Last time on The Shadow Club…
Sanjeet made us all go to the library, and it was BORING. But we were keeping him safe, and that was what was important, right?
Mr Burne, the school librarian, was being his usual annoying self and shushing us every five minutes, but we ignored him. Maybe not the best idea.
Why? Well, when Max went to the library to get a book, he found Mr Burne lying on the floor being attacked by shadows! Horrible rats were running out of all of the books, and it was the hardest fight we’d ever had.
We won, but Mr Burne wasn’t in good shape. He shouted at us, telling us how miserable he was, how he couldn’t get a book published, how following your dreams is a waste of time… Not a great way to end the week, to be honest.
You can listen to the last episode of The Shadow Club at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Shadow9.
Yeah, don’t. You’ll probably just get depressed.
Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for pre-intermediate learners. The name of the story is The Shadow Club. This is chapter ten, An Easy Game. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Shadow10. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Shadow10. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So this is actually the second time I’ve recorded this episode. I recorded the entire episode two days ago, but then I realised there was something strange on my computer.
So I use a program called Google Drive, probably you’ve heard of it. Google Drive is a cloud service, so it is a service for storing your files online, and I had downloaded the Google Drive program onto my Macbook so that I could sync files between my Mac and the cloud. So I could have files on my computer and online at the same time.
But then, Google decided to update the app and change how it worked, and what I didn’t realise was it created a new folder, but I was still saving files into the old folder. So what happened? I saved lots of files into the old folder, but they weren’t being uploaded online. I realised this, so I decided to check which files were new, copy them into the new folder so that they would be saved, and then delete the old files. Perfect! No problem.
I also did this at the same time as backing up some of my files. So backing up a file is when you save a copy of a file on another computer or on an external hard drive. So I have an external hard drive where I can save my files outside of my computer. And I back up all of the audio files for Easy Stories in English on this external hard drive because they take up a lot of space.
However, I didn’t back up the files, I didn’t copy the files over, for this episode of Easy Stories in English because I thought, ‘Oh! I’ll need the files on my computer for when I edit the episode.’ So I kept them on the computer. But because I did that, I forgot that I needed to copy them to the new folder for Google Drive.
Anyway, long story short, I accidentally deleted the audio files for this episode of the podcast, so now I’m having to record it all again.
As you can imagine, this is extremely frustrating. I felt so stupid this morning when I realised what had happened, and I spent a long time beating up a cuddly toy I have, because I was so angry, so I hit this cuddly toy a lot to let out my anger and frustration.
Have you ever done anything similar? I feel like it’s very stupid, but we’ve all done it, right? I would love to hear your stories of doing this kind of thing so that I feel a bit less stupid about myself.
So do come over to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Shadow10 and leave a comment telling me about your stupid technology story, and we can all laugh about it.
Anyway, before we start this episode, I just have to explain a bit about how the British school term system works.
So in British schools, the academic year starts in autumn, usually in September, and there are three terms to the term: the autumn term, the spring term and the summer term.
Each term has 12 weeks of teaching, but there is a one-week break, a one-week holiday, in the middle of the term. So you have six weeks of teaching, a one-week holiday, and then another six weeks of teaching. So altogether, the terms are usually 13 weeks, and the week-long break in the middle of the term is called ‘half term’, because it is halfway through the term.
Of course, there’s not just half term. Between each of the main terms, there are longer holidays. So there are the Christmas holidays, Easter holidays and summer holidays.
So half term is mentioned a few times in this episode and it’s referring to this one-week holiday.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
When you are in a very stressful situation, you can say that the tension is thick—tension is the feeling of stress or conflict. When a situation is amazingly stressful, and there is lots of conflict between people, you can say that the tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife. This is a metaphor, not literal language. We are imagining that the tension is a real thing, and there is so much thick tension in the air that you could cut it. For example, when you break up with someone, and then you meet them and their new partner, the tension might be so thick you could cut it with a knife. I’ve never had such a difficult situation, though.
When a situation is awkward, it means that it is embarrassing, it makes it hard to act normally. For example, if two of your friends invite you to a party on the same day, but they don’t like each other, that’s an awkward situation. How do you choose which party to go to? People can also be awkward. If someone never knows what to say and is very shy, they are an awkward person. Also, if you are in a conversation with someone and you run out of things to say, that can be very awkward.
Catholic means someone who is part of the Roman Catholic religion. Catholics are a type of Christians, basically. In the UK, many schools are Catholic schools, where they teach a lot about Christianity and Catholicism.
