Chesham, England, 1993
“Men who crave power look back over the mistakes of their lives, pile them all together, and call it destiny.”
Henry nestled up to his mother, Jane, in bed. He was enraptured. Their faces were illuminated by the big TV. Pepperoni pizza lay in front of them, dutifully protected by Henry’s dachshund Cringer. The movie had long finished.
They had watched Masters of the Universe together so often that Henry knew all of the lines. He would happily recite them along with the movie. His mother dozed in and out of consciousness. Her medicine was making her sleep more and more.
The alarm clock woke them, though. From the fact that Cringer hadn’t moved, it looked as though he had been awake all night guarding their leftover pizza.
‘Do I have to go to school today?’ Henry asked. ‘We could watch the episode where they team up with Skeletor to save Eternia.’
Wearily Jane adjusted the headscarf on her head and got out of bed. ‘No, go and get dressed. I’ll make some breakfast for you.’
Henry heard her go into the ensuite and the now familiar sounds of vomiting began. He picked up the pizza box and closed it to the dismay of Cringer, who to no avail had waited for hours to be given a crust. Henry looked at Cringer wagging his tail furiously. ‘You can’t have pizza. Mum doesn’t let you.’ Cringer lay down, crawling closer and looking up hopefully. ‘No, you know I can’t.’ Rolling onto his back, Cringer exposed his belly and whined. Henry reached down and gave him a scratch. ‘Okay then, but just a little bit of crust.’ Opening up the box, he pulled off a piece and handed it down where it was gently taken before Cringer ran to find somewhere secret to gobble it down.
Walking downstairs, Henry put the remaining pizza in the fridge. The box joined a pile of them by the bin. They had eaten pizza every night for the last month. It was amazing. He had the pepperoni and his mum had the garden party pizza. They always got garlic bread with cheese. It was the best bit.
A voice echoed from upstairs. ‘Have a shower and brush your teeth.’ Henry dutifully ran upstairs to clean and get dressed for school. When he came down again, his mother had a new headscarf on and her usual thick dressing gown. A bowl of Coco Pops was waiting next to a glass of orange juice.
‘Why don’t I stay at home and we can watch “The Rainbow Warrior”, it’s your favourite episode.’ Henry sat down and started spooning cereal into his mouth.
His mum was making his sandwiches, filling up his He-Man lunch box. ‘I’m so glad that you are here to tell me what my favourite episodes are.’ She came over and ruffled his hair. ‘But you have to go to school so you can be smart like Man-at-Arms.’
Henry pushed her hand off his head and shook his hair. When he finished his breakfast, she passed him the lunch box. ‘Now, you be good and learn lots, okay?’
He nodded. ‘And your aunt is coming over with your new uncle Barry tonight for dinner. Don’t you forget.’ His mum patted his head. He pulled a face. His aunt brought home a different uncle every Christmas. Each one was worse than the last.
* * * * *
When Henry got home, his Mum was asleep. He made himself a sliced chicken and mayonnaise sandwich. Running upstairs, he put on the TV and played He-Man and the Masters of the Universe on his video player. Picking up a fresh box of Warhammer figurines, he began to paint three new soldiers for his Empire army.
The doorbell rang at six. He heard his mother going downstairs and the loud voice of his new uncle echoing from downstairs. Ignoring him, he focused on his models. He was doing the final details. He had clipped away the hammer his general had come with to give him a sword instead, like He-Man.
Eventually, there was a knock on the door and his mother said, ‘Come on, Henry, the food has arrived. Come downstairs and join us.’
Henry looked at his models, turned off the TV and walked downstairs to where his aunt was enjoying a large glass of red wine. Several metal trays of curry were spread across the table.
Henry saw his new uncle for the first time. An overweight, aged potato with gammon pink skin. He was drinking a beer straight from the can and laughing. As Henry walked into the dining room, he held out his arms. ‘There is the whippersnapper.’ Standing up, he walked over. ‘What happened to your eye?‘
His mother’s head jerked up and her eyes lost the glazed look that had haunted her for months. ‘Let me see.’
