A panda appeared in our street, skewered to the railing outside my house.
Let me paint the picture: there’s the road outside my house, then there’s this long strip of grass, then there’s the houses opposite. And the grass has got these railings all the way around it, for kids to kick their footballs off and stuff, and this panda was just there that morning, stuck on a row of the spikes, directly opposite my house.
So, I went up to it and I was like that to the kids who were playing out, I was like; who’s is this panda, lads? And they were like; dunno, dunno mate and they didn’t seem to care. So, I knocked on to my neighbour, Gail, and she comes out and I’m like; Gail. Check this out. A panda. And she’s like; hmm, oh yeah aye. So how are you keeping Jon, are you well?
But I’m like; Gail, it’s a panda! What should we do? And she’s like; leave it, it’s just some kid’s toy.
And that’s when I realised. The people of the street; they weren’t seeing the same thing I was. They were seeing a stuffed toy, like a teddy bear type thing, all synthetic fur and glass-bead eyes. But I was seeing something else. I was seeing a real-life panda skewered on a row of the railing spikes. And the poor bugger was still alive.
There was blood on the floor and the panda was squirming and crying out a bit. I didn’t know what to do. I thought about trying to lift it off, but you shouldn’t do that in case you hit an artery. Or it might get angry and start attacking me, or it might run off and hurt some kid. So, I thought; ring the RSPCA, Jon, but if I’m the only one who can see it’s a real panda, they might end up locking me away instead. So, I just left it. I guess I thought someone else would figure it out, or it would free itself or something.
But everyone just ignored it and it stayed there for days. And I was feeling so guilty, so bad for it. One night I snuck out and fed it. Just fruit and cabbage and water and stuff but it was hungry so it ate everything and drank loads of the water. And I watched it eat and I just knew it were real, you know? I could see it mashing up the apple in its mouth, bits of pulp falling on the ground mixing with the blood. It was all totally real.
Next day it was still there, same again the day after. There wasn’t anything I could do except keep feeding it. Every now and again I’d ask the people on the street if it belonged to them, but no-one owned up to it, no-one wanted to know. After three or four days of this, I had to do something.
It was the Queen’s birthday coming up that weekend so I thought; yep, this is perfect. I organised this big street party. Proper thing; bunting, tea and cake, Union Jacks, all that stuff. And I made all these invitations, proper good ones, and posted them through every door on the street. It got the whole place buzzing; everyone was well up for it, everyone pitching in to help. And I made sure that the main table was right in front of the panda and that was where I put myself.
It was a blazing day: Elgar on the sound system, Mrs Kingsley’s scones, pink lemonade and cava flowing, someone getting a BBQ together. It was lovely, a proper top day. And once everyone was a bit merry, I stood up, tink-tink-tinked my knife on the side of my glass and everyone shut up and turned to look at me. And that’s when I said it, I really went for it.
I said; Hi everyone. Thanks for coming. This isn’t really about the Queen today. This is about someone else.
And I stepped aside, picked up this big bit of melon and handed it to the panda who straight away started scoffing it.
And I said; Look everyone, look at it. This is a real panda. Not a toy. It’s a proper real panda.
And mate; the looks on their faces.
The street was silent for ages as they all just took it in. A real panda. Some of the adults went a bit pale, some of the kids tried to sneak closer. Best keep back, I said, and then; We’re going to have to do something about it.
No-one really had any suggestions. And the funny thing was we all just decided to keep having the street party. The music went back on, people started nibbling the cakes again and sipping their teas. The whole affair was a lot more muted now of course, but I guessed this was just the way people had to deal with something weird like this. Carry on as normal until the brain has had chance to figure it all out. I suppose I did the exact same thing.
Then, at the end, I was packing down the tables and some of the neighbours were gathered around the panda, having a serious chat about it all. And I thought to myself; OK, this is good. Something will be done now. You’ve done your bit now Jon, well done son. So, I helped clear the party away and disappeared into my house, straight to bed, and had the first proper sleep I’d had in days.
The next morning, I woke refreshed. I bounded out of my bed, down the stairs and out into the street. The panda was still there. And next to him, there was another one.
They got him a female. That was their answer to the situation: get him a mate. Gail tried to explain it, said how pandas are really endangered in the wild and we should be doing anything we can to encourage them to breed so we can save the species. So, they’d tracked down a female – god knows how and I didn’t bloody ask – and they skewered her to the railing next to the first one. And they erected an extra fence around the pair of them to give them, I don’t know; room? Privacy, maybe? And they put together a feeding rota, and my name was on it too.
And I said to Gail; do you really think we’re the best people to be doing this? and she said; we’ll give it a damn good go, Jon, and that’s the most anyone can ask, isn’t it? It was like I’d blamed her for her husband leaving or something, so I didn’t say anything else. I just did my duty on the rota and made sure Harry and Meghan were as happy as they could be.
