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The Boy Scully

by Alex Kuhnberg 

Posted: 12 April 2013
Word Count: 10304
Summary: William Scully is a fifth-former at the exclusive Melton College where the sons of the elite are groomed for leadership. His father is a government scientist, the inventor of the Scully Suction Cleaner. One day his father is accused of treason and William is summarily expelled. Meanwhile, in a fortress community on the Island of Whyte, his mother Beth Bullen, the NAC's leader, muses over the circumstances of William's birth and that of his sister Ellie.

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Chapter One
Goodbye to Melton

My expulsion from Melton College was very sudden and shocking. Over the course of a short interview my life turned upside down. One minute my cup was full to overflowing, the next I found myself the victim of a terrible and inexplicable injustice.
The date of this event is etched on my heart with acid. Yet knowing what I know now, I am convinced that my expulsion was a necessary and even beneficial evil – what you might call a blessing in disguise.

My situation at the start of Pagan term was on the face of it enviable. I had been a pupil of Melton College for four-and-a-half years. I had endured my first year as a tick without blub-bing or blabbing; I had refined my accent and remedied the deficiencies of my wardrobe; and finally, in the Autumn of 478, I had suffered all the indignities attendant on the rite of Union, and emerged from the ordeal with flying colours. For my reward I had been elevated to the rank of Praetor. In the eyes of most Meltonians these milestones were nothing to write home about, but for me they were precious trophies, won in the teeth of disadvantage and discour-agement, not to mention my own recalcitrant nature. It is true that I was hardly popular, but I was respected for my sharp wit and for my knack of drawing spiteful caricatures of those who crossed me. Moreover I had won the affections of a boy who belonged among the elite: Paul Purkis, an Equestrian whose father was a Cabinet Minister.
The school had taken me to its bosom, and I had learned to love it in return. My future life rolled out in front of me like a golden road leading into an enchanted landscape of high status and great possessions.
The one discordant note in this generally rosy state of affairs was my standing with the Headmaster and his Deputy. Both regarded me with open loathing. At various times they had both warned me, in the exhausted phraseology of the career-martinet, that I was ‘sailing close to the wind’, and that my ‘sullen and poisonous attitude’ to authority would one day return to haunt me.
In the event, as you will see, I was expelled not for any fault of my own, but for the actions of my father.

My last day at Melton started in unexceptional fashion with a bracing cold shower, followed by a generous helping of bacon and eggs, served by little Worsley on large blue and white china plates. Outside the sun shone merrily over the verdant sward and the mighty elms spreading their magnificent branches over the golden stone of the school’s venerable study blocks.
All crap, of course, but Melton crap: the crap de luxe.
Crap aside, Malcaster and all its works seemed very far away. That fact in itself should have rung alarm bells. It is at times like this that Malcaster is at its most dangerous: waiting in the long grass like a steel trap, jaws yawning wide, ready to snap shut on your an-kle when you least expect it.