‘It’s fine.’ Henry protested, but his mum was having none of it. Cupping his chin, she lifted up his head.
‘Who was it? Daniel again?’ She released his face and pulled him into a hug. ‘I’ll speak to your teachers.’
Henry pushed her gently away. ‘No, Mum, that just makes it worse.’
‘The boy’s right. He needs to toughen up.’ Balling his fists, Barry jabbed into the air. ‘I’ll teach him some moves. Next time the bullies come knocking, they’ll find a real man waiting for them.’ Pointing to the seat next to him, he motioned for Henry to join him. ‘Come on, Henry, we men can sit together.’ Waving his empty can of lager at Gaby, he motioned for her to get him a new one.
Henry shook his head and went to sit next to his mother. Holding the chair, she motioned next to Barry. ‘Go on, go sit next to Barry. It’ll be good for you to get to know him.’
‘That’s right, Henry. There is a new man in town.’ Barry smiled as Henry sat next to him, slipping his arm around his shoulders and shaking him roughly. ‘Your Mum is ill, Henry, so Gaby and I will be moving in to look after the pair of you, and about time too. We’ll get some meat on your bones.’
Alarmed, Henry looked at his mum. ‘It’s okay, Henry, we can’t live on pizza every day. It isn’t good for you. Your aunt and Barry are very kind, offering to look after us like this.
‘Don’t worry, Henry, we don’t bite.’ Taking a beer from his aunt, Barry opened it and took a deep slug. ‘Your aunt has found some work nearby and this town will be fighting to offer a job to a man like me. Won’t it, Gaby?’
Gaby smiled, ‘Of course it will, Barry.’
‘It’s not even a question. I’m an apex predator. We’ll shake this town up. Ha, Henry and I will show it who’s boss, won’t we.’ Barry rubbed his knuckles through Henry’s hair. ‘Come here, you rugrat.’
Henry jerked to avoid him. ‘I’m nine, nearly ten. I am not a rugrat.
‘Look at the boys bonding.’ Gaby beamed. ‘Thank you for the lovely curry Jane, I’m going to go to the shops tomorrow and get some proper veggies for you all and fruit for the bowl.’
‘Don’t forget some steaks for the men, Gaby. We are going to build Henry up. Can’t have a boy under my roof getting bullied. Daniel isn’t going to know what hit him.’ Barry laughed as he emptied his can.
Jane smiled wanly. ‘I am glad that someone will be able to look after him when I….’ She nibbled on some chicken tikka. Gaby reached over and held her hand.
* * * * *
Gaby woke Henry up for school. He blinked at the unfamiliar face. Scrunching up his eyes, he pushed back the duvet and stared at the ceiling.
Climbing out of his bed, he went to do his teeth. The glass holding his brush now had another two brushes in it. He picked up his toothbrush with its He-Man logo and brushed his teeth. The door opened behind him and he turned to see Barry walk in dressed in just boxer shorts. Pulling out his member, he unleashed a torrent of piss.
Henry tried to ignore the man. However, when Barry had finished, he rubbed his hand through Henry’s hair, Henry recoiled in disgust.
‘What’s your problem, kid?’ Barry grunted.
Spitting in the sink, Henry protested. ‘You haven’t washed your hands!’
‘Real men know not to piss on their hands, Henry. You’ll understand someday.’ Barry walked out of the bathroom, leaving Henry to put away his toothbrush and go to the loo. This time he locked the door behind him.
Henry went downstairs for breakfast. Barry was sitting with a plate of bacon and eggs in front of him. Henry saw a similar sized plate for him and his heart sank. He’d never finish all that.
‘I eat coco pops for breakfast.’ Henry walked to the cupboard with his cereal in it.
‘Of course, dear,’ Gaby said, moving out of his way.
