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The theme this time was "Saying goodbye". The obvious approach is to have two people saying goodbye to each other, but the convenor asked us to try and think more widely. Perhaps you could say goodbye to something you lost through a robbery. Or maybe you could say goodbye to an idea that has always been important to you...

The Power of Goodbye

It was a dull afternoon at school, the last lesson at the end of an interminable day.

"Go on," encouraged Andrew, "Do it now. It’ll be great!"

Derek was dubious but he didn’t want to let his friend down. So he concentrated hard. "Hello eraser," he muttered. The words weren’t really necessary – he could apply his talent without them – but they helped to concentrate his thoughts where they were needed. He flexed the mental muscle that he liked to think of as the controller of his special skill. Across the classroom, the eraser that the teacher was using to clean the whiteboard disappeared from his hand and clattered onto Derek’s desk.

"Sir," cried Andrew, pretending outrage. "Why did you throw that at Derek? He wasn’t doing anything!"

The teacher looked nonplussed, as well he might. "I didn’t do it on purpose," he spluttered, "it must have slipped out of my hand."

"That’s quite a slip," said Andrew, full of false indignation. "It’s a long way from the whiteboard to Derek’s desk. You must have put an awful lot of muscle power into that slip."

"I’m sorry," said the teacher. "Derek, I apologise. I don’t know how it happened, but it was an accident. I didn’t throw it at you on purpose." He walked over to Derek’s desk. "Can I have it back, please?"

Wordlessly, Derek handed the eraser back to him. As the teacher returned to the whiteboard to continue rubbing out his scribblings Andrew whispered, "Do it again!"

"Hello, eraser," muttered Derek obediently. He flexed his mental muscle once more. Again the eraser vanished from the teacher’s grasp and crashed down in front of Derek.

The teacher sighed. "I don’t know what’s going on," he said, "but whatever it is, I’m not going to argue with it." He retrieved his eraser from Derek again and then said, "Let’s call it a day for now." He left the eraser by the whiteboard and walked out of the room."

"Well done, Derek," said Andrew triumphantly. "We get to go home twenty minutes early!"

Derek beamed, basking in the glow of his friend’s approval. Ever since Andrew had noticed Derek surreptitiously using his talent to refill his dinner plate one lunchtime in the school canteen, he’d appointed himself Derek’s best friend. Then he had cemented their friendship by coming up with clever ideas for Derek to do with his special power; ideas that made both their lives much more satisfying. Derek, who had no friends because everybody considered him far too weird to be seen in company with, was grateful for the attention and he was usually more than happy to fall in with Andrew’s plans.

They collected their backpacks from their lockers and left the school grounds. As they walked towards home, Andrew said, "I wish you’d teach me how to do the things that you do."

It wasn’t the first time he had asked that, and Derek was starting to run out of ways of answering the question. "I’ve told you before," he said testily, "I don’t know how I do it any more than you know how you manage to breathe in and out all the time. Breathing is just something we all do without thinking, even when we’re asleep. We can’t help ourselves. We can’t control it in any meaningful way. It’s just there.

"I can call things to me whenever I want to, and mostly they come. To me, doing that is as natural as breathing is to you. I’ve got what I think of as a mental muscle that controls it, in the same way that we’ve both got physical muscles that control our breathing. But I can’t teach you how to do what I do any more than you could teach a stone how to breathe."

Andrew shook his head, as unconvinced as always. "There has to be more to it than that," he said.

"There isn’t," said Derek. He turned abruptly and walked into the park. Andrew followed close behind. Deep piles of autumn leaves crunched in a very satisfying way beneath their feet as the boys stomped and shuffled, laughing and kicking the leaves all over everywhere.

Andrew glanced towards the statues that clustered around the war memorial at the centre of the park. A girl was standing there, stroking one of the stone lions. She noticed them, and waved hello. "Oh, look," said Andrew, waving back to her, "there’s your sister Julie. Why don’t you call all her clothes over to you so that I can see what she looks like naked?"

