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Margaret Duffy

Archangel Jim - Sample Extract

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The following extract is taken from the first section of chapter one, and introduces Molly - Mog - who is the main character in the story.

Mog had been in trouble again. She had known what the horrible Sharon Huggins was doing; poking her brother’s guinea pig with a stick through the bars of its cage. She had been able to hear the poor little thing squeaking from the balcony where it was kept at the flat below, and had leaned right over the edge of her balcony to check. Sharon’s mother did not appear to know what was going on, probably because the television was turned up so loud that Mog, upstairs, could hear every word of the soap that she was watching. Mog knew that their front door was ajar, she had noticed that a little while ago when she was climbing the stairs on her way back from school. She also knew that her own mother had told her never to leave the flat on her own, but this was too much to bear. She flung open her front door, ran down the stairs, tore through the Huggins’ home like a mad child and caught the beastly Sharon red-handed in mid-poke. Sharon’s yells and Mog’s shouts had brought both mothers running.

That was the trouble; a mad child, the sort of remark directed at Mog since she had been old enough to walk.

‘You shouldn’t have poked her with the stick,’ Ella, Mog’s mother, said crossly, firmly taking her daughter home, her neighbour’s threats ringing in her ears.

‘I wanted to show her what it was like,’ Mog said.

‘That makes you almost as bad as that spoilt brat.’ Ella closed the door. ‘Go to your room. I’ll decide what your tea’s going to be later.’

Mog slammed into the room that she shared with her brother Bobby and threw herself onto her bed. So even mum thought Sharon a spoilt brat, eh? Wow. It was almost worth getting bread and margarine for tea instead of hoping what it would be — chicken nuggets with lots of tomato ketchup — just to hear her say it.

Lately though, and Mog herself knew this, she had been in less trouble than she had when she was younger. She still lost her temper a lot, threw things, hit her brother when he least expected it and behaved badly at school. On Saturdays she dropped things from the kitchen rubbish bin on the postman’s head — he called her ‘Spike’ because her hair was always every which way — as he walked on the path below her bedroom window. She only did it sometimes, usually when he had forgotten to give the area beneath where they lived a wide berth. Mog thought he was fair game; an old misery with a shiny bald head that made a wonderful target.

Sharon’s mother’s television was in the room directly below the bedroom — she seemed to stay in bed for most of the day — so the noise was even worse in here. She kept it on late into the night, making it very difficult for Mog and Bobby to get to sleep. Ella had complained, but that had only made her turn it up louder, and put her radio on in the kitchen as well. The three of them now had to wear ear plugs at night and keep the window closed, even in summer when those below were all wide open.

It was hell, Mog thought, using a word she knew Ella did not like her saying, a horrible place where everyone burned all the time and were prodded by goblins for ever and ever. Maisie Grant at school had said so, and her dad was a vicar so she of all people must know. So this square box of flats was like hell, with all the noise and the gangs of boys who smashed everything up and had fights and horrible people like Sharon's brother who kept animals in little cages while his sister poked them with sticks.

Sharon’s mother, Kate, had shouted that Mog ought to be locked up. She was already in the class for slow learners and difficult children, wasn’t she? — and a lot of good it was doing her, the woman had shrieked. She was beyond control just like her wretched brother and the pair of them ought to be taken away and put into care, so that normal people didn’t have to put up with them. Yes, locked up. She had finished by yelling that she was going to report what had happened to the police.

Mog’s insides tied themselves into knots with fear as she remembered what had been said. This was nothing new, as she was frightened quite a lot of the time. It was all right when it was just her and her mother together, but sometimes when they were out — and you had to cross these big open spaces between the blocks of flats that were sort of grass in the summer and mud in the winter — there were strange people about. They seemed ill and staggered about, but you did not feel really sorry for them because they looked as though they wanted to kill you and steal your money.

The very worst thing was having to go through the tunnel under the main road that led to where the shops were. It seemed to go on for ever, and some of the lights had been broken or did not work so it was dark in places, and even more horrible people lurked there. They made scary noises and called out, swearing at them. Even Ella was scared, and holding her hand very tightly, they hurried, running once when a man had chased them. They never went that way at night.

Bobby would be back from school at any moment. He was in a different year to Mog, and his bus took a slightly different, and longer, route. Then he would come in and try to get rid of her from whichever room she was in. If he brought a friend home, usually a complete moron by the name of Kyle, it was even worse, and they would both gang up on her until she lost her temper and started to scream and throw things, and then Ella would get very angry indeed.

Up until recently there had been a state of open warfare in their bedroom with Bobby always complaining that she took up more than her fair share of space. He had even torn down one of her posters saying it was on his part of the wall. In the end their mother had measured the room and drawn a line down the two end walls. Then she had stuck tape on the carpet, giving them exactly half of the room each, with the door in Mog’s part as she was older. Bobby hated it if even Mog’s toes strayed into his half.

She could hear him stamping up the stairs now, just him on his own though by the sound of it.

‘What’s for tea?’ he shouted, slamming the front door when his mother had let him in. Without waiting for her answer, he ran through the flat and then burst into the room where Mog lay on the bed staring up at the ceiling.

‘Go away. I want to do my homework in here.’

Mog gave him her best loathing-from-the-heart look. ‘So have I. I shall do it in here. I was here first.’

Bobby had brown hair almost as unruly as Mog’s and was a big boy for eight. This helped him both in and out of school as he suffered constant taunts about his lumpish, backward sister.

‘What kind of homework?’ he wanted to know.

‘Reading and arithmetic.’

‘What, the cat sat on the mat and one, two, three?’ he jeered.

‘Something like that,’ said Mog.

She found school very boring, and her homework was reading a chapter of a book about a boring child who had mind-blowingly boring parents and they all lived in a stunningly boring house in a yawn of a place called Dunledge, a town that Mog was fairly sure did not exist. Tomorrow, when she would be asked to read this to her one-to-one teacher, Mog would merely try to catch up on her missed sleep. She was always tired.

It was really the only protest that she could now make. For despite what Sharon’s mother had said not so many minutes ago Mog had come to understand that she must start to behave herself, however difficult it was. Mog actually understood an awful lot, and always had done, but to reveal this and try to explain about the secret friend — the only one she had and who could best be described as an alien —who had recently come into her life would not only get her into a lot more trouble, but she would find herself locked up for ever and ever on account of being found to be raving mad.

In short, it was far easier to be regarded as stupid, even by Uncle Tom and her mother.

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