Today we hand the blog over to Harry Kitchener, a young writer from Fountainbridge Library’s Teen Writing Group, but first, Simon from Fountainbridge Library tells us a little about the group:
The Fountainbridge Writing Club has been running for a few years now and it’s been wonderful watching their work – which was already good to begin with – get better and better. We couldn’t care less about spelling and grammar. What really counts are the stories themselves, which we come up with there and then in the session and share afterwards.
We’re always open to new people, so if you know anyone of high school age who gets a kick out of writing, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Simon contacted us to tell us how the group have been continuing to meet online, and how one member of the group, Harry, has been particularly busy throughout lockdown continuing his creative writing.
We’re delighted to share the first chapter from Harry’ story, ‘A Fool’s Errand’ here. Humorous, sophisticated, original, intriguing – we love it and can’t wait for further instalments! Read on and enjoy:
A Fool’s Errand: Chapter 1
Harold sat, drooping slightly over the edges of his chair at the top of the Ministry of Astronomy. His squidgy eye was pressed airtight over a telescope lens. His hand, which was grasping a trusty pen from his breast pocket, was hovering loosely over a small note pad. He sat and gazed into the sprawling galaxy before him. Most people, not Harold, would be totally encapsulated by the sight. To think that so much beauty could exist just out of reach. Most people could stare into the galaxy for hours at a time and lose themselves in its silky smooth nebulas and clockwork solar systems. It was the sort of job that kept you from feeling you’d worked a day in your life. This is why most people lost Harold’s job very quickly and why he was one of the very few able to keep it. Each day, he did his usual routine of covering vast swathes of universe for anything his bosses described as fishy. Harold always appreciated how his bosses could put things in a way he could easily understand. As he passed each quadrant he wrote down the name and, to his delight, ‘nothing of interest’ next to it. Harold did not have any tolerance for such spectacular concepts as excitement or wonder. He then popped his ‘report’ (as his bosses so kindly called them) into a plastic capsule and slid it into an outgoing tube. It seemed that Harold always had a capsule at hand. He’d probably deposited thousands in his time but hadn’t the faintest idea of where they came from. If he paid the slightest bit of attention, he would have found out very quickly and discover that the answer was very dull. However Harold occupied himself entirely in his work, which he foolishly deemed extremely important. He was never much of a multi-tasker.
The tube worked its magic and sucked up his parcel with a cheerful whoosh. Most people would have been blown away at the fun, mysterious inner workings of this tube. Harold grunted. This particular tube lead directly up to corporate. They would respond by chucking most of his capsules on a big fire without checking them and sending him a thank you note in return. If Harold took the time to open these notes, he would find a large sum of money ‘hidden’ inside but he always chucked them in the bin behind him, much to corporate’s amusement. The bin would suck up the parcel and send it back into position for his next report. Harold never found out that he got paid for his job and corporate never felt much compulsion to enlighten him on the matter.
There were many things that corporate didn’t feel the need to correct Harold about. For example, he had decided very early on that, being a man who respected hierarchy, his bosses worked on a made-up floor just above his own. He had this very peculiar notion that any serious corporate office should at least be at the top of their place of work. This notion came about because his outgoing tube, rather falsely, shot his parcels up through his ceiling. However, unbeknownst to Harold, this pipe then hastily curved back down, with a gasp of relief, and went in a direction that Harold had always thought of as down. You may assume that all of these scraps of lies and deception are cruel but Harold could unravel them all in an afternoon if he so wished. If Harold had the attention span he would be able to see his capsules rattling along with him as he went down in the elevator. Of course he was always too busy not being busy to notice. Having never met anyone else in the Ministry of Astronomy as of yet, Harold had to create his own social embarrassment. There was nothing to keep him from noticing that the button on the elevator for his floor read ‘0000’, which would imply he is in the basement. Nothing to stop him relaxing on an expensive yacht somewhere enjoying the vast wealth his bosses put in his thank you notes. Not a single shred of resistance to keep him from realising that the thousand member workforce (the one the ministry billboard boasted about on his way in) probably didn’t exist. Little did Harold realise but Earth had been deserted for a little over a decade. In fact Harold was the only human left. All the rest (and I do mean every single other person) went on to explore the galaxies and claim new stars. Of course, none of it was new to anyone else however humans have quite a talent for discovering things that have already been discovered. There was a certain quality in humanity that Harold was not cursed with. Something everyone else had that Harold didn’t. This quality was the difference between travelling the stars and peering at them through a telescope lens. It was the reason Harold had such a great relationship with his employers despite never having met them.
