of the Woods
It was about one in the morning, and the Old Man was stood close
to me at the counter. Out of eyeshot of the men working on our orders, he
stroked his hand over mine and I pulled it away.
“Ay, ay, none of that now,” I said to him, but I could not help
but smile. I was not drunk even though I had had a few pints. The Old Man on
the other hand…
He was dressed in a loose khaki anorak and those bizarre purple
trousers that only men of a certain age seem to be able to acquire, his tiny
feet tucked into pumps. He had sharp black eyes set in a crinkling face, his
skin a tan brown nearly matching his coat. He was like a snake carved out of
the leather satchel of an interwar schoolboy.
He’s good, said the Voice. Real,
“Yer a good boy aren’t yer?” the Old Man said, reaching
and grabbing my hand, me not resisting this time. His skin was like tissue
paper, smooth, but also weathered; warm, but not hot.
“Well,” I said, “I have my moments…”
The short South Asian guy put a wrapped up wad of meat and pitta
on the counter and looked at us with disgust. He probably wanted to condemn us,
to tell us to get out, but he held his tongue.
“Your kebab’s ‘ere mate,” he told the Old Man, but
ignored him, staring into my eyes.
He’s good, the Voice repeated. Real
“Don’t you want to get that?” I asked the Old Man, pointing
He reluctantly released me and got his food. I turned away from
him, putting both elbows on the counter, and watching the men work their pots
Surely feeling ignored, the Old Man walked away from me and stood
by the door, not moving. It was only a minute longer before my pizza was ready,
twelve inches with tikka and donner, extra onions, jalapenos, the works. I
picked up the box and went over to the door.
Do it, said the Voice.
I smiled at the Old Man and he broke out of his sulk and grinned
in return. We both went through the door, to the certain relief of the takeaway
On the street he huddled close as I flipped up the box lid and
savoured a pizza slice.
Be kind, said the Voice.
“Want one?” I asked the Old Man, tipping the box towards him.
“No thank you son,” he said.
We walked along the pavement for a few seconds, before he asked
me, “So, where d’you live?”
Don’t, said the Voice.
“Around,” I replied.
He seemed a little aroused by my evasiveness. Plastic bag hanging
from his right hand, he reached in and got back to stroking my hand. With a
pizza crust in my mouth I could hardly object, so I gave him some submission.
Kill this motherfucker, said the Voice. It’s
I spat the crust on the floor as we leisurely went around the
corner at the end of the row of shops, towards the crossroads between the
supermarkets, one yellow, one green. The air was icy humid, and a warm frost formed
on our faces, blending the humidity with our sweat.
“I have a place not too far,” said the Old Man, stopping.
I halted and looked into his face. I saw deep hope, a man in the
sexual trenches about to go over the top and win the big battle.
Work it, said the Voice. Do it.
“I’m not queer you know,” I confessed.
“Oh,” he croaked in defeat.
“But…” I said.
“There’s a ‘but’?” he asked.
I smirked and walked on, and he quickly caught up.
“The ‘but’?” he asked again.
“Surely ‘buts’ are your department,” I replied.
It took him a moment, but he got it and giggled like an
“That’s a good one,” he sniggered.
Target locked, said the Voice.
We continued to the main road, and began to cross over.
“What’s your name?” the Old Man asked.
Lie, said the Voice.
“Paul,” I lied. “I was named for my maternal grandad.”
“That’s nice,” he said. “Me name’s Mikey.”
This was also
probably a lie from his end, which is why I still call him ‘Old Man’.
“Good evening Mikey.”
“I think you could still come back to mine.”
“Maybe I could…”
That hope returned to his face full force.
Into the net, said the Voice. Do it.
Two main roads intersect at the crossroads, and we walked down
the road heading south besides the big green supermarket opposite the old mill.
We dragged our feet, quite literally in his case. He leaned against my right arm,
and I gave him some support, my pizza balancing on my left. We crossed the
bridge over the canal, along which lay, behind some workshops, a rough sequestered
scrubland of dense brush and trees.
In there, said the Voice.
“I have an idea Mikey,” I said slickly to the Old Man, and pointed
into the scrubland. “Maybe that’d be a good place to eat our food.”
