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In this mind-twisting adventure, Simon truly walks to the beat of a different drummer. Simon lives three seconds ahead of everyone else, which creates embarrassing problems, such as answering questions that haven’t yet been asked and trying to walk through doors that haven’t yet been opened. Hoping to be cured of his strange ailment, Simon meets a Stitcher, whose job is to fix glitches in the universe. The Stitcher helps him understand what’s happening, but even she has no cure. Playing on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, this inventive story takes young readers on a supernatural journey through the fabric of space-time, while offering valuable lessons in acceptance and understanding.
|Publisher:||Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.49(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Nury Vittachi is an award-winning journalist and the cofounder the HK Literary Festival. He writes the “Traveller’s Tales” page in the Far Eastern Economic Review.
Read an Excerpt
Twilight in the Land of Nowhen
By Nury Vittachi
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2006 Nury Vittachi
All rights reserved.
My name is —
Wait! Before I tell you my name, I have a small request. Please promise you won't laugh. I'm sorry to have to ask you this, but most children are horrible, vicious, nasty BRATS. Sometimes they laugh anyway, even if they've promised not to. Grown-ups are just as bad. Even teachers laugh. This is particularly shocking. Teachers are always going on about the Importance of Good Manners, yet they laugh like donkeys after swearing on the dictionary not to.
But if you say you won't laugh I'll believe you, because you are the Secret Sharer.
OKAY. Here goes ...
My name is Simon Poopoo.
You are not laughing, I trust.
Let me add quickly that my family name does not mean what stupid, idiotic, brain-free morons think it means. Poopoo means 'appetiser' in Hawaiian.
Sometimes people ask me why my family doesn't change its name. Well, we did change our name. (We used to be called Peel.)
Before we moved here, my dad opened a small food factory in Hawaii to sell spicy peanut and shrimp appetisers called pupu. There was already a food factory called Master of Pupu, so Dad changed his name to Mister Poopoo.
When we left Hawaii and moved here, he decided to keep his name. He said it was unusual and would get us noticed.
It gets me noticed all right. People notice me with their laughter. Bullies notice me with their fists.
But my name is not important. The most important thing about me is my remarkable degree of cleverness. I am not just the cleverest kid in the class; I am cleverer than any of the teachers. I am cleverer than the principal. I am probably cleverer than anyone alive. I may even be cleverer than God, although I am not sure about that. I haven't seen his exam results.
The most important week in the history of the universe (and this is not an exaggeration, as you will realise when you read on) began like any other, with a — yeuchh — Monday morning.
It didn't seem like a special day. In fact, it wasn't even a particularly nice one.
The clouds were not white and fluffy.
The birds were not singing.
The sky was not blue. It was just sort of paper-white all over, like someone had forgotten to paint it in.
The air was clear but icy, like my heart. Gusts of freezing wind hurt my nose and ears. The birds hadn't woken up yet. And no one was talking.
Not that it was quiet. We live at the bottom of a hill, so every now and then the iiiiieeeeeeeerrrrrrr of a bus or car straining up the slope fills the air.
That momentous morning I stood at the bus stop and thought about three horrible things.
1 I was starting a new school in a new town. I had precisely zero acquaintances to help me through the week.
2 It was the first day of a new term. There were not going to be any holidays for weeks and weeks and weeks.
3 I had a really bad feeling that, instead of making friends, I would acquire dangerous, lifelong enemies who loathed me.
I don't know where that last thought came from.
Except for the fact that I had been to six schools in my thirteen years. Every time I started a new one, I made no friends but acquired a new set of DANGEROUS, LIFELONG ENEMIES WHO LOATHED ME. Get the picture?
So there we were, a shivering clump, standing on the windy corner and staring at the top of the hill. Everyone was focused on the point where the school bus would eventually appear. Lots of people were sniffing. Everyone seemed to have a bad cold.
I was fingering a bruise on my forehead where I had accidentally walked into a door.
My family was standing next to me. That means my dad. He's the only family I have.
A slightly older girl was standing on the other side of him. I noticed in a blurry sort of way that she was looking at me.
Danger danger danger.
Then she did it.
'Hi. What's your name?' I heard her say.
Argghhh! If there's one thing I hate hate HATE, it's friendly people. Why do they insist on saying hello? There is absolutely no need for that sort of behaviour. You'll have noticed that I hadn't done anything to her.
I didn't reply or look in her direction, but turned to my dad.
He was reading an engineering magazine, as usual, and ignored my tugs at his elbow.
'What's —' the girl started to repeat.
'Simon,' I spat, not looking at her.
'— your name?'
'I don't know,' I explained, starting to feel hot. 'I don't know.'
'Huh?' She probably thought she hadn't heard me right. I could tell because she wrinkled her forehead and tilted her head to one side. That's what people usually do when they talk to me. 'Whose class are you in?' she asked.
'Um, ah, two weeks,' I said, desperately.
She looked baffled, but pressed on — the idiot. 'Lived here long?'
'Art. Art. You know, painting and stuff.'
