by Jude Bridge
Certain Persons are Best Avoided.
NATURALIST JOSEPH BANKS allegedly noted in 1771:
I have seen something, which is neither man nor beast, a slippery half-breed, which eludes my eye with such great dexterity that I am unable to commit his likeness to paper. All I can say with any authority is that he is male and I assume he has weak eyes, for he is forever tripping and bumping and sliding about. He is pale of skin, stands as tall as a man or taller, makes a constant guttural noise and strikes a loathsome fear into my heart where neither man nor beast has hithertofore struck fear. I shall call him Travis, a new name, with no scientific derivation, for he has no natural ancestor of which I am aware.
Sightings of Travises continued throughout the 18th century, but details were scant, and some who wrote of Travises were in search of notoriety, so their accounts cannot be trusted. We can easily discount imagined incidents such as “a cloakéd Travis, with the great yellow teeth of a wolf, full fanged my neck and sucked warm blood til I were weak as a kitten” (1780). The writer of this note simply inserted a Travis into his record of a vampire attack, and hoped no one would notice.
However, explorers and adventurers with solid reputations spoke of “a creepy white-skin” (1787), “a shadow-dweller” (1790), “a man so neither here nor there that I feared for my sanity” (1798). In 1799, a wayfaring seaman scribbled this observation on seaweed with a cuttlebone: “He had no scent, his skin glowed with a kind of internal grease, he appeared to ebb and flow with the tide. I thought he be neither fish nor flesh, but I thought perhaps he be a Travis.”
Travises were often held responsible for juvenile japes such as stealing chickens’ eggs, putting sugar in salt shakers and setting woodpiles on fire. Hence the phrase “blame it on a Travis” was popular in these times.
Throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, there were no sightings and Travises were relegated to mythical status. No Travis had ever been drawn, photographed or trapped.
My interest in Travises was sparked in 2011. I was studying anthropology at university and delving into myths and legends. My lecturer had mentioned Travises in passing, along with the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti. To me, Travises seemed more real than either of these monsters.
I GOOGLED “TRAVIS” and found a blog written by a prolific octogenarian, Mrs Meredith Simms, of Fremantle,Western Australia. “Travises aren’t extinct,” she wrote, “they’re everywhere. I’ve seen hundreds, both here and overseas. They still have the same characteristics, but now they wear spectacles. Thick, black, square spectacles, they’re blind without them. Beware, they can be dangerous, despite being quite stupid.”
Mrs Simms replied immediately to my email, very pleased that I’d read her blog, which was “mainly about cooking, with a few other bibs and bobs”. She invited me to her house at seven the following evening for tea, cake and information.
WHEN I ARRIVED, there were no lights illuminating the house, which I thought strange. I knocked on the door and it swung open. “Mrs Simms,” I called, “Mrs Simms, are you there?”
There was an answering cry, so I hurried inside.
Mrs Simms had her face on a white dinner plate and her hands tied behind her back. I lifted her head from the plate and untied her hands.
“Thank God,” she said. “This is very uncomfortable. Can’t get up. Arthritis, you know.”
“Who did this to you?” I asked, shocked.
“A Travis, of course,” she said calmly.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine. More annoyed than anything. They’ve done this before. You see, Travises don’t like my blog. Want to be left alone to work on new ways to irritate people. Thing is, they’re not too bright, this one heard that you can drown in a teaspoon of water, so that’s all he put on the plate, then put my face in it. They’re always chatting, Travises, about what they’re doing. As though they can’t think something without speaking it out loud. Got a sore nose, I tell you now, that plate’s hard. Cup of tea, Melissa?”
Over tea and a lovely homemade Victoria Sponge, we discussed Travises. Mrs Simms became interested in them when a cousin complained about being endlessly verbally tormented by his neighbour, a very tall, pale man with thick, black, square spectacles and wet skin. Mrs Simms Googled the characteristics and came up with Travises. Experts she approached did not agree with her findings, they said Travises were fiction and she had an overactive imagination.
