Written by PJ Aitken.
Tommy Trent was a very spoilt child. He would prefer to describe himself as “knows what he wants” but the rest of his family and friends knew the truth. He was the kind of child who expected a gift when giving other people gifts. For example, on his friend Trevor’s tenth birthday, Tommy got him a mobile phone on the basis that he also got one, but a slightly better model with more storage.
Every Christmas and birthday Tommy would provide several copies of a detailed list of presents with prices and recommended retailers. Any deviation from the list led to Meltdown City on the big day and an insistence from Tommy to his parents that they get the thing he asked for, even if it was sold out.
So why then, despite all the previous incidents, was his dad Tim sweating profusely on the morning of Tommy’s eleventh birthday, knowing the gift he was about to give his son was not on the list is anyone’s guess? Tommy had already opened everything else and had made sure to tick them off the list one by one as he went along. His Mum Tina and sister Tammy were sat next to him in the living room trying to smile in the way Tommy liked.
“Wow! You’ve all done really well so far. Anything else?” hinted Tommy, knowing there were still a few items on the list missing a tick.
“Yes, here you go son! Hope you like it!” Tim plopped the medium sized mystery parcel down in front of Tommy whose face was already a mixture of surprise and disgust.
The words “Hope you like it!” meant one thing, this was not something he asked for. He had to make a snap decision, either kick off now or style this out in the hope he will still get the rest of his list later in the day or his Dad was pretending. Tommy corrected his face into a smile and picked up the present.
“Wow Dad, this looks cool! What is it?”
“Open it and find out!” interrupted Tina who had also developed a bit of a sweaty brow knowing the child shaped TNT may explode at any moment. Tommy shrugged his shoulders and began to carefully unwrap the gift, finding the tape at one end, pulling it to open the paper and looking inside. Peering carefully, Tommy was still none the wiser so gave his Dad a hard stare to see if he was giving him any clues. Now that he knew this was definitely not on his list, Tommy tore into the paper like a rabid wolf, not caring if he damaged the packaging or the gift itself.
Within seconds the floor was littered with the wrapping paper and Tommy was face to face with the mysterious gift. Staring back at him was a dead-eyed toy monkey with long thin arms and legs, a happy smiley face and a tummy which seemed to have a TV screen on it. The packaging read “Pancake the Psychic Monkey – Press the button and watch his incredible predictions come true. Maximum of one prediction per day. Hours of fun from the cheeky chimp! Batteries included.”
Tommy’s face went through every emotion as he tried to open the well-sealed box whilst figuring out why this monkey was in his hands instead of unticked list item number 19. After a minute of silence Tommy snapped and stared at his Dad.
“What is this meant to be? Have you done this on purpose?! What were you thinking? You know…” Tommy’s face was starting to go full lava.
“Try it!” Tim urged his son to press the button. Tommy looked down at the floppy cute monkey and even though he wanted to throw it immediately against a wall, which he had a habit of doing, he rolled his eyes, let out a huge exasperated sigh and conceded.
“Okay, here goes!” Tommy pressed the button on the front of Pancake.
“Yay! Monkey looks fun!” said Tammy who thought this was the best gift she’d seen today.
Pancake sprung to life as his arms and legs flailed around for 5 seconds almost hitting Tommy in the face until a loud “EEK!” came from the monkey’s head and a message appeared on the TV screen on its tummy. Tommy couldn’t hide it, part of him did think this was pretty cool in a childish way. He stared at the message trying to make sense of it.
“What does it say?” asked Tammy getting off the sofa and walking over to sit with her brother who was still deciphering the words.
“Hope you have a lovely day and get everything you wish. When you have your dinner, please enjoy those chips with fish” read Tommy aloud leading to gasps from Tina. He looked up at his Mum open mouthed.
“What is it?” asked Tommy, who was really starting to like this toy.
“Well I’m not sure how that thing knew… but I was going to order your favourite fish and chips for dinner tonight!”
Tommy looked shocked, as did everyone else, trying to figure out how this toy worked. Was it predicting this or causing it? Suddenly Tommy’s cynical brain took over and his shocked reaction crumbled as he turned back to his Dad Tim.
“Hang on! How do I know you didn’t type that in there before I opened the present? Mum could’ve told you about the fish and chips ages ago” Tommy pointed his grubby little finger at Tim’s face as his Dad looked genuinely upset.
“I did nothing of the sort! I bought that thing based on a recommendation from Jeff at work after it predicted lots of great things for his family, including winning a holiday and their daughter getting into drama school,” he said.
Tommy stroked his chin and listened intently, thinking maybe this wasn’t such a bad toy after all.
“What kind of holiday?” he asked considering all the possibilities, including winning the lottery.
