Behind-the-scenes: Heist Almighty

Credit to one of the Grand Theft Auto games – I forget which – for that delicious pun title.

I’m playing a bit fast and loose with my #TheObjects mission statement this week, as the thing I found was actually a collection of objects rather than one individual thing. So sue me. This was on the same beach, on the same day, as I snapped the scarf for The Great Magnifico, and it just looked like a lot of care had gone into creating it. It spoke to me of when I was a youngster and played with Lego, building entire cities into which I would incorporate non-Lego toys (army men in particular). I liked the mish-mash construction of it.

The most obvious reference point in this is Reservoir Dogs – I’ll make no bones about being a massive Tarantino fan – and the characters even obliquely reference it themselves at one point. Mr Black was a very specific choice of name – in the movie, the boss says that the robbers don’t get to choose their own names because ‘then you get 5 guys all wanting to be Mr Black and not wanting to back down’ (or words to that effect). My Mr Black was so clearly the professional criminal, no-one would have argued with him assuming the coolest name.

The other reference point which is less obvious is Con Air, which also features a group of criminals squabbling over a hastily (but suspiciously accurately) assembled scale model of a deserted airstrip.

con_air_prop_planning1

Whenever I watch scenes like that, I wonder which hardened criminal went to the effort of building it – there’s a sly wink to it in the Back to the Future films when the Doc apologies for the rough nature of his own immaculate scale models. ‘Bank Job‘ is effectively just an expansion of that train of thought.

That’s me nearly out of objects for #TheObjects – if you fancy seeing your own object of choice immortalised in fiction, send a pic and any salient info to nikiboylewrites@gmail.com.

#TheObjects: Bank Job

Warning: contains strong language

‘It’s just down this way, lads. Watch your step.’

‘Sam- I mean, eh, Green, where are you taking us?’

‘I’ve got it all set up, Grey-’

‘Silver.’

‘Oh yeah, sorry, Silver. Yeah, no, it’s just through here-’

‘Mate, it’s bloody freezing,’ says Red, tripping over a rock. ‘And it’s pitch fucking black. And – is that waves?’

‘Yeah – just think of it as a day at the beach, haha’ Green says. ‘And us all with our backpacks, we’re like… uh…’ He realises no-one else is laughing. ‘Plus, you know, it was the best place to, uh, gather materials.’

Silver stops. ‘What… materials?’

‘You know, for the… the thing.’

‘Why would we need materials for the thing?’

‘Because it’s – oh look, we’re here now. Uh, although yeah, no, as Jo- as Red was saying, it is a bit dark. Uh. Has everyone got torches on their phones?’ The angry glare of five white lights immediately shines in in his eyes, blinding him for a second. ‘Ah, great. Good-o. Well, gents, if you just shine your torches over in this direction…’

The group stares. After a moment Silver clears his throat.

‘Green.’

‘Grey?’

‘Silver.’

‘Oh yeah, sorry. Silver.’

‘Green… what the fuck?’ There’s a shuffling of feet and a murmur of assent behind him. A general air of what-the-fuckness prevails.

‘What’s up buddy?’

‘I asked you to set up a fucking schematic. Not a fucking sandcastle.’

‘It’s not a sandcastle, bud – I mean, very little sand was used in the actual, uh, construction-

‘Gentlemen,’ says Black. As one, the group stiffens. ‘Time is short. Mr Green has at least provided us with some sort of plan. May I suggest we get to it?’

‘Eh, yeah, right, of course, of course,’ says Silver, muttering.

‘All right, everyone,’ says Green, ‘gather round, gather round. J- uh, Red, can you shine a light over here, bud, right on the tire? Right, and Silver, if you could, uh, illuminate the main drag there-’

‘The main drag?’

‘Yeah, you know, the, uh… the bit between the two rows of stones there. That’s the road. Great. And Purple-’

‘Peach.’

‘Peach? Is it?’

‘It’s fucking not,’ says Silver. ‘It’s Purple.’

‘It’s fucking Peach,’ says Purple. ‘It’s got more layers to it, innit? Like, life is peachy, or ooh, ain’t she a peach. Whereas Purple’s just knobs and-’

‘It’s Purple,’ says Silver. ‘It’s been decided upon. We can’t go changing it now.’

‘S’alright for you, innit’ says Purple, muttering. ‘You’ve-’

‘And, uh, Mr…’

‘Orange.’

‘Oh for fuck’s sake, Jer- I mean, eh…’ Silver clicks his fingers impatiently.

‘Orange.’

