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Thicker Than Water- a short story
‘Thicker Than Water’
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
Tim skidded with accomplished skill over the slippery, polished tiled floor and through the screen door at the back of the kitchen, sending the door crashing against the house with a loud clatter. His eyes were determined and fixed firmly on his escape route. His only wish was that he’d remembered to grab his ‘Indiana Jones’ hat from the bedroom, but there was just no time.
He athletically launched himself over the railing of the rear deck and landed heavily, but upright onto the grass, the poor blue-tongued lizard in his left hand dangling helplessly, but having been saved from a cruel and painful death.
Larry, Tim’s nemesis and horrid elder brother, suddenly emerged onto the back decking and rushed to the railing to see his fleet-footed sibling disappear into the undergrowth at the back of their property.
‘I’ll get you, you little puke!’ he screamed, standing there with his sling shot in hand and with an impassioned look of disdain.
Larry, who was a shit of a brother, or so Tim thought, spent his every waking moment trying to make Tim’s life a living hell. Tragically, Tim was Larry’s ultimate target, getting his jollies by continually unleashing his vindictive nature at his brother’s expense. But when it came to living things, Tim wouldn’t take a bar of Larry’s penchant for cruelty and in fact became his mortal enemy, willing to do anything to free the innocent, at any cost.
With each intervention, Tim knew what sort of retribution awaited him, but he just couldn’t stand by and watch some twisted, mindless torture. The last time it happened Tim had barreled his brother over, just as he was about to squeeze the trigger of his slug gun and take down a harmless Lorikeet. It was such a beautiful bird and Tim couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to kill something so ultimately harmless and magnificent. To Tim, Larry was an enigma. He was not like anyone else, but whatever he was, Tim wanted little to do with him.
Unfortunately, during the holidays and from the hours of 9am until 4pm, when their mum Sally came home from work, Larry, at the age of fifteen, was ironically in charge. Tim, all of eight, generally spent most of his time keeping away from his brother, but Larry had a way of getting to Tim and it wasn’t always so easy to do.
Tim hid behind one of the large ghost gums down the back, its trunk being twice his own girth. He stood there stroking his reptile friend, panting like a dog and hoping that Larry wouldn’t follow. Tim was only a skinny kid with freckles galore and straight light brown hair cut in a sort of bowl cut. Larry often called him ‘coconut’, never letting the opportunity for insult go by. However that kind of abuse never bothered Tim, he’d long gotten over such paltry juvenile attempts.
After a few minutes and having checked that the coast was clear, Tim wandered down to the creek, now feeling safe and sure that Larry couldn’t be bothered following him into the bush. Larry wasn’t into nature like Tim was, finding his only interest in decimation rather than conservation. He also hated bugs and the bush was simply full of them. At least this was the one real sanctuary for Tim and he knew every inch of this secret domain.
It was a fine summer’s day and the light trickled down through the thick green ceiling of leaves above, creating spots of light on the textured cover of mulch that lay in between the massive white trunks dotting the area. Tim looked up to see a glimmer of blue through the canopy above and breathed in the fresh moist air and earthy fragrance of the bush. He just loved being surrounded by nature and even Larry couldn’t detract from the experience.
Tim knelt down and gently placed the lizard onto a pile of leaves and it scurried away to safety and to lose itself in the familiar surroundings.
‘One for you little friend,’ he whispered, flexing his muscles in a victorious pose, having once again thwarted the evil Larry.
Back in the house, Larry sat cross-legged on the lounge-room floor, playing ‘Death Star’ on the Playstation. His nose was all crinkled up and his eyes were like two slits as he gritted his oversized front teeth and systematically blew the life out of anything that entered his field of vision. He fleetingly looked down at his watch and realised that it would soon be lunchtime and Tim would have to come home. He was looking forward to that.
Meanwhile Tim was sitting by the creek, throwing twigs into the gentle flow and watching them drift slowly down toward the lower plateau and eventually further on down to the falls. While sitting there rubbing his toes in the coarsely grained sand he looked up and saw a spider clinging rather precariously to a small branch floating by and quickly rescued it, gently placing it down on the coarse trunk of a small nearby pine. He smiled broadly as it happily stepped onto the trunk to dry itself in a small shard of light.
Tim had a deep connection with the bush. It was the one place he felt really safe since his dad had died and had found solace in its peace and tranquility. It was his escape from the harshness of reality and a way of cleansing and reaffirming his own strength and ability to cope.
Larry certainly hadn’t helped with his constant demeaning and vengeful over-reactions, but he was only responding to the situation, as best he could. Unfortunately for Tim, he more than anyone, had to bear the brunt of it, but for as young as he was little Tim understood a great deal more than you would expect from a boy of his age.
