A fine drizzle of rain made Dan’s ball sleek and shiny. He looked at it, clumps of damp hair clinging to his forehead, then smacked his foot into the leather with venom.
“Shot Dan,” bellowed the boy’s Father from a few feet away.
There was no-one else around.
“I wanna go inside,” Dan said, his shoulders sinking under the weight of sodden cotton.
“Tough,” his Dad said, before bringing his can back to his mouth.
It was longer than the cans of fizzy drink Dan was allowed.
“But it’s raining, and I wanna go in and play.”
“How old are you?”
“Well act like it then you prick.”
Dan went to retrieve the ball from the back of the goal. More water rained on him from the net as it shimmered and shook.
“It’s cold,” he said softly to the ball.
“Stop whining. If you cock up this trial tomorrow, I’ll …” he turned round and waved the can behind him, unsteady on his feet. “I pay for that house. You owe me. Now take another shot.”
Dan dropped the ball at his feet and took a few steps back, never taking his eyes from it.
The net enveloped the flying ball and bought it a halt.
“Do fifty more, then come inside.”
Dan watched his Dad throw the half-empty can to the floor then walk away, tugging his collar around his neck and looking up at the storm clouds.
“I want a drink,” the child shouted, fist clenched.
The gate closed, and his Father was gone.
Dan sat down in the wet grass and hugged his knees.
He stared at the ball, softly counting to a hundred. When he was done, he stood up, picked up the ball and drop kicked it as far as he could. It bounced on the concrete pavement and disappeared over a garden wall.
Dan chased after it, stopping himself against the wall with held out palms. He kicked his toe at the brickwork and made a face, then looked up its height. Some brambles hung over the edge.
With a sigh, Dan turned to look at his own garden gate. His head dropped, and he shook it from side to side. Bending his legs, he jumped up and grabbed the top of the wall, scrambling his feet and pulling himself up. The thorns scratched at his naked legs as he threw them over and dropped into the garden on the other side.
An old man was looking at him. He held up what looked like a hair-dryer, aiming it like it was a gun. The power cable hung down from it in a lazy loop, with the plug stuffed into the old man’s trouser pocket.
“I’m getting my ball.”
Dan looked around. The garden was overgrown, grass as high as his scratched knees, bushes as dense as he’d ever seen.
The old man stepped forward and pointed the hair-dryer more firmly.
“You one of them?”
“Show me your gills.”
The old man pressed the button on the handle of the hair dryer.
He banged it with the flat of his palm and pressed the button again. Still nothing. His eyes narrowed as he stared at Dan.
“Who are you?”
“Never heard of Dan.”
“I live across the road.”
“Where’s your ship?”
“Haven’t got a ship.”
“Haven’t got a ship?”
The old man pushed the hair dryer into his other trouser pocket like it was a holster. Then he reached behind and pulled out a calculator. His fingers jabbed at a few buttons and he waved it in front of Dan for a moment, then read the display.
“I just want my ball.”
The old man turned round and hobbled towards his back door. Dan just stood and watched. But when the old man stepped inside, he trotted in after him. As he got to the door, a towel hit him in the face.
“Dry yourself off.”
Dan did as he was told.
The old man went to the kitchen table. On it, an old fashioned mechanical typewriter sat in front of an empty upturned fish tank. Dan watched him bash at the keys for a minute, then stare at the tank like he was reading back what he’d written.
“Says here – Dan. Episol Titan. Part of the Janxia Alliance.”
“It’s probably under a bush.”
“What’s your name?”
The old man’s brow crinkled for a moment, then he pulled out the hair dryer and put it on the table.
“One false move,” he pointed at the dryer. “I’m quicker than I look.”
“Who are you?”
“No, okay. What’s your name?”
“What do you do?”
Dan shrugged. “I play football.”
“Frightful game. You should play properly.”
Now it was Dan’s turn to crinkle his brow. “What do YOU do?”
The old man straightened himself up and pulled back his shoulders.
“Is that a good game to play?”
“The best. There’s tea in the pot.”
With the towel draped over his head and the warm steam from his mug, Dan watched the old man standing guard in the rain outside. He was grinning, in spite of the weather.
Ten minutes later, the sky had brightened and the drizzle had stopped. But still the old man stood on sentry duty. Dan put his mug down and went outside. He found his ball floating on the surface of a sludgy pond.
As he passed the old man, he showed him the ball as proof, then unlocked the rickety gate and left.
“Ever caught any?” Dan asked.
During dinner, his Father quizzed him with a slur about the off-side rule. Dan repeated his answer without passion.
“If they pass on signing you again …” His Dad shook his head and cracked open another can.
“Can I go to bed now?”
“Piss off then.”
Dan looked out of his window at the night sky, staring up at the stars. He smiled. Before he closed the curtains he let his gaze wander to the old man’s back garden for a few moments.
In the morning, Dan listened to his Dad bellowing up the stairs.
“Get a move on you little shit, we’re late.”
Dan put the plug in one pocket, and the hair dryer in the other, then clambered out of the window.
|Keith: A Novel|
|Crime, conspiracy, and cutlery.
Keith, an average man, with a sensible job, cocks a snook at his mundane existence, and he’s about to make the biggest mistake of his life.
When an insomniac with an over-active imagination decides to give in to his fantasies, what could possibly go wrong?
And what do the bloodied thorn of a rose, an empty buff folder, and a SWAG bag full of forks have to do with anything?
Keith takes you on a criminal romp through suburbia.
You’ll never sleep again.
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