It’s not fucking Orange. That’s directly from the film. You can’t have one directly from the film.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because it- it links us back- it can be used as… Ginger! You were Mr Ginger.’

‘S’practic’ly the exact same fucking thing, though. Orange. Ginger. S’practic’ly the exact same fucking thing.’

‘So why did you have to fucking change it then?’

Mr Black clears his throat.

‘Uh, right, yes, Ginger,’ says Green, ‘If you could step over here – watch your foot on the flag there-’

Oh Jesus Christ, he’s made flags.’

‘- and if you could just shine your light on the grill there. Right. Can everyone see alright? Silver? Mr Black? Right, here goes then. Mr Silver will be driving the bus – oh bollocks, I forgot the bus. Er, Wil-’

Silver.’

‘Sorry, yeah, no, Silver, could you grab this, er, whadyoucallit… this traffic thingy?’

‘What traffic thingy?’

‘The uh… Christ, I dunno what it’s called, this thing here. The plastic, uh, fencepost. You get it at roadworks for holding the barriers up.’

‘I believe it’s called a watchman post,’ says Mr Black.

‘Ah, yeah, that sounds right, thanks – Silver, then, could you grab this, uh, watchman post?’

Silver, scowling, crosses the main drag and bends down to pick up the watchman post at Green’s feet.

‘Christ, it’s heavy. Get a move on, will you?’

‘Right, right – so, Silver, driving the bus-’ Green pats the watchman post ‘- will proceed up Carlyle Terrace to the target, making his point of ingress here-’

‘What’s point of ingress?’ says Ginger/Orange.

‘Means where we break through the window, innit,’ says Purple/Peach.

‘Ain’t got a window. ’s a tire.’

‘Yeah, no, but the tire is symbolising the bank, isn’t it?’ says Green. ‘So go on then, Silver. Uh. Make ingress.’

Silver huffs and lurches up between the stones, chucking the post through the centre of the tire.

‘Aww no, you’ve gone and knocked over the chimney stack,’ says Green, bending down to fiddle with a vacuum extension on the grill. He catches Silver’s glare and lets it fall. ‘Not important, though, not important – doesn’t affect the outcome at all, was just for verisimil… Anyway, right, then me, Red and Ginger-’

‘Orange.’

‘- drive up in Jo- uh, Red’s wife’s Megane – that’s this long stick right here – forming part of the roadblock, while Mr Black and Purple-’

‘Peach.’

‘- will stop the Nissan here marking the other half of the roadblock-’

‘They’ve not even parked across the road, mate,’ says Red. ‘They’ve left that whole lane clear, look.’

‘Yeah, no, but that’s fine, cos it’s just the demonstration,’ says Green. ‘When we do it with the cars we’ll make sure they go right across. Anyway, we, uh, make ingress into the bank via the ruddy big hole Silver’s made with the bus, we stick up the tellers and raid the vault like Silver covered in his interior briefing last night-’

‘Which I might add was fully accomplished with marker pens and a whiteboard. Indoors,’ says Silver.

‘Look, we don’t all have girlfriends in the Council and unlimited access to stationery supplies, do we? I had to make do with what I had-’

‘Mr Green, please focus on the matter at hand.’

‘Yeah, no, of course, uh, sorry Mr Black, you’re quite right – and after we’re done in the bank, we’ll make, uh, egress-’

‘Means leave,’ says Purple/Peach.

‘I got that,’ says Ginger/Orange.

‘- back through the hole and scarper off down this side alley to Venter’s Street-’

‘Hang on, what side alley?’

‘Down here, with the blue – Red, come on, shine the light over a bit, would you? – where this blue bottle-top is.’

‘That’s not an alleyway – s’blocked off. There’s buildings in the way.’

‘Nooonononono, they were meant to be the terrace café tables up here, but Wi- uh, Grey-’

‘Silver!’

‘- knocked them off when he ingressed the bus into the bank.’

‘You sure mate?’

‘Yeah, I watched him.’

Red sighs. ‘No, I mean you’re sure there’s an alleyway there?’

‘Yeah. Cycled round there today.’

‘Oh, for Christ- you were told not to go anywhere near the bank for a week beforehand,’ says Silver.

‘Well I had to scope it out, didn’t I? Besides, I made sure no-one noticed me. I took care of it.’

‘How?’

‘Had me helmet on.’

Silver presses the heel of his hand against one eye. ‘Right, and after the alleyway?’

‘Well, there’s a bin down there where we can dump the balaclavas and what-have-you-’

‘Ski masks,’ says Silver.

