By Paul O’Neill
“What’s the issue, ya skinny piece of pish?” the man in the yellowed vest bellowed from his doorway.
Maybe yer prick of a son shouldn’t have smashed ma two-year-old wi a spade, Ewan O’Connor thought. He took in a deep breath, almost able to taste the beer seeping out of the large man’s pores. “Calm doon. I just came ti have a word—”
“Don’t you tell me ti be calm, ya splotchy lookin’ bastard. Let’s settle this like men.” The man spread his chubby, sausage arms out wide. “C’mon then, what’s it gonnae be?”
Ewan looked down at his shoes and shook his head, seeing spatters and slashes of violent pink and muddy orange paint that covered his white overalls. A rumbling pressure was building inside his head as he thought of his little Blake and the ragged, nasty scar that curled above his left eye.
“Yer nothing but a cissy-boy, wi a cissy-boy for a son.”
The man stepped back, and pushed the front door, but Ewan shot out a palm, his wedding ring clinking off the white PVC, halting its progress. “We’re no done.”
The big man’s eyes lit up, a slimy smile slanting up his face. Out on the street a crowd of boys gathered, hollering for some action. “Last chance. Beat it, or I’ll stomp a hole in—”
“Dad!” a small shout came from behind the mound of seething flesh.
“Beat it, James. Daddy’s talking ti the man.”
A rake of a boy slid under an arm, fixing Ewan with the same petulant glare as his father, holding a bright orange can of Irn Bru that was nearly the same colour as his fiery mop of hair. “Who’s this muppet, likes?”
“Ye sconed ma boy wi a spade,” said Ewan. “Ye should say sorry—”
The large man moved fast, shoving Ewan with a clammy hand, and he tumbled back, laying a hand on a pile of sodden cardboard to stop from falling over.
“Try telling ma boy ti be sorry again,” the angry man said. “I dare ye, and ye’ll be picking bits of ma shoe oot yer erse fir weeks.”
Ewan stood up and wiped his dirty, wet palms on his overalls. He ground his teeth, a cold static buzzing around his brain. The feeling pushed behind his eyes, begging to be let loose. “Yer no even wearing shoes, ya prick.”
The kids on the street tittered then fell silent. The dead-leaf October smell mingled with rotten oranges as the biting wind whipped at black-bags that hung out the man’s overflowing bins metres from where they stood.
Ewan didn’t move as the big man rumbled toward him, a pressured storm gathering inside his head. He let it well up, thinking about the endless tears his little boy shed because this arsehole didn’t teach his son it wasn’t okay to open people up with shovels.
The man cocked a doughy fist ready to smash him to pieces. Ewan squinted and pushed, shooting the swirling thunderstorm at the man’s head. He collapsed and kicked at the ground, his knuckles turning white as he clawed at his oily temples.
His gran had called it ‘the Crush’. She could crumple empty tins of beer with the blink of an eye. He’d watched her crush uncountable cans after she’d emptied them down her throat. He was ten when she first got him involved, handing him a cold beer to finish off.
The man rolled around on the path, tearing at his hair like rats gnawed at his skull. “Argh, fuck. Make it stop.”
A sweat broke out on Ewan’s forehead, cooled by the howling wind. He focused on the man’s head, forcing the built-up pressure toward him. “Only if ye tell yer boy ti say sorry.”
“James, say it.”
James scowled at Ewan. “But Blake struts aroond like he’s a wee prince.”
“Say it, or I’ll make ye wish ye had.”
“Sorry,” James muttered, and slammed the door.
The letter box clanged, and the thunder inside Ewan dissipated. The world drained of all its colour, and his bones turned winter cold. It felt like a hot needle had been pushed through each eyeball. He knew he’d be useless for days, unable to think straight.
The large man shakily hauled himself off the pavement, and fixed Ewan with a bewildered stare. “Ye’ve got some kind of devil in ye.”
“Hardly,” said Ewan, lowering his voice. “If I find oot yer son has so much as breathed near ma boy, then I’ll be back, ye got that?”
“I-I’ll sort the wee shite oot, dinnae worry aboot that.”
Ewan marched down the path and through the crowd of shocked teens who parted to let him through, and began the short walk home, his head pounding with each step.
