Thursday, April 12, 2012

Read the story and answer the question - improve your English

I don’t live far enough from the school. Ten minutes later, we were standing outside my home, and still he hadn’t told me what it was all about. I don’t think he distrusted me. I honestly think he just could not get the words out. He kept turning towards me, opening and shutting his mouth like a giant fish, with nothing coming out but air and a faint smell of onions. ‘What’s the problem, then?’ I asked at last. But this direct approach seemed to alarm him. ‘I dunno,’ he mumbled. We stood in the afternoon sunlight and looked at each other hopelessly.

‘Come in and have a coke?’ I suggested. He hesitated. ‘Don’t feel like meeting nobody,’ he said. ‘Not like this.’ He gestured towards his bruised face. I reassured him that my mother and father were both at work. Wouldn’t be back till gone six. I took him indoors, settled him into a chair in our kitchen and poured him a large coke. Then I sat opposite him, and waited.

He shifted uneasily. ‘It’s ….’ he began, with that strange frightened look in his eyes. ‘It’s ….’ He paused. I could almost hear the levers creaking in his head as he changed lines. ‘It’s me maths,’ he finished, looking at me fiercely, challenging me to call him a liar. ‘Can’t make it out.’ He plonked a book on the table, opening it at random. ‘All that,’ he said, waving a large hand, ‘don’t mean a thing.’
I was disappointed. I knew he didn’t really care a fig for his maths. But no one in their right mind would argue with Prince Kong, so I picked up the book and began to explain it to him. His eyes glazed. His mouth fell open and he sighed. I didn’t think he was listening. I bent my head over the book ….
Suddenly I heard the noise of his chair scraping on the tiled floor. I looked up and saw he had got to his feet. He looked …. different. There was a grim, determined look on his face. As I watched, he walked across the kitchen. Quickly. Firmly. With the air of someone who knew where he was going. Walked with his eyes open, slap bang into the wall! His damaged nose hit the painted plaster with a squelchy smack, leaving a smear of blood like jam. ‘Prince’! I cried in amazement. He staggered back, his hands to his bleeding face. I guided him to his chair. Gave him a clean tea-towel soaked in cold water. He pressed it to his nose. Above it, his eyes looked at me miserably, full of fear. ‘Shall I ring the doctor?’ I asked. He shook his head. ‘Is it your eyes?’ I thought perhaps he was suffering from some kind of intermittent blindness. But he shook his head again. ‘What is it? What’s the matter?’ He took the tea-towel from his face. It was patched with his blood. His nose was dark red and I could almost see it swelling before my eyes.

‘Prince, what’s the matter?’ I asked again.
‘You’ll laugh.”
‘I won’t!’ I protested, astonished he should think me so heartless.
It was then, at last, that he managed to get the words out.
‘I think I’ve swallowed a ghost.’
I stared at him.
‘Ghost,’ he repeated firmly, ‘G.H.O.S.T. Spirit. Spook.’

He looked at me suspiciously. A spasm of suppressed laughter was shaking me. I couldn’t help it. It was partly nerves, I think. I shut my mouth firmly and tried to make my face show nothing but sympathetic inquiry. ‘It wouldn’t have happened,’ he said gloomily, ‘if I’d kept me mouth shut.’
He told me he had been staying with his aunt and uncle in Bell Green during the holidays. One night, after supper, they’d got to talking about ghosts. ‘You know the way it is,’ he said. ‘Everybody knows someone who’s seen one.’ His aunt had told them there was a ghost in Bell Green. She hadn’t seen it herself, but lots of people had. When the moon was full, it came out of the river. White as mist, and drifted over the fields at night, howling.

‘Sheila, that’s me cousin, she laughed and said she bet that’s all it was. Mist and wind and moonlight. But auntie wouldn’t have  it. For one thing, she said it always come up at the same spot. By the bridge near the old timber mill. A man had drowned himself there once, years ago …. ‘’Most like fell in when he was drunk.’ I said, teasing her. She got quite cross. ‘Why don’t you go and see or yourselves,’ me uncle said, winking at me. ‘It’s a nice night for a walk.’ So they had gone out, Prince Kong and his cousin Sheila, strolling along the riverbank in the moonlight.
‘Dunno that we was bothering about the old ghost much,’ he said, with a sly smile, ‘but then we come to this bridge, and there was the old mill facing us on a bend in the river. ‘This must be the place,’ Sheila said, and we leaned on the parapet and looked down. Couldn’t make out nothing at first. Just sort of splinters of the moon in the water, and reeds, stiff and black like railings. Then we saw it. A bit of mist, thin as string, rising out of the river. Like a white worm it was, wriggling and squirming. Higher and higher it come till it was level with our faces, no more than a foot away. Then it sort of ballooned out into a face. A man’s face. I saw it with me own eyes! Not clear – more like when you’ve caught a right hook on your chin and you see things a bit hazy. Sheila grabbed hold of me arm, and I …. well, I sort of drew me breath in sharpish …. and swallowed him! Are you laughing?’ he demanded angrily. ‘No,’ I said quickly. ‘Go on.’ ‘He’d thinned out again, see, and he slipped down me throat like spaghetti. I could feel him all the way down. Cold. Like ice. It was horrible.’
‘What did you do?’ ‘Well, I tried to cough him up, but he wouldn’t come. Soon as I got back to auntie’s, I went to the bathroom, and stuck me finger down me throat. Sicked up all me supper down the bog. Waste of good food. It didn’t do no good. Frightened him, though,’ he said with grim satisfaction. ‘I could feel him scuttling about inside me like an ice cube on the run. Banging into me ribs, freezing me heart ….. He’s up here now,’ he said, tapping his head. He gave the ghost of a smile. ‘Plenty of room at the top. I’m not brainy like you.’
‘Does it hurt?’ I asked curiously.

