As a kid, I remember reading and watching the ‘Round the Twist‘ books and TV program. I guess that sort of genre inspired me in this story which is another serial. Can’t say it bears much similarity to those books or writing style, but that’s ok. Enjoy.
So you want to know I got to be so good at school do you? Well, it all started one day when I was in Grade 6 …
“Patrick, the cat’s been sick again”, my mother called down the corridor.
“Aw mum. I’ve just made it to level 17”, I yelled. I was playing Diablo III and my newly leveled Barbarian had just entered a dungeon full of monsters. If I left now, he’d be beaten to a pulp in seconds.
“Patrick!”, she called again. I could tell that she didn’t like my answer by the change in her voice. You know the one. Grown-ups use it in that bit of time between when you start ignoring them and before they actually get angry.
She must have been in the laundry because I could hear the bang of the washing machine lid. That meant I had at least 15 seconds to get my character back out of the dungeon to safety before she got into my room. Man, parents can be so annoying sometimes.
“Yeah mum, just a second”, I yelled back. I was doing that kind of half turning thing. My eyes and hands stayed glued to the computer but I turned my head as far as I could without looking away. Surely that showed I was trying my best to do what she said but was being held by circumstances beyond my control.
I’d managed to turn my Barbarian around and was halfway to the dungeon entrance when the footsteps from the laundry started. The wooden floor boards of our house made it easy to know where people were most of the time. (step) “Patrick” (step) “Julian” (step) “Warner!” (step). Oh no, I wasn’t going to make it. “You” (step) “come when” (step) “I call you” (step). Come on, come on, only 3 monsters to go. The mouse was clicking like a whirlwind. “Don’t” (step – one down) “make” (step – almost two down) “me” (step – still almost two down) “say” (step – die darn it) “it” (step – yes, two down) “again” (step).
Mum entered the room. Time was up and I let out a groan. My Barbarian was one monster away from the entrance, but it might as well have been as far as China. He was doomed to die there while I was doomed to clean up cat sick and regret the amount of time it would take to get all his equipment back. Life wasn’t fair. Stupid cat, why can’t you just be sick outside?
My mum was standing there staring daggers at me. One hand was on her hip and the other pointed in the direction of the laundry. I had to move before she really got mad and made me play outside or something. So I got off the chair and stomped off down the hall to the laundry. Why was it that things like this always happened at just the wrong time? I mean, it never happened just as the ads started on TV or when I was bored and looking for something to do. It almost like the cat had been planning against me to find the worst possible time. Well the sooner I got this sorted, the sooner I could get back to Diablo. Mum must have been reading my mind though because she called after me, “And once you’re done, get dressed. We’re going shopping”.
We got the cat two years ago. It was a cute little tabby from the rescue center. He was so friendly and would greet me at the gate most afternoons as I walked home from school. I’d see how close to home I could get before his trademark ‘Meow’ would ring out from somewhere. Most of the time he emerged from under the front hedge looking sleepy. He liked the hedge and would spend hours lying under there, sleeping and checking out the world as it went by. I think he felt safe there, like nobody could see him. I could though, and sometimes as I left home I’d look at him and call out to show I knew he was there. He’d stare for a while, being absolutely still, probably hoping that I was bluffing and didn’t know he was there. Most time’s he’d crack though and come over to me, stretching and rubbing against my legs before I got into the car with Mum and we drove off. I never could tell if he was offended that I would wake him get up for such a short bit of attention or not.
Some days, if he’d been off adventuring and lost track of time, he wouldn’t come from under the hedge. I might see him running across the street from the neighbors. His little legs would be pumping back and forth in a blur and I’d imagine the sound it would make if he had little tap shoes on his paws. Di-dl-di-dl-di-dl-di-dl-d. Then he’d dart under the hedge and emerge from the other side, all cool and calm like I hadn’t caught him by surprise at all. Swaggering and calling loudly. I’d never known a cat with such a loud meow before.
We’d have little conversations together. I’d keep it going by pretending I knew what he was saying and it always seemed to spur him on. Meow. “Hi Charlie”. Meow. “How are you?” Meow. “Really, is that so?” Meoooww. “Oh Charlie, you need to keep it down, the neighbors might hear.” Meooooooooww. If you knew him he was awesome. If you didn’t, then he was out of there. That’s why I gave him his nickname – Charlie Chicken Boy McGroo. I was silly like that.
When I walked into the laundry today, he was lying on the washing machine. Mum had been doing the washing and the top of the machine was nice and warm. Just the way Charlie liked it. “What you done now, Chicken Boy?”, I asked him. He just stared at me, not bothering to lift his head but watching my every move. I checked the room and sure enough there was a pool of cat vomit right in the middle of the laundry floor. “Aww Charlie, was this you?”, I asked again. Of course it was, who else would it have been? In response, he just yawned widely and then tucked his head back under his paw and went to sleep. As he yawned, I almost lurched forward to try to put my finger in his mouth. It was a little game I played when I was in a funny mood. Cat’s have the widest yawn you’ll ever see and they close their eyes at the same time. I used to think it was funny to stick my finger in there while they were yawning so that when their jaws came shut again they suddenly had a finger in the way. It never hurt because they weren’t trying to bite and they looked so funny when they tried to work out what was happening and spat the finger out again. It’s probably a bit mean in a gentle way. However as I stared at the cat sick, I wasn’t feeling particularly friendly towards him and kind of wanted to annoy him like he was annoying me today.