His gran had forgotten she had the ability at the end, though every now and then when he entered the dusty room where she’d die, he’d notice a crushed-up pill box or crumpled pack of cigarettes.
He licked his dry, cracked lips and muttered to himself. “I could murder a pint.”
He drove from work the next day in his dented pick-up truck with its furious green dragons he’d detailed up its sides. The low sun squealed rays of agony into his eyes as he raced to collect Blake from nursery on time, praying that a certain shovel-wielder had behaved himself.
When he got there, Irene glared at him, clutching Blake’s hand at the nursery’s gates. Blake had an arm wrapped around a large black block, struggling to hold it against his small frame. The sunlight beamed off the block, and Ewan saw magnificent orange swirl around its surface like shifting, glittery sand. It burned little dots into his vision. When Ewan insisted Blake hand it back, Irene was adamant it didn’t belong to the nursery, then turned her nose up and stomped off to lock up.
Stones crunched under the truck’s large wheels as he pulled into their driveway in front of Connie’s spotless ice-blue Mercedes. He thought, not for the first time, that he stood out like neon green in this part of Balekerin, where everyone went to work clad in drab greys and blacks.
Blake’s shoes squeaked on the wooden laminate floor, sending a wave of pain into Ewan’s ears. The wee guy bolted for his toy chest in the corner of the living room, setting his new block to the side with a slow, gentle care.
His wife’s phone-voice drifted down from their spare room, and he snatched a beer from the fridge, gulping half of it down in one go. The cold, harsh fizz scratched the ever-present itch at the back of his throat. He closed his eyes, sighed, and took another long pull.
Blake sprinted around with a dragon in each hand, making them do loop-de-loops, breathing pretend streams of fire everywhere. “Oh, he’s a bad dragon, he’s going to the jail.”
Ewan poured the rest of the beer down the sink, and joined his son, picking up a fluffy green dragon, making it nibble Blake’s nose, smiling from ear to ear at the sound of his son’s soft giggle.
The day’s fading light poured in through their patio doors, and Ewan stared at Blake’s block, mesmerised by the way the sparkling oranges mingled with twinges of fiery red. The colour made languid swirls that contrasted against the deep black background that seemed to inhale any light that touched it. He crawled over to it, running a thumb slowly along its warm, smooth edges, lost in its exploding, colliding colours. What was it that kept the colours moving around like that?
The stairs creaked as Connie bounded down, her earbuds still in. She made a yap-yap-yap sign with her hand as she walked over to them, kissing the top of Ewan’s head, then gave him the dreaded sniff.
She said bye and hung up the phone, then looked to Blake. “Hey dragon-scales, Mummy’s done with stinky work. You hungry?”
“But I no need to eat.” Blake bashed two dragons together.
Ewan continued to stare into the blocks, knowing his wife’s narrowed eyes were on him.
“You promised me you were off the beer,” said Connie. “We’ll talk about that later, shall we?”
He nodded and tried a smile, but it felt more like a grimace, and he slid along the floor to sit beside his golden-haired boy, who turned and jumped into him, almost knocking them both over. “Woah, careful, wee guy. Ye’ve got a sore noggin’, remember?”
That took the playful steam out of Blake, and he traced small fingers along the white paper-stitches that still shone red underneath, staring blankly at the block in the corner. Now that Connie had put the big light on, Ewan could see the orange shifting about like oil in the world’s darkest puddle.
“Where did ye get that block?” said Ewan.
Blake stared, not blinking. “James bad.”
White rage gripped Ewan’s stomach. “What he do now?”
“He went stomp on Blake, he a baddie. He gone now, he no make Blake cry no more.”
The next day Mr Dennison called to say his only booking had cancelled, so he didn’t need to come in today. Work at the garage was drying up. At this rate his wage would barely cover the cost of Blake’s nursery.
It had been days since he used the Crush on James’s dad, yet it still felt like the front of his brain was being clamped by white-hot tweezers.
Since he didn’t have to work, he stayed at home with Blake, stomping around the house being daddy-dragon, pretending the floor was lava.
If it didn’t have teeth and wings, that boy simply didn’t care, so it was strange to see Blake run over to his block every other minute, swivelling it slowly around, whispering to it that it had ‘been a baddie’.