‘Not hurt, exactly. It’s just cold. Terribly cold.’ He put his huge red hand on his head as if to warm it. ‘It’s numbing me brain. I wouldn’t mind so much if the silly beggar didn’t think he could still walk through walls and closed doors. Look at me dial! That’s our kitchen shelf. That’s our front door,’ he said, pointing to the various bruises on his face. ‘That’s a brick wall. And he’s done me nose five times. Six, counting your wall. Yesterday he walked me into a No. 210 bus. Lucky I wasn’t killed. I dunno what to do. Every time me mind goes blank, he does something daft. It’s got me beat.’
I no longer felt like laughing. He sat there, his great head bowed, his strong hands helpless on the table. ‘You mustn’t let your mind go blank, Prince,’ I said. ‘You must keep thinking all the time…’ ‘All the time?’ he repeated, looking at me with amazement. ‘Yes.’ He shook his head. ‘Couldn’t do it, Mike,’ he said decidedly. ‘Not all the time. Out of practice, see? More used to thinking with me hands and feet. Got a clever body, Dad says. ‘After all,’ he added defensively, ‘we can’t all have brains in the same place. No reason why they got to be in the head, is there?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it’s more usual.’
Anyway, what about when I go to sleep? Can’t go without sleep forever. Got you there.’ I had to admit it. We sat still, trying to think. I was supposed to be clever, but I have to confess I hadn’t an idea in my head. It was Prince Kong who thought of something first. ‘Hit me,’ he said suddenly.
‘Hit you?’

‘Yeah. Here.’ He jutted out his granite chin. ‘Might jolt him out, see?’ I hesitated. ‘Come on. Hit me.’ I clenched my fist. It looked as small and as fragile as a glass bead. We both inspected it dubiously. Prince shook his head. ‘Got small hands, haven’t you? I reckon the wall hit me harder than you could. Pity. Don’t want to bust your knuckles for nothing.’

‘Sorry.’ ‘Not your fault,’ he said kindly. We sat silently again, racking our brains. ‘This man, why did he drown himself?’ I asked. ‘Dunno. Auntie didn’t say. Don’t matter, does it?’ ‘I thought it might help if we knew something about him.’ Prince brightened. ‘Yeah. Study his form. Find out whether he favours the right or the left ….’ He looked despondent again. ‘Don’t see how it helps with a ghost, though.’

‘Does he walk every night?’
‘No. Full moon, auntie said.’
‘I wonder where he was the rest of the time.’
‘Dunno. Back in the river, I suppose.’ The river . . .
‘Bell Green is in Hertfordshire, isn’t it?’ I asked.
‘North of here?’
I pointed to the smear of blood on the wall. ‘That’s north,’ I said. He looked puzzled. ‘What are you getting at?’ ‘Perhaps he’s trying to get back to the river. Perhaps he just wants to go home. Look, let’s go there – it’s not far, is it? You could open your mouth over the water and let him out. It’s worth trying.’
He looked at me admiringly. ‘I said you was clever, Mike.’ I beamed. I really thought I was clever. You see, I didn’t really believe in the ghost. I’d stopped believing in ghosts when I was six. I thought it was all his imagination. Perhaps in his last fight he’d been hit too hard on his head and was still a bit punch drunk. That, and the moonlight and the mist. All I had to do, I thought, was to convince him I’d seen the ghost come out of his mouth and plop into the river ….. must get him to shut his eyes … throw a stone into the water to make a splash …. ‘Trust me, Prince,’ I said smugly. Fool that I was.

smack                 - a loud sound
intermittent          - happening repeatedly for short periods
howling               - making a long, loud cry
sly                      - cunning
parapet              - a low protective wall along the edge of a bridge
hazy                   - not clear
spaghetti            - a dish
bog                    - toilet
numbing             - making a part of your body unable to feel anything
daft                    - silly
dubiously           - doubtfully
reckon               - think
bust                   - break
despondent        - sad, without hope
plop                   - fall          

Answer the following questions:

1. Why was Prince Kong’s ‘problem’ not likely to be connected with his schoolwork?
2. What made it difficult for the narrator to discover Prince Kong’s problem?
3. What made the narrator think that Prince Kong was perhaps suffering from some kind of intermittent blindness?
4. What alarming explanation did Prince Kong give for his strange behaviour?
5. ‘Ghost,’ he repeated firmly, ‘G.H.O.S.T. Spirit. Spook.’ How did the narrator react to this information?
6. How did Prince Kong and Sheila discover the ghost?
7. What happened when Prince Kong drew in his breath ‘sharpish’?
8. How did Prince Kong use a list of objects to explain his facial injuries?
9. When was the ghost able to seize possession of Prince Kong’s mind?
10. Why did Prince Kong reject the idea of being hit on the chin?

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