We’d been playing nice all day. Otis’ back was all grazed and scratched where he’d gone over the handlebars trying to do an endo. Grit was still stuck in the sunburn like the bits in a Wham Bar, but Otis didn’t want to go home. I told him he could get gangrene and he asked what that was. I said it was something you got when you didn’t wash cuts properly; that you had to have the gangrene part chopped off. Otis’ eyes widened like the time Vinnie O’Brien told us what shagging was, and we went back to Otis’ house.
My mam didn’t like Otis’ mam – said that whenever she went round she’d never invite you in, kept you waiting on the doorstep like a gyppo. I’d been in Otis’ house loads of times. It still smelled of their dog, Cherry, even though Cherry was dead. She had been run over the year before. We found her on the road and all her leg was open and she’d shit herself everywhere.
There was always sport on the telly. That day he was watching a repeat of a boxing match. He didn’t move much. When my dad watched the football or the rugby or the cricket, or any sport really, he’d shout at the telly and jump up and slap the arm of the chair and walk out if things had gone badly. Otis’ dad just sat. I asked him who was fighting and he said ‘Bonecrusher Smith’. The name got me. Bonecrusher. I looked at the two men fighting on the TV. It was only the first round but the bloke Bonecrusher was fighting had already been knocked down twice. Bonecrusher was going bald and had a bit of hair at the front that made him look like Mr T. I said that to Otis’ dad but he just kept on watching the telly.
I went back into the kitchen and Otis’ mam had finished. His back was clean but still red. He asked his mum if we could have something to eat and she got two orange jubblies out of the freezer. I thanked her and we both left out the back.
We decided it was too hot for any more BMX stunts so we sat on the kerb outside Otis’ house eating the jubblies. We’d smash them on the floor and then suck out all the orange mush inside. We didn’t say anything, just looked up at the sky and waved away wasps that fancied our sticky hands.
There was a big lamppost on the corner where we’d count for hide and seek. Not just me and Otis, Billy Christian was usually with us but he was on holiday in Scotland. Otis said he climbed it once and dangled off the bit that came out at the top. I’d seen him monkey up it quite a few times but I didn’t believe he could get all the way to the top. And no one was a dare to dangle like that. Not even Otis.
When I first met Otis, his family had just moved onto the avenue. We lived in a cul-de-sac with a really narrow road. Our house was in the circle and looked straight up the avenue. When that song ‘Our house, in the middle of our street’ came on, I always used to pretend they were singing about where I lived.
Otis lived at the top of the avenue, where it joined the main road.
He sat forward on the kerb with his arms dangling between his legs and I leaned back with my arms behind me. I looked at Otis’ back. It was freckled and looked sore. The skin was peeling where he was burnt and looked like the glue in school when it dried on your hands.
“Did you see Bonecrusher Smith?” I asked him. “He looked like Mr T.”
We carried on eating the jubblies.
Otis’ freckles went all the way up his neck and onto his face. It’s funny, when I first told my dad about Otis he asked if he was black! His hair was quite curly. Otis stood.
“Shall we play Hungerford?”
This time I shrugged. It was a fun game but I’d never tell my mam we played it. Otis had invented it the week before, after it was on the news about that nutter shooting all those people. I remember seeing his face in the paper and his fisherman’s hat. Mam told me it happened near London so there was no need to be scared.
In the game we’d creep through peoples’ gardens pretending to carry machine guns and if we spotted someone we’d open fire. The record was six dead but we’d only been playing a week. I wiped my hands on my t-shirt and stood up.
The Dixons’, next door to Otis, was an easy garden to start in because they both worked.
Climbing the fence was no trouble; there were no conifers or rosebushes to avoid like some gardens. The Dixons were a young couple who didn’t really speak to anyone. We didn’t even know their names, just that they were always coming home with things from Dixons – the shop. They had put concrete down so they didn’t have to mow a lawn. There were a few pots with plants in too but it wasn’t much of a garden.
