Story for The Read Horse Issue 5: Mountains, Whispers and Betrayal

Under the benevolent watch of a large oak at the heart of the estate, the Lugard Park drinkers broke open another day with the tssszzzt of special brew.  The clear sky mixed with children’s voices from the nearby school. A group of unemployed men compared pitbulls by the chip shop and crumpled page-3 nudes compared breasts in the gutter.

The launderette’s door squeaked a welcome as a teenage mum expertly maneuvered a double-buggy towards the warmth and comfort of clean clothes. Upstairs in the derelict pub a tired radio melted mellow reggae into the street whilst the squatters finally crawled to bed. For Mad Marj, the loudest of the Lugard Park drinkers, her court was finally in session.

Her audience consisted not only of drinkers drinking, squatters squatting and doggies drooling but also of the crescent of blocks towering that made up the surrounding estate. In turn these mountainous tenements had their own audience and were known to the drinkers, dolers, dogs, local police and national rags as The Range. This was because the ten towers that engulfed the central park each had white Perspex crests; pyramid skylights that emulated snow caps and made for a series of concrete mountains.

As the sun climbed to meet the icy white caps of The Range the drinkers snapped the pull of their second and third cans. Marj began to insult the youth of today as the first trickle of truants came to amass in the playground, and repeat offenders leant on the slides texting. But this day would break from the usual monotony of life on The Range, normally characterised by trips to the offie and visits from The Social. Today would be different. Different, because of one little thing: a whisper. What harm could that do?

This whisper started small. It was born under shelter of the logs that formed the upturned V of the playground’s only slide. It was intended to impress – a girl of course – as its father’s hand inched her school skirt up her thigh. But it didn’t stick around to see that scene play out, instead it slithered free from its mother and father and went to lead a life of its own.

The whisper learnt to crawl quickly and walk even faster. It made friends with lonely preschool children; played games with them. It weaved its misty golden body between the mesh of perimeter fence, racing children who ran their fingers alongside it; flesh to metal, words on the wind.

It learnt to climb the stairs of the tower blocks; its soft translucent feet padding bare on the concrete steps to peep through letter boxes on its dirty tip toes. The whisper grew, and soon it was tall enough to peer into the windows of the flats on the ground floor. Here it learned emotions through the faces it saw through the glass, its clammy shimmering hands pressed to the pane, nose squashed upwards. It saw complete happiness in fingers fervently flicking at a new games console and understood total sadness in a door whose bell never rang, and no post plopped through the box to the mat.

But it was, for the most part, invisible; an echo in a corridor, the strange smell in the lift, that creaking swing that seems rocked by no hand but the breeze.

It wasn’t until it left the estate that the whisper began to take corporeal form. Its mother – now finished with her dalliances under the upturned V – took it with her to school and showed it, under cover of her locker lid, to a friend at first break. It was a very beautiful whisper and this friend could not resist showing it to others. She let its urchin grin shine from inside her pencil case as she unzipped it to retrieve a compass in maths.

From that point forward there was no stopping it. The whisper radiated like an atomic bomb; its brilliant golden afro mushrooming out of multiple rucksacks in the playground.

The more it was seen, the less it was invisible. The harder it was looked at, the more corporeal it became, each word an iridescent platelet rippling through the veins of his body like an electric current. His. For everyone could see plainly that Whisper was a boy.

News of his existence had circulated completely around the school. Everyone – students, teachers, cleaners – they all knew. Three letters had crawled inside every ear’s external auditory meatus like an earwig. One simple syllable reverberated from each coiled cochlear to the next: gun. And wherever Whisper went the shadow of his father followed solemnly, in the form of a noun: Michael.

Concerned parties at the school ensured Whisper now wound down the phone cord and revealed himself to even more concerned parties at the police station. Uniformed officers brusquely arrived to take statements from everyone regardless of objections and confidentiality concerns. Before he knew it Whisper was present at an emergency meeting of the local Weapons Intelligence Unit.

He felt dirty. He was associated with other kinds of words, words he didn’t like the look of: informant interrogation, search warrant, premises raid. Whisper liked his own words. He was friendly with them, comfortable. They weren’t aggressive. They were street and savvy and carried authority without brutality. What began as “C’mon, wifey, I’m strapped, ya get me?“ changed to “‘e’s gotta piece at ‘is yard, bruv, youknowwhatimsayin?” It was finally translated to “Michael Davis, 15 year old black British male, alleged to be in possession of a live firearm at his home address. Raid to commence at 2100hours provided search warrant has been granted by the courts. Operation Lynx to prepare for tactical ops at the Lugard Estate”.

