Monday, May 29, 2006

Dog Day

The children circled Ben, riding their bikes at all angles around him. Each time, when a kamikaze child appeared to be heading straight towards him, Ben changed direction. All about him were stumps of high-rise flats, washing flapping in the wind like an injured bird at the side of the road, like Ma Brewster's hands when she'd been caught shoplifting at the local supermarket. There were no escape routes and the children's laughter was mocking in its hilarity, the percussive coughs of an older boy puffing on a cigarette providing its back beat.

Ben went for a gap, but behind him, unseen, was a pair of boots, waiting for the precise moment when the target would be in range. Contact made, a squelch of flesh as the muscles compacted; bones cracking, one conceding completely, now a sharp stick poking incessantly at his side. Breath rasped. A small cough spattered the concrete path with blood.

Ben turned, teeth bared, ready for the fight that must surely now begin in earnest. The hunter and hunted could yet change places. Some boys backed away as Ben snarled, threatening to leap forwards at any moment; others came closer, moving in for the kill. Ben decided to make a last stand, launching himself at the smallest of boys and locking on to his wrist with his teeth. Howls, screams and shouts pierced the air.

The kicks rained down hard, but Ben kept on with his bite. He flinched at each kick, but slowly they were beginning to come to a stop. He let go, running for the larger gap that had opened up in the melée, a few final stragglers pushing their feet into his side, making the shard of bone stab at the skin of his Ben's chest. He dared a look over his shoulder as he ran, but there was no fight left now in the youngsters, bending as they were to tend to their own stricken and wounded. The young child was weeping, calling for his mother through waves of tears and snot. Adults had congregated now, shouting and pointing, many beginning to fumble with mobile phones to call the authorities. Ben kept running until he came to the small park at the edge of the housing estate.

Under a large oak tree Ben lay, breathing hard against the pain of his broken rib. He could taste the blood of the small boy on his tongue and throat, mixing with his own where he'd bitten his lip and coughed up the damage to his lung. He whimpered, wanting his own mother to be there; she was long gone, separated from him within weeks of his birth. It had only been a matter of time before he was abandoned again, left to roam the streets, to eat his meals from bins. That time was 16 years.

A long time passed before Ben felt strong enough to move. His side still hurt when he ran, but it was more of an irritation now. He limped along the road, popping sideways looks, just in case someone was looking for him or, worse still, the kids had regrouped. As he walked, the housing estate shrank in the distance. Ben began to feel hungry as he trotted along. He snuffled against bins, the front gardens of the houses surrounding him, but to no avail. He would have to starve tonight, he knew. It was like his sixth sense, his intuitive side that he'd learned after being on the streets so long. He no longer spoke to anyone, preferring to converse in howls, grunts and barks. He had discovered, often the hard way, that people didn't mind dogs raiding their bins, eating waste or shitting in their gardens; they couldn't handle it being a teenage boy. So, he had decided that the best way to stay alive was to behave like a common dog, a cur.

All had been fine, his disguise had lasted him a good six months, until that morning. Until they had set upon him like savages, calling him names, pissing on his back. They had chased him, throwing sticks at him, whatever they had to hand, until they had cornered him on the estate. He'd been lucky to get out alive. For the first time since he'd been kicked out of home, Ben was scared.

At every movement, every murmur from a window, a shop, Ben found himself jump in panic. He avoided the lights, avoided any contact with people. His rib itched where it pressed against his skin and he was finding it harder to breathe with each step. He wanted rest, to be left alone, to find some food; to be sheltered, part of a community, part of a family.

To be loved. That, more than anything else.


purplesimon said...

An idle observation of a stray dog, embellished (slightly) with the stuff in my dark mind.

Like London buses, you wait ages for a story and then two come along at once.

purplesimon out...

ing said...

Wow! I love the whole dog-boy thing -- I sort of wish you'd revealed that at the very beginning instead of telling us in the end. This character is super interesting and kind of totemic, maybe?

I have one sort of strange observation, but it jumped out at me -- the final two sentences of paragraph 2 and the first sentence in paragraph 3 each begin with two words, followed by a comma (the first two examples are in passive voice). I noticed this because of the rythm, which, I thought maybe you should change it up a little right there.

This is interesting and sad. The dog-boy is the scapegoat. I think this character really works.

purplesimon said...

Sorted the punctuation, rhythm much better now. Thanks for pointing this out, Ing.

purplesimon out...

lryicsgrl said...

I don't want to give anything away, but, I couldn't begin reading, when I first thought, you know...

ing said...

Hey, Purpenstein! Have you read Dogwalker? I think you'd like it!

There's another short story about a transient who thinks he's a dog, and a little girl who starts feeding him and letting him live in her back yard. Maybe ginab remembers this story -- it might have been something by Aimee Bender?

And then there's one by Brady Udall called "Letting Loose the Hounds," and a couple by Tobias Wolff: "The Chain" and "Hunters in the Snow." All of these have good dog stuff. Dogs never fare well in fiction.

ginab said...

Very vivid! I'd sensed Ben was a dog, but his reflection on his mum made me wonder. I guess I'd like to see, as I do vividly the washing aided by metaphors, Ben's coat, paws, and nose. Something. I wondered if Ma Brewster was significant to him also. Might she reappear?

Have you read "The Man with the Enourmous Wings" (or a like title) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Your story reminded me of what he is doing in his story. ;-)


ginab said...

"Hunters in the Snow" is one of the funniest stories ever. omg.

Metalchick said...

Hi Purplesimon,
This story is very sad, it made me cry. Poor doggie!

ing said...

Hey, daddy, where you storing the purple stuff these days?

ing said...


Pls. see my comments for a comment on your comment, because I think there's been something of a misunderstanding in re: "the purple stuff". Which, I didn't call you "daddy" (which is pimp-talk) for nothing, my friend.