Shut up means to stop talking. It is usually used as an insult. If someone is being loud and annoying, you might say, ‘Shut up!’ It is not very nice to do this, but children often tell each other to shut up.
Weird means ‘strange’, but ‘weird’ has a much more negative meaning. For example, if children don’t like each other, they often say that the other child is weird. Maybe they have a hobby that the other child doesn’t understand. If someone comes up to you in the street and starts asking you about where you live, they are being very weird.
Pale means having a light colour. If you have pale skin, it can mean that you are unhealthy, or that you never see the sun. Many flowers are a pale colour, almost white.
The Bible is a holy book, a special book, in Christianity. The Bible contains information about Jesus and God. Some people think that God wrote the Bible.
When you are playing football and want to take the ball off another player, you tackle them. You run past them and try to take the ball. Tackling can sometimes be dangerous, as both players can get hurt. If you tackle someone badly, you can get a red card and have to stop playing.
French toast is a type of food. You make a mixture of egg, milk, cream and so on, then you cover the bread in the mixture and fry it. You can add fruit or pour maple syrup on top. Maple syrup is a delicious syrup, a kind of sauce, that comes from maple trees, trees with big red leaves. Maple syrup is mainly produced in Canada. And now I really want a big plate of French toast with strawberries and maple syrup on top. Argh!
Girly means ‘like a girl’ or ‘something that girls like’, but it is usually used in a negative way. For example, young boys often don’t like playing with dolls or watching certain TV shows, because they think they are girly. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being girly or having girly hobbies. For example, I have lots of stuffed animals, which some people would consider girly.
And I’ll just remind you of the meaning of some words from previous episodes of The Shadow Club.
A sword is a sharp weapon that people used in the past.
Police go on patrol to find bad people.
If you hit someone, you might leave a mark, a sign that you hit them.
Daft means stupid or silly.
When someone throws a ball at your head, you should dodge so that it doesn’t hit you.
If you’re worried about something, your stomach might clench, and all the muscles go tight.
You should chew your food—move your teeth around it—before you eat it.
If you hit someone again and again, you are beating them up.
In football, it is important to pass the ball to other players, or someone will take it off you.
For once means finally, when something happens for the first time ever.
When you say ‘yes’ with your head, you nod.
If you don’t listen to or look at someone, you are ignoring them.
If you enjoy the podcast and want more, you can support me on Patreon. For just $2 a month you can get exercises with each episode, and for $5, you get an extra story every month, as well as Elevenses with Ariel, a daily conversational podcast for intermediate learners. Last week I talked about an amazing video essay I watched about Bo Burnham’s film Inside, the performer audience divide and herbal remedies. You can support the show and get all the extra content at Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. That’s Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish.
A big thank-you to my new patron, Khrystyna Synya. Thank you so much, Khrystyna. Your support really means a lot to me.
OK, so listen and enjoy!
The Shadow Club Chapter 10: An Easy Game
You know how they say ‘the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife’? Well, in this case, the tension was so thick you couldn’t cut it with a sword. After seeing all those rat shadows have Mr Burne for dinner, and then having him shout at us about how sad his life was, sitting with him in The Shadow Club was probably the most awkward thing that could happen.
We sat in silence and played our board games. Now some of us apart from Max were actually winning. That’s how much we’d been playing. Sure, we went on patrol. But we found no more rat shadows in the library. Surprisingly, there weren’t any marks in the books at all. You wouldn’t know we’d hit them with our weapons. Whatever happened during a shadow fight didn’t stay in the real world, which made me worry that we really were imagining it all. But there was no way we could imagine Mr Burne shouting at us like that.
He’d gone even quieter since Friday, not saying anything during The Shadow Club. He just read his book. He didn’t make notes anymore—I guess it was too awkward since I read his notebook. I felt awful about how I behaved towards him, how we all had.
It sounded daft, but I’d never really thought of teachers as people. I mean, usually they were the ones with all the power, right? They told us what to do, gave us homework, shouted at us if we stared out the window… But I had somehow forgotten they had lives outside of school, although from what Mr Burne had said, he didn’t seem to have much of a life. And that made me feel awful. Here we were, talking about protecting the weak, all while bullying this guy who everyone else was bullying, too.
I didn’t have long to feel sad about the situation, though, because we had a football match on the weekend. This wasn’t against Langleywood, but a school we’d never played against before, De La Salle. They were a Catholic school, and had a stupid French name, but Coach Barrett had told us not to think they were a joke.
