The tribe of youths began to run. Alan was their leader. He ran ahead, but not so fast that he was more than a hand’s reach in front of Ian. Ian who had to prove himself. Ian who had to earn entry. Alan could stop in an instant. Could veer. Could swerve. Could fall to the ground. Could fall behind. Could anything. Then Ian would have to do the job.
Ian knew that. He knew too if he didn’t keep up with Alan, the pack would turn on him. He remembered what they’d done to Peter, because he’d been part of it. No one found Peter’s body and nobody squealed. No one would be that stupid.
“Even if you leave the area, if you get your parents to move, if you change your name, we will find you,” Alan had said when Ian asked to join. “You asked, and now we own you.”
Alan ran ahead, but not so fast that he was more than a hand’s reach in front of Ian. He’d follow his usual plan. The man they were following wasn’t young, but he wasn’t frail. Alan could let him outrun them. Alan could risk that he’d turn and face them. Alan had seen his hands, as large as he remembered his father’s hands and as cruel and raw. Alan had seen the huge boots. It had been a long time since Alan had seen his father, not since he was twelve or thirteen and his mother had to take him to Emergency to be stitched up, and the police had stitched up his father, beaten him up as badly as he’d beaten up Alan. “And now bugger off,” they had said. “We don’t want to bother with you. We don’t want to see you here again.”
No one beat Alan up now. That much he’d learned, and more. He’d broken the nose and jaw of the last man who beat his mother. Never mind that she chose guys like that. Alan was nineteen now, broad of shoulder, tall and strong. Boxing. Wrestling. Karate. No one messed with him or his mother. Never again.
No one beat Alan up now.
The man turned. Alan stopped. Ian prepared to go ahead and face the man. Either you belong in Alan’s brotherhood or life isn’t worth living. The price was worth paying. No one beat up the brotherhood’s mothers, or younger brothers, or molested their sisters or their girlfriends. When a brother tired of a girlfriend, things were kept orderly. Alan refereed the relationship. His sister had gone on the streets of Philadelphia after Boris let her down. Then she’d had an abortion and nearly died. Alan had found her through the brotherhoods and brought her back. He was rough, Alan was, but fair. Perhaps not really fair with Peter. Perhaps Alan wouldn’t be fair with him if he failed now.
Imagining it was what Alan wanted, Ian overtook, or would have overtaken if he hadn’t been stopped by Alan’s outstretched arms. Ian pulled his fiercest face, widened his shoulders, legs wide, arms akimbo—his tough stance, ready to serve. In front of him it seemed that Alan shrivelled. His arms were still wide and no one dared to go beyond them, but his body no longer looked so broad shouldered, so tall, so work-out-at-the-gym strong.
“It’s his father,” James said from the back. James was Alan’s neighbour.
“Uncle Dave,” Graham said. He was Alan’s cousin.
“Oh, shit,” little Dave said. He was Graham’s youngest brother and came along under protection. Nothing was allowed to happen to him.
Ian could never decide if Alan drew a knife first or if his dad drew the gun. In any case, Alan was faster.
They dug a pit two metres deep in the swampiest part of the forest. Afterwards they heaped mud in, until the surface was flat again. Then Alan set them to collecting animal shit and they piled that on top.
And then Alan cried, and they formed a circle and held him.
Joy Manné was the winner of the Geneva Writers Group prize for Non-Fiction in 2015. Her story White Hibiscus: A Fugue was one of three finalists in the Arkansas International 2017 Emerging Writer’s Prize in Fiction. She has had more than 35 flash fictions and short stories published online and in print. Joy has published three children’s books.