The Song of Ken The Childhood of Ken Ken Wong‘s full name was only two syllables long. This would have been fine under normal circumstances, except his older brother had always upset him. Not consciously. Sven Wong was always a very nice boy who would share all his belongings with his younger brother, which is highly unusual. When the two wrestled, it would always be purely for fun and had been agreed upon by both parties previously. Sven did not go out of his way to become his parents‘ favourite, either, as far as Ken could tell, and their parents always treated them equally. If Sven got a Cabbage Patch Kid for Christmas, Ken got one too. The problem that had been eating away at Ken all throughout his childhood was that Sven had two pretty long middle names. Ken had none. Sven‘s actual full name was Sven Maximilian Paulo Wong. It had never been explained to Ken why this was. When Ken was very small, he thought that perhaps Sven was incubating one of the middle names for him, and he‘d get it when he got old enough to be able to write it. He didn‘t mind which one he‘d get in the long run. Soon enough, Ken learnt how to write in very neat large script, but nothing happened about his name. He remained Ken Wong. Just plain old Ken Wong. Not even Kenneth Wong. Just Ken. The reason why Sven‘s name was so extensive was always kept under wraps, which in many ways made it even more infuriating for Ken. While Ken thought on the surface, he and his brother were treated exactly the same, Sven‘s large endowment of name must mean something. What Ken didn‘t know, and what his parents didn‘t want to talk about was it was all a result of a pushy registrar at the hospital. When Sven was born, his parents were new to the country. Everybody at the hospital had been very excited about this because they were having their first child after living in Melbourne for three days. All the nurses created a big fuss and freaked them out by talking loudly at them at all times of day and night. And finally, when the new baby appeared, four weeks early, everybody decided (without Ken and Sven‘s parents) that the new baby should have a very exciting, noble name. When the registrar was told, she went personally up to Mrs. Wong‘s bed and told her what the plan was. Mrs. Wong was still exhausted after the long flight three days ago and the childbirth, so she said, ―Uhh……. Can I just…….‖ rather feebly. Before they knew what had hit them, the baby was called Sven Maximilian Paulo Wong. It was really pretty annoying. Firstly, the registrar had talked over the top of Mrs. Wong the whole time, and Mr. Wong had been in the toilet, but luckily at least the first name had been what Mr. and Mrs. Wong had decided upon a few months ago and the registrar had gotten the message about that somehow. So, the registrar had already gone when Mr. Wong came back from the toilet. When he found out, he said, ―Bugger. Too late now,‖ and that was the end of that. Ken‘s parents never told him about this. Another thing they didn‘t tell was when two years later, they especially went to the exact same hospital, even though it was out of their way, to have Ken. They came armed with the shortest name they could find that wasn‘t ridiculous, and when this time, the exact same registrar came, and Mr. Wong happened to not be in the toilet thankfully, they announced the new baby‘s name would be JUST KEN. ―Alright – shall I write down Kenneth, then?‖ asked the registrar. ―No!‖ said Mr. Wong. ―JUST KEN! ONLY KEN! MERELY KEN!‖ The registrar went pale. She had never written only three letters into the four available rows of boxes with twenty-five boxes each. It felt obscene. She fondly remembered the time she had to pare down the name given to a very small baby by a pair of very over-zealous parents who had wanted to name their child something longer than would fit into the one hundred boxes on the page. It had even involved some numbers and punctuation, which was fine by her, but it was just too long. She had felt so sad about it, and had considered stapling another page to the first page and writing P.T.O, but she didn‘t exactly want to break the rules. This also felt like breaking the rules. She thought she should put forward a proposal for a requirement that a new child‘s name should be at least five letters long, and a bonus should be awarded for middle names. She decided that she much preferred the insane over-zealous parents with the punctuation than the ones who would simply name their child Ken, especially after their first son had acquired such a noble name. She also thought that maybe the child who was hereby known as Ken would feel a little bit left out name-wise. The registrar left with her head bowed slightly and the brand new Ken‘s parents high-fived each other because truly, in their younger days, they had a bit of a rebellious streak. It didn‘t occur to them that actually, even though the registrar had ruined their child‘s first name by being overly superfluous, they had irreparably damaged the psyche of the briefly-named Ken. If Ken‘s parents had told Ken all about this, Ken probably would not have felt much better. When one receives a short name through spite, one would feel about as happy as being under the impression one was named briefly due to favouritism. So Ken‘s parents never told this story, and Ken never asked about it and everybody pretended that everybody in the family was exactly equal, except for Sven who was completely oblivious to the whole thing anyway and always lived his life like a perfect small dream. So, one day when Ken was about six and he went to the local GP for a cold, and he was allowed to take one of the business cards along with a lollipop, a new avenue was opened up to him. When Ken got home, and he took the business card out of the pocket of his overalls, he noticed it said ―Dr.‖ in front of the person‘s name. Upon some investigation, he discovered this stood for ―Doctor‖ and was the title you got after you became a doctor. It became part of your name. Ken was onto something here. He asked his mother what other sorts of things you could get attached to your name. You could be Sir, Justice, Count, Professor, all kinds of things. This was promising. Soon Ken discovered that you could even get extra things to put after your name, like getting registered in professions and joining societies and stuff. Only until very much later did Ken discover the concept of Deed Poll, though that seemed like cheating anyway. From that day forth, Ken resolved to get so many letters before and after his name that his embellished name would kick Sven Maximilian Paulo Wong‘s name‘s arse. There wasn‘t much he could do about the whole thing as a child, so he would have to bide his time. However, Ken got started on the flute immediately and finished all his exams by the time he was 14.8 years old. Now he was Ken Wong, LmusA, AmusA. Excellent. This meant he had as many name parts as Sven, though they didn‘t seem to have the same value as a bona fide name, plus they weren‘t as long. Ken‘s work with the flute was done, so he sold it to a music shop without asking his parents, who had bought it as a birthday present, and bought a stethoscope. The next plan was to finish school early and go straight to university and become a doctor. One day, Sven came home with a girlfriend. His girlfriend‘s name was Tracy Fitzpatrick and she was from MLC. While making a vegemite sandwich (a long-named snack) in the kitchen, Ken was introduced and was immediately struck by Tracy‘s well-endowed surname. It turned out that she also had a giant middle name – Elizabeth. Once again, thought Ken, Sven was rubbing big-namedness into his face. While Sven and Tracy went to go pash in Sven‘s room on his flowery bedspread, Ken ate his vegemite sandwich furiously. The next day, Ken hung around the gates of MLC menacingly after school and surprisingly easily managed to; a) ask some girl who the girl with the longest name in the school was; b) ask that same girl to go get her so he could speak to her for a second; and c) get this chick to go out with him. This all took about eight minutes, which was possibly the fastest that a boy who had never really talked to a girl properly, especially since he went to a boy‘s school, had been so forthright in asking out a girl. But this was because Ken was very experienced in ulterior motives. The girl‘s name was Evangeline Amanda Ratanakorn. This name was one letter longer than Tracy‘s name. He promptly led Evangeline back to his house, following Sven and Tracy, and then both pairs pashed on the brothers‘ respective bedspreads, and it was probably the highlight of Ken and Evangeline‘s entire relationship. Ken felt at ease for a while. Ken and Evangeline went out for almost three years until the day that Ken finished high school, one year early. Then he dumped her for no particular reason, though he was going to start university straight away at summer school, and live on campus and all that sort of thing. Ken had to become a doctor as fast as possible, and pashing Evangeline every day on a bedspread for twelve minutes every day, not counting obligatory trips to the cinema at least once a month to watch chick flicks took precious amounts of time. It was at least 110 hours per year wasted. So, for the next three years Ken lived a monastic lifestyle (which, incidentally he had considered because being Brother Ken would have been OK), and became Dr. Ken in half the usual time while everybody else in the college were throwing underpants at each other instead of doing their homework. But Ken did not yet rest. Ken was on a roll. One missed session of naked mudwrestling in the North Court later, Ken already had his masters in Epidemiology. At this stage, Ken was now Dr. Ken Wong, Mep. LmusA AmusA. Things were getting pretty long. He decided to go home and sleep all holidays. Finally. And go out with his parents and play golf or something. Something nice. Something finally that didn‘t involve getting extra letters after his name. He packed up all his things into a big suitcase and caught the train. His parents picked him up from the station and gave him hugs and drove him back to the house. When he got in the door, Sven was there, in the living room, with Tracy. Tracy‘s tummy looked suspiciously large. ―Hey!‖ shouted Sven with his arms wide open. Ken dropped his suitcase and his brother gave him a giant bear hug. ―I‘ve missed you so much!‖ he said, warmly. ―Why didn‘t you call us? I‘ve got news!‖ Ken glanced at his parents. They were both beaming. ―I got my accountancy degree!‖ yelled Sven. Ken breathed out a big breath of relief. He wasn‘t exactly pleased that Sven got a degree, because that would mean he‘d get letters after his name too, especially if he got chartered. Oh, well, thought Ken. Maybe I‘ll just join some register at some random club or something. He thought Sven was going to say something like he was going to get married to Tracy and get his last name hyphenated or something stressful like that. ―Also-― added Sven, ―I‘m getting married!‖ Ken‘s heart sank. He knew it. ―Well, is your name going to get hyphenated, then?‖ he said, slightly disappointedly. ―Hey! What a good idea! What do you think, Tracy? Wong-Fitzpatrick – I love it!‖ shouted Sven. Damn, thought Ken. ―Uh……. Look……. Wait a sec……. I think I‘d better go back to university for a while,‖ he said, and he caught the train right back and that was that. Ken threw his suitcase back down on his little monastic bed in the college, then immediately rang up Evangeline on the number she‘d had five years before when he‘d broken up with her. Her mother answered, and when she heard it was Ken, she didn‘t sound impressed. ―She doesn‘t live here anymore. She‘s married. I‘m not giving you her new number,‖ she said. Then she hung up. Oh, well, thought Ken. That avenue might be closed, so I‘ll just have to do an especially good PhD and then get lots of awards for it. So, he did that. He found the cure for cancer, got his PhD, got an OA and a Nobel Prize, and that was that. He was now 25. Ken Chills Out Finally Ken knew he‘d been a bit of an arsehole since he was 6. Not a giant arsehole; just a bit of one. He knew he‘d dumped Evangeline slightly heartlessly all the way back when he was 17, and how he sold his birthday present flute, and that he hadn‘t really spoken to his family properly for a while. He knew all these things. Frankly, he even wondered slightly why he‘d gone to all the trouble of getting a whole bunch of letters before and after his name when it was an idea he‘d thought of when he was 6. Did anyone really take seriously stuff they‘d thought of when they were 6? After flying home from the Nobel Prize ceremony, and throwing his little suitcase down on his bedroom floor at his parents‘ house once again, Ken had a long, jet-lagged, empty, dreamless fourteen-hour sleep. It was a sleep of nothingness. It was also a sleep of having no friends, no hobbies, no more goals, though of being underneath quite a normal person. While Ken had become quite illustrious, he had also become quite bland. He no longer had dreams because he hadn‘t needed them anymore. He hadn‘t even felt a sense of achievement anymore when he had gotten that OA, and now that he was introduced as ―Nobel Prizewinner‖, which was just as lengthy as getting a hyphenated name from a marriage, it wasn‘t all that thrilling. He woke up at 4:45 AM, saw in the suburban dark the same room he‘d had since he was 6 years old, never redecorated, never updated, and had a vegemite sandwich. He sat in the recliner chair in the living room in the dark, and as dawn edged its way into the day, and as the sun started to make its way over the ugly roof next door, Ken had the solution. He was going to become a bum. The bum was the only type of person he really remembered seeing and been interested in when walking through the city from university to the supermarket and back again. They always looked flamboyant, even though what they really were were the opposite of flamboyant. Perhaps anti-flamboyant. The guy with the red face and the mass of hair almost like a beehive who hung around Elizabeth Street was just as bold as a model on the catwalk wearing the most ridiculous hair and make-up possible. If the model was chic, why not the bum? And the bum could do anything. He could live on a bench, then on a bridge, if he so desired. He could yell at a poor innocent businessman who happened to be passing by, and then go and get paper out of a dustbin. He had absolutely no real obligations to do anything. He could get on the train one day and go anywhere, and the ticket inspectors would just ignore him. He could smell like he shat himself. He could even shit himself if he wanted to. Also, his name was irrelevant. Yes, this sure was sounding rather appealing to Ken. Also, he had something that the average bum didn‘t have, which was an accumulation of an assload of money as backup. All the prizemoney he‘d gotten along the way and the frugal living at university amounted to a whole lot. Therefore, if he was going to be a bum, he wouldn‘t have that distinct disadvantage of being entirely without an income. If he woke up somewhere and was hungry, he could simply go to the 7-11 and buy an ice-cream. If he wanted a massage, that would be fine too, though it might be a bit difficult if Ken was really going to let himself go. He could keep a postbox, ring his parents at any time and tell them about his adventures, still be able to catch taxis and stuff……. Yes, Ken could be a luxury bum. However……. Hmmmmmm, thought Ken. Wouldn‘t it be nice to be a bum in a change of scenery? He‘d lived in the very middle of the city for so long, not relating to other people, that it occurred to him that it might be quite nice to do the exact same thing somewhere else, perhaps slightly less stressful. Yes, Ken wanted to be a total luxury bum. Being a luxury bum couldn‘t involve having policemen asking one to move on, or getting into a turf war with some rival bum. Yes, the city seemed perhaps a little too overridden with fellow bums and noise and annoyances. He vaguely recalled a nice little place that had bum potential written all over it – a place his family had passed through on the way to Hahndorf for a holiday when Ken was five or so – a place that wasn‘t too far away from Melbourne at all, so he could still visit his family and stuff. There was a direct train to and from Melbourne there, and also a bus. It had a nice little tea shop which he still remembered having a muffin in while his parents had coffees – he hoped it would still be there – the lovely willow trees and stuff – yes. He would like to become a bum in Gisborne. This was an excellent idea. It was probably time to officially move out of home anyway. So, after eating another vegemite sandwich and then going to the milk bar down the road to make his first purchase as a bum and that which would come in very handy in his bumly travels – a brand new jar of his very own vegemite and a box of ryvita, country grains, it was a reasonable hour to ask somebody to drive him to Gisborne. Ken didn‘t look at getting someone to drive him to Gisborne on a Saturday morning at 9AM as a chore for whoever it was, since he‘d never really asked anybody to go out of their way for him, plus it would sort of be an honour for whoever it was to drive Ken into a new, improved segment of his life. He thought that the honour should go to Sven, his kind brother, who though Ken had never noticed it, had always been so proud of everything name-ballooning Ken had ever done. Ken realized this now. It was time to ring Sven up. Ken dialed the number. After six rings, Tracy finally picked up. ―Yes?‖ she slurred. ―Hi, it‘s Ken,‖ said Ken. ―May I please speak to Sven?‖ ―He‘s still asleep,‖ said Tracy. Then, in the background, came a muffled, ―Wait a sec, Tracy, mmmmmmmI‘m awake too now (yawn)…….‖ ―Oh, sorry,‖ said Tracy. ―I‘ll hand you over, then.‖ ―Thanks,‖ said Ken. ―Hello (Yawn) – this is Sven.‖ ―Hi!‖ said Ken, all upbeat, trying to somehow make Sven feel more energetic by being energetic at him so he‘d forget he‘d just gotten woken up, ―Would you be able to deposit me at Gisborne this morning if it‘s not too much trouble?‖ ―Well, I guess I could,‖ said Sven. ―But why?‖ ―It‘s sort of difficult to explain. I want to become a bum in a picturesque place. It might not be for long, however, it could be forever. You don‘t mind, do you? You understand, don‘t you, sort of?‖ ―Sort of,‖ said Sven. ―When can you come and get me?‖ asked Ken. ―I‘m already able to go straight away.‖ ―Well, I‘m in my pyjamas, obviously………..‖ ―Don‘t worry,‖ said Ken. ―Me too. You only have to drop me off. Just put on a jumper!‖ ―Uh, I suppose,‖ said Sven. ―I‘ll be over in ten minutes. You‘re at Mum and Dad‘s. right?‖ ―Yes,‖ said Ken. They hung up and Ken set to work doing little last minute things. He grabbed a jumper and a coat, a clean pair of socks, shoved them into a shopping bag with the vegemite and the ryvitas, and since his parents still weren‘t awake yet, he wrote a note for them to put on the kitchen bench, in the spot where he had always liked to put his plate when he made vegemite sandwiches. The note said, ―Am going to become bum in Gisborne. Will send postcard when settled in. Love you both. Ken.‖ All this only took about three minutes, and Sven‘s estimated time of arrival was probably about seven or eight minutes away. It was unusual having a bit of time that didn‘t have an allotted purpose. He put on some socks and sturdy shoes and stood around the living room with his arms folded, looking around. Looking around the living room was something he hadn‘t actually had time for since he was about six. He looked at the photos of himself and his brother in the bookshelves, some vases his grandparents had owned and given to his Mum when they moved to Australia, and the rubber plant which hadn‘t seemed to ever get bigger or smaller, ever since he could remember. He touched its leaves. Oh, I see, he thought. That‘s because it‘s fake. Then his eye wandered to a giant book on the bookshelf. It was Don Quixote. Hm, thought Ken. I really ought to take some reading material with me. I can subscribe to Newsweek later, but I‘ll just take this for now. Ken remembered the lovely afternoons he‘d spent in the nether regions of the grounds at Xavier boys school instead of playing cricket, just lying around in the trees and reading slightly thinner novels. Those afternoons were something he‘d missed without even realizing it. Maybe unconsciously, this was half the reason he had thought of bumming it in the country. Well, that did seem logical. The feeling of the sun warming his legs and the smell of musty leaves was going to be ace to experience again. He pulled the book out of the shelf and opened it up. On the first page, it had been written, ―To dear Ken, on his eighteenth birthday. We hope you are having a nice time at university and we hope to give this to you when we see you. Love, Mum, Dad and Sven.‖ A lump appeared in Ken‘s throat. He‘d forgotten about things like birthdays and stuff. At least he‘d made an appearance at Sven‘s wedding. He threw the book into the shopping bag and then there was Sven‘s knock on the front door. Ken opened the door. Sven was wearing a pair of flannel pyjamas with a thick jumper on. Sven looked him up and down. ―Are those pyjamas nice and clean?‖ he asked. ―Yes,‖ said Ken. ―I only slept in them once,‖ and he felt warm inside. ―OK then, let‘s go,‖ said Sven, and off the two brothers went. The trip to Gisborne was around an hour. They drove through the middle of Melbourne just as students were emerging from their flats into the sun, which they weren‘t at all used to, to go get coffee and croissants. Ken was sort of going to miss that. Slowly, the build-up areas petered out and flatness took its place. All the weird odiously palatial middle-of-nowhere estates flew by, then just cows and dry grass plus a few straggly trees. Ken and Sven didn‘t talk. It was a comfortable quiet. No music on the radio. Just two people in pyjamas and jumpers, speeding through the countryside. Signposts slowly counted down the kilometers to Gisborne. Finally, one sign said it actually was actually well and truly Gisborne. Ken‘s heart beat especially big. ―Where would you like me to drop you?‖ asked Sven, with an unpleasantly phlegmmy throat. ―At that little coffee shop we had breakfast at that one time, if it‘s still there. Remember that one?‖ asked Ken. ―I sure do,‖ said Sven. He remembered it as fondly and as clearly as Ken had. After driving around aimlessly for a bit, they came upon a small bank of shops. One of the shops was the same coffee shop Ken had been wishing for. So far, this bumhood had been going exactly to plan, except for all those superfluous feelings of regret, separation and loneliness he hadn‘t counted on. Oh, well. ―OK, here we are,‖ said Sven. ―Are you going to come back?‖ ―Don‘t worry Sven,‖ said Ken. ―I can catch a train any time, and I‘ll probably send you loads of postcards.‖ He felt unsure about that. Ken got out of the car while Sven got the shopping bag out of the boot of the car. It was bloody freezing out there in the country. ―Here you go,‖ said Sven, handing Ken the shopping bag. Then he gave Ken a great big hug, which was exactly what Ken had been hoping for. ―Ill miss you so, so much,‖ he said into ken‘s shoulder. ―Ill miss you terribly too,‖ said Ken, and this was true for the first time. Sven hugged Ken very tightly and then let go. He got back into the car, waved, and turned the car around. Ken breathed steam and watched as it disappeared round the corner. Then, he went into the coffee shop. Ken finds a place to bum around The inside of the coffee shop was exactly the same as when Ken had been there with his family all those years ago. There was the unuseable charred fireplace with an obsolete radiator in front of it. There was the same tiny flowery pink wallpaper covered in grease stains all over the walls. There were the same dark photos of scary people from the mid-nineteenth century flooding the wall above the plastic tables covered in expensive embroidered tablecloths. It even had the same people in it, though noticeably older and fatter. The whole place was difficult to move around in, and it felt suffocatingly cloying. The fat lady behind the counter took Ken‘s appearance in and batted an eyelid, though admittedly only slightly. It wasn‘t very insane compared to what some people wore. A local had been known every now and then to wander in with their pyjamas and a jumper on, but usually it took several years of living in the tiny town to get to that state of lax dressing. ―Hi,‖ said Ken. He thought he should introduce himself, even though the fat lady behind the counter wasn‘t to know that Ken was going to be sticking around for a while. A lot of people passed through Gisborne. ―I‘d like to introduce myself. I‘d better tell you my nickname, as my full name is pretty bloody long. It‘s Doctor Ken, OA.‖ This was actually a giant leap forward for Ken, who hadn‘t abbreviated his entire name without all its trappings for an extremely long time. Since he‘d known he was going to get the Nobel Prize, he‘d even started introducing himself with the prefix ―Nobel Prizewinner‖, which had started to really get on people‘s nerves since it sounded so uppity when one said it about one‘s self. ―Alrighty,‖ said the fat lady. ―My name‘s Pam.‖ Woah, thought Ken. Short name. It freaked him out a little bit, though the fat lady seemed quite normal and not at all bothered about introducing herself with a three-lettered name. He decided to let Pam know about his new phase in life. ―Just to let you know,‖ he said, ―I‘ve decided to stay here on the outskirts of this town and pursue my hours-long dream of becoming a country bum. Not country bumpkin, just country bum.‖ ―Alrighty,‖ said Pam. ―Good to see you‘re in comfy gear for bumhood. I‘m a bit skeptical about your survival, though, I must say. There‘s not even an ounce of fat on you, as far as I can see. You‘ll need some of that out here. And do you know anything at all about hunting rabbits?‖ ―Well, no,‖ admitted Ken, ―but I do have a shitload of money, which I can get if there‘s an ATM in town, so I could feasibly employ somebody to hunt the rabbit for me if need be.‖ ―Alrighty,‖ said Pam. ―Sounds like you‘re not exactly going to be a true bum, but if you‘re fine with that; if you can live with yourself, then that‘s OK. This town is pretty low on jobs, so there‘s plenty of people around here who‘d be interested in doing all your bum duties for you. Just post up a little poster in our window, and Bob‘s your uncle. As for an ATM – sorry, mate. We‘ve just got a plain old bank in this town. You‘re going to have to haul your eventually smelly, filthy bum arse in there and upset all the tellers all the time. I‘d like to see bloody Flora have to give money to an unhygienic bum, ha ha!‖ However much Ken tried to focus on the fact that this fat Pam lady wasn‘t impressed by him, he couldn‘t help feeling happy that she was mildly insulting him. He couldn‘t remember the last time somebody didn‘t try and kiss his arse. It was nice. ―Thanks for the advice,‖ he said. Then his tummy began to rumble. ―Could I grab two slices of raisin toast and a latte?‖ Pam rolled her eyes as if she didn‘t think it was true to the spirit of bumhood, and went behind a flimsy reedy folding screen to construct the meal. She got a strangely-shaped plate, threw some two-day-old raisin toast in the griller and nipped out the back to get a sprig of parsley with which to garnish the plate for some reason. Ken sat down on a noisy slashed vinyl chair and waited. He looked around at the other two people in the coffee shop. There was a decrepit old guy with a cap on bent crookedly over some soup who he swore he‘d seen when he was in the coffee shop when he was a kid. Then there was – wait a sec. There was nobody else in the shop. He could have sworn there was somebody else apart from Pam and this guy; someone who was still there a second ago. He looked at the door. It was shut. There was also a bell on it. Oh, well. He was wrong, then. It did cross his mind that one of the scary photos on the wall was haunted or something. Pam came back and arranged the parsely on the plate carefully. She shook her head as she fixed the coffee machine by thwacking it. Raisin toast as a bum‘s first meal, she thought. It just didn‘t seem right. There were two other bums who lived in the heart of the town, who ate the weird shit that fell out of people‘s paper bags in the rubbish bin, and they‘d been true bums right from the start. In fact, both those bums had been bums for decades before they drifted into the town. Apparently, one of them had been a bum ever since he was born, from an illustrious family of bums. And another thing – she thought – bums never came with names. The bum always gets his name from the townfolk. For example, Teddy. The mayor of Gisborne had named him that because he was unpredictable and had swiped a teddy bear off some kid who was part of a tourist family as they were walking down the Main Street one day. And of course, there was Fang, who was so named due to his severe lack of tooth-like implements. Ha ha, chuckled Pam to herself. The irony. By this time, the raisin toast breakfast was ready. She dumped it down on Ken‘s table, and Ken looked up through Pam‘s disturbingly large unsupported breasts, which were in his face, and said, ―Do you accept Diner‘s Club?‖ ―Don‘t be crazy,‖ said Pam. ―You‘re a bum. You get this meal free, but don‘t abuse your bum privileges from here on in, mate.‖ ―OK, well, thanks so much for that,‖ said Ken. ―I won‘t.‖ He took a sip of the latte. It was scalding hot and tasted like dirt. Even though Ken had been used to one buck coffees at the university, and breakfast at the college, this tasted like absolute shit. Secretly, he wouldn‘t have wanted to pay for it anyway. After finishing his raisin toast and drinking as much of the latte as humanly possible, he left the coffee shop in order to stake out the countryside for his hobo home base. That coffee shop wasn‘t exactly as upmarket as he had remembered. Maybe when you‘re five you don‘t notice the plastic tables under the fancy tablecloths, he thought. He looked around at the gravel patch in front of the set of shops. A few newspapers and stubby tops made the slightly bare area look less than perfect. He didn‘t seem to remember those things either on that childhood holiday. He certainly didn‘t remember the porn shop across the road. Oh, well. Too late now. Ken decided to have a look at the inner part of the town before he graduated to the more sparse bits where he was planning to set up home. He walked towards the church he could see a wee bit in the distance. The road he crossed was so wide and so textured. There were unruly shrubs on either side. Things felt fresh. He climbed over a bush to get to the old church. It was really quite nice. There was moss in the dark stones and a roof that looked like it had been under the sea for a while. OK, that‘s it, thought Ken. I actually don‘t need to go anywhere else. This is it. I want to be a bum near the church. It really was the most ideal place. There was a scary graveyard, and a fence that looked like it was made out of hundreds of iron spears and everything. There were quiet dangly trees, and tall grass, and a bit further out into a bunch of trees was a very appealing-looking large rock. Absolutely perfect. So, it was truly decided. He was going to have that appealing rock as his home base, with the two or three dangly trees around him, and grassland and nothingness around that, and having the view of the church and graveyard. How tranquil, he thought. He strode over to the rock. It was about as long and wide as a queen-size bed with the corners lopped off haphazardly. It had a gentle slopey dip in the middle and was generally rather smooth. He put down his bag and gave the rock the comfiness test. Ken had pretty low standards when it came to comfiness. He had slept in a hell of a lot of pointy, lumpy beds in his university career. But, this rock was actually quite amazing. It might as well have been a medium-priced mattress. Anyway, didn‘t ancient Egyptians hang around on rock beds? They seemed to make everything out of rock. Mmm, thought Ken, curling up into the foetal position. The sun was just beginning to do the bone-warming thing it likes to do on nice days and the wind was doing that rustling through the dangly trees thing it likes to do to make prime white noise for getting to sleep. Ken thought, it‘s high time I had my first official daytime nap as a bum. He closed his eyes. Swoosh, swoosh, went the dangly trees. Comfy, comfy, went the rock and the pyjamas. Warm, warm, went the sun. Then, poke, poke, went some finger into Ken‘s shoulder. ―Bwah!‖ screamed Ken, which was understandable, really. A filthy man cast a shadow over him. ―mssssss-lololoo lo!‖ said the filthy man. ―Bwah! Screamed Ken again. Then, he realized what was going on. This was a real bum casting a shadow over him. The real deal. This guy had a stink on him which you‘d have to work at for decades. His hair was copious and revolting, as if when a hair fell out, it would get stuck there amongst the hairs still clinging to this bum‘s head. His clothes appeared to be dessicated fishing/army gear. Was this like a rival bum or something, who wanted to kill or, at the very least, humiliate him for being a newbie? The bum just stood there. Ken collected himself. He thought it was best to be polite. ―Hi there,‖ he said. ―Sorry about the screaming. That was rude. It‘s just that I was drifting asleep and….‖ ―Hey, don‘t worry,‖ said the bum, holding out his hand. ―I have to apologise too, for doing the incomprehensible speech thing just before. I always do that when I meet new people as it‘s more traditionally bum-like.‖ ―Fair enough,‖ said Ken. ―The name‘s Teddy, by the way,‖ said the bum. He held out a filthy hand which mostly had black fingernails on it, not always in the right place. ―Well, my name – ― began Ken. ―A-bababa-ba!‖ said the bum named Teddy. ―You don‘t have a name yet.‖ ―Yes I do-― ―No, man. A BUM name. It‘s different to other names. It will get bestowed on you by somebody, not necessarily the person you might expect, and it may take anything up to a year, and it will sum up your most essential unique bum characteristic.