Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Man Who Could Make Worlds, Chapters One to Three

"What happened to A Hundred Nightmares?" Every day I get emails from readers asking me this question.

OK, that's not true. In fact, I've never received such an email. But I am conscious that I was publishing horror stories from my collection of a hundred short-short horror stories up until a few months ago, and they were getting a fairly good reception, when suddenly...they stopped.

It was a few different factors, but the problem now is that they are on a laptop that suddenly has no internet connection. I don't know why. I've had my techno-proficient little brother look at the laptop and he doesn't know either-- which means that it's an insoluble mystery. So I am going to copy them onto a USB key, when I get round to it...

As for The Bard's Apprentice, the kids' fantasy novel I was serializing here that was mildly popular, I have to admit I still haven't proof-read it to see if any more characters appear out of nowhere (as one reader kindly pointed out to me!).

But here are the opening chapters of the most recent novel I wrote, The Man Who Could Make Worlds, which I found in an attachment in my gmail. I think of it as a fantasy for teenagers (no, not that kind of fantasy-- there's none of that).

If you're looking for a suitable Ash Wednesday penance-- here it is!

I may post the rest or not. It depends-- on whether anyone likes it, on whether I manage to delete it accidentally, on the dodgy geopolitical situation, on whether I am called to jury service, etc. etc. Here it is. Lower the lights, Betty! Mobile phones off! You there at the back, stop whispering! The Man Who Could Make Worlds!

Chapter One

The zombie and the vampire sat down in the seats opposite Billy. Billy just stared out the window, hoping desperately that they’d leave him alone.

He never would have guessed the train to Dublin would be so busy on a Halloween. Not that Billy knew very much about parties. He’d never been to a Halloween party; he’d never been to any party, come to think of it.

He peered at the reflection of his fellow passengers in the glass of the window. The night was descending, so that the windows were already more like mirrors than anything else.

He could see that the zombie and the vampire were both in their late teens. The vampire was a she-vampire and the zombie was a boy. They were holding hands, and every few moments they would break into kissing. Normally, Billy couldn’t stand being around people who were kissing. But at least when they were wrapped up in each other, they were ignoring him.

He was nervous. He had never been so far away from home as this, and his mother thought he was staying with his friend Adam.

Billy had never even been in Adam’s house. But Adam was the closest thing he had to a friend, so he couldn’t think of any better story for his mother.

“You look better as a vampire than a human being, you know”, said the zombie boy, staring at his girlfriend.

She made a rude finger gesture at him. Her fingernails were painted black, and some of them had red paint running from them, as though they were bleeding.

“Charming behaviour for a lady”, said the zombie boy.

Billy squirmed in his seat. He’d never even been alone on a train before. He’d been on trains with his mother, and with his class in school—and that was a nightmare—but never alone.

Fifteen years old, and never on a train on his own. He would never have admitted it to anyone. It had taken him two weeks to save the money for the ticket.

“I think being a zombie suits you”, said the girl. “I think you should stay like that.”

“What, so I can blend in with your family?”, asked the boy.

Billy always wondered how people thought of answers like that so quickly. Even if he had the courage to make a smart-aleck reply like that, he’d never think of it. His mind just went blank.

He fingered the book that he had crammed into his jacket pocket. The Neverending Nightmare. It was his favourite. Just touching it, just feeling its familiar pages and binding—right down to the creases and dog ears— comforted him.

The zombie boy leaned towards the girl and they began to kiss again. Billy sat there squirming, hoping they would break up after a few seconds. But they didn’t. They just became more passionate.

Why did they have to sit beside him, anyway?

He took out The Neverending Nightmare, and examined the photo on the back cover.

He’d looked at the photo hundreds of times. It showed Rex Cunnigham, the author, staring out into space. It was the only photo Billy had been able to find of Rex Cunnigham, and he’d looked everywhere.

The photo was at least fifteen years old—it was on the back of A Thousand Miles From Rescue, the oldest Rex Cunningham book he owned. And the picture showed him as an old man even then, with grey hair and wrinkles around the eyes. What would he look like now?