The reason corporate loved Harold so much, and I should stress that they adored him, was that he never truly opened his eyes. Instead he was on a rail. He walked directly in the direction he went and never expelled any extra effort looking around or (to the dread of a corporate office who valued efficiency) taking one extra step just to see what it would feel like. Such notions of fun or adventure simply didn’t fit in with the busy, formal atmosphere of the Ministry of Astronomy. Harold, of course, knew that he was a good fit for the ministry and was very happy to fill out reports mindlessly as the work day ticked by, ignoring as much nonsense as he could at the same time.
One day however something happened that he simply couldn’t ignore: his job. Whilst squeezed once again into his telescope (which had changed several times throughout his career without him noticing) he spotted an imperfection. This originally referred to something that took him by surprise or at least that’s what his bosses told him. However Harold had left a number of things out under this faulty definition. Several alien sightings, a pair of life threatening black holes and confirmation of God’s existence, to name a few. So they had changed it to fishy. Corporate wasn’t concerned with aliens or religious empiricism but they’d have quite liked to have seen them and were a little bummed when the subject came up five years later having thoroughly missed the boat.
Harold watched, a little too vacantly, as a thin, white line splintered slowly through the dark of space. The line got thicker and longer until there was a gaping hole with cracks zig-zagging out of it like the legs of a tarantula, spanning multiple quadrants each, pouring pale light into the universe. After much deliberation, Harold decided that this was rather fishy and reported it to corporate immediately. He tore a piece of paper hastily from his pad and wrote “QUADRANT 1384 – V” in large, rigid letters, then added “Really very fishy.“ Corporate always seemed to value his descriptions of the general fishiness. The moment he posted the capsule, Harold squished his eye back into the lens to check in on the scene. At this very moment, the hole, now closer resembling a bottomless crater exploded, leaving the sky almost completely white aside from a couple of writhing patches which continued to fight against it. The planets remained, orbiting their suns. Comets continued to fleet by, only a little harder to make out on the new colour. The universe kept going as if nothing had happened. The only thing that had changed was that space, the very cosmos itself, had now turned completely white.
A harsh, thick-sounding buzzer went off above Harold’s head, making him jerk away from the telescope lens. Sweat now trickling lightly in his armpits, he got up out of his chair and staggered into the dingy, metal elevator. He panted slightly as the mesh doors shut around him. He simply couldn’t help but feel like a cornered rhinoceros as the elevator began to descend. For the first time Harold noticed that the only two buttons available to him were ‘Entrance’ and ‘0000’. A very effectively positioned fan blew heavy sheets of air and confusion directly into his face. Those who insist on the constant and ruthless application of fans will be very glad to know that no matter where Harold stood the fan was constantly shooting him with a jet of cool air. Whilst he waited, albeit bedazzled, to reach the ground floor he wondered what was waiting for him. His skin jiggled with fear as he trundled past the ground floor and sank even deeper into the Earth. He heard the echo of the pulleys through vast caverns. The odd leathery flutter or knocking rocks would give him a most terrible flinch. An hour went by but Harold stayed vigilant. He was beginning to think (yes, Harold was thinking) that he was plummeting to the centre of the Earth. Sentenced to the hellish fires deep beneath the surface. Corporate must have decided he wasn’t useful to them any longer. However he couldn’t fathom what he had done wrong. Harold couldn’t say he had known his bosses particularly well. They exchanged a long string of stiff correspondence when he first began working there however this had died down rather limply after a month or two and they had hardly communicated since. Maybe he should have made more of an effort. Harold was quite terrible for taking fault for things that had nothing to do with him. Despite having one thousand invisible colleagues on which to blame so many of the strange happenings he observed through his telescope, he always found a way to blame himself. It was quite sweet really. He was still under the delusion that whatever he did had profound, long-lasting consequences. As if Harold could be responsible for anything as interesting as the whitening of the universe.
