Extract from TOM O’KELL & THE CURSE OF AMURABIS

Cyrances wiped her sweaty hands down the sides of her white linen skirt, staining it brown, and placed the broom in a recess along the side of the courtyard wall. She was relieved to walk in the cool shadow of the cloisters. Singing accompanied by music plucked from stringed lyres floated through a tall arched entrance way. Cyrances was just about to walk through the archway when she heard a hushed call from across the courtyard. She turned. A grey haired old man dressed in a fringed skirt beckoned urgently to her. This was Urkal – one of the elder high priests. Cyrances hurried over to him. He pulled her into the shadows of the cloisters.

‘Cyrances. I thought you would be here.’ Urkal wheezed as though frightened.

‘What is it, Urkal? What troubles you?’

‘I have news for you. We must be careful though. Amurabis has ears everywhere. I fear for my safety if caught imparting this information to you but King Hannouken was kind to me and the fairest of our rulers.’

Cyrances lowered her head, hiding the tears glistening across her eyes.

‘Your children. They have been seen.’

‘What? Nampur and Zayana? Where are they?’ Cyrances asked impatiently. ‘I must see them.’

Urkal swallowed hard and shook his head. ‘No, Cyrances. You cannot. They have been seen incarcerated in a wooden cage driven through the streets on a cart.’ He stroked his long grey beard to stop his hands from shaking whilst looking from side to side checking that no-one was listening.

‘Where? Who saw them?’ Cyrances asked urgently, desperate for information about her two children.

‘A young slave. I overheard him in idle chatter amongst the slaves, yesterday He knows no more, only that they were in the hands of Amurabis’s men, and that other children were caged with them.’

Cyrances wiped her eyes and breathed deeply to compose herself. She was relieved to hear news of her children but alarmed as to what fate awaited them.

‘Th-Thank you, Urkal,’ she stuttered.

‘I only wish my tidings could have bore more hope for you.’ Urkal gazed mournfully at Cyrances, then turned quickly. A tall dark haired man strode purposefully from the temple. A fearful look passed between Urkal and Cyrances. Had they been overheard by Zekel? He walked towards them, his sly dark eyes observing them intently as though he was trying to penetrate their minds.

‘Gossiping with slaves now, Urkal?’ He glanced with contempt at Cyrances and brushed the side of his long dark skirt as though he may have been contaminated with fleas from her.

‘No – No. I was just reminding the slave to change the sacrificial offerings to Hakken, our God of War.’ He turned to Cyrances. ‘Find Ammen or Kanukka. They will slit the throat of a young goat for you. Now hurry!’ he scolded her. ‘And when you have done that, make sure you sweep this courtyard again. It isn’t good enough.’

‘Yes – Yes, my lord. I am sorry. I will hurry.’ Cyrances kept up the pretence and vanished through the arched entrance.

‘Good to see you are keeping her busy. Work her to a standstill until she succumbs to Amurabis are our orders. Flog her if necessary,’ Zekel chuckled.

Extract from TOM O’KELL & THE CURSE OF AMURABIS

Cyrances squinted at the bright sunlight hitting the marbled floor beneath her feet. Damp tresses of dark hair clung to the sides of her face. The morning was already uncomfortably warm. How had this happened? Her fall from Queen of Nephatimis was almost complete but she would not succumb to Amurabis’s demands that she join his harem. He would have to kill her before that happened. Tears of anger and sadness glistened in her dark brown eyes as she thought back to the days when she ruled this land with her husband, King Hannouken.

The people truly worshipped King Hannouken. Many years ago, his descendants had the vision to transform the village settlements along the banks of the two rivers – the Nisai and the Ephramun – into a thriving inland settlement by means of land irrigation. No longer would the people have to eke out a living on meagre crops and a few animals. Vast fields of wheat and barley now thrived in the once desolate flatlands. Groves of date palms, olives, oranges, lemons, pomegranates and other trees swayed in the warm winds offering fruits to the people and shade to the large herds of sheep and goats grazing beneath them. The settlements grew into thriving cities surrounded by man-made canals that allowed merchant ships to sail out into the Galgao Sea to do trade with neighbouring countries and islands. As a result almost one hundred thousand people now inhabited Anun, the main city of Nephatimis.

The centre of the city was occupied by sprawling bazaars and workshops for craftsmen who turned out beautiful trinkets and jewellery, finely crafted pottery, richly woven carpets and rugs, garments of the finest silks and cotton. The air was rich with the aroma of countless herbs and spices, exotic fruits and vegetables. People thronged through the winding avenues and streets of comfortable white bricked houses and mansions in a hubbub of noise and excited barter and haggling.