‘No! This boy is going to learn some respect.’ Barry swallowed a mouthful of egg. ‘Henry, your aunt spent a lot of time cooking this breakfast. The least you can do is eat it. You’ll look like me soon enough.’
Henry had no intention of ever looking like Barry. He wanted his coco pops but didn’t want to be rude to his aunt. Conflicted, he stood there and asked, ‘Where is Mum?’
Gaby came over and kneeled in front of him. ‘Sweetie, she is very tired, that is why I’m here to help. Now, eat your breakfast and get ready for school. I’ll look after your mum for you.’
Henry walked over to the table and cut up the tough bacon. Chewing on the dense meat. Barry motioned to Gaby. ‘A beer over here. Then I am off to get a paper and check out the job ads. This town doesn’t know what’s about to hit it.’
‘It’s a bit early for a beer, Barry,’ Gaby said. ‘Perhaps a coffee instead?’
‘Don’t be lecturing me, woman. Especially not in front of the boy. I won’t be henpecked.’ He smiled at Henry. ‘You see the crap us men have to go through? This will be you one day, boy. You have to keep a firm hand, or they’ll walk all over you.’ He pointed at the table. ‘Right here, Gaby, in your own time.’
Gaby fetched a beer from the fridge and placed it where directed.
* * * * *
Henry used to hate going to school. Now it was the return home that filled him with dread. His loud mouthed Uncle always found ways to belittle him.
He crept into the house, avoiding the living room where his Uncle was sitting watching sport on the television and drinking. Heading upstairs, he saw his mother’s bedroom door was open. Aunt Gaby had made up a room for her downstairs and then taken over her bedroom with Uncle Barry. He trudged to his bedroom. Picking up his book, he soon lost himself in the world of David Gemmel.
His happy utopia was disrupted when Barry opened his bedroom door and barged in. ‘Time for dinner, squirt. Get yourself downstairs.’
Everyone was sitting around the table. Aunt Gaby had lit two candles and was beaming as she brought round plates of sausages, mash and cabbage. As she placed a plate in front of everyone, Barry first, of course, she spooned over the gravy. The thick brown liquid steamed over the grey cabbage.
Henry poked the cabbage dubiously with his fork. The gravy smelt nice, but when he picked up the cabbage, it smelt like feet. He put it down again and focused on the sausage and mash.
His mother was very quiet today. She was barely touching her plate. He noted that she didn’t touch her cabbage either, munching on the sausages and a small forkful of mash. She was very thin. He missed eating pizza with her.
Barry was lamenting the stupidity of Tring. He claimed to have looked for work, but there was nothing around. They were fools for not employing him. He then gave a short spiel about immigrants before launching into an exhaustive description of the local pubs.
Henry was glad that nobody remembered to ask him how his day went. He didn’t want Barry to have any excuse to demean him at the table.
Dessert was a baked apple pie on a metal foil dish served with double cream straight from its plastic carton. Reaching over for it. Henry was stopped by Barry.
‘What do you think you are doing? You can’t have dessert until you’ve finished your cabbage.’
Looking down at the mound of grey, Henry’s heart sank. Even if he had liked the cabbage, he’d been given the same sized portion as Barry. He couldn’t possibly eat it all.
‘Can I please be excused from the table?’ Henry asked.
‘Not until you’ve finished your vegetables,’ Barry commanded. ‘We’ll teach you some discipline, boy. I’ll make a man of you yet.’ He smiled at Jane. ‘Just give me two weeks.’
Henry sat watching the gravy congeal until after Barry and Gaby had finished their desserts. He waited while Barry had another beer and Gaby cleared the table. When his mum rose unsteadily, he asked if they could watch TV together.
‘Eat. Your. Veg--’ Barry started.
‘Of course, dear, bring Cringer and we’ll watch some TV together.’
Henry jumped up and yelled for Cringer. He looked back, Barry’s face had darkened and his eyes scared him. He followed close behind his mother as she walked into her new downstairs bedroom. The room smelt funny. It had the now familiar chemical tang to the air. Henry scrumpled up his nose as he set up the video player and put in “The Secret of the Sword”, the He-Man and She-Ra movie.
