Something in the Air
by Chalky MacLaan
Barnaby Jenkins moved his backside to try and find a more comfortable position, but that only made it worse. It felt like there was a whole brass band marching around his insides.
“Mr Jenkins, do you mind ceasing your acrobatics,” barked Miss Fondley.
Miss Fondley reminded Barnaby of a koala. They’re not actually cute and cuddly; rather, they are pudgy, emit a strange grunting sound and have a nasty temper.
Barnaby’s stomach started to rumble. The sound vibrated through the silent classroom like a small swarm of bees. While everyone’s heads remained down, feigning concentration, twenty seven pairs of eyes rotated in Barnaby’s direction.
A small snigger erupted from behind him. He stole a quick glance and, face reddening, saw Sonya Henley laughing.
Sonya Henley was, quite simply, the most exquisite, splendid, stunning, appealing, dazzling and downright hot creature Barnaby had ever laid eyes on. In her amber eyes flickered a flame so bright it melted Barnaby to the core every time she shoved him out of her way. Her copper coloured hair always fell in cascades down her back as she sashayed away from him with his lunch money.
The giggle spread gradually around the back of the room like some sort of epidemic, and as it did so, Barnaby’s embarrassment turned to anger.
Miss Fondley growled and the giggling ceased.
Why did everyone have to be so mean? Another pang in his gut made him forget his anger. If felt like someone had just switched on an industrial strength mixer down there.
He tried to read the questions in his text book, but nothing could distract him from his stomach’s gurgling.
From somewhere behind him, one of the boys made a squelching sound. Trying to ignore it, Barnaby silently wished that school would finish early so he could be alone with his stomach full of noxious gas.
The mocking squelch resumed. Barnaby had had enough. He turned around sharply and…
The sound was incredible. It started with a small whizzing whine like a mosquito with ADHD and gradually built into a sound like a thousand croaking frogs flying helicopters. It then settled momentarily into a throaty roar and… poof… it was gone.
The room was silent. No one moved. Barnaby held his breath.
Then, Miss Fondley picked up her newspaper, folded it, stuffed it into her little brown bag and marched out the door, grunting, “Class dismissed!”
Without so much as a look in Barnaby’s direction, everyone else followed closely behind, leaving him alone in the room.
Barnaby looked around, not quite believing what had just happened. He sniffed the thick air, a look of disgust only vaguely masking one of pride at the musty funk hanging in the air.
Barnaby sat in his seat staring numbly towards the window. “I got my wish,” he thought.
When, after ten minutes the class hadn’t returned, Barnaby decided to leave too. He started towards the door and suddenly stopped short. “What if…” The idea was too bizarre to consider.
* * *
Barnaby sidled up to the crowded bus stop. Not wanting to be too conspicuous, he put his headphones in, turned around and let himself become lost in the beat of his music.
Barnaby snapped quickly from his trance as something slammed into his head.
He spun around to see another rock come flying. Barnaby dodged and it grazed his cheek. Tony, a tall, red-faced boy with ears like shrivelled lemon quarters and mean eyes snickered from the other side of the bus shelter, fresh dust falling from his palms in little billows.
His head smarting, cheeks blushing and heart pumping, Barnaby did his best to remain calm as he hailed the approaching bus. He climbed aboard, hunting for his ticket.
The doors hissed shut. Barnaby’s stomach lurched as the bus pulled out quickly into traffic. He felt that old tingle deep within. He struggled to hold back tears.
“Oi, mate,” whined the bus driver, his eyes swinging dangerously away from the road, “show us yer ticket.”
The ticket was gone. “I just wish that something good would happen for a change,” thought Barnaby.
The driver’s eyes shot back to the front as he slammed on the brake. The bus swerved sharply and… urr-tuurr-puurble-urble-weeeeiiiit! Barnaby’s gas escaped in a squeaky stream as he flew sideways against the door like a deflating balloon.
“Hey… Darn’t worry about the ticket, mate,” cawed the driver, looking remarkably calm considering he had almost sent thirty-four unwitting people to their premature deaths, “the roide’s free. Youse have a good day, eh!”
