Something in the way you love me won't let me be

I don't want to be your prisoner so baby won't you set me free

- Madonna, Borderline

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


1 Carnival Queen

Marnie Sleightholme was well chuffed when she got the chance to be carnival queen, and she couldn’t give a shit if it was true what folk were saying about her only getting picked because she’d had her right arm ripped off.

2 Gypos

Uncle Cyrus had had a beef with the gypos ever since he’d come up short at dinging the strongman hammer bell a couple of carnivals past. He’d slapped down the mallet and it had only gone up half-way. Soon as that dinger starting falling, I knew sure as hell there was going to be trouble all right.

3 Eleutherophobia

Everybody knew Shandor Marley’s mother liked to spend more time flirting with serial killers than she did taking care of things at home. So when her son went round with an air rifle popping his neighbours like they were allotment pigeons, they figured all the boy really needed was a bit of attention.

4 The Parish News

The Ladies’ Group held a tasting of ten different puddings in the village hall. They were:

5 Sweet Tooth

Trisha dreamed of being a Playboy Bunny since the days she still had buck-teeth and fried egg boobs. She blu-tacked page threes above her bed-head and had me snap topless Polaroids till they littered the floor. She told me to imagine she had 36DDs and peroxide blonde hair. I used to wish like hell that she wasn’t my cousin.

6 To Boldly Go

Jason Munt said him and Carly Furnish got beamed up by a bunch of aliens just after he’d boldly gone with her in the car park woods. It was the boldly going bit people thought was bullshit.

7 Nine Lives

Lorna Feargal kept sixteen cats and slept with schoolboys, one for each cat, give or take.

8 Shiny And New

When Debbie first got pregnant we had her going that the bairn would most probably pop out looking like that pervy old codhead off the fishfingers packets. It was our way of taunting her for getting herself knocked up while the fleet was in.

9 Hannah & Alec

Hannah walked in on Alec while he was taking a shower. Alec shouted, ‘what the hell?’ He grabbed out for a towel and lost his footing. He splayed nude on the tiles. Hannah tugged down her tights and plonked on the toilet seat. She looked down on him and teased her eyebrows high. She started to pee. She said, ‘when a girl’s gotta go, a girl’s gotta go.’

10 Seventeen Days

I turned on the news and I thought, this can’t be right. There must be some mistake. These sorts of things just don’t happen round here.

11 Odd Kirk

I don’t reckon the sun’s ever come up quite the same since the day it happened. I’ve been watching it for years now and to me it still don’t look right somehow. Maybe it’s just me thinking it, sending myself doolally after what I’ve done. But I swear every morning it creeps up and it’s looking at me, all knowing like. And when you reckon the sun’s acting like that over you there isn’t a right lot you can do about it, beyond burying yourself away like a mole in the soil.

12 Revelations

Debbie Bullock’s mum was as horny as hell till the day she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary scouting up at her from the bottom of a fish and chip tray. Call it divine intervention, whatever. That was the day the shit really started to hit the fan.

13 Jimbob

Jimbob Blakey wasn’t so much given birth to as clambered right out of his mother himself. He weighed in at almost thirteen pounds, came ready-fitted with a shock of fat black hair and a couple of razor teeth.

14 Good Oil

Johnny got a tattoo of his girlfriend’s name inside an arrowed heart on his upper left bicep. He said it was to show Carol how much he loved her. Carol took one look and decided she loved the estate agent a whole lot more. So Johnny changed the tattoo himself, using biro ink and a sewing needle, so it said ‘Castrol’, as in the oil. Then he added ‘GTX’. The ‘T’ and the ‘X’ strayed outside the arrowed heart, and even in his own opinion made the thing look messy. Johnny spent a week in hospital with blood poisoning. He said what the hell, it’s good oil.

15 White Power

As forty-something neo-Nazis went, no-one was denying she was hot as shit. She had short-hacked hair that shone white as a Klan hood, and a perma-tan so deep she was in danger of having to start to hate herself.

16 Loonies

Our topic is loonies. We got the idea for our topic from all the loonies who live in our village. Loony means lunatic, which means someone foolish or eccentric. Calum’s dad says our village is going down the pan.

17 Cow-tipping

The sight of all those schoolgirls’ legs unfolding off the buses at just past four o’clock every afternoon is almost enough to shut anybody up, except for Roscoe Williams when he’s got another one of them stupid ideas of his rattling around in his thick old head.

18 Chat Room

hi all!!! has it really been ten years?! time flies when your having fun!!! (not!!!) thanks for popping by, there’s a few peeps (?) i couldn’t track down, anyone know what happened to ged blowes, marnie sleightholme, jake birdsall??!!

Carnival Queen

Marnie Sleightholme was well chuffed when she got the chance to be carnival queen, and she couldn’t give a shit if it was true what folk were saying about her only getting picked because she’d had her right arm ripped off.
Ever since the accident, Deborah Bullock had been using twice as much make-up to disguise her rage. Marnie being picked as carnival queen had only made her pile it on even thicker. Deborah Bullock told anyone who would listen how it was a complete piss-take to give the job to a cripple.
‘Imagine getting a wedding cake covered in frosty decorations and shit like that, but it’s already got a big chunk bitten out of it. Well, that’s exactly how it is.’
Deborah Bullock had dreamed of being carnival queen since more or less the start of primary school. She used to tear their pictures out of the newspaper and dress up to look like them, and tell Marnie she never could because she was too fat and ugly even to pretend.
It was Deborah Bullock’s on-off boyfriend who’d been driving the car Marnie had been sitting in when it veered off the road and crashed into a tree halfway down Back South Lane.
It was pointless trying to hide the truth. There was only one reason anybody went down Back South Lane at that time of night, and the flashing blue lights illuminated the exact location for the whole town to see.
When Marnie came round in a hospital bed, the first face she saw was Deborah Bullock’s. She felt an ache in her side and blinked her eyes. The room was bare and cold. There was an empty chair in the corner. Deborah Bullock slapped some cheap flowers down on the bed and leaned in. She smelled of talcum powder and nicotine.
‘Do you want the good news or the bad news? The good news is you’ve finally lost some weight. The bad news is, they’ve chopped your right arm off. So you’re still a fat bitch.’
Deborah Bullock’s mouth curled into a satisfied smile and she got up. She snatched back the flowers and walked away. Marnie looked down at where her right arm should be. It was so thick with bandages she could hardly tell if it was still there or not.
Marnie had been secretly going with Deborah Bullock’s on-off boyfriend for three months up to the accident. He was a little bit taller than her with short black hair and a gold stud ear-ring. She liked the way he had a good body from working out, and how he didn’t go round shouting his mouth off about how easy she was. Most of all, she liked the way he was Deborah Bullock’s on-off boyfriend, and how every time she went with him it made her feel better about the shit things Deborah Bullock used to say and do to her when they were kids.
When Marnie came out of hospital, her step-dad glanced up from his dinner plate and said, ‘You should be getting yourself a nice bit of compo out of that, love.’
Her mother started treating her like she was some kind of idiot. She spoke loudly and more slowly, and was always checking she’d remembered to go to the toilet or have something to eat.
Marnie got a letter to say she was going to get sixty-three grand for the accident. She read it twice then folded it up as tightly as she could with her one good hand, and stuffed it deep in a ball of tights she never wore. She phoned her job at the animal feeds factory and told them she needed a little more time.
When they asked Marnie to be carnival queen she said yes straight away. She knew nothing would piss Deborah Bullock off more. She even thought if she’d known how pissed off it was going to make her, she might have chopped her arm off herself a long time since.
She looked forward to sitting down on the cane chair on the lead float, wearing the same kind of snow-white dress and sparkly tiara Deborah Bullock used to not even let her pretend to put on.
She imagined seeing Deborah Bullock in the crowd, and how she might shape a single V-sign in her direction. She didn’t care if anyone else would see her do it, or if Deborah Bullock might flick two back and say, ‘beat that’. None of that would matter. Marnie would know at that moment that everything had worked out fine.


