Reads: 122

9

Perma-Therma Pants, Ever-Food and Treasure Dogs

 

“You’ve been up unusually early for the past week,” said my mum, as my dad buried his head into his electronic screen to read the news. “You’ve left the garage door open twice. Where the hell are you going at such an early hour?”

“I went to help the Trenchbog deliver some extra parcels, and then I went to school early to work on my project.”

The lie wasn’t too bad, and the extra shift work sounded like I was more committed to my job, as the adults would say. My parents had an addiction to being committed to things that stressed them out and frustrated them, such as money, their jobs, my education and raising me. I never understood the idea of taking on more work than you could manage, and I never understood the pressures they put themselves under by having me as as son. They could’ve swapped me for another baby at the hospital.

“Leave him alone,” said Dad. “He’s studying hard and he has exams coming up. The more education and practice he can get, the better. Good job, Tom. You're committed." 

My dad once said that too much commitment would lead to being committed - at a mental hospital. Suddenly, his wrist watch phone computer alarm thing sounded off, and he switched off his screen and raced for the door without kissing my mum.

“Where’s he going?” said Mum.

“To have a hamburger before getting to the office,” I said.

“But he hasn’t eaten half of the porridge I made for him.”

Getting up early each day for seven days in a row had made me feel wrecked, but being Professor Wernie Walker’s assistant was far more interesting and beneficial to me than being the town polar bear. Plus the professor paid me more, so I could afford to buy the parts to repair my broken-again sorting machine.

Later at school, I received a text message from an unknown number during Geography class. It read, ‘Thomas Hill, hello. Greetings. I'm borrowing a stranger’s phone. Meet me at 10pm tonight in Hamley Park. Yours, from’

It was clear to me that the stranger had only the professor to send one text message.

That evening after finishing my homework, I found my parents in the dining room wearing their glasses, looking at sheets of paper, and using two calculators to compare sums. I soon learnt that if one calculator couldn’t give them a correct answer, they would use another one. That way, neither mum nor dad had to admit they were wrong, and it was just another thing on the list of things they didn’t agree about.

“Tax for November was a hundred and eighty pounds,” said my dad. “You were right, love.”

“I told you I was right. Calculators don’t lie!” my mum snapped back. “Now, for October I hope you have two hundred and ten pounds and fifty two pence.”

“We may have to start this again. I got one hundred and sixty pounds and thirty three pence. Oh, Tom. Hello. Do you want something?”

“I’m feeling tired so I’m going to bed now. Goodnight.”

“Very well,” said Mum. “Tom, how about tomorrow night, we teach you how to make tax calculations? Your father has found an error and he needs to pay another sixty pounds in tax.”

“Oh, why don’t you just keep the money as a bonus?” I said.

“We can’t do that,” said Dad. “You don’t want the tax people knocking on our door, do you? Or worse, the police.”

The thought of Smasher and Jittery coming to the door over a matter of sixty pounds was enough to get me out of the dining room and straight into my bedroom. I piled some pillows together and placed them neatly in my bed, using a tape measure to calculate the shape of a five foot ten inch eleven year old boy. Placing the blankets over the top, and using the end of a broom to create a hair effect on the pillow, I put on my shoes and turned off my bedroom light. Opening the window a crack, I squeezed through and sneaked out on to the downward sloping roof, and then I slid down the drainpipe to the driveway, avoiding eye contact with the neighbour's dog, but swearing when the shock of the landing travelled through my legs.

As I made my way along the street, a bus pulled into the stop. Mr. Lewis got off carrying four crammed shopping bags about to split the plastic. I remember one time he stepped of the bus and the butt-end of his plastic bag split open, spilling his shopping on the ground and creating a flood of baked beans.

“High-five, Mr. Lewis?” I said jokingly.

“What are you doing out this late?” he said. “Are you sleepwalking?”

“Do you need some help getting home, Mr. Lewis? Do you remember where you live?”

“Don't talk to me like that, young man! I’m not an idiot!”

Ten minutes later, I reached the park. A torch light switched on and off in my direction, and I found Wernie Walker dressed entirely in black and standing by the river.

“Hey, professor. What…”

“Shh!” he said. He gestured to three black shadows sitting on the grass. I saw their tails, their paws and their ears. One of them was snoring like a heavy pneumatic drill. “These are treasure dogs. They can sniff food, metals and substances much better than normal dogs. Here, put these on.”

