The sound of the dry bracken cracking underfoot echoed across the meadow.The boy hurried on, pulling his coat tighter around him, a futile gesture against the probing fingers of the cold November winds. Heavy grey clouds lumbered across the skyline, peppered by a murder of Crows, startled into flight from the nearby stand of trees by the boy’s footfall.
He dragged his sack behind him, three-quarters full with the kindling he needed for the Bonfire. The sun was preparing to leave the day’s stage. He put a little more urgency into his search. He wanted to be home by nightfall. He had to be home by nightfall. His Father insisted. His Father.
He’d seen other kids parents. Their Fathers seemed kind, fun and friendly. He couldn’t equate the word Father with them. In fact, the other boys all called their Fathers ‘Dad’. It seemed to exude fun. Not for him the word Dad. Father. Father always insisted. He’d called him Dad once, trying to please him, trying to connect somehow, but all it brought him was the taste of blood in his mouth.
He put the last broken twigs in the sack and pulled it closed, heaving it over his shoulder as he turned to head homeward. He could see the first of the lights in the village coming on a half-mile across the meadow.
He could smell the whisky as he opened the front door. He had barely removed his coat in the hallway when he heard the sound of shattering glass from the kitchen.
“You’re late, boy! Where’s my dinner?”The boy hurried towards the sound.
“I’m sorry Father, it was hard to find what we needed.” Stammered the boy.
“I don’t want excuses, you little brat, I’m hungry”
The boy winced at the hatred in the words, involuntarily lowering his head, trying to make himself smaller, busying himself at the cooker.
“I-I’m doing it now Father” he said quietly. As he worked, his mind drifted back to a time when his Mother had been alive. True enough, life had still been hard, and the rows between his Mother and Father had been awful to endure. But she had loved him, and protected him. Now, he had no-one.He clung to her memory like a drowning man clings to the last piece of driftwood, and a solitary tear escaped its confines and trickled down his cheek.
By the time he’d prepared the meal, his Father had fallen into a drunken stupor, and the boy debated on whether to wake him. He decided against it and sat down quietly opposite him, eating alone. The boy had barely cleared his plate when his Father awoke with a start, and stared at his congealing dinner.He exploded into rage, hurling the plate across the table, cutting a deep gash on the boy’s cheekbone, the blood mingling with the ruined dinner that covered his face.
“Serve me cold dinner, would you? I’ll teach you, you lazy good-for-nothing sod!”
Outside, the November winds whirled around the village, carrying the cries of the boy as blow after blow from his Father’s belt rained down.
The next morning, he and his Father began arranging the kindling around the base of the Bonfire, which formed a huge tower in the back garden. The boy was surprised that his Father wanted to celebrate Bonfire night. He normally ignored all festivities, preferring to hide at the bottom of a whisky bottle. The few relatives he had had long since stopped visiting at Christmas, sensing they were not welcome. Somewhere, deep inside, the boy still clung to the vain hope that his Father might be changing.
He continued to place the kindling, occasionally blowing on his hands to keep warm.He heard a shout from inside the house. He ran inside.
“Up here, boy!”He climbed the stairs to find his Father in his Mothers room.
When she’d died, his Father had moved into the Spare, and the main bedroom had been left untouched for two years.When he was at his lowest ebb, the boy would retreat into it, surrounded by the sights and smells of his Mother, and it would soothe him. It was like returning to the womb.
“Clear everything out of here, and put it on the Bonfire!” said his Father, the corners of his mouth forming a cruel smile. The boy gasped in horror, and received a kick in the shins.
“Did you think I was going to leave the old witch’s crap lying around here for EVER?”He stumbled across the upstairs landing, spittle flying from his mouth, pulling the boy towards him. His filthy, fetid, whisky-soaked breath in the boys face. “Well. DID YOU?”
The boy snapped.
“YOU.WILL.LEAVE.MY.MOTHER.ALONE!!!” He yelled, each word emphasized with a blow to his Father’s face. His Father, unprepared, staggered back in surprise. He tried to control his fall, but the whisky betrayed him, and, windmilling his arms, he plunged backwards down the staircase, the back of his head slamming hard against the wall, as a crimson flower of blood bloomed behind him on the peeling wallpaper.
The boy, breathing heavily, walked slowly to the top of the stairs and watched calmly as the life left his Father’s body. Somewhere, way down deep in the darkest recesses of his mind, the faintest _click_……and the points on the railway track of his soul changed; and sent him in another direction.
He dragged his Father’s body out into the garden, and, making a tunnel into the Bonfire, pushed it inside, covering the entrance with wood and kindling, until the body was completely obscured. He gazed at his handiwork, then went inside to prepare some lunch. He needed to think. How was he going to live without money? In his damaged mind, he devised the perfect solution……
The young girl walked alone through the village, excited to be meeting her boyfriend. They were planning to go to the Big Bonfire in the Square, and there were fireworks at midnight.
As she approached the old wooden Bus Shelter at the end of the road, she noticed a dark shape within, only partially lit by the orange streetlamps that had begun to come on with darkness falling. A little nervous, she was about to cross to the other side of the street, when she noticed it was a young boy, perhaps thirteen, sat in front of what appeared to be a wheel barrow.
As she drew nearer she noticed the boy was filthy, like some kind of Victorian chimney sweep’s lad, blackened smudges all over his face and hands. He looked up at her and her blood ran cold as she stared into faraway, vacant eyes. Instinctively, she knew there was madness there, and she wanted no part of it.
She began to back away. He stood up, and began to speak, gesturing towards the barrow with a grubby hand.
“Penny for the guy?”
Despite herself, she looked into the wheel barrow.The crispy, blackened corpse, curled up like a foetus, stared back at her, silver buttons for eyes, a whisky bottle crudely rammed into its charred mouth.
As her world seemed to shrink to that one awful tableau, she thought she could hear a banshee on the wind until she realized it was the sound of her own scream.
© Kev Moore 2007
Fellow bubblers, I’m off to England for the weekend to gig with my band BC Sweet, and I’d like to leave you with a spooky Bonfire Night tale. For the non-English amongst you, November 5th. is Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night, taking its name from the, ahem, Guy who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament on this very day in 1605. It became known as the Gunpowder plot. Since the 18th century it has become common practice for children to parade an effigy of Fawkes (known as the Guy) door-to-door asking for pennies. The effigy is then put atop the Bonfire. Enjoy!!!