Saturday, 4 May 2013

Excerpt from Game of Aeons: First chapter

Game of Aeons
1. McAfee's Poshe Emporium

The little brass chime tinkled gaily above the rickety wooden door as Robin Hargreaves pushed the door open and entered Mister McAfee's Poshe Emporium, a seedy looking second-hand shop off the high street. The paintwork had long since begun to yellow and peel off, and judging by the antique fittings, the layout of the shop had not been changed since it had first been established in some previous century. It was like entering through a time warp into some grey and dismal bygone era.

As he entered, a wizened old man behind the oak-topped counter laid his book face up to save his place and stood up expectantly.

“Yes, young sir? Mister McAfee, owner of the eponymous Poshe Emporium at your service. May I be of assistance to you?” the old man enquired in lilting tones, anxiously rubbing his hands together and then, as if catching this too-gleeful habit, quickly returning his arms to his sides.

“Thank you, I'm just browsing,” Robin smiled back, walking slowly around the shop to see whether any of the goods took his fancy.

He stopped for a moment, his attention caught by an ancient, top-loading washing machine, with a heavy pair of rollers mounted on top, along the back edge. Presumably they were designed to squeeze the water out of clothes when they'd been washed.

“Isn't she a beauty?”  Mister McAfee called out across the empty shop. “They don't make things like that anymore, young sir.”

Thank God they don't make contraptions like that anymore.

“Things were made to last in those days, you know. Over forty years old, bless her, and she's still going strong. Nowadays, gadgets have no user-servicable parts and are designed to fall apart or be quickly superseded.

“And if you're like me, suffering from arthritis and beginning to lose your grip, then the motorized rollers really are a Godsend. She'd be ideal if you were setting up your first bachelor apartment.”
Well, there really was no polite, diplomatic or dignified answer to that, and Robin wasn't sure how far the man's sense of humour might extend.

“Anyhow, were you looking for anything in particular, young sir?” the man prompted, venturing out from behind the antique, oak topped counter. “Somehow, you don't strike me as the domestic kind.”

Robin shrugged. “I'm just looking for something to occupy me when I come home from school and on an evening. My father thinks that it's high time that I took up a constructive hobby.”

“Well, reading is a pastime that you might enjoy now and which would also stand you in good stead in later years, if you don't mind me saying, young sir. We have a wide selection of used books at very reasonable prices,” Mister McAfee suggested, pointing to a wide, polished rosewood bookcase standing against the wall. There were a couple of wooden wedges jammed under the bottom at the front, most likely to stop the bookcase from toppling over on the bare wooden floor, which sagged a little here and there due to the sheer weight of the many goods on display. Perhaps the very foundations of the building had sunk and settled over the many decades?

Robin went over to the bookcase and, starting at the top left, he methodically scanned the titles on the spines, slowly working his way down to the bottom shelf. Needless to say, he recognized only a few of the authors' names. At one time he'd actually been quite an avid reader, but in the last couple of years he'd read almost nothing other than the web pages, blogs, news and status updates that he'd stumbled across online. One or two titles caught his eye and he pulled out the old cloth-bound books, had a look at the dust covers and read the blurb on the back; but, unimpressed, he returned the books to the shelves.

He turned away and was just going back to the counter to thank Mister McAfee, when he happened to see the book that the old man had been reading. Quite why he was drawn to the book, Robin couldn't say. He'd had these inner promptings since early childhood, and he'd learned to pay them at least a modicum of heed. Then again, perhaps he was just being nosey, he wondered, dismissing the thought.

Game – of – Aeons?” he enquired, struggling to spell out the title, since the cover was facing away from him. “What's that?”

Mister McAfee smiled. “It's a marvellous read, young sir. I'm sure that you would enjoy it. However, that's my own copy and I have yet to finish reading it myself.”

Robin looked crestfallen and was about to turn away when the old man spoke again. “Tell me, young sir, do you have a personal computer?”

“Yes,” Robin nodded. “It was my Dad's old PC. It's not very fast, though. And please don't call me 'young sir': my name's Robin.”

“Then bear with me for one moment, young Robin,” Mister McAfee replied, holding up a finger as if he'd been struck by a flash of inspiration from out of the blue, and he went behind the counter, stooped down and began to rummage about in some dilapidated cardboard boxes.

“Ah, yes, I thought it was here somewhere. I do believe that I have the very thing for a thoroughly modern and sophisticated young man like your good self.”

The old man pulled himself upright with an effort, mumbling something under his breath about his poor old back. Then he handed a plastic case to Robin and Robin ran his eyes over the cover. Now that was more like it. It was a computer game, based on the book of the same name.

Game of Aeons again,” he queried. “I haven't heard of that before.”

“The very same; based on the book, I'm told. It's worth more, but I can let you have it at the specially reduced price of £4.95,” Mister McAfee offered.

Of course what he hadn't told the old man was that his father was beginning to lose patience with him for spending so much time on his computer, playing games and surfing the internet, but he really was quite taken by the theme of the game.

Shall I, shan't I, he pondered, dithering for a few moments; torn between the prospect of a good game, on the one hand, and possibly incurring the wrath of his father, on the other.

“I'm sure that the game would suit you to a tee, young Robin.”

He shrugged. “Oh, go on then. You've twisted my arm, as my mother would say.”

Robin fished in his pockets and produced a handful of coins, which he proceeded to count. “Would you settle for £3.95 for the game? And I'll buy one of the 50p books I saw earlier.”

That way he could sneak the game into his bedroom and pretend that he'd bought the book to take up reading.

Mister McAfee stood there for a moment, scratching his chin and pondering.

Robin thought fast. “Or I could come back next Saturday, when I get my pocket money, and pay you the pound that I owe you?”

“Very well, £3.95 it is,” the old man nodded at length, taking the game from Robin whilst Robin went back to the shelves to find one of the novels he'd been looking at. “There we are, then. I'll just pop that in a bag for you. That'll be £4.45, if you please, Robin.

“You won't be disappointed by the novel, either. Robert A. Heinlein is the dean of science fiction writers, and as for the game: if it's anything at all like the book, I'm sure that it will usher in a whole new, eye-opening world of intrigue, skulduggery and delight for you. My word, yes. Once you become thoroughly engrossed in the work, you'll never see this world in the same light again ... ....”

You can get hold of Game of Aeons: A short novel by H.M. Forester from Amazon US, Amazon UK and their European web sites (ASIN: B00CGBMQWQ). You can also add the book at Goodreads.

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+

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