For the 9 to 12 year old 2018 Roolaboola ‘Dicing With Story’ session, we threw the Story Cubes and we got an Apple, a Car, a Lock, a lightning bolt, and a Vampire.
Godzilla also featured rather prominently in the story development process so we put him in too.
This is the story we all came up with.
Joey the Bear and The Twenty First Apple
Joey the Bear was actually Joey Smith but he called himself Joey the Bear because it really annoyed his mother. In fact, his mother secretly loved it but she knew if she told Joey that she loved it he would stop using it immediately so she didn’t.
Joey the Bear was very good at most things. He was lucky like that. He was good at school and good at sports and good at making jokes and good at being nice. Important things like that. But Joey the Bear had one problem, he wasn’t the best at anything. In fact, he was pretty much second best at everything.
Did you ever hear of anything quite like that? A guy who was second best at everything he did? Well that was Joey the Bear. His friends called him ‘Mister Second Best’ when they weren’t calling him ‘Joey the Bear’ and that made him sad and frustrated.
It wasn’t just one person who was the very best at all of the things. Several people were very good at things and each of them were number one in their own field. But when it came to school stuff, there was really only one guy. Miles Long was the best at everything in the school, homework, sport, punctuality, popularity… you name it, Miles Long was it.
And, yes, that really was his real name. Miles Long. He was quite short too. It was the kind of name that people would inevitably make fun of. Except they didn’t. Miles Long was just that kind of guy. You didn’t make fun of him.
Joey the Bear longed to come first at something in school just once and he was constantly on the lookout for some way to make this happen.
“Don’t worry about it,” his Mother used to say, “Also could you please stop calling yourself Joey the Bear?” As we know, she meant the first part but she didn’t really mean the second.
But Joey did worry about it. He didn’t really have any close ‘call-around-to-the-house’ type of friends so he spent quite a lot of time plotting and calculating how he could ever manage to be first, just once. He sat on the floor in his bedroom, in among his huge comic collection, and wondered how he could ever make his dream come true. Sometimes, on really bad days, he would even ask the heroes in his comics how they always managed to come first and whether they had any tips on how he might do the same. Sometimes it felt like the comic heroes were almost building up to giving him an answer but they never did.
Then the ‘Eat an Apple a Day’ challenge came along and it seemed to offer the perfect solution to Joey’s troubles. Miss Brody announced that March would be ‘Healthy Eating Month’ and that everyone who ate an apple at lunchtime in school every day would get a gold star on the chart on the wall and that the person with the most gold stars at the end of the month would be the winner and would receive two of Mr Brody’s most collectible comics as a surprise.
Nobody cared about wall charts or about gold stars. Those things were from the era of first and second class and were now things to be actively mocked and sneered at. But Mr Brody’s comics were another matter altogether. Mr Brody was married to Miss Brody who was only a ‘Miss’ to suit the conventions of the school. She was a ‘Mrs’ everywhere else. Mr Brody’s comics were legendary. He literally had everything. The two comics on offer to the winner of the ‘Eat an Apple a Day’ challenge were there on display in the classroom, right beside the dopey wall chart and its dopey gold stars. There was a superb edition of ‘Vampire Man’ from the early Nineties and, prize of prizes, there was a first edition ‘Beast from Beyond’ from the late Eighties. Vampire Man was pretty self-explanatory. He was a blood sucking beast who had vowed to fight crime after he was bitten by a bat and his coffin was stolen by mobsters. ‘The Beast from Beyond’ was a lot like Godzilla except his tail was shorter and he didn’t roar in Japanese.
Joey the Bear wanted those comics. He loved Vampire Man and he positively revered The Beast from Beyond. But more than all of that he wanted to come first. He wanted to win just once. To be honest, he didn’t really think he could win. Miles Long was just too good, too consistent.
But, here’s the thing: Joey the Bear thought he could probably achieve a draw.
