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Glimpse published by SpellBound Books


- Chapter 1 -

They’d passed a country gas station a few miles back down the road.
  ‘You have to let me go.’ Mickey gripped the canister they’d salvaged and stared hard at his dad. ‘I’m smaller and faster. I can get through the woods easier than you if I have to. Which I’m hoping I don’t have to prove.’ He smiled, wishing to ease his dad’s fear, except he still looked worried. ‘Come on, Dad. You know one of us should stay here to guard our stuff, and that includes the bike. Considering we’ve only just found it, it’d be right bummer to lose it.’
    Scuffling his feet on the uneven concrete floor, he glanced down. Having taken off the rags he usually wore to allow for speed meant he’d be a lot colder. He desperately needed new shoes as his feet were still growing, and as his dad had pointed out, his toes were pinching out the end of his trainers like grubby newborn mice. Already his feet were freezing.
    ‘Just be careful then.’
    Mickey peered up at his dad, bending over him, cheeks hollow, face close-cropped bearded, deep worry lines pinching at the edges of his eyes and mouth.
    ‘Here, have a drop before you go. We can spare it.’ Mickey’s dad held a smeared jam jar out to him that was half full, although the water inside was sweet and pure. He knew he shouldn’t gulp it, should savour it, but it was just so good. His cracked lips bled as he guzzled it down, staining the water. Then, draining the jar, he jerked back.
    ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to take it all. Dad! I’m really sorry.’
    ‘It’s okay. You needed it more than me. Anyway, we’ll find more, don’t you worry.’ He nodded. ‘Yes, if we can get the bike going, we’ll be okay for a bit. Raid a small town. Then get somewhere safe.’
    Rummaging in his coat, his dad pulled out a small pot. Most of the lettering on the lid had been rubbed off. Mickey knew it began with a ‘V'.
    ‘What does the ‘V’ stand for again?’ It was weird how fast he forgot little things, stupid, meaningless stuff from before.
    His dad opened it and rubbed a tiny smear of the paste over Mickey’s lips. It stung. There was less than a tenth of the tin remaining, even though they’d been careful.
    ‘Vaseline,’ said his dad, and then he coughed. It sounded like dice clattering onto a wooden floor. Rocking back, he leant against the wall. ‘Like I said, just be careful. No heroics, nothing to draw attention, you hear?’
    ‘You know I’ll be careful.’ He wanted to hug his dad to reassure him, yet he kept still. ‘I’ll be back before you’ve realised I’ve gone.’
Mickey crept along the road, bending low, hugging the bushes, and keeping a lookout for other travellers, wary of movement, of the consequences of being seen. He’d left it late so he’d arrive about dusk. At the station, he hunkered down into the small kiosk, which he’d had to break into, the door left open, ready to dive for cover if he heard a car coming. Stamping his feet to keep the circulation going, he held his hands under his armpits, his breath clouding in front of him. The temperature was plummeting, and he was having trouble keeping warm. He waited until the darkness was roiling across the open, flat fields around him before filling up the canister with the petrol. He knew that he’d be harder to spot than in plain daylight but still able to see enough to use the pump.
    There were no longer street lamps to light his way back as the electricity grid had gone down months ago. Or was it now years?
    His dad always told him, ‘Keep a good lookout for headlights-‘
    ‘I know, Dad. I’ll hide if I see anything.’ It was their daily litany. A litany born out of abject fear.
    ‘The moon should be fairly bright tonight. I know it’s not full, but it’s a clear night.’
    ‘I’ll be fine. No worries.’
    As his eyes got used to the dark, he inched his way back to his dad, sheltering in a tumbledown barn nearby. That’s where they’d discovered the motorbike under a filthy tarpaulin. It was a long shot, but maybe they could get it going. Scanning further up the road, there were no lights that he could discern. No signs of any others, except if Mickey and his dad had been able to find it, so could they. His journey to the station had been fast and light, though now the weight of the petrol can wrenched his shoulders and sent spasms of pain shooting down his arms. Hopefully, it should be enough to at least get the bike back to the station to fill up completely. That’s if no one else found it in the meantime and drained it dry. It hadn’t happened yet, but Mickey was superstitious.

They’d already met a group of Hunters. So, just like all the people desperate to survive after the pandemic hit, Mickey and his dad raided their local shops and stashed their stolen cans and bottles in their flat in Hackney. Barricading themselves in, they struggled for as long as they could. But it was inevitable they’d be found eventually.
