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Andrew Hawcroft on Smashwords
Copyright © 2006 by Andrew Hawcroft
Your support and respect for the property of this author is appreciated.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Young Adult Reading Material
For Mary and David Hawcroft. Great Parents.
In Loving Memory of Basillis Nikolakos. A great
As far as the actual birth of Jimmy Cardinal was concerned, only one strange thing occurred that was noticed by those present…
The decrepit Jaston General Hospital had been constructed during the reign of Queen Victoria. Not enough modernization had occurred since then. Not quite. Certainly not in the Maternity Ward, which rang daily with the cries of angry, sweating women undergoing contractions alongside grumbling, low-voiced husbands and boyfriends (usually boyfriends). These men would rub their heads awkwardly and stare miserably/angrily/hopelessly at their scuffed trainers and scratched workboots as their allegedly better halves raged at their incompetence in all departments. They did this while fighting increasingly violent attempts from their unborn to free themselves sooner rather than later from their angry prisons.
The ward itself was painted a particularly pale green, which perhaps might have been chosen to be soothing, but more likely was the only colour available to the decorators on discount. It created a nauseous feeling that was complimented perfectly by the humming fluorescent strips lights, the plastic covers for which contained thirty years worth of dead flies.
The halls outside the ward rang with echoing curses, complaints, demands, commands and pleas for various persons to be contacted to come and see them. The building stank of some industrial strength cleaning chemical, which nevertheless failed to hide the iron-cold atmosphere of parents trying to welcome unplanned children into their world, knowing all-too-well they lacked the resources to raise them.
The doctors and nurses that entered the ward did so with stiff, jerky movements, born of a life that required too much coffee over a good night's sleep. They always had their heads down, examined quickly and left quicker, especially here in Maternity, as to linger would be to feel the wrath of one or more Jaston woman. The causes of their anger would vary; too hot, too cold, no attention, no privacy, bad food, bad neighbours, the government, the fact that doctors didn‘t know anything anyway and not enough drugs. It was a place of despair and fury, and the rusting metal beds and sickening walls absorbed none of it.
Shauna Cardinal, seventeen, was the worst mother-to-be on the ward by far. Her faded pink t-shirt, just visible beneath her hospital smock had once matched the remaining pink edges of her mud-coloured hair, hair that now tried to mask her face. Perhaps just to dampen the sound.
The place was “A HOLE!” The good-for-nothing ****** that put her here was just another ******* like all the other ******* men out there, and she wasn’t fooled, oh no! The doctors might have white coats but they were still ******* men like all the rest. She knew what they said about her behind her back too. She knew it!
When wearily repeated requests to calm down were vocally (and viscously) repelled by Shauna, Doctor Simon Johns, the unfortunate man who had today’s shift and hadn’t slept more than six hours in two days, seriously thought about tranquilising her. After she had grumbled something under her breath that rhymed with clucking banker, he had left the ward and taken three hard steps toward the pharmacology department before he stopped himself. If there were an allergic reaction and the shot was deemed indulgent….
He sighed. Quicker to shoot her.
He reached out a hand and leant against the wall for a second, wondering how he had come to be someone who thought things like that. It was an abhorrent thing to say! Such thoughts were a daily occurrence now, and it scared him that they were losing the power to dismay him, however gradually. He looked around him. Another year, he thought, and such thoughts won’t bother me at all. He swallowed hard at that.
I’ve got to get out of here.
He made himself go back to Maternity
As he continued his rounds on the other side of the ward, suddenly Shauna’s waters broke, and then, a moment later, it all went to hell in a handcart. It took four nurses to keep her in her bed as she was apparently going to ******* leave this ******* hole and anyone who tried to stop her, etc, etc.
The labour was a long and painful one for her, helped only by the fact that after a time of utterly unrestrained, glass-shattering screaming, she seemed to have exhausted herself early on and now lay helpless on the bed, pale and occasionally weeping, calling for somebody called Jacque. The name seemed to cause her a lot of pain, and the tears flowed freely. On and on the labour went, as the baby (for Shauna had not cared to know if it was a boy or a girl) had gotten turned around inside her, and the attending doctor and midwife had no easy task guiding it out head first.
The sun left the sky outside the frosted, cracked windows in their browning frames, and the only light around now was fluorescent. Shadows lengthened in the stinking corridors, and more and more voices died as the unhappy population of the building fell asleep or succumbed to medication.
In the last few seconds before the birth, Shauna seemed to wake up, regain some steel in her spirit and become her old self, meaning Jacque was now a ******* and this was all his fault. She hated ‘it’ and just knew that 'it'’ that it would be a boy, a boy that would grow up to become like him. They were all the same.
When the baby was finally pulled free, bloodied and silent, Shauna collapsed back on the pillows, tearing the worn bed sheets with her clenched, pink-painted fingernails and hissing breathless broken words to herself that the nurses (were glad they) could not hear. Another came in and dabbed a wet cloth on her forehead. That nurse unfortunately did hear what Shauna said, and it caused her to have a sharp intake of breath. Her free hand, which dangled out of sight, clenched into a fist. Then she walked away on hard steps.
When the doctor announced with a cautious, forced attempt at joy, that the baby was a boy, Shauna did nothing for a moment. She stared into space unblinking, unmoving. Then, as if electrified, she suddenly jerked upright, and gave a hysterical shriek that could have been laughter. The midwife jumped like a scalded cat, and then bowed her head a moment later, keeping under control her hatred of this woman. How many women out there would have been delighted at such a gift as this boy? More importantly, what kind of life was this boy going to have?
Sometimes it’s just better not to know she thought. Sometimes it’s just better.
Then the placenta was removed, and umbilical cord was cut and, after a nervous few moments, the baby boy cut the air with his first cries.
And all the lights went out…
The midwife, despite twenty years in the profession, gave a little shriek and Doctor Johns used language that was entirely inappropriate. The delivery room was in total darkness except for the tiny pin-point lights of the electronic equipment on a nearby table.
“Oh my God!” said the midwife.
The baby carried on crying,
Doctor Johns waited and waited, breathing hard. Then;
“Come on! Where’s the bloody back-up? We have a…”
Suddenly, the lights were back on. What was unusual is that they didn’t flicker back on like fluorescent strip lights usually do. Instead they slowly gleamed back to life, in a way they had never done before. Slow and steadily.
The midwife and Doctor Johns looked at each other, and then, with cast-iron professionalism, went back to business. Questions could be left for later.
