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An aside.

 
Joe Spivey's picture
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The statue of Noah Barret is, was and probably always will be the place of choice for Hope Spring’s adolescents to hang out. People couldn’t help but notice you being cool in your ripped, patched and home-dyed cool clothes so that everyone would know that you were the future and why can’t you just take us seriously.

But hanging out wasn’t just so simple as turning up and adopting your favourite slouch. Oh no. As in most social activities, there is a pecking order, and there are rules. For a start, if you aren’t at least thirteen years old then you just don’t. You don’t hang there, you don’t even talk to anyone who is hanging there even if they are your brother or sister. As for the pecking order, well, it’s complicated but what it boils down to is that you stay in your group. Thirteen to sixteen is one group and seventeen to nineteen is the other. Having two groups also means that there are three places where things can become awkward.

If you are twelve then you are just waiting for your birthday and hoping that ‘they’ will let you hang with them and not ignore you on the day you finally pluck up courage to turn up when ‘they’ are there. Similarly, when you reach sixteen going on seventeen you transition to the other group. From being the top of the pile among the younger teens you are suddenly the baby of the group again, no wonder teenagers are often angst-ridden. Finally, at nineteen, you are at the top of the tree. Then the clock ticks and you are suddenly twenty and things start getting awkward again. If you have been enjoying your time at the top, then leaving can be hard, so you try to stay. The weeks pass and the others start making suggestions about jobs and travel, then you find yourself being excluded from group activities because they forgot you hadn’t left yet. If you haven’t taken the hint by now and you are still hanging around the statue after six months then… well, you’ve kinda brought the ridicule on yourself, now haven’t you?

Currently, however, we are way down at the other end of the social scale. It is only five in the afternoon and the older teens wouldn’t be seen dead out at this time of day. This is the younger teenagers’ time with Noah.

“No way!” The voice of absolute certainty came from Lance. At fifteen years old, lance was the eldest of the four gathere around the bronze feet of uncle Noah.

Becky, at thirteen and the newest member of the group, folded her arms and stared down at Lance who was sitting with his back against the base of the statue and casually tossing a stone into the air and then catching it without looking. So cool.

“Why not?” My Mom said that she looked like she’d been torn apart and there was blood everywhere.

Liam, also thirteen and anxious to be seen to be on Lance’s side, shook off the hand of his fourteen-year-old sister, Gayle.

“Because blightwolves eat you. They don’t put you in a dumpster.”

“Besides,” Lance continued in that tone used by condescending adults. “Doc. Troy’s blightwolf is too old and...”

“And he’s dead friendly.” Liam added, before noticing the scowl Lance aimed at him for ending his sentence.

“And Doctor Troy would even let us ride him when we were little.” Gayle added, not going to be left out of the conversation.

There was a pause while all four of them remembered the thrill of being hoisted up to sit in front of the doctor and being taken for a gallumping gallop across the fields before having their stomachs squashed as the huge animal leapt to clear the big rock behind the car wash.

“Yeah, I suppose.” Becky conceded, kicking a stone. “Mister Stinky wouldn’t kill anyone.”

“Unless the Doc told him too.” Lance reminded them.

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

Becky knelt down and picked a daisy, twirling it between her finger and thumb for a few seconds before putting it in her hair. She didn’t see Gayle rolling her eyes or Lance hiding a smirk. Patting the daisy into place, she looked up.

“So, who do you think done it then?”

Using the innate sense of possession that all girls seemed to develop at a very early age, Gayle took a few steps towards Lance, just enough to put herself between him and Becky. Then she lay down, accidently on purpose giving Lance a direct view down her shirt.

“Well,” she started. “I’m not allowed to help in the creche at the hostel anymore because my dad thinks there’s gonna be trouble there. But my mom thinks it was a raider that killed her because they thought she was one of us.”

“That’s dumb.” Her brother mocked, knowing exactly what his sister was up to.

Lance spotted the opportunity to get Gayle and Liam arguing.

“Why is it dumb?”

Liam saw the danger of ending up arguing against Lance and immediately blamed his sister.

“It just is, coz, well. Our dad says that raiders wouldn’t dare sneak into town coz the mayor is friends with their leader.” He glared at Gayle. He’d tell Mom tonight that Gayle was showing Lance her boobs.

Lance turned back to Gayle.

“… Erm…” But his brain was busy for a moment storing away the image of Gayle’s budding cleavage. “I mean… What do you think Gayle?”

“Oh, I agree with you Lance.”

“Huh? I never said anything.”

Gayle was saved from having to invent something by Becky who was staring across the road.

“I bet it was one of the old witches. Look.”

Lance and Liam turned their heads. Even Gayle, thinking Becky was up to some other ploy to divert Lance’s attention, propped herself up on one elbow. It took her a second or two to realise what the others were staring at.

Across the road from the statue, the ancient lace curtains of the end house had been pulled aside and a white-haired old woman was sitting motionless, watching them.

Ever since the murder, the normally nosy old ladies of the town had, under the enthusiastic guidance of Winnie Barrow, taken their curtain twitching activities up a notch. Realising she had been spotted, the net curtain was allowed to fall back into place. Becky turned to the others.

“My dad reckons they are spying for the constables.”

Lance caught the stone one last time and launched it in the direction of the distant house.

“Arthur calls them cUNTstables.”

All four of them started laughing, even more so when a patrolling constable frowned at them as he passed.



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