Uncle Cyrus had had a beef with the gypos ever since he’d come up short at dinging the strongman hammer bell a couple of carnivals past. He’d slapped down the mallet and it had only gone up half-way. Soon as that dinger starting falling, I knew sure as hell there was going to be trouble all right.
Uncle Cyrus was generally half-cut on carnival day even before the floats started their chug round the parade ring, and with a reputation like his to keep up there was no way he was going to stand there and take that kind of shit.
There he was, planting his feet square-on and ranting about how the fucking thing was rigged and the gypos were a bunch of thieving sponging bastards just as he’d always suspected, and how he was going to step right up and take his money back and a whole lot more.
Course, a fair crowd had gathered round at that point and up stepped one of the scrawny-arsed gypo blokes with arms like twigs and a bale of wild grey hair. He looked about as likely to ding that bell as Uncle Cyrus had ever been to turn down a drink.
Yet he stepped right up and one-handed sent that thing whizzing right up the pole and ding-ding-ding-ing right across the fairground. There was silence then, save for a right old splutter from Billy Lunn. Uncle Cyrus went over and decked him with a good enough right hook to ding bells in most other places.
Sticking your nose in someone else’s business always took a lot of guts in our house, but the way that wine bottle filled with petrol was perched on the side I reckoned it was left there to be asked about.
Uncle Cyrus swung down to my level and took hold of my shoulders in such a way that my chin was almost touching the seaweed-green tattoos on the tops of his knuckles. He said: ‘People who glue coconuts to their shies so kiddies like you can’t never win no prizes? Well, them kind of people deserve every kind of warm welcome they’re ever going to fucking well get.’
His eyes searched mine and he said, ‘besides, we’ve got unfinished business with them, don’t we?’
I croaked out a yes and I knew right away it sounded like a big fat lie. His eyes kept searching, then all of a sudden they lost interest, like someone flicked off the last weak glow-light inside his messed-up head. He stood up and turned away, mumbling something about real men under his faggy-beer breath.
Uncle Cyrus was right. Those coconuts had used up a heck of a lot of my pocket money at the carnival over the past two years, and I still hadn’t got a single one of them to show for it. Not that I ever worked out what I’d do with one if I ever got it. Probably hold it to my chest like a trophy and search out a couple of nice girls to parade it by. Then maybe I'd have lobbed it at the bare wall behind the greengrocers until it broke, and watched sour milk spew out over the potato sacks.
But there was never much chance of that because those coconuts never even wobbled if you hit them flush. They clicked off their sides like ping-pong balls. The gypo who ran the stall dropped your money in his pouch real slow and cackled at you through splintered teeth. We called him Hurricane Billy. We called him that because everyone said it would take a wind that strong to shift his coconuts.
Funny, Uncle Cyrus going on about the gypos being thieving sponging bastards like that, because he’d never done a proper day’s work since he moved in with us two years ago, after my real dad finally lost out to the cancer. Truth was my dad’s lights went out the day he had the accident up in the forestry and had to go on the disability. Since that day he’d given up on just about everything, including me. Seemed to figure drinking himself to death was as good a course of action as any. He turned yellow as a rape-field and his punches started to carry a lot less hurt. The day he found out he had six months to live he shook my mum and me from our beds to break the news. He got a bottle of cheap cooking brandy out of the cupboard and made us all swig it till we were sick to celebrate.
My mum hadn’t even had time to cash the compo cheque when Uncle Cyrus rolled up on the doorstep with a knock-off Head holdall full of his belongings. Said he was carrying out my dad’s dying wish to come and lend a hand through the hard times. That was a laugh as my dad had never been able to stand the sight of Uncle Cyrus since Uncle Cyrus let him take sole rap for a poaching charge when they were mid-teens old. Uncle Cyrus stopped sleeping on the couch after less than a week and from the sounds coming from the bedroom it was more than a hand he was lending in there.
Still, it wasn’t no worse than having my dad around the place, least not until the gypos came back. My uncle said gypos were like rats and if we didn’t do something to get rid of them now the next thing there’d be a whole plague-full of them scuttling around up there. They’d be robbing our shops and raping our women and there wouldn’t be two shits we’d be able to do about it by then.
That’s when I got some stupid-arsed idea that I’d make him proud. I knew how that strongman hammer bell was still dinging around in his head and I reckoned I’d take it upon myself to tell him how I’d got us even.
I muddied myself up good one day in the car park woods and crashed in on his beer-supping and said, ‘them gypos just jumped me. But I fought ‘em off.’
Well, it sure served to rile Uncle Cyrus up just the way I wanted. That bell was fair ding-ding-ding-ing all right in his wide-open eyes.
He rose to his feet. ‘Jumped?’ he said. ‘Where?’
I made up a right good tale about how I’d been traipsing through the car park woods minding my own business when all of a sudden they were on me, biting and scratching and shouting words I didn’t understand.
‘I threw out my hand,’ I said, motioning a feeble right-hook. ‘I heard a crack. There was blood. Then they legged it.’
Uncle Cyrus tried to fight a small smile spreading across his thin lips. He crouched down and searched my eyes again and hissed, ‘Gypos, huh?’ I couldn’t work out if he believed me or not.
That was a while ago and I thought things had worked out fine. Sure, the gypo story was all around the village but there didn’t seem no-one inclined to head up the lane to search out the truth.
Only when the caravans kept on coming did Uncle Cyrus’s mood go back to being a whole lot darker.
‘You’re not lying to me are you, son?’ he’d say, always searching my eyes while he said it. I’d shake my head and look away.
‘Show me your best shot again.’
I’d swing another pathetic right hook.
‘Bust his nose, did it?’
He’d snort: ‘Must be - what you call it - hee-mo-philics, them gypos.’
Looking back now, I reckon that wine bottle filled with petrol was Uncle Cyrus’s way of saying that he’d figured out it was all total bullshit on my part. Two days later I was down in Mad Harry’s woodshed at sunset, holding that bottle’s neck and getting ready to get us even whether I liked it or not.
‘How’s it feel, son?’ said Uncle Cyrus, looking down on me all proud like I was all set for heading out on my first push-bike.
‘Fine,’ I said.
Mad Harry had always scared the shit out of me. He lived up to his name. Anyone round the place who walked with a slight limp or peered out from behind a sliced-up face, it was a fair bet they’d had a run-in with Mad Harry some time.
Mad Harry held the wine bottle. He pointed to the sticking-out rag. ‘You set it light here, you lob it there, then.. boom.’
Uncle Cyrus laughed: ‘Boom!’.
We trudged out the other end of the car park woods for a bit of target practice. Brambles tugged the bottoms of my trousers. I puffed out second-hand fag smoke with the steam from my breath. They both wore big backpacks. Sweat stains spread from under. We climbed a barbed-wire fence and stopped in front of a tall oak tree.
‘See that tree?’ said Uncle Cyrus.
‘That’s the caravan belonging to them dirty little gypo friends of yours.’
‘See that woodpecker hole?’
‘That’s the window one of them kids who jumped you’s pointing his dirty little head out of right this minute.’
He handed me a bottle, corked and filled. It was almost too cold to touch.
‘Well?’ he said. ‘What are you waiting for?’
‘Aren’t you gonna light it?’ I said.
Mad Harry shook his head. ‘And luminate our plans for the whole place to see?’
‘Besides,’ said Uncle Cyrus, ‘it’s only a fucking tree.’
I stood up and dug my feet in the grass. I held the bottle tight round its neck and drew it back. I threw it as hard as I could. It somersaulted a few times in the air then fell to the ground with an unbroke thud.
Uncle Cyrus said, ‘Jesus wept.’
Two hours later their back packs were empty of practice bottles and their shards shone across the field like a first-thing frost. By the end I was hitting the woodpecker hole roughly one in three. Uncle Cyrus said so long as I got it in the general vicinity it would do its job.
My right arm burned more than I reckoned them gypos ever would. When I’d thrown the last bottle Uncle Cyrus slung his arm round my shoulder and hugged me tighter than just about anyone ever had before. He said, ‘this is our secret, kid. You just remember that.’ We walked home together, Mad Harry out in front. I don’t mind admitting it felt good all right.
I sat up that night with Uncle Cyrus for just about the first time. He ordered my mum to bring us each a whisky. When she complained, he pulled a face. ‘Kid’s gotta learn,’ he said. I laughed. We downed them in one. I had more, enough to make me sick and dizzy. Next thing, it was past one o’clock and Uncle Cyrus was shaking me awake.
I got my boots off the radiator and pulled them on and followed Uncle Cyrus out in the dark. We stood outside the back door and Uncle Cyrus cupped his hands and blew in them then lit a cigarette.
After a couple of puffs that drifted out into the dark he nudged me and held out the cigarette. I took a suck, held it as long as I could before I puffed it out. When Mad Harry came with his backpack we started tramping up the lane. The stars were hid. The hedge-tops hulked. I stumbled over tree-roots. There was no wind. I could hear Mad Harry breathing hard, ruttling a little like he had bits inside him coming loose.
After what seemed like ages Uncle Cyrus touched my arm to tell me to stop and we hunkered down in a clearing. Mad Harry took a hip-flask from his back pack and took a big swig and passed it to Uncle Cyrus and he did the same. Uncle Cyrus jerked me round and filled my face with whisky fumes. ‘See there?’ he said. I followed his arm and saw a light through the branches. ‘That’s them.’
Mad Harry scrambled up a small bank ahead. Mud soaked through to my knees. When we got to where we could see the caravans, Mad Harry turned round.
‘Don’t want to be waking them mutts.’
‘What mutts?’
Mad Harry didn’t say anything.
‘What if they set them on us?’
Mad Harry ignored me. Uncle Cyrus gave me a shove from behind. ‘You run faster,’ he said.
There were three caravans. Their sides were white under outside lights. The windows were dark. I imagined the gypos sleeping inside. There was a pick-up truck and an old Cortina. A bigger truck was parked to the side. It was almost a lorry. It was half covered in a tarp, but you could just make out a painted sign peeping out of the end. The air smelled of old bonfires. A chain clanked.
Mad Harry jerked his arm to tell us to follow. We kept in the trees and skirted right round the back so the big truck was nearest.
‘Here,’ said Mad Harry, and sat down and began opening his back pack.
‘See where the tarp’s highest?’ said Uncle Cyrus, moving close again.
‘I reckon that’s more than likely the fucking hammer thing.’
‘What do you reckon you can hit the bullseye?’
I didn’t take my eyes off the tarp. I said, ‘easy.’
Uncle Cyrus patted my shoulder. He said, ‘make sure you hit it good.’
Mad Harry pulled out the wine bottle. ‘Once it’s lit, you throw it right away,’ he said. I nodded. He placed the cold bottle in my hand. ‘Then you run like a bastard.’
‘Dogs or no dogs,’ added Uncle Cyrus.
‘Down there.’ Mad Harry flung his arm into the blackness and began to stomp off.
‘Get through the trees and head up the path,’ said Uncle Cyrus. ‘They’ll more than likely figure we’ve headed off downwards.’
I held the bottle both at the neck and underneath. Uncle Cyrus struck a match and it went out in the wind. The second time it caught hold of the rag.
‘Go!’ Uncle Cyrus hissed. I looked at the top of the tarp.
‘Go!’ he barked again, louder second time.
I pulled my right arm back and threw it forward and let it fly just like I’d learned. I stood and squinted. I lost it in the dark. Then there was a crash and the top of the tarp lit up in orange flames. The dogs started barking. There were shouts from the caravans. I ran the way Mad Harry said. I turned and saw the flames lick up the sky. The shouts got louder. In the dark I heard Uncle Cyrus’s footsteps. They slapped through the undergrowth, getting further away each time.


