The Spelling Test
It was one of those hot, lazy, summer days when all you want to do is lie on your back among the buttercups and listen to the springabees buzzing by. Being stuck in a classroom felt like being in prison, and I couldn’t wait for the afternoon to end.
Miss Gest was giving us a language lesson. It was all about the meaning of words. She would call out a word and we all had to write down a sentence with that word in it. It was too easy, and I was almost dozing off.
'Ready, everyone?' Said the green grarrl, looking as bored as I felt. 'The next word is BENIGN.'
This was a bit more interesting. I though for a moment and then wrote 'the generous king was kind and benign to his subjects.'
I was please with what I had written and was one of the first to put my paw up. But Miss Gest didn’t pick me to read it out. Keriso, my zombie draik best friend had her hand up too, and Miss Gest picked her.
Keriso got to her feet, her exercise book in her hand. She cleared her throat importantly.
'My cousin is eight years old, but he'll be nine next week,' she read out, scowling ferociously when everybody began to snigger. And then her face went pink when Miss Gest stood up and wrote BENIGN on the board in big capital letters.
'Oh,' said Keriso lamely. 'I thought you meant....'
'You'd better learn that word thoroughly, Keriso,' interrupted Miss Gest severely. 'It could well crop up in your spelling test tomorrow. And I hope you're going to do better than last week, otherwise you and I are going to fall out.' Keriso cowered. Falling out with Miss Gest was no laughing matter.
'It's all right for you,' she grumbled as we walked home together after school. 'You'll get twenty out of twenty as usual. Plus a gold star. Plus the spelling cup for yet another week running.' She kicked a dandelion clock with the toe of her sandal and I watched the fluffy seeds float away in the air.
Keriso hates spelling because she's so hopeless at it. She gets really cross with me for winning the spelling cup practically every week, but I can't help it if I'm a good speller, can I?
'I'll get six out of twenty and a good telling off, more than likely,' she said gloomily, stalking off down the road. I ran to catch her up, my stumpy white legs pumping double time, sometimes it's hard being a kacheek.
'Listen, Keriso,' I puffed. 'I could help you to learn the words. It's not hard really. You just have to work at it a bit.'
Keriso shook her head. 'It wouldn’t be any use' she replied. 'I'd only forget them by tomorrow. In any case,' she added peevishly, 'there's never any hope of beating you, is there?'
She hurried on, her shoulders hunched dejectedly. I trotted along beside her, wondering what I could do to cheer her up. I hate it when she's miserable. It makes me miserable too.
I decided to try a funny pun. 'What did the springabee say when it got home from its holidays? There's no place like comb. Comb. Get it?'
She took no notice. It was like talking to a tree. Then suddenly she turned to me.
'Are you really my friend Eastly?' She demanded.
'Er...yes,' I said. 'Of course I am. Why?' And my heart sank as I wondered how I was supposed to prove it this time.
'Suppose we both pretend to feel ill tomorrow morning,' she said her little face lighting up as the idea took shape. 'We could have a day off school. We'd miss the rotten old spelling test for once. And we could lie in the sun all day in your garden.'
'But I don’t want to miss the spelling test,' I objected. 'I've worked hard all week and I know the words off by heart. If I don’t go to school then someone else will get the cup...'
My voice faltered because she was looking daggers at me. 'But you take the day off if you want,' I added hastily. 'it’s a good idea.'
'It wouldn’t be any fun on my own,' said Keriso coldly. 'And you know it. But I might have known it would be no use asking you to do anything for me. All you think about is yourself.' And she went marching off, her snout in the air.
I stood there for a while, thinking about what she had said. Maybe I was being a bit selfish. There couldn’t be much harm in taking a day off school, after all. We wouldn’t be getting anybody into trouble. And I had to admit that I quite fancied the idea of a day in the sunshine. I made up my mind.
'Keriso,' I called after her, and she turned round, her face starting to glow the way it does when she gets her own way.
And so we made our plans, walking along arm in arm with our heads close together. It would have to be a tummy bug, Keriso said, and we could start tonight by running backwards and forwards to the bathroom all evening and pretending to flush the toilet every half hour or so. Then a pain in the stomach tomorrow morning would seem a lot more convincing.
'And its not going to be suspicious that we both have it' said Keriso, 'after all we do everything together, don’t we?'
Keriso was by now in the best of moods, giggling and joking as we strolled through the village. So I wasn’t at all prepared for her next piece of mischief.
We were walking past some shops when a notice in one of the windows caught her eye. 'Let us sell your Neohome,' it said, in blue and gold letters at least a foot high. 'Surveyor's valuation free.'
Keriso's eyes widened. 'Hang on, Eastly,' she said, 'we'll just pop in here.' She pulled me up to the two polished marble steps and through the glass swing doors. An elegant royal ruki with jeweled spectacles was sat at a desk in a posh reception area with black high backed chairs and a deep green carpet.
'May I help you?' She enquired haughtily, looking us up and down and not seeming too impressed with what she saw.
