For lunch most days, Hatetooth the Ogre demanded a sandwich, and today was no exception.
‘BOY!’, he thundered in a voice that could (and did) crack stone, ‘MAKE ME A SANDWICH!’
Boy (he had had a proper name once, but it was long since forgotten) crawled out from his tiny pen inside the ogre’s throne of skulls. ‘Yes, master’, he said, voice soft, eyes cast down. ‘What would you like on it?’
‘WOLF MEAT! POISON IVY! FINGERNAILS! BLOOD JELLY! FEED ME, I’M HUNGRY!’
‘At once, master,’ said Boy, and backed out of Hatetooth’s terrible throne room, littered with bones and the rusty weapons of dead adventurers.
The throne room was at one end of a grisly corridor – called, in fact, the Grisly Corridor – and Boy scurried past the dead gaze of heads lined on spikes along either side. The rusty grating of the floor left stains on his dirty feet, and oily water frothed beneath as he carefully hopped and jumped across the frequent gaps torn open by Hatetooth’s gnarled hooves. All was silent except for the gurgle of the water, the hiss of hand-sized spiders as they watched Boy from their vast webs overhead, and somewhere, far away in the caverns below Hatetooth’s dreadful castle, the quiet sob of a child who would never go home again.
The sobbing used to be the worst part. But Boy got used to it, just as he got used to a lot of terrible things.
Red light oozed through portcullis bars as Boy made his way through the castle, passing through the Perilous Gorge, the Cave of Stakes, the Blood-Red Tunnels and all the oubliettes, torture chambers and stinking middens that Hatetooth had installed in his fortress. There were dangers aplenty there, and many little horrors and sad adventures to be found along the way, but Boy had been doing this for a long time, so it took only a little pain and a little terror before he arrived at last at the ogre’s Grim Larder.
First was bread, or what Hatetooth called bread, which was a block of bone meal mixed with sawdust and bull’s blood. Boy hacked off two pieces with a broken sword and laid them flat upon a stone. Then wolf meat, and Boy was just glad that he didn’t have to carve the flesh off the old, diseased wolf that Hatetooth kept penned up in the Larder. The ogre had done that himself, and the beast’s leg lay rotting on a plate while the maimed animal growled and whined in its cage.
‘I’m sorry, Wolf,’ Boy said, ‘but we’re all maimed in here.’ And he carved off some slices from the gamey leg and slapped them onto the bread.
The fingernails were the worst part, because they were still attached to the fingers, all severed and dumped in a hessian sack. The ogre liked fingers boiled slowly, so that the skin went soft and jelly dribbled out, and he would suck on them while watching crows fight over scraps on the killing floor of the castle. But he also liked the fingernails, and Boy started pulling them off and chopping them into little bits.
And then a quiet voice said ‘Hey,’ and Boy turned from the Grim Larder to see Scott from his class looking through the kitchen window.
‘Oh. Hey,’ Boy said, and closed the fridge door.
‘I was wondering if… some of us are going down to the football field to play some soccer for a while. Did you want to come?’
‘I, um. That, that sounds like fun.’ It did. It really did.
‘BOY!’ yelled a rough voice from the back of the house, cracked at the end by a smoker’s cough. ‘WHERE’S MY FUCKING LUNCH?’
Boy turned back to the window. ‘But I can’t, sorry. My dad, he…’
Scott nodded. ‘Yeah, okay. I just thought… okay. Another day, then.’
‘Yeah. Maybe. That’d be good.’
Scott looked off into any direction except at Boy’s black eye. ‘Everyone knows about your dad. Everyone in town knows what he’s like.’
‘I know. But they don’t do anything about it.’
‘Uh-huh. Look, you better go.’ Or you could do something and help me, Boy thought.
But Scott just nodded and said ‘Okay’, and then he was gone.
‘BOY! HURRY THE FUCK UP!’
‘Coming, dad,’ Boy called, and got back to the ogre’s ham sandwich while the three-legged dog whimpered at his feet. He finished chopping up the onions and then found some brownish lettuce in a bag. But he wasn’t done yet.
On the shelf next to the fridge was a shallow bowl full of loose change. Boy reached behind the bowl to find the bottle of sleeping pills that his father took on the infrequent nights he didn’t pass out at the table.
He took a pill – no, it was nightshade, deadly nightshade, that was better – and crushed it into powder between two spoons. Masked by a couple of squirts of Tabasco sauce and mixed into the relish, the poison would get into Hatetooth’s stomach and join the other doses that Boy kept slipping into his food.
And one day the ogre would keel over dead or unconscious and Boy would fly out the door, onto his bike or maybe a horse, and he would ride into the night and freedom and everything would be better and stories would have happy endings.
Maybe next week. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe today.
But probably not.
Once again you have Chuck Wendig and his regular Flash Fiction Challenge to thank for this story. A few weeks ago he asked readers to come up with a story that was just about making a sandwich but that was nonetheless filled with drama and conflict. As usual, I didn’t have time to get something done during the challenge period, but I liked the idea and wanted to get something done when I had the chance. And here it is. It doesn’t have much conflict, to tell the truth, but I think it has a fair amount of drama.
Originally this was just going to be a fantasy story about an ogre and a boy, but then the shocking twist suggested itself to me and it became a lot more interesting to write (and hopefully to read). And, to be honest, a bit more emotionally challenging to write; there are parts of this story that, while not exactly autobiographical, are still drawn from personal experience. But pretty much every story draws from personal experience in some way, so no need to make a big deal about it.
This story also gets added to my in-progress anthology Nine Flash Nine, which will have nine flash fiction stories for 99 cents. I’m past the halfway mark on that, and should be able to finalise it by… oh, let’s say a month or so after The Obituarist is published. Which will probably be early April, about a month after I had originally planned to get it out, but that’s what happens when you spend all of February writing giant fucking posts about book costings.
But anyway, that’s in the future, and ‘Boy’ is today. If you liked it, great! If you didn’t, blame Chuck.