Here they come, around the corner, sliding into the driveway in their family sedan. They’re back from the market, the father’s pockets no doubt lined with fresh 50s. The tires roll easily along the gravel, and I pray that lying somewhere in that collection of pebbles and stones is a glass shard, or a rock sharp enough to pierce the tires.
My hopes are dashed as the car slows to a stop, the engine fading to silence. The youngest one, the boy, gets out and hurries to the front door. “No need to rush,” the father proclaims as he strolls outwards in a warm winter coat, his fingers escaping the clamp of the slammed car door behind him. Out comes the wife, wearing a thick cardigan, and behind her walks the little girl in a frilly woollen hat, sucking on her thumb.
I concentrate as hard as I can on the feeling of the girl’s teeth sliding up against the skin of her finger in her mouth, peeling it open like fruit as she trips and falls face-first onto the ground. I visualise it, taste the blood in my mouth, project it onto the child…
The front door clicks shut behind them. I curse silently and close the blinds. Hunger stabs through my body as I stick my hands outwards towards the dying fireplace. I feel my extremities turning numb as another icy chill blows through the hole in the roof. A chipped bowl sits on the rack above the fire. Lukewarm broth for dinner again, it seems. Just like yesterday. And the day before that.
Suddenly, a noise. I rush back over to the window. It’s music. The family’s shadows flicker across the walls as they dance to an upbeat tune. I grasp a piece of rubble from the window-ledge and fantasise about throwing it through their living-room window. The satisfaction would be immense. The immediate screams of the mother, followed by the wailing of the children and the sheer confusion of the father as he scrambles to his feet from his armchair, the broken glass crinkling under his slippers…
I scowl and slink to the back window. An ugly field of greenish-brown glares back at me, insulting me with its mere presence. Its surface is dry and scabby, with a flock of hungry birds pecking at the soil in the hope of a quick meal. My eyes scan along the grassy patches, checking for any slight disturbance in the dull colours, any hint of yellow.
I thought I saw one the other day. A gleaming nugget, lying on the earth. I sprinted towards it, eyes as wide as saucers, when a patch of loose soil dislodged my footing and sent me tumbling head-over-heels. By the time I had scrambled back to my feet, the nugget was gone, and in its place was a dead squirrel, its insides burst open. I looked around, but the family was nowhere to be seen. Those bastards. They were probably sniggering to themselves as I shambled back to my house, the nugget clenched within the father’s greedy fist.
I spend most of the day spying on them, sometimes sneaking up for a closer look. I’ve only been spotted a few times, by the youngest son, but they always just dismiss it as him seeing things. An ‘overactive imagination’, as they put it. Sometimes he catches me staring from the window, other times it’s when I’m up close in the bushes. He reacts the same way every time, whimpering pathetically at first, then running back inside the house or hiding somewhere where he thinks I can’t see him. Little wimp.
I overhear their conversations a lot. They must know I’m nearby, because they only talk about mundane topics that they know I wouldn’t be interested in. The father talks about his ‘job’ sometimes, but I know it’s only a guise for how they truly make their money. He drives a few miles away to sell the amount they stole from the previous day, while the children get to work pilfering the newly emerged pickings, under the command of the mother.
I tried everything. I stayed up countless nights watching the land like a hawk. I dug pits 10 feet deep, trying to distinguish between a mole hole and a tunnel scratched through the ground by an 8-year-old boy. I checked my rainwater bucket for hallucinogens and watched the skies for any potential airdrops. Nothing. How they continued to get away with it every night used to baffle me. I had always assumed they must have had access to state-of-the-art technology, the kind of stuff someone like me could never dream of.