'Oh, good afternoon,' replied Keriso, equally as haughtily. 'My parents asked me to call as I as passing, we are thinking of selling our neohome and we wondered whether you'd care to handle the sale.'
The receptionist stood up. 'I'll see if Mr Bipp can help.' She said politely, and walked through a blue door into the inner office.
'I didn’t know you were moving,' I hissed into Keriso's ear, as soon as we were alone.
'We're not,' she hissed back, squeezing my paw and starting to giggle at my puzzled face.
A short, squat blue quiggle in a smart grey suit hurried in, he didn’t seem at all surprised to see a couple of kids like us, so the secretary must have explained.
'Good afternoon,' he said, waving us toward the high backed seats. 'I understand your parents would like me to call and give a valuation? I could probably manage tomorrow if that would be convenient? Fine. If you could just write the name and address on this form?'
Keriso scribbled quickly on the form, handed it back and made polite goodbyes.
As soon as we got outside she began to race along the street, whooping and laughing and throwing her satchel in the air. I followed more slowly, trying hard to work it out. What I couldn’t understand was, how did she think she could get away with a trick like that? When the surveyor came round the next day, he would find out it was all a hoax and Keriso would take the blame. I was baffled by the whole thing.
'Don't fuss, Eastly,' she said, when I begged her to explain. 'You sound just like your mother.'
* * *
All that evening I pretended to be feeling a bit off colour. It was very hard to leave my dinner of fried chicken and strawberry tart, but I knew I had to, if the plan was to work. So I just picked at it a bit and heaved big sighs, and then I suddenly rushed off to the bathroom. I made sure I flushed the toilet as noisily as I could, and when I came back to the table, concern as etched into the pink face of my mother krawk.
'Are you feeling all right, dear?' She asked, putting her hand to my forehead. 'you feel a bit hot, bit of a temperature, I think.'
And I was feeling rather hot, I can tell you. It felt awful to be fooling my own mother like this, and when I saw how anxious she was my face went even redder.
'I... er.... I think I've got an upset tummy,' I stammered out. 'The meat tasted a bit funny today..'
'Bed for you, young lady,' she said decisively, picking up my plate and scraping my chicken into the bin.
'What, now?' I said horrified. 'But it's only half past six. Its still light outside.'
'Bed.' She said so firmly, I knew it was no point in arguing, so I contented myself with a grumble under my breath. Off I went and got into my pajamas and climbed into bed. And I had to lie there and waste all that lovely summer evening, while the breeze ruffled the curtains through the open window and a weewoo sang in the apple tree just outside. And I had to swallow a great big spoonful of horrible, nasty, smelly, chalky stuff which was supposed to make me feel better but nearly made me throw up all over my nice pink quilt. I was bored and fed up and lonely. It seemed like the longest evening of my life, but at last I suppose I must have fallen asleep.
* * *
The first thing I remembered when I woke up the next morning was Keriso's plan. So I crept downstairs before my parents woke up to get some flour and rub it on my cheeks. I still looked far too healthy so I used a bit of grey paint to make dark smudges under my eyes, being careful not to overdo it and spoil the whole thing. As soon as I heard my parents getting up and moving about I locked myself in the bathroom and made loud retching noises for a while.
When I came out clutching my tummy I found my dad waiting on the landing. His brown kyrii face furrowed in worry.
'Still a bit queasy are you sweetheart?' He said sympathetically. Then he noticed my face. 'goodness, you look awful. I'd hop back into bed if I were you. There'll be no school for you today!'
I could hear my parents arguing about whether to call the healing faerie or not, and I wasn't half glad when they decided not to.
'Its only a bug, I expect,' said my dad. 'let her have the day of school and keep an eye on her. I'll take her along to see Marina if she' not better by this evening.'
'I've got an appointment this morning' said my mother. 'I'd better cancel it, I suppose.'
My dad wouldn't hear of it. 'Don’t spoil you plans,' he said 'I'll stay home with her and do a bit of gardening. Ok?'
'All right,' said my mother. 'I might as well make a day of it in that case, go for lunch with Keriso's mum or something. I haven't had a day out in town for ages.'
I bounced gleefully about in bed when I heard that. I was so glad my dad would be looking after me because I knew he wouldn't make me stay in bed all day. Keriso and I could lie in the garden in the sun, just as we had planned.
After a while my mother went off for her day out in town. I heard her in the hall, leaving strict instructions with my dad about my medicine and then just as she was leaving she remembered something else.
'Oh, there's a chance the man from the carpet store might call in this afternoon, to measure up the sitting room for the new carpet. Get him to give you a rough idea of the cost, will you dear?'
'Leave everything to me' my dad said.
The front door banged and all was quiet for a while. I snuggled down into bed with a book, but I couldn’t concentrate on reading. I kept expecting Keriso to arrive at any second, because I knew her mother wouldn’t leave her on her own all day. She would send her round here so my dad could keep an eye on us both at the same time.
Eleven came, and there was still no Keriso. My stomach had been rumbling for hours, so I got up, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt and went downstairs. The house was silent, so I went to the back door and found my dad watering the potato patch in the sunshine.
