James has a letter from his grandmother, a real letter with a stamp, delivered to the letter box.

It comes from New South Wales. There’s lots about rocks and crashing waves and the full moon rising out of the sea. It hasn’t really been in the sea, of course. But Gran says it looks as though it has, and it never does that in South Australia. Also Julia’s best polar-fleece jacket blew into the fire and melted in about five seconds. James would like to have seen that.

It’s all interesting, but the best part is about Gran being bitten behind her ear by a tick.

James writes up the story for school.

It turns out a tick burrows in and leaves poison and sucks blood and stuff and you can’t get it out. It doesn’t just bite you and go away like a mosquito or something. If you pull it the body comes out but the head stays behind and then the head itches for the rest of your life. You can burn it with cigarettes only that’s no good if you don’t smoke. You can light matches and quickly blow them out and put the hot bit on the tick’s bottom. It gets a shock and backs out. Or if that doesn’t work you can pour eucalyptus oil all over it. That’s what Gran did. In the end it fell out and it was dead and it still had its head on so that was OK.


Mrs Briggs has been teaching for too many years. She allows herself one glass of wine with her dinner and then with an inward groan, pulls the unfinished pile of books towards her, with James’ effort open on top.

You never know, that’s the trouble. It’s always possible that an interest in bodily functions and squishing things might lead to scientific glory. It is her responsibility in life to encourage every small ghoul in case he or she goes on to an illustrious career in microbiology or brain surgery.

She wonders about a second glass of wine. The pile of books is dauntingly high.

Very interesting James, she writes, and reaches for the next one.

When the grannies get back to Adelaide there are photos to look at and more stories. The tick story leads on to stories from all the adults about encounters with hostile creatures. The one that appeals most to James comes from Julia. It seems that once in Queensland she had a leech behind her ear and didn’t know it was there until it was so full of blood that it pushed her ear forward.

When he gets home he writes the story down straightaway. He particularly likes that it’s another ear story.

On the other side of town Mrs Briggs twitches in her sleep. The wicked fairy godmother of teachers has sent her a premonition. Another squish story is on its way, and this one is going to involve lots of blood.