‘Right, yeah, ski masks, and then we all hop into different taxis at the taxi rank on Venter’s Street and take off to our various locations until it’s time for the rendezvous.’

‘Means where we all meet-’

I fucking know what rendezvous means.

‘Well, gentlemen,’ says Mr Black. They all turn to him. ‘This is all looking quite excellent. And especial thanks to Mr Green for setting up the display – the demonstration was most effective.’ Mr Green beams. ‘I feel we are quite ready for Thursday now – the final step is for me to secure the passports for our onward journeys. I take it you’ve all brought the required funds?’

One by one the men shrug off their backpacks and hand them to Mr Black. Except one.

‘Is there a problem Mr Green?’

The group turns to stare at him.

‘Uh, no, not as such – not with the money in any respect,’ he says. ‘It’s just – well, the backpack, it’s actually my boy’s, and he’s got school tomorrow-’

‘Jesus H – here,’ says Silver, snatching the backpack from Green’s hands and emptying its contents into his own, taking care to snatch the handful of notes that slip out the side. He thrusts the empty schoolbag back at Green and, somewhat more deferentially, hands his now bulging backpack to Mr Black.

‘If it’s short you can put that down to me, not him,’ says Silver.

‘I’m sure I’ll find everything as it should be,’ says Mr Black. ‘In which case, I’ll go secure the passports now, and I’ll see you gentlemen at the café on Thursday morning as planned, yes?’

There’s a murmur of assent.

‘Very good. Get some rest gentlemen. The day after tomorrow you’ll all be very rich men.’

The group stay at attention until Mr Black has fully faded into the night. Silver turns to Green.

‘Well, all things considered I suppose that worked out alright.’

‘Yeah, no, he seemed happy enough with it though, didn’t he?’

Silver nods. ‘Although you fucking pair,’ he says, turning on Ginger and Purple, ‘what the fuck are you playing at with all the name bullshit? We’re trying to act like fucking professionals here. I don’t need you showing us up in front of him.’

‘Don’t see why we’re botherin’ with all the colouring-in bullshit anyway, innit,’ says Purple. ‘We all know who we are.’

‘Yeah, but he doesn’t.’

‘So, who the fuck’s he anyway?’ says Red.

‘I told you, he’s someone with experience. With expertise. Gary recommended him to me.’

‘Fucking Gary?’ says Ginger.

‘Yes, fucking Gary,’ says Silver. ‘And he’s as solid a POC as-’

‘Wait, what do you mean POC?’ says Green.

‘Of all the fucking people, Sam, I though you at least would know what point-of-contact-’

‘Yeah, no, I mean I know what it means, but I mean, uh – you haven’t been in touch with this, uh, Mr Black directly? To arrange meetings and that?’

‘He’s a professional, Sam,’ says Silver with a sigh. ‘He does everything through a liaison. He doesn’t want anyone directly associated with the job knowing his own phone number. I call Gary, he calls Black, and that’s how it all gets arranged.’

‘So we’ve each just given him five grand, and he’s gone off into the night, and now we’ve got no way of getting in touch with him?’

‘It’s- he’s- look, it’s not nearly as suspicious as you make it sound,’ says Silver. He sighs in response to the blank expressions around him. ‘I’ll even call Gary right now, and you can all speak to him and get some reassurance.’

Silver puts the phone on speaker and the group gathers round to hear it ring. And ring. And ring.

And ring.

A short drizzle begins to fall.

 

#TheObjects is a weekly short story project, each edition inspired by something or other I find in the street. If you’ve found something interesting (or own an object you’d like to see immortalised in fiction), send a pic to nikiboylewrites@gmail.com along with any info you feel is relevant and I’ll see what I can do.

#TheObjects: The Great Magnifico

Warning: contains salty language

The Beautiful Clarissa crosses her bare arms and leans against the railing, watching her breath make wispy clouds in the air before vanishing over the North Sea. She looks up at the stars and enjoys the brief shiver that whispers over her skin, raising goosebumps on her arms. The sequins on her dress glitter like the night sky. For a single moment, she feels like there is magic in the universe. Only for a second though.

‘You cackhanded bitch!’ the Great Magnifico says, scurrying out of the Entertainment Lounge. ‘What the fuck do you call that?’

She sighs. ‘I call it-’

‘Not fucking professional is what I call it,’ he says, his whiskery moustache catching flecks of spit. ‘I’d call it complete fucking amateur hour bullshit. What in fuck’s name would you call it?’

