Arlo Twittle and The Island of Antoria
3. ARLO’S BIRTHDAY AND A SURPRISE INVITATION
The next day arrived with the blazing yellow sun shining through the window.
Arlo stretched and yawned, a small tingle prickling at his ears. Today was his eighth birthday. Sitting up in bed, he looked around his bedroom. Maybe this year his parents had remembered and he would find a present wrapped in spaceman paper with a huge blue bow.
He saw nothing, apart from the old, worn toys that his parents gave him when he was younger, and a few books that he had read over and over again.
Yet another birthday his parents had forgotten.
A glimmer of hope twinkled in his eyes. Perhaps there’s a present waiting for me downstairs, he thought.
Jumping out of bed, he brushed his teeth and dressed himself in a white t-shirt and cream shorts. Running down the stairs as fast as he could, he raced to the kitchen.
His mother was sitting at the table, drinking a cup of tea and reading one of her many fashion magazines she seemed so fond of. He gazed around the kitchen, and seeing no present he ran to the living room and checked there, but again there was nothing.
‘Why don’t they like me,’ he mumbled, kicking at the immaculate cream rug in front of the fireplace. Then went back to the kitchen. Sad and upset for another year.
Breakfast was as silent as it always was. He ate his cereal, placed the bowl in the sink, put on his trainers and waited on the bottom stair for his mother.
“Arlo, grab my small pink case from the living room,” she called from the kitchen.
Huffing to himself, he went and got it. When he returned she was standing at the mirror, applying another layer of bright pink lipstick. He allowed himself a small smile, happy for once she hadn’t tried it on him first like she normally did. At least he’d escaped being a guinea pig this time.
“Right, time to go,” she said, pushing him out the front door.
He placed the case on the back seat, closed the door and watched as his mother drove off the drive. The car came to a sudden halt and the window slid down.
He walked slowly down the drive and peered in the car.
“I’ll be late back tonight, so ask Mrs. Butcher to keep you for an extra two hours, okay.”
She smiled at him briefly, and with a gentle hum, the window slid closed and she drove off down the road.
Not that it was really a road, Swan Lane was just that, a lane, and a quiet one to say the least. A quiet lane, in the small village of Crickleton, where nothing exciting ever happened. Some might even say boring. Arlo thought so anyway.
Then he realised she hadn’t even wished him happy birthday. Anger boiled like a whistling kettle in his tummy, so angry was he that he kicked a large stone, sending it clacking across the black tarmac, bouncing off the kerb and hitting the back of Mr. Spoady’s new car. Arlo held his breath and stared at the tiny white speck in the dark-green paint.
His head darted left and right, making sure no one had seen him. Terrified, he ran up the cobbled path to Mrs. Butcher’s front door, rang the bell, and then scanned the neighbouring gardens for any sign of life. When Mrs. Butcher finally opened the door, he was panting nervously, worried that someone had noticed.
He rushed past her in to the hall, not giving her chance to finish her greeting.
“Well I never,” she said, closing the door. “Someone is in a big hurry,” she added, chuckling like she always did.
Guilty for barging through the doorway, his face turned red as he blushed, and he shrugged his way down the corridor to the kitchen, with Mrs. Butcher shuffling behind.
Upon opening the door to the kitchen, Arlo’s eyes widened with joy. Sat dead centre on the kitchen table, was an enormous iced birthday cake. On top were eight blue candles and written in blue icing, ‘Happy 8th Birthday’.
He smiled a smile that went from ear to ear; he could always rely on Mrs. Butcher.
“So, happy birthday then,” she said, sitting down at the table and handing him a yellow envelope.
Brimming with eagerness he took the envelope and ripped it open, and then pulled out the card. A picture of a footballer wearing a white kit with a golden eight on front stared back, and then winked at him. Not sure if he was seeing things, he quickly read the message and placed it beside the cake.
