Tramp Life: Part 1 of the Pearly James Chronicles
By Tony Telford
When Pearly James flees her miserable everyday life, she discovers that the real world is anything but ordinary.
I spent that night under a hedge. It was too cold to sleep, so I sat propped up against my rucksack, staring out over grey patchwork fields. God it was cold. I would’ve frozen to death up there without my old woollen coat. Even the stars looked cold, like little beads of ice in a dark lake. And all the time in the distance there was that faint low rumble that you often hear at night, like some huge machine chugging away just over the horizon.
Of all the nights I slept rough, that was the longest. Everything was so still, as if the whole world was being held tight in a great big icy fist. The only animal I heard all night was a tawny owl, deep in the forest. Strix aluco, that was him. Then there was Erithacus rubecula, Turdus merula, Vulpes vulpes, Sciurus vulgaris… I knew I was probably saying the names all wrong, but I loved their strangeness on my tongue. After Latin names I tried to think of songs with ‘blue’ in the title. I dozed off after 24, ‘Blue Monday’, but woke again, shivering and coughing like mad. My coat was so stiff with frost I could hardly move my arms.
Finally, when I was starting to think the night would never end, the sky suddenly got a bit lighter and I could make out the shapes of twigs and branches. I undid the top button of my coat and peeped inside. Two big eyes were looking up at me.
‘Time to get moving, Boo.’ I undid the rest of the buttons and she sprang out onto the white grass, trembling from head to foot, her tail tucked tight over her skinny bum. Whippets weren’t made for the cold, especially tiny frail ones like her.
I got to my feet, groaning like an old lady, and hauled on the big rucksack. It felt like someone had added a couple of bricks during the night.
‘Come on, Boo. We’ll be warmer once we get moving.’ We set off along the edge of the forest, the grass crackling under my boots like that plastic straw they use for packing. Boo had become a ghost dog in the strange pink light.
Soon we came to a narrow road. I checked my compass and followed the road south for about half an hour until we reached the edge of the forest. Across the fields I could see rooftops and a church spire.
‘We’ll get something to eat there, Boo, okay?’
I felt bad about leaving home, but I didn’t really regret it. I’d been living up in the Midlands with my Aunt Lucinda. She’s my mother’s sister. She took me in after Mum died, when I was just a toddler. My father was an alcoholic who couldn’t look after himself, let alone a young child. He disappeared not long after I went to live with Aunt Lucy and no one ever heard from him again. My grandparents are all long dead and the only other relative I know about is an uncle who emigrated to Canada or somewhere. So that left me and Aunt Lucy.
I must have drifted off in seconds. But then, suddenly, I was awake again, wide awake. Something had disturbed me, but I didn’t know what. Then I became aware of a bright, flickering light at the side of the bed. At first I thought it might be the lights of a car shining through a gap in the curtains. But then I saw. On the wall at the side of my bed there was a small, shining patch of coloured shapes, like a little movie screen, but round, about the size of a saucer. I screamed and sprang out of bed and stood like a frightened rabbit staring at the little shining circle. I was trembling all over, but I couldn’t take my eyes off that circle of light. It was crowded with shapes—stars, blobs, diamonds, oblongs, squiggles, circles, spirals—in every colour you could imagine. Some of the shapes were flat and transparent, like pieces of cellophane. Others looked three-dimensional. A few were like sea-creatures: eels, stingrays, rainbow-coloured jellyfish. And all of these shapes were moving—floating, spinning, darting, weaving, shrinking, swelling.
As I stared, half-hypnotised, the shapes faded away and something else began to appear in the circle: a blue sky, grass, flowers, a gravel path. Someone was walking along the path with a dog. It was me and Boo. We were in Seymour Park. I often took her there for walks. But now something was going wrong with the colours. The grass turned yellow, then brown, then blood-red, the sky looked like it was on fire, and Boo and I had become glowing, purple creatures with blank white eyes. It was like a scene from hell.
Keywords: Young adult adventure, Dark tech, Conformism, Rebellion, hidden worlds, worlds within our world.
Both an adventure story and a cry against the new global conformity, ‘Tramp Life’ describes how a teenage girl discovers another world hidden behind humdrum existence. A world of danger and delight, music and madness–and maybe friendship, too.
But this other world isn’t fantasy. It’s real.