    ‘What’s that sound?’ Mickey was twiddling the dial on the radio, searching for any signs of a broadcast. The radios and TV’s had fallen silent the week before. Even the intrepid newshounds had admitted defeat in the face of such horror. They were either dead or hiding with masks and anti-bacterial hand wipes and sprays like everyone else. Frightened to look out the window, to be seen by the ragged groups that’d ganged together and were now roving around the City, looking to take whatever they could find, with or more likely, without the owner’s consent.
  His dad waved his hand. ‘Get in your room and don’t open the door to anyone.’
    ‘They’re coming, aren’t they?’ Mickey felt his heart speed up as if he’d been running hard.
    ‘Now,’ said his dad.
    ‘We can fight them. Dad, please. They’ll take everything we’ve managed to find, and they’ll leave us nothing.’ He felt his eyes sting with tears. He wiped his face on his dirty sleeve.
    ‘How can we fight?’ He heard the anger and fear in his dad’s voice. ‘They’ll surely kill us if we do that. It’s not worth it. Just get in your room now. We don’t know how many of them there are.’
    Mickey could hear then prising Mr Williams’ front door off.
    ‘They’ve got crowbars,’ said his dad. ‘This lot means business. Keep your head down, open the window, and climb out and jump into the garden if they try to get in. I’ll meet you by the garages.’
    There were noises outside their front door.
    ‘Quick, Mickey.’ His dad grabbed his arm and shoved him roughly up the hallway. His fingers bit into him, and it hurt.
    Running back to his room, he locked the door and pushed his computer desk up against it. He felt his breath coming in and out in ragged spurts like he’d sprung a leak. Holding his ear up to the door, he heard the sounds of splintering and cracking, of men’s rough voices. He heard desperation.
    ‘Search the place,’ said one voice. ‘Look in the kitchen first.’
    ‘Please,’ it was his dad’s voice, ‘take what you need but in the name of mercy, leave me some. I’ll die if you take it all.’
    ‘Oh, don’t you worry, Sunshine. We’ll take what we need, alright.’ He shouted at whoever was in the kitchen, ‘Take the lot and then look round the rest of the flat. Maybe he’s got stuff hidden.’
    His dad again: ’It’s all in the kitchen. Take it but then go.’
    ‘Don’t think so,’ said the voice.
    Mickey jumped back when his bedroom door handle rattled. He was panting now, as fast as a racing dog.
    ‘It’s locked,’ said a different voice. So there were at least three of them.
    ‘Break it down.’
    Mickey ran to the window, slid over the windowsill, pulled it down behind him as best he could from the outside and dropped. He ricked his ankle but limped rapidly down the thin strip of garden and up and over the wall at the end. Had he been seen? Catching his breath for only a moment, he sped to the garages and, slipping behind a large, fetid smelling community bin, he waited, his heart thumping like a mad one-man band. Thumpety-thump. Thumpety-thump. Surely anyone passing could hear it clearly?
    His ankle started to ache, a dull throb that wound its way slowly up his leg. Shifting position, he banged the side of the bin with his knee, which reverberated like a giant gong. He froze. Had anyone heard that? Were they coming for him? Sitting as still as he could, he waited.
    He carried on waiting. He didn’t know what else to do, too frightened to stick his head out but even more worried as to what had happened to his dad. Why hadn’t he come like he’d promised? Mickey closed his eyes. He couldn’t even begin to look at his greatest fear; that they’d murdered his dad, and now he was alone. The thought made him feel so ill like there was a twisting mass of poisonous snakes entwined in his gut. Finally, a combination of cramp and exhaustion got the better of him. He hobbled back towards the flat. The door was wide open, cracked off its hinges.
    ‘Dad?’ He could barely get his voice above a whisper. What if they were still in here?
    His dad was lying in a foetal position, curled up and clutching his stomach.      
    Mickey bent over him. ‘Are you okay?’
    ‘They punched me a few times to get their message across. I think I got the gist.’ He tried to unfurl, and Mickey saw him grimace. ‘They’re not up for sharing.’
    Mickey went into the kitchen. ‘They took it all?’ This was it then. These other ‘humans’ had basically left them to die. Nice. Mickey longed to cry, though he had no more tears left.
