“He was just there, looking at us, blinking and coughing and scratching his belly, I swear to dog!” Fluffikins clutched his dog hat.
“You’re hallucinating, Fluffy.”
“I’ll believe you. Thousands wouldn’t.”
A bell tinkled behind them. A ‘closed’ sign flipped to ‘open’ in the draught. The shop door CREAKED.
A scaly, man-sized creature filled the doorway.
“Welcome to my lycra palace,” said the lizard-man, with a tired little bow and a flourish. “I suppose you two are camping out for my famous biannual five per cent off sale?”
“I am honoured to welcome such keen customers. Perhaps I can offer you a little sneak peek of the sale items, if you’ll only slink inside?”
“We’ll be off, thanks.” Fluffikins rolled up his coat mattress.
Wait! Maybe we can borrow his bike, Florence piped, and ride it to a nice ditch!
Florence pushed past the lizard shopkeeper and barged into his clothing store. The high walls were made of rock. A hairy rug stretched ominously across the floor.
Oh, puppy. Fluffikins lingered in the doorway.
There are thousands of different kinds of lizards. Some are cute and small and eat nothing but ants (which is still terrible if you happen to be an ant). Others are huge and angry and will bite your ankles with their pointy teeth. They spend days circling you with their friends, waiting for you to die from the deadly infection you contracted from their rotten, putrid saliva.
Fluffikins knew this because he’d seen it on a nature documentary. If only he hadn’t turned off the television in disgust and terror he might now know the difference between a cute lizard and a DEADLY one.
“Chop-chop.” The lizard-man encouraged Fluffikins to join his companion in-store. “It’s temperature controlled in here. I can’t wait all night long with the door flapping.”
Fluffikins stepped inside behind Florence, because that’s what friends do. The lizard wasn’t joking about the warmth. And the humidity.
Fluffy’s hair grew boofy with humidity. He hoped no one would notice.
It did not go unnoticed.
“That’s a bee-yutiful onesie.” The lizard-man stroked Fluffy’s shoulder with his spiky hands. The hands did not feel good, running along Fluffy’s back like that.
“Thank you,” said Fluffikins, stepping towards Florence and away from the overfamiliar lizard.
“Where did you get that onesie?” said the lizard to Fluffikins. “I hope you don’t mind me asking. I’ve got an eye swivelled towards winter stock at the moment, and that brindle grey you’re wearing is the next big thing.”
“It is?” Fluffikins felt the onesie getting even bigger.
“I am the taste-maker of Slipper Island. I will make sure of it!”
The lizard-man had one eye on Fluffy’s onesie, the other on Florence.
Perhaps he didn’t like the look of Florence. She was ‘browsing’. She never could go inside a shop without touching everything in sight. It drove her parents nuts.
She’d better not break any of this stuff because Florence and Fluffikins had no money to pay for it.
Mind you, lycra clothing is not easy to smash to smithereens. They might be safe in here.
In that regard.
The lizard licked its lips. This was the longest tongue Fluffy had ever seen. The tongue wasn’t just moistening the lips, but his entire eyeball as well.
“Tell me, where can I order some onesies just like yours?” The lizard checked the depth of Fluffy’s pockets. He tried the front zipper. Fluffy backed further and further towards the door, reaching for the knob.
Which had somehow been locked.
“I grew it myself,” Fluffy exclaimed. “I grew my fluff long, shaved it off into a bag, then weaved it onto a thin fabric. I sewed the zip in afterwards.”
“Marvellous,” marvelled the lizard-man.
Fluffy’s fluff was very big by now. Humidity aside, this was a subconscious adaptation to make him look bigger.
Meanwhile, Florence was trying on a pair of shorts clearly meant for a worm, not for a dog person.
“Uh-uh-uh!” said the lizard-man, scuttling over to Florence. “Let me show you my dog-person range. I can offer you a further discount on a pair of bee-yutiful lycra knickerbockers without the bockers. What’s your favourite colour?”
“Grey,” said Florence.
“Grey?! Who in the world loves grey? Grey is not a colour. Grey is a cloud on a sunny day! Grey is all smoke and mirrors! I can offer you dog-knickers in every shade BUT grey.”
“But you’re grey,” Florence observed. “You’re grey as rocks.” The lizard was himself quite a fetching mosaic of stony shades.
Florence didn’t notice but the lizard-man looked set to pounce upon Florence and slash her to bits and pieces.
