The day Scott Wilkinson ate a bee

We’d let him play with us, just this once.

Cameron had called him over. As the unofficial leader of our group we weren’t about to argue with him, but none of us had expected to spend our playtime with Scott, whose leaking nose and the rhyming potential of his first name – do parents not remember their own childhoods when deciding on these things? – had combined to form the inevitable melody.

Perhaps that’s why he did it. Better than eats his snot.

I’d found the bee, limply buzzing in the grass that marked the playground’s edge, like a toothbrush that needs charging. It was an unpromising find – a grounded bird or a tangle of worms would have been better – but it was the best we had to occupy ourselves with until Ms Munroe rang the bell for the end of play. We poked at it with a twig, trying to turn it over, watching its legs wriggling desperately, but this soon became dull, which is when Scott was invited.

He came over hesitantly from where he’d been squatting and raking through the woodchip.

Cameron smiled and pointed at the dying bee. “Eat it then.”

Scott looked around at us, uncertain. “What? It’ll taste bad.”

“Duh,” Cameron said, his voice thick with contempt, and we echoed his derision. “It’s just honey             .”

“Won’t it sting?”

“It’s not got a sting, that’s why it’s dying.” This was news to us, but Cameron’s brother, who we considered an oracle, was at secondary school, so he must have heard it from him.

I picked up the bee carefully – as the finder, I had this right – and dropped it into Scott’s cupped hands. He looked at me then threw it into his mouth like an M&M.

Ms Munroe came striding over to us, instantly suspicious at our howls of laughter.

“What’s going on here?”

Scott looked like he was about to cry.

“Scott ate a bee!” crowed Cameron.

“Is that true, Scott?”

I could almost feel the hot, wet shame behind his cheeks as he nodded and was led off to the nurse’s room.

For the rest of that day I dreaded Ms Munroe coming into our classroom and demanding to see us. But nothing ever came of it – perhaps Scott had insisted it was his decision, or his parents had urged the school not to make their boy even less popular.

The next day I saw Scott raking through the woodchip again, like he was looking for something. I thought about going over to him, but Cameron had brought in a pen that made a noise when you turned it, so I walked past him to this new distraction. Although I was close enough for him to have seen me, he didn’t look up. He just kept trailing his fingers through the dirt as if he might be about to uncover something rare and delicate.

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Cowboys and Indians

The cowboys had decimated the Indians. Their bodies lay against walls, on benches, by signs pointing left to the lion enclosure and right to the elephants.

It was the last hour of the school trip and after the penguin feeding and trip on the monorail, it was designated Free Time. So inevitably it had devolved into 9B hiding around corners and jumping out, air pistols cocked and bows drawn.

Through the luck of the allocation system the cowboys had ended up the stronger; Darren, the first captain, had watched in delight as almost every number he selected was a known advantage. Oliver, on the other hand, faced an increasingly doomed mission with every skinny sadsack who trudged towards him. The numbers system was agreed upon as neutral, so he would just have to work with what he had, but he was weary after just the first game as he struggled to encourage his troops to take up tactical positions and fire invisible bows through the enemy’s heart.

Of this unfortunate collection, Jonny was unusual. Yes, he was an undesirable teammate, but not because of the afflictions that ailed the others: streaming noses, asthma, a preference for reading over Wild West re-enactments. Jonny was unusual because he simply did what he wanted; and what he wanted was to follow people.

“Fuck’s sake Jonny,” cried Oliver. Jonny grinned from beneath his mad thatch of hair – he’d tailed Oliver for nearly ten minutes without him noticing, the last three of which he’d managed to spend within a few metres of his quarry. He was getting good at this. Invigorated by the lack of sanction for his outburst Oliver shoved Jonny out of the way, turned, and was promptly gunned down by a whooping Russell.

“That’s a machine gun you idiot. Cowboys don’t have machine guns, they have pistols.”

“Whatever, you’re still dead. Yee-haw!”

“You can’t shoot me with a machine gun, that doesn’t count.”

“As if! I got you Oliver, just face it. Face it.”

“Alright, alright – new game. NEW GAME!”

The new game ended in the same way as the others, with Oliver valiantly holding out against the encircling cowboys. No-one got Jonny this time, but he wasn’t really playing anyway.

Ms Harris, on her last day of teaching and after her last sound night’s sleep, called an end to things with the announcement that it was time to leave.

Can’t we see them feeding the lions?”

Aw go on miss, there’s loads of people watching, look!”

he sighed. Why had she agreed to do this on her own? “No Russell, the coach is leaving in five minutes. Now stand still while I count.”

By the third identical count her breaths had become shorter.

“Who’s missing? There’s only 28 of you here, who’s missing?”

“Oliver’s brain’s missing.”

“Fuck off.”

“Oliver!”

“Sorry miss.”

No-one knew who was missing. Ms Harris rummaged in her bag for the register. They were going to be late for the coach at this rate, and Mr Baldock would have her in his office for another ‘little chat’ about timekeeping and class management.

“Here it is. Let’s see.”

She never read the register; the screams brought the class running in the direction of the lion enclosure. Bile rose in Ms Harris’s throat. She could no longer taste the homemade tomato and basil pasta she’d had for lunch as she ran, dazed and helpless, every repetition of his name more wild.

The school arranged for a counsellor to come in every week for the next six months.

The zookeeper no longer tried to impress women by telling them he fed the lions.

The Chester Chronicle had never seen sales like it.

Originally posted on The Pygmy Giant.

A matter of perspective

5,985 words – approx. 20 minutes

Mr Baxter was not like any teacher we’d ever had before. That much was clear from the start.

It was the first day of the new school year, warm with autumn, and we poured into the last room on the right in the Humanities block. Our blazers were slung over our shoulders and our mouths laden with the summer’s exploits. We were Year 10s now, ready to take our rightful place at the front of the dinner queue, aware of the threshold we had crossed in those last six weeks and the exalted position in the school we now held.

Continue reading A matter of perspective