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Drama Fiction Friendship

This story contains sensitive content

*** WARNING: physical violence, bad language and drugs ***


Paul's teeth wobbled, mouth flooding with salty wetness, eye throbbing hot, knuckles gashed, and stinging. The urge to stop, to run, to cry, was almost overpowering, but it seemed every student of Saint Patrick's school had come to watch the brawl. What could he really do but continue, he had cast the first stone so to say. Spitting his fears into the gravel sports track, he squinted against the evening sun and raised his shaking battered fists.


"Come on then!" he shouted, forcing bravado into the lisping words.


His opponent, Stephen, jabbed forward, the crowd cheering like Rome's drunken plebs at the colosseum. Something crunched. Bone? Knuckles? Cartilage?


Paul's nose erupted, splattering his once white shirt. Stumbling, vision fizzing, his head hammered impossibly loud. It was unfortunately clear which was the gladiator in this bout. The next crashing fist rattled Paul's head so hard he expected to see his jaw on the ground.


Everything went sideways, twisted, blurred, tipped upside down, then for some reason wet. Ah you're underwater, that must be it, must be why you can't hear, or breathe, or move.


Thunderous pressure clouded his mind, eyes popping, ears ringing, then everything went dark.


***


Watching a friend bleed is bad, seeing him collapse to a heap on the ground is worse. Especially if you love them.


Stephen stood stock still, muscles tense, the crowd whooping and jeering whilst others took pictures of Paul. Unfortunate sod had gone and pissed himself. Everyone from the first years to upper sixth would have those pictures in mere minutes. At least the bruises will fade, but the shame, well, that might follow him for life.


Someone squeezed his shoulder. "Well, if that's how you treat your friends, what would you do to your enemies? Eh big lad?" Padraigh grinned, puffed a limp rollie, offered Stephen back his black blazer.


Stephen grunted. It seemed as appropriate a response in the situation. One he never wanted, nor imagined, he would be in.


They were friends in truth, lived next door to one another since memory began, fifteen years and never a squabble and now...


Groaning, Paul began to stir. The spectators' laughter rising with him, the first insults flying.


"Hey hey oul piss pants is up!"


"Ha ya stinker! Enjoy your nap!"


Trying to stand on wobbling legs, his knees buckled as though his bones had turned to mud. Face deathly pale, his eyes rolled white. Blood geysering from his nose, eyes, and ears.


Hollering withered to disbelieving gasps as Paul shook bodily, back arching convulsions, limbs jerking as though a mad puppeteer controlled him. The spectators retreated as if whatever was happening could be caught. All except Stephen.


He ran, throwing himself to the ground, cradling Paul's head, trying to stop it smashing into the gravel.


"Jesus, ring an ambulance!" Stephen roared at the dumbstruck gathering, "Ring a fucking ambulance!"


Tears dripped, rippling in the expanding blood pooling at his knees.


"I'm sorry Paul...Paul? Paul! PAUL!"


***


"...but the ambulance never made it on time." Biting back the tears that came with each retelling, Stephen tugged his scraggy black beard.


"So, that's how I ended up here," He gestured to the plain walls, heavy iron door and barred windows.


He surveyed the twelve teenagers slouching in gray plastic chairs. Those that averted their gaze, he hoped he got through to. The others, crossed arms, cocky smiles, were a tougher sort. Repeat offenders. He had come to recognise the types.


"What did he do, mate?" Asked one blonde haired lad, tattoos swarming his neck and arms, all skulls, thorns and celtic markings.


"Ain't about what he did, but what I did. It's your own actions that will put you in here, no one else's."


"Aye but did he deserve it?"


Stephen blew out a nasal sigh and rocked on his heels. "No one deserves that, trust me. No better teacher than your last mistake. I'm only telling my story so hopefully you don't make the same mistakes. We could have settled it with words, but we didn’t, I didn't mean to do what I did. But I did. It only took…only takes, one punch. Don't choose violence, that's all I'm trying to say. Alright?"


Tattoos nudged the boy beside him, “Sounds like Prisons made him a wee bitch doesn't it?”


A chair squealed on tile and the social worker shot upright, “Ian, enough of that or I'll be having words with your probation officer, you hear?” She swallowed and tugged the edges of her jacket before smiling at Stephen. "Thank you for sharing Stephen. Am I right in assuming this will be your last session with us."


“It is m’am. I’m getting paroled next week.” Even saying the words made his chest constrict. What was even out there for him anymore.


“Good luck Stephen, and in all honesty, I hope we never see you again.”


“Me neither m’am, me neither.”


Keys rattled and a black clad guard held the door open for him. Seven more days and seven years gone.


