Below is a short story set in the same world as my novella Crash. It shows the collapse of society from the perspective of characters that don't feature in the book. I hope you enjoy it.
The Tooth Fairy
over his shoulder at their burning house, Josh turned to his brother. “Do you
think they’re coming back?”
seventeen, was three years older than Josh. “I don’t know. Maybe, but it’s been
three days, and we can’t wait in a house that’s on fire.”
shall we do?”
to go to Nana’s. If any of our family are still in London, that’s where they’ll
“I think we
should stay here.”
where, Josh? In case you hadn’t notice, they set fire to our fucking house!”
A lump rose
into Josh’s throat, and he stared at the floor through blurry eyes. “I dunno. I
just want to make sure we’re here when Mum and Dad come back.”
words stabbed at his heart. “And what if they don’t come back?”
could reply, Archie put a hand on his shoulder. “Get down!”
with his brother behind a low wall, Josh listened to the sound of the
approaching voices. A couple of them were deep like men’s voices, but most of
them had the prepubescent squeak of children. Shivering in the cold, Josh
looked at his brother, who placed a finger over his closed lips. The
accompanying frown told Josh to shut the fuck up.
It was hard
to stay quiet with both the cold and adrenaline trying to wobble his body.
Stuttered breaths shot out of him and turned to condensation as the voices got
closer. He could suddenly hear their conversation.
we going now, Sam?”
don’t have any food.”
are we going to do about food?”
want to fight someone for it, then fuck all. I’m not against having a scrap,
but I don’t fancy our chances against fully grown men. We’ll find something
supermarkets have been picked clean.”
sound made Josh flinch. The second voice then said, “Ow! What was that for?”
being a cunt. Stop giving me problems. If you have some solutions, then share
them with the group. Otherwise, shut the fuck up!”
were getting closer. Josh and Archie had picked the wrong place to hide.
Forcing his eyes shut, Josh listened to the collection of footsteps scuffing
over the road surface.
well, what have we here?”
eyes, Josh saw a group of about twelve boys—half of them were from his school.
down at the pair, the boy who seemed to be leading the group smiled. “Archie
McCartney, how are you doing, mate?”
his brother, Josh watched Archie stand up and shake the boy’s hand. “How you
doing, Sam?” He then nodded at several others in the group, and a series of
head nods and flicks returned his gesture. Pointing down at Josh, Archie then
helped him to his feet. “This is my brother—Josh.”
held his hand out, Josh shook it but remained silent. There was something in
the way his brother held himself that told Josh this boy wasn’t to be trusted.
Archie said, “So what’s happening around here?”
forwards as if he hadn’t heard him correctly. “Huh?”
around, buildings burning, shops smashed, Archie waved a hand over the
devastation. “What’s happening here?”
you been for the last two weeks?” When Sam looked at the collection of boys, and
a couple of them sniggered.
at home, haven’t we, Josh?”
Dad told us not to go out, so we stayed in. They said there was trouble on the
more than fucking trouble, Archie. London’s fucked! After the economic crash,
everything went to shit.”
in the almost empty space and looked around. The dolls in the abandoned shop
looked weird naked and with some of their limbs missing. The store had been
picked clean save for a few dirty items of clothing on the floor. All that
remained was the long checkout desk. Most of the tills that should have been
bolted to it had been smashed off. A few lopsided signs hung from the Styrofoam
roof tiles saying things like ‘Two T-Shirts for £22’.
be here, Archie?” Josh asked, his voice echoing in the sparse room.
doesn’t look like somewhere we’re meant to be.” Pointing first at the stainless
steel rails, then at the empty display tables, Josh said, “It’s private
don’t exist anymore, Josh.”
doesn’t work. Without money, why would there be shops? When there’s no profit
to be made, no one gives a fuck about anything.”
mouth shut because he didn’t really know anything about business, Josh cleared
his throat. “I’m cold, Archie.”
“So am I.
We just have to deal with it.”
stung Josh’s eyes and his world blurred.
looked at him, he tutted. His face then softened and he put his arm around his
younger brother. “Don’t worry, mate. This is just a stopover on the way to
Nana’s. It’s only for one night. I want to make sure we’re off the streets
while it’s dark. The city isn’t safe.”
looking around again, the empty space lit up by the moon shining in through the
windows on the other side of the building, Josh shrugged. “Where are we going
to sleep? There are no beds or sheets.”
to sleep on the floor; it’ll only be for a night.”
ran down the length of Josh’s body. “But it’s cold, Archie.” When he saw Archie
ball his fists, he flinched, but the expected punch didn’t come.
