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the world in 1984

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Mum makes him promise not to talk about the monster hunting, so he only tells a few of his best friends at school. It doesn't matter because they don't believe him anyway. They say his mum's a girl and girls don't do that kind of thing, and how can he know what his dad does if his dad's never around, and anyway, monsters don't exist, and if they did then the police or Spiderman would take care of them, not normal people like Stuart's parents.

Mums and dads can't fight monsters, his friends tell him with confidence. They'd get hurt.


Lauren's been around on the shadowy edges of Stuart's life for as long as he can remember. It's only more recently that she's been moving into the light: picking him up from school when Mum's busy; sometimes staying for dinner or even the night. He likes her alright, but he doesn't understand where she fits into his life. The way Mum acts with her… it's not quite the same as with her other friends and coworkers.

Until one morning Lauren touches his forehead while she's brushing his hair, and in a flash of someone else's emotions, he starts to understand.


It's Mum's decision, but it's Lauren who convinces her. She says: don't do it for Roy, Martine; do it for Stuart. He needs this more than you know. Not necessarily in a 'boys need male role models' way. In a 'if you don't let them spend time together, he'll make up something worse to fill in the blanks' way. Mum sighs heavily and says: that's actually a good point. The kid deserves to see for himself why don't have anything to do with that man.

She picks up the phone, waits. Says: Lorrimer, we need to book a playdate.


Stuart hadn't pictured him with a moustache. He's also wearing a shiny coat and funny trousers that look like they'd be soft to touch. Mum frowns at him. "Bit overdressed for the zoo."

"There's no such thing as overdressed for anything, Martine. Besides, I wanted to make a good first impression." Roy hunkers down in front of Stuart and ruffles his hair. "Hello, my lad. What should I call you? Stu?"

"Just Stuart. Should I call you Dad?"

Roy looks up at Mum and raises his eyebrows. "Whatever you prefer, kiddo." Stuart decides to stick with calling him Roy for now.


They don't get kicked out until a zookeeper catches Roy trying to sneak Stuart into the Komodo dragon enclosure. Then they go to a nearby park instead, spend the afternoon studying the movements of pigeons.

Mum yells at Roy when she finds out what happened. She says what were you thinking? He says it's what my father did for me; it's what made me the man I am. She says I don't want my son to grow up like you, that's the last thing any sane parent wants. Roy gets quiet and says oh, okay, and leaves without saying goodbye.


Toy safari: he hides toys around his bedroom, then takes them out one by one with a rubber band. Each time he shoots one, he puts it on his bed, ready to be stuffed and mounted (even though most of them are already stuffed).

Normally Mum just frowns and asks him what's fun about killing things. But one night she sits down on the carpet with him, her voice soft and serious, and says: please listen to me, Stuart. Your father is a very, very unhappy man. And if he cared about you, he wouldn't want this for you either.


One night they're late coming home, and when Mum finally staggers through the front door, she's bleeding from her head. Lauren bandages her in the kitchen while Stuart listens anxiously from the stairs.

"Cambridge isn't safe right now. For every monster we kill, two more take its place. You have to take Stuart away until I can get this sorted out."

"I'm not going anywhere. You need me here to help you."

"Fair enough." Mum sighs. "Then he'll have to go to London."

"To stay with…? Do you really think he'll be any safer there?"

"We don't have a choice."


Professor Chesterfield and his wife are kind, if a little awkward. They both leave early every morning for their jobs -- she's a secretary, and he does the same thing Mum does, "only he manages to make it boring," according to Roy. Roy doesn't have a job, so he's free to look after Stuart all day. Mostly they visit fancy shops to try on the clothes, but they never buy anything. One day Professor Chesterfield gives them money to see Ghostbusters. Roy spends it on drinks instead, and passes the afternoon regaling Stuart with some funny ghostbusting stories of his own.


(Sometimes I wish you and Mum were married.) I know. But it was never going to work, Stuart. We wanted different things. (She said you cheated on her.) Yes, well. (Why didn't you want to be with her?) I did. (Then why did you cheat on her?) I don't know. It's difficult to say no sometimes, you know? You'll understand when you're older. (Do you and Mum still love each other?) Well, no. Your mother's got that there Lauren. (What about you? Do you have another girlfriend too?) … In a manner of speaking, yes. (Can I meet her?) … Probably not.


(Did your dad really make you fight Komodo dragons?) Lions, actually. (Wow. I can't believe you didn't get hurt.) Oh, I did. I was in the hospital for months! (Oh.) That was the best thing my father ever did for me. He taught me courage and pers-- per-- the other one, the one about not giving up. He didn't believe in making excuses for weakness. (That's what you were trying to do for me, that time at the zoo.) … Yes. But maybe your mother's right -- times have changed since I was a lad. And the hunter's life isn't for everyone.


He does okay at school, but he's not particularly good at anything. It makes sense, he thinks glumly. If your mum is clever for a living and your dad never finished secondary school, of course you'd come out somewhere in the middle.

He doesn't know what he wants to be when he grows up. He just knows he doesn't want to get stuck here, somewhere in the middle, just another ordinary person. Mum says he can do anything he sets his mind to, but he doesn't know how she'd take it if he said he wanted to be a ghostbuster.