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Authors: Steven Herrick

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction/Action & Adventure General

Tom Jones Saves the World (3 page)

BOOK: Tom Jones Saves the World
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Aunt Ruth and Uncle Robert
I like to cook.
I like to cook as well.
I like to eat what Ruth cooks.
I give the dog what Robert cooks.
We like Cleo. We look after her
when her parents are away.
We don't have children of our own
on account of...
Bad luck. That's what it was,
just bad luck. But we've got Cleo.
She loves my cooking.
She loves Ruth's cooking.
She gives Robert's cooking to the dog as well.
The dog likes my food.
We moved to Pacific Palms to retire.
We like the big walls, and the gate.
I like the gate too, but we keep
forgetting our Personal Entry Number.
Yes. When the Guard isn't there
we wait hours sometimes
for a neighbour to arrive home
and let us in.
But we like the safety.
Yes. It's so safe, we can't even get in.
Cleo, the snake, and how to be instantly popular
It's the fifth week of school.
I'm wandering around the oval at recess,
waiting for somebody, anybody,
to ask me to join in the game of soccer
We all rush to see,
and, sure enough,
it's a one-metre long rock python
curled up at the entrance
to the boys' toilets.
(Obviously, snakes have no sense of smell.)
Everyone's standing back,
waiting for a teacher.
I walk through the crowd,
reach down,
and quickly grab the snake
behind the head
and lift the little fellow up,
just like my Dad taught me,
when I went digging with him
two years ago in the Outback.
I know this snake is harmless.
You wouldn't get me going near a poisonous one!
I pick him up and
a few Kindy kids scream,
but the rest of the school goes really quiet,
except one kid who yells,
“Flush him down the dunny!”
As if I'd hurt a beautiful creature like this.
I walk slowly through the crowd,
down to the oval,
with everyone following a few metres behind.
I ask Tom, a boy in my class,
to open the gate
so I can cross the road
and let this little fellow go
in the long grass near the creek.
When I come back,
everyone's standing still,
watching me,
as though I might lunge forward and bite them,
just like a snake.
Tom says:
“Well done, Cleo.
You want to play soccer?”
Everyone turns
and runs back to what they were doing
five minutes ago,
when I didn't have a friend.
Tom and the snake girl
It's not that I like soccer
or that I even want Cleo to play,
but with the whole school
standing staring
and Cleo
looking more uncomfortable
than any of us,
someone has to say something.
Cleo says “Sure”
and we spend
the next twenty minutes
kicking a ball around.
Me and Cleo,
the snake girl.
Tom and Cleo
Walking back to class
Cleo says “Thanks for the game.”
I ask her where she learnt about snakes.
“It's the only thing
my Dad taught me,
unless you want to know
about 400-year-old vases
and building tools from the eighteenth century.”
I tell Cleo her Dad
should look at Arnold's Bottle Top Collection.
“Why are parents like that? she asks.”
“That's what happens when you get old.
Dumb things become important.” I say.
“Yeah, that's why we have to live behind
a huge stone wall, I reckon.”
“I hate that wall.
Every time I go for a bike-ride
Mum says, ‘Stay within the wall.'
So I ride around in circles,
like a circus animal.”
“It's a prison. A prison for kids.”
Cleo's bright idea
All my bright ideas
arrive in Maths.
I'm sitting, staring,
thinking about
Pacific Palms Prison,
when it comes to me:
If you live in a prison
you find a way to escape—
a tunnel,
a ladder over the wall,
like in those War movies Uncle Robert watches.
So, while everyone begins on page sixty-seven
Applied Maths
I start drawing the wall
stone by stone
and planning an escape.
I look across at Tom.
He smiles
and I wink.
I can't help it,
I need an escape partner
and I'm sure he'll be in it.
He winks back.
I keep working
on my escape plan.
The plan
I sit next to Tom
on the bus home.
I tell him my plan.
He says,
“Why? If we really want to get out,
we can use the gate with our
Personal Entry Number.”
“Yes, I know.
But don't your parents always say
‘don't go out the gate?'”
“So. Is going over the fence any different?”
He has a point.
If we really want to go, we can.
We'd get into big trouble when we returned
because Mr Smith, the guard,
would tell somebody for sure.
“That's it!”
“What's it?”
“If we go through the gate, Tom,
we'll be seen and we'll get in trouble,
and won't get a second chance.”
“So a secret escape hatch
means we can come and go
and never get caught.
Imagine, we can visit friends,
we can go down the creek.
We can even let kids into Pacific Palms
if they're stupid enough to want to visit.”
“No one is that stupid, Cleo.
But it is a good idea.”
“Come to my place
