Deposited by his mean parents in the care of his strange and sinister Grandad Jock in a remote farmhouse on the Scottish coast, Jimmy Black is far from happy. Mere unhappiness turns to abject horror when he is force-fed the saltiest porridge in the history of the world each morning. To devise a plan to get rid of the foul mixture seems simple: little does Jimmy realize that doing so will catapult him into a hair-raising adventure deep beneath the ocean floor and that the very survival of the human race will come to rest upon his quivering shoulders!
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James Sutherland Books
Squeak went the squeaky stair.
Jimmy Black froze. He hated the squeaky stair. It always squeaked.
Downstairs in the kitchen, he could hear the murmur of his parents engaged in an unusually earnest discussion. Over the last few days he had sensed that there was something happening; something which would affect him in some unknown, possibly unpleasant way. The day before yesterday, when he had arrived home from school a little earlier than usual, Mum and Dad had both jumped slightly, abruptly ending the conversation they’d been having. Last weekend, when they had been in town, Dad had inexplicably purchased an X-Box game for Jimmy that he’d been coveting for several months. Although this had pleased the boy, it had also aroused the strongest suspicions in his eleven-year-old mind. His dad never bought him anything other than on birthdays or at Christmas. In fact, he was probably the meanest father anyone had ever had since the dawn of human civilization. He told Jimmy off for wasting electricity if he left his bedroom light on accidentally. He would only let Jimmy keep a goldfish, rather than the gorilla he had always wanted, claiming it would cost too much in bananas. He even grumbled that Jimmy was growing much too fast whenever he needed new school shoes! Holding his breath, the boy edged further down the banister until he reached a point where he could just about hear what was being said.
“I’m just not sure it’s such a good idea. Jimmy hasn’t been there since he was five,” Mum was reasoning. “Two weeks is a long time to be away from your parents at his age.”
So! Jimmy deduced; he was being shipped off to a mysterious destination for a fortnight at some point in the near future.
“He’ll be absolutely fine,” Dad countered. “You’re always saying how grown up he is. Anyway, there really isn’t any alternative. All of the rest of the close family will be coming to the funeral in the States. His Grandad Jock is the only one who will be staying here.”
On the darkened stairway Jimmy reeled, stifling a scream, his knuckles whitening as he clutched at the banister for support. This couldn’t be happening! Two weeks? Alone with his Grandad Jock in Scotland for two weeks? No - It couldn’t be true. He wasn’t standing on the stairs listening to his parents. He was fast asleep in his bed having a very bad nightmare. Yes - that must be it; it was just a very bad nightmare. Dazed and stunned, Jimmy turned and staggered back upstairs to his bedroom, the loud “squeak” of the squeaky step now failing to register at all with the boy’s numbed senses.
At breakfast the next morning, the conversation was largely non-existent. Jimmy, having endured a restless night of tossing and turning in his bed, was listlessly spooning porridge into his mouth, his bleary eyes fixed on his goldfish, Gary, who was slowly patrolling the narrow confines of his tank. It’s ok for you Jimmy thought, watching the fish with a certain degree of envy. You don’t have a care in the world. All you have to do is swim around, opening and closing your mouth occasionally. I wish my life was that simple…
“I’m goin’ up to get dressed,” he said, depositing his spoon in the soggy remnants of his porridge. Mum, who had been exchanging meaningful glances with Dad ever since Jimmy had sat down at the table, now arrested her husband with a ferocious, wide-eyed glare.
“Erm,” Dad croaked. “Before you go up, Jim, there’s something that your mum and I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh?” Jimmy replied, feigning total ignorance of his ghastly fate.
“Not sure if we mentioned it, but we had a phone call last week from your Auntie Barbara. You know the one who lives in America? The one who sends you a calendar every Christmas depicting scenes from the Old West. You know…”
“Yes, I know,” the boy interrupted, somewhat irritably. “Mrs Barbara Hollerton - ‘Crackers Hollerton,’ you always call her…”
“Robert!” Mum exclaimed, shocked. “I never knew you called her…”
“Look, darling. We’re in danger of straying from the point here aren’t we? Anyway Jimmy, as I was saying, we had a call from Barbara last week and she had some very sad news. Your uncle Lou has died.”
Here, Jimmy’s dad paused, assuming his most solemn expression as he waited for an appropriate reaction from his son.
“Uncle Lou? I didn’t know I had an Uncle Lou. Was he really my uncle?” Jimmy enquired with a touch of defiance in his voice.
Again, his parents looked at each other. A few seconds passed, during which Mum seemed to be carrying out some kind of complex mental calculation.
“No dear,” she conceded finally “He’s my third cousin twice removed. But we’ve always known him as your Uncle.”
“Well I haven’t. I never even knew there was such a person ‘til jus’ now.”
“Look Jimmy. The fact is that this fellow, whatever relation he is, has died, and your mother and I have been invited to his funeral in the USA. Your Auntie Barbara has kindly offered to help with the cost of flying her English relatives over to pay their respects and, whilst flying all that way is the last thing your mother and I would want to do, we felt that it was our obligation as close family members to attend.”
Jimmy was determined that if he had to spend a fortnight with his Grandad Jock, he would not do so without a bitter fight to the last.
“I’ve always wanted to go to America,” he said hopefully. “Travel is highly educational.”
“Oh no, son,” Dad mumbled uncomfortably. “A funeral’s no place for children.”
“Well I could jus’ come with you to America but not go to the funeral.” Jimmy intended to make the whole affair as difficult as possible for his parents.
“Erm…No dear…” Mum was also now looking a little flustered. “You see, we tried to book you on the flight, but there were just the two seats available. I’m so sorry dear…”
With round one seemingly ending in a stalemate, the Black family lapsed into silence, with Jimmy in the one corner and his parents in the other, each considering their tactics for the main bout that would inevitably follow.
“What part of the USA is it?” Jimmy came out swinging.
“Oh… Nowhere special. Pretty boring part really,” Dad replied as nonchalantly as possible.
“What part is it?” Jimmy persisted.
“CALIFORNIA! Disneyland an’ the Universal Studios are in California! Hollywood is there! San Francisco an’ the Golden Gate Bridge are in California! There’s giant redwood forests there, an’ beaches an’ deserts an’…”
By now, Jimmy was seething. So that was it! His parents were getting an all-expenses-paid vacation in America, while he would be left in the dubious care of a weird old man whom he barely even knew!
“But it’s such a long way, dear,” his mother stammered, clearly rattled by the unexpected depth of her son’s geographical knowledge. “And we are going to a funeral, after all. There won’t be time for any of those things you know.”
“How long will you be away for?” Jimmy challenged.
“Two weeks dear,” Mum replied unthinkingly. She quickly blushed, realising that she had fallen right into her son’s trap.
“But a funeral only lasts for a day! Why do you need to go for two weeks?”
“Listen son - We’ll talk about it nearer the time,” Dad cut in hastily. “Come on, you’re going to be late for school.”
This came as a sucker punch, delivered like a hidden uppercut, just when Jimmy had felt he had Mum on the ropes.
“Where will I be staying while you’re away?” he countered spiritedly, though he sensed that defeat was imminent. Of course, Jimmy knew exactly where he would be staying already, but wanted to make Dad’s life as uncomfortable as possible.
“I told you - We’ll discuss it later. Now go and get ready for school!”
It had been a close match, but as he stamped up the stairs to his bedroom, Jimmy Black knew that he had been beaten. But he had merely lost the first battle; the war was only just beginning…