Josh. Everything’s shit at the moment. It’s not all corn flakes and Saturday
morning cartoons anymore, okay? Things have changed. We just have to deal with
what’s going on the best we can.”
the grubby floor, Josh didn’t reply.
the lump in his throat, Josh finally nodded. “Okay, Archie.” Speaking more
quietly, he added, “Sorry.”
over to the window, Josh glanced out at the moonlit street. “It’s strange to
see Oxford Street without any lights, don’t you think?”
he continued to look around, Archie didn’t reply. Instead, he walked over to
the middle of the shop.
his brother, Josh asked, “Do you think Mum and Dad will be there?”
you think Mum and Dad will be at Nana’s?”
his brother for a second, his frown softening, Archie shrugged. “Who knows?”
we do if they’re not?”
think of something else. Everything’s changing, and we have to learn to adapt
if we’re going to stay alive.”
reply caught in his throat when he heard footsteps downstairs—a lot of footsteps.
eyes were wide as he looked at the broken escalator. He’d heard them too.
heard the sound of men’s voices, he started to shake. There were other voices, but
they sounded younger, a similar age to Josh.
footsteps clattered on the metal stairs, and Josh jumped when Archie hooked his
arm around him. They both stared. Waiting. There was nowhere to run.
first of the gang reached the top, Josh saw that he was no older than about
seventeen. When the rest of the gang appeared, filthy and dressed like savages,
Josh guessed that he was the leader because of his age. He was clearly the
oldest in the group of about twenty boys.
When he saw
them, the older boy stopped dead and put his arm out to prevent the others from
passing him. “Who the fuck are you?”
matter who we are,” Archie said, pushing Josh behind him.
his gang, the leader laughed and turned back to the pair. “Of course it fucking
matters. You’re in my shop, you mugs.”
pounding heart, Josh watched his brother clench his fists again. If it came to
it, Archie would smash the shit out of this boy. Archie was one of the
strongest people he knew, but could he take on all of them?
your shop. You don’t own it.”
shook his head and laughed again. “First night out on the streets, is it? What
happened? Your parents were taken away from you? Raped? Killed?”
at his brother, Josh teared up. “What are they talking about, Archie?”
hand on Josh’s shoulder, Archie looked back at the boy. “No. None of that
are you out on the streets on your own? Where are your parents?”
out. For food…” Josh’s stomach lurched when he heard the resignation in his
brother’s voice, “three days ago.”
boy next to him, who was no older than seven, the gang leader shoved him
forwards. “This is Reece. What happened to your parents, Reece?”
his eyes to the floor, Reece replied, “They went out for food.”
how long you waited for them to come back.”
the leader pointed at Reece. “We found this poor cunt starved half to death. He
was picking through bins for food.” Turning to his gang, he added, “Raise your
hands if your parents went out and didn’t come back.”
left Josh’s lungs as half the group raised their hands. Sad and hollow stares
levelled at him.
hands up if you think your parents are still alive.”
All of the
hands went down.
sneer, the leader laughed. “Your parents are dead, boy. Or worse! The sooner
you face it, the sooner you can focus on learning how to survive in this new
world. It’s shit out there, and you need to get streetwise pretty fucking
quick. I don’t mind you staying here just for tonight—we have fuck all worth stealing—but
I want you gone tomorrow. Understand?”
“Oh, and be
careful of the Tooth Fairy.”
Fairy?” The words had left Josh’s mouth before he’d thought about it, and
Archie shot him a dark glare.
laughed and shook his head. Brushing his shaggy hair away from his eyes, he
looked from one of the brothers to the other. “Oh dear, you have a lot to
learn.” Twisting so he could address his gang, the moonlight lighting up just
half of his face, the boy said, “The Tooth Fairy’s mental, ain’t he, boys?”
A lot of
the gang nodded and grunted noises of agreement.
this street at night, and he gets you when you’re sleeping. He slips into your
nightmares and makes sure you never wake up.” Lowering his voice, making Josh
lean forwards to hear better, the boy continued, “If you listen hard enough,
you can hear the jingle jangle of his pockets.” Pushing his finger to his lips,
he added, “Shhh. Listen.”
faintest sound of jangling came from outside, and the grin on the leader’s face
fell to the floor. “Oh fuck.” He turned to his gang and whispered, “He’s here.”
went into a near silent frenzy, all of them scattering across the shop floor
with the light pattering of shoes against tiles. They all positioned themselves
to watch from the windows. All of them hidden in the shadows.
head, Archie laughed. “They’re just trying to scare you, Josh.” Despite his
confidence, he still walked quietly to the last available window.
