Kevin was sitting in the conservatory reading the Sunday Times. His wife, Sheila, was working on a cross stitch on the sofa opposite him. Their concentration was broken when their five year old daughter, Tiffany came running in from the garden bubbling with excitement.
"Daddy," she said as she jumped up on the sofa next to him, "What's a fiancé?"
"A fiancé is a lady who is engaged to be married, Sweetie, why's that?" Kevin said, still reading the paper.
"Because, Mr Panomie asked me to marry him and when I said yes he said that I was his fiancé," Tiffany said. "He said he's going to give me a pretty ring!"
Kevin put down his newspaper and looked at his daughter quizzically. "Who is Mr Panomie?" He asked. He'd not heard of a Mr Panomie living in either of the houses next door and didn't much appreciate him saying such things to his daughter.
"He's the little man behind the shed," Tiffany said as if everybody knew about Mr Panomie from behind the shed.
"What?" Kevin folded his paper and was about to go and investigate when his wife caught his attention.
"He's not real," Sheila mouthed, smiling at his silliness. Kevin shook his head and relaxed again.
"How long have you known Mr Panomie?" He asked, playing along, although he still didn't think that his daughter should be playing at marriage at her age. He didn't intend to let any boys near her until she was well into her thirties.
"I just met him today. He's not a handsome man," Tiffany said shaking her head.
Sheila giggled, "No? What does he look like then?" She asked.
"Well, his skin is sort of orangey and he's quite wrinkly. He has a fat nose too. And he's short," Tiffany replied.
"Short?" Kevin repeated.
"Yes, but he's got lots of money so I said I'll marry him anyway," Tiffany said, innocently enough. Kevin's jaw dropped but Sheila burst out laughing.
"What do you need lots of money for?" Kevin asked.
"Well, Mummy said that I can't have a playhouse because we don't have enough money, so if I have lots of money I can buy lots of playhouses and other things too," she said matter-of-factly.
"I see," Kevin said, he was on the verge of laughing himself. "Why don't you go back out and play with Mr Panomie?"
"Mr Panomie has gone now, he's a busy man Daddy!" Tiffany said and then she ran off to play in the garden anyway.
That night, a shattered Kevin was climbing to join his wife who'd already been in bed for a couple of hours or more. As he passed his daughters room he heard her chatting away from behind the door and stopped to hear what she was saying. At first he assumed that she must have been talking in her sleep as it was very late but he soon realised that what she was saying was far too coherent for sleep talk.
"Well, I do want to get married but I don't want to live in your house with you. I like my house and I don't want to leave Mummy and Daddy. And also I don't know your house, it might be quite dirty like you, you're always muddy so I think maybe your house is muddy too," Tiffany said rather indignantly. Kevin chuckled under his breath and started to walk away. Then he heard the other voice.
"It doesn't matter what you want. When we're married you have to live in my house," the voice was gravelly and rough and made Kevin feel as though tiny insects were crawling under his skin. He tore open the door and burst into the room but when he turned on the light he saw only Tiffany, sitting up in bed staring at him in surprise.
"Who was you talking to?" Kevin demanded.
"Mr Panomie," she replied, her voice was sheepish, she thought she was in trouble.
"Where is he?" Kevin said, looking around the room frantically.
"He's gone, Daddy."
"Gone where?" The window was closed and there was no other way out.
"Gone home," Tiffany's voice cracked as she said home and she started to cry.
"Hey, hey," Kevin sat on the bed and pulled his daughter towards him, wrapping her in a fatherly embrace. "Don't cry."
"But I don't know why you're angry with me. I didn't do anything," she sobbed.
"I know, I know, it's just me being silly. I'm sorry. I'm tired and I'm hearing things," he said softly. He rocked her gently in an attempt to soothe her and it seemed to work.
"Silly Daddy," she giggled through her tears.
"Yes, silly Daddy," he replied. He sat with her until she fell asleep. Then he checked the room over to make sure there was nobody inside and he made sure the window was definitely locked before going to bed himself.
By the time morning came Kevin was convinced that he had imagined the gravelly voice from his daughter’s room. There was no way anybody could possibly have been in there and he had been very tired. That evening the family was sitting at the dining table eating a delicious homemade lasagne whilst Kevin told Sheila about work.