“THIS ******* PLACE!” screamed Shauna so loud it hurt their ears, and then it was crash-bang back to reality for both of them.
While the doctor warned her again (less gently this time) to calm down, the midwife picked up the baby to take it away for cleaning.
“KEEP IT! GO ON! I’M DONE WITH IT. KEEP THE ******* THING!” Shauna shouted.
As the midwife made the familiar journey down the hall, she looked down at the baby, as it had suddenly stopped crying . It seemed to have a curiously calm expression on its face, meeting her gaze with steady, focused blue eyes.
“That wasn’t you that did that thing with the lights was it?” whispered the midwife through a tight half-smile.
The baby coughed up spit and she quickly, gently, wiped its mouth.
Then for some reason, she thought;
I hope it was. I hope you grow up to be someone very special little lamb, because you’re going to need all the help you can get….
And she was right
Jimmy couldn’t for the life of him remember when he had first heard the song ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ by Elton John. It seemed to have always been there, playing in the back of his mind, but he had only collected enough vouchers from certain cereal packets to receive the world’s cheapest CD walkman about a month ago. The CD itself was called ‘The Great British Songwriters’ and had been given away free in The Daily Mirror, which was not a paper that frequented his home a lot, but he scraped together enough coppers to buy it nonetheless.
He had once told his mother about the song, and how it was his favourite, even humming a bar or three. Her reaction regarding the song and about Elton himself had made him angry at the same time, so he didn't play it around her anymore in case the music crept out of the headphones. He didn’t want anybody spoiling ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’.
Now he played the song at least once a day. It was comforting. God knows why, but it was. Like being hugged or something….
* * *
Jimmy Cardinal discovered he could fly at exactly 1.45am on the morning of November 28th. This time and date would be forever carved in his memory, because when it happened, his eyes had locked hysterically upon the glowing green digits of the microwave’s clock as he ascended three inches off the kitchen linoleum.
The day before had been the 27th of course, and it seemed in hindsight as if it should have been filled with warnings and portents of what the following day was to bring. Such a stupendous day should surely have come with some warning sign?
It should have been if Jimmy’s life was a book. It wasn’t though, and never had been. In all his thirteen years of life, Jimmy had never known any other place than this slowly browning, decaying council flat on the thirteenth floor of Maycliff Towers, in the heavily industrialised town of Jaston. All his life, he had seen the same furnace chimneys for the iron smelting factory outside of the kitchen window, had woken each day to the interminable grind of honking traffic going nowhere of the A49B bypass that hedged the south corner of Maycliff Towers.
It once, quite recently, occurred to Jimmy that it was odd that his life should seem so dull and lifeless to him. Compared to what? He had known no other existence, yet it still all felt wrong, still felt like somebody else’s life had replaced his own and it was an ill fit.
His mother, Shauna, was a young mother, only seventeen years older than him, but she looked older. Cigarettes and anger did that. Both had cut steel-hard lines on her face that became more pronounced when she narrowed her eyes, which she did a lot, and no make-up, no matter how thickly applied, could now completely hide them. The hair was permanently black through chemical means and would stay that way. She had found a grey hair the year earlier, and had smashed something in the bathroom. He forgot what, even though he had brushed up the fragments, but he had heard her crying in the toilet later. She had left the flat ten minutes after that and by evening her hair was crow-black. Rightly or wrongly, it suited her, though her natural colour was brown.
She seemed angry or edgy all day, right from the moment she woke, and come evening it would still be there. On the 27th, she crashed in through the fractured red, graffiti-covered door to the council flat , smashing the plastic carrier bags down upon the cracked Formica table.
“******** Lo-Pryce! I’ll be ****** if I shop there again! ****** Margery!”
Who Margery was and what she had done was unknown to Jimmy and it didn’t seem to matter. If it wasn’t Margery, it would be someone else tomorrow. His mother had long ago decided the world was against her and acted accordingly.
“Council woman‘s coming tomorrow, bloody typical the day after I get my dole! Still, I’ll have words for her if she gives me any lip about rent. It’s my money, I’ll spend it how and when I like” she had hissed. “What am I, a ******* baby?”
He wondered then if she was even really talking to him. Did she talk like this when she was alone? There was something really awful about that thought, and he let it go out of his mind a moment after it came in.
She then said something ugly about putting the shopping away later, and walked in her trainers, still wet from the frost, into the living room. A second later, the TV would blink to life and a gameshow/chat show presenter would be loudly blaring inanities. It was as predictable as breathing, and Shauna Cardinal always seemed to watch chat shows where the guests ended up screaming at each other. When this happened, she would often turn the volume up. Sometimes he would hear her laughing from his bedroom. That laugh penetrated everything, no matter where he went.
The shopping would stay there all day and probably be there a good part of tomorrow. You got used to it. Jimmy now barely noticed the torn black bin bags full of beer cans that were piled in the corner of the kitchen. They seemed to have just…stayed. The ashes had to be spilling onto the coffee-table before the ashtrays were emptied. He hardly acknowledged the permanent rows of wine bottles lined up across the back of the kitchen counter and around the bin.
He barely noticed…. He hardly acknowledged… Apart from when he did.
At times like this, Jimmy would sit on his neat and tidy bed which he always made himself, hands wrapped around his knees and look out of his window at the sky. Why he would do this was anyone’s guess, since Jaston wasn’t blessed with a particularly attractive sky. Like the landscape below it, it was varying shades of grey, with the occasional tinge of white, brown or black on particularly stormy days. Jaston seemed cursed sometimes, receiving the worst weather England had to offer, with cases of floodings and destruction of property by high winds not uncommon.
It was however, cheap to live there, which drew a certain kind of population. A limited, desperate kind.
Jimmy and Shauna did not talk about Jimmy’s father. She would not tell him his name even after thirteen years. She had only once said that she had met him when she had been ‘young and stupid’. She said this in a way that always sounded like she had come on a great deal since then, that she was now a better, wiser women.
Jimmy had long ago learned the futility of asking her for help with his homework. She knew nothing about anything it seemed; not Geography, Maths, Science, English Literature, Grammar or History. She had not known the date World War Two ended, the square route of forty-nine, what a measurement of electricity was, who wrote ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ or whether ‘running’ was a verb, noun or adjective. More and more lately, she made less and less attempts to show any interest full stop.
She did not ask him at all now how he got on at school, her cutting words always full of hate for somebody who had done her wrong that day, usually part of the Government in some way but anyone was fair game. If Jimmy did not occasionally volunteer information, he wondered how long he could play truant before his mother would notice. If she ever did. The school could not ring her because she had given them the wrong phone number deliberately.
