After the boys are finished, they stand back, exhausted, and admire their handiwork. Within a few seconds, the smallest, Ellis, starts ...

Alley Dogs

   After the boys are finished, they stand back, exhausted, and admire their handiwork. Within a few seconds, the smallest, Ellis, starts to feel sick and his eyes fill with stinging tears. The stench is unbearable already, a kind of warm pet shop smell mixed with blood and gone-wrong drains; but it is not this that is making him want to cry, and he knows it. He got overexcited, lifted by the eagerness of the other two boys, and easily coaxed into an action he would never choose to do; and now, he feels the stomach-turning sting of regret.

   Panting, the largest boy, Stephen, leans on his knees and points at the body with the tree branch he holds. He laughs, gasping in deep gulps of air and wiping the sweat from his brow, before saying, ‘Did you see how its eyes rolled back at the end? Like it knew it was all over.’ His hands and forearms are caked in blood, tiny pieces of minced flesh and sweat. 

   ‘Yeah,’ the chubby kid beside him says, mirroring the larger boy’s posture. ‘Freaky.’

   Ellis, the youngest of the three and the least impressed with himself and the body they have just stilled, starts to back away, dropping his own log onto the floor. 

   ‘What’s the matter with you?’ asks Stephen, standing and turning to Ellis. 

   ‘Nothing,’ he replies, ‘I just don’t like the way it’s looking. Its eyes look sad.’

   Stephen laughs and turns to the chubby kid, Phillip, who also laughs. ‘Did you hear that? Its eyes look sad. Have you ever heard anything as queer as that?’ 

   ‘So queer.’ Phillip agrees. 

   ‘It’s not queer!’ shouts Ellis, a whiny, nasal tone to his voice leaking through in his annoyance. ‘That was somebody’s pet!’

   ‘Yeah, I know whose it was, he’s not even going to miss it.’ says Stephen, flicking a blob of wet, red matter from his wrist. ‘It’s that stupid old cripple who only leaves his flat like, once a month. He lives in these flats; he can’t walk the stupid thing ‘cause his back is so hunched over, so he just lets it run around wherever the fuck it wants to.’

   ‘Not any more,’ interjects Phillip, bending to poke the ears of the corpse. 

   Stephen just laughs. ‘Yeah, not any more.’

   ‘Because he’s old and he can’t chase us, doesn’t mean he deserves this,’ snaps Ellis, his voice raising into a near-shout, ‘It’s not right. That old man is near enough blind, he probably needed that dog for company.’

   ‘Yeah. It was probably trying to run home when we chased it here,’ Stephen says, looking up at the block of flats that serves as one of the walls of the alley in which they stand. There are only a few lights on in the whole block, but they suffice to illuminate the alley in a kind of dull orange, red and blue glow. The orange of energy saving bulbs, the blue of flashing televisions through net curtains, the red of dog’s blood.

   ‘Shut up!’ cries Ellis. 

   ‘You know what? You need to wind your neck in, you little squirt. I didn’t hear you complaining when we were bashing its skull in. In fact, I saw you beating this thing to death just as much as we were.’

   ‘No you didn’t!’

   ‘I’m pretty sure it was your idea. Wasn’t it, Phil?’ 

   ‘Yeah,’ Phillip mutters, hooking his length of tree branch under the dog’s collar, trying to pry it out from between the folds of mangled flesh to hold it on the end of his stick. ‘Ellis told me to kill it.’

   ‘Exactly. You little prick.’

   Ellis starts to cry, so Stephen turns back to the body. 

   Around them, the cold night air carries the whisper of a light breeze. The few windows that were open on the advent calendar faces of the blocks of flats that surround the boys are gradually being closed, as the occupants turn up their central heating and get ready for bed, or else put on another layer and watch late night bingo shows or sitcom re-runs. Each block is a closed world inside of the closed world of the estate, a bubble within a bubble. The boys are as alone out here, being watched by every block in the estate, as the occupants of each flat, drawing their curtains and locking their doors and making believe that they are the only ones inhabiting the buildings. 

   Ellis realises he has no one to turn to. The two boys with whom he killed that near-blind old man’s puppy are his only hope for friends at school, now that most of his own academic year have turned their backs on him. ‘What are we going to do with it then?’


   ‘The body. We can’t leave it here; someone’ll find it first thing tomorrow.’

   ‘Oh, so suddenly it’s our problem? A minute ago you wanted nothing to do with it, and now you want to hide it?’

   It is exhaustion, rather than a lack of desire to fight back, that drives Ellis to respond with silence. 

   ‘We could move it out onto the road,’ Phillip says after a short while, ‘then people will think it was just run over.’ He scratches the back of his head for a second or two, before realising that he is smearing dog’s blood into his hair, when he promptly stops. 