‖ ―Oh, OK,‖ said Ken. ―That sort of sounds exciting.‖ ―Oh, yes, it is,‖ said Teddy. ―I remember when I finally got my name. The initial rush of ripping a teddy bear out of some kid‘s hands, then having that rush come back every time some local shouts my name in loving disgust – that‘s the pinnacle of being a bum.‖ ―Mmm. Something to look forward to,‖ said Ken. ―Oh, yeah,‖ said Teddy. ―Anyway – just to let you know, when I first drifted into this town, that was my rock. Nice comfy shape, isn‘t it?‖ ―Oh, sorry,‖ said Ken. ―Do you want me to set up somewhere else?‖ ―No, oh, no, don‘t worry about it,‖ said Teddy. ―I just caught wind from some people in the town that there was a new bum in the area, and I just thought I should come and say hi. All new bums gravitate towards this rock.‖ ―Interesting,‖ said Ken. ―When you say bums, just how many are in this town?‖ ―Counting you, three. There‘s also this guy Fang, who lives in the middle of the town, like me, and he‘s totally lost all his marbles. I have to check up on him a lot,‖ said Teddy. ―The rest died or moved on and stuff. Nobody stays on this rock very long.‖ ―OK. That sounds a bit scary,‖ said Ken. ―Why is that? Why did YOU move off this rock?‖ ―I don‘t know, actually,‖ said Teddy. ―I can‘t remember. I tend to have a good memory for faces and names, but not for events. Must be the decades of alcohol abuse, I suppose. I moved into this town in the seventies. The whole of that decade is a bit of a blur, frankly. I guess bums just get lonely out here in this isolated spot, maybe. Fang stayed on this rock the longest, I think. He was always a bit crazy, though, if I remember correctly.‖ ―Alright, then,‖ said Ken. ―I don‘t think I‘ll be moving off this rock any time soon, if nobody else is using it. You see, I‘ve sort of been used to being by myself for some time, even when there are people around.‖ ―Oh, that‘s different,‖ said Teddy. ―It‘s much more different being alone than having people around you don‘t relate to. No bum really relates to anyone, but they always get drawn to crowds, sooner or later. I‘ll let you get on with your nap, though.‖ ―Thanks! Lovely to meet you,‖ said Ken. Truly, it was. It was also an inspiration. Something to look forward to; to climb up over a number of years to that filthy stench – it would be lovely. Teddy stumbled off, back to the middle of the town where he belonged. Ken settled down again on the comfy rock and watched Teddy recede, past the graveyard and through the long grass. The sun stayed warming. Ah, this is the life, thought Ken. I‘m even officially nameless for the moment (though for the purpose of this novel I‘m going to keep calling him Ken). He hoped that perhaps, if it was appropriate, he could remain nameless forever. Some People Want to Find Ken At Bournemouth University in England, there was a lady who had a big crush on Ken, and usually when she talked about him, she tried to use as many of his extra name bits as possible. She‘d definitely never met him, but she‘d followed all his greatest achievements in the science journals and seen him on telly every now and then late at night when they had intelligent programs, and she‘d actually been in the audience the night Ken won the Nobel Prize. She even had a picture, carefully cut out of the newspaper, in her diary. Unbeknownst to Ken, he actually did have a few fans. Probably nobody as serious as this lady, though. This lady had an inkling that Ken was blissfully unaware that he had any fans, because as far as she could tell, he didn‘t seem to care about other human beings all that much, and even if somebody told him that he had fans, he probably wouldn‘t listen properly. And then when that someone repeated it more loudly, and finally he understood, he would remain apathetic about the whole thing. Oh, well, this lady thought. She was used to that sort of thing. She had been having an affair with Professor Tomkins for three years now, and Professor Tomkins hadn‘t really noticed either, except it had been a bit awkward when she was doing her doctorate under him. The sign on this lady‘s desk said, ―Doctor Heloise Ivy‖. She didn‘t particularly like being called Doctor Ivy. She didn‘t really feel life she exactly earned the title of doctor, since she felt like she had cheated a little bit by having an affair with her supervisor. What she didn‘t know was that Professor Tomkins had marked her a hell of a lot harder because of their affair. The desk was located in a very small office in the Health Sciences department of the university. Professor Tomkins‘ office was right next door. In fact, it was in a way even closer than next door because the walls were so thin that if she felt like it, Heloise could walk right through it and it would tear up like a football banner. She could hear everything through it, even when Professor Tomkins breathed out sometimes. Every now and again, she could hear him have half of a very boring conversation on the phone with his wife. She didn‘t know whether Professor Tomkins bothered to listen out for her. Oh, well. It didn‘t really matter. She had a crush on somebody else she‘d never met before anyway. Now, if that wasn‘t a secret upper hand in the relationship, she didn‘t know what was. Anyway, it was actually silent for once. Then, Professor Tomkins burst into her office. He didn‘t burst in for any particular reason. He certainly didn‘t burst in for reasons affair-related. He didn‘t do anything remotely loving, especially because on the other side of Heloise‘s office was Doctor Minnie. It would be very uncomfortable if SHE found out. He only burst in because he was tall and had big clumsy hands so he couldn‘t help it. Professor Tomkins stood uncomfortably near the closed door and looked fixedly through a tiny window slightly above Heloise‘s head. ―So, uh……‖ he said. ―Yes?‖ encouraged Heloise, which she was used to. ―Uh…..‖ said Professor Tomkins. ―Uh…….‖ Heloise knew that Professor Tomkins wouldn‘t have anything major to say, even though he sounded like it. Whether he was telling her that they might go on a holiday together, or whether he needed a tissue, it always seemed like it was going to be a big deal. It didn‘t bother her anymore. She waited patiently. ―Uh…….. so……. Have you had any……. thoughts about who we might give the, ahhh…… honorary doctorate to this year?‖ He said. Once he got started in a conversation, he was usually alright after that. ―Yes, I have!‖ said Heloise, enthusiastically. Her heart thumped. ―We should give it to Nobel Prizewinner Doctor Ken Wong, OA!‖ ―Uh…… actually, not bad,‖ said Professor Tomkins. ―Good idea. However……. Do you think……. he‘ll actually want one from us? We‘re sort of……. Small.‖ Heloise had no doubts that Ken would want to receive his very first honorary doctorate from them until then. She looked down for a bit. But then, she thought, it was only to be his first honorary doctorate. He could always go on to get other ones from more name-brand universities later on. He seemed to enjoy accumulating awards and prizes anyway. Why not? If George W Bush had the daring to accept an honorary doctorate in science, then anything was possible in the world of honorary doctorates, indeed. ―Don‘t worry,‖ said Heloise. ―I‘ll ring up his university and see what I can do. Who refuses such things?‖ ―Uh…….. Alan Bennett refused one,‖ said Professor Tomkins, and on that note, he backed out of the room after having opened the door far too narrowly to be graceful about it. This was his usual way. Heloise got straight onto the phone. She was going to sort this out straight away. Plus, she always thought it was best not to wait when you were nervous about things. She was especially nervous about talking to Ken in person. Wow, that really would be something, she thought. He might end up saying something positively amazing about cancer and it would be so romantic. She didn‘t know that Ken never said anything about anything he‘d finished with. She rang up Ken‘s university. The long distance beeps happened. Then, an Australian voice said, ―Melbourne University General Office.‖ So far, everything was going to plan. ―May I please be put through to the faculty of medicine?‖ asked Heloise, which is exactly what she had hoped she‘d say. ―Yes, please hold,‖ said the Australia voice, which is exactly what she‘d hoped they‘d say. Then some classical music appeared on the line. It sounded like a Chopin mazurka. Then, ―Faculty of medicine!‖ ―Hello,‖ said Heloise. ―If possible, I would like to speak to Nobel Prizewinner Doctor Ken Wong, OA.‖ ―Hmmm,‖ said the voice on the other end, which was the first unexpected thing of the whole phone conversation. ―It‘s actually Saturday here. It could be slightly difficult. Also, strangely enough, he‘s always here on the weekends usually but he just came back from overseas where he won that Nobel Prize. He‘s probably jetlagged. I haven‘t seen him today, basically.‖ ―Oh, of course. Well, can you let me know when he‘s back, please?‖ asked Heloise. ―It‘s rather important. I‘ll give you my number.‖ And this she did. Slightly disappointing. She hung up after that. She heard Professor Tomkins let out a sigh through the almost imaginary wall. Maybe he actually had listened. Heloise spent the entire weekend thinking about how on Monday, she was hopefully going to get a phone call from the lady in the medicine faculty, or maybe even Ken himself, though she doubted it. She almost felt like waiting for the entire weekend was going to be way too long and she‘d have to go and do something crazy just to get rid of the agonizing anticipation, like going to play squash or something. But, she had absolutely nothing to do. She never had anything to do on the weekends. Professor Tomkins always spent the weekend at home with his wife, standing distantly from her though in the same room, much like what he did in Heloise‘s office. She didn‘t have all that many friends, and the ones she did have were quite boring things like nurses or people with a bachelor of engineering degree. So, she spent the weekend moving around scientific magazines slightly and tidying up slightly more, which had tended to get difficult lately since everything in her little house was extremely clean already. On Monday morning, knowing that it was well into the day in Australia, Heloise got to work especially early to check her answering machine. She‘d had a terrible sleep the night before, and at 4:45 AM she thought, that‘s it, this is ridiculous, I might as well just go to work now, and that‘s what she did. She got to her little office in the freezing dark to press the messages button at almost exactly 6:45 AM. Nothing. Zip. Bugger. Heloise‘s heart sank. It was already 5:30ish PM in Australia, she guessed. That was an entire whole weekend PLUS an entire whole Monday. Maybe Nobel Prizewinner Doctor Ken, OA really didn‘t care. She almost felt like he was insulting her personally on purpose. Great, she thought. It was already too late to ring the faculty. They‘d already be closed. She didn‘t know what the hell she was going to do in the wee small hours of the morning, all by herself in the university, with this outcome to weigh her down. She shouldn‘t have gotten her hopes up. After all, it was just Bournemouth University, really. Nothing special. She decided to play solitaire until nine. When Professor Tomkins appeared in the building that morning, he seemed the same as usual, which was not surprising, really. He hadn‘t spent the entire weekend wishing he was hanging out with her, or wishing for something else extra like she was. It was as if he didn‘t at all care WHO got the honorary doctorate this year. However, he never really seemed impressed or excited by anything, though one time he did get mildly excited by a very appetizing large banana that Heloise was going to have for lunch, but she subsequently gave up to make him happy. So, the agony went on for the whole day. Professor Tomkins wandered around the building slowly flustered as usual, it rained a bit, and everybody got a lot less done than they should have, but that was OK because all their grants were keeping them going. Heloise stoically decided to try ringing back the faculty right at the end of the day, at 4:50 PM. Otherwise, it would be a bit like somebody plying a previous date with far too many embarrassing phonecalls asking what they did wrong. By the time 4:50 rolled around, Heloise had been correcting page numbers all day. She‘d refused to call any time beforehand, not even 4:49. There were two clocks in her office; one on the computer and one on the wall. They were a little out of sync with each other, so she decided to wait until even the slower one said 4:50. It was only right, really. She also felt a pang of hesitancy. Maybe that was why. Well, anyway, the clock on the wall said 4:50, so she had to ring. She heard Professor Tomkins‘ nose whistle through the wall. She picked up the phone. Beep beep beep. ―Melbourne University General Office.‖ And so, she was put through to the medicine faculty again. The Chopin mazurka was playing again. The same person answered after the music cut out. ―Um, hello,‖ said Heloise. ―Sorry to be a pain, but I believe I spoke to you on Saturday, your time, and asked about getting in touch with Nobel prizewinner Doctor Ken Wong, OA. I was, sorry to sound so pushy, but I was wondering why I wasn‘t called back.‖ ―Well, something strange happened,‖ said the other person, slightly annoyed. ―He‘s left.‖ ―Left for where?‖ asked Heloise. ―Left for good,‖ said the other voice. ―That doesn‘t indicate where,‖ said Heloise, who was by this time quite stroppy since she hadn‘t had a proper night of sleep for three nights. ―Well, if he‘s not at the university anymore,‖ said the equally stroppy voice, ―then, we can‘t say where he is at all, so it doesn‘t matter!‖ ―Wait a sec,‖ said Heloise. ―Are you implying that he has resigned from the university?‖ ―YES!‖ shouted the voice far too loudly. ―Well, no, his brother rang yesterday morning and said something about him deciding to become a recluse or something similar.‖ ―Well, I must get in touch with him because our university wants to confer on him an honorary doctorate,‖ said Heloise, calming down on the surface slightly but feeling more desperate inside. ―Look, I don‘t know for sure,‖ said the voice, ―but wouldn‘t going to a ceremony and being the guest of honour and having everyone look at you go exactly against the golden rule of being a recluse?‖ ―Well, he‘s done that sort of thing before,‖ Heloise pointed out. ―True,‖ said the voice, ―but that was before his official reclusedom.‖ ―Well, I‘d still like to try. Do you know where he‘s become a recluse?‖ asked Heloise. ―Nope,‖ said the voice. ―It wouldn‘t be as reclusive if his address was known.‖ Heloise was getting very upset. ―Can‘t you give me his old address, then?‖ ―Yes,‖ said the voice, ―but I don‘t think it‘s going to help because his last address was in the university.‖ ―Bahhhhh!‖ shouted Heloise, and she hung up. Ken Settles in Less than He’d Thought Similarly to Heloise, Ken didn‘t get very much done on the weekend. Unlike Heloise, however, he got a hell of a lot more sleep. In fact, it could be argued that Ken had a hell of a lot more sleep than he needed, even taking into account the fact that he hadn‘t really had an extra good night‘s sleep since he was about 6, due to a self-inflicted barrage of difficult assignments. On average, Ken got about seventeen hours‘ sleep that weekend. He‘d drop off curled up on the comfy rock as soon as the sun went down, plunge into something remarkable close to a coma until the sun had finished all that jazzy dawn stuff and had progressed to the stage where it started to really mean business, and then he sporadically napped during all the warm, slightly refreshingly breezy parts of the day, which was just about the entire composition of the daylight hours, to be brutally honest. The reason that Ken would nose-dive into such a remarkably deep, dreamless sleep each night might have had something to do with the rock curving ever so gently downwards exactly where Ken‘s head rested so his head drooped and all of the blood rushed down to it, or it might have had something to do with the fact that Ken didn‘t have a worry in the world. Ken was experiencing what it was like to live in the moment. He was also experiencing what it was like to sleep in the moment, which by all appearances was like sleeping out of the moment, except with a slightly droopier head. All the daytime nappings, which were slightly closer to common human nappings than the nighttime coma was compared to common human sleeping, were a bit different, but no less enjoyable. In these little naps, Ken would have fabulous visions which had never occurred to him before. He‘d see little tiny trees with slightly smaller people dangling from them. He‘d see individual miniscule dogs running across unfathomable expanses of pretend grass, looking for their owners but never finding them. He‘d see remarkably detailed lady dolls in frilly dresses in pretty, cluttered doll house drawing rooms discovering that they‘d just contracted syphilis from their promiscuous doll husbands. He‘d see all sorts of fantastic unusual animals and upset people. Every time he woke up from one of the dreams, he would have a slight headache. For the remainder of the days, Ken generally stayed curled up on the rock. Occasionally, since he was sleeping so much, that thing where your body is asleep while your mind is wide awake happened. Whenever that happened to him in the past, which was reasonably often since he‘d always tend to have a lie down for only half an hour every day in the last few days before a thesis was due, he‘d panic and will himself to shake awake as soon as he‘d realized he was in that weird limbo state. But this weekend, he just let the alien feeling stay for a while. Apart from that, Ken did things like eat a few ryvitas, piss in a little dint in the ground about twenty metres into the empty expanse of short grass behind the rock, and hang out in the graveyard. Reading the legible gravestones was about the most entertainment that Ken could have within eyeshot of the comfy rock. On the Monday, in the afternoon, he had finally decided to branch out slightly and he discovered a superbly abundant grapefruit vine around the side of the church and grabbed a pile to put just inside the gate as a present for the people who were buried there. He picked thirty of the most regular and unspotty ones and brought them to outside the graveyard gate, five at a time (this was auspicious; he had a shitload of spare time on his hands). Then he found a dried-up twig with leaves still on it, swept a little area inside the gate, and arranged the grapefruit in the most anally retentive fruit pyramid ever attempted outside of the set of a supermarket advertisement. It seemed that all that pissfarting around with formulae in his pre-Saturday morning life hadn‘t quite escaped him at this point in his career as a bum. As soon as he meticulously placed the very last grapefruit on the top of the pyramid, with the nub on the bottom as he‘d done with all the other grapefruits, and wiped a speck off it, the heavens opened, though not in the sort of way where spirits come down and accept the offering and zoom back up happily with the loot. Instead, an enormous wallop of lightning cracked somewhere disconcertingly overhead and then the sky immediately followed suit by letting rip a barrage of pointy, pyjama-drenching rain. Ken knew that already, it was just too late to save the ryvitas. The vegemite would be OK, it could fend for itself, he knew, as he shielded his eyes and looked towards the comfy rock. The comfy rock was turning dark grey. The trees gathered around it were getting their arses kicked. Ken wasn‘t going to sleep there tonight, for real. Right now, the church was looking extremely good. I‘ll just crash in the doorway, excellent, thought Ken. Hm, after all this excitement, wow, it would be just groovy to have a nap right this second, he thought. Yes, a nap is the answer. Ken was shaping up to be a very lazy bum. And so, he tried to replicate the exquisitely snug foetal position he‘d honed to perfection on the comfy rock, this time in the doorway. But, it just wasn‘t as life-affirming. First of all, there was only an oddly-shaped patch of dryness which the angular rain wasn‘t able to reach. Second of all, the whole porch was unergonomically rectangular. It obviously wasn‘t made for lying in, though it occurred to Ken that it was slightly surprising because didn‘t people tend have to lie in church doorways every now and then for a myriad of reasons? Like, oh, he forgot. It was too cold and crazily-shaped to think clearly. He decided upon plan B, which upon some quick thinking, involved crouching sort of in the corner and clinging to his damp knees. This didn‘t work, either, though, because he accidentally tapped the door with his shoulder, and it opened. This wasn‘t a thing that Ken was counting on. He wasn‘t even sure whether this church still got used or not. He hadn‘t heard any singing or anything yesterday, though maybe that was because his rock had been way too comfy to notice things or be awake at the right times. Oh, well, he thought. It was best to crash inside the church, just for one night. If some priest guy appeared suddenly at any time, they‘d understand, he figured. Just as long as he didn‘t get muddy feet on the pew cushions, then it probably fell under the category of bum privilege, as Pam put it. He peeked inside. The first thing he saw was a thick trail of dust making its way through a dull chink of light. He had a feeling that the church was actually abandoned. Bonus. Ken walked around the side of the vestibule and stuck his head around the corner. Yep, this church was definitely abandoned. No doubt about it. There were puffs of dust all over the place. The ceiling was cobwebby and black and on the floor on the questionably maroon carpet down the aisle of the church was a bid round burnt patch. Ken went up to it to investigate. There were remains of newspaper around the edges of the burnt patch. It looked like a little fire had been made at some time or another, but definitely a while ago. It made Ken feel a wee bit more confident about having to spend the night in the church. What else interesting stuff is in here, wondered Ken. He wandered over to a nave. There were nice big carved tables, still in good nick, lining the bare bluestone walls. On them were frilly embroidered tablecloths. Every single tablecloth had a different design on it, and it looked like each one had been sewn by a different person, as far as he could tell. There were about twenty tableclothed tables all up; ten on each side. Those tablecloths really needed a wash. A couple of the tables had one or two dessicated flower heads on them. Ken went up to one of the slightly flowery tables. He pushed one of the flower heads around a bit. Under where it had rested was a pink stain. It looked like the flower stains weren‘t going to come out in the wash. The walls, up to head height, had a number of framed black-and-white photographs on them, between the piers. The photos, though faded and a bit moudly, seemed to be all about arranging as many people wearing the same thing as humanly possible into some sort of coherent size-related pattern and then getting all their faces to look as unprepared as possible. Choirs, cricket clubs, non-decipherable clubs. They all looked very generic. The altar was satisfyingly elaborate. A gruesome bleedy Jesus hanging skewiff above it all was made more disconcerting than usual from little termite-style holes all riddled through him. A triptych on a flouncy flaking gold table had pastel pictures of some saints pasted on to it, some patches bubbled. Ken didn‘t want to really venture past the low point fence in front of the altar, though. This was obviously a catholic church, unmistakeable with all its extra fancy bits in every crevice, and Ken wasn‘t in the least anything as scientifically disproven as a catholic, but he still felt weird about crossing that boundary. Oh, well, there looked like there was a whole bunch of cool stuff there, but further investigation wasn‘t for today, he thought. Anyway, wasn‘t it about time he was asleep again? It was at least an hour since he‘d been napping last, maybe. Ken took off his sturdy boots and put them in the corner of the nave. He grabbed one of the cleanest tablecloths off a table and shook it out. It billowed out and a couple of insects flicked off it. Gross, thought Ken. No, wait a sec. Not gross. Bum-esque. He picked a pew near the back of the church and snuggled down. The sky coming through the filthy windows was so grey, it seemed like it was a false night. The tablecloth made rather a wonderful blanket over Ken‘s moist pyjamas. That tablecloth was actually a pretty good acquisition, thought Ken. He could see himself being all cosy under it on the rock when it dried out. Yeah. The pew, with the patchy violet cushions on it was pretty bloody comfy, but that rock really was a cut above. He was going to move back to that rock as soon as humanly possible, he thought to himself as the rain tinkled on the roof, the flying buttresses, all around, and a drip or two escaped into the aisle of the church through the ceiling and echoed like a totally minimalist piece of music. And so began what was possibly Ken‘s longest stretch of deep sleep. At least fifteen or sixteen hours all at once, stretching from somewhere around 4:50PM Monday to 9:00ish Tuesday morning. Ken finally woke up, feeling absolutely disgusting and overly well-rested, with a bum- worthy stench on his breath which would take the average bum weeks, or even months to those who had a weakness for mints, to achieve. He sat up. ―Ooooaw,‖ he said, his voice echoing far too dramatically throughout the church for a non-word like that. It felt like his head was going to fall down. He had to pull it together enough to haul his arse back to the rock. He stood up, slowly, holding his head together. Finally, after far too long, he was vertical. Boy, did he need water. He wrapped the tablecloth around him like a towel and shuffled over to his boots. Goddamnit, time to lean down again. He strained on his boots, couldn‘t be fucked tying them up, and then spent a large chunk of time getting vertical again. In retrospect, he probably should have just straightened up as quickly as possible, because the slow way still made his head pang. He should have just unfolded really fast, like ripping off a bandaid. Oh, well. He continued his pathetic little shuffle out of the church, shoelaces trailing. He stood on the steps. Ah, shit, the light was bright and hurty. The sky was blue as a baby‘s bum, if the baby‘s bum was painted sky blue. He turned to the left and squinted. About forty metres away, on the comfy rock, sat a small girl. Ken Really is Insisted Upon God, Heloise was hellishly bored. Even though it seemed like a very exciting and educational thing to be a doctor of health sciences at a university from the outside, in reality, Heloise was bored out of her skull. She spent the whole of Tuesday morning checking that the page numbers in an index matched the actual page numbers in the proof of a book about new developments and discoveries in the area of colons. Secretly, however, just to make things interesting, she‘d gotten the nice reception lady downstairs to organize to Fed Ex a white pages from Melbourne. Even though Professor Tomkins hadn‘t said anything, she was a bit worried that it would end up that Ken wouldn‘t be able to get the honorary doctorate if she herself couldn‘t find him. That would be terrible. She didn‘t think her life would be complete if she wasn‘t able to meet Ken, gush, ―I‘m such a fan!‖ and shake his hand. That would be divine. Then, if this was an ideal world, Professor Tomkins would then take her out for dinner afterwards and actually say something personal. Wow, that would be great. It was all she could do from freaking out over the stupid index. The next time she had to look up and check the page number for ‗colonic irrigation, unorthodox‘, she was going to go nuts. Anyway, the second preference to get the honorary doctorate was a person who hadn‘t even done anything in their life remotely related to health sciences. Even though Paris Hilton did seem to be n extremely good cameo guest on teen soaps, and a fabulous role model for little girls around the world, and appeared to singlehandedly and benevolently keep the ailing make- up industry afloat by her frequent and generously large purchases, she didn‘t see how or why exactly she got to be second preference. Maybe Professor Tomkins had decided that. Grumble, she thought. Not that he ever hinted that he knew about such things as Paris Hilton. She didn‘t think that Doctor Minnie in the next office would have suggested it. The only possibly conceivable way that Heloise could think of Paris Hilton being related to health sciences was that she seemed to have a much better than average allowance of airflow to her vagina. Oh, well, I suppose that would do under normal circumstances, thought Heloise, but maybe next year. This year, it‘s got to be Nobel Prizewinner, Doctor Ken Wong, OA. Surprisingly, the reception lady from downstairs came up with a copy of the Melbourne, Australia white pages at midday that very Tuesday, just as Heloise was finally checking up on the page number of the last mention of ‗colons and religious warfare, relationship between‘. Heloise expected the white pages would have taken at least a day to get to Bournemouth University. Maybe even up to forty-eight hours. She knew that Fed Ex was bloody fast; one time a seaside hotel had Fed Ex-ed back to her a pair of bathers she‘d forgotten about removing from the saltwater pool the same day she‘d checked out. In fact, those bathers had made it back to her place faster than she did, but that was understandable since the hotel was actually pretty bloody close by. But a two-hour later delivery from a country on the complete other side of the world? Remarkable. It turned out that the reception lady from downstairs had just organized to Fed Ex a Melbourne white pages from the library which was directly opposite the health sciences building. In fact, the longest part of the whole process was when the reception lady was kept on hold for a bit when she rang up to organize it. She had thought that Heloise was being rather extravagant and just wasting university funds to amuse herself. Anyway, finally Heloise had something exciting to do for once. She was going to look up Wong in the phonebook, and ring the Ks. When she eagerly flipped open the book, and turned to the Ws, and found the Wongs, and looked at the K Wongs, she shook her head a bit. There were a daunting amount. She was pretty sure she heard somewhere that Ken Wong didn‘t have a middle name, so that probably ruled out the reams of K H-es and the K W-es. That just left one and a half rows of tiny print to ring up. Hm, she thought. She hoped that Professor Tomkins wasn‘t going to pay attention to what she was doing. She wasn‘t sure whether he‘d at all approve of her wasting university funds by ringing up dozens of innocent people long distance. She crept over and pressed her ear against the wall, which in reality probably would have made a lot of noise in itself. She could hear that Professor Tomkins was in there. She could hear his breathing, but it was rather a lot quieter than usual, and his nose was whistling very, very calmly. Ah, thought Heloise. He must be proofreading. When Professor Tomkins was proofreading, a nuclear bomb could go off outside the window and he‘d still be oblivious. Proofreading to him was really quite close to the deep meditation of the Tibetan monk. It was all-encompassing, bringing with it a feeling of extreme peace and a balance of moods, neither happy nor sad. It was what made Heloise feel her first desire for him, all that two dozen or so months before. Excellent. Heloise didn‘t feel nearly as aroused by Professor Tomkins‘ proofreading as she had even one week ago. She had far more exciting things to do now than be fascinated with the minutiae of Professor Tomkins‘ life. She got to work. She began, extremely logically, with the very first single K Wong in the phone book. She rang it up. ―Hello?‖ said somebody who sounded like they were across a very large expanse of ocean, which was appropriate. ―Hello there,‖ said Heloise in her most professional yet reassuringly un-telemarketer-like voice. ―Is this Ken Wong?‖ ―No, this is Kate Wong,‖ said the slightly offended voice on the other end. ―Can‘t you tell I‘m a chick?‖ ―Oh, gee, sorry, yes, I can,‖ blustered Heloise. ―Plus, you do realize it‘s after midnight, don‘t you? Jesus Christ.‖ And then they hung up. Well, thought Heloise. After midnight. This was actually a blessing in disguise. It meant that everybody was going to be at home. She‘d be able to get a concrete affirmation or lack thereof instead of getting annoying answering machines and such like. Also, when she rang up in the middle of the night, everyone was going to think of it like it was going to be some sort of big emergency phonecall, like their grandma just had a heart attack or something, so everyone was going to answer the phone really fucking fast. Fantastic. Time-saving. She rang up the next K Wong on the list. ―Hello?‖ said this next person in a feminine voice. Heloise slammed down the phone. She‘d just thought of an extra time saving device. If a woman answered, there was no point bothering with the rest of that phone call. Though she felt slightly bad about mysteriously ringing up somebody in the middle of the night and then promptly hanging up on them and possibly making them not be able to sleep the rest of the night wondering what the hell the incident was all about, she reasoned with herself that it was for the best in the long run – she was spending university funds on this, after all. After getting to the end of the K Wongs, Heloise felt like shit. For one thing, her ear was sweaty. Now she was a bit lost. The only thing she could think of doing was just giving the K middle-initials a go. This she did. Her ear got more clammy. Then they ran out. Fuck, she thought. She wasn‘t going to give up, though. She was a thorough person. If it was worth doing, she always said, it was worth doing overly well, even if this meant it lacked imagination. Heloise was known among family of persisting at something until she‘d long since finished it and was simply wasting time. So she did that. She rang and rang all the columns of Wongs, As and C & Ss, H H and Ms, all freaking the shit out of them in the middle of the night. It was a laborious, time consuming and guilt inducing process. Also, as she slowly hurtled towards the end of the Wongs and got to the far simpler Wongcongs, of which there was only one, she started to feel more and more disappointed. Finally, Heloise was about to ring Ken‘s parents, X & W Wong. They picked up the phone really fast, almost as soon as it had done half a ring. She got the long distance beeps. ―Hello, hello, Ken? Where are you? We can come pick you up! Are you alright?