“I’m not getting pestered to do nothing for them! That‘s their job! They get paid for it!" was her only explanation. She had been painting her fingernails fire-engine red as she told him.
But Jimmy did go to school, not because he liked it, but because he needed it. He saw that clearly. He needed it to prevent himself from ending up like Shauna (yes, he thought of her as Shauna more than Mum) She had not worked for two years since losing her job as a checkout girl at the Lo-Pryce supermarket. She had had some screaming argument and hit another member of staff, a girl, and been instantly dismissed. Since then, life revolved around the arrival of the fortnightly giro cheque, along with various other little sums of money that came in from the government which he didn’t understand. There was never enough money to buy good food, always the cheap crap that Lo-Pryce peddled. Jimmy even hated the name. Lo-Pryce. It made you feel dumb, desperate and poor to shop there.
Jimmy had once mentioned angrily (aged ten) that she would save money if she didn’t spend four pounds ninety-five pence a day on cigarettes, but that had ended in screaming. Not shouting. Screaming. He didn’t want to end up screaming like his mother so he had walked to his room. He’d done that a lot in this little council flat. What else could he do? There was absolutely nowhere else to go.
School (Jaston Secondary Modern) was alright, not great, but alright. He was a quiet lad, he knew this and had no problem with it, though other kids remarked upon it occasionally in the sensitive, gentle way that thirteen year-old boys and girls remark upon anything. He was a hard-working student, having little in the way of serious friends to distract him. Despite this quiet nature, he had a persistent spirit which dissuaded most bullies (except Gordon Stone; what was his problem?) and allowed him to do okay in sports. He got on alright with the people in his classes when he was in class, but ate lunch alone. He did reasonably well in all classes but excelled in none. No obvious talent emerged, but he had no great failing either, except perhaps a lack of aptitude for Maths and a notable lack of passion for anything in particular. This lack of any direction or talent did not sit well with him. Sometime he wondered if it would be him sitting behind a checkout at Lo-Pryce in three years. Sometimes he would have given his right arm to get an F in one subject if only to get an A in another. Something to distinguish him and give him a path.
He did not feel like a thirteen year-old, or at least how he imagined a thirteen year-old should feel. He looked after himself a lot, made his own breakfast most days, prepared his own packed lunches for school. His mother had accepted the idea easily, presumably relieved at the idea of not having to cut sandwiches anymore, particularly those made of Lo-Pryce bread. He had lately started repairing his own clothes, gently biting his lip as he struggled with the needle and black thread he had bought himself. His mother had long since fallen into the habit of sleepily claiming to do such things ‘later’. This meant she would forget it until reminded a second or occasionally third time, when she would do it whilst watching a chat show, her brow furrowed, a swear word seemingly always about to burst from his lips and do no better job of it than he. His very dark red hair (rich maroonish red, not ginger) he often trimmed himself with kitchen scissors, since his mother never offered to take him and he knew seven pounds-fifty for a haircut would not go down well when mentioned. Another mine in the minefield to step over. It wasn’t so hard to do if you wet it first and used a mirror. They were lucky to have such sharp, stainless steel scissors.
No, Jimmy Cardinal did not feel like a young boy. He felt like he was a stranger in a strange land. He didn’t use that phrase exactly, but that was how he felt. Surely he had been mixed up at birth with someone else? That happened a lot he read once. Jimmy read a lot. Not worthy, intellectual books; he openly accepted he wasn’t a closet genius. He read comics because they were cheap and he liked looking at the pictures rather than just reading words. He had quite a collection now; horror comics, funny comics, superhero comics, action-adventure comics. He read his collection over and over again because it distracted him from his own life, and also kept him in his room in the evenings, keeping him out of (harm’s) his mother’s way. She didn’t actually hit him, Jimmy’s mother, but she often acted like she wanted to, and that….that was a bad thing to feel. And you could feel it at such times, feel it in the air like ugly heat.
Lately, it was getting worse too.
Jimmy’s thirteenth birthday party had been an awful occasion, partly because he had no one he wanted to invite, partly because most of those he did invite did not turn up, leaving his mother to curse the money she had spent on Lo-Pryce own-brand crisps and some obscure species of Cola drink with Polish writing on the side. It was also because Shauna had demanded he have this party when drunk a few nights before. She had staggered in with another man called Billy that made Jimmy uncomfortable, and proudly proclaimed she would give her ‘little ***** beauty’ a proper little party like Billy’s lad had received earlier that day. He had wanted a birthday party, and when she sobered up, he had not asked her to cancel. Why? Perhaps he wanted to see her doing motherly things. Perhaps he wanted her to feel motherly doing birthday things. Whatever, it was been bad, and from that day, she had treated him almost like an adult, the last vestiges of childhood were apparently not supposed to survive the thirteenth-year mark in the Cardinal household.
Since then, there had been no effort at all to curb the bad language (if there had ever been. ) Not just bad language but sometimes the worst language the English has to offer, and he instinctively closed his ears to it. These days he took himself to his room very quickly, often going days only speaking to his mother at the dinner table, or, more occasionally now, at the breakfast table.
Lately she had been smoking something other than regular cigarettes too. They smelt funny, and although he had no reference, Jimmy guessed it must be something you didn’t buy at Lo-Pryce, at least not openly. It seemed to slow her reactions, blunt the knife edge for a while, so he was all for it. She could get a little too slow sometimes. Jimmy had gone into the lounge once to find one of these strange-smelling, self-rolled cigarettes on top of the sofa arm, slowly burning a spreading black mark into the material before he yanked it off and spat on the burn, hearing it hiss. He didn’t mention this to her, only placed it on the edge of an ashtray and placed that on the sofa arm. Hopefully she would get the message without him having to say anything. It would be difficult to do so without it sounding like a criticism, and Shauna Cardinal didn’t ‘do’ criticism. He would wonder how much the stuff in these ‘special’ cigarettes cost from time to time, but let the thought move on out of his mind a little later, because it simply didn’t matter. The money would come from whatever magic cauldron of money provided all the other stuff she needed to get through the stress-filled days of doing nothing. Just let it go. It was out of his little hands, that’s for sure.
