Mo hovers tantalisingly between fantasy and reality, between horror and wonder. It describes how a young boy tries to find his way as family, friends, and strangers tug at his conscience with their conflicting demands. All the while a mysterious voice attempts to guide him.
S Pearce's enigmatic tale skilfully examines notions of identity in an unsettled world. Delving at times into the supernatural and at others into violent extremism, this intriguing and intelligent story can be seen as a modern day morality tale which will keep readers guessing throughout.
"a great read from start to finish."
"I couldn't put the book down! Exciting, intriguing and at times touching, this is a great read."
"a highly polished gem of a book."
"It is a well-told plot with fascinating characters."
"Not a story that is being told often enough, but should be."
"has much of value to say on the injustice and ignorance that drives certain individuals to extreme action."
"an unusual blend of powerful images, makes “Mo” a book I won’t forget any time soon."
"I loved the thrilling excitement from the very start!"
"Not what I expected, and wonderfully so."
"an exciting read that deftly plays with our expectations."
Does the ending leave you craving to find out more? Want to know what happened to Mo? Or what became of Old Moth or Runner? Well, before you wonder any more, please take time to think about what might have been going through Mo’s mind as he left for school that morning.
The tale ends this way for a reason. The frustration, anger, and feeling of emptiness that Mo might feel is meant in some way to find resonance in the reader’s reaction. Much like Daniel Libeskind’s intentions when he designed the empty spaces in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, in which the visitor is invited to consider the enormous sense of fear, isolation and neglect, so too does the ending of Mo attempt to recreate the void in Mo’s life and you, as the reader, are invited to reflect upon how he might fill it.
It is important, however, that we do not let ourselves be consumed by this sense of being abandoned. So I would like to invite you to contact me, and I can send you my thoughts about how the tale should end. You could even write an additional chapter, where you can work through Mo’s emotions and decide what he would, could, should have done. Exceptional entries might even be added to the paperback version for one month, where you will be able to order it and proudly show your work off to friends and family. Not only will you get an acknowledgement in the paperback version but you will, of course, have the satisfaction in completing the story as you see fit. Just email me your chapter, and I’ll be sure to respond. All entries will be featured on this website. I look forward to hearing from you!
“Go on! You’ll hit it this time.”
Egged on by his closest friend, Mo bent down to pick up one more stone. He found a small grey one, no bigger than a die, and turned it over and over in his hand. Deciding it was not fit for purpose, or perhaps suddenly drawn to the glint of a more promising one just in front of him, Mo discarded the dull stone and fetched the small shiny black rock.
“This is perfect,” he said proudly. Mo pulled back his arm and with all his might hurled the stone towards the garden which bordered the park. The two boys watched in anticipation, waiting, hoping, to hear a dull thud as the stone made contact with the felt roof of their target, a garden shed. But no. He missed.
Instead, their audible reward came in the form of a very angry shout from a very bearded man. The Moth Man. If the boys were being honest, teasing the Moth Man out of his house was in fact the ultimate aim of their stone-throwing exercise. The Moth Man - a grumpy old man, a mucky old man. A man who, for as long as the children could remember, had been skulking around his house and garden, shouting at the occasional passer-by who happened to be walking in the neighbouring park. He was a man who deserved to have stones thrown at his shed.
Mo gave his friend a jovial shove to throw him off balance, then yelled “Leg it!” Mo took advantage of his head start, and raced up the concrete path, laughing as hard as was possible while running at top speed. His friend soon caught up and they darted towards the field which ran alongside the park, hopped over a broken wire fence and took a well-trodden shortcut to their redbrick school at the top of the hill.
The two boys had quickly become friends since the start of the school year just a few days ago. They were in the same class and soon latched on to one another to help overcome the nerves which all the young children felt as they tried to find their way in the large high school. Neither of them gave the old man in his garden another thought until later in the day, when their English teacher produced an old local newspaper and declared that she would read them a story, the legend of the Moth Man.
The teacher explained to the class that the purpose of the exercise was to elicit fact from fiction, to be able to read a story and work out what truth, if any, lay within the story, what might be the result of people remembering events incorrectly, and what might be completely fabricated. She said this was particularly important at this time of the year, as they had just joined high school, and they would all be faced with greater challenges than they had previously known.
