Serial Story

Generations (Part 3)

The next installment of Generations.  (Part 1, Part 2).


 

John swung his axe again, a neat chip of wood cleaving from the block. He worked easily, with a practiced rhythm gained from many winters of work. The kindling he produced now would be useful come morning for stoking the glowing embers of their fire back into life for the day ahead.

Finishing the current log he moved onto some bigger pieces, embedding the axe first into top of the block and then flipping the whole piece over, using the weight of the wood to split itself in half on the blade as he brought it down on the base block. From the doorway to their hut, Jessica watched her husband labour away. Despite the coming winter, he worked without his shirt and she enjoyed seeing the muscles in his back flex and move. He’d been at it for almost an hour now and the sweat was thick on his skin.

Not that he was anything exceptional. The gym junkies she knew from a past life had more definition built from the luxury of spare time spent in endless reps. But he was strong, all the more so from the effort she put into maintaining their health. In a world of poverty, she had the means and knowledge to ensure their diet and health needs were provided for. The whole village benefited from her expertise. She was now the unofficial village healer but it had been a close thing. In the early days, the miraculous cures that she was able to work in the villagers brought accusations of her being a witch.

She had fallen into the role quite naturally, her training as a nurse far surpassing anything available in the village. And so, when she had found out about the minor ailments that became so destructive to her new neighbours, she’d simply applied what she knew. Of course she couldn’t cure everything, but what she could do was nothing short of a miracle to them. Despite the fledgling status of their relationship at the time, John had been her main protector during the months that controversy had raged over skills. It was he who had come up with the idea that stilled the tongues that were calling for her to be tried for witchcraft.

It was so simple really, turn the accusers into witnesses. She had refused to provide any treatment unless one of her detractors was present to observe. At first none would take part and, as villagers started to once again succumb to illnesses that she’d previously treated, desperate family had petitioned the leaders of the opposition to take part. With the building pressure it had only been a matter of time until one cracked and she took full advantage of the reprieve.

Instead of treating the patient herself, she had informed her inquisitor that he would be doing the healing. His impeccable judgement would surely prevent him from doing anything that was in the least occult, unless he was unsure of himself? Unable to defend himself against the argument, he had tentatively followed her instructions, the extended pauses as he scrutinised each step quickly turning from comical to tedious as the treatment dragged on. But finally it was finished and they had left the patient with a much greater chance of survival.

The memory brought a smile to her face. John’s protection during those days had been critical to her acceptance within the community.

The baby kicked within her womb and she rubbed her hand over her swollen belly as if it would quieten her unborn child. On her petite frame, the change in her figure was more pronounced than any of the other women she’d grown to know in the village. Coming from a world that idolised skinny, she was now distinctly different from the ladies around her. Most of the men would look straight past her, preferring instead a much broader build. “Good birthing hips, that’s what you want”, but not her John. He loved her for other qualities, and it made it so much easier to love him in return.

A frown creased her forehead. She did love him she reflected. Truly she did. Despite the meagre life they lived. Despite the adjustments she’d had to make. Despite the vast gulf in their backgrounds, she loved him. And it only made it so much harder to deliver the news that she knew she had to.

A gust of wind brought a chill breeze down from the mountains where already a fall of snow had occurred. She turned and went back inside letting the flap of leather fall back across the doorway. He would be finished soon.

John split his final log and tidied up the pile. He gathered an armful of wood for the evening and pushed his way in through the doorway. Noticing Jessica brooding in the corner he asked, “What’s wrong?”.

She remained silent and he began to stoke the fire. “It’s going to be cool night with that wind”, he said. “I’m going to get more wood to keep us going”.

As he entered the hut a second time he said, “Come on, what is it?”

“I have to leave”, she replied.

John paused briefly and then resumed stacking the new load of wood into the pile beside the fireplace. “Don’t be daft”, he said, “you’ll be having the baby soon”. He continued stacking until finished and having received no response, looked over to where his wife sat.

She started directly at him, the fear obvious in her face. “I know”, she said, “that’s why I have to leave”.

(To be continued…)

Generations (Part 2)

The next instalment of Generations.


