In which Tom meets Sylvan
Tom was an ordinary lad. He lived in an ordinary house on an ordinary street with his ordinary sister and their ordinary Mum and Dad. His Dad, Brian, worked for a big bank. He wasn’t a cashier; he was higher up than that but not quite high enough to be a manager. Brian was in charge of mortgages. Tom’s mother, Jane, worked voluntarily for Oxfam two days a week. Other than that, she attended the WI on a Wednesday evening and, on a Saturday night, played Canasta with Brian, Linda and Gordon & Shelly and Kevin. Tom’s sister, Gillian, was doing her GCSEs and was on target to get 9 grade Bs. Tom, who was (and always will be) a little older, had just finished his first year A Levels, achieving all Bs in his mocks.
The day it all started was a Wednesday. Is there any day more ordinary than a Wednesday? Tom was due to go and see the career adviser. (This is someone who tells you what job you do not want to do for the rest of your life then sends you off to do it for two weeks, unpaid, just to make sure.) Now, one of the things Tom found frustrating in life is that because he is so ordinary, people didn’t always see him. If ever he was at a train station and he wanted to ask a question of the guard, he would have to tap them on the shoulder. If he stood and waited patiently, he wouldn’t be noticed at all. Well, on this Wednesday (ordinary) at 11 o’clock (ordinary) Tom knocked twice on the career adviser’s door. Knowing that whoever was inside wouldn’t pay attention to his knock, Tom went to sit on the seat outside the room and landed smack on the floor, bruising his bottom in a most un-ordinary way. Looking up, there was a man he had never seen before, holding the chair and looking down at him. Looking! At him! Straight into his eyes!
“What sort of rapscallion fraps upon a door then sits without waiting for a reply? Playing knock down ginger, were we? Badly, was it?”
Tom, flabbergasted, just spluttered in response, “I, er, me, sir? Are you talking to me?”
“Well, to whom else? You are my eleven o’clock, yes? No? Tom Osmond, yes, no?”
“Why, yes, Tom Osmond,” said Tom, still firmly on the confused side and with that, the chap turned upon his heels and cantered back into the office. After a pause that felt like an aeon, Tom stood and followed him inside.
“Sit, sit” said the man, handing Tom the chair he still had in his hand from outside. As Tom was working out where to put it, the small office already had a chair for him, a plate of Wagon Wheels was thrust under his nose.
“What are those?” asked Tom.
“Why, Wagon Wheels, of course” retorted Sylvan, for that was his name though Tom was yet to discover this. Tom looked from the plate to the yet to be named Sylvan and shrugged. “You mean to tell me you have never had a Wagon Wheel? What on earth does your mother serve you up at high tea?”
“Generally? A water biscuit, sometimes with a slice of cheese. She says that if Gilly or I ever get a grade A we can have something called a Di-gest-ive.”
“Well”, said Sylvan, “They did a better job than anyone could dream. I am Sylvan, by the way”
“What do you mean by that?” inquired Tom.
“Well, when I was born, my Mother quite fancied having a French baby so she named me Sylvan. Now it is how I am known, entirely by association, you understand.”
“No, stop it! You know what I mean!” said Tom, wondering whether this Sylvan was drunk or merely completely insane.
“Tom,” said Sylvan, suddenly becoming completely serious and focused, “I must be very honest with you. Do you know what day it is?”
“Quite and well stated but in this instance, a futile observation. Today, young Tomothy is the day before you enter your Seventh Year”.
Tom, still considering whether or not he was dreaming, argued: “No, I am in year 12. I should have been in year 11 but they missed me off the register when I came to the school and year 7 was full so they put me in year 8. Are you telling me I have to do year 7 as I missed it?”
“My, you do prattle on. I suppose that is to be expected. No, dear boy, you are about to enter your seventh year in age”.
“Again, I must…”
“Will you desist for one moment!” Sylvan fixed Tom with a steely glare. Tom resignedly nodded and signalled Sylvan to continue. “Tomorrow will be 156 days passed the 16th anniversary of the day of your birth.”
“Yes, plus 156 days”.
“Have you ever considered the mystical relevance of the number seven?”
“About as much as I contemplate the existence of mermaids and other some such mythical beasts,” replied Tom, giving up on any semblance of sense.
“Oh, by Ganesha’s broken tusk, if only your pre-setting wasn’t so crucial.”
“Aren’t you supposed to tell me to be an accountant, get me WEX in something unrelated like pottery then bid me farewell?”
“Work experience. Who are you?”
“Ordinarily I would reply Sylvan but I believe you already know that”.
“I think I should go find Mr Winkworth” said Tom, and with that, went to rise from his chair. Not like a hermit, meditating in full lotus but like a 16 year old boy going from standing to sitting. He didn’t get that far though as Sylvan also rose but in an utterly unnatural fashion. His arms, reaching up and out, glowed with a warm light emanating from under his skin. A bit like in the film Cocoon but without the swimming pool. Tom would have been grateful for the pool though as being immersed in water would have hidden the fact he had just wet himself.
“If you leave this room,” intoned Sylvan, his voice ringing like a marble baton on a gong, “You will die in 1001 days, your potential wasted, your life ending under the guise of the sham that you currently are and the end of the world as we know it will be on your, newly dead, shoulders.”
Tom, entirely bamboozled, opened his mouth to speak but all that came out was a word that if I typed, would mean I’d have to wash my fingers out with soap.
“There comes,” Sylvan continued, as he lowered to the ground and his voice returned to normal, “Once in each generation someone with a special ability. They are human, totally, but with the essence of one of the Six that made up The Father. This means they will excel at one thing. They tend to be bright in all areas but shine particularly in one. These people are all special but you, Tom, are particularly so.”
Tom sat in his chair, staring at Sylvan. Eventually, after a few minutes’ silence while Tom thought about what had been said, he looked at Sylvan.
“Right. Thanks for that, you complete mentalist. If it is ok with you, I am going to leave now. Nutter.”
This time as Tom actually tried to rise from the chair, he couldn’t. It was as if someone had invented a PVA glue that actually worked and had spread it all over the seat.
“I am sorry but I do need you to hear everything I have to say. I took the liberty of spreading a secret, super strong PVA all over your chair. Well, not ALL over it but you know what I mean.”
And with that, Sylvan told Tom the true story of mankind.
It just so happens that this Wednesday might turn out to be less ordinary than you, and most certainly Tom, initially thought.