Art Pact 33


Robert had always been corralled in the area of Mrs. Kenley's brain that was reserved for harmless lunatics, but with his the current activity had finally jumped over the boundary fence and scampered off into the much larger open area in which she stored the names and details of those she considered dangerous nutters. His need to prove that his obsession was not an obsession, but merely a wise precaution taken in the face of stark reality, had become so overwhelming that he had done something unforgivable in her eyes - he had endangered a child.

The child, of course, was Robert's son, for whom Mrs. Kenley had no particular love. Indeed, among children Daniel Priest had the (undoubtedly dubious) distinction of being perhaps the one whom she loved least. It was difficult, big-hearted as she was, to suggest that Mrs. Kenley might actively dislike anyone, let alone a child, but in contrast to her normal attitude of universal benevolence her lukewarm attitude towards Daniel could almost be interpreted as hatred.

It hadn't always been so - when she had first moved in beside the Priests Daniel had been a polite four-year old child, rosy-cheeked and full of beans and generally topped off with all the cliches appropriate to the description of story-book infants. Then, of course, Robert's wife (and Daniel's mother) had still been alive, and the combination of the mother (small and unattractive, but always neat and polite) and child had been quite pleasing. Mrs. Kenley had spoken to them over the garden fence, nodded politely to them in town, and fussed over Daniel at resident's group meetings, being (as a next-door-neighbour) the rank equivalent of an aunt in such gatherings.

But Daniel had grown, as children are generally wont to, and not in a way that would have (so Mrs. Kenley thought) brought a proud swelling to the breast of his deceased parent. Now just at the beginning of puberty, he had sprouted up into a oddly-angled creature, like a clothes-horse erected by a drunkard, who spoke only in incomprehensible mumbles and squawks that alternated in timbre and pitch between the mating call of a macaw and the angry rumble of an African elephant with nothing in between, as though his vocal chords had been fitted with a two-way switch marked INFRASOUND on one pole and ULTRASOUND on the other.

He had also discovered the soothing balm that inclusion in a group offers for those that have lost an important part of their birth group, and this discovery had been at the hands of the local ne'er-do-wells, a group of post-school adolescents who seemed to take a particular delight in mentoring their young disciple in all the various categories of petty crime and nuisance, every one of which Daniel took to as an albatross to flight, being on track for not only a passing grade by a distinction with honours in vandalism, graffito, scrumping, jostling, shop-lifting, and both underage drinking and underage smoking, the latter of which he pursued with such gusto that in another world it might easily have become the sort of life-long passion which successful careers area forged from.

It was Mrs. Kenley who seemed to be the most constant recipient of this behaviour. Perhaps she was spared the most egregious individual examples of theft and anti-social behaviour, but never a day went by without cigarette butts or empty lager cans appearing over the wall into her garden, never a week without some bush or other wilting from the over-enthusiastic application of urine, never a month without her having to whitewash some wall or fence or other to remove the assertion that she had (quote) "a dried-up cooch", or that Mr. Kenley "loved sailor's cocks".

She would gladly have seen Daniel deported to the new world or imprisoned, but she was of the firm belief that disciplining a child was the job of a stern parent and not the state, so despite quite legitimate claims on the services of the local police service she instead addressed her complaints to Robert, who was sympathetic (he, after all, also suffered from the petty crimes of his son), but ultimately so busy with his own bizarre compulsions and so brow-beaten by his rogue child that he was unable to effect any change on the boy.

The father and son did still have one thing in common, however - their belief in the subterranean world and the conspiracy, reaching all forms of government, that had so effectively covered it up. After years of fruitless digging in the archives, Robert finally decided that it was time to start digging in the soil - to tunnel down to the underground cities and prove their existence by simply breaking into them from above. Miraculously, Daniel's own belief in the cities - instilled at a young age - had somehow survived his conversion into a disaffected youth. He was therefore quite easily recruited into his father's mad schemes, and the two of them began digging their tunnels in secret. The full extent of their work was only revealed two years later, when the house on the other side of the street suddenly lost its carport into a freshly-cut cave in which the Priests were working.

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