Henry lifted Cringer onto the bed. He sat up next to his mother, who was propped up by pillows. Cringer lay between them and fell instantly asleep. For a tiny dog, his snores were disproportionately loud.
His mum pulled out a large pack of Doritos. ‘I have your favourite, Henry.’
‘Thanks, Mum!’ Grinning, Henry ran to the kitchen, grabbed a large bowl before Barry or Gaby could comment and ran back.
Jane emptied the bag into the bowl whilst Henry started the movie. Putting her arm around him, she pulled him close as the movie introduction rolled. ‘I know it is hard living with new people, but someone has to look after you.’
‘Why, why can’t it be just us?’ Henry complained, wriggling into a comfortable position.
With her free hand, Jane mussed his hair. ‘I’ll always be watching over my little Henry, just like my mother always looked over me, but I’m very ill. There will come a time when you need your aunt and Barry to look after you.’
In disgust, Henry blew a raspberry. His mum poked him playfully. ‘Henry, be patient with them. They haven’t had kids before. It is a learning process for both of you.’
Henry munched on some Doritos. He knew his mum was ill, but the concept of her not being here was too alien, too unreal for him to process.
His mum’s alarm woke him up in the morning. She gently pushed him to wake him up and then struggled out of bed to vomit in the downstairs toilet.
Getting out of bed, Henry readied himself for school. His Aunt Gaby was waiting in the kitchen with Barry.
‘I picked some fresh flowers for the table to brighten up the place.’ Gaby announced to Henry. He ignored her. How will they help? He sat down. He must have taken too long getting dressed. His egg was cold and the bacon adhered itself to the plate in congealed bacon grease. He began the grim process of autopsying his breakfast and chewing on the cold carcass.
Barry put down his paper and leaned forward. ‘Your aunt picked flowers, Henry. You should tell her how nice they look.’
Henry shrugged. ‘I don’t like flowers.’
‘Right.’ Barry reached over, took Henry’s plate and scooped the contents onto his own.
‘Barry!’ Aunt Gaby started.
Barry held up his palm to her. ‘This is for his own good, Gaby. The boy needs to learn manners.’
Looking at his empty plate, Henry couldn’t believe his own good fortune. Getting down, he grabbed his school bag and ran out of the door. Going hungry was preferable to eating that oversized plate of solidified grease.
School rushed by. Henry didn’t have many friends. He chose to read his book in the toilets instead of playing with the other kids. He was safe there and couldn’t be bullied. They were doing maths when he was summoned to reception. Aunt Gaby was waiting for him.
Mum was in the hospital. He was to leave school and come and join them at once.
* * * * *
The funeral was a dismal affair. Drizzle gently misted the windows as they watched the coffin get sucked into the crematorium. Tinny speakers played his mother’s favourite song, Running Bear by Johnny Preston. Barrie remained silent and stoic in his suit whilst Aunt Gaby wept gently.
In the reception afterwards, wine was served along with sandwiches and cake platters. Henry lost count of all the people who approached him, telling him how brave he was. He felt numb. His mother, who was the bulwark in his life and ever-present, was gone. Into this huge, gaping chasm strode Uncle Barry and Aunt Gaby.
During the reading of the will, they both sat silently as the house and all of his mother’s assets were placed into a trust for Henry when he turned eighteen. Until that time, Uncle Barry and Aunt Gaby were to receive a small income from his trust and were given permission to live in the house as his guardians. His stomach sank at the thought of being locked in with them day after day.
* * * * *
The next day after school, Henry was sitting in his room painting his models. Uncle Barry had insisted that routine was important and so he had trudged to school. Even the bullies had more respect than his uncle as they left him alone in his black depression.
‘What are you doing?’ Uncle Barry was behind him. Henry’s bedroom had no lock. It hadn’t seemed important before. Now, it meant his room was no longer a sanctuary.
