Reads: 48


Unhappy Landings


I saw this little old lady wearing an apron and carrying a tray of teacups and cakes. She saw me shouting and flapping my arms around in the air. I ran straight past her, tearing off my polar bear head and costume, and leaving it in several pieces behind me. The lady dropped the tray and screamed like she had seen a wild creature suddenly transform into an unusually tall boy. With the bees swarming after me, I ran straight around the back of the mill, where the sign had mentioned a ‘poo in the rear.’ With the bees swarming towards me, I found the swimming pool and tried to dive in, but as I approached the edge, I slipped on the wet surface, somersaulted forwards, performing one complete flip, and I landed face first in the water. The shock of the icy cold winter water pushed the air out of my lungs, and I struggled to get to the surface. My arms and legs felt numb. It felt as if the chilly pool was encasing me in a block of ice.

The coming seconds felt like minutes. My heart rate skyrocketed and I realised that I would probably drown. Then, like the claw game at the funfair, a giant hand grabbed my armpit and scooped me up out of the pool, placing me flat on the ground next to a sun lounger. The old lady was standing over me with her palm clasped against her mouth. I wondered how on earth this gaunt, frail little woman had managed to unleash superhuman strength and pull me out of the water. But then, the outline of a different head blocked out the sun.

A hand pressed itself against my forehead. The hand was bare, but the arm was so hairy it could have been declared a forest. The pool's surface danced and reflected in the man’s glasses. The few hairs on his crown swayed, his giant eyes were discs pressing against his glasses, and that long, wispy, greyish beard gave him a protective neck scarf. He was wearing a worn-out pilot’s protective suit which looked like it had been used in the second world war.

“Silly boy,” was the first thing he said. As he frowned, his face lined and creased as if someone had carved a road network into his skin. “Doris, get some blankets and spare clothes for the boy.”

“Yes, professor,” said the old lady, rushing off. The old man propped me up against the sun lounger and said, “Trespassing is a serious crime. I could have you locked up! What are you doing on my property anyway? How could you possibly get in?”

“The gate fell off," I said. "And I have a package to you.”

“Then where is it, boy?” he demanded. I gestured to the poolside, where I had dropped it on the grass. He scarpered over to it with a wobble in one of his legs, and as he ran he swayed from side to side like a dancing flamingo. He started complaining about his missing walking stick. He brought the package over and began tearing at the tape. He started grunting as he struggled.

“Just run your finger along the end,” I said. "It's much easier to open it that way."

He glared at me with a deep frown. He reached into his pocket and brought out this miniature spiked metal ball. In one swift swipe, he ripped open the package, and stared at me as if he had showed me something clever.

“Don’t tell me what to do, boy,” he said. He reached inside and removed the items - a pair of boots - while simultaneously throwing the empty package into the swimming pool. Then his face spread out with delight. He removed his glasses and I noticed that his right eye had rolled to face his nose. Then he did something absolutely disgusting that made me wince. He used his finger to roll his eye straight.

“Excuse me,” he said. I saw some white and blue paint on his eye, and then a large, wide pupil painted black with specks of wood beneath it.

“Wernie Walker,” I muttered to myself. "He's only got one eye."

“Do you know what these are, boy?” he said, turning the boots over and around and examining them.

“Gardening wellies?” 

“Jet propulsion boots!” he said emphatically. "I had them made in Hawaii, and I sent them back to myself. They actually arrived!" He removed a hammer from his pocket and laid the boots down. On the side of the hammer was a ruler. He hit the soles, then measured their length. He clicked a button and a pencil fell out of the hammer. Then he made a mark on each sole and nodded.

“Your pencil is blunt,” I said as I shivered. He immediately took out a Stanley knife and started to carve the end. “You should use a sharpener.”

In a few swift turns, flakes fell from his pencil, and it was pinpoint sharp like a needle. He showed me the end and I said, “You should use a real sharpener.”

“Don’t be so brutal,” he said. “This is an inventor's pencil. A true artist can look after himself. He doesn't need some stupid plastic toy shop sharpener.” 

Doris returned and helped me stand up, covering me with several blankets and guiding me towards the house.

“Take him to the dining room while I consider calling the police on this boy,” said Walker. “Maybe I shouldn’t call the police. They would only…I shall be in once I have finished my experiments, Doris!”

I began to realise that this man was far from who I had imagined him to be. Professor Wernie Walker was a cantankerous, moody kind of old man who had no time for anyone else but himself. He didn’t ask me how I was, he was impolite and blunt, and he didn't even recognise me as the boy who had helped him escape from the police. Yet he had the time to lift me out of the pool. I couldn’t figure him out. Was he strong? Was he weak? Was he smart or just plain old crazy?

“Would you like some tea and biscuits?” said Doris as she led me through the main door. After a six mile bike ride and a freezing cold pool, I couldn’t say no.

