Reads: 50

6

Professor Wernie Walker

 

“Don’t you dare touch that, boy!” 

I turned to see Wernie Walker standing right behind me. He had a pipe in his mouth and he was aggressively puffing out smoke. “This is not a toy shop! And that is an original invention of mine.”

“Really?" I said. "What can it do?”

“Do you really want to know, boy? Or are you just trying to make irritating conversation and waste my time?”

“I take an interest in machine, professor.”

“I don’t believe you,” he said, looking me up and down. He puffed his pipe a few more times and walked around the Magnipoopifier. “Of all my inventions, this is my prized beauty. This is my tour de force. My sweetheart. She never broke down and she always worked perfectly every time. The Magnipoopifier Mark One. My first invention.”

“What does it…”

“Don’t interrupt me, boy!” he snapped. “This machine sucks in animal droppings and waste, rubbish and litter thrown around by careless people out there in the world. You fire the gun, it sucks it up. If you drive over it, it picks it up automatically. Then the machine turns the waste into smelly air which comes out of the back, here.”

“It turns poop into air,” I said, as if I didn't believe him. “Poopy air.”

“Clean poopy air! Precisely! Our streets are disgustingly filthy, and at the time, this machine was the solution."

"Then why aren't their thousands of Magnipoopifiers out there? Why don't people own one of these?"

“No company would give me any money to make more," said the professor with a touch of sadness. “I gave up on the project because nobody was interested. Do you like birds, boy? Come with me!”

Before I had the chance to answer ‘no’, the professor was walking briskly out of the exhibition room. I followed him to the garden, where some more machines were waiting on the grass - gardening contraptions, automatic sweeping mechanisms and digging devices. The professor led me to a separate area with birds in cages. He opened one cage and a grey and white bird flew out and perched on a chair arm.

“I call this the Pigeon Navigator,” said the professor. He placed a blindfold on the pigeon, and the bird started to nervously turn its head to and fro. “Pigeons have a great memory for routes and places. This one is already trained. Even when they can’t see, they can use their memory to navigate the skies. You don't believe me, do you, boy? Go, pidge, go!”

The pigeon took off on command and splatted itself straight into a window. Its blindfold fell off, then it slid down to the ground and shook its head. It staggered straight into a chicken, who pecked at it and pointed it in the right direction.

“I need to work on their sense of direction more,” said the professor. “Oh, here’s a fresh one coming home!”

I looked up and a pigeon swooped down on to the chair. Walker grabbed a miniature headset, which appeared to be an egg cup with wires attached to it, and he placed it over the pigeon’s head.

“This device reads the pigeon’s mind and memories. The wires send them to a computer, where we get a clear image of everything this bird has seen in its mind. The pictures are mostly potato chips and bits of bread, but sometimes they fly to unusual and far off places, and they see rare wildlife. Are you listening to me, boy?"

"Yes," I said, marvelling at the weirdly amazing machines scattered around the garden.

"And now, for my latest creation. Prepare to witness the miracle of human flying. Those jet propulsion boots you gave me.”

The professor reached down and flicked some switches on his boots.

“The power goes straight through my legs and sends me into the sky. I will travel vertically upwards to five hundred feet, and you, boy, will witness my successful slow descent back to earth. Ready? Count down for me!”

“Ten, nine, eight…” I said.

“From three, boy! Agh, too late!”

Sparks flew from the boots. A rush of air and smoke jettisoned the professor skywards. He moaned as he got smaller and smaller from my perspective, turning into a little dot as the sound of his rocket boots coughed and faded. The fool didn’t have a parachute, and he had no way of slowing himself down. Then the rocket boosters activated again, and he turned and twisted unexpectedly, leaving a smoke trail of O and S-shapes in neat handwriting in the sky. Then the smoke stopped and I lost track of him. I looked around the sky but I couldn't see him. About thirty seconds later, I heard a Tarzan-like cry getting closer and closer. The professor emerged from over the Old Mill roof with his arms stretched out by his side. He was going head first towards a tree. His boots flew off, his socks came off, and he flipped at the last moment, disappearing over a fence. I heard the splash of water and I raced to see where he had landed.

“Darn! Darn! Darn!” he said, pounding his fists on the swimming pool's surface. “Another waste of money! Why can’t I make anything that works?”

Now it was my turn to fish him out of the pool, where Doris was waiting to smother him with towels and blankets.

“Wernie! Are you all right?” said Doris.

“Of course I’m not all right!” he snapped. “I sent those boots to myself from Hawaii! It cost me a fortune to have them designed and made. They were supposed to last a whole year. Now I have to go back to Hawaii and make another pair!” 