By eleven o’clock, Ewan was knackered, and he’d gulped down an ice-cold beer before he noticed what he was doing. Connie hadn’t cornered him like he’d expected. She only asked him if he was okay, and gave him that concerned, disappointed look. He’d have preferred a punch in the nuts, it would’ve hurt less.
A warm, merry buzz crept up his spine followed by a hot loathing for his inability to stay off the booze. Rain hammered off the window, and he leaned over the kitchen sink, pressing the cool beer against his forehead.
He recalled the first meeting with their marriage counsellor when the drink had nearly stripped all he loved away from him. Now he seemed to be slipping back down that ever-slippy slope.
“Dad, Dad, you play with me.” Blake bolted through the kitchen and grabbed his hand, and he joined his son in the land of dragons. They saved a baby dragon from the bad dragon, whilst police-dragon stood guard atop the swirling block.
The doorbell rang. Blake grabbed his police-dragon, scrambling to answer the door. “I’ll get it, I’ll get it, I’ll get it.”
They raced to the door, and Ewan opened it to see a soaking policeman, droplets of rain trickling off the brim of his black hat.
“What’s happened?” said Ewan. “Is it Connie?”
“Yer wife’s fine, far’s I believe. Can I come in? I’m as wet as a . . .” he trailed off looking down at Blake. “Oh, look here. A member of the force has already arrived.”
“The force is another word for police,” said Ewan, seeing his son’s confusion. “Come on in, officer, before ye get waterlogged.”
“Oh, call me Deek fir auld time’s sake.”
Derek ‘Deek’ Anderson was a gentle giant, and his presence usually did enough on its own to keep the peace in most situations. His large boots squelched on the floor as he entered.
“Blake?” said Ewan. “You go play while Daddy speaks ti the policeman.”
Blake galloped to a shadowy corner, gently setting the blue and yellow dragon on the dark block.
“Bad guys go jail,” whispered Blake.
“Can I get ye a drink, Deek?” said Ewan.
“Naw, I best get going soon as I can.” Deek expelled a chest full of air. “There’s a kid gone missing from Bayview nursery. The poor mum’s clawing her wee heart oot.”
“Aye? Geez . . .”
“We’re asking around ti see if anyone knows anything.”
“Who went missing?”
“Wee lad called James McDonald. I hear ye had a tussle wi his dad, scared him real good from what they say.” Deek leaned in. “And the fucker deserved it, he’s a real piece of work, let me tell ye.” He reached into a pocket on his protective vest, pulling out a tiny notepad.
“James?” Ewan looked to his son, who was rolling around because a bad dragon set him on fire. “I was only up there ti have words wi the dad, but it kinda got oot of hand.”
“Can ye confirm yer whereabouts between twelve and five yesterday?”
“Wait, ye think I knicked that kid?”
“I just need ti be sure.”
Ewan felt a familiar pressure building up behind his eyes and forced them closed. “Ma boss at the garage will tell ye I was working, busy finishing yet another chackit paint-job for a boy racer. I was on that job most of the day, until maybe half five. I had ti rush ti grab the wee guy fi nursery.” He shot both palms up. “Ma wee guy, that is. Irene gave me the stink eye fir showing up late if ye want ti check in wi her.”
“Sure, sure.” Deek folded the notepad and shoved it back in his pocket. “We’ve got the dad in for questioning, but aw he does is moan aboot his heed.”
“I’m pretty sure yer no supposed ti share stuff like that.”
“Nothing stays quiet for long here. Well, I best get on ma way, continue ma rounds.”
Blake appeared between them. “James was bad.”
“Oh-ya!” Deek clutched at his chest. “I didn’t know dragons could be so sneaky, gave me a fright there.”
Blake shot them both a frowny look, an angry crease appearing above his brow. The wee guy tottered back over to his block, wrapping his arms around it, muttering to it. “You be good boy now, alright?”
Ewan turned to Deek. “Well, eh, I suppose . . .”
Deek shook his head. “Let me know if ye hear anything.”
Ewan closed the front door, and before he knew it, he was stood by the kitchen sink, another cold can of beer in his hand, glugging it down as Blake stacked up a pyramid of dragons.
He took another large swig, thinking about the look of petulant defiance on James’s face when he watched Ewan use his mental strength to squeeze his dad’s head.
“You drinking the stinky booze, Dad?” said Blake.
Ewan dropped the can in the sink. “Yer getting awfully good at that sneaking up thing.”
