From the Sahara Desert to the undersea world of Atlantis to the picturesque town of Providence, Rhode Island, Hamish X and his friends Mimi and Parveen prepare for the final battle with the scourge of children everywhere-the evil Grey Agents of the ODA (Orphan Disposal Agency). Only then will the mysteries of Hamish, his boots, and his past finally be revealed.
About the author
Comedian Seán Cullen’s many stage and screen credits include the CBC’s Seán Cullen Show and Seán Cullen’s Home for Christmas Special, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Showcase series Slings and Arrows, and the Toronto stage production of The Producers. He is the winner of three Gemini awards. Seán is also a member of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Acting Company.
Excerpt: Hamish X Goes to Providence Rhode Island (by (author) Sean Cullen)
Mimi stood on the edge of the stone platform. All the children were silent, awed by the sight they beheld: a subterranean vault with black water stretching out beyond the reach of their battery-powered torches. The soft slap of the underground lake was the only sound ... besides the sniffling and crying of a few of the youngest refugees from the destruction of the Hollow Mountain. Even these snufflings were subdued by normal standards.5
Cara stood at Mimi’s side, her eyes desolate and red from crying. Mimi was glad the girl had finally gotten a hold of herself. Cara had wept incessantly and inconsolably for the entire long fall in the escape pod. She had no idea what had happened to her brother, Aidan. She knew only that he had stayed behind when the escape hatch closed to face the invading army of Grey Agents with King Liam. Mimi had understood the pain Cara was experiencing. Parveen was nowhere among the escapees.
Mimi was tempted to have a good cry of her own, but she had to hold it together for the sake of the frightened children around her. She had to lead by example: Hamish X had taught her that.
Mimi thought back to how they had arrived on the shore of this dark sea.
Aidan had slammed the hatch shut, automatically launching the pod on its journey down the escape shaft. What followed was a hair-raising fall accompanied by the screams of the occupants as the contents of their stomachs threatened to paint the inside of the pod. The blackness made the fall worse. Mimi couldn’t orient herself. Her terrified mind tried to focus on something to make the fear go away, but there was only darkness.
After what seemed like an age, the pod took a sloping turn, pressing the inhabitants against the restraint straps. The pod picked up speed and began a slaloming6 series of S turns, throwing the passengers back and forth.
“Oh,” squeaked Mrs. Francis. “Why can’t they flick on the lights?”
As if in response to her question, a light went on overhead, shining a yellow glow down on the pale faces of the passengers. Mrs. Francis and Mr. Kipling were holding hands. Cara’s cheeks were slick with tears. Two other young children Mimi didn’t know looked decidedly green about the gills.7
“Maybe it was better in the dark.” Mrs. Francisr grimaced as the pod jerked side to side. Mimi focused on a rivet above Mr. Kipling’s head in an effort to keep her stomach settled.
The escape pod had finally come to rest after a long, tumbling descent. The pod had some kind of gyroscopic system that generally kept the passengers right side up during the descent, but the twisting and turning was hard on the stomach nonetheless. Mimi was relieved when the pod finally rolled to a stop, the hatch facing upward. She unfastened her harness and spun the wheel that unsealed the hatch. With a hiss of air, the heavy steel hatch swung open. Mimi popped her head out into a dark, cold space. She pulled her electric torch from her belt and switched it on, piercing the darkness with the beam and discovering they had come to rest at the end of a long stone corridor. Confident that there was no immediate threat, Mimi turned back to the hatch and said, “I guess we’re here ... wherever here is.”
Mr. Kipling and Mrs. Francis immediately began to unfasten their harnesses. Cara sat with her head buried in her hands, her hair hanging like a curtain around her face, making no move to get out of the pod.
Mimi grabbed Cara’s shoulder and shook her. Cara looked up, her eyes red and puffy, her face smeared with a paste of soot and tears.
Mimi made her voice as firm as possible. “Cara. We need ya to snap out of it.”