She did get pangs of guilt now and again it seemed, getting up early to make him a decent breakfast and actually kissing him on the cheek goodbye. On such days she would appear to be almost a different person entirely, physically and emotionally. Her face would be pale, free of make-up and her eyes wide and sorrowful. Something inside her had been either caged or set free for a while depending on how you looked at it. It hadn’t passed him by that these periods of ‘niceness’ coincided with the lack of an empty beer can or bottle on the counter. Other than that, he had no real idea what brought on such changes but they were gone by the evening. That was a given.
On November the 27th, Jimmy Cardinal got a C on a Biology test and successfully tackled the school’s star football striker. He had completed a rubbish sci-fi comic called ‘The Nightlight Man’, and had managed to hit his head on the door of a kitchen cabinet his mother left open. He had sworn quietly, rubbed it hard and gone to bed. It was only nine o’clock but it was either that or watch a wild-eyed husband and father of eight put on an over-sized nappy and roll around in a paddling pool filled with jam in front of a shrieking, clapping audience, in order to win a holiday in Miami.
So Jimmy had sat in bed and looked up at the black night sky through his window, hands wrapped around his knees. He looked up and wondered what he had done wrong to deserve this.
He was still wondering that when he fell asleep an hour later…
Jimmy woke up. He didn’t wake up hard and cold from a terrible nightmare. He simply realised he was no longer asleep and therefore opened his eyes. He looked at the plaster ceiling, finding it the same as ever. There was winter-clear moonlight coming through the window (he never drew his curtains, it made the room a prison cell) painting the room the palest blue. He turned his eyes a little to look at his alarm clock. 1.42am.
Weird, he thought
Weird because he didn’t feel remotely sleepy now. He felt like he might do sitting in English class at 10.30 in the morning and that was all wrong for 1.42am. He looked around him again (what for?) and breathed out an irritated breath. He didn’t want to be awake in the middle of the night. He saw enough of this room and this flat as it was. He looked forward to the slumbering ignorance of sleep. His time off from the crappy options of the following day.
He was hungry.
When he got hungry like this, there would be no going back to sleep, none at all, until he got something to eat, experience had proved that. Nevertheless, as people do, he ignored this feeling and turned on his side, shaking his body a little, trying to settle.
His stomach gurgled.
Apparently frozen peas, a single dollop of instant mash, and three fish fingers would not see him through this night. He was going to have to get up.
His breath froze as he thought this and he cursed inwardly. He slipped out of bed in his dark blue pyjamas with a grunt and put his feet in his moccasin slippers. He moved quickly through his dark blue room to grab the towel dressing gown on the back of the door and shrugged it on.
He stopped a second, his hand resting upon the handle of the door. Was everything alright?
He waited, though for what he couldn’t say.
No sounds, nothing out of place in his bedroom. Everything seemed fine. What had stopped him? Nothing. Get food.
He stood for a moment longer, thinking what an alien world the Earth was at night; quiet, dark, peaceful, completely unlike the day. How much nicer it would be to live in if it were always like this! But no, the morning would come soon enough and…
What’s wrong with me?
This thought jarred him, bringing him back to his bedroom with a bang. He had been feeling squirrelly since he woke up and now he was freezing his…behind off, standing there gormlessly staring into space.
The sad thing was, nothing was different, that was the truth and he realised this a moment later. Everything was as it always was, and so was he.
He padded into the kitchen, not worrying about waking Shauna. She slept very heavily, and waking her for emergencies/bad dreams was a long laborious process. There was always a plastic bottle of pills by her bed, which he assumed had something to do with that.
Jimmy shuffled to the cabinet where the cereal was kept. Lo-Pryce’s own brand Flakes of Corn. Why they couldn’t call them cornflakes he didn’t know. They weren’t fooling anybody.
He found a bowl and poured. He turned to go to the fridge for milk and stopped.
Here on the thirteenth floor of Maycliff Towers, you did at least get a great view of the night sky when it was frosty like this, and the full moon high up in the night sky was beaming pale white like a torch with a white cotton hankerchief over it. It lit up the clouds immediately around it in pale and dark hues of blue.
It seemed as if the moon were perfectly positioned to fix him, Jimmy Cardinal, in the centre of its spotlight. That was crap of course but he held onto the idea for a moment longer because he liked it. He felt special. He’d deal with reality tomorrow. Plenty of that tomorrow. He looked at it for a few seconds more, the moon just hanging here, beaming, surrounded by a window frame and a self-sufficient potted cactus on the window sill.
He went to the fridge, got milk, sat at the kitchen table while he ate Lo-Pryce Flakes of Corn, looking at the moon. Maybe this was why he woke up. He’d read something somewhere about how the moon affected people because it also affected the tides. He hadn’t understood why, had retained nothing more from the article, but the idea came back to him now.
He finished his cereal a little sadly and walked to the window, putting the bowl in the sink after rinsing it, his eyes never leaving the moon.
How great to be up there, was all he thought. How great that would be.
Something made him look down, though it took a while to realise what. He discovered the cactus before him seemed to be a little lower down than he remembered, which was odd.
It took perhaps eight seconds more before Jimmy Cardinal really understood he was floating three inches off the kitchen linoleum. He knew this because he had to now point his toes down before touching the floor….
When you are faced with the impossible, (and impossible is a rarely-used word these days) it takes a person a little while to accept it. Actually it usually takes a person a long while to accept.
He stared dumbly at his feet again, and then at the floor three inches below. He pointed his feet down again, touched the floor, then pulled them back up as though standing flat on his feet which he sort of actually was…. Except he was standing on nothing.
He pointed and straightened again...and again….and then continuously for a few seconds in a kind of hysterical motion as his chest grew tight and his breathing began to come in hard, panicky gasps, sucking in the chill night air, and blowing it out in bursts of cloud into the pale light from that unusually bright moon.
It’s important to mention that was no sense of anything out of place physically. His body didn’t suddenly feel light as a feather, nor did he hear demonic voices chanting in the air like in that particularly good comic series ‘Diabolical Dealings.’ Physically he felt nothing but cold. And fear. Fear growing like wet flames spreading up the curtains in the window of an empty house.
“Arrrgh….” or something like it came out of Jimmy’s mouth. He tried to move his feet sideways, as if to step off whatever invisible box he had apparently stepped on to. Nothing happened, although perhaps, (his racing mind couldn’t be sure) his feet tingled slightly.
He looked again, pleadingly now, at the floor beneath his feet, rich panic in his heart and suddenly, without warning, he slowly descended. His feet touched the linoleum, his knees buckled in surprise and he slumped onto his backside, knocking a kitchen chair over with a clatter.
Back on earth.
