Bandit Fiction Winter 2017 Pamphlet
All rights to the works included in this pamphlet belong to the artist or author they have been credited to. First published in Great Britain in 2017 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be preproduced or transmitted or utilised in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the credited author. The Team Managing Director: Greg Forrester Editor-in-Chief: Jane Currie Engagement Manager: Cara De Sausmarez Creative Designer: Danni Pratt Marketing Coordinator: Bev Priestner Social Media Coordinator: Emily Crosby Guest Editors: Laura Stringer and Coral Hammond
www.banditfiction.co.uk /banditfiction @BanditFiction @BanditFiction
Contents About Us
Bandit Fiction Editorâ€™s Note
Artists and Writers Stories
Away by Joe Butler page 10 Pigeon by Harriet Terrill page 21 Getaway by Nick Watson page 24 Confusion by Jason Jawando page 27 Saddleworth by R. J. Gardham page 34 Rep by Gwenda Major page 38 Pacific Littoral by Geoffrey Heptonstall page 40 The Sundance Kid by Ruth Brandt page 47
Bandit Fiction Bandit Fiction are a new voice in digital publishing. Based in the UK, and made up of a small team of avid readers and writers, we aim to give opportunities to new and emerging writers that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. We don’t differentiate in terms of gender, ethnicity, disability, or location - as long as we think your story is good and suitable for what we do, we’d love to hear from you. We’re especially keen to hear from creative writing students, or writers currently in education. As a team of former writing students ourselves, we understand fully the disconnect there can be between university life and writing life, and we aim to offer opportunities to bridge that gap. We’re looking for previously unpublished works of flash fiction (from 250 to 1000 words), prose (from 1000 to 3500 words), and non-fiction (1000 to 3500 words). In addition, we’re looking for new and emerging artists to work with to help produce cover and interior artwork for our publications, our podcasts, and even our advertisements. More information can be found on our website: www.banditfiction.co.uk
Editor’s Note Let me start by welcoming you all warmly to our introductory pamphlet for Bandit Fiction – a new voice in digital publishing – and express our gratitude that you’ve chosen to come along with us for the ride. It’s our aim to publish excellent pieces of work from new and upcoming writers, as well as more experienced writers. All of us here at Bandit Fiction are writers ourselves, so we know exactly what it’s like to struggle to get your writing seen, and how challenging it can be. This is very much a passion project of all of ours, and so I want to thank each and every person who has helped this come to fruition. This is for our editors who’ve taken time out to read your wonderful work, our exceptional artists, our fabulous logo designer (who has helped birth the character of Bandit!), and for everyone who has submitted to us; accepted pieces or otherwise, we have loved reading your work! And finally, on behalf of all of us here at Team Bandit, thank you again to you, our readers, for joining us on what we hope will be a long and entertaining journey.
Jane Currie Editor-in-Chief
Artists and Writers Joe Butler - author of Away Joe lives and works in London, but dreams of living and working elsewhere. He spends his time between writing things, as an occasional musician, artist, and avid player of video games. You can follow Joe or find out more about his work at: Twitter: @writelikeashark Website: www.writelikeashark.wordpress.com Harriet Terrill - author of Pigeon Do you feel mediocre? Did you drop your buttered toast on the floor at work again and just think oh for fuck sake I can’t even eat a piece of toast properly? Maybe that’s why Margret’s leaving. I can’t help you, but I could create a story, play or film that personifies your existential angst. email@example.com Nick Watson - author of Getaway Nick Watson has an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle Univeristy, though he’s a Yorkshire lad at heart. He mostly writes Young Adult, but considers himself a jackass-of-all-trades. As well as writing, he’s a big fan of small dogs and funky socks. He has a tumblr at http://nicholasllee.tumblr.com/
Jason Jawando - author of Confusion Jason Jawando writes fiction and drama. He has had short-stories published in Aesthetica, Crannog and Ranfurly Review and had rehearsed readings of his work in the West Midlands. He is currently writing a novel and completing an MA in Creative Writing with the Open University. Visit his website: https://jasonjawando.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter @JasonDJ Ellie Wilsden - artist for Confusion Hello I am Ellie, I am currently finishing my last year at the University of Reading where I study Art and English Literature. As of September I will be doing a Masters in Illustration at the Arts University Bournemouth. When I am not illustrating or making artwork I can be found watching Star Trek, drinking tea and looking after my Springer Spaniel, Rosie. Social media links: website: https://growupgreatgug.weebly.com facebook:@growupgreat instagram: @grow_up_great R. J. Gardham - author of Saddleworth R. J. Gardham is the author/painter of City Lights, a visual poetry exhibition recently displayed in Altrincham. He has had two flash fiction stories published by KGHH and is currently a student at the Manchester Writing School, where he is working on his first novel. Follow him on Twitter @RJGardham and Instagram @RJGardham
Gwenda Major - author of Rep Gwenda’s short stories and flash stories have featured in numerous publications, both print and digital. She has written four novels and two novellas: her novella Offcomers won first prize in the NAWG Open Novella competition in December 2016. Gwenda has a website at www.gwendamajor.wordpress.com Geoffrey Heptonstall - author of Pacific Littoral Geoffrey Heptonstall is the author of a novel, Heaven’s Invention, published by Black Wolf. Other fiction includes recent stories for Between the Lines and Scarlet Leaf Review. His poetry has appeared in many magazines, most recently Penwood Review and Poetry Pacific. He has also written a number of plays published/and or performed. He writes regularly for The London Magazine. Ruth Brandt - author of The Sundance Kid Ruth Brandt’s short stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines, including the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual, Bristol Short Story Prize, Neon and Litro, nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Write Well Award, read at festivals and performed by Liars’ League. She has had a short play performed at Theatre 503 and her poetry published in the Irish Literary Review and Bunbury Magazine. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Kingston University where she won the MFA Creative Writing Prize. She is delighted to be Writer in Residence at the Surrey Wildlife Trust. www.RuthBrandt.co.uk Facebook: Ruth Brandt Twitter: @RuthABrandt
by Joe Butler - page 10
Pigeon by Harriet Terrill - page 21
Getaway by Nick Watson - page 24
Confusion by Jason Jawando - page 27
Saddleworth by R. J. Gardham - page 34
by Gwenda Major - page 38
Pacific Littoral by Geoffrey Heptonstall - page 40
The Sundance Kid by Ruth Brandt - page 47
by Joe Butler
Everything seemed obscured in the deepest fog. A frost of numbness and shock enveloped her every sense. Some type of shapeless void had swallowed her every waking second and she was utterly in the grip of it. It felt as if she was perpetually sat in the kitchen staring at an empty chair, as the world continued to move around her. Her husband was the type of man who could not hold his emotions inside; he would often explode. A brash firework display of violence as he smashed coffee cups against walls or punched himself. She could only watch him, silently noting that she should be doing something to help him, ease his suffering somehow, but she couldn’t. All she could do was feel shades of some sort of compression. Time passed. All those moments and days and everything in between seemed to just press together, bound with dreamless sleep. If she were to describe those first weeks after her daughter died, she would have said that it felt like being trapped in an empty grey room. Her husband had made all the impossible decisions leading up to the funeral. What sort of person is prepared to pick the colour of their daughter’s coffin? It was unthinkable, unfathomable, and she hated him for being able to do it, but she lacked the strength to talk about it. She barely noted the people around her, figured it for some kind of fever dream as they said her daughter’s name and lowered a pale box into the earth. The permanence of her daughter’s location played strangely across her mind as people wrought their tearful threnody. They broke at the loss of the girl’s impossibly bright future, which had seemingly been written as sure as history. If she hadn’t drowned in the garden pond, she surely, most definitely, absolutely, would have been one of the world’s great actors.
