'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Twins

Whenever the rain lets its guard down it allows winter to sneak in. The lawns were covered in frost on Monday morning. The dry weather gave me a chance to fix some of the holes in the roof of the shed. When I was in there I found my grandfather's home-brewing kit. After you had picked out all the biscuits from his beer there wasn't much left to drink. You had to eat the biscuits if you wanted to get drunk.

My cousin Ronan and his friend, Shane, were once hired to tidy a shed and to catalogue all of the items in it. A woman called Delia hired them to do the job after she heard a story about how they had used a robot to clean a room in a neighbour's house. This story had been altered as it passed from person to person. In a more accurate version, the word 'clean' would be replaced by the word 'destroy'. Delia had inherited the shed and its contents from her father. It was a big shed, but it was so full of junk that it was impossible to move around inside it. She had been meaning to clean it out for years, but she kept putting it off because it seemed too daunting.

Ronan and Shane agreed to do the job for her, though they did have some reservations. They were afraid of her sons, Nick and Karl, who were twelve-year-old twins. They often behaved strangely. They had taken up photography, and they were using a glasshouse as a dark room. They had covered the entire glasshouse in layers of black canvas. Their mother believed that the twins had telepathic powers. They made a model of a ship in a bottle without saying a word to each other as they worked. There were two tiny boxers fighting on the deck of the ship. Every day the twins got one of the boxers to throw a punch. They told this story about why the boxers were fighting: One of the boxers, a man called Frederick, had spent years telling tales about his days as a penguin-hunter. It turned out that he'd never hunted penguins at all, and that these tales were based on stories in a book called 'Making Penguins Dizzy'. The other boxer was a friend of his called Emmerdale, and he believed the stories until he came across the book in a second-hand bookshop one day. He accused Frederick of telling lies, but Frederick insisted that he really had been on expeditions to the Antarctic to hunt penguins. Emmerdale took Frederick to a ship to give his friend a chance to demonstrate his knowledge of seafaring. It became apparent very quickly that Frederick knew nothing about ships. Emmerdale was angry about being fooled for so long, and he challenged Frederick to a fight on the ship.

When Delia's father's brother called around one evening the twins showed him the ship in the bottle and they told him the story of the boxers. He said that the book 'Making Penguins Dizzy' really existed, and that their grandfather once owned a copy. When Delia heard this she took it as further evidence of their special powers. She wondered if the book was still in the shed, and this is what made her finally get around to doing something about the shed and its contents.

Ronan and Shane thought it would take weeks to tidy the shed and catalogue everything in it. After working on the job for a few hours they started to fear that they'd be doing it for months. Progress was slow. They realised that there were many more objects in the shed than they had previously guessed. Everything was tightly packed together, as if it had been neatly stacked to make maximum use of the space. In the first hour they filled pages of their catalogue with details of books, brass statues, taps, a phone, a silver brooch in the shape of a harpoon and glass beads.

They were surprised when they came across an empty space. It was just about big enough for Shane to crawl through. He could never resist crawling through spaces that were just about big enough for him to crawl through. He often had to do this when he was searching for ghosts, and this is why he always carried a flashlight with him. He shone the light into the space and he started crawling. He soon realised that it was actually a tunnel. "The twins must have created this," he said to Ronan. "This is how they knew about the book. They must have found it in the shed."

He kept crawling through the tunnel, and Ronan followed him. They were able to make their way all around the shed. At the end of the tunnel there was a trap door in the ground. It seemed easier to go forward than to go back because there wasn't enough room to turn around, so Shane opened the trap door and they climbed down a ladder.

The tunnel at the bottom of the ladder was big enough for them to walk through if they crouched. This one led them to another ladder, and thankfully this ladder went up. There was a trap door at the top of it, and above that they found a room that was decorated in a maritime theme. They found a barometer, and ropes that looked like the rigging from a ship. The timber railings and brass fittings added to the effect.

They realised they were in the glasshouse when the twins removed the black canvas. They noticed that there was no handle on the inside of the door, and there was no handle on the top of the trap door either, so they couldn't go back down the ladder.

"Ye're trapped," Karl said. "If ye want to get out, ye're going to have to fight, just like the boxers on our model ship in the bottle."