"...but, and here's the thing, if Andrew Langford was to visit the site then he'd-"
"What is that?" Sheila interrupted, she was looking at Tiffany with alarm. Kevin looked over but couldn't see anything out of the ordinary.
"What?" Tiffany asked.
"On your finger. That ring," Sheila pointed and Kevin saw it. It was an ugly thing. It looked like two strips of tin had been twisted around each other and wedged in between them was a small stone the colour of mud. What Kevin found the most disturbing was not the ugliness of the ring, or even the fact that it was on his daughter’s wedding finger but the fact that it seemed to fit her perfectly. The ring had been made for her.
"Where did it come from?" Kevin asked in a quiet voice. He thought back to the voice he'd heard the night before and wondered if he had been imagining it.
"Mr Panomie gave it to me. He said we have to make the engagement official. I told you he would," Tiffany said shrugging.
"Take it off," Kevin ordered, he wanted to destroy the ugly thing.
"No, Mr Panomie gave it to me," she said stubbornly, folding her arms.
"Take it off, now!" Kevin commanded, his voice raised.
Tiffany huffed loudly, pulled the ring from her finger and threw it at Kevin.
"How dare you!" Kevin shouted.
"Who gave it to you?" Sheila asked again, more forcefully.
"I told you, Mr Panomie did!" Tiffany shouted. "And he will be angry when he finds out you stoled it from me!"
"Go to your room and don't think about coming out until you're ready to tell the truth." Kevin said, pointing angrily at the door.
"Oh my god! This is so unfair. I hate you both forever!" Tiffany screamed and ran from the room crying.
"Where the fuck did that come from, Kevin?" Sheila said, she was visibly shaken.
"I don't know, she probably just found it in the garden," he said but he didn't really believe his own words. The ring had fit her too perfectly. But there was no need to frighten his wife, not yet anyway.
"Did we overreact?" she asked, a guilty expression on her face.
Kevin reached across the table and took her hands in his. "We acted the same way any parents would if they'd found their five year old daughter with an engagement ring on."
The next evening when Kevin got home, Sheila insisted on all three of them going out for ice cream, as a way of making up for the previous evening’s antics. After the ice cream, they went down to the river so that Tiffany could see the ducks. They let her play by herself whilst Kevin had some quality time with his wife. After twenty-four hours they both agreed that they'd been very silly and Kevin had reverted back to believing that the voice had been in his head. The ring was still creepy but it wasn't impossible for Tiffany to have found an old ring that fit her. After about twenty minutes Sheila wanted to go home so Kevin went down to the river to collect Tiffany. As he approached he saw that she was talking to herself again and he sighed. He just wished that all the Panomie business would end. He wondered how long children had imaginary friends for. He didn't remember ever having one as a child.
"Come on, Tiff, it's time to-" As he reached his daughter at the edge of the river he froze. A chill swept over him like a pulse of electricity making his skin tingle. His throat dried completely and he found himself unable to speak or even make a sound. On the other side of the river stood a little man. He was no taller than Tiffany and he was just as she'd described. His skin was darkly tanned and wrinkled. He had rough dark brown hair that went around most of his face like a mane and he was wearing a pair of tatty dungaree's that were caked with mud. His nose was a bulbous thing that took up a sizable amount of his face. The nose contrasted his eyes which were tiny black pin pricks that stared menacingly at Kevin. The little man did not move, he didn't even blink, he just stood and stared.
"Who are you?" Kevin managed to say in a hoarse, trembling voice. The little man did not reply. Kevin repeated the question but again the little man silently stared. "What do you want with my daughter?" Kevin was getting more and more scared the longer the little man stared at him. He had the blackest eyes Kevin had ever seen. Kevin scooped Tiffany up and clutched her tight to him. She didn't say anything, she could sense the fear in her father. "You stay away from my girl," Kevin muttered as he started to back away on shaking legs. Then he heard a scream. Looking over to where the noise had come from he saw his wife standing on the edge of the river staring at the little man in utter horror. The little man turned his head almost in slow motion to look at Sheila. Sheila fell silent instantly. He stretched his arm and pointed one stubby finger at her. Her legs went from under her and she plunged head first into the river. Kevin cried out and ran over, still clutching Tiffany in his arms. When he reached the river he saw that it was already too late. The park seemed to spin around him and he fell to his knees. He held Tiffany's head facing away from the river so that she wouldn't see what he saw. Sheila was laying in the river, her head against a jagged rock and blood was being swept downstream. Her eyes were wide and lifeless staring at Kevin. Kevin looked over but the little man had vanished. "Who are you?" Kevin whispered to the air and his daughter replied.
