Late, Friday Night
Duggie Bones gripped the top of the duvet and stared at the swirls on his bedroom ceiling. Moonlight shining through the old blue curtains gave it a weird glow. Cards from his twelfth birthday still hung over a string to hide the teddy border and the sound he was waiting for rumbled through the flimsy wall of the maisonette.
“Mum, are you asleep?” Another earth-quaking snore rattled round number three Sapling Buildings on the Poplar View Estate.
He flung back the duvet and leapt from the mattress, already dressed in jeans and a purple jumper with a big red ‘D’ on the front. He felt under the bed for a torch and then from his pocket, pulled a limp piece of paper where the folds had almost worn through. He switched on the torch and checked the instructions for the last time.
At the top of the sheet in curly writing, it said:
The African Academy for Alternative Arts in Farebury
Proprietor: Professor Herbert P. Mosotho
Then there was a list of stuff in the same curly writing. Duggie ran his finger down the list until he reached:
The final ingredient will be revealed on the first Friday in February, under a full moon. It must be collected from the bicycle storing facility to the rear of Sapling Buildings at 11:27pm, exactly.
Punctuality will ensure your success.
On the table by the bed, an old fashioned digital watch glowed 11:20pm. “Seven minutes!” he said. Only seven minutes to go.
Duggie grabbed the watch, refolded the bit of paper and stuffed it with the torch, back in his pocket. He checked the other pocket for the key to the bike shed. He picked up his trainers and opened the door, only far enough to slip through before the hinge started to squeak.
Duggie crept across the landing and down the stairs, stepping over the fourth from the top with the creaky board. He yanked his lucky bobble hat from the hooks by the front door and pulled it on over his brown curly hair. His hand was on the door knob when he remembered the front door key hanging on the same hook; better take that or he couldn’t get back in again. Then Duggie Bones let himself out of their maisonette above the shops, turning the doorknob so it didn’t make a click and checked his watch: 11:21pm, six minutes.
Frost sparkled along the top of the balcony wall and hundreds of stars glittered like tiny LEDs in the night sky. On tiptoes, he ran along the balcony, past the other maisonettes: Kyle and Kylie’s place where slow dance music leaked out the window, past Mr Harris’ broken door and down the wee-smelling stairs to where the security door swung on its hinges. He checked his watch, 11:22pm, five minutes to go.
Duggie stuck his head outside; one couple was snogging under a lamppost on the other side of Portwell Road, apart from them he could have been on the moon. He shut the door so it didn’t bang and kept close to the wall until the corner. He looked round it as far as he dared. Brilliant, Sapling Parade was practically deserted too. He zipped past the chemist and an old guy in a bundle of blankets asleep outside Iqbal’s DVD shop where Mum and Dad used to work.
He might just make it.
It was by the Peking Palace Chinese Takeaway that he heard a girl shrieking. Two girls. He felt sick when he realised who they were. He slipped into the dark entrance of the boarded up shop next door, swallowed hard and waited.
Heels clicked on the pavement. The chips he’d had for tea churned inside his belly. Then a voice that froze his heart said, “Mads! D’you see Parker today? He’s a right plank, ain’t he?”
“Yeah like Bones, he’s a geek and a plank.”
“Just wait till we get them on their own.”
The footsteps stopped outside Duggie’s doorway. He wanted the shop to swallow him up. He heard the snap of bubblegum and when he looked up, the twins, Madison and Brooke Baddley were silhouetted in the moonlight. They were so close he could smell their body spray. His watch said 11:23pm. Four minutes, just four minutes.
Both girls, tall and thin in skinny jeans teetered on high heels. They chewed like cows munching grass then blew big pink sticky bubbles at each other. Duggie watched them grow and burst.
Duggie swallowed but he couldn’t get rid of the horrible itch at the back of his throat. He held his breath and gripped both hands over his face until his fingernails dug into his cheeks. He couldn’t hold it any longer. A muffled cough escaped into Sapling Parade. Madison and Brooke turned together like teenage terminators and squinted at Duggie.
“Duggie Bones!” they said in unison, like they were pleased to see him for all the wrong reasons. One step and they were in.
Duggie felt his knees crumbling. “Hiya… Brooke….Madison…I’m a bit busy tonight…”
“He says he’s busy,” said one.
“Bless,” said the other, “so are we.”
They took a shoulder each and pulled him out of the corner.
They blew sticky elastic bubbles right up close to his face, the back of his neck and his ears. He was the filling in a Baddley sandwich.
They dragged him out into Sapling Parade.
“Brooke! Mads!” Clint Baddley, Brooke and Madison’s nine months younger brother, ran towards them.