‖ yelled a particularly distraught lady. Heloise felt a sudden rush of joy at hearing this. ―Hi, sorry to disappoint you,‖ said Heloise calmly so she hoped it would be infectious, ―but I‘m not Ken. However, is the Ken you are yelling for the Nobel Prize winning Ken, Doctor Ken Wong, OA?‖ ―Yes, yes!‖ the distraught lady continued to yell into Heloise‘s raw, clammy ear. Hooray! Thought Heloise. This must be Ken‘s mum. She was right. ―Please let me introduce myself. My name is Doctor Heloise Ivy, from the Health Sciences faculty from Bournemouth University in England,‖ she said. All Heloise got as a reply was a whimper. Professor Tomkins‘ nose continued to whistle through the wall evangelically. ―Well, maybe I can help you,‖ said Heloise, feeling terrible. ―You see, I‘d like to find out where your son is also. My university would like to confer on him an honorary degree.‖ ―An honorary degree?‖ yelled Ken‘s mum. ―You don‘t understand – he‘s…. he‘s…… a bum!‖ ―Oh, come on, now, don‘t be so hard on your son. He‘s definitely not a –― ―No, you don‘t understand!‖ wailed Ken‘s mum. ―He‘s a literal bum! A hobo! He‘s been one since Saturday morning!‖ ―Why is that?‖ asked Heloise, faintly wondering whether it was such a good idea to ring up people in the middle of the night. She thought Ken‘s mum was getting her dreams mixed up in the conversation. ―He left a note! It‘s right here. I‘ll read it out to you, word for word! ‗Am going to become bum in Sislmone. Will send postcard when settled in. Love you both. Ken.‘ That‘s exactly what it says!‖ Finally, even though it sounded ridiculously bizarre, and she wasn‘t actually sure herself whether she was part-way through a dream right now, she knew that Ken‘s mum was making sense, however strange this development was at this very moment. Maybe under the surface, it was perfectly understandable. ―I‘m so sorry,‖ said Heloise. ―Look, I‘d love to help you get your son back. Would you be interested in me coming to help?‖ The only thing Ken‘s mum could say was, ―……. What‘s Sislmone?‖ ―Uh….. I don‘t know, to be honest,‖ said Heloise. Maybe it was a particular state of mind, she suspected. ―Please, let me come over and help you out.‖ There was more of a pause on the other end of the line. ―Well, I suppose that would be alright,‖ Ken‘s mum said. ―My other son is keeping suspiciously tight-lipped about this; I think he knows something he‘s not letting on about, and the police sure don‘t seem to be helping. They say that if a fully grown man leaves a note with his parents saying that he wants to go out into the world and be independent, even if it involves being a bum, they‘re not going to stop him.‖ ―Excellent, well, I‘ll give you a call when I‘m in town and we‘ll take it from there,‖ said Heloise, regaining her professional telephone manner. ―I should let you get back to sleep now.‖ ―I‘ll try,‖ said Ken‘s mum, all small. Then they parted ways. When Heloise finally managed to peel the phone off her ear, there was a disturbing ringing inside it. She thought, yep, it was time to throw in the towel for the day and go home early. As she went to knock on Professor Tomkins‘ door to ask if it was OK, she realized that he wasn‘t there anymore. She looked at her watch. It was 5:35PM. No wonder her ear was ringing. Ken Panics About Having a Small Girl on his Rock As soon as he saw the girl all the way over there, sitting on his rock, with her arms folded neatly in her lap, he froze and very nearly shat himself. Truly, Ken had never felt much fear before. The only time he‘d ever felt remotely scared was the last five minutes before his flute exams, and even that wasn‘t in significant amounts. Ken was having trouble moving. The girl seemed to be looking at him, but it was hard to tell from forty metres away. She had very long, light brown ringlety hair, and a very dark dress on, and she sort of reminded him of the evil child in The Ring, which Ken had seen an ad for on the TV in the college lounge room a few years ago. When he saw that ad as he was striding past in order to throw his groceries in his room, he thought the movie looked a bit silly, frankly, and how could a small girl ever possibly be scary? Ken saw the pile of grapefruit he‘d left the day before out of the corner of his right eye. He managed to unfreeze his head and look at it. The top grapefruit of the pyramid had been half- eaten and the remaining skin on it appeared to have claw marks all over it. The rest of the pyramid was as neat as it had been before. Ken had the most all-encompassing urge to scream his little lungs out. However, he decided it was a better idea to go and grab a cup of coffee. And so, he psychologically unglued himself from the spot and sprinted like hell away from the graveyard, the comfy rock, and the freaky child. He didn‘t exactly know where to run, especially since he had been far too lazy to figure out where everything was in the town. Maybe I should tell the police about the scary girl, he thought as he continued his attempt at sprinting, which was admittedly very valiant for a gravely unfit person. She could have stolen the vegemite, or even the diner‘s club card from his little shopping bag in front of the rock. He didn‘t mind if she stole the ryvitas, which must be revoltingly moist by now. If she didn‘t get off that rock soon, Ken was going to have to set up home somewhere way more uncool. Maybe he could find that Teddy bum and ask him what the hell to do. But he didn‘t know where the police or Teddy was. There seemed to be a whole bunch of useless abandoned weatherboard buildings on the left, and the road out of the town on the right. Fuck it, Ken thought. The first idea I had, about the coffee, was the best. And so, he decided to risk reneging of bum privileges and go to the coffee shop, which he was about to burst through the front window without noticing by that time. Ken wisely ceased sprinting and went into the coffee shop in a conventional manner. It was searingly warm inside. ―Alrighty,‖ said Pam, hefting her spherical body around to face him at the counter. ―Shoes off, NOW! And nice tablecloth, by the way.‖ Ken had forgotten he‘d been gripping his new daintily embroidered tablecloth/blanket in his left hand. It was slightly embarrassing. He tried to hide it behind him. He realized what his first priority was, even before getting a coffee. His bowels were still begging to be vacated immediately. ―Uh…. Can I use your toilet, by any chance?‖ he asked. ―Oh, alrighty,‖ said Pam, ―since you‘ve got a look about you which says to me that you‘re about to shit on the floor. The crapper‘s out the back.‖ Ken ran blindly through the kitchen area, full of burnt saucepans and cigarette butts, flour coating everything (or actually maybe that was dust), his tablecloth trailing and getting tangled in things, knocking stuff over and causing a mighty racket. My, thought Pam, as she watched him on his clumsy journey. He sure is developing to become quite a strange bum. And the craziness came in such a short time, too. What a fast learner. She felt quite proud, actually. This was the first bum she‘d been able to see from the very first hour in which he first officially became a bum. The others had always come ready-made, with outrageous bum histories already attached to them. She felt a warm glow inside her slightly cholesterol-clogged heart, and decided to read Ken‘s mind and get a gravelly latte and raisin toast ready for him when he came back. She fisted a few ancient machines into motion and breakfast was preparing itself. Meanwhile, Ken had just managed to flick his tablecloth out of the way and place his pasty bottom on the toilet seat, which incidentally was a freezing, filthy steel bowl without a proper flippy seat bit. Ken really wasn‘t into being in contact with it, but it was an emergency, and his hygiene levels had deteriorated considerably in the last few days anyhow. He did a very, very long, seed-impregnated shit. The seeds all over the ryvita biscuits were obviously unable to get digested at all. Mysteriously, there were also a couple of pieces of grass in it, too. Finally, the terribly long poo broke off and plummeted into the toilet bowl, splashing revolting toilet water all over his arse. ―Ahhhh1‖ sighed Ken involuntarily with his head tilted back in satisfaction, because even though this was under the most unhygienic circumstances, it felt just incredible to eject that stress shit from his bottom. After sitting there for a wee bit, collecting his nerves, he unplugged his bum from the toilet and stood up. There was a brown ring all around his arse. Now, this was silly. Even though he was an official bum, he was pretty sure that even this was slightly too dirty for the scum of the earth. Thankfully, something seemed to be going right because there was a shower head sticking out of the wall next to the toilet. He could clean his arse with that, hopefully. Apart from the taps that went with it, however, there was no luxury like a shower screen or non-slip mat to enhance the showering experience. Ken poked his head out of the toilet and yelled into the kitchen, ―Excuse me, Pam, but may I use the shower slightly?‖ ―Alrighty,‖ yelled back Pam‘s voice from somewhere, ―but only because I enjoy saying ‗alrighty‘.‖ Phew. Ken peeled off his jumper and the pyjamas he‘d been in ever since he‘d come back from receiving the Nobel prize and stood there naked and shivering as he weakly tried to force the hot tap to budge a millimetre. It wouldn‘t. Bugger. Oh, well. The cold tap was suspiciously easy to turn, so cold it had to be. He edged his way under the yellow, sporadic flow of the rusty showerhead. The showering experience, surprisingly, wasn‘t all that unpleasant. At this stage, Ken had been on the cold side all night, and the fear of that small girl had made him colder. So, even while the water felt reasonably warm, his insides felt irreparably chilled. After a two-minute vigorous rub of the arse until it was squeaky clean, he turned off the cold tap, toweled himself slightly less damp with the versatile tablecloth, and jumped back into his pyjamas. The pyjamas had already moulded to his body shape somewhat. He could envision them sometime in the future actually being able to stand up for themselves. Yes, those would be lovely times, he thought. That is, if I survive going back to the rock to get my vegemite. Maybe that child could be violent. There were probably lots of places where she could hide a concealed weapon. Or maybe she‘d already gone away. The comfy rock was probably just a nice place for a kid to play house or whatever they do these days, Ken reasoned. It was just a bit unusual to have a kid doing such a thing on a Tuesday morning when they were supposed to be in school. He shrugged to himself. Whatever. He‘d go back to the rock and just tell the child to shoo, and hopefully she wouldn‘t throw too many pebbles at him. That‘s the worst that could happen, really. It was cool. It was all cool. Ken went back through the cluttered kitchen and sat down at an empty table. The old guy with the cap on was still there at the other same table, presumably with the same soup from Saturday still being consumed. There definitely wasn‘t any steam coming off it, indicating that it might be hot. Maybe this guy was a permanent fixture, thought Ken. ―Shut up,‖ said the old guy. Whoops. Ken didn‘t think he was looking directly at him. He sure as hell wasn‘t saying anything to him. He slid another glance at him out of the corner of his eye. It turned out that the old guy wasn‘t even saying it to Ken. He was addressing one of the old photos on the wall next to his table. ―Bleeeah!‖ shouted Ken. He squinted his eyes and made out what the photo actually was, under the glare of the fluorescent light and all that mouldy fading stuff in the frame. It was a photo of a small dead girl, lying propped up a bit on a bed with a toy duck placed under one arm and a frilly dark dress on. She had very neatly arranged curly hair and a big black ribbon on one side. They‘d obviously gone to some lengths to make her look asleep, but it hadn‘t worked. It was hideous, and at this point in time, Ken was overly sensitive about small girls. While Ken had been screaming at the photo and the old man (who was oblivious), Pam had surreptitiously put the latte and raisin toast she‘d made for him on his table. It was his own fault the raisin toast was burnt almost beyond recognition; she hadn‘t counted on a bum suddenly needing a two-minute shower. When he realized there was food on the table, he turned his head back around and found himself stopped halfway through the 180-degree turn by a giant landscape of pink-jumpered chest. ―What the hell is wrong?‖ it demanded. ―You‘re pretty bloody fussy about food for a bum.‖ ―Oh, no!‖ said Ken. ―I was screaming at the photo of the dead girl you‘ve got on the wall. You see, I saw-― ―Hey, hey,‖ said Pam. ―That‘s a picture of my great, great auntie. You can‘t scream at that. It has enormous sentimental value.‖ ―Sorry,‖ said Ken, guiltily. ―But it has sort of put me off my food.‖ He looked at the raisin toast. Actually, looking at the food itself put him more off the food than the photo did. Pam began to retreat to the kitchen, shaking her head. ―Unthankful bums,‖ she muttered to herself. She wasn‘t going to get into an argument. ―Wait!‖ yelled Ken. ―Wait! I didn‘t mean to be rude about your great, great auntie, or your food! I need to tell you something!‖ ―What?‖ yelled Pam, unimpressed. ―I saw a girl who looked exactly the same on the rock where I‘ve been staying this past weekend!‖ ―And where might that be?‖ asked Pam. Hooray, she thought to herself. More craziness from the bum. He was even beginning to cause scenes, albeit quite tame ones. ―I‘ve been staying on a rock near the church across the road,‖ he said. ―When it was rainy last night, I stayed in the church itself, and when I came out this morning, she was sitting there, on my rock?‖ ―YOUR rock?‖ said Pam. ―I highly doubt that it‘s your rock, exactly. All bums start out living or dying in the town from that rock. It‘s the most popular rock in the town! Anyway, there‘s a few little girls in the town, you do realise. Don‘t let your imagination run away with you that much!‖ ―Oh, OK,‖ said Ken. ―That seems reasonable.‖ It was true that he‘d seen the child from rather a long way away, and he did have rather a lot less than optimum vision from staring at computer screens and into little microscopes, curing cancer and all that stuff. ―Alrighty,‖ said Pam. ―That‘s the spirit.‖ She moved back into the kitchen and Ken took a big gulp of lukewarm latte. Gulping it down seemed to be the least unpleasant way of drinking it. ―By the way,‖ came Pam‘s voice from behind a pile of dirty plates, ―My great, great auntie Priscilla is buried in that graveyard!‖ Ha, ha, she chuckled inwardly. She loved stirring Ken up. It probably wasn‘t the wisest thing for Pam to do while Ken had a mouthful of dirty latte to spray everywhere, which he promptly did. ―Oh, dear,‖ said Pam disappointedly, reappearing from the kitchen with a brown sponge, which was looking unlikely to be able to succeed at wiping anything up. ―I was only stirring you up. I wasn‘t saying it so you‘d blast coffee out over a quarter of my livelihood. I mean, she was actually buried there, but, you know. I wasn‘t trying to scare you some more.‖ ―Well, you did,‖ said Ken, feeling very sorry for himself. ―I don‘t want the raisin toast anymore.‖ He stuck his bottom lip out. ―Alrighty, me neither,‖ said Pam, removing the plate. ―Seriously,‖ she added, ―By all accounts my great, great auntie Priscilla was a nice little girl who liked to play with tea sets and toy ducks and things. I‘d doubt highly that she‘d want to haunt a rock in an evil manner. Anyway, she‘s busy keeping Barry company, isn‘t she, Barry?‖ ―Yep, she is,‖ confirmed the old guy with the cap on. ―Now, why don‘t you go back to your little rock and work hard on your bumly stench?‖ encouraged Pam. ―It‘s nowhere near pungent enough. I‘m sure that the kid you saw on the rock was just a figment of your imagination, don‘t you think? Maybe you subconsciously saw the photo when you came in last, and then it floated to the surface of your consciousness this morning. What do you think about that?‖ ―I suppose that‘s right,‖ said Ken. Pam did make a hell of a lot of sense. ―Alrighty,‖ she said. ―Piss off then. We don‘t accept Diner‘s Club here, ha ha!‖ And so, Ken did indeed piss off out of the coffee shop, though with his tablecloth nicely folded this time at a remarkably slower and more reluctant pace than the way in which he had entered it. Ken Returns to the Comfy Rock Ken thought that he‘d be able to cope with things a little bit easier if he took the long way back to the comfy rock and approach it from behind. He went across the road, climbed over a shrub, got his pyjama leg caught on a thorn, and walked all the way around the church on the other side, where the grapefuit vine was. This way, he could totally avoid going anywhere near the graveyard, which had suddenly become very spooky. He didn‘t know how he was going to cope with having to look at it all the time from the comfy rock when he resettled in there. Oh, well. Maybe he could turn around and curl up facing the trees this time, though he could tell his back was going to feel mighty vulnerable. He trudged through the long grass on the other way around the church, round the side and then past the narthex. It was a big bulge out the very back of the church, where the altar and all the paraphernalia he hadn‘t dared exploring stood. Then when he reached the other side of the church, his heart beating fast, he went right out into the pasture to where his pisshole was. He didn‘t look at the comfy rock. It was too scary. He took a slash. Then, finally, he took a deep breath and slowly approached the bunch of trees who guarded the rock, still not looking directly. God, this was scary. He wished Teddy would randomly arrive again and check for him. Gingerly, he poked his head through some branches as minimally as possible and got a fist ready, not that he was planning on hitting a small girl or anything. Ken‘s blood ran cold. She was still there. Worse still, she turned her head around, looked at him and said, ―Finally. You‘re back.‖ ―Wha…. What do you mean?‖ he asked. He knew it sounded stupid, but he was too terrified to say anything else. ―I mean, I saw you come out of the church about fifteen minutes ago and then sprint off. I didn‘t expect that,‖ she said. ―What did you expect?‖ he asked. ―I expected you to come and say hello. I was sitting on your rock, after all,‖ she said, matter-of- factly. ―I don‘t know if it‘s truly my rock anymore,‖ said Ken. ―Uhh………‖ He stopped peeking through branches and climbed through the tree. ―I have to ask you, even though I don‘t want to……‖ ―What?‖ asked the girl. ―I didn‘t take any of your vegemite, if that‘s what you think.‖ ―Um, no,‖ said Ken. ―The thought never really crossed my mind. I was wondering……..‖ ―Come on,‖ said the girl, kicking her legs around, impatiently. Her feet had big, old-fashioned boots on. Her dress was frilly and black, just like the photo. This was too freaky. ―OK. Well………. Is your name Priscilla, by any chance?‖ ―Um, no,‖ said the girl. Ken didn‘t get it. Then, who the hell was she? She sure as hell looked like the dead girl in the photo. Who sits on rocks, swinging their legs, wearing clothes from the 1800s anyway, usually? True, she did look slightly less dead than the girl in the photo, but figured that ghosts could look really realistic if they wanted to. If they could move giant pieces of furniture around invisibly, then why not look realistic? ―My name is Christina, in case you were wondering,‖ said the girl, ―because you look like you‘re wondering at the moment.‖ ―Well, I sort of was wondering,‖ said Ken. ―I thought you were a ghost.‖ ―I‘m not a ghost,‖ said Christina, but mysteriously, making it sound like she was something else. ―So, let me clear things up. You‘re not from the past?‖ ―Nope,‖ said Christina. ―Not as far as I know. It is 2004, right?‖ ―Yep,‖ said Ken, feeling slightly more at ease. The tightness in his chest was still quite intense, however. ―I suppose you‘re wondering why I‘m wearing these old clothes,‖ said Christina. ―I suppose you‘re also wondering why I‘m on your rock, and why I was expecting you.‖ ―Yep,‖ said Ken. ―You see, I‘m going to be a saint-― started Christina. ―Woah, woah, wait a second!‖ interrupted Ken. ―You‘re a saint?‖ ―Let me finish, please,‖ said Christina, firmly. ―Ahem. I‘m going to be a saint, and I‘ve been in this town since Saturday morning-― ―Hey, that‘s like me!‖ exclaimed Ken. ―Except for the saint part.‖ ―Yes, I know you‘ve been here since Saturday,‖ said Christina, ―and I know that you‘re not a saint. I‘ve been spying on you. I‘ve been staying in the church ever since you came, and I found these clothes in a small chest in the church, and I‘ve been looking out at you from the window the whole time, except for when I was sleeping, and when you came into the church to sleep I came out here to the rock to sleep-― Ken insisted on interrupting again. ―Why would you come out here in the rain? Why not stay in the church?‖ ―Well, I dry out,‖ said Christina. It was true. Humans do dry out. ―And, I was still observing you. AND, I knew that I would scare the crap out of you.‖ ―Ahem-― began Ken. This time, Christina interrupted him. ―You see, I have been watching you for a reason. I‘m going to be a saint, and the reason is because it‘s my job to find the second coming of Christ. And I believe that you‘re it.‖ ―Oh, man,‖ said Ken, rolling his eyes. ―I can tell you right now that I‘m not Jesus. I DID cure cancer, incidentally, but I‘m not the messiah or anything. I‘m just Ken. Plain old Ken. In fact, I‘m not even Ken anymore. I‘m just a nameless bum, who wants to wear his pyjamas all the time and relax. Being Jesus is definitely not a relaxing pastime, or so I‘ve heard.‖ ―Look, let‘s just spend some time together, you know?‖ said Christina. ―I don‘t mind that you don‘t accept it yet. I was prepared for that eventuality. I‘ll just hang around you for a while, and we‘ll see what happens. How about that?‖ ―Mmmmnnnnnno, I don‘t think so,‖ said Ken. ―I don‘t want somebody who thinks they‘re a saint hanging around. I don‘t want somebody who thinks I‘m Jesus hanging around. I especially chose this rock, in this town, so I could be alone and not have to do ANYTHING anymore. If you‘re here, that won‘t work.‖ Christina swept all her wavy hair over one shoulder and sighed. ―I can perform miracles, by the way,‖ she said. ―Sorry, but I don‘t give a flying fuck,‖ said Ken, who was getting a different type of tightness in his chest. One of frustration. ―Don‘t use that sort of language with me, please,‖ said Christina. ―I‘m eight. Also, I‘m going to be a saint.‖ ―Whatever. Just get off my rock,‖ said Ken. She did. Ken thought he‘d have to push her off eventually, which wasn‘t very gentlemanly. She stood complacently away from the rock and Ken leapt onto it and settled himself down again for the long haul. His tummy rumbled, noisily. ―Excuse me,‖ said Ken, while Christina remained standing there. ―I see you‘re hungry,‖ she said. ―Well, yes,‖ said Ken, looking forlornly down at his damp box of ryvitas. ―This is a good time for me to perform a miracle,‖ said Christina. ―A food miracle.‖ Even though Ken thought the whole thing was ridiculous, he secretly wished for a few dozen loaves and fishes. That sure would be great, he thought. Tuna. Yum. She didn‘t produce lovely freshly baked bread or tuna. What she did instead was point at the leafy heads of the trees around the rock. The leaves started to rustle, like the wind was going through them, gently. Then, they really started to shake. Bits of twig started to fall down and get caught in Ken‘s hair and jumper. Then, whole branches and even the trunks quaked. Ken got the feeling like he was going to shit his pyjama pants yet again. ―Yeeeearghh! Stop!‖ he screamed, cowering. It did stop, and a dead possum fell out of one of the trees. ―There you go,‖ said Christina. ―That‘s a pretty big meal. And just to let you know, I didn‘t stop because you told me to. I was going to stop then anyway.‖ ―OK, well, I admit that I‘m hungry,‖ said Ken, ―but that‘s way out of line.‖ ―Come on,‖ said Christina. ―That meat is way fresher than what you‘d get in the shops.‖ ―Yes, but the fact that it‘s a still-warm carcass of a possum just doesn‘t appeal to me, funnily enough,‖ said Ken. ―Well, that‘s because it‘s got the fur on it still. It doesn‘t look like meat yet,‖ said Christina, picking the possum up, and with one rip, she‘d yanked off all the skin. It had all looked a little too easy. From out of nowhere, or the foldy folds of her foldy black dress, she pulled a big, shiny knife. She held the skinless possum and the knife in one hand, the pelt in the other, and somehow managed to cut the tail off the furry bit. She threw the rest of the pelt off into the pasture, slid the knife back into wherever it had come from, and ran the tail under her nose, smelling it very loudly. ―Mmmm, I‘m keeping this,‖ she said. Ken felt the urge to vomit everywhere, but he was way too scared. He remained stuck to the rock, having the same problem with motionlessness that he‘d had when he first spotted Christina. He thought being unable to move from fear was actually a good defence mechanism in this case, however. Maybe she‘d sort of forget that he was there and not terrorise him as much. In a way, it worked. Christina lay down the meaty possum disconcertingly close to where Ken‘s feet were, but then went about her business, which was apparently gathering wood for a little fire. There were plenty of twigs lying around by the trees, so she made a pile of those. There were a few logs which she appeared with from around the side of the church, which she put in a different pile. Then she went into the graveyard and started fiddling with the graves. Finally, Ken managed to unstick his mouth from motionlessness, at least. ―Aaaaaahhhh!‖ he screamed. ―What the hell are you doing?‖ ―I‘m trying to find some rocks for the traditional campfire edging,‖ she said. ―This is rock city!‖ ―No! Noooo!‖ Ken continued to shriek. ―Don‘t fucking disturb the graves! You‘re going to give me a heart attack!‖ ―Oh, come on, don‘t be crap,‖ said Christina. ―Us divine beings don‘t believe in such silly things as ghosts, do we?‖ ―Fuck you, man,‖ said Ken, a cold sweat starting to break out over his forehead. ―I‘M NOT JESUS! I‘m not even a fucking Christian! If you‘re such a saint, how come you‘re dissing graves, man? Anyway, that graveyard is fucking haunted! I put some grapefruit in the graveyard yesterday and some zombie thing ate one of them!‖ He hadn‘t meant to add that last bit, especially since he still wasn‘t convinced that Christina had not herself emanated from the graveyard in some capacity. Christina stopped desecrating graves and stood up. ―Where?‖ she asked, her curiosity piqued. ―Near the gate,‖ said Ken more calmly, feeling like he‘d been a bit overdramatic. ―Oh, yes. I hadn‘t noticed them. Nice pyramid, you tight-arse,‖ said Christina. ―I like to do things properly,‖ said Ken. ―Mmmm,‖ said Christina, leaning over the pyramid. She examined the grapefruit in question. ―Dude,‖ she said, slowly. ―What?‖ panicked Ken. His cold sweat fired up again. ―Dude,‖ she repeated. ―A possum ate it. Ha ha! Scaredy cat!‖ She picked it up and flung it at him. Thankfully, she threw like a girl. It didn‘t land anywhere near him. ―Urg!‖ snapped Ken in frustration. He grabbed his tablecloth and threw it over his head, turned around and curled up in the foetal position on the comfy rock. It wasn‘t as comfy facing the other way, but Ken didn‘t care much at this point. He also didn‘t care what Christina might do. Even if she pelted his back with all the rest of the grapefruit, or threw a gravestone at his head, he wouldn‘t bat an eyelid. In fact, speaking of eyelids, his had already closed. He was asleep again. It was about time he‘d gone to sleep again. He‘d been awake for a full three hours, and that wouldn‘t do. It just wasn‘t bum behaviour, especially in the daytime. He began to dream. He was standing in a fountain, in a town square in the middle of the night. It was an ornate fountain. He was in the movie La Dolce Vita, though he didn‘t know it. Marcelo Mastroianni was standing around, looking perplexed at him. Ken himself was wearing a luxurious black dress. The water was soaking through, all the way up past his knees. He looked up at where the water came from. A giant majestic marble horse, reared up on its hind legs, was pissing on him. He woke up. ―Rise and shine,‖ said Christina, though in a slightly less upbeat way than how people normally say it. The possum corpse had just been cooked. Ken rubbed his eyes and wrapped the tablecloth around his body, sitting up. It looked like she‘d put a lot of effort into the meal. The possum had been impaled on a little twig, had been roasting on a very neatly constructed fire, and, strangely, suddenly there was crockery to put the food on. ―Hey. Where did you get this stuff?‖ asked Ken. ―Well, I got the goblets and the plates from the church, which I think is OK, since nobody‘s using them, and I got the berries from, um, over there,‖ said Christina, pointing somewhere ambiguously. Ken wondered which berries. He looked at what was on the plates. Christina had sliced off some of the meat into expert slivers, and arranged them on the plates with what looked like lethally poisonous little red berries smeared all over them. Some yellow flowers sat next to the meat. Sure, the dinner was colourful, but that was about as far as it went in Ken‘s eyes. ―What the hell?‖ he said. ―You‘re trying to kill me.‖ ―No way,‖ said Christina. ―What would I want to do that for? To steal your precious comfy rock? I doubt it. Why would I want to try and kill you if I told you that you‘re the Second Coming anyway? That seems a bit crazy, if you ask me.‖ ―OK. Fair enough. I‘ll rephrase what I just said. You‘re annidentally trying to kill me,‖ said Ken. ―Those berries look toxic.‖ ―Rubbish,‖ said Christina, rolling her eyes, and she grabbed all the slivers of berry-covered possum and threw them into her mouth. ―Mmmm,‖ she muffled, simultaneously making loud crunching noises. ―I‘m sorry, but I‘m going to have to wait at least an hour before I eat mine, just in case you drop dead before then,‖ said Ken. ―Suit yourself,‖ said Christina. She cut another few slices off the possum and crammed them into her mouth even before she had swallowed her first helping. She made it look like the most delicious meal in the whole world. ―It‘ll get cold, and it won‘t be as delicious.‖ Ken couldn‘t deny that it actually smelt pretty bloody good. The possum left on the rotary stick looked a bit stringy and sinewy, but it had a nice colour to it. But, no. He wasn‘t going to eat it. So, for the next hour, as Christina polished off the entire rest of the berry-smeared possum, Ken watched her face for any sign of green. Green was probably the give-away, thought Ken. Wasn‘t that what happened when people got poisoned. He wished he hadn‘t spent so much of his time walking past the TV when crime shows were on, and had instead watched them. It was boring. He decided to make conversation. Polite conversation. ―So, where do you come from?‖ he asked. He thought that was a nice way to begin. ―I‘m not telling,‖ said Christina, burping. ―Huh? Why?‖ he asked, rather offended. ―Because you don‘t need to know. I didn‘t ask you where you came from, did I?‖ she said. ―Well, no, but I thought we just hadn‘t gotten around to broaching the subject yet,‖ said Ken. ―Oh, we could have, but we didn‘t,‖ said Christina. ―But, I suppose, if you really want to know, I‘m an orphan. My parents got killed in a fire.‖ ―Did you light it?‖ asked Ken. Whoops. That was really insensitive. He realized that as soon as he‘d said it. It wasn‘t cool at all. ―Oh, fuck you,‖ said Christina. She got up, stormed off and disappeared inside the church, slamming the door, which after a minute, creaked open again. Whenever slammed doors don‘t succeed in staying closed, it always seems a little bit pathetic when it opens itself again, like the slammer‘s anger had a slightly comic edge to it. Fuck. Ken felt terrible. He didn‘t want to go into the church again. He didn‘t know how to comfort small girls with strange ideas. He hadn‘t even managed to handle his only other experience in upsetting a girl very well, either. When he‘d broken up with Evangeline, he‘d simply hung up the phone and made sure that it wouldn‘t occur to him that he‘d been a cunt. He did think about running in and apologizing for a second, but decided against it. She‘d probably just yell at him about how cruel he was and he already knew that anyway, so why waste each other‘s time? Even worse, he could walk into the church and find her lifeless body there, all green and poisoned. Woah. That would be heavy. Then it would feel like it was all his fault she was dead, even though it was her who had put the red berries everywhere and insisted on gutsing it all down. Finally, after sitting and agonizing on the rock for what seemed like five bazillion years, he saw a flicker of something in the church and a few pissed-off sounding bumps, and he knew that she was OK. He ate everything on the plate. Ken Ends Up Tagging Along Of course, Ken fell into a turbulent sleep again. He mostly dreamt about walking on water and giving his mostly intact jar of vegemite to poor penitent prostitutes in the desert. He told people random wise things in another language and raised a familiar-looking girl from the dead. He also dreamt about taking his pyjamas off and only walking around in the tablecloth like it was a toga, which created very pleasant breezes up his thighs. Generally, he spent four hours involuntarily imagining rather vividly that he actually was Jesus, and when he finally managed to extricate himself from the dream and woke up, he was very cross and had a headache. He was going to keep this dream to himself and try to pretend it had never happened. Ken rubbed his eyes. The first thing he saw, in the late afternoon sun, was Christina standing ominously, over in the graveyard, with her hands behind her back, looking like Miss Jessel from The Turn of the Screw. It was highly unpleasant. ―Don‘t stand there like that when I‘m asleep,‖ said Ken, his voice full of phlegm. ―Why?