Jimmy sat there for a while, but even in his frightened stupor he did not fear the sound of Shauna’s footsteps. She would not be awakened by…by….
What the hell had just happened?
For all his love of sci-fi and horror, Jimmy was not a dreamer, an air-headed, impressionable youth. All his childhood’s naiveté had gone by the age of ten. He was a boy that sometimes washed neighbours' cars to help pay for new school clothes. This….thing that had happened was not imaginary. Impossible yes, a deception, a trick of the light almost certainly, but he had not imagined it. He would not wake up in his bed any second now. Even so, he pinched himself in that clichéd way to make sure because…
Because he wanted it to be true.
Why was a question for later, but all of sudden, little Jimmy Cardinal clung to what had happened (had appeared to happen) like a drowning man in a stormy sea clings to a floating chunk of his ship’s mast. Jimmy, perhaps for the first time in his meaningless, purposeless, directionless life, actually yearned for something. He yearned for what he thought had just happened, as ridiculous as it was, to be true. If it did happen, if it was true…he was special, and special in a way that no one could deny.
Jimmy laughed out loud, not caring if he woke his mother.
Poor little lamb! (the words seem to come from outside of him, though they were his thoughts) Is that what you’ve come down to?
Yes I have, thought Jimmy. I don’t if it’s sensible or not. I’ve had enough of sensible. I want this to be true. If it didn’t happen, then what have I lost? I’ll be right back where I was yesterday. So what if I want the impossible?
Jimmy slowly stood up and his heart was in his mouth. Not for fear of what he thought happened before happening again, but from dread that it wouldn’t. That here in this kitchen in the wee hours of the morning, a sad and lonely thirteen year-old had looked at that moon and floated off the ground…
Tingling in his feet.
Jimmy’s body wavered entirely of its own accord and adrenaline pounded, his blood rushing through his body . What happened there? What did I do?
I want to rise, he thought.
Don’t let it be over.
What was different? Was the moon still there? He looked up and saw it, bright and clear, and was struck again with the thought of how close it seemed, how lovely and big the night sky looked, how great it would be to be up there.
“Gargh!” His cry came out much louder than was advisable.
More quickly than last time, though just as smoothly, Jimmy had just abruptly risen an inch, then slowed down, ascending another two inches before panic welled in his heart and Jimmy clenched his fists. He came to a halt, arms stretched out as if wanting to hug the moon in front of him, though his expression was far from welcoming.
Sheer joy mixed with shock as Jimmy Cardinal floated steady now as a rock, three inches off the floor of the kitchen of 134A Maycliff Towers.
This is not happening, this is not happening to me.
Jimmy looked down and immediately felt less steady. Looking at the ground seemed to affect this….thing and there was a watery feeling in his stomach. He looked nevertheless at the linoleum beneath his feet, pointing his toes down to check. He suddenly experienced a queasy feeling.
How the hell do I get down again?
Despite his hands shaking, and that growing watery feeling in his stomach, Jimmy Cardinal had the strength of character to think the following;
I did this. I’m in control of this. I got myself up, I can go down. Down slowly. Down slowly…
Down. I want to go down.
Thump. Was that his mother…?!! Oh no!
“Down!” he whispered harshly. His voice a pathetic thing in the room, carrying no weight.
A thump. A door opening.
Jimmy closed his eyes and pictured himself going downwards. A moment later his feet in their slippers pressed hard against the ground as the kitchen door opened hard.
“What the *****?!”
Shauna’s hair was a mess, plastered over half her face, and she wore a T-shirt that needed washing and grey jogging bottoms that dragged on the floor. She reached out and flicked on the switch and her squinting, red-rimmed eyes rebelled at the light.
“Jesus Christ! What…. what the hell are you doing?”
Jimmy looked her dead in the eye, heart pounding, taking a cool moment to control his voice.
“I was hungry, I got some cornflakes. I was just going to bed.”
“Eh? What…what are you standing there like a gorm for then?”
“I was looking at the moon.”
“Eh?” Shauna squinted out at the moon now, now an inconsequential thing under the two fluorescent strip lights. She’d even managed to destroy that.
“Look at what?”
“It’s a full moon tonight. It’s nice. Can’t you sleep?”
“Eh? No, I bloody can’t. No wonder I’m bloody knackered all day.”
“So? It’s not as if you’ve got to go to work tomorrow.”
Her face went cold. Or colder.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t ‘nothing’ me. What do you mean by that? You calling me a layabout?”
“No. I have to go to school. I better go to bed now.”
“I wish I had your problems!” she snarled as he hurried past. “I just ****ing wish!”
Jimmy escaped to his room and threw himself into bed, his knees pulled up, staring into space. No way on earth was this possible, except it had just happened, so….it was possible. He, Jimmy Cardinal, had just floated off the ground three inches.
When that word entered his head, something far greater than mere shock filled his system. Something like the light of wonder filled him as the word instantly opened up a whole new world of…something.
He had flown. A human being, a nothing human being like himself had flown. Man’s great dream. The stuff of a million slumbering fantasies.
Hold on, he said to himself. Get a grip, and he suddenly felt himself calming, followed by the unpleasant sensation of doubt.
What if it’s gone by morning? What if….what if it’s a passing thing? A crazy passing thing to do with that moon, so big and bright and clear? I couldn’t bare it if it was taken away. I couldn’t bare it if something so wonderful was given to me and then taken away. It would be a thousand times worse. To be shown something incredible, to know I’M incredible, then to have it taken away.
With a head and heart of whirling thoughts and emotions, Jimmy Cardinal tried to sleep and await for the dawn, when his world would either be changed forever or…it wouldn’t be.
The dawn came.
Jimmy, like everybody, awoke to sounds first, long before opening his eyes. The distant rumble of grinding heavy goods lorries, punctuated by irritable car horns played out in the background like some angry, disjointed, drunken symphony. He took it all in for thirty seconds or more, his mind filled with;
Maths class today….gotta test….don’t understand trigonometry enough…gonna go bad…..PE class….need new trainers really…fat chance…er….
Jimmy snapped open his eyes.
Floating off the kitchen floor, bathed in pale moonlight. What was this image in his head?
It had all been a dream. That’s it. He had dreamt it.
The disappointment…no, the awfulness that filled him was….was indescribable. It had been a dream, no doubt of it. No goddamn doubt at all. He awoke with all the sleepy, cold numbness that he greeted all mornings during winter in this council flat, and the stuff of last night seemed as real as the Disney cartoon, ‘Dumbo’, which he had watched not so long ago on telly. Similar theme even.