“Thank you,” he said, his voice so quiet you could hardly hear it. And it was also one of the few times anyone could say, if you asked them, they had ever heard Arlo speak.
“You are most welcome.”
They spent the morning playing snap, it was the least he could do as a way of a thank you.
Lunch was different too, and he completely forgot about the card when he saw the magnificent spread Mrs. Butcher had made. There were small triangular sandwiches filled with tuna and egg. Mini sausage rolls. Crisps and iced biscuits. All washed down with fizzy cherryade. He couldn’t think of a better birthday than this.
After demolishing most of the food, Mrs. Butcher lit the candles and sang happy birthday, making him blush again.
He leaned over to blow them out as quickly as he could.
“Wait,” she said, placing a hand on his arm, “have you made a wish.”
Shaking his head, he closed his eyes and wished for a great adventure.
Two slices of cake later, he sat back in the chair rubbing his full belly.
“Well, I suppose that’s it,” Mrs. Butcher said, getting up from the chair and shuffled out of the room.
Arlo sat quietly at the table, wondering why there was no present this year, she always gave him a present.
He sighed, hanging his head. Perhaps I’m too old now, he thought.
“Ta-da,” she said loudly, making him fall off the chair.
“Strange, I didn’t hear her slippers,” he whispered in a way that not even the smallest of mice could hear.
Lying on the floor he looked up at her face, seeing the wrinkles around her eyes as she laughed, and then he noticed the big present wrapped in spaceman paper in her hands.
“Happy birthday, Arlo,” she said, and smiled even more. She placed the box on the table and waited for him to get up.
He scrambled to his knees and peered at the present, his eyes wide with wonder, and then pulled himself off the floor. He stared at the paper and the big blue bow.
How did she know? He thought, tearing his gaze away and looked at her suspiciously.
“Well, aren’t you going to open it?”
With eager fingers he untied the bow, carefully peeling away the tape, making sure not to rip the paper because he wanted to put it on his bedroom wall later. If, of course, his mother allowed him to. Shaking his head at the idea, he lifted the lid off the box and folded back the yellow tissue paper. Inside was a red jumper. Stitched to the front of it was a large white ‘A’. He took it out and held it up.
“Put it on then,” she told him.
Although it was very hot he did as she asked. It fitted perfectly, but summer really wasn’t the time for jumpers, he thought. He looked at Mrs. Butcher, wanting to take it off, and then thought that would be rude. Pulling at the neck, thinking he was going to melt, he went to take the box off the table.
“Oh, no dear. There’s more.”
Peering inside again, he removed the bottom layer of tissue paper. Underneath were a scarf, a woolly hat and a pair of gloves. They were the same colour as the jumper, and each had a white ‘A’ stitched to them. They were very nice, but Arlo knew he could never wear them, he already had enough problems with the other children at school. And wearing these would make him an even bigger target for the bullies.
He noticed something else though, poking out from beneath the scarf. Carefully, he took them out, and there, resting in the bottom of the box was a silver envelope. Picking it up, he turned it over in his hands. Sealed across the back was a large blob of red wax. He looked at it then at Mrs. Butcher, and then looked back at the envelope again. Puzzled by the strange seal, he was unsure whether to open it or not.
“Come on Arlo, there isn’t much time,” she said, urging him to open it.
Grabbing a knife from the table, excited by whatever it was she had given him, he slid the blade under the seal. The wax made a gentle cracking sound and as he lifted the flap, he saw something gold and shiny inside. Slowly pulling it out, he looked down at the small piece of paper between his fingers and read the message embossed in deep-red lettering.
One Gold Ticket.
Leaves the Gate at 2.00 p.m.
No Earlier. No Later.
But where does it go? He thought, turning it over between his sticky fingers. He couldn’t deny the quivering feeling like wriggling worms in his belly, but still.
What a strange thing indeed, Arlo thought. What a very strange present indeed.Copyright © by Sarah Neeve
M.I.A.C, may not be copied, shared or unlawfully used without the prior consent of the author.