I think it was my little brother’s idea to get a cat. Of course Mum and Dad hadn’t been happy. “We’d never look after it”, they said and they’d be the ones who did everything. It had taken about two months of grinding them down and assuring them of our responsibility before they gave in. I like to think these days that my great negotiating skills were honed in those times of family discussion. We debated all the important life issues together as a family: what time a 13 year old should go to bed, how much ice-cream was too much, whether Hungry Jacks burgers could realistically compete with McDonalds and how piano lessons would ever help me in later life. I must have been a bit off the mark in that particular discussion however because, while we did get the cat, I ended up being the one taking responsibility for looking after it. Therefore I had to clean-up Charlie’s sick.
I took a deep breath and turned back to look at the sorry little pool lying on the floor. It was a fur ball. A lot of sticky liquid, but in the middle a tightly wadded cylinder of matted fur. Holding my nose, I walked gingerly over to stare down from directly over it, unwilling to get any closer.
“For goodness sake’s Patrick, it’s not going to bite you”, mum said from just behind me in the doorway. She must have walked really silently down the corridor because I didn’t know she was there until she spoke. I wonder how often she does that I thought. Up until that point in my life, I’d always assumed that I could always tell where she was by her footsteps. This new revelation, the silent mum in assassin mode was one that I’d file away to contemplate a bit more in the future. It might have a few consequences to consider. “Just get down there and clean it up, please. And hurry up, we need to get to the shops before lunch”, she sighed and then turned back down the corridor.
With Mum’s little pep-talk done, I still didn’t feel particularly excited about the task ahead. There was only one thing for it. Get it done as quickly as possible! I ran to the toilet and, grabbing a wad of toilet paper, strode back to the laundry and scooped the sticky mess up before turning to head back to the toilet. It was there on my journey back to the land of smells that I had the little moment that changed my life. With the gooey mess in my hand, I felt something that I’d never felt before. A sharp edge. Something in that muck poked into my hand through cushioned 3-ply Kleenex. It was so unusual that I stopped dead. Right in the middle of the corridor leading to the toilet.
Opening my hand, I somehow overrode my natural revulsion and brought the package up to my face for a closer look. There, wrapped in the sticky bundle of fur and gastric juices, was a tiny edge of white. A little triangle of what looked like paper, but hard. My curiosity was so strong by now that I reached up with my other bare hand and tried to pry it free. As I tugged at it, more of the goo fell away and I could see that there was more white attached. It had some blue markings on it also that looked like writing. Swiping, smearing and pulling away, I quickly removed a little tube of white from the rest. It was paper, rolled into a tiny scroll and wrapped in the body of the fur ball.
I hadn’t realised it, but my heart rate had gone through the roof while I pulled the scroll from the vomit. It was dropping again now that I’d worked out what it was and I realised that my hands were quite messy. Running into the toilet, I dumped the rest of the toilet paper and flushed it away. Then holding the scroll carefully, I started washing my hands. “What’s the cat been eating now?”, I wondered idly while I used the disinfectant soap to make sure I wasn’t going to be contaminated. Charlie was always eating stuff he found. Just the other day I’d seen him catch a lizard and then sit down and eat the whole thing. Even the head! I mean, how gross is that?
Anyway, I walked back into the hall and then slumped onto the floor against the wall turning the scroll over in my hand. It was really thinly laminated which was why it didn’t just fall apart and felt hard in my hand. “I wonder who lost this”, I thought. The words were hand-written. You didn’t see it much these days, everything was typed on computers. Because it was still rolled up though, I could only see the last bit. It had two lines of text and the bit I could see looked like: ‘e an’ and ‘ay.’ Man this was cool. I was about to unroll a mystery, almost like unrolling a fortune cookie. Mine had come out of a fur ball rather than biscuit but that was ok. “Not a fortune cookie, Charlie is my ‘fortune kitty'”, I thought, christening him with another of the names I liked to make up and laughing at my own lame joke. I held my breath and slowly unrolled the scroll to see:
You will have an
exam on Monday.
“Huh”, I said scratching my head. Mum’s voice came from the kitchen, “Patrick, are you getting ready to go shopping yet? Come on, we’ve got to get moving. We’ll pick up something nice for lunch too.” Forgetting the cat and scroll, I scrambled to my room.
“Hey snake man”, Damo yelled to me from across the parade ground. He’d started calling me that ever since he heard the story about St Patrick getting rid of all the snakes in Ireland. Behind him, my other two mates were having a tug-of-war using one of their school bags.
“Hey Damo”, I yelled back starting to run over to my mates. It was great to see my mates again after the weekend and quickly I pulled to a stop in front of the group, out of breath. “What are you laughing at?”, I gasped.