He snorted a laugh and then his eyes turned a little watery. What was wrong with him? What was happening to him that he should have such vivid dreams and be affected by them? How could his mind be so cruel to him, play such tricks on him?
Give him such hope that he, against all odds, against all expectation, was special in some way? Any way?
His mother shuffled past his door, muttering to herself. She opened the kitchen door too hard and it cracked off the wall like it did whenever she got up in time to make his breakfast. (Four days out of ten now) The cupboard doors blew open on complaining hinges and slammed shut hard a second later.
But Jimmy lay there a second longer, as if unwilling to leave the place where he had enjoyed such hope and excitement. To get up would acknowledge that it was over and time to get back to the real world, so Jimmy lay there for a few seconds longer, until his eyes drifted to the alarm clock.
He was SO LATE!
He exploded out of bed. By now he should have breakfasted and be pulling on his shoes, ready to leave the house and walk the mile and a half to school! He was so, so late! Surprising, as he could not remember the last time he had overslept.
Jimmy hurried into the kitchen, hoping his mother had poured him cereal. She had not. She had poured herself some and was leaning wearily against the sink eating mechanically.
“I’m late!” cried Jimmy.
“Well then, get up earlier,” mumbled his mother. “You haven’t got time for breakfast now!”
“Why didn’t you wake me if you were already up?” said Jimmy, opening the fridge and pulling out the orange juice carton, only to find it empty.
“I’m not a ****ing mind reader am I?” said his mother. “I thought you were up and away already.”
“There’s no orange juice!”
“Drank it all last night.”
“Then why did you put the carton back?!” snapped Jimmy. He was just plain angry now, and, rare for him, had no problem with showing it. Shauna, screwed up her face, her brow furrowed.
“’Cause I’m not at my cleverest at two o’clock in the morning, that’s why, Mr Smart Alec!”
Jimmy turned to walk hard to his bedroom when his mother’s words hacked through the air.
“Don’t get ****** at me because you’re up half the night staring at the moon and then oversleep. Don’t you ******* dare!”
Jimmy whirled. “Do you have to swear all the time? Why don’t you try broadening your vocabulary or something! Try a new word once a year!” His feet were apart, his own brow furrowed in a younger expression of his mothers, and the feeling sickened him
“WHAT did you say you little ******!?” spat his mother, wide-eyed under straggled hair.
“I said….” and Jimmy’s words died on his lips.
“No, no, NO!” said Shauna advancing on him in a faded red towel robe, hair at sharp contrasting angles. “If you think I’m a moron sonny dear let’s hear it!”
Jimmy stared for a second, still dealing with something his mother had just said.
“Did you say I was awake last night? In here?” He watched her with bated breath.
“Don’t try and creep out of it! I’m a moron am I? AM I?”
Shauna smashed her bowl down into the sink so hard it shattered. Pottery, milk and cereal bloomed and then fell to the metal and linoleum.
“GET THE **** OUT OF MY SIGHT!” she shouted.
Jimmy could have said “glad to,” very easily. Nearly did, except suddenly Shauna didn’t matter anymore. Something had replaced her anger in the world. A tiny ray of something called hope. No, a shield of hope, and Shauna’s shouting couldn’t penetrate it.
Jimmy was washed and dressed and out of the door in five minutes, while his mother repeatedly banged the closet door in her bedroom, even after he was gone, spitting nearly-hissed words at somebody who just wasn’t there anymore.
It can’t be true. It can’t be true.
These words seemed to take up permanent residence inside his head as Jimmy walked very briskly to school. Here, surrounded by Langdon’s Ironworks, Smithy’s biscuit factory, the disused Frobishers Plastics warehouse (went down last year, now an unofficial graffiti art gallery) it all seemed impossible. His mother had not been in a chatting mood, otherwise school or no school, Jimmy would have been glad to press her for more details regarding the night before. Wait, perhaps still it was all a joke on him. Perhaps he had been sleepwalking. Oh no!
When in a bad state of mind, it is human nature to accept the worst possible outcome of a scenario as probable fact, and as unrealistic as sleepwalking seemed (as compared to floating in his kitchen) it quickly became a horrible possibility to Jimmy. He didn’t know much about sleepwalking but it sort of made sense the more he gloomily thought about it. He obviously had gone into the kitchen last night, and according to his mother he was staring at the moon. Might the flying be the dream part of sleepwalking? It felt depressingly like a possibility, and Jimmy’s brisk pace inexorably slowed as he walked on.
The walk to Jaston Secondary Modern took him on what he thought of as the ‘scenic’ route through Jaston’s crummier districts. Every other factory seemed to have been closed for a long time, and the huge-girthed, unshaven, woolly-hatted workers that stood outside the businesses that were open, smoked and drink watery tea like a scuba diver breathes air from his tank.
The sky was dark white so to speak, with grey streaks and a brownish tinge from Langdon’s, the largest factory in this part of the concrete jungle of Jaston.
He walked on, over weeds in the pavement, around a pool of shattered beer bottle glass, a telling circle of human vomit and over some flyers for a nightclub that had evidently been abandoned by their distributor. Oakley’s nightclub by the look of it. A gang-infested, red-neon dive of a place two streets away.
Most locals felt the fall of Jaston could (wrongly) be blamed upon one man. Garth Barretta had been the ‘big man’ of Jaston during its small and mild Golden Age (more like aluminium) fifteen years ago.
Garth Barretta was a property developer, a businessman, and an industrialist, whatever that last one meant (Jimmy had read this in a newspaper article only a month ago)
He had been the owner of a lot of the bigger industrial, office and commercial buildings in Jaston, renting them out to businesses, and taking a healthy percentage. Jaston had no Mayor anymore, (after the private life of the last Mayor was brought to light eight years ago, the title carried a stigma upon it) but Garth Barretta had been the closest thing the locals hand.
