The summer sun shone brightly above from between two long, white clouds, while a cool breeze offset its heat. In the south, an ominous gathering of black storm clouds crept into view over the courtyard’s high stone fence. A flash of lightning lit a section of the clouds for a split-second. Victor made a lap of the courtyard, shielding his eyes until they adjusted to the glare, and then sat in the shade of the apple tree. His scratched the dirt in between the pavement with a stick, as he mulled over his options. His eyes darted about; his brow wrinkled; he clicked his teeth together. He muttered the occasional word before shaking his head and driving the stick harder into the dirt. After forty minutes Victor had excavated a large paving stone. He put down the stick and looked up at the mansion. It may have been a home once, but now it was a prison. Dark bricks locked together to form fortress walls; bleak glass windows stood as indestructible dungeon bars. In the mansion there would be water, but the food supply would slim and unreliable. There would be no contact with the outside world—no interaction with anyone, in fact, but the ghost of an eleven-year-old boy. There would be no music, or new information, or accomplishment, or celebration. There would be no sport, travel, laughter or women. There would be only loneliness… and time. Insanity. And no escape but death.
Victor stared down at the pavement. He barely moved. His face was like stone.
For an hour and a half he sat like that, until a thump returned his attention to the courtyard. He looked to his right: behind him, near the shed, Gary stood with a brown leather football in his hands. He bounced it—thump—onto the pavement, and it sprang back to him. He sneaked a sidelong glance at Victor, and then kicked the football straight up. The oval ball sailed five metres into the air, spinning like a pinwheel in the breeze, before dropping directly into Gary’s waiting hands. He bounced the ball once more, and then kicked it even higher, out in front him this time; it bounced back off the pavement with a slap and spun neatly back to him where he stood, as though he had it on a string. Victor climbed up off the ground and brushed the seat of his pants. Gary tossed the football from one hand to the other, then punted it once more, following through with a high kick of his foot. The ball flew up behind him, spinning slower than on the previous kicks, dropped and then leapt forward up off the pavement, making a high arc over Gary’s head. It fell just in front of him and bounced up into his open hands. He glanced at Victor again. Victor stepped out from under the tree. “How do you do that?” he asked.
Gary bit his lip, barely restraining a huge smile. His eyes lit up. “I practice every day,” he said.
“Huh.” Victor nodded. “That’ll do it,” he said with disinterest.
Gary held out the ball. “You wanna play?”
Victor scowled. “I have a lot on my mind right now, Gary.” He returned to the tree and sat down.
He dug in the dirt again with a stick, muttering to himself and shaking his head. Thump. Victor’s fist clenched and he tossed the stick away. He brought his knees up toward his chest, rested his good arm on his knees and then sunk his head down, staring at the dirt and protruding roots beneath the apple tree. Thump. He ground his teeth; his chest heaved with a long breath. Thump. “Damn it, Gary!” Victor turned and leaned around the tree; Gary stood facing him with a stunned, innocent look on his leathery face; he dropped the football. Victor sighed; he closed his eyes and rubbed his hand across his forehead. “Listen, Gary,” he said, in a soft tone. “Would you mind playing football somewhere else for a while? I just want to be alone right now.”
Victor gave an odd look. “You do?” The two stared at each other for a few seconds, and then Gary lowered his head and scratched his arm. “Oh, okay,” he said. He reached down and picked up the football; Victor turned back around and leaned his back against the tree trunk.
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