“High school.” She let the words hang in the air as a looming, daunting threat. “Here you will meet many people, many children, and you will be faced with many choices. You will need to decide what is the right path for you. Who will be your new friends, where you will sit in class, where you will hang out in the playground. Making choices, right from wrong, good from bad, what is true from what seems to be true, is what life here is all about. The story of the Moth Man will help you to develop these skills.”
Mo glanced at his friend. The Moth Man? He was just a silly old man who lived in a house by the park, wasn’t he? Why was he in a newspaper? Why was he called the Moth Man anyway? Mo was keen to hear the story.
“It was a cold wintry night in November,” began the teacher. “An old man from the village had passed away a few days before, and five gravediggers were hastily preparing the ground for the morning’s burial. They were cold, they were tired, and they wanted to go home.
To enliven the mood, or perhaps to defy the eerie setting, they took turns to tell one another ghost stories. But however captivating the story, they could not escape the unnatural chill in the air which clawed into their bodies. They removed the hard layer of topsoil and started shovelling out the softer dirt underneath. The heavy work warmed them, but the unearthly cold still penetrated their tiring bodies. Finally, they reached the required four feet depth, and sat down on nearby gravestones for a rest.”
She paused to check the class was listening and then continued.
“A rustling in the trees caused one of the men to look up. He gasped in fear as a shadowy figure leapt out of one tree and into another. Whispering to his colleagues, he bade them to glance up too. There was nothing there. Just the silhouette of the canopy against the bright moon. One of the men started filling plastic cups with steaming tea from his thermos flask. Then, bursting from the darkness above, swooped a monstrously large figure with huge wings and glowing red eyes which reflected in the bright glare of the moon. It hovered just over the grave they had dug and raised a long, thin arm, pointing at the men. The five men stumbled to their feet and bolted like cats scattered by a loud crash. The legend of the Moth Man was born.”
The teacher then proceeded to tell of various sightings of the Moth Man over the next few months. Over one hundred individual reports. Teenagers had seen it hovering above their car as they were parked for an illicit rendezvous, older couples had seen it as they sat in their conservatories, and even firemen had seen it after they had attended to a farmhouse blaze. It had been variously described as a “large bird with a human head”, as a “colossal creature with a twenty-foot wingspan”, as “something with red eyes”. But what all the witnesses agreed upon, was that it was only seen at night and during a cloudless sky when the moon shone brightly.
After it seemed established that the Moth Man was indeed terrorising the village, and that even some grainy photos supported his existence, the teacher then relayed counter evidence. She showed them photos of drones, of planes and of albino owls whose eyes reflected red in the moonlight.
“Owls really have wings that big?” asked Mo in amazement as he studied one particular photo.
“Maybe twenty feet is pushing it a bit, but certainly the biggest owls can have a wing span of up to six feet. Maybe when it’s dark, and there are already some stories spooking you out, then it’s understandable that people can lose their sense of proportion.”
She handed the pupils a drawing of the Moth Man to colour in, and pointed to a row of boxes at the front of the class. She instructed them to work in groups and to collect and evaluate the material from the boxes. After the class had looked at the sensational stories, the eye-witness accounts, the photos and the evidence of zoologists, some were convinced that the Moth Man was real, while others laughed it off. Mo was in two minds. It was at this point that he decided to ask the teacher about the strange man who lived next to the park.
“So why is there a man in our town who everyone calls the Moth Man? He doesn’t look like any of these pictures.”
“It’s a good question, Mo,” said the teacher. “He has been living here for years, and no-one really knows where he came from or what he does. There is talk that he keeps moths in a shed. People also say that he wanders the streets at night looking for children to eat,” she said, winking at the class, “but we all know not to believe everything we hear, right? People tend to fear him because they don’t know anything about him, and don’t do anything to get to know him better either. So the fear remains. An unwillingness to understand the unfamiliar often ends unhappily. Having said that, the fact is, he doesn’t cause anyone any harm and likes to keep himself to himself, so we should respect that, shouldn’t we?”
The class murmured a barely detectable “yes miss.”