Blake scowled at him, and he felt like his eyeballs were about to pop loose from their sockets. He tasted something acrid on the air like someone burning plastic as an electric buzz jolted its way down his neck.
He clutched at the counter to stop from toppling over, pain tightening his muscles all over. The walls of the kitchen pressed in on him. “Daddy’s just chuckin’ the booze out, see?” His hand shook as he held the empty can upside-down. “A-all gone.”
“Booze bad. You drink booze, you go jail.”
The next day, Ewan got home from work, frantically tidying up dragons of all sizes before Connie and Blake walked in. They arrived five minutes later. His heart turned into a heavy grey lumpeing Blake juggling another block in his small arms. His eyes went dry as Blake placed it atop the other, and the shadows gathered thicker in that corner.
The new block had streaks of vivid pink and purple flowing out from the darkness that sparkled like pearlescent paint.
He trod over to Blake, pulling him out of his little yellow jacket. Blake picked up a fluffy pink dragon, rubbing his eye with a balled-up fist.
When Ewan sat cross-legged next to Blake, he caught a whiff of the stale-milk smell of stiffened paint on his overalls. It was like the blocks were hypnotising him, drawing him in deeper as he stared into their fathomless depths.
“Babe,” he shouted to Connie who rummaged around in the kitchen. “Where’d he get this other block?”
Connie slammed cupboards, opened and closed the fridge, then opened another cupboard. “I’ve got to head out to the Welliger place in ten minutes, he wants to host a viewing, last minute thing, but the commish on this will be well worth it.” She came through, munching a cereal bar. “I was going to ask Irene, but there was an awful palaver. Police vans and everything.”
“They find who took that James?”
“Worse, a wee lassie went missing. Blake’s no going back until they catch the sicko who’s doing this.” She looked at her sparkly watch. “I got to bolt, soz.”
She knelt down and kissed his cheek, then did the same to Blake, who leaned against the wall, hugging into his pink dragon, stroking a fluffy wing.
Ewan scooched over to his tired little boy and set him in the seat made by his crossed legs. Blake hugged into his chest, and Ewan rested his chin on top of his head. Fine blonde hair tickled his neck.
They sat in silence, and he thought about how Connie was so driven. She rushed here or there with a purpose he both loved and grew jealous of. It felt like he wasn’t pulling his weight.
Blake muttered a nursery rhyme under his breath. “That’s the way the story goes, pop goes the weasel.”
Ewan took out his phone and text his mate Charlie. You about fir a chat themora? I’ve had it wi the garage. Time to try oor wee business venture, if yer still game?
He rocked Blake gently back and forth. “What ye do at nursery today?”
“Masha make Blake sad. My was crying.”
Ewan’s insides screwed up when Blake’s bottom lip trembled, trying his best to fight back the tears. “Hey, hey, it’s okay. Did ye tell Irene when it happened?”
Blake sniffled, and snuggled in closer. The setting sun poked through the clouds, pouring the last of the day’s light through the big window, lighting up the blocks in the corner.
The magnificent pink of the new block made his insides quake. Little Masha was a girly-girl, always decked in candy-floss pink from head to toe.
“B-Blake?” Ewan felt a stone in his throat. “Where did ye get those blocks?”
“I made them, they mine’s. I go,” Blake clapped his hands, “squash, and no more being bad at Blake.”
Ewan stared at both blocks, the fierce pinks and oranges stung his eyes in the sunlight. The room spun around him as he struggled to draw in enough breath. “Listen, did you—”
There was an urgent knocking at the door and whoever it was rang the doorbell three quick times. Ewan set Blake on the couch and went to open it. A shattered policeman stared back at him. “Is it aboot the nursery?”
“Afraid it is. How’d ye know?”
“Connie said there was something happening when she picked up Blake.”
Deek clomped into the living room, twisting and wringing his black hat. “Two kids missing in the same week. Something just feels . . .” Deek turned and looked down at Blake. “Off.”
“So, Connie was right? A wee lassie has gone missing?”
“Aye, wee Masha, she . . . ye awright there, Ewan?”
He forced his eyes closed and leaned against the frame of the living room door. “Aye, aye. I’m just . . . aye,” he finished lamely.
“Is that beer I smell?”
“Em . . .”