Everybody knew Shandor Marley’s mother liked to spend more time flirting with serial killers than she did taking care of things at home. So when her son went round with an air rifle popping his neighbours like they were allotment pigeons, they figured all the boy really needed was a bit of attention.
Shandor finally flipped one day after finding out the inbred farm boys who made his life hell most days were in fact his half-brothers. He returned home to confront his mother only to find her pritt-sticking press cuttings of the Mad Killer into a brand new scrapbook and seemingly not in the least bit concerned by her son’s unexpected discovery.
Luckily Shandor’s shooting spree didn’t do too much damage beyond putting one of his so-called new father’s eyes out, which could be considered doubly unfortunate given as the so-called new father in question owned the old byre Shandor and his mother called home.
After Shandor had spent enough time shut away in borstal with the kind of kids who would’ve sent his mother all weak at the knees, he went straight home half-expecting the byre to be boarded up with a blu-tacked note saying she was lugging her stupid arse to Texas to spring her latest psycho boyfriend from his cell on death row.
Shandor was thinking how much that excuse would sit well with her as he scuffed up the stone track to the byre with a black bin-bag of belongings and a sunburned arm across his forehead to shield himself from the glare.
The place looked pretty much the same as he remembered it, only three years worse off. The strip of grass outside the back door was parched yellow and paint peeled around the blown-out windows. He had a hand on the door before he knew for sure it was still lived-in. He flapped thunderbugs off his forearm and creaked open the door. The kitchen stank of stale cigarettes and the dregs of spirit bottles. A black man glowered up at him from a photocopied rap sheet on the kitchen table. Shandor pushed open the living room door and he could hear his mother through the floorboards above. ‘Fuck me Hillman,’ she was repeating. ‘Fuck me Hillman’. With each thump a puff of plaster dislodged from the ceiling and lit up in a triangle of sunbeam as it drifted down.
‘My Hillman’ – that’s what she’d called the guy in the single letter she’d sent him during his time inside. ‘My Hillman’ – he imagined her cooing out his name like he was some kind of cute rescue-puppy, not a gun-toting psycho who’d bagged himself a cell on death row and a trans-Atlantic pen-pal into the bargain. ‘I’m telling you,’ she’d wrote, ‘he’s an innocent man and one of these days we’re going to prove it.’ She was planning to get out there and tie the knot before he got fried. Evidently the closest she’d got to Texas so far was a few afternoons of role-play with some equally fucked-up local in the master bedroom, and a trip down to Costcutters for a crate of Southern Comforts.
Shandor’s mother had been wetting her knickers over bad boys ever since the Mad Killer and most probably before. Billy Richards, they called him, and he had some beef with the army that ended in him shooting dead his old mother and her new man before heading into the forest and shacking himself up in a tree-house for a week or so and picking off another three coppers while he was at it. In the end they got him surrounded and Billy Richards blew his own brains out rather than turn himself in.
Shandor was eight years old at the time and a bit too young to be scared shitless by a lunatic on the loose but he remembered the way his mother acted all disappointed and stopped watching Look North every night from the moment she found out it was over. Shandor pulled a cigarette from his jeans pocket and placed it between his lips but the moans and thumps of his mother upstairs were pounding into his brain so he tossed the bin-bag into the corner of the room and reckoned he’d go and get the public appearances over with instead.
Shandor headed straight for the car park woods. Most of the kids he grew up with would be lifers at the animal feeds factory by now. But Shandor knew there’d still be Johnny and Chelsea hanging around the benches, too spaced-out to care. On his way down the high street he fixed his eyes on the pavement every time a car came past. A bunch of kids leaned their heads out of a rough-sounding Vauxhall Astra and one yelled over the stereo thumps, ‘Marley, you fucking psycho.’ They returned five minutes later from the other direction and drove level with him for about half a minute calling names and shouting threats. One threw an open carton of milk which splattered the house wall behind him, catching him with spray.
Johnny and Chelsea both looked thinner than Shandor remembered and Johnny was wet-eyed and white-faced and pretty obviously still on the glue. Chelsea was curled into his side shivering in spite of the heat. Neither noticed Shandor until he was close enough to reach out and touch Chelsea’s goose pimpled arm.
‘All right?’
Johnny turned his head and blinked slow three or four times to focus and said, ‘fucking hell, look who’s here.’ When Chelsea didn’t respond he stuck his elbow into her skinny ribs and she started and looked up and a faint smile cracked over her lips.
‘Them Thackeray boys is after you.’
Her voice was husky and breathless. She made it sound like having two of the local arseholes on your case was a thing of awe.
Johnny said, ‘every time they see their old man’s eye patch they think up something new they’re going to do to you when you’re out.’ His forehead creased and he said, ‘well, you’re out now.’ He draped his arm round Chelsea and squinted up. ‘Me and Chelsea, we’re an item.’
Shandor couldn’t much face the idea of spending the rest of his days keeping a look-out for the Thackeray boys. The thought that they could be half-brothers of his almost made him want to spew the last of his borstal breakfasts. More than a few people had been known to say that if there was any justice in the world the Mad Killer Billy Richards would have left them poor coppers alone and taken out the Thackeray boys instead. Then he’d have had a statue built for him on the village green and not bits of his brains splattered all over some tree-house on the edge of the forest.
‘Yeah, well. They don’t scare me.’
Johnny snorted and hung his head between his knees to gob on the flags. ‘They didn’t scare Ged Blackstock but that didn’t stop him getting skinned like a fucking rabbit.’
The whole village had been witness on show day one time when they tumbled out of the beer tent around sunset and accused Ged Blackstock of being after rutting with some fancy of theirs round the back of the swingboats.
Next thing, they had Ged’s ankles twined up and a rope hooked up to the back of their Massey Fergie and Caleb yelled, ‘floor it!’ and booted Ged in the ribs with his steel toe-caps for good measure. Billy junior flashed this sick grin and hauled him right across the middle of the parade ring and there wasn’t nothing anyone had a mind to do to stop him.
One thing that could be said was that they feared their father. Or more than likely they feared what he might do with their shabby old farm once his days were numbered. Far as they were concerned the place could rot but they could see plenty of pound signs worth harvesting out of the acres around it. Their father was known to be upset more than a few times by their antics and he was even said to have forced his sons to cough up some of their own dosh to pay a portion of Ged Blackstock’s hospital bill. Everyone half expected Billy Thackeray to wind up poisoned or mysteriously shredded under a combine’s spikes one day. They feared that day, because so long as he was still breathing he was the only one who could keep those boys just about in check.
Something in Billy Thackeray had obviously snapped all of a sudden a while back and led to him telling those good-for-nothing boys of his they had another blood relative in the running for his riches. The secret was still warm when the Thackerays plucked Shandor right off the benches and chucked him in the boot of their old green Volvo without a word. Lord knows how many hours later the boot sprung open and the sudden sunlight was shut out by a meaty fist. Shandor was hauled out on the edge of the forest and trussed up tight to one of the trees. The brothers sat and smoked and drank and took turns getting up and aiming kicks and punches at Shandor until sunset.
With each can the kicks got sharper. With each kick they told him he’d better stop planting fancy thoughts in their old man’s head and that he’d better get used to the fact he’d be long gone before he saw a penny of Thackeray inheritance.
