THE WHIRLIGIG by Isabel Jones
Pershore High School
The red paint drips rhythmically from the door, forming an ominous puddle on the ground – sickness bleeding out for all to see. The first boy trudges round a corner, no childhood joy on his face, just cautious eyes desperately trying not to look at the bodies strewn around the street.
The boy comes to the door, looking almost knowingly at the red cross on it, even though this is the first time he has seen it on his own front door. He already knows what waits within, a dying mother, a father not far behind – sneezing, coughing. Oozing, raw rings of flesh. An unclear future for one healthy, eight-year-old boy.
He fingers the serrated edge of the lead whirligig, the only item of value in his unfortunate existence. The only gift he’d ever received for his birthday.
Tentatively, he places his hand on the doorknob, just as he feels a plump hand on his bony shoulder. He whirls round in shock to come face to face with a man, crouching down to his level.
‘On yer way, son. Yer ma and pa are dead.’ His mouth mouths around the words yet they don’t seem to be real, that this can be the man delivering his fate.
The man’s eyes bore into his face, the boy feels the whirligig once more and turns away, away from this family home where he grew up, took his first steps. Now he steps away. Into the unknown.
The boy shelters in a doorway as rain cascades down from the sky, washing bodies down the street, causing a foul odour to rise. Disgusted, the boy wrinkles his nostrils, huddling his knees into his chest against the cold and the rising sobs in his throat. He rubs the edge of the whirligig so hard, his fingers come back cut and bloody. He shuts his eyes, only to find two hands shaking his shoulders. He opens his eyes to see a boy, lip curling in aggression.
‘Whaddya fink yer doing in m territory, squirt?’ He is spitting into the boy’s face.
Fearful, the boy touches the whirligig once more.
‘Oi, get yer hand outta yer pocket, if you know what’s good for you,’ the older boy growls, snatching the boy’s hand away, dragging the toy with it.
‘Oh, looks like I’ve found summin’ of value, eh?’ the older boy examines it in his large hands. ‘A wirly-watsit. This’ll sell good, won’t it?’
Desperate, the boy tries to grab the toy back, only to be knocked to the ground by a blow to his head. Pitifully, he looks up as the older boy makes a pfffft sound with his lips before strolling casually away, stealing all happiness away with him…
‘Happy birthday, son!’ smiles the baker, handing his son a gift wrapped in newspaper. Eagerly, this boy tears the newspaper away, only to poke his finger on a serrated edge.
‘A whirligig!’ he cries, throwing his arms around his father in gratitude. He breathes in the familiar smell of fresh bread around him, the smell of comfort and family.
After the celebrations they retire to bed, the boy hugging the toy to his chest – he sleeps.
The boy wakes up coughing. He opens his eyes but they are immediately filled with water. An eerie orange glow illuminates the walls. He hears screams across the hallway, hears his mother hurtling into his room, grabbing him by the forearm. He grips the whirligig tightly as she yanks him from his room.
They race down the stairs. The heat is unbearable. He feels his mother’s clammy hand shake and slip inside his as they pound into the bakery, flames licking up the walls.
They are in fiery hell, shrouded in ominous black smoke. They burst out into the street, flickering orange, smoke billowing into the air. Ringing of bells, squeals of fear, people running everywhere. Pudding Lane is in chaos.
‘Where’s Pa?’ the boy chokes, gripping the whirligig.
‘We ain’t gonna talk about Pa no more, boy,’ his mother shouts.
An eruption of flame and debris pours out of their home and his father’s bakery. Pa is no more. They are running again, from Pudding Lane to the river, tears stinging their eyes, with no time to fall.
They run alongside the river, the boy gripping his toy, just as his bare foot catches on the cobbles. He stumbles, flailing his free arm to catch himself, loosening his grip on the whirligig.
It flies from his hand, plunging down, down into the river…
The tide pulls away, leaving a bare riverbed as the mudlarks descend, hungry for treasure. An unbearable stench of faeces filling their nostrils, they set to work, pawing through the dense coating of slime and mud. Small, pale fingers catch on the serrated edge. The young girl pulls back in surprise and notices a glimmer in the mud.
She reaches down with her fragile digits and pulls out the whirligig…