Well, Billy would find out soon. Within three hours, as a matter of fact.

He looked at his watch again. He had checked it every few minutes since the train left Limerick. He didn’t know whether he wanted time to speed up or slow down.

He was going to meet Rex Cunningham. After almost two years of being utterly addicted to his books.

The zombie and the vampire were kissing more passionately than ever. Billy raised The Neverending Nightmare, reading the paragraph on the first page—it was the same first paragraph in every Rex Cunnigham book, and the first of his words he’d ever read, but even after all this time they never failed to thrill him;

Welcome to a whole new world…a world waiting for you to bring it to life.

Between the pages of this book, you will find marvels and perils, comrades and foes, dreams and nightmares. With the turn of the next page a tale begins…a tale that could take you anywhere…and the tale is yours to make.

Strength may fail, allies may betray you, but wisdom is a true friend. May wisdom go with you…into a new horizon.

Billy was turning the page when he felt the book snatched from his hands.

He looked up. The zombie was holding it up in his hands, looking at it with a mixture of suspicion and disdain.

“Give the kid his book back”, said the vampire, although she was smiling.

“You’re the one always saying I should read more”, said the zombie, who had begun to flick through the pages of the book.

The girl looked at Billy. The smile was still on her face, but he could see shame in her eyes.

“I’m just grabbing me some lit-er-a-ture”, said the boy, who was wearing a big grin now. He was obviously enjoying himself.

“Don’t be such a creep, Scott”, said the girl.

“Hallowe’en is the time for creeps”, said Scott.

For all his nervousness—nervousness that almost made him feel sick—Billy couldn’t help feeling a little pleased that someone was reading one of his Rex Cunningham books. He couldn’t even get his mother or his uncle to look at them. But the teenager seemed genuinely interested.

“It isn’t even a real book”, said Scott, after a few more moments. “It’s one of those books you play. What’s wrong, buddy, can’t you read a real book?”

“It is a real book”, said Billy, reaching out for it. He was surprised at the firmness of his own voice. He had expected it to tremble. Heck, he was surprised he’d said anything at all.

Scott brushed Billy’s hand away as though it was a twig, without even looking up. Some of the green make-up on his hand rubbed onto the skin of Billy’s hand. The make-up was cold to the touch.

“Listen to this, Lauren”, he said. “The Unfatmable One is the legend that haunts these woods. They say his presence is most powerful at the winter solstice. Travellers will not pass—“

“Unfathomable”, said Billy.

Scott looked up at him, irritated. Lauren laughed.

“Oh, you’re a smart-ass, are you?”, he asked. “You know, books like these are made for guys like you. You look as though you could hardly open a carton of milk without spraining something.”

“You’re not exactly Arnold Schwarzennegger yourself”, said his girlriend.

“Well, I never read this sort of trash”, said Scott, who was still leafing through the pages. “I prefer real life to fantasies.”

“That’s why you play all those computer games, is it?”, asked Lauren. Billy wished she’d stop mocking her boyfriend. She was just going to provoke him, and he’d be the one that got punished.

“Computer games exercise the reflexes”, said Scott. “And the brain. This stuff is just…sad. It’s for people who live in a dream world.” He put on a deep voice, like the voiceover in a movie trailer. “To dig up the casket, turn to 332. To keep searching the graveyard, turn to 102. To return to the village, turn to 144.”

Lauren giggled.

“To get a job, turn to 150”, said Scott. “To get a social life, turn to 160. To stop being a nerd, put the book down and get out of the house.”

Lauren laughed again, putting her hand over her mouth and lowering her head.

A firework in the sky outside. It threw green and red light onto Scott and Lauren’s faces, making them seem even more otherworldly.

“Give me it back”, said Billy, stretching out his arm, his hand open. Now his voice did tremble.

“Give it back to him, you moron”, said Lauren. “It’s his own business what he wants to read.”

“I’ll give it back to him, I’ll give it back to him”, said Scott. “I just want to explore this unique literary masterpiece…hello, what’s this?”

Panic shot through Billy. Scott had taken a small page of purple notepaper from the book. It was Billy’s most precious possession in the world; he’d forgotten all about it.