 

Jessica searched frantically in the semi-darkness.  This late at night the muted sounds of the nearby ward only occasionally intruded on her isolation but each one caused her to freeze in alarm.  She’d gotten away with it every time so far, still it was only a matter of time until she was caught.  Pushing the thought from her mind she opened another cabinet, keying in the stolen pass-number on the lock and selecting a number of medication packets which she quickly transferred to her backpack.  A draft from the air-conditioner passed over her and she shivered involuntarily.  The beads of sweat lacing her brow showed the stress she was under and made the otherwise comfortable temperature seem chilly.  She made a mental note to clean herself up before emerging from pharmacy store.  It would be disastrous to appear guilty in front of others.

Management had started to cotton on to the fact that items were going missing.  The pharmacists had at first been reluctant to report the missing drugs; it was their necks on the line after all.  However it had now reached the point where they had no choice, there was no latitude left for fudging the records.  Not even with her mole on the inside.

With the net closing in, Jessica had decided to do one more take before quitting.  The money was good.  She now had enough to start a new life, plus a qualification that would allow her to travel.  Nursing was in demand in so many places around the world.  Not that the gang would be happy to lose their supplier.  The chance that they would simply let her walk away was zero, which was why she’d been saving.  She knew from the start that this was a no-win game if she’d been thinking locally, but she was happy to think bigger.  The gang was small enough to have limited influence outside the city limits and none overseas.  That gave her the chance to get away if she was willing to move far enough.  It was always her plan to disappear once things started to get nasty.  Little did she know just how accurate her plan would be.

A sudden noise, louder this time, caused her to the freeze again.  A jet of fear shot through her petite frame as she realised that it was the outer door to the pharmacy store.  Adrenaline surged through her, flooding her brain.  She felt her tension levels ratchet up as the hormone did what it did best, narrowing her focus on the immediate, seeking to illicit either a flight or fight response.  Caught for a moment in indecision, she tried to weight her options but failed.  That door was the only exit.  Damn, she was so close to getting away scott-free, the regret adding to her fear and shutting down her rational faculties even further.

Seemingly paralysed, she watched as the door opened, as if in slow motion thanks to the heightened stimulus of adrenaline.  Inch by agonising inch it swung as she felt the intensity of her panic build.  She could see the shoulder of the orderly framed against the half open door.

As he entered the room, the orderly thought he felt a rush of air.  He couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t simply the movement caused by the door opening, but the thought that it was unusual did strike him momentarily before he was distracted.  On the other side of the room sat a backpack, half opened in front of an open cabinet.  “Who would be so careless to leave the place like this with all the extra security hoopla going on at the moment?”, he thought to himself.  As he moved across the room to close the cabinet, his opinion changed.  The backpack was half full of medication and it looked like the cabinet had missing packets too.

His sense of self-preservation kicking in, the orderly decided that now was not the time to turn detective.  As he backed towards the door he called over his shoulder, “Hey Pablo, can you come in here for a minute man?”.  From down the corridor came a complaint, but also the sound of footsteps.  The orderly was definitely not getting this pinned on him.

Subsequent investigation determined that the medication contained in the backpack was consistent with the pattern of theft that had been going on recently.  What it did not uncover however was the identity of the thief.  Both the orderly and his friend swore that no-one had left the room before it was fully secured and yet no-one was found inside.  The investigators drew a blank, unable to proceed further.  They did note that one Jessica Donnelly disappeared the same night not to be seen again, but without direct evidence it was hard to pursue that lead.

And even harder because she had disappeared.

(To be continued …)

Generations

Well I’m finally back in a position to do a little writing again, so here goes.  This is the first part of a multi-part story.  I’m not 100% convinced that posting it piecemeal like this as I write it is a good idea because I think it will be complicated.  I’m running the risk that I will need to re-order stuff that’s already be posted, but let’s give it a shot hey …  🙂


John walked along the path to the market square.  Around him the signs of spring were emerging.  A touch of green growth dusting the trees just as the first snows had done so many months ago.  A lone bird, singing its song, eager for a mate and the bounty of seeds that the season would bring, fluttered within a nearby perennial hedge.  The sun was definitely stronger that a week ago.  Peering through the thin cloud, he actually felt warmth from its rays on his skin.