“Hey, you haven’t got Bones have ya?” He sprinted and grabbed Duggie’s lucky bobble hat, “Wha’hey! Got ’is hat.” Clint, a bullet of a boy, waved the hat just out of reach.
“Aw, come on, give it back …please Clint.” Duggie tried to grab it but Brooke and Madison had a firm grip.
Clint turned to his sisters, “Mum’s back … and she ain’t happy.” He ran backwards, twirling the lucky hat on his finger.
The girls screwed the fabric of Duggie’s purple jumper in a fist each and ground their heels into his trainers. Then they shoved him against the boards covering the shop window and joined their brother.
“My turn next, Bones!” shouted Clint. The lucky bobble hat flew off his finger and landed in the skip opposite.
The Baddleys didn’t see the old guy outside the DVD shop. Duggie could barely see him. In the light from the street lamp, all Duggie could see stuck out from under the blankets was a bit of blue trouser leg, the kind of blue you couldn’t mistake for black, with a shiny shoe on the end. It looked a bit posh for a homeless bloke; he must have got lucky.
Clint went over first, then the girls sprawled on top of him.
When Duggie saw the heap of Baddley arms and legs, the little pins prickling behind his eyes dissolved.
Clint, Brooke and Madison pulled each other up.
“You just watch it Bones!”screeched one of the girls. “
“That was you, that was!” screeched the other,” You’re gonna get it now.”
Then all three Baddleys, The Baddies even to their mates, legged it.
Duggie wiped the snotty trail running out of his nose, “Ha! I’m gonna get YOU!” he called after them, “…one day!” and gave them the finger when they were too far away to bother. He wanted to say thanks to the homeless bloke but there was no time, when Duggie checked his watch, 11:26 flashed green on his wrist. A minute, that was all, if that. One minute was all he had.
His feet felt like they’d been stabbed. He hobbled over to the skip and reached in amongst the rubbish for his lucky hat. It was smeared with sweet and sour sauce. How lucky was that? He wiped it on his jeans and rammed it back on his head, anyway. Then as fast as his bruised feet would let him, Duggie Bones ran along the rest of Sapling Parade and round to the car park at the back of the buildings.
The bike shed was in the far corner, near the locked entrance from the road. The shed door was shut. There could only be seconds left. A big round silver moon lit the way to the shed and the final ingredient. His feet crunching on the gravel were as loud as eating crisps at the pictures; they throbbed inside his trainers.
Outside the shed, he looked round to see if anyone from the maisonettes was watching. He could have sworn he saw someone sitting in the driver’s seat of the burned-out car at the back of the boarded-up shops. Duggie rubbed his eyes and squinted to see who it was.
Nobody, just a shadow, the car was empty.
He took the key that had been safely nestling in his jeans pocket and counted the seconds till 11:27pm. One… two… the six turned to a seven; it was 11:27pm exactly.
He turned the key in the lock, took one big breath and opened the slatted wooden door.
Even Later, Friday Night
The hinges creaked like a door to a shed full of ghouls. Duggie stood with only his toes over the threshold. He didn’t know what he was expecting to find apart from his final ingredient. Why did it have to be 11:27pm exactly? And what was his final ingredient? Questions bounced round his brain messing up the all the thinking space he had.
Just inside the shed door a couple of old teddies were propped up against a cardboard box with an empty crisp packet. How did little kids get in here? The rest of the shed was draped in shadows; Duggie shone his torch inside. The beam rested on some big black bin bags, spewing old clothes onto soggy newspapers spread over the shed floor. In one corner, there was an old washing machine, rusty on the corners and edges; but in the other corner, behind the only bike in the shed with a buckled front wheel, he could see a new, clean, plastic takeaway box. Some holes were punched round the sides and taped to the lid was a pale blue envelope. From the doorway, in the torchlight, he could see one word on the front. It said: ‘DUGGIE’.
He stepped in. He kicked the door shut behind him and listened.
The shed had its own quietness. Outside, he could hear big kids mucking about round by the community centre, distant telly voices chattering in the maisonettes above and the far way hum of traffic along Farebury Road on the other side of the estate. But inside, there were only the memories of the rattles and rustles and clunks the left over stuff used to make.
Was the mysterious Professor Mosotho, the Principal of the African Academy of Alternative Arts in Farebury going to jump out on him from the shadows? There was a whole load of shed rubbish in the other corner he hadn’t had a look at yet. Someone could easily be hiding in there. Duggie held his breath and waited.