    ‘And then some.’ His dad levered himself upright. ‘We have to get out of London.’
    ‘Where will we go?’ He wanted to add where we won’t be robbed blind and beaten for the little we have? But he kept silent.
    ‘I don’t know. There’s got to be somewhere safe in the world.’  
    Mickey seriously doubted it.

‘Are you sure there was no one around?’ His dad unwound the petrol cap and upended the canister into the bike, and they listened to the gushing liquid that might give them more of a chance to live a little longer. Under the grime, he could see the Honda emblem. It was a 250 cc. That meant it could easily carry the two of them. That’s if they got it working. There was barely a ‘slosh', and it was empty. Was it enough?
    ‘I didn’t see anyone. No lights. No strange sounds.’ He closed his eyes for a moment. Every sense was spent. Too much looking, listening, sneaking and even sniffing. ‘Can’t we stay here? It seems safe enough.’
    ‘You know we can’t. It’s a barn, Mickey. Didn’t have a lot to start with, I guess. Except for the bike, and how that’s been missed is anyone’s guess. We’ve barely got enough to last a couple of days if we’re really frugal, and winter is coming on strong now. We can’t get stuck somewhere like this with what little we’ve got. We wouldn’t make it. Look at us; we’re slowly starving to death. No, we’ve got to try.’
    Some days Mickey was sure his stomach was so concave; it was like he’d had his insides hollowed out with a giant ice cream scoop.
    His dad patted him on the shoulder. ‘Didn’t you tell me that you often wake up dribbling having dreamt of bacon sandwiches? Maybe we can find something incredibly yummy to eat?’
    But Mickey shook his head. ‘It’s too dangerous, especially at this time of year. There’ll be Hunters and packs of dogs roaming in towns by now.’ He swallowed loudly. ‘Don’t forget there are the Military units too. We don’t know where they are. We can’t risk it. Can’t we find one more house, see if there’s anything left? Someplace close, if possible? So we don’t have to travel too far.’
     ‘That’s the point, isn’t it. We need to get more than just food and water. We need to find a town with big stores.’ Bending down, his dad pointed at Mickey’s feet. ‘Your toes are poking out of your shoes, and mine don’t seem to have any soles left on them to speak about. We’re a right old pair of tramps, aren’t we?’
    ‘Listen, just one more house, and if we don’t find anything, then we’ll try a small town. Okay? You never know. Perhaps we might be lucky and find somewhere stacked to the ceiling with tins of Heinz beans?’ But they hadn’t yet, had they?
    ‘I’m sorry, Mickey. You know we have to do this.’
    ‘Okay.’ What else could he say?
    ‘Here goes nothing,’ whispered his dad as he tried the kick-start. ‘A bit of choke but not too much.’ The bike coughed and spluttered at the first go, but it rumbled into life on the second.
    ‘Dearest God,’ breathed his dad, ‘it started. Someone up there must like us today.’ He nodded upwards. But Mickey couldn’t believe in God. Not anymore. Not after what he’d allowed to happen to them. Grabbing his bag, Mickey glanced around the stall at their meagre belongings, what they’d managed to salvage, what they could reasonably carry when running. It wasn’t a lot.
    ‘We’ll try a local town first,’ said his dad. ‘I know you’re…worried, but I can’t see what else we can do.’
    His dad had meant scared shitless. Not worried. That was too lame a word for how he felt. Coming into any new town was always a gamble. First, they had to gauge the size of it. To work out the logistics. Would it have a Military unit controlling the place, or Hunters on the lookout for what they could steal or even packs of starving dogs, gone feral and loaded with disease? Let alone simply cutting yourself on some contaminated surface, a bit of barbed wire, a broken wall, a piece of shattered glass. There were no doctors anymore, no surgeries and no medical supplies. A stupid little cut could mean a death sentence.
    Parking on the outskirts, they disguised the bike as best they could by rubbing more dirt over its paintwork to make it look like it’d been outside for a long time. From past experience, it was safer than to drive into somewhere they didn’t know, drawing unwanted attention to themselves like they were waving great big red flags with ‘we’re over here’ printed on them. They held two baseball bats protectively in front of themselves and hitched up two grubby woodworking masks. It was understood that anyone still left alive must by default be immune, although they didn’t want to put that to the test. And now there were many other things out to get them if they weren’t careful.
