Noah Green 2019
20 Years Later: The Swan
Ernie hefted the crowbar. “Ready?” he grunted. Raymond had already pulled on his balaclava and was passing his sawn-off shotgun from hand to hand. They were well prepared, as they always were. “For twenty years, we’ve been skittering ‘round like rats in them gutters. Tonight, we’ll get us a bit o’ cash, then we’ll take a runner out t’ Vegas.” The cops had been getting closer every time they did a job. Showing up just after the scene, storming safe houses and hard fronts and just being a pain in general. Ernie and Raymond had been living as outlaws ever since the dropped out of school. Over the years, they’d made a crew for themselves, Rounder’s boys, stealing arms, cash, drugs, anything they could get their dirty hands on and selling it. But tonight they had ‘rounded’ up 20 odd guys, given them weapons and planned a stick up at the big bank in town. Then they would ship out on Grey’s boat and leave the country.
Peter had been busy he’d been working all week, day and night, with the governor of trade and the governor of economy to ensure that the transfer went smoothly. His massive chain of banks and other businesses were going to become national in the next fortnight. He’d had all sorts of problems but not anything like the problems he faced 20 years ago. Now Swan’s Banks had given him all he needed. He was finishing up for the night after working all day. Better get home, he thought to himself. Martha’s probably waiting for me. He swung around on his chair, grabbed his bag and headed for the door as he headed out with the guards, welcomed and instructed the night shift, he heard what sounded suspiciously like a rifle. And he knew what a rifle sounded like...
Ernie struggled to drag the body into the skip and shrugged the limp body into the cold dark space below. In some ways, Ernie envied him. Ernie would be on the run from the law all his life if this worked out. Unlike Gregg, (it had said on the name tag) who would be spending his night in a skip after being knocked on the head but his life would still be on the whole, far better. “Oi!” As Ernie thought about this he had walked right into Raymond as he hid around the corner from Peter. “I swear I’ve heard ‘im before …” Raymond trailed off as they both heard a croaky voice say “Of course, Mr Peter Watson, Sir”. The two grown men both remembered the day when their reputation had begun and were suddenly those dangerous, angry boys again. They jumped out from around the corner.
“Of course, Mr Peter Watson, Sir”
“Thank you Charles. I’ll see you in the morn-”
“Stick ‘em up!” roared Ernie as he jumped out and started waving the barrel of the gun from side to side as he remembered doing 20 years ago.
“No.” Just that simple word told Ernie that times had changed. This was no longer a little nerd in high school, scared of everyone and everything, also known as ‘easy prey’. This was a man.
“Cuff them.” Peter ordered. Suddenly guards jumped seemingly out of the walls and thin air cuff each man at least three times. As Ernie and Raymond were taken outside they saw all the men they had rounded up speaking to the police. “Snitches!” Raymond burst out. “Why, when I get my hands on you I’ll-” he was cut short by a crack to the back of the head. Peter came around in front of the tied-up Ernie. ‘You’re a prisoner,’ Peter said in an uncanny mimic of Ernie’s voice 20 years ago. ‘And you ain’t just no ordinary prisoner neither. You’re a theif. And you know what ’appens to spies when they get caught, don’t you? They get put up in prison and left to rot.’
I always used to like swimming. Now I am horrified by the thought.
I was strolling along the river bank, as I always do in those hot summer days, not too far from my house, thinking about nothing really. I always felt safe there, even when those huge black barges went storming by, blocking the view and destroying the tranquillity. I often saw other people swimming along the slow-paced river, just dodging when those barges came rushing past.
One day I was so annoyed at these boat stealing my safe place that I decided to swim, just to show them that I wasn’t scared of them. The water felt nice and cool at first, until I noticed the tremors. There were faint tremors running through the water, almost seeming to warn me. I looked out at the bank and saw the hot, dry, parched land, and thought that it would be fine if I stayed here for a bit longer. I could always get out, I thought. I was very wrong. I went under the cool, fresh water, just for a second. Then sun was blocked out by a massive cold object that rushed above me, coming so close to my head that the only thing that stopped this huge barge from beheading me was the massive tremors shaking me and the whole river. When I surfaced, spluttering helplessly, all I saw was the shrinking barge behind me, the hot, sandy shore, and the next barge, already sending tremors through the water…
When I was growing up, the trees were all 30 metres tall and spread out everywhere. No one seemed to pay them any attention, just moving along with their lives. Some even enjoyed the way they smothered the sky and seemed to close in all around us. Only a few of my friends and I seemed to care about the way they stood there looming, seemingly taking over every part of our lives. We started pulling branches down and cutting into the trunks, just to show that they couldn’t control us. As we grew up we became more serious and started using chainsaws, axes and pruning saws to further widen our view of the sky.
