Authors: Matthew Stott
his Mum found the kitchen a mess, blood everywhere,' said Dad over tea.
Mum lowered her fork. 'And? Go on, what next?' She was salivating, but it had nothing to do with food.
Sam ate his tea quietly. Ever since the news of Mark's disappearance had broken, it was all anyone talked about—from the kids at school, to the teachers, and now Sam's parents. Everyone seemed to relish the story. They pored over every made up fact, telling tall tales about what they’d heard from a friend of a friend. Lies becoming truths, twisted and handed on.
Dad continued: 'I heard she went up to his bedroom next, pulled back the covers and, well. A mess. Like he'd been pulled apart, or chewed up and spat back out again. Course, the police are keeping that bit all under wraps whilst the investigation is ongoing. Calling it a ‘disappearance’. Must think we’re daft.'
'Bloody hell….' Mum raised the fork to her mouth and proceeded to chew thoughtfully upon a hunk of pork. 'How many bits was he in? Arms and legs?'
'Yeah. I think so. He definitely had a leg off, anyway. And his head! Head was found under the bed, both eyes wide open still.'
'Blimey….' Chew, chew, swallow.
Sam hadn't been able to stop thinking about Mark since the announcement in assembly. He'd even gone the long way home to pass by Mark’s house. A police car had been parked outside, an officer half-asleep in the driver’s seat. The truth was that no details had been released by the police. Not yet. But still people revelled in imagined horror.
'He was a bully,' said Sam.
Dad turned to him in surprise. 'What's that?'
'A bully. Mark was a bully. Every single day of his life, that’s all he did. He punched. He spat. He prodded. He hurt. He humiliated. Every single day.’ Sam shrugged. ‘Maybe he just finally bullied the wrong person. Got what was coming to him. I don’t think anyone will miss him all that much. His Mum maybe. Maybe not. Probably not.'
Sam’s parents looked at him, wide-eyed; Mum even paused mid-chew.
'That is a disgusting thing to say, Sam!' said Mum. 'He's been brutally murdered and you sound like you're glad he's dead!'
Sam didn’t say anything, just reached for the salt and sprinkled it liberally over his food.
'Disgusting,' agreed Dad. ‘Show a little respect for the dead, boy.’
Mum shook her head and turned back to Dad. 'So his head was completely off?'
'Completely off. Good night, Vienna.'
'I think Mark was killed,' said Sam.
‘What’s that?’ replied the boy.
‘Mark. The bully. I think something terrible happened to him.’
The boy nodded. 'I heard,’ he replied. ‘'Do you feel sad? It seems like you feel sad. Why?'
Sam thought about this. Did he feel sad? No. Perhaps that made him a bad person. But no, it wasn't sadness he was feeling, it was uncertainty. Like his stomach was constantly churning since hearing the news, and he wasn't quite sure why. Like he should know. Like it was being hidden from him.
'No,' said Sam. 'I dunno. He was horrible, but…. wait, how do you know about what’s happened to Mark?’ asked Sam.
‘You know, don’t you? How could you know something that I didn’t? Aren’t we best of friends? Better than best?’
‘Better than best,’ agreed Sam, and his heart felt like it grew half a size as he said the words. Better than best friends.
'You know, I think I had a weird daydream about Mark’s house after being told,' said Sam. 'I think I did. I've never actually been in his house though, so I don't know.'
'What happened in the daydream?'
Sam thought, and he thought, but it wouldn't come. 'I don't know. I just think I was in his house and I think it wasn't a good thing.'
‘Well, have you ever been in his house?’
‘No. Of course not.’
‘Well that’s that. The brain is a funny thing. Let's play a game,' the boy suggested, standing and heading over to the pile of board games in the corner. 'Ludo? Scrabble? Not Monopoly, Monopoly takes too long.'
A sudden thought struck Sam. 'Did you go to Mark's house without me?'
Sam’s friend didn’t stop or turn around; he just kept looking through the different board games.
‘Well? You never went to Mark’s without me, did you?’
The boy turned to him, his face hidden by shadow, although the room was brightly lit.
'Of course not. Let's play this.' The boy sat and began to lay out the Scrabble board.