    Slipping quietly past shops, they saw windows smashed, and merchandise was strewn about inside or dropped out on the pavement.
    ‘Why people ever feel the need to nick TV’s when they’re on the brink of disaster is quite beyond me,’ whispered his dad as they crept past Comet.
    ‘Maybe they just wanted something they’d never had, just for a moment, before the end?’
    His dad stopped and turned to him. ‘I think you’re right there, Mickey. Never thought of it like that. Who wouldn’t?’
    A Tesco’s Express had been thoroughly cleared out, so they kept walking, scanning the street ahead for movement. They slunk their way closer to the centre of town. Mickey knew that this was dangerous as it meant that they were farther and farther from the bike and the possibility of escape. Eventually, they spotted a Morrison’s supermarket, with tattered posters advertising half-price beef and low-cost lagers still fluttering in the light winter wind.
    ‘This is it, be really alert now and if anything goes for you, either hit it or try to run.’
    Holding the bats out defensively, empty rucksacks slung over shoulders, their masks hopefully warding off unseen menaces, Mickey glanced about him, seeing no sign of life, human or animal. His heart was still pounding like a big, olf bass drum.
    The sign reading, ‘Automatic doors’ was peeling, and they had to prise the doors apart to get in. The door squealed, and they froze, but it only took a moment to get used to the dimness inside.
    ‘There’s still stuff here,’ whispered his dad. There was evidence of ransacking, though unopened cans, boxes and bottles were scattered across the floor. ‘Look, Mickey. Bottles of water!’    
    Mickey’s stomach cramped at the thought of so much food and fresh water. Barely able to contain himself, he ran along each aisle and fingered at the labels. Retching, he clutched at his guts, which rumbled ominously, and tripped over a can rolling underfoot. His head felt light and weightless, like it was a helium-filled balloon that had twisted free and was now floating off towards the ceiling.
    ‘Hey,’ said his dad, bending over him, ‘got a bit over-excited there?’
    Mickey saw sparkles of light dancing in front of his eyes. ‘Sorry, I’m just so hungry.’
    ‘We have to be careful. Much as I would love the two of us to stuff our faces, that would be very bad, leading to at least vomiting and, more than likely, great amounts of squitting, if you get my meaning? We have to do this slowly and build up gently.’ He held up a couple of cans. ‘I vote we start with salmon on crackers with a side order of fruit salad. What do you think?’
    ‘Those are possibly the most beautiful words I’ve heard in a long while.’ Mickey grinned at his dad. ‘Ouch, that hurts.’ He prodded at his cheeks.
    Eating fast, they squatted low behind what used to be the frozen fish counter. Mickey felt they were like two terrified rabbits, unaware if the hunter’s gun was trained on them. Bang, bang!
    His dad patted the crumbs from his coat and stood up.
    ‘Get as much as you think we can carry, and if we can make a couple of round trips, that should sort us for a while. I’ll be over by the pharmacy section. It’s unlikely that there’ll be anything but you never know.’
    Mickey ran up and down the aisles, snatching tins of this and that and stacking them in the two rucksacks until his dad scurried back.
    ‘I’ve got a set of tweezers, some indigestion tablets, which is a bit of a laugh really, throat tablets which are brilliant, a bandage and more importantly, a full packet of Paracetamol that must have been kicked under the counter.’ He waved a fat dark blue box at Mickey. ‘This will at least help with any toothache like you had last year.’
    ‘Don’t remind me. Come on, it’ll be dark soon.’ Mickey tugged on his dad’s threadbare sleeve. ‘I thought I spotted a Blacks camping shop a bit further up the road. Do you think they might still have camping gear? You know, sleeping bags and stuff? Especially as we’ve now got the bike to carry it all? We could do a couple of trips if we didn’t get it all back to the barn in one go?’
    ‘Or something we could use to cook with?’ Staring up the street, his dad scratched at his beard. ‘It’s dangerous. It’d be difficult to run for it if we’re spotted, though the thought of something hot is too much temptation not to at least try. What do you think? We could grab a pack of tea and some dried milk from here if there’s any left?’
    ‘And sugar.’
    ‘Of course. You think we should try this then?’ Could Mickey detect a note of pleading in his dad’s voice?
    ‘We haven’t seen or heard anything, have we? Got to try, really.’
