Short Story: Jolly Beating Weather

Posted: June 21, 2012 in Short Story

It was a perfect day. The boys sat on the grass, outside the ivy-clad walls of the chapel, basking in the sunshine.

“Looking forward to Oxford, old boy?” Boris scratched his mop of hair.

“I certainly am,” said David. He was only seventeen but already as bland as a salesman. “How about you?”

“I can’t wait to scuttle those students,” said Boris. “You know, scholarship girls, barmaids, that sort of thing. Not people like us, just for a change. I reckon they’re dirtier.

“Plenty of that sort of stuff in the Bully,” said David.

A bell chimed in the distance, heralding the end of the lunch hour.

“You know what today is?”

“Absolutely,” grinned Boris.

“Swing, swing, together!” they cried in unison. “Floreat!”

The minibus had crawled through the streets of Victoria and Kings Cross for an hour, canvassing likely candidates, but mostly caught in traffic.

“Looking for some dope?” The question sounded strange, coming from an oily-haired and educated man in his thirties, sat behind the wheel of the minbus. “How about some booze? A wee swallae?” He laid on the Scotch accent thick at Kings Cross, which was where he understood they congregated.

Most of the homeless looked suspiciously at the minibus, guided by a sense of self-preservation. But, at the taxi-rank of Kings Cross, one fellow stepped forward. He had an impressively-matted beard and a novelty tartan hat with a shock of fake ginger hair.

“Aye, Sur, dinnae mind if ah dae,” slurred the gentleman.

The passenger door popped open and the driver waved his hand.

“Hop in, old chap. Have a look in the glove compartment.”

The man glared suspiciously at the driver. “Whit dae ye want, likes? Yer cock sucked? Ah’ll tug ye oaf but ah dinnae suck!”

“Just a chat,” said the driver, “and a little drive.”

The vagrant opened the glove compartment as directed. Four cans of Special Brew nestled inside, alongside a bag of dark-green weed and a vial.

“Ya wee beauty!” grinned the passenger, popping open a can.

“I’m George, by the way,” said the driver. What’s your name, chum?”

The vagrant muttered something incomprehensible, as if he had forgotten.

“Why don’t I just call you ‘Jock’?”

The newly-christened Jock grinned beneath his matted beard and popped open a can of super-strength lager.

The minibus made its way from the grimy streets ofLondon, heading for the verdant countryside upstream on the shores of theThames. By the time they got to their destination, the four cans had vanished and the passenger had emptied his bladder on the side of the road between courses.

“Whaur the fuck is this?”

Jock looked around in confusion as the minbus passed through an elaborate set of gates. The walls and buildings were ancient, from an era well beyond Jock’s reckoning, surrounded by manicured lawns and groves of trees.

“Whit’s aw this Robin Hood shite?” He gazed in wonder at the magnificent chapel, weathered stone and glinting stained-glass, shrouded in ivy.

“There’s more beer for you,” said George. “In a little while”

Animal suspicion glinted in Jock’s eyes. “Whit dae ye want?” he growled, in a gravelly voice.

“Just an hour of your time.”

The minibus came to a halt in a gravel yard, in front of a flint-faced wall.

“Here we are.”

George unlocked a heavy wooden door and pushed it open. Inside was a quadrangle, overlooked by upper-floor windows on two sides, open on the other two. He ushered Jock inside.

“Just wait there for a moment,” said George.

Jock glanced around the yard. It was dusty and empty, except for a pile of stakes in the corner overshadowed by the building. Footsteps crunched outside and a row of boys, or rather young men, filed in. They were dressed in long tails and white tie, formal uniform beyond parody. They grinned as they caught sight of Jock in his tartan hat and grimy overcoat. He looked up at the windows. White faces pressed eagerly against the glass.

“Whit the fuck is going oan?”

David and Boris stood in line with the other students, queuing along the wall, grinning at the spectacle of the tramp in the courtyard. Eventually it was their turn and they each picked up a length of wood, with friction tape wrapped round the handle. The wood was splintered, chipped and stained. It would have cost nothing to replace them, but school venerated tradition above all else.

They formed a semi-circle around Jock, sticks in hand. Horror dawned in Jock’s bleary eyes as he sensed the danger.

“Jock here is waiting to oblige you,” said George. “You know what to do, gentlemen.”

Boris raised his stick first, but David was quicker. The blow caught Jock on the side of his astonished face, clawing a spray of blood and teeth in its wake. Boris glanced at David with momentary irritation, just before his own stick smashed into Jock’s shoulder, sending him sprawling to the ground.

“Floreat!” they both cried, nearly in unison.

A foul smell rose from beneath them. Jock had soiled himself. That triggered some sort of primitive urge in the attackers, and a polished shoe lashed out, kicking Jock in the face. Blood splashed over the white spats.

“No kicking,” shouted George. “Remember the rules!”

The sticks flashed in the sunlight as they rose and fell, the cries echoing in the courtyard as the sixth formers waded in with their weapons. The roars of “Floreat!” drowned out Jock’s fading pleas as the repeated blows smashed into his body and skull.

Jock fell onto his back as one swing caught him under his nostrils, tearing away the cartilage of the nose, leaving two gaping holes bubbling beneath a flap of skin. His leg twitched and his shattered mouth frothed for a moment, blood soaking into his bear, then he lay still.

“Floreat!” Boris brought his stick down with all his strength, smashing it into the side of Jock’s blood-matted skull. It cracked like an egg, slumping inward, releasing a flow of blood from his mouth and ears.

David held his stick in both hands, like a spear. “Floreat!” He jabbed the end with a wicked flourish, forcing it onto the eye-socket and, with a couple of wrenches, further into the skull. The leg jerked once more and he pulled the stick free, inspecting the gore and white globules clinging to the end. A further rain of blows broke open the skull, then the sixth-formers poked the shattered body with their sticks, but there was no evidence of life.

George pushed through into the middle of the courtyard, holding a red canister. He poured the contents over the body, the pungent smell of gasoline floating on the summer air.  He put the canister down by the gate and returned to the body, striking a match. Jock flared into life one last time, the whump echoing in the courtyard. Then he turned away, purposefully, to avoid witnessing what had become an unofficial encore.

Boris and David went first, the unspoken leaders of the group. They unbuttoned their trousers and pissed all over the flaming body.

“Floreat!” they cried as their urine steamed in the flames. “Floreat!”

Up above, behind glass, the younger boys watched eagerly. It would be their turn in a few years, carrying on the tradition, the torch passing on. They mouthed the word silently.

“Floreat…”

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