Gerald could enjoy the freedom of having a smoke on his front lawn; so he did. Soon, the wheels of bureaucracy would turn, and the locals would be notified. The news reporters with their cameras and their lights would pick up on the scent. They couldn’t resist the stench of a convicted paedophile, daring to live in the community after completing his sentence. “People have a right to know, don’t they?” they’d say. “People need to know.”
Across the street, a boy and a girl tumbled into the front yard of their house and began to play with a football. Gerald was free from prison, but he wasn’t free from his desires. He drew hard on his smoke and started counting to a hundred, his eyes clenched shut. When he opened his eyes, the kids were still there.
The boy was about ten, with wild brown hair, a ratty Spiderman t-shirt, small shorts and bare feet. He kicked the ball from behind the rusted carcass of an old Ford Falcon towards his sister. The boy was so healthy: so full of life, so beautiful. Gerald cursed his thoughts, and wished he had the will to fight the evil pumping in his veins.
Gerald knew it was his own fault, this evil inside of him. His step-father had seen it in him, and had punished him for it. He had been seven, when the punishment started. He felt his face blush as he remembered; he was still so ashamed.
When he was twenty, Gerald had punished two younger boys. He had told them they were evil too, that they were naughty boys. He’d told them to keep their dirty little mouths shut; which they didn’t.
In prison, they tried and failed to drive the evil out of Gerald. The authorities organised therapy and rehabilitation. The other prisoners, possessed by the lesser evils that had compelled them to commit robbery, rape and murder, tried to purge the evil too. The evil remained a part of Gerald, and he knew it would always contaminate any good that grew within him.
Gerald took another cigarette from the packet, with trembling hands. He eventually lit it. He breathed the smoke out through his nose, still watching the kids across the street. He told himself that there was no harm in watching, but he knew it was a lie.
The girl kicked the ball clumsily away from her brother, over the front fence. The boy ran after it. Gerald watched his strong young legs as he ran.
A car turned into the street. Gerald snapped his eyes onto it. It was a late model Commodore: white, silent, and fast. Cops? Fear charged into his blood, and his muscles surged. Standing up, he looked around, assessing his escape routes. He glanced back at the driver. It was just a teenager: a young idiot, driving much too fast, and getting faster.
Gerald turned back to the kids. The boy was running hard, but the ball leapt high and lurched away from him with each bounce. It went onto the road.
Gerald looked again at the car. It wasn’t slowing. Gerald started to run across the road, driven by a desire to help the boy: to touch his life, to love and protect him.
The boy looked up, and stopped. His eyes opened wide as he looked into Gerald’s, and his mouth dropped open.
Smoke poured from the car’s wheels and billowed up behind it. The car dipped forwards heavily under the force of the brakes, but still rushed towards the boy in the street.
The boy’s sister stood in the yard, watching. A woman stood on the stairs of the house, gripping the handrail and screaming. Gerald ran. Two paces before he reached the boy, he dropped his shoulder and lunged.
The boy stood still, his football forgotten and his mind stuck. The man that had come from nowhere tackled him, like a rugby player. He felt the air in his lungs being pushed out through his mouth. It made a soft panting sound. He was lifted high into the air, flying backwards. He saw the man get folded over onto the bonnet of the big white car.
The boy landed hard in the gutter. He couldn’t breathe. He watched the man fall back onto the street. His head made a cracking, popping sort of sound as it bounced. The man didn’t move. The pool of blood around his head kept getting bigger. The boy thought the blood might reach him in the gutter, but it didn’t.
The boy’s mother held her son in her arms, stroking his hair, hugging him tightly and splashing him with tears. She blinked as she spoke to the policeman with the notebook. “I saw the whole thing,” she said. “He sacrificed himself to save my boy’s life. I’m going to call the papers, and Channel Nine. I want everyone to know. People have a right to know, don’t they? People need to know.”
Bernard S. Jansen is 32 years old, married, and has three sons. He lives in Emerald, Queensland, Australia. He works as an engineer at a local coal mine, and is active in his local church. His work has appeared in Full of Crow, and he writes a regular short story column for Shift Miner Magazine.
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