    They packed the rest of the tins and bottles and searched until they found the tea, sugar and powdered milk. Back outside, blinking against the winter sun, they waited and listened. There didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary.
    ‘You’re sure we should do this?’ Mickey stared up the street.
    His dad patted his shoulder. ‘I can’t get the idea of a cup of tea out of my head now.’

They were rooting at the back of Blacks’s. They hadn’t been the first, but there was enough left to equip the two of them. Sat in a pile near the till were two full blue camping gas stoves, a lightweight pop-up tent and fistfuls of sterilising tablets.
    ‘Look at these,’ said his dad, hauling out two slimline sleeping bags. ‘These cost the earth in the good old days. They’re called ‘Cats Meow', and they are the best quality bags money can’t buy anymore. I think we’ll have a couple of these.’
     ‘What about this? Too heavy?’ Mickey held up a wind up lantern for his dad to see.
    ‘It’d be handy as it doesn’t need batteries. We’ll see if we can find a windup radio too. Maybe there are groups of survivors who’re banding together someplace that aren’t controlled by the Military.’
    ‘You mean people like us?’ Was that too much to ask for? A fresh start?
    ‘Let’s hope so, eh?’
    Mickey waved at a nearby rack. ‘There are new boots here. I’m going to get a pair on.’
    ‘Be quick and get them a size too big. We’ll grab extra socks, and you can grow into them. If you can find a pair in size ten, then I’ll have them. I’ll get hold of a couple of waterproof jackets.’
    Mickey tossed his dad’s new boots at the pile, grabbed loads of thick, woolly socks and as he was lacing on a set of sturdy boots for himself, he heard a sound. He froze, his scalp prickling, making his hair rise up like he’d been electrocuted. Then, tilting his head to listen, like he was suddenly a radar unit scanning for some incongruous ‘blip’, he found it. He knew his dad was to the left of him. So whose were the eyes that were watching him from behind the rack of plastic trousers? He slowly reached behind him and teased the bat into his hand. The eyes followed him. They were staring right at him. Feeling his heartbeat speed up, the adrenalin started to pump round his body; his breathing was fluttering with fear.
    ‘What do you want?’ The figure, obviously crouching, didn’t move but continued to stare at him, unblinking.
    ‘Dad! There’s someone here.’ Mickey grabbed the bat and hurtled towards the man hiding behind the rack. ‘Leave us alone!’
    Knocking the rack, he found himself sprawled, covered in shiny trousers and spiky hangers at the moulded feet of a shop dummy dressed in its warm winter clothes. Mickey gaped at it incredulously as his dad ran over, dropping the radio he’d just found, bat held out and ready to swing. It must’ve taken only a second for his dad to realise what’d happened, and Mickey could feel the heat spreading up his neck in embarrassment as his dad began to snigger.
    ‘Sorry, Mickey. You must admit it’s funny. I mean, you’ve defended us against a mannequin, and he seems to have got the better of you.’
    ‘Ha, ha,’ said Mickey, feeling his cheeks burning. ‘Yeah, very funny.’
    Hauling himself upright, still grumbling under his breath, he looked up as something else rushed at him, a snarling hairy thing with great big teeth and a flapping open red mouth. He instinctively flung up his arm, but it tore through the material of his new coat.
    ‘Holy shit!’ shouted his dad, and then Mickey felt the weight of the creature bearing down on him and saw the fury and hunger in its bloodshot eyes. Somehow it’d got one tooth snared on the arm of his coat, and now it was shaking its huge head, trying to free itself. Mickey felt himself being shaken with it, like a floppy toy mouse in the mouth of a playful cat, except this was no sweet little cat. It was a bloody great big dog, the size of a small car in Mickey’s panic-ridden mind. In fact, if he didn’t know better, he reckoned it must actually be a giant wolf, and it was now trying very hard to eat him, jumping up and down and snarling through the mouthful of coat wedged in its massive mouth, strings of slimy drool swinging from its jaws.
    ‘Get off him, you great big, ugly mutt!’
     He realised suddenly that his dad had been hitting it with one of the bats. Then it got free of him. His dad was yelling and thwacking at the dog, which quickly turned and before either one of them had the chance to react, it leapt for his dad’s face. His dad raised his hand to ward it off.
    ‘Dad! Watch out!’