Blake pushed himself off the couch, and toddled over, fixing Ewan with a stare under a furrowed brow that would’ve been comical if it wasn’t for the freezing blood that crept from the top of Ewan’s skull, sliding down his spine. He felt like his head was stuck in a frozen vice.
“Policeman silly,” said Blake. “You no drink stinky booze, Dad.”
“No,” croaked Ewan, tasting copper at the back of his throat. The pulsing blood inside his head returned to normal as Blake turned his focus on the concerned policeman.
“It’s awfully unsettling,” Deek leaned toward Blake, turning his hat round and round. “Did ye see anything, wee guy?”
Blake let out an almighty shriek. “My Dad good, he no bad. He no go to jail. You go away!”
“Well, I . . . I . . .” Deek dropped his hat. “Argh!”
The big man balled up on floor, screaming and clawing at his temples. His body contorted, and the sickening pop of bone made the bile rise up Ewan’s throat. When Deek eventually stopped yelling in agony, silence engulfed the house. As bone snapped and sinew ripped, Deek’s mass crumpled in on itself, getting smaller and smaller.
There was a flash of dark light that consumed the whole room. The light prickled Ewan’s face like a burst of flame. When the heat died down and he opened his aching eyes, he tasted melted rubber like someone had set a tyre alight.
All that remained of Deek was the zigzagging swirls of yellow and blue twisting inside the new block’s midnight black.
Ewan paced the living room, peeking out the closed blinds every five minutes to check on his neighbours. He held his breath each time a car whispered by the house, but the street remained quiet. How sure could he be that no one saw Deek enter the house before Blake crushed him into a block? There was no police car parked on the street, so Deek must’ve done his rounds on foot.
He picked up his phone and text Connie again. Home, asap, please xx.
He’d sunk three beers, trying to deny the memory of Deek’s muscles twisting off bone, and the popping noises as he was crunched into a block. He opened another tin. The ring-pull made its welcoming pssst sound, and flecks of foamy beer showered the back of his hand.
“What you doing, Dad?” said Blake.
“N-nothing, son. How aboot we skip bath night and just get ready for bed?”
Blake’s softly spoken words rammed him in the chest. “I don’t like Daddy drink stinking booze.”
Ewan inhaled one last mouthful of beer, rounded up all the cans he had in the cupboards, and emptied them down the sink, one by one, watching the dark foam making its glug-glug noise as it covered the plughole. The deep, malty smell of beer filled the kitchen.
When he was done, he peeked out the blinds again. He saw nothing, hearing only the wind barrel down the silent street. “Right wee dude, come get yer jammies on.”
Blake’s head popped up from behind the three blocks, a spiral of brilliant orange, blue, yellow and pink wavered over his features like he was stood in front of some magical pool of water. He came bounding over, launching himself on the couch head-first, sat up then pointed at the telly. “Can you watch the dragon film with me?”
“Jammies first.” Ewan held a green pyjama top, ready for little arms to wriggle through. When Blake was dressed for bed, he threw his arms out, wrapping them around Ewan’s neck, snuggling into his shoulder. A small, warm hand traced circles on Ewan’s back, and he kissed the back of his son’s head, warm tears swarming in his eyes. “Daddy’s wee scaly monster.”
He savoured the vital smell of Blake’s hair, squeezed him close, then placed Blake on his knee.
“When I was a kid,” said Ewan. “I used to watch yer great-gran crush tins of fizzy juice wi nothing but her mind. She called it the Crush. D-did yer eyes hurt when ye . . . squashed Deek?” He pointed to the blocks hunkering in the dark corner.
“My eyes go all hurty, and bad guys go pop. Then they boxes, no bad no more.”
“I can do it, too, but I can’t make people into boxes like you can. Listen, ye can’t just go boxing people up because they’re bad. Understand?”
“James said you a bad word. He said you make his dad hurty.”
“That’s no reason ti turn him into a block.”
“But he was bad, and I do crush, just like Daddy, and he gone now. No more punching Blake.”
“Ye need to tell a grown-up when that happens, okay? No boxing, no squashing, no crushing, got it? We’re in deep trouble now.”
He hugged his son close, watching How to Train your Dragon for the millionth time, waiting on the police coming to haul his dragon-boy away.
