said it was, 'handy for Father Christmas,' but whatever was muttering and scratching in the chimney, it wasn't Father Christmas.

          He heard a thump in the grate. Whatever it was had landed in the hearth. There was a cough, and an angry tutting. Then another thump, this time on the floor. It was out of the chimney and in the room.

          Footsteps coming across the room! Alex snatched a frightened breath and almost choked. The blankets twitched against his leg. The duvet was moving, was being pulled down!   Alex squeaked and grabbed at it, terrified that he might be uncovered. But with one strong tug, the cover was yanked from his fingers.

          By his bed stood a dark shape, no taller than him, but wide. And hairy. Lots of long, shaggy hair hung down past its thick shoulders. The light from behind it made the hair into a halo. One big hand held up the duvet. The face was hidden in shadows, and what it was like, Alex couldn't tell.

          He could feel his heart jumping about under his collarbone. What was it? What was it going to do? Eat him?

It spoke. Whatever it was that had come down the chimney spoke to him; but the voice was so grumbling and deep that he couldn't understand it. Alex just squeaked again.

Olly Spellmaker and the Sulky Smudge
Olly Spellmaker and the Sulky Smudge

          Whatever-It-Was spoke a second time, and this time he understood. “Is your name Matheson?” it said.

          Alex was so surprised that, for a moment, he stopped being scared. He had never imagined that monsters would ask your name before they ate you. Maybe they had to make sure they didn't eat the wrong person? “No!”

          “Och!” said the thing, very annoyed. Alex realized that it had a Scottish accent, like his mother.

          “My mother's named Matheson,” he said, though he didn't know why. He had a confused idea that he'd better tell the truth because, being a monster, and magical and supernatural, it would know if he lied. And if the thing was looking for a Matheson, maybe it would leave him and go off to find his mother – though that was a cowardly thought, and he was ashamed.

          “Is her name Kirsty Matheson?”

          “Yes!” Alex said.

          “Is she of the Black Isle Mathesons?”

          “Er...” Alex didn't know what it was talking about until he suddenly remembered his mother showing him some old photographs and telling him that her grandfather – or had it been her great-grandfather? - had been a farmer in a place called 'The Black Isle'. “Yes!” he said.

          The thing's eyes seemed to open wide – at least, they caught the light for a second. “At fine last! Home!” It came forward, and Alex cowered back, but the thing only tossed the duvet into the air and spread it over him. Alex was glad to hide under the cover, but the thing pulled it off his head. “Tell your mother that her Auntie Jeanie went home last night, and so I've come to serve her.”

          “All right,” Alex gasped, ready to agree to anything if it left him alone.

          The thing picked up a cup from the bedside table, a cup stained with the hot chocolate Alex had brought to bed with him. “Tch!” said the thing, annoyed. “Tch!” Taking the cup, it tramped across the bedroom and out of the door, vanishing into the light of the landing.

          Alex covered his head and lay still, waiting to see if it would come back. A long time – it seemed an agonizingly long time – went by, and he thought of shouting for his dad, but didn't because the thing might come back before his dad could climb the stairs. But then he heard his dad's footsteps. He waited until they reached the landing, then sat up and shouted.

          His dad pushed open the bedroom door, letting in a flood of bright light. “What's up?”

          “Something came down the chimney, Dad! It took my cup!”

          His dad sat on the edge of his bed. “Something came down the chimney and took your cup? Now, why would anything want your cup?”

          Alex told him how he had heard the noises in the chimney; how the blankets had been pulled from him by a shaggy thing that had asked him his name... It made him angry when his dad started to laugh. “It's true!”

          “You were having a bad dream.”

          “But it took my cup.” Alex pointed to the bedside table, where the cup had been. There was nothing there now except his alarm clock.

          “Your mum must have taken it. She came up not long ago and looked in on you.”

          “When? I didn't hear her.”

          “Because you were asleep,” his dad said.

          “Oh,” said Alex. Perhaps he had been dreaming then. He felt silly.

          His father leaned over and kissed the top of his head. “Back to sleep, eh? I'll lie down by you, shall I, and stay until you're asleep?”

          “All right, then.” Alex lay down. He did feel sleepy. His father stretched himself out at the side of him, and it was nice having him there. Alex was asleep when his father crept back downstairs.

          It was the next morning when they realized it hadn't been a dream.


          What was it that came down the chimney?

          How do they gain the help of Olly Spellmaker, the motor-cycle riding witch?


          There are two other books featuring Olly Spellmaker and Alex:



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