    Mickey saw it sink its teeth into his dad’s hand and rip into it. Staring as his dad was forced back by the beast, all he could hear were the awful sounds of his dad screaming and the snarling of the dog woven together. For a moment, he was unable to move. He retched, bile spattering across the lino floor of the shop. Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, he picked up his bat that had fallen nearby.
    ‘Get off him. Get off him!’ He hit out at the dog with all the strength he had, again and again, until it lay still. ‘Dad! Are you okay?’ Mickey pushed the heavy carcass off his dad, who was huddled over his wounded hand.
    ‘I thought it was going to get my face.’
    Mickey felt sick again. ‘It didn’t, did it? Show me. I need to see how bad it is.’
    ‘Well, let’s just say it’s not good.’ His dad held out his right hand. Blood was spurting from three ragged tears in his palm. ‘Get that t-shirt over there and use our knife to rip it into lengths. We have to bind it tight before I lose any more blood.’
    Mickey’s knees nearly buckled when he saw how deep the gashes were, saw the straining tendons through the flesh. He grabbed the shirt and knife and tore into it. ‘What about the bandage?’
    ‘That will soak through and be useless in minutes. I’ll try it later. This needs stitches, although I’m not ready for doing surgery on myself just yet. Are you?’
    ‘Hell no!’ Together they tied his dad’s hand up. Neither one of them needed to say anything; both knew how dangerous this was if his dad got an infection from the bite.  
    ‘We’ve got to get back to the bike now. Can you walk if I take the stuff?’ Mickey helped his dad stand up.
    ‘You can’t drag all that back by yourself. I’m hurt, but I can still take a rucksack. We need to really keep a lookout, stay hidden as much as possible and get out of here. Dogs like these often roam in packs. We may have killed one, but we don’t know if there are more on the loose.’
    Mickey knew they’d made a terrible mistake coming to this town. Was everything horrible that happened to them always his fault? The winter afternoon quickly drew in, and snow was beginning to drift down from a silver sky. They couldn’t afford to be caught out after dark, with the scent of blood strong in the air. If they got to the bike and back to the barn, they would at least be safe from dogs, but it was other humans they had to worry about now. An injured man and a boy would be easy pickings for a gang of Hunters. Why was it always his fault?

- Chapter 2 -
Christmas and birthday

Thank God he only had about a week left of the Christmas holidays. Michael thought he’d go bonkers if he listened to one more of their stupid rows. Why they couldn’t sort it all out was anyone’s guess. Shout, shout, and shout, that’s all they seemed to do nowadays, although they did try to mask it by screaming at each other in hoarse whispers. So no wonder he was itching to get back to school and the relative sanity of his mates.
    Turning the volume up on the widescreen TV that dominated his far wall, he shouted, ’Bored, bored, bored.’ The dog, lying down by the side of the bed, scrabbled about.
    All the films they’d put on over Christmas he’d watched at least twice. Maybe he could nick something from Pirate Bay, except they were a bit haphazard right now. Netflix had nothing new as he’d gobbled up every series in huge chunks and had seen every film already, even the new ones.
    Michael lowered his hand and lazily scratched his dog on her long sleek muzzle. He felt her rough tongue as she licked him. Another game? But they were all boring too, even if it was fun to imagine he was mowing down his mum and dad instead of drug lords with an AK-47. It made it all more bearable. Rat-a-tat-tat!
    ‘I’m starving. Come on, Lady, let’s go see what’s in the fridge.’
     Bouncing down the broad marble stairwell, overflowing with expensive decorations, he stopped before he reached the lobby and peered out of the window. The view outside was one of the spindly trees wrapped about with white LED fairy lights that struggled to be seen in the last of the winter light. A feathery dusting of snow had drifted to settle precariously on the top of his mother’s prized rose bushes, now clipped back on the circular lawn in the centre of their sizeable gravelled driveway. They were clustered like the huddling children he saw every afternoon waiting to be let into the sweet shop in the local village near his school. Only three at a time because they were all thieving little pikeys, weren’t they?
    He noticed his father’s bottle green Bentley was parked at a skewed angle outside as if he’d only popped in for a bit. Well, he probably had, and who would blame him?
    ‘I hate that colour. It’s so boring, a granddad’s colour,’ he’d told his father on more than one occasion. ‘You should get something in black or red.’
    ‘They’re your colours, not mine.’ His father looked quite angry. ‘This green is the epitome of good breeding, style and sophistication.’