Although he didn’t want to admit it, for the rest of his birthday Tommy was overwhelmed with excitement at what Pancake may say next. He was frustrated it was only one prediction a day but he had lots of other presents to keep him entertained.
The fish and chips that evening were incredible, as if Pancake had made them himself. In fact, Tommy christened them “Pancake’s Chips and Fish!” before going to bed that night, declaring it one of the “best birthdays ever!” Tim and Tina fist bumped behind Tommy’s back which Tammy saw and she giggled quietly.
The next morning was a Saturday and Tommy was excited to see what the psychic primate had up his long sleeves today.
He’d tried the button on Pancake’s stomach many times since the first message the previous morning but nothing happened. So Tommy set his watch to go off at the correct time he had pressed it on his birthday - 8.35am - so he knew the earliest he could press the button each day. None of his other presents could distract him from Pancake’s smiley face until there was only 30 seconds until the alarm sounded.
“Breakfast!” shouted Tina up the stairs from the kitchen. Tommy tutted, rolled his eyes, got out of bed, grabbed Pancake and went downstairs.
Halfway down the landing, the alarm on Tommy’s watch chimed. Without hesitating he pressed the button on his clever monkey toy and continued to head to the kitchen whilst it flailed in his grip. Breakfast was already served for the rest of the family and they were in the middle of devouring it. Tommy’s usual glass of orange squash and buttery toast was waiting for him in his favourite chair.
“Morning son! Enjoying all your presents?” asked Tim fishing for a compliment regarding the toy he saw in Tommy’s hand. Tommy couldn’t concentrate on that right now as he could see Pancake was about to…
The whole family knew what that meant. Tommy picked up his glass of squash to take a gulp whilst he read the latest psychic message.
“Hope you’re feeling good today, remember to have a wash. Just try not to drink what’s in that cup as it’s washing-up liquid mixed with squash!”
Having only just taken his first mouthful of squash Tommy’s eyes expanded to the size of a small balloon and then spat the contents of his mouth across the kitchen and over his Mum’s face and dress.
“Are you trying to kill me? Washing-up liquid in my squash!? I know you’ve said I should wash my mouth out with soap before but this is ridiculous!”
Still covered in soapy squash Tina was struggling to understand Tommy’s latest outburst.
“What are you talking about?” asked Tim as he helped dry off his wife who had hoped they could go at least one day without his son lashing out.
Tommy held up Pancake’s digital stomach for all to see, pointed at prediction number two.
“Look! Pancake saved me from your horrible concoction woman. What do you have to say for yourself?”
Tina was speechless, it’s possible she didn’t wash out the cup properly but how this toy monkey knew was beyond her level of understanding. Tommy stood there furiously expecting an apology and when he realised it wasn’t coming grabbed Pancake and stormed back upstairs to his room. He’d only known this monkey for a day but his head was full of a wave of thoughts about what was going on, was Pancake his saviour or his nemesis? Maybe the next prediction will help Tommy decide.
Tommy eventually emerged from his room to apologise for his latest outburst and say that it was the accuracy of Pancake’s predictions which made him react that way. Tim and Tina had seen their son react in similar ways long before the arrival of Pancake, but to keep the peace they accepted the apology and they all went to the park leaving the toy monkey at home.
On Sunday morning Tommy was much calmer and more positive and could see that whatever this weird toy says, nothing was more important than his family and their love. He may find it hard to show it all the time but he loved them all dearly. This giddy love-in meant he lost track of time when the 8.35am alarm went off. Tommy turned it off and decided today he would leave it a bit and press the button later on. It would be hard to resist but he wanted to see if it helped with the kind of prediction he would get in return. He certainly wanted more fish and chips rather than soapy squash.
Instead he packed Pancake into his backpack and went swimming with his Dad and sister for a few hours. Tommy got to try his new swimming shorts, hat and goggles which were all fantastic and made him glide through the water like a blinged-up Jaws. On the way home he sat in the back of the car with his sister Tammy, took Pancake out of his backpack stared into the monkey’s dead eyes and smiling face, closed his eyes praying for a positive message and pressed the button. Within seconds the arms and legs had stopped flying around and the ominous “EEK!” sounded once again.
Tommy and Tammy stared at the tummy screen together and both of their hearts sank and jaws hit the floor at the same time.
“A wondrous day awaits you, be all that you can be. Just spare a thought for Mr Pickles who’s about to fall from a tree!”
“DAD! Get home NOW!!!” screamed Tommy from the back of the car. Without hesitating Tim slammed down his foot on the accelerator and dashed home in record time.
“What is it now?” asked Tim looking at his panicked kids in the rear view mirror.