"We could fight," Ronan said. "Or we could just smash the glass to get out."

"Go ahead and try," Nick said. "We've installed Plexiglas."

Karl threw a hammer at the glasshouse and it bounced back. Ronan was worried at his easy access to a hammer.

"I suppose we better put on a show for them," Ronan said to Shane.

"I have a better idea," Shane whispered with a smile. "Let them think we have a better idea. We'll fool them into thinking we have a cunning plan, just to frighten them."

Ronan looked out at the twins and smiled. He nodded. "The only problem with that," he whispered, "is that they're not easily frightened."

"All we have to do is exactly what we're doing now. Just look out at them and smile as if you know what's coming their way, and keep whispering. Who wouldn't find that disconcerting?"

"They don't look very disconcerted to me. They haven't reacted at all."

"They never react to anything, but that doesn't mean there's nothing going on inside their heads. This project of theirs proves that."

"This project of theirs proves that they're not going to be disconcerted by two trapped men smiling at them."

"When you trap people they're not supposed to smile at you. That's the worst thing that can happen when you trap people. They're supposed to be terrified and do whatever you tell them to do. Now they're more terrified than we could ever be. They know what they've done to us, and they think we have something worse planned for them, but they don't know what it is. They'll crack. It's just a matter of smiling and waiting."

The stand-off went on for over an hour. It came to an end when the twins looked at each other and nodded. Nick said, "It's time to confess that we don't really have telepathic powers."

"I told you they'd crack," Shane whispered to Ronan.

"But we do have exceptionally good hearing," Karl said. "So start fighting."

"I suppose we don't have any choice," Shane said, and he threw a punch at Ronan.

Ronan just shook his head and said, "You're going to have to punch me harder than that to satisfy them."

"If I punch you harder I'm going to hurt you."

"That's what they want."

"I'm not sure I can do that."

"What if I made fun of your attempt to seduce Belinda?"

Shane punched Ronan hard enough to hurt him and he said, "Why don't you go ahead and see what happens."

After Ronan had regained his senses he charged at Shane. In the fight that followed they wrecked the maritime-themed interior of the glasshouse. They broke railings to use as weapons. Anything that wasn't nailed down was used as a missile, and anything that was nailed down was torn up. They didn't notice how upset the twins were to see all their hard work destroyed. The boxers in the model ship had never behaved like this. Nick and Karl replaced the covers to stop the fight.

The twins were furious. They insisted that Ronan and Shane repair all the damage they had done. Serious consequences were threatened if the interior of the glasshouse wasn't fully restored. Ronan and Shane said they'd start work on it after they'd finished their work in the shed.

They only said this because they wanted time to think of a way out of restoring the glasshouse. It could take months to do that job. They could refuse to do it, but they were worried by the threat of these unspecified 'serious consequences'. That sounded serious, coming from the twins.

As they were working in the shed they stumbled across a way out of their problem. Ronan found a box that was full of photos. The twins featured in all of them. In one photo they were wearing teddy bear costumes.

Ronan showed it to Shane. "It's easy to see why they'd hide this," he said. "The rest of the photos are just as bad. They must have taken these from family photo albums and hid them in here."

"We should copy these as soon as possible, and hide the copies somewhere secure."

"And maybe enlarge a few copies as well."

"And remind them that we have our own newspaper."

"Maybe we shouldn't mention the newspaper if we want them to take us seriously."

The twins did take them seriously. Their facial expressions actually changed when they saw Ronan holding an enlarged copy of the teddy bear photo. Their expressions didn't change back for a few days. The look of horror remained frozen on their faces, and most people found this reassuring. It was much better than the blank expression they normally wore.

The moose's head over the fireplace is still wearing his green scarf, but now it's more about celebrating the rugby team rather than protesting against the fate of the soccer team. The wife's uncle says that he once wore a scarf for five weeks during one winter. He spent that time at a succession of Christmas parties. There were so many to get through that he couldn't stay at any one of them for long enough to take his scarf off. When he finally removed it on Christmas Day he found a nest with four chicks. He was surprised to find that the source of the noise wasn't in his head after all.