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The Clubhouse (1990)

5 people belonged to the Clubhouse - Al, Sue, Emily, Mel and Ben. They were a sort of gang - they had a meeting place in an old shed, where they played cards and talked. They also went on bike rides and on woodland romps.

On Saturday morning, 2nd February 1991, everything was quiet in the Clubhouse. Emily and Mel were playing cards, Al was smoking a cigarette, Sue was drinking a can of Coke and Ben was reading a porno-mag.

Suddenly Chippy, Al's dog, started barking. The gang heard a noise. There was someone outside spying on them! Quickly they rushed outside to see a youth of about sixteen, who started to run away when he saw them. Ben dived at him and pinned him to the ground. Ben was only twelve but the youth was not particularly big or strong and Ben managed to hold him until Al reached the scene. Al was 19 and the unofficial leader of the club.

"What are you doing here?" he asked the youth in a stern voice.

"They...they sent me to spy on you," he replied, sounding scared.

"Who did?" asked Mel.

"The...the Wildcats!"

Everybody gasped at this. The Wildcats were the toughest gang in town. In their late teens and early twenties, they were led by Mike Toms, a rebellious young man who had once killed a teenager. And it wasn't just any teenager. It was Al's older brother Joe. Ten years ago, a simple playground fight had turned into a battle to the death. Joe had been the loser and Mike the victor. Al knew that Mike wouldn't hesitate if faced with the prospect of killing again. And Al himself could become the target!

"What's your name?" he asked the youth in an uneasy voice which reflected the power of the Wildcats.

"Rafael," the boy said.

"And what do the Wildcats want with us?" Sue asked.

Rafael hesitated before answering: "They don't like you meeting up like this, like gangs do."

"We're a sort of gang," said Mel, "but we don't get into fights or anything."

"Maybe the Wildcats are scared of us?" suggested Emily.

At this, Rafael laughed. "Scared of you! Scared of you! We're not afraid of anything!"

"So you're a Wildcat then, eh? They must be going downhill if they want someone like you in their gang!" teased Ben.

Rafael lunged out at Ben, but Al grabbed his arms and twisted them behind his back.

"Ow! Let me go!"

"Not until you tell us why the Wildcats want to split us up!"

The boy sighed. "Alright. They...I mean we...don't want another gang in town. If you don't break up..."

"No way," Ben said defiantly.

Rafael gave an evil grin. "Then us Wildcats are gonna come round and tear you apart!"

There was a shocked silence while Al and his friends digested this information. Then Al said: "Next Saturday night. 10 pm. Tell Mike and the rest of the Wildcats to meet us here. For a fight."

Rafael couldn't believe it. "You? You and your bunch of kids fight us? You're crazy!"

"Maybe," said Al. "Maybe not."

Rafael hurried off to the Wildcats gang headquarters to tell them the news. The rest of the Clubhouse were staring at Al in amazement.

"Al! What you trying to do, get us all killed?"

"Those guys are dangerous, man!"

"They'll make mincemeat of us!"

Al said calmly: "We're not gonna let them bully us like that, are we? We're not gonna disband the Clubhouse just for them! Get out your knives, everyone!"

"K-Knives?" stammered Emily.

"What do you think we're gonna fight with? C'mon!"

****

It was Saturday, 9th February 1991 at 9.55 pm. The girls were scared. Although Ben was trying to hide it, he was scared too. Al could sense this and he began to wonder: Maybe I was mad to suggest a fight with the Wildcats. Maybe the same thing that happened to Joe -

No. Don't think about Joe now. You have to be brave. Mike won't kill you. No. NO!

"Al?" Ben's anxious voice brought Al back into the world of reality. "Al, they're here."

Five Wildcats - Rafael, Mike and three others - stood in front of him. As the moonlight illuminated their faces Al could see the scar on Mike's cheek - the mark left by a knife. By Joe's knife. With a shudder Al realised that exactly ten years had gone past since Joe had lain on the hard gravel of the playground, bleeding to death. It should have been Mike, not Joe, who died February 9th, 1981, and then all this never would have happened.

Mike came towards Al, grinning. The knife that he held in his hand, Al knew, was the one that had been used to end Joe's life, and which could possibly end Al's, too.

With a sudden rush of anger Al sprung at Mike and knocked the knife out of his hand. He threw him to the ground. Mike grabbed Al by the hair and hurled him into a tree. Al hit his head. By the time he recovered, Mike had the knife again. The other members of the Clubhouse tried to help Al but were each held back by a burly Wildcat.

When Al heard his friends scream in pain as the Wildcats twisted their arms back, he tried to go to them, but Mike pinned him to a tree. He took Al's knife and tossed it well out of reach. Then he took his own knife and swung it back, preparing to stab Al in the chest. Al saw that his next move could be his last. Summoning up all his strength, he kicked Mike in the genitals with his foot as hard as he could. Mike groaned and dropped to the ground. Al grabbed the knife and held it to Mike's throat. There was a sudden silence while everyone watched to see what Al would do. Mike's eyes widened in fear and he shut them in anticipation of what he thought was to be his own death. But Al was not a heartless murderer like Mike was. Mike had killed Al's brother, and Al had loved him more than anything in the world, but Al could not bring himself to kill Mike. He dropped the knife and moved away.

Mike opened his eyes and stared at him in amazement.

"I couldn't do it," Al said quietly. "Take it. Kill me. Go on."

Mike still stared, and slowly shook his head.

"I wanna be with Joe," Al said, and burst into tears.

Mike gently picked up the knife, and held it out in front of his chest. Then he stabbed himself with it.

****

Al sat by Mike's hospital bed, staring morosely out of the window. He didn't say anything. There was nothing he could say. It was Mike who spoke.

"We've disbanded the Wildcats."

Silence.

"Al - look at me. Please."

Al turned his head.

"I wish this hadn't happened. I never wanted it to."

Still silence.

"When...with Joe, he pulled his knife first. Not me."

"What?" Al said, not believing what he had just heard.

"It's true. I was just the lucky one."

Al sat quite still for a moment. That changed everything. It meant that it should indeed have been Joe, not Mike, who had gone home that fateful day in a body bag. "I don't know what to say."

"Don't say anything. Just remember that it was him or me. It could have been your brother who had to live with the fact that a healthy young boy was dead, and it was his fault. And living with that fact is hard, believe me."

Al got up to leave. "Goodbye, Mike."

Mike smiled. Al smiled back. He walked slowly out of the room without looking back. Now he had a scar, on the back of his head, from where Mike had smashed him against a tree. A scar that would never completely heal. A scar that he would bear for the rest of his life.

And somewhere, outside the Clubhouse, in the deserted woodland that surrounded it, lay a bloodstained knife. Some of that blood had been on the knife for ten years...

 

THE END

Clubhouse


Robin Tamblyn (author)