They didn’t come for Blake that night, and Connie refused to believe him. He threw himself at her in a confused, garbled mess trying to explain what their son had done – that he was responsible for three missing people.
“Listen to what you’re saying. Wouldn’t there be blood or some other evidence lying about everywhere? Even you’ve got to see how daft it all sounds,” she’d said, then stalked up the stairs. She stopped mid-step and called back down to him in a loud whisper to not wake Blake. “Crushing people into blocks? Really? Maybe the drink has finally gone to your head.”
He paced the living room until the early hours, going over it in his mind, how Deek’s eyes went dead right before the unholy black light transformed flesh and bone into block. The icy chill that had run through him when Blake glared at him was like nothing he’d ever felt before. Was that what the Crush was like when you were its victim?
The next morning, he gasped awake, punching at the air all around him, feeling like the world was pressing him in from all sides. Downstairs, Blake spread his arms, flying through the living room like a dragon. Connie stood gazing out at the rising sun through the closed patio doors.
When she turned, half her face was lit by the sun’s early rays, and his heart forgot how to work when he saw the light catch her hazel eyes. She had a tiny circle of deepest brown just beside one dark pupil. When he’d met her in the pub all those years ago, the sight of those smiling eyes made his pint tumble out his hand and smash all over his shoes.
Connie came over and wrapped her arms around him, nuzzling into his shoulder. They stayed, not speaking, for a long minute as their son ran lengths of the home they’d made together, the peach scent of her hair bringing back a million little memories.
“Sorry for being so harsh with you when I got in last night,” said Connie.
“Yer right, I’ve been on the sauce, but I poured it aw oot last night. No more.”
“You still think our boy’s a people compactor?” she chuckled and moved away from him.
“Ye didn’t hear it, the sound he made. Ye’ve got ti believe me . . .”
She waltzed through the kitchen, grabbed a cup from a cupboard and thumped it down on the counter. “That’s enough, you no hear how that sounds? You need to get out the house. Me and the flying monster need some quality time.”
It felt wrong grabbing his coat and heading to the pub to meet Charlie, but what else was there to do? Wait until someone came knocking?
His shoulders tensed as he leaned into the biting October wind on the way to the pub. The inside of the Bane’s Arms was a dark and dreary place that smelled like wet dog. A crowd of greyed faces swivelled to sneer at him before turning back to their drinks. A glistening pint sat on the bar beside his friend Charlie, calling out to him.
Charlie turned on his barstool, a haggard look on his long, unshaven face. “So, the man wi the skills, struggles to pay his bills. Ye finally serious aboot startin’ oor wee venture then, aye?”
Ewan balanced himself on an unsteady stool, tracing a finger down the cool condensation covering the golden pint. “I can paint circles round the boss’s son, but he still gets aw the work. I’d be amazed if that erse could stay in the lines in a kid’s colouring book.” He could almost taste the beer. “Aye, let’s give it a go. What we got ti lose, eh?”
His hand shook and it started its unstoppable journey toward the pint when his phone vibrated in his pocket. It was Connie. He held a hand up to Charlie and walked over to the pool table. “Everythin’ awright? Babe? Connie?”
Connie juggled the phone, and little puffs of harsh breath crackled down the speaker like she was running.
“Talk ti me, babe.”
“It’s Blake. He . . . he . . .”
“What’s aw that noise?”
“You were right, Ewan. You were right. They’re trying to take him. Oh, God. A policewoman came, and Blake just . . . he squished her. Her bones folded in on themselves like a god-damned accordion.” Her voice cracked. “Our Blake wouldn’t do that, would he?”
“What’s happening? Is he okay?” He waved to Charlie, and started sprinting, the wind billowing through the mouthpiece. “I’m on ma way.”
“No, Blake, don’t. Argh—” The phone cut out.
He ran as fast as he could, the blowing wind pushing at his back. When he got there, the flashing lights of three police cars painted his house in urgent streaks of red and blue. Two of the cars had skidded to a stop on their front lawn, tyre tracks stopping just before the front window.
He leaned over, hands on his knees, taking in great gasps of air, hearing nothing but the crackling of radios sounding from the police cars begging for updates.
“Oh-oh, what you doing? Get back on there,” his son’s angel voice sounded from the back garden. “Dad? Dad, that you? Look what I building.”