‘If you’d let me finish, Magnifico, it was-’

‘And less of your fucking tone as well – that sort of shiHello, madam, sir!’ He snaps back to cordiality to greet two figures behind Clarissa. ‘Enjoying the night air?’

Clarissa turns to see a burly man with day-old breath and a face like corned beef. ‘’Ere, you’re that Magnifico, innit?’

The Beautiful Clarissa issues a faint snort and turns back to face the sea. The Great Magnifico nods and dons his toothiest shit-eating grin.

‘Great show, mate, great show,’ the man says, grasping the magician’s gloved paw and pumping it between his own sweaty sausage hands. His wife, a perfumed poodle, pants a pained smile behind him.

‘Why thank you sir, it’s always nice to know when one’s talent is apprec-’

‘Ain’t laughed that much in fahckin’ years mate, ’ave we darlin’?’ says the man, launching into a guffaw thick with phlegm. The Great Magnifico’s yellowy smile stiffens. ‘You always know these cruise ship acts are gonna be utter shit – s’nice to meet one cunt who knows ’ow to embrace it! Good on yer!’

Releasing Magnifico’s hand, the man rests a shank on his wife’s faux-fur shoulders and steers her down the deck.

‘Do you see?’ the Great Magnifco squeaks at the Beautiful Clarissa. ‘We’re a fucking laughing stock. A – a fucking parody of what magic should be. And it’s all – your – fault!

Oh, give it a break, Mark,’ the Beautiful Clarissa yawns, sighing. ‘you know fine well-’

‘Do not use that name on this ship!’ says Mar- er, Magnifico. ‘Jesus, if you remember one fucking thing, make it that. We can’t upset the plebs’ suspension of disbelief.’

‘You walk around in a bloody top hat and cape, for fuck’s sake,’ she retorts. ‘If you want people to suspend their disbelief, you shouldn’t start by making yourself look like a total phony.’

‘Not that you’d understand, but it’s called tradecraft and elegance, you dumb bitch.’

‘David Blaine doesn’t need to-’

‘Oh, I dare you to say his name again, I fucking dare you.’

‘Or Dynamo. Even David Copperfield had that whole tshirt-and-shirt deal going. You, you’re just… you’re far too bloody camp, darling.’

The Great Magnifico seethes.

‘And if you want people to take you seriously, maybe you should aim higher than doing card tricks on some bloody cruise shi-’

The Beautiful Clarissa cuts off mid-sentence as the Great Magnifico lunges for her neck, misses his mark and somersaults straight over the safety rail into the inky waters below. She stares after him, static, unsure of whether to breathe. For a brief moment, all is frozen still. Only for a second though.

‘Where’d ’e go then?’ She spins round; the rumpsteak from before is leering over her.

‘I, uh… I beg your pardon?’

‘The red cape guy. Magnificunt. Where’d ’e get off to?’

The Beautiful Clarissa falters only briefly, then delivers a serene, unflappable smile.

‘Disappeared,’ she says with a wink.

The chop stares blankly at her for a moment, then bursts into a meaty laugh.

‘You fahckin’ magic people, you never let it slip, do ya?’

The Beautiful Clarissa’s smile does not waver for a second.

‘Well, you know magicians. Now you see them…’

#TheObjects is a weekly short story project, each edition inspired by something or other I find in the street. If you’ve found something interesting (or own an object you’d like to see immortalised in fiction), send a pic to nikiboylewrites@gmail.com along with any info you feel is relevant and I’ll see what I can do.

Behind-the-scenes: At the fire that Gregor was at

I have a confession to make: I didn’t find the camp fire like that. Anyone who tells you a photograph is the truth is a damned liar, and probably a photographer, which amounts to the same thing. The firework tubes (if that is indeed what they are) and the bathmat were indeed on the scene, but after struggling to find a good angle on them, I ended up moving the bathmat. Tampering with the scene, if you will. Yes I touched it with my bare hands. Yes, I washed them after.

I’m not even entirely sure it’s definitely a bathmat – it could just as easily be from a carpet warehouse sample catalogue, but after wrestling with it for a while (the idea, not the carpet), I couldn’t think of a good enough story about a disgruntled carpet salesman settling fire to his sample book. Not one that believably factored in the firework tubes anyway, though I guess you could reconstruct those as something else – toilet roll tubes or something. I await your versions of this story in the comments.