Then, somehow, without Harold knowing exactly when or in what manner, he was going up again, picking up speed. His elevator was suddenly inverted from pitch dark to searing bright. It became clear, even to Harold, that he was taking an arduous trip to corporate. However this was not the corporate Harold imagined. Harold always assumed he would one day log his one millionth quadrant report at which point a mysterious suited man would stride into his office and offer him a ride on the elevator to the one floor above himself. His assumption was that corporate would be kitted out with all the latest technology. Teeming with men (Harold unfortunately wasn’t one to challenge stereotypes) who wore tailored suits (proper ones) and sunglasses and discussed finances and spreadsheets. Harold was wrong on many counts. Corporate was not a technological hub just one floor above his office. There were no male (or female for that matter) suit models talking about vague businessy terms. And he certainly would never be invited to corporate on the grounds of a promotion because, if he were, the Ministry of Astronomy would become a pair of corporate bosses aimlessly trying to order each other about. The hard truth of the ministry of Astronomy would soon be revealed.
“You can stop screaming if you like.” Came a posh English voice that gave one the instant compulsion to throttle whoever owned it.
Harold realised for the first time that he was screaming and most likely had been for the past hour. After a short internal, he debate decided to continue. He was standing in the motionless elevator, doors open. Everything was unbearably still.
“I really must insist that you stop screaming.” The voice came again, with a hint of frustration.
Harold decided it was time to stop screaming. He looked around, at the white expanse above him the last few splinters of darkness shrinking away, leaving the sky completely uninterrupted. After taking the time to really internalise the sight, he stared at the charcoal black ground, completely flat, and stretching on for miles in every direction. Once he had decided that this too was acceptable, he looked at the matching dark silhouette standing before him.
“Welcome,” began the voice, ”with you here we have finally assembled the entire Ministry of Astronomy.” Harold looked around sheepishly. No one else.
“You can leave the cabin.” The silhouette seemed to expect an awful lot of initiative on Harold’s part. Harold stepped out of the elevator with a loud squelch. His cheap shoes were soaked.
“Do you? Need to dry off?” the puzzled silhouette asked, looking rather disgustedly at Harold’s dripping body. He was drenched in sweat after the last hour of screaming and confusion. Harold decided not to answer the question. The silhouette decided to ignore the matter entirely, leaving Harold dripping indefinitely. He was now beginning to wish he had spoken up when given the chance but the moment had definitely passed.
Finally, Harold found his frail, little voice and asked, “so what’s… wrong?” Given the gravity of the situation, Harold felt a bit silly using the word ‘wrong’. Did ‘wrong’ really encapsulate the entire issue? ‘Issue’ didn’t feel right either.
The silhouette shuffled slightly on the spot, which Harold mistook for dramatic tension, before mumbling, “I don’t really want to say.”
“Oh, please do. I’d love to hear”, croaked Harold after a nasty pause. He had meant to sound warm, perhaps even comforting but it reflected his current emotions far too accurately to be considered at all comforting.
The silhouette continued to shuffle from side to side, “You’d laugh.”
Harold couldn’t believe his ears. Some strange urge to whack the silhouette over the head was welling up inside him.
“Go on”, breathed Harold, his anger surprisingly well hidden, “I won’t laugh”, Harold had always considered himself a stupid person, and rightly so, but even he was starting to find this tedious.
“Fine”, chimed the silhouette after another infuriatingly long pause “The universe is…”
What? What was the universe? In danger? Peril? Mortal peril?
“The wrong colour.”
Harold felt his left eye twitch violently as he stared fixedly at the silhouette. He was now sweating out of pure, unfiltered rage. In his great swell of emotion, he could only manage a curt, “oh”.
The silhouette looking at him searchingly. Feeling obliged to say more, Harold then added an, “I see,” for good measure. Not that it contributed anything to the conversation at hand.
There was yet another pause. “See, you’re not taking this seriously at all are you?”
“Yes I am”, trailed Harold, he was aiming for dismissive sincerity but everything he said was still rigid from a mixture of exhaustion, confusion and his severe effort to suppress his fury.
