Flight of Fantasy
By Martin Taulbut
enough to follow Lorimer outside, at first. Upon seeing what awaited them on
the patio table, though, the little boy’s face fell. A clear folder labelled
‘English.’ A pencil case. Nothing else.
laptop, Uncle James?’
said Lorimer. Unbuttoning the folder, he pulled out a brick-coloured jotter, opened
it and laid it down on the table. ‘Here we are…’
tablet,’ said Max.
front of his nephew.
he said. ‘We’re
doing this now. Remember? You promised. If you could play your flying game this
morning, we’d finish your homework now.’
minutes,’ protested Max. ‘Five minutes.’
nephew picked up a stubby grey pencil without enthusiasm. Max stared glumly at
the neat, childish sentences confronting him.
lad. Now. Where
did we leave off?’
read the opening
passage. ‘Timmy was on holiday with his Mum and Dad and his wee sister Gemma
and their dog Marley. One fine sunny day, Timmy took Marley for a walk to the
‘And what happens next?’
mysterious island and go to it and have an adventure.’
what we talked about, but remember, you have to write a bit more than that?
Remember? Your teacher wanted more ‘wow’ words.’
unconvinced. He leaned forward, his elbows on the glass, and began to write:
looked at the
cyan water. Suddenly Marley began to bark and suddenly Timmy realised they
could see an island. So they swam over to it and found some treasure.
I get my
tablet now?’ asked Max, plaintively.
for effort, mister! See, you have to show the reader what’s happening. How do
they get across to the island?’
darted about the patio and potted plants, searching for enlightenment. ‘They
head. ‘No, Max, that’s silly, isn’t it? It’d be too far for them to swim,
wouldn’t it? Timmy and Marley? Could you swim that far?’
protested Max. ‘Without my wings. Daddy taught me last year.’ He looked annoyed
at the slight on his character.
can swim,’ said Lorimer. But Timmy and Marley…well, it’ll be a long, long way.
Especially for wee Marley, he’s a puppy.’
could do a
doggy paddle,’ giggled Max. To illustrate, he curved his hands into paws and
flapped them while he stuck out his tongue. ‘Yap, yap, yap-’
good,’ said Lorimer. ‘But maybe…I don’t know, they find something like a, a-’
Max. ‘A seaplane. A DeeCeeThree! Like in our game-’
likely, is it?’ said Lorimer. ‘Finding a sea-plane-’
it’s my story, Uncle James.’
glanced at his
phone. Quarter to twelve. They needed to speed things along. Leaning forwards, Lorimer
used the eraser to scrub away Max’s last sentence. He blew the fragments of rubber
from the paper. Probably as neat as he could hope for.
the rest of the notes? He clipped open the folder and pulled out some loose
sheafs of paper. Someone had marked these up already, in blue ballpoint pen.
Ideas, perhaps? He skimmed the first one.
stood on the crumbling,
whitewashed steps overlooking his brother’s back garden. He shivered in the chill
dawn mist: above him, mottled grey clouds scabbed over the sky. A pair of
smallish, brown birds pecked at the stale crusts, arranged like lights on a
landing strip on the lawn. (Wrens? Sparrows? His father would have known). Their
bright chirrups cut into him. Gulls screamed. He looked up and saw them
circling, fresh from the river. Why had he come out here? To breathe for one
last time, before everything collapsed. Not to feel: he felt enough, dull dread
until the doctors’ final diagnosis confirmed his culpability? Five. Four.
God, let Maxie
shriek of the
gulls was louder now. Within their squall, a separate note emerged. A distorted
call, broken up and muted by the wind. As if-
of the gulls
broke away from the flotilla and began to descend. As it swooped down, its
wasn’t a bird.
arms, that pale little face, that dark fringe. Protruding from the shoulders, sinewy,
twisted canopies of gristle and bone beat relentlessly.
at me Uncle
James!’ shrieked Max. Each remorseless, hateful flap of the things violating
his back made the little boy’s face twitch in pain. ‘I can fly!’
looked up from the page. Who had written this? He turned to Max, but his
nephew’s chair was vacant. Turning, he saw the boy was on the grass, arms
extended, whirling around in imitation of a helicopter.
at me Uncle
James! I’m spinnin’, I’m spinnin’, I’m spinnin-’
enough now,’ Lorimer said sternly.