All he had to do was eat an apple every day and, if he did that, he simply could not lose. The worst he could possibly do would be to come joint-first and joint-first was still first, wasn’t it? He and Miles Long would both be first and they would share the comics and he would no longer be Mister Second Best.
And you might well wonder what of the rest of the class. Couldn’t someone step up from their ranks and also become joint winner? Well, yes, of course that might happen but it really wasn’t terribly likely. The rest of the class were fine, in their way, but they didn’t really care about things like Apples or Comics or Coming First or even Second. They cared about things like Soccer and GAA and Girls and Non-Mainstream Rap Artists and Video Games.
It all came down to Miles Long versus Joey the Bear and the race was on.
Jump forward to the morning of 29th of March. It’s Friday and it’s the final day of the ‘Eat an Apple a Day Challenge’. Of course there are thirty-one days in March, we all know that, but the challenge could only be run over school days as Miss Brody could hardly be expected to call around to students' houses to see if they had eaten their daily apple on the weekends.
On the morning of 29th of March, Joey the Bear carefully packed his twenty first apple into his lunchbox and sealed the lid. This was quite a job in itself because the apple tended to sit up higher than the lid so that the lid sometimes bruised the apple and made it a little less appetising when lunch time came. That didn’t matter though, the apple had to be eaten and that was all there was to it.
It was a dark gloomy morning which promised a storm later. You could feel it in the air, tingling and simmering nervously. The lunchbox was packed in the schoolbag and the schoolbag was packed in the back of Mum’s brand-new second-hand car, which was her absolute pride and joy, and off they drove to school in the gradually deteriorating morning.
Everything was fine.
Except for one small thing, which was very much not fine.
In his push to get everything right, Joey the Bear had neglected to attend to one small detail. He had forgotten to fully zip up his school bag, which was effectively a small rucksack. And although the suspensions of his Mum’s brand-new second-hand car were very fine indeed, they did not prevent tiny road vibrations causing the lunchbox to slip out of the open rucksack and fall down behind the front passenger seat of the car.
When Mum parked in the disused car park on the hill, as she always did, Joey grabbed his bag and Mum grabbed her briefcase and off they went to school and work respectively, never guessing that Joey’s world was about to implode.
Joey sat at his desk and waited for his adversary to arrive. He gazed over at Mile Long’s empty desk and thought about how Miles was a cool kid really and how it was a shame that their unspoken combative relationship seemed to prevent them from being friends. He gazed at the desk until the roll was called and he gazed at the desk until the maths lesson began and he gazed at the desk until…
…until he suddenly realised with an electric shock to his system.
MILES LONG IS NOT IN.
But what wizardry was this? Miles Long was always in. He had a perfect attendance record where Joey only had a second-perfect one. Joey shot his hand in the air, interrupting some trigonometry.
“Yes, Joey, what is it?”
“Miss… where’s Miles?”
“Miles is off sick today. His mother phoned in.” Miles’ Mother was friendly with Miss Brody and they talked often on the phone. Miss Brody looked at Joey and then suddenly realised the implication of this news, “Gosh, Joey, you might win.”
There was no ‘might’ about it. The rest of the class had fallen away in their usual show of apathy and world-weariness. There was only Miles and Joey and guess what?
MILES LONG WAS NOT IN.
Miss Body smiled benevolently at Joey and then continued with her explanation of what a triangle was. But Joey could not just sit and think about acute angles and obtuse angles. He shot his hand up into the sky again.
“Yes, Joey.” The smile was perhaps not quite so benevolent this time.
“Miss. Please… could I eat my apple now?”
Miss Brogan’s mouth gathered itself into a strongly worded retort. But then she saw the little boy in front of her. The expectation on his face. The need to come first just once. Her nicer smile crept back.
“Eat it quietly, Joey, and keep paying attention and then, at break, you can collect your prize.”
“Thank you, Miss.”
Outside the storm was gathering itself to strike. You could feel it coming.
Joey lifted his rucksack up onto his desk. He noticed that the zipper on the lunchbox compartment was hanging open.
