Chapter 1: THUD-WHIZZZ and then BHAM
“Montaqu,” he says.
Murderer, I think. It’s my response to my Principal’s pronunciation of my first name. He should say ‘Montaik’ because his diction is disgusting. Being a sixteen-year-old language buff those are French and Flemish. Both use the word qu or ‘q’ as a slang word for behind. Montague means Pointed Mountain. Not Pointed Behind.
That’s why I call him Murderer. His first name is Damon, which comes from the Greek word ‘daman’, meaning ‘to tame’ or ‘subdue’. Some may even argue it means ’to kill’.
“Glupie,” my Principal adds with a smile.
Pain in the ass, I throw in while I exhale loudly. ‘Glupi’ is Polish for ‘stupid’, which I’m definitely not! So I ‘translate’ his last name as well and throw in a few additional words that define him completely: he is a Royal pain in the ass. More so if he can’t use my chosen name Monty Hill!
“You realize what you have done?”
I roll my eyes and slowly count to ten, each number in a different language. I broke Mark’s arm. I shouldn’t have, but Royal shouldn’t watch me the way he does, either. Right now all I want to do is punch out his diarrhea-colored eyes!
“No, of course you don’t. You still behave like your average nine-year-old.”
I grit my teeth. It doesn’t matter. It really. Doesn’t. Matter. To keep myself busy I continue to count from eleven to twenty; once more in ten different languages. It generally sooths me, but today the turmoil in my stomach keeps on rising as if it has taken the elevator straight into the aggression center of my poor brain.
Nevertheless, Damon Royal is the man students flock around and to whom teachers listen. They call him kind, smooth and sophisticated; everything I’m obviously not. All I want is that he’s gone. I want him ‘damoned’, to use his first name.
“Your classmates told me what happened. Mark was playing with his football when you confronted him.”
I swallow the Spanish quince and make a fist so my nails scream into my palm’s skin. I had been in a corner waiting for my only friend, but Mark showed up instead.
“You demanded he play somewhere else.”
Mark kicked his football with a nerve-wracking THUD-WHIZZZ and aimed it at the post by my head where it made a painful BHAM. I asked him to stop. He didn’t!
“When he moved, you followed him and called him names.”
I walked away, but Mark followed me!
“When he ignored you, you lashed out. Am I getting this right, so far?”
My breathing rises. I can’t even correct him. Royal would say it proved that I lied!
“Then you slammed him into a wall and broke his arm.”
Finally: something true! Mark provoked me, but I realize I shouldn’t have broken his arm. Annoyed with Royal and myself I shift my gaze at a bookcase in the back. It is filled with pristine books on education Royal clearly never bothered to read.
“Mark’s an ääliö!” I suddenly hiss.
I didn’t plan to say that out loud. ’Aäliö’ is Finnish for ’moron’. Originally I wanted to use the Malaysian term ‘dungu’, but Royal would only hear ‘dung’; an inappropriate comparison because dung can’t be blamed for its shitty situation.
Royal slams a heavy map down onto his desk that contains my disciplinary history. He even adorned it with my official name in very red and very capital letters. He knows I hate red!
“Maybe you think it’s okay to offend people in foreign languages because no one will understand. Is that how you use the internet? To learn foul words others may not immediately understand?”
That would be glupi on my part. The school implements a strong firewall to keep track of every online move. For our safety, they claim! They’re just scared we’d pirate movies and watch porn. As a result I do that anyway.
Royal opened my file and is now is obviously at the part where he lists the things I’ve done. Wrong! He always stresses that last word. My muscles hurt, my breathing is laboured and my mind just isn’t into it. It doesn’t alleviate my tension even when I flex my hands.
“I expect an explanation of what happened, Montague. Unless you prefer I involve our local sheriff for assault and battery.”
He will involve Bill anyway. Generally, Bill calls Mom who will then ground me and today that is definitely no option.
“This time your ASD won’t save you,” Royal adds.
As if I ever asked for that. ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder is a social impairment. According to Wikipedia ‘I’ lack the intuition about others that many take for granted. ‘I’ suck at communication, ‘I’ have restricted interests and finally, ‘I’ show repetitive behavior.
“Karut!” I flare.
Or ‘nonsense’ in Malaysian because I’m not impaired!
This is not going well. If I want to get away unscathed I must offer him something.
“I pushed Mark because he did a thud-whizz and then bham.”
Royal looks at me as if I don’t even speak English anymore and that’s when something inside me breaks and I spit out words with more force than I should.
“Duh? That’s the sound when he kicks his football and hits the goalpost!”
In the silence that follows I grit my teeth because now he has me where he wanted me.
“I don’t think you fully appreciate how close you are to being expelled. You can’t break someone’s arm because he’s no good at football.”
I. Never. Said. That! I look down at my trembling hands and flex them once again. In vain. You don’t put a kettle on a fire and act surprised when steam sends the whistle in overdrive.