Purkis that morning was on particularly good form.
“You are a paragon, Worsley, do you know that?”
“I’m not sure what the word means, Purkis.”
“It means, ignorant youth, that you are a wonder-tick. You perform your duties in ex-emplary fashion, and without a murmur of complaint.”
Worsley had been our tick for little more than two weeks. He was very small and slight and fussy in the way he moved, although he was far from feeble, judging by the amount of tick-work he got through. The small of stature often get bullied at Melton, but I couldn’t see that happening to Worsley. Despite his eagerness to please, there was something mulish in his expression that reminded you of the children of the lower orders: the sort of ragamuffins that call you ‘sir’, and then make a rude gesture once your back is turned.
“Thank you, Purkis. I think you’re exaggerating a bit, though.”
“Not at all. You are far and away the best of ticks. Look at your predecessor Nevis. Scruffy, careless, lazy, rude – the list is endless. We had to have him flogged once, for some persistent misdemeanour. It didn’t do a bit of good.”
Nevis was the younger of two brothers. The elder Nevis had been my own tick-master for a while, and had been as cruel and abusive as his little brother was lazy and rebellious. Thankfully the elder Nevis had left for a career in the greater world last year at the end of Pa-gan term. He had not been missed, any more than Nevis Minor, who two weeks ago had been returned to their father’s home in Basset in a taxi, following a scandal involving the dis-tribution of forbidden substances.
“I can’t understand people like that. I mean, what’s the point?”
“There isn’t one. Being idle is a matter of character, not a choice. Luckily for us, you choose not to be.”
“Thanks, Purkis. You’re very kind.”
“I’m not kind at all. It’s your due. Of course it must help enormously to have tick-masters as nice as me and Scully. We never ask you to do anything unreasonable or humiliat-ing. But is that sufficient incentive?”
“For what, Purkis?”
“For your apparent devotion.”
“Do I have to spell it out? What’s your price, man? A blind eye if you ever (perish the thought) transgress? Possibly even cash?”
“No, Purkis” said Worsley, colouring. “I don’t expect anything like that.”
“Don’t lie. No-one does anything for nothing. Basically people are just out for them-selves. They can’t help it. It’s human nature.”
“Purkis-nature, you mean,” I chipped in. “Worsley is a different breed of dog alto-gether. Servility in his case appears to be its own reward.”
“Piss off, Scully. You sound like one of Floater’s minions.”
This was a pretty deadly insult. Most of us at Melton had a degree of affection for one or two of the masters – ‘respect’ would be overstating the case -- while at the same time ac-knowledging that the teaching profession attracted a lower order of beings altogether.
“Address the argument, Purkis. There’s nothing wrong with my logic.”
“You’re trying on hats again. I hate it when you do that.” Purkis bit down on a trian-gle of toast and kept it lodged in his mouth while pulling a stupid face.
“Whereas you, I take it, are perfectly content with the standard Melton topper.”
“I say what I think. I don’t go in for bull.”
Worsley continued to clear the table with an air of absorption.
“Settle this for us, Worsley,” I said. “Purkis is right: your conduct as a tick is rather too good to be true. You actually appear to enjoy your duties, even the most menial of them. That is very odd. Explain.”
“I do enjoy them, actually, Scully,” said Worsley. “My father has a background in the hospitality industry. I earned my keep from the age of eight by working in one or another of his hotels, at first in a very humble capacity”
“He made you clean the hotel flushers?” asked Purkis, bugging out his eyes.
“Someone has to do it. Guests would soon notice if they didn’t.” Worsley gave the table a final wipe. “Is it all right to go now?”
“Go, Worsley, go!”
The door closed behind him. Purkis and I looked at one another, twin smirks spread-ing simultaneously across our faces.
“Full Saxon this mornin’, is it, chief?” I asked, taking a damp tea-towel, and folding it over my forearm. “Or a nice stale kipper mayhap?”
“I rather fancy the Melton banger, actually,” drawled Purkis. “Send him up to my suite, my good man, and make sure he ablutes beforehand – top to bottom.”
We laughed for some time.
“What’s really funny,” said Purkis, “is the idea that we’re expected to swallow this pathetic hospitality crap.”
“I believe it. No-one would make up a thing like that.”
“You’re so fucking trusting Scully. Worsley watches everything we do: every letter, every conversation, every time one of us so much as farts in the bath.”
“That would be you, in fact.”
“I’ve a suspicion he’s been recruited by the good Doctor. There is more than a hint about him of the midnight congress.”
It was our contention, maintained with varying degrees of conviction, that the seem-ingly respectable shops and houses of Melton Town were in reality a front for activities of a very different description. What appeared during the hours of daylight to be a simple newsa-gents (‘The Sweet Tooth’) was transformed as dusk fell into an opium den patronised exclu-sively by the senior staff and governors of Melton College. ‘The Melton Bookstop’, with its feeble stock of postcards, pamphlets and popular novels, doubled up by night as a showroom for implements of torture and made-to-measure rubberware. A back passage in the Fiddler’s Arms led after midnight to a brothel catering to obscure perversions. And so on.
The other Melton, we had decided, was actually a much more ancient town called Malcaster, which had been a centre for depravity from as far back as the Stone Age. Its pre-sent day activities were the responsibility of a sinister gang of grotesques called the Malcon-tents, whose nominal leader was Dr Porter, our Headmaster. The name ‘Porter’, of course, was obviously a pseudonym: his real name – his Malcaster name – was Floater. Over the course of several years he had recruited the bulk of the school staff to assist him in his nefari-ous activities. Nevertheless one or two masters continued to hold out against him, and Porter was continually contriving to lure these brave but corruptible souls into potentially compro-mising situations, in the hope of blackmailing them into obedience.
In our spare time Purkis and I were writing a collection of tales about Malcaster under the title of The Infected Pistol and Other Stories. Purkis’s stories tended towards the scato-logical, and generally had for their climax detailed descriptions of inappropriate couplings, orgies and feats of sexual acrobatics. My own contributions mostly took the form of detec-tive mysteries featuring a bumbling police-detective called Ernest Rattle, and his brilliant but neurotic sidekick, Hubert Wisley. Despite Wisley’s efforts to alert Rattle to the existence of Malcaster, he persisted in believing that the secret town was nothing more than a mad fanta-sy, resulting from the ingestion of the vast quantity of pills and potions which Wisley took to address his interminable digestive complaints. His general blankness meant that Rattle was prone to falling into the traps set for him by the Malcontents, and endeavouring – often with some success – to bring the innocent to injustice.
The midnight congress referred to by Purkis was a weekly event in the Malcaster cal-endar. Every Saturday night the Malcontents would meet together on the stroke of midnight in the College’s Congressional Hall. The doors would be locked and bolted; black velvet cur-tains would be drawn over all the ground-floor windows. In the light of flickering candles, the votaries would lead out the boys selected for recruitment into their obscene rituals. Blind-fold and naked, they would be made to perform callisthenic exercises, specifically designed to test their fitness for the tasks to which they were to be assigned.
“Your theory is, then,” I said, “that Worsley is himself a congress member.”
“He’s certainly a plant, if nothing else. It’s obvious that Nevis Minor was sacked to make way for him.”
“He wasn’t up to the job, was he, poor Nevis?”
“Hardly. Only loyal to himself, no concept of the greater good, bum bum bum... And far too obviously shady. Worsley is much more the professional spy.”
Purkis had a tendency to let Malcaster get the better of him. “Let him snoop, if that’s what he wants,” I said. “He won’t find anything worth reporting.”
“Speak for yourself.”
This was an invitation to enquire further; it amounted practically to an announcement, though of what I had no idea. Purkis was always trying to sell himself as being famously promiscuous, like his hero Lord Percy, but his appalling complexion – the sore red eruptions that encrusted his face and neck -- meant that the opportunities he got to misbehave were pretty infrequent, and hardly anything to boast of.
“Been up to something, have you?”
“I know how fond you are of photographic studies of the unclothed youth. That’s hardly a hanging matter, even here.”
“Perhaps you don’t know me as well as you think.”
“Perhaps not. Seriously, though, Purkis, you don’t really think that Worsley is spying on us, do you?”
“Seriously?” Purkis sucked in his lower lip.
“Putting Malcaster aside, I mean.”
“You can’t put Malcaster aside, Scully,” said Purkis gravely. “Malcaster is actually realer than Melton.”

There was a quick tap on the door, and a nose stuck round it, followed by a sleek blonde head and a willowy body. The nose – curved like an eagle’s beak – belonged to Nigel Veale. Veale was a good example of how you can get away with murder at Melton, so long as you are vaguely good-looking and know whose bum to kiss. As a new boy he was deeply suspect for a number of reasons: feline body language, tendency to show off his torso at sporting events, indiscriminate use of aftershave, propensity for giving rub-downs during the lunch-break to younger boys in full view of the entire school, etc. Despite all this, the college au-thorities had never taken any action against him. Quite the reverse, in fact. At the start of the school year he was elected to Crow, in which role he quickly became, as Purkis put it, the guardian of everyone’s decency but his own.
“Yes, Veale?” said Purkis, “How can we hinder you today?”
“You can zip your flap for a start, Purkis.” He turned to me. “Porter wants you in his office, Scully – on the trot, if you don’t mind.”
“They’ve made you Messenger Boy, I see. Isn’t that a job for ticks?”
“Porter’s Office, Scully. Now.”
“Who is this ‘Porter’ exactly? Someone from the Railway Company?”
“Stop arsing around. Go to the Headmaster’s Office.”
“Oh, you must mean Roger Porter? How nice of him to think of me. And he’s coming to see me here, you say?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
I pretended to consult a non-existent wrist-piece. “I fear I have a prior engagement, Nigel.”
“You’re not to call me that, Scully. Do it again and you’ll get a prescription.”
“Are you serious?”
“Perfectly. Now get moving.” He left the room.
Purkis made a kissy noise. “Somebody’s out of favour,” he said.
“Poor boy,” I said, shrugging. “Promotion must have gone to his head.”
I had always called Veale by his first name in the past, just as he had always called me by mine. Last year, for a few brief weeks, when he was just a Praetor, we had been lov-ers. Neither of us had taken it terribly seriously; there was no falling out, just a mutual turn-ing away to other prospects. I had seen very little of him since his elevation.
“I don’t know if that’s it, exactly.” Purkis toyed with the end of his small snout thoughtfully. “Chaps like him have the nose of a gun-dog. I’d watch my back, Scully, if I were you.”

