At least the schmuck was true to his word. Once we’d parted with our cash in return for some of the “bestest souvenirs this side of Clapham, innit”, the great big mockney gimp shrank back down to his normal size and sloped back into his hut.
I’m clutching a pair of pink furry trolls locked together in a way I previously hadn’t thought anatomically possible, whilst Prince Charming looks a right royal plank with his plastic minotaur horns balancing on his bonce. Goldie’s nicely filling a “Big & Bad” t-shirt, in a way which looks like she’s given the two most interesting parts of her body names.
Jack holds the foldout map in front of him, upside down. ‘There are no hills,’ he says, his voice flat with disappointment. ‘I like hills.’
‘Give me that.’ I swipe it out his hands, handing the trolls to Goldie with a wink. I turn the map the right way round and try to get our bearings. I can see Maleficent’s castle slap bang in the middle, a whole host of smaller lairs clustered round it like boiling black blisters. There’s grandma’s cottage; further in lies the woodcutter’s hut, and a thick grey line marks out the Porky McQuiff Memorial Bypass they built over the remains of the Three Little Pigs’ houses. And there, beyond that, the Gingerbread House. If there’s one place Gretyl’s likely to have made a beeline for, it’s there. Chances are she’s chomping her way through the chimney as we speak.
‘Let’s try grandma’s,’ I say. ‘The wizened old bat’s so nosy she’ll have seen anyone passing this way.’
We walk on, treading carefully through Darkwood, trying to avoid the bulging eyes set into the trunks of the trees. They’re not alive, of course: they’re just big dumb planks, really. But everything they see is transmitted straight to Maleficent’s control room, where a stinking legion of noxious little elves with personal hygiene issues pore over every detail, looking for intruders. This wouldn’t be the first time she’s unleashed her squadron of airborne gibbons, raining down terror (and monkey poop – lots of monkey poop) on an intrepid band of unsuspecting interlopers.
‘What’s that?’ Prince Charming leans forward, cupping his ear in an exaggerated heroic pose. I resist the temptation to push him in front of the nearest goggle-eyed tree and wait for the monkeys to do their stuff.
I strain to listen. I hear it. Music. Deep thumping bass notes, with what sounds like trumpets and trombones sleazing over a big fat pumping rhythm.
‘Not the sort of music I’d expect grandma to be into,’ says Goldie, looking puzzled.
‘Yeah,’ I say, sharpening my sarcasm. ‘I hear she’s more into German death metal.’
‘Quiet, both of you.’ Prince Charming creeps forward, then beckons us to follow.
We peek over the thorn bush we’re hiding behind. ‘It’s not quite the same as I remember it,’ gasps Goldie.
The cottage is dwarfed by a neon sign proclaiming Grandma’s is now the “number one place in Darkwood for cold beer, hot women and fast living”. There’s a row of motorbikes parked outside; another one roars up as we watch, the driver pulling off his helmet to reveal a pair of twisted horns and a face like a burst bag of boiled frogs. A pack of slinky forest nymphs sidle over to him, strategically-placed leaves only just managing to cover their modesty. They fawn over the chump, then lose interest as he gives a shrug to indicate he’s not got any money.
‘What on earth do we do now?’ Goldie wails. ‘The place looks like it’s turned into a house of ill repute!’
‘Fear not,’ I say, standing up from behind the bush and jutting myself forward manfully. ‘If ever there was a job for me, then this is it…’