There’s nowt but thistles that live on the empty plot at the end of the street. It was home to a house once upon a time, but that place burned to the ground many moons ago. All that remains is a labyrinth of thistles, the only plants vicious and spiky and determined enough to sprout from the scorched ground.
Nobody knows who started the fire, but there’s always been murmurings and pointed fingers. Some say it was a cigarette, still smouldering, left carelessly on the arm of a chair. Others say it was a dodgy extension cable or a dodgy toaster or a dodgy electric heater. More still say it was something much more sinister.
It was that fox again—the one with the limp. It stared in through the patio doors, swaying a little from side to side as if on the verge of collapse, brown stains running from eyes to muzzle like tears. I wanted to let it into the warmth, or at the very east to throw it some scraps from the kitchen. But I couldn’t. That’s how they got you, if the news stories were to be believed. And I believed them.
I pictured the poor thing limping across field after field, squirming through hedgerow after hedgerow, desperately searching for food despite its twisted limb. It had left its babies back home in its den, small and pink and blind and growing skinnier by the hour, bleating forlornly for milk. Milk that would only flow if their mother could eat. And she hadn’t eaten for days. I could see it in her eyes while she stood there gazing at me through the patio doors, a silent communication from one mother to another.
We always used to buy bubblegum from the ice cream man when he came around in summer. We weren’t interested in 99s and Mr Whippies and ice lollies – the sweets was where it was at, and bubblegum was the crème de la crème of ice cream man goodies.
There was this game we used to play where we’d all try and see how many pieces of gum we could chew at once. We’d hang about on the street corner chomping away like cows, chewing through the jaw ache until our mouths seized up and we had to admit defeat. I was the record-holder – twelve pieces of gum I did, once!
We all got a kick out of it – it was dangerous, according to our parents. Bubblegum’s a choking hazard, see, ‘specially when you’re shoving a handful of gumballs into your mouth at once. There was this rumour that went round about a kid that died from chewing on two many pieces of gum. This big, sticky mass of strawberry Hubba Bubba got stuck in his throat and none of his mates knew how to do the Heimlich manoeuvre and he turned all blue and his eyes bulged out and he pegged it.
Something really cool happened. Janise Michel created an animation for one of my short stories, I Remember, for her digital drawing class at university. It’s amazing and you should watch it immediately! That is all.
The front door slams, the house shivers and its inhabitants freeze.
“They’re back,” says Daughter, and her face quickly crumples as tears well.
“Don’t you dare cry,” hisses Mother. “They’ll hear us.”
The family falls silent and listens. A series of thuds and rattles comes from the floor below. Cupboard doors are opened and closed, opened and closed, over and over. Then there’s a short yell, a moment of quiet, and the soft wail of a miserable child.