The Archer

Once upon a time there lived a boy whose mind was filled with careful thoughts and bright ideas. His imagination was enormous, and often he thought that the things that he imagined were real. In a way, the imagined things were more real than anything else. The boy knew that imagined things were less likely to cause pain, so he enjoyed the refuge that his happy little world afforded him. It was his escape from the pain of schoolyard teasing.

He had a friend who was a year younger, and they happily played together. They built moonscapes in the sandpit, digging tunnels, building roads and making domed buildings. They pretended to explore space together, acting out their fantasies in the playground. They even had an imaginary friend which they shared. He was called the Sarge, and he was their commander. He told them what was wrong with the Universe in the morning, before school started, and the boy and his friend would only have little lunch and big lunch to put it right.

To them, the lower school oval covered a portion of giant undersea base which filled the entire channel of water between the school and the shore of a nearby island. The base, which they called 202, was home to a giant rocket that would blast out of the channel and into the heavens, producing an artificial storm. The boys would joke about how they should've remembered their raincoats. Then they would laugh briefly before their fantasy took another twist, and they were carried away again,

A wooden castle that was often covered with fresh cobwebs sat at the bottom of the playground's hill. It was the home of the bad guys. Both the cosmic ones which the boy and his friend had invented, and the real ones which teased them. Fake was the name of their imaginary adversary. He lived in the castle, and from there he ruled a planet called Cobs. They battled against Fake many times, and triumphed every time. Because, in their simple and happy imaginary world the good guys always won. They never got bored, because Fake would come back just in time, with a new plan to take over the universe.

An old concrete pipe which had been buried in the side of the hill of the playground was the boy's time tunnel. They loved the way their voices echoed inside it, and they often sat in it for long periods. They used to imagine that walking in one end and out the other would transport them to other planets, and other times. Then they would explore the planet's surface, which in reality was always the steep dry grassy hill on the far side of the playground. They would describe the surface to each other, and would share their imaginary view with each other. Then without warning, the long resounding tone of the "bell" would sound, and their imagined world would disappear in the blink of an eye.

But sometimes it didn't, because the boy liked to write stories and draw pictures. Sometimes he would write about the Sarge and 202, but sometimes he wrote about other things. He wrote about a ghost with no friends, an island inhabited by a green-skinned tribe, and a magic whistle that jumped out of book. He drew the spaceships and rockets that he imagined with his friend at lunch time. He built robots from boxes and cartons, foil and cellophane. And it was in this way he expressed his thoughts to the real world. He reserved talk for his friend, because his friend never laughed at him or teased him.

The friendship couldn't last forever, and it didn't. The boy's friend moved away. Not very far away in adult terms. But to that little boy, it was further than his imaginary Eighth Galaxy. And that was zillions of light years away. The boy searched for a new best friend, and almost found one. Then he moved away too. So the boy buried his head in books, and with his fantasy world festering into nothingness, lost interest in outer space.

He did find other friends, but never one as close as his first. These friends would sometimes hurt him by leaving him alone to play by himself. Or read by himself, as it turned out. He read about reality, because that was all that was left now that he no longer believed in his imaginary world. He stopped writing stories then, and he didn't read many either. He preferred to learn from the mysterious new non-fiction books that he found in the library. Brightly coloured ones about lasers and robots and computers. He liked them all, but something about computers sparked his interest. He read other books about them: less colourful ones.

One day his teacher asked him for an example of a homonym. And he said "bite". And the teacher frowned. He tried to explain what a byte was, for he knew it was a group of 8-bits, and that bits were the on-off pulses that marched around inside the little BBC micro behind her. Eventually the teacher wrote up "bite" and "byte", but the class stared at him. Tears formed in his eyes then, and he would know about it for the rest of the day. Because they teased him, and he would get so frustrated and angry that he would go bright red and throw things at them, and scratch them and hurt them until they cried like he was already.

It was a couple of years later before the boy finally got a computer. He had worked for his father to get some of the money. The rest was a birthday present. It was his new best friend, and so he gave it a name. Every day was spent waiting to get home, so that he could try some new program out on it. He rarely played games, and preferred to order it about with his programs. It did everything he told it, and never laughed at him. He was happy again. Happy, but still lonely.