Henry lifted up a regiment of Empire swordsmen on their movement tray. ‘I have painted them as the Royal Guard of Eternia.’
Barry bent down. ‘Orange, green and light blue. That’s hideous.’ He patted Henry on the back, knocking over several of the men on the tray. Henry quickly put it down where it would be safe. ‘Wait here--’, as if Henry intended to go anywhere else. ‘--I’ll get you a video showing some real soldiers.’
From the doorway, Auntie Gaby leaned in. ‘Look at my boys hanging out together.’ She handed Barry a beer as he walked past her. Henry had a moment’s peace before Barry returned with a VHS tape.
‘Look at this. Real knights. None of these gay pastel colours. Paint your soldiers like this.’ He waved at the assembled ranks of Henry’s models. ‘This is all crap. The enemy will see them a mile away.’
Henry pulled out Man-At-Arms, one of his figurines from the He-Man cartoon show. ‘This is the colour scheme they are meant to be wearing, you see, like on He-Man.’
Disgusted, Barry picked up Man-At-Arms. ‘This is precisely why you get beaten up, kid. This baby crap. You listen to me and I’ll make a man of you yet.’
Barry left the room still holding Henry’s figure. ‘Gabs, get over here. Look at this crap.’
Walking over to the door, Henry shut it. Idiot. Picking up the next swordsman and his brush, he once again applied pastel blue to his helmet. When it was done, he placed it down in the regiment. The swordsman saluted him. He blinked. All the models sat in the regiment tray, standing in identical poses. He picked it up and turned it around. Nothing. He put it back down again. Weird.
Dinner was a heaped plate of chicken nuggets, chips and broccoli. The broccoli sagged on his plate and leaked water making his nuggets soggy. Eating the nuggets and half his chips, he politely asked for his Man-At-Arms figure back.
Silence fell across the dinner table.
Finishing his can and placing it next to the two other empties, Barry looked thoughtful. ‘It must seem harsh to you, Henry. When I was a child, I used to have a teddy bear. The best thing my father ever did was burn it. You see, it marked the passage from boy to man.’ Looking at Gaby, he grinned. ‘It made me the man I am today. Soon, you’ll be like me.’ Gaby winked over her shoulder at them.
Henry felt sick to his stomach. ‘What are you going to do?’
‘I’m going to enrol you in sports clubs, but first. Tonight, we are going to the garden and we are going to make you a man.’
Already knowing the answer, Henry’s eyes widened. ‘What do you mean?’
‘We are going to burn your toys, Henry. Then--’
‘No!’ Henry screamed. He threw back his chair and ran from the table. Behind him, he could hear the angry yelling of his uncle, but he didn’t care. He made it to his room and barricaded the door with a chair. It didn’t last a second. Barry opened the door in a fury sending the chair flying.
‘Don’t you ever leave the table without permission, boy.’ Barry walked in and grabbed him by the t-shirt. Cringer ran up behind Barry and started barking.
Henry pulled free. ‘You can’t take my toys.’
Grabbing him around the throat, Barry threw him onto the bed. He pulled free his belt, then swore as Cringer bit him on the ankle. He turned and kicked the dachshund, who yelped as he was flung across the landing. Turning back, Barry cracked the tough leather against his palm. Henry scooted up the bed, eyes wide with fear. ‘Right, time for you to learn a--’
His Aunt Gaby ran in and spread her arms over Henry. ‘Don’t Barry, please. He doesn’t understand.’
Barry caught Gaby’s arm in his grip and pulled her away. ‘Don’t contradict me in front of the boy, woman. This is for his own good.’
A small voice sounded. ‘They are valuable.’
‘What?’ Barry said, letting go of Gaby.
Henry spoke again, this time louder. ‘They are collector’s items. A lot of them are rare or out of production.’
Barry paused. ‘Well, fine. We won’t burn them. We need to burn something, though.’
