In a time that is forgotten and in a place that never existed lived a cautionary tale of a giant and a boy who didn’t have cholera. The town of Youme is our setting and it is a bleak bleak place. It’s people so disillusioned they have abandoned their language in favour of emitting screams that convey meaning through context and variations of ferocity. Their currency is shiny but their expressions dower. Everyone must work in the Factory.
Prologue : The Pilot
Our story begins with a chivalrous sky pirate named ‘The Pilot’. He chases a balloon full of gold but crashes his bi-plane into the mountain and dies. More of him later.
There is only one shop in Youme Town, it sells various items. Today it sells flowers. Our hero, ‘Big Brother’ is trudging down the dry and efficiently clean street on his way home from working in the factory. His trudge is more of a shuffle, as his perpetual winter coat is made from stiff cardboard. His head is bowed to avoid the bitter cold and strange dust that compete with each other to rule the air. His hands are glued to the insides of his mittens. He thinks of pity for his Little Brother who does have cholera.
The Shop Keeper is a Clay, but everyone thinks that he is a Card like everyone else. In fact the cards don’t even know what a Clay is (Clays kill Cards for the giant), but The Shop Keeper wears a cardboard mask, just to be sure. The bells on the shop door go jingle, jangle.
Big Brother enters and shuffles towards the bare dusty counter past bare dusty shelves across the bare dusty floor. For a split second he wonders (for he is one of the cleaver ones) why there is an inanely grinning cardboard mask selotaped to The Shop Keeper’s unusually smooth, dark head. He questions whether his own hands (which he has never seen) are as smooth and supple as The Shop Keeper’s long, black, fingerless limb. And if Big Brother knew anything about physics he may have momentarily questioned why The Shop Keeper had a third dimension. But Big Brother doesn’t even know how to take his mittens off and after a split second he decides to not ask any questions (for he is one of the cleaver ones).
Big Brother screams. It is a short, standard burst. The Shop Keeper screams back for five seconds at medium pitch and at medium velocity (for he is fluent in the language of The Cards). Big Brother duly hands over five shiny particles (*5) and The Shop Keeper produces three dead flowers form behind the counter. He emits a standard scream, as does Big Brother as he grasps his purchase. The transaction is over and Big Brother leaves the shop.
Meet Little Brother. He is pinned down by sheets on the only bed in his and Big Brother’s one roomed house. He is very thirsty and his cholera makes him very weak. Big Brother left a glass of water on the bedside table this morning and Little Brother is trying to reach it.
His cramp filled arm inches out of the warm safety of his hospitalised sheet. Carefully he crawls his bemittened hand across the frozen wastes of his meagre chest to rendezvous with his left hand, which is waiting at the edge of his bedside table, ready to embark on the next leg of this epic journey. Together they set off at a torturous pace. As the pair of mittens, followed by thin-paper paisley pyjamas, creep closer to the glass, the rest of Little Brother’s dilapidated body has to tilt further away from the safety and warmth of his mattress.
A breath of ice on his back contrasts horribly with the itching heat that lives under his skin. His fevered muscles quiver in desperation, knowing they are woefully incapable of completing the task in hand. His entire head burns, crushed by headache and acidic sweat, but expanding constantly and aimlessly like a drunken universe.
But yet, as his simple breaths become harder to take, a glimmer hope. The tip of his right mitten makes contact with glass. The thought electrifies him; cool liquid coursing down his throat, dowsing the thousands of tiny fires that burn him from his lungs to his toes. Serotonin, which had laid dormant within him for weeks, finally leaks into his brain and tells his heart to gain momentum. Almost hyperventilating, Little Brother pushes on to gain more purchase on the glass, but in the excitement and resultant lunge, the smooth cylindrical beaker gets edged further away from him.
Dejected, Little Brother collapses back into his mattress. He knows instinctively that water can save his life, but the cholera makes him so weak that he can’t raise the merest scream to ask his Big Brother for help. He knows that he has to do it alone. With one final push, exerting every last of strength within him, Little Brother reaches out once again for the sweet, sweet water. He gingerly stretches out his two hands and somehow finds them at either side of the glass. He squeezes with all his remaining might and makes the purchase he requires. Agonisingly slowly he drags the water towards his mouth.
The door opens! Big Brother scuttles into the room excitedly. He holds the flowers aloft and screams twice, one standard belt as he shakes the flowers then a slightly lower and longer one with his head titled slightly. He proudly deposits the flowers in the glass that Little Brother had once again let slip from his grasp in all the commotion.
With one last murmur of energy, Little Brother emits a staccato bleat, closes his eyes then sinks back into his pillow and breathes out forever.
Big Brother, not wanting to disturb his Little Brother’s peace, sits down in front of the television and turns the volume down low. There is a programme on about chivalrous sky pirates that bores him to sleep.
For this nap, the chemicals of his unconscious mind decide to project images of ski slopes into a more conscious part of his brain. The image is subtly altered by the tiny sound of some Clays entering the room through secret trapdoors to remove the cadaver from his Little Brother’s bed. The Ski Slopes are filled with inky red oil. In reality there is a whir, clatter and thud as the disposal belt lurches into action and takes his Little Brother to the Factory. In his dream, red fills everything then turns to black and a single white eye blinks in and out of being. Reality tears a bright white hole into his sleep and he returns to basic consciousness. On the television is the Test Card, a pattern of colour and grey scales accompanied with a meandering saxophone solo. It is Hobby Time. For a set period every night the television stops distributing entertainment and everyone has to go and pursue his or her hobbies. It seemed that every adult’s hobby involved going into the bedroom and vigorously rearranging furniture.
Big Brother’s state designated hobby is astronomy. But see seeing as Youme Town’s sky is constantly shrouded with impenetrable grey clouds, Big Brother has to spend his Hobby Time peering into the windows of nearby houses to see what the adults are doing.
Today he decides to watch the sailors in the harbour.
Next … Chapter 1 : The Captain
Featuring : Deception! Angler Fish! Shanties!
The Youme Town Story was conceived by a Mr Kevin Roper and elaborated on by his colleague, Mr Ashley Dean.
Adapted for Jackanory by Broken Pixel.