He handed me some thick dark trousers and a thick top. They were instantly warm to the touch. The professor then got out a scrunched up piece of paper and put his torch on it. In big, bold letters, it read:

Local Science Competition! First Prize 100,000 Plus Sponsorship. All Inventions Welcome. Attend the Invention Convention - Hamley Town Park, March 17th at 12pm.

“It’s signed by Mayor Betty Belch. It’s official!” said the professor. “I took this from the Town Hall notice board. I don’t want anybody else to see it. That way, there are less competitors and we have a better chance of winning.”

I switched on my phone and browsed the internet.

“They’ve already circulated it online,” I said, and Walker grabbed my screen. “See? The notice is on the town hall website. It has twenty thousand views already.”

“People can see it on the internet already?” he replied. “That’s terrible. How do they put it online? How does everyone see it? Hurry up and put those clothes on, Hill. You can just put them over your t-shirt and jeans. Come on! We have work to do!”

I bundled on the clothes and they were so tight, they stuck to my skin. I felt them get gradually warmer and warmer as the professor led me to the river. 

“What am I wearing, professor?”

“Permanent thermal clothing. Perma-Therma Pants and Vest. If you wear them, you’ll always be warm in winter. It’s made of rubber with a Sprinkledust inner lining combined with animal fats and chemicals from pocket warmers. If it works on you, then it will definitely keep the tramps warm in winter. Anyone can buy these, but we can give them to the tramps for free!”

The heat steadily increased and I began to sweat. The professor ordered me to jump in the river, and surprisingly, as I walked through the waist deep water, I didn’t feel the freezing cold. But I did sense something smelly and muscular sniffing at my knees. The professor barked at the dogs to leave me alone. He whistled and snapped his fingers, ordering the dogs onwards, and they caused a ruckus of noise as they hopped and splashed in the river. We walked for a few minutes while Walker kept on the high bank.

Moments later, the dogs clustered around the bank. They began barking and sniffing and digging with their paws. Walker descended the bank with a shovel, which he handed to me.  “Hack away, boy, right there,” he said. The combination of the thermal suit and the digging made me drip with sweat. I had to wipe the moisture from my eyes and blink a lot to get rid of the drips. Just then, as I dug up chunks of mud, I hit something hard and metallic. Walker desperately scooped some mud away and brought out a golden, shiny box with a latch on the lid. He opened the latch and we found two things inside - a package that looked frozen, and a piece of folded paper. He began reading from the paper:

“Dear Wernie Walker. If you have opened this box, then you have found my little time machine! I buried this in the month and the year of May 2000. If the food packaging is still cold, and the food tastes fresh, then our Ever-Food experiment was a success! We have found a way to keep food fresh forever. Well, for at least five hundred years. Congratulations, and I wish you the best in the future, which is really now, if you are reading this letter. Yours sincerely, Professor Leonard Winkle.”

The professor tore open the packet and tasted the food. “Want some?” he said, and I declined. “The rice is fresh. The vegetables are soft. The chicken is outstanding! Do you know what this means, Hill? It’s a success! We can make food that lasts forever. Well, for at least five hundred years. It will never go bad.”

Then the professor reached in for more food, and he found something solid. He brought it to the torch light and turned it over. We saw the handle, the grooves and the loop at the end.

“I wonder what this opens,” he said, and then he turned over Professor Winkle’s letter and continued reading.

“P.S. this key will get you out of trouble. You know how to use it, remember? You once saved my bacon, so I’ll save your skin!”

The professor fell silent for about a minute and I thought I saw a tear coming from his good eye. He quickly adjusted his wooden eye to face me.

“It’s a miracle," he said. "Professor Winkle was a genius.”

“But why did he put his name in the letter? Leonard? Didn’t you know him well?”

“Of course I ruddy well did! But I kept forgetting his name. I used to call him Bernard. I hope the old fool wasn’t offended. Still, that was a long time ago. We have both moved on.”

“Moved on? You mean you lost touch with him? Did you fall out?”

“No. Professor Bernard stopped teaching at Hamley Grammar School twenty years ago, and then he disappeared.”


Submitted: December 23, 2021

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

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