As he drew near, he saw she had that strange, worried look on her face again. She always looked worried when he was cross or upset, but never said anything.
Mrs. Spengler was a thin, world-weary looking woman, with large, round glasses and hair tied back in a ponytail; she often wore a grey cardigan over a white blouse, and off-white trousers.
There was a long silence during the drive home, but eventually, she piped up.
"How was school?" she asked in that faint voice of hers.
"Fine," he said, shortly, not wanting to talk about school.
"Good," she said, softly. After another pause, she murmured, "How about we have your favourite for dinner tonight, hun?"
Egon blinked. She was trying to say 'sorry' in her own way, and, being only ten, he wasn't armed with the more sophisticated ways of handling adult behaviour.
"Yes please," he said, softly.
If Mrs. Spengler was guilty of anything, it was her own mousey behaviour creating the gentlest of distruction: A yawning gulf between her and her son, eaten away by her cowardice of drawing closer by conversations too scary for her.
She had never learned how to argue, how to shout, or how to handle being on the receiving end of even the softest of constructive criticism. She would look like a scoulded spaniel at the slightest thing, and nothing could teach her the value of problem-solving through family fueds.
When Mrs. Spengler and Egon got home, they found his father in the same armchair as always, reading the newspaper.
"Evening, son," He'd say, formally, with a curt nod and a crease between his eyebrows.
"Hello, dad," Egon toned, automatically.
"How was school?"
How was school. This was always the most important thing they said to him every day. Weekends were spent shopping, house-cleaning, and seeing what other educational things they could add to his collection. It was as if their lives revolved around improving their son's studies, and expanding his cranium.
Sometimes, they'd drag him round the library.
Egon had fallen asleep there once, he was so bored, or had sat by the window, gazing outside longingly at the other kids running about, kicking footballs, and climbing trees. He had begged them to let him play with them, and to buy him toys.
"Toys dull the brain," his father had replied, "They don't challenge you. They'll never teach you who you are by helping you realise your full potential. Life isn't playtime, Egon. It's a serious and scary world out there. One day you'll understand,"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, Egon had thought, miserably.
Egon climbed the stairs and went into his bedroom; he found it easier to be there than to watch his parents drift about. It was the strangest room any ten-year-old ever had. It could have been that of a doctor's ward or a scientist's lab. There were diagrams of the human skeleton, brain, and nervous system on the walls. He had a microscope, and a magnifying glass on the desk, beside an antfarm, seamonkeys, and a goldfish named 'Einstein'.
He had a life-size model of the human heart which they had bought him for his birthday. He hadn't seriously wanted one, he had said it to be provocative, to see if they got the hint, but they hadn't.
He had two bookshelves filled with tomes of varying thickness. Among them were:
Under The Microscopic
Quantum for beginners
Engineering for beginners
Physics, An Early Guide
Knowing The Unknown
Egon couldn't deny that he loved science, and the moment his parents had found this out, they went out of their way to get him everything science-based.
At the foot of the desk was a waste paper basket with a few screwed up chocolate wrappers. Besides the desks and booksheelves, all he had was his bed, bedside table and light, wardrobe, and sock drawer.
There certainly were no toys.
The walls were white, the curtains were grey, and the carpet was slate.
Dinner was almost silent as always.
After ten minutes of eating and drinking, Mrs. Spengler piped up.
"George? See if you can buy Egon a stethescope from that doctor friend of yours up the road. It would be educational,"
"Mmm," Mr. Spengler hummed, nodding slowly, "Yes ... Why not? Why not?"
He seemed to be trying to make his sentance linger as long as possible, nodding like a toy dog on a car dashboard.
There followed another five minutes of soul-sapping silence, except for the clock ticking on the mantlepiece.
Egon finished his dinner, and knew he had to get out of here. He had to find a way to have fun! Then, he had a brainwave.
"Can I collect something from outside?"
His mother looked at him as though he might be thinking of playing with fire.
Egon thought fast.
"Something to study,"
Ten minutes later, he was surrounded by woodlands, drinking in the fresh air, the smell of moss, and enjoying the sunshine on his skin.
He had collected some fungus in a sample dish so he had something to show when he got home. He climbed the trees, looked for insects, and inspected the various pools and streams for frogspawn.
He began to appreciate that he could name a lot of the species around him, including their scientific names, and realised he could do so because of his science books. For the first time, Egon felt a pang of guilt that he resented his parents for the way they were. He decided to make it up to them.
Perhaps they'd be better at showing love if they were given it spontenously; he decided he would make an effort at giving them reason to.
He picked some flowers for his mother, taking time to gather ones he thought she'd like. He promised himself to hug them both and tell them he loved them.
Egon was just about to head for home, when he heard something not far behind him. He turned and peered through the trees, but it was impossible to make out what it was from here.
The sun was setting, and the shadows had become more pronounced. He had just decided it was a trick of the wind when he heard the sound again.
It was a sad noise. A weird, wavering echo that seemed ... unnearthly.
It piqued his curiousity and he found himself walking towards it, despite the dying light.
Twigs snapped beneath his shoes, and he rubbed his arms, trying to warm them.
As he drew nearer, he thought he made out a shimmering light against the trees.
Fascinated now, he peeped around one of the trees ... and gaped!
A misty cloud was floating in the air. It had a slightly bluish outline round its' pure-white centre. It seemed to be changing texture constantly. Ruffling, billowing, rippling, and tumbling like white ink in water.
He watched the ghost for a full minute, and then, quite abruptly, it faded and vanished before his eyes.
In that moment, Egon decided that this extraordinary discovery would be the focus of his entire future.
He walked home in a dream, thinking.
He knew that he could no longer waste time thirsting for his parents' love. He had no interest in telling them about the ghost, for he knew they were sceptics and he'd be wasting his time, but he didn't need to.
His head was buzzing with excitement!
He had a world within this one to discover, even if it took him a lifetime to get answers.
When Egon arrived home, he gave the flowers to his mother and hugged both her and his father, wordlessly, before going to bed. He didn't even stop to see the looks on his faces. His brain told him, firmly, that he didn't want love any more ... but his heart spoke very differently. In fact, it was crying.