Like so many other dead kids. Despite the fact she had been assigned her mother’s sharp, aquiline features and her father’s slightly beady eyes. And that’s not to say that she didn’t love her and think her beautiful, but her mother often looked at her daughter and wondered why chance stole upon those particular features. She caught herself at that thought and felt a sharp wave of nauseating guilt. Near the end of the ceremony, she pulled away from her crying husband’s grasp. She felt at that moment the fragile, trembling thread of their relationship pull so tight she could almost hear the terrible thrumming of it in her heart as it finally snapped, and the irreversible distance between them grew. She loved him utterly, but hated him absolutely. It was her daughter’s favourite sort of day. Big gusts of warm air, skipping up the winding suburbs, and bringing with them scudding rainbows of autumn leaves in every dying shade. The shadows of the dwindling trees painted across the uneven lines in the pavement. A bright sun, occasionally dulled by the passing of a cloud. The curved lines of jet trails as planes winked across the angular suburban horizon. She wanted to disappear more than anything. To just sink, painlessly, through the earth and to never again have to feel the gulf of absolute grief that she knew, right deep into her bones, could never be filled. Instead, she kept walking. Walking towards home, but along streets she had never travelled before. Experiencing something new so that she would not have to live so vividly in the tragic past. By the time she arrived, her feet burned and ached. She could feel the agony of fresh and burst blisters at her heels. She was at once exhausted and exhilarated. The physical pain mitigating the spiritual, if for only a fleeting moment. The car was not in the drive and she found herself feeling somewhat thankful. Her husband was most likely at the wake, and she felt that distance between them shift a little more. She could hear the echoes of her love for him clattering like dropped stones in her heart. Her daughter’s room was painted blue and bore images of dancing fairies and trees and bright yellow stars streaking across the
walls. She lay in the small, neatly made bed and screamed until her throat gave in. She shook uncontrollably beneath the unicorn sheets. Strangely, there came a moment of fragile calm. Her mind seemed to surface soberly from her grief. She warily accepted it and sat up. The house around her felt suddenly changed, even though it was obviously identical. Along the walls were rows and rows of her daughter’s books. She loved to read and she was good at it, especially for her age. She often spent hours in her room, curled up on the window seat, a book resting on her knees. She ran a tired finger over the edges of the books, feeling the rough places where her daughter had cracked their spines. There were a couple that hadn’t been opened, probably never would be. The worlds inside those pages would lay dormant and unlived. Scanning the shelves, she saw one that looked battered. The spine was ruined, and when she plucked it from the bookshelf, she found the front cover was missing. It wasn’t a book she remembered buying for her daughter, but she knew in all likelihood that she had, because her husband had never been a big reader. The yellowed, dog-eared pages revealed nothing of the title, so she sat down on the edge of the bed and leafed through it, glancing over the words. The story, it seemed, was about a girl who became friends with a fairy. Her daughter had drawn clusters of hearts at the bottom of the pages and underlined passages. She read it aloud to herself. Emelia sat in the bright, sunlit garden and waited for Nymphaea to appear. It was later than normal and the young girl was starting to feel restless. All of a sudden, the fairy appeared. She darted up out of the water and danced this way and that. Emelia, her frustration forgotten, clapped and whooped at the wonderful show her friend performed. Something familiar and terrible about the words began to hum in her. She scoured beautiful, painful memories to locate the source, but came up short. Under a vault of bright, tourmaline sky, the fairy Nymphaea showed Emelia the way to Tír na nÓg. She circled the slimy green surface
of the pond widdershins three good times, and then she shot up, and up, into the sky like a beautiful firework. Then she turned and dived for the earth, and with her wings spread behind her, she shot straight towards the pond. Emelia gasped, thinking the worst. But instead of splashing into the shallow pond, Nymphaea ripped through the shallow barrier between our world and that of Tír na nÓg, the land of the young. Emelia clapped and whooped again, for in front of her, like a wondrous, magical mirror, lay a golden-edged picture of the most beautiful place she had ever seen. There was no place like it, not in any of the books that lined her walls. * Downstairs, a door slammed shut and she panicked. She replaced the book carefully and left. As she pulled the door shut, she glanced at the bookshelf, caught in a blade of light from the hallway. The terrible hum of grief began to creep back. * “It’s not fair on us. It’s not fair on me,” her husband said, anger cracking the last word as he broke his gaze. He stood by the kitchen window. Somehow, it was evening. The day was wounded. Dying even. The sun bleeding into a lavender night sky. The fog had returned again and time had begun to slip. There had been the blur of an argument. Her husband had admonished her for leaving, for running off halfway through the funeral, as if she missed out on some sort of prize for being able to stomach watching her daughter being lowered into a hole. She felt the layers of insulated numbness roll over her again. She didn’t care. Felt the chasm between them widen again. Counselling. The word seemed to ring out too loud. It was the answer to a question she hadn’t asked. “No,” she said. She bit her lip and stared out at nowhere, maybe into the past at some point when she wasn’t this person.
She mourned for all the dull normal hours and moments and years that she took for granted before a simple point in time. A singularity of absolute pain. Her husband disappeared and she sat there at the table like an expectant guest. All she could think about was the book that her daughter seemed to have loved so. It called to her like a lighthouse in the dark. Nymphaea, Nymphaea. She rolled the name around, searching for it like something stuck in her teeth. * Her husband went to bed and she stayed seated in the kitchen. Clinical white light frosted her features and the sharp edges of things. Milky moonlight lay in a puddle on the cold tiles, cut to pieces by the shadow of the window blinds. She walked slowly to the window. She stood in the moonlight, watching the place where her daughter had died. A beautiful place, ringed with sweet smelling flowers and soft grass. She felt its pull as her daughter must have. A firefly lit upon the edge of a bright pond flower and then darted away into the dark beyond the garden. Without looking away, her hands found the key to the back door, and she unlocked it and pulled the door open. A blast of cold air hit her and she closed her eyes, let it rush over her skin. She stepped down onto the lawn and the cool grass cushioned her bare feet. The hum of the kitchen light had been replaced by the rhythmic trilling of cicadas. It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust, but soon the stars began to reveal themselves to the west in glittering points of light. The question of why she was outside played somewhere in the back of her mind, but she couldnâ€™t reconcile it with any kind of rational answer. She just needed to be outside, and it felt good. She felt a notion of realness and connectedness to being outside, close to where her daughter had been.
