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Authors: Jamie Rowboat

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Charlie's Dream

BOOK: Charlie's Dream
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Charlie's Dream
First published in Australia in 2010 by A&A Book Publishing Pty Ltd
ISBN 978-0-9808424-9-4

This ebook edition:
ISBN 978-0-9870899-0-8

Text © Jamie Rowboat 2010

This book is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means or process whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publishers.

Cover design, e-book format by David Andor / Wave Source Design
www.wavesourcedesign.com

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the National Library of Australia

A&A Book Publishing Pty Ltd
Leichhardt, NSW 2040
Email:
[email protected]
Websites:
www.aampersanda.com
www.shortstoppress.com

 

 

 

I dedicate this book to the
love of life
and
the life of Dominic Pascoe
(1971-2009)

Chapter 1

 

 

 

The old man woke up with a start. The first hint of dawn light had barely arrived outside, yet he was awake and unusually fearful. His room was freezing cold, so he slipped on his clothes as quickly as possible, then washed his face with some rainwater that he had in a bowl by his bed. He couldn't face eating anything yet, so he grabbed his favourite walking stick and marched purposefully out of the front door for a visit to the Great Fig tree.

Setting out down the stone steps at the edge of the garden, he was joined by his dog Gulliver, who had heard his master stirring and now sat patiently, awaiting his arrival by the gate. The garden was still in darkness all around them and the moon sat directly above the clearing, a slender streak of brightness amongst the glimmering stars that were now rapidly disappearing from view. The air was fresh and still and the leafy path was silent under foot. The frosty crispness of winter had given way to the softer presence of springtime dew, which sat on the valley awaiting the arrival of the first rays of sunshine.

The old man was Shamir and he had lived in the valley as long as the magic had been there. He knew every plant and tree in this vast hidden place, because he had planted them all in the three hundred years that he had been there. He followed the path that ran from his house directly to the fig tree, with Gulliver well ahead of him, checking out the scents left by night-time visitors to his territory. The forest floor was carpeted with bluebells that grew in wild abundance. The tiny handful of seeds, which had been lovingly propagated by Shamir when he was a young man, had multiplied to cover vast tracts of the valley with their powder-blue springtime spell. Gentle yellow and white freesias, which perfumed the air to the point of intoxication, provided contrast in the blue sea. He followed the winding path through the forest of mighty karri trees that he had nurtured through many long winters. The trees now stood thirty metres tall and their vast sylvan limbs intertwined with one another in an effortless natural architecture.

Beyond the karris stood the Great Fig, the centre of all the magic that flowed through the valley. Never controlling, ever wise, the massive fig stood proudly at the centre of her fifty-metre canopy. On special days, she could hold two hundred elves in her branches, the best seats in the house for any woodland festivities. The fig's name was Oliontosh, which — loosely translated from the elfin tongue — means 'wisest of beings' and her memory spanned the history of the valley and way beyond. Shamir had received the young fig as a present from his father, who had died the year before the expedition began. He had carried her across the vast terrain of the outer world to the sanctuary of the hidden valley. She was a prized possession in a collection of seeds and saplings that the original settlers had carried with them on their hazardous journey so many years before. The fig tree had grown up alongside the wizard, who she now saw approaching through the trees and her heart expanded with love for her friend.

"Good morning Shamir," she whistled, her leaves bristling with delight.

"Good morning Shorty," replied Shamir.

"There is change in the air. The night was alive with its potential. I do believe that an adventure is about to begin," she shimmered.

"My sleep was most disturbed and now I'm feeling decidedly apprehensive. May I sit with you for a while?" he asked, not needing to hear the reply.

"I would love that," said the tree.

Oliontosh had her vast fingers stretched out to the sky and Shamir climbed up them as quickly as a squirrel. By the time he reached her very highest branches, his ancient face was alive with the freshness and freedom of such a lofty position and his muscles tingled from his efforts. The sky was coloured with the pastel shades of the morning and the valley was partially covered by sleek strands of mist that lay like gossamer amongst the uppermost branches of the trees. A few elves were scattered about in the branches around Shamir, but their eyes were closed as they sat listening to the sweet music of the dawn chorus and waiting patiently for the first gentle touch of sunlight on their faces.