Mrs Simms was not to be deterred and started adding information about Travises to her blog.
“People think I am a crazy old woman,” she said. “But Travises aren’t going to stay in the background forever. Someday a Travis will do some real damage, and they’ll be sorry they didn’t listen to me.”
“Aren’t you going to call the police about the assault?” I asked.
“No point. I’ve done it before. They say the physical characteristics I describe fit too great a percentage of the population.
I thanked her for the tea and left, thinking she was a crazy old woman. Until September 2011, when I advertised for a tenant. There was a granny flat at the back of my house that had been empty for years, and it was time to remedy my financial situation.
I received many responses, one from a Dennis Taylor, who garbled his words on the phone but had a job, was single and didn’t have pets.
Dennis Taylor came for an interview, wearing thick, black, square glasses. He worked as a security guard, he was willing to pay more than I’d asked and he really liked the place.
He was the best candidate, so I prepared a lease and he signed it, paying two weeks’ rent in advance. We shook on the deal and I was surprised to find that his hand was wet. No, not wet, greasy, as though he had used hand lotion recently.
When Dennis had gone, I looked at his full name, printed on the lease form. Dennis Travis Taylor. I thought he’s not so tall, but remembered that he had stooped, and even then was much taller than me. Then I thought he didn’t chatter but remembered how he’d gone off on a tangent about his friend. Yes, he was thin, yes, he was pale. Was it even possible? Had I met a Travis? I was intrigued, but not fearful. Dennis seemed like a decent young man.
He moved in, and from that day on I saw people who closely resembled Dennis everywhere. In the street, at the supermarket, buying petrol at service stations, loitering at traffic lights and drinking in pubs, either alone, or in pairs.
Dennis came and went, and we talked whenever we were both home at the same time. He tried to talk about too many things at once, leaving me none the wiser for the conversation. “I like reading research theses, I was an accountant, I’m good with money,” he’d say. “Do you have a bike pump? I lost my bike, it was stolen, I think, I walked home, took five hours, I’ll get my bike tomorrow. Is there a bus from here? What time is it? Only I think my bike might have been stolen. I’m hungry.”
Dennis drew the curtains every time he left the granny flat, but one day there was a little gap and I peered in. There was no furniture in the flat. No bed, no fridge, no sofa, nothing. I felt sorry for him. Perhaps he was in financial difficulty and was too embarrassed to ask for help. He paid the rent on time, but maybe that was all he could afford.
The next day I told Dennis that I was going to throw out an old bed and an old sofa, and wondered if he could use them?
“No thanks, I’ve got a bed and a sofa, couldn’t use two, might make a stir fry, have you got a spare alarm clock? I’ve lost my mobile phone, it needed to be fixed, it’s in the shop. What’s the date today?”
I flew to Thailand for a week to attend a wedding. On my return all the flower heads in my garden had been cut off, leaving just stalks. I asked Dennis what had happened.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Do you read much? I’m almost an expert in financial planning. At my old house, there are five adults living there. Five. My toilet’s blocked, can you fix it?”
Dennis and I went into the granny flat, which was completely empty. “My furniture’s coming today,” he said. “The fridge is huge. I could sleep in it if I wanted to. I’m working nights this week so I need to get my bike out of the shop.”
The toilet was blocked with flower heads.
“You did cut the flowers off,” I said, very angrily.
“No,” he replied. “I don’t know how they got there. I’ve got a friend who…”
“Give it a rest, Travis. I don’t care about your friend, or your bike…”
Dennis’s eyes flashed pink behind his glasses. “Did you just call me Travis?”
“No, I said Dennis.”
“You said Travis.”
“Look, Dennis, this isn’t working out, you’re going to have to leave.”
He smiled. “Mmm, no, I like it here. Have you got a watch I can borrow?”
“I’ll get the police.”
We walked out of the granny flat.
“Here’s your mail,” said the Travis (by now there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dennis was a Travis). Some of the envelopes had obviously been opened. One was covered in badly drawn male genitals. “And I wouldn’t get the police if I were you.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Are you? I’ve got a lease, you know, six months.”