As the males looked at each other. Gaby reached out and picked up a White Dwarf magazine. ‘This is the current issue. It can’t be rare. What about this?’
Barry snatched it from her. ‘Yes, this is perfect. Get a beer for me and one for Henry. Tonight he becomes a man.’ Jerking his thumb towards the door, he motioned for Henry to follow.
As Henry left, he noticed, with a frown, that every model in his room was facing the doorway. He went over to Cringer, who was shaking in the corner. ‘It’s okay, Cringer, we’ll get through this.’ Cringer licked his hand and Henry cuddled him until he heard Barry calling for him downstairs.
They stood in the garden. Henry blocked out Barry’s speech as they watched the White Dwarf magazine burn in a metal bin. He was then passed a tin of beer which he sipped and winced.
‘I want to find an empty can when I wake you tomorrow, Henry.’ Barry blustered, chest puffed out. ‘You are a man now. Take a photo of us, Gaby.’
Gaby dutifully photographed them standing together by the flames. Barry’s arm was around Henry. He was grinning. Henry gave the camera a black stare.
* * * * *
By the next day, Henry’s room had been stripped of toys. They had all been boxed and taped up. His poster of He-Man, holding a book and captioned “Only education can truly defeat evil”, had been replaced by a poster of Tottenham FC.
After school, Barry was waiting for him. He was taken to a football ground and given a change of clothing. Standing in shorts and t-shirt in the freezing cold, he watched as Barry went to the pub next door. The team captains were elected by the coach, then everyone had to line up. The captains walked up and down the line choosing one by one members to join their team, assigning them positions that were meaningless to Henry. He was the last person to be picked. Then a coin was flipped to determine which team was skins and which team was shirts. To his horror, Henry found himself in late October, standing in goal, topless and getting soaked in the pouring rain. Stamping his feet to get warm, he watched the ball fly straight past him and into the net. He had been thinking about his toys and hadn’t noticed the players moving closer and closer. Insults, jibes and slurs were directed at him and the coach was shaking his head in dismay.
By the time they got home, Henry had a blocked nose and was thoroughly upset. He quietly took Cringer for a walk before he could be shouted at. The miniature dachshund wagged his tail and trotted alongside him. Henry smiled at his little friend. He was his only ally.
When he and Cringer returned from their walk, his dinner was cold. Gaby thoughtfully microwaved it for him, passing him a plate, nuclear hot on the edges and stone cold in the centre. Anything once crisp had now softened to a mushy consistency. Hungry, he ate what he could. Barry was in the other room laughing at the TV. It was a mercy that he didn’t have to wait to have permission to leave the table.
Climbing the stairs, he had a shower. His He-Man toothbrush had been replaced with a new OralB one. The hard bristles scratched at his teeth as he spat blood along with the toothpaste into the sink.
Looking at his bookshelf, he saw that all his He-Man books, White Dwarf magazines, comics and annuals had been removed. Most of his books had been left behind. Clearly, the covers were sufficiently manly. Henry snuggled up in his bed with his David Gemmel book, Cringer jumped up next to him. Quietly, Henry read from his book, narrating the adventures of Druss the Legend to him. Cringer listened intently until they both fell asleep together.
* * * * *
Barry picked him up again from school to drive him to his next sporting activity. Boxing. Now, instead of one bully beating him up. Thirty boys took turns to pummel him. Bruised, battered and tearful at the end of the session, Barry took one look at the distraught child and shook his head.
‘The boy’s soft,’ he said to the instructor. ‘His mother pandered to him and now he is good for nothing. I’m trying to fix him, but it’ll take some time.’ Handing the instructor a tenner, he accepted his condolences and as they walked away, he grabbed Henry firmly. ‘You come with me. You have embarrassed yourself, your family and worst of all, me.’ He dragged Henry to the car.
At home, he found Gaby was out. There was a note on the side apologising for her having to do overtime to cover a colleague. ‘Fucking cow. Does nobody respect me in this house?’