No one went without in the reign of King Hannouken and Queen Cyrances for this land of plenty was shared with all strands of society. All able bodied were in some form of employment or education and the old and the sick were comfortably cared for.

There were occasional skirmishes between the rival cities, arguing over irrigation rights and petty jealousies. As a result all cities were protected by towering walls and each boasted its own army. Amurabis commandeered the ten thousand strong army of Nephatimis. Amurabis himself had been brought to Nephatimis as a slave, working in the temple for the Grand Sorcerer and either by luck or cunning had eventually gained his freedom. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to he joined the army and swiftly powered through the ranks by his ferocious strength and bravery which no one dared to question.

Had they been asleep to Amurabis’s plans? How had the army of King Hannouken, to whom it sweared its allegiance, turned on them? The morning they dragged King Hannouken from his slumber had left deep scars in Cyrances’s mind that could never be healed. The look of bewilderment on his face as he was jostled from his wife’s embrace by brutish guards, their demonic eyes glowering wildly, insane laughter cackling from sneering mouths. Cyrances never saw her husband again – not as she knew him that is. His kind smile. His loving eyes. His gentle words. The last time Cyrances saw her husband’s face was when Amurabis forced her to the city’s gate to view King Hannouken’s head impaled on metal spikes.

Extract from TOM O’KELL & THE CURSE OF AMURABIS

‘That’s awfully mean of Pater, don’t you think? Do you never get jealous of Pater’s ladies? I mean to say, Pater was mawwied twice before you came along and wescued him.’

‘Jealous? Jealous?’ Mater chuckled to herself. ‘No, of course not Agatha. It wasn’t Pater’s fault his mawwiages didn’t work out, you know. His first wife, Ophelia, suddenly decided she wanted to be a man and had the mawwiage annulled so she could have a gender change. And his second wife, Heidi fwom Hanover, why, she suffered fwom tewwible home-sickness and wan off with a German shot-putter duwing the Munich Olympics of ’72. By all accounts, according to Pater, she looked like she was the one who undertook a gender change.’

‘He does like his ladies on the large size, doesn’t he Mater? Not that you’re large, Mater. I’d say you’re more…more….’

‘Voluptuous is the word you’re looking for, Agatha, my dear.’

‘Is it?’ Agatha frowned and blinked her magnified owl eyes quickly.

‘Yes, voluptuous,’ Mater purred and became dreamy eyed.‘Why, when we were courting, Engelbert used to say I weminded him of Mae West.’ Mater then smiled provocatively and spoke in an American accent of sultry tones, ‘When I’m good, I’m vewy good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.’ Mater’s face suddenly flushed red and she squealed in embarrassed laughter as though she couldn’t believe as to what she had just said.

‘Oh Mater!’ Agatha laughed. ‘You’re such a scweam.’

Mater quickly fanned her face with a tea towel. ‘My Lord, I don’t know what came over me. Must be the fumes fwom the beetwoot wine.’ Mrs. Sparrow giggled and caught her breath and continued in a more controlled manner. ‘Oh, Pater knows which side his bwead is buttered. Gweat Gwandpapa Howatio made his fortune in tea plantations. If ever Pater seems to be getting too fond of his ladies I just ask – “more tea Vicar?” and smile innocently. Engelbert soon falls back into line.’

Mother and baby owl exchanged innocent smiles and burst into owlish hoots.

‘You’re such a card, Mater,’ said Agatha as a flash of inspiration to match Mater’s cunning sparked through her mind.

‘I say, Mater. Surely you don’t need to give all twelve bottles of beetwoot wine to the fete. Why not save a bottle or two for you and Pater? Help with Pater’s migwaine after an evening with his ladies? May even spark off Pater’s memowies of the wesemblance between your good self and Mae West’

‘Hmmm,’ mused Mater. ‘I say, Agatha old girl. That could be an excellent idea. An excellent idea indeed. Although Pater does find it exceptionally powerful stuff. On second thoughts maybe not.’

‘But surely Pater needs it, if only for medicinal weasons. You know how cwanky he can be if he gets a migwaine.’
Mrs. Sparrow hesitated and strummed the edge of the cardboard box with her podgy fingers. ‘Well, maybe just one tiny glass. I suppose one tiny glass can’t do any harm – can it?’