Trying to get himself under control, Damo said, “You man … you look funny running with that huge backpack on. It wobbles all over the place.” He burst out laughing again.
“Yeah well … yeah … uh let’s see you try”, I responded. I never was any good with comebacks, but I pictured myself running and then burst out laughing too. Damo was cool.
Beside me Jason suddenly fell flat on his butt as Tony let go of his end of the tug-of-war. The bag landed in his stomach making him grunt and he whined, “Tony you idiot, that hurt.” We just ignored him. Jason had always been a complainer and this was just part of the game. Everybody knew that if you played tug-of-war with Tony you’d probably end up on the ground. Either he let go like just before, or he got bored and decided to knock you over directly. Tony was the muscle of our group having been kept back a year, he had a distinct physical advantage over most of the grade. We enjoyed his company, but he did always seem to have something to prove to the world in general and it was wise not to provoke him.
Leaving Jason on the ground Damo asked, “So what’d you get up to on the weekend? I got another couple of levels in Diablo.” We’d all persuaded our parents to buy it for us and were having an unofficial competition between ourselves.
“I got five more”, boasted Tony.
“Sure man”, Damo said. If Tony had actually achieved all he constantly claimed, he would have finished the game three times over by now. It was best to just humor him though. We never were sure though whether he realised we could just check online to see his progress or not, but it never seemed to bother him if he did.
“I bet Pat went to church again”, Jason goaded.
“Don’t knock it ’till you try it”, I countered. “I did get one more level in Diablo though. Then I died and I’m still trying to get all my equipment back.”
“What’d you do?”
“It wasn’t my fault”, I protested. “It was my cat’s. Well mum’s really, she wouldn’t let me finish up properly when she found cat sick in the laundry.”
“Huh”, snorted Tony. I had my audience’s attention now and could tell they were on my side. It was definitely a scenario they’d experienced before.
“I got so close! Just one more monster to go until I was safe when Mum came into the room. It sucks not having all my equipment.”
“Aaagghhhh”, cried Damo. He mimed getting stabbed in the heart by a sword and then collapsed onto the ground in mock death throws before finally falling still. I smiled, and when he cracked open an eye-lid and saw me smiling, he burst into a grin too and jumped up again. I loved Damo’s sense of humour.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get it back”, Jason said.
“Yeah I know. But you know the weird thing?”, I asked, something tripping in my brain. “There was something strange in the cat sick.”
“Like a lizard skull?”, smirked Tony. He’d heard my stories about Charlie’s diet before.
“No, like a message”, I said.
“Come on”, doubted Jason. “What are you talking about?”
“A message, on a little piece of laminated paper. It said ‘You will have an exam on Monday’.”
The three of them stood there looking at me for a few moments trying to size me up and then they all burst out laughing together. “Yeah good one”, Damo laughed, “you had us there for a moment.” That was when the bell rang and we had to head off to class. I trailed after the group trying to convince them I was telling the truth.
Mr Patterson our teacher was, like all adults, a million years old. However he was a young million years old, if you know what I mean? Not one of the ones dressed in prehistoric clothes, with grey hair and skin like an elephant. Rather his clothes were almost cool and he looked like he could actually play a game of football without dieing. So definitely younger than my parents.
After he’d hurded us into the classrooms and done the roll call, he looked up with what I used to think of as a dangerously excited gleam in his eye. In my experience, this could go either way. Occasionally he’d come out with something cool, like a trip to the lego factory or goofing off in the library with an ‘educational video’ or something. Most times though, he’d just announce some lame learning thing that caused us to work harder, as if saying it with an excited voice actually made it less painful.
Today he wasn’t about to give up his secret quickly though and we did the normal routine. Some maths on the boards, followed by reading and grammar. I thought we were on the home straight to morning tea and I could almost taste the pikelets my Mum had packed for me when he turned with a smile and said, “All right class, get your notebooks out, we’re going to have a quick test.”
My thoughts of food flew out the window and time froze. Did he just say what I thought he’d said? Replaying the last few seconds in my mind, I heard again in slow motion, “we’re about to have a quick test … have a quick test … a test”. This was too weird. Of course I was going to flunk, I took that for granted. But what about that message in my cat’s vomit? Could my cat be psychic?
I turned in my chair to glance at my mates and mouthed, “what did I tell you?”.
“Is this for real?”, Damo mouthed back.
Tony looked calm, arms behind his head he just whispered, “I’ll ace it”. Perhaps there were perks in repeating the grade?
Jason wouldn’t look up. Face a bit pale, he just stared resolutely down at his notebook.
“Patrick, if you’d be so kind as to turn back around please, we’ll get started”, Mr Patterson said. I turned back confused, still not sure what to think. Maybe it was a coincidence, but where would Charlie get such a weird and accurate message? It wasn’t like one of those stupid vague horoscope messages that appear in the paper. Today you may find something not quite to your taste. Like that didn’t apply to everyone every single day! No, this needed some more thought I decided and I was so absorbed in my reverie that I missed the first three questions.
(to be continued …)