This story begins, as these stories have been known to do, with another thrilling instance of Mr. Terrific Himself’s Round The Clock Heroin Lottery; ‘the only show on radio worth a gram’. Wherefrom the show is broadcast nobody knows but Mr. Terrific Himself, and he is a secret, a shadow. If anybody were to see his face, the game would be up, and his retirement would be prerequisite as soon as the photons that were predetermined to bounce into the eyes of a single beholder first left the surface of the sun.
This is because Mr. Terrific Himself performs a very important job within British society (though it is suspected that there are Messrs Formidable Lui-même, Klasse Sich, Terrific Mateix, and others scattered across Europe and probably the world – Terura is the Esperanto word that will denote the Mr. Terrifics of the distant future).
You hardly need explained to you, I’m sure, the workings of this improbable programme, so-
The meat of this story concerns two teenage boys, Stash and Shy, on one calmly refulgent April morning in the 21st Century. They had made the decision to put forward their phone number for the competition the night before, after heavy drug use. They are waiting, at 11:35, on Rose Gardens Green, their usual summer haunt, for the 12 O’clock draw. In high spirits, as you can imagine, the pair are chattering away whilst the clandestine radio show plays techno music, speaking through one of their mobile phones.
The scene is idyllic; grey old men and women sit on benches watching young grey squirrels go about their day; children scamper and crouch through carefully trimmed hedgerows; crazy-golf is happening nearby. The pair are seated in a crook separating the heavy bows of a thick and vibrant old oak tree, facing the sun, twenty feet from the dry earth. A joint is passed between them as they expound their views on nature. There are no disagreements.
Shy takes a moment to stand up and lean dangerously across to rest his back on the hefty trunk. Standing precariously, this is what he says:
“This tree is a good example, right. I wrote a letter once, and I imagine it was written on paper come from a tree exactly like this one – the same tree that’s allowing us to stand above the Earth right now, and watch that fireball burn. With all my intelligence and strength, I couldn’t naturally do a thing to this tree, for good or bad. This tree’s gonna outlive everyone we’re ever gonna meet, and everyone they’re ever gonna meet, as long as us sneaky humans don’t decide to cheat it. And even when we do, not only will it have had hundreds of children, but the soil that raised it and the sun that fed it and the birds and insects that gave it a purpose won’t miss it one bit, not one bit. And yet, here it is, holding us up right now. That’s what nature is.”
At this moment the voice of the man Himself flares up from between the synth and the kicks and snares to announce that, momentarily, the lucky winner of the 15,133rd uninterrupted bi-hourly lottery will be decided. The buzzing excitement is palpable.
The track fades to a damp white sizzle and the heat of the day is dripping down the two boys’ faces. This is the moment they’ve been waiting for. The smooth bass voice emanates from the device, taking its time. All around is silence but for the reliable creaks and strains of their vessel. News, weather, opinions, satire – the pretences on which modern manipulators of the system choose to operate.
Eventually a siren sounds, the drum machine roll is begun and the breath refuses to leave the lungs of the children, sitting in the tree.
0. Good so far.
7. Right, right.
4. No fucking way.
And the rest of the numbers go unheard, because as both the disappointed youths depress their chests and sink their loosened weights down onto the crooked arm of nature, an especially stressful and agonised creak is followed by a sharp hissing crunch, and a heavy rustling of twigs and leaves. Their fall is natural, and fatal.
Written – early 2014
Published – August 2017
Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash