Headmaster Doosy was having a bad day. He didn’t usually have bad days. Usually he had days that made him feel special and important. But today was proving to be one of the worst days in recent memory.
It had started out with a visit from a large bearded man who claimed to be a doctor. This man had trashed his office and made violent threats to his person, explaining how he could switch up Headmaster Doosy’s leg and arm if he so chose. Headmaster Doosy had been inclined to believe him.
Fortunately the man had left rather quickly, and Headmaster Doosy had felt a great sense of relief to be alone in his office once more.
Only to discover he wasn’t actually alone at all.
“Headmaster Doosy, I believe?” asked a soft voice from behind him.
Headmaster Doosy jumped in his seat and swivelled his SwivelChairPro chair (headmaster grade) violently to meet the voice.
“Who are you and what are you doing in my office and how long have you been standing in that darkened corner?!” he asked, trying to sound composed and failing utterly.
“My name is of no concern to you. I am here to ask you a few questions. And I’ve been in this office since before you arrived this morning,” replied the young woman stepping out of the shadows. She walked calmly by Headmaster Doosy and took a seat on the edge of his desk.
“Well that’s . . . trespassing . . .” Headmaster Doosy was pretty sure the young woman didn’t much care, but he said it anyway.
“Headmaster Doosy, I understand you were sent an employee by one Evans Bore, were you not?”
“An employee. I believe he worked in the sanitation department. A custodian?”
Headmaster Doosy thought for a moment, though thinking was proving difficult as he was still suffering from a great deal of shock. Then he remembered.
“Mr. Shen! Yes. Yes he worked here, but that was several years ago. He’s since left.”
“Yes, he left. That Bore fellow came and took him back. I think he works for him now. In the city.”
The young woman stared at Headmaster Doosy. Then she leaned in and brought her cheek to his. Whispering in his ear she said, “Well, I do hope you are being honest with me, Headmaster. Because if you are not, I can assure you that the things I could to do to your person would be so horrific, you would be begging for that large bearded gentleman to fulfill his threat instead. Have I made myself clear?”
“Perfectly,” squeaked Headmaster Doosy.
The young woman sat straight again and stood up, smoothing her skirt as she did so.
“Good.” She gave Headmaster Doosy a small wave and a smile, and opened the door to his office. “Thank you so much for your cooperation.” And she passed through the frame, closing the door behind her.
Headmaster Doosy stood up like a shot and took a careful, though slightly manic, turn about his office. He even opened his closet door and called out, “Anyone in there?"
When he was secure in the knowledge that no one else was hiding in his office, he took his seat once more. He reached for the school intercom and, in a barely audible voice, said, “I regret to announce that the school musical has unfortunately been cancelled. That is all.”
Headmaster Doosy leaned back in his chair with a sigh. At least he wouldn’t be the only one now having a bad day.
The First Chapter
In which we meet Timothy Freshwater on the day he is expelled from the last school in the city.
Timothy Freshwater was used to people telling him he was too smart for his own good. No, not quite used to it, more like bored with it. Every parent/teacher conference it was the same thing:
“That lad is bored, that’s the problem.”
“Timothy knows too much, have you been reading to him?”
He would stare past whichever teacher it was this year and cross his eyes so his vision would get all blurry. And whichever teacher it was, they too blurred all together, would drone on and on about his potential. That really he would be a lovely boy, if only, he would . . . you know . . . and they would give him a hasty glance . . . apply himself.
Because Timothy knew the truth. What worried his teachers wasn’t that he was too smart for his own good. What did they care if he was bored in class? The same could be said of two-thirds of his peers. No, what worried them was that he was too smart, full stop. He was smarter than all of them, and this put them on edge. And what he was smartest about, although Timothy himself didn’t know it, was figuring out what other people were thinking. Especially grown-ups. Especially authority figures. He could interpret every twitch of their eyebrows and every drop of sweat on their upper lips. He could just about watch their thoughts go by like pictures on TV. He was that clever at reading the signs.
So his teachers drew back from him. They shrank into corners when he walked down the hall, and they punished him whenever they got the chance, and that’s why they expelled him. Time after time. Sure, at Reeling Comprehensive they said it was because he stuffed Dirk Walker into his locker. At The Fortunate School For Boys because he carefully placed steaming dog droppings in his year five teacher’s briefcase. It wasn’t because he organized a student walkout protesting the removal of chips from the school lunch menu at Central Tech. Oh, and it most definitely was not because he plastered posters around the school of the headmaster of Arlington Elementary kissing the art teacher.