She knelt at the edge of the pond and watched the bright dial of the moon slowly ripple in the night breeze. The static of the cicadas marked time’s passing, occasionally punctuated by the buzz of a mosquito or the distant barking of a dog. She couldn’t have said how long she sat there, imagining, over and over again, her daughter slipping under the surface of the water. The curve of her pale face smothered by the ugly, pitted globe of the ghastly moon. She awoke with a start. Soft, thin daylight had begun to bleach the canvas of night, and the stars were in retreat. She itched from mosquito bites and she shivered violently as she painfully collected herself. Inside, she made herself tea. An operation that didn’t require any kind of thought, so she tried to work through why and how she had fallen asleep outside in the backyard. As she poured the water, she remembered something of a dream she had had. It had the texture of fine powder and as she tried to reassemble the images, parts of it blew away, leaving an incomplete picture. The colours of the broken image were gold and grey, electric blue and fiery orange. She remembered the smell of lavender and vanilla. Her husband appeared at the doorway. His eyes were puffy and red and his skin seemed grey like the grey from her dream. He spoke, but the words were lost in the static roar of the space between them. Suddenly fatigued, she left the tea on the countertop and left. Their bed was still warm and she slipped into it and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. She awoke at midday and slowly explored the top level of the house. Each room felt as if it had just been vacated a few seconds before she entered. It made her feel like a ghost. Peering through the blinds over the upstairs bedroom window, she noted that the car, along with her husband, had gone, and she relaxed a little. In the kitchen, her untouched tea remained where she had left it. She went about making a fresh cup, glancing occasionally over to the table and the empty chairs around it. Memories of them at the start of their relationship came. She tried to analyse how deep the roots of her doubts must have lain. How it
couldn’t have been the loss of their daughter alone that had prised them apart. The sound of the water boiling dragged her from her malaise. She snapped to and finished making her tea, then went upstairs to her daughter’s room. The book was waiting for her. When she folded the pages open to where she had left off, they felt warm against her skin. As she settled into her daughter’s bed and began reading, she felt the same clearheadedness that she had felt before, as if her daughter’s room offered some kind of respite from the pain. Emelia gasped. Her parents had arrived home early! “Nymphaea,” she cried. “My parents.” The fairy darted back to the golden surface of the pond, where the fantastical doorway into the magical realm of Tír na nÓg shimmered. “Come with me now,” Nymphaea said, and reached out a hand to Emelia. “Emelia.” Her stepfather called her name. Emelia glanced back and forth, torn. She wanted to go to Tír na nÓg, but knew that one day she would have to return and she feared the violence of her stepfather. “Emelia,” said Nymphaea, who was now standing on Emelia’s shoulder. “You can come with me and stay forever. You don’t have to live with him anymore.” “Really?” Emelia exclaimed, then felt ashamed. “But, what about my mother?” she asked. “The doorway to Tír na nÓg won’t stay open for much longer. You must make a decision, and I am forbidden to make it for you.” Emelia strained to find an answer, but before one could be found, her stepfather flung open the backdoor. His face was twisted in horrible anger. “EMELIA!” he screamed at the top of his voice. Emelia turned to the beautiful Nymphaea and smiled. The thought hit her now, familiar but far away, as if waking from a dream that seemed to span a hundred years. Her daughter had an imaginary friend when she was a toddler. She recalled that her daughter would
call for her—“Mimfy, Mimfy”—and giggle, and right then, something sparked in the dark of her mind. * “What? You’ve barely said a word since . . .” Her husband struggled, breathed a sigh. “The funeral,” he continued. “And now you are asking me about a book we got her when she was two? This is crazy.” It had been three weeks since the funeral. Three weeks since she had discovered the book. Three weeks of dead air between them, like dead air on the lines of their hearts. They sat together in the same rooms and she had barely noticed him. At night, she listened to him crying in the bathroom and still she would lie there, staring out the window at the moon. He lay his hands expectantly on the table and sighed, slowly. His fingers shook and he nervously touched the tips of them against his thumb one at a time. He bit his lip. She noted the rough, bruised knuckles, the nails eaten down to the skin. His hands were poor liars. He somehow failed to see the connection between the story in the book and what had happened. “I’m worried about you,” he said, looked away to some memory. “Worried about us.” She felt sorry for him then. He didn’t yet know that the distance was too great. The old connections that lay broken and draped into the abyss between them. He didn’t see the importance of the book. Failed to see that connection too. “The book,” she said, holding it up hopefully. Holding the pages, marked in pencil and pen and crayon by their daughter. “I know what happened.” “Stop. Please, just stop. I don’t want to hear it. The doctor already told us how.” her husband said, withdrawing his hands from the table. “But,” she cried, trying her best to make space so that she could explain. “No. I am done. I’m sorry, but I am done,” he said. The end was flat, accepting. There was no fight anymore.
“I need,” he said, fixing her with a wounded look, “I need time.” “What does that even mean?” she replied, knowing what it meant. “I mean, I need time for myself. I can’t do this. I can’t worry about you and all of this book nonsense as well as grieve for our daughter.” “Can’t or won’t?” The impulse to preserve what they had was automatic. It was based on their history, even though she knew she saw no road ahead. She turned her wedding ring slowly on her finger, a thing that had once made her so happy. “I don’t want to,” he said and got up. “It was supposed to be us working through this together. I need you. We need you to get through this, but it’s just too hard. I’m too tired.” He was crying. Not racking sobs or heaving cries. Just a few silent tears. “I still love you,” he said just before he left. The words were empty and yet loaded with sad finality. * The house felt different. Colder now. Every nook haunted by the memory of love. Every shadow possessed by the spirit of grief. She felt it in every corner, in every empty drawer. Memories of a life she no longer recognised. She felt like a vessel for someone else’s memories. Someone happy. It made her feel old. Not just older, but frail. She wondered if this is how people really age. If tree rings of sadness marked her age in the core of her bones. She ignored calls. Calls from work, calls from friends. Her phone rang and buzzed until the battery died and she left it on the kitchen table. Upstairs in her daughter’s room things were different. She was different. She felt something like being awake. Something like being alive. She held the fairy book in her hands. The book her daughter must have loved and read and read over and again, memorising the words. Ever since she had made the connection that her daughter’s friend Mimfy was Nymphaea from the story, she had pored over every syllable and every handwritten annotation her daughter had made.