Chapter Two
Bad News

“Sit down, Scully,” said Roger Porter. “I have some bad news for you.”
His office was furnished with the kind of bad taste that passes itself off as good among people who have none: a reproduction antique globe that doubled as a sherry cabinet, a rather too immaculate rosewood writing-desk, a mariner’s chest that had never smelt the sea – that sort of thing. The tall windows looked out over dazzling playing fields, beyond which rose the golden pinnacles of the school’s first-century Congregational Hall. A game of sticks was in progress, somewhere out of sight. The occasional quiet plock! of leather on wood sounded in the shimmering summer air.
I sat.
There was a painful silence.
“Bad news?” I prompted, finally.
“Yes. It concerns your father.” He formed a pyramid with his thumbs and fingertips, raised it so that his index fingers were touching the end of his nose, and his thumbs resting on his chin, and regarded me over it like a giant peering over a steeply pitched gable-end.
The Headmaster and I had a history of disagreement which I will not go into here, other than to say we loathed one another, and for political reasons were obliged to pretend otherwise. He played, as you know, a leading part in the chronicles of Malcaster under the name of ‘Dr Floater’. Among the boys of the school his most commonly used nickname (he had several) was ‘Flogger’, but Purkis and I never called him that ourselves, judging it to be insufficiently offensive – it had, like all nicknames, a vaguely affectionate resonance. Out-side of any Malcaster context, we simply referred to him as ‘Porter’, a form of address which, because it implicitly placed him on a par with mere boys such as ourselves, would have en-raged him more than any nickname you could think of. My father also had a low opinion of him, dismissing him as a bureaucratic lackey who would jump to the bidding of anyone in power, and even encouraging me to treat him with disrespect. “Porter has enough people administering caresses to his backside as it is,” he would say. “There’s no need for you to add to them.” The Headmaster’s opinion of my father was no doubt equally unfavourable, though he had never expressed it openly.
“What about him?”
“When did you last see him?”
“About a month ago.”
“Did he give any indication that anything was amiss?”
“Such as?”
Porter cleared his throat. “He never told you he was under investigation?”
“By the police?”
“By our security service. Under the direction of the NAC.”
For the NAC – The National Advisory Council -- to call themselves this was a crimi-nal misuse of language according to my father, since they never issued a single word of ad-vice, only dictates that no-one was allowed to question. It goes without saying that he detest-ed them and all they stood for. He worked for them because of the field he was in. Without their support no research could take place.
“What’s he supposed to have done?”
Porter took his time replying. “The precise details of the allegations against him have not yet been divulged,” he said at last, tasting each word as if it might be tinctured with arse-nic. “The suspicion is that he has done something treasonous. Anything more than that I am not at liberty to discuss.”
My father had been in trouble before, usually for refusing to take no for an answer, but this sounded more serious. “My father isn’t interested in politics. He’s a scientist. There’s a book by him on Time and Matter in the school library.”
“That volume’s been on our shelves for ten years; the last time I checked the pages were still uncut. Most people only know your father as the inventor of a labour-saving house-hold appliance. In any case, his reputation does not entitle him to break the law; nor does it offer him any protection in the event of his doing so.” The tip of his tongue peeked out, and then withdrew.
“It has to be a mistake.”
“Well, we shall see. If it’s any comfort to you, the NAC is not inclined to making rash judgements or recommending people for prosecution people without proper cause. If your father is innocent he will be given ample opportunity to clear his name.”
His words offered no comfort at all. I had been taught to distrust the NAC virtually from the cradle. However my father had also impressed on me that I should keep my opinion of them to myself. In the heat of the moment I lost sight of that fact.
“This is stupid.”
“Stupid? A ruling of the NAC?”
“Yes, the NAC. They’re not infallible are they?”
Porter studied me like an insect that has landed on his plate. “Arrogant words, Scully; the words of an arrogant youth. It was a controversial decision, admitting you to Melton. I was opposed to it. I see that my misgivings were right.” The tip of his tongue moistened his upper lip. “You realise of course that you will have to leave?”
There are harmless taps, and there are bruises, and there are sledgehammer blows, and you never know which they are going to be until they land.
“Leave? Why?”
“We can hardly keep you here under the circumstances. The school can’t be seen to lend its support to the son of a traitor.”
“That isn’t fair. What have I done?”
“This is precisely the sort of thing I mean. You have been given a determination, and you treat it as an opinion. Instead of accepting and obeying, you argue the toss. I can’t con-tinue this conversation any longer. Collect together your possessions, and be ready to leave within the hour.”
“So that’s it?” The words spilled out in an unseemly rush. “Three years of my life – wasted!”
“You have been given every opportunity at Melton. If your time has been wasted here that is no-one’s fault but your own.”
“You know what I mean. I’ve only been a Praetor for five months. And next year I could get elected to Crow.”
“Frankly it was touch and go whether you would make Praetor at all – I certainly didn’t support your candidacy. As for membership of Crow, Melton may tolerate a variety of opinions, but we’re not so open-minded as to give a fox the keys to the hen-house.”
I sent him a look of hate.
“I’m interested to see,” he continued, “that you appear to be less concerned about the fate of your father than the loss of your place at Melton.”
“My father can take care of himself.” I believed this, incidentally: my father was too good a scientist for the NAC to do without his services.
“That’s just as well, considering the attitude of his son.”
I reined back my anger. “What do I do now?”
“An Officer of the State will come for you.”
“And take me where?”
“A corrective facility, most probably. Some institute where you can be taught to show a modicum of respect.”
A wave of fury rose up in my chest and came crashing out of my mouth. “Don’t talk to me about respect,” I said, rising from my seat. “The only respect you’ll get from me is a thump in the eye, you swine!” Even in the grip of anger I could only abuse him in his own idiom.
Porter stood up and walked over to the door. “I will note that remark on your file,” he said coldly. “It will pursue you wherever you go.” He opened the door, and waited for me to leave.

