Laws of the Wasteland by Sarah Daniels

Mikey’s pink tongue laps at the blood from his nose.

In the long-shadowed afternoon we trudge, weighed down by books, and sports kit, and the coats we’ve shed to fit this week’s trend. Wasteland yawns on both sides. The scrub that separates school from our council estate is governed by strict laws. Girl on girl. Boy on boy. Take what they give. Don’t snitch.

Fucken hate that one with the long hair, Tank says. Tank – imagine why he’s nicknamed that – wears a spiky moustache and has a voice that slickens armpits. He shrivels my eyes and makes them dodge along the cracks in the concrete without leaving the ground. The girls wear black bras that shine through their school shirts and I wonder why they want to be seen.

Looking sideways, I see Mikey sway behind a curtain of hair. We straggle around him, electrons tethered to an atom. Not close enough to become collateral damage. Not so distant that he’s alone.

My braces snag the soft flesh inside my cheek, flooding my mouth with a taste like batteries.

Another blow splits a crescent between Mikey’s eyes as we pass the burnt orange skeleton of the Ford Fiesta. What joy when we first saw its carcass. For a whole week they were too preoccupied to bother with us. They jumped on its creaking bonnet. Smashed it with branches. Snogged on its fire ravaged back seat.
I’m thankful to Mikey, like I was thankful to the rusting Ford Fiesta.

Tank sags to a lethargic punch-walk-punch, then loses interest in Mikey as we reach the first pebbledashed houses.

From behind me I hear one of the black bra girls, Fucken hate that one with the braces.

I nip my tongue and turn for home. Speaking won’t do anything good.

Sarah Daniels writes stories from her home in rural Lincolnshire. Her flashes have been nominated for Best Small Fictions and BIFFY50, she was a finalist in the NYC Short Story Challenge in 2018 and long listed for the Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2019. She’s working on her first novel.

banksy art of little boy
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