SUGAR AND SPICE - NIGEL BIRD
Tommy Atkins was made of bad things. Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails.
His parents knew it soon as he came out of the womb.
Bruce Robertson knew it more than most. He’d been Tommy’s muscle for a good while, twisting an arm here and there. Breaking or chopping them off if things got out of hand.
But Bruce didn’t mind. He was made of bad things, too.
People said he was rotten to the core.
Might have been better for him if he was. Wouldn’t have got himself into the mess he was in if they’d been right.
Somewhere in Bruce’s soul was sugar and spice and only Tommy knew it.
Most of the time Bruce’s nice side was about as easy to spot as a zebra on a crossing.
The night they went after Barnsey it was like an enormous zit on the end of a tiny nose.
Putting a bullet through a man’s head meant nothing to either of them.
Tommy took Barnesy out with a shot to the temple, no sweat.
It was the same with Barnesy’s wife. Bruce gave it to her while she slept. Let the pillow soak up blood and brains.
When it came to the kid, Bruce didn’t have it in him.
Hiding under the bed the child was a loose end that needed tying. But Bruce couldn’t tie it.
Sure, he squeezed the trigger, just not as hard as it required.
Instead of taking her out, Bruce walked away.
How was he to know she’d made them both? Was able to describe them to the police down to the finest detail as if it had been tattooed onto her eyeballs.
And now Tommy was coming for Bruce with everything he had.
They’d cornered him in the industrial estate on the outside of town.
Bruce laid-up. Hid in the attic of Cheeky Charlie’s. Only went down to buy food from the machines or when he needed the lavvy.
Three days and three nights he’d been there.
The diet of sweets and fizzy drinks had taken its toll and he was experiencing cramps from lying still for hours on end.
On the fourth day, he decided to give up. Lay and closed his eyes and willed himself to death. Only problem was his lungs wouldn’t stop and his pulse went on no matter how hard he tried.
And that’s when he saw it.
A spider wove its silken strands, threading and circling until a web was made.
Bruce felt a tear in his eye as the spider stood at the edge of its home waiting for unsuspecting visitors to call for dinner.
Patient it was, like a fisherman on the banks of the Tyne.
That night a storm pounded Charlie’s place. Made it rattle and shake as if it were about to cave in, but the metal sheets remained in place, not a bolt removed or out of sorts.
Only casualty was the spider’s web, ripped apart by a gust that whistled through the gaps.
The spider didn’t sit and mope, oh no. Just waited for the wind to end and started over, spinning and weaving like nothing had happened.
And Bruce was inspired.
Decided the only way to make a life was to get up off his arse and run for it. Start over in another town.
Besides, Tommy and his gang would have given up the ghost way before.
Took the spider in his palm and squeezed the life from it, then jumped to the floor, opened the door and ignored the alarm that sang out loud.
The first pop halted him where he stood. The second dropped him to his knees. The third, he knew nothing about.
BIO: Nigel Bird is a Support For Learning teacher in a primary school near Edinburgh. Co-Producer of the Rue Bella magazine between 1998 and 2003, he has recently had work published by ‘The Reader’ and ‘Crimespree’ and was interviewed by Spinetingler for their ‘Conversations With The Bookless’ series earlier this year. He recently won the ‘Watery Grave Invitational’ contest over at ‘The Drowning Machine’ and will have work published in Needle and in Dark Valentine Magazine this summer. He hopes to complete a draft of his first novel by the end of 2010.