Tim was getting hungry as the sun made its way into middle sky, but he thought it best to wait this one out, despite the constant growling in his stomach. Instead he took a walk downstream, something he hadn’t done for ages. He found a large opened seed- pod and cleverly attached a gum leaf to it and created a sailboat, launching into the rippling water and following it down as it bumped and jostled around in the miniature rapids.
As he stepped over a large moss covered log and onto a sandy bank on the other side, trying desperately to keep up with his speeding boat, he gasped with fright, confronted by a rather grubby looking man. Both of them had hardly expected company and stood there wide-eyed and motionless for a moment. Tim edged back. ‘Stranger Danger, Stranger Danger’ he heard repeatedly echoing through his mind.
The man’s hard eyes were scrutinising every inch of young Tim. He wore threadbare clothing, with an old brown three-quarter coat over the top. Tim immediately thought how odd that was in the summer temperatures.
The man scratched his stubbled chin and grinned. ‘Wasn’t expectin company,’ he said, trying to be friendly. ‘Ya Mum must be wonderin where you are, all the way down here.’
Tim looked around and saw that the man had been camping there; had been sleeping there too. Then without thinking, he answered.
‘Mum’s at work,’ he replied.
‘Ah, so ya take care of yaself, eh? A self-reliant man,’ he said nodding with approval.
Tim half smiled, feeling less threatened and straightened himself up a little.
‘Come and sit down then. Us self-reliant men should stick together, don’t ya think?’
The man sat down next to his campfire and took the lid off a billy that was strung across the flames. ‘Tea’s almost ready. How do ya have it?’
Tim, who had never been asked that before, grinned and stepped over the narrow passage of water onto the man’s makeshift campsite.
‘Lots of sugar,’ Tim replied. ‘And strong, I like it strong.’
‘Of course ya do, son. What else?’
‘The name’s Hatcher,’ the man announced, as he poured some tea into a crusty enamel mug and handed it to Tim. ‘Got a name?’
Tim took the hot mug and sat down on the grey sand on the opposite side of the fire. ‘I’m Tim, I’ll be nine next birthday.’
Hatcher smiled. ‘I bet ya Mum and Dad think you’re Christmas,’ he said, taking a slurp of his tea. Tim followed his lead but then tried to hide his shocked expression at the pure bitterness of the brew.
‘My Dad died, had a heart attack,’ said Tim sadly.
‘Just got a Mum now.’
‘Was that ‘is watch, ya got there?’
‘How did you know that?’ asked Tim with surprise.
‘Just a hunch, a kinda expensive watch for a nippa. Ya Mum must ‘ave a few bob. Old Dad had insurance did he?’
Tim wasn’t quite sure why this man was asking all these questions and suddenly felt a little uneasy.
‘I best be getting back home, my big brother will be worried,’ said Tim placing the mug on the sand and rising to his feet. Hatcher stood up and put out his hand.
‘Well son, it was certainly nice to meet ya,’ he said pleasantly.
Tim looked at the man’s broad smile and then looked at his rather dirty outstretched hand. No one had ever really wanted to shake his hand before. His clear blue eyes suddenly sparkled and without reservation, Tim extended his hand and shook, the manly gesture giving a pleasing feeling.
Without warning, Hatcher grabbed Tim and wrenched him closer with his arm secured tightly around the boy’s chest. Tim was absolutely terrified and his heart was pounding in his chest like a tympani drum.
‘I think we got some business to conduct, boy. I think that Mum of yours will want you back real bad,’ said Hatcher with a devilish grin.
Hatcher grabbed a piece of rope and tied Tim’s hands behind his back and then to a large log. Tim sat there helplessly with tears running down his face, unable to speak and trembling with fear.
Hatcher then stood up, admiring Tim’s father’s watch and polishing it on his sleeve. He placed it on his wrist and smiled admiringly, revealing a few missing teeth, then sniffed and looked down at Tim with a cold stare.
‘What’s your address boy? I suggest ya tell me, and ya won’t get hurt.’
Tim’s eyes were wide open with fear and his face was flushed, his lips quivering. ‘4 Morphet Place,’ he replied.
‘Ya best not be lyin to me. Are ya lyin?’
Tim shook his head earnestly, not wanting to upset the man.
‘Well then I’ll be takin a look. Don’t even think about tryin to get loose, or you’ll get it. Understand?’ growled Hatcher, sweeping his thumb threateningly across his neck. Tim nodded with agreement and Hatcher checked the rope was secure then left, heading up the creek.
Meanwhile Larry was beside himself wondering what was keeping Tim. He’d always hide for awhile after one of their confrontations, but he had never missed lunch before. After pacing the deck for almost an hour and still no Tim, Larry decided to go looking for him and he knew just where.
Tim always ended up at the falls; it was his favourite location. Luckily for Larry, whose knowledge of the bush was to say the least limited, the falls were somewhere he could get to without having to be cross the bug infested reserve that he so vehemently despised. So with his house key in hand along with a fishing knife attached to his belt; Larry headed off down the street toward the cul-de-sac that led down to the falls.