It was because he could out-think them all and they knew it. And it terrified them. In year three, for example, he had tormented his teacher by answering all the math problems on the chalkboard before the Mr. Inklemeyer had finished drawing the equals sign. It had become a bit of a race, and had resulted in Mr. Inklemeyer spraining his index finger in his haste to beat Timothy to the punch. There was that year four science class when he had drawn an anatomically correct picture of Mr. Plink, complete with labels, and made a photocopy for everyone. And of course there had been his rather short-lived glory of winning the creative writing award in year two, until a supply teacher pointed out that Timothy’s piece on the Happy Chipmunk was actually an allegory for something far more sinister.
Yes, they were all petrified of him, sitting there in the back row, scrutinizing them carefully. Never knowing when he would strike next. He would rock back and forth in his chair, making sure it squeaked ominously. He always found a chair that squeaked ominously. He was so good at squeaking that he managed to make year-six teacher number two burst into tears.
Well, bully for them. He wouldn’t sit idly by and let them smugly tell him what was what, when they didn’t really know themselves. They knew what was in their textbooks, but if you asked them questions, real questions, then they’d crumple onto the floor. Timothy used the Socratic method. He asked questions he knew the answers to just to get a rise out of them.
So, of course, it was no surprise when he was finally expelled from Montgomery.
“Well that’s that, then,” said his dad, squinting over his steering wheel and taking a left turn rather abruptly. “There are officially no more schools left. You must be really proud of yourself.”
Timothy shrugged. “Whatever.”
“And what am I going to write to your mother?”
“Why are you asking me that?”
His dad sighed.
Timothy’s dad sighed a lot. When he wasn’t sighing because of his son then he was sighing because of his job. And when he wasn’t sighing about his job, then he was sighing because he missed his wife. His wife, and Timothy’s mum, Kathryn Lapine, was a very glamorous theatre actress, or rather considered herself a very glamorous theatre actress, or rather wished she was a very glamorous theatre actress, and had never really understood why she had had such limited success. And when she wasn’t on tour she was at very glamorous parties. Or very fabulous gallery openings. Or very resplendent book launches.
Yes, Timothy’s dad sighed a lot. But no one ever noticed. And this made him sigh all the more. And of course no one ever noticed that either.
The car turned down a leafy street and pulled to a stop in front of a very tall terraced brownstone.
“I’ll find a spot, you go on in.”
Timothy, who had already stepped out of the car, slammed the door fiercely.
“And no TV! You’re on probation!” his dad shouted, leaning his head out the window.
“Whatever.” The standard reply.
The Freshwater house at 18 Wither Way was very tall. It was also very narrow. It was also full of books, and the walls were lined with theatrical posters, many of which featured Timothy’s mother in elegant poses. Timothy leaned against the front door and gazed at the dust floating in the coloured shards of light from the window. He hated his house. Especially in the day. During the day the Freshwater house could be quite claustrophobic. The rooms were small and closed off from each other by French doors. The walls varied between mustard and burgundy, and the floors were a dark hardwood. And because the house was tall, and there were lots of nooks and crannies, Timothy’s dad never quite managed to catch all the dust, so it floated around in clumps, like aimless schools of fish. Which was a pity, seeing as Timothy’s dad was rather allergic to dust.
Timothy ran up to his room on the fifth floor, stripped off his brown corduroy jacket that he wore everywhere, even when the weather turned cold, and flung himself onto his bed. He gave a quick glance over to the pile of unopened letters from his mother on his bedside table. Next to it was the picture of her with her arms around him backstage at some insignificant theatre in the middle of nowhere. It had been taken last year, but Timothy thought he looked ridiculously young. He reached over and slammed the photograph down on the table, grabbed the remote sitting next to it and turned on the television.
He wasn’t particularly fussed about what was on, just as he wasn’t particularly fussed about having been expelled from every school in the city by the tender age of eleven. He didn’t get fussed about anything. He ran his fingers through his hair, it fell purposefully over his eyes, just as he liked it. He did have to wonder, though, what would happen now. Maybe he could get a real job. He knew his parents wouldn’t hire a tutor again. That experiment had ended in miserable failure.
Timothy laughed to himself. And then stopped. And then threw the remote across the room.
So there you go. You’ve now met Timothy Freshwater, the boy who knew too much for his own good. But perhaps this description isn’t entirely accurate. In fact, I would say that Timothy Freshwater didn’t truly know how much he actually knew. And how much good what he knew would turn out to be. At least not yet. See, he had never met a dragon. But he was about to. And that would make all the difference.