News travels swiftly in Melton. Purkis was sitting in one of our two armchairs, puffing away at his briar, and looking thoughtful.
Purkis was my greatest and oldest friend, and yet at that precise moment I couldn’t stand the sight of him, because I was leaving and he was not. I turned away from him, and began pulling stuff out of a cupboard.
“What’s this I hear? You’re leaving us?”
“Apparently my pa has got himself jugged up.”
“Really? What for?”
“Floater won’t say.”
“A mystery, eh? The suspect,” he intoned, in a cod version of a plebeian accent, “was apprehended in possession of a tweed suit and a powerful microscope. When questioned he claimed to be an alien scientist from a parallel universe.”
That is the way you deal with things at Melton. Any misfortune, however awful, is met with an airy quip. Pointed jabs and downright insults have to be taken on the chin. It is not done to show emotion; in fact the worse you have been hurt the more rigorously you are expected to control your feelings. If you take offence you have no sense of humour. If you break down you are a cry-baby.
All of which is fine, as long as long as none of the wounds are real.
“Not funny,” I said.
“Perhaps not. Tell me more. NAC involved?”
“It’s serious, then.”
“I’m not worried. My pa has pals in high places.”
“Such as?”
My father in fact had very few friends of any kind at all. If anything he tended to al-ienate people. “Scientists he’s worked with. Dons he knows at Canterworth.”
“People that don’t count, unfortunately.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Scully old chap: you may have a lively imagination, but when it comes to knowing how things work you’re completely in the dark. Scientists and academics are roughly equal in the pecking-order to waiters and lavatory attendants.”
“So basically the old boy’s done for. Thanks a lot.”
He looked at me thoughtfully. “You know, I could always put in a word with my pa.”
“Ah, the great Sir Roger. What the fuck could he do?”
Before he could reply there was an efficient double rap on the door.
“Enter, slave,” I said crossly.
In hindsight this was not the best choice of words. A man opened the door. He was wearing the insignia of his tribe, a dented felt hat and a long belted raincoat; also a strange black moustache – not much more than a thin line that could have been drawn with a map-ping pen and a ruler – which was located along the edge of his top lip, some distance from his nostrils. His face was as expressionless as a monkey-wrench.
“Which of you young gentlemen is Scully?”
“Him,” I said, pointing at Purkis.
The man advanced on Purkis. “Scully, I am SPC Jarvis. Doctor Porter, your –”
“I’m not Scully,” said Purkis.
“Don’t try it on,” said Jarvis. “Doctor Porter warned me –”
“My name is Purkis.”
“You know the name, I take it?”
“I know of a Sir Roger Purkis. Minister for State Security.”
“Correct. He’s my father.”
Jarvis took his time digesting this claim. “I assume you have proof of that?”
“Of course,” said Purkis, rooting around in his pockets.
“I’ll ask my pa to put in a good word for you, if you like,” I said.
“Cheap shot Scully,” said Purkis, pulling out a grubby leather wallet. “Here you are.”
Jarvis examined the contents of the wallet, taking particular notice of Purkis’ ID card: holding it up, and looking from the photograph to Purkis and back again. “Mr Purkis,” he said, handing back the wallet, “it seems I owe you an apology.”
“Not at all. You weren’t to know.”
He nodded his agreement. “So the real Scully, I take it, is this other gentleman?”
“Right second time,” I said, holding out my own wallet.
Jarvis took them from me curtly. “That’s a low trick,” he said, thumbing quickly through the various bits and pieces. “Trying to drop your room-mate in the sewage.”
“It was a joke.”
“A joke, was it?”
“Bang the bugger up,” said Purkis. “He deserves it, pulling a stunt like that.”
Jarvis pocketed my wallet, frowning. “I’ll keep hold of this, if I may,” he said. “Right, Scully, get your stuff together.”
“That’ll teach you to Scully my good name,” said Purkis.
“Fuck off, Purkis.”
“Mind your language,” said Jarvis severely. “I thought this was a school for the sons of gentlemen.”
“That’s how they talk – the sons of gentlemen,” I said. “It’s how their fathers talk too, if it comes to that. It’s ‘fuck this’ and ‘fuck that’ all the time. The only people who see any virtue in civility are the lower classes.”
“Like me, are you saying?” asked Jarvis, with a sharp jerk of the neck.
I shrugged, and got on with my packing.
“Hey,” said Purkis. “Taking that bubbler with you?”
The bubbler in question was made of brass, and quite bulky. I had found it in a curi-osity shop in Ensor, in the shadow of the castle. I only bought it for show, and in fact smok-ing it made me feel ill.
“Do you want it?”
“If you have no use for it.”
“It’s yours.”
“Thanks old man.”
There wasn’t much else. My collection of waistcoats weren’t going to be much use outside of Melton: Purkis could have those too. Not that he needed them; he had enough of his own.
“Goodbye, Purkis,” I said, picking up my suitcases so that we wouldn’t have to shake hands. “I shouldn’t think I’ll be seeing you again.”
Purkis made no reply. I’d like to think he was too choked up suddenly to trust himself to speak, but in all liklihood he was glad to see the back of me. I blame the Melton code. No-one ever says what they feel; it’s all guesswork, and walking on eggs, and if you do really like someone you have to pretend the exact opposite.