One day my friends and I went all the way. We went to the local park and started cutting away at the base of the biggest tree we could find. It was huge! It took half the day to just cut a purchase for the chainsaw in that monster of a tree. Throughout the whole day people rushed up to us and tried to talk us out of saving their lives. “What are you doing?!” they yelled. “Don’t do it!” they cried. One time, a two or three year old squealed with horror and ran up to one of my friends before his mother could stop him. “Please don’t hurt that tree!” he pleaded. My friend’s only response was to push him away toward his mother and mutter “It’s for your own good.” That night we worked and worked. To avoid falling asleep and drowning in our own sweat, we took turns at hacking at the massive tree. When the sun finally rose and shone on all we had done, we were devastated. All of our efforts of the last day and night amounted to only a little sliver off the side of the humungous tree.
Over the next few years, my friends and I chopped at the tree irregularly and with less and less enthusiasm, until we eventually gave up on destroying this massive, peaceful creatures. Now, as I lie on my deathbed, surrounded by my fellow conspirators, I write this memoir to remind you all about the appreciation that these monsters deserve…
The Walled Life
When I was a kid, the neighbourhood had a massive wall around it. It was warm and soft to touch, and often people had picnics and barbeques next to it. No-one knew how thick it was, what it was made of or who put it there. There was always big strong guards on top of the wall, just standing there, covered in their smooth, golden armour. The other kids and I used to talk to them and ask them about what was on the other side of the wall. All the ever said was ‘It’s probably better you didn’t know.’ When we kicked a ball too high and it went up on top of the wall, the guards would always throw it back down to us, or when there was any other type of problem that we just couldn’t solve, they would nudge us gently in the right direction with a smile in their eyes. They seemed like they were there just for us and to help us in every way they could. But that all changed one day, a few years later. My friends and I were playing around with a ball and we threw it way too high and it went up onto the wall. We waited around for the guards to throw it back, and for the ball to come tumbling back to us, like it always did. It never came.
We waited for hours for the ball to come falling back to us, but still, it never arrived. We started thinking about what on earth could be taking them so long. After many hours, just as the sun was going down, and we heard a low creaking, groaning sound as the wall impossibly parted, leaving only a small slit, but through that small crevice we could see a massive blue city with blue turrets and blue buttresses and blue towers. Some of us turned around and went straight back to safety, but some of us, including me, were curious about what was on the other side of the wall after a lifetime of containment and control, sick of being safe and guarded. We headed through in single file, with the moon shining high in the night sky, the blue city ahead shining as we got further and further along, more and more people turned back until there was only a handful left. It took a while as we walked through the rough crack in the massively thick wall. But as this curious handful of boys walked along toward the blue city, they realised that it was completely it chaos. There was bedlam as armed men rushed around, crippled and injured people cried out for help and many still bodies lying around in all states of decomposition.
We stood there in shock and horror, as all the warriors skidded to a stop and looked at us. The most horrifying bit was that even all the rotting corpses rolled over and opened their eyes to look at us as they stood up. They all watched us, seeming almost paused, as they stared at us. Then, all at once, they pounced toward us.
We spun and sprinted back through the moon-lit ravine, this time sprinting our hearts out as the swarm of half decaying maniacs rushed toward us. We scraped our shoulders on the jagged walls of the ravine. As we raced through the crevice, the sharp and harsh points on either side started to move closer and closer, with us and the swarm behind us still inside. I ran faster than I had had though possible. My lungs threatened to burst as I almost flew along, my friends just ahead of me, with the jagged walls of the ravine still getting closer. I could see the end where I grew up and should have stayed in and– It was at that exact moment that one of the ever gaining swarm grabbed my ankle. I fell flat on my face. The others all ran ahead. The walls kept slowly moving in. I thought ‘It’s over.’ I can still remember that moment, as I rolled over it defeat, seeing the gold covered figure of the guard hauling back to safety, just as the wall slammed shut. I could just see the sun peeping over the wall on the other side. I looked up at him and he held our ball out to me and said gently, ‘I’m glad to have you back.’ We ran back as fast as we could toward the safe, guarded community that we had known for as long as we could remember.