Book two. An exclusive peek…

– working title ‘No. You…’ I aim to have the first draft finished by the end of the 2019. Stretford, Manchester – 1983

The dangling worm feinted first left, then right, before swinging pendulum fashion in front of the rapt young face that had invaded whatever the common earthworm considers to be personal space. Fascinated by the paint chart of pink to purple to clay brown, the tormenter then pinched its bruised saddle and held it ‘Fu Manchu’ style in front of his thin-lipped mouth. The worm’s girth a seamless fit for the gap between the boy’s front teeth. “How do you think it go here?” asked the chubby boy. His face haloed by an unkempt bowl cut of copper coloured hair. Scratching a grubby fingernail through a home barbered crop of unruly black curls, his friend frowned and looked skywards and then delivered an insightful answer for one so young. “Maybe a bird dropped it on the way back to its nest!” Peering through 360* underneath a cupped hand, surveying the vicinity for nests secreted in lofty reaches. “Can’t see any.” Now hanging motionless, the worm seemed to be stoically awaiting whatever fate the two boys had up their t-shirt clad sleeves. Ignoring the sonorous thud on the newly double-glazed kitchen window, the boys concentrated on the task in hand. “Have you got the magnifying glass?” asked the curly haired boy. An aftershock thud sounded from the back of the house with a secondary bang on the window. . The ginger-haired boy’s mother rolled her eyes before hooking her thumb into the cuff of her cardigan and rubbing at a tiny smear on the kitchen window. House proud didn’t touch the sides. First house on their street to be purchased from the council under the newly implemented right-to-buy scheme and resolutely the first to be furnished with double glazing. The roll-out of Thatcher’s vision writ large in an unassuming Manchester suburb. The gobby neighbours weren’t so gobby these days she thought to herself. Frequently. The house was theirs. A new car on the drive and the dull shine of first generation UPVC double glazing was the cherry on top. Looking back beseechingly, the chubby boy ran the already snot encrusted back of his hand across his nose. “I lost it. I think it was when we were on the rope swing the other day.” “YOU’VE LOST IT!” “I’m sorry. We’ll go back and look for it.” “Can’t. Those big boys said they’d batter us if we went on their rope swing again,” said the curly-haired boy snappishly. Smacking the palm of his hand into the sandpit – upsetting a toy JCB digger that hopped up on its rubber tyres before flopping onto its side. “I s-s-s-said I’m s-s-s-sorry.” The chubby boy’s intermittent stammer cruelly distorting the gravity of his apology. “S-s-sorry’s no g-g-good is it?” his friend mocked. Knowing the linguistic impediment was his friend’s Achilles heel if he ever needed to impose food chain superiority. “D-d-don’t.” Mustering up all his concentration to quash the stammer. “Please. You know I hate it when you do that.” Pulling nervily at a loose thread on his hand-me down Spiderman t-shirt, exposing a pasty white belly that slopped over the elasticated waistband of his denim shorts. “You shouldn’t be so careless with stuff. My stuff!” “I thought it was ours?” “It was,” said the curly-haired boy with a reconciliatory sigh. “It was ours. But you’ll have to steal another!” “But we don’t go back to school for ages…” Tracing concentric circles in the sand, the curly-haired boy considered his next move. Glancing down at the worm which was now coiled stock-still in his friend’s palm. “I could go and put it in some soil over there,” said the chubby boy pointing a stubby finger towards the adjacent flowerbeds. “That’s no fun!” said the curly-haired boy. A flicker of malevolence in his young voice. Fixing the worm with his molasses brown eyes, his benevolence coming to the fore. “I’ll put him back. He might have a little worm family.” “Don’t be such a baby,” the curly-haired boy goaded as he scratched at a half-healed scab on his knee. A third voice. “Eat it.” A girl looked up from the patch of daisies she had been ritually deadheading in pique at not being allowed into the sandpit. Shielding her eyes from the sun, the dark-haired girl pouted her full mouth and repeated the challenge. Her preternaturally long-legs zig-zagged underneath her like broken toothpicks. Leaning into her, the curly-haired boy whispered conspiratorially. Cupping his hand to her ear, he inhaled her familiar smell that he found so intoxicating. A fusion of cheap soap and scorched pavements after a summer downpour. “You should eat it. Put it out its misery,” she said. Her soft voice belying the menace of her words. “C-c-c-can’t,” stammered the blonde boy. A hint of fear in his voice as he assessed that it was now two against one. Odds he didn’t care for. Odds that he knew spelt trouble. Trouble for him. As if sensing its demise was looming large, the now uncoiled worm made a desperate wriggle to the edge of the outstretched palm. Pinching it by what he perceived to be its tail, the chubby boy proffered it to his friend to decide its fate. A slurred ice-cream van chime sounded in the distance and momentarily broke the tension. Their ears pricked up like Prairie Dogs detecting a nearby predator before snapping back to the moment. “EAT IT!” Clapping her hands gleefully, the brown-haired girl started a measured, ominous chant. Her rhythmic claps synchronized with the mantra. Countering the culinary trial in a heartbeat, the blonde-haired boy smiled and slowly uttered their unbreakable code. Strident and stutter free. “No. You….” His eyes narrowed to slits. Shooting a glance at the girl, who has now sat on her haunches. Proffering a soil encrusted finger, he allowed the worm to wrap its limbless body around it. Sucking it down with a zeal like he was licking cake mix from a bowl, the curly-haired boy gulp- swallowed and then let out a maniacal laugh. Striking a strongman pose, he flexed his sinewy biceps and gurned before presenting his now empty mouth for inspection. Wide-eyed, the chubby-boy grinned nervously. Aware that next time it would be him facing down their thus far unbroken pact…