They took off his shoes before they crunched away. Hawthorns tore at the soles of his feet and he trailed coughed-up blood the whole way home. By the time he made it back the sky was bleeding white. The next day, Shandor still had enough anger swirling in his fuzzy, beat-up head that it didn’t take him long to decide to pick up the air rifle and head out a-Thackeray-hunting.
Despite the way it looked, Billy Thackeray hadn’t been the one Shandor intended to hit. It was just his misfortune to be clanging past on that Massey Fergie of his when Shandor opened fire. But the way Shandor saw it, if he was going to hit anyone but the boys it may as well have been the man they were beefing over having claimed to be his dad.
Billy Thackeray had never been much of a problem in himself. Shandor could tell that by the way his mother was still shacked up in the byre. Fact is, his mother had a hell of a lot to thank Billy Thackeray for. It was him who got the byre cleaned up and gave her somewhere to stay when she landed up in the dale eighteen years ago with just a scribbled address of some unknown and, as it turned out, freshly-dead old friend and a sob-story of a time when one of them psycho boyfriends of hers had ended up getting a little too real-life for comfort.
In return, Shandor’s mother worked her keep with household chores that evidently ended up in the bedroom. Once Shandor himself refused to do any more helping-out in the fields due to the constant taunts and threats of the Thackeray boys, Billy Thackeray lobbed him an air rifle and told him to head off culling crows and get out from under their feet.
Thinking back, Shandor reckoned he always had an inkling of something amiss because Billy Thackeray could come across as a mean-hearted bastard when he wanted to but to him he was nothing but tolerant. Shandor would stay out long hours stalking the hedgerows with the rifle slung over his shoulder and he never once had the nerve to pull the trigger. He lost count of the number of times he trained his sights on one or other of the Thackeray boys lolling around in the shade on one of them long cigarette breaks of theirs, and wished he had the nerve.
Shandor reckoned Billy Thackeray had it in him to recognise his remorse and not hold too much of a grudge that way. He kept a good look-out on his way back up to the farm and started at every swish of grass or distant drone of engine like it was Billy Junior and Caleb sneaking up to wrap their cold hard hands around his scrawny neck in the nick of time. He was relieved to note the absence of the Volvo in the old yard. He lamped over the last gate and caused a couple of the Thackerays’ old mutts to start yapping and clanking at their chains. Even seeing it was Shandor wouldn’t shut them up. The yard hadn’t changed. The silo hulked over the farmhouse roof. The empty hay barn perched awkward on its stilts. Rusty parts of farm machinery had been reclaimed by the undergrowth. The yard stank of silage and wood-smoke.
‘Well, well,’ rattled a voice from behind him. Shandor spun round and saw Billy Thackeray leaning against the gate-post. He wore a fraying black eye-patch and the way he screwed his good eye up against the sunlight made it seem to Shandor more like he was judging him.
‘I must be the only one round these parts who reckoned on you having the balls to rear up like this,’ said Billy Thackeray. He kept his good eye trained on Shandor. Billy Thackeray’s insides squealed up like an old horse cart every time he heaved a breath. Shandor’s eyes darted for any sign of his sons. ‘If there’s one place you’re safe enough hiding out from them two buggers,’ said Billy Thackeray, noting his alarm, ‘it’s right here where they make out to belong.’
Billy Thackeray cocked his head towards the old farmhouse and began shuffling towards it. Shandor remembered how in the days before he got shot he’d be tossing hay bales into the back of the trailer like they were sacks of air. He could out-throw Shandor by more or less four to one. Now Shandor reckoned he’d be lucky enough to get a single one of them off the ground.
They stepped into the stone-floored kitchen and even after Shandor’s eyes adjusted the room seemed dark. Billy Thackeray lit the stove and filled a pan full of water. It sloshed over the sides as he carried it to the heat. He scraped back his chair and plonked himself down and caught his breath. He looked up at Shandor and said, ‘you never were much cop at shooting them damned crows.’
The room was cool. The pan began to bubble on the stove. Billy Thackeray looked away. ‘When the missus went and died young on me like she did, I never did reckon on finding me no-one else. Then up steps your mother out of the pasture one morning. Just lands right up here on the doorstep, all wrung out in morning dew.’ He looked out of the window as if he was seeing her over again. He placed his palms flat on the ledge and concentrated on drawing up his chest.
‘I don’t want nothing,’ said Shandor. ‘Tell ‘em that. I don’t want nothing.’
Billy Thackeray didn’t seem to hear. ‘Happen that airgun pellet was the Lord’s way of telling me summat.’
Shandor didn’t wait for the tea. Instead, he walked right out of the door. Billy Thackeray stayed glued at the window. He tramped the back way through the copse and swung his feet at the wild garlic. The heat stuck heavy despite the shade of the tree-tops. Sunlight speckled the ground. Crows cawed. He’d hunkered down here when those roaming Thackeray boys were looking for trouble. It was the only place he knew where nothing but a blood-hound would’ve ever been likely to find him.
When he got through the copse he came out half-way up the valley side and from where he was stood he could look right across the green sweep of the dale to the grey moors up behind. He looked down at the byre where he grew up in and where his mother was finishing rutting with her latest death row role-play. From his high-up angle, he could see over into the scratchy old horse field next door and round the back at the overgrown pill-box. He got a twist in his stomach when he saw the brothers’ old Volvo hid in a space alongside.
Not rushing, Shandor swung down through the grass and lamped over a couple of barbed-wire fences until he met the rough track heading up to the house. As he reached its edge he heard the rough cough of the Volvo’s old engine and the spit of gravel and he stood over the side-ditch and felt ready for the meeting he’d tried so hard to wish away.
A smirk spread across Billy junior’s rat-faced features when he rounded the corner and he slowed to level. His eyes closed to slits. ‘Well well,’ he said. ‘Look who it isn’t.’ He lost the smirk. Caleb, the younger one, puffed on a thick roll-up in the passenger seat and kept looking straight ahead. He said, ‘we’ve brought you a beauty little welcome home present.’
‘Man,’ said Billy junior, ‘this brother of mine, he’s fucked up in the head about as much as you.’
They laughed. ‘Not as fucked up as your mother, though,’ said Caleb.
‘Isn’t no-one in this whole dale as fucked up as her.’
Billy Junior said, ‘see you around, fuckface,’ and gobbed down the middle of Shandor’s tee-shirt, a great thick greenie that took its time to fall. He pressed the accelerator, and Shandor turned and watched until the car specked to dust..
He went in the front way. He shouldered the rotting front door and trampled months of free newspapers and unopened post. When he got in the living room he stopped and sat on the couch and ignored the muffles coming from upstairs. He lit a cigarette and this time he smoked it through.
Then he trod up the stairs in the same footprints as the Thackerays’ muddy work-boots and heard the muffles getting louder as he did. He pushed open the bedroom door and saw his mother for the first time in two years. Handcuffs stretched her arms back in a shape like a half-diamond. A black bra pulled her mouth back into a sick Joker-smile. She was naked and spread-eagling her charms –clawed-at nipples and her still-glistening cunt. She looked pretty much how he always figured she’d look without clothes. He imagined how much better she might have looked to Billy Thackeray back then. She crossed and uncrossed her legs trying for modesty, then she flipped on one side away from him like a grounded trout. The room smelled of cigarettes and sweet alcohol and ripe farm-boy sweat. The light fitting still dangled bare from the middle of the ceiling and a bin-sack was still taped against the edge of the shut-up window. It was shoved aside enough to make a pool of sun on the mattress. His mother cricked her head over her shoulder and looked at him and tried to speak. Shandor reached across for a half-full bottle of Southern Comfort and he took it then he left the room. He trod down the stairs ignoring the muffles. He went out through the kitchen, past the rap sheet on the table. He couldn’t help noticing how Hillman’s great big bug-eyes were still staring right out at him, like they were following every move.

