Paul’s mother walked in and flinched. Every trip to her son’s room was a fresh assault on her senses, but mostly her sense of smell. Normally, a combination whiff of stale sauces and unmentionable fluids greeted her. Today, all that had been overwhelmed by the sickly tang of incense. God she hoped it was incense.

She loved her son. He could murder a priest in her sitting room and she’d just hold him tight, tell him he was still ok in her book and could he pop the kettle on while she went and fetched a shovel? But was it too much to hope that one day she’d turn the handle, walk in and see him packing a bag?

“Paul,” she hollered down the stairs. “You’ve left your game on!”

Nothing. The room was dark and empty of son, the clutter washed in a faint blue glow by the light of the TV. She squinted a little to see the frenetic spectacle on the screen, harsh and busy in the dim light. A lone figure was sword-fighting with what looked like muscle-bound frogs. Frogs in sunglasses. So Paul wasn’t going to become a lawyer then.

The figure took a swipe at the nearest amphibian, slicing it across its bulbous neck. Green blood and gussets sprayed in a fat arc. The frog stumbled, fell on its face where it wriggled and thrashed in its own juices. The figure had moved on and was currently pulling a large brown toad’s guts out like a magician’s handkerchief. Oh dear, she thought. What was Paul going to become?

“Paul,” she once more called off into the house. “I’ll turn it off!”

Nothing. That normally brought him thundering up the stairs. He’d practically knock her off her feet, snatch up the control pad and plant himself in that stupid beanbag. She’d lose him then. He wouldn’t be the little boy who called her Mamadoo, not anymore. He’d become absorbed in fighting and slashing and oh good lord, was the lone figure wearing one of the frog’s spines as a tie?! She clicked it off with a shudder. The picture flared and burst to static.

Something on the carpet caught her attention. A small circle of candles, melted down. She sniffed. They’d been burning recently. Scented candles, she thought, how have the kids managed to subvert those? In the middle of the circle were a few sheets of paper. Some weird symbols were drawn on them; stars, moons, toads. Oh I don’t even know, she thought, clicking off the TV and rising to her feet.

All of his friends had left. They’d moved to the cities and created new lives for themselves. Meanwhile, her little boy had become a man in a little boy’s bedroom, all alone in the dark. Did he have plans? Or was he content to slaughter pondlife for the rest of his days?

“Paul?” she cried, leaving the room. “Are you going to water the garden tonight? It’s getting dark.”

She was gone. She did not hear the tink tink tink of a tiny lone figure knocking on the TV screen. A lone figure exhausted, scared and dripping with toad guts. In the dark. She’d have to come back. She’d hear him eventually, he thought. Tink tink tink.

“Paul,” cried a voice, far off in the distance now, and getting quieter. “Where are you?”


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