‘They’re serious at that school,’ he said, while we were getting changed for practice. ‘They spend as much time practising as they do praying, and believe me, they spend a lot of time praying. Something that some of you should be doing more of!’
‘What, praying?’ said Larry.
Coach Barrett threw a football at him, and he dodged out of the way.
‘Ow! Why does it always have to hit me?’ cried Max.
‘I don’t know what’s going on with you three boys, but you need to bring your best this Saturday, alright?’
‘What about Bethany?’ said Max, before going red.
‘What about her?’ said Larry, picking up the football and throwing it back to the coach. ‘She’s not even here and you have to talk about her.’
Of course, Bethany had to get changed in a separate room. I had never thought about it, but it must’ve been lonely, being the only girl on the team.
‘Bethany’s been practising as much as ever,’ said Coach Barrett. ‘Unlike you three. Ricky Marshall, you’re not going to let a girl beat you as our star player, are you?’
And now it was my turn to go red. I wanted to tell Coach Barrett to shut up—there was nothing wrong with being a girl—but I was too embarrassed by the truth of his words. I had spent years talking about my dream, and now I was giving it up without even realising it.
So we didn’t practise with our weapons for The Shadow Club that week. We did real football practice. It wasn’t fun like usual—like I said, the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Even Sanjeet started commenting on it.
‘Usually, at least once per lunchtime, Larry makes a stupid joke, Bethany says Larry is stupid, Max says something nice about Bethany, and Ricky tells you all to stop fighting. But you’ve actually been sitting quietly in the library recently…’
The library was exactly where we were sat, because we were still taking Sanjeet there. And before we could say something about his awkward comment, Mr Burne came over and shushed him. Sanjeet went bright red—it was probably the first time ever that a teacher had gotten angry at him. Well, apart from Ms Knight, but she got angry at everyone!
So Saturday came, and I woke up nice and early to go to the football match. Normally, I’d be excited, but today my stomach clenched and I felt tired before the game even began.
‘I just have to make it through this,’ I told myself. ‘It’s half term afterwards and then I can have a proper rest.’
But why was football something I needed a break from? It was my dream, wasn’t it? Everything had seemed so clear a few months ago, but then that shadow attacked Max and changed everything. I wondered what life would be like if that had never happened.
As I went to the bathroom, I met Willow coming out of her room.
‘Where’s your Fighting Cats book?’ I said.
Usually, on the day of my matches, she came down with one of her books under her arm, to read while the game went on.
‘I thought you wanted me to watch your stupid football,’ Willow spat.
‘Er, OK… Why don’t you use the bathroom before me?’
So I wasn’t the only one in a bad mood. And when we arrived at the match, I saw that my friends weren’t too happy, either.
‘Why are you looking so sad?’ I said to Bethany. ‘You’ve actually been putting in the practice.’
‘Ugh,’ she said, chewing on a nail. ‘One of the boys from De La Salle came up to me and started being weird.’
‘Being weird?’ said Larry. ‘What do you mean by “being weird”?’
‘He was saying “Why do you play football if you’re a girl?” and “You’re too pretty to get dirt all over your legs” and “God wouldn’t want you to act like a man”.’
‘Which one was it? I’ll beat him up,’ said Larry.
‘No need. I already kicked him between the legs. I told him, “God clearly wants you to get beaten up by a girl” and ran away.’
We all had a laugh, and then Coach Barrett told us to get in position. The De La Salle team looked… Well, if I hadn’t known they were Catholic before, I’d definitely know it now. They all had little crosses on their football shirts, they seemed to have about three different haircuts between them, and they looked as pale and thin as the pages of a Bible.
So, unsurprisingly, we absolutely destroyed them. I almost felt sorry for them, but it was just too easy. They had clearly never played with a team as strong as ours before. When we came to tackle them, instead of passing the ball they just got scared and let us take it. And their goalkeeper couldn’t handle the power of me and Bethany’s kicks.
I want to say I had fun, but did I? I spent the whole match thinking about the shadows. The last time we’d played, we’d been attacked, so I was expecting one to jump out at any moment. And the idea of fighting a shadow excited me. It certainly felt more important than showing a bunch of Catholic schoolboys how to play football.
After the match, Larry told us we were coming to his house to celebrate.
‘No questions,’ he said. ‘We’ve all been miserable this week, and we’re not gonna see each other over half term. Bethany, you’re invited, of course.’