“Thanks,” murmured Barnaby as looked up the aisle to see every seat occupied.
A rotund lady in a red blouse reached out with her wet satiny hands and grabbed Barnaby.
“You can have my seat, love,” she slobbered as she manoeuvred her mass out of the seat. Barnaby tried to refuse, but she moved quickly past him.
The man next to her also sprang up. “Have the whole seat. You’ve had a hard day; I can see,” he reassured as he disappeared into the back of the crowded bus.
Barnaby sat down, flabbergasted. It was as if his wish had come true: Good things had happened to him. He then remembered the wish he made in class that had also come true. Did he have a magic genie-god-mother? Was he magic? Was it all a coincidence? He decided to experiment.
He wished for a drink.
This time he wished that the balding man across the aisle would shout out a random phrase in German.
Still, nothing happened.
Another intestinal groan interrupted his thoughts. “That’s it!” he thought as he started lifting the left side of his derriere ever so slightly off the seat. An apprehensive strain flashed across Barnaby’s face as he silently let go.
It dispersed quickly, wafting down the aisle. Barnaby wished whimsically with all his might.
He wished for a fish,
He wished for a dish,
He wished for a tune
and a shiny spoon and…
Immediately, his fellow passengers presented him with a tin of tuna, a plastic bowl, a spoon and a rousing rendition of ‘Somewhere Beyond the Sea’ in four part harmony.
Barnaby’s face froze. Thoughts whizzed into his mind like metal filings to a magnet as he thought of all of the things he could do. He’d never have to eat dried apricots again. He wouldn’t ever have to pick up dog poop off the lawn. He would be able to teach Tony and the rest of the boys in his class a thing or two. And Sonya, well…
Barnaby pressed the ‘stop’ button, jumped out and charged home to consume every tin of baked beans in the house.
* * *
It wasn’t the video about seasickness at the maritime museum that had made Barnaby feel ill. Nor was it the hot, summer sun or the colossal volume of baked beans that he had consumed the night before. He was nervous.
He looked ahead along the old cobbled street and caught a glimpse of Sonya sidestepping a bollard with a grace reserved only for angels. Barnaby’s heart beat faster as he jogged to catch up with the rest of the class.
They turned a corner and there it was: the lighthouse; perched on the edge of a river wharf, its bright red paint and spider web of supporting struts captivating in the bright sunlight.
“Jenkins! Hurry up!” snorted Miss Fondley. Everyone turned and stared as he caught up.
“Just two up at a time. Jenkins, you’re first. Who’s going with him?” The birds stopped their twittering and the wind its whistling, it was so quiet. However, for once in his life, this did not bother Barnaby one bit. With a quiet wish and an almost inaudible hiss, Barnaby walked forward.
“I will!” said a voice that sounded like the swish of velvet mixed with the tinkle of wind chimes. Barnaby kept walking as Sonya glided into the lighthouse behind him.
As they ascended the spiralling stairs, the air was a little bit heavier that it might usually have been.
“I like your shirt!” said Sonya, trying to squeeze beside Barnaby on the narrow stair.
“It’s just my school uniform. I wear it every day,” Barnaby replied, a self-satisfied smirk crossing his face.
“I think you have lovely hair. Can I please sit next to you on the way home? You are so smart!” Compliments spilled out of Sonya’s mouth like a waterfall, making him buoyant with confidence.
Arriving at the top, Barnaby stepped gingerly onto the balcony, gripping the guard rail for support and trying not to look down. Sonya joined him, her eyes on Barnaby’s.
Then, he felt it. It happened rapidly this time, his lower body expanding with gas until the point at which he thought he must’ve looked to Sonya like a bloated pear. Those beans were doing their job exceedingly well. He stood on his toes, squeezing tight, trying to hold it in as he made his wish. “I wish she’d kiss me.”