Agatha grinned. She knew full well that Pater would soon get a taste for the beetroot and Mater would resemble Mae West more and more with every sip. Slipping out to see her bestest friend in the whole wide world would be a piece of cake. Yes, thought Agatha, the Lord does work in mysterious ways.

TOM O’KELL & THE CURSE OF AMURABIS

‘I’ve had a tewwific time, Mater. Emily is such a dear fwiend. She’s my bestest fwiend in the whole wide world. I can’t wait to call on her tomowwow.’

‘You won’t be calling on that demon girl tomorrow or any other day, Agatha,’ the Vicar interjected, eyeing Agatha sternly through the rear mirror of the car. ‘She’s the Devil’s child is that one. The seed of Satan.’ He crunched the gears in annoyance.

‘B-But Pater…..’

‘No buts child. You will be coming to the Church Fete tomorrow where we can keep an eye on you, my girl.’

Agatha frowned and begged Mater sitting by her side with pleading eyes. Mrs. Sparrow blinked her owl eyes rapidly and patted Agatha’s knee reassuringly. ‘The Lord works in mysterious ways, Agatha. Mysterious ways indeed.’

Agatha smiled, knowing the Lord would probably help her without upsetting Pater too much.

Just then a blur whizzed past the side of the car. ‘Oh, look Mater. Why, I do believe it’s Michael!’ Agatha pointed excitedly at the large figure cycling down the pavement, wending through pedestrians like an Olympic skier on a slalom course.

‘God preserve us!’ snapped Pater. ‘Is that troll another one of your new friends?’ The Vicar’s voice squeaked in fear. He pulled at his dog collar and stretched his neck as though trying to escape the responsibilities of his garments before the demon turned on him.

‘Why, n-no P-Pater,’ Agatha stammered.

‘Tell me child. Have you been associating with that brute.’

‘N-No Pater. Definitely not, Pater.’

The Vicar’s eyes burned into Agatha’s reflection. ‘God will know if you are lying Agatha. I will ask you one more time. Have you been fraternising with that monster?’

Agatha gulped. Her magnified owl eyes looked up at Mater for some guidance but none was forthcoming.
‘N-No, Pater. You must believe me. I just know him from school.’ Agatha denied Mad Mick’s friendship for the third time. Agatha squeezed her eyes shut tight. A cockerel crowed from the allotments by the side of the road. ‘Forgive me St.Peter,’ Agatha muttered, praying she wouldn’t be crucified upside down for her sins.

‘Humph!’ The Vicar grunted and crunched the gears yet again as he slammed the gear stick into fourth and accelerated into an unfamiliar speed.

‘You can help me with the beetroot wine when we get home, Agatha,’ Mater smiled. ‘Pater has his ladies coming round. He won’t want us under his feet.’

TOM O’KELL & THE CURSE OF AMURABIS

Ben somersaulted through a tunnel without walls, a dazzling brightness pulling him towards its centre. Nothing remained of Ben’s body, he was a thought in a sea of consciousness with an infinite knowledge of everything that had passed and what was yet to follow. Any fear had melted away with the molecules of his existence. He was an electrical impulse now travelling through the matrix of reality stopping occasionally, dripping through a fibre of energy into a scene of life.

‘She’s murdered him!’ Henrietta screamed, her red rimmed eyes bulging crazily from their sockets. ‘I knew we shouldn’t have let him go off with that thug. He’s her accomplice.’

Percy affectionately stroked the tactile photo frame standing on the mantle, gazing into Ben’s blue eyes underlined with deep shadows.

‘Well…What are you going to do about it, Percy? Eh? What are you going to do?’

Percy shook his head, frustrated by his wife’s hysterical rants and gently embraced her.

‘There’s nothing we can do, dear. We must leave the police to get on with their investigations.’

Henrietta pulled at a handkerchief, held between her bird-like hands, as though she was about to rip it apart. Veins bulged between the sinews of her neck. She jumped up from the two-seater settee and grabbed a plastic model of Darwin’s ship, The Beagle. She flung it to the floor and jumped up and down on it until it was scattered across the carpet. Franklin, the family’s highly strung Yorkshire Terrier, scurried from beneath the drop-leaf table and scampered into the kitchen.

Ben tugged at his Mum’s dark green cardigan.

‘I’m here Mum. I’m okay. Mr’s O’Kell is innocent.’