“I know you have issues and I want to help you with those, Montague.”
No he doesn’t!
“But I can only do so if you come clean with me. Remember: you have something that is mine.”
No, I haven’t! He makes this weird gesture with his hand as if he throws something.
“I want to make a peace offering. Show my good faith. That item you have contains a key. I’m sure you found it and I want it back. If you return it, I will forget your behavior just now.”
The only key I have belongs to my front door and I will never give him that!
“Unless you want me to call your mother and tell her to find another school?”
Which would be a boarding school! I. Hate. Boarding. Schools.
“And this time you won’t be able to escape so easily!”
Royal rises and positions himself in front of the door. The last time I escaped through it, but today it only shows he still doesn’t get it. Behind that door is a corridor filled to the brim with students and teachers at the end of their recess and I hate that. The last time they weren’t there.
“I won’t let you go unless you give me that key.”
A key I don’t have. Luckily for me I might not need it, as I gaze at the open window. Mom would say it’s a bad idea to jump out of a three-floor building, but that’s only because she doesn’t know about the nearby tree.
Before he can say anything else, I rise and rush towards the window. Royal grabs me, but I pull free and throw myself through the open window, sure glad his office in on the first floor. I only stop and look back once Royal is unable to see me through the vegetation. He has his mobile pressed against his ear. He calls Bill. Or Mom. Either leave me with no time to spare so I rush off towards my bike. Five years ago I found a Manuscript that promised me to grant every wish I made if I translated it and said the last sentence out loud. Today that last sentence is all that remains. If I don’t succeed today, I probably won’t get a second chance because Mom will punish me severely.
The traffic light ahead shows a peaceful green when I reach the only junction in our village busy enough to need one. I fly towards it at a speed that could rival a rocket, but the light still has the audacity to change into a pesky orange and before I reach it it switches into a deadly red. With nothing else but a large billboard at the opposite side, I plow across the junction.
The sheriff’s siren yawls accusingly as his car appears from behind the billboard. With a grimace I coast along and wait for him to adjust his car’s speed to mine. I will soon learn if he’s the one Royal called.
“Didn’t you notice the red light, Monty?”
Bill Anderson has short cut grey hair and a trimmed beard with white-and-grey stripes. He turned up five years ago and according to popular rumors he was a commander of the Special Forces. I don’t buy that because he’s too kind. If he didn’t always call Mom, we might even have been friends.
“Of course you did. I have told you over and over again: you can’t ignore a red light merely because you dislike the color.”
I don’t ‘merely dislike’ the color. I hate it with a passion because… Well. He knows!
“You go in the wrong direction for school. It can’t be over yet.”
No kidding. With recess just finished I guess I am aware. Apparently Royal didn’t call him, which means it must have been Mom. Either way, instead of stating the obvious he should watch where he drives. There is a cobblestone half buried in front of his car m and if he hits it, his car might jerk towards me. That will hurt. On the bright side: Mom won’t punish me. She would redirect her wrath at Bill instead and no Special Forces-training will be able to save him from that.
“I assume you ran away again?”
Of course not. I just try out an alternative route to my next class!
“Okay. I’m sorry you don’t want to talk to me. Watch out. You know you have to look left and right before you cross a street, right? And you don’t cross one at all when it’s red.”
Bill steers his car forward and misses the cobblestone by a mere inch. No pain for me today; only punishment, but not just yet.
Ten minutes later I park my bike against the remains of a wooden fence near the farmhouse Dad and I found when I was ten. Mom has yet to call and that is weird. She always calls right after she heard what I did. Wrong. Unless she’s still on the phone, which suggests Royal wants to expel me. That’s not good!
I enter the Mansion and the former living room. Most villagers refer to it as the Slaughter House because twenty years ago a newlywed couple disappeared here. Most people think they were murdered, though we never found any graves. Today most of the square building is reduced to ruins, except for the living quarters. The rest, mostly barns and storage rooms, burned down after lightning struck. Now crumbled walls and thick beams of wood, charred by fire and softened by rain and wind, stick out as a rib cage.
When Dad and I discovered this place, I was still blissfully unaware of my autism diagnose. That came not much later; at ten twenty-three on a cold but bright and sunny February morning. Dad said it didn’t matter, but it obviously did because that same year Mark betrayed me. He promised to pass out my birthday invitations to the rest of the class. He worked on a ‘big surprise’ which was so big no one showed up because Mark never passed on those invitations. At least Dad was there, though it would be his last. Ninety-four days later, on the tenth of September, I went to the Mansion to help him with the renovation and… Found he… Had left. The following months I did the last thing Dad asked me to and cleaned out the living quarters. Three years later Damon Royal showed up to become my school’s new Principal.
I stop in front of a table with my writing material. This is the old living room, but I call it the Manuscript Hall. Above a large fireplace is Dad’s picture and my eyes glaze. He literally shows the location of a secret and hidden compartment that contains a wooden box with a manuscript.
