Sunday, 3 March 2013

Monkeylands

In 1978, Ford Cortinas roamed freely around these streets. Ten a penny, a couple could lurch past you before you blinked. 

But on one cold winter afternoon near the end of that year, a Ford Cortina didn't go past Mark. Dark blue and merging with the dusk, it stopped at the side of the pavement for him...               

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"You coming to Monkeylands after school, Mark?" 
Kenny Fox whispered it just loud enough for Paula Martin to hear. Her giggle stifled like a trapped sneeze. Foxy was always trying to impress somebody.

The teacher's voice trailed into the distance as faces around the rectangular group of wooden desks shared a look. A look that Mark tried to ignore. A look that meant they all knew that Mark was never allowed out to play after school.

Foxy's question sat at the front of Mark's head all afternoon. Doing his maths workbook wouldn't shift it. When Mrs Lindsay told him off for day-dreaming, he still couldn't concentrate.

Because today Mark knew something else. He knew that his mum had to work late. She wouldn't be back until 5.00. He worked out that he could easily make it back home before then...  

Many times Mark had pleaded with her to let him go. Literally begged. In response her words had always been set in stone: "Too dangerous. You never know who's hanging about there, son." His dad had never been approachable either. In truth, Mark was not usually allowed out of his parents' sight. Aged ten and he felt like he'd been under house arrest his whole life. 

But this afternoon he was going to Monkeylands.

And then a passing blue Ford Cortina was going to slow down at the kerb. Its door was going to open and Mark was going to be taken away...

It was a strange name. Monkeylands. Mark often wondered about it. Played it over in his mind. In primary three, he remembered thinking there might be actual monkeys there. The thought still made him cringe with embarassment.  

Back in his day-dream, Mark decided that he'd simply surprise Foxy, Paula and the others. A picture developed in his mind. He'd saunter up, all casual, and act as if it was completely normal-that he came to Monkeylands all the time. They'd welcome him like the home-coming hero. For the first time, he would belong.

Suddenly the bell shattered his imaginings. Swirls of children cascaded down the stone steps and into the playground. They snaked across the cement and gradually broke into smaller groupings. A couple of boys with blue snorkel anoraks tracked along the white netball lines. They skillfully kicked an Irn Bru can between them. Some girls chatted about the new John Travolta film that their big sisters were going to see. 

At first, Mark found himself being pulled along in the excitement. The steady stream of children flowing out of the school gates eventually became a small trickle. Mark held himself back deliberately to let the others go ahead. He came out past the orange brick gates. As usual, he walked alone.

Hands in his pockets, Mark began to saunter down the hill. It was the opposite direction from his usual walk home.  He glanced at the fussy white bungalows on the opposite side of the road, before his attention was captured as he came alongside a football pitch.

The Ashy was imprisoned by a high metal fence. He'd heard talk in the playground that after school, some older kids sneaked through the broken metal at the bottom of the fence to have a kickabout. As he walked, Mark saw some guys going through. Hearing the ping of the ball against the fence behind him made Mark wish that he could join in the game. Instead he treaded on.  The Ashy melted into the background, to be replaced by row upon row of four-in-a-block houses. 

In time, Mark's footsteps began to drag. Lights were being turned on in cosy-looking front rooms. As Mark peered into one, the curtains were magically drawn.  He began to question himself. What was he doing? What would happen if his parents found out? His earlier bravado, imagining the Clint Eastwood arrival was vanishing into thin air with each heavy footstep. 

Already darkness was beginning to settle itself around the backdrop of houses. After the next block, up to the right, was Monkeylands. Mark stepped off the pavement as if he was part of a chain gang. His heavy feet waded past the final house and its tall spindly hedge. In the space before the next block began was a muddy path that led to his destination. 

Monkeylands was two hundred yards away from Mark.

With his feet squelching, Mark approached the iron gates. Flaking green paint barely covered the rust that was spreading all over them.  The dusk, in its silence, was giving up no ghost of conversation.

Passing through the gates, he panned the landscape from left to right.  And what he saw brought only disappointment.  The sniggers, and the look that Foxy had given Paula came flooding back. It all made sense.

Monkeylands was nothing special.  Some broken glass on the ground; a grass verge sloping up towards some back fences and another line of houses. A clump of trees to the left.  A wasteland.  Immediately Mark knew that no one in their right mind would want to come here on a night like this. The joke was on him.

As Mark was about to leave, he sensed movement from behind the trees. When he had back-peddled to the iron gates, he turned to see a stray dog lolloping off, being sucked away into the darkness. As he exhaled, his breath plunged a puff of fog into the blackness of night. 

The streetlamp ahead was already surging with a blazing red buzz. Mark followed the path, not caring how muddy his shoes were becoming. He reached the hedge, relief and disappointment battling inside him for home advantage....

It was not the high engine revs of a gear change that warned him. The squealing of the car's brakes it was that made him turn his head. The Ford Cortina came to a standstill and the passenger door was flung open. 

Watching from behind a nearby curtain a young girl saw the driver's mouth move. It spoke a single phrase.  In one movement, the front seat collapsed forward. An arm grabbed for Mark, its fist clamping round his wrist and pulling him into the back of the Cortina.

The engine flicked back to life and the car slithered on its way. Through rows of parked vehicles. It passed the Ashy and the school. Huddled in the back seat, Mark saw his journey to Monkeylands flash by in reverse. When the car reached a give-way intersection, Mark dared to look up at the rear-view mirror. Black eyebrows twitched briefly in his direction; then refocused on the road.

The rhythmic click of the indicators jabbed the silence as the Cortina glided on through these streets. At a bus-stop, animated, head-scarved grandmothers did not stop their conversation. But in the back of the car that passed them,  Mark shook silently.

When the car came to an abrupt stop on a cemented driveway, the shaking stopped and Mark glanced up. Tears were washing through his eyes.  

"Into that house. Now." A black expression. A threatening voice.

Mark squeezed himself cat-like through the Cortina's open door and thought about running. As if reading his thoughts, his dad moved between him and the pavement. For Mark, there was to be no escape... 




(Monkeylands was shortlisted for the Eileen Gilmour Award for Creative Writing in June 2012)






11 comments:

  1. Menacing and haunting, I really enjoyed this.

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    1. Thanks Sharon. It's always nice to hear what you thought. Being new to this blogging game, your feedback is very welcome.
      Thanks again,
      David

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  2. whoa!!! i couldn't breathe . . . whoa dude!!! steven

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  3. Steven, Thanks for popping by and taking the time to read this. Glad you enjoyed it. (At least I think you did) :)
    David

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  4. "An arm grabbed for Mark..." I think I stopped breathing at that line. Delicious.

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    1. Thanks Chantel-I really appreciate your comments. David

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  5. David,
    That was really very good indeed. I particularly liked the ping of the ball against the fence. It did that time travel thing and dropped me right into the shoes of the character. Really very good.
    Philip

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    1. Philip,
      Thanks a lot for your kind words. It's much appreciated that you took the time to read the story and makes the whole process of writing it worthwhile. Cheers for now,
      David

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  6. dang man this is really good...i can see why it was chosen to be honored in that way...really a gripping read...and thoroughly enjoyed....about 4 paragraphs from the end as you describe the car coming up the road....dang man...you had me good...

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  7. Wow David, I was walking and hold my breath for the revelation ~

    The ending was suspenseful and you have a knack for drawing up the characters very well ~

    Really enjoyed this and not surprised by its recognition ~ But you have to tell us what happens afterwards ~

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  8. Great writing David! Congrats on the award, well-deserved indeed. :-)

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