Chapter 2

 

 

 

Charlie looked longingly out of the classroom window in a vain attempt to bring some interest to his interminable day. At the lunch break he had enjoyed playing soccer with his friends, but that had been the day's only highlight. Now, as he sat in Mr Erickson's Maths class, he thought he would die of boredom. He imagined the cleaners finding him, slumped in a heap under his desk at the end of the day. His eyes bulging in a deathly stare, he would be another victim of Mr. E and his obsession with a Greek geek called Pythagoras.

"Tucker," said a voice behind him, "you've been staring out of that window for the past half-hour. I can only hope, for your sake, that it is a technique you've discovered for concentrating on the theories of our Greek friend. If, on the other hand, it turns out that you are in fact daydreaming in my class, you will have a week's detention to better absorb his theories."

"Huh?" said Charlie, only hearing the word detention.

"I said.oh never mind, just pay attention," snapped Mr Erickson.

"Yes sir," said Charlie to a ripple of giggles that ran through the classroom.

"BRRRIIINNNGGG," went the bell that signalled the end of the class and, fortunately, the end of the day.

"Thank God," thought Charlie. The week had finally finished and he was free of this wretched place not just the weekend, but two weeks half term holiday as well. Every boy in the classroom reached for his school bag in one synchronised movement and then each one sat perfectly still, awaiting the signal of release. The boys all knew from bitter experience that a false move or unwanted comment now could delay their escape.

Free of the classroom, Charlie ran as fast as he could to the bike shed, climbed onto his new mountain bike and peddled for home. The youngest of four boys, he lived with his parents in an old building that his father, Trevor, had renovated. The Croft, as it was known, was a four hundred-year-old barn, which Charlie's parents had saved from demolition in the early sixties and lovingly restored. Most of the houses from the original village of Chelmsley had been destroyed in the English civil war three hundred and fifty years before. The barn and the monastery were the only surviving buildings from the assault on the town's stately home and its estate. The entire forty-two bedroom mansion had been ransacked and burnt in 1624, during the height of the religious purges that swept the country at the time.

In the twenty years that they had lived there, Trevor and Evelyn Tucker had made it into a home that was as beautiful as it was unusual. They had fallen in love with the old barn while exploring the area in their VW Comby in 1962. Receiving the money to buy it had been a bitter-sweet experience for them, as it came from Trevor's inheritance when his father died that same year.

The parties that the Tuckers held for their neighbours each Christmas were always popular, as the barn was the perfect venue for such events. The main room, which was as big as a tennis court, had huge rib-like beams that stretched across the high ceiling and the front doors were big enough to drive a truck through. They were so large; Trevor had built a small door alongside them for everyday use. He only opened the main doors when he was in one of his 'fresh air' moods, which drove the family mad.

Charlie had spent most of his childhood outside, exploring the woodlands that extended up to the fringe of the large garden surrounding the house. With three older brothers to follow, he'd quickly learnt the art of building camps, chopping down trees and damming the nearby stream. Once, he had built such a sophisticated dam, he had been able to swim in the reservoir it created. The local farmer who used the stream for irrigation did not share Charlie's love of such activities.

All of his brothers had left home because the nearest of them was five years older than Charlie, who had just turned seventeen. Two of them, Peter and Michael, were studying at university and David, the eldest, was working as a specialist civil engineer in Saudi Arabia. His parents had a pretty relaxed manner towards Charlie, having been mellowed by the experience of getting his brothers through their teens already. Moreover, Charlie was someone who had always wanted to fit in and he cared tremendously about his family. To Charlie, his home was a place of warmth and familiarity and, as the outside world became harder for him, he increasingly felt in need of its security. He did not find school an easy place to be, it was harsh and demanding compared to the gentleness of his home life. But it was Friday now and as Charlie raced down the long driveway that led to his house, he could feel the tension lifting in his stomach at the thought of a fortnight away from school and a chance to see Marie.

