First Prize (2017/18) - Land's End by Tomas Furby
By Tomas Furby
The leprechaun tells me he's sorry and pats me on the shoulder. It makes me feel better. I ask him for some gold but he says sorry fella I’ve only got a twenty. I don't want a twenty anyway I want some gold so I smile and say don’t worry about it eh. As I turn round a colony of bats the size of sharp black kites attack me. I duck and roll away from their chittering. When I look up though they're gone. Just the fear, then. I glance about looking for somewhere to hide but I don't know where I am so I start to walk against the wailing wind.
Overhead the clouds gloom a crimson sky. They roll across it too fast. It makes me feel sick, so I stare at the swirling concrete instead. My fist shakes in my pocket, paper crumpled between fingers. I want to rip it up. I want it to not be true. I want to go back.
The unicorn walking beside me says that I should go. That I'll regret it if I don't. I ask him whether that's a threat. He looks at me as sadly as my old mum used to look at me and says no it's not a threat Davy. It's just the truth. I feel uncomfortable like there's something black gnawing away at the back of my head. I spend a few minutes digging at my ears to see if I can get it out but there's only wax in there. When I look back the unicorn's gone but I know he's right. I should go home. There's not much time.
Want is just a word for most people. They don’t understand the tug in your chest, like a hand reaching out from your heart grasping at the empty air. They don’t understand the spine weakness, the shaking hands, the fear. They don’t understand what it is to feel dead when you wake up, clawing at a ragged smelly blanket like the crumbling edges of a grave.
You wan' sumthin' Davy? Big Rolf leers at me. One of his teeth is black and withered. I don't like that tooth. It makes me feel funny. Not funny ha-ha but funny like my skin's two sizes too tight and fingers are dancing on my neck. I play with the change in my pocket. It jangles and Big Rolf grins wider. I do want it but I don't like that tooth cause it makes him look like a goblin and mum said never to trust goblins. I say no thanks Rolf I've gotta get a bus. He says you sure Davy, you're lookin' mighty cluckin'. I tell him I'm not cluckin' only chickens cluck and he shakes his head and says well you know where I am if you need it and splashes away down an alley that's running with blood. It stains his trousers and boots. I want to tell him he'll get wet feet but I think he already
I've gotta look at the map at the bus station to work out how to get there but it's hard cause the thin little trails keep turning into snakes that hiss and snap at me. In the end I give it up and ask the fat little red man standing beside the map how to get to the Land's End. The guy standing next to him says it's a postbox mate, so I ask him instead. He says it's a long way from London but the train goes straight there. I ask him how much and he says dunno probably a ton. I don't have a ton I say and he shakes his head and says course you don't fella and gives me a crumpled fiver that smells like coke. He says you can get the bus to Plymouth for fifteen quid and probably another bus from there. I thank him and his little red friend.
I pay for the ticket in coppers that keep rolling away laughing at me with their shiny little faces as they twirl and bounce and chime. I eventually chase them all down and the man behind the glass with the hagfish face slips me a ticket. I spend the fiver on a sandwich and a bottle of water. The sandwich is unhappy about its impending doom but I try to console it with the righteousness of my cause. It agrees that I'm doing a very good thing and I should definitely go. I regard the sandwich with some suspicion. It seems far too eager to get me onto the bus but it's too late to back out now. The driver doesn't want to let me on but I've got a ticket so he says don't cause any trouble right. The sandwich laughs.
Somewhere around Reading I realise I've made a horrible mistake. The sandwich looks at me hungrily and my hands are shaking so hard it looks like I've got seven fingers. The bats are back and the road ahead is full of ghosts. I try to warn the driver but he swears at me to get back in my bloody seat and nearly crashes the coach. I fall asleep for a bit but when I wake everything is worse. Monkey demons with teeth for eyes chitter at me from their seats and the gnomes are muttering behind their hands about me. My t-shirt's drenched in sweat and drips of it scuttle down my spine like little creatures. The air is mud and the water's poisoned and my heart's playing a really shit game of footie in my chest. I run to the toilet, taking all my things in case the undercover wizard in the row behind me turns them into frogs. I lock myself in the toilet and puke into the bowl again and again and again. There are maggots in the puke. I don't like maggots so I flush them away. I feel guilty for killing them but then the walls close in and try to crush me and I suddenly have more important things to worry about like breathing.