His hand trembled as he swung open the large brown gate. He crunched over stone chips to the uneven slabs that covered half the garden. Mingled with the scent of dewy grass was the cough-inducing reek of burnt rubber. “Oh, Blake, what have ye done?”
Blake toddled in his dragon onesie, a fabric tail swishing back and forth in the wind. He wrapped both arms around a new block with flashes of molten, hypnotising silver. He juggled it, then reached up on tiptoes to place it atop the others. When Blake spun round, Ewan flinched.
“My making a castle,” said Blake. “Like in the dragon film.”
Out here in the daylight, the blocks sang with life, a kaleidoscope of colour that lit up the whole garden. Ewan counted, his heart growing heavier with each one. There were eleven blocks in all, each with its own harrowing set of colours.
His eyes stopped on a block that shone with enchanting hazel with flecks of deepest brown. The wind nearly bowled him over. “What have ye done?”
“They try take Blake to jail. Blake no go to jail. They silly.”
“Is that one Mummy?”
Blake stared at his fort of clashing colour, thumbing the stitches on his forehead, his lower lip sticking out. “I no mean it. It was a accident.”
He heard the blaring urgency of a police radio. The torn quality in the dispatcher’s voice made a ball of ice lodge in his stomach. He strode over to Blake, who turned and leapt into him, wrapping his arms around his neck, letting out whopping little boy sobs that wet Ewan’s chest.
“I don’t want to go to jail,” said Blake. “I need Mummy back.”
Sirens shrilled in the distance, calling to take his boy away. “How would ye like ti go for a big drive in Daddy’s dragon truck?”
He felt Blake nod.
“You need to do everything Daddy says, okay?”
Ewan raced to his truck and buckled Blake into his seat, then bolted into the house, grabbing as much of Blake’s toys, wipes and spare clothes he could stuff into a holdall. He scooped up the keys to the Welliger house Connie had been trying to sell. When he slammed the pick-up’s door shut, he saw neighbours pointing their phones at him, swarming outside his house.
He put his foot to the floor and his tyres spun, making stones fly everywhere. They pinged off the empty police cars as his truck launched itself forward and out of the street. If he could just make it to the big roundabout, then he would be heading in the opposite direction of the police cars barrelling their way to his house.
In his rear-view mirror, he saw Blake reach over to the bag, and grab his pink dragon, hugging into it as he wiped at his wet, red cheeks.
Why hadn’t he talked to Blake about the Crush earlier? He could’ve stopped this from happening.
His throat was as dry as dust, and his heart nearly fell out his mouth as he approached the big roundabout. He took his chance, not daring to stop, hearing the sirens gaining on them. A car skidded to a halt mere inches from them as he spun around the roundabout.
Tyres squealed as he gunned it down the straight road, whizzing by rows of dying trees. They’d need to ditch the truck at some point – its angry green dragons would be a dead giveaway. They could hide out at the empty Welliger house and devise a plan.
Once his heart slowed, he looked in the rear-view seeing nothing following them. “Blake, listen to Dad. Ye can’t go making people into blocks anymore. What you did back there was very bad.”
His son sniffled, shielding himself behind his dragon.
“You need to promise me you won’t do it again, okay? If you do, they’ll find you, and take you away to jail with all the other bad people.”
“My no go to jail!”
“If they find us, you’ll go to jail, and I’ll go to jail, too.”
The pained sob that Blake howled clawed at Ewan’s soul.
“Listen, listen, calm down, it’ll be awright. If you do what Daddy says, we’ll make sure we both don’t go to jail, okay?”
He glanced in the rear-view mirror. His son’s puffy face had morphed into a vicious scowl.
Blake’s reflected stare bored into him. It felt like a wave of flame scorched his face, and his blood hit boiling point. He could hear the hammering of his heart in his tense, hot ears. The fire spread its tendrils, roiling through each section of his brain, and torched its way down his neck. He tasted burning plastic though nothing was on fire.
“Blake, stop . . .” His voice came out all chunky, and he couldn’t tear his gaze away.
The storm mounting behind his eyes rose as the truck sped along the road.
About the Author: Paul lives in Leven, Scotland and has held various communications and PR jobs. He wrote his first book at nine, his second at eleven, and his third is due any day now. You can find him scrolling mindlessly through twitter @PaulOn1984.
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