Five Stories I’ll Write Someday by Alex J Smith

My dad’s always saying that the difference between me and my brother is that I’m a thinker and he’s a doer. I’m not really sure what he means. I do stuff all the time and I’m almost certain that Andrew thinks about things on occasion. Right now, he’s kicking a football around the park and I’m trying to draw him as he does it. He never kicks it far.

‘How’s the sketch comin’, Mikey?’ he calls, panting. I shrug. I’m shy about my drawings.

I hear the dull thud of footsteps, and suddenly he’s leaning over me, casting an ungainly shadow. I turn to look at him, and he makes that non-committal ‘eh, I’ve seen better’ noise.

‘Christ, are my ears really that bad?’ He plants himself beside me, still a little out of breath. I pull away when he tries to turn the page.

‘Hey, I’m just trying to get to the good stuff! I wanna read your stories.’ I shake my head, resolute. I’m even shyer about my stories.

Andrew tuts and looks out across the park. It’s getting late, and the sun is starting to drop behind the hills in the distance. He nudges me and points out across the park shimmering in the dusklight.

‘Everything looks so cool at sunset. Who knows,’ he smirks. ‘Maybe you’ll write one of your stories about this someday.’

We’re on a family holiday in Poland. I’ve no idea why. Who goes on a family holiday to Poland? But we’re here, and it’s freezing. As we wander through the snowy streets of mid-winter Krakow looking for a café that’s serving something hot, we come across an apartment building that’s been abandoned and left to rust.

‘Do you reckon it’s haunted?’ Andrew says. ‘Bet you it’s haunted.’

Dad laughs and carries on walking and mum beckons us to follow him. Before I can, though, Andrew pulls me back with gloved hands.

‘Hey,’ he’s giggling. ‘Look at that place. Don’t you think we should explore it? We need to find the ghosts.’

I open my mouth to reply but mum interrupts, calling back to us. She sounds angry. I turn to my brother for a moment then look to the apartment block. The windows are stained with mould. I start to walk away. Andrew sighs and grabs me back again.

‘Come on,’ he grins, dragging me towards the empty tower. ‘Maybe you’ll write one of your stories about this someday.’

I don’t recognise the alleyway we’re loitering in, even though we grew up on this estate and I’ve walked these streets more times than I remember. Andrew’s talking to the stranger in low, furtive tones. I shiver in my coat.

‘Thanks,’ Andrew curtails the conversation. There’s a quick handshake and the stranger vanishes around the shadowed corner. Andrew stuffs something into his jacket pocket, then turns and slaps me on the shoulder.

‘See? Nothing simpler.’ He winks, trying to push past me and out of the alley. I sidestep so that I’m blocking the exit.

He tilts his head at me. I don’t say anything but he knows what I’m thinking from the way I look at him.

‘I told you not to worry. This is all perfectly safe.’ He smiles, and pushes me aside. As he’s walking out into the streetlamp glow of the night, he turns back and laughs softly.

‘Look on the bright side,’ he says. ‘Maybe you’ll write one of your stories about this someday.’

Nobody saw anything, the police say. I’m not sure I believe them.

There’s an awful lot of crying. It makes me uncomfortable. Oddly enough, the calmest place to be is in his room. Nobody can stand the sight of him without breaking down but he himself seems strangely serene. He barely looks around when I pull up a seat next to him. Maybe that’s just the painkillers.

‘I know, I know. You told me so.’ His voice is sore, and now when he speaks there’s a slight quiver in his tone. There are stitches running across the length of his neck, and the bandages around his chest are stained red.

‘Still. Perk up.’ He tries to reach out his arm, to pat me on the shoulder maybe, but he doesn’t have the strength. It falls limply to his side. ‘C’mon, give me that classic Mikey smile.’

I can’t meet his eyes. Instead, my gaze falls on his bedside table. There’s a crumpled piece of paper lying there, at his bedside, a crude children’s drawing of a boy kicking a misshapen football.

‘Try and cheer up,’ he murmurs, as he lowers himself back down to his pillow. ‘Maybe you’ll write one of your stories about this someday.’

I always hated wearing suits. It’s somehow worse when everyone’s wearing one. It makes me feel guilty for hating it so much, like I’m putting myself above everyone else.

The strangest thing is the way he’s standing at my shoulder. I keep wondering why nobody else turns to look at him. Maybe they can’t see properly through the rain. It’s coming down pretty heavy. I keep glancing at him, trying to catch his eye, but he’s fixed on the horizon, looking out over everyone.

Eventually, people begin to move away, towards the chapel. He stays with me at the graveside. I can’t read the name on the stone through the rain.

‘It isn’t raining,’ he mutters, like he’s reading my thoughts. He always had a knack for doing that. I can’t stop shaking. I can’t stop thinking.

‘Calm down.’ I turn to look at him and this time he meets my eye. I can barely even see him.

‘Who knows,’ he whispers to me. ‘Maybe you’ll write one of your stories about this one day.’

And suddenly I’m alone.

‘Yeah. Maybe I will.’