My hands tremble when I retrieve the stunningly crafted ink black wooden box. The wood is so strong I couldn’t even damage it with a screw driver and yet intricate images are etched into its lid and sides. It’s fifteen inches long and nine inches wide. The lid is adorned with a desolate and arid desert in a singed-brown with an odd brittlebush in between three gargantuan rocks stuck in the sand. On top of one sit slender ivory-white towers and buildings. A label names it Major Abbey. It’s impressive, but the most beautiful engraving runs across the four sides. It shows a gigantic palace with slender turrets, vaulted entrances and large squares. It has open porches held up with the most ostentatiously detailed pillars painted in soft tones of blue. There are large domes and other fragile structures and yet it looks impregnable thanks to its white stone walls that glisten in the sun’s light. This one is called Royal Palace, which suggests it’s not local. We only have presidents.
Inside the box are two folders. The first is the least orderly and contains everything I’ve translated of the manuscript so far. The second one is thinner and much more fragile and contains the manuscript itself. When I open that, I reread the first page to remind me why I’m here. It’s a simple rhyme written in crisp capital letters.
You crave an impossible desire?
Something to quench your fire?
Then this you must translate
The last phrase for you to state
Open that Door and do not tire
’Cause wishes are all you aspire
It points to a black wooden barn door in the back of the Manuscript Hall, next to two large windows through which the wind and rain reign freely. I call it the One Door because the other side is bricked up. And yet, the final sentence of the manuscript should open it and grant me access so I can make my wishes. I want Dad to return and get rid of my autism.
Don’t understand me wrong! I don’t want to become ‘normal’. Normal, according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, means ordinary or usual. Normal people are average at best while I want to excel. I just don’t want to excel in autism.
Carefully I flip to the last page of the Manuscript. Its first chapter was written in old English, which I translated quickly with a little help of the internet. With each new chapter, page or even sentence the languages became more foreign. I discovered warped versions of Spanish, Arapaho, Passamaquoddy, Polish and a dozen other languages. I translated them. All It just took me more time than expected. So when the days turned into years I uncovered a story of a pretty princess who saved her father’s kingdom with the help of a glupi young man. It ends with one of the most beautiful scenes I could ever imagine. The glupi youngster receives a military salute while the King shouts “Geef acht!”. It literally means ‘Give honor’. I had goosebumps when I imagined someone would say that to me. Not that it will.
I started because of the wishes, but by the age of fourteen I continued because of the ravishingly beautiful princess. I call her My Paper Girl. Today all that remains to translate is the last sentence: Volegt eleke reigl en dan ni. It’s a succession of words that don’t seem to fit into any language. So instead of using Google Translate, I turn to Google Search and enter each word separately.
’Volegt’ leads to several useless references until I open a Google Books link of a novel from 1619. Apparently it is old Dutch and means ‘To Follow’ or ‘Obey’. The second word: ‘eleke’ is connected to the Spanish ‘collares’ or necklace and could mean ’a sacred bead’. Only that doesn’t make much sense in connection with the first term, so I continue. The next words turn up nothing either until I reach ‘en dan ni’. According to Google it’s a dialect spoken in a harbor city that refers to the rest of the world as parking space. It means ‘And then not.’
I must follow or obey something and then I don’t, which makes little sense. I nevertheless concentrate on dialects. They have no set rules to write it. I could write one as wan because that’s what I hear, or won because I want to be cocky. I could even use van or van-e, depending on the accent.
Slowly but surely I piece my last sentence together. By the time I jot down the last word and look at the result my smartphone rings. I expect Mom, but instead it’s Storm. His real name is Sherwin or ‘swift runner’ in Old English. It’s funny because he’s bound to a wheelchair. I called him Storm the first time we met because of how he moved and it somehow stuck.
That’s what Storm always calls me because M really is two inverted halves of a pointed mountain.
“Are you in the Mansion?” he asks.
I always imagined he would be here so he could heal himself and walk away. Maybe even forever, if he’s anything like Mark.
“Yes. Does someone search for me?”
Someone else would have interpreted Storm’s dry laugh flawlessly. To me it only means I won’t know unless he tells me.
“They haven’t yet called in the army, but that’s about it. Our Principal called your mother about ten minutes ago.”
About… Then who did he call when I ran away all those hours ago? It wasn’t Bill either.
“She asked our sheriff to take her to the Mansion.”
So I admit I am predictable. I look at the translation I jotted down and hope it works.
“I have to go, Storm. See you.”
I disconnect before he can answer. If Mom is on her way, my translation has to work. First I return the wooden box and its content to its secret space before I nervously sink down into my chair, my back turned towards the One Door. Five long years I’ve dreamed of this. Five long years I’ve fought for something most people would make fun of. Five long years…
“Obey every rule and then don’t.”
I whisper the six words so silently I’m sure no one hears them.