That might have happened on a different night.
But on this particular night the lizard man simply darkened in the cheeks.
“I am the shade of rocks,” he said quietly, punctuating with an eyeball shlurp. “It’s called camouflage.”
“Yeah, I know.” Florence had seen her share of nature documentaries.
“But sometimes a lizard doesn’t WANT to blend into the background. In these fabulous lycra suits I can be anyone I like,” explained the lizard-man. “You’ll have seen my commercials, I expect.”
Wearing my clothing, you too can be fabulous like a chameleon, every day of the week.
Fluffikins knew how to keep the lizard-man happy. “Why don’t you show us your product range?”
The lizard-man perked up. He walked up the wall. He retrieved a variety of socks and dog-knickers from a crevice.
But Florence did not like pink dog-knickers. Or purple. Or yellow with orange stripes. She preferred browns, blacks, tawny greys and off-whites.
“I can deal with dog-belly pink, but you can keep your magentas and your lavenders. Those are not dog colours. Only doggy shades will do.”
Florence! Fluffikins warned. Be polite about the fashions!
The lizard refolded all those dog-knickers in a bit of a huff. It was time to switch modes, from salesperson to fashion advisor. “I hope you don’t mind a bit of straight talking,” he said, “but girl, grey is so not your colour.” He swivelled one eye towards the super fluffy Fluffikins. “And you. I hope you’re not thinking of actually wearing that mud-brown coat you have draped over your foreleg.
“That would be a crime against fashion. One must not wear a single thing over top of that fascinating fluffy onesie of yours!”
A sticky tongue ducked across the shop and plucked the brown overcoat from Fluffy’s arm. That tongue flung the coat high into the air, where it folded itself into a neat square and sat inside a forgotten crevice.
“MY PRECIOUS COAT! That was no ordinary brown trench!” Fluffikins cried. “That coat served double as our mattress, laid across the cold, hard ground!” Fluffikins whimpered a little, unable to reach it down.
“Oh, I see. You are not here for my annual sale at all. You are a pair of mongrel strays, sleeping rough! You clearly have no money to fritter away in my shop!”
Fluffikins felt his fluff deflate. “We’re not exactly strays,” he corrected (though he was happy to be back to normal).
He was very annoyed about that very gentlemanly coat. The coat had transformed him from a man dog into a man-man. He’d only got one night’s use out of it. The lizard would never give it back.
“We have a perfectly nice home. We’re here on accidental holiday and, Florence, weren’t you about to ask something about a bicycle?”
“Oh yeah,” said Florence. “Give us a lend of your bike. We got no money for a taxi and nothing but that flimsy… well, no mattress. We gonna cycle into the countryside and bed down in a grassy ditch. At dawn we gonna cycle right back and return your bike. Any complaints?”
“My bike?” The lizard-man furrowed his scaly forehead. “My lovely little jester, I have never set hindlimb upon a bicycle pedal in all my born days. Can you imagine? A lizard-man on a bike?”
He let out a belly laugh. That belly of his puffed in and out. It looked nice and soft.
Florence wanted to touch the lizard’s belly, along with everything else in the shop.
Fluffikins read her mind and shot a warning look. “Very good, well it was worth an ask,” he said aloud. “Now if you’ll just unlock your door we’ll get out of your hair. Metaphorically speaking.”
Fluffikins wanted to escape before this lizardy snob decided Fluffy’s precious glasses were another crime against fashion. Fluffy was sure he could see more clearly with them on. He certainly looked more distinguished. He clung on to the glasses. That quick, sticky tongue might make a reappearance.
“Why are you decked out in cycling duds if you don’t got a bike?” Florence pointed to the lizard-man’s helmet, then to his shoes, designed for clipping onto pedals.
“My dear, this is for the window display,” said the lizard-man. “I wear all sorts of things. Tonight I happen to be dressed as a cyclist. I do not ride bikes. I do not own bikes. Therefore I cannot lend you two hobo dogs my bike. Not that I would, anyway. You’d ride off into the sunrise and never bring it back.”
“You are the stingiest, meanest—” Florence began. Fortunately she was cut off.
“However!” The lizard-man locked his forelimb digits together. “If your fluffy friend would gift me his hand-made hairy onesie, I’d offer you both a warm nest for the night, far superior to any grassy ditch.”
Florence raised her dog-brows at Fluffikins. “Well?”
“Dinner included,” added the lizard-man.