Saturday, 23 March 2013

Yes/No interlude

Lying on his back in the single bed, the lad stared up at the collection of plastic Airfix planes that hung from the ceiling on fishing line -  relics from his recent adolescence. He smelt eggs being cooked downstairs.

Pulling on a pair of camouflage trousers, he made his way to the bathroom, where he dampened a bar of soap under the tap, just in case his mother checked to see if it had been used. He hated water - it was too wet.

Downstairs in the kitchen, he seated himself wordlessly as his mother placed two fried eggs on toast before him, then he lifted the edge of one egg with his knife and began to breathe heavily. The eggs were snotty.

She must - he thought - have deliberately undercooked the eggs simply in order to ruin his day, as she knew that he could not tolerate them like that, and he threw the knife onto the plate, stood up and pushed the chair violently backwards with his legs.

Ignoring the protests from his mother, the lad strode into the hall and pulled an army-surplus jacket from a hook, then slammed the front door behind him as he made his way to a small shed which housed his moped. He placed a massively over-sized helmet over his head and began jumping up and down on the little machine in an attempt to kick it into life.

The shed began to fill up with thin, blue smoke and the lad - breathless and somewhat nauseous with the effort - began to wish that he had eaten the breakfast, snotty or not. His mother watched from the kitchen window and eventually, the moped farted itself into action. As soon as the engine fired, the lad took off through the streets of Aldershot, heading toward the kitchens of the abbey.

Over the years, the lad had developed a secret system from the back seat of his parent's car, and this system was an infallible method of making the right decision when being forced to choose between one of the many, seemingly pointless or irrelevant options or questions which adults offered and posed to him on a daily basis, for reasons only known to themselves. He had suspected that these inane questions were nothing more than a crude attempt to force him to become involved with their stupid lives, and he treated them with the contempt that they deserved, only answering in monosyllables if absolutely unavoidable, and only using the words 'yes' or 'no' if at all possible.

His parents had imagined - given the speed of his responses to whatever questions they had asked him -  that he had already given the matters some weighty consideration but, in fact, the lad had simply assigned certain numerical properties to lamp-posts and telegraph-poles which they had passed on any given journey, and responded accordingly.

The daily journey to the abbey had been made so many times before, that he no longer needed to actually count the poles and standards on the few miles of roads. He now knew them by heart, and consequently knew that once he had parked up and entered the kitchen, any response to any small request or question must be at least biased in a negative direction, if not actually an outright 'no'. His secret system and the alternating positive and negative values of the poles leading to the abbey had only entrenched the general perception that he was a strange and troubled lad who needed special handling and understanding when carrying out his duties as kitchen-hand.

Sometimes, he longed to tell the brothers that if only they would put up one extra pole outside the abbey gate - just one - then his general demeanour and attitude would magically improve. As he wrestled with himself and forced the inevitable response from his mouth on these occasions, the brothers mistook the tortured look on his face as a symptom of some other mental anxiety, so avoided talking to him at all unless it was absolutely necessary, and let him wash-up and chop vegetables in a miasma of silence as they busied themselves elsewhere.

The little bike shot through the streets of Aldershot until it  began to negotiate the leafy bends and and hedgerows on the outskirts of Farnham, leaving a thin trail of fumes behind it.

As he approached the big house, he remembered the arrow, and decided to stop off for a few minutes to see if he could do what the stupid girl had not the day before, and actually find the thing.

He decided to enter the grounds from the back part of the woods, in order to avoid the elderly and perpetually hostile gardener who worked there, so he leaned his moped against a wooden telegraph pole before taking of his helmet and pushing his way through a hedge and into the trees.

He tried to keep mental track of the position of the house as he strode deeper into the wood, and this was helped by the old woman housekeeper there, who noisily replaced the metal lid on a dustbin, giving him the perfect fix. He knew that he must have been approaching the area directly behind the targets, when he heard the hoarse bark of a dog close by, so he ducked down behind a bush and peered around it.

Just ahead of him stood the girl, who was nervously facing an old and dirty-looking dog which barked monotonously at her. So she had come back after all, he thought, but where did the dog come from? He knew the house to be home to a tiny Yorkshire Terrier which was looked after by the old woman, but he had never been aware of this dog in the neighbourhood before.

As he watched, the girl slowly retreated in the opposite direction, followed by the dog. The barking became more and more feint, and when he thought it safe to do so, the lad came out from behind the bush and began to comb the area of grass and bracken behind the targets on the lawn.

He had only been staring into the vegetation for a few minutes, when he heard a voice from behind him. He later remembered that he was not at all startled by it, but had not considered that strange at the time.

The creature was standing there, holding his arrow out as if offering it to him, but when the lad went forward to take it, the creature withdrew it sharply, telling him that there were conditions attached to the return of his arrow, and asking him if he would comply with them by helping it with a matter of some importance which it knew could be entrusted into the hands of a bright and sensible boy such as he. Would he help, asked the creature?

There was a moment of silence as the lad began a series of mental calculations during which he deducted a quantity of telegraph poles from his equation before deciding on the value of the one against which he had just leaned his moped.

'Yes', he replied, and the arrow was handed over to him.


  1. its begining to sound like THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

    1. It's been so long since I read that, that I cannot comment one way or the other about that, but from what I can remember, I don't recall the resemblance.

    2. its the mood thomas...its the mood

  2. One strange bolshie lad here Tom but at least we have one thing in common - I can only eat my fried eggs if they are fried to the consistency of leather on both sides.

  3. I like your writing Tom ..... it keeps me interested. I also love 'The Catcher In The Rye' so maybe John has a point.
    I cannot bear snotty eggs expression that I use a lot when the white is not cooked. Snotty sums it up beautifully. A good fried egg is a bit of an art. It must have a set white but a lovely runny yolk. I am pretty good at them even though I say so myself !!
    ...... looking forward to the next chapter. XXXX

  4. Excellent Tom. More please. You've got me hooked.

  5. This story is just getting better - next instalment soon.

  6. Love it. Waiting for the next one.

  7. Thanks all. Think yourselves lucky this is the abbreviated version! XXX

  8. Stranger and stranger, I'm hooked!

  9. Brilliant! That whole 'counting pole' things makes me think that you are the brilliant long lost brother of Ruth Rendell.