After spending three hours at the police station talking to Constable Lloyd, who clearly thought that Kevin was insane, he had been let go. The police believed that it had been an accident but needed to investigate further. Kevin had been warned not to leave town. He returned home with Tiffany, who he had refused to let out of his sight. He was tucking her into bed when he saw the ring. The same ugly little ring that he'd seen his daughter wearing the day before. It had been placed next to the lamp on her bedside table. Kevin started to shake. He didn't want to scare his daughter so he scooped the ring off the table without her seeing. He checked the windows in the room to ensure they were locked and then thoroughly searched her cupboard, as silly as he felt he had to be sure that the little man wasn't hiding anywhere. Once he was certain that the room was secure and his daughter was safe he gave her a goodnight kiss and then waited for her to fall asleep before he left the room.
He was astounded at how calm she was. She wasn't in the least bit afraid of Mr Panomiewhich was more than Kevin could say for himself. He hadn't yet told her about her mother. He didn't have the first idea how to tell his daughter that her mother was dead. That she would not see her again. His priority for the time being was to deal with Mr Panomie, or whoever he was, whatever he was. Kevin didn't know what the little man wanted with his daughter but he was determined that he would not be getting near her again. The police may not believe him but he knew what he saw and Mr Panomie was real. He wondered if he'd been able to avoid his wife’s death if he'd believed his daughter in the first place. He looked down at the sickening ring in the palm of his hand and shuddered. The very feel of it on his skin made him want to wretch.
It was obvious to him that Mr Panomie had killed his wife because she had taken the ring. The he had come to the house and returned it to Tiffany whilst they'd been at the police station. Kevin thought that if he now took the ring then Mr Panomie would come for him and when he did Kevin would kill him. Kevin sat himself in his favourite chair in the living room. He put the ring on one arm of the chair and a long kitchen knife on the other. He should never have doubted himself when he'd heard that voice. If he hadn't doubted himself perhaps things would be different now. Who was Mr Panomie? What was Mr Panomie? And why did he want Tiffany?
As Kevin pondered such things he started to feel drowsy and before he could stop himself he'd fallen asleep. He was woken sometime later by a bang upstairs. He jumped up from his chair and grabbed the knife, ready for a fight. The ring was gone. He looked around the chair to see if it had fallen but it was nowhere to be seen. The little man had come in and taken it whilst he'd been sleeping. The thought of it made him want to throw up.
Knife in hand he raced up the stairs, taking them two at a time and crashed through the door of his daughter’s room. Her bed was empty, her quilt strewn on the floor. He looked around frantically but she was not in the room. She was gone. A light breeze brushed through his hair and he noticed that the window was open. He rushed over to it and saw his daughter down in the garden. She had her back to the house and was walking down towards the bottom of the garden. She was walking hand in hand with the Mr Panomie.
"Hey, stop!" Kevin yelled down but neither of them paid any notice to him. "Stop! Tiffany!" He called down but again she ignored him. He practically flew from the room and raced down the stairs. The glass in the back door smashed as he opened it with full force and ran down the garden, knife still in hand. But he was too late. They were gone. He ran down the garden right the way to the bottom, shouting his daughters name the whole time but there was no response. He climbed up onto the shed to get a good view of all the gardens but there was nobody in any of them. Mr Panomie had come back and he had taken Kevin's daughter from right under his nose. Kevin's head span and his legs gave out. He collapsed on the roof of his shed, quietly sobbing his daughters name to himself.
After about an hour the police came for Kevin. He was charged with the murder of his wife. They thought he'd killed his daughter as well but were unable to charge him without a body. He tried telling the truth but nobody believed him. As time passed he even started to doubt the truth himself. Kevin never saw his daughter or Mr Panomie ever again.