'Hello, little one,' he said, smiling. 'I see you're feeling better.'
'I'm not half hungry,' I said. 'I could eat a pandaphant!'
'I bet you could,' said my dad jovially. 'But I think something a bit lighter would be better at the moment. Come on, lets see what we can find.'
I sat at the kitchen table munching hasee puffs while my dad made the lightest, fluffiest, most delicious mushroom omelette you ever saw. I had four slices of buttered toast with it and a huge mug of honey tea. My dad sat at the other side of the table, drinking coffee and watching me eat, and I could see how pleased he was that I was better. It didn’t half make me feel guilty, I can tell you.
Well, I waited all day and Keriso never came. I hung about, feeling bored and not knowing what to do with myself, and the time went ever so slowly. I couldn’t think of what had happened to Keriso. Maybe she had overdone the symptoms and been kept in bed.
My dad made some chicken sandwiches from the cold chicken left over from the night before, and we were just settling down in the garden to eat them when there as a knock at the door.
'That'll be Keriso' I said, jumping up quickly. And I could have bitten my tongue out because Keriso was supposed to be at school and my dad gave me such a funny look.
Anyway, it wasn’t Keriso. It was the squat short quiggle from the surveyor's, and he had a measuring tape and a clipboard in his hand.
'Hello again,' he said smiling.
I stared at him in surprise. And then all of a sudden it started to sink in. Keriso had put down my name and address instead of hers. And my blood boiled when I realised that the whole thing was just a plot to get me in trouble.
'Good morning,' the quiggle said to my dad, 'I'm Mr Bipp from...'
'Come in, come in,' my dad interrupted cheerfully. 'I was told you might call in today. Just carry on and measure up. The sitting room is just through there.' And Mr Bipp went bustling off with his tape measure while my dad and I went back to our lunch.
I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t let my dad know what was going on without telling on Keriso. And where was Keriso, anyway?
We could see Mr Bipp measuring the kitchen now, and my dad stared at him through the window in surprise.
'All right if I go upstairs?' Asked Mr Bipp, popping his head out of the door. 'Three bedrooms isn't it?'
'Go ahead,' said my dad faintly, leaning back in his chair and turning a bit pale. 'Your mother dint tell me she was re-carpeting the whole house,' he hissed at me when the quiggle had disappeared up the stairs.
I didn’t say a word. We sat there together listening to Mr Bipp clumping about upstairs, and after a while he reappeared in the kitchen doorway.
'Tiled bathroom, three bedrooms,' he was muttering to himself, writing busily on his clipboard.. 'Nice garden you have too, I'll just measure it up, if I may?'
My dad watched in disbelief as the quiggle stalked backwards and forwards with his tape measure.
'That quiggle is mad,' he said. 'I mean who would want to carpet the garden?'
And even though I felt sure the whole story was going to have to come out at any moment now, I still had to put my hand over my mouth to stop from bursting into giggles.
My dad was beginning to give me some very funny looks.
'There's something going on, isn't there?' He said 'I'm not stupid. I'm going to find out just what he's up to.' And he jumped up out of his chair. This is it, I thought, wondering just how much trouble I was going to be in.
Mr Bipp had finished measuring and was coming towards us. He shook my dads paw. 'I'll be off now then,' he said. 'You'll be hearing from us in a few days.'
'Look here,' said my dad, getting a bit red in the face. 'I don’t think....'
'Don’t worry,' said Mr Bipp soothingly. 'There's no obligation, you know. You're entirely free to change your mind, after we've discussed the price.'
He walked through he house to the front door, scribbling on his clipboard and consulting his notes.
'We'll be sending you a written estimate, of course,' he said.. 'But I think I can safely say it'll be around forty-six thousand neopoints. Possibly a bit more. Goodbye.' And off he went.
My dad slumped against the door, watching him go. He looked as if he'd been winded. And I know I shouldn’t laugh at my dad, but this time he looked so funny I couldn’t help it. I dashed upstairs to my room and shoved my head under my quilt and laughed until I choked.
Anyway, Keriso's plan to get me into trouble hadn't worked, and I couldn't wait to tell her so. Finally she did turn up at last, just after four. I was laying on a rug in the garden when suddenly I heard voices in the kitchen.
There was my mother, with a huge pile of boxes and carrier bags full of shopping, there was Keriso's mother, the yellow aisha, also laden with shopping bags. And neither of them took the slightest bit of notice when I went in. They were both fussing over a radiant, smiling Keriso, who'd met them in the street on her way home from school.
'She really don’t deserve it, though,' Keriso's mother was saying, gazing fondly at her daughter. 'I've never seen her work so hard over her spellings. She was practically up all night.' Keriso looked at me, her eyes dancing. 'Hi, Eastly,' she said. 'I hear you’ve got a tummy bug. What a shame you missed the test. Guess what? I won the spelling cup.' And she held it up for me to see.
I don’t know how I stopped myself from bashing her over the head with it.