I must've passed out because when I come to someone's banging on the door. I tell them to go away but they say they've called the police. I say I paid my fare what you wanna call the police for. They don't reply but I feel the coach slowing and think shit I'm really in it now.
The police come and luckily I'm not feeling too strung out now so they say just get off the bus with them and they'll leave it at that. I warn them about the bats. They nod as if they know all about the bats which they probably do so I smile at them and get off the bus. I ask them where I am and they say Bristol which I've never heard of so I ask them whether that's near Land's End and the tall one says where's that but the short one says that's Cornwall innit? Long way away mate. I ask him how to get there and he says I'll have to get another bus or a train but I should sober up first or they'll just chuck me off again. I tell him I haven't got any money and he says he ain't surprised but he says it sadly. I ask him how to get to the train station and he says they can give me a lift but I don't want to get in their van cause gremlins swear at me from the back seat so I say thanks but I'll walk. He shakes his head but points and says it's about an hour that way.
The walk is long and full of terrors. Dinosaurs stalk me in the dust along the side of the road and the sun is too hot so I ask him to cool it but he just laughs and makes it hotter. The sun is a bastard. I start to shake again and fall down once or twice and maybe I pass out but I'm not sure. Everything hurts and I really wish I'd got that hit off Big Rolf but the unicorn shakes it's horn at me and I know it's right cause I wouldn't have made it this far if I had. When the thousand papercuts start though, I swear at the unicorn and he goes away. I'm too weak to go on so I hide in a dumpster so the dinosaurs can't get me and try to sleep but my fingernails itch and my eyes melt and my tongue strangles me. I cry out for my mother but she's not here.
When I wake there's a rotten banana skin stuck to my cheek. I open the bin and I'm in the car park of the train station. It's late and the unicorn whispers its plan to me. I remember a time when my blazer was new and I could afford a ticket. It was late, the last train home, the barriers were open and the guards couldn't be bothered. I look up at the green writing on the black screens that tells me there's one chance left. Penzance is near Land's End.
The train journey is long and uneventful. The world is dark outside. The few passengers sleep or stare into the night. The carriage is warm and I sip a half-drunk coffee I found under my seat. When I hear the ticket collector coming I hide in the toilet. It smells like bleach and urine. I drink water from the tap and splash my face. The water drips off brown. I have a faded memory of being human. It feels long ago and far away. The want rises in me, but it's not for a fix. We approach Penzance at dawn. I see the bats, shadows across the sunrise, but they are small and far away.
The Cornish air still tastes the same. Brisk and salty. Time skims across a pond. I weave away from the station caught in gossamer memories. I know the way from here. The bus goes straight past the church. I just need a few quid. There's a pub round the corner. Youths drink and laugh on benches out in the sun. Maybe if I tell them it was her last request. One catches my eye. His blazer is bright blue. He stands tall, strong, rich, his hair parted severely at the side and his teeth a bright white. He could be my twin. Perhaps this is who I could've been before the junk. It's like walking back in time to ask yourself for a fiver. He laughs and his friends laugh with him. When was the last time I had friends? He takes a sip of his pint, regarding me over the rim. What must I look like to him? I feel suddenly small and dirty and worthless.
He says sure, and I begin to smile and thank him then he says but. You have to do something for me first. I say sure, anything, thank you, but his face has gone sharp and a devil lurks at the edges. It's a cruel and familiar countenance.
Bark like a dog, he says.
It's not the first time a young, arrogant bastard's made me do something demeaning. A small worm of dismay nibbles at my chest cavity, but I bark like a dog. He and his friends whoop and holler and howl with me. I think of a pack of hounds on the hunt, but it's only a thought. I look up. No bats. I shake my head. The edges of things are too real now. Half-heartedly I wish for a hit
to make this all easier.
'Can I have that fiver now, please?' I smile uncertainly at the rich kid.
'But we're only just getting started.' He grins like we're the best of friends. 'Take off your clothes.'
'You want this fiver,' he says. 'Then take off all your clothes and act like the dog you are.'
The unicorn abandoned me in Bristol. I know what he'd say though. He'd say it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is getting there on time. I need that fiver. So I do it. I take off my clothes and fold them neatly and stand before them in my dirty underwear. A larger crowd is gathering. They're all drunk and some look uncomfortable but most are enjoying the spectacle.
