Gary MacKean + Greg Whelan

His Dad Went Running

runs most nights
to distant secluded places, parts
onwards, eager
towards perfumed, parked and hidden cars
whose driver’s faces are ever masked
in shadows black and hidden, dark
shameful cowls hung heavy bending
head at neck
their faces, spaces, replaced
with most imaginable things.
young wild and angry pack
threw rocks through trees
to save your pride
and marched in lines
so that you would know
we all shared stride.
Older now we drink late, often
empty, fast and hard
into each lonely cityscape
howling wildly in the dark.

Lost Boys Club

As the third loud bang plucked Robbie from his deep slumber, he raised himself, still half asleep, allowing the small hardback book to fall from his lap. His mother started shouting. It was Friday and his father was home. Robbie fell back against the sheets. He looked at the book he had been reading: Terrible Tales for Naughty Children. He brushed the book aside and pulled the pillow over his head. Slowly, he started to drift back into an uncomfortable doze.

Before his father had returned, Robbie had been having the strangest dream. He remembered it so vividly. There was a loud rapping that forced him to sit upright in bed. Outside his bedroom window, four silhouettes stood, animal-like in the moonlight. But Robbie didn’t feel afraid. In fact, he was quite calm as he stared at them.

Badger! Hey little Badger! Come out to play!

Robbie rolled over on his rubber sheets and switched on his nightlight. In the frame of the window, there stood four men, no longer animals – boys once, but grown now. Robbie switched the light off and watched them turn back into beasts. And then he turned it back on. Men again. Men in fantastic costumes. One was a bat, small and fierce. And one was a fox, elegant and mischievous; he swung his tail like a cane. The tallest of all was a great bear, proud and strong. But it was the rabbit, old and wise, who opened Robbie’s window and spoke.

Hello, little Badger. You don’t look surprised. Perhaps you knew we were coming tonight?

Feeling the dull ache throbbing through his bruised arms, he sat up on the edge of the bed and faced Rabbit. Then, as if by instinct, Robbie nodded. Rabbit leaned into his room, lazing on the windowsill.

Your Dad’s shoes look mighty uncomfortable, little Badger, can you see yourself growing into them? What about his belt? Will it support your grown-up trousers? Or will it buckle your children undone? We can hide you, little Badger, yes we can. Or if you’d rather, little Badger, we can hide the man?

Robbie rubbed his eyes. He couldn’t leave home.

These walls are paper thin, barely a home; your Mother hears your sobs, Badger, but she’s not strong. Come, come, little Badger, don’t you cry, come throw your breath at moonlit sky!

But how could he? He was nothing like them! He was just a little boy and they were men and beasts, strong and free!

But we were like you little Badger. We were rescued too. We have a present for you, little Badger, yes, oh yes, we do!

Rabbit took a step back, allowing Bear to move forward.

For you, little Badger, for you.

Bowing, Bear pushed his grubby paws forward, presenting a brown paper parcel.

Just like Christmas, little Badger. A packet full of wishes.

Robbie opened the package slowly. It all felt so real: the rough string that tied the parcel, the crispness of the paper, the warm fuzz of Bear’s paw as it brushed against Robbie’s fingers. He looked down into his lap. There lay a furry black and white suit.

Climb into your fur little Badger, see how it feels!

It felt warm inside the suit. It felt right. It was almost on, but every time Robbie bent his arm to reach for the zipper, a fresh ache pulsed through his tender arm: an echo of the fracture, recently healed. Reaching for the zipper, he spun and spun, trying to seal the suit like a dog chasing its own tail. Outside the animals laughed and whooped.

Come here little Badger, I have you.

Robbie turned, allowing Rabbit to pull his zipper all the way up to the top.

The perfect size! The perfect fit! What, oh what, do you think of it?

Robbie smiled as the animals howled and bounced, cheered and hooted.

Well, woo hoo, what do you think, little Badgeroo?

He looked at his reflection in the mirror. For the first time in his life, he recognized the boy that looked back. Beyond his bedroom door, his mother was wailing. Robbie’s eyes moved from the door to the open window.

It’s your choice little Badger. Like us, the night is young. Pull on your hood, we’ll have some fun!

He couldn’t leave his mother. She loved him. She needed him.

Don’t you worry, little Badger, she’ll be alright. But your time is coming; you must decide.

Outside his door, he could hear heavy footsteps approaching. His father, drunk, was bellowing his name.

“You animal Pete, don’t you lay a finger on him! You’re nothing but a filthy fucking animal!”

His mother’s words resonated in Robbie’s mind. An animal. He was the son of a beast. Turning, Robbie nodded to Rabbit.

Good, little Badger. No need for goodbyes. Fond farewells for you, all in good time.

Large and great, Bear leaned in and lifted Robbie out onto the ledge outside. Robbie turned and looked back one last time. He pulled his hood up. No longer Robbie, Badger closed his eyes and leapt from the roof into Bear’s outstretched arms.

The bedroom door flew open with a crack.

“Why is this fucking window open! Where are you, you bed-wetting little bastard?”

Robbie’s father smiled, seeing the shape in the bed. He swept the sheets off in one furious, drunken movement. There was nothing there except a small hardback book. In it five figures stood in animal suits: a bear, a bat, a fox, a rabbit and a badger. Below the picture, the words ‘Be seeing you!’ had been scribbled in crayon. Confused, he flipped the book closed and stared at the title:

Terrible Tales for Naughty Parents.

A shiver ran up his spine as, somewhere outside, a cacophony of howls pierced the night air.