She had sat on the bedroom floor with her laptop across her knees, feverishly researching the book’s publishers, who had put the book out in 1917, but could find no such company. She looked up the author, but could find only a vague reference to other books she had written. She even copied passages of the book into a search engine, but nothing about the book came up. She had no memory of buying the book and the book itself had no history to be found. She researched Tír na nÓg, and learnt about the Leanan Sidhe, creatures that lured children to the otherworld. But the book had no unhappy ending. Emelia escaped to Tír na nÓg and lived out her infinite days in the company of Nymphaea. She married a fairy prince and raised ten generations of children before returning home. * In the dark, she found her place by the edge of the water. The full moon played across the pond. In the candle light it seemed edged in gold, just like in the book. A firefly lit upon the centre of the white hydrangeas that encircled the opposite edge of the pond, but she knew who it really was, and said her name. Nymphaea lifted from the plant with a benign smile on her lips. She looked utterly beautiful as she darted here and there. “My daughter . . .” she said, and the fairy raised a finger to her tiny lips. “We don’t have much time,” Nymphaea said. She hovered above the water and then circled the shape of the reflected moon widdershins three good times, and shot into the sky. Emelia’s mother clapped and whooped as she watched the iridescent fairy, moving up and up like a firework. Then, just like the book, Nymphaea turned and darted down and down, speeding towards the pond. Emelia’s mother, knowing what was next, followed her into the place where the moon had been, her heart full of hope.
by Harriet Terrill
We all stood at the train station and watched the pigeon eating a doughnut, pecking at the gelatinous pink icing machine-piped across its surface. It was as if we’d all suddenly realized that it was alive and that we were not. It’s what I was thinking, anyway. My cousin once told me that to assume everyone around you is thinking the same thing means you’re a narcissist or you’ve got a massive ego or something like that. But we really were staring. Maybe the woman with the crooked teeth and the thin black eyebrows was just hungry, was just thinking “I could do with a peck of that.” Or maybe that’s what I thought because of her massive nose. It’s not exactly possible to know. The man with the long black umbrella which was shut and dry because it hadn’t rained all day, he might’ve been thinking about stabbing the pigeon with the silver pointed end. I know you shouldn’t make assumptions, but the guy looked pretty intense, and you can’t help but imagine lugging an umbrella around on a sunny day would leave you pretty angry. Would leave you thinking “I really should put this to use”. The pigeon flapped its wings like it might fly away, but it went back to pecking. It seemed more interested in the icing on the doughnut, the pink glaze stuck to its beak like cheap lipstick. It looked just like the lipstick the girl stood next to me was wearing. We were all stood in a bird watching circle, although nobody called it that. No one really said anything, we just watched the pigeon. The girl next to me, she was nearer my age, but I could tell she was younger by the way she kept fumbling with the cuff of her denim jacket. Like she felt insecure just watching the bird being watched by all these people. I’d thought she must be the empathic type. Imagining what it would be like to be a pigeon. Or thinking “I know what it’s like to be called bird.” I wanted to ask her if she minded it, being called bird. I thought she’d probably turn to me and say “I do mind, sometimes” and then she’d try and kiss me with her pink pigeon lips and she’d say “Thank you for noticing me”
and I’d let her kiss me just so maybe she wouldn’t feel so bad. I nearly asked her too, but then a train came and the pigeon flew away. The eyebrow woman left our bird watching circle first to put something in the bin, then the umbrella man huffed off towards the cafe. The girl with the lipstick was still staring at the doughnut where the pigeon had been until she just sort of snapped out of it, tucking her hands up into the cuffs of her jacket so you could only just see her fingers. Then she got on the train. When I’d told my cousin about it, all he said was “Rats with wings”. That’s what he thought people think.
by Nick Watson
He leaves his keys next to the kettle, every time. There’s a hook by the front door, nothing special, just a hook, the sort of thing he’d usually like, but of course that’s the first place a burglar would look, so he never puts the keys there. Tenth time he told me, I bought this little bowl for the front room, nice, smoky glass, just so he could put his keys somewhere neat. They’re sprawled where he dropped them so he could fill the kettle, next to the coffee pot and a dirty spoon. I scoop them up, take a step away and then spin back round. His mug is right there. His favourite one, his mother bought him before we were together. I grab it. Imagine his face when he wakes up, discovers me missing and his favourite mug with me. I don’t even like it, but whatever. It’s the principle of the thing. Suitcase by the door. One suitcase worth of things, that’s all I have after him. There’s clothes, but nothing he bought me. All the jewellery he gave me, just so he can’t have the satisfaction of giving it to his next girl. I’ll sell it. I’ll find one of those cash for gold shops and I’ll just tip it all onto the desk. The door unlocks with a click and I freeze. The house stays silent. Is there anything I’ve forgotten? Not likely, but I don’t want to be halfway on the road and remember I left my phone charger or some inane crap. When I put the keys in the ignition I pray to a God I don’t believe in any more. Like hell it’ll wake him up, but if the neighbours hear he’ll know when I left. I want him to think I left in the night. I want him to think it was a spur of the moment thing, gathering my belongings in the darkness and running. The sun is just starting to bleed through the tree line. Through the misted windows, the pale light makes everything look like an unfinished painting. I drive in first for a few blocks and then once I get onto the main road, I gun it.
Sam is waiting for me at a rest stop just out of town. She’s drinking coffee in her car, and the radio is playing. I drive past her and park at the opposite end of the car park. I know she’s watching me, and I know she doesn’t agree with what I’m about to do, but Sam’s always been the more aggressive one of us. The thing is, the bastard doesn’t deserve to know why I’m gone. It’s obvious I’m not dead, or kidnapped, so the police won’t open a missing persons file. That’s not what the note is for though. I’m not thinking of him, or his dickhead friends. I’m thinking of the next girl. If I explain why I left, maybe he’ll treat her better. I put the keys and the note in the glove box, get my suitcase from the boot, and walk over to Sam’s car. “Coffee, black like you like them,” she says when I get in the passenger seat. It’s still warm but she’s been waiting a while. She’s been waiting, with the radio on, staring at the road and trying not to think of all the reasons I might be late. I touch her arm and try to say thanks, but I can’t, so I just take a sip of the coffee and look down. “You ready to go?” she asks, running her palms down the steering wheel. I nod, and then quietly, “Yeah.” The engine growls, no one needing to be quiet here. She pulls out onto the motorway as I twist the knob on the radio, so the music fills the car up. I’ve never heard this song before but I have the urge to scream the lyrics. Sam drives fast. Even when she’s not helping a girl escape, she goes fast. I roll the window down so the wind grabs at my hair. I still have his mug. I hang it between my fingers, and hold my hand outside the window. The speed is insistent, and the mug feels heavier than usual. I let it go. Even with the music and the car, I hear the smash. I don’t turn to look at the fragments on the side of the road. I sing along to a song I’ve never heard.