His heart was light this morning.  Jessica was with child; his child, his first.  The thought buoyed his spirit, raising his hopes above the cloying mud that stuck to his boots and in which he seemed to spend so much of his life.  Jessica, who had made such a change to his life was now bringing him another gift.

She was the ray of sunshine that had illuminated his life.  Arriving two summers ago, she had walked into the village square one morning.  A lone woman traveler.  Not completely unheard of, but rare enough to provoke comment.  A ripple of murmurs among the gathered traders, was a foretaste of things to come.

“Who is she?”, they asked.  “A runaway slave?”, proffered one pundit.  “No, look at her complexion, her teeth”, said another, “that’s no slave.”  “OK then, a runaway consort.”  “That makes her even more dangerous”, was the reply.

She’d certainly not acted like a runaway.  A supreme confidence marked her bearing, calm and deliberate in the way she’d mixed with the crowd.  She made no attempt to hide.  And time bore out that truth as day on day, week after week no-one came looking for their property.  With the safety of that truth slowly growing, fear of retribution through association had abated and she’d begun to be accepted locally.  Yet local she definitely was not.

John had never met anyone with such an inquiring spirit before.  Questions tumbled from her mouth constantly.  “What are you doing?”  “Why is that necessary?”  “How long will that last you?”  It was as if she were driven by a pathological need to fit in.  A need to be part of the community and life that he wore with practiced ease.

It was impossible that she had grown up locally, she knew nothing of their way of life.  In fact it surprised him how little she knew in some areas.  It was almost beyond his comprehension how she could have survived so long without knowing how to butcher a carcass.  How to properly roast over a fire.  How to start a fire for that matter.  Even the high ladies of the lord’s court knew of these things, regardless of whether they were much practiced.  Yet she knew none.

Where could she possibly have grown up and survived to such an age without them?  For all her questions of others, on this point she was resolutely silent.  Nothing he tried could tempt her to give him a hint.  It intrigued him, drew him to her and in return he’d become the primary focus of her questioning.

He enjoyed the times they spent together.  Mostly he’d be continuing about his normal business, but she’d make it hers to join him and use the chance to keep learning.  Admittedly some days he thought he might be smothered under the torrent of her questions.  It was like a bubbling brook, at times stronger and at others weaker, always running.  But like a brook, he found it cleansing.

Pausing in his stride, he sighed and looked down at his boots.  A thick layer of mud had built up again; enough to make walking laborious.  As he cleaned the sticky muck, he reflected that this was what life had been like before Jessica’s arrival.  The community, the traditions and life in which he was embedded had been ubiquitous, all that he’d known.  They had sucked at his thoughts like a mud pit, hampering his desire to move or explore.  But like thrusting filthy feet into a stream, her questions and presence had cleaned away the inertia and caused him to reflect on how things might be.  On why things were as they were.

That was the enigma of their relationship.  Jess, incessantly driving inwards to understand what was inside his world.  John relishing the glimpse of what might be outside.  So different, and yet, perhaps the same.  The difference simply being that the inside of his world was the outside of hers.  Regardless, within a year John’s mind had been made up, he had asked Jessica to be his wife.

Rounding the corner, he came within sight of the tavern and his friend Willheim waiting at the gate.

“Ho, John”, he called, raising an arm into the clearing morning air.

“Ho, Willheim”, John responded.  “Today is such a fine day, I think that after the market, you’ll be joining me for a pint at the Tavern.”

Willheim turned his face to the sky and look dubiously at the lightening sky.  “I’d say the day’s definitely better than it’s been, but I wouldn’t have thought it good enough to extract the cost of a pint from you”, he observed, “still, if you’re shouting, I won’t say no.”

John grinned, “No my friend, you’ve got it wrong.  It’s you who will be shouting me.”

Acting out an exaggerated shock, Willheim scoffed, “And what makes you think that?”

“Because of the great news I have today”, John explained, the grin on his face increasing.

Willheim looked unimpressed but tilted his head back slightly inviting an explanation good enough for him to part with his coin.  Between them silence stretched, the grin on John’s face turning mischievous as he milked the moment for all he could get until finally Willheim broke.

“Come on, spit it out.  You’re grinning like a madman.”

“Jessica’s pregnant”, he relented in a flood of excitement.