   ‘Alright, are you gonna be the one to carry it out there?’ Stephen asks, pointing at the mangled body on the concrete floor, lying in a puddle of its own blood. The legs lay askew, as if they are pieces of an Airfix model that were unpacked onto a desk but never got constructed; while the body is beaten to a pulp, caved in, barely recognisable as the shell of a mammal, and appearing instead more like a sack of wet, red sand covered in fur. The eyes stare out at the boys, seeming to follow their every movement, as their sockets and the nose that sits below them remain among the only body parts left intact. 

   ‘Yeah, I guess not,’ says Phillip, taking the time to smell his fingers. 

   ‘We should bury it,’ says Ellis, staring at the dead dog and sniffing back the upset. 

   ‘Fuck that,’ Stephen snaps, ‘I’m not burying it. Who carries a shovel round, anyway?’

   ‘Well, I say,’ Phillip says, almost to himself, as he finally succeeds in lifting the collar from the body using his stick as a hook, ‘that we just find one of the big blue bins and shove it in it. It’s a pretty light dog; we don’t even need to pick it up. Just hook it on our sticks and throw the sticks away with it.’ 

   He stares at the collar suspended on the end of his makeshift weapon for a while, before a sly smile creeps across his face and he starts to poke it in the direction of Ellis. ‘Stop it! Stop it!’ Ellis cries, as he bats the air in front of his face and tries to hold more tears back unsuccessfully. He sobs so hard that his chest shakes with the force of hiccoughs, as Phillip flicks the collar from the end of his stick and it hits Ellis in the forehead, before dropping into a puddle.

   ‘I’ve got a better idea,’ Stephen interrupts, ‘let’s just throw away the collar, or burn it, or keep it, and mince the rest of this body so that no one can even recognise what it was.’

   ‘No!’ cries Ellis. 

   ‘Yes!’ chuckles Phillip, waddling back toward the carcass.

   ‘Don’t!’ weeps Ellis, choking on his tears, barely able to catch his breath through the heaving of his diaphragm.

   But the older boys ignore him, taking up their sticks and starting to pound once again at the body of the murdered canine. Phillip bashes its legs, over and over, his corpulent body wheezing with the effort of physical exertion as he brings his log down on the cracking bones; while Stephen focuses on the head, continually attacking the same spot like an axman chopping at wood, until the skull caves in and the eyeballs fall back into the mush and out of sight; while Ellis cries No, No, Stop. Together, the two boys growl and laugh and howl as they pummel and pummel away at the bones and organs of the dead creature, each one’s enthusiasm acting as fuel for the other’s, until they are a perpetual aggression machine, an automaton of violence that powers itself, wreaking havoc on the land and holding dominion over nature and all the power it purports to possess, until...

   Suddenly, Phillip finds that he is alone in the beating. He notices that his is the only weapon coming down on the carrion, and his excitement wains quickly, until he has no option but to look up to see what has distracted Stephen. He gazes upon an unexpected sight: an alarmed Ellis, covered in tears and scarcely able to breathe, but once again brandishing his own hitting log; and an unconscious Stephen, sprawled across the concrete alleyway, open-eyed and open-mouthed, blood gushing from a wide crack in the side of his cranium. Phillip’s legs cement to the spot, his log dropping to the floor, and the blood drains from his head, leaving him feeling dizzy and sick.

   ‘You... You killed him!’ He squeals at Ellis, who doesn’t look up from the staring eyes of Stephen. ‘He’s dead! You’ve killed him! Wh-what the fuck?!’

   Ellis slowly looks up at Phillip, seeming like a light that was switched on behind his eyes has suddenly been switched off, and then down at his branch. As if only just becoming aware of its existence, he instantly becomes sick of the sight of it and drops it to the floor, before also discovering the body of the boy he might just have killed and letting out a shriek. Sobbing violently, tears filling his eyes so that he can barely see where he is going, he turns and runs off into the night, as fast as he possibly can, with no destination and no plan of action except to run away forever.

   Phillip kneels by the body of Stephen, trying to nudge his face without getting covered in his hot blood.

   ‘Steve,’ he whispers, ‘Steve, wake up. Wake up, Stephen.’ He stays for a long time like this, trying to revive his friend, before he makes up his mind to evacuate. He looks up and down the alley, checking for witnesses, before hobbling off in a jog toward home, where he intends to tell no one what has happened, out of fear that he will be suspected of the murder of both the dog and the boy. With luck, his mother won’t even be awake to ask where he has been before he manages to reach the bathroom.

   As Phillip vacates the scene, the last witness remains: a small boy, no older than seven or eight, looks down on the alley from a window on the fourth floor of the nearest block of flats. He has been watching from the beginning, since the boys chased the puppy into the alleyway, and has remained their only avid viewer ever since. With the lights off in his bedroom and his pyjamas on, he witnessed the events unfold in silence, without emotion, as if watching it all through a clouded lens in a cartoon world. And now, as he sees the fat boy waddling off out of sight, he climbs back into bed, and prays for the soul of the slaughtered puppy.

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