The Parish News

Ladies Group
The Ladies’ Group held a tasting of ten different puddings in the village hall. They were:

treacle sponge
caramel custard
chocolate fondant
chestnut crème vacherin
apple charlotte
summer pudding
crème brulee
cherry ginger crunch

Junior Football
Wayne Barnes got caught nobbing Carly Smurthwaite in the disabled bogs of a McDonald’s. Pants round his ankles, he laughed out, ‘it’s tradition.’ It turned out Carly Smurthwaite had a history of celebrating with the winning goal scorer. Coach told Carly Smurthwaite her days as chief cheerleader were well and truly over. Carly Smurthwaite said, ‘I thought you’d be happy, like.’ She pointed out since she started her incentive scheme results had improved by fifty per cent. Siddy Lunn and Dean Marley got caught nicking straws. Siddy Lunn said, ‘they’re free anyhow.’ The McDonald’s guy said, ‘not the dispenser too, dickhead.’ Two miles down the road, Grady Williams chucked up his McChicken Sandwich over the back seat. During the mop-up, Ged Blowes lamped out the fire door and went missing. Conrad Scruton said, ‘he just said he was getting out of here.’ The cops were called. The bus was three hours late home. They found Ged Blowes next day, sleeping rough at Woolley Edge services.

Aquarist Society
The Aquarist Society held its annual presentation night at the Fox and Rabbit. First prize went to Mr M Smith with an albino guppy. Second prize went to Mr G Williams with a roshai guppy. Third prize went to Mr L Seed with an albino guppy.

Classic Cars
Danny Swales skidded his souped-up Vauxhall Astra round the car park till his tyres went bald. It spat gravel, spewed techno. He hung out an arm and held on the wheel one-handed. Sometimes he missed corners and ramped over flower beds. He sent a rubbish bin spinning. A fag stuck angled from his lips. Sarah Daley sat in the passenger seat, reeking Anais-Anais and exhaust fumes. She stared forward.

Vintage Working Day
A Vintage Working Day was held at Boyes’ farm. Entertainment included motorbikes, shire horses, bouncy castle, steam engines, threshing, saw bench, tractor pulling, stalls, auction, bric-a-brac, tombola and plant stall.

Playing Fields Committee
Tammy Marsden and Kayleigh Barker sat up on the swings till after the chip shop shut. When the lights fizzed out they swigged the rest of their Lambrusco and crossed the street to the Kwik Save. Kayleigh Barker said, ‘you sure about this?’ Tammy Marsden took a spray can from her bag. She sprayed, ‘Blake Scruton is a homo’ on the front window. Kayleigh Barker took the spray can and sprayed, ‘and so is Jake Fearnley’ underneath. They were bathed in blue light. A cop said, ‘gotcha.’ Half-way back to the station Tammy Marsden said, ‘are we going to prison?’ The cop looked back over at her white thigh. He said, ‘I doubt it.’ Kayleigh Barker leaned through the seats, said, ‘we didn’t mean nothing.’ The cop studied her in the rear-view mirror. He said, ‘I know you.’ Then, ‘are you Kayleigh Barker?’ Kayleigh Barker said, ‘who’s asking?’ The cop said, ‘I went to school with your sister.’ He smiled through two bends. He pulled over in a lay-by. He said, ‘you take after your sister, huh?’ Kayleigh Barker scowled back. The cop kept watching. Kayleigh Barker said, ‘what the fuck?’ The cop clicked the doors, said, ‘get out of here.’ The girls hiked back. The cop’s radio crackled. He shook his head, whistled through his teeth.

Quiz Night
The popular monthly quiz night was held in the village hall. The answers were:

1 no
2 yes
3 gravad lax
4 Ku Klux Klan
5 woodwind
6 cygnets
7 Germaine Greer
8 smallpox
9 Snoop Doggy Dogg
10 Upper Volta
11 pizzicato
12 it cannot fly
13 rickshaw
14 ‘just like that’
15 wool
16 arachnophobia
17 Fatima Whitbread
18 dogfish
19 Windermere
20 chicken tikka masala

Artie Blowes stacked up his shotgun and headed out in the dark. He could hear the roaring a mile off. He brushed through the snarly grass by the edge of the lake. He aimed his gun in a copse. He said, ‘who is it?’ The voice said, ‘Jesus, help me.’ Artie Blowes said, ‘I ain’t Jesus.’ He elbowed branches and swung up his oil lamp. The lamp beamed on the youngest of the Thackeray boys. He clutched his ankle, dug in a wire loop trap. Artie Blowes said, ‘I knew it.’ His sock bled red. Next to him, rainbows rustled in a Kwik Save bag. Artie Blowes pointed with his gun. He said, ‘what you planning on doing with them?’ The Thackeray boy said, ‘get it off me.’ Artie Blowes said, ‘huh?’ The Thackeray boy said, ‘selling them.’ Artie Blowes shook his head. He said, ‘them brothers of yours.’ Then, ‘I’ve lost a fair lake-full.’ The Thackeray boy said, ‘it’s my first time, honest.’ His face lost colour. He said, ‘my leg.’ Artie Blowes said, ‘I got bigger traps than them.’ He reached and sprung it open. The Thackeray boy winced back, cried. When he tried to stand, he fell. Artie Blowes swung the lamp back to blackness. He said, ‘best you go reminding them brothers of yours.’

Gala Dog Show
Categories at the annual Gala Dog Show held at Thorpe’s Field on Sunday will be:
Dog with the waggiest tail
Dog looking most like its owner
Dog with the kindest eyes
Dog the judge would most like to take home
Most handsome dog
Most obedient dog

Camera Club
Marcia Wignall tugged off her Kwik Save coat and said, ‘is that the time?’ She took a boxed chicken bhuna from the freezer and put it in the microwave. She sparked a cigarette. She stubbed it and removed the bhuna before the ping. She forked a few mouthfuls straight from the Styrofoam. Billy Skaife came in the kitchen topless. She kissed him hello, handed him the bhuna. He ate a fork-full and tossed it aside. Marcia Wignall said, ‘best get a crack on.’ She headed in the bathroom. She stripped naked and dabbed a flannel at her privates. She smeared lipstick in the mirror and puffed her hair. She went in the bedroom and swept specks from the bed sheet. She clipped a frilly black bra and pulled on a panty and suspender set. She sprawled on the bed and shouted, ‘all set.’ Billy Skaife answered the doorbell. Barry Markham pushed past and said, ‘something smells good.’ He went in the bedroom, said, ‘well hey there, baby.’ He tugged off his coat. Billy Skaife followed in with a video camera. He said, ‘rolling.’ Barry Markham removed his trousers and pants. Marcia Wignall said, ‘someone’s all set.’ She unclasped her bra and reached for him.

Tuesday Club
Mrs N Willis was the guest speaker and she told the group about her recent trip in a convoy of trucks taking supplies to the Romanian orphans. Mrs K Ellis read a letter from the Cat Protection League, thanking the group for its donation of £128 from the recent bring and buy sale. The competition for prettiest scarf produced joint winners, Mrs V Kaye and Mrs M Fairbanks. Teas were served by Mrs K Ellis.

Ice Cream
Casey Fairbanks told the ice cream kid to give her five minutes then come meet her in the car park woods. She tugged her top button. The ice cream kid counted up slow then scooted right out the serving hatch. Casey Fairbanks sneaked round in the drivers’ seat and revved the 1964 Bedford straight up her estate. She handed out free cones and flakes before she heard the cops close in. She emptied the cash box and hitched off into town. She bribed a big kid to buy up fags and booze for the folks back home. She rolled up with a bin bag-full just as they sat down for tea. Casey’s mum said, ‘you got my Lamberts?’ Then, ‘that’s my girl.’

Ploughing Match
Results of the tractor ploughing tournament held at Thorpe’s Field: Class 1 (open): no entries. Class 2 (open): 1 G Scruton; 2 E Lunn; 3 R Ward. Class 3 (open): 1 G Scruton; 2 C Firth. Class 4 (open): no entries. Class 5 (open): no entries. Class 6 (open): no entries. Class 7 (open): 1 L Boyes; 2 A Thackeray; 3 G Boyes; 4 R Lunn. Class 8 (open): 1 P Lunn. Class 9 (open): no entries.

Supper Club
Feargal Manby asked for pizza and chips. Scotch Gordon said the microwave was buggered. Feargal Manby said, ‘just go ahead and toss it right in.’ Scotch Gordon laughed and said, ‘think of the calories.’ Feargal Manby said, ‘what would a man like me want with calories.’ Feargal Manby said, ‘how’s business?’ Scotch Gordon said, ‘steady away.’ The pizza frothed in the fat. Scotch Gordon said, ‘good night?’ Feargal Manby said, ‘so-so. Dead.’ Two kids came in. The taller kid said, ‘give us some scraps.’ Scotch Gordon said, ‘cheeky bastards.’ The taller kid said, ‘they’re free aren’t they?’ The shorter kid said, ‘give us some.’ Scotch Gordon said, ‘not on their own, they’re not.’ The taller kid said, ‘give us some, you Scotch bastard.’ Scotch Gordon shook his head, hooked the pizza onto paper. Feargal Manby said, ‘I know your mothers.’ The taller kid said, ‘who asked you, piss-head?’ He reached for the pizza. He frisbee-d it across the shop. It glooped against the price list, slid to the floor. The kids ran off, laughing. Scotch Gordon said, ‘cheeky bastards.’ Feargal Manby said, ‘think of the calories.’

