This time, I looked away from the television – although I was loath to break eye-contact with whatever-it-was happening in front of it – and looked sceptically at the phone in my hand.
“Why are you on the telephone and not here?” I demanded. “And what’s with the tree – sorry, my mistake, trees? And where are you anyway?”
“Now’s hardly the time for questions, Hatboy,” Creepy replied loftily after the three-second delay.
“On the contrary,” I said, “experience has shown me over and over again ‑ ” at this point Creepy started to reply to the ‘on the contrary’ I had led in with, but I raised my voice and carried on, “ ‑ that any other time is too late for questions, because the questions have answered themselves,” I stopped, letting him know I was finished.
“If the questions answer themselves, then why ask them?”
“Because they invariably answer themselves in some physical way that is always to my direct bodily or psychological detriment,” I waited to see if Creepy had anything to say to that, but it seemed that disagreeing with such a total and fundamental truth was beyond even Creepy’s current ability. “Right,” I went on, “before we get to the trees, where are you calling from?”
“It’s not a where,” Creepy said, “so ‑ ”
By this point I had already interrupted him. “Please don’t trot out the ‘it’s not a where, so much as a when’ line,” I said. “I know when you’re calling from the past because someone is always playing honky-tonk piano in the background, and I know when you’re calling from the future because a robot voice keeps interrupting our call with that really annoying ‘YOU HAVE FOUR OF YOUR EARTH MINUTES OF CHAT-CRED LEFT ON YOUR MULTIPASS’ countdown thing. Seriously, and incidentally, would it kill you to actually get a decent carrier next time you go to the future?” I paused. “Over.”
“If you’re quite finished,” Creepy said, “I was going to say it’s not a where, so much as a who,” he waited a moment, then smugly said, “over.”
I sighed. “Okay, and assuming you haven’t just made that up in order to pretend you weren’t about to say ‘when’, which I am by no means ruling out, that leaves three possibilities,” I said. “One, that you’re calling ‑ ”
“Don’t say that word!”
The trees – the one had become two the moment I’d turned on the television – rustled their slender branches and swayed lightly, and then both of them suddenly grew a foot taller and a couple of inches thicker.
Now they were head-height.