The daffodils were in flower all the way down the long gravel driveway that led to Charlie's house. Trevor had planted hundreds of bulbs on either side of the drive a few years before. He had saved them one winter when they were putting in a new car park at the nearby bowling club. For some reason, the builder was unaware of the existence of the large daffodil patch and the workmen were about to cover them with three inches of concrete. So, Trevor and the four boys spent a whole weekend digging them up before they were lost forever to a stony tomb.

As Charlie screeched his bike to a halt in front of the house, he quickly grabbed a few of the bright yellow flowers for his Mum, before charging in the front door.

"Hello," he shouted as he threw off his blazer and chucked the daffodils on the counter.

"Hi darling," came the reply from the direction of the office. Evelyn was a garden designer who worked from home in an office that had once been the stable at the back of the barn. She worked at her drawing board underneath a huge picture-window that looked out over the garden and beyond to the surrounding countryside, her 'seat of power', as Trevor called it.

Having quickly changed out of his school clothes, Charlie ran downstairs, made himself a jam sandwich and raced towards the door to make a quick exit.

"Charlie," came the call, as he made it to within two feet of the door.

"Yes Mum," answered Charlie resignedly.

"Come in here for a second, can you pet?" she said, but she need not have bothered. He was already on his way and, by the time she had finished the sentence, he was standing right beside her.

"No need to shout Mum," he chuckled.

"Hmm," she sighed, spinning round from her drawing board. "So where are you off to in such a rush?"

"I, I, I'm off to the nursery," he stuttered.

"Good, well can you tell Gemma that I'll come over tomorrow to choose the plants for this new job," she said, ignoring his slight nervousness.

"Okay," said Charlie, backing quickly out of the door.

"Be back by seven, we're going to the Tandoori House for dinner. And make sure you invite Marie if you want to," she called as she heard the front door slam and its old hinges creak from the strain.

"Okay," came the muzzled reply.

Marie was the centre of all of Charlie's thoughts at the moment. She wasn't his girlfriend, although he wished with every fibre of his being that she was. They had met at the local nursery doing part-time holiday work and Charlie had silently blessed his mother for being a landscape architect and for getting him the job. It had taken him ages to pluck up the courage to speak to Marie properly and even longer to sense more than a glimmer of warmth in her manner towards him. Now, after nearly six months of spending time together, she was openly affectionate towards him. Still, Charlie feared that his inexperience would humiliate him in some way and bring his dream crashing down around him.

Marie had turned seventeen a month before Charlie and, as her body took on the beauty of womanhood, all the boys at school had become interested in her. With jet-black hair and almond coloured eyes, she was striking in her natural beauty. Marie had been in one brief relationship, with a boy called Tom, who was in the year above her at school. This had ended abruptly earlier that year, after a painful and somewhat humiliating sexual introduction in the cold spare bedroom at Tom's parents' house. Charlie had managed to stumble into her affections through a combination of his caring nature and a complete lack of self-confidence. Working at Gemma's nursery had allowed them to find the safety of friendship, but now they were faced with the possibility of it changing into something new and this scared them both for different reasons.

Having peddled like lightning over the mile to the nursery, Charlie came whistling down the long hill that led to the historic gardens. His stomach was full of butterflies in anticipation of seeing Marie and his head was light with the thought of a whole fortnight off school. His face tingled from the fresh air that rushed over his skin as he sped down the hill and he felt light.

"TUCKER," came a scream from somewhere nearby and the noise jolted him violently out of his reverie. He swerved to an ungainly halt that left him struggling to stay upright at the side of the road. He looked back up the hill to identify his assailant, only to have his worst fears realised.

"Damn it," mouthed Charlie. "Damn it, damn it," he thought, as the panic began to rise in him. It was Tony Wardale, the meanest piece of work at school, and he was not alone. He had four friends with him, not that he needed them, but they unfortunately provoked an unpleasant edge to his behaviour. There was no point trying to make an escape, because Charlie could see two of Tony's cohorts slouching on their bikes near the junction at the bottom of the hill. Charlie realised if he did get away he would just spend all the next half-term at school looking over his shoulder. Tony would make sure that there was a price on his head. For reasons unknown to Charlie, Tony had taken an extreme dislike to him. Charlie had managed to avoid him successfully for most of the term, but now he was trapped. Tony had a meanness to his character that everyone feared. Even the teachers at school were wary of him and left him alone whenever possible.

