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Chapter 15, the denouement :
At ten forty-five on Tuesday morning, Luke and Joe climbed aboard the school minibus and grabbed two of the back seats. Tania and Isabel grabbed the other two.
“This should be good,” said Isabel.
“Yeah, I need to get something for my mum and something for my grandad,” Tania replied.
“Is that all?” Isabel was impressed, “I’ve still got to do all mine.”
The engine started.
“Okay everybody,” Thomas shouted from the front, “seatbelts on. Off we go!”
Luke and Joe pulled their lunch boxes out of their bags. Isabel laughed.
“We’ll be there in ten minutes,” she said, “you shouldn’t spoil your appetites – I bet there’ll be some delicious Christmas food at the market.”
“Nah, we’d rather eat now,” said Luke as he bit into his blueberry muffin.
Tania looked over at their lunches and it reminded her of something she’d been meaning to tell them.
“Thomas is a veggie.”
“Is he?” said Joe.
“I think so. I saw Mrs Tebbut offer him one of her homemade mince pies yesterday and he asked if they had vegetable suet in them. She said she wasn’t sure so he said no thank you.”
“He’s cool,” said Luke approvingly.
“Yeah,” Joe agreed, “it’s good he works in our class and dint stay with Ms Robinson.”
The Christmas market was really crowded. It stretched the whole length of Fish Street which had been closed to traffic. Mr Beardsley told everyone to make sure they were always in sight of himself or Thomas. They were not to go off anywhere by themselves.
There was a Christmas tree at the car park end of the street, huge and covered in twinkling white lights. Next to it the Salvation Army band played Christmas carols and the whole atmosphere was happy and festive. The first stall sold reindeer food at a pound a bag, for anyone who wanted to leave a treat for Santa’s friends on Christmas Eve.
At the second stall, if you weren’t short of cash, you could buy a hand-calved Buddha.
The third stall looked more fun – they were selling robots playing snooker. Luke thought he wanted one but forgot about it as soon as he saw the bird whistles on the next stall. He’d always wanted to be able to communicate with birds.
The fifth stall sold snake-length marshmallows; the sixth sold Turkish Delight; the seventh had models of owls and elephants in jars; the eighth sold rock crystal lamps; the ninth had reindeer-shaped planters. Before long the market lost its charm for two boys with no money.
“Let’s go over there,” Luke suggested, pointing to an empty bandstand on the lawn behind the stalls.
“Mr Beardsley said we’re s’posed to stay in sight,” said Joe.
“We will be,” Luke assured him, “we’ll be able to see everybody from up there.”
The boys squeezed between the chocolate scissors stall and the cannabis incense stall and climbed onto the raised platform of the bandstand. They sat comfortably with their feet dangling and tucked into their sandwiches while they watched the merry throng.
“This is good,” said Luke smiling, “I don’t mind shoppin’ if I don’t have to actually shop.”
By the time they’d finished their lunches their classmates were out of sight and Joe felt they should try to catch up. Luke disagreed.
“No, we might get lost. We should wait coz they’ll have to come back this way. Look, I can see the minibus from here.”
“That’s not our minibus. Ours doesn’t have a green stripe down the side.”
“Doesn’t it?” said Luke, a little thrown. “Oh, well, they’ll still have to come back this way. I think we should wait.”
They only had to wait for another quarter of an hour before they saw a couple of familiar faces. Tania and Isabel were hurrying across the lawn towards them.
“There you are!” said Isabel, gasping for breath.
“Luke! – You’ve got to come! They’re selling reindeer skins!” said Tania.
“And reindeer burgers!”
Luke and Joe, crestfallen, climbed down from the bandstand and followed the girls to the far end of Fish Street, where all the food stalls were. Luke was sad but not surprised to see what looked like hundreds of people eager to indulge in deep fried flesh foods, jostling to hold their positions in the queues.
“Say something!” Tania implored.
“What d’you want me to say?” Luke asked.
“Tell them they’re despicable to kill reindeer! Tell them it’s sick to sell reindeer burgers at Christmas!”
In addition to the stalls selling reindeer, there was one selling inferno cheddar (cheese laced with chillies); another was selling turkey sausages spiced with chilli and paprika; another was using a cute-looking model pig to sell pork scratchings.
“You can tell ’em that if you want,” Luke said, loud enough to be heard by anyone who wanted to listen, “an’ I agree with you, but it won’t do any good. Not while there’s so many stupid people who want to buy this stuff.”
“Who’s stupid?” said a large man in the spicy sausage queue.
“You lot,” said Luke unapologetically, “all you lot in these queues.”
“Is that right?” he said slowly, turning to face Luke with eyes narrowed.
Tania and Isabel blushed and took a step back. Joe looked at his feet. Luke didn’t move.
“Yeah,” said Luke, “Don’t you think it’s stupid to pay for somethin’ what’s killin’ the planet?”
A few more people turned to listen. Luke went on.
“Well, I call it stupid coz animal farmin’ kills the sea and the rainforests and makes more greenhouse gases than cars an’ planes an’ all transport put together!”
“Says who?” asked the man sceptically.
“Said the United Nations. Over ten years ago.” He paused briefly to let them absorb it before concluding. “Yeah, it’s pretty stupid to spend your money on killin’ the planet you live on. You’re killin’ yourselves. An’ your children. An’ your children’s children.”
Luke was surprised and disappointed to get almost no reaction to his shocking revelation, but he didn’t give up. He had more.
“An’ I should say it’s pretty stupid to let people starve coz you paid for their food to be given to seventy billion farm animals, just so you can eat meat an’ cheese. Yeah, anyone who pays for that is pretty stupid alright. And selfish.”
The large man laughed stupidly.
“But it tastes so good!” he scoffed and turned back to wait for his sausage.
In the silence before the conversational hubbub rose again, three or four people walked away from the food stalls. Luke turned back to Tania and Isabel.
“See, there’s no point tellin’ people they’re horrible for sellin’ horrible things. They don’t care. They’ll sell anythin’ if people’ll pay ’em for it. It’s the people what pay for it who make it happen. If they didn’t buy it, no one would sell it.”
The girls nodded. Isabel looked guiltily at the half-eaten bag of pork scratchings in her hand and quickly tossed it in the bin. All four children walked back to the bandstand to look out for the rest of their class returning to the minibus. When they were back in their seats on the bus, Tania made a declaration.
“I’m going to make an early new year’s resolution,” she paused for effect before announcing, “I’m going vegan!”
“Me too,” said Isabel, smiling.
Luke looked wonderingly at Joe. Joe nodded.
“D’you want to join our secret society?” they asked.
- “Good Spirit, your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life! I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
Christmas is just around the corner, for Luke as well. Join us tomorrow for the beginning of a Christmassy final chapter of the second Luke Walker book 😀
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