His computer lead him to find a new friend. He had bought the same brand of computer. They shared programs and ideas, and they found they could talk easily. He stayed at his new friend's place more than once. Together they had fun on the computer for days at a time. And when they weren't playing on the computer, they would walk down to the nearby rocky beach and skim rocks and crack jokes.

But just as the boy thought his time of loneliness had ended, his world was flung upside-down when his mother left his father. She took him and his brother with her, and they moved into their grandparents' house. His grandmother and grandfather were holidaying in Queensland.

Then one terrible night, the boy woke from a deep sleep to find himself being carried out to a strange station wagon. The boy was more frightened than he had ever been in his life. He was wrapped in a doona in the back of a moving car, lights flashing by him. He cried and thrashed against his uncle, who was holding him in the back seat. His mother was there to tell him it was all right, but he just couldn't understand. Nothing made any sense to him. Why had his mother left his father? Why was he being taken away in the back of a station wagon in the middle of the night?

They caught a plane to Queensland the next morning, and this disorientated the boy even more. His mother left after a week, but he stayed with his grandparents for six weeks, and missed a lot of school. When he came back, alone on the plane, he found himself completely out of touch. He struggled to find his way at school. Away from school, his life was filled with strange people, and crazy words like "afradavit" and "custody". His mother was telling him how bad his father was, and his grandparents had sworn that his mother had gone quite mad. He moved several times that year, so many times that he could never be expected to remember the order. He slept in so many places that, on many mornings, he woke up and momentarily forgot where he was. He missed even more school before the year drew to a close.

He made only one friend out of all the strangers that appeared in his life that year. A 71 year old man called Charlie, who lived across the road from his grandparents' house. Charlie was a great old soul, and often cheered the boy up, and allowed him to forget the crazy world he was now living in. The boy and his mother weren't really close at that time. His mother got along well with Charlie, and he got along well with Charlie, and that was enough. The boy often stayed with Charlie when his mother wasn't around. He didn't like going everywhere with his mother. He preferred to play with his computer, which was something that he could control and that was predictable. It was the last bastion from his broken family.

At the end of the year, the most terrible thing that could ever happen to a child happened. The boy spent Christmas alone. He was alone for Christmas Eve. Alone except for his computer and Ray Martin on TV. Once again he had chosen not to follow his mother, who he was starting to believe was really mad, and stayed home. But this time there was no Charlie to look after him. He was all by himself.

He woke up to find not a single present under the tree. He had half expected that, but he had hoped for a Christmas miracle. That one night, he had believed in Santa for the first time in many years. And he hadn't come. Magic never existed for the boy again. He was visited by one of his schoolfriends that lived nearby, and that was the nearest he got to a gift, or a card, or a kiss or a hug that Christmas.

A day or so later, his mother returned. After a few weeks, she left again. This time she took him with her. They stayed with an unemployed couple at a small flat in a far away town for that summer. The boy had his computer and his bike. He rode his bike around that town every day. It was during that summer that the boy started writing stories again.

The next year saw the family come back together. But it was purely cosmetic. The judge had more or less forced them all back together. The boy couldn't talk to his father, and neither could his mother. Eventually his mother left without him. She phoned him sometimes, when he was home alone while his father was at work. But he didn't really care anymore.

Strange things happened to the boy's mind that year. The teasing at school seemed to get worse, and his computer friend distanced himself. The boy felt so alone, and was so confused, that his computer no longer seemed to be enough. He went on long bike rides and became acutely aware that he was growing up. He was too old to cry, yet he couldn't stop himself from bursting into tears at the smallest things.

Another Christmas passed. But it didn't seem like Christmas to the boy. He got an expensive present from his father: the last expensive present he would get. Yet it meant nothing. His mother returned and took him away to another far away town that summer. His mother was living with a boyfriend in a small house by a muddy creek. They had a cow and a vegetable garden, and there were plenty of roads for the boy to explore on his bike.

The next thing the boy knew, his mother was pregnant and his new family moved to a new house. He was in a new school, and struggling to fit in. At least he had a fresh start at this school, and he had found a good friend. Although he was teased a little, it wasn't anywhere near as bad for the boy as it had been at his old school. Here he was just a whimp. At his old school he had been "Aggro". The boy preferred being a whimp, and only ever slipped into being "Aggro" on three brief occasions. They made him see a psychologist after the first time. But the boy was too smart for him. He lied his way out. The second time was merely used to tease him sometimes. The third time occurred the next year. It was, thankfully, the last time he ever lost his temper.