“You’re not going to read his letters”, said Lauren. “Stop it.”

Scott put on the same deep voice he’d put on before, and began to read from the letter:

“Dear Mr Reynolds (or may I call you Master Reynolds?).”

Lauren giggled at this, and Scott—encouraged-- went on, his voice even deeper now.

"I think you just might be my greatest fan. Most people have never even heard of me. Even those who have read my books don’t usually remember my name.

I’m glad that The Neverending Nightmare and The Wildest of the West are your favourite of my books. They are amongst my favourites, too, although The Marvellous Map is my favourite of all. Nobody seems to agree though!

Lauren looked at Billy. Her eyes were a little wider. “The guy who wrote those books wrote you a letter? That’s cool.”

It was cool. Billy thought it was the coolest thing that had ever happened in his life.

“Please don’t interrupt”, said Scott, still in the comically deep voice. He went on reading from the letter. “You ask many interesting questions about my books. In fact, I don’t think any of my readers has shown such perceptiveness. I would like to meet you.”

“He invited you to meet him?”, asked Lauren, who was looking at Billy with a kind of wonder now. “That’s even cooler!”

“Yeah, really cool”, said Scott. “A nerd goes to visit a writer of saddo fantasy books. It’s a moment in history. Now shut up, I haven’t finished the letter. Listen: “There is no need to make an appointment, simply come to the above address at any time and knock on the door. I spend all my time writing, writing, writing. I have no social engagements.” The teenage zombie looked up, with a mock-solemn face. “Why am I not surprised by that? You’ll end up like him, nerdy-boy.”

“Is that where you’re going now? To meet this writer?”, asked Lauren.

Billy nodded. He was embarrassed and he was proud at the same time. Yes, he was going to meet Rex Cunningham.

“Bit late to be going to meet him, isn’t it?”, asked Scott, looking up from the letter and raising an eyebrow. “Why didn’t you go in the daytime?”

Billy shrugged. He’d thought about waiting until Saturday morning, but he just couldn’t. Not another whole night. He’d gone home, had his dinner, put on some new clothes and hurried to the train station for the next train to Dublin. Rex—- he thought of him as Rex—- had written any time, hadn’t he?

Rex would understand. He felt they already knew each other. Rex wouldn’t mind if he turned up in the middle of the night. Billy just knew.

“Well, I think it’s brilliant”, said Lauren. With cat-like speed, she snatched the letter from Scott’s hands, and held it out to Billy. He took it from her, light with gratitude. “I hope you enjoy it.”

“I wouldn’t go if I were you”, said Scott. He seemed sour from having had the letter taken from him. “Big mistake, dude. Big mistake. You’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of reading books about superheroes and damsels in distress and…and…and broadswords, and getting sadder and lonelier and wimpier and more of a nerd every day. Walk in his door and you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

“Don’t mind him”, said Lauren. “Just think, in a few hours you’ll be meeting your favourite writer! In a few hours from now you’ll be in his house!”.

She was almost glowing with enthusiasm now. The idea had captured her imagination.

But Billy was feeling a little sick. He had barely slept last night. He was full of excitement, and nerves, and worry that Rex Cunnigham would turn out to be a disappointment, or that he’d be annoyed when he saw that Billy was just a skinny kid a few months from his teens.

And he was a little bit—frightened. He couldn’t exactly say why. It was something about Rex Cunningham’s books. Sometimes, reading them, they seemed so real….

Chapter Two

The sky was alive with fireworks. Billy had never seen, never heard anything like it. The town he lived in had fireworks on Halloween night, to be sure. Some of them were pretty spectacular, too. But they weren’t exploding all the time. There had hardly been a second, in the last hour, when he hadn’t heard the boom, fizzle, shriek or crackle of a firework. Magical blooms of a dozen livid colours flowered in the air.

There were bonfires, too, in gardens and field and street corners. Some of them were so high that they lit up the windows of high-rise apartments. It was mostly teenagers standing around them; and like Scott on the train, many of them seemed to be drunk already. Some of them were dressed up; there were a lot of superheroes, as well as monsters.

