I preferred not to show which superhero posed on my underwear today. So I ran home, hiding the flapping hole in my trousers, with my coat wrapped around my waist.
'How was the gym?' Mum called from the kitchen as she prepared my pack lunch.
'Aunty Billie showed me muscles don't decide who wins a fight. Oh and I need to learn how to shave because I never want a moustache,' I said. With my back pressed against the wall, I dodged the kitchen and ran upstairs for a pair of trousers. The reveal of my black eye and scrapes from yesterday could wait for another day. I stopped in my room. No school today would be good, and no beating today would be perfect. I yanked my tie down and unbuttoned half of my shirt.
'Be quick,' Mum said. 'You need to leave in five minutes.'
I limped into the kitchen behind her. 'Will do. As soon as everything stops spinning.' The back of my hand stroked my forehead.
'Sounds like you exercised too much.' She placed the tomato on a sandwich and turned around. She slapped her open palm against her chest and let out a yelp, like an injured dog. 'What happened?' She knelt down and took hold of my shoulders.
I hated lying to Mum, because well, it's wrong. Mostly, though, it's because I'm so bad at it. 'On my way home, I knocked over a motorbike.'
'Do you mean a motorbike knocked you over?'
Oh man! That sounded much better, but too late to change my story now. 'No, erm…I knocked over a motorbike.'
'What?' She looked over my wounds. 'How?'
'Well, I tripped into a parked motorbike with my head.' I pointed to my black eye. 'The bike toppled over and knocked over another motorbike until, like dominos, they all fell over.'
'All of them? How many were there?'
'Hundreds.' I scratched my head wishing my mouth would stop speaking. 'I think I knocked over every bike in Europe and maybe the odd car.' Now I really did feel dizzy. 'I couldn't do anything but erm…watch in horror. The bike owners ate their breakfast in the Grease Bucket Cafe as they watched in horror, and choked on their bacon, which I also had to watch in horror.'
'Oh Ollie, that's horrible.'
'I know, a lot of horror. After they spat out their bacon, thousands of them swarmed out of the cafe waving swords and flaming torches. I think one carried a rocket launcher on his shoulder, but it might have been a heavy sausage roll—'
'OK, you're losing me a bit. How hard did you hit your head?' Mum escorted me to the medicine cabinet and stuck plasters on anything that looked like an injury, including a mole and my black eye. 'I'll call the police to find these hooligans. Also, Batman prefers to work from the shadows, so change your trousers.'
I crossed my legs to hide the hole. 'No need for the police. Aunty Billie sorted the bikers out.'
'Did she use force?' Mum asked, suddenly straightening up. 'Did you see her fight?'
'No, she shouted at them using strong words that made most of the bikers blush.'
Mum relaxed. 'You mean bad words?'
'Any words that stop violence towards me are good words in my opinion.'
Mum nodded. 'She does know how to control a situation.'
'Mum, is Aunty Billie an actual spy?'
'What about we both stay at home today and forget about school?'
'Have you ever seen Aunty Billie fight?' I asked, refusing to give up.
'Enough talk about fighting. I know what'll cheer you up.' Mum sat next to me on the sofa and looked at the wall above the fireplace where the family photo hung. Aunty Billie took the picture in Disneyland a week before Dad's accident, almost two years ago. Shame he was crying, but he always hated rollercoasters. Mum's school certificates surrounded it. 'Spot anything new up there?'
'Yes, I knew it would make you happy.'
Fish fingers would have made me happier. The certificate congratulated the Headmistress of Pilkington School for another term with zero bullying incidents. So, exactly the same as the other nine on the wall.
'Nice one, Mum.' I hugged her. 'No one's safe when a bully's around—'
'Sorry, I mean, no bully's safe when you're around.'
'One more term without bullying and I meet the Prime Minister.' Her focus drifted to the family photo. 'It's been a long road.'
'For you and me both,' I said. 'I think I finally know why you're so desperate to meet the Prime Minister.'
Mum shook her head and her eyes came back into focus. 'I wouldn't say desperate…'
'So you can complain about the neighbour's dog digging the hole under our house.'
She smiled and looked back at Dad with his hands in the air, screaming. 'I have more important topics to knock around with her.'
'Well, I'll make sure no bully stops your friendly chat.'
'I never said it would be friendly.' Mum kissed me on the head and managed to avoid all my bruises. 'But now that you mention it, have you noticed the house leaning to the left recently?'
'Even though Chewie Barksalot looks like a Minecraft wolf, I don't think he can make a house lean. Besides he's usually too busy marking his territory.'
'Well, our garden isn't his darn territory, and I'm sick of shovelling up his markings.' She stood and collected her school file from the cabinet. 'Right young boy, welcome to home schooling. Any homework you need to finish?'
'We had to write a limerick about a dictionary, but I finished it last night.'
'Let's hear it then,' Mum said sitting in front me cross-legged.