by Jason Jawando
Report by Dr Sarah Coe: Unexplained Outbreak, United Kingdom, 20xx: I was contacted by the Department of Health four days after the election. I knew about the outbreak; it was all anyone had talked about over the weekend. Although the details needed clarification, there were already signs that this wasn’t being spread in either of the usual ways: contagion or infection. There was speculation about the means of dissemination, but at the time, it was nothing more than a disturbing rumour. Nevertheless, there are more eminent specialists in my field and I attribute the Department’s approach to my status as a non-UK national, ineligible to vote. The first symptoms were spotted on Friday morning, the day after the election. We have now established that the first sufferer was Mark Anderson, the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary, not the two cases reported in Penrith. Mr Anderson’s symptoms were noticed by a colleague at 02:45, but dismissed as the result of stress or fatigue. From then, the outbreak progressed slowly and it wasn’t until the following afternoon that his wife sought medical attention. The two cases in Penrith, Adam Johnson, Chair of the local party, and Ruth Sanders, a solicitor, were reported at 03:15 and 03:20 respectively. Both progressed from no symptoms to severe swelling around the neck and ears within minutes. The proximity of the two sufferers lead to an inevitable, but erroneous, conclusion: I have established that Mr Johnson and Ms Sanders, because of their respective schedules, could not have been in direct contact with each other for several months. Mr Johnson had been in contact with Mark Anderson on the Prime Minister’s visit to Penrith during the election campaign. It is becoming apparent, however, that such proximity is unconnected to the outbreak. On Friday morning, the nation awoke to news that the Prime
Minister had been unexpectedly re-elected and that individuals as far apart as East Anglia, West Wales, the South coast and Outer Hebrides were reporting outbreaks of swelling around the neck and facial area. The size and extent of the swellings varied from a slight puffiness below the chin, to an expansion of up to 75 millimetres across neck and lowerface. The rate of reported outbreaks grew steadily over Friday and Saturday, reaching a plateau on Sunday. Since then, the rate of new occurrences has slowed, but not stopped. Contra the usual patterns of epidemiology, outbreaks are at their highest in rural and more affluent areas. Although certain areas of London report a high rate, areas such as Hackney and Islington remained relatively untouched; likewise, cities in the North of England and Scotland report that outbreaks are largely confined to the suburbs. The few reported cases in Northern Ireland have occurred in individuals who have travelled to the Province since voting on Thursday; no one registered to vote in Ulster has reported symptoms. The expatriate community abroad has reported a high rate amongst those exercising a postal vote, but no instances among the non-British community, even those in close contact with British nationals showing symptoms: this was the first indicator that the usual rules of contagion donâ€™t apply. The time taken for symptoms to appear is best illustrated through examination of the government benches in Parliament. Significant numbers of government MPs reported symptoms on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; the Prime Minister remained symptom-free until Tuesday; while seven members of the government benches remain symptomfree three weeks later. Substantial numbers of party members are also infected, as are some members of other parties. The events leading up to, and immediately following, the election have been well-rehearsed, but are included here for the sake of completeness. The opinion polls, despite an attempt at more rigorous methodology, proved wildly inaccurate. Almost all polls predicted that the government would lose office, with some predicting a landslide. Exit polls suggested they would be the largest party, but without an outright majority; by 02:30, shortly before symptoms began to show, it
was apparent that the government were heading for a small majority. The spectacular failure of the polls would have been subject to greater media coverage had the story not been eclipsed by the outbreak. The inevitable post-mortem has yet to begin, in part because of the large outbreak among senior pollsters. When, or if, the outbreak subsides, an inquiry seems likely. For any investigation to be effective, honesty must become an imperative. The link between vote and diagnosis is still tentative, and there are several apparent anomalies to consider. I have been given access to sufferers – more important would be access to non-sufferers – but not voting records. Most have asked for reassurances about confidentiality: I have sworn not to tell more spouses, best friends and parents than I care to count. Despite this, several subjects have been evasive about their voting habits. Shortly after the outbreak began, I spoke to Michelle (not her real name). Michelle’s symptoms were unmistakeable – characteristic swelling under the chin and behind the ears – but her partner is a prominent member of the opposition. “You have to believe me,” she said, “I didn’t vote for them. I’d rather die.” She had no explanation for her condition. Her friends and family have expressed support, but rumours about her condition have spread around Westminster. A week after the election, she disappeared, stopped answering her phone, stopped going to work. I visited the couple’s house – her partner was believed to be in his constituency – there was movement behind the tightly drawn curtains, but no one came to the door. If we are to tackle this, the cooperation of Michelle, and others like her, is imperative. Media speculation, as is to be expected, has not helped. One midmarket tabloid grasped at an alternative explanation: their editorial line seemed unsure whether the outbreak was brought in on a ship from a conflict zone in the Near East, of it had always been present and wasn’t the result of human behaviour at all. A downmarket tabloid, meanwhile, claimed that it was a conspiracy dreamed up by academics to justify their existence and change the nation’s voting habits into the bargain. There is no evidence to support either position. There have been substantial outbreaks among the editorial staff
of certain newspapers, but also some surprises. The editor-in-chief at one broadsheet, a prominent critic of the government, took to wearing a scarf in public. During the second week, he finally admitted a sort of truth: he had voted for the candidate, ‘a good constituency MP and a personal friend’. The editor of a tabloid, the government’s most vocal cheerleader, remained unaffected, her health almost indecent. This may not be incriminating itself – there is still no indication that all voters have been affected – but lead to the revelation towards the end of week two that she hadn’t voted at all. At first, she claimed that she had been busy with work, but it has since emerged that she has been having an affair with her proprietor: an American citizen with no entitlement to vote in the UK. Online, there are rumours and counter-rumours. If you want to read about the CIA conspiracy to subjugate the British people, or the oil-rich Islamic nations intent on colonising us I can point you to the relevant sites. Equally if you’re convinced that blaming human beings is barking up the wrong tree and that God us punishing us for returning such a morally corrupt government (or for not returning them with a large enough majority) I can find you plenty of support. I am a scientist however, and scientists need data. I tried again to contact Michelle. Her partner’s office sent me an email: Dr Coe, Michelle has now been referred to University Hospital for a second opinion. The new specialist has confirmed that her symptoms are consistent with an unusual strain of mumps and not the so-called ‘virus of shame’ currently reported elsewhere in the UK. Thanks for your interest. Ah, the ‘virus of shame’, a nickname for the outbreak that appeared about a week after the election. Like the outbreak itself, no one is sure of the source. Dr Tim Foulkes, a former colleague at St Anthony’s in London put it like this: “People woke up on Friday and realised what they’d done: their bodies are punishing them.” If it had been anyone else, I’d have dismissed it as the rambling of a crackpot.