Gregor was initially going to accidentally drink pee at the party, a story inspired by an unfortunate friend of mine who just thought the Jack Daniel’s was ‘a bit salty’. I wanted Gregor to feel the full brunt of the shame, though (the pee-drinking prank would’ve shifted some of the blame onto the pranksters), plus having that clammy stain on his crotch for the journey home was a much more visceral image in my mind. I also liked Liam’s line about the comfort blanket – sometimes you make up a truly awful character and they take over, speaking their own dialogue far better than you could ever write it.

Oh, and in case you thought Gregor maybe deserved a better ending than that… I did too. It just didn’t work out that way. He’ll probably go on to be a Nice Guy on Reddit and wear a fedora. So it goes.

Remember, I’d love to have #TheObjects submissions from you guys as well – send me a pic of any interesting objects you come across (to nikiboylewrites@gmail.com) and I’ll see what I can do.

#TheObjects: Gregor at the fire

Contains strong language.

Gregor’s phone beeps. A message. Claire.

Awright, G-man? Wer havin a fire doon the beach – bring booze & sumthn 2 BURN!!!xoxoxo

This is it. At last, a chance to redeem himself after… Gregor pushes the thought from his mind. No time to think of past defeats. This is now. This is his hour. This is his chance to prove he belongs at the cool table.

And from Claire as well – that’s what really excites him. She’s the whole reason he wants in with the gang anyway – to be closer to her. Sure, they’d drifted apart since primary school – and who could blame her? They’re not kids any more, they can’t just keep hanging out because their mums hang out – she had to make her own identity, live her own life. Gregor understands that, he gets it. So he’d given her space while she’d gone off and made friends, came out of her shell as the popular kid he always knew she could be.

And now it was paying off! He knew she hadn’t forgotten about him. And that time when she pointed at him, and he’d given a shy wave across the quad, and all the other kids had laughed… well, he knew what it was like. He knew sometimes you had to take down someone else to build yourself up higher. That was just the cut and thrust of high school politics, wasn’t it? Anyway, she was making it back up to him now – having asserted herself within the group, now she was reaching out an olive branch that he could grab onto and haul himself into their life raft of coolness. He throws on his black hoodie, grabs his backpack and tentatively opens his bedroom door.

Mum and dad are in the living room, watching Strictly. He sneaks downstairs, passes through the hallway behind them into the kitchen, checks the cupboard underneath the microwave – bingo, the alcohol stash. Mum’s gin – well, he wasn’t bringing that. Gin was an old lady drink, wasn’t it? Not that his mum was an old lady but… come on, the Queen drinks gin. He couldn’t show up with that. What else – a bottle of rosé wine? Yeah right – he’d be laughed out of town quicker than you could say ‘poof juice.’ Aha, here we go – a bottle of Southern Comfort that they’d bought for Uncle Bobby at Christmas, but that he wasn’t able to take back to Madrid cos he only brought carry-on baggage with him. ‘Whit ye really need is carry-oot baggage,’ he’d said, and they’d all given their traditional Uncle Bobby laugh-groan. Anyway – Southern Comfort was a cool drink. Practically whisky, wasn’t it? A man’s drink.

‘Gregor, whit ye up tae?’ His mum enters the kitchen behind him, aiming for the kettle.

‘Eh… nothin’, just… gettin’ a drink! Of juice! Em… scuse me!’ He bolts for the toilet under the stair, slamming the door and bolting it after him. He can hear his dad through the door, shouting from his armchair.

‘Stop slammin’ the doors, for fuck’s sake! How many times?’

‘Wheesht Tam, he was caught short.’ Embarrassing as standard, but better than the truth, Gregor thinks. Had she seen him take the bottle? Was she covering for him? Or had she genuinely thought he was about to shit himself? It doesn’t matter – all he has to do now is wait til she’s settled back in the living room, bolt for the front door and-

bring booze & sumthn 2 BURN!!!xoxoxo

Fuck. Fuck. What the hell did he have he could throw on a fire? He probably could’ve grabbed one of those naff teddies Uncle Bobby always brought back on visits – the stuffed donkeys wearing sombreros and that stuff – but they’re all in his room and he doesn’t want to risk extending his stay in the house – he’s primed for exit. He looks around in a panic. His eye alights on the solution.

Yeah, that’ll burn. And it probably won’t be immediately missed either – it’ll be one of those things that isn’t there and you look at the room and think, ‘what’s different about this place?’ without exactly being able to put your finger on it. Ok, so maybe it’s not the coolest fuel source in the world but… fuck it. Gregor grabs it, rolls it up, stuffs it into his backpack alongside the Southern Comfort. It’ll have to do.

