Last time on The Shadow Club…
We went to Spain! And had to see about five million cathedrals…
That was, until I got into an argument with my parents, because they’d taken away Willow’s Fighting Cats books. Finally, they bought her some Spanish translations, and we got to do fun things, like going shopping and eating nice food.
Er, we also tried bull fighting, but it wasn’t for us.
But the most exciting thing was when we got back to the hotel, and I had a message from Larry saying we’d gotten into the foundation programme. That’s right, we were going to go to a real football academy, and I could finally become a professional footballer!
But then, would I have time for The Shadow Club?
You can listen to the last episode of The Shadow Club at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Shadow11.
Oh, I hate making decisions!
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 12, The Elephant in the Room. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Shadow12. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Shadow12. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before and after it.
I’m going to keep the introduction short for today’s episode, because I actually have something to say after the episode. There is a reason I’m doing it afterwards. So, yeah.
I just want to remind you that in the UK, we usually use letter grades in schools—so these are A*, A, B, C, D and so on—when giving a mark to a student at the end of a year. Or at the end of an assignment.
However, now in the UK in secondary schools, they do number grades from 1 to 9, but when I was in school, it was letter grades, and in this story, it’s set in a time when they still used letter grades.
Also, coursework is written work that you do at home, so outside of school, that contributes to your final grade. So you do your exams, and then maybe the coursework makes up 20% of your grade, or something like that.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
The elephant in the room is a topic of conversation that everyone is thinking about, but nobody wants to talk about, because it will make some people upset. For example, if you go into work, and everyone knows that you went out on a date with your boss last night, that will probably be the elephant in the room—everyone wants to know what happened, but nobody will mention it because it would make you uncomfortable. We call it the elephant in the room, because elephants are very big animals that are hard to ignore.
When you assume something, you don’t know if it is true, but you think, ‘Well, it must be true, right?’ For example, if someone says to you, ‘I’m so busy looking after my kids,’ you might assume that they’re married. But maybe they aren’t married! They might be a single parent, so you can’t assume.
If someone is jealous of you, they want something that you have but they don’t have. For example, maybe you have a Playstation, and your friend wants a Playstation as well. They see you playing it and they feel really jealous. Why can’t they have a Playstation, too?
A knight is a person from the Middle Ages who worked for a lord or a king. Knights wear heavy armour, clothes that protect them, they ride horses, and they fight for their lord or king. Knights fight using swords and shields. Sometimes, there are big competitions called jousts where knights ride horses and fight with long weapons called lances. In fairy tales, a knight often comes and rescues princesses.
Step down means to give up a job or role that you had before. For example, if people find out that the boss of a company is going on dates with their employees, they might have to step down. Or maybe you decided to act in a play, but you realise you don’t have time for it, so you have to step down.
When you shake your head, you move your head from side to side. People shake their head to say ‘no’. Shaking your head is the opposite of nodding your head.
When you pretend, you do something but you don’t really do it. For example, if you pretend to eat, you don’t actually put the food in your mouth. If you pretend to drink, you don’t actually put the drink in your mouth. If you pretend to know something, you say, ‘Oh yes, I know that!’ but really you don’t.
A seagull is a horrible, nasty, fat white bird with a big mouth. Sorry, you can probably tell that I don’t like them. Seagulls usually live by the sea, but in the UK, you can find them in any big town with a lot of tourists. Seagulls are everywhere in my hometown, Bath, because they eat food that tourists drop or feed to them. This is how a seagull sounds: [seagull sound]. Horrible.
When a bird swoops, they fly very quickly downwards. If a seagull is hungry, and sees a piece of hamburger on the ground, it might swoop down to eat it. If you walk in front of the hamburger and the seagull is swooping too fast, it might hit you, instead. Ouch!
When you distract someone, you make them look at you so that they don’t pay attention to someone else, or something else. For example, you might have a friend at school who loves to distract you. You’re trying to pay attention in class, or do your homework, but they’re always distracting you with jokes or chatting to you.
And I’ll just remind you of the meaning of some words from previous episodes of The Shadow Club.
A foundation programme is a short course that a school or university has to prepare students for a longer course.
An academy is a type of school that specialises in one subject.
The Middle Ages were between the 5th and 15th centuries.
When you share a look with someone, you both look into each other’s eyes quickly.
