Mr Bent examined himself in the hall mirror. His shirt glistened white and the stripes on his suit made you dizzy if you looked at them long enough. Purposefully he walked to the door, picking up his umbrella from the stand.

He strode confidently down the road.

‘Good morning, Mr Pint’, he called to the milkman.

He waved to Mrs Buns, the baker, who was putting a tray of gingerbread in her shop window.

‘How are you this fine morning, Billy?’ he enquired of the freckle-faced boy, swinging on his garden gate.

He kept up a smart pace past the village green where the ducks quacked cheerily on the pond. When he’d finished work at Wader and Trott solicitors, he would return to Jubilee Road. Widowed Mrs Mopp, his housekeeper, would have prepared supper. Later they would read in companionable quiet, or play a game of rummy. This arrangement suited confirmed bachelor Mr Bent very well.

He was nearing the station when he noticed a sign in bold red letters above a shop window.

COSTUMES – make the incredible journey a reality.

How very peculiar! He hadn’t seen this before. He glanced at his watch. Just enough time to investigate before the 8:42.

Neat racks of formal suits. All perfectly normal. There were also uniforms and riding equipment, complete with hard hat, crop and suspenders. Hang on, it wasn’t that sort of a shop, was it? He went in cautiously. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he saw a small, balding man with thick glasses, through which his eyes glinted alarmingly. An unnaturally large hand extended. ‘Good morning, I am the shopkeeper.’

Mr Bent had to admit the outfit fitted him rather snugly. The shopkeeper hadn’t uttered another word, but had instead scuttled around, whisking a bodice, fishnets, briefs, high-heeled boots and the suspenders from the window. Ignoring Mr Bent’s protestations, he’d added a beige mackintosh with a knowing wink.

He turned from side to side. Really, he thought, I’ve got quite good legs. Perhaps I should buy it. After all, I might get invited to a fancy dress party.

He turned round for his clothes. Where were his clothes? He tried the changing room door. It was locked.

‘I say…….!’ he called. No answer. He saw another door. Obviously leads to the man’s back room. Don’t think I’ll buy the outfit after all. It’s been an interesting expedition but he’s got the wrong fellow.

He opened the door and swayed in astonishment. This was his kitchen. Was he dreaming? He sadly fingered the lace bodice. It was a very real dream. He shut his eyes tight, willing the bodice to disappear when he re-opened them. Instead he gaped as he saw………..

‘Mrs Mopp……?’

Her tongue flicked round her lipsticked mouth.

‘If you want,’ she drawled huskily.

‘Are you feeling quite…on top of things?’ he whimpered, taking in the French maid’s outfit.

‘Could be, any time you say.’

He backed away. ‘I think I’ll have a lie down.’

Her tone changed, becoming harsh and business-like. ‘You can’t go up there. That’s the girls’ rooms.’

‘Girls?!’ he barked. ‘What’s going on?’

She sighed. ‘Now if you’re going to be difficult, you’ll be punished……’

‘You’re my housekeeper!’

‘And I’m keeping the house. No problemo.’

This was getting more disturbing by the minute. His eyes alighted on the kitchen table and saw the mackintosh he’d been given. He seized it gratefully and rushed out.

The road was empty, save for a cat dozing on a roof. Mr Bent would hold his head high, march into this shop and tell this…..person to restore normality to his house. Good.

He started to stride confidently down the road, realised this was impossible in his heels and tripped delicately instead. He couldn’t help noticing that the streets seemed grubbier, chipped paint, flowers wilting, rubbish bins overflowing.

He caught sight of Billy on a corner.

‘Well, I’m surprised to see you here Billy. You’re usually at your gate.’ He paused. ‘Does your mother know you’re here?

‘She sent me, di’n’t she? More trade on this corner.’

Mr Bent floundered at the implications of this remark. ‘Why aren’t you at school?’

Billy laughed scornfully. ‘Where you bin? School closed down. Since they come.’

‘Who’s they?’

The boy looked at him incredulously, then lost interest.

‘Oh piss off.’

‘With as much dignity as he could muster, Mr Bent turned on his heel and marched away. He wondered if he’d had an accident and been taken somewhere that looked like his village but wasn’t. Their village was a quaint place. Some television people had told him so once. They’d come with large, shiny cameras for a series they were making.

He clipped down the road until he reached the bakery. Surely Mrs Buns would be open! In her shop window were pictures of scantily clad women, instead of wholesome wholemeal.

‘Mrs Buns!’ he wailed. ‘Mrs Buns, where are you?!’

The door opened a crack. He hesitated. ‘Well, come in if you’re coming.’

He sidled in and saw Mrs Buns lounging on the counter.

‘Nice bodice’, she croaked.

‘Where’s your shop?’

‘This is it.’

‘No, you run a bakery. I remember it distinctly. Buns, Baps, Bread, that’s what it’s called.’

‘Fooled you as well as the pigs, eh?’ She pointed to a card on the counter.

Buns, Baps, All Bread Accepted

‘We’re a peepshow, love. Now if you’re staying’, you’re paying……’

‘Mrs Buns……..’

‘Bouncy Buns. On account of me camiknickers. Not the Mrs type…..’

‘Now listen here, everything’s different. My home is full of painted ladies. Billy said School has been closed since ‘they’ came. What does that mean?’