‘Mum, dad, I’m away out, be back soon, see you!’ Then the door’s slammed behind him and he’s off down the garden path and running right up the road, just able to make out his dad’s cursing through the open living room window. It was a trick Claire had taught him when they were 12 – keep the air flooded with your own words and they won’t have a chance to butt in before you’re out the door and free. Use the front door slam as an exclamation mark – you’ll be long gone by the time they’re up and able to question you.

She’s not stupid, Gregor thinks as he jogs to the beach. She’s actually really smart – was in the same group as him for reading and writing in P7, even in the group above him for maths (he’s not so strong with numbers). She’s just… toned it down since she got to high school, to make it easier to make friends. Again, Gregor gets it – there are certain things, like your sense of humour or your knowledge of swearwords, that are impressive from the off. Your high algebra scores and your merit certificate from Mrs Donaldson – well, you just keep those quiet. Like your friendship with the fat, gawky kid who comes to visit with his mum every Sunday – keep it on the down-low. You’re not gonna make any friends bragging about that.

He hears the group before he sees the orange glow of the fire – someone (probably Liam) has brought fireworks and they’re screeching off into the night. Fuck, fireworks – that would’ve been the perfect thing to bring. Not that Gregor would’ve found any in the house, and he’d be petrified of going to buy them – was he even allowed to buy them at his age? That’s the sort of thought that wouldn’t bother Liam, Gregor thinks – come to think of it, most thoughts don’t bother Liam. He smirks then wipes it quickly off his face. Come on now, Gregor. Game face. Don’t go messing this up by acting smarter than them. Even if you are.

‘Hhh… ahem, uh, hEY guys!’ The greeting comes out embarrassingly loud with a pubescent crack in it – immediately they turn and jeer at him, mimicking. ‘hEY guys! hEY guys!’ He smiles bashfully and bows his head – not a strong start. Thankfully, Claire steps in to rescue him, smiling widely.

‘Gregor! Aw, thank fuck you made it – thought you’d never make it out the house!’

He puts major effort into making his voice as stable as possible over the next sentence, even as his heart races. ‘Uh, yeah, it was no problem, just… snuck out.’ Feeling this isn’t enough, he ignores the blaring warning siren in his head and ploughs on: ‘My parents were watching Strictly.’

‘Oooh, my parents were watching Strictly! Come, darling, we’re watching Strictly!’ Two of the guys grab each other in a clumsy ballroom hold and start waltzing round the fire, until one of them trips up and sends the other flying. They become too busy wrestling each other to continue mocking Gregor. Claire grabs his hand and sits him down on a log beside her.

‘Did you manage to bring any booze?’

‘Uh, yeah, just grabbed a bottle of, uh, Southern Comfort out the kitchen.’

‘Southern Comfort? That’s like Jack Daniel’s for poofs, eh?’

‘Fuck off, Liam,’ snaps Claire before Gregor can say a word. ‘I drink it all the time with lemonade. Anyway, that’s why he brought it – cos I specifically asked for it, didn’t I honey?’ She takes the bottle from his hand, uncaps it and takes a deep swig, then, mouth still full, gives him a peck on the cheek.

She. Gives. Him. A. Peck. On. The. Cheek. Even if Gregor could move he wouldn’t want to. He lets the wet warmth of her lips linger on his cheek then cool in the night air. He looks at Liam, who’s scowling on the other side of the fire – and Gregor recognises, this time, that silence is his friend; that gloating will get him a swift kicking, if not now then later. In fact, a swift kicking is no doubt in his future anyway, but for the time being he can be the strong, silent type, revelling in the glory of-

‘And what else you got in here – aw great, did you bring something for the fire?’

Yes he – oh wait, no, fuck, no, no, no no no no-

‘A… bathmat?’ She wrinkles her nose at him. The dancing-wrestling boys pick themselves up and brush the sand off their clothes, dimly aware that a greater sport is about to begin. Gregor quickly tries to regain control of the narrative.

‘Uh, yeah… Haha, it’s dumb, I know, it was just the first thing I could grab-’

‘Nawww, come on Gregsy, dinnae be shy,’ says Liam, a malicious glint in his eye. ‘We remember whit happened last time – at Stacey’s empty, d’you no remember? Naw, course ye wouldnae, ye were a wee bit drunk oan yer Bacardi Breezers that time, eh?’

‘Och, Liam, leave off, eh-’

‘It’s awright Claire, he kin stick up fir hissel, eh Gregsy?’ Gregor, thrust into the spotlight, just stares at his shoes. The problem with being smarter than everyone else is that you know the punchline before they do but can’t do anything to stop it, like an on-rushing train made of pure humiliation.