Henrietta rushed back to the settee and buried her head into a floral cushion, sobbing wildly. Percy stooped to salvage what he could of his plastic ship. Ben tapped his Dad’s shoulder.

‘Dad, I’m here. Everything’s going to be okay now. You can call the police. Tell them to release Mrs. O’Kell.’

Percy rubbed his forehead and sighed heavily. That ship had taken him two months to complete. How could she? How could she? He placed the largest pieces onto the table and went to the kitchen. Ben followed him.

‘Dad! Dad! Can’t you hear me?’

Percy rummaged through a cupboard beneath the kitchen sink and pulled out a brush and pan set.

‘Dad! Dad!’ Ben shouted but Percy didn’t respond. Franklin did though. He ran to Ben and sat at his feet, jumping up at him and barking excitedly.

‘Whatever’s got into you?’ Percy snapped angrily at the small terrier jumping up at empty space, and left the kitchen.

Ben shook his head despondently and stroked Franklin’s head. ‘You can see me. Why can’t they?’ Franklin wagged his tail and licked Ben’s hand. ‘What am I going to do, Franklin? What am I going to do?’

Ben didn’t have time to wait and find out as his body was sucked back into the meshwork of his perceived reality. His existence raced through a network of holographic dimensions and streams of thought until it dropped into another reality, as water would fall from a dripping tap.

TOM O’KELL & THE CURSE OF AMURABIS

THUD!!!

THUD!!!

THUD!!!

The arrows split the gnarled bark as two small figures dived behind it’s protective shield.

‘I can’t run anymore. I can’t….I can’t….I can’t,’ the frail boy cried.

‘We have to. They’ll kill us this time if we stay. Come on Mezbah. Grab my hand.’

Baying hounds accompanied the ominous sounds of the long hunting horns, their slender golden bodies glistening in the dappled sunlight.

TWAAAAAANG!!!!

TWAAAAAANG!!!!

Two spears vibrated in the large tree trunk, their shafts shivering, emulating the fear quivering in the boys’ hearts.

‘Leave me. You go. I want to die. Let me join our Father in the Otherworld.’

‘No,’ Nampur hissed, grabbing his brother’s arm and dragging him to his shaky feet. ‘You’re coming with me. We’re nearly there. Look!’ Nampur pointed to a sandstone wall at the edge of the forest. A golden gate adorned with serpents’ heads stood ajar, tempting them to take the next few strides to safety……………….or death.

A loud crack of twigs diverted their attention. A young boy darted from the safety of the foliage, his eyes screaming alarm. He ran for the open gate but stumbled in a mass of trailing vines. He rose to his feet and glanced at the excited shouts behind. A flurry of arrows thudded into his back dropping him to the ground like a trembling porcupine.

‘Now,’ screamed Nampur dragging Mezbah towards the exit before he had time to object. Twisting black arrows whistled past their ears and smashed against the stone wall. Frenzied yapping yelps increased in volume as the hunters released the pack of tesem, ferocious hunting hounds, used by Amurabis, the ruler of Nephatimis to appease his lust for hunting children.

Extract from TOM O’KELL & THE PAPANUK

‘Kabucha? Will you be playing kabucha with the other young braves?’ Kabucha was the origin for modern day lacrosse and was a recreation to toughen the young warriors ready for combat. The game would take place over a large area involving hundreds of young braves and could last for days. Manitaku didn’t care much for kabucha. It was too rough. He was always targeted by the other young braves, especially Haiaku. Haiaku was a few years older than Manitaku and he liked nothing better than hitting Manitaku on his shins with the wooden kabucha stick, which resembled a large wooden spoon. Manitaku saw the mocking enjoyment in Haiaku’s cold eyes, knowing the pain he had inflicted on Manitaku. The young boys saw some kind of perverted honour in causing the Chief’s son to cry. Manitaku saw his cowardice as a threat to his Father’s leadership. His Father was sure to be challenged by siring a boy-girl and Manitaku knew that Haiaku was going to be the main threat in the next few years when he matured into adulthood. Haiaku bragged to the other young braves that when the time was right, he would become Chief of the Chicuan and they would see Chief Watanu cry as well as his boy-girl, Manitaku.

A colourful bullfinch landed close by with a small grub trapped between its beak. The bullfinch dropped the wriggling grub on the floor and trapped it between its small claws. It dug its sharp beak into the grub and pulled at its body, stretching it until it snapped in two. Manitaku knew how the grub felt. Wriggling. Trapped. Split in two. The bullfinch ate the half of the grub, wiped its beak on the sparse grass and turned to the other half of the grub’s body, slowly twisting blindly, wishing it was whole again and had the chance to wriggle its way out of the situation.