Outside we ran into little Worsley.
“Scully!” he cried, running up to me. “Is it true you’ve been expelled?”
“Something like that.”
“What lousy luck.”
“My problem, Worsley. Don’t concern yourself.”
“And who are you, sir?” asked Jarvis.
“Thomas Worsley. I’m Scully’s tick.”
“A ‘tick’. That’s some kind of servant boy, right?”
“Something like that,” I said.
Jarvis ignored me. “How is that spelled, sir – W-U-Z-L-Y?”
Worsley corrected him.
“Obliged.” He wrote it down in his notebook. “I may have some more questions for you when I return in a day or two. Is that all right?”
“Of course. So long as you don’t expect me to say anything incriminating about Scul-ly.”
Jarvis perked up at this. “You know something incriminating, then, do you?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Don’t worry, Mr Worsley. Anything you tell me will be in the strictest confidence.”
“There’s nothing to tell.”
“That’s perfectly all right, sir. I won’t detain you any longer.”
Worsley walked away. Reaching the wall he turned and raised a hand. There was something oddly forlorn about the gesture.
“One of the new boys, is he?” said Jarvis.
“Young and impressionable, in other words?”
“You could say that.”
“And their duties, these ticks, what are they exactly, may I ask?”
“They make toast, run errands, polish your boots – that kind of thing.”
“Do your laundry, perhaps? Attend to your personal needs?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“He seems very fond of you, young Mr Worsley.”
“Well you know how it is.”
“No, I don’t sir. Perhaps you should fill me in.”
“I don’t think you’d understand.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure of that. You know the penalties for corruption of minors, I suppose?”
“Don’t be idiotic.”
“Idiotic, am I?” he said. For a moment he seemed to be on the point of landing me one. Instead he grabbed my arm, and steered me over to an exhausted black saloon slumped in the drive. He opened the boot, and gestured for me to put my cases inside.
“Get in,” he said when I had done so.
I climbed into the passenger seat. A fuggy smell came off the upholstery, of fried food and sweat and cigarette smoke. Jarvis got in beside me.
“Nice motor,” I said.
He leaned his face close to mine. “Drop the lip, Scully,” he said. “You’ve had it nice and cushy up to now, what with your servant boys and your private rooms and pretty waist-coats and shiny toppers. Well those days are over. You’re on my territory now. You’ve left your corner of privilege behind. You do what you are told. You eat what you are given. You speak when you are spoken to. Is that clear?”

The mid-day sun was still streaming down over Melton. A thick film of grime covered the windscreen, blurring and distorting the golden scene. A line of Crows lolled on their exclu-sive perch at the edge of Bellarby’s, watching as two of their number duelled with furled um-brellas. I would never be one of them. I took a last look at the stone towers and the shady arches and the bright trees and the boys in their waistcoats and toppers racing across the lawn to witness my departure. It was the same world as I had woken to, some six hours earlier, but I was no longer a member of it.
We drove off along the gravelled drive. I turned in my seat. The great west front of Melton College shrank in easy stages to the size of a toy fort. We came to a pair of ornamen-tal gates – they were standing open -- futtered through, rounded a green bend, and it was gone for good.

Chapter Three
In the Beginning

I’ll nae forgee th’ faither hen
Fa clepped me tae his breast
Ay aw th’ fowk as e’er I loved
Me daddy war th’ best.

Loch Lonely-Heart (Traditional) sung by Jock Lomond, Heather & Thistle Music, 398.

I must have been five or six when I first came to realise that my father was a distinguished scientist. By that time our family name was already a household word, owing to one of his earliest inventions: the Scully Suction Cleaner, or simply, ‘The Scully’. Over time the word has become synonymous with any act in which things are disposed of quickly and efficiently, as in, “I had to be elsewhere, so I scullied up my dinner in five minutes.” A gardener scullies up rubbish from the lawn; the police scully a city centre of beggars; the SS scully out trouble-makers, and so forth. The word is also commonly applied to a particular sexual act -- you can puzzle this out for yourself. At one time my fellow pupils used to go out of their way to air this usage in front of me, in order to rub my nose in the fact that if my father was famous it was for something essentially ludicrous and un-Meltonian. It was only when I made Praetor that they stopped doing this to my face, though no doubt the practice continued behind my back. After that I only heard Purkis using the word in its sexual context, but he was a friend, with a friend’s privileges, and he only did it to tease.

My nursery was a collection of humble stone buildings near Glenlockie on the western coast of Scotta, where my father was based at the time. The landscape was wild and inhospitable – steep cliffs overlooking rough seas, flat plains of heather and gorse, with the occasional stunted thorn tree, and a few battered sheep cowering in the shelter of the odd low stone wall. No doubt the region enjoyed some kind of summer – I have some vague recollection of an unfamiliar glow on the skin, and the fields being transformed by sunlight and blue sky – but if so it no sooner arrived than it departed, leaving behind what seemed like a perpetual winter. Most of the time it was freezing cold. I could never get warm all over: even when I stood in front of a roaring fire (this was a rare enough event in itself) an icy draught would attack me from behind, and the moment I turned round to warm my nether parts it would blast me full in the face. We slept on mattresses stuffed with straw; the sheets were thin and ragged, and clammy to the touch. Every evening we stood in line to receive our own hootie, filled from an immense aluminium kettle that sat grumbling on the range: without these I dare say we would have died in our beds of frostbite. When I first climbed into bed the squarish rubber bladder, ribbed like a fishbone, would be too hot to touch, so I used to wrap it in my sweater, and push the burning package down to the foot of the bed, then after a few minutes I would unwrap it and use the heated sweater to warm up my toes, which by that time would be numb with cold. Eventually the hootie would cool down sufficiently to be laid first on my chest and then be-tween my legs; then I would chew on a fingernail for comfort, and imagine myself to be a huge white bird, sailing over an endless landscape of ice and black waves into the region of sleep – and wake shivering in the greenish light of early morning with the clammy hootie, which the passage of the night had turned into a coolie, pressed coldly to my genitals.
During the day we played with rough wooden letters and crayons and clay and sort-ing-boxes, and for recreation took long walks across the fields, heads bowed against the icy wind. Our nurses were inflexibly dour and aloof; there was no point in going to them weep-ing with a grazed knee or a cold. If you cut yourself they would bandage the wound; if you broke a bone they would take you (by cart and ferry and cart again) to the hospital, some fifty miles away; but if you wanted sympathy, you had to whistle for it.
My infant schoolfellows, being Islanders, were also prone to dourness. They used as few words as they could get away with, and dismissed any display of language that was in any way descriptive or analytical as ‘fookin’ blether.’ Their name for me was ‘mirren-tap’, a reference to the colour of my hair; a designation I carried stoically throughout my early childhood. It was not regarded as much of a stigma, for red hair is a great deal more common in Scotta than it is here.
Glenlockie Nursery adjoined Glenlockie Middle School, to which we seamlessly transferred at the age of three, staying there until we were thirteen. The nurses were succeed-ed by schoolmasters: much the same sort of men, only even more disgruntled, and generally older, and inclined to lay about themselves indiscriminately with a knobby stick. Reading and writing and woodwork were the main subjects we were taught, together with a rudimentary form of Mathematics that went by the name of ‘Sums’. During the autumn months we helped to dig up the potatoes and turnips which formed a large part of our diet. Lessons began at seven in the morning, and continued until three, with a short break for lunch: bread and soup, mostly, with some cheese and pickles if you were lucky. Dinner was at six, and generally involved potatoes, cabbage and stewed mutton, with semolina pudding for afters. In the early evening we would congregate in the Green Room, where there were sagging sofas and a log fire, and listen to programmes on the wireless: Mark Martin, the Flying Detective; The X-ray Man; News of the North; Sam of the Woodlands were particular favourites. Reception was unreliable; the wireless had an annoying habit of fading or emitting a prolonged burst of crackle at the most exciting moments. Every Sunday there would be a wireless talk about civ-ic duty, and personal responsibility, and making the most of one’s opportunities. (‘What op-portunities?’ I would often ask myself). Oddly enough the reception never deteriorated during these talks, or perhaps that is just how I remember it: the talks gave us an opportunity for gossip and messing about; if they had been inaudible no-one would have cared or even no-ticed.
On Friday nights there would be a kind of party. Our schoolmasters would bring out the wind-up horn, and a collection of heavy black platters worn smooth by constant use, and play us long crackly renditions of Songs from the Island North – melancholy pieces like ‘Laddie ay th' Heaither,’ and ‘Loch Lonely-Heart’ -- while they drank their way through sev-eral bottles of what they called ‘Daddies’ Ruin.’
The most excitement we experienced was when little Duncan McIntyre (he was two years younger than me) had one of his fits, which he did roughly every two months or so. This usually happened at supper time, when we were passing the loaded plates along the long refectory table, like items on an assembly line. Sooner or later the relentless repetition of the same movement would trip some circuit in Duncan’s brain, causing him to twitch and jerk and fall to the floor, where he would lie, jerking rigidly to an impossibly violent rhythm, like an industrial machine flailing away desperately to expel some obstruction jamming its natural processes. Foam would gather on his lips. One of the masters would place a cushion under his head; another would put a wooden spoon between his teeth, to prevent him biting his tongue. The jerking and thrashing would go on for some twenty minutes, after which the mad rhythm would slacken to a simple pulse, and then the occasional twitch, and then die away, leaving him in a deep unquiet sleep.
Most of the time Duncan seemed more or less normal, but there was something wor-rying about his eyes: a disconnection; as if one of them was looking inwards on a vacancy, and the other staring out at a treacherous world. One day, after a particularly violent fit, a doctor was called, and he was taken away to hospital. He never returned.