‘After aw, a guy wi Gregsy’s toilet troubles – a bath mat’s probably mair like a comfort blanket, eh?’ The gang bursts into howls of laughter. Even Claire spurts out a mouthful of the rapidly-diminishing Southern Comfort, drawing a hand across her mouth to wipe away the mess.

‘Aw, come on now, it’s awright Gregs- I mean Gregor-’ she cuts off in a fit of the giggles. Over the fire, Liam grins triumphant. Gregor finds small consolation in the fact that the scalding blush he can feel spilling across his face and neck can probably be attributed to the heat of the fire.

‘You huvtae admit – it was pretty funny,’ she says, still laughing. Her hand rests on his shoulder, but it seems to have a distancing effect now – a sort of ‘you sit there and I’ll sit this far away from you’ instead of ‘welcome to the gang’.

‘Yeah, I guess… I was just, uh, sooo drunk that night,’ he says. He doesn’t remember much, Liam’s got that right, though he can still feel the cold, damp feeling in his lap as his mum gave him a lift home (after Claire called her, with the rest of the party snickering in the background – all of which made it onto the initial voicemail).

‘Well, mon then Gregsy – chuck it oan, unless yer too attached tae it?’ says Liam. Gregor shrugs and disconsolately lugs the bath mat onto the fire. It lands half on the flames, and for one horrified moment he fears it’s going to extinguish the whole thing, landing his reputation even further in the shitter – he permits himself a bitter inward smirk at the semi-pun – but then Claire spits a mouthful of Southern Comfort on the fire and it flares up, green flickers dancing amid the heart of orange flame.

His point made – this is my gang and you’re not in it – Liam allows the conversation to drift onto other topics, Claire bantering energetically with him and draining the last of the Southern Comfort while Gregor sits lumpen at her side. He lets an hour pass before he makes his excuses and leaves – long enough to make it seem like he wasn’t too bothered by the slagging, he figures. As he gets up to go, nobody tries too hard to dissuade him from leaving – he’s not even worth keeping around for the entertainment value, he realises. Claire, somewhat glassy-eyed, reaches for his hand as he’s leaving, and manages to grab onto it on her second try and give it a gentle squeeze.

‘Cheers for bringin’ oot the booze, Gregor,’ she says. ‘And, uh, it was really nice to see you oot. Catch you at school, aye?’

‘Yeah Gregsy, catch you at school,’ the group choruses before breaking into another gale of hyena-howl laughter. Gregor waves meekly and shuffles out of the light of the fire, into the darkness.

‘Gregor, z’at you?’ says his mum, a half hour later as he gently closes the front door. She emerges from the kitchen and takes him in. ‘Where ye been? Aw, actually, dinnae anwer – ye reek ae smoke. Goan chuck yer claes in the washin’, I’ll dae them the morn.’ He nods dumbly and begins his slow ascent upstairs.

‘Och, and’ve ye seen the doonstairs bath mat?’

 

#TheObjects is a weekly short story project, each edition inspired by something or other I find in the street. If you’ve found something interesting (or own an object you’d like to see immortalised in fiction), send a pic to nikiboylewrites@gmail.com along with any info you feel is relevant and I’ll see what I can do.

#TheObjects: A short presentation on the anatomy of Stick Monsters

Warning: contains graphic imagery.

Notes on a stick monster

 

We’ve been quite lucky for today’s presentation in coming across a partially intact specimen of the rarely spotted myriapod sylva monstrus, or ‘stick monster’. While this particular specimen is unfortunately lacking the head and legs, it’s pretty rare to discover any extant examples of stick monsters, so we’re quite privileged on that front; not only that, but this one comes complete with a partially developed tail-flower (1) and several zygotic bloom sockets (2); we can also clearly examine the arrangement of leg sockets arrayed around the torso (3).

This particular specimen has no less than 54 sockets for fully grown legs, with an additional 12 zygotic sockets around the upper body where more legs could have grown, and 15 bloom sockets clustered around the tail area. Rather than sprouting legs, the latter would have given bloom to the ‘flowers’ with which the stick monster catches its minor prey, eg any variety of flying insect and, in more tropical climates, even small birds. In order to maximise their chances of snaring prey in this fashion, stick monsters have been known to sprout whole bouquets of ‘flowers’ from their tail region; in addition to the fully-formed tail flower, you can clearly make out the initial development of at least nine supplementary buds arrayed around the tail shaft.