Manitaku slowly lifted his bowed head. His sad, red rimmed eyes met the Papanuk. He struggled with the trembling in his lips, using his teeth to quell the quivering. The Papanuk understood.
‘There is no need to answer, my child. I will speak with Chief Watanu. Walk your own path. Hold your head high. Wear your coat with pride.’

Manitaku couldn’t hold his trembling lips anymore. A large teardrop welled over his eyelid and cascaded down his twitching cheek. Wynoka put her arm around his shoulder but he threw it off, turned and ran away sobbing. A group of young boys ran after him, stinging his feelings with shouts of “boy-girl”. They chased him through the silver birch trees and into the lush bushes. Threats, thumps, slaps and kicks stopped Manitaku’s crying. The boys ran away laughing. Wynoka ran after her friend

Extract from TOM O’KELL & THE PAPANUK

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But it was the thought of Tom without his Dad that broke Lucy’s heart. Lucy tried to blot out the memory of the moment she had to tell Tom that his Dad had died, but the memory was too stubborn and cruel. She could still feel his little body shaking, the colour draining from his face and the wide eyed stare of disbelief before he fell into a heap on the floor kicking and screaming. Lucy’s thoughts whisked her to Harminster General Hospital. She could still hear her screams howling through the corridors as Mark took his last breath and closed his eyes forever. She remembered looking at the strange lifeless body in the hospital bed. It wasn’t Mark anymore. It was a stranger slowly going cold, warm lips cooling to a shade of dirty blue. Mark wasn’t going to open his sparkling blue eyes anymore. Mark wasn’t going to make her laugh anymore. Mark wasn’t going to hold her anymore. Mark was dead and he wasn’t coming back, ever, and she didn’t know when this pain was going to stop. The funeral had been a surreal day that she had stumbled through, nodding at the well intentioned cliches from uncomfortable friends – “Time’s a great healer” “It will get easier with time” “He’s at peace now” – It wasn’t getting easier and she felt ashamed when she wished that time would speed up so that death could claim her.

Tom stood at the entrance to the living room. He saw his Mum’s shoulders shaking, her long red hair bobbing. Tom sighed and quietly walked over to his Mum. His blue eyes reddened as he curled his arm around his Mum. Lucy hugged Tom tightly into her tummy, while she sniffled and quickly composed herself, wiping away the tears from her eyes with the sleeve of her light brown cardigan. Tom wanted to tell her that he knew where Dad was but he didn’t know how to. She would have believed him a couple of weeks ago when his Dad spoke to them from the television set, but not now. His Mum had put it down to exhaustion and strained emotions causing a shared hallucination, each other suggesting what they saw and heard. Tom wasn’t going to tell his Mum. Tom decided he was going to bring his Dad back home. He didn’t quite know how yet but he knew he was prepared to die trying.

Extract from TOM O’KELL & THE PAPANUK

PapanukFRONT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Papanuk sat on the small hillside, surrounded by the children of the Chicuan camp. The children loved to hear his tales and parables. Tales of The Creation; Tales of the woodland animals; Tales of the nature around them. They may not understand their true meanings yet, but as they grew, they would come to understand the true wisdom spoken by the Papanuk. The hillside was bathed in warm sunshine. Birdsong whistled through the balmy air. The children chattered and giggled excitedly, waiting for the Papanuk to begin his storytelling.

One small boy, seated amongst a group of small girls, squealed in fits of high-pitched laughter. A group of boys, sitting across, pointed at him and ridiculed his effeminate ways. Chief Watanu, sighed deeply, embarrassed by his son’s girlish traits. Avoiding eye contact with any of his tribe, he hurried back to his tepee. He would speak with his son, Manitaku, ……again! How had he spawned a boy-girl? There could be no greater shame for a Chief. His authority would come into question. There could be a challenge to his leadership. If only his beloved Shushanay, Manitaku’s mother, was still here. She would ease the Chief’s troubled mind and soothe his aching heart. Shushanay, his beautiful Shushanay, high cheek bones framing two large almond shaped eyes of dark velvet brown, jet black hair cascading and glistening over her slim shoulders, touching the base of her spine. Her small delicate hands would stroke Chief Watanu’s brow and she would whisper her love for him and the World would be well again. Tears glistened in Chief Watanu’s black eyes remembering his beloved Shushanay, cruelly taken away from him at the birth of their son, Manitaku – his boy-girl Manitaku. He would get the Shaman, Mayakula, to take him to the Otherworld to seek out Shushanay. If only so that he could embrace her again, see her smile, hear her soft voice, feel her gentle kisses. How he missed Shushanay. Shortly after her passing over from this life to the Spirit World, Chief Watanu had insisted that Mayakula take him to the Otherworld so that he could be with Shushanay. He didn’t want her to be frightened and alone. Mayakula fulfilled his Chief’s wishes but Chief Watanu couldn’t have been more wrong. When he found Shushanay, she looked even more beautiful and truly happy to be with her ancestors of long, long ago. She assured Chief Watanu that she was waiting for him in the Spirit World. Waiting for the day that his soul would return Home and they would live together throughout eternity, in a tepee of love, in the peaceful land of their ancestors. She was watching over them, patiently waiting. Chief Watanu knew she was watching. He sensed her every day. He dreamed of her every night. He spoke to her in his moments of solitude. Ten Winters. Ten Summers. Chief Watanu had never considered taking another Chicuan woman. His heart belonged to Shushanay.

Extract from TOM O’KELL & THE PAPANUK

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‘What’s up with Franklin now?’ Henrietta cheeped, carefully putting her feather duster and polishing accessories into a large blue plastic mesh container. She untied her floral apron, folded it with pin sharp accuracy and hung it over a wooden backed chair next to Percy. Percy was too wrapped up admiring the completed Tiger Moth to hear his wife’s chirpings. Henrietta hurriedly left the living room. Franklin continued his high pitched yappings at a large dark shadow looming outside the frosted glass panels of the front door. Henrietta stopped abruptly and gasped at the size of the shadow. Franklin scampered back into the living room, trembling beneath the drop leaf table.

‘Who’s there?’ Henrietta squeaked. There was no reply. She carefully slid the bolt in place in the brass door chain and slowly opened the door. She peeked through the gap. Henrietta couldn’t believe what she saw towering above her. She gulped, gasped and quickly slammed the door shut. She pressed her frail back against the door and in a quivering voice shouted, ‘Percy! Percy!’
‘Whatever’s the matter, dear Henrietta?’ Percy asked calmly, pressing his wire rimmed glasses up against his long thin nose on entering the hallway.
‘Th-That,’ stuttered Henrietta, pointing to the dark shadow beyond the door.
‘Who is it?’ Percy was soon to find out. The shadow thumped on the door, shaking it in its doorframe.
‘Out of my way, Henrietta. I’ll deal with this,’ Percy bravely offered. Percy unlocked the door chain and swung the door open. ‘Now look here my f – f – fellow,’ the words stalled to a halt in Percy’s throat. Percy blinked hard. The huge shadow blinked back.
‘I’ve come for Ben,’ Mad Mick told Percy, but with Mick’s permanent scowl and size it came across as an order. ‘Y-Y-Yes of course,’ Percy stammered. ‘J-just a minute.’ Percy gently closed the door and turned to Henrietta.
‘Well?’ she asked.
‘He wants Ben!’ Percy exclaimed.
‘Ben? Ben? Whatever does he want with Ben? Tell him to go away.’
Percy sighed, apprehensive as to what action the monster may take if he disobeyed orders. Ben had heard the commotion in the hallway and came running downstairs to see what the fuss was about. Percy put the bolt back in the chain lock and nervously opened the door. He peered through the narrow gap and looked up at the giant. ‘I’m afraid Ben isn’t in at the moment.’
Mad Mick appeared stumped, unsure what to do next. ‘When will he be back?’
‘Who is it Dad?’ Ben shouted.
‘Huh?’ Mad Mick grunted.
‘Oh no!’ squeaked Percy, smiling apologetically, turning away from the door, hoping the ogre would have disappeared when he looked back.
‘Who is he?’ Henrietta whispered.
‘He’s my mate, Mick. Mad Mick.’
‘You can’t mix with thugs like that,’ she told Ben.
‘Mick isn’t a thug. He’s my friend.’
‘Tell him to go home, Percy. Our Ben isn’t to mix with his sort.’
Mad Mick could hear all of this through the gap in the door. Maybe it was a mistake to believe mistakes could have friends. Maybe he would be better going back to his old ways of terrorising the local kids. Who needs friends? The shadow began to fade away from the frosted glass, rays of light penetrated the hallway.