The Boy With the Thorn in His Side

Jack rounded the next bend in the roof and saw Oscar first. His shout surprised me and I missed my handhold, slipping several feet down the roof. My foot caught on the gutter and stopped my descent, but not a moment too soon. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I clutched the side of the roof, unwilling to look towards the ground. Jack scrabbled down after me.  

“Are you alright?” he asked, his face marred with concern.

“Yeah, help me back up will you?” Jack grabbed my cold fingers and tugged me back towards the ridge. We crouched down behind the backside of the roof as we tried to assess what Jack had just seen. Oscar had been sitting by himself on top of an eave. It sounded like he was talking to someone, but Jack couldn’t be sure. The boy with the thorn in his side was suspiciously absent.

“Maybe he was just wandering around or something?” asked Jack.

“Maybe,” I hedged, not really believing it. “Just keep your guard up, yeah? That last slip was enough of a close call for me.” Jack nodded and started to make his way over the ledge and towards Oscar. I followed him leaving enough of a gap between us that we wouldn’t bungle into each other, occasionally checking behind us to make sure we weren’t being followed.

Jack stopped when he reached the edge of the roof that connected to the eave. Oscar had really chosen a poor spot. The pitch of the roof that we were on was the steepest yet and it offered little in the way of hand or foot holds. To make matters worse, Oscar had somehow shimmied his big, blubbery frame out to the very tip of an eave that was dangerously in need of repair. Several slate tiles were missing and it looked like the ridge cap had started to crack under Oscar’s weight. And if that wasn’t enough, it started to rain, not a heavy downpour as such, but rather a light constant drizzle that soaked through our clothes and felt like it went all the way down to our bones.  

Oscar was rattling off some nonsense.

“Behind the hatred there lies a murderous desire for love,” said Oscar to no one in particular. “More than you’ll ever know. His only desire is to die.” Oscar let out a horrid little laugh before repeating the words again. His hair had started to droop with the weight of the rain.

“He’s gone stark raving mad,” whispered Jack.

“Oscar,” I shouted out to him, trying to keep my teeth from chattering. The cold and now the rain were becoming a problem. I had no feeling in my toes anymore. “Oscar, come away from the ledge, mate. Come back to the roof so we can talk. We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

“Rory?” croaked Oscar. His voice broke on the second syllable.

“Yeah, Oscar. It’s us. Rory and Jack. Your mates. Why don’t you come down from there.”

“I can’t,” he replied, his voice full of anguish.

“Why not, mate?” I asked taking a step towards him, trying to watch my footing on the slick roof.

Just then a hand slithered up over top of the eave and then another as the boy’s head appeared over the top of the gutter. He had changed since the last time I’d seen him. He no longer looked effeminate like a young girl with light baby curls and a pair of brown eyes that held hidden mischief. No, he was gruesome now. His eyes were blood shot as if the tiny capillaries around his irises had suddenly burst. His youthful smile had faded and in its place a ravaged menacing grin had bloomed, causing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on edge. If that wasn’t enough, the wound in his side came into view as he swung his legs up on the roof. The gaping hole still had a large piece of wood the size of a cricket bat embedded in it, but it squirmed and writhed like it was alive. I looked closer and realized that what I’d taken for splinters were in fact maggots. I scurried back up the side of the roof away from Oscar.

“Now, Jack, now!”

Jack sat there dumbstruck. I reached up and punched him in the arm.

“Move your arse,” I bellowed at him.

Jack started rattling off Latin as if he was reading a telephone directory, but it wasn’t working. The boy with the thorn in his side merely shook his head at us as if we were being naughty school boys. Jack fumbled over some of his words and started to break down, small gasps erupting from his chest as he sat staring at the thing that was crawling up the roof towards us.

In the midst of my hysteria, I had forgotten about Oscar. He had turned himself around on top of the eave with great difficulty, and was now trying to clamber off after the creature that had forced him out there in the first place. He kept shouting, “Behind the hatred is a desire to be loved! His only desire is to die.” I shook my head at him. The thing that had been a boy was close enough that I could almost reach out with my leg and touch him. Jack had given up on the Latin and was trying to lift himself over the ledge without taking his eyes off the boy.

“Why can’t we wake up?” Jack screamed at me.

Oscar kept spitting out his confusing one man soliloquies that made no sense. I felt like I was going mad myself.

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