The theory is untenable. The sheer number of government MPs and party workers – people who should feel nothing but jubilant about the election result – who have succumbed tells us this. Dr Foulkes is not a crackpot, however, but a respected professional who seldom speaks with undue haste. I think his claim demonstrates just how stumped the entire scientific community has been by the affair. Many were anxious to dismiss the link at first as they were unable to explain it. The business of government needs to continue despite the outbreak. The main problem with the symptoms is just their unsightliness. Some sufferers have reported fatigue, but this appears not to be widespread. The politically-neutral civil service hasn’t been heavily affected, although there does seem to be a concentration at the higher grades. After nearly two weeks, the Department of Health finally agreed to fund a public information film. Getting it broadcast will be another battle. In the film, I ask for honesty. People afflicted by the outbreak must come forwards and they need to be honest about how they voted – the same for people who voted for the government but aren’t afflicted yet. At the same time, this judgemental attitude from people who didn’t vote for the government needs to end. The film’s most touching moment is the to-camera piece by a party activist. “Whatever you think of me,” she says “I voted for the party who I believed would make Britain a better place. I can’t be allowed to suffer like this just because of my politics. If you have the symptoms, please come forwards; if you voted for us, but don’t have the symptoms, come forwards. It’s only by studying this thing that we’ll be able to beat it.” She tried not to cry when we filmed this, but as you watch the playback, a tear escapes her left eye and slides onto her face. There is, it seems, no antonym for ‘contagion’, just as there is no remedy, vaccine or prophylactic for the outbreak, at least at this point. Quarantine is not effective. The outbreak is already present in everyone who is vulnerable and, in any case, is not spread by direct contact. After three weeks, Michelle sent me a message out of the blue: ‘Rumours R Rite. Feel so ashmd. Just wnted him at home more.’
Saddleworth by R. J. Gardham
She climbed over the turnstile. The tall grass whipped her ankles in the wind. “Not that way,” said her father, coming up the hill behind her and turning left instead. “That way’s down to the ridge.” “How do you know your way around so well?” she asked in awe. “It all looks the same.” Never, on any of her visits, had her father gotten them lost. “You live here as long as I have, you learn your landscape. Speaks to you.” “Don’t,” said Anna with a shudder. “I already think this place is haunted.” “Not haunted. Alive. I read about it, once. This professor said that these moors change – the topsoil, the heather, the scrub – it constantly renews itself in a never-ending cycle. Reason why they never found that poor boy, and probably never will. These moors are shifting, changing. The very landscape is just as alive as you and me.” They walked on, the rough wooden fence, broken down, their only path-marker. Ahead, the ground sloped up. A great white patch, bare and chalky, appeared like a blotch on the face of the moor. “Is it really haunted though?” “Not Keith’s ghost, not that little girl’s, not any of them poor souls that them evil pair took. An abstract ghost. An amorphous thing. Everything that anyone’s ever said about it, or read about it, or thought about it, and then they’ve mentioned these moors in the same breath, that’s the ghost. It will always be haunted by association.” They walked on, past scrub and gorse. Birds flew high above, the lines of their wings smiling at them. Distant crags frowned, their rocky faces downcast. Everywhere she looked Anna thought she saw eyes. They rounded a peaty, muddy puddle and then stopped at a crest of the path. They took in the view under the grey, empty sky.
“It’s so lonely up here,” said Anna. “The moors have always been desolate,” replied her father. “People used to see a beauty in it. They still do, in other places. Now, here, they only see the despair.”
by Gwenda Major
I can’t deny I got a bit of a shock when I first saw her lying there. Right next to the bins. The rep had been wrapped loosely in an old tarpaulin, but somehow it had fallen open. I pulled the tarp aside a little more and saw that she had one leg bent underneath her body, eyes closed, her uniform intact but smudged with dirt. I knew there was no point checking; it was obvious she had been phased down. But I couldn’t help thinking that even for Victor it seemed a callous way to dispose of her. A lack of basic respect. I stared down at her face, the exact replica of mine. Same hair. Same complexion. I remembered that Victor had been quite secretive about her. Said he just needed her for administrative work in the business. After the initial data transfer there was no need for me to get involved he said. So I didn’t. It’s best not to argue with Victor. I used to try but I learned my lesson. I began to walk away feeling sad. There was nothing I could do. After all she was disposable. Slowly a thought trickled into my mind. I retraced my steps. Knelt down. Turned her right wrist over to check for the distinctive interlocking R symbol of a rep. But there was nothing. I checked the left wrist just in case. Nothing. Slowly I rotated my right wrist and there was the symbol. Clear. Unmistakeable. I touched her arm. Took one last look. And started walking.
by Geoffrey Heptonstall
The wind from the Pacific was stronger and cooler than the time of year suggested it might have been. Salt sea wind and hot sun burned pale skins, and caught unhatted heads so that the unwary were struck down. In the evening they collapsed. The next day was spent motionless in the cool of their room. That was how it was for unsuspecting visitors to the ocean. They had expected warm, white sand and high waves. They had seen themselves in the southern heat, in cotton clothes and shaded glass. They were sitting beneath enormous parasols where iced drinks were served at welcome intervals. The surfers were young and skilled. From the boardwalk came the rhythms of desire and expectation. That was, of course, how it had been in everything they had seen and heard of the coast. Anything less was wrong, like being told a movie star was not as tall as he acted. There was a picture, a long time in the making, of which they were the stars. It was called ‘California’. Now it was being ruined by the studio executives out of spite for the undoubted talent they had shown in telling the truth. The truth as it ought to be. When the wind came in cooler, names were being removed from the credits. This was another picture, a second feature that nobody would want to see. They could hear the popcorn and the derisive snickers of the kids waiting for the main attraction to appear at last. The following day, early, they were going upstate through the wine country, towards the mountains and forests that were natural wonders, not the celluloid that a studio could destroy. Nobody yawned at the sight of bears coming a little too close to the tour bus. Larry, the driver, said calmly, “Now, don’t you get scared. These fellas are more scared of the roar of this engine when I start up. Nobody gets hurt.” And that was true because the bears were scattered by the man-beast’s power. Bears could look in wonder at the iron birds that did no harm.