‖ said Christina, faux-innocently. Before he could get a word in, she said, ―Hey. Look what I got.‖ She revealed one arm from behind her back. Her tiny hand had a long thing in it. Ken squinted. It was a bone. ―Bbblleeeeeeaahhh!‖ squealed Ken. ―Oh, my lord! You‘ve been graverobbing!‖ ―Alright, firstly, graverobbing is all about pulling rings off corpses‘ fingers and grabbing other goodies from the coffin like that,‖ said Christina, as if she‘d done that before, ―but, then, I guess people used to steal the corpses themselves, though that was generally called body-snatching. But, anyway, more to the point, don‘t worry, you idiot. I didn‘t open up all the graves and poke around in them. Now, that‘s tasteless. This is just one of the bones from the possum you ate, you ingrate. I was thinking of getting the tail I cut off it and combining them to make a nice little whip. I could stick nails in the end of the tail and everything. This bone has excellent grip. What do you think? Not bad, huh?‖ She swung the bone around dramatically. ―Have you got any twine?‖ ―Nope,‖ said Ken. He couldn‘t help wondering that he was going to end up getting whipped while he was asleep at some point. ―OK, well, then, come with me into the church. Let‘s get onto this whip-making, straight away! Hooray!‖ ―Oh, alright,‖ sighed Ken. He supposed that he had nothing else pressing to do, except dream about being Jesus some more, which was highly undesirable. Anyway, if he helped make the whip, there would be a 30% less chance that it would actually get used on him in his sleep, he calculated. And if he was enthusiastic and helpful about it, and made sure all the nails pointed straight out, and the twine was really secure, that chance could even get raised up to 45%. However, enthusiasm was an unlikely occurrence, he realized, as he picked himself off the comfy rock and dragged his feet over to the church. 30% it would have to be. ―Yay! Yay! Yay!‖ yelled Christina as she bounced over to the church as well. ―I know where some nails are!‖ She disappeared into the church somewhere while Ken continued to drag his feet. Dragging one‘s feet over gravel and steps was quite difficult. He kept on almost tripping over and getting his boots dirtier and caught on things. When he was in the vestibule, he took off his boots again, and foot dragging became a whole lot easier. He stood at the back. From what he could tell, it was even more noble than he‘d remembered. He felt like all the photos of teams on the wall were watching him, and that all the tablecloths missed their friend, though he couldn‘t see whether they were all upset, hanging and laying against the walls off in the naves. Streams of dust-impregnated light swirled around. It was hard to see anything in this particular early afternoon sun. He walked up the aisle. ―Where are you?‖ he asked, tersely. He could hear thumping from somewhere. ―Here!‖ came Christina‘s voice. It wasn‘t very helpful. ―Could you elaborate on that, please?‖ said Ken. ―Alright then. HERE!‖ said Christina, probably just to be annoying. By this time, luckily, Ken could spot a small black shape, bobbing up and down, so he headed towards that. He got up to the pointy low fence that blocked off the altar, beyond which was the ominous no- go zone. Of course, Christina was behind it. She was jumping up and down with her hands in the air, obviously trying to reach something. He had no idea what it was, since there wasn‘t anything directly above her at all, or at least, nothing in the vicinity directly above her. ―You aren‘t going to find any nails flying around in the air a metre-and-a-half off the ground,‖ said Ken, remaining firmly behind the fence. ―I know that. Golly,‖ said Christina. ―I‘m attempting to reach for the crucifix, but sometimes I forget that I‘m only eight. Can you help me?‖ She stopped jumping and was obviously trying her very hardest to look sweetly at Ken. Her cheeks finally had some colour in them, but that was only because of her vigorous jumping, which added to her being artificially sweet. Ken rolled his eyes. Then he looked at the crucifix, hanging way up there, looking absolutely gruesome. This just seemed wrong in a mind-bogglingly infinite amount of ways. Some of those ways were physical. At least the wooden Jesus had his eyes shut. Shut in pain. ―Oh, come on now. I know what you‘re thinking,‖ said Christina. ―You can‘t possibly know-― ―But think about this,‖ Christina rudely interrupted, but then paused to sound wise, which was even more annoying. She began to glaze over. She paused so long that eventually Ken had to say, ―WHAT?‖ ―Right.Yes. Think about this,‖ she said, unglazing. ―Imagine taking Jesus down from the cross.‖ ―OK. I‘m imagining,‖ said Ken, humoring her. He had resolved to use his willpower to stop thinking about being Jesus, or helping Jesus out, or anything like that. ―It‘s symbolic and cool,‖ she said. ―Isn‘t it about time he took a break? Look at him up there. He‘s in agony. Also, who better to take him off the cross than us? US?‖ She clasped her arms up to her face beatifically. ―You do realize that if we prized him off the cross that he‘ll still look upset,‖ said Ken, hating to have to refer to the wooden Jesus like it was alive. ―Anyway,‖ he added, ―how do you know there‘s real nails in there?‖ ―Because I know,‖ she said. ―And because I have proper eyesight.‖ ―Hurrumph,‖ said Ken. He squinted upwards, attempting to focus on Jesus‘ left hand. He supposed that it could have real nails in it. ―Whatever,‖ was his diagnosis. ―Do what you want.‖ ―I can‘t,‖ she said. ―I‘m too small. You have to help.‖ ―I don‘t want to,‖ said Ken. ―I don‘t want to desecrate the church. I don‘t want to go over that fence. I don‘t want to do anything except go back to the comfy rock and have a nap.‖ ―I know what you dreamt about in your last nap,‖ said Christina. ―Ha ha ha!‖ Ken felt a cold snap go through his chest. It felt very unpleasant. Sometimes he thought that Christina was a silly girl trying her damndest to seem mysterious and unsettling. Sometimes he thought she was real and that she could see into his mind. Unfortunately, now was one of the latter times. ―Oh, alright,‖ said Ken, trying not to think of anything too shaming, in case Christina was going to do some more mind-delving. He took a worryingly large breath and managed to keep it together enough to step over the little fence into the forbidden zone. He had absolutely no idea on how to get the crucifix from all that way up there. Even him jumping up and down several times flailing his arms around wasn‘t going to achieve anything. ―Now, I know what you‘re thinking,‖ said Christina, disconcerting Ken further. ―You‘re wondering how we will get it down. Well, I‘ve already thought of that.‖ ―OK, what,‖ said Ken, not even bothering to make it sound like a question. Whatever it was, it would include messing up the church, and pain. ―Grab a pew and wedge it against this bit,‖ said Christina, grabbing the tryptich and throwing it on the floor, then pointing at an elaborately carved panel behind it. Ken could see that her idea would actually work. The pews all had little knobbly turned rungs in them on their backs, and he‘d be able to get the legs of one end stuck in the tangle of carving on the panel. Then, he could just climb up and grab the Jesus. It was actually quite a sensible idea, even though the purpose remained ridiculous. ―Fine then,‖ he said, and jumped back onto the right side of the fence. He went over to the closest pew to the altar, and looked at it. Close-up, it seemed way bigger than it had only moments ago. Damn. He tried to figure out how he could drag it over to the fence. That was the first problem. He had no clue as to how he‘d manage to haul it over the fence, even if it was low. The pew looked as if it was made out of really, really dense wood. Crap. Ken was a weak man. It sure as hell didn‘t look like Christina was going to help. At this point in time, she seemed to be far too absorbed in swinging her bone around. He was too scared to ask anyway. Ken crouched down with his back straight, recalling the technique for lifting heavy things he‘d heard about somewhere reputable, and then noticed that there were nails all over the pew itself. A boon! ―Hey!‖ yelled Ken. ―These motherfuckers have all kinds of nails stuck in them! Let‘s use these! Easy! So, so easy!‖ Ken knew in his heart of hearts that it wouldn‘t be so, so easy. He was right. ―Uh, no, I don‘t want those ones,‖ said Christina. ―I want Jesus nails. They‘re better.‖ ―But these ones are nice,‖ said Ken, making a last stand. ―Jesus nails are nicer,‖ said Christina, and that was that. On the first tug of the infinitely dense timber pew, a large ripping sound emerged from the small of Ken‘s back. Annoyingly, the pew did not actually move. ―Ow,‖ said Ken, meekly. ―Please continue,‖ said Christina, unamused. Ken tried a new technique, because even if he wanted to try with the technique he‘d just used, that muscle didn‘t exist anymore. He sat on the floor and grabbed one leg of the pew. It was a bloody chunky leg. He couldn‘t wrap his hand all the way round. Then he reached for the little fence, just managed to get other hand on it, and pulled. It worked, though not very well. Ken‘s feet scrambled and slid all over the floor as he managed to shift the pew, bit by bit. His pyjama-ed bum slithered in sympathy. The unlucky fence railing he‘d clamped onto started to bend. It got even less easy to do the closer the pew got to the altar. When it was getting even more futile to try it that way, Ken got up and decided to wedge himself between the pew and the one behind it so he could stretch out and push it along that way. He seemed to work better when he was tensile, he figured. Apart from wasting precious energy by having the other pew move the other way a little bit, and also getting his sock, and subsequently his toe, caught in a crumbly floorboard, Ken finally managed to cram the pew up against the fence. Now, he thought, as Christina wandered around oblivious, how to get the pew over the fence and up the panel? Hmm. If he could just flip it over… Ken‘s scientific mind flared up for the first time in days. He crawled underneath the pew at one end and crouched under it. It smelt like someone had somehow pissed on the underside, right where his nose was. Oh, well. He wouldn‘t be down there for very long. Then, with a lot of grunting, adrenaline, and willpower, he stood up. Thwack! The pew flipped over, hitting the desired panel. Excellent! The thwack that reverberated through the church might have possibly been ken‘s cranium popping back out the right way. ―Oh, be careful,‖ said Christine, momentarily paying attention to what was going on. Ken noticed that by hitting the panel, the edge of the pew had knocked a hole into some of the carving. Even better, he thought. On a roll, he rotated the pew until one of the legs plonked itself through the hole. He rattled the pew a bit. It was pretty sturdy. ―Alright,‖ said Ken. ―Give that a go.‖ He stepped back, over to the safe side of the fence again. ―No, you go,‖ said Christina. Ken sighed deeply. It hadn‘t occurred to him that he‘d have to go up there. He wasn‘t that keen on heights. The only tine he‘d been on ladders was to get spiders off the ceiling in his tiny room in the college, and he‘d suspected that the ceiling height there was only a very small amount higher than his own head. It would feel bloody disconcerting to climb up there and not be able to steady himself by clinging onto something. It was that uneasy feeling like going shopping without bothering to wear any underpants, which he must admit that he‘d actually done before. He snapped out of that thought when he realized Christina was looking at him. Oops, she‘s reading my thoughts - How embarrassing, he thought. Well, he supposed that it did seem more logical for him to go up there, he realised. He was taller. He collected himself, took a deep breath, and started to climb. When he got to the fourth rung, it cracked, and Ken‘s leg fell all the way through, crushing his testicles as well as getting his chin grazed on his own arm, which had been flailing desperately at the time. He‘d also bitten his tongue and hurt his ribcage. He was hopelessly stuck. ―OK then, point taken, I‘ll do it,‖ said Christina. She climbed over him, using his head as a crutch with which to hoist herself up onto the pew. Off she went, climbing all the way up the pew in a few seconds like a frighteningly agile spider monkey, balanced on the end, and jumped up, making contact with the crucifix. It didn‘t come down. Christina remained hanging in the air, clinging to Jesus‘ feet, kicking her legs around. ―Oh, come on, you silly thing!‖ she yelled. ―Don‘t talk to the crucifix like that,‖ said Ken, beginning to extricate himself from the pew. He had blood all down his neck. ―I‘m talking to you!‖ she blustered back. ―Grab my legs!‖ Ken didn‘t know whether he was capable of standing up anymore. He fell out of his hole in the pew as if he was being spewed up by a volcano, and flopped out onto the floor. Slowly, he gathered his shattered body together and concentrated on becoming upright somehow. After what seemed like eighty billion zillion years, he managed to haul himself over to where Christina was to be greeted with several kicks in the face. ―Grab on!‖ yelled Christina. ―OK, OK,‖ muttered Ken. He reached up, aching, and pulled her down. Predictably, when they both reached the floor, she used his limp body as a cushion. Ken couldn‘t tell whether he was conscious anymore. He had an inkling that getting bludgeoned by Christina‘s finished whip thing might be a more pleasant experience than what he‘d just gone through. Christina finally leapt off him and left him alone for a while as she started picking at Jesus‘ wounds with her fingernails, tastelessly humming a cheerful song. Apart from the annoying singing and the teeth-clenching sound of Christina‘s fingernails clawing away at the wood, Ken felt a sense of relief sag through his body. Finally, she had something else to do for a while instead of harass him. He closed his eyes, enjoying the sort-of peace and quiet. Ken is Further Terrorised Christina spent about an hour pulling the nails out of the crucifix, singing, and then arranging them in the possum tail. She was chillingly meticulous. She had to unbend each of the four rusty nails at the ends by hitting them at all angles with various things, including the wooden Jesus himself, then make sure that when she stuck them in the tail, that they protruded at exactly the most destructive angle. Ken remained lying on the floor as if he were a puddle of blood, which truthfully, he resembled more than a human being at this stage. He was beyond moaning in pain, even if he wanted to, but he didn‘t. He took all the pounding aches that zoomed through him as they came, let the blood trickle out when it wanted to, because he was actually pretty thankful that he wasn‘t being harassed at this point in time. In this small precious hour, he could get back to the core of what being a bum was all about. Lying around, looking terrible, and living in the moment. The only things that Ken thought about were the fact that he wished Christina would shut the hell up, then curiosity about what she was actually attempting to sing for the entire hour, and then his thoughts drifted onto contemplation of his appearance. In terms of being a bum, the whole falling through the pew thing was actually a boon when one thought about it, reasoned Ken. The fact that his pyjamas were now encrusted in splatters of blood was kind of cool. Also, there was a giant inappropriate tear near his groin, which would add to that offensive look the most successful bums went for. He didn‘t know about how the grazed chin would fare, though. He had a feeling that when it scabbed up, it would get difficult to talk. As the blood dripped off his chin and further decorated his jumper, it eventually began to make little maroon stalactites, coming off the bottom of his jaw. He was well on his way to getting a beard made out of blood. It was better than the full- faced beard he was attempting to cultivate at the moment. Since Saturday morning, he obviously hadn‘t shaven once. He used to shave every single morning. He was beginning to wonder why he‘d wasted all that time, since there wasn‘t very much beard action going on at all, let alone stubble action. It was as if he‘d been shaving every morning anyway. The area under his nose was only just beginning to get slightly rough. Bugger. If only I‘d shaven once a week instead of once a day, he thought, I could have saved thirty minutes per week; 182.5 hours per average year, 183 hours per leap year; 1826 hours per decade…. Christina snapped him out of his mathematical stubble musings by suddenly shouting, ―Hey! Finished! Wheeeee!‖ Then she swung around the pointy possum tail a bit. ―Hooray,‖ said Ken, flatly, not bothering to move his head. She put the tail down and picked up the wooden Jesus. ―Oh, poor thing,‖ she said to it. ―I took you off the cross but you still look pretty bad.‖ She held up one of the hands to her eye and looked through the hole at Ken. It occurred to Ken that the statue of Jesus and himself had a lot in common physically at the moment, though Jesus‘ loincloth was less likely to cause mishaps than Ken‘s brand new pyjama pants flap. ―I told you he‘d still look upset, since he‘s not a real person, as opposed to me,‖ he said, answering Christina‘s comment. ―Yes,‖ is all she said. Ken moved his right arm a bit so it stopped looking like it had been broken in two places. After holding the wooden Jesus up to her face for a while, examining it, and curiously, blowing on it, she announced, ―This will make an excellent dolly for me. I think I will call it…… hmmmmmm……. Jesus.‖ ―Oh, my God,‖ said Ken, managing to dredge up the energy to roll his eyes. ―Yes,‖ she continued, ―I will call you Jesus. It suits you! I can make clothes for you, and we can have tea parties together and everything, won‘t we?‖ It was a truly hideous idea. ―Can you not talk about this in front of me?‖ asked Ken. He was beginning to feel sick. The thought of having to see those curled feet with holes all the way through them poking out from under a frilly little dress made him want to vomit. ―Oh, alright,‖ said Christina. She tucked the wooden Jesus under her shoulder. His arms reached out for something. Ken looked away. ―OK. Come on. Time for the next mission,‖ said Christina. ―I just want to lie here,‖ said Ken. ―No. We‘re on a very tight schedule here, mate. We have to find string, now. I need this whip thing to be finished today. We need to do a number of big things tomorrow.‖ ―You might; I don‘t,‖ said Ken. ―I‘m trying to be a bum.‖ ―Fuck that,‖ said Christina. ―Get up. It‘s string time.‖ ―Get your own string, woman,‖ said Ken. ―No. Come with me,‖ pouted Christina. She threw the wooden Jesus at him in order to make Ken move. Once again, she threw like a girl, but Ken kept forgetting that. He curled up into a ball like an armadillo, only to have the wooden Jesus happen to punch him very lightly on the bum. Oh, well. Ken had already moved a bit in order to deflect the blow, so he used that momentum and finally managed to get up. He knew he‘d be harassed until he did anyway. God, he must be the busiest bum in the world. ―What the hell have you got planned for tomorrow?‖ he asked. He just wanted to sleep. ―Well, first of all, I have to appear to someone as if in a vision,‖ said Christina, matter-of-factly, as she poked Ken over to a big square hole in the floor over to the side of the no-go zone. In retrospect, Ken should have inquired about what she had just said, but he didn‘t. He was more concerned with the gaping dark hole that she was about to push him into. He fell over on purpose, grazing his elbow. It didn‘t matter anymore. He just didn‘t want to go into the hole first. He had an inkling that Christina would grab some giant board and trap him in there. ―What did you do that for?‖ was all Christina said, as she calmly stepped over him and disappeared into the hole. Maybe Ken was being a little too silly and dramatic. He got up and wandered into the dark hole too. There were stone steps and the sort of smell down there that made Ken think of virgin territory. He could just make out Christina‘s white stockings skipping away at a rate of knots. He couldn‘t hear her footsteps. After standing under the entrance to what Ken guessed was the crypt for a while, not knowing really what to do next, except escape as fast as possible, which could not be done in the state he was in, a little lantern appeared from very far away and came towards him. It was attached to Christina. ―How the hell did you find that?‖ asked Ken. It had been pretty bloody pitch black in there. ―Because I put it there,‖ said Christina. ―I‘ve explored the whole church, man. This crypt is huge!‖ She spun around with her arms out, almost making the flame in the lantern disappear. The wooden Jesus, now wedged in one of the folds in her foldy black dress, almost looked like he was having fun too with his arms out, bobbing up and down. ―Ow. Stop that,‖ said Ken, trying to follow around the light from the lantern involuntarily with his eyes. ―OK,‖ said Christina. Finally, he‘d suggested something she‘d actually agreed to. Hooray. Ken stepped further away from the safety of the bright square hole in the ceiling and had a first look at the crypt. The lantern made everything seem like it was photographed in sepia. He looked at the floor. That was why the sound seemed so muffled in there. It was coated in at least a centimetre of dust, or even sawdust. So were the walls. Huge uneven pilasters crowded around everywhere, and to make things even more difficult, big stone boxes jutted out of the floor every now and then. ―Uh, I might regret asking this, but, do those big stone boxes contain people?‖ asked Ken, feeling awfully vulnerable. At least in the graveyard outside, if a demon suddenly jumped out, he had a fantastic chance to be able to run to the coffee shop again. ―Oh, no, not really,‖ said Christina. ―Come and have a look.‖ She led him over to a particularly big one nearby and set the lantern down on the floor. ―I‘ll show you.‖ Before Ken could get a word in edgeways, Christina started pushing on the lid. After about twenty seconds of huffing and puffing, she gave up. ―Don‘t worry. Just believe me. Those stone lids are real buggers,‖ she said. Somehow, this comforted Ken slightly. He sure as hell wasn‘t going to have a try. In fact, he‘d probably do worse than her, especially in his state. He figured that if some kind of demon or zombie did want to suddenly leap out of a tomb, they‘d have to make a hell of a lot of noise to get the lid off in the first place. ―Don‘t worry. Nobody can hurt us until the right time,‖ said Christina, patting him on the shoulder. That did not make him feel fantastic at all. The right time? What the fuck? All he could do was let out a big sigh as Christina led him on. ―OK. Now, let‘s sift through here,‖ she said. They had come to what looked like a leather suitcase disconcertingly far away from the entrance to the crypt and uncomfortably hemmed in on three sides by the wonky, chunky pilasters. ―OK, now, I want you to open the belt wrapped around it.‖ ―I don‘t think my fingers work anymore,‖ said Ken. It was true. He wasn‘t sure anymore. ―Well, this is the perfect time to find out whether they do,‖ was all she said, and so, Ken had to try. He fumbled with the belt for a while, which seemed to have almost fossilized into a permanent state of closedness. By the time he‘d managed to get it loose, the thought hadn‘t yet crossed his mind what the hell was inside, and as the belt disintegrated in his hands and the suitcase puffed up from its sudden release, he finally became curious. But as Christina took over from him, and opened the suitcase up, he saw what was in there. It was just a whole bunch of greeting cards. Phew. ―What the hell?‖ said Ken, baffled. ―Well, I thought there might be some nice little ribbons in here attached to some of these cards,‖ she said. ―But, uh – how did you know what was in there?‖ he asked, his stomach acids flaring up again in worry. ―Look, I told you, I‘m going to be a saint and that‘s all you need to worry about right about now, alright?‖ she said, continuing on her verbal journey to reveal nothing at all about herself. Ken sagged his head. God, this was stressful. ―OK, well, if it makes you feel any better, I may have special thought powers, but I can‘t see directly into your mind. I don‘t know what you‘re thinking unless I can guess, and the time before when we were trying to get the crucifix down and I told you I knew what you‘d been dreaming about, well, it was because you talk in your sleep. It‘s pretty funny, actually. I know quite a lot about you from all the crap you say unconsciously.‖ Oh, fantastic, thought Ken, like what? He wasn‘t game to ask, though. Better to remain oblivious. Christina knelt down at the suitcase, the wooden Jesus hanging upside down out of her pocket. ―Come on. Let‘s sift,‖ she said. Ken knelt down also and half-heartedly picked up one of the hundreds of cards. It was still crisp and white, and had handmade ribbon flowers stuck to the front. ―Our deepest sympathy,‖ it said, in elaborate calligraphy on the front. ―Come on. You‘ve got to be kidding me,‖ said Ken. He threw it down and picked up another random card. It had a very old photograph of a lady pasted onto it. The lady had fluffy curls on her forehead and she looked away from the camera. Underneath, it said, ―Missing you already.‖ Ken shuddered and threw that card back into the suitcase as well. ―Are these all sympathy cards?‖ he complained. ―I would think so,‖ said Christina, unphased, still rummaging. Ken shrunk back into one of the pilasters. He was getting more and more sure that he was going to get destroyed by zombies at some stage in the near future. He closed his eyes and could have sworn he was seeing ghosts on the inside of his eyelids. ―A-ha! This is what I was looking for!‖ shouted Christina. Ken opened his eyes and saw that she was holding a small card with a hole in the corner. Threaded through the hole was a long piece of ribbon, tied in a loop. The card had curly writing on it, like the sympathy cards. ―I don‘t even want to know what that is,‖ said Ken. ―OK,‖ said Christina. ―Whatever.‖ She untied the ribbon and chucked the card somewhere on the floor. ―No! Put that card back in there!‖ shouted Ken. ―Geez. You put it back if you‘re so desperate to be tidy,‖ she said. ―I can‘t even see where I threw it anymore. And hey, while you‘re at it, can you do the suitcase back up again?‖ ―Yes, yes, no worries,‖ said Ken, scrambling around in the weak light for the wily card. Eventually, he found it, got it back in the suitcase where it rightfully belonged, and flapped the lid shut. There was no way the belt would ever get around the suitcase ever again, let alone be able to be clasped again. It was like when one of those Egyptian tombs had been explored after thousands of years; when the door finally gets unsealed, modern air rushes in, and some clown touches an unimaginably beautiful wooden chariot, and it totally falls apart. That was what had happened to the belt, though rather less glamorously. It was too late to worry about such things now, especially because Christina had apparently put the lantern back in the illogically far away spot from the entrance to the crypt and blown out the flame. It was fucking dark. ―Bwah! Why? Why?‖ screeched Ken, jumping up in fright and then hitting his head on the ceiling. ―Oh, come on. Don‘t be a pussy,‖ said Christina‘s voice from very far away. ―Just walk towards the daylight.‖ He could see her climbing out of the hole. Fuck, he thought. He started to move forwards, but kept stubbing his toe on stuff. He really wished he hadn‘t decided to be respectful and take his muddy boots off in the vestibule. He certainly hadn‘t been respecting the sanctity of the church at any other point of this visit, not that it was his fault. Finally, with a big cobweb gracing his forehead, Ken made it out. He‘d been sweating coldly, which was sort of good because it had partially cleaned out his pores. His dirty pores sure were almost at their wits‘ end by that time. He scraped the web off his face and took a deep, thankful breath. There was no way he was going in there, ever again. It was fucked. Even though it seemed like the inside of the church was the lightest thing ever after flailing around in a crypt for a while, Ken noticed that the sun was about to go down. Great, he thought. Practically the entire day was wasted by doing stuff. This was not the way of the bum at all. It was very unbumlike behaviour. Christina sat near the altar, next to the tryptich she‘d thrown on the floor, and worked on tying the possum tail to the bone. Ken sagged down into a front pew and watched. She weaved the ribbon under and over, making it look like a neat braid, and flourished the whole thing by tying what seemed like a very complicated knot. Ken was secretly impressed. Maybe she‘d been in the brownies or something, he figured. ―Yay! Yay! Yay!‖ she yelled, and jumped up and down, flinging around the finished product. It hit a vase of dried-up flowers, which shattered onto the floor. ―Whoops,‖ she said. Ken just shook his head passively. He needed to do another one of those stress shits soon. ―OK. I‘ll try it out outside instead,‖ said Christina, very wisely. Then, her tummy rumbled. Perking up, she said, ―Hey! I‘m hungry! How about you?‖ ―I guess so,‖ said Ken, shrugging his shoulders a little bit. ―OK, then, yay! Watch this,‖ she said, jumping over the fence into the middle of the filthy red- carpeted aisle with the burnt patch. She put her possum-tail club thing down and cracked her knuckles. She took a deep breath, then looked at her toes, and then right up to the ceiling above her. Slowly, she raised her arm, holding out one finger as if it were glowing like E.T.‘s. She pointed straight up, all the time keeping her eyes focused up there, looking as if she was concentrating harder than Ken had ever seen someone concentrate before. That was saying a lot since he‘d spent the last five zillion years hanging around a university, looking at the expressions of people trying desperately to finish their thesis so they could almost get it in on time. A deep rumbling like an earth tremor, except in the ceiling, began. Small shards of timber began raining down, which was really quite dangerous. Ken dragged his weary arse off the pew and hid underneath it for safety. ―Gah! Can‘t I just get some peace and quiet?‖ he yelled rhetorically, but the rumble had become ear-shattering and drowned him out. After a bloody long, uncomfortably tentative time, the rumble stopped, a bat fell down from the roof by Christina‘s feet, and she finally put her lethal finger down. ―Good,‖ she said. ―My arm was starting to get tired.‖ Ken emerged from his hiding spot. ―Uh, so, is that our dinner?‖ he asked, inspecting the bat. It was small. And a bat. ―Yes,‖ said Christina proudly, unphased by the tone of Ken‘s voice. ―So, let me see,‖ said Ken, pursuing the topic further, and getting a couple of splinters out of his neck. ―Using your magic finger, did you: a) kill the bat, having the ceiling almost break apart at risk of life and limb as an unfortunate byproduct, or b) kill the ceiling, which in turn killed the bat, thus bringing about the same result?‖ ―I can tell you‘re being sarcastic, even though I‘m only 8,‖ said Christine, picking up the bat, ―but I‘ll answer you anyway. The short answer is that I don‘t know.‖ ―Um, OK,‖ said Ken. ―So, let‘s move on. Now let me see. Your magic finger appears to enjoy murdering small animals, does it not? Is this the only trick you can do? Can you kill plants also? Are you a specialist?‖ ―I sense that you‘re still being sarcastic and ungrateful,‖ she said as they started to move towards the vestibule. ―However, I will still graciously answer your question. The thing is, right, I‘m going to be a saint, as I‘ve mentioned before. So, right, saints have to specialize. They‘ve got to have this thing. This special individual talent. Like, Saint Clare is that saint of TV, ‗cos she used to be able to project televised screenings of mass on her bedroom wall when she was sick. Saint Francis is the saint of animals already, because –― ―Wait. Hold up a sec,‖ said Ken. ―A patron saint of TV? That‘s crazy!‖ ―It‘s true,‖ insisted Christina. ―You can‘t make that kind of shit up. Alright, so anyway, don‘t interrupt me. OK. So, uh, where was I? Ah, yes. OK. So. I was looking through the list of saints and their specialties in this big book, right? And I noticed there was a niche in the market. You know, for me. And then that‘s how I decided what I was going to be.‖ When Christina got flared up about something, she used far too many useless filler words. ―So, what‘s your specialty, then?‖ asked Ken. ―The slaughter of small animals?‖ ―No!‖ said Christina. ―How rude. No, my destiny is to become the patron saint of bush tucker! Exciting, isn‘t it?‖ She jumped up and down. ―If you remember those red berries I put on the possum to add that extra zing, well, that‘s also included in my talent. So, there you go!