Cara wiped her tear-streaked face with her sleeve, blinking. “But he’s gone. I was supposed to take care of him.”
“We can’t think about that now. We gotta keep movin’. It ain’t like I know where we are. Yer a Swiss Guard. You gotta start actin’ like one.”
Cara covered her face with her hands and sobbed anew. Mimi didn’t know what to do. She caught Mrs. Francis’s eye. Mrs. Francis nodded and slid next to Cara. The former housekeeper looked quite bizarre in her white wedding gown, now soiled and torn from the battle and their flight from the Hollow Mountain.
“There, there, dear. It will be all right. I’m sure he’ll be fine,” soothed Mrs. Francis. Cara turned her face into Mrs. Francis’s shoulder and wept. “If anyone could survive, it would be young Aidan,” the former housekeeper assured her.
Mimi then caught Mr. Kipling’s eye and jerked her head towards the lightless corridor. “Mr. Kipling,” Mimi said, “let’s have a look-see.”
Mr. Kipling nodded and smiled. “Shall we?”
Mimi gripped the rim of the escape hatch and pulled herself up. She swung herself around and slid down the side of the smooth pod until her feet hit solid ground. Standing still, she listened.
There was silence, save for a soft humming. She couldn’t place it in an exact location. It seemed to come from all around her. Pale yellow light shone up from the escape pod, a cone of illumination piercing the gloom and bathing the ceiling in a circle of gold. The ceiling was made of solid rock smoothed and sculpted by hands or tools, Mimi couldn’t be sure.
She sniffed the air. It was cool and moist but smelled fresh. There was a slight tang of salt.
“I smell the ocean,” said Mr. Kipling. He dropped down beside Mimi, steadying himself with a hand on
her shoulder. “We must have travelled a great distance underground.”
“Yeah, but where to?” Mimi reached out and brushed her fingertips on the smooth stone surface. “This place ain’t natural. Somebody dug this tunnel.”
“I agree. They had very sophisticated tools at their disposal as well.” There was a scratching sound, and suddenly a match flared in the darkness, casting Mr. Kipling’s long bony face in a stark reddish glow. He smiled and lit his pipe. He puffed softly until the bowl of the pipe burnt like a coal in the dimness. “Shall we take a look down this tunnel, then?”
Mimi nodded in agreement and pointed her torch down the corridor. They were at one end of a stone tunnel now blocked at their end by the escape pod resting in a depression on the floor, stoppering the corridor like a cork in a bottle. The tunnel stretched away for several metres in the other direction and seemed to widen out into a larger chamber.
Mimi reached out and took the older man’s hand in her own. “I think we wanna go that way.”
“Where are you going?” Mrs. Francis had popped her head out the pod. Her face was visible in the pod’s interior light as she looked down at Mimi and Mr. Kipling. Her brow was knotted with worry.
“You stay in there with Cara and the others, Isobel,” Mr. Kipling said. “We’re just going to reconnoitre the tunnel.”
“Just don’t reconnoitre yourself into any trouble!” Mrs. Francis said sharply. “You’re my husband now and I expect you to look after me!”
Mr. Kipling answered sheepishly, “Yes, dear.”
“And you shouldn’t be smoking,” Mrs. Francis said. “It will make you ill. And it’s a poor example for the children.”
“And it makes you smell.”
“Please sit back down and wait for us to return, my dear,” Mr. Kipling pleaded with mild exasperation. Mrs. Francis frowned and ducked back into the pod. Mr. Kipling shook his head. “She’s such a worrywart.” He smiled, put out the pipe, and tossed it away. It struck stone and rattled in the darkness.
“Still, it’s nice to have someone to worry about you. Come now, Mimi. Let’s find out where this tunnel leads, eh?”
“I’m gonna switch off the torch and save the battery. We’ll have ta wait a second ta let our eyes adjust.”
“Good thinking, sweetheart.”
Mimi clicked off the torch. The only light came from the hatch of the escape pod. After a few moments, Mimi was able to discern the walls around her in the dimness. “Let’s go.”