Holistic Therapy
There will be a demonstration by the local branch of the Federation of Holistic Therapists in the Village Hall next Tuesday at 6.30pm when Sue Jacques will present a hopi ear candling demonstration. This is an opportunity to find out about the many conditions hopi ear candling can help with and how the candles form a seal when placed in the ear, which enables wax and other impurities to be drawn out.

Farming News
Ernie Bulmer loaded up his wife’s bedtime milk with enough Nurofen to rid her of her supposed migraine headaches for the best part of eternity. He said, ‘night, then.’ He switched out the lights, couldn’t sleep. Next morning, when she didn’t stir, he headed out to the pig shed and told his pigs they were in for a right treat. When he got back his wife was sitting at the kitchen table. She said, ‘we’re fresh out of pills.’ She nagged him so much he took off into town for more. Half-way back, he fell asleep at the wheel. They cut him out. He broke both legs and lost his sight. His wife said, ‘I don’t know what we’ll do about them pigs.’

Wood turners
The latest meeting of the Woodturning Club was attended by 15 members and guests. Club member Geoffrey Halliday was the demonstrator. Geoffrey made a vase from two timbers. One was used to make a narrow neck with a flared rim, the body of the vase had a pattern drilled in the top so that when this was shaped the holes became elliptical. These holes were then filled with a decorative resin and the neck was fitted.

Darts & Doms
Jessie Smurthwaite checked out on a 125 finish. He got slaps on the back and his girlfriend grinned. His opponent bought him a beer and said, ‘top darts.’ His team captain said, ‘you’re too good for this league.’ Jessie smiled and slurped some more. A new guy stood next to him no-one knew. The new guy said, ‘Jessie Smurthwaite, huh?’ Jessie turned, nodded. The new guy said, ‘whole county’s heard of you.’ The new guy bought Jessie another drink. He paid with a fifty, flashed a wad. He said, ‘ton says you’re not as good as you think you are.’ Jessie smiled and threw a fifteen dart leg. He checked out on double top. The new guy gave Jessie two fifties, called another drink. Jessie fed the jukebox. The new guy said, ‘you got gear?’ Jessie smiled, shook his head. The new guy lifted his wallet. He said, ‘I’ll say it again. You got gear?’ In the car park, the new guy asked for grass and pills. He said, ‘like I say, whole county’s heard of you.’ The new guy flashed a blade. He rifled Jessie’s pockets for grass and pills and fifties. He took the lot. He said, ‘you ought to be more careful.’ In the pub, his team-mate let a match-winning double drift.

Weekly Draw
The weekly draw numbers were: 9, 13, 25, 46, 75 and 66. There were no winners.

Sweet Tooth: The Kola Kubes Story

Trisha dreamed of being a Playboy Bunny since the days she still had buck-teeth and fried egg boobs. She blu-tacked page threes above her bed-head and had me snap topless Polaroids till they littered the floor. She told me to imagine she had 36DDs and peroxide blonde hair. I used to wish like hell that she wasn’t my cousin.
When she was fifteen Trisha started putting out for the boys in the Kwik-Save car park for a tenner a time. She said she was an entrepreneur, not a prostitute. She started going steady with a kid called Keith. He was a fryer in the fish and chip shop. He had a future and a Ford Cortina. She got a job waitressing and she worked all the hours she could. Keith couldn’t handle me and Trisha being as close as we were. Especially the time he caught Trisha bending over me in nothing but a frilly market stall thong while I worked the angles best I could to get a dangle-shot.
Next night he took her in the car park woods and doped her up to the eyeballs. He took out a bottle of India ink and told her he would etch the love-heart she’d always wanted. Instead, he safety-pinned the word ‘inbred’ into her arse.
Trisha’s step-dad tracked the spits of blood and found her sobbing in the bathroom of their long-stay static. It didn’t take him long to slap out the truth. He went straight round to Keith’s place with a crow-bar and did enough damage to make sure he’d need more than laser treatment to put things right. Keith wasn’t rolling in spare change so Trisha’s step-dad took the Cortina as payment in lieu of her getting herself fixed up. Trisha got me to stash the Cortina up the lane at the back of Boyes’ farm. Weekend nights, I drove her out to the dual carriageway truck-stop where she found a faster way to make her fortune in the fogged-up cabs.
One night Trisha headed back out of the orange glow and told me she was hitching a ride to London with a trucker called Greg. She leaned in and kissed me on my forehead. She had nothing but a pair of jeans-shorts and a Frankie Says Relax tee-shirt. I drove home alone over the black moors. I still smelled her cheap peach scent. An anchored tanker blinked in the bay. I felt pleased for her.
She stripped for pennies-in-pint-pots in the pubs around King’s Cross and said it was a means to an end. She said Greg had a friend of a friend who was going to make things happen. It sounded like bullshit to me but around a year later she sent me a photo. She had a gleaming fluoride smile and her fried-egg boobs had been whipped up into a perfect pair of those 36DDs she dreamed of. Her hair was buffed-up and golden bright. She strained out of a snow-white wedding dress. She asked me to pin the photo up on the fish and chip shop cork-board. ‘Fair play,’ lisped Keith through splintered teeth. He figured it was good for business.
Next I heard, she’d dumped Greg and filed for divorce. She got a break on page three and started sprawling in soft-core centrefolds. She promoted herself through footballer boyfriends till she hit on one called Carl who had a big enough name to get her in the gossip columns. When that went tits-up she consoled herself with a bigger boob-job. Her 32Gs got her more media than any top footballer ever could. She changed her name, first to Trisha-Marie, then to Kola Kubes. In an interview to launch her own line of adult movies, she said she got her giant boobs from the beef dripping they put in the chip shop batter back home. She said: ‘I swear I gained a cup size with every portion. I must’ve ate a lot of portions.’
She scored three nominations for the AVN Adult Movie Awards. She flew to Las Vegas where she table-danced for a Miami Dolphins line-backer called Larry. She won best newcomer for ‘Sweet Tooth II’. Next morning she and Larry celebrated by getting married in the Doo Wop Diner Wedding Chapel. He wore a tore-open dress-shirt and designer jeans. She wore the same cocktail dress she’d had on the night before. Champagne stains stuck in her front. She slurred her lines. On a late-night Las Vegas chat show, she flashed a wedding ring with a diamond the size of a spam fritter. She pointed her arse at the camera, hoiked up her dress and showed off her ‘inbred’ tattoo. ‘I keep it there to remind me where I come from,’ she said. Asked about her upbringing, she said: ‘It was tough. I got beat up. I ate dog biscuits. I had to get out of there.’
Larry said: ‘she’s my lover, and my soul-mate.’
Trisha’s step-dad moved himself and her mother out of their long-stay static and turned it into a sort-of tourist attraction. He stuck her early glamour shots up on the walls and strung a couple of her early A-cup bras from the curtain rail. There was a stack of pirated videos, each with a knock-off autograph. They sold at twenty pounds a time. Her step-dad told a local TV news programme: ‘Too right we’re proud of her. It takes guts to do what she did.’ He said: ‘Sure, we had our differences like any family does. But we’re more than willing to put the past behind us.’
Keith sold his story to a tabloid newspaper. His scarred face stared out from behind the chip shop counter over a two-page spread. The headline said: ‘Sweet-Talking Kola Left Me For Dead’. Greg sold his story. He said: ‘I gave her everything and she left me broke.’ Her first footballer said: ‘I scored with her six times a night.’ Three different men claimed to be her biological father. Her step-dad launched a defamation suit over the beat-up claims. He said: ‘I’m sorry it’s come to this.’ I was offered money for the Polaroids. I was barely scraping by. It was almost a year’s wages. As far as I knew, there were no other pictures of Trisha as a plain old buck-toothed, flat-chested kid. But there was no way.
Soon after, Trisha called me. It was the first I had heard from her in almost two years. She giggled her words. She said she was done with porno. She had other projects. She spoke about starting a family. She said, ‘if it’s a boy, I like Skywalker.’
I said, ‘what about Luke?’
She laughed and said, ‘Luke? That’s what I like about you, Bobby.’ Then she said, ‘I’ve got a job for you, anyhow. I’m coming home.’
I met her at Manchester airport. She swirled through the arrivals hall trailing assistants and zoomed-in by a TV crew. She was wrapped in a full-length white fur coat. She threw it open to hug me. People gawped. She burst into tears and said, ‘it’s been too long, Bobby.’ She held me tight to her hard breasts and I said, ‘you look great.’ She took my hand and led me to a stretch limo. The film crew bundled in alongside. We toasted ourselves with three bottles of champagne. She patted my knee and nuzzled my ear. I was drunk when we reached the city hotel. We had the penthouse suite. She phoned out for pizza and more champagne. She had her assistants knock randomly on the doors of the other guests and invite them up to join the party. She lounged on her bed in just a G-string. I said, ‘where’s Larry?’ She said, ‘fuck Larry.’ She told me about the house she was having built in Las Vegas with a pool shaped like a breast with a hot-tub for a nipple. She told me she loved me. She said again: ‘fuck Larry.’ She said I was the only one she could trust. I told her about the Polaroids. She said, ‘shit, Bobby, you still got those Polaroids?’ Her producer had me sign a stack of waiver forms, ready for morning.
Next day we drove out over the moors. She stared through the tinted glass. She said, ‘I see the sea!’ The sun shone off the sides of the buildings. The milk bottles were bright white. A paper-boy stopped to watch the limo roll past. Trisha buzzed the tinted window and lifted her top and gave the paper-boy an eyeful of her 34Gs. She giggled. The camera-man said, ‘that’s the shot!’ Her eyes darted for memories.
They took still-shots on the village green, in the Kwik-Save car park. We went in the Kwik Save. She cradled drink in her arms. She said, ‘I had my first time here.’ She laughed. ‘And the second time, and the third time, and the fourth time. Shit, I miss those times.’ A thin girl on check-out asked for her autograph. She wrote on a receipt roll: ‘To Deborah, follow your dream – Kola.’
We walked right in the fish and chip shop. Keith took one look and said, ‘oh, shit.’ He was older, fatter. She hooked up the back of her skirt and said, ‘remember this?’ Keith gurned. She said, ‘I forgive you. Now give me some chips.’ She said, ‘I forgot how good they taste.’
We went to the static she once called home. We rattled the door and her step-dad appeared from the next-door van. He rubbed the dust from his eyes and said, ‘fuck, it’s you.’ He looked at the camera and said, ‘what is this?’
Trisha said, ‘where’s mum?’ She went in the van. She said, ‘no cameras.’ Her step-dad put his hand up at the camera and said, ‘we’ve got to talk money.’ The producer looked at me, sighed. He said, ‘this bombs. This really does.’
We went to the pub. The producer said, ‘you really gotta liven things up a bit.’ She tore open her blouse and said, ‘well, boys, what do you reckon to these?’ She fed the jukebox and danced topless on the pool table. She sloshed her drink and sang out of tune. She stuck her heel in a pocket and fell to the floor. We carried her back to the limo. She fell unconscious. Her ankle swelled. We took her to hospital. I tucked her breasts back in.
A month or so after she went back to Vegas, she called again. She sounded drunk or high, or both. She would scream and cry. She swore repeatedly. She said, ‘they’ve axed the show.’ She said, ‘I’m scared, Bobby. I’m still in plaster, Bobby. I can’t get work. Why didn’t you come back with me, Bobby? Where were you when I needed you? You’re just like all the rest.’ Eventually, I hung up on her. I felt bad. She called back twice. She asked me to send her the Polaroids. She said, ‘I’m broke.’ I pulled the phone from its socket.
Two weeks later, I got another call. It was the middle of the night. A deep, cracked voice said, ‘Billy?’
I said, ‘Bobby.’
‘Uh-huh,’ said the voice. ‘Bobby, it’s Larry.’ He paused. ‘It’s Kola.’
‘Trisha,’ I said.
‘Uh-huh,’ said the voice. ‘Kola, Trisha, what the fuck, man. It’s bad.’
The post-mortem stated that Trisha died from a seizure brought on by an allergic reaction to creams prescribed to ease soreness after tattoo removal. It concluded that she already had an exceptionally high level of drugs in her body. They most likely also contributed to her demise.
They burned her in Vegas in front of Larry and a handful of co-stars from the Sweet Tooth series. They held a wake at the Tropicana resort hotel. They ate fish-sticks and fries. They drank champagne. Larry said: ‘it’s what she would have wanted.’ Then they sent her home. Pink smeared the sky. Her mother propped on two sticks and tossed her ashes in the salt-wind. I bunched up the Polaroids. I burned them too, and threw them up after her.