Doris led me to a bathroom and I waited while she poured me a warm bath, which I sat in for about ten minutes, warming my body and getting rid of that icy feeling in my bones. The feeling of the bath was one of pure satisfaction. After ten minutes of steam and cosiness, I dried and dressed myself with the new clothes. I emerged from the bathroom to see Doris waiting. She led me into another, bigger room with a giant, long mahogany table complete with oak chairs, birch dressers, and shelves containing volumes and volumes of books. Collected paintings of old dukes and kings lined the walls. The windows cast the sun in a wide ray across the room. The place smelled of jasmine and peach. The ceiling contained detailed carvings of flowers and lined patterns. A picture of Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla were both hanging side by side above a fireplace, which was smooth and silky, finely carved and sanded to perfection. Thick Middle-Eastern carpets and a sheepskin rug graced the floors, and flames licked the small fireplace. A well used poker was resting on the brickwork next to it. The room felt refreshingly snug and warm compared to outside, and I felt my cheeks turning red.

“Thank you,” I said to Doris as she brought tea and a range of biscuits including ginger nuts, rich tea, digestives and a chocolate cookie.

“That cookie is Professor Walker’s favourite,” she said.

“Mine too,” I replied.

“Don’t tell him I gave you the cookie, though. He never gives those away. Did you know he built this entire room himself? Everything you see in here was made by his hand.”

"The paintings too?"

"Oh, no. I think he stole those."

“He’s quite rough and abrupt, isn’t he?” I said. 

“That’s just his way," said Doris. "He likes to do things quickly and efficiently. He doesn’t do idle chit-chat. The Mayor of Hamley once visited this place for a tour. The professor took him round in about ten minutes and didn’t even offer her food or drink. They chatted business and the mayor went home confused. I think he wanted to be the professor’s friend. Wernie is picky about people.”

“What do you mean?”

“He doesn’t like them, and he doesn’t want them in his house. In all these years, I’ve never seen him make a friend. I think he’s protective of his machines and inventions, or perhaps it’s because he’s too busy. Anyway, enjoy your tea. You can wait here until the professor returns.”

As soon as Doris had gone, I ate a couple of ginger biscuits and gulped down my tea, then I started to walk around. Upstairs and downstairs I went, seeing vast, empty rooms littered with machine parts. There was a room filled with Chinese and Japanese ornaments covered in paintings of dragons and Samurai warriors. There was a katana sword open in its case, sitting on a table. A set of Native American pipes and instruments was in another. Waiting for the professor to finish was like waiting to be seen at the doctor’s surgery. Tired and fidgety, yet dry and refreshed, something distracted me from my impatience. I came to a set of double doors covered in cobwebs. A sign on the door read Exhibition Room.

“Looks like the old man has collected some expensive items,” I wondered to myself as I turned the knobs. The doors creaked open and a huge hall surrounded me. The walls had been completely stripped down to their original brickwork. The windows had black railings attached to them, and most of them had been covered in black sheets, with only a couple allowing any light through. The whole place felt mysterious and secretive, like the professor didn't want anyone to see what was inside.

There were some switches on the wall covered over and over in thick tape. I picked it off with my fingernails and got underneath. One by one, a set of lights flickered on. Some of the lights remained off. Now there was enough light to see the whole space, and what a spectacle it was!

I saw a white, old fashioned aeroplane with four wings, two on top of each other, and it was hanging from the ceiling by several cables. The writing on the side read Animal Feeder F-50. Little guns were on the wings and under the cockpit. Goodness knows what they fired! Then I saw what appeared to be a gigantic fat pink sausage inside a glass cage. An inscription on the side read Deep Sea Spying Machine. I tried to imagine the professor fitting inside that thing, lying down and going to the depths of the ocean. How on earth did he spy when it was so tiny? He couldn’t possibly move! On closer inspection, I saw two little round eye holes at the front, with a nose and a mouth painted on the outside. “Who would be mad enough to go inside that?” I said.

In the middle of the hall was what appeared to be a huge round black vinyl record, like the ones my grandad used to play. It was about twenty feet wide and a foot thick. The display sign read, Anti-Gravity Floater - making people fly!

I passed some smaller displays and machines. There was something called a Romancer. I pushed its button and an ordinary box of chocolates and some dead flowers popped out. There was an Automatic Fingernail Cleaner. When I touched it, about ten spikes automatically shot out at rapid speed and whizzed around my fingers. My fingers were clean, but my nails were now covered in dust. There was a Foot Scrubber, a Hand Cleaner, a Forehead Wiper, a Fast Reader, which could read a book in seconds and tell you what happens at the end. There was a Frisbee Catcher and Thrower and a Chair Tipper, which was kind of a joke machine, and I didn't even try to sit down on the chair.

Yet amongst these, something more magnificent caught my eye. It looked like an old, rusty tin in the shape of a child's tank. An inscription on it read MAGNIPOOPIFIER MARK ONE. It had burn marks, skidding scars and crashing scrapes, and the whole thing smelt of pipe tobacco. I wondered if I should try getting inside.

As I reached out to touch the surface, I got a horrible fright.




Submitted: December 23, 2021

© Copyright 2022 Richard C. Parr. All rights reserved.


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