This installment is for my brother Daniel who was wondering what happened next.
Finally the gang all arrived. Tony was the last, he’d been at the shops buying some chewing gum which he’d promptly spat into the front garden on arrival. Mum always lost it when she found us with gum. Look I admit it, there was the one time where we’d got gum all through my little brother’s hair, and when I say all through I mean pretty much everywhere. But we’d sorted it out. A pair of scissors from the kitchen had been all it took to remove the problem, although Mum just freaked. “Come on,” I’d argued, “he’s in Grade 2, it’s not like anyone cares about fashion until at least Grade 5. So what’s the big deal?” Mum tended to disagree. I reckon that there are some debates you’re destined to lose no matter how well argued and that was definitely one of them. She’d packed the gang off home again and marched us straight down town to the hair-dressers where she glared at me while the lady did her best to even out my brother’s cut.
It seemed Tony had finally got the message, but why he’d bought gum in the first place was a mystery because surely he could only have chewed it for half an hour max before arriving. A true connoisseur could make a single piece last for hours and, by stashing it carefully overnight, you could even get back to it the following day. There are gum Ads that talk about a flavor explosion for their product, but I tell you, that next fresh piece you put in your mouth after a couple of days wringing the most out of the last stick – well nothing can compare to the explosion of contrast you get there.
Still we weren’t gathered to philosophize about gum, there was the matter of the vomit to attend to. We clustered around the sticky pool on the laundry floor. I’m not sure that the gang had ever really seen cat sick before based on how they were reacting. Damo had pulled on my hockey mask, Jason loitered further away near the door and Tony for some reason had decided to put on my Mom’s oven mitts. Did he expect it to catch fire and burn him or something? I bent down trying not to think about how gross it was, a sorry little bundle in a bigger pool of sticky liquid. It wasn’t so much how it looked that tended to get me, but rather my imagination of where it had come from that made me gag, so I was trying to get it over with quickly.
I was about to reach out when Damo said, “Hold it! Show us your hands, I want to make sure you’re not hiding something.”
He actually made me jump because I’d been focused so intently. “Oh come on man,” I complained.
“Nah, do it, you’ll thank us later when we have to believe you.”
Over by the door, Jason tipped his head to indicate my jeans and said, “Yeah, and empty your pockets too.”
I sighed and played along with their ridiculous charade. It was a waste of time and I really really wanted to see whether there’d be another note today. I wasn’t sure what I’d do if there wasn’t, I’d look like a liar, but then again why would something this strange happen twice in a row? I was pretty much caught between a rock and a hard place so just had to go through with it and see what we found. I showed them my empty hands and turned my pockets inside out. There was nothing in there but an old cinema ticket. It had faded and was unreadable so the guys conceded that I wouldn’t have been trying to pass it off as a message.
I plunged my hands in to the sticky mess and felt … nothing unusual. I wriggled my fingers around searching, but still nothing and looked up at the guys with my eyes wide. “What’d ya find?” asked Tony. “There’s something there?”
I shook my head. “Uh, I don’t think there’s anything”, I admitted. Moving from a crouch to sit fully on the floor, I scrunched my face up in disappointment. I could see it on my friends faces too, as much as they didn’t believe me, they really did want there to be something cool going on. We stared at each other and I knew the ribbing would start soon. Damo pushed the hockey mask off his face to the top of his head and took another glance at the vomit when he said, “Hang on mate, isn’t that something on the floor there?”
We all looked back. Lying there, all soggy under the gastric juices, was a scrap of paper. It had previously been hidden under the bulk of the hairball, but my explorations had moved that and let it be seen. There was some writing that was starting to run and I realized that this one wasn’t laminated, which probably explained why I hadn’t felt it. It needed rescuing. Tony must have realised this at the same time as me because he suddenly darted forward to pick it up, but with his hands still wearing Mum’s oven mitts he only succeeded in getting them all gunked up.
“Get out of the way you moron” I said, pushing him aside. I grabbed the scrap of paper and gingerly lifted it out of the puddle, doing my best not to tear it on the way out. Cradling it in my hands, the gang gathered around to stare. It was with a sense almost of awe that we inspected the prize, alternately studying the message and each others’ faces. A full minute must have passed before anyone spoke.
“Whoa, dude!”, Jason managed to say, and everyone agreed.
We hustled down the corridor to my bedroom to investigate further and I went straight to my school bag to pull out the last message. This was unbelievable, exciting, a mystery worthy of the gang and we read it in each other’s eyes. As usual, Mum managed to invade the moment when she yelled, “So you’ve cleaned up the mess then have you?” Darn it! When we’d found the message I’d forgotten to finish the clean-up and most of it was still lying on the laundry floor. “Oh Mum!” I groaned. Passing both messages to Damo for safe keeping, I hustled back down the corridor and cleaned up the rest of the mess. Probably in a record time too. By the time I got back to the bedroom, the guys had the two messages laid out side-by-side on my desk and were beginning forensic investigations.