We walked around with our guns over our shoulders and had a little nosy through the window at the back. Mr Dixon had a computer in the back room. I was really jealous and would look at it all the time. Inside the house, all the paper had been taken off the walls but nothing had been redecorated and they’d knocked through the back room so you could see right out to the front. I thought our house might look nice like that.
As I was looking through the window, I heard running water and turned around to see Otis pissing on the concrete. He was pissing up in the air with his skin pulled back for extra power. I stood next to him and pissed too.
The next three houses belonged to the McDarrans, the Bishops and the Joneses. All had people at home so we would have to decide between sneaky tactics and speed.
Otis ran toward the fence and squatted with his back to it. He signalled for me to come over and when I reached the fence he held his hands out for a leg-up. I placed my foot in his hands and peered over the fence.
I almost fell over when I saw it.
Jumping back to the ground I rolled onto my back and laughed a Mutley laugh. Otis crawled over and shook my belly, smiling and asking what was wrong. At first, I couldn’t get the words out but eventually I told him,
“Mrs McDarran, she’s naked!”
Otis’ smile disappeared.
“Sneaky tactics” he said, “Definitely”.
Knowing the fence would be too noisy, me and Otis went out the front of the Dixons’ and then in through the front gate of the McDarrans’. Mr McDarran was a lorry driver and hardly ever there, and I heard my mam say Mrs McDarran would be in serious trouble if he found out what she was up to while he was away. He was a nice bloke, Mr McDarran. If we were playing 60 Seconds out on the road, he would sometimes go in goal for us. He was a big man with a ginger moustache, but a bristly one – not all droopy like Otis’ dad’s.
We crept up the side of the house to the back garden with our backs against the wall and our machine guns held in front of our noses. Otis went first and when he reached where he could see into the garden, he moved his hands like signals and ran across the patio to hide behind a plant. His eyes were dead serious when I looked over to him, but I had to work hard to not laugh at Mrs McDarran lying there on her back. She was asleep on a towel on the grass with a little bottle next to her. That was it. Nothing else. Totally naked. She looked shiny and her boobs fell to either side of her body, much bigger than my mam’s.
Otis signalled for me to join him by the plant and I put my lips between my teeth to keep the laughs in. Once we were both in position, Otis stood up and began to creep over to where Mrs McDarran was sat. He signalled for me to follow and I did, still trying to stop myself laughing. Otis gave me a look and put his finger on his lips. He was angry and this stopped me feeling like laughing for a minute.
As we got closer to her, Otis got Mrs McDarran in his sights and flicked his head for me to go round the other side and do the same. I sneaked around the front of her but I couldn’t help looking. Her thighs were flattened out against the towel and she lay weird, like a starfish. Between her legs, the hair was dark and wiry even though her head was blonde and curly, and the way she was lay you could see everything. I couldn’t take my eyes off it even though just out of sight I could sense Otis’ head going mad, trying to make me get on with it. I got down on my knees, and put down my machine gun to get a better look and that’s when she sat up.
“What the fu- “
Otis opened fire and Mrs McDarran nearly shat herself. I started laughing and Otis grabbed me as we ran over to the fence. There was no way we could use sneaky tactics now.
Mrs McDarran was shouting about us being bastards and telling our mothers and calling us perverts but we were already over the fence and into the Bishops’ garden. We took Mr and Mrs Bishop out as they sat in their back room watching the TV. It was easy cos they were old.
Then we stormed through the Jones’, using the washing on the line for cover and managing to kill Mrs Jones while she washed the pots.
Finally, we leapt the Jones’ fence and reloaded in the Christians’ garden.
The Christians’ went away every summer holiday for the whole six weeks because their dad was from Scotland and they used to go and see the rest of the family. Billy Christian was our age and a good mate. I knew he’d rather be with us playing Hungerford and seeing Mrs McDarran’s fanny than eating shortbread in Scotland. I knew he ate shortbread cos he always brought some back for us and it was lovely but I couldn’t eat it all the time. Once, Billy’s mam and my mam got together and asked us to stop hanging around with Otis but we ignored them.
