The children in the crowd followed the girl’s lead and grew giant claws of their own. They advanced, step by terrifying step, toward Victor. He looked left and right at the sea of snapping pincers: there was no avenue of escape.
Victor made the sign of the cross (he had never done so before, but he had also never faced the prospect of crab-children tearing him to pieces). He tightened his hands around the shovel handle. A tear welled in his eye.
“Just go out swinging,” he muttered to himself.
The crabs neared, laughing and mocking and clacking their claws.
“Grimy Gary!” shouted the girl, leading the half-crustacean horde. “You’re fat, and weird, and no one likes you! No one likes you, Gary!”
Victor suddenly stood taller, and less tense, and a steely glare came over his face.
The girl shrieked again, “No one likes you, Gary!”
“F*** OFF!” roared Victor.
He whipped the hefty shovel handle up and struck the girl under her chin, lifting her off the ground. She fell back, unconscious before she hit the floor. The other crab-children went silent and stared in disbelief at their vanquished leader, her face stained bright red with blood.
“Damn,” said Victor, looking at the girl. He raised his voice and called out, “It was self-defence! She was going to kill me!”
Every young face in the mutant army turned and stared at Victor with hatred. When he raised his shovel and beckoned them to attack, they all yelped, and, like popcorn in reverse, leapt up and instantly shrank. A hundred tiny round dots fell to the floor and began scurrying about. Victor crouched and peered at the blue marbles rolling about.
“Soldier crabs,” he said. “Well you won’t get away that easy, ya bloody bullies!”
He stood, raised his shovel, and brought the blade down heavy and flat, crushing six crabs. The others ran madly in all directions. Victor stamped his feet left and right, feeling the crack and squish of the fragile creatures. Again and again he slammed the shovel down, eliminating all but ten of the crabs, which miraculously buried themselves beneath the floor as though it were sand.
Victor stood leaning on the shovel and looked about the massacre.
“You’ve outdone yourself, Gary,” he said. “That might be the strangest thing I’ve seen yet.”
A soft rustling on the floor drew Victor’s eye, and he saw a tiny round object emerging from the floorboards. He raised his foot to stomp it, but then hesitated.
“That’s not a crab.”
A dark, clay-like shell cracked and fell from the object, revealing a shining ball of light inside.
“Ah, okay.” said Victor.
He crouched and watched the ball. It grew to the size of an orange and became so bright he could not look directly at it. It spun and whirred and then burst in an explosion of light.
Victor felt weightless, floating in white nothingness. The air began to cool; the scent of pine wafted. Birds whistled. Out of a haze of soft blue and green, his surroundings began to take shape. Hills, trees, branches. A forest stretched for miles in a lush valley below him; the sky was vast and clear. Victor looked down through his dangling legs at the forest floor fifty metres below. He was seated on a branch near the top of a pine tree. A fantastic blue wren sat on a nearby branch. It looked at Victor and spoke with a chirpy voice, “The Nazis are coming.”
“What?” said Victor.
Instantly the bird, the tree and the forest vanished. Victor found himself standing in a green hill in a village. The blue wren from the forest flitted down onto the grass and looked up at him. “The Nazis are coming,” it said.
“What Nazis?” asked Victor.
The bird flapped up onto Victor’s shoulder and stretched a tiny wing out ahead. “There,” it said.
Three German military vehicles approached on the road up the hill.
“You need to find Steve,” said the bird.
“Okay,” said Victor, racing off up the hill, not exactly sure of who Steve was or where he could be found.
As he passed a wooden barn he heard a whistle. He turned and saw a man leaning against the barn wall. The man wore a leather jacket, and his face was concealed by the newspaper he was reading, which bore the front page headline: Arthur ist ein Hintern Gesicht. The man lowered the paper: it was Steve McQueen. Victor ran over to him, and the two of them hopped onto old motorcycles which appeared out of nowhere, and sped off across the field. The wind rushed through Victor’s hair. With a huge smile he turned to Steve McQueen riding beside him; Steve nodded a cool, macho nod. “Get Off of My Cloud” by The Rolling Stones played.
With a flash of light, the dreamlike experience ended. Victor was back in the upstairs hall in the mansion.
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