The girl tilted her head to the other side. I think she was trying to decide whether I was obnoxious or crazy: the usual reaction. I'm a conundrum, that's what I am.
'Oh,' she said after a pause. Then, believe it or not, she actually tried to continue the conversation. 'Um, what's your favourite subject?'
I didn't say anything. I turned again to my Dad and gave him a sharp nudge in the side with my elbow. I needed his help. 'Dad. Dad. Dad.'
He looked at me in an irritated way and lowered his magazine (Atomic Automotive Monthly).
'He's no good at talking. He's a bit shy,' Dad said to the girl. Then he went back to reading.
The girl gave up. There was a mixed expression on her face: half pity, half suspicion. I was used to that sort of response. She stepped back and looked for the bus. We stood in silence.
'Dad,' I said quietly. I poked him again with my elbow. 'Dad.'
He waited for a while before he answered. 'Uh?'
'I don't want to go to school. I really don't want to go to school.'
He let out a long, irritated sigh. I knew it well. It was his I'm-fed-up sigh. And I knew what was coming next: his usual speech.
'Simon. Don't be like this. We've been through it all before. You have to go to school. It's against the law for dads to keep their kids out of school. I'll be arrested and locked up. We've had this conversation one million times at least. I'm not having it again. That's the end of it.'
He went back to his magazine.
His eyebrows joined together. He hates being interrupted when he's reading.
'I'm worried. About ... you know.'
He paused for a few seconds, as he always does before answering me.
'Yes. Can you tell them I'm mute? Please, Dad? Please?' 'I'll deal with it. I'll talk to them. I've said I will and I will, and that's that.'
That was the only thread of hope I had. Dad had promised to explain to my teacher about the way I get mixed up when I try to talk and stuff. He had never done that at my previous schools, and I was hoping and praying that Dad's presence would make a difference this time.
'Tell them I'm mute,' I said again. 'Please tell them I'm mute.'
I'm too old to hold hands with Dad but I sort of pressed into his side. Dad was my hope. Dad would make it okay. Dad would make it different this time.
Two cars whizzed up the road and disappeared over the hill. And then everything was quiet. I slowly breathed out, conjuring a huge cloud in the freezing air.
There was silence for about half a minute.
A tinny version of Beethoven's Ode to Joy started to play. My eyes widened in alarm. It was Dad's phone, bleating and flashing.
I started praying a different prayer. Please let it not be Melly. Please let it not be Melly. Please let it not be Melly.
'Oh, hi Melly,' Dad said, grinning. Melly is his girlfriend and she keeps distracting him from the really important things in life, such as me and his car.
'Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Ooh. Ah. Oh?' he said. (Have you noticed how grown-ups on the phone make silly noises instead of words?) 'Ooh. Ieee. Mm-mm. Ah, but I can't,' he said. 'I have to take Si — yeah, I know it's important to you, but — oh. Yep. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Mm. Yeah. Right.'
Danger danger danger.
She was asking him to do something; to meet her or go somewhere. I had to step in.
'Dad, you promised to come to school with me today. Dad, you promised to come to school with me today. Dad —'
'Dad, you promised to come to school with me.'
'You're here? You mean at our place? Where exactly?' He looked up and down the road.
'Okay. Bye love,' he said, and snapped the phone shut. 'She's here. Melly's here. Somewhere.' He glanced upwards.
A moment later, the fizzing sound of a Keeline 202 HoverSmart Shopalot ('Takes two averagely obese adults and up to seventy kilos of shopping') filled the air. I caught a glimpse of the latest model — metallic crystal orange with silver chrome trimming — whirring over our heads. It was out of control. Melly had to be driving.
People in the bus queue gasped. They leaped back, or covered their heads.
The vehicle crash-landed in a crab-apple tree about twenty metres from where we stood.
'Ow!' screeched the driver. Branches absorbed the weight of the hovercar, and it bounced up and down.
The sound of the engine slowly died, leaving only the radiator fans humming. There was a low hiss from under the vehicle. The hot underside was frying the crab-apples that grew in the tree. I could smell apple pie.
The driver pulled off her helmet and shook her hair like a dog after a bath. Melly's hair cascaded down her back in seven shades of red.
'Why do they make it so hard to land these things? Hi Hal. Hi Sime-Slime.'
I looked away. I did not want to be associated with this woman.
'Hey Mel,' said Dad. His voice went all weak and breathy, like it always does when she comes to visit. 'Nice landing. Well — not bad for a beginner, anyway. Ha ha.'
(Have you ever noticed how grown-ups make fake laughing noises when they're embarrassed, even when no one has made a joke?)
Melly flicked hair from her heavily made-up eyes. 'Can you give me a teeny, weeny little driving lesson this morning, Hal, darling?' she cooed in a little-girl voice. 'I need it — as you can see. My test is this afternoon.'
'You can't. You promised to come to —' I said.
'Sure. Ha ha,' Dad said.
'Dad, you promised you'd come to school with me today. I need you —'
'Hey, it'll be fine. Ha ha.' He flashed me a smile as fake as the laughs he was giving Melly. 'I'll write a note for your teacher. It'll be fine.'