Willheim’s face broke into a smile as broad as his friend’s, and ran over to congratulate him, slapping his back and lifting him in a bear-hug.  “That might just be good enough”, he said, “but it’s you who can explain to my Sarah where we’ve been come tomorrow morning.”

Arms draped over each other’s shoulders they turned to continue on from the tavern towards the market square.

“And what makes you think I won’t be stopping at one?”, asked John, mock hurt in his voice.

“History”, said Willheim simply and burst out laughing as they disappeared around the corner.

(to be continued …)

Fortune Kitty (finale)

It’s finally here – hot off the press.  Links to previous installments are: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

My eyes snapped open and I lay staring at the ceiling for a minute as consciousness reclaimed me. Something important was going to happen today. What was it? Let’s see, I was dreaming about a … ummm … man dreams are hard to remember – oh yeah, that’s right. I was sitting at a school desk, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was using chalk to draw chemical symbols on my school bag while yelling motivational slogans. At the same time, I was trying to write on a piece of paper but every time I did it would get crossed out in red pen and little red paw prints would trot off the edge of my desk. Behind me, Damo, Jason and Tony were standing in a circle laughing. What!?!

Sometimes I couldn’t believe how weird my dreams were. My sheets were all tangled and sweaty, knotted into crumpled pretzel of cotton that I wouldn’t be able to remove the creases from no matter how well I made the bed later. After a little effort, I managed to extricate my legs from the worst of the tangle and lay back exhausted. I must have tossed and turned all night – it was going to be a long day. I was just about to drift off again when a little niggle erupted from the back of my brain. Damo, Jason, Tony … Charlie! We’re going to have a test today! I launched myself out of bed.

Mum’s eyes reminded me of the rat creature from Ice Age always chasing the nut when I arrived in the kitchen thirty seconds later. It would have been the first time since halfway through Grade 5 that I’d gotten up on a school day without her hounding me. “Patrick, what’s wrong?” she asked me as I skidded to a halt. My heart rate must have been about 250, I’m sure my chest was heaving visibly and my palms seemed to have found the spring of mineral water from Mt Franklin. I just stood there for a moment trying to gather my thoughts and I finally managed to blurt out, “Where’s Charlie?”.

“He went out the back door after I fed him. As usual!”, Mum answered, her voice fading as I bolted out the back door. Pausing in the middle of the back yard I spotted Charlie curled up under a bush. He made to run away from the sudden commotion I’d caused before he realised that I was actually his friend and managed to keep his flight instinct in check, pausing mid-spring. Panic draining from him with feline slowness, his posture gradually relaxed and he let out a tentative “Meow”, pausing to see if it would be reciprocated. What was I expecting to see? Charlie wasn’t going to tell me anything. Any communication about the possible exam today only happened via notes in his vomit, not by talking directly. This was something I was going to have to handle myself.

“Don’t worry Charlie, go back to sleep”, I called as I turned and walked back inside.

Breakfast passed in a bit of a blur. I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight on any one thing. They kept flitting from the exam, to Charlie, to the questions we’d reconstructed last night and to a general feeling of unease. Above all, I just kept thinking that something fishy was going on and I was caught smack bang in the middle of it. My cornflakes has turned to mush long before I got around to eating them and I decided I could do without breakfast after all. Edging slowly towards the bin so as not to draw Mum’s attention, I was about to dump them when she asked, “Are you OK Pat?”.

“Uh, yeah”, I shrugged.

“You’re not your usual perky morning self”, she teased sarcastically, a wry smile on her lips. “Seriously though, you are even quieter than normal today.”

“Yeah, I’m fine”, I protested. What was I going to say, that my psychic vomiting cat had me freaked out? “I’ll just go get my bag ready.”

“OK, we’re close to running late”, she answered. As I ran off down the hall I could swear I heard her mutter under her breath, “again”.