Billy would have felt more nervous, except that there were plenty of adults around, too—parents bringing their kids trick-or-treating. That’s an American thing, Billy’s father always complained. We’ll be having proms and Little Leagues and Thanksgiving parties soon.

American or not, Billy was thankful for the little gangs of children and parents going from door to door tonight. He looked at the kids, dressed up as cowboys and fairy princesses and Jedi knights and characters he just about recognised from the TV. He’d never dressed up for Halloween as a kid. He’d never had anywhere to go, for one thing—why dress up just to stay at home?

But all of these things were just distractions, just something to keep his mind off the overwhelming fact that Rex Cunningham lived on this street. He’d stared at the address on the letter; 244 Belvedere Street. He’d spent a lot of time imagining what kind of street it might be. He’d imagined a long stretch of detached houses, most of them hardly visible behind enormous gardens. He’d imagined a very ordinary, suburban street of three bedroom houses. He’d imagined a penthouse apartment.

In fact, he’d imagined everything except what it turned out to be; a wide street of red-brick houses, many of them bearing the brass name-plates of dentists and doctors. The gardens were well-tended, and the living rooms he could glimpse through curtains were like the living rooms he saw on TV—paintings on the walls, bookcases, the green glow of large aquariums. Most of the houses had names; St. Kevin’s, Chez Nous, Mountain View, Harmony. They were decorated for Halloween; plastic skeletons hung on doors, glowing pumpkins smirked from windows, and on one house, a huge spider and its web was draped across most of the front.

He’d been walking for three hours—he kept getting lost, and it didn’t help that he was frightened of opening out his map. That was a sure way of getting mugged, everybody told him.

And what Lauren had said kept coming back to him. Why didn’t he leave in until the day time? Rex Cunningham had written “any time” in his letter; but that was just something people said without really meaning it literally. Why did he think Rex Cunnigham was different?

Well, he knew the answer to that one. Rex Cunningham had to be different. He had to understand a fourteen-year-old’s excitement at meeting his hero. Because Billy knew Rex Cunningham, and he couldn’t bear being wrong about him. Rex Cunningham would understand. He had to understand.

The numbers were coming closer now. Two-hundred and twenty, 222, 224…and now he thought he must be beyond nerves, because he wasn’t feeling sick like he should have been. He felt a kind of numbness spreading through his soul, as though some kind power on high had given him an anaesthetic. Not that he felt indifferent; he was still more excited than he had ever been in his entire life. But all of the anxiety and fear seemed to be seeping away. It was as though he was watching himself, or reading about himself in a story.

Two hundred and thirty-eight, 240, 244…and here he was.

He expected it to look different from the other houses, and it did. For one thing, there was no car in the drive, and the garage had a door that no car could fit through. There were no flowers, just a few shrubs and a lawn that was not overgrown but looked like it hadn’t been mown in a few weeks.

There was thick curtains on the window, but he could see light coming from a room upstairs.

There it stood, solid and real, a house that the postman came to and that had neighbours on either side. Somehow, the thought that Rex Cunningham lived there was even stranger than if he had lived in a hut on the top of some mountain.

As if in a dream, Billy lifted the metal latch of the gate, walked through, and carefully replaced it behind him. Six paces (he was counting, without even thinking about it) took him to the front door. It was painted pea-green, and looked as though it had been given a new coat recently.

He expected an ornamental knocker, a huge brass affair with the face of some mythical beast frowning from it. But it was just an ordinary, U-shaped knocker in the middle of the door.

He lifted it—and, despite his strange tranqulity, his heart was pumping harder—and gave three loud knocks.

He jumped. Somewhere nearby, he heard the demonic shriek of a firework, and a moment later it burst in the sky directly above the house, sending streaks of bright red and green and yellow dripping down the air. From the other side of the street, he heard the gleeful scream of small girls, followed by a chorus of giggling.

He stood there, waiting to hear the sound of old and infirm feet descending down the stairs, muffled by slippers.

Nothing happened, so he knocked again.