"Not a chance," protested Derek. "If I do that she’ll tear me into tiny pieces and feed me to the cat. You’ve never seen her when she’s angry and believe me, you really don’t want to."

"Can she do the thing that you do?" asked Andrew.

"No," said Derek. "But when you’re as big and as strong as she is, you don’t need any other special abilities." He shuddered at the thought.

"OK," said Andrew agreeably, "not Julie. Choose another girl. It doesn’t matter who. I’m not particular."

"Absolutely not," said Derek. "I’ve got three sisters, and they are all older, bigger and stronger than I am.  If they ever find out that I’m using my talent to embarrass girls for you, they’ll make my life a complete and utter misery. Girls always stick together. It’s a rule."

"Can’t you just use your powers to transport them away from you if they get too threatening and aggressive?" asked Andrew.

"I can call things to me," explained Derek, "but I can’t send them away from me. And I can’t do it with living things at all. I have my limits."

A dog ran past them heading towards the trees. It had a stick in its mouth and its tail was wagging.

"Hello dog," said Derek, flexing his mental muscle again. Absolutely nothing happened. "See?" he said. "It just doesn’t work with anything that’s alive." Then he concentrated and said, "Hello stick." The stick disappeared from the dog’s mouth and appeared in his hand. "Yuck," said Derek. "It’s all slimy!" The dog screeched to a halt, looking puzzled. Where had the stick gone? It stared around and spotted the stick in Derek’s hand. It raced towards him, foam dripping from its enormous fangs. Derek threw the stick away, high and wide. The dog changed direction and jumped. It caught the stick in mid-air, gave a muffled bark of satisfaction, and raced away, tail wagging again.

"Couldn’t you have got rid of the stick by saying ‘Goodbye stick’?" asked Andrew, "and then twitching your mental muscle in the opposite direction?"

"I don’t know," said Derek, intrigued. "And I’m really not at all sure what the opposite direction actually means. It’s not like I’m using a proper muscle, you know."

"I’m sure you only need a little bit of practice," said Andrew. "Try it with that soft drink can that’s sitting on the top of the rubbish bin over there."

Derek squinted at the rubbish bin. "Hello can," he said and the can was in his hand. Now for the acid test. "Goodbye can," he murmured and concentrated hard on his mental muscle. The can quivered slightly. Derek tried again. "Goodbye can." Quiver, twitch. This way… no. That way… twitch, quiver, twitch. One more time… Got it! The can was back in the rubbish bin. Derek released the breath that he hadn’t realised he had been holding. "Gosh!" he said, looking slightly bemused. "I didn’t know I could do that."

"Well done," said Andrew. "I knew you had it in you." He fumbled in his back pack and pulled out a water bottle. "Here," he said, "all that hard work must have made you thirsty."

Derek took the water bottle and shook it experimentally. "It’s empty," he said, giving it back.

"Can’t you fill it?" asked Andrew. "There’s a drinking fountain just over there. Why don’t you call some water from it?"

"I’ve got a better idea," said Derek. "Why don’t you just walk over there and fill the bottle yourself. It’s not very far away."

"No," said Andrew, grinning. "It’s a lot better if you do it."

"OK," said Derek, suddenly thinking of a cunning plan. "Hello water."

Several thousand litres of water from the holding tank beneath the fountain cascaded down over Andrew who spluttered and coughed at the sudden shock. "Oops!" said Derek, unconvincingly. "Slight miscalculation there." He grinned at Andrew who dripped furiously at him for a moment and then squelched over and handed him the water bottle.

"It’s full now," he said. "You can drink as much as you want."

Derek took a large swig of water and quenched his thirst. "Goodbye water," he said.

Andrew, suddenly dry, laughed out loud. "Cool!" he said. "Tell you what, let’s invite all three of your sisters to a picnic in the park. We can have a wet T-Shirt contest."

"No," said Derek firmly.

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