>—<

I escaped from our car in a burst of flailing arms and legs and ran towards the gang’s usual meeting spot. Mum had tried a couple of times during the trip to school to ask what was up and I’d managed to stonewall her with brief responses. I didn’t want to talk to her about this, if nothing happened then I’d just look stupid. As I rounded the corner, I could see a couple of the gang. Jason was sitting on the ground, a look of intense concentration on his face as he poured over one of our school books. Tony on the other hand was hanging off the monkey bars. When he saw me he called, “Hey Pat, check this out.” He then flipped himself upside down, bringing his legs inside his arms and ending up hanging the way he originally faced but with his shoulders rotated. He then let out an almighty groan as he tried to pull himself back up the way he came and for a moment I thought he might make it. But as his legs lifted, he lost his strength and collapsed head first into the dirt. Completely unperturbed he picked himself up and, dusting himself down, ran over to us with a massive grin on his face.

“So close that time”, he beamed, “I swear I’ll get it any day.”

Jason looked up from his book and muttered, “Idiot”, before turning back.

I rolled my eyes at Jason and turned to ask Tony, “You seen Damo anywhere?”. If there was one guy I could talk to about this it would be Damo.

“No not yet”, said Tony and we both shrugged at each other. Damo was always the first of us to get to school, I think both of his parents had to get to work early and so, by extension, did Damo. We were both stumped about where he could be. Or rather I thought we were, but suddenly my pants were around my ankles and Damo came capering around me from behind laughing. Struggling to find some dignity, I fumbled in my haste to pull my pants back up and it took me a couple of tries. Tony joined in the laughter and even Jason thought this was a sufficient cause to let him be distracted from his study.

“Oh guys”, I whined. “Cut it out. Seriously. Dacking someone’s so last term”, I yelled. But from the mirth on their faces, I could see they thought it was just as hilarious as ever. I stewed red faced in silence for a few moments while they calmed themselves down, but they just kept on going. Turning to leave, I picked up my bag and finally Damo relented a little.

“Pat … Pat”, he gasped, “… wait, it’s cool.” His laughter subsiding, he caught his breath again and said, “Look relax, there were no girls around”.

I decided to stay, but sulked, “It was funny at first, but I’m just over it, that’s all.”

“Sure sorry”, he said. “Look we got more important things to talk about, like what’s going to happen today with this test?”

That got me back on side, I did need to talk this through with the guys. “Do you think it’s really going to come true?” I asked.

“Well it did last time”, offered Tony like it was a statement of irrefutable proof.

“Doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen again”, countered Damo.

“So what’s the point of it if it’s not true?” asked Tony.

“I don’t know, does there have to be a point? Maybe it just is.”

The three of us were standing in a close circle trying to nut it out, when a voice invaded our conclave saying, “Guys your missing the important thing here”. Jason looked up from his books and said matter-of-factly, “It’s either going to happen or it won’t. I don’t know why, but if it does happen and you haven’t taken advantage of it, won’t you feel a bit stupid?” With that he turned back to his books as if nothing had happened.

“That is true”, Damo said.

I was unconvinced. “We don’t study even when we know there’s an exam coming up. Why is this any different?” I asked.

“Because the effort to reward ratio is really high. We know the questions for this one … well probably. But anyway, we don’t have to just study everything, only those questions”, he explained.

I thought from the look on his face that Tony was convinced and he nodded enthusiastically confirming my suspicion. Acknowledging the allegiance, Damo gave a quick nod and they both turned to look at me to see what I’d say. I still felt uneasy because I wanted to know why this was happening, but Jason made a good point. There really was only one thing for it, the day was coming whether I was prepared or not, so I might as well be prepared. “Sure I’m in”, I agreed.

“Cool, well we’ve got 15 minutes before assembly”, said Damo, our unofficial gang Sergeant. “Yo, egg-head. Jason! Since you had such a good idea, run us through the questions quickly”, he demanded.

We knuckled down and spent the remaining time preparing. It was like we were going to war.

>—<

Class started and Mr Patterson appeared to be acting exactly like he usually did. If the test was going to be repeated then he was giving nothing away. Roll call, spelling and a little morning maths, the perfect catalysts to bring on insomnia. I watched as the classroom clock performed its usual feat of magic, slowing to a crawl, the second hand moving while the minute and hour stayed still. I swear, one day I’m going to get two synchronised watches and leave one in my bag outside while I bring the other into class. I’d put money on the fact that by lunch time, the one in my bag would be at least an hour ahead.

I hear that Albert Einstein came up with a theory of relativity where time can be slowed by heavy objects – my classroom must be massive! Perhaps I should write to him and ask him about it sometime.