The new baby was born. Christmas came and went again. And the next year the family moved again. The boy became Archer, and was never really a whimp again. Just emotionally sensitive. This was the year he met his next computer, and lost interest in the one that had served him so well over the past five years. The boy had loved it in the same way as a teddy bear. But Archer didn't have the same emotional attachment.

Archer held a position of power. Archer helped people. Archer laughed and joked with strangers. Archer stalked the school computer room with dignity. Archer was popular amongst the legion of computer geeks. He was more of a legend than his predecessor, Tony T., or the almighty oracle, Snodgrass himself. He had enemies though. And it was a group of these that once defeated Archer, and brought back the "Aggro" boy.

But it was merely a hiccup, and Archer came back with redoubled strength. He ran for election in the student council, and triumphed. He made a speech in front of those who still dared to tease him. He even wasn't afraid to be a part of public performance of modern dance. Archer was a hero. Archer got a better computer to match. While Archer triumphed in school life, his family life was still shaky. The family moved yet again, and just before the next Christmas, his mother gave birth again. Archer had a sister.

The next year saw Archer reach a peak. He ran computer systems. He topped his classes. He took extra classes. He won awards and scholarships. And best of all, he wore the maroon blazer of political power. He was a member of the Student Council. He meant something. He had duties to perform, and he performed them all admirably. People looked up to him. And those few who didn't were easy to flick away.

Amazingly, Archer would still cry sometimes. Because although Archer had power, and many people looked up to him, he was essentially friendless. He was lonely. He cried when he had to leave that school that year. He looked out the window of the computer room and let tears roll down his cheeks. He feared that the time of Archer was drawing to a close.

Never! Archer changed, but his time was far from over. At college he built his own control tower, and made many friends. None of them were really close, but they were friends nonetheless. He maintained good marks and grabbed a few more awards, but he had lost most of his power. He found it didn't matter. He was mortal again, but at least he wasn't lonely. He fell in love for the first time, but was rejected. It hit him hard, and he wrote a story about it. But he bounced back, because Archer still had strength.

The next year Archer lost the remainder of his power. He had destroyed his control tower. It was a time for mourning, and Archer lost a little bit of his drive. His friends started to go separate ways, and only the people that were the tattered remains of Archer's once powerful kingdom still talked to him. Archer found himself sinking into loneliness again. But he knew lots of people, and he could always find someone to talk to. But he longed for someone close.

His new family moved and then broke apart. His mother seemed to go crazy for a while, his brother became rebellious, and he contemplated leaving home. But he stayed, because he feared for his brothers and sisters. He had to look after them when his mother wouldn't, and that was all too often. Archer would try to talk sense into his visibly withering mother, and make her stop babbling. Sometimes he would end up in tears, yelling at her. Once she walked out on him, saying that she would leave for good, and that everyone would be better off. But Archer told his brother to look after the other children, and chased her down the street, and made her see reason. It was a hard time, but they all got through it. Without Archer's sense of responsibility, the ending might have been much more tragic.

But other things happened that year. Good things. Archer got a part-time job managing his former high school's computer system. He found a friendly pen pal. And although his marks dropped slightly, he still managed to do well in his classes. He focused on his writing more than ever before, inspired by the encouragement of his English teacher. Without any particular effort, English became the best subject for a student who had previously concentrated on the sciences.

Then college was over, and Archer had a licence to drive. It was a turning point in his life. Where would Archer go now? He had applied to University. And the next thing he knew, he had an interview for a scholarship. Then he had the scholarship! Then he moved to the University college that accepted him.

That year... Well, who knows. Perhaps he lived happily ever after.

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Exit: Make-Believe; Kasoft Typesetting; Archer

This work is a part of the Kasoft Typesetting storybook Make-Believe

Kasoft is a registered trademark of Kasoft Software, owned by Kade Hansson.

Copyright 1994,1996,1997 Kade "Archer" Hansson; e-mail: kasoft@kaserver5.org