‖ Ken was dumbfounded. He didn‘t know what to say. It all sounded pretty crap and unimpressive. Even if you were magic at bush tucker, why would you want to be known as the SAINT of bush tucker? Ken was much happier with his claim to fame, which was the whole curing cancer thing, and then becoming a recluse. Later on, after the sun had gone down, and Ken was back on the comfy rock, safe and securely wrapped in his nice little tablecloth, and the stars were just beginning to twinkle endearingly, and the bat was roasting over the expert campfire under the supervision of Christina, she said, ―Dude, I don‘t want to be rude or anything, but you really need a wash. And your pyjamas too. Please sew up that flap in the groin area. It is unsightly.‖ ―Fuck you and the horse you rode in on,‖ said Ken, simply. ―Woah. How did you know I got to this town on a horse?‖ I didn‘t. It was a figure of speech.‖ ―Oh.‖ ―Well, if you did in fact ride in on a horse, which somehow I doubt, then what happened to it?‖ ―I ate it.‖ ―I can believe that, actually,‖ said Ken. The Two English Academics Go to Find Ken During the entire time Ken was having an absolutely unsuccessful time at being a solitary bum and getting far more damaged than he thought he would, Heloise was having a contrastingly successful time. She had found Ken‘s mum, though, granted, Ken‘s mum didn‘t understand where Ken was, even though he had made it quite clear on the note. After her successful phone call, in which she had woken up Ken‘s mum quite thoroughly, and then listened through the paper-thin wall for Professor Tomkins‘ nose whistles and found nothing, she went home to her tiny flat, feeling edgy. She couldn‘t possibly wait until tomorrow to tell Professor Tomkins about her dogged determination to find the elusive Nobel Prizewinner Ken Wong, O.A., but she was going to leave out all the bits about harassing scores of poor innocent Australians in their beds and also how she spent a hell of a lot of the faculty‘s money on unnecessary FedEx-ing and phone bills. Heloise got into her little flat and then, as per usual, couldn‘t think of anything to do. She sat on the slightly uncomfortable couch for a while, turned on the telly to make a pretence at being able to concentrate on something else, and then couldn‘t find the remote. She didn‘t want to watch Neighbours, therefore, off the telly went again. The flat was too clean and too silent, especially when she could very vaguely hear interesting, lively noises coming from all the other flats around the place. After wondering what to do, and not being in the least bit hungry, she went to the fridge and got out a healthy frozen dinner. At least she could pretend to eat it. Luckily, her microwave had a light in it so she could watch the frozen dinner turn around slowly as it eventually thawed itself out. That took up several minutes of her time, and then she got an oven mitt, took it out and left it on the table for a while. Yep, frozen dinner. Chunks of lamb plus undecipherable vegetables. Heloise stared at it for an inordinate amount of time; definitely way past the required three minutes of ‗cool slightly before attempting to eat‘ time. Fuck it, thought Heloise. Fuck it. This was too important. She had to ring Professor Tomkins at home. She knew that she had been explicitly banned from doing so, but this was actually legitimate. It had nothing to do with their affair. Just university stuff. It would be OK. If he yelled at her, she would explain. She dialled the number, her heart thumping too much. Boy, she hoped that Mrs. Tomkins didn‘t answer. She didn‘t. It was Professor Tomkins himself. ―Hello?‖ he said in his specifically detached way. ―Oh, hello, Professor. This is Heloise,‖ she said quietly, almost in a whisper, just in case Mrs. Tomkins was in the room. In fact, she thought it might be better to find out. ―Is your wife about?‖ she asked. ―No, she‘s at tennis,‖ he answered indifferently. ―Thank goodness. I was worried that she might answer the phone.‖ ―Uh-huh.‖ ―Anyway, I‘m actually ringing on university business, so don‘t be upset with me,‖ said Heloise. ―I don‘t mind,‖ said Professor Tomkins, placidly. ―You know our candidate for the honorary doctorate this year? Well, I have got in contact with his mother, and I think we should fly out straight away and have a talk to his family. He‘s sort of gone missing slightly, so if we can go there, and locate where he is, we could ask him in person, which is always nice, and it would be a great help to his family if we could find him, so it‘s killing two birds with one stone, really,‖ said Heloise, all in one breath. ―Now, I know you‘re probably thinking that if we go there, it‘s a waste of university funds, but I think that we‘ve got to get Doctor Ken Wong, O.A. as our honorary doctorate this year. Imagine the publicity we would get,‖ she added, in another lone breath. She neglected to mention that their second preference on the list, Paris Hilton, would possibly get a bit more media coverage, but she didn‘t feel like adding that bit. ―No, that‘s fine,‖ said Professor Tomkins. Heloise was taken aback. She didn‘t expect this to go so easily at all. A new hope grew inside her, a notion that Professor Tomkins hadn‘t been going around ignoring her lately. It was all in her imagination. Yes, definitely. ―OK then, great! When can we leave, then? Tomorrow morning?‖ she said, pushing her luck. ―Yes, that‘s fine,‖ said Professor Tomkins. ―Yippee! Yay!‖ yelled Heloise, though considerately making sure her mouth wasn‘t too close to the phone. ―Alright then, I‘ll zip onto the net and try to get us some flights, and I‘ll see you at, say, eight o ‗clock tomorrow morning! ….Uh….. can I pick you up from your house?‖ she asked, continuing to push her luck. ―Yes, that‘s fine,‖ said Professor Tomkins. Fan-bloody-tastic. Great, great, great! After she got off the phone, she drank a glass of warm champagne all by herself, making sure to put the glass on the coaster on the coffee table when she wasn‘t drinking it. Of course, Heloise couldn‘t sleep that night. She tossed and turned and thrashed around under her big pink quilt, though in the most pleasant way. The next morning, she leapt out of bed as if thousands of tiny angels were in the room, all suddenly shoving her upwards. She felt great. She turned up at Professor Tomkins‘ house in her little blue car slightly before eight o‘clock with billions of changes of clothes shrink-wrapped in a nice, compact suitcase in the boot. Parking boldly in the driveway, revelling in the fact that she was allowed to be here for once, she leapt out of the car, much in the same way in which she had leapt out of her bed, and because of that almost fell down. But, the billions of angels must have still been looking after her because she just managed to remain somewhat upright. Heloise decided to make use of the forward momentum, and ran up to the semi-circle doorstep with the Inigo Jones style porch treatment, and the four-metre pencil conifers in pots of each side. Heloise had always thought it was very nice, grand and tasteful, but she could never totally love it because she suspected that Mrs. Tomkins had been the mastermind behind all the modishly ancient décor. She rang the doorbell, and it made a very nice chimey analog sound. Mrs. Tomkins answered, which Heloise really wasn‘t expecting. She had never seen Mrs. Tomkins before, but had often wondered what she‘d look like. Well, Mrs. Tomkins looked very likeable, annoyingly. She had stuff going on in her eyes as if she were actually alive, as opposed to Professor Tomkins. Heloise had always secretly suspected that the reason Professor Tomkins seemed dead inside was because of Mrs. Tomkins. But now she wasn‘t so sure. She also got the disconcerting feeling that Mrs. Tomkins knew exactly what was going on, and that she probably didn‘t really mind. She opened the door for Heloise quite enthusiastically, cheerfully saying, ―Well, off to the other side of the world today! How exciting!‖ It turned out that Mrs. Tomkins was wearing a very light-blue terry toweling bathrobe and somehow it made Heloise very nervous. She cowered as near to the front door as possible while still being considered to be inside and said, ―Uh…. Where is Professor Tomkins?‖ ―He‘ll be down very soon. Won‘t you have some coffee?‖ said Mrs. Tomkins, so nicely, that it was scary. She flourished her hand towards an expansively antique yellow room, which had a big mahogany table in the middle with a bounty of breakfast goodies all laid out on it. The smells emanating from there were fantastic. It was tempting, but it could all have poison in it. Anyway, she and Professor Tomkins would be able to have a dodgy breakfast on the plane, thought Heloise, but together and that wouldn‘t that be nice? So, therefore, Heloise said, ―No thanks.‖ ―Don‘t worry, because here he is anyway,‖ said Mrs. Tomkins, not at all sounding like her plan to poison Heloise with an undetectable breakfast poison had been spoiled. Professor Tomkins emerged from around the corner of the sweepy ornate stairs, looking happier and more relaxed than Heloise had ever seen him before. Yay! She knew why! He was even smiling a little bit! And, uncharacteristically, he was wearing a very nice light blue jumper. Heloise couldn‘t remember the last time Professor Tomkins had worn such a bright thing. Usually, he was all grey. Wow, she thought. He must be really excited about getting away from insufferable Mrs. Tomkins. But, as he reached the bottom of the stairs, he caught Heloise‘s eye and suddenly became very staid again. ―Uh….. mmmm….. sorry….. I‘ll just change my jumper,‖ he said, peeling the powder blue number off and trudging back upstairs. After thirty seconds, he returned in the sort of colour that Heloise was more used to, and picked up a tiny leather case by the front door. It looked like it had only enough room for a change of undies and, possibly, socks. ―Bye bye,‖ was all Professor Tomkins said quietly, and he trudged out the door to Heloise‘s car without looking at anybody, as if he was about to go to the dentist to get his teeth extracted. ―Ok, well, bye bye, then,‖ said Heloise too, managed a smile at Mrs. Tomkins, and got the hell out of the house. She ran over to the car and opened the boot. ―Want to put your lille case in here?‖ she asked, cheerfully. Professor Tomkins seemed really down. Maybe he didn‘t like long aeroplane flights. ―Uhhh….. no thankyou. I will have it on my lap. It is very small,‖ he said. Then he did a big sigh and looked confused about where he was. ―Alright then,‖ said Heloise, and they got in and drove round millions of giant roundabouts until they got to the airport. Professor Tomkins continued to look confused and uncomfortable all the way through the enormous line at check-in. It made Heloise feel much more at ease. This was the way he was supposed to be, all grey and freaked out and awkward. Not like that blue-jumpered fellow in the excellent house, thought Heloise to herself. She figured that Mrs. Tomkins had bought the blue jumper for him and had forced him to wear it. Maybe even forced him to look happy and relaxed, too. Since there was nothing else to talk about, and the line was tediously unmoving, Heloise said, ―how did you manage to fit all your clothes into that tiny suitcase?‖ Professor Tomkins looked predictably baffled, and said, ―Uhh…… we‘re only going for a day, are we not?‖ Heloise went red. She actually didn‘t know how long it would take to find the eminent Doctor Ken. She was sort of hoping it would take a while, and that she‘d get to use several of the evening dresses she‘d vacuum sealed into her ginormous suitcase. In her mind, the elusive Doctor Ken had actually escaped to a four-zillion bucks per night penthouse on the Gold Coast, where she would have to burst in during a dinner party full of counts, looking stunning, and then The Ken and Professor Tomkins would definitely have to have a fist fight. Highly unlikely, she knew, but not impossible. However, now that she thought about it, they could accidentally find out where Doctor Ken was as soon as they touched down in Melbourne; he could have even turned up back at home or the university or something terribly boring like that; she and Professor Tomkins could simply ask him whether he wanted the honorary doctorate, no speeding trains across the Nullaboor needed, and wouldn‘t that would be a complete disaster? By the time Heloise had thought such things over and over again, and had another increasingly common non-sensation that Professor Tomkins wasn‘t actually there (this had been happening more and more frequently over the past week), their disparately-sized bags had been checked in, and since Professor Tomkins had needed to change his jumper before they‘d left, they were already thirty seconds late for the plane so they had to run for it. It turned out that Heloise had booked really shit tickets. She knew they‘d be quite shit; after all she‘d only just booked them the day before. She knew they‘d be dangerously close to the toilet. Well, to be exact, her seat was dangerously close to the toilet, all jammed up right at the back of the plane, but Professor Tomkins‘ seat, while deceptively having what looked like an adjacent seat number on his boarding pass, ended up only being in shouting distance somewhere a bit further up, and that was only if the wind was right, and if the curly-haired lady in front of Heloise stopped flicking her hair into Heloise‘s mouth for a second. The sixty-thousand hour trip wasn‘t going to be nearly as close to one-on-one time as she‘d expected. Oh, well. At least they could eat breakfast simultaneously, which was always a nice, loving thing to do, even though Professor Tomkins kept on going into different time zones way before Heloise got to them. The air hostesses started carting around their trolleys of unidentifiable foods in big, silver boxes. Yay. One advantage of being in the arse end of the plane was that she got the first dibs at breakfast. Mmm. A tiny croissant and some other stuff, along with a cup of coffee in a plastic cup with a razor-sharp brim and what was almost a string loop as a handle. She waited for the air hostess to move her big hat and for the curly-haired lady in front to move her hair. In the tiny sliver of time with which she was rewarded, as the curly-haired lady spilt something on her lap, shouted ―SHIT!‖ and had to bend over to clean it up, Heloise quickly yelled up to Professor Tomkins, ―What an absolutely charming breakfast, don‘t you think!‖ She tried to make it sound like they were in a groovy café and they were the only two people in there. ―Uhhh…. Yes….I don‘t know, actually,‖ came back Professor Tomkins‘ voice, very quietly piercing through the curly-haired lady‘s hair, which had returned, ―uhh…… I ended up having breakfast at home already.‖ Bugger. Though she hated to admit it, Heloise wished she‘d tucked into the gorgeous-looking array of breakfast items at the Tomkins‘ residence. She could have stuffed heaps of little freshly-baked muffins into her sensible jacket, though she supposed the sniffer dogs at the airport might have gotten a bit suspicious. Hey, they might have even been able to help her out and figure out if they‘d actually been poisoned. Oh, well. Heloise stopped herself before her imagination got far too carried away, which had been happening more and more lately, like she wanted to live in an adventure novel. She was going to be sensible, eat the rest of her second-rate breakfast, and have a big snooze. She wolfed down the unidentifiable doughy stuff, and chugged the rest of the foul-tasting coffee, which incidentally tasted remarkably similar to the coffee Pam had been attacking Ken with at the Gisborne coffee shack. In fact, without realizing, Heloise was having a rather similar morning to Ken‘s first few days of bliss before Christina arrived. She snuggled down as much as she possibly could in the aeroplane seat, made in go back as far as it would go, which admittedly wasn‘t far (plus if you put it back until it hit the toilet wall, you‘d get a whiff of urine emanating out of the toilet door), and spent the entire day dozing and dreaming weird dreams. Even during the stopover in Hong Kong, when she couldn‘t tell what time of day or night it was, and couldn‘t find Professor Tomkins, was only an episode that bled seamlessly between her dreams. She dreamt about strange big furry animals climbing the aeroplane walls from the inside and the outside, and about being in her office at the university, ringing people up and wasting faculty money, and most of all, about Nobel Prizewinner Doctor Ken, O.A. wearing a toga and walking across water, which was really quite a coincidence since Ken had dreamt almost the same thing at almost the same time, except he‘d dreamt it from his point of view and Heloise was dreaming it like she was a disciple or something. Heloise must have also been talking in her sleep, like Ken had been, because a different curly- haired lady sitting in front of Heloise who had swapped with the other one in the Hong Kong stopover turned around and rudely snapped her out of her dreams and said, ―will you stop it with the jibber-jabber about the Jesus visions, mate?‖ ―Oh, sorry,‖ said Heloise, and tried to dream about something else. Then she had dinner. The Family of Ken After an inordinate amount of time, Heloise uncrinkled herself from the aeroplane and deposited herself in Melbourne Airport. As soon as she found Professor Tomkins wandering around slowly and aimlessly, she got an important piece of paper out of her pocket and said, ―This is where we need to go.‖ It was the address of Ken‘s parents‘ house. Since Professor Tomkins remained in his ambivalent state, he let Heloise do everything, since she seemed to know what she was doing. She showed him where they were supposed to get their bags, even though Professor Tomkins had ended up putting his miniscule luggage in the overhead locker, she showed him where the toilets were, and how to exchange money, and where the taxis were. She didn‘t even seem all that phased when they got outside and it appeared to be the middle of the night. Professor Tomkins secretly had a thought that maybe it wouldn‘t be appropriate to turn up to some family‘s house when they didn‘t know what the time was, but this was only a very small, incomplete thought. He watched Heloise as she seemed quite self-absorbed, dragging her giant suitcase towards a waiting taxi. Maybe she‘d organized a meeting with them at a strange time, he thought. Heloise hauled her luggage into the boot all by herself and jumped into the taxi without bothering to scrutinize all Professor Tomkins‘ movements as she usually did. Professor Tomkins noticed it. Heloise had gotten into the front seat of the taxi, showed the taxi driver the crumpled piece of paper she had with the address on it, and then promptly stared out of the window. Professor Tomkins sat behind her with his arms folded neatly as the taxi pulled out of the rank. Finally, he felt relieved. This was the first time he could remember in maybe three years when he felt like he was actually by himself. The Dipper-moustachioed driver kept on blabbing about all kinds of foreign-sounding things, and asking questions at Heloise, some of them inappropriate, which she answered politely but distantly, and Professor Tomkins felt fantastic. He was by himself. Whatever had happened to Heloise when they touched down, he couldn‘t pinpoint, but he knew that she wasn‘t listening to him anymore. He knew that Heloise would listen through the wall for him, every single minute of every single day, and when he‘d managed to escape out of the office, he‘d been able to feel Heloise‘s wondering about him all the way through the university. This was even when he‘d purposely hidden behind a very thick wall in the depths of the art department to talk to his friend Professor Lydia and try and mentally get away from Heloise‘s suffocating mind rays. He had even just begun to feel Heloise‘s prescence when he was hugging his own wife in the kitchen before dinner. It had been unbearable. Professor Tomkins had especially tried to be as bland and as silent as possible, because he thought Heloise might not be able to detect him as much, but it didn‘t seem to work. One day, when he knew he‘d have to do a shitload of proofreading, and knowing exactly how much Heloise loved to listen through the wall at him doing that, he‘d even brought in a bag of cotton wool to stuff up his nostrils to stop it from whistling. It did stop his nose from whistling, except he almost passed out from lack of oxygen after only eleven pages of correcting his brand new book about bellybuttons, plus he could also tell that Heloise didn‘t even seem to need to hear the nose whistling per se. His cheeks burned as he could feel her knowing exactly what he was doing. He was sick of being mentally raped all the time, so whatever had just happened to Heloise, it was fantastic. Professor Tomkins shut his eyes and folded his hands behind his head, which sort of obscured the taxi driver‘s view of things in the back window, but the taxi driver didn‘t really mind. He knew he could swerve away from anything. Also, the taxi driver sensed that the bloke in the back had been released from something, and he just needed to kick back and enjoy some space. Professor Tomkins‘ head was finally almost empty. The only thing he felt like thinking about right at that very moment was wondering very mildly about how all this finding of the honorary doctorate candidate was going to take, and wondering slightly less mildly therefore how long it would be before he could get home and make some first-class, no-holds-barred, A1 love with Mrs. Tomkins. Wouldn‘t that be grand, he thought. His cheeks got some colour in them. After speeding down some badly-lit freeway at some undisclosed hour of the night, and the taxi driver balancing a Melway all over the steering wheel yet maintaining his air of slight professionalism, the two English academics popped up in suburbia. They curled around wavy roads and under gum trees and finally came to a rest in the deep, dark bowels of Wheelers Hill. ―That‘ll be forty-two bucks, darling,‖ said the taxi driver. The next thing that Heloise knew was that she was standing in the very driveway of Nobel Prizewinner Doctor Ken Wong, OA‘s house, not that he was in it. But, still. It had a nice dark wooden decorative fence, a nice dark big palm tree in the middle of the little front yard, nice dark shutters adorning the windows, a nice dark small hedge running up the side of the driveway next to the neighbours‘ fence, and a nice dark oil stain right in the middle of the concrete. Everything was dark at the time. Professor Tomkins, reveling in the shadows, stayed at least five steps away behind Heloise and waited. Also, he didn‘t want to get into trouble when she got yelled at for waking this poor innocent family up. Of course, Heloise had her mind on much loftier things. She walked up the nice dark front door confidently, and rang the nice dark doorbell. Nothing happened. Even after maybe three minutes. Strange, thought Heloise. It was nighttime. At least one person is always at home at night. That theory had been confirmed when she‘d spent that entire day ringing people up last week. She‘d have thought that the same curiosity about whether an emergency had happened would be enough to get anyone out of bed to see what the ringing was all about. Still, nothing. Fuck it, she thought. She‘d come a long way, and she couldn‘t stand another moment without actively getting closer to the enigma that was the Ken. So, she rang again. ―Brrrrrrrrring!!!!!!!‖ went the doorbell, which she pressed for an uncomfortably rude amount of time. She was rewarded with a torrent of pounding muffled footsteps making its way to the other side of the door. It opened bloody fast, like it was being slammed, except the opposite way. The gust of wind created by that swirled whoever it was on the other side of the nice dark door‘s straggly hair a bit. Heloise couldn‘t really see clearly who it was in the darkness, but she could make out that it was some kind of lady in a nightie. This was confirmed by the figure saying in a middle aged female chain-smoking bogan sort of voice, ―What the fuck?‖ ―Uh…. Um…. Ahhhh….‖ Said Heloise, thoroughly unprepared for this outcome. ―Jesus, mate, don‘t leave me hanging,‖ said the bogan lady. ―If you don‘t start talking now, I‘m going to get you to bugger off my front porch. Unless I‘ve won tatslotto,‖ she added. ―Well, we are not from the lotto agency….‖ Began Heloise, at a loss. ―Mmm, didn‘t think so,‖ said the angry lady. ―Now, piss off.‖ She began to slam the door. ―Uh, please, madam, wait a second,‖ said Heloise desperately through the narrowing crack in the front door, which was no longer as nice as she‘d thought it was, yet had grown in its darkness. ―Well, what?‖ said the lady, tersely. ―Is this the Wong residence?‖ ‗Nope,‖ said the lady. ―You got the wrong place.‖ ―Oh, come on. This can‘t be happening,‖ said Heloise, about to bury her face in her hands dramatically. ―Calm down, woman,‖ said the lady. ―Their house is down the driveway.‖ ―Oh,‖ said Heloise, recovering. ―Now, may I get back to sleep? I‘m sure the Wongs will delight in your busting in on their slumber just as much as I did,‖ said the lady. ―Um, yes. Sleep on,‖ said Heloise, mostly to the door, which had shut firmly in her face. Everything was quiet. Heloise straightened her jacket. She turned around to Professor Tomkins, slightly embarrassed. It was the first time she‘d felt anything towards him for at least an hour, which was a record. She could just make his figure out in the moonlight. The street lamp on the nature strip outside the house had busted. She couldn‘t see his face. ―Ahem. OK. Let‘s go down the driveway, then,‖ she said, quietly. And so they did. Heloise almost relished it. She stepped over the oil stain and walked as slowly as she could up to the house behind the nasty lady‘s house. Ah, she thought. This house was far more like what she expected the mighty Ken‘s house to be. Well, she was lying to herself, really. It actually looked quite unsophisticated. She could even tell that in the darkness. There was a particularly ugly wind chime hanging down from a rafter on the porch, and there were some cheapo white shiny porcelain animals in front of the curtain in the window; small indistinct masses of creature with cartoon eyes on them and tiny optimistic smiles. She hesitated before she rang the doorbell because she had the thought her dreams could be tainted a bit more. Professor Tomkins continued his looming on the periphery of Heloise‘s mind. He was getting quite good at that. Heloise finally broke the resettled quiet and rang the doorbell. It was a fake ding-dong type. She had to admit that the angry lady‘s doorbell was more tasteful. Oh, well. The same sort of flurried shuffling came to the door. Somebody who looked like the venerable Ken‘s mum, according to the tiny pictures Heloise had examined too closely, straining her eyes, from scientific magazines, opened the door and said, ―Hello! Are you detectives?‖ Heloise glanced back and saw Professor Tomkins‘ silhouette. It sort of looked detectivey. Well, more accurately, it looked non-descript, in an undercover sort of way. It struck Heloise that in a way, she was being a detective. ―Well, not strictly speaking,‖ she said, ―but we are determined to find out where he is. I was the one who rang you up from the university overseas, remember?.‖ ―Oh, fantastic, fantastic,‖ said Ken‘s mum, opening the door wide. ―Do come in!‖ Phew, thought Heloise. There wasn‘t a tinge of angriness at being woken up at whatever the hell hour it was at all. Ken‘s mum just sounded relieved. ―Wait a sec,‖ said Heloise, and ran back up to the nature strip to get her suitcase. Professor Tomkins remained detached, standing in the middle of the driveway like a statue. Heloise scurried back, slightly crushed from dragging the suitcase along and making a bit of a racket. Professor Tomkins stayed glued to the spot, watching her as she jammed her suitcase in the front door and make a ripping noise. He heard Ken‘s mum say, ―Oh dear!‖ Already he was beginning to like Heloise far more than he had for a long time. Slowly, he made his way into the house, too, but kept several cubic metres of air between himself and everyone else. ―Please, please, make yourself at home,‖ said Ken‘s mum, not turning any lights on. Heloise tripped over a large unidentified porcelain thing on the floor and landed in a lumpy chair. It was the same chair in which Ken had decided to become a bum. Professor Tomkins stayed near the front door. ―I‘m sorry about not having the lights on,‖ said Ken‘s mum, ―but I just don‘t want to wake up my husband. This is the first time he‘s managed to sleep this long, and goodness knows how he managed to sleep through the doorbell.‖ ―Oh, I‘m sorry about that-― began Heloise. ―Don‘t worry, dear. I wasn‘t asleep,‖ interrupted Ken‘s mum. ―OK,‖ said Heloise. She didn‘t know what else to say, and she didn‘t expect Professor Tomkins to say anything. She was inept at knowing the right things to say in delicate situations. When her grandma had died a few years ago, her mother had left a message on her answering machine about it, and Heloise couldn‘t call back because she couldn‘t decide how to construct the first sentence of the conversation. She did turn up to the funeral, though, so her mother must have known she‘d actually gotten the phone call. ―So, I must show you the note Ken left us,‖ said Ken‘s mum, taking initiative. She pulled a small note out of her dressingown pocket and gave it to Heloise with a shaky hand. ―Am going to become bum in Gisborne. Will send postcard when settled in. Love you both. Ken,‖ read Heloise. The only problem was that the word Gisborne didn‘t look like the word Gisborne. It looked like a bunch of squiggles, or when pressed, the word sort of looked like Sislmone, as Ken‘s mum had decided it must be. Ken had scientist writing. ―Sissssllmone,‖ said Heloise, squinting. It didn‘t help that it was in the dark. ―Yes. I think I said that to you on the phone, if I recall,‖ said Ken‘s mum. ―You didn‘t find out what that was, did you?‖ ―No, sorry,‖ said Heloise. ―In a way, I wouldn‘t be worried about this all,‖ said Ken‘s mum, ―since my Ken was never really a family person. You know, he‘d never come home from his university for his own birthday. But, this note, you know – it‘s strange. A bum! I‘m flabbergasted!‖ ―Do you think this Sislmone could be a place?‖ asked Heloise. ―It isn‘t,‖ said Ken‘s mum. ―I looked it up in the Melway and everything. I looked up alternative spellings – Siglmone, Sisolomne…‖ ―Hmmmm,‖ said Heloise. She was having wild thoughts about sending the note to a graphologist. ―My husband has no idea what it means either, of course,‖ said Ken‘s mum. ―I‘m very worried because our little Ken hasn‘t sent us a postcard yet, but my husband says, just wait, bums aren‘t always in a position to send postcards promptly and things like that. If only he‘d send us a postcard! The police aren‘t helping us at all! They say if a grown-up person wants to become a bum. Then so be it! Have you ever heard of such a thing?‖ Well, thought Heloise, she hadn‘t heard of such a thing as a nobel prizewinner for science becoming a bum before, but the police did have a point. Heloise accidentally got an image in her mind of the prodigious Ken with a rugged beard, rampaging through the city, Robin Hood-style. ―Now, I must say, though, my other son has been really rather mysterious of late,‖ said Ken‘s mum. Ooh, a brother, thought Heloise. She had totally forgotten that Ken‘s mum had mentioned that in the overseas phone call. She pondered the idea that the fabled Ken could have siblings. How touchingly human of him, she decided. ―Do you think it could be possible to talk to him?‖ asked Heloise. ―I‘ll try and get him to come here in the morning so you can cross-examine him,‖ said Ken‘s mum. ―I know he‘s got something to say, but he‘s just not saying it.‖ ―I think that will be useful,‖ said Heloise in a very detective-like manner. Suddenly, she realized that it was the middle of the night. ―Um, what time is it?‖ she asked. ―Oh, I think about 4:45AM,‖ said Ken‘s mum. ―Of course, you‘ll need to get some sleep. I‘m sure you didn‘t get very much sleep on your way over on the plane. How about you sleep in Ken‘s room?‖ Heloise couldn‘t think of anything more exciting. She‘d forgotten that people such as Ken still needed bedrooms. Suddenly, Ken‘s mum realized that there was another person in the room, still looming near the doorway, as dark as possible. ―I can blow up a lilo for you, sir, if you don‘t mind,‖ she said. ―Yes, that would be very nice,‖ said Professor Tomkins, talking through a slightly revolting amount of phlegm. He hadn‘t had to talk for a very, very long time. Ken‘s mum showed the two English academics where Ken‘s room was and Professor Tomkins blew up the lilo, his nose whistling furiously. Just as the sun was about to come up, Heloise and Professor Tomkins drifted off to sleep in the musty, impersonal white space that was Nobel Prizewinner Doctor Ken Wong, OA‘s room. The Song of Sven Heloise woke up after only a little while. She turned over in Ken‘s bed, which had a very Spartan brown blanket on it, and, strangely, a big rectangular doily that seemed in danger of falling off all the time. The bed squeaked like a pig that was getting its tail pulled. God, you wouldn‘t want to turn over in this bed all the time, thought Heloise. You‘d keep waking up. You‘d have to lie there like a log all night. She looked at Professor Tomkins. He was snoozing very deeply on the lilo, which actually looked more comfortable than the bed. His tremendously long legs with their shoes still on stuck out almost a metre from the lilo, and the same deal was happening with the miniscule blanket he had scrunched on top of him. His nose was whistling away happily. She couldn‘t see his face. Heloise looked at the room. A chink of sun was streaming through a gap in the curtains. There was a mirror set into a gap between two inbuilt wardrobes opposite the bed. There was only one thing on the wall, and that was a crumpled and faded poster of a nebula. A desk near Professor Tomkins‘ head had some pencils on it in a plastic desk tidy, and an Australian flag on a toothpick, and an inkstained blotter, and that was all. Heloise got an urge to find something in the room that was really Ken-esque. She couldn‘t be fucked sleeping anymore. There just didn‘t seem to be anything around that gave off a hint of Ken‘s personality. Noisily, she slipped out of Ken‘s hospital-cornered bed and startled rifling through Ken‘s desk. Professor Tomkins continued to sleep whistlingly. She prized open all the drawers, which seemed to have expanded because they were bloody difficult to get open. There were only different forms of blank paper in every single one of them. Blank, blank, blank. The only slightly interesting thing was in the second last drawer, which was an unopened box of stationery with pictures of cats on it, but Heloise wasn‘t really all that interested in it. She‘d figured it had just been a birthday present. The box of cat stationery had been a birthday present from Evangeline. Hmm, thought Heloise, after finishing up with the desk. Where else can I look? She waved her arms under the bed, but she couldn‘t feel anything lying under there. Not even a pair of shoes. The last place to snoop was the wardrobe. She tiptoed over and leapt silently over Professor Tomkins‘ protruding feet. She slid open the left-hand door. It was just more boring stuff. A couple of old jackets and a bicycle wheel, for some reason. Still impersonal. She shut the door again and jumped back over Professor Tomkins‘ feet. She slid open the door on the other side of the inset mirror. An enormous avalanche of tangled, bent and tarnished trophies fell out. It was pretty bloody noisy. Ken‘s mum came rushing in to find Heloise wedged under the pile of golden, tarnished trophies. ―Oh, dear. Are you alright?