    ‘It’s an old fart’s colour. Are you an old fart then?’
    ‘Did you know more accidents are caused by young men driving red cars than anyone else?’
    ‘That’s probably because they manage to get out of first gear.’ He’d had to duck at that.

‘Michael?’ His mother’s voice drifted out to him like poison gas from the kitchen where they’d been arguing. She never left him alone for a moment, did she?
    ‘Oh dear God,’ said Michael, rolling his eyes at Lady, who lunged up and licked him on the chin. ‘Yuck, don’t do that, you stupid dog.’
    ‘Michael, is that you?’
    ‘No, it’s a bloody burglar, nicking the tat you leave in the lobby.’
    ‘There’s no need to be facetious,’ said his mother as she walked into the hallway. ‘I just wanted to know if you wanted dinner tonight?’
    She looked rough. Dark circles banded her eyes, and she must have been shopping in charity shops because, quite frankly, she looked like a bag lady. And as for her long, blonde hair, it was all piled up in a weird topknot like a grubby hippie. She should make an appointment with the hairdresser and no mistake. It wasn’t like she couldn’t afford it. He turned away, feeling embarrassed for her. No wonder he didn’t want to come home to that anymore.
    ‘Well, if I only knew what facetious meant, I’ll be careful next time not to be so.’
    ‘I would have thought that the expensive education we’re forking out for,’ said his mother, ‘would’ve taught you such an apt word as that.’
    ‘Better get a refund then.’ Michael eyed the living room. There were bowls heaped with Quality Street and boxes of Thornton’s chocolates. Mind you, if he ate another sweet thing, he might projectile vomit over their costly Turkish rug.
    ‘So do you?’ Stood like a lost child, she held out her hands.
    ‘Want dinner?’
    ‘Well, if she’s cooking,’ said his father as he pushed through the door from the kitchen, shouldering past his wife, ‘I’d recommend a takeaway.’ He chucked her under her chin, and she visibly recoiled. ‘Only kidding, my love. Michael, I’m on my way out, don’t want a lift anywhere, do you?’
    Before Michael could answer, his mother caught hold of his father’s arm. A tug, but then she let go. ‘Aren’t you coming back for supper? I mean, it’s Saturday. Why do you have to go to work now?’ Michael could hear the pain in her voice. He winced. It was all so pathetic.
    ‘I’m sorry I’m going to be late again. You wouldn’t believe how much work I’ve still got to do. I’ll be back sometime tonight.’ He laughed, and Michael instantly knew he was lying. It was his give-away, slightly too high and too fast, his lying laugh. He knew his mother had heard it too as he bent down and brushed a kiss near to her face, although they didn’t touch.
    ‘I’m just going to get something cold to eat,’ said Michael.
    ‘Can’t you wait?’ He heard her voice falter, but he ignored it. ‘I’ve already started cooking.’
    He couldn’t be bothered to answer her. His father slipped out, and the heavy door swung closed. A single track like a snail’s trail glistened down his mother’s cheek. She wasn’t crying again, was she? Get a life!
    Hearing the crunching of gears, he watched his father speed off through the long, thin window in the porch, gravel spurting from under the wheels. His father tooted the horn as he exited onto the main road at the end of the long driveway. Obviously couldn’t get away fast enough.
    His mother walked back into the kitchen, started rattling pans. He was hungry, though he could wait. It all depended on what state she was in.
    Lady nudged him with her nose. He felt its wetness and wiped his hand down his trouser leg. She was a pedigree Doberman Pincer and had cost oodles of money, except now he quite fancied something a bit wilder.
    A couple of days ago, he’d managed to find his father hiding from his mother down at the stables. ‘Can you get me a wolf puppy for my birthday? Now that would be great, especially as my birthday is smack between Christmas and New Year.’
    ‘What’s that got to do with anything?’
     ‘Well, what kind of parents planned that? Surely you could do the maths and only shag in the autumn months, or was that far too much to ask for?’
    ‘In answer to question one, no, not in this lifetime and as to question two, just thank your lucky stars you’re here at all!’
     Michael had been thinking about it for ages. Sixteen was one of those big celebrations where he expected his dad to have sorted out something ridiculously expensive and cool for him, even if it wasn’t a wolf puppy. He wondered what it’d be?

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