Jimmy had seen the photograph that had accompanied the article . Garth was a fit-looking man in his fifties, with silver hair that had been slicked back, a really prominent jaw and pronounced muscles in his cheeks, like a man who must clench his teeth a lot. He had been smiling at the photographer, but Jimmy remembered the article had not been a nice one. The journalist had been reporting (rather cruelly) on how many of Mr Barretta’s businesses had collapsed in the last year, how many properties he owned were not being rented out, and how the ‘self-styled Donald Trump of Jaston’ was facing huge financial problems. Jimmy didn’t know who Donald Trump was, but he felt sorry for this Mr Barretta. He looked like a nice man, had a nice smile and friendly eyes. Maybe he was just a good actor, or maybe the photo used was from olden times, but still... A nice face is a nice face, and Jimmy hoped things would get better for him. Even now, as Jimmy walked to school, he had passed three derelict buildings with the distinctive, (though faded) green ‘Barretta Properties’ signs attached to the outside. All three buildings had dusty and/or broken windows, and litter had leapt over the locked chain-link fences surrounding them, collecting in four foot-high piles on some far corner. If a building could ever actually die, these three would be on their way to the cemetery, except they wouldn’t even have a funeral. They would die where they stood and nobody would attend the graves.
Is it better to have nothing, than to have everything and lose it? It seemed so. Funny to think there was an upside to Jimmy’s life. Some upside he thought! He didn’t bloody feel lucky. People were always saying on TV chat shows, be grateful for what you have. Jimmy tried to be grateful, and he knew people were starving to death in Africa, and that must be horrible and far far worse than the boredom of having to eat fish finger and peas every dinner. He tried to feel lucky, but it often felt like pushing an elephant uphill. Maybe he was spoilt and didn’t know it. Didn’t feel it though. Didn’t feel spoilt at all, but then spoilt people might naturally feel that way. Because they were spoilt.
Snap out of it! He shrugged his shoulders to get rid of thoughts like this and walked on.
The cold wind blew hard, the tips of his ears going faint blue. His thin hoodie had a hole in the front somewhere. He could feel the cold air against his school shirt. Better get out the needle and thread under his bed when he got home.
The boys and girls in school uniform were gathering around him now as the school approached, a distant red-bricked angular shape on the top of a gentle sloping road. Lots of cars with rust problems were parked all around it. Teachers' cars.
Jimmy had Maths first, then Chemistry, then English. Get them out of the way. Get to lunchtime and then think this thing through. He was sleepy. Hadn’t the energy to get his hopes up this early.
Maths came and went, the test not as bad as he thought, perhaps because he was not remotely nervous, with other thoughts occupying his mind, try as he did to avoid them. He wasn’t even nervous when Mr Watkins, the Maths teacher had paused on his stroll around the silent class to peer over Jimmy’s shoulder.
Chemistry went okay as well, surprising himself and Mr Donald the teacher with the facts he had retained without being aware of them. Some of them regarding the Periodic Table he had more guessed than remembered, but he had guessed right, guessed with that strange comforting sense of certainty you sometimes get with guesses. The facts must have been in his brain somewhere. Mr Donald gave a rare comment, singling out Jimmy, something this hunched, unbrushed teacher rarely did. Jimmy didn’t mind it. Didn’t mind what the other kids thought. Hadn't much cared for a while in fact.
What the hell. It was an unusually ballsy state of mind for him. He really didn’t care today what anyone thought of him, and it was liberating. Perhaps he should sleepwalk more often. Surprisingly, the thought made him smile.
Then English with Mrs Capel, whom he liked. Thirty-five perhaps, she was pretty for a teacher, at least in a stern sort of way, with long black hair and a nice voice. She wore a dark green suit today that suited her eyes and hair. She still seemed to care, that was the thing that made her stand out, although some days the joy in her job seemed hard to find for her. She could keep a class in order unlike some of the others. He had got an answer right there too, and she had not said a word, but had nodded to him, seeming pleased nonetheless.
Then lunchtime came and Jimmy walked out into the larger playground to the rear of the Humanities Block. This building bordered the playing fields, and the bicycle sheds, (which were never used, kids in Jaston weren’t that dumb) and a series of three long and locked concrete utility sheds housing sports equipment, outdated science apparatus, etc standing off to the left.
He took a moment to look at some boys playing football on the playing field, a few girls holding their coats. The game a daily routine. There, tackling the ball hard, was Gordon Stone. Better not go anywhere near him. Jimmy could see his blonde crewcut on top of a bullnecked body from here. Gordon didn’t like Jimmy at all, and for no reason. Perhaps it wasn’t about a reason. He just intimidated Jimmy because he could.
He was halfway to the bicycle sheds when Vanessa Clipton crossed his path, probably heading for the cafeteria having come from the Sports Hall.
Vanessa was in his Maths class, and she was the only girl Jimmy remotely fancied. She was shorter than him by a couple of inches, with wavy platinum blonde hair and big green eyes. She really was gorgeous, like a model, and she had a figure that could distract you from thoughts of trying to float off the ground behind bicycle sheds. She must have money in her family, because she was 'posh' by Jaston standards. Good clothes, IPod, jewellery that didn't come from a Christmas Cracker. She hadn't been born here, at least he thought someone nearby in the dinner queue had said that once. She could be rough and ready enough though. Fierce when called for. All this made her Princess of the Playground. She had to be deaf and blind to not to be aware of it either.
They’d spoken once before in the last year. He had, with dry throat, asked her the time, and she’d pointed out he was wearing a watch. That had been the end of that, he’d figured.
Now she stopped though and squinted at him as if trying to read badly spelt graffiti on the wall.
“Getting better at the Maths aren’t you Johnny?”
Fine. “It’s Jimmy. Not really, just lucky today.”
“Where you off to on your todd?”
“Lunch. I’ve got sandwiches in…well, in my bag.”
“Wouldn’t have thought you keep them in your pockets.”
“You on your own?”
Right then, Jimmy forgot about everything in the universe as his heart started fluttering in a quite wonderful way. He then became horribly aware he hadn’t washed or brushed his hair this morning, so he probably looked like an electrified scarecrow that had been dragged through a ****ing hedge backwards.
“Uh yeah, probably going to sit over there where it’s quiet. You?”
“Cafeteria, with my mates.”
Something quietly gave up then and there in Jimmy as regards to Vanessa Clipton. The way she’d said that line was subtle but not subtle enough. With my mates.
“Right. I like things quiet. You know, think about stuff, put the world to rights.” He was tired of the charade now, the effort. He was a gurning fool, a dancing bear, and she didn’t fancy him. Not at all.
“You’re weird,” she said, looking him up and down. She turned to walk away.
“Thanks,” he said, and then, with verbal inspiration that had never in his life been so sharp he added; “You’re very normal.”
She stopped walking away then looked back at him. Unable to decide if this was an insult or not, she did nothing for a moment, squinting again. Then she turned and walked away.
Jimmy stood still and let it all the disappointment flood out of his body. Then he attempted to forget all about the encounter and quickly succeeded as he looked back at the bicycle sheds. They considered of two side-by-side wooden framed structures with a solid backing, filled with iron railings to secure nobody’s bike.