When a situation is awkward, it is uncomfortable and embarrassing.
A loser is someone who is bad at life and has no friends.
When someone throws a ball at you, you should dodge so that it doesn’t hit you.
You swing a golf club to hit a golf ball.
Your chest is the part of your body between your head and your legs.
We say ‘apparently’ when we have heard that something is true.
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 all the crazy things I did in London recently, and my future plans to do a teaching qualification there. 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 patrons: Michaela Martinková, Celeste Lees, Giri Di Parole, Ádám Lóderer and Armin B.. Thank you so much. Your support really means a lot to me.
OK, so listen and enjoy!
The Shadow Club Chapter 12: The Elephant in the Room
Max didn’t get in. I couldn’t believe it. Of course, until we got back from Spain, I wasn’t sure if I’d actually gotten into the foundation programme. Max was away too, so we just assumed that we’d both gotten in. Larry had, and so had Bethany.
All of us made it onto the foundation programme except for Max.
I didn’t know what to say to him. That first day back at school was awful. He tried to look happy, to smile at us, ask us how our holidays were. But I could see the defeat in his eyes. He wasn’t good enough. He was worse than us. Bethany, who had never been part of our group before, had gotten in instead of him.
Max didn’t complain once. He didn’t say that any of us didn’t deserve to get in, he didn’t show he was jealous, and he didn’t say anything when we talked about football practice. But that only made it worse. Of course, the three of us wanted to talk about it. We were so excited! We wanted to talk about the academy, the information they sent us, our futures… I wanted to ask Bethany if she still didn’t think she could be a professional footballer, too.
But we didn’t say any of that. How could we?
We were so worried about Max that we didn’t even discuss the elephant in the room: how we would have time for The Shadow Club. The foundation programme started in January, and now it was November. Max couldn’t fight all the shadows by himself, and we couldn’t train Sanjeet in just two months. Actually, I wasn’t sure we could train Sanjeet at all.
A week later, we finally presented our history project. Thanks to Max and Bethany’s hard work, our project ended up really good, actually. We talked about how, in the Middle Ages, knights, kings and queens were like celebrities nowadays. People waited for hours to see them, and their clothes were the most amazing thing they’d seen in their lives. And they might only see them once or twice ever. Many of them would never see a king or queen.
‘Nowadays, anyone can be a celebrity,’ I said to the class. ‘Even Andy! If you work really hard, or know the right people, or you’re just lucky, you can become famous. But back then, that wasn’t possible. Knights, kings and queens grew up learning how to be famous. Other people could never become that. Maybe people were happier that way. If you knew you could never be famous, then you didn’t worry about it. But now, we’re all thinking about how we could become celebrities, how we could become rich.’
We finished our presentation and Mr Pearson gave us an A. I couldn’t believe it. An A! This was the best group project I’d ever done.
‘And when we do our coursework,’ said Bethany, ‘we can reuse a lot of the work we did.’
Huh, she was right. This working hard thing was pretty good!
But we weren’t all so happy about it. Max’s smiles were getting weaker and weaker. The rest of us had started talking and making jokes about the football academy. We couldn’t stop ourselves. The elephant in the room was just too big. It was clear that Max was miserable.
That Friday, as The Shadow Club ended, Max made an announcement. He packed away the board games as he spoke.
‘Next term, I’m going to step down as goalie.’
‘Wait, what?’ I cried. ‘Max, you can’t leave the team!’
‘No, I am. There can only be one goalie, right? As long as I’m goalkeeper, nobody else can be. And look, I know I’m never gonna be a professional footballer like you guys. That’s fine with me. Andy told me he wanted to try being goalie, so I spoke to Coach Barrett, and we agreed that I would step down.’
He said it all so simply, but I could tell he had been planning how to tell us all week.
‘Max, don’t do this,’ said Bethany. ‘We’re still your friends, right?’
Max looked up, surprised. Larry came and clapped him on the back.
‘Yeah, you’re our goalkeeper. We may be going to that football academy, but we’ll still be playing for Beechwood. We’re a team.’
As we had our conversation, Mr Burne was quietly packing up his things behind us. He said nothing, but he clearly found the situation a bit awkward.
