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by Jason Beech

Mum ushered the new neighbour into Tommy’s room and gave her boy that look. “You welcome Barry into our lives, okay? Be nice.” She shut the door on Tommy’s response. He bristled at her mutter about a chance to make a friend.

What could he do? Ignore this Barry?

Barry’s wrinkled nose and the way he ground his teeth told Tommy to stamp to the wardrobe and pull the door from the hinges to show his lion-heart. A pile of old action toys spilled out and littered the floor. He divided the pile with his foot and swished them out of his way. Pulled the bucket out along with two space blasters that fired little discs when you snapped the lever.

He emptied British, American, German and a few Soviet soldiers onto the carpet, loaded discs into the blaster and fired at Barry, who shot a forearm across his face. “You’re the Germans,” he said.

“Whatever.”

Tommy won round one. Blasted those tightly packed soldiers all over the bedroom floor. Round two brewed a little sweat on Tommy’s brow as Barry fought him close. Tommy laughed at Barry and told him he was too shit to win this game.

“I don’t like you.” Barry threw his gun at Tommy’s soldiers. Took out three Brits and an American.

“You boys okay?” Tommy’s mum brokered a peace with that smile. Barry’s mum peeked in from behind. Gave her boy a little finger-wave.

They angel-faced their parents away.

“Round three, I think,” Barry said.

Tommy sniffed. “You couldn’t handle rounds one and two.”

“You be German this time.”

The guns had broken, but Tommy flung a plastic ruler and a bunch of rubber bands at Barry. Tommy kept the sturdy wooden ruler for himself.

Barry learned fast. He had his men spread — not as easy to target for a mass smash. Tommy stretched the rubber band, squinted down the ruler’s muzzle, and fired. A few men fell. Barry hit six of his. The bands twanged and crashed. The boys didn’t wait turns. Once they ran out of ammo they scurried to reload. They hit each other. Sometimes on purpose.

“I win,” Barry said. “Yessss!”

Tommy glared at Barry’s triumph. At that fist-pump. He squeezed the ruler so hard it moulded grooves into his hand.

***

Tommy’s mum handed Barry’s mum her mug of tea. “You think you have a problem child? I think mine is on his last warning at school. Though I’m sure it’s just that he’s being led astray.”

“Yes. That’s what I keep saying. Barry just gets in with the wrong crowd.” She flipped her fag-ash into the saucer.

They flinched when the upstairs door flung open. The handle thudded into the wall. Another mark. Heavy footsteps and grunts assaulted the mothers’ ears and their eyes bulged as their sons tumbled down the stairs in a jumble of arms and legs.

The mothers held “ahhhhs” in their hands. Ping-ponged looks between sons and each other. The kids regained composure and returned to jabs and wrestles. The mothers pulled their sons apart, curled their lips at each other and hothoused some enmity.

“Your lad is a monster,” Tommy’s mum said.

“My Barry’s an angel. You need to put yours on a leash.” She slammed the door on the way out.

Tommy’s mum took up the cigarette she’d left behind and wondered if her boy would ever gain a friend.


Jason Beech is from Sheffield, England, a place of rampant creativity where geniuses like Michael Palin, Pulp and the mighty Def Leppard hail from. He supports the least dodgy of the city’s two football sides, and now lives in New Jersey. His short fiction has appeared in The Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Metal Magazine, Plots with Guns, Spanking Pulp Press’ Triple Zombie, and Aidan Thorn’s charity anthology Paladins. He has a short-story collection, Bullets, Teeth & Fists, available on Amazon. His novel, Moorlands, and a second short-story collection, Bullets, Teeth & Fists Volume 2, are coming out soon.

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