‖ said Ken‘s mum. ―Um, I‘m not sure, but I think so,‖ said Heloise. It was true. It was all a bit iffy at this point. The trophies had all sorts of gnarled pointy bits which were sticking into every part of her. One particularly big one, what appeared to be a squished Atlas holding a wiry world, had an arm that was just missing Heloise‘s heart. Professor Tomkins slept on, somehow. ―Let‘s get you out of here. My other son‘s coming around in a minute or two,‖ said Ken‘s mum, tugging on one of Heloise‘s arms weakly. It was the only thing she could see of Heloise and she didn‘t want to make it worse than it was. Heloise turned over and the lump of trophies tumbled off her, as if they were all knitted together like a blanket. ―I‘m fine now. Don‘t worry. I‘ll just get changed, then,‖ she said, all embarrassed about the whole thing. ―I‘ll clean all this up, of course.‖ ―Don‘t worry. I will,‖ said Ken‘s mum, and then did a little sniff while she looked at the mess of trophies. The little sniff was a sniff of missing Ken. Her eyes glazed over a bit. Suddenly, she snapped out of it. ―Oh, yes, yes, of course. I‘ll let you get changed now. Do you remember where the bathroom is?‖ she asked. ―Yep, I believe so – last door on the right?‖ said Heloise. ―Yes, yes, said Ken‘s mum, closing the door and then trudging away to somewhere else in the house. Professor Tomkins still slept on. Heloise wasn‘t going to wake him up. He could sleep as long as he liked. She picked out a nice, slightly-creased professional ensemble from her big suitcase and got ready. Just as she was finishing up brushing a very big knot out of her hair, looking into the mirror between the two wardrobes, the disappointing doorbell rang. Hooray! Heloise‘s heart leapt. The stupid knot would have to wait. Her hair bunched up at the back rather insanedly, but, oh, well. She leapt over the trophy mountain and bounded down the hall to get to the living room. She almost clashed heads with a middle-aged guy who was coming the other way. ―Sorry. You must be one of the people looking for my Ken,‖ said the middle-aged guy. ―I‘m his dad. I was just attempting to get to the bathroom to brush my teeth.‖ ―Whoops. Sorry, nice to meet you, I‘ll get out of your way,‖ said Heloise, who compressed herself so she wasn‘t flailing all over the entire width of the hallway. She went into the living room. There was a guy there, standing near the doorway, who looked a hell of a lot like the magical Ken, except with a wife and a kid hanging off him. This was very exciting. Ken‘s mum was shutting the front door. ―Sven, Tracy, may I present Doctor Heloise Ivy,‖ she said, ceremoniously. The child detached itself from Sven‘s leg and punched Ken‘s mum in the thigh. ―Ouch, and, yes, my grandson, Xanos.‖ ―Wow, nice to meet you,‖ gushed Heloise, shaking everybody‘s hands. Even though Xanos was only two, he squeezed way too hard and Heloise had to wiggle her hand around a bit. She couldn‘t look at Sven directly. It was too much like looking at Ken directly, except looking at Ken directly would probably be way too painful, similar to looking directly at the Sun or something. Heloise knew she was being pathetic, by the way. Also, she was wondering why when she rang up all the Wongs in the entire city last week, why she didn‘t get a hold of Sven. Therefore, she said, ―You didn‘t happen to get a phone call in the middle of the night last week, did you?‖ ―Nope, not us,‖ said Tracy. ―We‘d remember something like that. Xanos would never get back to bed and we‘d all be in tears if that had happened.‖ ―Hm, that‘s strange,‖ thought Heloise out aloud. ―I rang up all the Wongs in Melbourne, trying to find people related to Nobel Prizewinner Doctor Ken Wong, OA and I got onto your Mum, but I didn‘t get onto you.‖ ―We‘re not Wong,‖ said Sven. ―We‘re Wong-Fitzpatrick.‖ ―Oh. That‘s a remarkably long last name,‖ said Heloise. ―Yeah, it is. I‘d never thought of that,‖ said Sven. ―OK. So I understand now,‖ said Heloise. ―Well, now that I‘ve come all this way, I was wondering whether you had any information or ideas about exactly where Doctor Ken Wong is.‖ Little Xanos started to run around in a small circle and punch the couch every time he went past it. He was definitely a very endearing child. ―Well……‖ said Sven. He just wasn‘t sure whether he should tell. He felt bad that this lady had come such a long way, had worked out where Ken‘s family was and everything, and all she wanted to do was to confer on Ken an honorary doctorate. He could tell, by Heloise‘s beaming face that perhaps she wanted a little more than that, though he couldn‘t tell why, but he was sure she was quite harmless. However, Ken was now a bum. He was wild and free, roaming somewhere around the countryside in his pyjamas. He had no connections to reality anymore. He wouldn‘t want to be found. It would be disrespectful to seek him out. Ken would reappear when we wanted to reappear. He hadn‘t even told Tracy exactly where he was. He was the only person who knew, and even he was trying to forget where Ken was, because it seemed only right that way. But, annoyingly, Sven had a habit of being honest. ―…. I do know where he is, I must say, but I don‘t think I can tell.‖ ―I knew it! Oh, Sven! Why didn‘t you say something?‖ wailed Ken‘s mum. Ken‘s dad appeared in the living room with sparkly clean teeth. ―Show Sven the note,‖ he said. ―Oh, yes – Ken left us a note,‖ said Ken‘s mum, handing over to Sven the crumply piece of paper. Sven smoothed it out and read it. ―Am going to become bum in Gisborne. Will send postcard when settled in. Love you both. Ken.‖ Sven looked at his parents. ―Mum and Dad, this note clearly says where Ken is anyway.‖ ―What?‖ said Ken‘s mum in disbelief. ―Sislbone? What‘s that? Is that actually a place? I couldn‘t find it in the Melway!‖ ―Not Sisbone, mum, Gisborne! You remember? We‘ve been there before. We went there on a holiday one time. We passed through there on the way to Hahndorf! I dropped him outside the very same coffee shop we had a dodgy breakfast in all those years ago!‖ ―What? Gisborne? I don‘t remember a coffee shop! You drove him? Why didn‘t you tell me? I‘ve been so worried I couldn‘t even sleep at night, and you knew all along? Give me that note!‖ Yelled Ken‘s mum, rather fiercely. Heloise backed into a corner slightly. Xanos kept running, oblivious, around her legs. Sven handed his mum back the note. She examined it. ―Oh, Ken‘s writing, so messy,‖ she said, lovingly. ―It does say Gisborne. Oh, my. Well, that mystery is solved! Phew! I thought he was a little irresponsible to not say where he was, but he did! Oh, my goodness.‖ She clutched the note to her heart. ―Well, I suppose I can respect his wishes. We won‘t go and bother him unless maybe it‘s his birthday. I wouldn‘t mind sending him a blanket, though. And some biscuits, perhaps. How exactly should I address the package?‖ ―Don‘t worry about Ken, Mum,‖ said Sven. ―He‘ll be fine. He‘s probably having the time of his life. The note said he‘d send a postcard when he was settled in. You can send him things then, though it seems a bit un-bumlike to get packages of biscuits in the mail.‖ ―Yes, yes, true, true,‖ said Ken‘s mum. She put the note back into her pocket. Heloise had watched the whole thing unfold silently. It was probably the best thing to do, she realized. If she was going to be all obvious in the room, then Sven probably wouldn‘t have spilled the beans about where Ken was. She started to back towards the hallway. ―Well, I‘ll just, uh, wake up my colleague and we‘ll be on our way. Thanks for the hospitality, Mr. and Mrs. Wong, and nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Wong-Fitzpatrick, and, uh, we‘ll just get out of everybody‘s way,‖ she said, meekly. ―Wait a sec,‖ said Sven. ―You‘ve going to go straight to Gisborne and disturb our Ken from his bumly duties, aren‘t you?‖ ―Uh… ummm……‖ said Heloise, still unable to look Sven in the face. Yes, of course she was. ―No, no, no!‘ said Sven. If you‘re such a big fan of the guy, which you obviously are, then be bloody nice and leave him alone! Here, mum, give this lady the note he wrote! If you want his autograph, then take that!‖ ―Hey. I want to keep the note,‖ said Ken‘s mum. ―Of course, Mum,‖ said Sven, calming down. ―I was just saying that to be a bit sarcastic.‖ ―Look,‖ said Heloise, blushing a bit since she‘d just gotten found out about her secret crush, ―all I‘m going to do is take a bus or a taxi or whatever to Gisborne, find Doctor Ken Wong, ask him briefly whether he wants an honorary doctorate from Bournemouth University, yes, maybe perhaps get an autograph, that would be nice, and then get out of his way again. Is that so bad?‖ ―Well, no I suppose not…‖ reasoned Sven. ―And I‘ll have you know that the second choice on our honorary doctorate list is Paris Hilton. Do you really want that to happen?‖ added Heloise. ―Well, no, that is pretty bad….‖ said Sven. Everyone else nodded and ―Hmmm‖-ed in agreement. ―So, I‘m going to do what I said, and so, um, so there,‖ said Heloise, crossing her arms in finality. Then, there was a silent moment. ―Oh, alright, then, I‘ll drive you there,‖ said Sven, eventually. ―Where‘s your colleague?‖ Heloise went and checked in on Professor Tomkins. He was still fast asleep, hanging over the lilo with a peaceful look. It was beginning to get annoying. She thought it was best if she woke him up. She did have second thoughts about it. She thought that maybe she could get driven to wherever Gisborne was (she hoped it was like sunny Brisbane, because it rhymed with it), and then find the venerable Ken all on her own. But, no. If Professor Tomkins slept any more, he‘d eventually wake up with a nasty headache, and that wouldn‘t be nice. Also, he might fire her for being irresponsible. She shook him a little bit and whispered, ―Professor Tomkins?‖ in his ear. There was no response, except a little snore which might or might not have been related to having someone whisper in his ear. She shook him again, this time more vigorously, and said his name in the form of a question in a proper voice instead of a whisper. Professor Tomkins remained fully locked in his dream trajectory. She shook him in a way that could almost be described as violent. She said his name in a way that could almost be described as frustrated. Still nothing. Bugger. Heloise looked around for something to hit him with. Yes, things were getting that dire. A-ha! Of course! A trophy! Getting whacked with one of those could pretty much wake up anyone. She went over to the pile and managed to untangle quite an impressive large one. It was a vaguely molded figure of what looked like a guy playing soccer, complete with a little misshapen ball it was kicking, atop a bunch of gold flouncy stuff and a heavy marble base. She hit Professor Tomkins on the bum with it. It did the trick. With a start, professor Tomkins sucked in a big waking-up breath and said, ―Wfff—ff—ff-it?‖ ―Come on, I‘ve found out where Doctor Ken Wong is,‖ was all Heloise said, except for adding, ―We‘ve got to go now!‖ It wasn‘t strictly true that they had to go right now, that they had to piss off to wherever Doctor Ken Wong was being held immediately, that Professor Tomkins didn‘t even have any time to change his boxer shorts, comb his hair in a mirror or brush his teeth, but Heloise wasn‘t going to let on. Every second was making her more impatient. ―Uh….. erm…. Alright,‖ said Professor Tomkins passively, and he hauled his gangly figure off the tiny lilo and got moving out of Ken‘s bedroom, clutching his small bag of posessions. He did this without batting an eyelid at the pile of trophies he had to step over to get out the doorway. ―Alright, everyone,‖ said Heloise, leading the way as Professor Tomkins came into the living room, all bleary and rubbing his eyes at the sunlight streaming in through the picture window. ―For those who haven‘t met him, this is my colleague, Professor Tomkins. Professor Tomkins, this is everyone. Now let‘s get moving!‖ In what seemed like a millisecond, Heloise‘s giant suitcase was in the boot of Sven‘s car, Tracy and Xanos were invited around for the day at Ken‘s parents‘ place, and Heloise and Professor Tomkins were being driven out of the long, oil-stained driveway by Sven, who was depositing a shipment of people in Gisborne for the second time within a week. In an unusual move, Professor Tomkins had decided to sit up the front. He was feeling particularly chatty this late morning, which was highly unusual. As the car wound through the suburbs, up the Eastern Freeway, through the dried up Royal Park and out of the city through the other side, He asked lots of genuinely interested questions about what Melbourne was like, why Sven‘s child‘s name was Xanos (Sven couldn‘t answer that one; it had been Tracy‘s idea), how long Sven‘s toenails got before he liked to trim them, had he ever sucked his thumb as a child because Professor Tomkins had until he was twelve, explained scientifically why the sky was blue (it was a glorious November morning, it really was), enquired about Sven‘s occupation, and upon finding out, asked why accounting specifically, among a myriad of other things. Sven answered everything politely, even the question about the cutting of toenails, which he didn‘t actually have the answer to, since he didn‘t have a set system; he just cut them when they were too long. Heloise didn‘t say anything. She was the one sitting in the back with her arms folded behind her head this time, wondering what it was all going to be like when she finally met the acclaimed Nobel Prizewinner Doctor Ken Wong, OA, and hoped that he was just as personable as the remarkably average Sven Wong-Fitzpatrick, chartered accountant was. They darted though the country, with crispy grass and trees running up the sides of the road. There was plenty of nothingness all around, except for the cow shits. Sooner than Heloise expected, Sven turned a corner where a big green sign was and they were in front of Pam‘s coffee shop in Gisborne. ―Well, here we are,‖ said Sven, popping the boot of the car open. Good luck; I won‘t stick around – but if and when you find him, tell him he can ring me up any time, reverse charges…. Not that I expect he will.‖ Then he sighed. Heloise hauled her suitcase out of the boot and thumped it onto the carpark gravel, making a cloud of dust wisp up everywhere. ―We‘ll tell him that. Thanks so much,‖ she said. And with that, Sven got back in, turned the car around, and Heloise and Professor Tomkins watched him disappear around the bend. Ken Has a Very Big Morning and some Breakfast Ken woke up. He had endured rather a nice sleep last night, actually. The trusty rock had been as comfy as ever, and Christina had gone back into the church somewhere to do whatever the hell insane people who think they are saints do, which incidentally was also sleep. When Ken rubbed his sleepy-dust clogged eyes at some unknown hour A.M., took a nice, deep breath in the slightly chilly, fresh air and looked around, Christina wasn‘t there, looming over him or standing dramatically in the graveyard or anything. That made it an even better start to the day. He could hear some things being shoved around in the church, though. Maybe Christina was finding some dress-ups for her new toy Jesus, he thought. Or just destroying things. Oh, well. Whatever. Ken‘s tummy rumbled. He was a bit hungry. That roasted bat didn‘t exactly fill the void last night. He wondered whether he couldn‘t get away with doing something like eating twenty or so grapefruit for breakfast, though it did cross his mind that maybe his entire lower jaw would shrivel up and he‘d get a nasty skin irritation from acidic juice dribbling down his neck. He didn‘t know what else he was going to eat, though – all the stuff around on the bushes didn‘t look all that safe. Maybe he could ask Christina. Nah. Or, maybe he could scoop out some vegemite out of the jar with his fingers and eat that. Still, it wasn‘t much. He didn‘t want to go to the coffee shop so soon AGAIN. Pam might kick his arse. Ken sighed and shrunk back into the comfy rock. Hm. What was he going to do today? He wondered. He knew in his heart that he‘d get dragged into some ridiculous unbumlike thing, but wouldn‘t it just be nice to have a lazy day and finally start reading that novel he brought along in the plastic bag? Don Quixote. He‘d actually almost forgotten that he‘d brought it along. Maybe I could just squeeze in the first chapter or two before Christina comes out and terrorizes me, he thought. Why not? He reached into the bag and grabbed the book. It hadn‘t fared very well since it had arrived in Gisborne. In fact, it was looking almost as bad as Ken was. Rain had gotten into it, and then dried up again, mostly, so the pages were all wavy and many of them were stuck together. It was only really good for wiping one‘s arse with, to be brutally honest. He opened up to a random unstuck page. The text was all droopy-looking. It definitely would be a strain to read. Oh, well, thought Ken. Maybe he could keep the page at the front that his family had written on, and then have the rest as loo paper. He turned to the page where he last saw the inscription about his birthday on it. The biro they had used must have been non-waterproof, because there was now only a thin cloud of blue on the page. Double bugger. He carefully took the page out anyway, folded it and put it into his pyjama breast pocket. He threw the book down and curled back up on his rock, feeling slightly shitty. Christina appeared, skipping out of the church and down the steps, just to be annoying. She didn‘t have her awful Jesus doll anymore. She did still have her bloody bludgeoning weapon, though, and as she skipped and leapt towards the comfy rock, she wielded it like a charging knight. Ken scrunched up a little bit more. ―Hello! What a nice day!‖ said Christina, cheerily. ―Where‘s Jesus?‖ asked Ken. ―Oh, I got sick of him,‖ she said. ―I made a little fire in the church and I threw him in. He‘s still sort of recogniseable.‖ ―Gross,‖ said Ken. ―Anyway,‖ said Christina, still in her up-beat tone of voice, ―you‘ve got to get up. It‘s time to get going. We‘ve got to see a friend of mine.‖ ―Who?‖ asked Ken. ―Oh, I was just singing to Winnie the Pooh theme song, silly! I was trying to be funny! Ha ha ha!‖ Christina buckled over and cackled a bit more. Then, she stood back up and said seriously, ―Well, we sort of do have to see some people today. And, more importantly, they have to see us.‖ ―I think the two usually go together, funnily enough,‖ said Ken. ―Mmm. Don‘t get all sarcastic on me, please,‖ said Christina. ―Are you a virgin?‖ Ken did a double take. Did he hear right? Did she just slip in an extremely personal question? ―Could you please repeat what you just said, slowly?‖ asked Ken, but not really wanting to ask. ―Yes. I said don‘t be sarcastic, and are you a virgin?‖ said Christina matter-of-factly, as if it was just business. Ken was in disbelief. ―I‘m not answering that,‖ was all he could say, but very quietly. ―OK, great. So you are,‖ said Christina. ―I thought so.‖ ―What do you mean you thought so?‖ asked Ken, getting riled up. ―Well, I just knew,‖ said Christina. ―Actually, I didn‘t, but what you just said makes it blindingly obvious. I figured that with you, there would be a seventy percent chance.‖ ―Hurrumph,‖ said Ken. Then, he said, ―Why the hell do you want to know?‖ He hoped the reason was going to be nothing worse than Christina telling somebody else at an embarrassing time. ―Don‘t worry,‖ said Christina. ―I was just wondering. I suppose you wank sometimes, though, wouldn‘t you?‖ ―Oh, my lord,‖ said Ken. ―Oh, my lord.‖ He put his face in his hands. ―Just answer the question!‖ yelled Christina. ―Why do you want me to answer it if it‘s only because you‘re wondering?‖ yelled Ken back. ―Because it‘s important wondering!‖ yelled Christina. ―Well, for your information, which I suppose you will use against me at a later date, I don‘t! I‘m as pure as the driven snow!‖ ―Golly, that‘s unusual,‖ said Christina. ―Shut the fuck up,‖ said Ken. ―Alright, alright, fine,‖ said Christina. ―Let‘s talk about something else. Why don‘t we talk about the fact that you really, really stink?‖ ―I know I stink!‖ shouted Ken. ―That‘s on purpose!‖ ―And also, you don‘t mind that you‘re covered in blood and dirt at all, do you?‖ she added. ―Nope, I happen to enjoy it very much,‖ said Ken. ―And that hideous flap in your pyjamas near your groin – it‘s just absolutely revolting, my young son,‖ she said. ―Yes, I can accept that you‘re right in that regard,‖ said Ken. ―But, really, I can‘t be bothered doing anything about it. Nobody‘s going to see me at all, except you, and I don‘t care about you seeing it, because I wish you‘d piss off. I‘m hoping that later on, it will get so repulsive that you won‘t be able to stand it anymore and you‘ll finally leave me alone. Now, wouldn‘t that be nice?‖ ‖Oh, don‘t be silly!‖ said Christina. ―That won‘t happen at all! That‘s because we‘re going to spruce you up today. We‘re going to get you a nice new change of clothes, and a nice refreshing shower, and get you to brush your teeth if you‘ve got any in your plastic bag or whatever, and everything! It‘s part of our big day!‖ ―I don‘t want a big day,‖ pouted Ken. Christina ignored him. Instead, obviously deep in thought somewhere in her masterplan, she said, ―OK. OK. Hm.‖ Ken waited. Christina stopped tapping her chin and looked at him. ―OK. So, I remember that after you saw me for the first time, you know, when you came out of the church and I was on that rock, and then you ran off (so funny!), if I recall correctly, you had managed to have a shower somewhere because you came back a lot cleaner than you usually are.‖ ―Wow, you must have really studied me hard to notice that,‖ said Ken. ―No, I didn‘t. You were pretty bloody filthy beforehand. Not as gross as you are now, but even when I was spying on you from far away, I could still tell,‖ said Christina. ―Yes, well, I did have a shower. It is true. You got me,‖ said Ken. ―But at the time, it was an emergency. It‘s not an emergency now.‖ ―Yes it is,‖ said Christina. ―Why?‖ said Ken. ―Because,‖ said Christina. Infuriating. ―Piss off,‖ said Ken. ―Today is all about me. It‘s all about what I want to do, and that is to hang around this fantastic rock, doing nothing.‖ Then his tummy rumbled. ―Shit. I‘m hungry,‖ he said. Fuck. ―Well, come on, let‘s go to wherever you go to get your coffee and raisin toast,‖ said Christine. ―How the hell do you know I‘ve been having that for breakfast?‖ asked Ken. Man, this chick was snoopy. ―Because I could smell it on your breath when you came back after running off on that first day,‖ said Christina. Then, she paused for a moment. ―Ah! So, if you got a shower, and breakfast at the same time, then we can do the same thing this morning! Killing two birds with one stone, and all that!‖ ―Yes, killing birds indeed,‖ said Ken. ―Ooh! Ooh! Yes! Actually, THREE birds! I can do my thing where I appear to someone as if in a vision! Excellent! That‘s like 25 saint points right there, man!‖ ―25 saint points?‖ asked Ken. ―Yep. It‘s kind of like getting a tax file number, where you need to bring along 100 points of I.D. Same thing,‖ said Christina. ―Well, come on, then.‖ Ken got up and followed Christina, who was bounding ahead. She seemed to know exactly where to go; where the coffee shop was, even though he‘d never said where it was. He followed slowly. As slowly as possible, especially when it occurred to him that when Pam saw Christina run into the shop, she might have a heart attack, because Christina did look exactly like the dead child on the wall who was her great, great auntie or whatever. Well, even though it was sort of bad that Pam might get a shock, it could also be slightly amusing, thought Ken. But, then again, his original apprehension would probably be the most accurate outcome. Ken got to the coffee shop, Christina was jumping up and down outside the door. ―Come on come on come on!‖ she yelled. ―Incidentally, how do I look?‖ ―Uh, alright, though slightly crumpled, I guess,‖ said Ken. He had a feeling that Christina knew about that photo on the wall. Maybe he‘d been talking in his sleep again. He saw a couple of full suitcases lying on the timber deck outside the shop next door. One of the suitcases was huge and obviously crammed full of stuff. The other one was piddly. ―Excellent! Exactly the look I was going for,‖ said Christina, and then she went right in. Ken looked through the glass door. There was no way in hell he was going to go in just yet. He looked at what was happening inside, the only sound accompanying being the white noise of the morning just about to turn into noon. Some birds cackled as Ken watched Christina stand right up at the counter, all fidgety, and the weird old guy who sat in the corner stayed within his own world. Pam must have been out the back, doing something with pots and pans, though definitely not washing them. Washing stuff wasn‘t Pam‘s style, Ken thought. Watching Christina stand there, shuffling her feet to and fro in excitement, wasn‘t exactly Ken‘s cup of tea, so his mind wandered to the suitcases lying outside the shop next door. He sidestepped over to them, casting shifty glances around just in case the owners were watching, but since nobody seemed to be running over and saying, ―Get out of it, you bum!‖ he crouched down and had a look at them up close. Since he was feeling slightly bold, and because he had that protective legal blanket over him of being a bum, he decided to go further and take a little look inside. He squeezed open the zip of the huge suitcase a little bit. Fuck. He jammed the corner of some sort of turquoise satiny material in the zip. Whoops. He stopped messing around with other people‘s stuff and stood up. His knees ached a bit from crouching. He did a big stretch and looked in the window of the next-door shop. It was an angling shop, which was a bit strange, because as far as he knew, there was no large body of water hanging around nearby. But, he thought, he didn‘t really know this town at all. He only knew the rock, the church, the coffee shop, that there were two other bums somewhere in the town, and how to get back to his parents‘ house. There were zillions of pointy, hooky, hurty-looking things in the angling shop window. Wow, Christina would really love this shop, he thought to himself. He looked at the guy who seemed to own the shop. He was old, had a ginormous wispy white beard, exactly as one would expect on a person who owned an angling shop, and he was wearing waders. Now, that is a bit too far, thought Ken. The old angling guy was talking to a couple. There was an uncommonly tall man and a normal- sized lady. The uncommonly tall man was standing back and looking up to the ceiling as if he were rather bored, and the lady was moving her hands around vigorously at the old guy like she were describing something. Maybe she wanted to order in some weird rod or something. Ken thought that she didn‘t really look like the type to want to go fishing, but he supposed it must be possible, since she was in there, flailing around. It was getting boring watching them, too, so he went back to stare into the coffee shop window. Maybe Pam had come to the counter from doing whatever she did in the filth of her kitchen and finally saw Christina, and then fainted or something. He peered in. Nope. Pam had come out from the kitchen, but she hadn‘t fainted. In fact, she and Christina appeared to be getting along like a house on fire. Pam was laughing heartily, and Christina was chugging her fist like she was telling a joke in vaudeville. From the outside, it looked like a normal family reunion. Pam spotted Ken looking through the window and motioned for him to come in with her pudgy hands, still laughing. Christina turned around and did the same thing, like he was also part of the long lost family and they were both going to hug him far too tightly. Ken opened the jangly door and stepped inside, gingerly, and keeping as close as possible to the outside as he could. ―Alrighty,‖ said Pam. ―If it isn‘t the new bum in town! I‘d like you to meet someone very special!‖ She patted Christina on the head. Christina had an expression on her face like a puppy. Ken wondered why the insane dude in the corner wasn‘t reacting to the situation at all. Ken thought that since he communed with the photo of the dead girl, then maybe he‘d be a little bit thrilled with what was going on. Then again, maybe he knew it wasn‘t the real child. Maybe the photo told him that. Yuck. He looked at Pam‘s happy face and decided to play along with the whole thing, since he didn‘t know what to say otherwise. Pam said, ―Alrighty. Let me introduce you. This is my great great auntie Priscilla. You know, the one in the photograph on the wall. She‘s a ghost!‖ ―Uh-huh,‖ said Ken. ―We actually know each other,‖ said Christina. ―We met near the graveyard.‖ ―Yep,‖ said Ken, his mouth dangling. Fuck, this was uncomfortable. ―Great!‖ said Pam. ―Now, I think this calls for a little celebration! Why don‘t I get you your favourite meals!‖ ―That would be lovely, dear great, great niece Pam,‖ said Christina. Ken wondered how Pam knew what her great, great auntie would have eaten. He sure as hell didn‘t know what his great, great aunties liked. He didn‘t even know if he had any. In fact, he didn‘t even know what his mum‘s favourite food was. Oh, well. He shrugged his shoulders as Pam hefted herself over to the table that Ken always seemed to end up on, and sponged it off slightly. Christina sat down as if she did it every morning and stretched out with her hands behind her curly head, looking very satisfied. ―One down, two to go,‖ she said. ―What the hell?‖ asked Ken. ―Well, you know how I have three things to do today? I‘ve just done one of them.‖ ―Um, alright,‖ said Ken. He supposed that that was Christina‘s version of appearing to someone as if in a vision. It was a bit dishonest. Personally, Ken wouldn‘t give out 25 saint points for that effort. Maybe two at the most, for lateral thinking. He rolled his eyes. ―OK, so, after this, you‘ve got to have a shower. It‘s dire,‖ said Christina. ―Fuck off,‖ said Ken. ―No,‖ said Christina. She narrowed her eyes. ―Do it. You stink.‖ Then, more light-heartedly, ―You won‘t need a shave, though! It‘s a good thing you don‘t get facial hair!‖ Ken felt his chin. It was depressingly smooth. Man, he wished he could get the classic straggly bum beard. It was something he‘d never be able to do. Pam came out, bumping her arse on everything, carrying a tray with Ken‘s now classic raisin toast plus coffee, and a wobbly-looking taupe thing. It did not look yummy. ―Mmmm,‖ said Christina, looking at the raisin toast as Pam put the tray down. ―Alrighty,‖ said Pam. ―There you go. Have fun, you two!‖ As soon as Pam‘s back was turned, Christina grabbed the raisin toast like a bolt of lightning. ―This will hit the spot,‖ she said, accidentally hitting the wobbly taupe thing as she reached, sending it into a frenzy of waviness. ―Um, that‘s my favourite food you‘ve got there,‖ said Ken. ―Your favourite food is the non- descript one.‖ ―Nah,‖ said Christina. ―I want this one. Let‘s swap.‖ And then she shoveled the raisin toast into her mouth so Ken had no choice. ―Fan-bloody-tastic,‖ said Ken, watching the wobbly thing pulsate. ―What the hell is it, anyway?‖ ―Dunno,‖ spat Christine through a mouthful of toast. Oh, well. He might as well tuck in, he realized. After all, he had been eating things that had fallen out of trees and rafters the past couple of days. This turn-of-the-century delicacy was a step up, really. He stuck a spoon into it and scooped out a perfectly smooth, semi-circular orb of the taupe stuff. He brought it up to his mouth carefully. It slid all over the spoon and then flew off into his throat. Well, if it was going to do that, then Ken wasn‘t even going to be able to taste it, and maybe that was a good thing. Straight down the hatch. He stripped more floppy bits off it and eventually polished the whole thing off, not even noticing that his banal coffee had been consumed as well. However, he was pretty full so he supposed it was alright. He‘d heard somewhere that people under twelve weren‘t supposed to have coffee, but he didn‘t care that deeply about Christina‘s welfare. As soon as the last taupe half-orb disappeared off the spoon and into Ken‘s esophagus, Christina jumped up and said, ―Time for phase two!‖ Ken Experiences Phase Two ―My dear great, great niece Pam!‖ shouted Christina to the kitchen, wherein some clanging was heard, ―why don‘t we make this bum here have a shower?