But these land creatures killed anything in their path. And in the evening they tasted more of the wine. Tonight it was a merlot as fine as the European wines, they felt sure. They talked to a couple of German college girls with excellent English. The Germans spoke clearly, addressing most of their answers to her rather than him, and asking no questions of him. But the young women were amiable behind the perfectly understandable caution. If you were foreign and young and pretty (and female) it was wise to be cautious on vacation. “You’re cautious enough yourself now”, later he said to her incautiously. The howl of what was that? – a coyote? – in the distance served to remind everybody that this was wilderness. This was not a city park. Of course, there were rangers. And there were rules: “Do not wander. Do not think you are Daniel Boone. The cabins are safe. The only creatures you may see there are lizards, and they will do you no harm, alarming as they may seem when they leap.” Then there was a city again. It took hours of highways, not all in good repair, before the first glimpse of tall towers of steel and glass flashing in the sunlight. That was the city, but not as they had wanted it to be. You think of wooden-boarded pavilions in rows climbing the steep hills where cable cars act like scary rides at a funfair. That is what they wanted to see. And the sight of the famous bridge, old enough to be much-copied, but looking original even now. There were many pavilioned streets above the aspiring tedium of the financial district. They were searching for poetry. The city was a poem that you were writing as you walked to the sight of celebrated landmarks. There was the bridge, the tower, the wharf, the church, the prison island long since abandoned. The sight of the prison island, especially in its abandonment, made you shiver. You could imagine yourself, falsely accused, over there in years of solitary. Now your ghost with vengeful cries haunts the visitors who idly pass by. Someone screamed when a street performer bursts jack-in-thebox style from a trash can. A prisoner had escaped, a madman was on the loose, rampaging through the city. Then there was laughter when the audience got the joke. A couple with a Midwestern look shrugged
indifferently. Well, this is San Francisco. What do you expect? You expect poetry. It was poetry that attracted them: the ease of living in a community that had nowhere further to go except upward into Parnassus. This was the worldâ€™s edge. The ocean is a reminder of the impermanence of things. The constantly changing waters may take this grain of sand to China. Or else it sinks into the undiscovered depths of the Pacific where mountains that dwarf the Andes are submerged. We do not know our world, you say. The city made their thoughts profound and their feelings poignant. There was a haze in the distance, an uncertainty that would pass over as rain. They hoped to reach Chinatown before the deluge. The darkening heavens forebode bad tidings of the world in flood. In the commercial blocks there was shelter but no hope. Who wants to be marooned in a business colony? There were places to pass through on the way to the living and interesting. It was, they reflected, disturbing the way the financial districts of the world had come to resemble one another. This could be anywhere. It was, they concluded, nowhere. There was another anonymity in Chinatown where so much life was hurrying noisily on seemingly urgent business of a kind they could not translate into the calm that was their preference. But here was the taste of the far side of the ocean that they had admired so much. These were the people who had flown across the world in search of something they could not find at home. Whatever it was it was not peace. That, like poverty, they would have in the village of a mountain province. Here was a chance that fortune had offered. The gate they had entered was of tarnished gold. They scurried, chattering among themselves, for purposes no stranger could discern. The visitors moved invisibly, spectrally through their lives. An ancient civilization has seen nations and empires come and go. What makes a visitor worth a second look? The Church of St Francis cast a shadow at the crossroads. The shrine was calmer than the weather that threatened the day. They found shelter, among books, as the rain swept across. Not even the house of God was spared the deluge. The significance seemed almost profound for a moment, only to fade before he or she could speak. Then there was the poetry itself. This is what they had hoped to
find. No, this is what they knew they would find as the heavens fell in fury, and the city lights made sense of premature night. Across the road they saw two young women with oilskins. Their backpacks looked like the pilgrim’s burden. She noticed them, and tugged at his sleeve. “Look, it’s those two we met in the nature reserve.” But, looking again, she saw she had been mistaken. The truth was she was hoping to see someone familiar, for they knew nobody here. Such coincidences did occur, of course, usually in fiction. It was one of the weaknesses of Dickens. It was a reason, they both agreed, for not reading him, although there were good reasons for forgiving him. ‘Barnaby Rudge’ he said. ‘Isn’t that the one set in America? Or is that Chuzzlewit?’ But this was not a fiction where everything is a network of chances written in complete sentences that furnished a series of paragraphs with a conclusion that made sense of everything that had gone before. They were speaking in phrases and overlapping dialogue. She was not listening as attentively as he hoped. He was not speaking as clearly as she wished. The rain stilled the traffic. Empty streets so early were an unexpected sight. People were changing their plans. There had been an electrical storm once when they took a bus out in the country. Someone’s dog was desperately barking and squirming frantically. Then there was the time in a hotel when it snowed and flashed with lightning, and they felt secure, watching the world end. This, however, was no more than Californian rain that would soon pass. In unfamiliar places you think, “They have weather just like ours.” They have many things. The crazy old bearded man at the window, for example. Was he looking for someone? Very likely not. He was looking. He had been looking for so many years he had forgotten what it was he had sought. Anticipation had given way over the years to a bemused expression that asked a question to which there was no answer. He was searching for a metaphor he could not find. One day, wandering the streets of the city he would stumble upon a few words that would explain everything he needed to know. Perhaps it would be a line of a busker’s song, or a graffito elegantly inscribed by an unknown.
Perhaps it was going to be something overheard in some strangers’ conversation. Those two in there, browsing – do they have something to tell me? They walked back to the hotel when the rain eased a little. They hoped the clouds would part so that the moon would be in view. Tonight was a full moon. He told her of a moon he had seen at midsummer. No longer a pale, luminous eye upon the world, this moon was larger and darker. This was not how it should be. It had felt like a portent, although he could think of nothing unusual happening afterward. They liked to see a new moon, also. That sliver of lemon in the sky seemed so promising. If it portended anything it was surely something good. ‘There is a moon at home,’ she said. “It’s the same moon. But it doesn’t feel the same.” She did not ask him if he understood. The assumption, naturally, was that he would understand. And if he did not then that was no fault of hers. It was no fault of the moon. Nobody supposes they will end up crazy and old, peering through windows. The young always will be the stars of their movies. It is later that we see ourselves as passers-by. The old man looking in is the young man reading the book. But that is not a thought we like to think. They were so far from home. It had taken a long time to come this far. So long a time had passed, it seemed, since they had arrived. Each of them felt a change inside, a quiet, barely perceptible transformation that usually takes some time to work its way through one’s being. Neither of them spoke of this, but it was there. They had seen more of the world than they had imagined. They imagined further journeys to distant places. As children these places were known while remaining out of reach. They planned that one day they would reach those places, including the Pacific shore. Every journey made a difference. Every homecoming was to somewhere less familiar. Home was half-forgotten. Had the invitation to remain been given, had it been possible to accept, the temptation would have been powerful. Perhaps it was the moon affecting human lives as it affected the motions of the sea. Without the moon people would feel differently, they were sure. Perhaps they would not feel at all. These were late night thoughts. In the morning there would
be ordinary and necessary things to do that would shape their day. Sometimes there was a visible moon in daylight. It was something a bright child observes before telling other children, who are intrigued by this world-shaking discovery. But in the morning there was no moon. It was a clear, unclouded day. A plane flew over, rising as it turned in a wide arc. There were crazy old men who once thought they could fly. And there were beautiful young women who were dreaming in the sky. That was how life was, and how it would be for ever. Most of the world’s poetry remains unfinished. But occasionally there rises the metaphor that stills all other considerations for a moment. We search for those moments, only to stumble on one unexpectedly, if at all. In the ocean were turtles and sharks and whales. Their world was the same earth as ours, yet a world seen only in glances. It was out there beyond the rhythms of the surf. The bridge was closed to walkers because people had been known to jump. In the ocean they sought oblivion. What they would find was beyond conjecture. Like the surf, our thoughts cascander in contemplating these things. The day was fine. The streets were dried by the sun after the rain. That was yesterday. They could not remember everything about yesterday because today was already passing. “You folks just sit and relax, and we’ll bring your order,” said the man in the café. He was Italian-American, an Easterner by his accent. He had come out West for who knows what reason? He seemed to have found it. And that was more than many could say. Here at the edge of the world it was possible to realize something of one’s hopes because the ocean ebbed and flowed, and the land was moving beneath one’s feet. Everything, they could see now, was given to change. They were not the same as they had been before they came. That was how it was. That was the script they had to learn by heart.