Otis was now cleaning his gun by the fence. We were next door to the Coxes and you could hear Bon Jovi being played in the garden. ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’. It was probably Chantelle. Chantelle was sixteen and her mam and dad both had jobs. Everyone fancied Chantelle, even the dads on the avenue. She was slim but had big boobs and she would always wear clothes that showed everything off. Otis called me over to him.
“We’re not going to kill Chantelle are we?” I asked.
“We have to kill all of them, Thomas. We’ve got to break the record.”
It was then we saw them. Vinnie O’Brien and Franny. Vinnie smiled and said,
“Well fuck me, a couple of commandos.” They were stood up the side entrance to the Christians’ house. There was no escape. Vinnie turned to Fran,
“Shall we take them prisoner?” Franny nodded and both he and Vinnie dragged me and Otis to our feet. Vinnie looked at us both and shook his head. He was still smiling.
“Better got these two back to camp eh?”
Camp was Chantelle Cox’s garden. The music was playing because she was having a bit of a party and some of the older kids from the secondary school were there. It wasn’t much of a party, just a ghettoblaster, some pizzas and cans of beer, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves.
As Vinnie and Franny led us in, Vinnie shouted “Look what we’ve got here!” and people cheered. You could tell they weren’t cheering for us.
Vinnie told everyone to make some space, so they moved back to the edges of the garden. Franny took Otis to the other side of the garden and everyone listened as Vinnie spoke,
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have captured two young spies from next door.” The others booed and laughed. “Now the penalty for this kind of crime is usually death but today we are going to give our prisoners a chance.” Vinnie and the others were all smiling now. I knew they were too old to play games like this anymore; that they were taking the mick out of me and Otis. Otis was stood with his hands on his hips and he looked pissed off. Vinnie was still talking,
“To earn their release, I say that these two spies must fight for their freedom! Fight each other for their freedom.”
The other’s cheered. I had seen Otis beat up boys much bigger than him. But we were mates.
Vinnie dragged me to the centre of the garden and Franny brought over Otis. Otis looked at me but I couldn’t look at him.
“Now, you two” Vinnie said, “The rules are this – anything goes. The loser is the first one to cry.”
Vinnie stepped back. I could feel Otis looking and everything seemed quiet for ages. Then Vinnie shouted,
I put my hands up like I remembered Bonecrusher Smith had but no sooner were they up than Otis had rugby tackled me to the ground. A roar went up around us and I could feel the shadows of the people around us make things darker. We rolled and Otis began to punch my back and chest as I covered my face with my arms. People were shouting ‘kill him’, and ‘in the face’. I couldn’t believe Otis was doing this to me. I reached out to grab his wrists but he was sat on top of me now and as I held my hands out he managed to punch me in the mouth.
There was an ‘ooh’ around us and everything went quiet. Otis stopped and looked at me. I could taste blood. I put my fingers behind my lips and when I took them out they were red. I could feel the tears beginning to start up at the top of my nose.
I can hardly remember what happened next, just flashes. Something took over me that was in me but usually hid in a corner somewhere. I hope it goes back there forever, so I never have to see it again.
I threw Otis from on top of me and grappled him so he was face down on the floor. The people began to shout again and I held Otis’ arms down with my knees. I could see faces screaming and laughing and shouting but I couldn’t hear a thing. I looked at the sunburn on his back as I grabbed Otis by his hair and smashed his face into the ground over and over again. The soil was rock-hard in the sun and I could hear Otis crying and begging me to stop. But I couldn’t. People began trying to pull me away but I had Hulk-strength and it took three of them. They held me back as some others picked up Otis.
In my eyes, he was going wobbly and up and down; Otis was crying, huge coughs and snots. Some of the boys told me I’d done well and it was all right.
Chantelle Cox led me to the back where she had been sitting. She sat me on her knee. She looked at me and wiped a thumb underneath each of my eyes.
“It’s okay,” she said, “You can cry now. You’ve won.”
Matthew David Scott was born and raised in Manchester and now lives in Wales where he writes fulltime. His debut novel Playing Mercy was listed for the EDS Dylan Thomas Prize and his second ‘The Ground Remembers’ is due for publication in May 09. For more info see: