Here's Chapter 1 - same as last time, haven't read it through in a while but I am confident in the judgement of my past self!
It had been a normal day for Arthur Ridley. Well, normal for the usual happenings in Arthur’s unfortunate life. Presently, he collapsed on his bed and reflected on the day…
Firstly, he had awoken to the sound of someone slowing ripping apart Velcro. It was raining. This was an understatement, and Arthur felt the dreaded sinking feeling creep into the depths of his growling stomach, as he realised that he left his coat in school yesterday. This dismal start to the morning was closely followed by his turn in the bathroom being hogged by his older sister, Morgan. From years of experience, he knew that his shower now may as well be taken outside.
After lumpy porridge, burnt toast and shower of icicles, Arthur set out for school. Considering the circumstances, he should have qualified for a lift, but his mum had lost her license through several speeding tickets (ironically caused by trying to get Arthur to school on time). His dad worked night shifts and wouldn’t arrive home for hours, and he didn’t fancy a lift into school wedged between two of Morgan’s hyperactive friends, even if she’d have allowed him to set foot in her violently pink Mini. So instead, he had to resort to good old-fashioned walking; putting one foot in front of the other in a repeated pattern until the journey was complete. This produced problems of its own; however he appeared to have no choice in the matter.
School was only half a mile from Arthur’s house and took him, on average, ten minutes, but today the weather was against him. So he made a conscious decision to risk The Short Cut. Usually people don’t need to risk short cuts. Usually they quite enjoy the concept of minimising the time spent travelling, thus maximising the time spent in bed before hand. But this short cut was a danger to Arthur and should quite frankly have security guards at either end. It wasn’t just the weather that was against him in this passage way; it was fate too.
There were too many terrible coincidences that happened down Sparrow Lane. Arthur felt sure there were too many to count on all fingers, thumbs, toes and any other part of the body you care to count with.
I’ve got your attention now, haven’t I? Spooky street, a build up of tension, dramatic pause… you’re just dying to find out what gruesome tale came about from The Short Cut. But the unfortunate truth is that I am in no situation to tell you. Arthur feels too self-consciously about the dares, make-up attacks and farm-animal instances and I would hate to embarrass him further. Oops. Moving on swiftly…
That day, he managed to escape with minor injury to his pride. He saw no-one, (although to be honest, only he is mad enough to go out in gushing rain) and he stumbled out onto the open road only having fallen over twice: Once in a muddy puddle and again on the sole shard of broken glass in the passage, which had produced the scarlet streak on his cheek.
He paused, exhaled, straightened his tie, and strode gallantly onwards. He rounded the final corner before the school gates were in sight, when the world suddenly turned black. Arthur stood a moment in silence, waiting for something to happen, for him to wake up. Then, a match was struck and it flared, spitting like a cornered cat.
The globe of light illuminated particular features of someone’s face, highlighting all the wrong details and morphing the picture. If Arthur squinted, he could just make out an old, haggard female’s face, the sort the old hag has in fairytales. The woman opened her thin lips and a hoarse croak was made from somewhere in the depths of her throat.
“Do you want a cup of tea, boy?” she said, and opened one eye further in a questioning look.
“Err. No…Thanks,” said Arthur, taken aback by the incongruous conversation.
“No, no, I thought not,” croaked the hunchback lady. “No-one wants tea nowadays. George is it? Yess, yesss. On our way to school now are we? Yess, yess. I don’t expect you remember me George; you were only a wee baba when we met… ”
Arthur gingerly reached up to his chin to wipe the spit from it. He tried to do it subtly so as not to cause offense to the clearly confused pensioner, but found this difficult due to the pressing proximity in the tiny cupboard of a street-side home. He remembered the world and a sudden wave of common sense and confidence took over him and he piped up, “What do you want with me?”
“Me?!” said the woman, taken aback. “I don’t want anything from you, my dear boy. But Death does,” she added hastily, and eyed Arthur, awaiting a response.
“You don’t expect me to believe that do you?” after a slight pause. “I mean, you only know I’m going to school because I’m wearing uniform, no-one will accept tea from a stranger who’s just dragged them into their dark hovel, there’s no such person as ‘Death’ and my name’s not George!”
“Of course it isn’t, of course it isn’t,” replied the woman rather shakily, and Arthur immediately felt guilty for shouting at an innocent lady past her prime. “On you go then…” and with that Arthur was roughly shoved out into the world again, the dullness of the sky enough of a contrast to dazzle him temporarily.
He took stock: Bad morning, risky shortcut, rain, dark lair, creepy woman, rain, oh and now I’m late for school. With that he filed the events of the past five minutes for later study and fled through the school gates.
First lesson: History, with Miss Rose, third floor, D-Block. The information tumbled through Arthur’s mind like water through a sieve. He hurdled the front steps, traversed corridors, scaled the D-Block stairs and finally burst through the classroom door, dripping with rain water, sweat, blood and tears. His hair was a dark bush and his uniform had turned into a disaster. He stumbled over to the last available seat, at the front of the class, next to Damien, the class bully and trained humiliator with years of pranking experience. Arthur took out his soggy books and tuned into Miss Rose’s lecture on the Middle Ages.
Damien leaned over to him and murmured, “By the way, Martha, your sweater’s inside out.”