Bethany had just opened her mouth to ask, and she seemed surprised that Larry had answered the question for her. I went to tell my parents what we were doing, and they looked slightly less happy. Willow had indeed watched the whole match without hiding in a Fighting Cats book, but she did not look happy about it, and I wondered if they’d had a fight while we were playing.
When we got to Larry’s, his dad was actually in for once, but he had fallen asleep on the sofa. There was some awful programme playing on the TV about buying antiques. Larry tutted and turned it off.
‘He always falls asleep with the TV on, and then later he’ll complain he dreamt about a giant antiques monster attacking him. Come on.’
We went into the kitchen, and Larry started cooking. At first, I thought he was just going to fry up some bacon or something, but I watched him get out eggs, milk, cream and bread.
‘Larry, what are you doing?’ said Max.
‘What does it look like? I’m cooking. Look, it’s nothing. I just thought we needed something. Oh, could one of you run down the street and buy some maple syrup? We ran out.’
Max went to the shops, and we watched in silence as Larry cooked. He made something with the eggs and cream and stuff, and then put the bread in the liquid and started frying it.
‘Oh, it’s been ages since I had French toast,’ said Bethany, getting some plates out.
‘What’s French toast?’ I said.
‘You’ve never had French toast?’ said Larry. ‘Sit down and get ready.’
He finished cooking, and Max arrived with the maple syrup just in time. Larry put the French toast on the plates, poured plenty of syrup on top, and we started eating.
And wow, it was good.
‘How come my parents have never made this?’ I said. ‘They’ve been keeping a secret from me!’
‘What I want to know,’ said Max, with his mouth full, ‘is why you never told us you can cook, Larry.’
‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ he said, waving his hand awkwardly. ‘It’s the only thing I know how to make.’
We all jumped as Larry’s dad came into the room.
‘Morning, son,’ he said, going to hug Larry.
‘It’s 1pm,’ Larry muttered.
‘It is? Oh no! I missed your football match!’
Larry looked disappointed, but he still smiled at his dad. ‘It’s fine. It was over really quickly, anyway. Although you did miss me tackling some Catholic schoolboys.’
‘Oh, that sounds like fun,’ said his dad, sitting down next to us. ‘But don’t listen to what Larry was saying. He’s a great cook. Better than me, actually.’
Larry was… embarrassed? I had never seen him embarrassed before. He looked so awkward, going red like that.
But I didn’t understand. Why would he hide that from us?
‘Well, now we know your secret,’ said Bethany. ‘So you’ll have to cook more for us. Or we’ll tell everyone!’
‘Yeah,’ said Max, pouring more maple syrup onto his toast. ‘After half term, I want you to make my lunch every day.’
‘You don’t think it’s a bit… girly?’
Larry looked quickly at Bethany, and then away. Bethany made an ‘ugh’ sound, and Larry’s dad just laughed.
‘He always worries about that. But if you called any of the chefs at my job “girly”, they’d beat you up in a second.’
‘It’s really not a problem, Larry,’ I said. ‘You clearly enjoy it. So what’s the issue? Remember, you’re friends with Max.’
Max nodded. ‘Yeah, and I can’t eat video games. Although that would probably make you want to play them with me, huh?’
Larry smiled, going red again. ‘Thanks, guys. God, I’m having feelings. Don’t like that.’
We all had a laugh and went to wash up our plates. Then Max got a text from his mum.
‘I have to go,’ he said sadly. ‘Mum wants me to study.’
‘But we don’t have any exams coming up,’ said Bethany.
‘We have one in December, and that’s soon enough for her.’
‘But it’s half term!’ I said. ‘And don’t you usually meet up with people in Heroes of Forever on Saturday?’
Max’s eyes went dark. ‘I do. Usually. I don’t know how long that’s going to continue. God, I sound miserable, don’t I? Ignore me. Let’s go. Larry probably wants to talk to his dad.’
And it was true. As we were leaving, I heard Larry’s dad apologising about missing the football match. I did not want to be here for that conversation.
So we said goodbye, and I went home to pack for my family’s half term holiday—we were leaving early in the morning.
Larry’s French toast had made us all feel good, but I felt sad again as soon as I came through the door. I still felt so weird about everything. As I packed my suitcase, I wondered what I was doing with my life.
I had wanted to ignore all the adults telling me to think about the future, but I couldn’t stop myself now. Mr Burne had made me realise the future could be a lot darker than I thought.
END OF CHAPTER 10
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