The sun disappeared. My world turned dark. I could feel myself sinking into a bottomless black hole.
Dad couldn't find a pen in his pockets. I gave him one. He couldn't find paper, so he wrote a note in tiny writing on the back of a Mister Poopoo, King of Appetisers business card.
He handed me the card.
This is what he had written on it:
Dear Teacher. Simon is very, very shy. He might not say anything today. Please DO NOT force him to say anything. If you do, he may say some strange things. Mr Harry Poopoo.
I tugged at his jacket. 'Please, Dad. Can't you come and tell the teacher yourself?'
He shook his head. 'It's important not to be selfish, Simon. Melly needs me. You know how it is.'
He squeezed my shoulder then climbed over a fence to get closer to the tree in which Mel sat, gently bobbing in her hovercar.
Yes. I knew how it was.CHAPTER 2
Half an hour later: Stress City. I was in a classroom. I knew no one. No one knew me.
I looked around. The place was crawling with revolting, shouting, stupid brats. There were thirty-two of them. They looked exactly like all the kids in all the other schools I'd been to. Kids who didn't become my friends. Kids who became DANGEROUS, LIFELONG ENEMIES instead. They were older than they had been at my six other schools, just as I was older. Each time they were older and bigger. Each time it was worse.
The noise of squalling, gossiping children was deafening. The room smelt of disinfectant. The strip-lights above us flickered on and off. The paint on the walls was grey and bits of it were starting to peel.
There was no one in the room who knew about my problem. This was going to be horrible. I could feel it in my bones. It was going to be hideous beyond words.
The teacher squinted with a scowl at the card I'd discreetly slipped onto her desk.
I listened as some of the children exchanged names, while others sat quietly — like me.
The fat boy next to me introduced himself as John. The boy in front of us turned around and told me I should call the guy Poison Cloud like everyone else did.
'Shut up,' my neighbour said. 'My name's John.'
I ignored him and looked at my hands.
Uh oh! Here was an extra problem. I could see right through my left hand. One of my fingers was completely transparent. The other three had gone sort of watery and my palm was fuzzy. Only my thumb was still completely solid. As if I didn't have enough to worry about!
I laid my hand flat on the desk and read the words that someone had scratched on the wood: Carrie luvs Sam 4eva.
I was worried, but I didn't panic. This was the fourth or fifth time something like this had happened in the past three months. It was just another depressing thing to add to the long, long list of things which made my life difficult. When parts of your body are see-through, it's got to be a sign of something or other. But what? I was sure it would be something really, really bad. Because that's my life: an endless list of bad things. Bad, weird things.
Only the day before, I had picked up my mother's hand-mirror and looked in it only to discover that my face was barely there. I was practically headless. At first, I thought it might be some sort of dream or something, so I pinched myself. I was definitely awake.
There I was, staring into the mirror, but my face wasn't staring out of it. Perhaps I was finally going completely mad. That was the only explanation I could think of.
Fortunately, my head came back an hour later, just as my fingers always did — or had done so far.
I heard a low and scratchy voice from the front of the room.
'Which one is Simon Poopoo?' the teacher rasped, peering at both sides of my dad's business card. According to the sign on the door, her name was Mrs Stoep. That must have been a spelling mistake. Her name clearly should have been Mrs Stupid.
'Poopoo?' someone at the front parroted. The kid next to him laughed. Then another one joined in.
I could hear the news going around the class in stage whispers. 'Some kid's name is Poopoo.'
Soon everyone in the class was laughing, including the teacher. I guess I should have joined in too, but I didn't feel like it.
Eventually the teacher noticed I wasn't laughing, and aimed her thick bifocals at me.
'Are you Simon Poopoo?'
I blinked at her. 'Yes it is,' I blurted out.
'Is this card from your dad?'
'I am, I guess. That's what it says, doesn't it?'
She glared at me. The wrinkle-lines in her forehead expanded in that irritated way that happens when people talk to me. 'Apparently you are very shy. Is that right?'
'I don't know exactly what he means.'
'It indicates that you will say some strange things. What does he mean by that?'
'Yes. And Chinese.'
Her forehead turned into an angry grid. 'Do you understand English?'
'No, no, no. Not at all. Really!'
Her eyes narrowed viciously. 'Are you trying to be funny?'
She drew in her breath, straightened her body and slapped a ruler against the edge of the desk, making a violent crack. The class was instantly dead silent.
'I will not stand for insolent behaviour. Go and wait outside the principal's office.'
I got up and walked out the door. Since it was my first day, I didn't know where the principal's office was. I sat in the playground instead.
Care and Maintenance of the Fabric of Time, first edition
Displacement is the common name for a disease formerly classified by medical physicists as fourth-dimensional synchronitis, or 'time-sickness'.
In mild cases, the sufferer feels displaced in times of stress. Typically, the mind goes blank, speech becomes difficult and the heart beats faster. This is often accompanied by a perception that time is slowing down, speeding up, or both at the same time.
Excerpted from Twilight in the Land of Nowhen by Nury Vittachi. Copyright © 2006 Nury Vittachi. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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