Raven is six and she lives with Hank, who is her very best friend in the whole world (and any others she can imagine). Hank is big and blue and he has soft, fluffy fur. He wears glasses and he’s real smart and he’s wonderful to curl up with and nap when you get tired.
They live in a house with a great big garden that is sometimes an alien landscape instead. Raven has a treehouse in the big Chestnut that’s totally awesome and that only she and Hank are allowed in. NOBODY ELSE! She has a sign to that effect on the bottom of the ladder up to it.
Oh, and her parents live with them too.
Sometimes Raven isn’t Raven but other people. Actually, Raven is other people a lot. It’s fun. She gets to be the Amazing Superwoman Mystique, or Detective Darkholme, or sometimes she’s an evil villain. It’s important not to typecast yourself.
It helps that she’s got the biggest, best dressing up box ever. She has face paints as well which she’s getting really good at putting on by herself but sometimes Hank helps. (It usually looks better when Hank helps, actually. Despite his paws and claws he’s got a delicate touch)
Raven and Hank mainly play together alone because it’s more fun. There are other kids around in the neighbourhood but they can be a bit boring and they’re not good at following Raven when she goes to places like the searing hot planet of Shi’r or when the bushes in the back garden become a hideous din of iniquity that she has to fight her way out of.
(She’s not sure what iniquity is but it sounds sticky and you’d probably need a bath after dealing with it. She hates baths. So does Hank. ‘My fur gets wet and then I have to use the hairdryer and I go all puffy’ he says mournfully.)
Sometimes they do play with the other kids. She and Hank both agree that playing with Sean next door is the best fun because you can chase him around with water balloons and he screams really, really loud. Hank has a theory that they could get Sean to shatter glass if they corner him close enough to a window but the kid moves fast enough to fly sometimes so they haven’t managed it yet.
The Summers family lives on the other side and they have three boys but Gabriel is in High School and he’s mean and Scott is just boring.
Alex is ok but he sets fire to things a lot and Raven isn’t allowed to play with him.
She used to play with Angel who lives down the street but then there had been what her parents refer to as The Incident, where Raven had persuaded Angel to try out the wings she’d made out of tissue paper and pipe cleaners and lots of glue and Angel had broken her arm jumping off the porch roof.
So now Raven wasn’t allowed to play with her anymore either which she thought was really unfair because Angel was awesome at spitting and anyway, even if the wings hadn’t worked it wasn’t her fault. Hank was the one who had done the measurements.
‘Your calculations were wrong’ she told Hank but he just carried on sketching out his next design – a plane – and pretended he didn’t hear her.
They start collecting cardboard boxes to make the plane out of the next day.
The only other kid worth playing with in the street lives across from them and her Papa calls him, that weird Russian hippy kid.
Her Dad says, that isn’t fair and Papa says, come on, who calls their kid Azazel? I wouldn’t be surprised if he grows up to be a serial killer or something. Dad says, we named our daughter Raven, Erik and her Papa plays the ‘pretending to be deaf’ game. He’s almost as good as Hank at it.
Raven likes Azazel though. He’s a year older and he has cool, shiny black hair and a funny voice when he speaks. She tries to follow him around a lot but he was very good at vanishing.
Raven’s parents weren’t her parents when she was born. Hank didn’t know her then either. ‘You were kind of small and scrawny then’ he says ‘But you could shriek really loud. Sometimes you’d do it for so long you went blue’
‘Blue is a great colour to be’ Raven tells him and Hank beams. ‘Yes’ he says ‘It is’
Raven is adopted, which her Dad tells her meant that they wanted her very much and that they had chosen her especially out of loads of kids to be their little girl. (Her Papa mutters, was it too late for an exchange or refund and Dad stomps on his foot)
Raven says ‘When I grow up I’m going to adopt too’ and her Dad says, oh, that’s lovely… and Raven adds ‘I’m going to adopt a monkey that can swing about on things.’ and her Dad says, oh…
‘It’s going to be blue’ says Raven.
Her Papa says, that’s a very good idea. Then he says to Dad, what? Would you trust her with an actual baby?
Her Dad is something called a professor. Which means he goes off in the car most days to teach and comes back in the evening to complain about how stupid his students are.
Her Papa makes things out of metal in the studio at the back of the house that she’s not supposed to go into without him being there and sells them to people for lots of money. This means he stays at home with Raven and Hank and sometimes he’ll let them into the studio to look at the things he’s made.