The Sundance Kid by Ruth Brandt
There were two police cars outside our house. The second I saw them my chest clutched my breaths. The police had parked like that, two cars right outside our house, the time we’d been burgled, when the kitchen window was smashed - all glass and blood in the sink - and the TV gone, and Mum’s ring, the one her grandmother left her, taken. And they had been in my bedroom and thrown my pyjamas on the floor, tipped up my mattress and taken the iPad Dad had given me for two birthdays and a Christmas. And my Chelsea bag. Mum had cried about my Chelsea bag. It wouldn’t be worth replacing my iPad, Dad had said on the phone, they might come back. I sprinted to my house when I saw those two cars, my school bag whacking against my back. I beat on the door: Mum, Mum. She opened it, big and real. Except “What have they taken?” I panted. She looked through me, not at me, like I wasn’t there at all. “Mum?” I could hardly say her name. My jaw had locked shut. “You’re moving into my room.” Mum’s face didn’t move, like she wasn’t Mum any more, like she was someone else wearing Mum’s body and Mum’s clothes. “Joe and Alison are having yours.” “Wha?” Joe only lived next door. It didn’t make sense that he and his mum were staying with us. “Just tonight,” the other person who’d taken over Mum’s body said. It had been OK sleeping in with Mum after the burglary, until she’d redecorated my room and my toys were cleaned as good as new, like no one had ever been anywhere near them. I was older now though. “Hurry up.” She pulled my bag from my shoulder. “They’re on their way over.” I didn’t want to move my stuff into Mum’s room or sleep with her
in her bed. “Now!” Joe’s parents were as old as everyone else’s grandparents. Joe was a late arrival, Mum said. Not a mistake, just unexpected. He had a cowboy hut in his garden, which his dad had built for his sixth birthday. A wood shed with shelves and a wooden cowboy bunk. Outside, a cowboy, taller even than his dad, leant back against the hut, his hat tipped down over his eyes, hands in his pockets, legs crossed at the ankles. His dad had carved the cowboy out of a tree trunk, painted it black, called him The Sundance Kid. He’d given Joe a cowboy hat and a cap gun, and Joe had a cowboy birthday party where we lassoed a bucket of sweets, just like proper cowboys. We’d baked beans in that hut, prepared cow hides, spat tobacco into a spittoon. No one else had a cowboy hut like Joe’s. No one else had a Sundance Kid. Joe and Alison turned up with a policewoman. Mum talked about cups of tea with sugar. I ate three Jaffa cakes without her noticing and my eye started blinking without me wanting it to, just like it used to. Joe stood by the kitchen door, hands in his pockets, head down like The Sundance Kid’s. His mum didn’t say a word. “Why don’t you take Joe up?” Mum said, all sing song. I nodded and waited for someone to tell me that Joe’s house had been burgled, that the rooms had all been turned upside down, that human shit had been smeared on their walls and someone had pissed on their carpets. No one did. “OK,” I said. Joe followed me upstairs to my room where we played Minecraft for a million hours. Downstairs, teaspoons clinked and more policemen arrived and muttered away. “Did they take a lot?” I asked. Joe raised his head. His lips were the same colour as his face, his eyes focussed past me like Mum’s had. “I think Dad’s dead,” he said. “What?” I said like I hadn’t heard properly, like I was stupid.
“I think -” Joe didn’t finish, he left it at that. “Shit,” I said, because we fought Indians together, we skidded our bikes till our tyres wore down to the fabric, we herded cattle. No one died. “When can I have my room back?” They had spent a whole week sleeping in my room and watching our TV, and they still weren’t gone. We were waiting for the inquest, Mum said. Alison didn’t feel comfortable returning to the house until everything was settled. She didn’t like the thought of that at all. No one at school said anything to Joe. They didn’t say much to me either. Whatever Joe had done, I had done too because Joe was living with me. And anyway, I was sleeping with my mum. Mum said it was the least neighbours could do, after all, no one would wish what they were going through on their worst enemy. She bought more biscuits. Joe had to be a witness at the inquest because he had discovered the body. His mum had gone off to work and he had made his dad a cup of coffee. He called and called and then gone to look. His dad was hanging there, rope lassoed round The Sundance Kid’s hat. The cowboy took Joe’s dad’s weight. It was well made, they said, sturdy. Joe had left the coffee by his dad’s feet. The letter said that Joe had been the best thing his dad had ever done. It said he loved Alison, that she was the love of his life, always had been, always would be. It said he wanted her to be happy and this way, with him out of the equation, she was free to follow her heart. I moved back into my room with Joe when Alison went to live with Dave. Joe said he didn’t want to go to anywhere near Dave or his house. Alison cried leaving him, all red eyes and snot and tears. Mum said to give it time, to let water flow under the bridge and anyway, it would probably be OK for a short while. Joe and I got along, didn’t we? I didn’t mind Joe living with us; I had got used to him. I wanted to tell him he could share my dad, but my dad wasn’t like Joe’s dad. My
dad never made me a cowboy hut, never organised a birthday party. My dad never sang me to sleep.
Bandit Fiction is very proud to present our first ever publication, a a short pamphlet of art and written work that we feel is just the bee'...
Published on Dec 20, 2017
Bandit Fiction is very proud to present our first ever publication, a a short pamphlet of art and written work that we feel is just the bee'...