Outside the dark clouds flickered with lightning. A distant rumble of thunder.
Joey plunged his hand deep inside of the lunchbox compartment of his rucksack.
And, right then, the storm hit, in all its rage and power.
Joey the Bear’s Mum always liked parking in the deserted car park on the hill because it was like her little secret. It was close to the school and a good healthy walk to her work and nobody ever went there ever, which was admittedly a little strange.
By the time Joey the Bear ran back to the car he was soaked through and he was shivering uncontrollably. The storm was at its zenith as it roared and boiled around him. Of course the car was locked up tight. Mum always secured her most prized possession. Joey pulled and pulled on the door handles but there was no way in.
Looking around in a blind panic his eyes fell on an old wire coat hanger on the ground. He bent and picked it up. He had seen it on the telly once, a guy had opened a locked car with a coat hanger. He had eased the wire through a gap in the door window. But there was no gap in the door window. Mum would not leave any gaps in the windows of her most prized possession. Through the rear window, Joey could see his lunchbox peer out from behind the front passenger seat.
Joey’s rage and frustration spilled over to match the rage of the storm. He raised his arm to the skies and shouted his defiance to the fates that had driven him to this place. He actually saw, in his mind’s eye, the comics being blown away from his grasp.
The arm he raised held the coat hanger aloft. High into the sky it pointed, as the storm raged about him, on the highest point of the deserted car park on the hill, which was the highest point in the entire town.
“Vampire Man,” he cried, “Where are you now?”
The lightning was always going to strike.
To Joey the Bear, it felt as if he had been pushed hard by the world. He never saw the blue bolt shooting from the heavens and striking the tip of the wire coat hanger. He never felt himself drop senseless to the muddy earth.
All he knew was the darkness.
When he opened his eyes it was still dark. He was sheltered from the storm but he could still hear it rage outside.
Outside? Outside of what?
He reached out in the darkness. The ‘thing’ that enveloped him was silky and smooth beyond belief. Panicked, he thrashed against it, struggling to escape its embrace.
“Be easy my child.” The voice was silky like the cape. It was strong and sounded faintly Eastern European, like some of the better-looking girls in his class, “You have been burned by the sky and you are weak.”
“Who are you? Where am I?”
“You are where you were. I am who I was.”
Joey the Bear found a gap in the silky envelope and he crawled weakly out. He struggled to his feet, he was wobbly and sick and the palm of his hand burned. He turned to meet his saviour.
The man who stood before him was seven feet tall at least. He wore a huge black cape and his long hair was pushed back to reveal a prominent widow’s peak. His teeth were not teeth at all. They were fangs.
“I prefer Marius, for that is my name.”
“Marius Cazacu, bitten by a Vampire Bat in deepest Congo?”
The vampire bowed deeply.
“At your service.”
“You have called to me many times before but the barriers between legend and reality are heavily policed. This storm allowed me to ‘slip through’.”
Joey looked down at his aching hand. It was red and raw and it hurt as much as anything ever could.
“Can you help me?”
“You need to obtain the fruit that is inside the carriage.”
“Alas, I cannot help.”
“I have tried, while you slept beneath my cape. I assumed the shape of a bat and flew through the engine but there is no way inside. Besides, I found I would have had to be invited in for this carriage is revered like a house.”
“Then I'm finished.”
“All is not lost. There is a comrade nearby who can surely help us but she will not come unless you call her again.”
“Who is she?”
The vampire smiled his dangerous smile. “Joey the Bear… you know who she is.
Joey did not think twice, he closed his eyes and wished for the Beast from Beyond.
There is an old saying that goes, “be careful what you wish for.” When Joey opened his eyes it was to see a vast taloned foot embedded in the car park mud in front of him. The claws were already sunk deep into the ground. Joey looked to his right and saw the other foot and leg at the far end of the car park. When he dared to look skyward, the green and yellow scaled form vanished into the low-lying clouds above long before arms or head could even be seen. The thing filled the earth and sky and all around.