He looked and said, “You know, I’ve had some good times in
“Really?” I asked.
Give him another, said the Voice.
“Maybe we can have you another,” I said, and his expression of
joy went off the radar.
We crossed the road and went up the gravel path behind the workshops
into the brush. The Old Man was so excited he was making little jumps up and down
as he walked, although I could not spy an erection from my position at his side.
Can’t get it up no more, said the Voice.
I smiled to myself and the Old Man asked what was up.
“Sorry,” I said, “my mind wandered.”
I allowed him to direct me off the path, through some bushes,
and into a small dirt clearing overlooking the thin river that ran from the hills
and under the high stone bridge the canal traversed. There was a large dry log
in the middle, and we sat ourselves down at the same time.
“Nice digs,” I said to him. I set my pizza on my knees and took
out another slice.
“So,” he said,
trying to think of something to say. “Have you ever heard of a band called
“Yes, I like them quite a lot,” I
replied in truth.
“Really? A young man like you? Into
“I’m really more of a Genesis man
Choke him on it, said the Voice.
“You sure you don’t want a slice Mikey?” I asked the Old
He ignored me, and, putting his kebab down on the log, pointed
to a corner of the clearing.
“Right there,” he said, “not five years ago, a boy of about
age fucked me up the arse, and then I turned around and I fucked him right up ‘is.”
Not likely gonna happen now, said the Voice.
“Impressive,” I said, with a touch of sincerity.
“Thinking about it really gets me going,” said the Old Man. “Really
gets me hot.”
“Whatever keeps you warm.”
He wrapped the bag up around his kebab and reached over to
stroke my knee. I twisted it away.
Not yet, said the Voice. Not yet.
“Easy big boy,” I said. “I’m still eating.”
The Old Man suddenly looked at me in a rage and stood up, his
bag dropping on the floor.
“Yer a fuckin’ tease,” he said with a squealing nastiness,
standing over me like an angry school teacher. “A blue-baller, leading me on, a
Nearly, said the Voice. Nearly
I put my pizza box on the log and got up. I put my hands on his
shoulders and laughed softly.
“Mikey my man,” I said in my nicest tone. “You’re
too forward, you’re not taking your
He calmed a bit and said, “I’m sorry, it’s just…”
“Just let me eat a bit more pizza, and then we’ll see.”
He nodded, and I sat back down. He remained standing.
Almost, said the Voice. Almost.
I ate a few more slices while the Old Man tried to pick up his
bag. The remains of his kebab slopped into the dirt, and he kicked it away in
“Easy, easy,” I said. “Save your juice…”
That got his attention, and he was soothed. He then turned from
me and looked to the river.
Now, said the Voice. There’s
a rock on the ground to your left. Do
I checked: the Voice was right. There was a large, coarse
whitish-grey rock, a few feet away in the dirt. I put the pizza box down on the
floor and stood up.
“Hey Mikey,” I said.
He started to turn and I said, “No, no, no, don’t turn around.”
He obeyed and turned back.
“I’ve got something to show you,” I said. “Something
“Oh, oh right,” he said. His hands tightened into fists in
“Just give me a moment.”
Tease, said the Voice.
I moved over to the rock, and when I stopped, I unzipped my fly as
loudly as I could, while leaving me my modesty.
The Old Man’s little jumps returned, desperate to see.
Easy now, said the Voice.
“Nearly there,” I said, and I quickly stooped and picked the
rock up, a solid piece of limestone, about fifteen pounds in weight.
I went over to the Old Man in big strides, lifting the limestone
high above my head.
Fucking do it! screamed the Voice. DO
“Here it is Mikey!” I announced. “Turn around!”
The Old Man spun around with a massive grin, which carried on even
as I caved in his forehead. He fell flat on his back.
Stupid fucking pervert bastard! the Voice yelled in
triumph. Fell for the oldest trick!
After the hit I dropped the rock, and I leaned over the Old Man
to search for any signs of life. I could not hear or see anything in the weak
light of the stars, but just to be sure I picked the rock back up dropped it on
his head, two, three, four more times. When I was done his face looked like a
toddler’s bolognaise dinner, and I was fairly satisfied that our tango would
remain a secret, at least from his perspective.
