Last time on The Shadow Club…
Things were awkward between us and Mr Burne, the school librarian. I mean, we did bully him and then save him from a bunch of rat shadows, and then he shouted at us all about how rubbish his life is. Not something you normally do with your teacher.
Luckily, we had a football match to distract us, but it was way too easy. Those Catholic schoolboys from De La Salle were too scared of us to fight back, and we won like it was nothing.
After the match, we went to Larry’s and he cooked for us. Yeah, I know, Larry can cook! And he’s really good at it, too. I was actually feeling pretty great, until Max’s mum told him he had to come home to revise.
Is that all our life is now, school?
You can listen to the last episode of The Shadow Club at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Shadow10.
Definitely recommend it if you like hearing about Catholic schoolboys getting tackled!
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 eleven, Fighting Cats and Fighting Bulls. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Shadow11. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Shadow11. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So autumn is very much here in the United Kingdom, and that means two things: lots of wind and lots of rain.
I always forget how rainy autumn is in the UK because, I don’t know, I have a bad memory. Every year, summer comes around and it makes me forget about the horrible weather in autumn and winter, but right now, you look at the weather forecast for the week, and you just see rain, rain, rain, rain, rain… Although today, we have a bit of sunshine! So that’s nice.
One of my favourite things about autumn is that feeling and the sound you get when you walk on freshly-fallen leaves, you know? There are leaves on the ground and they’re all red and orange and you walk on them and they go crunch crunch crunch.
The problem is, in the UK it rains so much that those leaves are usually wet. So they don’t go crunch crunch crunch, they go squelch squelch, ’cause they’re all wet and horrible.
You might remember, I think I mentioned it in a previous episode, I now have a cold shower every day instead of a hot shower, and this has definitely gotten harder in the last week, because obviously it’s been getting colder so the water has been getting colder. And, yeah, it’s a challenge now, but I really appreciate the cold showers because they really wake me up and make me feel ready for the day, and, you know, I still feel comfortable going out into the cold.
I’ve always struggled with temperature, like, I’ve always found winter really difficult. Now I get this thing where physically I’m cold, like I feel like I’m cold, but I don’t feel too bad. I’m not shivering or shaking, and I’m definitely not wearing as many layers as I had to in the past. So that’s nice.
Before we start the story, I just want to remind you a bit about how the British school system works, because it comes up in this episode.
So primary school is a school you go to from the ages of 8 to 11.
You go to secondary school from the ages of 12 to 16.
And then finally you go to sixth form from the ages of 17 to 18. So sixth form is a two-year school that you go to before university.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
An echo is when a sound repeats many times. You get echoes in big rooms or caves. It’s fun to stand in an echoey place and say, ‘Hello! Hello. Hello…’
Apparently means ‘as far as I know’ or ‘it seems’. For example, maybe you heard from a friend that school is going to be closed tomorrow because someone burned all the teachers’ books, but you don’t know if it’s true because that friend often lies. So you say to your other friend, ‘Apparently, school is closed tomorrow, and apparently all the teachers’ books have been burnt. What do you think?’ And then your friend will probably tell you that it’s not true. Apparently, your other friend really is a liar.
When you have a copy of something, you have one version of it. For example, when you buy a book, you have a copy of that book. You don’t have the original book, but the copy you have is probably very similar to the original. Or you might download a copy of a song, buy a copy of a film and so on.
When two people share a look, they quickly look into each other’s eyes. Sharing a look is a form of non-verbal communication, communicating with your body and not with words. If you’re with a friend and you both see something really funny, you might share a look and then start laughing.
When you get the feeling that something is happening, you start to think that it is true. For example, if none of your friends are answering your messages, you might get the feeling that you did something wrong.
When something is an escape from something else, you can use that thing to stop thinking about the other thing. For example, many people find school or work stressful, so they might use food, drugs or alcohol as an escape. A healthier escape might be exercise or a hobby.
When you grit your teeth, you rub your teeth together from side to side. Gritting your teeth is very bad for them, and can cause your teeth to become flat. Usually, people grit their teeth when they are very angry, or in a lot of pain. Some people grit their teeth in their sleep without realising, and can damage them badly that way. If you say something through gritted teeth, then you talk like this.
When you are fluent in a language, you can talk that language easily without thinking. Many of you probably want to become fluent in English. Of course, ‘fluent’ is a very unclear word, because everyone talks at different levels in different situations.
Some schools and universities have foundation programmes. These are courses that you do before another course to prepare you for that course. For example, international students doing master’s degrees in the UK often do a foundation programme before to make sure that their English level is good enough. Foundation programmes can also be a good way to see if you really want to study the more serious course that comes after it.
An academy is a special type of school, where students specialise in one area. For example, a science academy teaches students a lot of science, as well as normal amounts of other subjects. In the UK, there are many football academies, where students practise lots of football in addition to their normal classes. People who want to become professional footballers often go to football academies.
And I’ll just remind you of the meaning of some words from previous episodes of The Shadow Club.
