Afflicted 11: Chapter 10

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Rick, Jack and Bevan trooped down to the river after school, each of them heading past home to get changed, grab their bikes and fishing gear, and run off. Bevan charmed Jack’s mum brilliantly, making the stalactites melt off the ceiling of Jack’s house, and conning his mum into thinking that her son was going to be doing something she deemed worthwhile. However, they were delayed by Jack’s mum insisting that he be back by five o’clock. At his own house, Bevan scribbled a note for his dad and, in a rare stroke of forethought, rummaged through his mum’s cosmetics and undies drawer to find a stash of essential oils; he sprinkled some lavender oil on a hanky so that he might be able avoid the stench from the decomposing body.

The boys raced each other down to the river, Rick ditching his bike in his stereotypical manner. This time, however, he wasn’t so lucky: he got a stick stuck in his right forearm. Standing up, he examined his arm and went pale as hell. Sitting down to avoid passing out, Rick determined that only the first centimetre was stuck in his arm. He therefore gritted his teeth, broke the rest off and, trying to be tough in front of the others, wiped the blood oozing out of it onto his jeans. He grinned at the others in a woozy way.

‘Mum’ll only think it’s fish blood.’

Jack looked him up and down as though he were the village idiot. ‘Good one, wanker. What if you don’t have time to catch any fish?’ He grabbed his gear and stalked off in the direction of the corpse, Rick following.

Bevan stared after them both in amazement. ‘Yeah,’ he muttered to himself. ‘And never mind about the wound in the arm. That clearly has nothing to do with it.’

The stink was worse than the previous day. The persistent sunlight had caused the bacteria and insects to go nuts, had caused the crust on the water to bake hard, and had swelled the corpse up even more. All of them gagged. Bevan retched quietly behind a tree before thrusting his hanky in front of his face with a combined sigh of relief and anxiety.

Jack, pinching his nose and with a pained expression on his face, walked down to the edge of the water. ‘How the fuck,’ he yelled nasally at Rick, ‘are you gonna get that out of there?’

Rick cast his eyes around the area until he found a branch from a red gum. He hauled on it using his good arm, until it reached the water. Jack glared at him and started mumbling to himself as he picked up one end of it. ‘Fucken wanker. Stupid fucken wanker. Needs a fucken white coat in a fucken asylum. Needs a fucken kickin’.’

With a superhuman effort Jack made himself poke and scrape the corpse with Rick until the corpse bobbed and started to turn around. They hooked the forked end of the branch around the other end and pulled until it started to shift in the water. After ten minutes of huge effort, they worled around on Bevan, who was standing well back from the corpse and the edge of the water, greedily sucking on his lavender-soaked hanky.

Jack marched over to him and kicked him up the arse, hard. ‘Lend a hand, you useless fag,’ he yelled at him. ‘You decided on this course of action, Queenie. Or don’t you remember?’

Quailing under Jack’s ferocious gaze, Bevan couldn’t defend himself without removing his precious hanky, which he was not going to do for any man on earth. And so it was that he found himself halfway along the branch, between Rick and Jack, hauling for all he was worth, and rapidly discovering the futility of his lavender oil effort. With the boys’ combined strength, they had the corpse resting between them on the bank of the river in not very long. The water, as the current could again flow through that little pool, began to eddy and swirl. The noise of the rising clouds of insects momentarily deafened the three them, the insects astonished to find their home.

Rick looked at his little group of friends, staring distastefully at their ‘prize’. Three boys and a corpse, he thought, and thinking of the possibilities in a film of this title, stifled a giggle. He caught Jack’s eye as he thought this and was surprised at the malice in his friend’s look. He swiftly rearranged his expression. Bevan and Jack unconsciously moved backwards from the corpse, and left Rick in the closest proximity to it. After five minutes of aimless staring, Bevan snapped.

‘Fucken check it out then, Rick. Mr I’m-so-fucken-corpse-happy-let’s-look-at-it-a-bit-longer! I’m not touching the bloody fucking stinking thing.’ He backed right off and went and sat on a tree root, this time only partially in the breeze off the body.

Rick appealed to Jack and, as he half expected, found no quarter there either. He was indeed the only one to do it.

Keeping his injured arm well out of the way, Rick grabbed a smaller branch and heaved the corpse over. Thoroughly unprepared for the extent of decomposition, he promptly vomited all over his shoes. The corpse was just a ragged fucking mess.

Bevan saw just enough that it made him pass out.

Jack ran off to the nearest tree and vomited so noisily, and so hard, that he scared away the closest ducks on the river, and lost the ability to carry his own weight. The images of the girl, alive, came back to him stronger than they had before, and he suddenly wished, for the first time in his life, that he didn’t exist. Once he regained the ability to stand, and had cleared the tears from his eyes, and could breathe sort of normally, he grabbed Bevan and hauled him as far as he could drag him away from the corpse, leaving him lying in the long grass further up the bank, in a sport where he’d be safe enough to come around in his own time. Rick had stopped being sick, but was standing insensibly in a pool of his own spew, so Jack went and rescued him too, before heading back to the tree and laughing at the ground again.

After a while the light came back to Rick’s eyes and Bevan came around and eventually sat looking in the other direction. Jack was sitting next to Bevan and offered him a smoke, which his mate gratefully accepted. Not knowing who had dragged him up the bank, a quick assessment of the social situation when he came around informed Bevan that it was probably Jack.

None of them could, or would, speak to any of the others. Neither Jack or Bevan would speak to Rick, even when he tried to talk to them. Bevan wouldn’t look at Rick, and replied to Jack’s steady, inquiring gaze with a guilty expression. Nobody stopped him when he stood up and left abruptly. On Bevan’s cue, Jack did the same. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything to Rick, and when his mate tried to talk to him, he abruptly cut him off with a curt, grated, ‘save it.’

As he left, he wondered whether Rick would have the presence of mind to clean tell his mum honestly about the stick in his arm, and whether he’d remember to clean the sick off himself before doing so. But it was only a fleeting thought—at it stood he really couldn’t give a fuck about Rick any more.

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