The current thing has got spikes and twisty bits and it looks like it might be a metal alien. Or an octopus. Or a metal alien octopus. Raven quite likes it. Hank isn’t too sure. ‘Maybe if it was attacking a submarine’ he says.
‘Is that what you call art?’ she asks her Papa. He stares at the thing and twists his mouth up and says, do you know, Raven, I just can’t tell sometimes.
Sometimes her Papa is a bit weird.
Raven is artistic. That’s what her teachers and other adults often say when she shows them one of her drawings like the one where the giant flying robots are attacking the city and everyone’s running and screaming.
They say, ah. That’s very… artistic. It’s very… good.
Hank says that they don’t mean it sometimes. ‘I told you that you should have added a big robot shark shooting flames out of its mouth as well. That would have been artistic!’ Raven ignores him. Hank’s more about the science than art, anyway, so what would he know?
Raven likes making art. Sometimes she makes art out of metal like her Papa, though she’s learned not everyone appreciates it when she does.
‘It was calling to me!’ she argues with her Dad on the way back from the supermarket. ‘The muse wanted it!’
Her Dad says something rude about the muse and when they get back to the house he stalks inside and points a finger at her Papa. That’s another shop we’re banned from, he says angrily, these are your damn genes at play here!
She’s adopted, her Papa says, as a biology professor you should know genes don’t work like that.
Her dad says very loudly, YOURS FOUND A WAY!
‘I think it looked lovely’ Hank whispers to her after they’ve been sent up to their room. ‘The shopping trolley on its side and all the cans piled around it. I think it said something very deep about consumerism’
Even though he is better with science, sometimes Raven thinks Hank is the only one who appreciates her art.
Sometimes (she’s noticed it happens a lot after she’s done something artistic or inventive actually. Hank drew a chart to plot it) her parents go out in the evening for Adult Alone Time.
That means Raven and Hank get left with their arch-enemy, Emma the babysitter.
‘But Emma’s EVIL!!’ Raven wails as her parents get ready to go out. ‘She’s cold and evil and I think she can read minds! She’s probably plotting to destroy the world!’
Her Dad looks uncertain for a moment and Raven thinks he might be weakening. But then her Papa gives Dad a look and says, she decided she was a mountaineer today. She hammered nails into your bookcase as crampons.
So Raven gets shouted at and her parents go out anyway. Her and Hank have an emergency plotting session and come up with a brilliant plan to subdue Emma and tie her up and call for the police to help them but as soon as Emma walks in the door she narrows her eyes at them and says, don’t even think about it.
Raven knew she could read minds.
Sometimes Raven has nightmares and her Papa is always the best one at dealing with the monsters under the bed that keep threatening to eat her. Her Dad tries to talk to them and ask them to go away.
When he tries that Raven looks at him in horror as she and Hank lay huddled in each others arms and then she yells out ‘Papaaaa!’
Her Papa comes in with the big long poker from the living room fireplace and jabs it viciously under the bed several times. Then he asks her, did that get them all? and Raven can hear their dying screams so she nods happily.
Her Dad says, Erik… and her Papa tells him solemnly, cold iron, Charles. Bar nuking them from orbit it’s the only way to be sure.
He catches Raven’s thoughtful look and says, we’re not nuking them. They’d just mutate and grow.
Her Papa understands about monsters much better than her Dad.
Sometimes Raven makes up stories about things and writes them down. The ongoing saga of the Amazing Superwoman Mystique is her favourite because Mystique lives on a far away island called Genosha and she has adventures and fights battles with the mutants that live there.
Sometimes she reads them out in class and then usually the teacher calls her parents for a ‘chat’.
Her Dad gets angry and says, those teachers are stifling her literary imagination! and her Papa says dryly, one of her mutants has two maggots that live in his stomach and eat his sick, and her Dad says, ah…
Then he asks her if she writes about mutants that don’t have maggots living in them and Raven frowns and says ‘Well, there’s the one who has her bones sticking out of her skin, or the one who has radioactive snot?’ and her Dad pinches his nose and looks like he’s getting a headache.
And sometimes Raven and Hank just like being quiet.
It doesn’t happen very often. But sometimes it’s nice to just lie in the sun on a hot afternoon with your best friend.
Raven snuggles closer to Hank, who’s sprawled out flat on his back basking, and puts her head down on his soft tummy and sighs, content.
‘We’re going to be friends and have fun together always, aren’t we Hank?’ she says and Hank gives a growly purr and yawns, showing his sharp teeth. He puts a paw on her head.
‘Always’ he agrees.