When you put your arms together because you’re angry, you cross your arms.
Awkward means uncomfortable or embarrassing.
If you do something way too quickly, you do it very quickly and it is bad.
When you take someone somewhere they don’t want to go, you might have to drag them, pull them.
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I’m recording this early, so I don’t know if there will be any new supporters by the time this episode comes out. But: thank you to everyone who’s currently supporting, and has supported in the past! Even if you’re only a patron for a short time, it really does help and means a lot to me.
OK, so listen and enjoy!
The Shadow Club Chapter 11: Fighting Cats and Fighting Bulls
Spain: sunny beaches, exciting cities and crazy bull fighting. A great holiday, right?
Wrong! Only my parents could make Spain boring. We weren’t eating churros for breakfast and having tomato fights in the street. No. We were walking around tiny villages in the middle of the mountains, going to cathedrals and museums.
‘I’m. So. BORED!’ I cried, as we entered the fifth cathedral of the week. My voice echoed around the building and lots of people turned to look.
‘Shh!’ said my mum.
‘If God didn’t want me to use my voice, he wouldn’t have given me one.’
My parents did not agree with me, apparently. They just told me to be quiet or go to the gift shop.
So I did.
‘Come on, Willow. Let’s go.’
We could at least buy some sweets the priests made or something. We weren’t going to have much conversation, though. Oh no. My sister apparently found this holiday even worse than me. She hadn’t said a word in days. Usually, we at least had some fun on holiday, but we were older now. She wasn’t the little kid running around anymore, and there was nothing I could do to make her happy.
‘What do you think, Sis? How about this book on… er? I don’t even know what this book’s about.’
Willow didn’t even look at it. She just sighed and went and sat on a chair in the corner. An old man started talking to her in Spanish but she ignored him, and finally he went away.
I looked around the gift shop for something she might like. There was a section with kids’ books in the corner, and I found one that had a cat on the cover.
‘Here you go,’ I said, giving her the book. ‘Los Gatos Luchadores. You like cats, right?’
Willow looked up at the word ‘cat’, and then her eyes grew wide.
She grabbed the book out of my hands and immediately started reading it. It was a Spanish translation of a Fighting Cats book, apparently.
‘Say, Willow, why didn’t you bring any of your books with you on holiday?’
I realised I hadn’t seen her carrying one all week. So that’s why she had been so quiet. But she always had one of them.
Willow ignored me, and I thought about it more. It didn’t make sense. I saw her reading the books in the school library. I even saw her fighting another student for the last copy of Happycat’s Big Adventure.
Then I realised something.
‘Willow, did Mum and Dad take away your books?’
Willow still didn’t hear me. It was like she had fallen into the world of Los Gatos Luchadores. I had to know the answer.
I walked into the church, finding my parents talking to one of the priests.
‘Oi,’ I said, not caring how much my voice echoed. ‘Did you take Willow’s books away?’
Mum and Dad shared a look, and then Mum spoke.
‘Keep your voice down, Ricky. We just took them away for a bit. We were worried she’s spending too much time reading.’
I looked at my Dad. He was staring at the floor, and I got the feeling he didn’t agree with Mum.
‘Reading too much? You’re always telling me to read more!’
‘She doesn’t have any friends anymore,’ said Mum. ‘They all stopped talking to her.’
‘So they’re nasty people. Reading books is a great escape from all that.’
‘That’s what I said,’ Dad said quietly.
Mum crossed her arms. ‘Anything can be bad if you do too much of it.’
‘Like going to cathedrals?’
The priest was standing awkwardly beside us, not sure whether to go or stay.
‘This is a great opportunity to learn about history, and other cultures.’
‘You can learn all those things by reading!’
‘Not by reading stupid books about cats!’
Now it was Mum’s voice echoing around the room. I heard a sound behind me, and I turned to find Willow standing there. She was still holding Los Gatos Luchadores.
‘You think my books are stupid?’
Everyone was looking at us now. Mum uncrossed her arms and opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
‘Of course we don’t, sweetheart,’ said Dad.
He came and put his arm around Willow, but she pushed him away. She was staring at Mum.
A horrible, cold feeling filled the room. I looked around, and I thought I saw something moving in the shadows.
‘I just think,’ Mum finally said, ‘if you’re going to spend time reading, you might want to read something more… suitable for your age. What book have you got there?’
‘A stupid book about cats,’ said Willow, through gritted teeth.
My body felt cold. Willow had never spoken to Mum and Dad like this. I looked again in the shadows. I saw two white dots—eyes of some small creature. A cat shadow? I had to do something.
‘Listen, let’s not have this argument here.’
I walked over and took Los Gatos Luchadores out of Willow’s hand.
‘I’ll buy this for you, yeah? It’s an early birthday present.’
I took Willow back into the gift shop, and luckily, the shadow didn’t follow. Mum and Dad finally came with us, arguing quietly between themselves as I bought the book. I checked to make sure the shadow was gone before we left, but all I saw were priests and tourists.