As for the leg sockets, you can see that they are roughly arranged in groups of three, with each group spaced at intervals around the circumference of the torso. They’re not arrayed longitudinally in the way that, say, a centipede or millipede’s legs would be arrayed in a straight line; instead, each set of legs is offset clockwise or anti-clockwise around the torso, allowing the stick monster to use a rapid rotational burrowing or spinning motion (4) to propel itself along the ground, up trees, along branches and onto the shoulder of any passing humans. Oh, I forgot to mention: despite its naturally-evolved abilities for trapping insects and small birds, those are merely small snacks when compared with the stick monster’s real prey: human beings. This would be better demonstrated if you could see the head, sadly not preserved in this specimen, which supports a long, needle-like proboscis ideal for puncturing ear drums.

The stick monster, legs whirring through tree branches, will scurry along in pursuit of any human unlucky enough to be passing below it. In much the same way as a squirrel, it can leap from tree to tree, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. (As a side note, pity the poor squirrel who encounters a stick monster at full pelt. While a squirrel is at once too large to form an insect-style snack and too small to have a brain worth devouring, it can be lanced in passing by the stick monster’s proboscis – which, naturally, is dripping with poison. This poison will, at best, leave the squirrel only temporarily paralysed; at worse, it will induce blindness, bewilderment, loss of balance and, eventually, a slow, suppurating death.)

The unlucky human prey – more often than not joggers, given their propensity for disrupting the peace and quiet of the stick monster’s natural habitat with their thudding footsteps – might stop to catch their breath, and that’s when the stick monster will strike. Diving from an overhanging branch, they resemble falling twigs, especially when hunting in autumn – until they land on some poor sucker’s shoulder, immediately driving their spiked nose through the ear drum and straight into the brain. They maintain momentum by giving each leg one last kick – that revolving motion now parleyed into a very effective drilling mechanism – before detaching them in sequence, the better for allowing the knobbly torso to spiral into the warm pink mush of the human brain. (Yes, they will be devoid of legs at the end of this process, but no matter: they’ll remain unmoving inside the human brain for the rest of their life-cycle – anything from six months to three years – feeding off the human’s own cranial contents and eventually laying eggs that will burst open violently, with thousands upon thousands of tiny, splinter-sized, spider-like stick monster offspring – twiglets, in common parlance – pouring forth from the human’s ears, eye sockets and nostrils.)

The in-bloom ‘tail flower’, being at the very end of the torso, is the last piece of the stick monster to detach. Often, the stick monster’s first act after assuming control of the human’s motor functions (once all the thrashing and screaming has died down – it cannot be overstated that this is a far from painless process) is to make them pick up the flower and place it behind their ear. To fellow humans, this will appear as nothing more malign than a frivolous hair decoration; to other stick monsters, it’s a warning that this prospective host is in fact already occupied. Two stick monsters inside one human skull quickly becomes a grisly affair, which rarely if ever works out well for any of the parties involved – both of the legless monsters will thrash and churn the brain into a thick soup in their efforts to defeat one other, with the loser often violently expelled straight through the rear wall of the skull cavity, blowing the back of the human’s head off. The expelled stick monster, unable to survive with its legs removed, will die of exposure almost immediately; the victor will enjoy a few moments resting in the remains of the human head before the cessation of the human’s blood supply will leave them devoid of warmth and nourishment, perishing soon after. The human, it goes without saying, has already expired in the most agonising way possible.

The public danger of stick monsters has been successfully kept from schools, and for good reason – imagine the panic if children were made aware of the dangers lurking in every tree they pass beneath. Still, a few techniques have trickled through under some less terrifying guises, such as going out (particularly to the woods or park) in groups of two or more – only the most frenzied and psychotic of stick monsters would attempt to take down a human host with another standing close by, ready to yank it from its tunnelling mission and simply snap its brittle spine. Adult humans have also taken to plugging their ears with headphones when they go jogging in stick monster habitats, thereby preventing the predators from gaining access to their brains. In these cases, the stick monster would most likely land on their prey’s shoulder and attempt to begin burrowing immediately, shedding at least half its legs before realising the way is blocked and falling lamely to the ground. There, it would itself become a more easily hunted prey – any of its remaining legs, for example, would be plucked out by sparrows and other common birds for the purpose of building nests. Failing that, squirrels are a vindictive species not known for their forbearance from vengeance. Your humble tutor posits that the specimen we have examined today was brutally seized upon by a squirrel and its head snapped clean off at the neck (5), an action with no other purpose than to satisfy a wronged squirrel’s enraged anti-stick monster bloodlust.

Now, are there any questions?