Charlie Brown had grown up normally-with his aunt and uncle and little sister, Sally. He went to school normally, he did his homework normally and he played baseball normally. The only thing out of the ordinary in Charlie Brown's life was his dog, Snoopy, who would get up to mischief quite a lot, especially when he pretended to be the World War I Flying Ace, or when the neighbour's cat, World War II, was terrorising him.
And one morning, Charlie Brown lay awake in his bed thinking about his strange dog, soon to be disturbed by his Aunt Pat.
"Charlie!" She shouted. "Get up now!
Charlie Brown sat bolt upright and slid out of bed to look for some clothes to wear.
"Charlie, are you up yet?" She asked.
"Mm. Yeah-nearly!" Charlie Brown replied. He walked over to his dresser and took out a yellow t-shirt with a black zig-zag on it.
"Well hurry up!" She demanded as Charlie Brown slipped the t-shirt over his head. "It's Sally's birthday."
Charlie Brown froze. He'd forgotten all about his little sister's birthday. He groaned as he pulled on a pair of socks and headed downstairs. He walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. When he got there, he could hardly believe his eyes-he couldn't see the kitchen table for all of Sally's presents.
"Look at all my presents, Big Brother!" Sally announced cheerily.
"Finally!" Aunt Pat rolled her eyes. "It's about time you got up."
"Leave the boy alone, Pat." Uncle Neil said as he entered the kitchen. "It's only 9. We have plenty of time to get to the zoo."
"I know. I just want things to run smoothly." Aunt Pat sighed.
"I promise, I'm not going to do anything today, Aunt Pat..." Charlie Brown said.
"No, Charlie. It's Sally's day." Aunt Pat said. "I don't want you worrying about anything other than having fun with your sister."
But the truth was that Charlie Brown was indeed worried. Strange things had a way of happening around him.
Once, Uncle Neil had found an old sweater of his and tried to encourage Charlie Brown to wear it. However, Charlie Brown was dreading doing so. As he pulled the sweater over his head, the sweater got smaller and smaller until it wouldn't fit him. Uncle Neil simply shrugged it off as the sweater has shrunk in the wash. Aunt Pat, however, wasn't so convinced.
Another time, Charlie Brown got into deep trouble at school because he was found on the roof by the janitor. He had a letter sent home from school and a detention and everything-he was being chased by bullies and wished he was anywhere else, when suddenly he found himself on the roof.
And then there was the time where Charlie Brown was being bullied-again-and the bully suddenly found himself in nothing but his briefs. Nobody could explain that one-not even Charlie Brown.
"Okay Aunt Pat. Uncle Neil." Charlie Brown said with a nod.
"Oh Big Brother we're going to go to the zoo!" Sally clapped her hands in delight.
"Okay, kids-breakfast's ready!" Aunt Pat announced.
"Where do we put it?" Charlie Brown asked, as Aunt Pat and Uncle Neil came up to them, carrying their breakfasts.
"Oh um... I suppose you can sit on the couch and eat it off your laps." Uncle Neil suggested.
"But only because it's Sally's big day!" Aunt Pat added. "10 years have gone by so fast."
"That they have, Pat." Uncle Neil agreed. "Now come on, into the living room." He said, trying to usher the kids into the next room.
"Do you think I'll get a letter from Mom and Dad today?" Sally asked as she bounced up and down, earning a sigh from Charlie Brown.
"Maybe you will, but the post will come when we're all in the zoo." Aunt Pat said.
"Oh boy!" Sally exclaimed. "I can't wait!"
Charlie Brown sat down and began to eat his breakfast-eggs on toast with bacon as his aunt turned on the news.
'... Clear skies, meaning that this heatwave is set to continue on for at least a few more days.'
"Oh, Neil, I don't know how much more of this heat I can take."
"You heard the weather, it's only going to be a few more days."
"Well, I like that I have a warm birthday." Sally said smugly as the BBC News theme music played. "It's better than it being raining and dark and cold."
"Victoria Derbyshire." Aunt Pat frowned slightly. "Turn it over to ITV."
"You sure you want to watch Lorraine?" Uncle Neil asked. "And then Jeremy Kyle?"
"Sky News then. Any other news channel."
"Kay Burley's fine.
"... And in other news, Justin Bieber was arrested in France in the early hours of the morning."
"Never liked his music anyway." Aunt Pat put a forkful of egg in her mouth.
"No! Not Justin Bieber!" Sally wailed.