Mimi shuffled right and reached with her right hand while Mr. Kipling did the opposite with his left. Just
before they were extended as far as they could while still holding hands between them, they each touched the respective sides of the tunnel.
Carefully, they shuffle-stepped their way forward for a few minutes until they reached the end of the tunnel.
They stopped, sensing a vast empty space opening up in front of them. The salty sea smell was stronger here.
“Listen,” Mimi whispered, and though her voice was quiet, it sent echoes scurrying and chasing one another all about them. When the echo died down, Mr. Kipling heard the sound, too: waves lapping against stone.
Mimi and Mr. Kipling started at the sound of the human voice. It was a boy’s voice and it came from a good distance away, echoing throughout the chamber. “Is somebody there?”
Before Mimi could answer, another voice piped up, “Here. Over here,” this time from a different side.
“Hey,” Mimi cried, throwing caution to the wind. “Hey! Who the heck are y’all? I’m Mimi Catastrophe Jones.”
Mimi’s declaration seemed to break a verbal dam.
Children’s voices were calling from all over.
“I’m Tiny! We were in pod seventeen!”
“Jarko and Semina! Pod thirty-two.”
“Ursula! Pod twelve!”
“Hold it! Hold it!” Mimi raised her voice, shouting until she had silence. “We’ve escaped from the Hollow
Mountain. But does anyone know where we are?”
Cara’s voice sounded close by Mimi’s ear. She had been utterly silent in her approach and startled Mimi with her flat tone.
“We are in the Staging Area. According to the King’s escape plan, all the pods were designed to converge at a central chamber. I can only assume that this is the Staging Area. We were told about it in security briefings, but I don’t think any of us have ever been here.”
“Great. That sounds peachy. What are we supposed to do now we’ve all converged?”
“We will be met.” Cara’s voice was hoarse, the memory of weeping still rasping at its edges.
“Who will meet us, Cara?” Mr. Kipling said softly.
“We were never told who would meet us. The King said it was important for security. A ‘need-to-know’ situation.”
“Well, now we need ta know!”
“Like I said, I just don’t know. Security.”
“Security? Whose security?”
“Ours ... theirs ...,” Cara guessed. She squatted down and cupped her hand, scooping some of the water up and tasting it. She spat. “Salt water.”
“Well,” Mimi said to the refugees now gathered around her. “Now what?”
No one had a ready answer. And so they stood at the shore of a dark sea with no idea what was coming next.8
What happened next was a sound. Well, not a sound, exactly. Remember the hum mentioned awhile back when Mimi emerged from the hatch of the pod? Well, it had continued, but as is the way with humming noises, the human ear tends to register them at first, but as time goes on and the hum continues, the brain dismisses the hum as part of the background clutter of noises that exist in the world. Oh, silly brain, so easily deceived! So lazy! Sadly, it is the only thinking organ we have, so we’ll have to muddle through.9
Back to the point! The hum! The hum began to swell. Mimi’s brain registered the change as the hum grew louder and became more like a pulse, rumble, or vibration.
It was like being on the sidewalk when a subway train passes deep below the pavement. Not that Mimi had ever been to a city big enough to have subway trains, but her father had told her about a trip to New York when he was playing baseball and the great throb of the trains below the streets. The tone grew in strength, becoming more insistent. The children fell silent, waiting for whatever was coming.
Mimi was suddenly aware of a light growing all around her. As the illumination brightened, she saw that they were standing in a domed chamber hollowed out of the rock. There were numerous doorways cut into the chamber and in each one stood a cluster of children, refugees from the Hollow Mountain, staring with wonder and trepidation as the light intensified. When the groups saw one another they quickly moved into one clump, herding together for protection. The light was coming from the water, shining from beneath the surface and steadily waxing.10 The ceiling had begun to glow as well, as if in response to whatever was in the water. The water began to froth and churn as an object rose from the depths.