“What does it say?” I asked elbowing my way in for a closer look.
“It says, ‘You will have the same exam again tomorrow'”, said Jason his voice flat. He obviously wasn’t impressed by what it said. “Why would they both be about an exam? If you’re cat’s psychic, then it’s tuned into a stupid psychic channel.”
“Yeah we should get it tuned into the Lottery Channel,” enthused Tony, “because then we could find out what the numbers will be and buy a winning ticket!”
“I don’t think psychic cats work that way”, said Damo sarcastically.
“How do you know? Have you ever met a psychic cat before? There might be a way.”
“I’ll just Google ‘Psychic Cat Tuning for Dummies’ shall I?” I asked smirking. Tony pulled a face. It felt good to have the focus on someone else and I made a mental note to give Charlie an extra big pat later. He’d come through for me. “OK, so maybe Charlie’s psychic or may be not, but this is weird. I want to know what’s going on.”
“Me too”, agreed Damo, “but how?”
We all looked a bit stumped and so, in lieu of any other source of inspiration, we all turned back to look at the pieces of paper. The writing on the latest one continued to run a bit so I grabbed a tissue and blotted it ’till it was reasonably dry. If we’d been half an hour longer, we probably wouldn’t have been able to read it at all. It wasn’t laminated this time, which made it more plausible that Charlie had just eaten it somewhere.
“Guys, Charlie does tear up pieces of paper sometimes when he’s bored, so maybe that’s what happened”, I proposed. “But you know I’ve never seen him eat laminated stuff before.”
“Plus there’s no bite marks on either piece,” observed Damo.
“And the last prediction was correct,” said Jason, “which is what makes it even more mysterious.” This got us thinking. Were we going to have another exam tomorrow? No wait, not another exam, the same exam again! That’s a very specific prediction and would take some explaining if it came true.
“Uh, does anyone remember what the questions were from today’s exam?” Damo asked.
Both Jason and I nodded tentatively. If we pooled our memories, I reckoned we could take a good crack at remembering most of the questions. I was about to suggest we do this when Tony exploded in excitement. “I’ve got it!” he exclaimed. We all turned to look at him and Jason spread his arms as if to say, “OK go on”.
“I heard this story once, right”, started Tony, “about this King who had a goose that laid golden eggs. Each day it would lay a new egg that the King would collect and it was making him rich. You know if I had one, man, then I’d be in as much gum as I wanted for the rest of my life.” We rolled our eyes and I wasn’t sure I liked where this was going. “But anyway,” he continued, “so the King started wondering about this right, and decided he wanted to know how it happened. So he got his, like, head investigator person to cut open the goose and find out how it was doing it and, when he worked it out, they built a golden egg machine that he could get eggs from whenever he wanted. So if we do that with your cat then we could build a psychic machine but just re-tune it to the Lottery Channel.”
“That’s not the story,” wailed Jason, almost in pain by the sound of his voice. “Sheesh man, where’d you get that rubbish from? Firstly, he wasn’t interested in how the goose worked, the King was just being greedy and wanted all the eggs now. And secondly, when they killed the goose they didn’t find anything and it was dead and didn’t lay any eggs anymore. That’s the whole point of the story! Don’t be greedy.”
“Yeah, well you must have heard a different version,” deflected Tony.
“There’s no other version,” Jason said.
“It doesn’t sound right Tony,” Damo offered in as conciliatory manner as he could.
“Guys, guys,” I interrupted, waving my arms to catch their attention. “Hey look, nobody’s cutting my cat open! Right!” They thought about this for second and seemed to agree that it wouldn’t be the best idea. “You even had to put on oven mitts to clean up Charlie’s sick, so I don’t think you could anyway. Plus you’re wrong.”
Tony looked like he was about to respond, then balled his fists as if he would pick a fight and finally just sat on the bed arms crossed, looking surly.
“As cool as Tony’s idea is,” said Damo, holding up a hand to let Jason know he should just let it go, “we were going to try to remember the questions from the exam today weren’t we? So let’s do that.”
We put our heads together, and between us managed to remember most of the questions and wrote them down. By the time we were done, the gang really all had to head off home and so I waved them off and went to find Mum and ask what was for dinner. It was meatloaf, which was OK but not fantastic. Lasagna was my favourite, but Mum assured me it was hard to make, so we didn’t have it very often.
After dinner, I was about to go and watch TV when I remembered the message and list of questions we’d reconstructed. After a brief internal wrestle, I decided that I could skip one night of TV to run my eye over those questions again. Charlie had been right last time, so it was worth the chance to do a bit of study this time.
Later as I brushed my teeth, I found Charlie and gave him the extra pat I’d promised myself earlier to give him. He was quiet, and I didn’t feel much like talking but simply stared at him wondering what all this was about. Tomorrow would be an interesting day.
(to be continued – one installment to go)