Only once had Charlie seen Tony's defiance towards authority falter. This had happened when he was told that his father was coming in to pick him up from school after the headmaster had phoned him about his behaviour. At the mention of this, Tony had gone visibly pale because his father, who worked on the oil rigs, was apparently a good deal bigger and an awful lot meaner than his son. Tony didn't attend school for nearly two weeks after that incident. Everyone said it was because he had to let the bruising disappear, but no one knew for sure and certainly no one was game to ask him. A few weeks later, the headmaster's car was found with its tyres slashed and, although no one could prove anything, everyone knew who had done it.

"Hello Tucker," said Tony with calm menace in his voice. "I've been looking forward to catching up with you."

Charlie knew that no response was going to do any good, so he just stayed silent. His mind was in torment as he tried to be as brave as the Charlie of his dreams, who had beaten this weak fool in countless imagined clashes. But in reality, Charlie was terrified and Tony knew it. Tony's little gang looked on gleefully, puffing defiantly on cheap cigarettes and trying to look tough.

"You owe me money, Tucker," Tony said, approaching his victim and shoving his face to within an inch of Charlie's. "And I want it now," he said coldly.

"I don't know what you mean," said Charlie quietly. "I've never borro."

"Are you calling me a liar, Tucker?" snapped Tony, spitting his words into Charlie's face, content that the wimp had fallen into his unsophisticated, yet necessary trap.

"I promise you, I don't kn."

"Aaahhh, you're not worth wasting my time on," snarled Tony, glancing away to gauge the reaction of his waiting gang. With that, he whirled around to face Charlie and, in one swift motion, Tony grabbed Charlie's shirt and landed a vicious head butt to his face. Charlie's knees buckled under him and THUNK, he hit the curb on his bum to the cheers of Tony's audience. As Charlie slumped in a heap, the blood started to dribble out of his nose and it mixed with the tears that were running down his cheeks.

"Aah, the little boy is crying," said Tony, crouching down next to his victim. "Don't cross me, rich boy," he whispered into Charlie's ear. "There'll be more trouble than you can handle if you tell anyone about this, okay?" Charlie just nodded weakly and hid his head between his folded arms.

"Come on, there's no fight in this wimp," said Tony with a faint grin. With that, the gang of four climbed on their bikes and wheelied their way down the hill with Tony up front, dragging heavily on his victory cigarette.

It was at least half an hour before Charlie could stop his body from shaking enough to climb onto his bike. The bleeding had stopped pretty quickly and only a sharp pain in his cheek remained. The head butt would give him a black eye that would definitely need an explanation when he got home. He didn't care about this as much as the humiliation and powerlessness that he felt. He knew he wasn't really hanging it together enough to go and see Marie, but he didn't care, he needed to see her now more than ever. With this thought in mind, Charlie peddled off determinedly from the curb and wobbled his way in the direction of the nursery. Over the year that she'd been working at the nursery, Marie had come to love her time with Gemma, chatting to her while they worked in the potting shed, or planting seedlings in the nursery garden. It seemed to her, that with each visit, she would garner some new piece of botanical or emotional information from her unusual mentor. But things were changing, and now she found that she couldn't concentrate on her work, or anything else for that matter, as her feelings for Charlie began eclipsing her whole being.

"It doesn't look like he's coming," said Marie, glancing towards the main entrance to the nursery again. She had arrived at Gemma's straight from school, as she had been looking forward to seeing Charlie all day. But now, she and Gemma had been potting seedlings for over an hour and she was verging on being angry with him.

"He'll come if he can, he wouldn't miss being here for anything," said Gemma. "And it's not because he loves potting plants that much either. His eyes sparkle when he's near you and I happen to know that he would walk over broken glass to be here," she said reassuringly. Marie just blushed slightly and smiled. "Do you like him as much as he likes you?" asked Gemma quietly.

BOOK: Charlie's Dream
10.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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