“No, you’re not,” said the silhouette in a supremely patronising fashion, “I knew it, I just knew you wouldn’t appreciate it.” The silhouette started to prowl from side to side. Harold was just now realising that this wasn’t a silhouette. It really was a pitch black figure shimmering slightly at the edges as if a shadow had popped off the wall. However Harold, not being one for adaptability, still decided to think of it as a silhouette.
“It just doesn’t seem very… important”, murmured Harold,
“Well, it’s important to me”, cried the silhouette, “Do you realise how annoying this is for me?”
Harold’s hundred billion tiny cells couldn’t afford to take on any more thinking at the moment and this development had put a rather obnoxious spanner in the works.
“So you brought me down here-”
“Up.” Insisted the silhouette shortly.
Harold began again. “You brought me down here”, each syllable was a terrific effort, “because the colour of the sky is annoying you. Shall I alphabetise the capsules while I’m at it.” he said, pointing at the massive pile of his own burning reports just a few feet behind where the silhouette stood. Quite unhelpfully, another couple of capsules slid out of the shoot above, landing right on top of the inferno. Another hour of Harold’s time burned quietly beside them.
“No”, corrected the silhouette, as if Harold had just said something silly, “it’s not just that!”
“Oh. I see”, spoke Harold trying to figure out whether this was a satisfactory explanation, “so what else is the issue?”
The silhouette decided to start on something that seemed entirely unrelated. “You see, I haven’t been especially truthful about your job description.”
Harold tilted his head at the silhouette in complete incomprehension.
“You think you’re an astronomer, right?”
“I am an astronomer”, insisted Harold though his voice was starting to trail hopelessly.
The silhouette got all apprehensive again but didn’t answer, “but your job”, Harold didn’t appreciate where this was going, “is in fact to look for…”
Alien civilisations? Supernovas? Stars, even stars would be something.
“Your… shoes”, grunted Harold, his fury had subsided into dread.
“Yes. Well actually just the left one”, he indicated politely to a white trainer lying on the charcoal ground, “I lost the other a few years ago -”
“Seventeen years ago”, Harold growled angrily.
“Oh goodness had it been that long? Anyway, it seemed a waste to buy a whole new pair so I thought…” The silhouette stopped there as if this explanation was perfectly adequate on its own.
“Thought?” prompted Harold slowly.
“That it would just be easier to have a look for the other one”, said the silhouette, “just instead of running off and getting a new pair so hastily. I hate wasting things.”
He didn’t seem to notice the irony of having wasted the better part of twenty years of Harold’s life.
“As you can see, they’re white. And so you can see the problem of a white universe”, the silhouette laughed awkwardly after another one of these terrible pauses they kept running into.
Harold didn’t answer. Being dim-witted and rather upset, he decided not to bother trying to work out the silhouette’s problem.
“White on white”, gasped the silhouette finally, “Doesn’t show up very well, does it.”
“You want me to turn the universe dark again so that you can find your trainers more easily?”
“No no. So you can find my trainers more easily.” Corrected the silhouette sheepishly.
Harold strode out of the Ministry of Astronomy feeling rather proud of himself. He had turned down the Silhouette, clearly thinking himself above all the bother of restoring the sky’s original colour only to go back to looking for trainers. He beamed up at the pleasant, exciting, intense, slightly eye-straining white of the night sky. Then, for no particularly grand reason, Harold stopped walking away from the ministry. He continued staring into the sky. It was, he supposed, a bit too white. He fought to keep taking steps further on but after two more shuffles he had quite given up. The sky was just annoying. It would look a lot more handsome if it were black. A nice silky black on which the constellations and solar systems had originally been plotted. As much as Harold utterly hated to admit it, that really would be a lot nicer. Another hard truth is that Harold wasn’t a talented person. His defining skill was in his lack of ability, or perhaps just interest, to question or understand anything put in front of him. A quality not particularly sought after in the world of astronomy. Regretfully, Harold really was more suited to searching for shoes hidden somewhere among the vast sheets of space than any of the other jobs in his field of study. This is why it is a relief to say that, with a heavy grumble, Harold stomped back into the Ministry of Astronomy.