Five minutes later, Billy began to panic. What if Rex was out? He said he never went out, but he could hardly have meant it literally. Maybe he was in hospital. Maybe he was visiting his children, or his grandchildren. Maybe he would be gone for the whole weekend.

The thought was almost like a little death to Billy. He couldn’t bear all this excitement, all this anticipation, all this hope to come to nothing. He couldn’t go back to school, homework, his bedroom, and all the routines of his daiy life.

He hadn’t expected he would have to go back to them at all. At least, he expected that, next time he sat down in Mr. Morrison’s maths class, he’d have met Rex Harrison, and everything would be different. It would be a whole new life, somehow.

He told himself there was a light on upstairs, that that meant someone had to be at home. But he remembered what his mother would say on the rare occasions when his family went on an evening out together—“switch a light on upstairs so the burglars won’t know we’re gone.”

There was really no reason to believe he was in anymore. But he stood there anyway.

Wondering whether curtains were being drawn back in the other houses—hopefully the noise of fireworks would be some cover for his repeated knocking—he lifted the knocker. All of a sudden, the desperation within him built to a head, and he put all his weight into the knock.

And again. And again. And again. He wasn’t going to leave any chance Rex Harrison hadn’t heard him.

On the eighth or ninth or tenth knock, he felt the door move.

It was only a little, an inch or so. But it was open a chink now, and he could see into the darkened hallway—though all he could see were differently shaded black shapes, and a little bit of the red-and-blue chequered lino on the floor, lit up by the street lamps.

So the door wasn’t even locked. But surely he couldn’t just…walk in? No, that was impossible. He would try knocking again.

Inside his own mind, he felt a decision being made, almost against his own will.

After another five minutes of rapping at the door—and of looking around his shoulder every two seconds—he pushed the door in further and stepped into the hallway. He forced himself to do it quickly. If he looked hesitant, then anyone looking really would look suspicious.

He was frightened now, and it had nothing—or almost nothing—to do with meeting Rex Cunningham. He was frightened he had set a burglar alarm off. He was frightened of driving home to his parents in a police car.

I must be utterly insane, he thought.

Then he realised two glowing yellow eyes were staring at him, and he cried out in shock. He heard the cry echo in the hall.

A moment later, another noise; the unmistakable mew of a surprised cat.

They stood there staring at each other, the cat and the boy, for a few minutes. Then Billy remembered the door was open. Whatever about breaking into his house, Rex would probably be furious if he let his cat escape.

He turned around, and looked at the street outside. It suddenly seemed like a totally different world, one that had nothing to do with this interior darknes. He paused for a moment, and then pushed the door across. He didn’t mean to push it shut, since it hadn’t been fully closed in the first place. But he heard the click of the lock, and all of a sudden the hallway seemed a hundred times darker and lonelier and more frightening than before.

He stood there, trying not to look in the direction of the cat, wondering how on Earth he had ever found himself in such a situation.

And then he heard something else. It was a soft sound, and when he became aware of it, it seemed to him as though it had been there all along, without him even noticing. Like the hum of a fridge or a radiator, or the sigh of the wind, or the constantly-throbbing warp engines in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It was a tapping noise. The more he listened to it, the louder it seemed, so that he couldn’t believe he had ever missed it. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat.

He remembered the lines from The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door…

The lines had made him shiver when he read them in his schoolbook. They made him shiver even more now, standing in a strange and dark house, a hundred miles from home.

But what else was there to do?

He stretched his arms before him, and gingerly took a step forward into the darkness. Before long, he had found the stairs, and taken the first step upwards.

Outside, another firework howled, like a warning.

Chapter Three

The cat accompanied him up the stairs. The house was so silent he could hear, not only its purring, but even the pat of its paws on the uncarpeted stairs. It didn’t follow him, or run ahead of him. Each time he took a step, he heard it keeping pace with him. He clung to the bannisters, keeping his side pressed against them to keep from stepping on the creature—as much from fear of it as from any other consideration.

