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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Rex Zero, King of Nothing

Tim Wynne-Jones

Square Fish


From Rex Zero, King of Nothing


Armistice Day and the sun is shining! It's cold in my room at the top of the house but not cold enough to catch your death.

"I'm really worried about going to the service with Dad tomorrow," I said to Mum the night before, when she came to tuck me in.

"It's important for your father, Rex."

"Then why is he so crabby?"

"He always gets that way around now."

How can I explain to Dad that even though I've been practicing and practicing I'm not ready?

You see, I'm afraid I'll faint.

I'm sure I'll faint.

I climb out of bed and shiver until I've put on my robe and slippers. I look at myself in the mirror on the wall. Then I take a deep breath and hold it.

I watch the second hand on my bedside clock. After thirty seconds I'm dying, but I hold on. Forty seconds and I'm going to burst. Fifty-three seconds! But that's it. The best I can do. I stagger back to bed.

How will I ever hold my breath for two whole minutes?

That's what you have to do on Armistice Day if you go to the service up at the War Memorial. I saw it once on television. At exactly eleven o'clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, everybody at the service has to hold their breath for two minutes of silence. Even if you're only eleven and your father suddenly decides you've got to be a man and you're not ready.

I sit on my bed and try to think of an illness I can pretend to have that I haven't pretended to have recently.

That's when the caterwauling starts.

I tiptoe down the stairs to the second floor. It's Dad. I tiptoe along the hall to the staircase that leads to the main floor. My three older sisters are eavesdropping there.

Annie Oakley turns and glares at me.

"Shhhhhh," she whispers.

"Don't shhhhhh so loudly," says Letitia.

"God, you children are hopeless!" says Cassiopeia, the eldest.

We might end up having World War III right here on the stairs, but my father's voice interrupts the whispering war.

"Two-thirty?" he shouts. "Two-bloody-thirty-o'-bloody-o'clock?"

"Darling," says Mum.

"Don't darling me," says Dad. Then Rupert the Sausage starts to cry. He cries all the time. I lean way over the railing and I can just see him at the end of the hall in the kitchen in his high chair. My little sister, Flora Bella, is standing beside him. It looks as if she just poured orange juice on his head.

Dad marches out of the kitchen and down the hall. We skitter back up the stairs to the landing. He opens the door to his study, which is right at the bottom of the stairs. He doesn't notice us. He's dressed for the big event in a blazer with his war medals on it and a weird little soldier's cap I've never seen before. He shouts back down the hallway.

"Two-thirty! Is nothing sacred?" Then the study door slams shut behind him.

It's the day of the truce, but you wouldn't know it at our house.

Dad won't come out of his study and Mum is fuming, and it's all because they changed the ceremony up at the War Memorial to the afternoon.

"It's so people can go to church," Mum explains to us as she swabs up orange juice and tries to stop the Sausage from crying. "It's not usually on a Sunday."

"Yes it is," says Annie Oakley. "Every seven years it's on a Sunday."

"Well, I just wish Daddy would make us breakfast," says Cassiopeia. "Sunday is his day to make breakfast—the only day he makes breakfast."

"Oh, for God's sake, young lady," says Mum. "You're twenty years old. Make it yourself."

"No, it's the principle of the thing," says Cassiopeia. "He won't let us off the hook when we're in a bad mood."

"We could make breakfast together," says Letitia hopefully. "It would be fun."

Meanwhile, Annie has gone and got her bow and arrows from the front closet. She stomps past us toward the kitchen door. "Good idea," she says. "I'll go kill us a cat."

"Don't you dare!" says Mum.

"Okay, a squirrel," says Annie, and slams the back door behind her. It's ten o'clock on a Sunday morning and there have already been two slammed doors. This is getting interesting.