***


O’Connell drive was the very picture of a typical street in Northern Ireland. Tiny brick terrace houses, built in the sixties and still housing their original inhabitants.


Stephen passed the old biddies flocking around their doorsteps, perched on kitchen chairs, cigarettes in hand, gossip in mouth. They stared like vultures watching a man lost in the desert, wondering which morsel they could tear off today. Barely out of earshot they squawked what he knew they would, “That's Marie’s boy, the murderer.”


It was manslaughter actually. Tightening his grip around the carrier bag containing his few earthly possessions, he focused on the red door. Home. Stomach knotted, palms sweating, his gaze twitched to the next door. Paul's house.


Paul's family no longer lived there. Thankfully. They apparently couldn't face the memories of him everyday. Just more lives he ruined.


He knocked lightly on his front door, almost scared he may awaken more ghosts from his past.


Mumbling came from within and he straightened.


“Y'alright da?”


His father gawped, round face an ever changing palette of shock, happiness, disbelief. The moment stretched impossibly long. But the willowy man threw his arms around Stephen, to his relief. He wept into his father's bony shoulder, there aren't too many hugs in prison.


“Son, when did you…” He held Stephen's shoulders, looking up and down the street. “Ye didn't escape did you lad?”


“Hardly," he sniffed back a tear, "got paroled on good behavior.”


“Why didn’t you tell us?”


“I wasn't sure…with all that…" The sound of opening doors reached him, curtains twitching in the corner of his eye, and that prey-like feeling of being watched. "Can I come in?”


Everything seemed smaller. The living room was more cramped than he ever remembered, a stack of spine broken books and yellowed newspapers stacked where the TV once stood, candles and wax dripped from what was once the prized coffee table and mantelpiece. Stephen looked about the room, the radio and DVD collection gone. Every surface layered in thick dust, the air staler. Everything seemed off.


His father bustled in from the kitchen with a tray in hand, tea cups, and saucers rattling.


“Your ma will have a canary when she comes in, son. Ha. I can't believe your back. Here, ” he proffered a small plate of plain biscuits.


“Cheers,” sipping his tea, Stephen frowned, “any sugar?”


“Ah naw son, we just ran out. Will get some after your ma gets back.” He patted Stephens shoulder before dropping into his squeaky chair, the arms threadbare from being picked at.


“Is everything alright Da? The place is a bit—”


The snub lock clicked, and Stephen's father leapt up grinning, his finger held up for silence.


"Johnny, the fish was too dear so I just got minced meat instead."


"I hope you got extra pet?"


"Why would I buy—"


She screamed, shopping bags crashing to the ground, eggs cracking, smiles exploding. She stood shaking, mouth flapping like a fish out of water. Stephen pulled her tight, she sobbed uncontrollably, her hands balling his jacket, daring not to let go. Not again.


Caressing his cheek she repeated, "It's really you isn't it? It's really you this time?"


"It is Marie, come, let the boy sit, you too," assured Johnny.


Marie wiped away tears, straightened her raincoat, then grimaced at the shopping before gathering it up.


"I'll make some tea, yes, tea for everyone," she announced practically skipping towards the kitchen.


"I already did Marie," Johnny shook his head laughing.


"Well, well," her head darted between the two of them, "I need to go back to the shop, Stephen needs dinner, ha, Stephen." She reached over the back of the sofa and squeezed him. "My wee boy's home."


Before either could protest she dashed out the door, the patter of her steps disappearing down the street.


"She looks different da, is everything alright?"


"It will be now, never worry."


"It's hard not to, I've never seen either of yous so thin, the TV and all's gone, candles everywhere, what's going on?"


"Money's tight, has been for a while."


"Never a problem before, did something happen at the plant?"


Johnny sucked his teeth, pulled threads from the armchair, "They fired me son."


"Why?"


"Was me own fault, sure it doesn't matter now does it?"


"It does if you're struggling, tell me da?"


He looked past the netted curtains to the young lads playing football in the street, "That picture, the one of Paul…when he…you know the one. It haunted me. Every time I opened me locker it was there, at my work station it was there. Written on with all types of hateful shit - look what your son did, aren't you proud?"


He sniffed, "Came in early one morning, and there was Mickey Doherty sliding one into my locker. I lost it, had him by the throat before I knew it. But that was all it took. He's Union head, so everyone backed him, said I tried to strangle him. Company had no choice."


Stephen's shoulders hunched, the millstone weight of realisation too much.


"When?"


"Six years now."


"Six!" Stephen grabbed his knees, rocking slightly, "You never said. Is that why you stopped visiting."