“It’s the neighbour’s cat. He’s about to fall out of a tree!!”
“Quick Daddy, save the catty!” screamed Tammy with tears streaming down her face.
Tim imagined he was Vin Diesel as he screeched sideways round the corner into their driveway and slammed on the brakes. Tommy and Tammy flew out of the car in the direction of their neighbour’s garden looking upwards at every tree. After spending a minute searching for Mr Pickles with no luck, Tommy started stamping his feet and screeching with frustration whilst Tammy kept searching. After two long embarrassing minutes of his tantrum Tammy tugged on his trouser pocket and pointed upwards.
“Catty up there!”
The next 30 seconds turned to slow motion as Tommy looked into the trees in the direction of Tammy’s stretched arm, saw Mr Pickles losing his balance on a high branch, slipped and began to fall. Tommy raced over to cushion the cat’s fall but it was all too quick and his little legs weren’t going to make it. Leaping towards the ground in the hope he’d catch the falling pussy Tommy’s face crumpled against his Dad’s leg as Tim ran into position and caught Mr Pickles safely in his coat.
“Yay Daddy saved Catty!!” Said Tammy jumping up and down with her arms in the air. Tommy hugged Tim, stroked Mr Pickles a few times before rushing back to the car, grabbed Pancake and stomped up to his room with this lethal play thing for a final showdown. Slamming his bedroom door shut Tommy plonked the lethal play thing on his desk and got to business.
“Game over Pancake! I gave you a chance to be cool again but I’m sorry you’re too dangerous to stay alive.”
Tommy took one last look at the monkey’s smiley face before spinning him around, opening his Velcro butt to reveal his battery pack and opened it to remove the power source. Tommy unclicked the plastic covering ready to rip out the batteries. But instead he dropped the toy monkey as if he had got an electric shock.
He stared at Pancake’s battery compartment in silence for over a minute unsure what to do next. His brain was trying to compute why the battery compartment was already completely empty. Tommy screamed at this terrifying sight, threw open his wardrobe and volleyed Pancake into it with force and slammed the door shut. He then rammed his gaming chair against the handles just in case.
“Try ruining my life in there!” Tommy ran out of his bedroom to be as far away from that creepy chimp as possible for the rest of the day.
Waking up the next day Tommy got ready to go to school, hugged his sister goodbye before she headed to Reception with his Mum and got his bag ready. It didn’t even cross his mind to open his wardrobe until just before he got his bike from the garage and heard a faint “EEK!” from his room.
Taking a moment to think, with his key still in the front door ready to lock it, Tommy shook his head in frustration before running back into the house and into his room. Kicking his gaming chair to one side and throwing open his wardrobe he looked down at Pancake still in the same position he had left it. Picking it up swiftly he spun it over in his grip to read the message. He didn’t even stop to read it again as he grabbed one of the monkey’s long saggy arms, leapt out of his room, flung himself down the stairs towards the front door and onto his bike. Slamming Pancake down into the basket on the front of his bike Tommy read the terrifying prediction again as he pedalled as fast as he could down the road.
“You’ve had a lovely week so far and who could argue with that, But be careful when you’re off to school or your sister may go splat!”
Five minutes later Tammy had just arrived at her school with her Mum Tina and they were about to cross the road to get to the entrance. Halfway across the road they heard the beep of the speeding car but it was too late to stop. Tina’s hand slipped out of Tammy’s grip and the little girl fell on the ground halfway across the road. Tammy screamed at the top of her lungs knowing she was about to be hurt or even killed, so loud in fact she couldn’t hear the scrape of the bike behind her as someone picked her up at the last minute and carried her to safety onto the other side of the road. Standing safely on the pavement Tammy turned to her saviour and was relieved to see her big brother. She couldn’t resist giving Tommy the biggest hug. They both then looked back at the road to see Tommy’s bike and mischievous monkey passenger broken and smashed to pieces by the oncoming car.
“Monkey! Noooo!” cried Tammy. Tommy couldn’t hide his relief knowing that he was finally rid of this curse.
“Don’t cry sis, it’s probably for the best. I promise!”
This didn’t console Tammy in the moment but Tommy looked at his Mum and gave her a smile to try and let her know it was going to be okay.
For the next week Tommy kept himself to himself knowing the mad truth about Pancake was too much for anyone to understand. It would sound too far fetched and his parents already thought he was a fairly odd child. Even a proposed trip to the toy shop with his family didn’t cheer him up so Tim and Tammy went without him. By the end of the week without any further incident Tommy felt like life was returning to some level of normality when he awoke on the Saturday morning. Hearing his sister giggling from her room made him smile, however his smile soon evaporated when he heard a familiar “EEK!” echo down the landing.