“Dear Mr Einstein, I’m currently in Grade 6 at school and have noticed how slow time goes when my teacher is trying to teach me boring things. Having discovered the Theory of Relativity, I was wondering if you could …”

From the edge of my peripheral hearing, Mr Patterson’s words wafted into my stream of thought, “… books away, we’re going to have a quiz”. Jolted out of my mental letter writing, I quickly looked around at the guys who confirmed that I’d heard it right. We all smiled knowingly at each other, this was going to be great. An ace in the bag if ever there was one.

“Eyes front please Patrick”, Mr Patterson said.

“OK class, you just need a sheet of paper and your pencil. No Catherine, you cannot go to the bathroom, you can wait until morning tea. It’s only 10 minutes.”

The class composed itself to some degree and Mr Patterson started. True to its word, the prophesy was correct about the exam, it was an exact repeat of the previous one. This time I listened properly, but more importantly, this time I was prepared. The cubed root of 27 was actually not that hard now that I’d thought about it in advance. What’s more, I think I now understood what a cubed root actually was!

As the clock ticked down the last 10 minutes before morning tea, marking our progress, I felt exultant at the answers I could give. This time I was actually going to do OK. Soon enough the last question was delivered and finished. Turning in my paper, I grinned at Damo who gave me a little nod in return. Man time had flown during that test, evidently this theory of relativity could cut both ways. I was elated and when the bell rang, I rose with the rest of the class to head out to play.

“Ah Patrick, before you go I’d like a quick word with you about cat vomit”, said Mr Patterson as we headed for the door. Heads turned to look at him because of the strange request, but four snapped around faster than the rest. Looking around the room at the four astonished faces he continued, “… and Damien, Anthony and Jason, you might as well join me too by the looks of it.”

A couple of our class mates sniggered as they vacated the room, but soon we were left alone with the teacher.

He perched himself on the corner of his desk and gave us what he probably thought of as a penetrating stare. “Anything unusual been happening lately guys?”, he asked. We just sat there like stunned mullets, waiting to see what he’d say. When it was obvious we weren’t going to answer he continued, “Anything perhaps about the little test we just had?”. He was greeted with nothing but silence.

“Something perhaps about your cat Charlie?”, he tried again, a little desperation creeping into his voice.

I cracked first. “What did you do to him?”, I demanded. “He’d better be OK!”

“He’s fine”, Mr Patterson said, a massive grin splitting his face from ear to ear. “Just a little something I picked up from monks in the Himalayas.” Four completely dumb-founded faces stared back at him and he realised that his joke hadn’t found its mark. “Kidding, kidding”, he conceded, hands raised in a conciliatory gesture. “Look Patrick, I’ve been concerned about your attention here in class and I wanted to find a way to get your attention”, he said. “You’re a smart kid, but you don’t apply yourself. Just before that test, what were you day-dreaming about?”

“Um, well, I was thinking about writing a letter to Albert Einstein asking why time goes slowly in class”, I replied. This time it was my turn to be the focus of four dumb-founded stares. “Well you know”, I continued “because of his Theory of Relativity where he worked out that time gets slowed down by gravity and travelling fast and stuff.”

Mr Patterson beamed. “See this is just what I’m talking about Pat”, he said. “That’s not quite the point of his theory, but I’ve never taught you anything like that at school and yet you’ve learnt it yourself. You have the capability to learn. What is it about school that’s different to these things you teach yourself?”

“Easy”, I said, “school’s just boring but these things are cool. If the stuff we learned in school was interesting I’d be fine.”

Mr Patterson paused for a moment, narrowed his eyes and asked, “Interesting like a message in your cat’s vomit?” He paused for a moment to let that sink in. “How did you go on the test today?” he asked. I didn’t answer him. “I’m willing to bet”, he continued as he reached over to his pile of answers and found mine, “that you did quite well today. Your Mum certainly seems to think you four did some preparing yesterday.”

What the heck was going on? How did Mum fit into the equation here I wondered.

Scanning the sheet he nodded to himself. “If I’m not mistaken, you’ve only made one small mistake just here”, he said, showing us the sheet and indicating a line I didn’t really care to make out. “Quite an improvement from last week, I’d say.”

