Authors: Robert Swindells
Tags: #Juvenile Nonfiction, #Action & Adventure, #Family, #Juvenile Fiction, #General, #Horror & Ghost Stories
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Epub ISBN 9781407098722
A CORGI BOOK 9780552555883
First published in Great Britain by Doubleday,
an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
Doubleday edition published 1998
Corgi Yearling edition published 1999
This edition 2007
7 9 10 8 6
Copyright © Robert Swindells, 1998
The right of Robert Swindells to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Cox & Wyman Ltd, Reading, Berkshire.
What I’d like most of all is somebody to talk to. About my life. About how things are at home. See – I
why kids hate me. I know I seem weird to them, but it’s not me. It’s not. Inside I’m just like them. I like pop music and TV and clothes but I can’t have them. They’re forbidden. I’d like to have a party, invite everybody on my table, but I can’t even bring a friend home. I mean, there are kids at church. Righteous kids. They see one another, play together, but not me. I can’t bring anybody to the house in case they find out about Abomination. I can go to
homes – I used to – but I can never invite them back so they stopped bothering with me and you can’t blame them, but if there was just one person who understood, one person who
, I think I could stand it. . .
Other titles by Robert Swindells:
ROOM 13/INSIDE THE WORM OMNIBUS
A WISH FOR WINGS
IN THE NICK OF TIME
They chased me home again today and the new boy, Scott, joined in. When he smiled at me yesterday I hoped he was going to be my friend, but he’s not. He was yelling Raggedy-Ann just like everybody else as I ran up Taylor Hill.
When I got in Mother said, ‘You’ve been running.’ I’ve never told her the kids chase me and she doesn’t like me to run. I said, ‘Yes, Mother, I’m sorry.’ She shook her head like she does, tutting. ‘There’s a time, Martha,’ she says. ‘A time to every purpose under heaven.’
I hate my name. Martha. It’s in the Bible but the kids think it’s a stupid name. They call me Arthur or Ma, and that’s when I’m lucky. Mostly it’s Raggedy-Ann, because of my clothes. Mother makes my clothes and I wish she didn’t. They’re good clothes and I know she sews them because she loves me, but they’re different. I mean they’re not rags or anything – that’s not why they call me Raggedy-Ann. Mother would die before she let me wear rags, but they don’t look right. You can see they’re home-made. I mentioned it once, how all the kids have Nike trainers and jogging bottoms and stuff like that, but Mother just said, ‘All is vanity.’ There’s a saying for everything in the Bible.
The kids don’t know the Bible. Mother says they’re raised in darkness like the heathen, but I don’t know. I mean, I know the Bible’s the word of God and God never lies, but it says the meek shall inherit the earth and I’m meek and the kids are not, and it seems to me they’ve inherited this little bit of the earth – the bit with me in it.
Anyway, today’s Tuesday so it’s lamb cutlets with green beans and mashed potatoes. Father says plain food’s best. Good plain food, he calls it. We never have pizza or curry or fish and chips. We have cakes or biscuits sometimes, but they’re home-made like my clothes. Father says shop ones are for idle people.
I never get to eat straight away, because one of my jobs is to feed Abomination. It’s my worst thing. Worse than hair-pulling or name-calling or being chased. I hate the cellar, but that’s where Abomination lives and so I have to go down there every single day. If the kids knew, maybe they’d leave me alone but they don’t, because it’s a secret. Nobody knows except Father and Mother and me. And God, I suppose. You can’t keep secrets from God.
I think it’s going to be all right, Southcott Middle. I’m in Mr Wheelwright’s class. He’s OK. Looks like Rolf Harris but likes computers and supports Man United so can’t be all bad. The kids’re OK too, apart from a snob or two and a few veg, but you always get those. There’s a terrific playing-field, and at lunchtime after your meal you can play on the computers in the library. You’ve got to be quick, mind – there’re only ten computers and it’s first come first served, but that’s fair. A great white shark can’t wreck a dinner quicker than me.