Professor Mosotho says that readiness for the unexpected is the key to success. Duggie wasn’t really sure what that meant until now. He shivered in the cold and his teeth chattered but no one rustled out from the corner. No one slid out of the shadows. Duggie was alone in the shed with the rubbish and the box.
He picked his way through the old clothes and soggy newspapers. A cold breeze tickled his back. Poplar view could be a million miles away; he couldn’t hear the big kids or the tellies any more, just the quiet.
His phone buzzed in his pyjama pocket. Duggie jumped like he’d had an electric shock. He reached down the neck of his jumper and read a text from Patrick: ‘u got it yet wot is it?’
No he hadn’t, thanks Pat. He switched the phone off and tucked it back in the pocket. Where did Patrick get credit?
Duggie knelt down on the soggy newspapers and stretched through the bike frame for the plastic box. He kept it level in case it was anything runny inside. When it was free of the bike, he sat on the paper to have a look inside. It wasn’t runny or powdery or anything like the ingredients Duggie used when he was cooking. If he shone the torch right up close, he could make out the hazy shape of something with legs, lots of legs, and a curly tail. If it was an animal it wasn’t moving. Was it dead? There was only one way to find out.
He gripped the torch under his chin so he had both hands free. It was difficult to get it to shine in the right direction. The lid was almost off, when he saw a message in small writing on a blue sticky label on the side of the box. He shone the torch right up next to the plastic. He read: under no circumstances remove this lid.
The thing inside moved. He nearly dropped it. He shone the torch against the side of the plastic box again and the same thing happened. It seemed to be reacting to the light, not much, but it still freaked him out. Duggie reckoned he knew what it was. He put the torch on the floor, waited for a minute for the creature to settle down and pulled the blue envelope from under its rubber band.
Inside was another set of instructions in Professor Mosotho’s weird handwriting. He put them back in the envelope he’d need those later and slid the envelope into his jeans pocket.
He was right about the creature, he’d seen one in a book at the library. The instructions told Duggie to ‘keep the final ingredient in a cold place’. Well the shed was freezing but it wasn’t safe. He had to think of somewhere else.
He stood up. His bottom was cold where the damp had seeped through to his skin. He picked up the box and turned to leave.
He gasped, swallowing a lungful of freezing night air.
A huge face stared at him from the back of the shed door. Duggie dropped the torch. His heart beat against his ribs like the last two pound coin in Mum’s shopping jar.
He bent his knees to feel for the torch without tipping the box and with a shaky hand, aimed the beam at the face; the eyes flashed and glinted in the light. Hooked to its neck, on two nails hammered into the ears like studs, was a necklace of bones that glowed pale and white in the torchlight. It took Duggie a few seconds to realise whose face it was.
Duggie held the beam close to his own features staring back at him. Little circular mirror tiles glued on his eyeballs were the laser beam flashes and the bones round his neck were … bones, real bones knotted in a length of string.
Pinned to his forehead was another folded sheet of blue paper. He put the final ingredient on the rusty washing machine and removed it. These instructions were simple:
This is your look of victory, Duggie Bones.
And these bones for a Bones are enchanted for your protection.
Duggie refolded the paper and put it in his pocket with the envelope.
It was his face but it wasn’t like looking in a mirror. It was a different person staring back at him. Was it the person he was going to become?
He flexed his fingers getting ready to remove the bones for a Bones. Was anything going to happen when he touched them? Would he feel a tingle of the enchantment when he put them round his neck? As Duggie unhooked the necklace from his more than life size picture his stomach was like the lottery machine on the telly.
He put the torch in his other pocket and tied the necklace around his own neck. The bones were cold where they touched his skin, but that was all. Duggie shivered and pulled the lapels of his pyjama top over to hide them. He felt as if he’d put on suit of armour. He reached over for the final ingredient, opened the door and stepped outside.
The moon cast a silver blue haze over the car park. Duggie locked the shed door. Something sparkly in the gravel caught his eye. Keeping the box level and with the torch wedged under his armpit, he bent down to pick it up. It was a key ring in the shape of a dog, bits of it were in glittery enamel which is what made it sparkle. Duggie put that in his pocket too, it looked new. Then, on the lookout for Baddies and spooky shadows, he crept to the open gates leading onto the estate and round the corner to Sapling Parade.
By the launderette, he thought he heard Brooke and Madison. High-pitched squeals came from the direction of the skip outside the Peking Palace. He nearly dropped the box again.
It was just a couple of cats fighting over scraps. All the shops were dark, the homeless bloke had must have found a bed or another doorway and the couple snogging under the lamppost had gone home.
When he opened the front door to number three, the light was on in the little hallway. Maybe Mum had woken up?
Another of her elephant snores rumbled down the stairs and he remembered he hadn’t turned the light off before he went out.