The gears in my head finally worked out how to engage my mouth and I managed to blurt out, “Hang on a sec, what are you talking about?”

Laying down the paper on the desk beside him, Mr Patterson continued, “Look, at the recent parent teacher interviews, your Mother and I agreed that we needed to try to engage you more at school. So we cooked up this plan to sneak a few notes into your cat’s vomit that would make it all seem more interesting and grab your attention. Your Mum’s been the putting those notes in Charlie’s vomit.”

I so wish I’d had a camera to take a picture of our faces at that moment, it must have been priceless. For my part, I was trying to imagine my Mum rolling up the pieces of paper and inserting them into piles of puke. I let out a little chuckle, lost in my fantasy and was summoned back to the moment by Mr Patterson continuing, “… and it seems to have worked.”

“But that’s not fair”, Jason broke in.

“How so?” Mr Patterson countered. Jason didn’t seem to have much response. “Look I’m supposed to be teaching you guys”, he continued. “I know that school isn’t always fascinating, I was a kid once too, but it is important to get some foundations to build on. Do you know much else about the story of Albert Einstein?” We all just shrugged in the non-committal way of youth everywhere.

“Well Einstein, the brilliant guy that he was, didn’t much like school. He said, ‘It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education’. The key to remember, is that school isn’t for its own benefit but to unlock your potential. As a teacher my favourite quote of his is, ‘It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge’.”

“I have tried to do that with these little notes to you guys. It’s fired your imagination hasn’t it and look you’ve done really well? But I’m not always going to be your teacher and, to be honest, some of the ones you’ll probably have are going to suck. You need to learn to keep yourself interested otherwise your imagination will be held back by a lack of knowledge.”

He paused for a moment to let that sink in and then continued, “So no more notes boys, the ball’s in your court. You know you can do it, it’s up to you whether you want to. I’ll see you after morning tea.”

Uncertainly we got up from our chairs and started to file towards the door. I was still a bit blind-sided and this was going to take some thinking about. He probably had a point though, it wasn’t that bad what we were learning. Just before we got to the door, Mr Patterson called after us.

“You know, on second thoughts Pat, maybe your understanding of Relativity isn’t too far off the mark. After all Einstein did tell his secretary to explain it to the press like this: ‘When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.'”

Eww girls, I’d rather have the stove!

Fortune Kitty (part 3)

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.

“Is too!”

“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)

Fortune Kitty (part 2)

Benjamin Franklin 1767

The gang all got together at Morning Tea. We’d lost our spot on the playground, just on the rise overlooking the oval with an awesome tree to stand under. Everyone knew it was our spot, but that didn’t stop people trying it on occasionally. That stupid test had kept us in while Mr Patterson collected our papers. When he’d finally given us permission to leave, Tony had marched double-time out the door and, as soon as he thought he could get away with it, broken into a sprint across the oval to claim our spot. However it was too late.

We were on shaky ground with the Principal at the moment. Last week we’d spent a fair few lunch times standing outside his office for playing tackle red-rover, so we decided it wasn’t worth the risk of trying to muscle our way back in. It was a close thing, those guys from class 6C always thought they were so cool and now we could tell that they were secretly laughing at us. Plus their teacher was weird. Steve reckoned that he ate a whole loaf of bread for lunch each day with squashed banana for the filling. I mean, that’s just gross, so the 6C guys would have to be weird too with a teacher like that. Letting them have our spot was almost too much, but in the end we decided that we had bigger things to talk about than them. Everyone wanted to know about the test.

“So come on snake-man,” Damo said to me, “tell us how you really knew about the test today.”

“I found it in my cat’s vomit”, I said.

“No be serious, tell us really”.

“I am being serious”, I protested. They didn’t believe me. “I really found the message there.”

“Dude you’re full of it,” sneered Jason.

“Yeah come on man, that’s the same quiz from last year”, said Tony, “I remember it. That’s why I’m going to get an A+. Did you hear Mr Patterson talking to someone?”

“Yeah I bet that’s it”, said Jason. He looked jealous. “Or maybe you found a copy on Friday while you were cleaning the dusters after class? Something like that.”

Damo cracked a huge grin, “Good one dude, but next time let us all know earlier so we can study too. You must have nailed it with a head’s up like that.”