Sam opened his mouth to say something else, but then couldn’t remember what it could be. He shook his head. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that a bully was gone, and Sam had a friend. A better than best friend.
'You keep score. I hate keeping score,' said Sam.
'Okay,' said the boy.
was strange for a while. For a few days at least. The spectre of Mark hung over the building like a dark blanket. It was the hot topic of conversation for pupils and teachers alike.
‘I hear it was his Dad, come back at last. A screw loose, you see. Killed Mark with his bare hands whilst off his face on drugs and booze and other things and then took the body with him.’
‘Well, this is what happens when you let gypsies camp out on Brewers Field. I said it should never have been allowed, but did anyone listen to me?’
‘Maybe he killed himself.’
‘What, pulled off his own head?’
‘Oh, that’s not even true. Mary, who knows his sister a bit, said they found him hanging by his neck. Oh, and his tongue had been pulled through a slit in his neck, so it hung like a meat tie. Gross, right?’
‘Probably a homeless person, broke in looking for something to steal. Took the body to try and cover up what happened.’
And on, and on. Every scrap of information was seized upon and chewed over feverishly. Not that there were many scraps. The police said little and the press uncovered less. Within a week, with no fresh pieces to toss around, the conversation moved on.
Most of the children were relieved that Mark was gone, and felt no reason to pretend otherwise, no matter how gory his manner of dispatch had apparently been. The cruel King was dead.
Kath had taken over Mark’s old gang. There had been some dissension in the ranks, but her fists had swiftly answered all concerns. Although stern, she didn’t have the same single-minded drive and cruel streak as Mark, and the other children of the school were much happier with her in charge.
Finney became her number two, with Varinder once again stuck as third banana.
Often, on his way back home after the school bell rang, Sam found himself taking the long way home, so he would pass Mark’s house. Occasionally he’d turn up to find a police car outside, but more often than not, it just looked like an ordinary house. You’d never know that something gruesome had happened just behind the bricks.
Once he saw Mark’s sister leave. She didn’t look like Mark; she had much finer features. Sam didn’t get the impression that she was all that distraught about things. Then again, what must it have been like for her to live with a creature like Mark? Sam assumed Mark had made her life Hell on a daily basis. Maybe she was a little glad he was gone, too. He’d followed her for a while as she left the house, without knowing why. When she’d reached her destination, a friend’s house, Sam turned back and headed for home.
On this particular day, Sam was sat on a wall opposite Mark’s house, eating an apple.
Ally dropped her bag on the ground and hopped up onto the wall beside Sam, lighting a cigarette and inhaling deeply, before blowing out expert smoke rings. She winked at Sam. ‘Practice makes perfect.’
‘Smoking is bad for you,’ replied Sam.
‘Yup, and that’s just one of its cooler attributes.’ She passed the cigarette to Sam, who paused, then took the thing gingerly in hand.
‘Peer pressure, peer pressure!’ Ally chanted.
Sam placed it between his lips and inhaled. The series of hacking coughs that followed almost caused him to fall off the wall.
Ally laughed and retrieved her smoke. ‘Let that be a lesson to you, kid.’ She inhaled long and deep, and let the grey smoke seep lazily from her mouth and nostrils.
‘So,’ she said, ‘I suppose school must be an easier ride since….’ She gestured towards Mark’s house.
‘Yes. For a lot of people.’
Ally nodded. ‘I mean, it’s not nice, don’t get me wrong, but that kid sure was a rotten apple.’
‘The most rotten ever.’
‘You know, if it had to happen to anyone….’ She shrugged, leaving the rest unsaid.
Sam nodded. ‘I dreamt … I sort of dreamt, or imagined, that I was in his house. I saw him screaming. Silent screaming. And. Well. Yeah. I’ve never actually been in there, though.’
Ally leaned back and regarded Sam, a single eyebrow raised. Sam shrank back a little.
‘You have a serious dark side, boy. If you were a few years older I would be crushing on you something fierce.’ Ally flicked the ciggie stub into the road with studied nonchalance, where a curious bird picked at it with its beak a couple of times, before flapping away.