Oh, I nearly forgot. There’s this really weird girl, Martha Dewhurst. The kids laughed yesterday because Wheelwright put me on her table. I didn’t know why they were laughing till morning break, when this guy called Simon came up to me and said, ‘Keep your head away from Raggedy-Ann’s if you don’t want nits.’ That’s her nickname – Raggedy-Ann. I don’t think she has nits, but there’s like a gap between her and everybody else on our table, and nobody’ll lend her their rubber. She has these funny clothes. I mean, they’re
– maroon sweater, grey skirt – but they’re not like everyone else’s. I think her mum must’ve made them. Or her gran.
There’s this game after school, Chase Raggedy-Ann. Some kid’ll start chanting –
– like that. A few others join in, and when there’s about ten they set off after her. I didn’t go yesterday – felt a bit sorry for her if you must know – but I did today because Simon started it and he’s my friend. She looks really funny, running. She’s got these very thin, long legs that splay out sort of sideways as she runs, and her arms are all over the place too. I doubt she’ll ever run for England. The kids don’t try to catch her – it’d be over straight away if they did – so they hang back, running about fifty metres behind her, chanting
Raggedy-Ann, we’ll all scrag you if we can
. She doesn’t seem to know they’re not trying to catch her. You can tell she’s going full belt. She lives up this very steep slope called Taylor Hill. Her house is near the top, and she’s near collapsing by the time she reaches the gate. We pull up and watch her stagger up the path like a shot bandit, then we walk back down the hill, laughing and joking and taking turns with a ciggy.
I reckon I’ll be fine at my new school.
My favourite time is after dinner when I have the place to myself. Father’s an agent for an insurance company. He does his round at night because that’s when people are in, and Mother works the evening shift at a soft toy factory.
I have the washing-up to do and Abomination’s mess to see to, but after that I’m free till ten, except in winter when it’s nine thirty. We don’t have TV. I sometimes listen to Radio One, but I’ve got to remember not to leave the set tuned to that station when I switch off, because the Righteous believe the devil reaches young people through pop music. The Righteous is our church. One night last year I forgot, and when Father switched on for the morning news he got Madonna and I got the rod. It’s a cane really, but Father calls it the rod. His favourite text is
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it
. Notice it says
. It’s not about girls, but Father seems not to have spotted that and I daren’t point it out.
They’re administered really carefully by the way, my beatings. Oh, yes. Wouldn’t do for some busybody to spot the marks on me. They’re always on my bum, so they’re covered in PE and even when I swim. I could show somebody of course, but then Father would get into trouble and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that. He thinks he’s doing the best thing, you see: that it’s for my own good.
Anyway, after twirling round the kitchen to a few of the devil’s tunes, I usually go up to my room and look at Mary’s postcards. Mary’s my big sister. Father sent her away when I was six. She’s grown up and has a really interesting life if the cards are anything to go by. They’re from all over: London, Liverpool, Birmingham. There’s even one from Amsterdam. Some are addressed to Mother and Father and some are to me. I’m not supposed to have any of them. Father tears them up unread and throws them in the bin, but I rescue them and stick them back together with sellotape. I’ve been doing this since I was six. I couldn’t read then, but I knew who they were from and the pictures were nice. I’ve got thirty-one now, in a shoe-box under the floor, with my Blur poster, four
books and a few other things my parents wouldn’t like.
Mother says we’re special because we’re Righteous, but that doesn’t make me feel better. I’d rather not be special if it means having to hide things.
If I can’t have friends round.
If I can’t have friends.
Saturday morning I’d arranged to meet Simon down town so he could show me round, but I nearly didn’t get to keep the appointment. We lived near Birmingham before, and my folks never let me go into the city by myself. Twelve’s too young they’d say, though some of my friends did it every weekend. When I mentioned it Friday night, there was a row. You’d no business making arrangements like that without asking, they said. We don’t know this boy. This Simon. You better phone him and say you won’t be there.