this afternoon and we'll work on it.”
Cleo's house
It's pretty funny
when you think about it.
Cleo's house is exactly,
I mean exactly,
the same as mine,
only it doesn't have
a bottle top collection
cluttering the spare bedrooms.
Cleo and I sit
in the backyard working on our plan.
Her Aunt and Uncle
bring us cakes and drinks
and say how wonderful it is
to see children doing their homework.
Cleo, the archeologist
“The wall is made of sandstone
and mortar, right? Both are soft,
well, soft for rocks.
Now I know about digging rocks,
from my crazy parents,
so we find a part of the wall
that's hidden from view
and we chip away at the mortar
of a few stones.
And to be safe,
we get a steel rod
and we place it above
the stones we've moved
so it takes the weight.
I saw my Dad do it once
in a cave.
It's easy.
Then we can slip the stones
back into place
and no one will be any wiser.
Except us.
Trouble is,
where do we find a wall
hidden from sight?”
“Easy, Cleo.
Our backyard fence is the wall.
And Mum planted
a row of camellias.
We can do it right in my backyard!”
“I'll get the tools.
You make sure those camellias keep growing!”
Friends in prison
Cleo and I ride our bikes
around Pacific Palms.
We race each other
from the west wall
to the east.
Cleo leans forward
over her handlebars
like she's trying
to beat her own bike.
Her ponytail
flaps behind her.
I try to keep up,
pushing harder than I've ever ridden.
At the end of the street
we both skid
and fishtail in the gravel.
Cleo drops her bike
runs to the wall
touches it first
turns and dances around
“I win I win.”
I don't mind.
I have a friend
here in prison
where there aren't many friends.
Tom, the gardener
At first
Mum thinks I'm joking.
But I keep on about
fertilizer, and watering,
and plant food.
She agrees I can
look after the camellias
near the back wall.
So, here I am,
standing in our garden
watering the plants
feeling old before my time
when Mrs Johnson
calls from next door:
“Good job.
You can do my camellias next,
if you want, Tom?”
Dead Neighbour Wish #1!
I like Cleo.
She's smart.
I hate the wall,
but not that much.
I'm just doing this
because it's better than homework,
or helping Dad with his bottle tops!
And I've been thinking—
when, and if,
we build this escape hatch,
where'll we go?
The creek for sure.
I can show Cleo
how to catch yabbies.
At our old place
I'd spend all weekend
with a line dangling in the creek
and an old saucepan on the boil,
full of yabbies.
Sometimes, even parents
came along to help.
Dad was
the best yabby-catcher in town.
Maybe Cleo
would like to visit Grandpa Jones
with me?
I bet he'd like our escape plan.
The escape hatch
Cleo's timing is perfect.
Five minutes after
Arnold the Albino Accountant
and his secret belly dancer wife Barbara
go on their walk
Cleo arrives with the tools,
ready to work.
We creep down the backyard,
careful to hide from Mrs Johnson.
Cleo opens her jacket
and hands me some goggles.
“Is this a disguise?” I ask.
“No, silly. It's so the concrete
won't flick into your eyes.”
We take turns to
chip away at the mortar
between the stones.
Cleo, the BMX Wizard,
and her trusty sidekick Tom,
hammering at the prison walls.
The prison gates
I leave home
ten minutes earlier now
and I walk to the bus stop
with Cleo.
Sometimes she brings a
slice of cake her Aunt baked.
We share it
sitting against the wall
waiting for the bus.
The Guard
leans out of his window
and says:
“Don't leave rubbish
at the bus stop, you kids.”
He goes back to his newspaper.
Cleo stands and salutes him.
We call him Warden Smith—
prison guard and rubbish-hater!
The bus turns into Cherrywood Avenue.
Cleo and I toss a coin—
heads I sit near the window,
tails, Cleo.
It comes down heads—
Cleo laughs and salutes me
as we board the bus
at the prison gates.

Chapter Four

For thirty minutes every afternoon
Cleo and I
have been chiselling
chipping, and hammering
at our back wall, in the corner,
near the largest camellia bush.
Today is the fifth day
and we work even harder.
We've chipped away the mortar
and the sandstone blocks are moving.
Cleo holds the steel rod
level between the stones
as I gently hammer it into position.
It slides in easily,
taking the weight
of the stones above ... we hope!
Cleo and I move each stone.
We wriggle
through the gap and stand
in a field of long waving wild
green grass that smells of
spring and
There are cows in the distance.
They wave their tails in the heat.
We wave back.
Cleo and I shake hands
and do a little victory dance
then quickly crawl through the gap,
and move the stones back into place
before Arnold and Barbara get home.
We plan our Saturday:
yabbies at the creek.
The first day of freedom.
BOOK: Tom Jones Saves the World
7.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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