That’s what they called them. Harry and Meghan. They’d left some of the bunting up as well, strung between two lampposts.
It didn’t take long for the next street over to get wind of the situation, and it soon spread to the rest of the town and then into the city, and our little corner of the world became packed with gawpers and squealers. Gail took charge, got some proper fencing built, devised a queuing system, and started charging for official photography; all to aid the efforts of the breeding programme, she said. I voiced a few concerns, suggested the pandas didn’t like flash photography and all that, but I soon became a minor noise in a much bigger neighbourhood voice. Besides, Gail and the street were raising a hell of a lot of money, I had to admit.
A month in, they held the first jubilee to mark the occasion. Tables, tea, cakes and Elgar again. They asked me to do a keynote speech, but I said no. Instead, I packed my bags and slipped away. I couldn’t cope with the crowds and the noise and the flat refusal of Harry and Meghan to do anything close to breeding. To be honest, I still hadn’t figured out how they were expected to do much of anything while still skewered like that. It all got too much for me. I was done.
I heard the occasional thing about the Panda Street Breeding Initiative as it became known, but I tried to keep it out of my life. Heard from a friend of a friend that they’d turned my house into a visitor centre, my living room became a shop selling, among other things, stuffed teddy-bear panda toys. I had a few drinks to that.
Then one day, out of the blue, Gail called me. She said; Jon, I’ve got some bad news. They’ve died. Harry and Meghan. Both of them. I didn’t know what to say. I said; Oh dear and it sounded pathetic. Gail said; Harry went first, just old age we think. Meghan lasted a couple of days but… I heard the sob rising in her throat …she died of a broken heart. I nearly laughed. Bloody hell mate, despite it all, I was so close to laughing. I controlled myself; That’s terrible. Did they manage to…? She sighed. To breed? No, it didn’t happen love. Listen, we’re going to hold a service. A candlelight vigil, tomorrow night. Will you come?
I really didn’t want to, but I couldn’t say no, could I? Besides, maybe I owed it to the pandas. I’d never been able to shake the feeling that pretty much all of this had been my fault.
The street was packed for the vigil and I was a bit late, so I was at the back and couldn’t see much. I held a candle, tried to think about Harry and Meghan, but could only picture stuffed toys; teddy bears dropped by kids and soaked by days of rainfall. I guess it was a sad enough image. Gail gave a speech about how the pandas had really inspired the spirit of community and given her some real friends for life. Then some of those Chinese lanterns were released and that was that.
I waited until the crowd had gone and shuffled over to the shrine. The bloody bunting was out again, strung between the railings, but it was tastefully done. And there were flowers, baskets of fruit, framed photos, and a book of condolences. And – I had to chuckle – loads of teddy bears, mostly pandas.
Gail was all like; Aw, Jon thanks for coming love and gave me a big hug. So sad isn’t it? she said and I was like; aye, because it was. And I was kicking myself for not bringing flowers. But I had an apple in my bag, so I placed that down with all the reverence I could muster while Gail clutched my shoulder.
And that’s when I saw them. Among the teddy bears. I saw one first, then another, with a third right next to it. And I leapt back, pointing, anger scowling on my face. And I was like that to Gail, I was like; Gail! In there! Those teddy bears there, and there. They’re not teddies. They’re cubs! Three panda cubs!
And her face turned into stone, and she sniffed back her tears. And she said; Not this again Jon, not this a-bloody-gain.
And I said; But just look!
And she said; I think you’d better be off, don’t you? You don’t live here anymore and the vigil has finished now. Come on.
And from the shrine I heard scuttling and mewing and I saw one of the cubs trying to take a bite of my apple, but it didn’t seem quite sure what to do. Then it singed itself on one of the candles so it clambered back into the mass of teddies and buried its head.
And that was the last I saw. Gail grabbed my elbow and marched me away.
David Hartley has written many other weird tales about animals
which have roared and clawed their way into various publications. An
elephant made of acrobats trampled into *Ambit*, a shapeshifting fox
appeared in *Structo*, while a pig made of bacon sizzled in the pages of *Black Static*. He also featured in the Storgy *Shallow Creek* anthology with a story written entirely in iambic pentameter. It’s weird. He lives in
Manchester with one human, two rabbits and (currently) nine guinea pigs.
His flash collection *Spiderseed* was published in 2016 by Sleepy House
Press and is not recommended for arachnophobes.
If you enjoyed ‘A Panda Appeared in Our Street’ leave a comment and let David know.
You can read Davids previously published words below:
Spiderseed (Flash Fiction Collection: Sleepy House
Merry Gentlemen (dark Christmas stories, Self Published):
You can find and follow David at:
Photo by Danny See Chuan Seng
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