"Part of the reason. Your ma son, it was too hard on her seeing you inside. She'd spend weeks in bed after every visit. The sadness was on her. It got bad, she kept thinking she saw you out in the street and would go chasing strangers."


Stephen's head fell into his hands. It's all my fault. Everyone's paying for my mistakes. More lives ruined. The ripples never stop.


"I'm heading into the city tomorrow," he announced, "to the job centre, everything's going to be ok now. I'm going to fix everything, I promise."


***


"What do you mean there is nothing to be done!" Stephen gripped the desks edge and took a steadying breath. He knew better than to lose his head with these gatekeepers of benefit finances. But damn they tested his patience.


"Sorry," he offered, "just frustrated, it's been four weeks now, and I've applied for every job but I still need my benefits. Can't go another day without some sort of money."


The administrator clacked out something on the keyboard, pushed down their glasses and looked over them at Stephen. "It's all in pipeline there is nothing to be done but wait."


Growling, Stephen snatched up his identification, parole letter, and stormed from the fluorescence light office, past society's dejected, rejected and class affected.


Bursting out the revolving doors Stephen tilted his head to the gray sky. The urge to scream was building in his chest when he heard a familiar voice.


"Well I'll be damned, if ain't Stephen bloody Mulhern."


Turning, he spotted the tall figure, leaning against a nearby wall, holding a lit rollie in yellow tipped fingers.


"Padraigh?"


The two shook hands and slapped shoulders.


"You doing good, big lad? Didn't even know you were out?"


"Been keeping my head down. Just trying to sign on but these bastards are making me jump through hoops."


"That sounds about right."


The conversation abruptly ran dry, as is the case when old friends find the gap between them longer than their time together.


"I'll be off then, Padraigh, need to send off some more applications."


"You that desperate?"


"More than you'd know."


"Well this might be your lucky day, I've a wee job that needs doing."


Stephen put his hands up, "Ah no, I can't be involved in anything like that. Cheers though."


"Just a few deliveries, three hundred pounds for one night. What'd you reckon?"


"Can't risk it, Padraigh."


"Well if you change your mind I'm at seventy two, Roswell flats. Call around six if you change your mind." Leaning in conspiratorially close, he whispered, "By the way, I never said anything about you and Paul, you know, what happened that day."


Stephen spun on his heel, and marched away. That was the last thing he wanted to discuss. If he didn't bring it up on the witness stand to reduce his sentence, he sure as hell was going to chat about it to a drug dealer outside a job center.


With every quick step towards home he felt a sickening impending doom. Once again he would have to tell them there was no money coming, or job luck.


He opened the door, unfortunately deciding on his own fate. "Guess what ma, I got a job. I start tonight."


***


Half way across town Stephen lurked in an alleyway's shadows. The plastic wrapped brick inside his jacket making him feel like he had two heads. Every passing eye seemed to judge him. He checked his watch. Half eight.


Just give them the package, get the money, back to Padraigh and that's that. Just give them the package…


He had been repeating his mantra for the best part of an hour, and although he couldn't stop, it did no good. He couldn't stop fidgeting, rocking on his feet, glancing all around.


The rumble of an oversized exhaust and booming trance music drew near. A gleaming Subaru stopped opposite him, tinted mirrors lowered. The driver, a girl no older than eighteen grinned, leaned out and asked, "Padraigh sent ye?"


Stephen stepped forward, hand on the package, relieved to soon be rid of it.


"Aye, you have the money?"


The girl lifted a chunky envelope into view.


She took the drugs when a hand from the back seat fell on her shoulder, "Wait." She pulled the package and the envelope inside the car as the two rear doors opened.


Stephen ambled backwards, fists subconsciously balling.


One boy approached. Blonde hair, neck tattoos, all skulls and….


"Ian?"


"You remember me," he laughed, bringing something from his pocket mirroring the glint of danger in his eyes.


"I just need that money and I'll–"


"And you'll what…hit me?" Ian looked back at his smirking companions, "This muppet was lecturing me last month in Maghaberry Prison about doing the right thing, about not choosing violence. And the hypocrites standing on street corners slinging gear." He exaggerated a tut-tut.


"Look, just give me the money."


The unmistakable snick of a switch blade resounded giving Stephen heart thumping pause.


"I don't want any bother just–"


"Shut your fucking mouth mister pacifist, mister don't make mistakes, before ye get stuck. Let's go lads," Ian walked backgrounds brandishing the blade like a prized fighter.


"Come on lads, Jesus Christ, would you wise –" Stephen threw his arms up as the car sped away and panic rushed in.


***


"What the fuck Stephen!" Padraig thumped the kitchen counter of his smoke filled flat. "Have you any idea who I'm working for, what they'll do now?"