'There was a large bully, tough as brick
His punch so strong it made you sick
So I learnt how to fight
And with all of my might
I kicked him real hard in the dictionary.'
Mum dropped her head in her hands. 'Oh my! It doesn't even rhyme. Well, that settles it. Get your English books.'
Aunty Billie opened the door and glanced down both sides of the street. 'Don't worry Gnarler goes boxing today. I'd hate to be his opponent,' I said. 'Oh wait, I kind of am.'
Aunty Billie pulled me into her flat. 'I wasn't looking for him.' With the door closed, Aunty Billie returned to her usual bubbly self. 'Boxing must be hard for Gnarler because whenever he knocks someone out he has to count to ten.'
'But he'd have a lot of practice.'
Aunty Billie took my coat. 'So, how did school go?'
'I stayed at home,' I said.
'I had fun, apart from doing twice as much school work.' I then told Aunty Billie how she had stopped the bikers, in case Mum checked up.
'You actually said they ran at you with swords and flaming torches?'
'I'm sorry. I panicked.' I rubbed the back of my neck.
'And why do you have plaster on your eye?' She ripped it off with a girly scream. The scream belonged to me.
'Quicker is always better when it comes to plasters.'
'Not if you want to keep the eyebrow under the plaster,' I said feeling my smoother forehead. 'I was attached to it.'
'Now, it's mostly attached to the inside of this yucky plaster. I can trim the other one if you want?'
'It'll grow back.' I took a seat. 'Gnarler turned up for his punishment training after you left.'
Aunty Billie made herself comfortable on the sofa. 'Did he see you?'
'Yeah, and almost caught me, but I jumped through a window.'
'That sounds like a pane.' Aunty Billie smirked as she patted a cushion harder than it deserved. 'Don't worry about Gnarler. I've got the solution.' Only one thing could solve this problem, two if you count weapons of mass destruction, but they were probably expensive. 'Please don't ask me to talk to him or try to be his…' the word refused to leave my mouth, 'friend.'
'Nah. It's probably what you're supposed to do, but let's go with this.' She pulled out a small box from her pocket. 'That jewellery box will solve all my problems?'
'Sure will,' Aunty Billie said.
'I don't want to marry him?'
Aunty Billie frowned. 'No, it's for you. This route is extreme, but we don't have much choice because you don't want to tell your school or your mum, so…' She looked around the room as if checking for hidden cameras. 'Do you want a cup of tea?'
'No thanks. I want to see how something so small can beat a bully who's scary enough to make a happy meal cry.'
'I need a tea, but fine, I'll wait.' She opened the box and emptied it on the table in front of me. I didn't know what to say, without being rude. 'Oh, it's lovely. Not really my colour, but thanks…'
'It's not a normal bracelet.'
'But, green and sooo bright?'
'It's from work.'
'You mean from MI6? And proper spy gadget?'
Aunty Billie nodded.
'The same as James Bond uses?'
Luckily, I hadn't accepted the tea as it would now be spat on the floor. Aunty Billie took the bracelet and handed it to me. 'Does it shoot lasers? At least then I might stand a chance against Gnarler.'
'Not quite.' She walked towards the kitchen. 'It turns you invisible.' She returned sipping a cup of tea, clearly very proud of herself. 'Can you see me?' I said.
'Yes, and stop pulling that ridiculous face.'
'I'm concentrating.' I pressed, pulled and prodded the bracelet everywhere. 'I think its broken.'
'First, I need to explain a few things.' She dipped her digestive into the cup. 'The gadgets increase the number of neurons from 86 billion to…well, a lot more, and allows the user to reach parts of the brain that humans can't normally access. It also injects a serum to input guanine crystals things in your skin to assist with the invisibility.'
'Look forget the science. How does your TV work?'
'I press the button.'
'Exactly, well, this works the same…by a button.'
'I can't even find the button.' I squashed, squeezed and squished until I thought it clicked.
'They think, after years of training, the gadgets might be able to teach a brain the skills without user assistance. Before I show you how to use it, I need to explain some safety rules. Are you paying attention?'
'Yes,' I said. Throughout her speech, I turned, twisted and tugged on the bracelet. Certain words crept through my efforts to start the bracelet. Experimental - cool, borborygmi - boring, flatulence - boring, Top Secret - cool, Dinosaur - awesome, wait — what?
'I knew you weren't listening.'
I took my eyes off the bracelet for a moment. 'OK, so how long can you use the gadget before the side effects kick in? An hour?'
'No, the best scientists managed a minute.'
'I won't even be able to tie Gnarler's shoelaces together in a minute.' I imagined me suddenly becoming visible next to his kicking shoe.
'Don't be so negative. Spies all over the world would literally kill to have this tech.'
'You're right. I'm sorry. And please thank your boss for letting me use it. I don't know how you convinced them.'