“Can't you make them yourself?” I suggested. “You would save a lot of money.”

The professor raised his head slowly and frowned at me.

“This is all your fault,” he said, shaking his finger. “You’re the jinx. You’re a stroke of bad luck. If you didn’t come here today, everything would have gone swimmingly well. Hold on. Just a minute."

He stood upright and crept closer to me.

"You’re the polar bear boy!” he said. "You're the one who helped me escape."

I quickly ran to my bag which had fallen off my shoulder near the pool. I removed something from inside. It was that piece of the crashed Magnipoopifier with the writing on it.”

When I handed it to the professor, his stretched his hands towards my throat. I ran and he began chasing me around the pool. “I’m going to give you a right good paddling, you naughty boy!” he shouted.

“Come and get me, old man!" I cried. Damn, he was fast for his age.

I ran away from the pool and picked up the pieces of my polar bear costume, just as the professor was gaining ground. He chased me all of the way to the front of the Old Mill, where he was now carrying his hammer/ruler/pencil combination kit, and threatening to whack me with it.

“You can’t hit me, I'm only eleven years old,” I said. He backed me towards the wall of the Old Mill.

“Well, I hit the boys when I was a teacher, and I’ll do it again. Boys like you need to learn discipline!”

“You were a teacher?”

“Yes, and a damned good one. Design and technology. Hamley Grammar school for students aged nine to eighteen. I taught there for ten years, and I was a student there too.”

He was about two feet away from me, steady and poised to strike me with his combination kit.

“I go to Hamley Grammar,” I said, quickly blurting out my words. “Design tech is my favourite subject. I love inventions.”

The professor stopped in his tracks and lowered his hammer.

“Really?” he said. “A boy like you goes to that school? I don't believe you."

He started to come at me again.

"No, I swear it's true."

"Don't make me hammer you, boy!”

I started speaking really quickly to try and distract the professor.

"Dr. Ainsley told me the story about the time he accidentally made a poisonous gas in the chemistry lab by mixing the wrong chemicals, and the whole class and the entire school had to be evacuated!"

The words rolled out of my mouth as the hammer came towards me. Suddenly, the professor stopped and he withdrew his weapon. His expression turned from sour to neutral. He rolled his wooden eye to face towards me.

"You know about that?" he said. “You can’t possibly know about that story…unless you’re a student here. Then you must be telling the truth. What year are you in? Who's your class tutor?"

"Third year, Gregory Wells. 3 GRW is my tutor group. You know the song, surely? Gregory Wells has a metal leg. If you kick it, it will crack like an egg."

"So Greg Wells still teaches there," said the professor, nodding his head in delight. He retreated a few steps and put his hammer combination set away. "So that's your passion, is it? Inventions, machines, designs, that sort of thing?”

“The school design competition is coming up, and I have to get home and work on my sorting machine. After your crash, two police officers interviewed me and they told me to stay away from you. Then I found your advertisement at the warehouse and I came here to give you those jet boots. And to apply for the job.”

The professor paced backwards and forwards, scratching his head, as if a genius idea had suddenly popped into his awareness. He began muttering to himself. He was a crazy old mad fool hatching a plan.

"A series of perfectly timed events…” he began. “Culminating in this boy coming to see me...we were at the same school...he saw the advert...the probability of all these events simultaneously occurring in such a short space of time is so tiny, it's..."

The professor stopped pacing and stared at me.

"Extremely significant," he said.

“My name is Tom Hill."

“Well then, Hill. It appears as if our paths have crossed for a reason, and we may have some things in common. However, I'm looking for an adult to fill the job position. But I'll tell you what. I’ll give you a chance. A test morning. Come back here on Thursday. And don’t tell anyone that you came here today.”

“Thank you, Professor Walker.”

“And bring this invention of yours. This…distribution mechanism.”

"My online powered sorting machine."

"Yes, whatever. Maybe I'll look at it. If I have the time."

Even though he didn’t show it, the professor must have been impressed. Was it the school connection, or did he have a genuine interest in my skills? I began to feel excited. I was finally going to escape from the weekly getting-up-before-sunrise-delivery-go-to-school-go-home-do-homework routine. I had seen his machines.  They were incredible. But why was we having so much bad luck? Why wasn’t anyone interested in his work?

This was the chance for me to do a fun, new job. To have an exciting new start. Better pay, better working conditions, and no more early morning starts.

“What time should I come on Thursday, professor?”

“At exactly five in the morning,” he said.


Submitted: December 23, 2021

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

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