followed, the grit on the floor crunching beneath his feet. If they were trying
to scare him, they were doing a pretty good job.
doorway of an abandoned shop was a tramp covered in rags and blankets. He was
huddled in the corner for warmth, and he was surrounded by empty beer cans.
brother in tight, Archie leaned in so close that Josh could smell his stale
breath as he whispered, “See? There’s only a tramp out there. It must have been
his beer cans rattling in the wind.”
jangling continued, but everything surrounding the tramp was still. The sound
wasn’t one of aluminium on concrete; it sounded more like broken crockery in a
looked up the street and saw a man walking down the pavement, he grabbed his
brother’s arm. The slim figure had something hanging from his hand, and it
looked like a hammer. He was heading straight for the tramp. “What’s he going
to do, Arch?”
his finger to his lips.
walking man got closer, it was easier to see him clearly. He was wearing a
trench coat that looked damp, and Josh imagined it stinking of mould. Poking
out of the bottom of his trench coat were dark trousers and shoes. It was
impossible to see his face for shadow, and just when it looked like the moon
would reveal it, it fell into shadow again. The only thing Josh saw was his
stopped next to the tramp, and the jangling stopped too.
closer to his brother, Josh could feel that he was shaking too.
man lifted his weapon, the moonlight confirmed it was a hammer. In a blink, he
brought it down. Crunch! The tramp
didn’t have time to scream.
over the tramp, the Tooth Fairy threw several more wet thuds into the pile of
clothes in the doorway before standing back and panting.
To get a
better view, Josh stood up and moved closer to the window.
Fairy then pulled something from his trench coat pocket.
tramp’s damp rags aside revealed a dark, glistening mass of hair. The Tooth
Fairy leant in, and shoving the thing he’d pulled from his pocket into the
man’s face, he twisted. After two tugs and a wet pop, the Tooth Fairy stepped
pliers back in his pocket, he held the tooth up to the moon. It seemed like he
was watching it for an age before he shifted his gaze. His glare landed on
balls pulled tight, and it took all of his concentration to hold onto his
bladder. His heart pounded.
the tooth into his pocket, the Tooth Fairy continued staring. It was easy to
see the filthy man’s face now. Stubbly. Stained with blood. Hooked nose. Dark
eyes. Really dark eyes. Sticking his thumb out, he sneered as he drew it across
his throat like an imaginary knife. Staring for another minute or so, he then
walked away. The tingle of hundreds of teeth accompanied his footsteps.
Once he was
out of sight, Josh felt an explosion of pain in his right arm. “You fucking
Josh scowled at his brother. “Ow!”
you fucking doing? You were right in the fucking light. He’s seen you now!”
from the shadows and bringing the smell of dirt with him, the leader of the
gang said, “You know what that means, don’t you?”
air, Josh shook his head.
marked you, bruv.”
into the boy’s personal space, Archie said, “Don’t be fucking stupid.”
shrugged. “You don’t have to take my word for it, but I’ve seen it before.
You’ve been marked. The next time you close your eyes to sleep, you’ll hear the
jingle-jangle of the Tooth Fairy.”
your mate.” He pointed at Josh. “Especially now the Tooth Fairy’s seen him.”
Just fuck off, yeah?”
conversation stopped making sense to Josh as his world spun. He only realised
what they were doing when Archie grabbed his arm and said, “Come on. We’re
his brother to lead him down the escalator, Josh heard the boys shouting down
to them, “Sweet dreams!”
walked across the ground floor of the shop, chased out of the building by
laughter, Josh dug his heels in, making Archie stop. “Wasn’t he the man that
burned our house down?”
nodded. “Yeah, he was. Now let’s go before the lunatic comes back and burns
this place down.”
you said it wasn’t safe to walk the streets at night.”
face his brother, Archie grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “Listen to me.
Nowhere’s safe, Josh. Dad said something to me before he left. He said that
everything’s changing now—that we couldn’t trust anyone or anything. All we can
do is love one another. Make sure that the other one’s all right, and expect
change. He said he loves us—they both do.”
Josh said, “He also said they’d be back.”
have gone back. Maybe we’ve just missed them.”
we have done? Stayed in a burning house? The point is, he said we need to
adapt. Nothing stays the same; it just happens to be moving quicker now than
ever. Dad said as long as we love each other, then we’ll be okay. Love is
“I miss Mum
It was the
first time in a long while Josh had seen Archie cry. Wiping his eyes, his big
brother said, “I miss them too. I love you, Josh. Now let’s go before that
lunatic comes back. All we can do is focus on getting to Nana’s.”
sting of tears spreading across his eyeballs, Josh followed his brother out of