'Yeah well, let me worry about that.' Her biscuit broke off and drowned in her tea.
'And you mentioned side effects?' I asked.
'Yes, but you'll be fine if you use it in batches of less than a minute. Hopefully, it won't be less than a minute as your brain isn't fully formed.'
Did she just call me stupid?
'So as I mentioned, the side effects are,' I'm not stupid. 'abdominal extension followed by borborygmi and,' My concentration can wander at times and I might miss a thing or two, but I'm in the top set of school. 'finally flatulence. Do you remember what these mean?'
Invisibility would be awesome. I could wave to Haley at school and not feel bad when she didn't wave back, like last time. Aunty Billie clicked her fingers. 'I'll take your silence as a yes. There's one more thing, the gadget makes you invisible but can't do the same to your clothes.'
'Oh no! I'm not going naked.'
'Don't worry. The scientists created this to protect your modesty.' She held up a pair of bright green boxer shorts and a rucksack made from the same material.
'Please don't say I have to walk around with just that. Are they even big enough?'
'They are stretchy. And don't worry about suddenly appearing when you're not ready because you won't turn visible until you stop the device.'
'Ah ok, so not so bad. I'm glad it's not winter.'
'You might exhibit the side effects if you stay too long invisible, though.' Aunty Billie pulled a mini remote control about the size of a car key from her pocket.
'What did you do on your first invisibility trip?'
'Nothing,' Aunty Billie said. 'It didn't work for me.' She pressed the button on the remote and the bracelet glowed - even brighter. 'But I suspect it will work fine for you.'
'Why?' The bracelet tightened and two small needles punctured my skin beneath my wrist. I tensed but pretended to be cool.
'Are you going to faint?'
'No, this is my cool face.'
'Why is your cool face so white?'
'I do feel a bit wobbly. It stabbed me.'
Aunty Billie nodded and looked under the bracelet to check everything was OK. Then she handed me the remote controlled key. 'The first time using the gadget takes about an hour before anything happens as it rejigs your brain. Fancy that cup of tea now, while we wait?'
'Yes please,' I said, holding the shorts. 'I don't think they're going to fit.'
'Check, if you want.'
Aunty Billie walked in and placed the tea next to me as I continued to stare at my hand. She looked around the room and then picked her nose. I didn't know where to look. Sure we all do it, but there's a time and place, at least that's what I'm told when I'm caught. I looked at my hand while she continued to rummage. We waited another five minutes in silence. I checked my hand on occasion and Aunty Billie drank her tea. Then she shouted, 'Do you need more toilet roll or something?'
I jumped. It wasn't me who made a mess picking my nose. 'No, thanks,' I said. She screamed and jumped twice as high as me. Her tea spilt on the floor. 'You're here. You're invisible!'
'Very funny.' I checked my hand to be sure. Still visible.
'It shouldn't happen so quickly.' Aunty Billie looked at her watch. 'How long were you sat there?' She wiped her nose. 'Oh no, did you see me, erm…?'
'I've been looking at my hand the whole time,' I said happy to forget the nose thing forever, 'and that's why I know I'm not invisible.' I waved my hand in front of me.
'Your brain helped creates the invisibility, so your brain adjusts so you can see yourself. Mirrors are different. Have a look.'
I ran to the mirror, then to another. I was invisible. I could do anything without being seen. I danced an energetic mixture of twerking and slapping my bare legs to express my happiness.
Aunty Billie clapped. 'Ooh, maybe you're right. I should have chosen a larger size.'
'Can you see me?' I asked. 'Please say you can't see me.'
'The battery must have run out while in storage at MI6,' she said. 'Normally they're fine.'
I removed the bracelet and placed it on the table. 'I'm going to change back into my clothes.'
'Yes, please. You stayed invisible for longer than a minute,' Aunty Billie said, 'and no side effects. It's interesting because only the gadget creator could stay invisible longer than a minute.'
'How long could he stay invisible?'
'Ten minutes, before the side effects kicked in.'
'Maybe it's because I'm so brainy.'
'Well, the technicians at MI6 are all pretty much geniuses. So, no it's definitely not that.'
'Oh, thanks. Way to let me down easy.' I folded the shorts and placed them in the green rucksack. 'So are there any more gadgets?'
She nodded and leaned forward. 'Hopefully, you'll solve the bully problem with this gadget. I think there are three more and a special one, called the Devastator.'
'Ooh. That sounds dangerous.'
'Maybe, because the scientists always look nervous whenever I mention it.' She opened the front door and checked down both sides of the street. 'It's the only one I haven't seen as it's stored in the Special Access Programme. And only the Head of MI6 or the Secretary of Defence have access.
She plugged the bracelet into a standard phone charger. 'After school tomorrow meet me in the funfair on the common.' She took my hand. 'It's absolutely essential I return the gadget before my supervisor does her daily stock check. Or else…I don't want to think about that.'