stop. ‘I’m spinnin’, I’m spinnin’, I’m spinnin’-’
said, raising his voice. ‘Let’s get this over with.’
pouted. ‘But I
was just playing, Uncle James.’
you can play later,’
said Lorimer. He heard the note of exasperation in his own voice, the dog on
the leash. ‘As soon as we finish your homework.’
towards the patio table and sat down. He picked up the little grey pencil and
leaned over the paper.
rubbed it all out, what I wrote!’ protested Max. ‘That’s not fair.’
you could add
your sentence in, remember? They found a boat-’
right, they find
a seaplane. Write that down. In your own words. Best handwriting, remember.’
the wearied labour
of a monk illuminating a manuscript, the little boy etched the page.
And then what do they do?’
across to the island,’ said Max.
that down next.’
the paper filled up with text. Lorimer glossed over the neglect of
capitalisation and the cavalier punctuation. Get all the bricks in place,
then we can worry about the decoration afterwards. Maxie’s flourishes made
him proud. The loops-de-loop. The leap from the plane, Timmy carrying the
little dog Marley in his arms (there was only one parachute on board). Heart-warming.
Now they were at the treasure chest itself.
it open and inside all the precious stones were there, gold and green emeralds
and cyan sapphires and bloody red rubies-’ Max giggled, then stopped,
suddenly solemn. ‘I’d better take that out. It’s a bad word.’
context,’ said Lorimer. ‘I mean remember your ‘wow’ words, Maxie. You want to describe
things for your readers, you can’t expect them to fill in the gaps.’
‘I think I should take it out anyway.’
over the table, earnestly scrubbing out his mistake and redrafting. When he
finished, the little boy looked up, beaming. ‘There. Done. Can I play on my
tablet now, Uncle James?’
on,’ said Lorimer.
He pointed out the absent capitals, the missing periods, and commas. ‘We need
to sort these out, don’t we?’
‘Can’t you do it, Uncle James?’
to refuse, but then saw the boy’s face, full of hope. He nodded, then quickly
went through the passage, making the edits.
the meantime, Max
had moved away from the desk and begun to whirl round on the grass again. Once
more, Lorimer felt his temper flaring:
right now! Get your bottom back in that seat!’
flight. His mouth gaped. Tears appeared at the corners of his eyes. Lorimer
C’mon,’ said James. Softer now. ‘C’mon.’
me, Uncle James,’ Max said.
were being so silly…’ Lorimer offered lamely.
crumpled. ‘I was playing, Uncle James. It’s not a school day. I’ve done all
that, you said I could play if I finished this last bit-’
Maxie,’ Lorimer said. He went over and gave the wee boy a cuddle.
skinny the boy
was: Lorimer felt his nephew’s bones.
you need to
do an ending, remember? A twist that’ll make people go ‘whoah, Max Lorimer’s
written a really tip-top story there-’
Max tried to
interject, but his uncle ploughed on:
it is really
good, your Mummy and Daddy and Granny will be really pleased, and I’m really
pleased. But just this last bit, ok?’
dabbing at his damp cheeks with his sleeve.
how do they
get home? May-be…maybe Marley’s digging for a bone-’ Lorimer squatted on his
haunches, scrabbing at the grass. ‘-and he digs them a tunnel to freedom…’
Uncle James. Wait. I know what they could use...’
could stop him, the little boy jumped up and ran across the grass, towards the garage.
Lorimer wasn’t worried. After The Big Clear Out a few years back, they’d installed
a couple of cupboards to stow the bladed tools away. Nothing left but old toys
and some leisure equipment. Wasn’t there an old inflatable dinghy there? That
would be it.
focused on making
the corrections, trying to forge his nephew’s script. That looked better. There
must be usable notes here somewhere. As he flicked through the jotter, a folded
piece of paper fell out. He bent down, picked it up and opened it up. That same
blue ballpoint ink.
drenched in sweat, to the screams of seagulls. Christ. What a nightmare. The
back bedroom of his brother’s home was stuffy and overheated. This side of the
house trapped the summer sun’s rays, focusing them into his quarters. He’d
taken to leaving the top windows open, to provide some ventilation at least. But
the curtains hung lifeless and stiff, unmoved by any breeze.
duvet, he swivelled around and sat on the edge of the bed. He remembered the
promise to his brother the night before, to help Max with his homework. Maths
this time. No problem. Maths was a doddle. Maths was fun!
squabbling drifted through the open window:
little girl’s voice, his niece Jade. Aggrieved, with all the imperious weight
of a slighted, older sibling.
vehement, with all the indignant soft power of a frustrated younger sibling.
and totally out of battery…’
pull on his clothes. A car door slammed as he shucked the T-shirt over his head.