For games we had kicker, sticks, and burly, none of which I cared for. I found no pleasure in charging about a muddy field in the freezing cold with snot flying from both nostrils, or being shoved and kicked and pushed over whenever the master’s back was turned (and often when it wasn’t.) This earned me a reputation in some quarters as a ‘wee jessie’, an ancient term whose origins had been lost, but remained a pretty deadly insult all the same. I retaliated, then as later, by cultivating skills as a mimic. I was merciless, but I chose my victims carefully, targeting primarily the odd and the vulnerable, and anyone generally out of favour. At the time I saw nothing wrong in this, for I felt odd and vulnerable myself: persecuting boys more vulnerable than me was merely a matter of survival. All this made me hated in some quarters, but it also made me feared, and won me a reputation of being funny, which in a school is the next best thing to being good-looking or good at sports.
A medical technician came every two or three weeks to check you over: he weighed you, he took a sample of blood, he peered down your throat, holding back your tongue with a wooden spatula; he wrapped a bag around your upper arm, and pumped it up until it squeezed like an Indian burn, he fondled your testicles; and when all of that was done he scribbled something on your record sheet. Occasionally a boy failed to thrive, and was removed.
No-one was particularly good at lessons, but since the school-masters were not partic-ularly well-educated themselves, no-one cared very much either way. There was a library full of useful guides to subjects like fishing and carpentry and boat-maintenance. What we main-ly talked about were other boys (particularly those who were either gormless or especially daring) the masters, (particularly those who were cranky or especially cruel), our favourite wireless serials (most boys wanted to be The Flying Detective when they grew up) and issues relating to our sexual equipment and development (how many times a night you ‘stroked your wullie’, for example, and how long it took to bring the matter to a conclusion.)
Sex was not of all-consuming interest. The schoolmasters chose for some reason to make a mystery of it, referring to the subject very rarely, and only then in terms of deep dis-approval, as if there was something wrong with things that everyone did, whether openly or in secret. This strikes me now as pointless and hypocritical. We all – masters as well as boys, presumably -- had the same equipment, apart from the odd variation in size, colour and shape. The usual acts were routinely practised by virtually everyone. Some boys preferred one thing to another, and concentrated more or less exclusively on that; others rang what changes they could.
The feelings we had for one another were practical rather than romantic, a matter of choosing a boy who could be relied upon to bring the business to a quick and pleasant con-clusion. Luckily not everyone fancied the same few individuals. As a general rule, boys are drawn to the physical type least like their own. The slighter boys are drawn towards the stockier, and vice versa. The same pattern of attraction has applied at every school I have ever been to, so much so that I suspect it of being a universal law of nature.
Of course there are always a small number of relatively ugly boys who on account of their self-confidence or some other leader-like quality acquire a following among the sort of boys who are natural followers. (Intelligence, unfortunately is not one of these qualities: if anything it tends to make an individual disliked by his peers, to much the same degree that it exceeds their own.) But there are always a small number of boys who are in every way too ugly and hopeless to appeal to anyone. At Glenlockie these had the choice of either finding their satisfaction alone, or with someone as unappealing as themselves. As a last resort they might purchase the services of a more attractive schoolfellow with bribes or some other form of persuasion. This kind of negotiation was tolerated, as long as no-one actually forced themselves on anyone. Boys at Glenlockie disliked bullying, and if it was taken too far they would gang up to teach the bully a lesson.
The only time that sex became a problem was if one of the nurses trespassed into our world. There was one particular nurse – a man of about fifty – who was known to prey upon the younger boys, particularly when he was drunk. His victims regarded him with contempt, but seemed powerless either to refuse or report him to another adult. At the time I wondered why this was, but not being one of them, I didn’t give the matter too much thought. When I did actually find myself in a similar position, during my first year at Melton, I understood it all a lot better.
A boy educated at an expensive Pre-Prepper in the Home Counties – the background of virtually every Meltonian – would write off Glenlockie Middle as a primitive institution that could only leave scars in the psyche of anyone who was unfortunate enough to attend it. We saw it differently. Like all boys we grumbled constantly, mostly about the food, but we didn’t consider ourselves to be either deprived or abused. Glenlockie was all we knew – we had nothing to compare it with – and in hindsight I think that most of us enjoyed our time there, the way that you can enjoy a midwinter-dip, or camping out with friends in a high wind.