Shake him, said the Voice.
I emptied out the Old Man’s pockets, finding a ten pound note,
some change, his keys, and a bus pass, but no ID or bank cards. I put the money
in my wallet, and pocketed the keys and bus pass.
The canal, said the Voice. Quickly
I put the rock on the Old Man’s chest and carefully dragged him through
the woods. As I made our journey, the Voice began to sing:
I met a little girl in Knoxville,
a town we all know well
And every Sunday evening, out
in her home, I'd dwell
We went to take an evening walk
about a mile from town
I picked a stick up off the ground
and knocked that fair girl
The Voice was right: the canal was not too far, only about fifty
feet. I lay the Old Man on the edge and looked around. There were no moored
boats in view, and across the canal, up the embankment, there was a sheet metal
structure that looked as dead as the corpse did.
Rock first, said the Voice. Then
keys. Then him.
I kneeled over the water with the rock and let it gently slip
out of my hands and into the black nothing, followed by the keys. I then turned
the Old Man over and let him slide in quietly face first. He was very floppy
and uncooperative, but I managed to feed his legs over the edge and kick him
out into the canal’s weak stream, which began to take him away into the night,
into the less travelled waterways, the unkempt mires festered by poor
management. I watched him go, and as he was almost out of sight I could not
help but wave him goodbye.
The Voice then started to sing again, continuing the song:
I took her by her golden curls and I drug her round
Throwing her into the river that flows through Knoxville town
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl with the dark and rolling eyes
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl, you can never be my bride…
I made my way back to the clearing, and saw that the pizza box had
somehow got spattered with the Old Man’s blood, distorting the red of the
The river, said the Voice.
I picked it up, and, with a spinning motion, flung it into the
river, where it washed away downstream.
And you? asked the Voice.
I checked my clothes: the trousers and boots were mercifully
free of blood, but my black jacket with the shoulder tabs had a wide splash
across the right-hand breast.
Be rid, said the Voice.
I was upset: I liked this jacket a lot.
I picked up the Old Man’s bag that contained his kebab remnants,
and I walked back to the path. I took the opposite way through the scrubland,
heading towards the council estate near my house.
After a five minute stroll, I left the woods and went across the
football pitches, reaching an alley. I took off my jacket and stuffed it into
the bag, before shoving it into one of those large communal green wheelie bins,
covering it with a full bin bag from off the floor.
You’ve done this before, said the Voice.
I was freezing, but I would just tell my mother tomorrow that I
had been drunk and lost it, as I had done in the past with other articles of
clothing. I checked my t shirt, and found no blood. The betrayed jacket had
served me very well. I walked home through the dark, snaking through streets
unnoticed, the rest of the town at peace. Just before I arrived I dropped the
Old Man’s bus pass down a drain and let the sewers vanish it. A rain was
starting to fall which would wash any footprints and loose blood in the
Your boots, said the Voice. Don’t
forget your boots.
I came in through the back gate, took off my boots and rinsed
them clean with the garden hose. I then went inside, leaving the shoes in a
corner of the kitchen.
Don’t be careless, said the Voice. Don’t
I checked all of my clothing again, stripped anyway, and put
them in the washing machine to be hung up in the morning.
Don’t be hungover tomorrow, said the Voice. You
things to do.
As I got upstairs with a pint glass of water, I poked my head
through my mother’s bedroom door: she had been drinking with me a few hours
ago, but could never stand much more than a couple of lagers, and almost always
returned home long before me. In the hazy light provided by the streetlamp coming
through the window, I could make out her snoring, spectral figure. I then
brushed my teeth and got into bed, sipping the water, and soon joined her in slumber.
I woke up the next day and got on with the rest of my life.
As did I, says the Voice.
Along with previously in Black
Petals, Harris Coverley has had
more than seventy short stories published across dozens of periodicals,
including Curiosities, Hypnos, Penumbric Speculative Fiction
Magazine, and Rivanna Review. A former Rhysling nominee, he has also
had over two hundred poems published in journals around the world. He lives in