Frightened of what he had become, Whisper ran home to his birth place where he tore up all 20 floors of The Range’s most prominent peak, three stairs at a time. He dashed out the fire escape to sit on the rooftop and watched the fresco of evening scenes play out. The day dimmed and electric lights illuminated each home behind balconies with muddy cycles and hung washing. Whisper saw family dinners on laps, old men with whisky nightcaps, kids on stairwells calling brrrapps, brrrapps, brrapps.  Pubs getting fuller, louder, wetter; crack rocks glowing, stoners cotching in cribs, cups of tea making everyone feel better. Ahhh. Whisper is happiest when he is watching and not being watched. He is by nature a private and secretive creature. But now he knows too many people have seen him. Wringing his hands anxiously as the night breeze kisses his adolescent ‘fro, he wonders, “Why am I here?”

By now, the Lugard Park drinkers were completely fucked. They were caught in a stinking argument about whose gaff to retire to when they saw the meat wagon pull up to the gates of The Range. Realising it was all about to kick off, Marj, pulled an emergency bottle of Grant’s vodka from the lining of her puffed-panel coat ready for the action to begin.

Armed police burst from the back of the van and ran up the stairs to the first floor balcony where they banged.

“Michael Davis, come to the door with your hands in the air!”

Michael’s mum opened the door.

“What you come in my house for, takin’ liberties? Michael’s nat in no gang, you can’t just bus’ in like this.”

“Ms Davis, we have reason to believe that Michael is in possession of an illegal firearm and have a warrant to search the premises”

“Gun. Wat gun? You wan’ next door. Michael’s nat in no gang, he’s a good bwoi, goes to church ev’ry Sunday, looks after his likkle brudda and sista, you got da wrong…” The column of burly-chested officers barged past her indifferently. “You leave mi Michael alone, ya’hear?”

Shots rang out from a distant room; a baby wailed.

“Michael Davis, come out with your hands above your head.”

Police burst in to find a child crying in a cot, a freshly abandoned shoot-em-up blaring from the television and an open window.

They ransacked the house: upturned sofas, ripped the linings, emptied pots of their contents spilling rice everywhere. Their stiff boots stepped on what their hands did not.

“Michael Davis, give yourself up.”

Only the flap of the curtain at the open window answered them.

From his vantage point at the peaks of The Range, Whisper spotted a figure climbing out a window, and watched it pick its way down the rock face of the block to drop on top of the covered walkway that joined one mountain to the next. The figure was hiking stealthily to the peak to meet him, but cowed, so as not to be seen.

“There!” Marj’s finger pointed from the midst of the drunken onlookers. “E’es over THERE! Crawling like incy wincy up the drainpipe, daft bugger, where’s ‘e think ‘e’s going? Nuffin’ up there but dead pijins.” The crowd murmured in agreement whilst Marj cackled to herself, happy to have stolen centre stage for a split second.

The police pursued quickly and someone official yelled commands through a megaphone. But Marj was not ready to be outdone just yet, could it be, yes? Her vodka creamed eyes made out the shape of a gun dangling from his right wrist. That was all the evidence she needed for the spotlight to return once more.

“Look! Look there! ‘e ‘as got a gun.” A long white gun she thought to herself, but the crowd had already cooed in agreement.

“Michael Davis” the megaphone continued “stop where you are or we will be forced to shoot” but the figured kept to its path, close as it was to the summit.

Red dots of the marksmen’s rifles were fast encroaching when Whisper leaned over the edge, offered a hand and hauled him to safety. Michael stood face to face with a man that looked a lot like his grandfather: grey ‘fro, gaunt limbs, furrowed worry lines across his face. For a split second Michael was convinced he saw a flash of gold crackle across the pupils of his sad eyes.

“They’ll be here soon” said Whisper softly “best you do what they say”. They could already hear footsteps in the stairwell, then pounding on the door to the roof exit.

“Michael Davis, surrender your weapon”

He turned back but Whisper was gone. He held his hands aloft, and waited bare-chested and in his boxers, the Wii remote still dangling from his right hand. The police burst down the door.

“Don’t shoot me. Don’t shoot. Please. I aint got a gun, honest. I mean it. Please, I swear. I jus’ said it to, you know. I just wanted her to like me.”

They cuffed and led him off the roof into the van. He was taken to the station where they interrogated and statemented until even the canteen staff could see the whole affair had been a complete waste of police time.

The next day the Lugard Park drinkers broke open another morning with the tssszzzt of special brew. They were discussing the events of the evening before when Marj noticed something move, no, something was falling, from the very same peak where yesterday’s events unfolded. What was it? She squinted and saw a solitary snowflake. It had a slight shimmer, winking gold as it fell. It crumpled on the ground and melted away into nothing; this time she kept quiet.

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