Barry stormed out. He called back to Henry, ‘You can wait for me while I get dinner.’
Henry retreated to his room.
He looked around the house for Cringer.
Panic rose in his chest as he couldn’t find his friend.
He looked out of the kitchen window.
Cringer was outside in a wooden dog house. A long chain anchored him to a post. The two of them looked at each other. Cringer’s head rested in his tiny paws as he lay in the cold, shivering.
Henry climbed into the shower to wash off the sweat from his two hour beating at the boxing club. When he emerged, he found that Barry had dished out fish and chips onto three plates. Henry ignored the beer can that was given to him and instead picked at his chips.
‘I was a boxer,’ Barry proclaimed. His mouth ejected a flake of fish which Henry stared at. ‘My fists were famous. Nobody messed with me. That is what makes a man, Henry.’
Henry looked up dubiously at the parasite, who was reliant on the bottle, reliant on his aunt and reliant on his house.
‘I get that this is a big change for you, but could you imagine living in the real world after being raised as you were. I have to sort you out for your own good.’ Crunching his can, he tossed it across the table. ‘It isn’t just you, though, Henry. When your aunt comes home, I am going to talk to her about the meaning of respect. I don’t mind her having a job. God knows the pittance we get from your trust fund won’t get us far. But she doesn’t need to rub it in my face.’
Henry couldn’t eat any more. He felt sick to his stomach. ‘Cringer is only little. I don’t think he is supposed to be outside. He wears a coat when he goes for walks.’
Shaking his head, Barry exhaled. ‘Can you listen to yourself? Just for a minute. Repeat that and really listen to it.’
‘Cringer is only--’
‘He is a fucking dog!’ Barry roared, ‘an apex predator.’ Barry’s fist smashed onto the table, making the plates jump. ‘A coat? A fucking coat. No! Like you, he is going to learn. Either he becomes a proper dog, or he dies. We won’t carry dead weight in this house. That coat is going in the bin.’ Rolling his eyes, Barry continued. ‘Cringer, you set that dog up to fail when you gave him that pathetic name.’
Barry looked at his empty beer can. ‘I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, cleaning up the mess your wishy-washy mother left behind. Wash these plates up and then you can go. Get me another beer while you are at it.’
Still, stock still. Henry glared at the man with pure unadulterated hatred.
‘Don’t you look at me like that, you little puke.’ Barry raised his hand to strike him. Henry flinched and instinctively covered his face. ‘That is better, some respect. Now, do those dishes.’ Barry went and got his own beer from the fridge.
Henry climbed down from the table and loaded the dishwasher. Climbing the stairs, he sat alone on his bed and cried. The TV flicked on. He blinked, it was ‘The Secret of the Sword’, he went over to the TV and turned it off. Climbing back into bed, he curled up. The TV blinked back on. It was the end of the movie. The set must be breaking. His heart sank. Barry would never buy him another one. Getting up again, he went to turn it off at the mains.
It was unplugged.
He could hear the TV set, but it wasn’t getting power. He looked at the portable aerial. Could it be getting power from the air? He clambered back into his bed. Maybe it would run out of power soon.
He-Man and She-Ra stood with King Randor and Queen Marlena. Someone else stood with them. Was this a new edition? He looked closer. The character looked like his mother. But she was dressed as the sorceress. King Randor looked straight at Henry ‘The royal family of Eternia is whole once more! And by the Ancients, I swear that nothing shall ever separate us again!’
The new sorceress held out a sword of power. She pushed it towards Henry. In amazement, he watched as a steel sword projected through the television. Eyes wide, he climbed to the edge of the bed. Reaching down, he took up the sword and marvelled at it.
Henry woke with a start. It had been just a dream. Depression fell like winter snow, coating-- then he saw it. Beside him on the bed. A large steel sword.
A smile crossed his face.