To Boldly Go

Jason Munt said him and Carly Furnish got beamed up by a bunch of aliens just after he’d boldly gone with her in the car park woods. It was the boldly going bit people thought was bullshit. Carly Furnish was a good God-loving girl. Trouble was, she’d gone missing. And Jason Munt had a weird crescent-shaped branding in his back, and was sticking to his story.
Jason got hauled in by the cops and told he was in a whole heap of trouble. He reported blinding lights and a feeling like floating. He described being strapped to a table by little green men. A cop slapped the table and shouted, ‘there’s a frigging girl out there.’ Jason said he knew how it sounded – the little green men, the whole thing – but it’s true: they were little and green, just like out of the comic books.
He volunteered tests for drink and drugs. He came back negative on both counts. They left him to stew. He said the last he saw of Carly was her being sucked up in some kind of light ray. He said, ‘she seemed asleep – all peaceful, like.’ Jason could not explain why he’d been beamed back down to earth, yet they’d seemingly taken Carly all the way off home with them to the Planet Zog. There were plenty of people willing to reckon it proved aliens had mighty good taste, but it wasn’t the time nor the place to say it out loud.
The cops released Jason after two days of questions. He stuck to his story throughout. The desk sergeant said, ‘mark my words, there’s a lot of hate out there.’ Jason headed straight home. He lived in one of the straggle of council houses leading up to the tip. Carly Furnish and her folks lived two doors down. Supposedly they were distant relatives, but that’s what everyone said about folks on that street. All it took was a couple of kids to get born with stumps for arms a couple of decades back to start the whole inbreeding thing. Others blamed toxic land-fill. The Furnishes made the most of what they got, and what they got mainly came from the state. They had six kids, seven if you include Ged, the oldest one, who swore he’d fell in love with a mermaid and threw himself off the stern of the Sally-Marie six years since with the famous last words, ‘I gotta go see her.’ When they line-hooked him back in he was smiling like he’d seen something more beautiful than the rest of us could ever dream. Deep chilled, fast-froze dead, but smiling all the same.
Carly was the last. After Carly, they gave up on kids and had a bubble pool built in their back patio. There were some reckoned it must have cost more than the whole rest of their house was worth. Sometimes, Jason would invite us round to take a peep through his curtains, hoping one of Janet or Nicky, Carly’s big sisters, would be out in their bikinis. They got wise to it, started sending their brother Keith round to give us black eyes. Keith had lost his mind like his brother, not that he ever had much of one to begin. Always chuntering on about shutting them skeg-holes of ours for good. No punches ever stopped us looking, but we never got sight of Carly in the bubble pool. There were plenty who reckoned she could be even more of a looker than her big sisters if she got a few square meals inside her and had a frizzing-up of that snow-pale hair of hers, hung round her shoulders limp as fly-paper. The rest of the Furnishes could keep the whole street up into the early hours with their shouting and whooping, but there were few people could ever say they’d heard Carly speak. It was kind of ironic given how good she was at belting out all those church choir hymns all Sabbath long. In fact there were more than a few folk around who didn’t give a rat’s arse about the religion side of things but would often fill those pews just to hear her sing. They’d come out all misty-eyed spouting ‘voice of an angel’ crap.
Jason’s folks weren’t much the types to kick up a fuss and it seemed they’d spewed most of what gobs they’d ever had into their boy. Jason’s old man worked the weigh-bridge at the animal feeds and his mother sat at home and figured out ways the wage could get them by. The day Jason headed back they were sat in the front room with suitcases packed. She said, ‘I’m all cried out.’ His dad said, ‘you’ve gone and done it this time, son.’ They headed off to her sister’s. Jason said he didn’t give a shit what the cops said. He stayed put and went and fixed himself a packet-ham sandwich.
The cops went round more or less every house in the village in turn. Here’s the truth, at least as far as most people saw it:
Jason Munt was a smart-arse bastard at the best of times. He could talk his way in and out of just about anything. His teachers had high hopes. Said his sharp mind could get him all the way to university. His folks started putting a little aside. Jason stuck it to the school lot and started slouching around rent-free. Even talked his mother into handing over the set-aside cash. Re-invested it all in a kid from town who’d fixed up his grandma to score him prescription temazepam for a fee. When the kid under-cut him, Jason didn’t think twice about heading into town and sorting things out the only other way he knew. Places his gob couldn’t get him, his fists weren’t far behind. And just about the only other place his gob never got him anywhere close was Carly Furnish’s knickers.
Jason sat at the front of those pews every Sunday and when that didn’t get her attention he started acting up all born again. Quoted bible lines and set up black-out blinds in his bedroom so as to lead him not into temptation. The way he told it, she said okay pretty much straight away. Jason said he’d take her to the car park woods to watch the stars, maybe catch a few of those angel sisters of hers. We had to hand it to Jason Munt. He didn’t have a whole lot going for him in the looks department, but that gob of his could reel them in all right. Trouble was, we didn’t reckon there wasn’t any amount of smart-arse was going to get him all the way into those clamped-shut God-fearing knickers of hers. And there wasn’t a guy or a girl among us who didn’t subscribe to the theory that that temper of his had gone and trip-wired big-time when he discovered his gob wasn’t enough to get him what he wanted.
The cops kept the woods sealed off. They dredged the pond. All they came up with were a couple of old bike tyres and some empty gas cans. No sign of Carly. Jason sat around in his empty house like nothing had happened. Wouldn’t even budge when his living room window was put through, or when Munt = Cunt was daubed on the side of the garage. A cop was posted outside the front door. Jason said, ‘I’ve got nothing to hide.’
Meantime, Carly’s face was plastered all over the front of the tabloids. They picked out an old innocent one, her peering out in full choir garb. Jason remained the prime suspect. He was questioned more times, but not re-arrested. They poked at his branding, said it seemed soldered in. Another window went. Folk were getting pretty fed up with what they reckoned he was hiding. Then the Furnishes came out in a TV press conference. They sat in line – mother, father, and some of Carly’s brothers and sisters. The mother had red rings round her eyes. The father hid his face and blabbed. The mother said, ‘please – find our angel’. Then she said they were not discounting Jason’s story about the little green men.