“A lease which can be terminated by either party.”
“But I haven’t done anything,” the Travis whined. “I’m starving, might have noodles.”
“What about the flowers? And opening my mail? That’s a federal offence, opening someone else’s mail.”
“You’re the one that went on holiday.”
“I asked you to collect it, not open it.”
“I didn’t open it,” said the Travis with indignation. “I haven’t had a shower yet. Aren’t you going to call the police?”
“Can’t you just go?”
“I don’t have anywhere else to go,” he said, fiddling with the frame of his glasses.
“I’m calling the police.”
“Go ahead, I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“What about the flowers and the mail?”
“I told you, it wasn’t me.”
“Then who was it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe the neighbour, it looks like the kind of thing she’d do. While you were gone she tried to seduce me.”
My neighbour is 78 years old and the idea was preposterous. “Just go, okay. Just go,” I said. “I’ll return your rent.”
“Plus interest,” the financial wizard added.
“No, no interest, just go.”
“Okay,” said the Travis, making no attempt to leave. “If the police come, I won’t be here. They’ll think you’re loopy, loopy, loopy loo.”
“I know where you work, Travis,” I shouted. “The police will find you.”
“Don’t work there anymore.”
“They’ll track you down.”
“What are you gonna do?” he asked, wobbling his head smugly. “Give them a description?” He laughed at that, a high-pitched little girl’s giggle. “I’ve got a friend who can’t eat gluten.”
“Give me the key,” I shouted.
“Can’t, I’ve lost it,” he replied, sounding like a petulant 10-year-old child.
I told him that I knew he was lying.
“All my furniture’s in there. You can’t keep my bed, where will I sleep?”
I gave up trying to reason with the Travis. Frustrated and furious, I called Mrs Simms.
“Hi, this is Melissa, I came to see you a while back? About Travises?”
“It’s about the Travises…”
“I thought it might be. You don’t think I’m crazy anymore, do you?”
“No. I’ve got one living in my granny flat. He cut the heads off my flowers.”
“That’s a new one! But they do like being in the garden.”
“He opened my mail.”
“Yes, they’ll do that.”
“He says if I call the police, he won’t be here.”
“He won’t. But he’ll keep coming back. Has he giggled yet?” she asked, her voice cracking a little.
“Yes, why?” I started to sweat.
“It’s all over for you, I’m afraid, Melissa.”
Mrs Simms explained that the giggle was a sign of sexual maturity in a Travis. She said he’d self-fertilise within minutes. By nightfall my granny flat and garden would be full of Travises and I’d be a prisoner in my own home.
By now I knew to trust Mrs Simms, but I still thought the police could help. She disagreed. Her cousin had tried to get a restraining order against his Travis neighbour on the basis of “constantly chatting”, “re-potting my hydrangeas into a too small pot and generally interfering with my garden” and “stepping out from behind a hedge on a regular basis with the intention of scaring me”. The cousin had become a gibbering idiot and was now too scared to leave the house.
“You can’t let them win,” she said, earnestly. “The future of the human race is at stake.”
I called the police. They sent two officers to check the garden and granny flat. One of them was a Travis. I asked to speak to the female officer alone. She complied. Her partner gave me a filthy look and returned to the car.
After hearing my story, she checked the garden and granny flat. The Travises had scarpered and, of course, there was no furniture in the granny flat, and no evidence of occupancy. I showed her the lease. She looked at me strangely and asked if there was someone she could call for me. A family member? A friend? Perhaps I needed to see someone, she could recommend a counsellor? I gave her a description of my Travis and warned her about her partner.
There will be no follow up.
THE TRAVISES have infested the garden and the granny flat. I hear them chattering endlessly in non-sequiturs. I know they’ll come for me soon. One threw a cooked sausage through the window tonight. They need more space. There has been some scrabbling at the doors and windows. Soon they will break in and regale me with stories of their friends and bikes they have known. It’s all over for me. The Travises have won and they’re giggling.
Keep an eye on your garden.