‘No!’ said Max, shaking his head. ‘You don’t understand. I want to do this. Not just because I’ll have more time for Heroes of Forever. If you’re all busy at the academy, one of us has to deal with the sh—I mean, one of us has to stay and run The Shadow Club.’
We all looked at Mr Burne. He was clearly waiting for us to leave so he could lock the room. He sat down and pretended to read.
‘About that…’ said Bethany.
She looked at the floor.
‘We’ve been talking,’ said Larry.
‘Wait, you have?’ I said.
That was news to me. Larry and Bethany talking without any of us?
They shared an awkward look.
‘We didn’t mean to talk without you!’ said Bethany. ‘We were just walking the same way home the other day, so we talked. Obviously, The Shadow Club is super important. But right now, Ricky’s doing most of the work. And it won’t be any better if you’re doing all the work, Max.’
‘I’ll be the one with the time,’ he said coldly.
‘Yeah, but it doesn’t have to be like that,’ said Larry. ‘We’ll share the work. If we have to go to practice less, then we’ll do it.’
‘No way!’ said Max. ‘You worked so hard to get into that academy. And you’re saying you would miss sessions? Then you’d never get into the sixth form!’
‘Ricky’s the one who wants to be a professional,’ Bethany said. ‘Like, really. He’s the only one of us who really needs it. For me and Larry… Well, we’re not gonna say no to the opportunity, but there are more important things, right?’
‘Hey now,’ I said, ‘just because I have a dream doesn’t mean I can’t help you all out, I—’
Max was still holding one of the board games, and now he threw it down. It hit the table and the little wooden pieces went everywhere.
‘Stop pretending!’ he cried. ‘Stop pretending that everything isn’t going to change! It already has! You’re going to go to that academy, and you’re gonna make new friends, and football is going to become your life. You’re not gonna have time for your loser friend Max and his stupid video games. I get it, OK? Don’t make this harder than it already is.’
He pulled his bag onto his shoulder.
‘One of you take it home,’ he said, pointing to the game. ‘I’m leaving.’
He went out the room. Bethany started to follow him, but Larry shook his head.
‘Let him be alone for a bit. He needs time to realise how stupid he’s being.’
I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I didn’t really want to follow him myself. I didn’t know what to say. Because he was right, wasn’t he? I was following my dream and leaving him behind. I felt awful.
We packed away the board game and Mr Burne pushed us out of the room. But as we went through the playground to the school exit, I saw something.
‘Wait… Is that seagull black?’
It was flying high in the sky, but there was something about it that made me feel nervous.
‘It’s a shadow,’ said Larry. ‘Let’s follow it.’
We followed the bird outside the school. Mr Burne went to his car, but the bird continued along the road. Opposite the school, there was a small park, and I heard Max’s voice coming from it.
‘…stupid, STUPID. All you’re good at is numbers, get it? Mum was right.’
We found Max walking around near a tree, kicking it every time he passed. He hadn’t noticed us, and it would be awkward to say something.
But then the shadow attacked.
‘Max!’ I cried.
We jumped into action. The seagull swooped at Max, but he managed to dodge it just in time. We pulled our weapons out of our bags and ran into the park.
But of course, we couldn’t hit it. When I swung my golf club, it just flew out of the way, and Larry’s gloves and Bethany’s football boots were useless.
‘Max, you’ve got to hit it!’ I said.
But he wasn’t fighting. He was just running away from the bird. I went to his bag, pulled out the slingshot and threw it to him. He caught it and stared at it for a moment.
‘Why does it matter?’ he said. ‘Why should I keep fighting? Maybe we can never kill the shadows, Ricky.’
The seagull swooped again and aimed for his head. Larry ran and punched it away.
‘Come on, Max!’ said Larry, shaking him. ‘We need you.’
‘No, you don’t,’ said Max. ‘Leave me. Let it eat me like those rats ate Mr Burne.’
‘No way!’ said Bethany.
She picked up a rock and threw it at the seagull, trying to distract it. But she couldn’t actually hit it. Max was the only one of us who could actually hit it.
‘Max, you’re more important to me than football,’ I said.
Bethany had been hit in the arm, and she was bleeding. Bleeding? Since when did the shadows make people bleed?
‘Max, I’m serious!’ I said, grabbing his shoulders. ‘You’re my best friend. You always have been. If going to this football academy means I’ll lose you, then I don’t want to go.’