I must have been about four years old when I met my father for the first time. I was called immediately after dinner to the Headmaster’s Office, where my father was sitting on an un-comfortable plastic chair, looking thoroughly awkward and miserable.
“So, Professor Scully, this is William,” said the Headmaster Mr Bunting. He was known to us as Pig, because of his general hairlessness, pink skin and fair eyelashes.
The man addressed as Professor Scully put out his hand. “Hello, William,” he mut-tered, avoiding my eye.
He was very tall and bony. He had a ragged red beard – slightly unusual that, for a man of his status, although I didn’t realise it at the time – and red shaggy eyebrows, and was bundled up against the cold in multiple layers of clothing, mostly green in colour. Under a many-pocketed overcoat he wore a green tweed suit, a green tweed waistcoat, a green wool-len shirt, and a green woollen muffler. These were just the visible layers; there were doubt-less others underneath as well. His huge shoes were of orangey-brown leather. His red hair was curly and unruly, and had started to recede in front, drawing attention to an usually high forehead crowded with large browny-red freckles. A pair of gold-framed glasses with round lenses perched permanently half-way down his nose. A heavy gold chain led down to a bulky gold time-piece fattening the pocket of his waistcoat. A red spotted handkerchief over-flowed from his breast pocket. It struck me that he might be dressing deliberately to fit a part.
His grasp was firm, the skin rough, the fingers contrastingly slender and tapering. Af-ter a second he released his grip.
“I’ll leave you two together,” said Pig.
“If you don’t mind,” said my father glumly.
Pig left. I waited for Professor Scully to initiate a conversation.
“Well, William,” he said heavily, “I’m your father, it seems.”
“Yes,” I said. “Thanks.” The exact nature of the relationship he alluded to was un-clear to me. Some of the other boys had also received visits from their fathers, but the meet-ings took place with no-one else present, and no-one ever discussed what took place.
“Do you like games?”
“Not much,” I admitted.
“Nor do I,” he said, visibly relaxing a little. “Are you interested in Science?”
“Not really,” I said slowly. “They don’t really teach it here.”
“Is that so?” He sucked air through his teeth disapprovingly. “Well, they should. Can you read?”
“That’s right: I have a report here, somewhere.” He fished around in his pockets for a few seconds, before giving it up as a bad job. “I shall be coming to see you every month.”
I nodded. I wondered why this was necessary, and what he hoped to gain by it, but it seemed rude to ask for information on the point.
“In the meantime would you like me to arrange science lessons for you?”
I thought it advisable to humour him. “If you want.”
“It’s not for my benefit. It’s you I’m thinking of.”
“Yes, then.”
“I shall speak to ... what is his name?”
“Mr ... Bunting.”
“See what he can do.”
“Thank you.”
‘Goodbye then, William,” he said, putting out his hand a second time.
“Goodbye, sir.”
“Pa will do.”
He had a private word with Pig before he left.
“Science!” said Pig, ushering me back to the Greenroom. “Who the devil does he think is gang to teach that bleddy nonsense?”
I had a sense – it was to be the first time of many – that my father had unwittingly of-fended the powers-that-be, and that I was somehow implicated in his offence. But I had more important things to worry about. Thanks to his visit I had missed virtually a whole episode of Mark Martin.

After that my father visited me regularly every month, always in the evening during the Wire-less Hour. Usually we sat outside, on a bench in the yard – you couldn’t really call it a gar-den. He always brought a present for me, and it was always something, needless to say, con-nected with his own interests. The particular uses I found for these gifts, however, were rarely those he would have had in mind. A pair of compasses came in handy for pricking the boy sitting next to me in the thigh, earning me as punishment a pretty savage beating. A u-shaped magnet enabled me to perform a number of magic tricks of a rather obvious nature. The most impressive of these gifts – much coveted by my schoolmates – was a powerful magnifying glass, which I used for frying insects and setting fire to patches of dry heather on the rare sunny days when this was possible.
The first few minutes of his visits were a little strained, because he always made a point of asking me if I had found his last gift useful. Despite the necessity to lie about these and other matters I enjoyed these visits, for he was an interesting and intelligent man, with a fund of opinions of everything under the sun; this being something of a novelty in an envi-ronment where people tend to keep their personal views very tight to their chests. He spoke about the history of Angland and Scotta, and the things to be seen in the great cities, and what it felt like exploring a labyrinth of underground tunnels just wide enough to take one man at a time, or launching yourself off a cliff-top with canvas wings strapped to your back. He also told me about the projects he was working on. He was already by this time pretty famous for inventing the Scully Suction Cleaner – you could find a Scully in the cupboard under the stairs of every decent-sized house in the country – but his real interests were more theoretical and philosophical. He was developing a theory of the nature and origins of the universe that required him to correlate his observations of the stars and planets with the examination of mi-croscopic particles of matter, in order to determine whether the universe is either infinitely large or infinitely small, or both at the same time. By this time I suspect you are losing inter-est, just as I did; but because he was my father I kept nodding and throwing out the occasion-al question to show that I was listening, and keen to hear what was coming next.
All this time he continued to press Pig to add science lessons to the curriculum. At first he was met with the sort of evasion that is tantamount to a refusal, and that continued to be the situation for the next three years. But his growing fame as an inventor must have won him considerable influence with the Scotta Education Authority, because in 471, three years after our first meeting, Pig suddenly capitulated, and informed us, during one of my father’s visits, that a new teacher had been taken on specifically to teach me science.
“On your own heid be it, Professor Scully,” he said grumpily. “You may think you know this laddie of yours, and what kind of instruction he would benefit from, but if he were a donkey not a boy I’d know which end I’d encourage first, and it wadna be the part that leads the way.”