Squinting one eye, he slowly lowered his feet. As he did so, the most amazing, spine-tingling, hair-raising noise came forth from deep within Barnaby. It sang and echoed like whale song. The lighthouse creaked with nostalgia as a deep foghorn element entered the cacophony. And then, it ceased, the last remnants of sound being carried off across the wharf by the breeze.
Sonya moved close to Barnaby. The flame in her eyes burned bright as she moved in for the kiss. Barnaby leaned towards her, not quite knowing what to do. As their lips met, Barnaby was surprised at how wet they felt against his own flaky lips.
They stood there in that manner for what seemed like an eternity, noses squashed into each other’s cheeks, lips locked, when Barnaby noticed Miss Fondley staring at the back of Sonya’s head, her marsupial face twisted with murderous intent.
Miss Fondley pushed Sonya aside and grabbed Barnaby around the back of the neck. Barnaby braced himself and squeezed his eyes shut as Miss Fondley planted a kiss firmly on his mouth. Barnaby twisted out from her grip and started to run around the landing, trying to find a way out.
“Come here, beautiful,” croaked Miss Fondley.
Then, Barnaby noticed a tremor. He looked over the side of the platform and his face froze in horror. Streaming from every direction, women of all shapes and sizes were headed towards the lighthouse. They looked like an army charging a besieged castle, except on their faces was a look of expectant urgency. Barnaby saw one elderly woman, her spectacles crooked and hair wild, jump on a teenage girl and tackle her to the ground.
Suddenly, onto the balcony burst a wave of women, clawing and fighting their way towards Barnaby. He ran, trying to find an escape, when, in front of him, another group emerged. He was surrounded.
The women advanced, their lips pursed, their hands outstretched, grabbing, trying to touch him. He was grabbed by both groups and dragged to the floor.
“No!” he cried out, fighting to free himself. But he was pinned down, fifty jets of warm panting breath making him gag.
He made one desperate movement and managed to flip himself over. In this position, he was able to raise himself slightly and commando crawl out from under the pile of grasping bodies. He hauled himself onto the small ledge above. He fell back, out of sight, panting.
He tried to make a wish, but he was all out of gas.
It was what felt like an hour, but was really only sixty seconds, before he felt the old rumbles in his tum.
Barnaby made his wish, lowered his pants, and hanging his backside out over the railing for maximum effect, he let fly.
As you may have gathered, the genre of this piece is tween boy fiction. I realise that it may not be a genre that you have read in a while and that it doesn’t really appeal to the sense of humour of most sophisticated readers. If you have got this far and are still reading, thank you for suspending your disbelief and temporarily becoming a young person. Given that so many young boys don’t want to read (I know – I teach them), I feel that it is important that stories are written in this genre.
I was very excited when I came up with the idea of a boy who could control others with his farts. I felt this would appeal to the target audience and is the kind of premise a tween writer like Andy Griffiths or Paul Jennings might use.
It is a great premise and posed many questions, the most interesting of which, for me, was: ‘If a tween boy was given the power to control others, what would he use it for?’ I decided that he probably wouldn’t use it for world domination or creating a slave race, but rather to solve his immediate tweenage problems: getting out of boring chores, getting revenge on bullies and getting the love of his life to notice him.
I was also inspired by Roald Dahl to include a sense of comic poetic justice in the story. Barnaby doesn’t get away with abusing his power over others, ending up even more isolated than he was before. As they say: ‘With great fart comes great responsibility’.
This idea is one that could be extended and developed extensively, opening up the possibility of a series of novels if people enjoyed this story. What other adventures could Barnaby have? Does he learn to use his powers for good? Do the other members of his family have the power too? What about his evil twin sister, what would she do with the power?
I found the process of writing this story satisfying, but I found the process of editing my own work (one which I have not had much experience before) extremely exciting. When I had finished writing, the story had 2760 words. Through six drafts, I managed to cut this down to 1976 words and the story is so much the better for it. Having a clear idea of audience and purpose made it reasonably easy to cut the story down. Anything unessential to the plot, convoluted and flowery language and many adverbs were removed to make the language more succinct.
I hope you enjoyed my first piece. Now to start the whole process again.