The Year is 2056
The year is 2056. Much has changed in the neighborhood of Caswell Drive in the hundred years since Tom Ryan lived there. The expansive forest at the end of the street has been developed to the point where there is little of it left. Most of the 1950s houses have either been demolished or rebuilt. Construction has begun on a convenience store where the Ryan house once stood. It is indeed a very different place from when Tom Ryan and the Caswells grew up there.
During the course of the excavation of what used to be the side yard of their home, several interesting artifacts were uncovered — a BB rifle, a partially decomposed giant turkey dinner, and a composition notebook. Specialists in archaeological restoration were immediately called in from the Carnegie Institute to begin the process of bringing these important artifacts of the 50s back to their original condition.
These specialists have been able to restore the cover of the book, thought by historians to be the only remaining copy of the legendary work, the Book of Tom, the most-quoted compendium of knowledge and history from that time period. Sir Nigel Wigglebottom, ageless historian and book reviewer has been quoted as saying that the Book of Tom is the period’s sole work of significance pertaining to the fabric of modern society. He has also been quoted as saying that the Captain Midnight Decoder Ring was used to break the German’s secret code during the Battle of the Bulge.
We are privileged to be able to show you the exclusive image of the cover of the Book of Tom and one excerpt from it, transcribed from Tom Ryan’s barely decipherable handwriting by the noted handwriting expert, Arnold Q. Palmer, inventor of the Palmer Handwriting method and distant relative of the noted professional golfer. So without further ado or adon’t, here is the cover.
As you can see, there is a rather explicit warning about reading it, similar to the curse on King Tut’s tomb. We didn’t lose any workers getting it open, but several poundings at the dig site have been reported. Note in particular the underlining of the words “Stop now.” This was a typical 1950s form of emphasis not present in 21st century writings, absolutely verifying its authenticity.
Here is the excerpt we have been given permission to share with you. It should be noted that there is some dispute about its authenticity. One side of the argument says it was written by Tom’s youngest brother, Harry from his remembrances of sneaking into Tom’s room and reading his book. The other side says that Tom actually wrote it in such a way to make you think he was Harry. You be the judge.
A reading from the Book of Tom:
There are three places you never want to be caught dead: at the Isaly’s without a quarter, downwind when Big Bob is farting, and anywhere near Sister Concepta’s office.
We didn’t get a story about puddles that afternoon. We got something much different. Mrs. Baxter had just opened her storybook to read to us when Sister Del Rey, the school disciplinarian appeared out of nowhere at the classroom door. Mrs. Baxter closed her book and stood up, smiled and nodded to the expressionless nun. I liked Mrs. Baxter. I wasn’t so sure about Sister Del Rey though. She never smiled. She never frowned. She never laughed. She was never angry. Tom said she was a robot Sister with super powers that the nuns had gotten from the Sears catalog. When her robot eyes looked around the room, I knew she was there for me.
First, she pointed at me, and the desks around mine slid away, leaving me by myself. Then her hand turned palm upward and she curled her long knuckly finger back, yanking me out of my desk and almost knocking over my milk. I stood, arms frozen at my sides. I couldn’t move. When she turned her hand again and pointed to a spot at her feet, an invisible force grabbed me and pulled me forward across the floor until I was standing beside her. She looked down at me, and without a word walked out. I followed. What else could I do? Sam, Kate, Mary, and even Tom couldn’t resist, and one by one she collected us, and marched us down to the principal’s office.
Sister Concepta. Just say the name and it strikes fear in the heart of the bravest of the brave. The waiting room outside her office smelled old and had the most uncomfortable wooden chairs for us to sit in. The room had two doors — one that went back to the school secretary Mrs. Apple’s desk and freedom, and the other leading to Sister’s inner sanctum and certain doom. Both were closed. Three of the walls in the waiting room were white painted wood panels with windows above. Sister Concepta’s wall was faded yellow plaster covered with portraits of the principals before her at Saint Catherine’s. The blinds had been drawn on the two sets of windows that looked into other offices, but between the secretary’s desk and waiting room they were open so Mrs. Apple could keep an eye on us. I waved to her and she waggled her finger at me.