The tapping from above had stopped. Billy was beginning to wonder if it had come from somewhere else; maybe one of the curious noises that waterpipes make, or maybe the noise of someone hammering in a neighbouring house. He knew from being alone in his own house, how surprisingly far sound could travel. And how creepy it could be when it did.

He couldn’t see anything. It was utterly black.

He kept on climbing the stairs, neither speeding up nor slowing down. He remembered that there were three storeys in these houses; he had reached the second landing already.

As soon as he turned to face the next flight of stairs, he saw light. The outline of a doorframe glowed an orange-yellow that seemed—even though he had only been in the darkness for a minute or two—absurdly bright. It looked like it was hanging in space, since there was nothing else visible around it.

Beside him, the cat gave a low meow. Why did it sound like a warning?

He stopped, staring upwards at the pencil-line of light, wondering if he should just turn around and leave. He didn’t have to open the door.

But somehow, the idea of walking back down the stairs was even more frightening. He’d had one idea in his mind when he came into this house—find that lit-up room—and he clung to it as a capsized man clings to whatever plank or wreckage he can reach.

He ascended the last two flights of stairs, and stepped towards the door. It didn’t even occur to him to knock again. It was obvious, from the silence of the house, that anybody inside would have heard a knock on the front door.

Feeling like a boy steppling over a cliff, he pushed it open. It was much heavier than the doors of his own house—or any other door he was used to—but it swung back with only a slight groan of hinges.

He stepped into the room, and his body seemed to turn into cold marble.

Billy hadn’t expected to see anyone, but there—right in front of them, sitting at a desk with a typewriter, facing towards the window and away from Billy—was Rex Cunningham.

He was wearing a marmalade-coloured dressing grown, and smoking a cigarette. Billy could only see three-quarters of his face, but it was definitely him. He sat on a leather-backed chair, leaning backwards and staring towards the window. He seemed utterly lost in thought; he was as still as a man in a picture, except for the plume of smoke that rose from his cigarette.

His hair—which had seemed grey in the black-and-white author’s photograph Billy had studied so often—was brilliant white. He didn’t seem like an exceptionally old man. The side of the face that was turned to Billy wasn’t especially wrinkled, and the skin didn’t hang from his neck, like it did with so many old men.

The room was lit by a single lamp on the writing desk. It was a small electric lamp, its lampshade decorated with Chinese symbols of some sort. An ash-tray full of ashes and a three-quarters-empty glass of red wine sat beside his typewriter.

Aside from that, there was only one other thing to notice about the room. Books. Books covered every single wall, from ceiling almost to floor. There was a pile of them on the writing desk, on the other side of the typewriter to the glass and ashtray. A sheaf of papers lay on top of the uppermost volume. Along with the bookshelves on the walls, there was a smaller bookcase standing in the corner.

Rex Cunningham sat so still in his chair that Billy was beginning to wonder if he’d had some kind of stroke when he finally leaned forward and began writing again.

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap…the long, slender fingers moved over the keys as though they were compelled by some kind of nervous tic. Billy had never seen such fast typing. The man never paused, never even slowed down for a moment.

He finished a page, added it to the top of the sheaf of papers, drew a blank page from the bottom of the sheaf, fed it into the top of his typewriter, and rolled it through the roller at the top of the machine.

Billy had never seen somebody actually type at a typewriter, except in movies and on TV. For a moment, he forgot he was in a house without permission—he even forgot that he was looking at the great Rex Harrison. He just watched this old man’s actions with utter fascination.

Then the cat miaowed again, this time louder than ever before.

Rex looked around.

He looked surprised when he saw Billy, but only for a moment. It was the kind of surprised look someone might wear if they ran into a friend in an unexpected place.

Now he could see his full face, Billy saw that Rex looked pretty much the same as he did in his author’s photograph. Thinner, for sure—even a little gaunt—but not much older.

He stood up, and turned around to face Billy. He wasn’t a tall man, like Billy had imagined. He was even shorter than average.

“I didn’t mean to—“, Billy began.

Rex Harrison closed his eyes for a moment, as though in impatience, and raised his palm in the air, like a traffice policeman callling halt.

“Never mind that”, he said. “Never mind all that.”