He put the shed key back in the drawer, in its place next to a silver bike horn, still in plastic and going dull with under use. If Dad had ever got him the bike to go with it, like he said he would, Duggie would be able to get away from the Baddies and the other kids who thought it was clever to have a go at him. He wouldn’t be rooting around in creepy sheds in the middle of the night.
He turned the heating off at the boiler in the corner of the kitchen and put the final ingredient in the coolest place he could think of
Mum finally made it to the kitchen at ten o’clock the following morning. She was wearing a fluffy pink dressing gown and last night’s hairdo was sticking out in all the wrong places. Half a cigarette bounced on her bottom lip like a springy diving board.
“Hi Mum, just getting a drink.” Duggie closed the fridge door and stood in front of it. “Do you want one?”
“Just a cup of tea, I’ll put the kettle on.” She filled it up at the sink, her bottom still bobbing to the radio playing in her room.
“I’ll make the tea,” said Duggie, “You can go back to bed.”
“What have I done to deserve special treatment? I could hire you out, couldn’t I?” she took a long drag on her cigarette and stubbed it out in the overflowing ashtray in the middle of the kitchen table. “It’s a bit nippy down here; is the heating on the blink again?”
“Yeah. I’ll ring the housing if you like?”
“Better not, love. It might remind them about the rent.” She tugged at her dressing gown, wrapped it tight round her body and drifted into the living room. Duggie saw her pick up the pile of magazines next to her chair.
It was probably safe to let go of the fridge door now.
He opened the cupboard above the kettle and searched for Mum’s favourite mug, a blue one with a picture of Mr Spock off Star Trek on the side.
“Your dad’ll be here soon. He’s promised this time.” Mum was back in the doorway, clutching the magazines.
The Star Trek mug tumbled out of the cupboard; Duggie caught it just in time.
He promised did he? Yeah, yeah, like he did last week and the week before that. Duggie dropped a tea bag into Mum’s mug and felt like some of the fizz had gone from his day. At least that meant he still had plenty of time, if Dad turned up at all.
“I think I’ll go back to bed, love. It’s too cold down ‘ere. Can you find that new Stargate DVD and bring it up with my tea?”
“D’you want a hot water bottle too?”
Mum cupped his face in her free hand and gave him a great big smoky kiss on the forehead. “What would I do without you, Duggie?”
What would she do? Would she have more fun without him to worry about, more than she does now? Or would she just have to make her own cups of tea and hot water bottles?
Mum uncupped his face and stood back to look at him. “What’s that under your t-shirt?”
Duggie felt a hot glow in his cheeks. He put his hand up to cover the knobbly lumps of the enchanted necklace. “Oh, just my bones.” He said truthfully. Fortunately, Duggie naturally had two boney lumps at the bottom of his neck.
“Oh yeah, so it is.”
Phew. Duggie watched Mum bob upstairs to the music and waited until he heard the bedroom door shut.
He found the Stargate DVD on top of one the piles stacked up on Dad’s old bookcase in the living room. It didn’t have a proper cover so who knows where she got it.
Dad’s stuff still clogged up the maisonette. He was leaving it there till he had a more permanent place, he said. Boxes and boxes worth of movie souvenirs, DVDs, books, posters and action figures were crammed on shelves and in cupboards all over the place. He even had a James Bond suit that he said James Bond actually wore in one of the films. He was a bit vague about that. He was going to have his own museum that people would pay to come to, or a shop, or both. That’s what he said, anyway.
Duggie made the tea in a mug and filled a hot water bottle with the rest of the water from the kettle. Then he took it, with the DVD, up to Mum. She’d already made herself comfortable in bed again, propped up against a mountain of pillows. “Thanks love, could you just put it in for us?”
He put the disc in the player on the chest of drawers opposite the bed and handed Mum the remote control for that and the little telly on top.
“It’s bloomin’ freezing in this place.” She pulled the duvet up to her shoulders and let the magazines scattered over the bed, slide to the floor.
Duggie started picking them up, they were mostly travel brochures for holidays in exotic faraway places.
“One day, I’ll get there. Somewhere, anywhere, the further away from this dump the better, eh?” She took a slurp of her tea and aimed the remote at the telly.
Duggie stacked the brochures by the side of her bed before he left her to one of her favourite programmes and closed the door. Great, there was definitely plenty of time.
He ran back downstairs and drew the curtains in the kitchen. He didn’t want anyone walking along the balcony outside seeing what he was about to do. He emptied the ashtray into the bin, put it in the sink then gave the table a wipe with a tea towel.
Duggie was ready to begin.