“And this brings me neatly on to your homework. For your very first high school homework I am going to set you a project, so I can learn a bit more about all of you. I would like you to think of something particularly important to you. It could be something you own, a book, a holiday you have been on, a hobby, a family member. It really doesn’t matter what it is, so long as you tell me and the class about it and why it is so important to you. You can bring in anything you like to help with your presentation. But probably best check with me first before any of you start bringing in things which might cost me my job! They need to be ready for next week on Friday. Come and see me if you need any help.” And with that, the lesson was over.
On the way home the boys decided to stop in the park to enjoy the final hours of warmth from the evening sun. The park overlooked a small town which nestled between several hills. It was a market town and drew in many visitors from the neighbouring villages. Every day was busy in the town, apart from Wednesdays when the market square remained silent and all life and exuberance which normally bustled about the town evaporated. Even in the park, half way up the hill, the shouts of the market traders and droning of the traffic hummed and buzzed and mingled with the clicking insects and twittering birds to create a soothing murmur which could lull the weary walker, resting on one of the park benches, into a drowsy trance.
The two boys, however, paid no attention to their surroundings as they were fully immersed in a new app, Bug Blaster, which Mo’s friend had downloaded to his phone. It was described as “a wonderfully addictive game which will keep you blasting bothersome bugs as you progress through the levels to achieve ultimate Exterminator status. Use whatever means necessary to prevent one invasive swarm after another from destroying your land – shoot them, stamp on them, drive over them – just keep the pesky pests away from your precious resources! In app purchases required.”
With the phone’s volume cranked up to maximum, the blasts from the guns, the roar of the vehicles and the crack of the insects’ backs as they were unceremoniously stamped out of the game created an unnatural contrast to the gentler sounds permeating the park.
“Collect that stick!” urged Mo’s friend. “You can use it to hit the ones with hard shells.” Mo struggled to master the basics of the game. He moved his avatar to a golden box, and up popped a screen telling him that to open the box would cost £0.99.
“Don’t open it. My Dad will kill me if my bill’s too much.”
“But how can you get all the good stuff, then?” asked Mo.
“You just have to play longer. It’s a bit annoying, but you can still play the game. You can join a chat group anyway, and they give you loads of cheats.”
The game certainly was addictive, but Mo grew increasingly frustrated at the continual pop-ups, and after a while they abandoned the game to make their separate ways home. Mo had reached the entrance to the park when he realised that he had left his bag under the park bench, so turned back to fetch it. When he arrived at the bench he was surprised to find his bag was not under the bench after all. He was sure he had left it there. He searched around and wondered if he had left it in the school. His confusion steadily grew to panic as he thought about all the things that were in the bag: books, calculator, trainers, his stickers! Never mind £0.99 for a game, the items in his bag were worth a fortune, and his Dad would kill him if he had lost everything.
Mo became desperate at this thought. His Dad was really keen on him taking the eleven-plus grammar school exam, so he could change schools, and all of his notes were in his bag. Every day he had to study for at least an hour, and there was no way his Dad would forget. Mo did not even want to change schools – he had only just started this one. The prospect of having to start again somewhere new filled him with worry. But that worry was nothing compared to the fear that was welling up inside him now. He had to find that bag.
“Is this what you are looking for?”
Mo spun around. Standing in front of him and holding his bag was the Moth Man. Almost as described in the story, the man’s eyes were lurid and piercing. They were deep yellow and fixed with an unnatural intensity on the boy in front of him. Mo froze. All thought, all reason drained from his mind. It seemed as if time itself had stopped.
“I found it by the bench and thought to take it to the school, and then I looked around I saw you looking here, so guessed it must be yours. So, here you go.” The Moth Man held out the bag, which Mo took silently from him. The Moth Man’s voice was softer than Mo had expected. He had only ever heard him shout before, and to hear this man sound friendly, wise even, took Mo by surprise.
“I know you are the boy who threw the stones this morning. No, you do not need to worry. I’m not cross with you. In fact, I think you seem to be the angry one. For you did throw the stones, not me.” Mo was embarrassed by the old man’s reprimand, but at the same time mesmerised by the silky tones of his words. His voice rose and fell like the gentle hills which surrounded the town.
“I see you’re lost for words. It does not matter. Take your bag and go. But please, do not throw stones again.”
Grasping his bag as if it were the most precious thing he had ever owned, Mo took a few steps past the old man, glanced back at him, then ran out of the park as fast as his legs could carry him.