‖ Pam clanged into view. ―Alrighty,‖ she said. ―That‘s a very good idea.‖ ―I don‘t want to,‖ said Ken, sitting in his chair more firmly. ―Don‘t be such a kid,‖ said Christina. ―You‘ve used my shower before,‖ said Pam. ―That was in an emergency,‖ said Ken, crossing his arms. ―My dear great, great niece, I think we‘re going to have to carry him in,‖ said Christina. ―Alrighty,‖ said Pam, and her bulbous body pushed against the back of Ken‘s head as she started to grip the chair. He wouldn‘t put it past her to carry him, still clinging onto the chair, all the way into the shower. He had a feeling that Pam had superhuman strength under all that flab. Ken didn‘t want to be humiliated that much. ―OK, OK, OK! I‘ll go peacefully!‖ he yelled, as he got out of the chair and put his hands up in surrender. ―Alrighty, now, that‘s better,‖ said Pam. She moved as much aside as she could in the cramped eating area at the front of the shop, which pretty much jamming her tummy into the fireplace as much as possible. Christina led Ken out the back to where the revolting shower and the more revolting toilet was. The toilet smelt as if the shit he had done in there the day before hadn‘t been flushed. He looked in. It hadn‘t. He gagged. ―Oh, yuck, bllleeeahhh,‖ he said. ―Shoosh. Get your disgusting pyjamas off,‖ said Christina, holding up the handle end of an old broom as if she wanted him to hang his clothes on there. ―What?‖ asked Ken. ―Go away! Let me do this alone, at least!‖ ―I don‘t think you‘ll wash properly if I don‘t watch you,‖ said Christina, and it was probably true. ―I want you to do behind your ears, in between your toes; everything. Now, go.‖ She was standing in the doorless doorway with the broom handle poking inwards menacingly. Ken took a deep breath, his pants flap swaying in the breeze coming in from outside, and he reluctantly took off his jumper. Obediently, he hung it on the end of the broom handle. ―Could you at least turn around?‖ said Ken. ―No, you turn around if you‘re so modest,‖ said Christina. ―There‘s nothing there that I haven‘t seen a million times before.‖ Ken didn‘t like the fact that an eight-year-old was saying such a thing like that, but, hey. This kid, well, who knows? Ken hung the rest of his stuff on the broom handle and stood there, crouching slightly from being cold, with his pasty bum on display to the world. ―Well, go on,‖ said Christina. ―Do I have to coach you through every step of the way?‖ ―Shut the fuck up,‖ said Ken, humiliated, and he stepped over the crud on the orange-stained concrete floor and turned the taps on. This time, the water coming out of the shower was pretty bloody good. ―Ah!‖ said Ken as he danced around under the spray. Boy, the water was just right. For a while, he actually forgot that he was in what was possibly the most unhygienic open bathroom in the world with a small girl loitering around the entry and just enjoyed it. He shut his eyes and let the water do its cleaning thing. Suddenly, he remembered where he was. He didn‘t feel like Christina was standing around anymore. He spun around. She wasn‘t. It was sort of surprising. He thought he‘d get a lecture on how to wash. When was the last time she had a shower, though? Annoyingly, she reappeared abruptly and Ken covered his intimate bits. ―Um, um…. I‘m finished now,‖ he said. Good,‖ said Christina. ―Well done. Give yourself a pat on the back.‖ ―I can‘t, but I wouldn‘t anyway,‖ said Ken. Then, he noticed that Christina was no longer holding the broomstick with his pyjamas on it. Alarm bells began to go off in his head. ―I‘m afraid to ask this,‖ he said, ―but what have you done with my clothes?‖ ―Well, Pam and I incinerated them,‖ said Christina, calmly. ―Oh, for fuck‘s sake,‖ said Ken. ―This is WAY too much. WAY too much.‖ ―Ha!‖ was all Christina said. She must have thought it was all very amusing. It occurred to Ken that the most likely place that his pyjamas would have ended up to get burnt to a crisp was inside the oven in Pam‘s kitchen. Ken managed to only just hold in his gag reflex once again. He made a mental note to never, ever, ever order a pie from there. ―Great, I‘m naked,‖ he said. ―I didn‘t even bring my nice tablecloth-slash-blanket with me this time either.‖ ―Oh, dear,‖ said Christina. ―What are you going to do?‖ She made it sound like his being naked and therefore stuck in this bathroom for the foreseeable future was not her fault. ―Jesus Christ,‖ said Ken, and put his hands up to his face. Whoops, he had just exposed himself. Oh, bugger it, he thought, and strode out of the disgusting bathroom confidently. Christina looked a little bit surprised. She probably thinks I wouldn‘t have the guts to run around the town naked, he thought. Well, too bad. He was beyond caring about such stuff anymore. Maybe he would get known for this. Maybe this would go down in town legend. Maybe a passer-by would see it going on and he‘d get christened with a brand new bum name, like ‗Nudey‘ or something. Yay. He walked out through the kitchen. The pong in there emanating from his burnt-up clothes was vile. They had even burned his perfectly good shoes. Pam looked in disbelief. ―Alrighty,‖ she said, slowly. ―I suppose that was bound to happen, wasn‘t it? I don‘t think we thought the burning of the clothes through, did we, great, great auntie Priscilla?‖ Christina was walking briskly behind Ken, trying to keep up. ―Um, yes,‖ she said, hurrying on. ―Well, bye! Nice to meet you!‖ ―Alrighty,‖ came the final word from within the coffee shop as the front door swung shut. Ken walked purposefully like he was actually wearing clothes. His thin, nerdy body had never seen the sunlight. He was kind of hoping that someone, anyone would see him on his way back to the comfy rock, but annoyingly, the street was totally devoid of human life. He glanced back at the angling shop. The suitcases had gone. Nobody was noticing. Bugger. What a complete waste of public nudity, he thought. He figured that it would seem a bit cheesy and fake if he decided to hang around, leaning on a shrub until somebody came. He had some sort of dignity. So, he crossed the road and went back on his way to the comfy rock, between the graveyard and the church. ―Wait! Wait! Wait!‖ shouted Christina, puffing a little way behind him. ―I know where you can get some real nice clothes!‖ ―I can‘t say I want a bunch of real nice clothes,‖ said Ken. ―I‘m attempting to be a bum, you know. Anyway, if I‘m the second coming of Jesus, as you so flatteringly think I am, then wouldn‘t it be great if I wore a toga?‖ ―No, no, it wouldn‘t,‖ she said. ―Then you really wouldn‘t get taken seriously. Anyway, I need you to wear nice things for the next part of the plan.‖ ―Uh-huh,‖ said Ken. ―And what might the next part of the plan be, then?‖ ―Oh, it will be fun,‖ was all Christina said. Ken knew that it would not include fun from his point of view. ―Come on, let‘s go back to the crypt and play dress-ups!‖ ―Can I grab my tablecloth first?‖ asked Ken, looking longingly over at the comfy rock. ―No, you won‘t need it. Come on,‖ she said, grabbing him by the elbow and dragging him towards the church. Boy, he didn‘t want to go in the crypt again. The sky was clouding over and it was turning grey. ―Oh, alright, alright,‖ he said, because it probably was a sensible idea to forego running around in a tablecloth for the rest of his life, and allowed himself to be dragged into the church. As they went up the aisle, Ken examined the fire in which the poor innocent Jesus had been burnt by Christina the night before, when she‘d gotten bored of him. He could see a similar fate happening to him eventually. Just when Jesus had been deposed from the cross, after hanging up there above the altar for far more than the compulsory three days and three nights, and had gotten a taste of freedom once again, he‘d been executed once again. Ken could just make out a charred stick that was probably the guy. His reaching arms had been completely destroyed. Ken wondered whether there‘d be a little untouched heart in there, like in the story The Happy Prince. Boy, Christina really did like to burn stuff. Back down they went into the scary crypt. It seemed a hell of a lot darker than it had the last time, even after Christina ran up the other end and gotten the lantern all lit up and stuff. Ken felt more vulnerable. Probably because he was naked. He shivered and his feet were having to stand in ancient dust. ―Hey, I know where some superb clothes for you are,‖ said Christina, dimly lit halfway down the gloom. ―Um, OK. I hope they‘re not coming off a corpse,‖ said Ken. ―Well, no, not directly,‖ said Christina. ―What?‖ screeched Ken. ―I was just joking about the clothes coming off some dead guy!‖ ―Don‘t worry, calm down,‖ said Christina. ―I was joking too.‖ ―Phew,‖ said Ken. ―Most probably.‖ ―Gah,‖ said Ken. ―So, where are these clothes?‖ ―Right here,‖ said Christina, who appeared to be sliding a very heavy lid off a sarcophagus. ―Oh my God!‖ screamed Ken. ―You are graverobbing!‖ ―Relax,‖ said Christina, calmly. ―There seriously are no dead bodies in here. This is where I got my lovely dress. See?‖ She held up another fancy, old-fashioned black dress to prove it. It was lady sized. ―OK,‖ said Ken. ―Fine. Get some clothes or whatever. I don‘t care what they‘re like, as long as they‘re supremely comfy.‖ ―Nah,‖ said Christina. ―Just leave it to me. I‘ll get something real flash.‖ She rustled around for a long time, as Ken started to shiver in the rarified, freezing crypt air. She also knocked the lantern over with her foot as she leaned over the edge. ―Whoops!‖ she muffled as the crypt went completely black for a while. Finally, the lantern flared up again, and Christina was holding up a drab, old-fashioned, too fancy black suit. It looked like it probably went with a top hat. ―Here we go!‖ she said. ―This is going to fit you fantastically! I do have a dampener on things, though, I must admit. I can‘t find any undies or socks.‖ Ken sighed. ―I think I still have some in my plastic bag,‖ he said. ―Yay! OK, well, why don‘t you go and grab your undies and whack them on, and take these with you, and I‘ll get some groovy shoes!‖ said Christina, very satisfied with herself, handing him the suit and all its matching paraphernalia. ―Whatever,‖ said Ken, shrugging, and he got the hell out of the crypt. Back outside, as the clouds continued to thicken, Ken looked at his new suit. It wasn‘t as dusty as he‘d expected it to be. In fact, it looked pretty clean and brand new, like it had only been worn once. It did, however, look exactly like a mourning suit, which wasn‘t nearly as cheerful as his filthy pyjamas had been. Ah, the memories. Those pyjamas had been good to him. It turned out that he did have a change of undies and a change of socks in his plastic bag. Phew. They had that musty smell which was exactly like when you leave wet washing in the washing machine for a few days; quite unpleasant. But, he had to admit that overall, he was going to smell a hell of a lot better than he had for a while, annoyingly. After struggling with the pants for an inordinate amount of time, Christina bounded out of the church and across to the comfy rock with a shiny pair of jet black shoes. ―Have you only gotten that far?‖ she said, as if putting on an alien pair of pants with buttons all over it was terribly easy. ―Well, obviously I‘ve only gotten that far,‖ said Ken with the pants falling around his ankles. ―Alright,‖ said Christina. ―Let‘s work as a team. I‘ll tell you what to do, and you‘ll do it. You can start by hoisting your pants back up, or even, in fact, by turning them the right way and then hoisting them up, which would be even more promising.‖ Ken rolled his eyes and got started. Christina would say how to do something in layman‘s terms, with lots of pointing and gesturing, and then Ken would do it. Eventually, after maybe twenty minutes, Ken was wearing the ensemble. It turned out that when he looked down, he was wearing a shiny black cummerbund without even knowing it. ―Um, can I not have this on?‖ asked Ken, pointing at the cummerbund. ―OK,‖ sighed Christina disappointedly. ―I suppose that‘s a fair enough trade-off.‖ Ken whipped it off and flung it into the open space behind the comfy rock. There. He was almost not too fancy. At least there was no hat involved. It all fitted pretty well. The guy who died in the suit or whatever must have been a pretty thin, weedy type of guy as well. ―Ace,‖ said Christina. ―Phase two completed. And it‘s only just hit midday! Yay!‖ She jumped up and down for some reason. ―And how many phases to this day again?‖ inquired Ken. ―Oh, just three,‖ said Christina. ―Merely three. Only three. Mwa-ha-hahaha!‖ She twiddled her fingers together. ―Great, e-hehehe,‖ laughed Ken fakely and weakly. ―So, this mysterious phase three I speak of, well, it‘s not going to take place until later. Maybe six or seven o‘clock tonight.‖ ―Uh, why?‖ asked Ken. ―Because,‖ retorted Christina. ―Have you never heard of a particular event needing to take place at a certain time, like the Summer Solstice, for instance?‖ ―Yes, yes, point taken,‖ said Ken. ―So, then, what are we going to do for the rest of the afternoon?‖ ―Good question. How about we do something that you want to do?‖ said Christina in a generous voice. ―Wow, what a revolutionary idea,‖ said Ken. Hm. What did he want to do? He actually didn‘t feel like curling up onto the comfy rock and zone out for a slew of hours. It was probably the new clothes‘ fault. They were sort of itchy, bunchy and restrictive; not conducive to the foetal position at all. Some random idea from his distant, shorter-than-most-people‘s childhood popped into his head. ―Hey! Let‘s play two square!‖ He yelled. ―Yay!‖ shouted Christine, and they found a rubber ball near the side of the road, marked off a court for themselves, and jumped around all afternoon. What Happened During Ken’s Rousing Game of Two Square Obviously, Heloise and Professor Tomkins, upon arriving in Gisborne, didn‘t do the thing that would have been the easiest, which was to go into the coffee shop and then meet Ken when he was forced by Christina to go there. Instead, they decided to go into the angling shop next door to it. Well, Heloise had decided upon it, actually. Professor Tomkins remained detached from the whole situation, as per usual. The reason why Heloise had thought it was such a good idea to go in there and ask some questions was because, to be honest, the morbidly, yet happily, obese woman shuffling about in the coffee shop with a bright aqua jumper on that Heloise could see through the shop window didn‘t look as if she‘d know anything about anything. How wrong Heloise was. Well, Pam didn‘t know much about anything, least of all how to make nice meals and keep a kitchen reasonably clean, but she did have the info that Heloise would have killed for. So, anyway, Heloise had looked into the angling shop also and had seen a man in there who was a) less busy, and b) had a very long, wispy beard. Therefore, she had quickly deduced, this man was probably quite wise, maybe like the patriarch of the town. People would come into his shop and tell him all the town gossip, and then ask for advice. Yes, that looked like the sort of man he was. She couldn‘t see at the time that he was wearing waders inside. Heloise told Professor Tomkins that it would be fine if they left their suitcases outside. This was a country town. It wasn‘t as if anyone was going to snoop around and open their zips or anything. Also, if they took them inside, who knew how many nasty hooks would accumulate in the nice leather surfaces of Heloise‘s suitcase, making a big tangle of fishing rods and stuff? Professor Tomkins didn‘t mind about leaving his little bag outside the shop in the least. After all, all he had was some crap like a razor and a very minimal change of clothes. He was going to leave the bag outside the door anyway, but he didn‘t bother saying that. They went into the shop and stood around. The old man with the wispy beard could tell that they were there, but he was slightly busy wrapping some fishing line up on a very large reel, meticulously. He stuck one tongue out (technically, he had two tongues, because in the war, some enemy guy had unceremoniously sliced it in two, just to be mean), and slowly, oh so slowly, wound the line around the reel, making sure that when the line made contact with the reel, it went exactly next to the last piece of line he‘d wound on in his last snail-pace twirl. He looked like he wasn‘t going to be ready to talk to anybody until he finished the whole piece of line, of which the unwound portion was still able to cascade onto the floor in a small tangle. Finally, the whole thing was wound up. The old, beardy man stuck his tongue back into his mouth. That had always been his favourite tongue. He thought it was more aesthetically pleasing than the other one; he always preferred to stick that one out when he needed to. The other one was utilitarian; he used that one for tasting things, scraping crud out of his fillings, etc. ―So, what can I do for you ladies?‖ asked the old man. He had bad eyesight. ―Yes, you can do one thing,‖ said Heloise in a business-like manner, not unlike the one she had used to wake people up on the phone with last week. ―We were wondering whether you had seen a slightly unruly man in the town this week; one you might not have ever seen before, wearing pyjamas and a jumper?‖ She moved her arms around demonstratively, attempting to give the old man an idea of how ‗yea high‘ Ken was but without actually knowing. ―You do realise that almost everyone in the town fits that description, don‘t you?‖ said the old man in a rare burst of actual wiseness. ―Alright then. I can accept that people in this town might be slightly unkempt, but have you seen somebody you haven‘t recognised lately?‖ asked Heloise, looking at the old man‘s waders with slight concern. ―Oh, I can‘t really recognise anybody usually,‖ said the old man. ―My eyesight‘s so bad. That‘s why I like the idea of fishing. You don‘t have to see in the water. You just throw the end of your line in and then it‘s all about the feel. You do have to be able to see the shore line, usually, I have to admit. So, to round off, my point is that I‘m good at names, but not faces. You‘re not from around here, are you? I sense an accent. Let me guess, you‘re from Horsham?‖ Heloise pushed on through the wilderness of the old man‘s mind. ―OK. So, if you do remember names better, then does the name Nobel Prizewinner Doctor Ken Wong, OA ring a bell at all?‖ ―Um, yes – yes it does!‖ said the old man, his glazed face lighting up. ―I certainly have heard that name!‖ ―Yay!‖ shouted Heloise. ―Where is he? Can you tell me where he is?‖ ―Yes, I can tell you exactly where he is,‖ said the old man excitedly. He did love to help. ―He‘s in the Age, two weeks ago on the Wednesday, in the science section – an article about him all on how he‘d just won the Nobel Prize and that everybody in Victoria is so proud of him – I sure was when my friend Flora down at the bank read it out to me – she always reads out the newspaper to me, you see-― Heloise cut the old man short. ―So you don‘t know where he is in real life, do you?‖ She asked, tersely, which wasn‘t really fair on the old man, who really was trying to help. ―No, sorry,‖ said the old man, who then hung his head. ―Sorry to bother you,‖ said Heloise, and then strode out of the shop, fed up. When Heloise was out of the shop, the door having slammed behind her, Professor Tomkins held back and gave the old man a friendly pat on the shoulder. ―Thanks for your help,‖ he said warmly. ―Oh, bugger, I thought you were a lady,‖ said the old man. ―Don‘t worry,‖ said Professor Tomkins, reassuringly, and then he too left the shop. Heloise was antsy. ―Alright. How about we just look around the town for a while? It‘s probably the quickest way to do this,‖ she suggested. ―Uh….. erm…. I…… I suppose so,‖ said Professor Tomkins, and so that was what they did. Dragging their luggage behind them, which in the case of Professor Tomkins was pretty darn easy, they wandered around Gisborne, seeing a hell of a lot more of the place than Ken had yet. It really was a most pleasant town. Lots of cows and sheep hanging around in people‘s front yards, probably as pets; a glimpse of some girl riding a horse down a dirt side road; some ramshackle sheds, one of which proudly housed a gnome collection, and the crisp smell of some virgin country air that was yet to experience the sound of Push Up as a mobile phone ringtone piercing it. They got to what was probably the town centre, and by this time, Heloise‘s arm felt like it was about to come off after pulling her suitcase along so far. Her hand was purple and probably had blisters on it. She wished she‘d bought a suitcase with wheels on it instead of the cutest-looking one. Ouch. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, Heloise spotted what she thought was the jackpot. A pair of bums, loitering around a rubbish bin outside the town post office, nicely framed by a bed of petunias in front of them. How wonderful! ―Oh my God! Hooray!‖ yelled Heloise, and then said to professor Tomkins, ―I will go and check out those bums if you‘d like to mind the suitcases.‖ ―Yes, that would be fine,‖ said Professor Tomkins and he obediently took a seat on a park bench that was very close by. He folded his arms behind his head and turned it skyward, shutting his eyes and enjoying the sun. Heloise walked towards the bums. She was kind of hoping that one of them was Ken, because wouldn‘t that be easy then, but she could tell that these guys had been at it for a good number of years. The absolute filth on them looked like it had had its first layer applied sometime during the Romanesque period, and certainly, the teeth they had seemed to be used to Byzantine hygiene habits only. One of them looked particularly wild. ―Ahem,‖ said Heloise, addressing the less wild one, who incidentally was Teddy. She wasn‘t actually clearing her throat. It was more of a token politeness when she was actually slightly terrified. ―ggg-ll=sssppllllll….bh…..bhhhht…..yyyyyy?‖ said Teddy. Well, it was more spitting than saying. A blob of spittle ended up on his chin after that statement. ―Err, uhh…. Ummm,‖ said Heloise, sounding remarkably like what Teddy had just said, ―have you seen another bum around, much like yourselves, except perhaps a slightly more novice bum, say only a few days old? In bum terms, I mean?‖ The two bums stared at Heloise. They didn‘t say anything at all. It didn‘t even look as if they had recognised that she‘d said anything at all. They just stared at her in incomprehension. Actually, the bum who had said the gibberish was looking more like he was staring into the depths of her soul; as if he could read exactly what she was all about, how much she wanted to find the beatific Ken, how much she wanted to get to the end of the journey, as if it were one epic quest in the style of the Illiad; how she had crossed many seas and left behind all that she knew, which was her crappy neat flat; how she had brought along her finest crew, which was Professor Tomkins, and how she was longing, longing for her mighty goal. The other bum continued to crouch, looking very glazed. After Teddy looked at Heloise intently for what seemed the appropriate amount of time he figured it would take to look extremely sagely and profound, he turned to the other bum and said, ―Fang?‖ ―Huh?‖ said Heloise. Fang then took a huge, greenish shit out of his arse and flung it at Heloise. It hit her chest. ―Ahhhh! Bwaaah! Oh my Lord! Fuck! Fuck!‖ screeched Heloise, jumping up and down and then, sensibly, vacating the area. She ran over to Professor Tomkins. He snapped out of his meditative state, opened his eyes and stood up off the bench and said, ―Golly. What‘s the matter?‖ ―That bum over there just threw poo on me! Look!‖ she cried, pointing at the offending area. Professor Tomkins couldn‘t help laughing, which he tried to suppress, but it came out as a strange little chuckly snort. ―My goodness. What a nerve,‖ he said, waveringly. He was still on the brink of laughter. ―Oh, come on. Let‘s stop this wandering around,‖ said Heloise. ―Let‘s go and find somewhere to have a spot of lunch or something. I‘ve simply got to change right now.‖ ―Yes, of course,‖ said Professor Tomkins. And so, they went to find a hotel, which ended up being very much like their direct search for Ken, except that Heloise was imagining that her suitcase was feeling far more heavy than it was before, and that she also had shit streaked down her top. After a bloody long time, going round and round in ever slightly more wide circles in the town centre, they came to what looked like the only pub in the place. It looked seedy and full of shady types, but then again, Heloise thought to herself that the entire town was full of bastards, so what‘s the difference? They went in. Heloise got her bag stuck in the doorway, which had a very splintery threshold. Bugger. The inside of the pub looked as if it had never even heard of the word ‗daytime‘. It was black, clogged with smoke. In fact, the whole of the inside, which seemed to mostly consist of giant oak rafters and nasty-looking liquids in bottles, seemed to have been petrified by the years of tobacco residue pumping through the air. It was truly vile. ―Eh, what can I do you for?‖ asked the guy behind the bar, who was predictably wearing a flannelette shirt over his beer belly. ―Hey, do you have shit on your shirt?‖ he added. ―Um, yes, well, actually I do,‖ said Heloise. ―Ha ha!‖ the guy behind the bar cackled. ―That odious hobo out in the street threw it at me,‖ said Heloise, frowning. ―Oh, that must be Fang!‖ chuckled the guy behind the bar, his tummy wobbling. ―Yep, sounds like Fang alright.‖ ―Yes, I believe that‘s what the other hobo called him, possibly as a go-ahead to throw it at me,‖ said Heloise. ―They do work as a team,‖ said the guy behind the bar. ―They‘re a wily couple, those two. They‘re like a married couple, almost.‖ ―Mmm,‖ said Heloise, not ever wanting to hear another word about the horrible bums. ―Can I use a shower, by any chance, please?‖ ―Uh, lady, wait a sec,‖ said the guy behind the bar, ―are you gonna book a room for the night? Because I don‘t think I can let you just use the shower, you know? I mean, I don‘t even know youse. It would be different if I knew youse, but you‘re strangers to me, you know what I‘m sayin‘?‖ ―Yes, yes, that would be fine,‖ said Heloise. ―It would be fine, wouldn‘t it, Professor Tomkins?‖ She turned around to him. Professor Tomkins‘s head was only just able to fit in the pub with all the rafters flying around. ―Mmm, yes, that would be fine,‖ he said too, in his placid way. They probably would need a room for the night, Heloise figured. They certainly weren‘t having any luck with the search for Ken. The whole fiasco was taking rather longer than she had anticipated. Just when she‘d thought that the whole thing was in the bag; that she‘d done ninety-nine point seven of the difficult stuff, she‘d expected this last bit to be much more easy than it had turned out to be. She was going to bail for the day. Admit defeat, at least temporarily. She couldn‘t even be bothered asking the guy behind the bar whether he‘d seen Ken, even though he seemed like a positive expert on the bums in this town. Tiredly, she listened to the explanations about all the intricate inner workings and temprementalities of the pub, all the fire exits, etc. and held out her hand for the key. She hoped Professor Tomkins was taking all these instructions in, though she doubted it. She picked up her luggage again, trawled it through the mass of black timber chairs and black timber tables, and dragged it up the stairs, a thud on each step. Whenever the hell she managed to find the room that matched the unlabeled key, got the humiliating stench of shit off her body and changed, she was going to go down into the pub and drink until she was totally fucked up. Ken Experiences the Magic of Phase Three Without Realising that it is Indeed Phase Three Ken and Christina spent the entire afternoon playing two square. It was really quite lovely, apart from the awful stitch Ken was getting up the side, the fact that he was wearing an entire heat- trapping suit, and that Christina kept thrashing him. Christina had named the square in which you went to when you won a rally the King square, and the square you had to go to when you lost the rally the dunce square. Ken was mostly in the dunce square, but that didn‘t miff him in any way because he knew that was what their relationship was in real life, except he was supposed to be the second coming of Jesus, and she was merely supposed to be someone who had only just earned their first stripes as a saint newbie. He didn‘t know what was up with that. The sun eventually decided to make its way back down to the horizon, and finally Christina let Ken have a rest. He had been complaining about his stitch a little bit, but Christina had kept saying, ―Come on! This is fun! You can‘t stop! We‘re on a roll!‖ and several other such things. Secretly, Ken didn‘t really want to stop anyway. He was feeling lots of abandon in his cumbersome restrictive mourning suit. In fact, it was a feeling quite similar to the one he‘d gotten for those few days, curled up alone on the rock, with the sensation that he was a floaty element, like the air. But when he was jumping around like a floppy doll, chasing the dessicated rubber ball and trying to hit it with his hands, laughing and accidentally breathing in at the same time, he just felt grand. When Christina gave the order to stop playing, Ken puffed and couldn‘t help saying, ―That was fun.‖ ―Gosh, it really, really was, wasn‘t it?‖ said Christina, sounding just as free and just like a normal child. They ran over to the comfy rock in a silly run and sat down, swinging their legs. Christina examined the scab under his chin. ―Hmm, that sore you sustained while helping me out in the church has healed up pretty well already, hasn‘t it?‖ she said. ―You only got it yesterday.‖ Even the awful things that Christina had done to Ken before the afternoon that day seemed like a billion years ago. ―Yeah, I guess it has,‖ he said. They smiled at each other, like real friends. Incidentally, Ken had never had a real friend moment like this before. Their faces glowed, and the sunset helped out with that. The sky turned purple, and then grey. Cheesily, they held hands, like Ken remembered he had done with partners in double lines they had to make in assembly in primary school. It was ace. Some stars came out and everything was quiet. ―I think we should go and hang out at the pub. What do you think?‖ asked Christine. ―Um, you‘re eight,‖ said Ken. ―Oh, come on,‖ said Christina. ―Look at us! We‘re looking way too excellent and smartly dressed to waste it on sitting on this rock all night! Plus, it‘s OK if I‘m with an adult.‖ ―Well, I guess that would be OK,‖ said Ken. Maybe a nice, relaxing jaunt to the pub would be a quite nice way to round off the night, he thought to himself. He could stand being around a few people. He also thought it might be a quite nice thing to do, because it was yet another rite of passage he‘d never experienced; he hadn‘t ever really been to a pub except to run in and get pathetic unfinished bits of assignments off other students that were supposed to be in his research team at uni. Those other students always did look like they were having an awesome time. ―Come on, let‘s go,‖ said Christina, pulling him up off the rock and leading the way. She guided him by the hand past through the clump of trees around the rock, through a part in some bushes where some birds cooed quietly as they roosted, onto the road where opposite the coffee shop stood, dark but nestled safely in its bank of other shops, further down the road than Ken had even been before, past beautiful peaceful verandah-ed houses, wild flowers and sleepy munching horses wearing capes, down further and further, past the sturdy town hall with its grand pillars and pediments and domes, further and further, until they reached a pub which looked like the most inviting pub in the world. A dim light housed in a red lampshade in a window near the door beckoned them in. The door flapped slightly in a tiny breeze. It didn‘t occur to Ken that they were about to embark on phase three. Christina looked at Ken fondly and tilted her head towards the entrance. ―You first,‖ she said, like the entire thing was a dream. ―OK,‖ said Ken, as if he was in a trance. He headed in. The first thing that happened was that a lady in an evening dress sitting at the bar with her head propped up in her hand turned around sleepily to see who had just come in, and then upon recognising who it was jumped up and screamed, ―OH MY FUCKING LORD! KEN! KEN! IT‘S YOU! SMASHING! BRILLIANT! I CAN‘T BELIEVE THIS! I THOUGHT YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO BE A BUM BUT YOU LOOK BRILLIANT! OH MY LORD OH MY LORD! THIS CAN‘T BE TRUE I MUST BE IMAGINING IT I MEAN I KNOW I‘M DRUNK ALMOST LEGLESS ALREADY BUT FUCK! FUCK!‖ It was unpleasantly loud. Also, this lady in an evening dress knew his name, which was peculiar. She ran over to him, tripping over the hem in her dramatic, sparkly gown and fell onto Ken‘s chest. Thank god he was wearing the elaborate morning suit, because Ken‘s chest was pretty bloody unpleasantly bony. He grabbed her before her face slid down to meet his groin and beyond, because it seemed like the practical thing to do. To anybody else, including Heloise, it looked like a climactic scene in a chick flick. Incidentally, Heloise approved of that vibe wholeheartedly. He held her up. Her knees were all weak, probably due to excessive amounts of alcohol. Heloise noticed, but she thought it was more a case of romance. ―How do you know my name? That‘s pretty weird,‖ said Ken. ―I‘ve been looking all over for you,‖ said Heloise. ―You‘re my, my….. oh, I forgot.‖ She collapsed back into Ken‘s concave chest. She couldn‘t remember how to say ‗honorary doctorate candidate‘. The words were way too long right about now. ―Oh, never mind. Let‘s just sit down,‖ said Ken, feeling a first pang of chivalry. This was yet another human emotion he was experiencing for the first time. Wow, he was learning a lot today. He even pulled out a barstool for the lady. That was instinctual. He hadn‘t learnt that off the telly. She sat down. ―Anyway, sorry about all that,‖ said the lady, beaming and beaming. ―I should introduce myself. The name‘s Heloise. I‘m from England.