They stayed on that wall for several more minutes, before Sam said he had better get home for tea. Not too far away, something watched them. Something hidden by the tall grasses of the overgrown field.
weeks slipped by and the weather began to turn unseasonably cold. Sam found that he kept forgetting all about Mark, which was odd. Odder than odd, and perhaps odder even than that. Then he would be sat at the dinner table, and his Dad would bring up the fact that the police were still failing to find any sort of a suspect, and Mark would pop back into his conscious memory. How could he have forgotten that? He tried hard to hold onto the memory each time it resurfaced, but soon enough Mark faded out again and Sam got on with the vital business of playing with his best friend.
'Come on!' Sam hissed, as he leaned from the window and grabbed hold of the tree branch that seemed to reach out to greet him.
It was late and his parents had gone to bed. Sam and his friend had waited for an hour after they heard the pair close their bedroom door, before dressing silently and opening the window. They’d clambered out into the tree and Sam's heart cannoned with the taboo excitement of sneaking out after dark.
Sam dropped onto the ground where the boy was already waiting. Street lamps illuminated the path, left and right, empty streets calling them forth. Crying out that it was time to run and be wild.
As one, they turned right and ran from the house, jumping and whooping and living. Lights would flick on here and there as they screamed past strangers’ homes, but they were already out of sight by the time any annoyed, sleepy eyes peered out from behind parted curtains.
As he ran and ran, the cold forced its way down Sam's throat, but he didn't care; they were the wild things and this was their domain.
The streets looked alien at night. Like a stage suddenly devoid of actors. Sam was seeing the familiar with new eyes. Seeing the place he’d called home his whole life at a time of day that made it feel off, unnatural, illicit, alien. No one was out here—he certainly shouldn’t be—to see the streets so bare and at peace. It was a ghost world, and he and his best friend were the only ghouls in town.
That night they ran until their legs gave way and caused them to fall to the ground, flat out and exhausted, laughing with unrestrained joy at how alive they were.
They didn’t pause for long, for the night was short and it would soon leave them behind. Sam leapt to his feet as soon as he was able and gestured for his friend to follow.
And they ran once again.
Without realising he was even heading in that direction, Sam found himself climbing the fence and entering Oldcoat Field. It was the overgrown area where he and his very best and only friend had so recently had their victory over Mark the bully. Mark the dead bully. And so the memory flooded back again and the itching of the mostly forgotten daydream.
'Do you remember what we did to Mark here?' asked Sam.
'Who?' the boy replied.
'Mark! The bully. We really scared him.'
The boy walked ahead, pulling fists full of ragged vegetation from the earth, then tossing it into the air where the wind claimed it as its plaything, blowing it this way and that.
‘When I think about him, I feel as though … as though I’m guilty of something.’
Sam’s friend threw more grass into the air and spun as it tumbled around him.
‘Do you know what happened to him?’
'I don't think I like your babysitter,' said the boy.
'What?' replied Sam, snapping out of his thoughts. 'What's wrong with Ally? I like her.'
‘She thinks she's your friend.'
'She is my friend. Sort of.'
The boy stopped and turned to Sam. 'I'm your friend, aren’t I? I came here for you because that's what you wanted. I suppose I could always go away if you don’t want me anymore.' The boy turned and ran for the fence, leaping it as though the distance was nothing and sprinting down the road beyond. Sam did his best to give chase, scrabbling with rushed difficulty over the fence.
'Hey, wait for me!' Sam called, desperately trying to catch up, but as he looked around he saw it was already too late. He was alone. Alone in the middle of the dark, dark night and trespassing onto streets that should be sleeping.
Sam was no longer a wild thing; he was alone again. Alone meant sad, meant vulnerable, meant ignored. He didn’t want to be alone again. Didn’t want to feel scared, scared like he did right now.
‘Please! Come back! Come back!’
But no one and nothing answered his calls. Sam ran blindly into the empty night, but it was useless. Finally he collapsed to the ground, his fingers digging into the soil.
Half an hour later, he scaled the tree outside his window and climbed quietly back into his bedroom. He turned on the light, and even checked the large trunk at the foot of his bed, but he wasn’t there.
Sam’s friend had gone.