Towards the end of the summer holidays we would catch sight of Barry walking aimlessly around the town. Down the streets and through the fields he would plod along and not take notice of anyone. His only concern it seemed was to find a river or large pool of water. This was not a worrying or bizarre act – the days were long and hot as we cycled and played out in the sun. We would zip past the fat boy on our bikes. Trying to edge ourselves as close as possible from striking him. Only Nick would dare get the closest. He would spit with long drawn out phlegm gurgled especially for him. “Watch out fat boy” or “Barrel belly’s gonna get ya” he would chuckle as his bicycle handlebars grazed the boys arms.
I had caught sight of Barry along the nettled bank of a stream while carrying wood for a fort. He was wallowing in the water. Letting it go up to his chin. There was a sloshing noise. Like a fish struggling on a reel. Yet there was no movement in the water. Only Barry. His eyes drifting off to some far away place in his mind. I felt it then. A kid does not know the cruelty that gathers on the edge of isolation. It warps the frayed image of a person. But I felt it then, or some shade of it. Bubbles rose from the water near his covered mouth. Then with a shiver he began to wade himself out the water.
It was only four days later when I saw Barry again. His face was hollow. He did not carry his glowing yellow rucksack filled with snacks. He was making his way to the river again. The fat and marrow of his arms and legs had melted off. Yet even more bizarre was the sudden swelling of his belly. Perhaps it was the sudden weight loss on the rest of his body that made the stomach appear so much jovially rounder. “Pot belly pig” Nick snorted and pushed Barry. He did not register it and carried on down the small slope to the water.
‘Don’t walk away fat boy.’ Nick said, slowing down his bike and parking it on the grass. He followed in pursuit of Barry.
‘Just leave him. He wants to go into the water.’ I said, standing at the top of the slope. ‘Just leave him to go into the water.’
‘I’ll let him in the water…’ Nick was especially venomous that day for no reason. He began to prod the boy from behind. ‘Let. Me. Help you. In. The.Water.’
And with that final word he kicked Barry in the butt sending him flying into the shallow muck. I thought that would be the end of it but Nick wanted more. Barry’s soaked body was streaked in brown and greens. He waded into the water with Nick heavy in pursuit.
‘The water. I need water.’ Barry said in a dull tone.
‘Piggy needs to clean himself?’ Nick grabbed the shirt of Barry awkwardly and without knowing his strength he ripped the front buttons off. Barry’s shirt popped open and belly protruded. Long and swirling shadows marked something under the skin pulsing. Barry held onto Nick as he slipped onto his knees. Kneeling infront of Barry I heard him squeal in disgust at the sight and scream for Barry to get off. The boy pulled Nick closer. Pressing his face against the protruding belly.
Barry’s eyes rolled white. His head rolled from side to side unconscious but his body still held onto Nick. And with mouth wide open and tongue laid flat we all saw something crawl from his throat. What we thought was just the steamy rising of milk and bile was infact much harder. It was smooth and buckwheat brown. What I imagine now to be the head slithered out full and rapid. Wriggling out as thick as a cucumber at a state fair, it latched onto Nick. Nick struggled with the ropes of its body unfurling out of Barry’s belly. He could not shake the fat boys grip from him. He could not stop the worm slipping around his neck and under his shirt. Spewing a great white mulch of eggs onto his hair and neck.
It did not fully leave Barry’s body. It was still controlling the boy. Manipulating him to pull himself and Nick further into the water. I watched on. Transfixed and terrified as the two boys and the worm sank under the water. I waited there on the rivers side. Fist clenched to strike anything that arose. Every thought screamed for me to run yet I could not. I stood on. Watching the river continue to flow downstream.
I never saw the two boys again.