'Now get on your knees and bark like a dog.' His Cheshire cat grin grates.
Someone at the back protests that this is a bit much but no one's listening. I do it. I get on my knees and bark like a dog. That little worm wriggles harder, tearing and chomping and writhing. And something else has woken. As I bark like a dog I feel a canine's rage. My barks growl and I want to bite. My hands on the concrete tremble.
'Please,' I say.
'Sure thing buddy!' The rich kid's eyes have taken on the feverish glow of an addict. Something worse is coming. A sea breeze makes me shiver. 'But first I want you to eat that shit.' He points to a dog turd curling unhappily on the pavement. The crowd falls silent.
I'm sure the unicorn would've approved my response. I punch the kid in the nads so hard
his eyes cross and he falls to his knees and vomits. Unfortunately his friends aren't as agreeable about the whole situation. It's not the first time I've been beaten, but it's the most painful. All the other times I've been high. They punch and kick and someone breaks a glass over my head. Blood is warm and sticky and smells like iron. I feel my ribs break, then my nose and arm. Like snapping ice, they make the same grinding, blinding crunch. It hurts a hundredfold. I blink in and out of existence before someone kicks me in the head and it all goes away.
I wake wearily wondering why bother. The sky is a very familiar shade of blue and so are the walls. I'm in a hospital ward, then. They all look the same. I'm bandaged and splinted and my nose is a great ball of fire in the middle of my face. Despite all that I feel pretty great. It's probably the morphine. So much for going clean. Across from my bed is an old fella who looks pretty much on death's doorstep. I wave at him just in case. It's only polite.
'You're awake then? Good.' A nurse bustles in. She's the most Cornish person I've ever met. Short, square, kind. She reminds me of my mum.
'Where's my letter?' Panic, I thrash about in the bed. 'Where are my clothes?'
'Now calm down love.' She lays a hand like a blessing on my shoulder and smiles. I still. When was the last time someone touched me like this?
'Mam?' Pathetic. A kitten's mew.
'No. But someone like her.' The nurse looks a little sad. 'You were beat up pretty bad kid. And someone stole your clothes I'm afraid.' She fumbles around the bedside table. 'But the paramedics found this in your hand.'
My mother's letter is bloodstained and torn but not lost. I take it from her, catch her hand and kiss it. She smiles.
'Now then. You rest dear. Do you have enough pain relief?'
'No morphine,' I say before she can tempt me. My hands shudder. The letter crackles between my fingers. I stare at it and try not to look at the nurse so she can't see how hard it is. 'Thank you.'
'Well then. I'll leave you to rest.'
As soon as she's gone I ease myself out of bed. Everything hurts. I'm in a gown. That won't work. And I still need money. I glance over at the old man in the other bed. There's a worn black suit draped over the chair beside him. It doesn't look like he'll need it anymore. I'm sure he'd understand. There's money in the pocket too. I dress swiftly, thank him, and leave.
Graveyards are good places. Monsters don't come here. I'm late, but not too late. I can see them all in the distance, gathered around a grave. I tug my suit straight. The bats hover over the church spire, warning me of pain. I ignore them. I promised. I glance back once and they're gone. The unicorn's gone too. It's all gone.
The walk up the hill is harder than everything else put together. Every pain pulls, like ropes around wrists. The withdrawal, the broken bones, the loss. My body twitches uncontrollably. Corruption oozes out of me. I walk on.
I reach the grave and stand across from the other mourners. They all wear black in varying shades. I recognise some, not others. They don't recognise me. The man with steel-grey hair ignores me. He knows me, but avoids my eyes. He glares at the coffin, fists clenched. He is angry. He doesn't want me here. He doesn't know or care what I went through to be here. But it doesn't matter, I suppose. I'm here. That's all she would've cared about, in the end. That despite everything, I didn't let her down this time.
I face him across the shiny black coffin in my stolen suit with my broken ribs and swollen eyes. A woman's name is written in gold on the placard, but it's not the one I knew her by. There
are flowers everywhere and the sky is clear and blue. It's pretty. She would've liked it. My hands
barely shake, and the world looks almost normal now. I take a deep breath and taste iodine and salt on the wind. Somewhere in the distance the ocean crashes. This is a good place, I think. A good place to end.