Joel first noticed it Monday on his way home from school. He’d been kicking lumps of concrete along the weed choked path behind the shops, and muttering dark retributions under his breath. ‘It wasn’t my fault. I was chucking it into the bin. How could I know Miss Evans would walk in at that moment.’ He grinned at the memory of the shocked look on her face as the screwed up wad of paper dislodged her glasses and they sat skew-wiff on the bridge of her nose. ‘Now I’m in trouble again.’ He sighed and fingered the detention letter in his blazer pocket. Another one, the third this term.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw it between two shops, the Chinese takeaway and Oxfam, squashed in the alley. The sun caught the scales along its flank, giving them a shimmer like oil on water, the colours changing and moving as it breathed. Joel turned to look, and it disappeared, well, not disappeared as such, he just couldn’t see it anymore. He wasn’t sure now if he saw it at all. ‘I’m going nuts as well.’ He muttered and dragged his feet towards the inevitable row.
Tuesday after detention, where he had to write, by hand, a letter of apology to Miss Evans and clean the whiteboards for all the year eleven classes, he left school at five. Instead of going straight home and face his mum and dad because he wanted to put off another row for as long as he could, he moped past the back of the shops. The previous day, after his dad had read the letter, there’d been an almighty row between his parents, and he felt bad. He peered down the alley. Nothing, just half-smoked cigarettes and the oily smell of Chinese food.
Wednesday, and the heavens opened. Holding his schoolbag over his head, he caught sight of it. Today, its flank reflected the grey sky and black eyes blinked to clear the drops of rain from the curved surfaces. Joel turned to get a better look, gone.
At school on Thursday, he’d eagerly told his mates about the creature, but when Joel took them to see it, they couldn’t and didn’t believe his tale. All day Friday they teased him mercilessly.
The days passed and Joel, eager to see more of this creature, walked past the alley several times each day, never looking directly at the creature he saw more and more. To Joel it didn’t fit the space. Its belly bulged around the walls of the two shops, the head tilted to one side squashed between fire escapes, and sharp pointed ears stuck up over the top of the shop’s flat roofs.
Sunday, he’d told his mum he was going to play football with his mates, and within minutes of leaving the house he was once again behind the shops, alone. In the pocket of his jeans he held his phone, returned after being confiscated for the week after his third detention. If the creature wouldn’t let him see, he’d take a photo, he thought. He’d show his mates who’d laughed at him. After Friday’s episode, where they’d jumped out at him as he dawdled past the alley, he was still angry. It ended in a punch-up and a bloody nose. They hadn’t spoken since.
Already, after walking past once, he knew it was there as he caught sight of it out of the corner of his eye. He slipped the phone out of his pocket, held up the screen in the direction of the creature’s stuffed alley, and pressed the button. Click. Grinning, he saw captured on his screen the creature staring back at him. He ran down to the field and shouted over to his ex-friends. ‘I’ve got a photo.’
‘Yeah right,’ said Tom. ‘Show us then.’
They huddled over Joel’s phone whilst he searched the gallery. ‘See.’ He showed them the photo of his creature. Its bulk filled the screen, grinning at him, revealing sharp white teeth and a pink lolling tongue. Yuk, thought Joel.
‘There’s nothing there except the alley, you’re either nuts or a liar. Come on Ricky, let’s go to my place.’ Joel didn’t understand. Why couldn’t they see it?
Joel looked down at the photo on his phone. The creature winked and faded, leaving just the dirty dark alley between the Chinese takeaway and Oxfam.
* This will be a much longer story and I’ve ended it before I’ve explained the title, sorry. You can find the original posting and more of Jacqueline’s work here: Jacqueline Vincent