A moment later he was standing in front of them, appraising the environment, a growing nervousness inside.
It was madness to think a human being could fly, or at least float three inches off the ground. It was the stuff dreamed up by dopey drug addicts in the throes of another ‘experience’ before reality returned with a crunching punch. He was a fool to even consider doing what he planned to do. A fool.
Better get started.
Of course he always knew in his heart he was going to try and float again today, that was a given. He could never make it the whole day without at least trying, and he simply had to know one way or the other. In daylight, under a bleak white-grey sky, outside the Humanities Block of a crappy under-funded, under-staffed school, surrounded by kids talking excitedly about reality TV shows and football, could he float again?
But the best place to try it? It’s not the easiest thing to be alone in an overcrowded school during lunch hour. Perhaps he should leave it until tonight.
Not a chance. Yes, behind the bicycle sheds would have to do. It’s not as if anything else was likely to happen for him there, he thought glumly.
Jimmy hurried over to the second structure, as it stood furthest away from the playground, and slipped quickly behind to find….
Two Year Fourteen kids kissing each other, hands everywhere social graces and some Educational films say they shouldn’t be.
Jimmy did a silent spin on his heel and zipped away unnoticed.
“Damn” he said quietly at a safe distance. Okay then, between the utility sheds. Preferably the third one. Furthest away of the lot.
Jimmy was there a moment later and found the muddy, littered five foot gap to be free of friendly students.
He was suddenly hit with a wave of feeling utterly stupid, like a kid who’s come to school wearing his Superman pyjamas and is about to leap off a dustbin shouting “up, up and awaaaay!”
Jimmy coughed and looked about him. Get it over with. Get it out of your system and get back to normality, or at least get away from all this litter.
What he would be getting back to was something he prevented his mind from thinking about.
Float, he thought.
Not a dickybird. A crisp packet blew against his leg on a cold wind and he shivered. This was a joke! A bad joke. No, give it a chance. Did his arms need to be out? He seemed to remember doing that.
Looking about him again, he quickly held out his arms.
Float damn it, before I’m seen and ridiculed forever!
Nothing. Heavy as lead.
Someone coming? No.
He breathed out, thinking hard. What could he remember from last night? How had he….?
Then part of it refreshed in his mind. His mother coming to the door. The frantic WILLING of himself to go down, rather than THINKING it.
Okay, he’d give it a go and then get the hell out of here.
He lowered his arms by his sides and closed his eyes. He tried to will himself to float off the ground.
Nothing. He felt nothing at all.
Eyes still closed he tried harder.
“**** it!” he hissed through his teeth, feeling childish and humiliated and desperate. A wave of sadness went through him. Was he so desperate for his life to change that he would do things as mad as this? Worse, was there something really…wrong with him? Was he…'troubled'?
He opened his now blurry eyes, wiping away….
Jimmy’s head was level with the roof of the utilities building. Just above it in fact, because he could see the Maths and Science building.
Jimmy was five feet off the ground.
As he stared in shock, Mrs Capel, black hair held in a pony tail against the wind, still dressed in that dark green, perfectly met his eyes fifty feet away as she walked across the playground.
Her point of view would show the slightly odd sight of the top part of Jimmy’s head looking over a flat tar roof nearly eleven feet high.
Of course, from Jimmy’s point of view, things were a hell of a lot odder.
Mrs Capel frowned and stopped in her walk. She began walking over.
SHE BEGAN WALKING OVER!
Jimmy felt terror like nothing he had ever known and he looked down at the filthy earth beneath his feet. This was a hell of a big difference from three inches!
Go down, GO DOWN! his mind screamed.
Nothing. He hung there, steady as a rock, perhaps the slightest tingle in his feet, but otherwise he could be standing on the deck of an oil rig, so secure was his body in the air.
Twenty feet away, Mrs Capel came on, eyes fixed firmly on his, a combination of confusion and anger on her face, rapidly favouring the latter.
Jimmy, despite every instinct to keep his eyes fixed on her, closed them again and WILLED himself to go down.
There was no sensation of descending, just as there had been no feeling of ascending. Jimmy was afraid if he opened his eyes, the process wouldn’t work (if indeed it was working now) and gave himself up to a kind of horrid acceptance. If she saw him hanging in mid-air, so be it.
His right trainer pressed into hard mud again, his left coming down upon a Ribena carton.
Mrs Capel appeared sharply around the corner. She looked angry.
“Jimmy? What do you think you’re doing?”
I haven’t a clue.
“What do you mean?” he said, trying to look innocent, nay, surprised.
“Were you just climbing up the side of this shed, trying to get on the roof?”
She said this with a voice that lacked conviction, because by now, she had looked at the smooth concrete wall of the shed, covered as it was with graffiti, and it was clear there was no way to climb it. Not so much as a nail stuck out from its surface to provide a foothold. Not a chip or flaw in the white-painted breeze blocks provided a handhold.
She looked up and down it again as it looking for an answer.
“Oh, I was trying to see if a football was up there. Billy French said he’d kicked it up there and there was a quid for anyone who could get it down.”
Idiot! Why’d you give a name? She’ll ask him if it’s true!
“I see,” said Mrs Capel darkly. “And exactly how did you get up there?”
Jimmy ignored the punch of fear in his belly. He tried the world’s worst watery smile.
“Trade secret Miss.”
“Is it indeed?” But he thought he saw the slightest twitch at the corner of her mouth. Could it be a teacher in Jaston still had a funny bone?
“Is it up there?” she said.
“Billy French’s football.”
“No. It’s not. Wind probably blew it off. It went up there quite a while ago. He probably doesn’t even remember he lost it now.”
“Convenient,” said Mrs Capel, looking right into him and seeing his every sin written across his heart.
Jimmy swallowed. “Could have used that quid too.”
“Couldn’t we all?” said Mrs Capel, blinking and looking away, human again. “Well done in class today Jimmy,” she said abruptly and walked back towards the playground.
Jimmy fell weakly against the side of the shed, heart beating, adrenaline pumping through him.
Perhaps thirty seconds passed before he overcame his shock and replaced it with a growing sense of wonder and amazement. A sense that grew and grew and grew and grew until Jimmy was standing tall, staring into space, taking in the enormity, the EARTH-SHATTERING ENORMITY of what had happened and what it meant to him.
It wasn’t a dream.
He could fly.
Jimmy Cardinal could fly.