It turned out the Furnishes were one of ten different households who’d dialled 999 on the night of Carly’s disappearance to report strange lights glowing out over the car park woods. Some said they’d seen a round sort of spaceship. Some reported light rays. Almost all the households were from the Furnishes’ own street. Their back yards had plain views out over the landfill to the car park woods. Some reckoned it wasn’t aliens they’d seen, but a bunch of mutant offspring they’d pitched out with the trash. The cops said they were not discounting anything at this stage. Bobby Lunn came forward and said next day he’d found a pair of his prize milk herd with their inners cut out neat and not a drop of blood in sight. He’d reckoned on it being a bit of a rum do but he’d hauled the carcasses off and burned them up before he’d been of a mind to re-think his findings. ‘I ain’t got time for believing in no aliens,’ Bobby Lunn said. ‘I got jobs to do. But still.‘
Press and TV poured in over the hill. They parked up their satellite trucks on the village green. Did their own door-stepping. Hauled in UFOlogists and private investigators with them. The cash they flashed wasn’t half helping folk open up their gobs a bit.
‘I seen the lights,’ said Mary Lomax. ‘I stood there on the front lawn with the wind whipping up. I had that same kind of paralysed feeling, just like the boy said.’
Jody Morgan said, ‘me and Carly, we’re best friends. The day before, she said, ‘I got a feeling something weird’s going to happen.’ I thought she meant, like, boys. I’m dead scared now, in case they come back for me.’ She posed for pictures with a concerned face and a crop-top.
Cathy Allen, the Furnishes’ neighbour, said, ‘the whole house shook.’
A huffer named Ged Skaife said he’d seen a girl seeming to fly in the woods that night. ‘I never thought nothing of it,’ he said. ‘I seen lots of things, some true, some not.’ No-one paid him for his story, so he sat on the village green and blew out his maybe-truths through a brown paper bag.
A bunch of photos emerged supposedly of the spaceship. One paper said, ‘PROOF!’ Another got a photo expert to insist they were fakes made with angle-poise lamps and a couple of mirrors.
Jason got an agent and told the same story he'd already told the cops to a tabloid. He lifted his shirt to show his crescent-shaped branding. He said it felt like his insides had been poked around. He said he’d been planning to ask Carly to marry him. He said, ‘one minute, I was getting down on one knee. The next minute, whoosh! My Carly was gone.’
Course, Jason quick-clammed up as part of the deal. So the others printed stories about him and Carly Furnish. Got girls to tell how Jason could come over all sicko with that temper of his. Dredged up the kid with the temazepam gran. Got boys to come forward saying never mind aliens, Carly Furnish was away with the fairies all right. One said she’d let him see plenty more than the light with her on a church camping weekend just before she’d got zapped. They dangled lie-detector offers in front of Jason. He told them, ‘there’s a girl out there.’
The Furnishes got papped heading back from the shops with bags of crisps and beer. The mother said, ‘the world don’t stop for the rest of us.’ Then she said, ‘where ever you are, just bring our little girl back.’ The father said, ‘the truth is out there.’ Then, ‘I ain’t being funny.’
Jason and the Furnishes became sort-of celebrities. They even took to sharing press conference platforms. They said, ‘we know Jason wouldn’t do our girl no harm.’ They said, ‘he’ll always be like a son-in-law to us.’ They rolled up together on breakfast TV. Jason repeated, ‘I know how it sounds, but it’s true. They were little and green. If I’d made it up, don’t you think I’d have done better?’ They did set-up pieces in shiny magazines. They did book deals, appointed ghost-writers. The mother said, ‘we've got to keep it in the public eye.’ Summer came, and they sat out long nights in the bubble pool. Slowly, eventually, the satellite trucks and the wacko hangers-on shipped out.
The cops pretty much shut the book on it. Said the most likely explanation was that Jason nodded off in some fantasy dream, and Carly simply got up and left. Suggested missing persons bureaus, got a slot on Crimewatch. Jody Morgan played Carly with too-frizzed hair. The Furnishes’ agent alleged an MOD cover-up.
Exactly one year after her disappearance, the cops got loads of calls that the bright lights were back. The same people said they were just like before. A few hours later, Keith Furnish found Carly walking dazed in the car park woods. Said he’d just woke up real early and had an inkling. Carly was even thinner and paler-looking. She was still wearing the same black dress she’d worn the night she went. Hair still hanging dead straight. The Furnishes locked themselves away and said they needed time. The satellite trucks rolled back in. That night, the whole village heard the party.
Next day, Carly squinted into the TV lights. Jason clasped her hand and smiled at the cameras. Her mother patted her shoulder. Carly said, ‘I got beamed up, I don’t know.’ The room strained to hear. A tabloid paid for more words. She said, ‘they looked after me good. Somehow, it doesn’t seem I’ve been away that long.’ They shot Carly in a bikini. They made her up heavy and scrimped up her hair. Finally, she looked as hot as we always knew she could. They had her give Jason a kiss. She strained her lips. The headline said, ‘BEAM ME UP, HOTTIE!’
The Furnishes got a bigger bubble pool out of it. It fitted a whole lot better in their bigger house too. In a week, they had the new neighbours call the cops out four times. They stayed up all night drinking, ramped their cars across other people’s lawns. They shouted, ‘what the hell, we got our girl back!’ They sprayed champagne at passers-by.
Jason got a place of his own and said he was going to be a full-time UFOlogist. Carly didn’t often venture out in public, and Sunday choir never would never sound so sweet. Their books clogged the top of the best-seller chart for weeks. Judging by the new cars and label-clothes around the place, they weren’t the only ones to make a fair wodge.
There were those who said they couldn’t begrudge the Furnishes their better lifestyle after all they’d been through, what with having already lost their eldest to the mermaid thing and all. There were others who maintained all along it was a bunch of old bullshit.
The one paper pushed on with the anti-Furnish line, claimed the whole thing was nothing but an elaborate hoax from start to finish. Said Carly had spent the best part of the year holed up in a hidden corner of Bobby Lunn’s hay loft. They couldn’t ask Bobby Lunn, as he’d blown his brains out with a shotgun soon after foot-and-mouth came and finished off what the aliens had started. Mary Lomax said there never were lights. She said, ‘they offered cash. I didn’t ask.’ The cops stepped up their grilling but the rest of the folk concerned kept mum.
Pretty much the whole village turned out for Jason and Carly’s wedding at the church she used to sing. Guests were frisked for cameras. A glossy magazine sent Carly twice up the aisle, making double-sure of its money’s worth. It had her repeat her vows a little louder. Carly sparkled in her off-the-shoulder dress. Her hair was frizzed and she’d got a few square meals inside her all right. They exited to the Wedding March. Half-way through, the notes went wavy and turned the tune into the theme from Star Trek. Folk laughed. Outside, the dark drew in and the stars beamed especially bright.