Before the Nose by Gaynor Jones

Before the magic and before the fairy and before the whale and before the donkeys and before the cricket and before the wish, there was a man and there was a stack of wood. Carving a life-size boy is not as easy as you might think, in fact, it is not easy at all. Gepetto went through many logs before he made the puppet who would become his boy who would become his flesh and blood.

The first attempts were almost formless, rounded shapes that resembled half-melted snowmen. Later ones had some parts completed, but some parts abandoned. So, a boy with, say, two legs but only one arm and one ear and one eye. Others only ever existed in parts – Gepetto practised separately for feet or fingers, and particularly for faces. They required real skill and real time. Wood shavings smattered the floor as he gouged out eyes or lips from the fresh wood before him. Often his fingers blistered and bled. He cut himself with the chisel on more than one occasion. But, in the end, it was all worth it.

Gepetto never told his son about the other boys. And why would he? Some, the lucky ones, were burned as firewood. But others lent themselves to more … practical uses. The new table, four footstools, a couple of doors. Knobs and drawers and coat hooks. Why waste all of that perfectly good wood when all it took was a slice here and a shave there?

Gepetto was asleep when his dearest wish at last came true and Pinocchio became a real boy of soft, pink flesh. Gepetto woke to a noise that he couldn’t place, a quiet noise somewhere between squelching and moaning, or perhaps both, then tiny voices. He reached out for his glasses in the dark, only for his bedside table to reach back out to him.

Help us, father, help us.

The voices were small and mangled and made Gepetto crawl back under the covers, waiting for the nightmare to end. Instead it multiplied.

Father, help us. Help us.

Soft wails from the door, where several models had been planed to fit the alcove. The brown wood now pink, now red, now white. Parts that should not be together twisted and knotted. The door pulsed, a hundred panicked heartbeats, each wriggling and writhing to its own rhythm.

Gepetto pushed it open and emerged into his newly alive parlour. The noises were everywhere. Squelches and squeals and ungodly howling. How many of them were there? Gepetto didn’t know. Pinocchio, now a real boy, slept under his blanket, seemingly undisturbed by the wailing of his mutilated brothers.

Father. Father.

Everywhere there were lips, peeled open and calling to him. Other places utilised other parts. Broken toes twisted towards him, crushed fingers uncurled to wave.

Gepetto scooped up Pinocchio, still in his blanket, and waded through the blood, out into the street. The fairy flitted high above, her wand sparkling a trail behind her like entrails through the sky.

‘Can you help me? Can you help them?’ Gepetto wailed through his tears.

The fairy shrugged.

‘I can. I can turn them back so that they won’t feel a thing, but.’ She gestured at the lump heaving softly under the wool.

Gepetto shook his head.

‘No. No. He’s my boy.’

‘And so were they. Once.’


Gepetto strode to his horse and cart, with one last look at his now gelatinous house.

‘I’m sorry.’

The crooked house stood without him, for many years. Agonised parts yearning and calling out for their father.

He has abandoned us.

He does not love us.

He never loved us.

And if there had been any noses left, after the ravenous blackbirds had finished their pickings, well, they wouldn’t have grown once.


Gaynor Jones is an award-winning writer based in the North West, UK.