Ant Smith
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Shaun versus Shane

(a fragment)

Nobody had bothered to ask Shaun if he had wanted to be born.

- But how could we ask you, dear ? You weren't even born!

His mothered had said, but he remained unconvinced. His father, somewhat less eloquently, had simply said

- Hm

And turned over to BBC1 for the news. So Shaun went outside and sat awhile in the garden. That is the 'patio' that had once been a rather small and unruly garden, but was now a jumble of faded concrete slabs between which the weeds grew incorrigibly. Shaun rather liked the weeds, he would often talk to them - but he never expected that they might answer back. That was the kind of sensible boy he had decided to be. And if they had answered back he would probably have admonished them in the gruff manner his father used whenever anything interfered with his reading the newspaper at breakfast, or his watching the telly during dinner. The weeds probably realised this, for they very sensibly never said a word whilst Shaun was around. He wasn't, however, wholly convinced that they showed such decorum when left alone - they looked an unruly and reprehensible lot. Tonight he laid back on his mother's 'patio-recliner' that she never allowed to be called a deck chair, and continued to count the stars. Oddly, there seemed to be one missing.

- I wonder where it can have gone?

He wondered aloud, in the polite manner he would adopt whenever addressing anything beyond the confines of his bedroom. It never occurred to him that he may have miscounted; he did, after all, have a scientific calculator - and he knew how to use it. And besides, it wasn't the first time a star had gone missing. In fact, the stars were almost as unruly as the weeds. They kept popping into existence, and blinking into oblivion with a monotonous regularity that seemed to be designed for no other purpose than to frustrate Shaun's efforts to count them. 'Bloody things' he would have said if he had been in his bedroom.

The fact is, having never had a dog, Shaun had taken a special liking to that particular star; it was the one that he had hoped to visit one day. Still, at least stars had the definite advantage of not getting themselves flushed down the toilet by his father when he discovered them in a jam jar in the medicine cupboard, unlike tadpoles. An abhorrent act of genocide Shaun had considered it (he had a dictionary too) - one which he had written in his 'book of abhorrations'.

'The book of abhorrations' was where Shaun kept a list of his parents' worst crimes against humanity - crimes which mostly concerned Shaun, himself, as the main victim. Although sometimes his parents' worst offences would include his friends, the neighbours' cat and on one particular, terrible Saturday morning, the post-man. Shaun liked the post-man because he would sometimes bring him letters from his uncle in America, and because he would often bring letters printed in bright-red ink for his father. When he got those letter's Shaun's father would make one of those noises that only adults really know how to make - the kind of groan you might expect a balloon to make if somebody undid its knot, and all of its air leaked slowly out.

Shaun had dedicated the very first page of his book of abhorrations to one entry:

December twenty-fourth, Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Four:

They didn't even bother to ask if I wanted to be born.

He had checked the spelling of all the words in his big dictionary, and written it in his best handwriting. Then he had underlined it three times, twice in black and once in red. And if he ever showed his book to anyone else (which so far he hadn't) he would have told them that the red was his own blood, even though it wasn't true.

Shaun realised that it must be getting very late when he looked up and saw his parents' bedroom light go out. They had forgotten all about him and gone to bed; but not before locking up for the night. Fortunately for Shaun, he had taken to leaving his window open for just such emergencies. Suddenly very tired, he went to fetch the ladder from behind the garage.

If you thought that there was nowhere left to go where the rats were so big they would knock you off your feet in the dark of a deserted alley, or occasionally carry a small child off in the full light of day to live out their lives in the miserable seeping dankness of the lair as slaves; or where a routine occurrence might be the crucifixion of some serpentine creature on the door of your house as you returned from the hunting of werewolves in the forest that adjoins the plot of land you call home; or where plagues of insects would descend in droves in the sticky humid heat of a town square where the fountain never worked and the goats would bleat in fear as they saw the carcass of a dog or a god picked clean by hungry doves, God's creatures - you'd be wrong.

For in a small, and largely insignificant, mass of land on a blue-green planet drifting aimlessly around a dying star in the midst of a lost and unfathomable galaxy yet to be seen by the eyes of man there slept a young boy, not unlike Shaun. This was odd, for most of the people there never slept. Not because they were afraid of the rats, or the wolves or the insects (which they were, mostly very afraid) - but more because of an over-developed sense of modesty that you can really only get in a small, and largely insignificant, mass of land on a blue-green planet drifting aimlessly around a dying star in the midst of a lost and unfathomable galaxy. For the people living there, it seemed that existing was such an infinestimally small possibility in such a vast and unknowable universe (they all had very big dictionaries), they refused to believe in themselves. The common belief was that life was nothing more than the dreams of some greater being, who had retired to a home for the mentally disturbed. So nobody had the confidence that in going to sleep they might be able to wake up again and continue to not really exist. Except for the young not-Shaun boy. Who slept almost continually. He is to be called Shane, for that is the nearest translation to the name bestowed upon him at birth.

It seemed as if, in that moment, the entire universe was sleeping - a moderately unusual event which would have been the cause for great joyous revelry. Had anybody been awake to notice.

Shaun slept in a slight breeze from the open window, where his ladder was still propped. He dreamt of going to America and becoming a famous stow-away on the space shuttle - which he imagined to be something akin to a bus with interesting windows.

Shane slept on a floor and dreamt of a time when people would be less concerned about the need for existence and get around to inventing something comfortable to sleep on. It was his favourite dream.