He shook his head like an angry horse. ‘Ricky, how can you say that? This is your dream!’
‘Some things are more important than dreams.’
‘No! If you don’t go after your dream, then I’ll always feel bad for you. I wouldn’t be able to look you in the face. I’m going to have to live a boring life, but you don’t have to, Ricky. You’re better than that!’
‘Guys!’ cried Larry. ‘We need help!’
I turned around. The seagull was moving as fast as lightning, swooping down again and again. Larry was bleeding from the head, and neither of them could hit it. Max stared up with his mouth open, like he couldn’t believe it.
‘Max, listen to me! Boring lives don’t exist. I thought they did. I thought kids like Sanjeet were just losers. I thought Bethany was annoying. I thought my sister was strange for reading those books all the time. I thought that if I didn’t become a professional footballer I didn’t matter. But it’s not true! We’re all important. Max, we need you.’
‘Ricky, look out!’ cried Bethany.
I turned and saw the seagull flying down at me, right at my face. It was too late to dodge. But at the last moment, Max pushed me out of the way. The seagull flew right into his chest.
‘Argh!’ he cried.
But he wasted no time. He took the slingshot off the ground, picked up a rock, and aimed. The seagull had hit his chest so hard that it was flying more slowly now, and he only needed one shot.
BAM. The rock hit the seagull shadow in the head, and the bird exploded into white lightning.
Max dropped the slingshot to the ground and fell forward. I caught him. He was bleeding. We all were, apart from me.
‘Ricky,’ he said quietly. ‘If you don’t want to be a professional footballer, then what is your dream?’
‘To protect the weak. That’s what we all want, isn’t it?’
The park fell quiet. But then, the sound of footsteps came from behind us.
I turned around to see Mr Burne walking into the park, his eyes open wide. I had completely forgotten he was there. And from the way he was looking at us, he had apparently seen everything.
‘They’re, they’re real.’
He closed his eyes and opened them several times, and then he looked at each of us.
‘My God. All this time, they were real.’
‘Mr Burne?’ said Bethany, walking slowly towards him. ‘What did you see?’
‘I saw it. Shadows, you call them? I, I had forgotten all about it, but…’
Me and Larry shared a look. I helped Max to his feet, and then we all went to Mr Burne.
‘Do you remember the ones that attacked you in the library?’ I said.
He shook his head. ‘The library? No, it was never in the library. It was under the bed. Oh, it’s been so long.’
‘Are you OK, Mr Burne?’ said Larry. ‘You’re all white. You should sit down.’
Mr Burne ignored him, staring at the ground. And then he looked right into my eyes.
‘I fought them, Ricky Marshall. Just like you do. And then I forgot.’
END OF SEASON ONE
I hope you enjoyed season one of The Shadow Club! It might be a bit of a surprise to find out that this was a season. I decided to do this a bit like a TV show, so there are going to be seasons. Um, they probably will all be 12 episodes, but I’m not really sure yet.
But don’t worry! This is not the end of The Shadow Club, just the end of season one. That means I’m going to take a little break from the story, but I will continue with regular episodes of Easy Stories in English, and season two of The Shadow Club will start next year in January.
But don’t worry, there will be a Christmas special, a special Christmas episode about The Shadow Club, so you won’t have to wait until the New Year to get a bit more of The Shadow Club.
Anyway, I would love to know all of your thoughts about season one, because this is very new. I’ve never done a long-running story for Easy Stories in English. So I want to know what you enjoyed about The Shadow Club, what you didn’t like, how easy it was to understand, if I spoke too quickly, your favourite character, if you want me to make T-shirts, and what you’re excited about for season two.
So I have made a little survey, a questionnaire, so that you can tell me all of your thoughts about season one. Go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/ShadowSurvey to give your thoughts, or just go to the transcript at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Shadow12. Go down to the bottom and you will find the link there.
Again, you can come and give all your thoughts and opinions at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/ShadowSurvey.
If you enjoyed the story and want to say thank you, you can buy me a coffee on Ko-Fi. Just go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com and click the orange button that says Buy me a coffee! Then you’ll be able to send me $3 so that I can buy a coffee, but really, I’ll probably get a bubble tea. And I’ll think of you while I drink it! Thank you for listening, and until next week.