You see, they only sing across the water.
Here the sky fell in long ago.
But the thing that really scratched at me was this: I must have been so many miles away. I didn't even see Mr.
Gunnell approaching, although there was a runway between me and his desk. I mean, I sat at the very back
of the class the blackboard could have been in another country. The words were just circus horses dancing up
and down. At least, they never stayed still long enough for me to work out what they were saying.
The only one I could read was the huge red word that was stamped over the picture of the moon. Slapped you in the gob, that word did.
Being stupid, and not being anything that fitted neatly on to lined paper, I'd sat at the back of the class long enough to know I'd become all but invisible. Only when Mr. Gunnell's army-tank arms were in need of some exercise did I come into focus.
Only then did I see red.
There was no getting away from it. I'd got lazy. I'd got used to relying on Hector to warn me of oncoming doom.
That daydream made me forget Hector had disappeared. I was on my own.
Mr. Gunnell got hold of my ear and pinched it hard, so hard my eyes watered. I didn't cry. I never cry. What's the use of tears? Gramps said that if he were to start crying, he didn't think he would stop there was too much to cry about.
I think he was right. Salty water wasted in muddy puddles. Tears flood everything, put a lump in the throat, tears do. Make me want to scream, tears do. Tell you this, it was hard, what with all that ear pulling. I did my best to keep my mind on planet Juniper, the one Hector and I alone had discovered. We were going to launch our very own space mission, the two of us, then the world would wake up to the fact it was not alone. We would make contact with the Juniparians, who knew right from wrong, who could zap Greenflies, leather-coat men, and Mr. Gunnell into the dark arse of oblivion.
We had agreed we would bypass the moon. Who wanted to go there when the Motherland was about to put her red-and-black flag in its unsoiled silver surface?
Mr. Gunnell didn't like me. I think it was personal. Everything is personal with Mr. Gunnell. I was a personal affront to his intelligence. I was an affront to his sense of order and decency. Just to make sure everyone got the message about the affront that was me, he pulled my tie undone. He had that smile on his face, the tongue-sticking-out one, as he closed the classroom door behind me.
I didn't have a problem with the caning. Or with the fact that my hands still smarted. I had a small problem with the ear pulling. I was only a tiny bit worried about the headmaster. I didn't know then about the trouble, or how deep it went.
But maybe I got an inkling of it the moment Mr. Gunnell pulled my tie undone, the git. You see, I can't do up my tie, and he knew it.
That tie had not been untied for a personal record of one year. That was the longest time I had ever managed to keep the knot intact. In fact the fabric had become so shiny that it moved with no problem just wide enough for my head to slip through and then close up as neat as a whistle at the top, so I looked spick-and-span. I mean, that was the idea. It had stayed this way because of Hector. He wouldn't let any boy mess with me. The days of torment I had believed to be behind me. That fricking, undone, hangman's rope of a tie made me feel like sliding down the wall onto the floor and giving up, letting the tears for once get some exercise. For there was one thing I couldn't do: go to the headmaster's office without a tie. I might just as well throw myself from the window headfirst. Say it came undone on the way down. Say due to concussion from the fall I had forgotten how to tie a tie.
Excerpted from Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner. Copyright © 2013 by Sally Gardner. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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