As he drew the curtains, he saw his brother Michael plod away from the vehicle.
One of the newest electric models: with the silence, you didn’t get much
hand: his brother reciprocated with a distracted nod
was on the
kitchen steps again, watching Max. His nephew was whirling across the lawn,
arms extended like helicopter blades.
spinnin,’ I’m spinnin’!’ shouted Max. ‘Watch me, Uncle James, watch me!’
the garden. Still the gulls cried out.
slowed. The little boy kept dropping his left arm and pressing his fingers to
his lumbar, wincing. He puffed to a halt, brow wrinkling, the cheeky grin
doggy, Uncle James,’ said Max. ‘Bow. Wow. Ow. Ow-’
himself standing on the lawn behind Max, looming over the boy. His nephew was hiding
his face, curled up tight to protect himself against monsters. Lorimer reached
out to touch his nephew’s shoulder-
stumps burst through the boy’s shoulder blades, swelling, expanding, and
parodies of wings spread across the garden, stained with blood. Sobbing now. It
wasn’t clear where it was coming from, boy or man or-
called Max. ‘Look what I found!’
murmured Lorimer. ‘…Is it a treasure chest?’
concrete, followed by a tinny clang, made him look up. Lorimer turned. Bit by
bit, Max was dragging an old trampoline from the garage. The thing was beyond
neglected. Its springboard mat, slung over its hexagonal frame, was filthy. Grime,
splashes of spilled oil and smeared birds’ droppings stained its blue tarpaulin.
A thick layer of orange rust coated its legs, with the springs securing the mat
to the frame in even worse shape. Still Max persisted, hauling the apparatus
out onto the driveway. Lorimer jumped up quickly and hurried over to his
said. ‘What are you doing?’
I have a go,
Uncle James?’ pleaded Max. ‘Please?’
I don’t know
Max. It looks dangerous. Maybe we should wait until your daddy gets here.’
complained Max. He paused, thoughtful for a moment. ‘We…we could do it on the
grass. And you’ll be watching me, a riz-ponsible adult. Please?’
gazing up at
his uncle with pleading eyes. And that did it.
a wee shot-’
to be careful, okay? Promise?’
dragged the ancient trampoline onto the grass. Lorimer pushed its legs into the
ground, trying to make it level. Behind him, Max stood in his socks, hopping
impatiently from one foot to another.
Lorimer, straightening up.
the mat: the coils strained.
watched, his nephew stood up and started to bounce. Gently at first: then
growing bolder, leaping higher. A steady rhythm of squeaks spilled from the
springs. As the boy built up speed, twisting and tumbling, bouncing higher, the
pitch changed. Anxiety welled up in Lorimer. What if they snapped?
James! Watch me!’ shouted Max with glee. ‘I can do a forward roll, see?’
muttered Lorimer. ‘…that’s too much Max, c’mon.’
said Max. He
gave a final flourish, an impressive pirouette and then-
he came down,
stumbled, missed the mat, and smacked down hard, striking his head as he fell. For
a moment, both uncle and nephew froze. Then the little boy sat up and began to
wail. Lorimer rushed over, feeling sick.
voice sounded like a stranger’s. ‘Maxie! Are you all right?’
the little boy. He put his hand up to the base of his skull. Tears streamed
down his cheeks. ‘It’s all sore…Oww…’
you supposed to do? Move them, not move them? Panic rising, Lorimer reached for
his mobile. Christ. Still on the glass-topped table. He rushed over, snatched
it up and dialled 999, running back to re-join Max.
little boy had
been sick. Tar-coloured vomit and toast crumbs pooled on the lawn beside him. More
stained the front of his T-shirt. Precious little scrambled egg, Lorimer’s
brain noted, idly.
services, which service do you require? Fire, Police or Ambulance?’
ambulance!’ said Lorimer, voice quavering.
And in the skies
above, the gulls circled and screamed.