Read by Thomas Judd
The foxes may be rooting around in the bins again, but a Kalashnikov? Is that really, as they say, proportionate?
He looks purposeful as he snaps the magazine into place. He’s using a night sight. It’s four in the morning and he’s angry. He says they’ve woken him up and he can’t sleep as it is. I go downstairs to make some tea.
There’s a staccato boom from one of the bedrooms at the back.
A howl. Is it him or one of the foxes? I don’t think I’m going to get back to sleep either, and I’ve got double French in the morning with Mr Kemp. It takes forever to boil this kettle on the camping stove.
He – my father - got the gun from one of our ‘guests’. An arms dealer staying in our spare room left it here, passing through on the way to Africa, meeting dodgy MPs in London on the way, leaving a trail of heavily laundered cash.
The bloke wanted to be incognito, that’s why he stayed with us. We started to let the room out after Dad lost his job at the bank. Yes, I know, but they weren’t all bad. Not every banker got a payout like Fred Goodwin.
All kinds of odd people have stayed here. We advertise on some weird websites (the kind that offer passports and immigration papers) and I guess word gets around.
The arms dealer never came back. We’ve got about 300 rounds in the basement. There’s a flask, marked ‘Danger – Polonium’ that some Russian left too. Dad says that’ll have to go down a mine shaft, if we ever go back to Cornwall for our holidays. We used to do that when Mum was still around. We’d just better not get it mixed up with the Thermos, that’s all.
In the morning, the chairman of the Residents’ Association calls round and gives the old man a lecture on citizenship. It may have been four am, he says, and not many about, but there’s been trouble with ricochets. He’s been out looking and says you can see bullets embedded in the trees. They could have killed innocent bystanders and there’s a cat missing from number 8.
Personally, I wouldn’t talk to the old man like that. Not while he’s still got the gun in his hands. Not with half the magazine unused.
Perhaps that’s why the bloke tries to raise a smile and tells Dad that, if it were left to him personally, he’d be in favour of some direct action about those foxes. He can’t take his eyes off the gun. He scurries off down the street. I think the idea of Dad and a Kalashnikov might just have planted itself in his imagination.
For me, the gun isn’t such an issue, but the old man’s ripped out our central heating since Mum left him for an oily bastard called Derek. He’s a dentist from Ripon she met at the tennis club. Dad says he’s starting to take the windows out next week, and it’s nearly November.
The parents had a big row not long after he lost his job. I overheard it all. Mum said she couldn’t live with him any more. Wanted life to be more exciting. Wanted romance, passion, the unexpected. Wanted him to be different. Well, he certainly is now.
“Gary,” she said to me later, bags packed in the hall and the old man stomping up and down in what used to be their bedroom, “I can’t take you with me, because of your schooling. But come up to Ripon for the holidays. You know you’re always welcome,’ There’s a pause. ‘With Derek and me.” I could see the oily bastard scowling in the shadows, probably thinking about how he could economise on pain relief. God knows what she sees in him.
His second name’s Menken. We call him Mengele.
The wind howls through the house without the windows. Dad says we’re going to live like they did in the Stone Age. Back to basics. Feel the power of nature. Hunting. The surge of adrenalin. Eating what we kill. Live like we mean it.
I’m not sure about what life in a brick-built cave might be like. And can we really get back to basics with a Russian assault rifle that can kill at 1300 metres? Still, it could mean no more school for a while, so it might not be all bad.
The Residents’ Committee have sent him a letter. What happened to the dead foxes? they ask.
If they have been left somewhere in the gardens at the back of the houses, they might be a nuisance and a danger to public health. They say that if he doesn’t reply, they’re bringing in Health and Safety.
Actually, some of the meat from one of them is roasting over the fire we’ve got going, on what used to be the patio. Maria, the Latvian au pair from number 15 has come round with a bottle of vodka. She saw the old man with his gun. She hates foxes she said to him. She didn’t think there were any real men round here, she said over the back fence, so he invited her round.
She’s always been a bit wild. She wants music she can dance to, and the old man’s told me to get my violin out. I’m not sure I can do jazz.
It’s a hot night. We’re sitting here in the firelight, and Maria’s telling us tales about what her grandfather used to do in the war. She’s got a crate of Molotov cocktails lined up, just in case. Just like her grandfather used to make, she says. She says that I’m not to worry about Mr Kemp and his French; she’ll teach me Latvian, the language of love, she says. If she pulls her skirt up any more, we’ll all be seeing her knickers. This vodka seems quite strong, even if it does have a lot of lemonade with it.
The old man’s wearing the hat he’s made from one of the foxes he’s skinned. He’s got one arm round Maria, and he’s oiling the Kalashnikov with the other.
It could be quite a night.
If I was a member of the Residents’ Committee, I think I’d leave him to it for a bit. There seems to be quite a lot of testosterone around this evening. I’ll just have one more vodka, and then I think I’ll see if I can play that Sabre Dance thing a bit faster. Maria seemed to like that.
Kalashnikov by Michael Spring was read by Thomas Judd at the Liars' League's Blood & Thunder event at The Wheatsheaf on Tuesday 31 October 2009
Michael Spring writes occasional fiction under his own name and on sport as Jeff Blakeney. He loves horse racing, books and his family, but perhaps not in that order. Brittle Star, Fieldstone Review, Volume and Radio Ulster are among those who have published and broadcast him. He lives in London.