It’s the school summer holidays. I’m just back from two weeks in Italy and Stevie from two weeks in Greece. Wayne had an afternoon in the precinct. I get the feeling Wayne spends every day walking from my house to Stevie’s and back again just waiting for us to return because when I look out the first morning, there he is, at the end of the garden, sitting on the fence, throwing handfuls of gravel across the lawn, like some mischievous garden gnome.
My dad will love that. Our hover mower will spray those stones like bullets. We’ll need helmets, goggles and body armour next time he cuts the grass.
Wayne waves and springs from the fence. He runs down the garden path and hammers on the door as if I haven’t already seen him and don’t know he’s there. Mum or dad must open the door because before I have a chance to go and meet him I hear his feet on the stairs. Nobody in our house moves that fast. My bedroom door swings open and there he is, red faced and breathing hard.
‘You want to play football?’ he pants, ‘I’ve got a new ball.’
‘Who’d you get it from?’ I ask.
‘Dunno, I borrowed it from someone. Come on, let’s go and get Stevie.’
Wayne never steals from his friends but he does borrow an awful lot. He doesn’t mean anything by it, just like he never wants to get his friends in trouble; it just happens.
It goes with the territory, I suppose.
My dad appears at the door. He eyes Wayne up and down as if he’s just materialised from another world and is looking for plunder. Trust isn’t one of my dad’s virtues.
‘Hello, Wayne,’ he says cautiously.
‘Hello, Mr Tyler,’ Wayne says.
He’s on his best behaviour, which is a lot better since Tina entered his life. He reached the end of the term without any significant breeches of school etiquette and Mrs Goddard promptly retired. She was probably old enough but I think she decided to go out on a high note.
‘What are you boys doing today?’ my dad asks.
The question is directed at both of us but he’s looking at me and there’s a second, secret message behind his words. It’s the Tyler code. In our house we can talk with our eyes. He’s saying, ‘Why don’t you stay in and read a book? You can go out later and play with one of your other friends. Hmm? What do you say?’
The thing about eye messages is that you can pretend you never received them. I let this one lie in my inbox, unread.
‘We’re going to find Stevie,’ Wayne tells him enthusiastically. ‘Then we’ll go and play football at the rec.’
‘Is Stevie back from Greece?’ my dad asks. I spot another eye message but I don’t read it.
‘He got back yesterday, same as you,’ Wayne says. ‘I saw their car. His mum looks like a cooked chicken.’
‘I’m sure she’ll be pleased to hear it, Wayne,’ my dad says, with a hint of a smile.
‘Let’s go,’ Wayne says and heads to the stairs, ‘’Bye, Mr Tyler.’
I follow him, avoiding another message, and we head towards Stevie’s house. He’s in the garden and he’s pretty keen to escape from the holiday unpacking so we don’t wait to collect a football from the garage. We head off down the road before anyone sees us.
‘We can get a ball from my house,’ Wayne says.
Stevie and I exchange a glance. Our fear of Tyrone after previous encounters made us set up a total exclusion zone which extends from Wayne’s house to the street end. We’re not the only ones to treat the area with caution. Even the residents open their doors, glance each way and then scurry towards the street end where they feel safer – or so it seems to us. The street is always empty unless some of Tyrone’s mates gather there.
Wayne sees the look on our faces and grins. ‘Our Tyrone isn’t home,’ he says, ‘and Mum’s in bed. She’s got one of her heads.’
And so, we head for his house and open the tidal barriers and release a flood of events which will carry us God knows where.
‘I’ll just be a minute,’ he says as we pause in the space where the garden gate once stood, next to the space which must have been a garden at some point in its history. He sidesteps the rusting cycle and the supermarket trolley and disappears inside, leaving the door open. This gives us a momentary vision of the strange, alien life lived within.
‘Fuck,’ Stevie mutters. ‘It’s even worse.’
A moment later we hear this scream, only, God, it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard; it’s the worst sound ever and it goes on and on, punctuated by cries, by words I can’t make out, pleading, crying and swearing. I stand still; I can’t move. I can’t believe anyone can scream like that, not anyone I know. I can’t imagine any pain terrible enough to make you sound like that.
Stevie looks at me. He figures it all out quicker than I do.
I still remember the look on Stevie’s face. He’s scared and he doesn’t know what’s happening. He thinks maybe Wayne has had some accident, that he’s lying injured in the empty house. I’m sure, I’m really sure, he doesn’t imagine for one moment that Tyrone is inside the house, holding a cigarette to Wayne’s hand and that he won’t let go until he hears Wayne scream and howl and cry. Stevie can’t have expected to see Tyrone throw his brother onto the floor and kick him as he crawls towards the corner where he sits, hunched, his knees raise and his head down, curled up to protect himself. The smell of burning flesh is all around us.
I’m just behind Stevie when he stops at the lounge door. I see everything just a moment after Stevie and I want to run and get help but, for a moment, I can’t move. There’s an image that sticks with me, one of those flashbacks that I can’t get rid of no matter how. Wayne’s mum is sitting in an old battered arm chair, leaning forward and shouting at Tyrone to stop. There are tears on her cheeks but all she does is look at us and shout over and over, ‘I can’t stop him. You tell them it’s not me. I can’t stop him. You tell them.’
Stevie steps forward towards Wayne and reaches out a hand.
‘Come on, Wayne,’ he says.
I’m shaking and I want to be anywhere but here. I want to fetch my dad and make everything right. Only nothing will ever be right again. Tyrone is sweating and his eyes are glazed and he’s like some terrible animal; only no animal I can imagine is as bad as Tyrone.
He steps between Stevie and Wayne and swings and connects with the side of Stevie’s head and Stevie falls on the ground. Tyrone snarls something but I don’t remember what. Then he bends down and hits Stevie again and now Mrs Keech is screaming, ‘You’re going to kill the boy,’ but Tyrone doesn’t listen. He starts kicking Stevie’s head, over and over and all I can do is watch and cry and back out of the door and run and run and run.
And the last thing I see before I leave that room is Wayne slowly raising his head and looking at Stevie’s battered body and at the pool of blood gathering round him; and Stevie is still and Tyrone is leaning against the wall and breathing hard and his hair is matted and dishevelled and falling over his sweating face.