"Ain't my fault. You set it up. Find the boys that stole it."


"But you done fuck all when it went south, you should've clocked them! I'm not getting done for this lad, no chance. I'll have to tell them Stephen, if I was you, I'd run."


***

For three days Stephen crept round the house, never leaving, curtain twitching, barely sleeping. He was exhausted with the daunting wait, but it didn't make their arrival welcomed.


The sun had barely set when the front door thudded making everyone jump, then smashed, the frame and lock splintering into the hallway. Johnny cursed, Marie screamed, Stephen froze.


In a whirl of black masks, black bomber jackets and blacker scowls they came. One with a bat, one a knife, one a...Stephen gulped…a gun.


Everything happened so fast yet seemed a slow blur, as if being pulled through water. The first blow doubled him over, then gloved hands pulled him kicking and screaming into the street.


The vultures had gathered to watch as boots cracked his ribs, stomped his legs, kicked his face. The masks shouted for their money, their drugs, his father roared, his mother screamed, yet all was drowned out by his heaving chest.


They didn't realise how much he deserved this. Every blow a reminder that he put himself here, and over what?


I'm sorry Paul. I'm sorry Padraigh saw….


Fiery pain seared across his back.


Life would've been so different…but I had to prove myself a man to those that never cared for me…


His head smashed into the ground.


So many lives I've destroyed, all cause I couldn't love you the way you wanted…


Cold steel pressed against his head, spittle screaming into his face.


One small event, handled wrong and now the ripples are washing everything away…


Stephen lay in a pool of his own blood, face gashed and slashed, limbs broken. The urge to stop, to give up, to die, was overpowering.


Just let it end.


Boot treads crashed into his face, and the world spun.


I should have kissed you back Paul, I should have….


Everything went black.
























June 23, 2023 18:07

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19 comments

Marty Logue
19:42 Jun 23, 2023

Another excellent piece of writing. The ending was very well executed.

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Kevin Logue
20:23 Jun 23, 2023

Always first in there ha! Glad you liked it.

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Mary Bendickson
06:09 Jun 24, 2023

Rippling!

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Kevin Logue
06:15 Jun 24, 2023

😊

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Ken Cartisano
04:44 Aug 02, 2023

Hah. Catholics, they're so conflicted. Wonderful writing, Kevin.

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Kevin Logue
07:43 Aug 02, 2023

Always up to no good! Ha

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Amanda Lieser
22:39 Jul 14, 2023

Hi Kevin, Oh no! This story was beautifully written. My heart was immediately attached to these characters. My arms longed to embrace them. I loved the masterful transposition you created between the different POVs and I adored the way this story had a clear moral. This was an interesting take on the prompt and certainly challenged some thoughts of traditional masculinity. Nice work on this one!!

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Kevin Logue
07:17 Jul 15, 2023

Hi Amanda, thank you very much for such great feedback. I particularly like this one as well, I had so much more I wanted to write and say but cut it short due to the prompt. The idea has circled my head that perhaps this is 15k word story in waiting. Again thanks so much for reading and commenting.

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13:36 Jun 27, 2023

Great stuff Kevin. Thoroughly engrossing was on tenterhooks!

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Kevin Logue
14:36 Jun 27, 2023

Thank you very much Derrick. Currently in the day job, but I'll get a read of yours later this evening 👍

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J. D. Lair
17:49 Jun 25, 2023

Wowie Kevin! You had me engaged the entire way through. Such a bittersweet yet fitting end. Well done! Your daughter will be proud of this one someday. :)

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Kevin Logue
17:56 Jun 25, 2023

Thanks very much J.D. The feedback means alot, I was unsure about his one cause first draft was 4000 words so I very aware that I was removing chunks. Glad it still works though.

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J. D. Lair
18:27 Jun 25, 2023

I have yet to get a story I have had to trim for some reason haha. I've gotten close to the 3k mark on a few, but there have also been a couple (early on) I struggled to make the 1k requirement. I hope you kept the other parts you took out. Perhaps this could turn into a larger story someday. 🤘🏻

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Kevin Logue
18:48 Jun 25, 2023

I just still learning how to short story, my head is still in novel mode. But this week I have read so many short stories on here and got a load of paperback collections for beside the bed, so I'm confident I'll get there ☺️👍

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J. D. Lair
19:17 Jun 25, 2023

Sounds good my friend! Does that mean you are working on a novel as well?

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Kevin Logue
19:27 Jun 25, 2023

Yeah it's about a group of cat Familiars who are stuck in this world because the Elders closed the ways into Terna, and after 400years a witch has finally been born. So all their hopes of getting home rest on the shoulders of a 7 year old girl ☺️

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