‖ ―Yes, I noticed that. The accent, you know,‖ said Ken. ―Oh! A-haha ha! Yes! Of course! How silly of me! It must be blindingly obvious! Gosh!‖ she flustered. She couldn‘t stop bloody smiling or saying crap things. ―God, you‘re beautiful,‖ she said. Ken felt alarmed. He‘d never been cracked onto by a chick before. But, in a hard to explain way, it was a nice sort of alarmed feeling. It was like a pang of panic in the chest, sort of like the ones he always got when Christina told him to do something particularly scary, except this pang didn‘t feel tight. It was a pang of expectancy. Like it was going to go somewhere. He thought that it would probably be very acceptable to him if he had another one just like it. ―Can I get you a drink?‖ said Heloise, breathing in deeply, folding her head back. Little did Ken know, she was doing that because there was a patch of less smoky air up there, but Ken thought it was marvellous and he got a stiffy. ―Yes, a drink would be nice. You pick one,‖ he said. He had no idea which drinks were good. He didn‘t even recall any time he‘d actually had alcohol, except at some kid‘s bar mitzvah he went to some time when he was small. The kid whose party it was made Ken taste wine on pain of death, and then Ken had felt terrible about it for the rest of the week and couldn‘t even bring it up to his parents. Heloise‘s lips had bright red lipstick on them, matching the dress exactly. What the hell, she had thought up there in her shitty room with her shitty top on that afternoon. All Professor Tomkins wanted to do was go to bed and get over his jet lag. How positively depressing. But, fuck him. She was going to put on her most slinky evening gown, sweep up her hair and look spectacular, just because. She knew that the pub wouldn‘t deserve it, but now she knew it did. The pub had given her the best fucking present ever. ―Get him a dry martini, shaken, not stirred,‖ she said to the guy behind the bar. His flannelette shirt had big sweat stains under the armpits, but despite this, Heloise felt like she was thoroughly in a James Bond movie. The Sean Connery type. Ken thought that Heloise looked like a picture he had seen one time on a magazine of Gwyneth Paltrow. He hadn‘t seen many movie stars, really. He was all a bit oblivious to such things, so it was sort of lucky that he knew about Gwyneth Paltrow. Otherwise, he would be lost. The guy behind the bar gave Ken the martini. ―Cheers, mate,‖ he said. The drink looked spectacular, though admittedly there were a few unsightly thumbprints shining on the glass. Ignoring that, the olive on the stick looked positively exotic, and the liquid in the glass looked glowing and translucent. This was fascinating. Heloise picked up a half-drunk pot of VB, which she assumed was hers, and drawing near his face for no useful reason she said, seductively, ―Let‘s go. Let‘s drink.‖ Ken had one small problem. He had caught a whiff of the drink, and it smelt like hazardous waste, and Ken had smelt a lot of that at the university in his time. ―Mmmm. It pongs,‖ he said. ―Just down the hatch,‖ said Heloise. ―Like this.‖ She clutched the pot in her hand and chugged it down in the most feminine way possible with VB, which admittedly wasn‘t very. But, once again, she arched her head back, and this time Ken looked down at her tits, which were being framed very tastefully by the sparkly red dress. Bewilderingly, he had the urge to reach out and milk them. But, instead, and sensibly, he took the other, safer option, which was to take the martini glass, wisely take the olive on the stick out of it, lay it on the bench and swallow the whole contents, real fast. ―Pah! Woah!‖ said Ken. His head was spinning already. Heloise snuck her hand across the bar and picked up the olive on the stick. In the most seductive way she knew how, she brought it to her lips and pulled the olive off with her teeth, then sucked on it. She normally hated olives like the devil, but she‘d consumed an arseload of VBs over the course of the afternoon, so there was no hope of her tasting anything anymore. ―Ahem,‖ said Ken, getting the classic case of being hot under the collar, tugging at his fancy tie, not having the least clue in how to get it off. He was also impressed that Heloise had the guts to eat something that had just been lying directly on the grotty bar. ―Let‘s have another,‖ said Heloise, putting her hand on Ken‘s knee. ―Shit yeah,‖ said Ken, feeling very into it. He reciprocated with his hand on her knee. God, this was ace. As far as he knew, they were the only two people in the bar. Even the guy behind the bar was a complete non-entity right now. The guy behind the bar gave Ken another martini and Heloise another VB. This time, Ken was more confident. He took the olive stick thing out, which he still didn‘t understand the purpose of, and then slung it down his throat before it had even known that anything had gone in there. He wanted to do it especially fast so he could watch Heloise‘s tits again when she skolled her drink. She complied, sensing that this was the case. This time, she stuck her chest out. It was cheesy, she knew, but fuck it. Sometimes cheesy stuff seems exactly appropriate when drunk. She was right. Due to Ken‘s pathetic thinness and general inexperience with liquor, he did something completely beyond his control. Some voice right in the back of his head said, ―Um, please stop,‖ but he did it anyway. He actually put his hand on Heloise‘s boob. She looked surprised. ―Oh, fuck. Whoops,‖ he said. ―No, that‘s OK,‖ said Heloise, ―but, should we not go somewhere else?‖ ―Uh, you mean outside the bar?‖ asked Ken. His mind was getting pleasantly foggy. ―Yes,‖ said Heloise. She thought that Ken knew what she meant. Ken sort of did. Rumpy pumpy, wasn‘t it? ―One more drink, maybe,‖ said Ken, who thought that the more inebriated he got, the more successful the event would probably be. And so, they gulped down one more round and left the bar, absolutely oblivious to everybody else in the world and feeling magical. They stood outside. ―Um,‖ said Ken. He didn‘t know exactly where the bar was in relation to the comfy rock, or anything else he knew of. Heloise assumed that Ken knew his way around town a bit better than she did. ―Anywhere will do, really,‖ she said. ―Just not in the pub. I want to be out of there.‖ Ken thought wildly about which way to go. Nothing looked remotely familiar, but he wanted to sound knowledgeable. ―OK, this way,‖ he said, in a hunch, hoping that it was the way to the comfy rock. As they walked down an alleyway in between two houses and out into open pasture, it did look like comfy rock territory, but it wasn‘t. Bugger. Ken was thoroughly lost. They came upon a classic amish-style red barn. Ken couldn‘t be bothered walking any more. It would just look stupid, so he went with the flow and said, ―How about in here?‖ ―Yes,‖ said Heloise, and so they did. They went up to the giant barn door. Ken pushed it and, thank god, it slid open a bit. They slipped in. It was seriously dark in there, but not at all like the crypt. The ominous clouds of the afternoon had lifted and a bright moon and a zillion stars pushed their way through the rafters and the quarter-opened door and made everything silver. The décor of the barn was a generously thick helping of dry, new straw and a noble old rusty plough. Thank Christ it wasn‘t populated by a swarm of chickens, thought Ken, the thought having crossed his mind a bit earlier. They lay down on a luxurious bed of straw, rustling. Ken sighed a big sigh of desire. Boy, was he drunk. Heloise rolled over onto her side, facing Ken, and unzipped her dress. It flopped down, and she shimmied out of it. Then, she took off her bra. There was no way Ken would be able to figure out how to do it. Then, off cane the undies. She was totally nude. Awesome. Ken tried to do the male equivalent of that on himself. He didn‘t know where to start exactly, but went with a gut feeling and began with the jacket. Yep, that came off with no hitches, but then the shirt really presented a problem. He could unbutton it most of the way up, but then the darn tie got in the way and jumbled things up. ―Oh, oh, fuck,‖ he said quietly, panicking. ―Here, let me,‖ said the completely naked Heloise. She took the hair tie out of her hair and released it, waving her head all around. With her hair lying lightly on Ken‘s face, she attempted to get the tie undone. Fuck. She couldn‘t do it either. ―Um,‖ she said. ―OK. Let‘s leave that for the moment. How about we try the pants?‖ suggested Ken. He didn‘t hold many hopes for the pants either, to be honest. Heloise took the advice. She fumbled with the fly but didn‘t get anywhere. ―I can‘t do it,‖ she said. ―Ah, um,‖ said Ken, tugging at random things while Heloise lolled around. It didn‘t help that they were both hammered. Finally, Ken slumped back into the straw. ―I‘m defeated,‖ he said. ―Come on, let‘s just rip it off,‖ said Heloise. ―You don‘t mind, do you?‖ ―Nope. These aren‘t mine anyway,‖ said Ken, and so they started to tear away. The clothes were annoyingly well made, and out of particularly good material, which made things almost impossibly difficult. Ken‘s fancy suit didn‘t end up ripping, which would have been firmly in the territory of a romance novel with a picture of Fabio gracing the front. What happened instead was that the clothes loosened, and then eventually came off somehow, but the frigging tie stayed on, now all jaunty. ―Oh, well, that will have to stay,‖ said Ken, giving up and touching Heloise‘s boobs again. It was a while since Heloise had done the deed. She couldn‘t even remember the last time she‘d done it with Professor Tomkins, or what it was like when they‘d done it, or even where. She could only speculate. ―Oh, Nobel Prizewinner Doctor Ken Wong, OA!‖ she yelled, as she mounted Ken and started the sex act. Ken was totally, totally into this, but because he was so fucking blotto, and because he had absolutely no experience in this sort of thing, he was tending to do more harm than good, lying there moving from side to side instead of thrusting up and down, and being slightly flaccid from inebriation. Neither of them noticed the flaws in their horizontal boogie, however, so they kept at it, optimistic. Ken eventually got the hang of it, almost, and they went for it together. ―Mmm. Mmmm. Cool,‖ he said, which he couldn‘t help. He felt the pang he‘d experienced previously recreate itself in his willy, which was lovely. He looked at Heloise‘s tits, which swayed to and fro, and he grabbed them. Spontaneously, he licked a rivulet of sweat from in between them. It was a classy move, according to what Heloise did next. She took his head and shoved it in between her boobs and there it stayed until they came, which for Ken was a bit later than Heloise, but it was all cool. It was all cool. Finally, when Ken let his semen go into regions unknown, he yelled very loudly, ―Cool! Cool! This is so cool!‖ ―Yep!‖ said Heloise, approvingly, and thus was the conclusion of Ken‘s first official score. They stayed in their slighty unusual copulation positions for a while, and Ken‘s penis went floppy inside Heloise‘s vagina. Then, they separated and both of them flopped back onto the hay, tingling. ―Shit, that was cool,‖ said Ken. ―God, yeah. You‘re so much more handsome than in the pictures I‘ve seen of you,‖ said Heloise. ―Aw, shucks,‖ said Ken, and they locked lips. The deep sleep of the drunk was upon them. Just about the only thing Ken had the strength to do was reach across Heloise and grab his musty undies and put them back on. Heloise stayed exactly as she was, au naturale, and sighed contentedly. The moon and the stars shone on, just like the song, except without the sun included, and the straw felt warm, and the world seemed right as slumber crawled over their bodies. The last thing that Ken remembered before he went unconscious was the spectre of Christina looming over him, grinning evilly, like a snapshot. Ken Finds His Way Back Ken woke up with a giant gasp, as if he were being strangled. The last thing on his mind last night was the first thing on his mind that morning, namely being that awful, awful, half-a-second vision of Christina leering over him. If it was actually a dream, it was the only dream he had. He couldn‘t exactly remember what he‘d done the night before, but he propped himself up in the straw and saw a hot naked chick lying beside him. Woah. He‘d scored. Yes! It was a pity he couldn‘t remember the actual scoring part, because if he couldn‘t picture how it went, he‘d probably have to learn what to do all over again. Oh, well. He‘d probably enjoy it. The last thing he could remember was looking at the lady‘s tits in the bar and how much a martini tasted like crap. He‘d have to try another alcoholic beverage next time. Now, he looked at the sleeping lady beside him‘s boobs and he touched them again. Awesome. Cool. He felt a little wiggle deep inside of him, but he left it at that. He was pretty sure his willy had gotten a good workout the night before. He looked up and around at the barn. It was huge, and they were lying just near the entrance. The moon and the stars that had turned the inside of the barn to silver had been replaced by a piercingly blue sky complimented by the sun, which he could see quite clearly through all the gaps in the barn cladding. Fuck. A shiver of fear went though Ken. He went back to his old practical self somewhat. What if a farmer came in and busted them? he thought. How embarrassing. He decided it was best to get the hell out of there, quick smart. He wasn‘t about to wake up the naked lady. Gosh. Too mortifying. Anyway, she looked too perfect to bother waking up. She was partly lying on his clothes, so they would have to be done without. It wasn‘t like he could be bothered ever putting them on again, anyway. Even if he had a very detailed instructional video that he could watch any time he still couldn‘t be bothered, he hypothesized. He got up and peered out the barn door into the sunlight. Boy, it was bright today. Also, he had a godawful headache. Ouch. He managed to open his eyes just enough to actually see things, tears streaming down his cheeks from the effort, and confirmed that the coast was clear. No farmers going to and fro, potentially able to discover a small man running through their property with only undies on. Super. He leapt out through the barn door and sprinted through the field, and off in the distance, through the pristine atmosphere, Ken could actually spot the clump of trees that protected his dear, comfy rock. His partially loose tie flapped behind him as he ran through the not unsubstantial conglomerate of cows dotted throughout the field. It was like a fun obstacle course. A nasty stitch like the one he‘d gotten yesterday whilst playing two square made its appearance again up next to Ken‘s ribs, but he kept on. Nothing was going to get in the way of Ken‘s mad dash for the comfy rock, except for the wire fence he almost didn‘t notice but then managed to leap over like a little agile antelope. It was the single most athletic moment of his life. Closer and closer Ken got to the comfy rock. Cool. He could see through the gaps in the adjoining trees that it was not occupied by Christina. Hooray! It was empty! He was just about ready to do another graceful antelope leap onto the rock, which probably would have been a bad idea anyway because he could have gotten very sore shins from doing that, but something stopped him achieving his locked target for the moment. He tripped over a tiny, tiny rock. The tiny, tiny rock was like the evil, revolting foetal twin that fed off the larger twin, being the comfy rock, and usually got removed off people when the same sort of thing happened to them these days. He sprained his ankle. He thought for a second that he‘d broken it, but since he didn‘t see any unsightly bones sticking up anywhere, it was unlikely. He‘d never sprained anything before, though sometimes at uni, when he‘d stayed up terribly late for many nights doing stuff, he sometimes thought that he had in fact sprained his mind. He had used the excuse of spraining random bits of himself to get out of sport frequently in school, so much so that he didn‘t think he‘d ever made it out onto the expensive sports fields of Xavier College. So, now, maybe the karma from all those dishonest excuses was coming back to him. ―Ouch! Ouch!‖ he groaned as he dragged himself the rest of the way to his comfy rock, which was only a couple of metres away, but to someone with phenomenally tender unused skin as Ken had, the journey was unbearably painful. Finally, he managed to prop himself up on the comfy rock and brush off all the bits of gravel and unidentified objects that had gotten embedded in his side. He stared at his ankle. It was already beginning to swell up. He poked it. It pulsated. He winced. ―Fuck,‖ he couldn‘t help saying. Well, there was only one thing to do now, since Christina wasn‘t around, as per usual when she could actually be helpful. He put the tablecloth neatly over himself, curled up into his favourite position on the rock with his hands clasped together under his head, and aimed for some shut- eye. The pain of the sprained ankle meant that he wasn‘t quite able to drift off to sleep properly, but he could waver in the precarious world of half-sleep, where he was still conscious but also dreaming. The idea of his brother Sven came to mind. He watched in his mind‘s eye as if he had a fly-on- the-wall camera as Sven woke up next to his wife, Tracy, stretched, had a cuddle and then leapt out of bed just as his child Xanos was running down the hall to watch Hi-Five on the telly. Ken observed as Sven walked down the hall in a terry-towelling dressing down, all crisp and clean-smelling, and went into the kitchen. He watched as Sven opened the pantry door, nodding cheerfully to himself and got fruit loops out. He watched as Sven looked across fondly at Xanos, dancing with his little tummy exposed in front of the TV, and opened and closed his mouth, pointing at the box of fruit loops. Ken couldn‘t get any sound in this dream. It was a bit eerie, having this silence juxtaposed against the nice, happy scene. He guessed that Sven was asking Xanos whether he wanted some cereal. Xanos nodded, continuing to dance about, and Sven opened the box up. Ken continued to watch the half-dream as Sven started pouring cereal into the bowl. Instead of the cheery rainbow colours of the fruit loops, dark, inky rings came out of the box. Sven kept pouring. They black loops piled up into a mountain in the bowl but Sven kept shaking them out. How many black loops were in the box? It was starting to look like Mary Poppins‘ magic carpet bag. Down onto the bench went the black loops. Some started falling to the floor. Xanos kept dancing as the black loops began to creep under his feet. More and more black loops came out of the box, quicker and quicker, in torrents. Man, this dream wasn‘t nice anymore. But, still, the silence prevailed and the black loops were clogging up the entire room, engulfing the furniture and Xanos and Sven and reaching up to the ceiling- ―Zzzzttt hhllpp pling hn hn!‖ Finally, there was a noise. Ken snapped out of his half sleep, but he was in that trapped state in which your mind is awake but your body can‘t move a muscle. He felt helpless. He could roll his eyes to where the sound was coming from, but that was about all. Oh, phew. It was just Teddy. He managed to move a little finger, which was his usual way of breaking the spell of the trapped state. ―Uh, hey,‖ said Ken. He sat up. ―Oh, look, hi, sorry to bother you, and sorry about the blathering just then,‖ said Teddy. ―I just can‘t help myself with the gibberish greetings. You should have seen this lady I riffed at with my gibberish yesterday, boy, that was swell,‖ he said, as if he were a jazz musician and his gibberish was a saxophone. ―You didn‘t bother me at all,‖ said Ken. ―I was having a particularly bad dream just then anyway. How‘s it going?‖ ―Hey, thanks for asking, man. I‘m totally fine,‖ said Teddy, ―but I can see that one of your ankles is totally fucked. How did you do that?‖ ―Oh, I just fell over,‖ said Ken. ―I don‘t think I‘ll be able to walk on it for a while.‖ ―No, I don‘t think so, either. I can go and get you some ice for that. I wish you could come with me,‖ said Teddy. ―Why?‖ asked Ken, wondering why Teddy wanted him to move. ―Oh, hey, just changing the subject for a second – some lady – the lady I just mentioned in passing – was looking for you. She asked for you by name. I didn‘t know what it was in aid of, it sounded shady, so I got Fang to fling some poo on her.‖ ―Well, thanks. I hope it wasn‘t my mum. She‘s about the only lady who would bother to look for me,‖ said Ken, not putting two and two together and figuring out that it was the chick he‘d had sex with last night. ―Nope, this lady sure as hell wasn‘t your mother, let me tell you,‖ said Teddy. ―Hmm,‖ said Ken, thinking harder a little bit, but still drawing blanks. ―Oh, well. No harm done, I‘m sure.‖ ―Nope, no harm done, except to her top,‖ chuckled Teddy. ―Fang‘s shit is a particularly potent and staining brand of faeces.‖ Ken laughed. It made his ankle hurt. ―Ouch,‖ he whimpered. ―Oh, yeah, yeah, the ice,‖ said Teddy. ―Look, as I was saying, I wish I could get you off of this rock, because I remembered, well, you remember yourself the last time I came to you here, and I said that a lot of people started out on this rock, and lots of weird stuff happened and whatnot?‖ ―I don‘t know whether you mentioned weird happenings at all, but do go on,‖ said Ken. ―Sorry about that. Well, maybe I couldn‘t even remember that part at the time. OK, so anyway, through my billions of years of being a wino, I managed to piece together a hazy idea of why this enticing rock is a very bad idea to spend any length of time on! You, my friend, have spent far too much time on this rock!‖ ―Um, OK,‖ said Ken, slightly doubting Teddy‘s sanity once again, but he did have to agree that mostly misfortune had come his way in the past few days, though admittedly, he had scored last night, which was definitely a pro. ―So, you‘ve got to listen to me, and don‘t be sceptical,‖ said Teddy. But then there was a problem, because there was a giant thud, accompanied by a muffled shatter, and then blood trickled out of Teddy‘s nose. ―Aaarghhh! Arrgghh!‖ screeched Ken at the top of his lungs. Teddy slumped forwards over the comfy rock and distastefully, partly over Ken‘s exposed thigh. The back of his skull was completely caved in. Christina was standing there, behind Teddy‘s feet, silhouetted by the sun, wielding her possum-tail whippy club thing, drops of blood richocheting off it, some drops hitting Ken‘s face. ―Yaaaak! Help!‖ squealed Ken shielding his eyes. Christina laughed like the eight-year-old child she was. ―Oh, don‘t worry, I‘m not going to kill you with this. I was just protecting you, silly, from the dirty old man.‖ Ken didn‘t buy it for a minute. ―Oh, come on,‖ he said. ―No way. That‘s bullshit. I don‘t know why the fuck you killed him, but it wasn‘t to help me out in any way.‖ ―Oh, alright‖, said Christina, lowering her weapon and pouting. ―You got me. It‘s just that I had to do my quota for the day.‖ ―Huh?‖ said Ken, trying to wipe the spray of Teddy‘s blood off his face, but being unsuccessful. ―Well, today is the third day. There was lots of stuff to do in these last three days. I had to meet you, introduce myself, you know, make my groovy little possum-tail weapon, then the next day, boy that was a big one-― ―What the fuck?‖ shouted Ken. He wasn‘t comprehending a thing. ―Just let me finish, please,‖ said Christina. ―Gosh. OK, well, anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, so, on the second day I had to appear to somebody as if in a vision, thus earning myself twenty- five saint points; I had to spruce you up, but that wasn‘t strictly part of the plan…‖ ―You mean I had to wash for nothing?‖ yelled Ken. ―Do you know how hard it is to get the elusive bum stench? Fuck!‖ ―Well, I had to make you wash and get new clothes, otherwise you‘d never get laid, would you? And that was part of the plan, namely, that you had to deflower yourself. God, that was some crap sex you had there.‖ ―Shut up,‖ said Ken, but secretly taking her word for it because he had nobody else‘s to go on. ―And so, that brings us to the third day,‖ continued Christina. ―This is definitely the most important day. This is the day in which I had to sacrifice two criminals…..‖ ―Two criminals? Who was the other one?‖ asked Ken, his chest tightening in panic. ―Oh, you know, that other bum in the town,‖ said Christina. ―What‘s his name. That one.‖ ―Bums aren‘t criminals, man. You fucked up,‖ said Ken. ―No, I didn‘t,‖ said Christina defiantly. ―Ever heard of a law called loitering?‖ ―Oh,‖ said Ken. ―So, yeah. Today is going to earn me some big-arse saint points,‖ said Christina, proudly. ―Yay! I‘m going to earn seventy-five, which is exactly enough to push me into the instant saint category! Hooray! That is, after I die, of course,‖ she added. ―Uh-huh,‖ humoured Ken. ―Whatever you say. And let that be not a moment too late.‖ ―Yeah, good one,‖ said Christina. ―OK, so anyway, as you can see, I‘ve made a very excellent pile of wood all by myself out in the open – ― she gestured out into the pasture where there was, indeed a big pile of logs and twigs he hadn‘t noticed before – ―and we‘re going to light it and have a nice, big old fire. You won‘t even have to lift a finger for this task, my trusty apprentice. Well, maybe one or two. Now what do you think of that?‖ ―Mmm, I don‘t like it so much,‖ said Ken, who had an awful feeling that some bodies were going to get roasted. Why did she love making fires so much? ―Alright. You just wait there and sit tight while I go and get the finishing touches for day three,‖ Christina said, as she skipped off into the church. Ken‘s ankle pulsated and weighed him down, as did his heart. He looked over at the pile of wood again, arranged into a circular heap, with a pointy bit in the middle, like a cone. He turned over and looked at the graveyard, shuddered, and then looked up, watching the leaves rustling over the comfy rock go blurry. He was shit-scared. The End of Ken Unfortunately, Heloise didn‘t escape the barn so easily. She woke up rather a lot later than Ken had, when the sun had already crawled up the sky rather a long way. She, too, had very incomplete memories of the night before. First of all, she realised that she was starkers. Then, when she looked at what was under her, she was surprised to find out that it was straw. Also, there was a very expensively made suit under her. Hm. It looked like the sort of thing that James Bond would wear, she thought to herself. She did seem to recall martinis and sitting at some sort of posh bar – no, wait, scratch that – it wasn‘t a posh bar at all – Suddenly, she realised that she wasn‘t the only person in the barn. There was somebody else in there, and they were probably the person who had woken her up. ―Hey, love, you got an itch I can scratch?‖ said some yucky looking guy in overalls, standing in the doorway, which he had flung all the way open. OK, so this was a classic, old-school farmer. ―Um, sorry, no thanks,‖ said Heloise, as politely, but as firmly as possible, jumping up, trying to cover all her rude bits and grabbing her dress and her bra and shoes and jewellery and whatever else that seemed red which was all very hard to find in all that straw. ―Alright, love. Then, you‘ve got to skedaddle. I gotta get my work done in here, you know?‖ said the farmer. He leered unpleasantly. ―Yes, yes, of course,‖ said Heloise, slipping into her unzipped evening dress. She squeezed past the farmer out of the barn and fled back to where she saw buildings. She still couldn‘t remember anything about last night, except for the James Bond vibe, which was very annoying. She ran up an alleyway and into the heart of the town. A couple of locals walked by, right at the worst time, and stared at Heloise. The man local snickered. Heloise did look an awful untidy mess. She had lipstick thrown across her face, she was grasping at her dress, she looked very hung over, plus she had bits of bendy straw all stuck in her hair, which was probably the worst part of the ensemble. The female local said to Heloise, ―Hey, Mrs. Scarecrow! Ha ha!‖ If Heloise had made the career choice to become a bum, that would have been her special name. The one and only bum christening name that bums receive when they prove their remarkable characteristics; when their true colours show. It is a defining moment for all bums. However, since Heloise wasn‘t considering becoming a bum, and had no knowledge of the subtle inner workings of the secret society of bums, she took that comment as an insult. ―Oh, do shut the fuck up,‖ she said in her clipped, English accent. She spotted the pub which she‘d dimly remembered checking into the day before. She stumbled in, this time welcoming the way that light tended to get sucked into the interior of the pub‘s blackness. Her head felt less sore in the dim light. ―Rough night, love?‖ said the guy behind the bar, today wearing the same sweaty flannelette shirt he‘d been wearing the day before, the front almost popping open over his beer belly. ―Oh, yes, indeed, very rough night,‖ said Heloise in a daze, finding her way to the stairs. Now, she seemed to recall having the room next to the disturbingly clogged loos- Oh, bugger. She didn‘t have a room key on her. At this moment, she remembered Professor Tomkins. Over the course of the last few days, she‘d thought less and less and less about him, until there were only scraps of memory about him floating around on the periphery of her mind. It was a bit rude to do that, she realised, since she was the one who had dragged him all the way across to the other side of the world and made him sleep on a lilo in some fellow academic‘s parents‘ house, not that he seemed to mind about that. She rapped with her knuckles on the door to their room in a non-offensive way, the kind of way she hoped would be enough to rouse Professor Tomkins from his sleep, but not enough to be startling. Thankfully, it worked. She only had to do the rapping for a few seconds before Professor Tomkins opened up the door. He was fully dressed, and looked like he‘d been up for quite a while. ―Oh, my goodness! What happened?‖ he asked in surprise. ―Mmm. Mmmm. Not sure. Woke up in a barn. Straw in hair, I know. Gosh, I feel tired but alright,‖ she said. She crashed onto the bed. ―Oh, boy.‖ ―A barn?‖ asked Professor Tomkins. ―What on earth were you doing there? I was extremely worried about you! I went down to the bar at midnight and you weren‘t there! Nobody seemed to know where you were! I‘m so glad you‘re back!‖ Heloise didn‘t hear most of Professor Tomkins‘ relieved speech because she‘d passed out on the bed, her legs still in the sitting position. Professor Tomkins thought that the best thing to do right now would just to leave her in peace for the moment. Despite the straw in her hair and the frightening splatter of lipstick up one cheek, she looked sweet. Yes. Better to just let her rest. Professor Tomkins slid out of the room and downstairs for breakfast. He ordered scrambled eggs and bacon from the guy behind the bar, plus a white coffee with two sugars. Two minutes later, and everything very runny, it was in front of him and he tucked in. While Professor Tomkins nor anybody else new to the town would have known, the coffee at this particular bar was even worse than the stuff served in Pam‘s coffee shop. This little piece of information was common knowledge to the locals, and that was pretty much the only reason why Pam got any patronage. The pub did the booze, and the coffee shop did the coffee, never the twain shall meet. In fact, this was the third coffee that the guy behind the bar had made in maybe five years, which was as far back as he could clearly remember. When Professor Tomkins tasted the coffee, he sensed it was an uncommon experience for the guy behind the bar too. He left the rest of it there, cut off the bits of fat off the bacon, which was most of it, mopped up the good bits in the almost raw egg, and then wandered off outside. It was a wonderful day. The sky was crystal clear, and a full moon the hue of a coin stood around near the sun, and everything was dandy in the world. Well, almost everything, because there seemed to be rather a bit of a kerfuffle happening further down the road somewhere. In fact, it must have been a significant kerfuffle, because a fire engine from what looked like the 1940s chugged past Professor Tomkins with its alarm on, which was actually far less offensive than the modern-day ones. People were walking briskly the same way as the fire engine (nobody who lived in the town raised their speed above a brisk walk, even when driving), so Professor Tomkins decided to follow them to see what all the fuss was about. Now, come to think of it, he could see a tuft of smoke blemishing the sky from somewhere up the street. He came to an old church with a graveyard, and then to an open pasture where a big crowd of people, maybe a couple of hundred, were watching a big bonfire blaze away. There was a person standing closer to the fire than the other people, with their head drooping, their body splattered in blood and sagging on one side. Professor Tomkins recognised the person. He strode over to him. ―Oh, I say, how convenient,‖ he said. ―Doctor Ken Wong, I presume?‖ The man turned around to look at Professor Tomkins with a haunting look on his face, somewhat added to by the flecks of blood on his cheeks. He was only in his jocks, and curiously, an old-fashioned tie jutting out from around his bare neck. ―Yes, that‘s me,‖ he said. ―Well, I‘ve just tracked you down to ask you, well, would you be interested in accepting an honorary doctorate from Bournemouth University at all?‖ Ken looked to the side for a moment, thought it over, and said, ―Nah.‖ ―Oh, OK. Sorry to trouble you,‖ said Professor Tomkins, and left Ken to watch the pyre. So, this year, Paris Hilton it would have to be, then.