Of course, I never bothered to introduce myself. They pretend that I don’t exist, that the house opposite their luxury abode is abandoned. I’ve heard the mother talk of saving up the money to seize the land ownership and renovate the place themselves, that bitch. But they know I’m here, they must do. They know I can’t contact the authorities to confront them on their burglary, or they would surely inquire into…my state of living. ‘Squatting’ is a harsh word, but I imagine that’s what most would call it. It never made much sense to me. This house is old, falling into disrepair. I can’t waste any time tending to its upkeep, lest I sacrifice my safety in the hands of those brutes. The second I drop my guard, they’ll surely come for me, drive me out and force me to live out on the country roads like some sort of animal. No, I can’t let that happen. I’ll die before they force me out of here.
It was my father who told me about this place. He spoke of it upon his deathbed, enlightened me of its potential. Told me, and only me, it was the source of his well-amounted wealth. The rest of my family wouldn’t believe me. Neither would the nurses, or the doctors. They said that he was just confused, that his ramblings were a by-product of dementia, a condition of which he had been suffering as of late. But I saw past their lies. I knew that in that brief moment of clarity, he was onto something. Something big and promising.
When I ran away, I saw my own missing posters for a few months afterward. I tore one off the telephone pole it was stapled to, once, just to get a look at it. It had all my details on, my hair, my eye colour, even a note saying I had a mental illness. Can you believe their nerve? Making up something like that just to get a few extra pity points? It’s sickening. One day I’ll go back and show them how wrong they were. One day.
The rustling of faraway trees in the wind snaps me out of my daydream. Sounds like there’s a storm coming. I shiver and tiptoe to the musty table in the centre of the room.
I can’t believe it took me this long to figure out how they did it. To think how accidental it was, too.
I learnt of their secret by pure chance. They had this horrible mangy mutt, an ugly pit bull, that would occasionally sniff around the building. I had to hide whenever it came near, or else it would bark and shout and prompt one of the parents to come bring it back home again. Well, one day, I was feeling particularly moody, and there it went, sniffing around the field as per usual, and I had had enough. It didn’t take long, I just crept up on it from behind and gave it a quick whack over the head with a rusty shovel. It dropped like a stiff brick, and I dragged it back inside to cook up for dinner. At first, I started slicing little pieces off and sticking them on the fire, but that’s when I saw it.
A teensy little glimmer in the flesh, reflecting the light of the moon shining in through one of the windows. I peeled open the wound a little deeper and found an entire chunk of gold poking through its body. I could barely contain myself. I grabbed a pocketknife from one of the kitchen drawers and sliced its belly open, and what did I find?
It was stuffed to the brim with gleaming gold pieces.
I remember staring in shock for what felt like hours. For weeks and weeks, I had racked my brain trying to come up with a solution for the family’s thefts, and now that solution was staring me in the face with its milky, lifeless eyes. They were using the dog as a fucking courier, stuffing it with pilfered gold and (presumably) waiting for it to shit it back out again. Their ingenuity was proven, I’ll give them that.
I scooped it all out and stashed it away underneath the floorboards. I haven’t touched it since. As for the body, I stomped on its head a few times and left it sitting outside their front doorstep. The littlest one found it first and gave me the biggest laugh of my life when I saw her stupid face contort and start bawling. Of course, they weren’t really sad about the dog, they were sad about the profits they had lost. But they did a damned good job of pretending that they were. They even made a little grave for it in their back garden. Its name was ‘Fido’ apparently.
The father mentioned something about it being the fault of a wolf or fox, but I’m pretty sure he knew it was me. It was a message, after all, a way of me saying that I had cracked their secret, that I knew what they were up to. I thought I had put a stop to it once and for all, that they would have no choice but to move away and leave me to my lonesome, now that I had halted their primary source of income. But they adapted, those clever bastards adapted.
My gold was still nowhere to be found. The field was bare. I knew for a fact that they hadn’t bought a new dog, so what could it have been? Well, I have a theory.
The parents have been pushing the little boy to get closer to the house, to build up his confidence. I saw him playing nearby just the other day, with a couple of sticks.
What’s that got to do with anything, you may ask? Well, if they could smuggle gold through a dog’s body…
They could surely do the same with a child’s, right?
Written by Cornconic