The sun was hot and beating down mercilessly on his shoulders, making Larry seek shade under the small jacarandas that lined the street. He followed the narrow path through the reserve and after ten minutes or so he arrived at the falls. As usual there were several families having picnics down on the grass by the waters edge, but no sign of Tim.
‘Damn!’ sneered Larry, realising he would have to go into the bush and follow the creek back up toward the house. Begrudgingly he set off into the low scrub and after some difficult, matted foliage eventually arrived onto the sandy bank of the creek and slowly made his way back to the house.
It was much cooler by the water and even Larry for once, was sort of enjoying the quiet, shaded environment. No more than five minutes later he came across Tim sitting rather awkwardly on a log.
‘Shit! What the hell are you doing?’ asked Larry as he clambered up some rocks to arrive on the small plateau of the campsite.
‘Untie me quick!’ He’ll be back in a minute,’ cried Tim, thoroughly pleased to see his brother, perhaps for the very first time. Larry suddenly realised that Tim was tied to the log and quickly drew his fishing knife and released him.
‘Who the hell did this to you?’ he asked, not understanding at all. Tim leapt to his feet and the ropes that had bound him fell limply to the ground.
‘He’s got Dad’s watch,’ explained Tim. ‘I think he want Mum’s money.’
Just then, there was a rustle of bushes and far in the distance it seemed Hatcher was returning. Tim’s heart was doing summersaults as he clung to his brother for protection.
‘Quick, sit down on the log and pretend that the ropes are still on,’ whispered Larry.
Tim looked up, completely freaked out.
‘Do it,’ insisted Larry, hurrying behind a nearby tree trunk. Tim sat down and held the cut rope in his hands behind his back. He was shaking with fear.
With a creaking of branches and the rustle of leaves, Hatcher burst into the clearing, wiping his sweaty face on his sleeve. ‘So, when’s ya Mum getting home then?’ he asked.
Tim trembled ever more, his mouth was open but he was unable to utter a word. Hatcher’s expression hardened.
‘When does she get home?’ he screamed.
Just at that very moment Larry came around behind him and cleverly tripped Hatcher over. Completely
unexpected, the assault sent Hatcher flying face down into the creek water, sending a spray of dirty brown water everywhere. As he lifted his head out, Larry jumped onto his back and holding his head up by the hair, held the fishing knife to his throat.
‘The police will be here in about five minutes. You have two choices arshole. You get out of here now and take your chances with the police or I’ll gut you like a fish, right here, right now,’ said Larry in the most hateful, determined voice.
‘I’ll go, I’ll go now. Just don’t cut me,’ said Hatcher in a panic, the razor sharp blade of the knife having already broken the skin with a few drops of blood dripping down the shiny blade.
‘Now give me my father’s watch, you shit. I’m going to count to three. At three you get up and leave by the falls. If you turn back, even for a second, I’ll come after you and you won’t make it to the falls. Understand?’
‘Yes!’ cried Hatcher, pleading, trying to keep his neck from the blade.
‘One, Two, Three. Go!’ shouted Larry.
Hatcher scrambled to his feet and without a second thought, dashed like a greyhound down the creek, stumbling and crashing through the bushes to eventually disappear in the mass of green.
Larry slumped down onto the log, his heart just about leaping out of his chest. Tim almost bowled him over with enthusiasm.
‘I can’t believe you did that,’ said Tim. ‘You’re Indiana Jones, you saved me, saved Mum,’ he added,
but Larry didn’t look up. He remained with his head down, breathing deeply.
‘What’s wrong Larry? You’re a hero!’ spat Tim.
‘That guy could have killed you. It would never have happened if Dad were here,’ said Larry.
‘But he’s not and you are. You saved me and you’re my brother, no one else’s.’
Larry shook his head then looked up at Tim’s adoring expression and smiled. ‘Come here squirt,’ he said grabbing his little brother around the shoulders and giving him a long overdue hug.
‘I wouldn’t let anyone hurt you, even though you can be a little shit,’ he added, ruffling up Tim’s hair.
Tim hadn’t heard a word; he was too busy enjoying the warmth of his brother’s hug.
It was almost four o’clock when the boys finally returned to the house. For once Larry had stayed in the bush long enough to realise what his brother had always seen in it and they enjoyed themselves, reliving their adventure and reveling in each other’s company.
Their Mum Sally, was standing on the back deck wondering where they could be, when they emerged together from the thick bush and onto the back lawn. She almost had a fit when she saw the two
of them entwined in each other like good mates. As soon as they caught sight of her, they instinctively drew away from each other and immediately began to walk with the usual masculine gait.
‘So what have you two been up to then?’ she asked with suspicion in her voice. Larry shrugged and knowingly looked down at his brother. Tim gave him a covert grin and then looked back at his Mum.
‘Nothin really,’ he said, with a glint in his eye.