[Parts 1 & 2; Part 3]
: 4 :
When Leo came down for breakfast the following morning he had come to a conclusion. His parents, the doctor -- none of them had believed him. His teachers would probably be just as doubting. He would tell Peter, but otherwise he would keep it to himself.
What had happened to him? He had to try and find out. Also, he was going to have to find more money from somewhere if he wasn't going to starve to death.
His Dad was sitting at the breafast table drinking coffee, with two pieces of dry toast on a plate before him, and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice waiting next to the juicer. 'Good morning Leo,' he said. 'Your mother is unwell, I'm afraid, so it's just me.'
'Oh dear,' said Leo. 'What's the matter?'
'I've no idea. She was fine. But then she drank a cup of tea and immediately she started throwing up. She only just made it to the toilet in time! She's gone back to bed.'
'Perhaps there was something wrong with the tea?'
'Hmm,' said his Dad, his attention on the TV in the corner of the kitchen. He was watching the news, as he always did. 'Anyway, you must be hungry, my boy. You hardly ate anything yesterday!'
Leo thought guiltily of his midnight snack, and of devouring the contents of his piggy bank. Although why he should feel guilty is a mystery. It was his money, after all! Surely a person is entitled to do what they wish with their own money? At any rate, he said to his father: 'I'll take some toast and ... eat it on the way to school, alright?'
'Hmm?' said his Dad, not paying attention.
'I've got to rush to school, Dad,' said Leo. 'I'll grab some toast and eat on the way, OK?'
His Mum would never have allowed that; but his Dad wasn't really focussing. 'Well don't take my toast -- I must have overtoasted it. Rock hard!'
Leo put some bread in the toaster, ran to the hall to grab his bag and jacket, and came back just as the toast popped up. He wasn't even going to pretend eating it; it was all for his Dad's benefit. But Dad wasn't even paying attention. 'Have a good day,' he said absently, lifting the glass of orange juice to his lips, his eyes still on the breakfast news presenter.
'Bye Dad,' said Leo.
His Dad made a peculiar grunting noise, and for a moment Leo thought he was going to stop him. But then he said: 'tastes funny,' and he peered into the top of his orange juice.
Leo went to the front door, and opened it. He was just about to step outside when his Dad burst from the kitchen, leaped across the hall, and dived into the downstairs loo. At once, Leo could hear the unmistakeable, revolting sound of his father throwing up.
'You OK Dad?' he asked, coming back into the house.
The sound of vomiting stopped, started retchingly up again, and then stopped. 'Oh dear,' groaned his father, from the other side of the loo-door. 'I appear to have been sick.'
'I could hear! Are you going to be OK?'
'It must have been the orange juice.'
'Or,' said Leo, 'maybe it's a bug, and you caught it from Mum?'
There was a silence. 'Possibly,' said his Dad. He didn't sound convinced.
'Do you want me to stay?'
'No, no. You go to school. I'll be fine. I feel better, actually. Better out than in, as Shriek says.'
'Shrek, Dad. It's Shrek. How many times?'
'Off you go, Leo. Have a good day.'
Leo walked down the road to the corner, and threw the two pieces of toast in the big hedge. Then he went up to Margate Road, and waited for Peter. Soon enough he saw his friend approach.]
The first thing Peter said was: 'So where were you yesterday? Bunking off school?'
'My folks took me to the hospital.'
'Something seriously wrong?' Peter made a fist with his left hand and punched Leo on the shoulder.
'Listen, Pete. Something really ... odd has happened to me.'
'I had a really odd dream, right? The night before last. And when I woke up yesterday morning, I couldn't eat food. I could only eat money.'
Peter looked at him like he was talking a foreign language. Then he said: 'say all that again.'
Leo said it all again.
'OK,' said Pete. 'Now, you say you can't eat food. You mean you don't feel like it?'
'I mean I literally can't eat it. It's fine on the plate, but when I put it in my mouth it's like it turns into metal or stone or something.'
'Only in my mouth! When I take it out again it's fine again.'
Peter looked closely at his friend's face. Any adult would not have believed this story. Most kids would have thought it was a joke, or a lie, or just a crazy thing to say to get attention. But Peter was Leo's best friend; and best friends believe one another. So he didn't mock, and he didn't cross-examine like a courtroom lawyer. Instead he did something practical. He unzipped his satchel and got out his packed lunch. 'Ham sandwich,' he said, pulling it out out of its little plastic bag. 'OK?'
'OK,' said Leo. 'A regular sandwich.' He poked his finger into the bread to show that it was soft. Then he put the sandwich in his mouth, so that it was half in and half poking out. Pete leant closer. 'Looks the same,' he said. He fingered the poking-out bit. 'Feels the same.' Leo tried to say 'feel the half that's inside my mouth', but because he had a sandwich in his mouth this came out as 'hee hurh harh hurh huh-high huh hurh'. But Pete didn't need prompting. He slipped his little finger inbetween his friend's teeth, and touched the sandwich inside. 'Wow,' he said. 'It's rock hard in there!'
Leo removed the sandwich, and Peter pressed it between his fingers. 'Soft,' he noted. 'Put it back in.' The two boys repeated the procedure. 'That,' said Peter, scratching his head, 'is so weird.'
'Isn't it, though? Here --give me some money.'
Peter was astonished, but he wasn't an idiot. 'Wait a minute ... use your own money!'
'I've eaten all my money, haven't I!' said Leo. 'Just give me a ten pence piece.'
Reluctantly, Peter fished a single coin out of his pocket. Leo took it, put it between his teeth, and bit it easily in half. He handed the rest of it back, and Pete ran his finger over the bite marks ... hard and cold. 'Wow,' he said. 'Just wow. I've never heard of anything like this.'
'What am I going to do?' Leo asked.
'I dunno,' said Peter. 'I suppose you can't just stop eating. So I guess you'll just need to eat money. Did you tell your folks?'
'They don't believe me! They took me to a doctor -- that's where I was yesterday -- and she said it was all in my head! She said I only think I want to eat money, and that I could eat proper food if I wanted to. But you saw for yourself, it's not like that.'
'Can you drink?'
'Water's OK,' said Leo, putting his hands into his empty pockets and kicking at the ground scuffingly. 'I can drink it; but only if it's pure water. I guess water isn't food. I tried some lemonade, but I didn't swallow. I could tell, as soon as it was in my mouth, that it had changed.'
'That is because,' said Pete, who was a clever individual, 'lemonade has sugar in it, and sugar is a food. It probably changed to iron filings in your mouth. Good job you didn't swallow!'
'What am I going to do? How do I get cured of this?'
Pete slapped his friend on the back. 'I don't know. But we'll work something out. And we'd better get going, or we'll be late for school.'
So they started off, down Margate Road to the bottom, past the Newsagents and the Pizza shop, and left into Wilson Road. 'I'll tell you what worries me,' said Leo. 'Eating money is all very well. But it doesn't go very far. You know?'
'I was wondering if it was a super food,' said Peter.
'You know -- maybe you eat a pound coin, and it lasts you all day.'
'No. It lasts for as long as a pound-coin-sized piece of regular food would last for you. And that's not very long. That's what worries me! With a pound coin, I could buy two packets of crisps and have money left over for some sweets. That would fill me up better than the money itself.'
'Or you could buy a whole loaf of bread,' Peter pointed out. 'And that would go even further.'
'Exactly! What am I going to do?'
They were at the school gates now, joining the incoming throng. 'We'll figure something out,' Pete said.