He had a low voice, but a deep one. It was husky with age, and probably with cigarette-smoking too.

“Billy Reynolds, isn’t it?”, asked Rex.

Billy nodded.

There was silence for a few moment as Rex looked—no, stared—at Billy. As though Billy was a monkey in a zoo, or a portrait on a wall. His pale grey eyes seemed to be taking everything in.

“Good”, said Rex. “Very good. You’re just as I imagined you.”

Billy didn’t reply. What could he say to that?

“Apologies for ignoring you, my young sir”, said Rex. He stretched, as people do after sitting still for too long, and raised his fist to his mouth, covering a yawn. Billy noticed how his veins stood out, purple and thick, on his hand. “This American custom of children banging on doors of a Halloween night has unfortunately caught on here.”

“Trick-or-treating”, said Billy, for the sake of saying something.

Rex made a face, like someone catching scent of something foul. “Whatever they call it. I was ignoring them. You could have knocked all night and I wouldn’t have come down.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt you”, said Billy.

Rex waved his hand, impatiently. Billy noticed how big his hands were. “Never mind all that”, he said again. “Never mind all those meaningless phrases. Never mind all the flim-flam. If I had another thousand years to live I wouldn’t have time for all that.”

“I’m sorry”, said Billy.

Rex raised his eyebrows, ironically. “You’re sorry”, he said. “Really and truly, sorry? My boy, you’re fourteen years old. Have you already learned to chatter in that meaningless, vapid manner? Don’t you have a few years left where you simply say what you mean, say it out straight without all these irrelevancies?”

Rex spoke differently from anyone Billy had met. Everybody Billy knew— everybody, even teachers and college-educated people— spoke in fits and starts, pausing to think what they would say next, hesitating over the right word, beginning one sentence without ending the other. They peppered their talk with “like” and “you know” and “kind of”.

Rex didn’t speak like that. Rex spoke smoothly, without interruption, as though the entire sentence had popped into his head in one moment.

Billy stood there, wanting to apologize, knowing he couldn’t, and cursing himself for getting off to such a bad start with the person he admired most in the world.

He noticed that the cat was rubbing himself against Rex’s legs now— but still turning its glowing eyes on Billy every few seconds.

“Well, never mind that”, said Rex. “Let’s go downstairs and get you something to drink. We have a lot to talk about, you and I. A lot more than you might think.”


  1. I like the way you portray young folks. In both this one and "The Bard's Apprentice" (yes, more of that, please--when time permits!) your main characters think and feel the way I remember thinking and feeling in my teens. (So it must be right!) Maybe I've just read the wrong books so far, but it seems that in general a youthful protagonist comes across as an angsty caricature, or a cardboard observer. It's lovely when characters behave. . .like people! -Molly

  2. Thanks Molly! Maybe any plausibility in the portrayal is because I often feel like a fifteen-year-old in a thirty-six-year-old's body!

    I do often think that teenage characters in books and films are often too sardonic, cynical and lacking in a sense of wonder. I guess insecurity and wonder are the two edges of the same sword, when it comes to the teenage years. I can remember in school hearing other kids talking about a TV show called The Wonder Years and feeling a sense of wonder even about the title! My wife tells me it's a great show but I've never seen it.

  3. This is a really interesting story Maolsheachlann. When I first saw the length of it I was considering reading it later but I got drawn into it really quickly.

    I hate to be nit-picky again since I don't think you're planning on publishing the sotry or anything, but just some little mistakes I noticed:
    *In chapter 1 Billy is 15, but the next chapter says he's 14
    *Scott asks Billy why he doesn't go in the daytime, but chapter 2 says Lauren asked.

    Sorry for being nit-picky. Just thought I'd point them out. Aside from that, I agree with Molly. You do a really good job at bringing your characters to life, and you have quite a way of drawing the reader into your story's world. Well done.

  4. Thanks Antaine! If I ever become a professional novelist, I will employ you as my proofreader!! Seriously, thanks for pointing those out, I'll correct them.

    I'm so glad you like the story so far. I will publish more of it soon.