Timothy Butterworth, my new science teacher, was a nervy young man with a forlorn expres-sion, whom I immediately identified as the type of not-quite grown-up who could be led all round the garden path and out into the streets, and left there to find his own way home, or not as the case might be. He was a recent graduate of the University of Gillie: obviously a bril-liant scholar, but completely hopeless as a teacher of small boys. He was dreadfully in awe of my father – if there had been a Professor William Scully Admiration Society he would have been its President – and automatically assumed that I too would be a scientific prodigy. As a result, instead of beginning with practical experiments involving things like controlled explo-sions, where he might have had some limited success, he started droning on about theory A and theory B, and how Bibble postulated this and Bubble refuted it, and Banks came up with the principle of inverse delineation and how space turned time inside out, bum, bum, bum: all fascinating stuff, no doubt, for anyone who had any aptitude for it, but in my case a complete waste of time.
I gave him every opportunity of correcting his mistake. I explained that I was com-pletely lost, didn’t know what he was talking about, and would be glad if he would just start at the start and teach me something I could understand. He took this as meaning that I was finding his lessons too easy, and raised the bar even higher. Finally I was forced to retaliate. The next time we had a lesson I pretended not to know the difference between π and a dish of stewing-steak with a crust on top; I asked him to supply me with a recipe for making a bomb capable of blowing up the school, I told him in confidence that my father had taught me a method of telepathic communication which enabled me to read a person’s thoughts – his, for example -- even when he was at home in his bed, and finally I handed over an exercise con-taining my homework: one enormous calculation taking up ten pages, peppered with brack-ets and letters and numbers big and little, and ending in an equals sign and the value b (for bullshit, though I didn’t tell him that) to the power of six. At which point he simply panicked, and sat in the classroom with his head in his hands, not saying a word.
The next day I was summoned to Pig’s study. “Congratulations, laddie!” said Pig. “You’ve given that fenless mon a foochter an nebbit` tway weeks. That’ll be some kind of wurrld record, I believe.” He cuffed my head lightly, his face red from stifled laughter. “Din-na be too pleased wi y’sen, though,” he said, as I rose to go. “Your faither will no be happy about all this. Mark mah words: there will be heel to pay.”
Word of my deplorable treatment of Mr Butterworth must have got back to my father, be-cause the next week he turned up out of the blue, and took me off to the Western Islands for a holiday.
I don’t know if you have ever been to the Western Islands, but if you have you will know that it is not the obvious place to take a small boy on holiday. Even in the summer the islands are windy and damp and deserted, and on some of them you can walk for miles with-out seeing a single soul, let alone a shop or cafe or amusement park or any of the things chil-dren generally need to keep them amused once they and their fathers have run out of things to say to one another. So on the face of it, the holiday could have been a complete disaster. In-stead it was a perfect dream: an idyll so perfect that no future happiness has ever come close to replicating.
I was at first full of trepidation that my father would tell me off for tormenting Mr Butterworth to the point of breakdown. I waited for him to raise the subject. The subject did not arise. I assumed that he was waiting for the right moment, and shifted the problem to the back of my mind, where it continued to sit and fester for most of the remaining holiday. My father hired a small motor boat, and allowed me to help him operate it. This is every small boy’s dream, and worth a thousand rides on any roller-coaster in the land. When things start to go right it often happens that they keep getting better and better, which is what happened here. We stocked up with bread and cheese and cans of beans and chocolate cake, and set off with no particular destination in mind, and what had started off that morning as a grey cloudy sky cleared the moment we got out to sea: the sun shone hotly out of a dark blue sky, and the boat tossed gently on the waves, and the engine chugged away merrily like a swiftly beating heart, and gulls flew round and round us squawking for bread, and I felt for the first time in my life deliriously happy in a way I had never thought possible.
And for the next three days it seemed that happiness was something that could be cre-ated easily, out of thin air, and that a limitless supply of it was waiting for me in the future.
We wove in and out of the islands scattered about the coastal waters like the jumbled pieces of a giant’s jigsaw, and came to rest in the sandy bay of a small wild island which my father identified from his chart as Wyrd. A sandy path wound up to a stone cottage overlooking the bay. We trudged up to it, expecting at any moment to find ourselves face to face with an an-gry hermit waving a big club. But the cottage was empty. We peered through the windows, and finally tried the door. It was unlocked. The cottage interior was furnished with a few rough chairs and a wobbly table. We lit a fire – the wood and kindling was already laid in the fireplace -- then ate our bread and cheese at the wobbly table, sitting on two wobbly chairs. The fire crackled merrily. My father sang a comic song, then told me a story about a Time Machine. Things could not have been more perfect.
We slept that night on airbeds, and early the next morning went down to the gull haunted bay, and walked through the reeds and climbed some low sand dunes: and all this time, from the moment he arrived at the School to take me away, my father did not mention science or Mr Butterworth or my abilities even once.
There were other holidays, though never again to Wyrd. That was the place to which you do not need to return, the secret place of memories, the place where we had first spoken together honestly, as father and son, and won some understanding of one another, and what we were together, as a family. It was more than that. Somewhere along the way, and for rea-sons that are necessarily unfathomable, we had developed a liking for one another.

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Comments by other Members

GaiusCoffey at 10:52 on 15 April 2013  Report this post
Hi Alex,
Tagging this so I get notifications of comments, but have also printed to PDF so will read later - probably take me until next weekend to get back to you.

GaiusCoffey at 21:35 on 27 April 2013  Report this post
Hi Alex,
As ever, what follows is simply my opinion. I hope some of it is useful, please disregard any of it that you find not to be.

I'll start with a niggle of infinite triviality to get it out of the way... Your writing is peppered with hyphenation at odd and unpredictable intervals as if you have been hand-typing it to justify each line and page. As you can see when you paste it into WW, that type of effort is wasted as every font change, page-size change or even editing one word at the start of the paragraph will utterly banjax everything! My advice: type the words entire. Leave the justification of lines on the lage to your eventual publishers if you are lucky enough to get that far. ;

So, meaningless trivia out of the way: to your story and writing.

The opening started with a bang: I was hooked to find out what had caused the expulsion, and just as hooked to find out about the father.

And then...

It stalled.

You have clearly imagined a whole lot of detail and it wouldn't surprise me to learn you had experienced something similar. It was convincing, complete and coherent. I formed a picture of your main character and at least a partial one of Purkiss and the ticks. It also contained some good lines (such as the end of a donkey to motivate). The thing this piece lacked, for me, was the sense of story and movement.

If I were a betting man, I might wager that this was an early draft and that you have included everything you need, as a writer, to work out and understand your story. I woukd also bet that your story is a good one.

However, as a reader, after 10,000 words, I can't tell you much about that story. There is a lot of back-story here, a lot of character history. There isn't much in the way of the main plot - which surprised me after the strong opening.

For my money, what you need to do is bring the underlying storyline more to the fore so that I can feel the momentum and begin to grasp what and where and why and how.

Anyway, as I say, this is just my opinion. It may be flawed. I hope some of it is useful but, either way...

Thanks for the read,


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