Children’s author Kathy White has come up with the start of a story – it’s called No Guarantees. She’d like you to finish the story in 500 words or less and submit it using the online form. Entries close 8pm Friday August 18th. No late entries will be accepted.
“I’m not doing it. You can’t make me.” Tyler gripped his placard tightly and stood his ground. Behind him, the other kids in Room 5 fell silent. Even the cockroaches in the jar on Mr Lewis’s desk stopped moving. A chair scraped on the lino, as Frankie stood up and crossed the classroom to stand behind Tyler. Brendan reluctantly followed her.
“Well, well. What have we here? The Three Musketeers?” Mr Lewis leaned forward to read Tyler’s sign.
NO ANIMAL EXPERIMENTS AT WOODLAND SCHOOL. BUGS ARE ANIMALS TOO.
Mr Lewis slurped on his tankard of coffee. “Is that right?”
Brendan started to answer, but Frankie nudged him sharply with her elbow.
Mr Lewis picked up the jar and shook it. The cockroaches bounced off the sides of the glass. “Don’t you want to make their legs twitch?”
Tyler swallowed. His mouth had gone dry.
Mr Lewis stared at them through the jar, one eye magnifying and shrinking in turn.
“No problem,” he said suddenly, placing the jar back on his desk. “We have lots of chewing gum that needs scraping off seats. Or maybe you can help Mr Lancaster with the rubbish for the next two weeks. Hmmm? Would you like that?”
Frankie screwed up her nose as if she could smell the bins already.
“There’s one other option, but the equipment hasn’t been used much lately.” Mr Lewis’s lips curled into a little smirk. He rubbed his hands together. “No guarantees.”
He tilted his head towards the door to the back room. “Shall we look?”
The fluorescent light in the back room flickered, revealing a jumble of jars and cabinets in a room with a long corridor. Cobwebs draped across piles of papers strewn with scribbled sketches. In the middle of the room was some kind of machine that looked like a telescope but with an eclectic mixture of switches and gauges and a huge dial with labels in another language.
“Wow, you’re into astronomy, Mr Lewis. I didn’t know.” Frankie leaned in closer and read the labels aloud. “Pusillus and ingens.”
“Pus sounds gross but I like engines,” Brendan grinned.
“It’s ingens,” Frankie repeated. “I think it’s Latin. Like in Harry Potter.”
“As long as it doesn’t have anything to do with those giant spiders, I don’t care,” Brendan said. “They freaked me out. I couldn’t even go on holiday to Australia after I saw that movie.”
“So what exactly do you want us to do?” Tyler asked.
The teacher pushed Tyler to a red circle that had been drawn under the skylight. He positioned him carefully and then beckoned to the others. “I just need to calibrate the machine. Can you three stand over here so I can adjust the focal range. It’ll only take a minute.”
The three friends huddled together while Mr Lewis made his calculations and adjusted his gauges.
Frankie nudged Tyler and whispered. “Doesn’t pusillus mean small?”
Tyler suddenly got the chills. “What is this machine, Mr Lewis?”
Mr Lewis closed one eye and squinted through the viewfinder one last time. They were perfectly in focus. Just perfect. He pushed the uppermost red button and smiled.