The next day, Dad announced that we were going shopping. We drove to the nearest big city, and the first shop we went to was a bookstore. Mum and Dad bought Willow ten Spanish Fighting Cats books—she’d already finished the first one overnight.
‘I don’t understand. I thought you hated Spanish class.’
‘Pero es diferente. It’s Fighting Cats. And I know what happens in all the books. It’s easy.’
‘Hah! By the time we go home, you’ll be fluent.’
After that, we went clothes shopping, and I got a nice football shirt. Dad disappeared for a bit to go talk to some strange-looking men, and when he came back he was holding four tickets in his hands.
‘Tonight, we’re going to see a bull fight!’
‘Yes!’ I said, punching the air. ‘Now that’s more like it!’
‘Can I read while we watch?’ Willow asked quietly.
Dad and Mum shared another look, but Mum sighed and said, ‘Of course you can, dear.’
So that evening, we went down to the stadium. I was so excited. A bull fight! What could be cooler? OK, so maybe that sounds strange coming from someone who regularly fights monsters. But watching someone else do it is much more relaxing.
At least, I thought it would be, until it started. But when I saw the way they acted towards the bull, I didn’t like it. It was like a cat playing with a mouse. Several times the bull even ran into the wall, and people cheered. I looked up, and Mum and Dad also didn’t look so happy. Willow was fine, but that was because she had her head in Los Gatos Luchadores.
‘Let’s go,’ said Dad.
‘Oh, it’s over?’ said Willow as we got up.
‘No,’ said Mum, ‘but I think there are better ways to spend an evening.’
We walked back to our hotel, and got churros on the way. That was finally something other than books that Willow was interested in. She finished her chocolate sauce way too quickly, and then tried to steal mine when I wasn’t looking. I didn’t let her take any of it. Then we walked past some kids playing football outside, and Mum pointed.
‘You used to be like that, Ricky,’ she said. ‘You wanted to play all night, and we had to drag you to bed.’
‘Now you just stay up late playing FIFA,’ said Dad.
‘Not true!’ I said. ‘I stay up all night doing homework. You didn’t know?’
Actually, recently I’d been going to bed on time a lot. The Shadow Club had me stressed out, and I wanted to have energy in case anything happened. Besides, professional footballers looked after their health, and I was going to be a professional footballer, wasn’t I?
When we got back to the hotel room, I checked my phone and saw a text message.
‘Oh, it’s Larry,’ I said.
Have you got the letter? was all his message said.
What letter? I asked.
Oh right, you’re in Spain. We got onto the foundation programme!
The programme? It took me a moment to understand what he meant, and then I dropped my phone and jumped in the air.
‘We got onto the programme!’ I shouted.
‘Keep it down, Ricky!’ said Mum. ‘What programme?’
‘Remember all those months ago? We applied for the foundation programme at that football academy, the sixth form.’
I had always wanted to go to a football academy, but they were so expensive. There was one in London that offered a foundation programme, though. You went to the school several times a week to practise and meet the teachers, and if your skills improved enough, they would pay for your fees in sixth form.
But only a few people got accepted onto the foundation programme each year, and most of them wouldn’t get to stay there for sixth form. But I wasn’t just anyone. I was Ricky Marshall, and soon I would be a professional footballer!
I started dancing around the room, which didn’t make Dad happy, as he was trying to sleep.
‘Those poor bulls…’ he mumbled to himself as he lay in bed.
‘Forget the bulls!’ I said. ‘This is amazing! This means I’ll get real training, this means I’ll meet real footballers, this means—’
It meant I would be travelling to London several times a week. It meant I would be doing extra practice sessions on the weekend. It meant football would become my life.
It meant I would have no time for The Shadow Club.
I fell onto my bed and stared at the ceiling.
‘I’m so glad to hear, Ricky,’ said Mum.
She didn’t sound glad. I couldn’t blame her. The school was an hour away from us by train, and they’d either have to take me or let me travel alone, which they probably weren’t happy about. And they’d need to buy me extra equipment and sports kit and stuff.
Suddenly all of it hit me. This wasn’t some easy decision to make. This was my life. If I went to this academy, that would be it. I would be focussed on football for years. I wouldn’t have time for my friends, and I definitely wouldn’t have time to go around fighting shadows.
I had been so happy when I got the message, but now my happiness had turned into fear.
‘Ricky?’ said Mum.
I looked at her.
‘You do want to go, don’t you? Football is your dream.’
‘Y-yeah, of course,’ I said. ‘Of course I want to go. This is what I’ve been waiting for! And I can’t leave Larry to go on his own, can I? I should find out if Max and Bethany got in.’
I pushed the fear away and went to send them a text. There was still time, right? I was just surprised by it all. In a few days, I’d be feeling great. Those churros were probably just bad or something.
Who said I couldn’t play football and fight shadows? I was Ricky Marshall, protector of the weak. I could do it!
I had to do it.
END OF CHAPTER 11
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