Actually I knew I’d done badly. I mean who could possibly know the cubed root of 27 off the top of their head like that? You needed some space to work it out for the first time, not the pressure of a quiz. We probably learnt it in class but there was just too much else interesting to think about to pay much attention in class. “Er, I actually think I stuffed it pretty badly”, I admitted.

“But you knew it was coming”, said Damo. “We know you’re smart when you have time to prepare.”

“Yeah … maybe not”, grinned Jason.

“Look I didn’t”, I protested again. “I’m telling the truth, I found this note in the …”

“Yeah, yeah. The cat’s vomit. You’ve already told us”, said Tony. “Look I’m repeating the grade, it’s not the end of the world.”

“Shut up man. I’m not lying and I’ll prove it to you, come over this arvo and I’ll show you the note”, I said.

“You could have made up the note yourself, dude”, said Damo.

“Yeah and I went to all that trouble and then didn’t bother to study anyway so I could get teased by you guys”, I said. “Just come around and see.”

This had them a bit stumped. It was a fair point and so reluctantly they conceded I might not be lying after all. “Ok, we’ll give you a chance”, agreed Tony, “but first I’ve got one thing to say … You’re it!”. His arm flashed out touching me on the shoulder and our game of tag was on. I lurched at Damo, got him in the chest but was so over balanced that his return tag got me before I could move out of the way. “Hey no backsies”, I complained but they were all already sprinting in different directions, so I took off trying to find a suitable target to chase down.

>—<

Charlie met me at the gate as usual this afternoon. He was lieing under the front hedge but didn’t wander out from his position until I was at the gate and his greeting was just a scratchy half-hearted sound. I got the feeling that he wasn’t too enthusiastic today. “Charlie, where did you get that message from?”, I asked him as I scratched his ear. “Can you tell me what grade I’m going to get on that stupid exam? I reckon I could have done well if I’d studied.” Charlie had started wending his way between my legs in a figure eight. He seemed to have his mojo back and his voice was loud again. “(meow) … What, you reckon I’m going to get an A? … (meow) … Nah no chance … (meow) … Really … (meow) … Well we’ll see.”

I left Charlie in the garden and ran up the steps, “Hey mum”.

“Hi Pat. Did you have a good day?”, she called from the kitchen.

“Myeaa”, I replied non-commitally. “Hey mum, the guys are coming around! What’s for afternoon tea?”

“There’s pikelets on the bench. You can have two. Eat quickly before you friends arrive.”

Mum was doing something in her sewing room so I wandered into the kitchen and scoffed the food. I wanted to get a quick run at Diablo before the guys came around, at least see where my character had actually ended up after the debacle on the weekend. There probably wouldn’t be time later on because we weren’t allowed games after 7pm. After that, all computer time had to be ‘educational’.

That was how I found out the story of St Patrick and the snakes. There’s all sorts of interesting stuff on the internet. I loved just surfing for random facts, but somehow they were never the ones that were taught or tested in school. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin thought about Daylight Savings in 1784 during a trip to Paris? He wrote about how many candles could be saved because of the extra light at night and how much it might save the economy. That’s sort of interesting, not like grammar at school.

I was just about to turn on the computer when Mum’s voice called from the sewing room again. “Hey Pat, before your friends arrive, could you quickly clean-up the mess in the laundry?”

“Aww mum!”, I complained. Always when I’m about to play on the computer. “I didn’t mess it up, what are you talking about?”

“Pat, don’t argue”, Mum called back.

I stomped down the hall, once again found myself in the library and there before me was another pool of cat vomit. My shoulders slumped and head fell forward in mock exasperation. I must be the most unlucky kid in the world. Well I suppose it explained why Chalie’s voice had been scratchy earlier at the gate. I tell you that if he wasn’t such an awesome cat, I’d probably start agitating to get rid of him.

Just then, amidst a clatter of footsteps, Jason arrived puffing with exertion and peered over my shoulder into the laundry. “How convenient”, he wheezed, “another one just for us to look at.”

(to be continued …)

Fortune Kitty

Meow

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”.

“Awww mum!”

>—<

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.”

“Oh man!”
“That sucks”
“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 …)