"... On his latest world tour. He was arrested for driving under the influence as well as possession of illegal narcotics."
"Guy must be troubled." Uncle Neil rolled his eyes. "Just like that Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan."
"Oh hush, Neil." Aunt Pat scoffed.
"Just a bit of breaking news now, Sky News believes that several people have been killed in a car bombing in the Syrian capital of Damascus..."
"Why does all the bad things have to happen on my birthday?" Sally wailed.
With that, Uncle Neil turned the TV off. "Well, we're going to the zoo once you've finished your breakfasts, so hurry up." He said, putting the last forkful of food in his mouth.
"It's Sally. She's such a slow eater." Charlie Brown grunted.
"Now, Charlie, be nice." Aunt Pat warned.
"Yeah, Big Brother, be nice!" Sally huffed.
And so Charlie Brown sat on the sofa with a plate on his lap, staring at the blank screen of the television as Sally slowly ate her meal.
"I wonder where Mom and Dad are in the world now?" Sally smiled happily at the thought. Charlie Brown, however, was filled with dread as his heart sank.
"I don't know, Sally. They could be anywhere." Charlie Brown sighed.
For the past ten years, the Brown children had been told that their parents were travelling the world, but only every so often would they get postcards. From Japan, Mexico, Norway-even Antarctica. Charlie Brown wondered why their parents wouldn't even bother to make a video call-and that was when he figured out that their parents had abandoned them. They didn't want their own children, so they dumped them with their aunt and uncle. He'd also figured out some time ago that the handwriting on the postcards matched that of Mrs Figg-the mad old lady who lived two streets away. Maybe their parents really were travelling the world, but the one thing Charlie Brown was certain of was that they hadn't wanted himself or Sally. But they had a good life with their aunt and uncle at least.
Except for the times Uncle Neil and Aunt Pat went on their holidays and he and Sally were left behind with old Mrs Figg, whose whole house smelled of cabbage, as she forced them to look at photos of every single cat she'd ever owned. Charlie Brown shuddered when he thought of having to look at the photos of Tibbles, Snowy, Mr Paws and Tufty. In his and Sally's eyes, there wasn't a crueler form of torture imaginable.
But today fortunately wasn't going to be one of those days. Today, Charlie Brown was going to the zoo and nothing was going to go wrong-especially not one of his unexplained tricks. And after Sally had finished her breakfast, the Browns piled into the family car and set off to the zoo.
"Kids on motorbikes, roaring around like maniacs-the young hoodlums." Charlie Brown overheard Uncle Neil complaining as a motorbike overtook them. "You can just tell it isn't going to end well. I hate motorbikes, Pat, I hate them."
"I had a dream about a motorbike last night." Charlie Brown said, suddenly. "It was flying."
Aunt Pat let out a gasp and Uncle Neil nearly crashed into the car in front. They both exchanged glances and to salvage Sally's birthday, Uncle Neil said, "Now, Charlie, motorbikes don't fly."
"Yeah, Big Brother." Sally sniggered.
"I know they don't. It was only a dream." Charlie Brown folded his arms in embarrassment, wishing he hadn't said anything. If there was one thing his aunt and uncle seemed to hate more than his failures, it was his talking about things acting in a way it shouldn't, no matter if it was in a dream or even in a cartoon, they'd talk him down as if he would somehow get dangerous ideas from it. Even though Charlie Brown knew how things were supposed to act. It made Charlie Brown wonder if they know about all the weird things happening around him and in some out of conspiracy theorist way, what it was and why it was happening.
It was a sunny Saturday and the zoo was crowded with families. Both Charlie Brown and Sally had got an ice cream at the entrance. Charlie Brown had chosen a cheap-but not bad tasting-strawberry ice lolly, while Sally went for the more expensive option of double vanilla soft serve with two flakes, raspberry sauce and sprinkles. Charlie Brown could almost feel the pain in Uncle Neil's wallet when he had to hand over the money for that. It was definitely the best morning Charlie Brown had had in a long time, but it wasn't so great for Uncle Neil's wallet.
At lunchtime, the Browns ate in the zoo restaurant.
"And did you see the gorillas?" Sally asked excitedly. "They were really cool! One of them looked just like Uncle Neil!"
Both kids then got a second ice cream and again, Sally chose the more expensive option. Charlie Brown could see Uncle Neil looking like he was about to cry.
