Thursday, April 15, 2021

October October by Andrew Ball

“Once upon a time...”“I love stories that start like that!” said Billy.
“Me too! You tell the best stories, Grandma. Why can’t you put me ’n’ Billy to bed every night?”
“Because, sweetie, as soon as your Mum and Dad get back, I have to jump on my broomstick and fly away into the night. A witch’s work is never done, you know. Now, have you both brushed your teeth and done all that other stuff? Good, then snuggle down and let me get on with the story."
“Once upon a time, there was a young girl...”
“What was her name?” asked Lucy.
“She had twenty-six first names, one for each letter of the alphabet. Her twelfth first name was... Lucy.”
“Just like me! How many last names did she have?”
“Twelve; one for each month of the year. So, every morning she’d look at the calendar to see what her name was that day.”
“Yes, Billy?”
“What was she called at the end of each month? You know when she ran out of alphabet?”
“Ah, those were special days when she only had a last name, but she used it twice. So, today, on Halloween, she’d be called...?
“October October!”
“Very good. Now, as you may already have guessed, October October was an unusual young girl. She was never bored because she loved to think, and she always had lots of things inside her head that needed thinking about.”
“What sort of things?”
“Oh... things like how fast she was moving, for instance. She knew that the earth was about 25,000 miles all the way around at its fattest point, and it took 24 hours to rotate back to where it had started, so she did the math and came up with...?”
“About 1000 miles an hour! Wow!”
“But then she thought: ‘Hmm... That’s just at the equator. If instead I was standing on the North Pole, I’d be spinning around slowly, once a day, like a top. That’d be cool... in more ways than one.’ And then she thought: ‘I wonder why we still talk about sunrise and sunset. They should be called horizon fall and horizon rise.’
“Anyway, the day I’m telling you about was a school day. October October loved school, all of it, apart from recess. She didn’t really know how to do recess, so she usually hung out in the classroom thinking her thoughts and waiting for it to be over so that she could get back to learning stuff.
“But on this particular day, her teacher had sent her out into the playground to get some fresh air. Almost immediately, she caught the attention of a group of kids -- boys mostly -- who were roaming the playground looking for trouble. She’d tangled with this group before.
“Let’s get her!” said the ringleader, rallying his troops. “Yes, let’s get her!” echoed his second-in-command, who always followed orders, whatever they were. “Yes, let’s!” said a girl who was longing to be accepted into the gang.
‘Uh-oh,’ thought October. ‘Here comes trouble...’
Backing her up against a wall, they surrounded her: a mob of scowling predators.
‘Hmm... Think your way out of this one,’ October thought to herself.
“She’s a witch!” snarled the ringleader, the chant spreading through the mob like wildfire: “Witch, witch, witch...”
“But even witches deserve a fair trial,” said October, sounding calmer than she felt. “I’m innocent until proven guilty; it’s in the Constitution.”
“I know what...” said the ringleader, who wasn’t quite as stupid as he appeared to be, “...we’ll give her a trial by ducking stool, like they did in the old days. We’ll tie her to a chair and throw her into a pond. If she floats, she’s a witch; if she sinks, she’s not. How does that sound?”
‘Like double jeopardy or something,’ thought October. “What pond?” she asked.
“Oh...” said the ringleader, knocked off his stride.
‘You should always have a plan B,’ thought October.
“I know!” said the girl who wanted to be a part of the gang. “We should put two stones into my lunch bag - a black one and a white one - and get her to pick one out without looking. If she picks the white one, she’s innocent; but if she picks the black one, she’s a witch.”
‘At least I’ll have a 50% chance,’ thought October, ‘which is better than a ducking stool.’
“Right; pass it over,” said the ringleader, struggling to regain control of the situation.
Smiling slyly to himself, he bent down, picked up two stones from the gravel playground and dropped them into the empty lunch bag. Then, making sure she couldn’t see in, he held it out for October to pick the stone that would seal her fate.
But October had been watching closely -- as if her life depended on it, in fact -- and she’d noticed that the ringleader had picked up two black stones. Her chance of being acquitted had just dropped to zero!”
“Oh, no! What on earth can she do?” said Lucy.
“She can’t expose the ringleader as a cheat. He’d beat her up for sure!” said Billy.
“‘Think!’ thought October. ‘There must be a way out of this pickle.’ As the group held its breath, she slowly reached her hand into the lunch bag and felt the two stones nestling at the bottom. Whichever one she picked, she was doomed... or was she?
Her hand began to shake; they’d expect her to be scared, wouldn’t they? ‘Go on,’ she thought. ‘Act it up a bit. They need you to be the victim here.’ She let a stifled sob escape her lips. ‘Careful, drama queen. Don’t overdo it.’
Inch by inch she withdrew her hand, the shaking getting worse as the moment of truth approached. And then, right at the lip of the lunch bag, a miracle! The stone slipped from her shaking fingers and fell back onto the gravel path, lost forever amongst its neighbors.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said. “How clumsy of me. But never mind; you can tell which one I picked by checking the color of the one that’s left in the bag.”
A look of horror passed across the ringleader’s face. He knew when he was beaten.
“Go ahead, look!” said his second-in-command, wondering why the ringleader looked daggers at him. “Yes, look!” said the others. Reluctantly, the ringleader reached into the bag and drew out the remaining stone, the one that he and October both knew for sure was black. He opened his hand and their eyes met: the victor and the vanquished.
“And that’s how October’s witch pulled an October switch. Goodnight, kids; sleep well.”

© Andrew Ball

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