Tom pulled me back into my seat. “Sit down, Harry.”
“Why does Sister Concepta want to see us?”
Mary shushed. “Keep quiet or you’ll get us all in trouble.”
Sam shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re already in trouble, big trouble.”
Mary shushed us again. “Listen.”
It was Frankie Marx. He was in Sister Concepta’s office. “It’s all their fault my shoes are ruined, and when I tell my father…”
“He’s ratting us out,” Tom said. “We need a plan. We have to stick together on this.”
I got down off my chair and peeked through the blinds into one of the other offices. There was Sister Del Rey staring at me from her desk. She raised her finger, but before she could fire it at me, I let go of the blind, ran back to my seat, and hid behind Tom.
Kate was trying to straighten out a crease in her skirt, but wasn’t having much luck. She rubbed her palms across it over and over. “We should just tell.”
Tom looked up to make sure Mrs. Apple wasn’t watching and whispered, “Tell what?”
Sam gave up on prying loose a piece of gum someone had stuck to the underside of his chair. “Does anyone have a piece of paper? I’m going to write my last will and testament.”
Kate was rubbing her skirt so hard she was going to wear a hole in it. “We should tell her the truth, Tom.”
“And squeal? No way.”
Mary’s face scrunched up in that funny way she did when she knew she was right. “But he started it.”
Mrs. Apple heard her and looked up, and we instantly became statues in different poses in a game of 1-2-3 Red Light. She went back to reading her book. I whispered, “Green light.”
“He started it; we’ll finish it, but no squealing.” Tom was the king, and the king had spoken.
Mary sat up straight. “What was that?”
We all turned around toward Sister Concepta’s door. There was a grinding, whirring noise, then a creak and a chunk. There it was again.
Tom knew what it was. “It’s a robot machine that chews up kids and spits them into the wastebasket.”
Sam hid behind the chair back. “If I don’t make it out alive, Harry gets my Roy Face.”
Tom didn’t like that at all. “You said the Roy Face card was mine, and Vernon Law, too.”
“That was when you were sitting on me, and besides, he’s the only Pirate Harry likes.”
“You little welsher.”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
Mary looked like she was going to cry. “I don’t hear Frankie any more. I don’t like this. Why didn’t he come out yet?”
“It’s a one way door,” Tom whispered. “No one ever comes back, at least not alive.”
Footsteps, big heavy footsteps were coming closer toward the door from the other side.
Kate had squeezed herself together in a little ball. “I have to go.”
“Tommy, did Sister Concepta eat Frankie’s brain so he can’t talk anymore?”
“Frankie doesn’t have a brain, Harry.”
“Then how does he talk?”
Something clanked up against the door, something metal, and the doorknob started to move.
Tom was the first to turn around and sit up straight. “We’re dead ducks. Turn around. Don’t look into her eyes or you’ll turn to stone.”
We followed his lead, sitting like statues with our hands in our laps. The door creaked slowly open. Yellow light from inside Sister Concepta’s office spilled out into the waiting room, and the shadow of a giant robot nun inched across the floor under our chairs.
“Line up and come inside now, children.” The shadow moved back into her office.
Thank you for taking the time to read this excerpt from the newly released A King in a Court of Fools, the prequel to the best seller Four Years from Home.
About the book: A King in a Court of Fools, originally published as a serial novel, is Larry Enright’s second published work. It is humorous, nostalgic fiction about kids growing up in the 1950s and has been already enjoyed by thousands, ages ten through ninety-one. It is available in both eBook and paperback from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. Click for details to Purchase or sample A King in a Court of Fools.
About the author: Larry Enright was born to Irish Catholic first-generation immigrants and raised in Pittsburgh. After college, he moved to the Philadelphia area where for the past 40 years he has filled his life with many careers including musician, teacher, programmer, researcher, and writer. He has written three other novels, including the best-selling Four Years from Home. Visit Larry Enright's site.