After lunch, they went to the reptile house, which was cool and dark with lit windows along the walls. They all walked around looking at the different lizards and snakes in the different exhibits. That's where Charlie Brown's good day ended. Because at the exhibit for the biggest and most dangerous snake in the zoo, stood two of Charlie Brown's worst bullies-Joe Agate and Thibault.
"Come on!" Yelled Joe as Thibault knocked on the glass. "Move!"
Charlie Brown turned to his aunt, uncle and sister, but they weren't there. He froze, afraid of being in the same vicinity as Joe and Thibault alone.
"This is boring." Joe huffed and he and Thibault went off to-presumably-accost another zoo exhibit. Charlie Brown moved over to the tank as it was at the back of the room, he could better look out for his family. Instead, he surprised himself by looking the snake over. He wouldn't have been surprised if the snake had itself died of boredom, especially if its only company was the likes of Thibault and Joe Agate, just harassing it all day long. Not that Charlie Brown wasn't harassed, but at least he was able to roam free, unlike the poor snake.
Which suddenly opened its beady little eyes and very, very slowly raised its head until it was level with Charlie Brown's. Then it winked, leaving poor Charlie Brown stunned. Charlie Brown looked around to see if Joe and Thibault were watching-they weren't. Charlie Brown, unsure of what to do, winked back at the snake.
The snake jerked its head over to Joe and Thibault and gave a look to Charlie Brown that seemed to say 'I get that all the time'.
Charlie Brown nodded. "I know. That must be really annoying." He mumbled, not really sure the snake could hear him, let alone understand him.
But to Charlie Brown's astonishment, the snake did seem to understand as it nodded it's head vigorously.
Charlie Brown's eyes widened. "Where do you come from?"
The snake pointed its tail over to the little placard next to the glass that read
BOA CONSTRICTOR, BRAZIL.
"Was it nice there?" Charlie Brown asked, not having ever held a conversation with a snake before.
The snake again pointed to the sign.
THIS SPECIMEN WAS BRED IN THE ZOO.
"So you've never been to Brazil?"
The snake shook its head and a deafening shout came from behind.
"CHARLIE BROWN'S TALKING TO THE SNAKE!"
Charlie Brown ducked his head down and cringed. It was Joe Agate. He and Thibault ran to Charlie Brown as fast as they could.
"Out of the way, Doctor Dolittle." Thibault said, punching Charlie Brown hard in the ribs. Charlie Brown was caught by surprise-although it was to be expected by Joe and Thibault by now-and fell hard on the concrete floor.
But what happened next caught everyone by surprise as it happened so quickly that nobody could be quite sure how. One second, Joe Agate and Thibault were leaning on the glass, the next they leapt back, screaming in horror. As Charlie Brown sat up, he was able to see why-the glass to the boa constrictor had vanished and the snake was slithering out on the floor. People throughout the reptile house screamed and started running towards the exits-but not Sally, who ran right up to her older brother.
"Big Brother!" She called out.
"Charlie!" Aunt Pat shouted. "Are you alright?!"
But all Charlie Brown could concentrate on was the snake-as it slid past him, he could have sworn it said "Brazil, here I come... Thanksss Amigo."
"Charlie!" Uncle Neil said and it snapped Charlie Brown from his trance.
"Uncle Neil." He answered.
"Are you hurt?" Uncle Neil grabbed Charlie Brown's shoulders and Charlie Brown shook his head. Uncle Neil pulled him into a hug. "Oh thank God."
The keeper of the reptile house was in shock, while the zoo director called everyone into his office and made Aunt Pat and Uncle Neil a cup of tea as he apologised profusely. Even though Uncle Neil was holding onto him tightly, Charlie Brown could see Joe Agate and Thibault gibbering in the corner of the room. As far as Charlie Brown had seen, the snake had only nipped playfully at their heels as it passed, but Joe Agate was swearing it tried to strangle him and eat his leg off. Worse still, Thibault had sufficiently calmed down enough to say, "And Charlie Brown was talking to it, weren't you?"
Aunt Pat and Uncle Neil merely exchanged worried glances as Charlie Brown slid down in his seat. 'Good grief! Now he's done it!' Charlie Brown thought.
The car ride home was extremely quiet. Nobody said a word, not even Sally. By the time they had arrived back home, Uncle Neil opened the door and finally broke the silence.
"Charlie, Sally, go to your rooms." He sounded a mixture of upset, worried and absolutely livid. The kids didn't argue and walked through the door with their heads down. Snoopy attempted to greet Charlie Brown with a hug, but Charlie Brown walked straight past him.
