Friday Story: 3) Orange juice

Orange juice

Illustration for Inktrap Magazine by Sue Gent

 

Looking back, I can see how it started. Two ten-year-old boys, bored in the too-long summer holidays, complaining to our mothers that we’d nothing to do.

Our mothers, exasperated, overworked with the constant round of cooking, cleaning, washing from which they could see no means of escape, willingly gave us ours. Packed us off with egg sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper, an apple each and bottles of orange juice. Yes, glass bottles. That’s what we used then.

We headed off into the promise of the July day, kicking at stones on the road, not caring a fig that we scuffed our shoes, not caring that our mothers would care and would ask us if we thought money grew on trees. It might as well have done, for all we thought about it.

Cynan dropped his bottle before we even reached the river, the orange liquid spurting across the tarmac path like the blood of some rare primate. We kicked the sharp shards of the broken bottle into the grass, not caring that some tender-bodied creature might crawl over them and be cut, even mortally wounded. We didn’t think. We didn’t think about anything that day. Didn’t plan anything. Didn’t mean any of what happened. Going down to the river was just something to do, a way of passing another long boring day.

We found sticks in the long grass and threw them into the river, seeing which of us could get his the furthest, but we got bored. Cynan said we should build a dam. It was something to do, but it was difficult. Others boys had dads who helped them with things like that. At least we thought they did, and that made us both sad, though we never actually said so to one another. We didn’t have dads. If anyone had asked us we’d both have said we didn’t care, though of course we did.

We walked on down the river, picking our way through brambles and nettles, getting stung and hurt but not saying. Then Cynan saw the dead cat. It was lying half under some twigs, as if someone had tried to hide it, but couldn’t be bothered to do it properly.

“Or maybe,” I said, “it wasn’t completely dead and it wriggled a bit.”

It wouldn’t have been able to move much. Its back legs were at funny angles and its head looked as if it had been screwed right round. Cynan poked it with a stick.

“Don’t do that,” I said.

“It’s dead,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to it now.”

I don’t know why we didn’t just leave it there, or bury it, like other kids would have done, but we were bored. Dissecting it was something to do.

I had a penknife. It was a bit blunt, but I managed to saw through the cat’s sternum and pull out its heart. It was the same colour as the orange juice. I turned it over in my hands and we both gawped at it. I remember Cynan saying,

“We’ve got hearts like that.”

And me saying, “We haven’t, we’ve got red hearts.”

What happened next should obviously never have happened. But I was ten years old, it was a summer’s day, the sun was getting hot even though it was still morning and after days and weeks of boredom I was suddenly excited.

I lunged at Cynan and stabbed him with my penknife, hard, straight into his sternum. He screamed and twisted away. I shouted but he was gone, thumping through the undergrowth like the wounded creature he was. I didn’t follow him. I don’t know why I didn’t. I suppose I thought he would come back. I carried on dissecting the cat. It was something to do.

When I’d finished I washed my hands in the river. I remember the blood. The red and the orange and the dark blood, mingling with the water, turning it brown. And then it ran clear again and I got out the sandwiches and ate them all. And both apples. And drank the remaining bottle of orange juice.

Then I must have fallen asleep, because when I woke up it was shady in the wood and I was cold, in spite of the heat of the day.

Then I looked for Cynan. I found him quite quickly, and I covered him with sticks, the way someone had half-covered the cat, but better, because I knew he wasn’t going to move. His face was red and big and it scared me. There was something coming out of his mouth. Something orange and sticky, like the juice and the cat’s heart.

Then I walked till I couldn’t see him any more and I lay down and covered myself with sticks and leaves, because it was going to get really cold and I didn’t know how long it would be before they found me.

 

First published by Inktrap Magazine on-line, July 2015

Republished by Idler.ie, March 2016

NEWS, NEWS, NEWS

I am just back from a few days of rest and inspiration in Paris. Here’s a pic:

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Friday Story no 3 is coming later this week, so do come back and read that.

Meanwhile, I have a new flash in the latest issue of Moonchild Magazine. Go take a read of all the splendid work in there. The link to my piece is on my Stories page.

 

Friday Story: 2) Marching

Oh goodness, I said I was going to post a story every 2 weeks and somehow 3 have slipped by. Here is a story first published in The Pygmy Giant where it got an honourable mention in a competition in 2011.

Happy Friday everyone.

Marching

When Tommy was five years old he watched through a little gap in the fence as the Sunday parade passed his garden. He could hear when it was coming by the low thump of the big bass drum and the tooting of the wind instruments behind it. At school they had a music class in the hall once a week and there were things to play like recorders and triangles and, if you were really lucky though Tommy never was, tambourines which you could bang and shake. But there was nothing as big and shiny as the instruments in the band. There was one that curled all the way round the man who played it, like a snake. Tommy thought it must be squeezing the breath out of the man because his cheeks were puffed out and red. The men all wore peaked caps and they moved as if their legs were all joined together, like a centipede. His Mum said it was called marching. One day some funny ladies called Aunties with powder on their faces that looked and smelled like sherbet came to visit his Mum and asked Tommy what he wanted to do when he was a big boy. He said he wanted to be part of the man-animal with lots of legs that did marching. His Mum laughed and told the Aunties that he wanted to be in the town band, and this made Tommy cross because it wasn’t what he meant. But he couldn’t explain what he did mean, not even to himself.

When Tommy was eleven he went to a different school where they played in teams, though they didn’t move their legs in the same way. No ever asked Tommy to be in their team and that upset him but he didn’t show it. Instead he played games by himself on the computer and never went into the garden and though the Sunday parade still passed by he neither heard nor thought about it.

When Tommy was seventeen he left school and stayed at home, still playing computer games. One day his Mum lost her temper and told him to get out of the house and find something useful to do. He wandered the streets and fell in with two lads who offered him a drink. It passed the time but they weren’t a team. One day, in a blur of alcohol, Tommy told the lads the story of the marching band. They said he should join the army, that he’d get marching there right enough.

Tommy signed up. He got put in a team, he got the peaked cap and he even got a bugle to play. On parade the sergeant major yelled at him and he felt more alone than ever.

When Tommy would have been nineteen his Mum stood with her sisters, all pale-faced now, in the main street of the town and watched the parade of soldiers back from Afghanistan, their legs moving as one beneath the black-draped coffin.

New genre, new anthology

Cli-fi anthology blog tour

Climate change is a huge challenge for our world. It has inspired a new genre of fiction – cli-fi.

This is launch week for the new climate fiction anthology published by Retreat West Books, Nothing Is As It Was.

I’m proud to have a story in this anthology, all profits from which will be given to the climate change charity Earth Day Network.

I also wrote a piece about the inspiration for my story for the blog tour for the launch, which you can read here. Why not follow the whole blog tour and, even better, buy the book!

 

Support weird stories!

I have a story forthcoming in an anthology of weird stories – #Normal Deviation

I wrote my story, Conjuring Tricks, in response to a strange picture. We were asked to discard our first and second ideas and go with the third. I really liked this approach. My third idea was for a story about two characters waiting to audition for places in a painting by Hieronymus Bosch.

The anthology is all set to go, but first there’s a crowdfunding campaign underway. Your chance to support weird stories!

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