The waters parted over a glowing dome of crystal that shimmered wetly with a light so powerful that it hurt the children’s eyes. It was as if a small sun was rising. Mimi took a step forward and shielded her eyes with her hand over her brow, peering at the object through slitted lids.
The dome stopped rising, a hemisphere of crystal radiating softly with its own inner illumination. A crack opened on the side nearest Mimi, widening steadily until an aperture that looked like a slice of pie spilled illumination onto the water’s surface. From the opening, a tongue of the crystalline material emerged, a gentle hum accompanying the movement until with a grinding chunk the extension stopped a few centimetres short of the pool’s edge.
Mimi took another step towards the bridge, for so it was, before Mr. Kipling laid a hand on her shoulder to stop her.
“Wait.” Mr. Kipling drew his sabre and stood at the ready.
There was movement in the opening of the crystal hemisphere. Forms, backlit by the light from within, shuffled out onto the bridge. The children gasped as the creatures emerged from the radiant dome.
The creatures were dressed in tattered rags pulled over glittering but tarnished armour that seemed to be cobbled together from many different sources. They were short in stature and they were pale, with eyes the colour of polar ice. Their hair was almost colourless, and twisted into their tresses11 were bits of shells and odd scraps of shiny metal. They were obviously adults, but Mimi towered over them. In their knobby, powerful hands they carried a variety of strange weapons manufactured of a dull black material. The weapons ranged from staves12 and crossbows to swords and axes.
5 The sound of a crying toddler is the most piercing noise in nature. There is no sound more capable of destroying the mind of an adult human being. In ancient Parthia, the armies of the King commonly sent in front of their invading forces a corps of soldiers wearing wax plugs in their ears and crying infants strapped to their chests. These Babytroopers completely demoralized the enemy, driving them mad, making onquest much simpler. Of course, in ancient times, babies were much angrier and therefore more deadly.
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6 Slaloming, the act of skiing back and forth as one descends a mountain slope, is named for its inventor, Gustav Slalom. He discovered the manoeuvre accidentally while trying to avoid bears that he believed were leaping out at him as he skied down a mountain in Austria in 1772. The bears were a hallucination, induced when Slalom drank a keg of tainted corn syrup. Observers were delighted by the manoeuvre and began to
imitate Slalom’s style. (No one ever learned why Gustav had
drunk an entire keg of corn syrup.)
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7 Green about the gills is an expression meaning sickly or on the verge of vomiting. The expression comes from the Mediterranean Sea where one fish in particular, the Regurgitrix, is known to throw up when cornered, much as an octopus releases ink. The warning sign is when the Regurgitrix’s gills turn a brilliant green. Fishermen know to throw the fish back when the gills turn green or receive a faceful of the fish’s last meal. The Regurgatrix feeds exclusively on rotting vegetation and fish poop, so one really doesn’t want to experience a shower of said material if one knows what is good for one.
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8 As is usually the case in such junctures in a story, something did happen. Otherwise, there would have been many pages spent describing the shore of the lake, the rocks, the saltiness of the water, the darkness, Mr. Kipling’s pants, etc. That would be very, very boring. How lucky for you, dear readers, that you will be spared such a boring passage by what happened next.
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9 There is a tribe in the Central Andes who believe they can also think with their elbows, but there has been no clinical investigation of their claim. It is interesting to note that the funny bone is located in the elbow, which seems to indicate that the joint in question has its own quirky sense of humour.
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10 Waxing in this context means “growing.” It has nothing to do with wax. When someone says, “The waxing moon shone above,” they do not mean there will be wax raining down from the sky, nor is the moon made of wax. The moon is made of cheese. Everyone knows that.
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11 Tress is another word for a lock of hair. The word mattress is derived from the word tress, as people used to sleep on bags full of hair. Not a lot of people ... but still.
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12 Staves is the plural form of staff. This is an exception to the rule for most “aff” words. For example, one doesn’t call a group of giraffes “giraves.” That would be wrong. I don’t know why ... but it would be.
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