‘Couldn’t tell you. Been like this for years.’

The clock chimed ten. Tsk, time was money. It was obvious he wasn’t a punter, despite the get-up. He lived in a different world.

‘I’m sorry. If you will not be requiring our services, you’ll have to leave the premises.’

Mr Bent backed out and stood dejectedly at the edge of the pavement. A car stopped beside him, containing, to his horror, an elderly lady.

‘Good morning, dear’, she quavered. ‘Is this the road to Little Muchlop?’

He goggled at her.

‘My eyes aren’t too good, I shouldn’t really be driving, but I had a pressing engagement.’

Reassured, he gave directions.

‘Thank you so much. Aren’t you cold standing there with no trousers on?’

‘No, no’, he trilled, attempting to cover his shame with a breezy wave.

Just then a police van came lumbering along the road. At last! They would surely listen. I hope she’s not a friend of my mother’s he thought, as he pulled down his lacy briefs.

‘I’m sorry about this, I really need to get arrested, you see.’

The van screeched to a halt. As he was approached by two burly men, he noticed she’d fainted.

‘Pull your knickers up and come quietly.’

‘With pleasure. I’ve been waiting ages for you chaps. I thought…’

‘Just leave it for the station, son.’

Mr Bent sat glumly in a cell. His protestations of innocence had been ignored.

‘You say you are a solicitor, Mr Bent’ said the sergeant sardonically. ‘Do you, in fact, have any identification about your person?’

He had shaken his head abjectly.

‘Oh dearie me, what a surprise. Exposing yourself to a lady of advanced years. Won’t do at all. Costume shop, indeed……’

If only he’d not gone into that blasted shop. His mind dwelt lovingly on the injuries he would like to inflict upon the owner, when suddenly, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared.

‘Having fun?’ he snickered.

Mr Bent lunged towards him and let forth a stream of obscenities, which he didn’t realise he knew.

‘Now simmer down,’ said the man. ‘Do you want an explanation or not?’

Mr Bent wrestled with himself and then subsided.

‘Many years ago, I came to this mind-numbingly twee village and moved in above the funeral place, incognito. All my trade was mail order so it didn’t matter where I was, it’s just I had a few money troubles and had to leave my previous establishment in rather a hurry. I knew fame was the only way I could live a luxurious life, so I started chasing television companies, trying to interest them in a show about my transporting costumes. Finally I get a bite and then what happens? They see you prancing down the street in your pinstripe and get a ‘better’ idea. They’ll make a show about you. You’ll be the star, not me. You’d have your stupid adventures and I’d just come in at the end like some boring little turd and take you home. It’s even happening in this story! I don’t have a name. It’s just you, like it always has been.’

‘But I really…’

‘Don’t interrupt’ he snapped. ‘The worst of it was not that you didn’t realise your good fortune, but that you didn’t want it. I could still have become a celebrity on the back of your success, but oh no. Champagne parties, chat shows, models dripping off your arm, you’d rather have a nice steak and kidney made by Mrs sodding Mopp. I wanted it, I needed it! Because you wouldn’t play ball, they turned it into a bloody cartoon kids’ series. The shame of it! My whole glittering career aborted before it even started.’

Mr Bent gazed stunned as the shopkeeper burst into tears. He remembered the invitations now, which he had shyly discarded.

‘Well’, the man continued,’ you might wonder why I didn’t use my powers to change the situation. Oh, I tried, believe me, but because it was for my own ends, nothing worked. It’s been gnawing away at me for years. Then last week I caught my heel in a diamante dress, fell down the stairs and banged my head and it occurred to me. I could make you pay for your lack of ambition, for your belief in the big society. I thought I’d show you what this place should have been like…..’ he sniffled to a halt.

Mr Bent found to his astonishment that he pitied this poor little specimen.

‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to rob you of your chance. I’ll do anything to help, but please, change things back.’

The shopkeeper considered.

‘There is something. Certain people have managed to track me down. They’re most persistent, most. If your firm could see its way to…dealing with them and get me some extra in order to retire somewhere hot and seedy….’

‘Of course, of course, I’ll arrange it personally. Please help me…..’ he looked at the shopkeeper imploringly.

‘Oh alright then. I’ve had some fun, watching you in that bodice. It’s only an illusion anyway. Just click those red heels together three times and say; “There’s no place like the colour-supplement world depicted by the great god television”…’

Mr Bent opened his eyes and sat up with a start. He was in his own bed, sunlight shining through the window. He looked down at his pyjamas and chuckled at his folly.

‘What a terrible dream. Everything different and me in a most unsavoury outfit.’

He bounded out of bed and put on his favourite suit with the thin white stripe. He felt a sudden pang of fear as to what he might find downstairs. He was overjoyed to see Mrs Mopp’s comfortable frame dressed in tweed, cooking his breakfast.

‘It’s so good to see you, Mrs Mopp. I had such an unpleasant dream last night. You were

quite different and so was everything else.’

‘Must have been that rich pudding. I did say if you had another helping, you’d have an unsettled night.’

‘You did indeed, Mrs Mopp. I’ll always listen to you in the future.’

‘That’ll be the day,’ she chuckled and he joined in heartily. He watched as she bent down to put some cakes in the oven and the chuckle suddenly froze in his throat.

There, just above her right knee, was a red lacy garter.