'I wonder what's wrong with the round headed kid?' Snoopy thought, looking at them curiously as they walked up the stairs without a word.
Charlie Brown lay on his back in bed much later on, wishing his clock worked. He wasn't sure whether it was the shock, but Aunt Pat and Uncle Neil hadn't fed either him or Sally that evening. Instead, he was left wondering what would have happened if his parents hadn't decided that they hadn't wanted him and Sally those ten years ago. What would have turned out differently?
Well, that trip to the zoo for starters. Maybe his kites wouldn't be eaten by the Kite Eating Tree. Or he would actually win a baseball game. And he wouldn't have that unsightly scar on his forehead. It was small and thin and in the shape of a lightning bolt-the only thing Charlie Brown actually liked about his appearance. When he asked his aunt and uncle about it, Aunt Pat simply replied with "You fell and hit your head when you were learning to walk." It was just his bad luck that he ended up with that scar, even if it was kind of cool looking.
Sometimes, Charlie Brown would strain his memory when he was unable to sleep late at night-such as when his teacher had a test set for the following morning-he would remember a strange vision of a blinding green light and a burning pain on his forehead. He couldn't think of where the green light came from. In fact, the most reasonable explanation that he'd come up with thus far was that they were Christmas fairy lights. But try as he did, Charlie Brown couldn't remember a thing about his parents. Maybe it was just as well. They had abandoned him. There were no photos either. Charlie Brown had figured that Aunt Pat had disowned her sister and husband when they abandoned him and Sally. They weren't forbidden to talk about them though, it was just a sort of 'taboo' to ask questions.
When he was younger, Charlie Brown dreamed that his parents would come back from their travels and swoop in to take him and Sally away. It never happened of course and he stayed with his aunt and uncle. But it didn't stop him wondering how strangers on the street seemed to know him.
One time, a tiny man in a violet top hat had bowed to Charlie Brown while he was out shopping with his Aunt Pat and Sally. An old woman once waved to him on the bus. Maybe since she was old, she might have confused Charlie Brown for someone else, but it definitely seemed to be him she was waving at. And then, just the other day, a bald man in a long purple coat had actually shaken his hand in the street the other day and walked away-all without saying a word. And the strangest thing was whenever Charlie Brown tried to get a closer look, these people all seemed to vanish.
School was a different story. Everyone knew that Joe Agate and Thibault hated Charlie Brown and would pick on him for everything-his round head, his lightning bolt scar-"how did someone as lame as you and up with a scar that cool? It just doesn't suit you Charlie Brown." Even his broken glasses-always caused by them of course. It just meant that he didn't have any friends or anyone willing to stand by his side-other than his younger sister, Sally. Even his baseball team flaked on him most of the time. Everyone was too afraid of Joe and Thibault to say 'no'.
He heard someone tap softly on his door-it was probably Snoopy, come to cheer him up.
"Big Brother? Are you awake?" He was wrong. It was Sally.
"Yeah, Sally." Charlie Brown replied with a nod.
"Are you okay after the zoo thing?" She asked, opening the door.
Charlie Brown moved to sit at the edge of his bed. "I'm fine, Sally." He replied. "I was just thinking."
"What about, Big Brother?"
"School and stuff." Technically not a lie.
"But tomorrow's Sunday." Sally pointed out. "Today actually. It's one in the morning."
"Sorry about the second half of your birthday, Sally." Charlie Brown sighed.
"It's okay Big Brother." Sally nodded. "I do stuff like that too."
Charlie Brown's heart skipped a beat. He was so elated-that meant he wasn't some sort of bad luck freak. However, his heart sank when he realised what that meant. Charlie Brown was absolutely convinced his bad luck came from his being abandoned-not that Aunt Pat and Uncle Neil didn't try their best, but... How could they change fate? And if it was happening to his sister Sally as well, that meant that the bad luck was from abandonment.
"Come on Sally." Charlie Brown sighed. "If it's one in the morning, we should both be sleeping."
"But Aunt Pat and Uncle Neil have the telly on downstairs." Sally protested.
"We're 10 year old kids, Sally." Charlie Brown argued. "We should be asleep."
"Oh." Sally grunted dejectedly. "Well, night Big Brother." She said as she left his room.
"Yeah. Night Sally." Charlie Brown climbed back into bed and turned on his side wondering why his luck was worse than usual as of late.