* * * * *
Uncle Barry was running low on beer. Gabs had better bring him more on the way home. She was in enough trouble as it was. He had tried down the yard for work this morning only to find it full of immigrants. To see that Gabs had got an extra shift was salt in the wound. Then that fucking kid. He was still chained to the corpse of his mother by a fucking umbilical cord.
I’d kick him out if I could, but we need this house.
No one was around to fetch him a beer but were two left in the fridge. He got up. Might as well get them both. Whisky would suffice until Gaby got him some more.
As he walked towards the kitchen, he saw paw prints, muddy, fucking paw prints, leading upstairs. Grabbing his beer, he saw the dog’s chain outside hanging limp. That wuss had disobeyed him for the last time. He pulled clear his belt and cracked it against the palm of his hand. ‘This has been a long time coming, kid,’ he muttered.
He walked up the stairs, slightly unsteady from all the beer.
Throwing open the door, he saw the little fucker standing in the corner of his bedroom holding a-- Is that a sword? He raises a fucking sword to his old man?
Henry stood, sword pointed at him defiantly. ‘By the Power of Greyskull.’
Batting the sword aside easily with his belt, Barry grabbed the front of his pyjama top and lifted him high. ‘Oh, you want to fight, is that it? Where was this enthusiasm at the boxing hall, eh?’
Ignoring him, Henry’s eyes locked dead onto Barry’s.
Lifting up the sword, he shouted. ‘I have the power.’
The room blazed with white light. Barry was flung, his body smacking against the door. The roof exploded as lightning tore apart the ceiling and crackled around Henry.
What the fuck?
Barry shielded his eyes, squinting, as he crawled out of the bedroom onto the landing. The lightning died down and he was left looking at… is that Henry?
Aged by thirty years, Henry, or something resembling him, stood with rippling muscles. He was tall, very tall and he was wearing some kind of a gay BDSM outfit. A deep booming voice echoed through the shattered husk of a bedroom. ‘Cringer, my faithful friend, become the mighty Battle Cat.’ Cringer was in the far corner of the room, hiding under Henry’s painting desk, shaking and panting with fear.
A blast of power erupted from Henry’s sword and the miniature dachshund grew in size. Toy soldiers were scattered as the dog swelled. Red iron armour coated him as Cringer filled the room. The dog was the size of a horse when he finally stopped growing. The floors groaned under the strain. His claws sank deep into the cheap wood. Barry was frozen in fear. Cringer looked at him and growled, low and menacing. Barry turned and crawled towards the stairs, whimpering. ‘That isn’t a fucking cat. That is not a fucking cat.’
Barry heard the loud, measured tread of the man walking towards him and turned to find “Henry” looming over him.
He reached down and picked up Barry by the shirt, tearing the cloth as if it were paper. Barry turned to run but was caught by the throat. Barry saw nothing but pure and unadulterated hate in the man’s eyes. ‘Fight tooth decay, the He-Man way,’ Henry said before balling his fist and punching Barry in the jaw. Shattered bone and vibrant red blood sprayed the walls. Barry was thrown down the stairs, his jaw broken. He could only manage a mewling groan before his skull cracked against the stairwell wall, his knee shattered and was twisted in an awkward angle.
Silence fell across the house.
* * * * *
Gaby opened the door to find Barry limp in his armchair, drenched in sweat.
‘Barry?’ she asked. When he didn’t respond, she walked over to find his face frozen in fear. An empty beer can was still clutched in his hand.
After calling the ambulance, she ran tearfully to Henry’s room. Inside, Henry was sitting serenely painting his Empire soldiers. He looked up as she entered. At his feet, Cringer wagged his tail happily.
‘It’s your Uncle Barry. He is dead.’
Henry looked at her, deadpan. ‘That is a shame.’ Then he returned to painting his models.
* * * * *
The following day as Gaby was driving to work, exhausted from a sleepless night, she was listening to the radio. Simon Mayo was hosting the Breakfast Show on BBC Radio One. ‘And that was “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” by Meatloaf, still at number one. Now we have a special message for Gaby from her sister Jane--’