Joey had almost forgotten about Vampire Man but now he spoke.
“Kaiju or the Beast from Beyond, as you know her, will open up this box with a single tear of her claw and your goal will be returned to you. I need only say the word and it shall be done.”
Above him, Joey could hear the rough breathing of the Beast as it awaited the command.
Joey looked at Vampire Man, whose teeth were fearsome but whose eyes were strangely kind. Then he looked at his Mum’s beloved car, which she had struggled so long and worked so hard to finally get.
“No,” he said.
Vampire Man muttered a single phrase. It sounded to Joey like ‘Creatură fi Plecat’. The gargantuan foot suddenly hauled itself from the mud and withdrew. There was a distant crash as it put itself down again in the next parish. Kaiju was gone.
“Will she damage the town?” Joey asked.
“She steps with care.”
Joey looked around. The car was fine. His apple was still inside. The footprint in the mud was already filling in with water.
“What now?” he asked.
“Now,” the vampire said, as he passed his thin hand over Joey’s face, “I exhort you to sleep.”
When Joey woke up, he was on the ground beside his mother’s car. He was wet through and alone but the storm had passed. There was no sign of a mark on the ground. He made his weary way back to the school.
As he arrived at his classroom door, he felt quite good despite his aching hand. He had defended his Mum’s car, he had met his heroes in person, and he would still get to be joint first with Miles Long.
Things could have been so much worse.
Except they were.
Joey opened the door to his classroom to find only two people in there. It was lunchtime, after all. Miss Brogan was sitting behind her desk and there, down the classroom and sitting at his desk was the only other person in the room.
In front of him, on his desk, sat a large red apple.
Joey could have passed out then and there. His disappointment was beyond description. He would not be joint first after all. He would be Mister Second Best, just like he always was.
But, just as his misery was about to overwhelm him, a memory came. A memory of a pale hand passing across his forehead, it’s touch as cool as a gravestone. The words spoken, “Sleep” but also something else, a final benediction just as he faded away, “Be Generous.”
Joey the Bear walked to Miles’ desk and he extended his burned hand.
“You won,” he said, “fair and square. Congratulations.”
Miles Long looked as if he might cry.
“Miss Brody called my Mum, they’re friends you know. When I heard what happened to your apple, I had to come in even though I felt like crap.”
Mile took up the apple on his desk and handed it to Joey.
“I don’t understand.”
“Take a bite, Joey. You’ve earned it.”
The apple was sweet and crunchy and good.
Miss Brody appeared at Joey’s shoulder and laid the comics on the desk in front of him.
“Congratulations, Joey, you won.”
Some of the other students had come back in from break and they actually cheered when they saw that Joey had prevailed. It wasn’t a sneery cheer either. It wasn’t one that would be taken back later. It was for real.
Joey grinned at Miles.
“You could call around at the weekend and help me read these if you like.”
Miles grinned back.
“I’m feeling a bit sick but, yes, I’d actually like that a lot.”
“Now finish your apple.”
Joey bit down hard into the fruit. A trickle of sweet warm juice ran down his chin and onto his collar.
And somewhere, far away, a vampire smiled.
Sir, you have excelled yourself...! What an inspiration to these pupils. Now, how do you fancy a trip to Wiltshire to do the same with 2 - 4 year olds? #Joking !
Of the two stories I far prefer this one but it’s got nothing to do with the writing. If any of the kids who were involved in the production of either of these is reading this the one important thing you need to take away from my comment is this: You can’t know what your reader will bring to the table; they’re the ones who finish off your stories. The reason this one resonated so strongly with me is because for much of my time at school I was Joey the Bear. I never quite made it to top of the class. Always the top two or three but first place evaded me until the final year at the Academy when I did manage it and, God, it felt good. (Take that Esther Millar!) I also love comics but I was never struck by lightning. I did marry a woman who has been which should count for something though.
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