Modern Psychedelia: A story by Jack Galigan

Fighting Words 2019: Jack Galligan is 15 and a student at Temple Carrig Secondary School, Greystones, Co Wicklow

I knew it was time to leave before someone would uncover the artist behind my piece. I threw the empty can on the ground, and kicked it against a rock. Photograph: iStock

I knew it was time to leave before someone would uncover the artist behind my piece. I threw the empty can on the ground, and kicked it against a rock. Photograph: iStock


“Shit,” my can of spray paint had just run dry. I only had three left and this one was my last. The hot Californian sun was beating down onto my head as I slowly stepped back to admire my new piece. Across a dirty, once-white sheet of metal was written ‘We can see you’. I didn’t even know what it meant, but that phrase always gave me an eerie feeling of being watched, like the aliens had come to earth and knew who I was.

The people of southern California were beginning to make their way to work, every few minutes a small car would rush past me on the road to my left. I knew it was time to leave before someone would uncover the artist behind my piece. I threw the empty can on the ground, and kicked it against a rock. I pulled my bike from a low tree and began to cycle. The late summer sun was beginning to heat up the road, I could feel a small sweat breaking out on my back.

My bike rolled over sidewalk after sidewalk, the pavement was slowly beginning to grow lumps and the concrete blocks were rising in odd patterns. The large homes zoomed past and gradually changed to smaller, worn-out houses surrounded by fences. Eventually I had to get off my bike as the potholes got too bad. I slowly sauntered down the centre of the street, with my bike bumping up and down the rough concrete. I looked up into the gleaming sun. It was pounding down now and even made my torn-up black bike seat too hot to touch.

As the ends of my jeans dragged along the ground, I heard a low rumble from ahead, my eyes shot up and I made out a shiny distorted car making its way towards me.

At first I couldn’t picture it as the heat made the wide road blurry. I saw nothing of it at first and continued to walk down the street. As it got closer I could hear the revving engine speeding towards me. I stopped in my tracks and let go of my bike’s handlebars, sending it crashing onto the road and quickly turned to the sidewalk for safety. As I took my first steps I stopped and considered returning for my bike. I looked up to see the red car, a scrappy old Mustang, had made its distance and was about to fly past. Reluctantly, I jumped in behind a group of metal trash cans and prayed my bike would survive.

The car slammed down onto the road, a flash of sparks and the sound of crushing metal told me my bike was gone; my face tightened as bits of my only possession shot out the back, filling the potholes with metallic rain. I saw the lonely black saddle scattered across the concrete. The car continued past and I jogged over to pick up the saddle. Across the road lay a large bundle of bloodied sheets in the shape of a body. But as soon as I realized what they left behind they did too. The car was now reversing back towards me with the open trunk facing me.

I threw my body behind a narrow tree this time and bit my tongue as the car quickly pulled up about five feet from where the body landed. The driver’s door swung open, a cloud of smoke rose from the inside and two sleek black boots slowly emerged. A tall girl who looked about eighteen then stood up out of the car, throwing a glowing cigarette under her boot. She had brown hair that brushed off her bare shoulders and her lips were a hue of red, almost the same as her rusty car. She stormed over to the pile of sheets and kicked where the head would be lightly.

The passenger door then flew open and a teenage boy fell out onto the road, barely balancing himself on his feet. He was wearing a tattered pair of blue jeans and a large shirt which showed an idealistic image of Hawaii; from the look in his eyes and his hollow face I doubted he had been to this paradise. He stumbled over beside the driver whilst muttering something under his breath. She didn’t take her eyes off the blood-stained sheets.

“What did you say?” she asked tensely. The boy picked a lollipop from his pocket and put it in his mouth.

“I said, slow down over the potholes.” The girl’s lips pursed and she shot her face over to look at him.

“Eat my shit.” Her eyes were obscured by black sunglasses but I could tell they were smiling behind them. The boy leant over and grabbed the legs of the body. “Pick up the head now, Alex, before they catch up.” She bent down with a grunt and struggled to lift up the body beyond her knees.

When they finally heaved the body into the trunk, the boy briskly made his way into the car but “Alex” remained to check if anyone had seen their mishap. So far I had remained unseen, the tree barely covered my shoulders but it provided good darkness to remain hidden.

Alex’s glare scanned around the road until her black glasses stopped, staring right at my tree. I quickly held my breath and tucked my head behind the tree, but it was too late I could hear the boots tapping off the pavement. I bit the inside of my mouth and began to run down the narrow sidewalk but before I could leave I was thrown down onto the sidewalk.

I hit my head against the concrete and my ears began ringing as I felt blood trickle into my ear. I looked up and saw a blurry image of the girl. The boy then approached and his messy black hair hovered over my head, then the girl’s green eyes met mine, things began to come into focus but the ringing in my ears was now drowned out by a wailing noise in the distance.

From the look on Alex’s face I could tell she knew what it was; they ran for the car but the boy grabbed hold of Alex’s shoulders and he yanked her back towards me. “We can’t leave him here, he will tell them everything.”

By now I was fully aware of what was going on, the police were after these two kids, and if I didn’t do something quick it would be my problem too, but before I could haul myself up the boy already had his arms around me, and I was being dragged back towards their Mustang. Alex had sat down into the driver’s seat and was waiting for the boy and me to get in the car. The boy didn’t let go of my shirt until I was safely locked into the back of the car – he leant forward to Alex, who was now attempting to start the old car. I turned around to look out the back window, the shattered remains of my bike were scattered down the road and further down I could see two red and blue lights coming straight at us. The car engine started with a jolt and threw me into the back window.

The Mustang reeked of cigarettes and cheap coffee, the yellow stains on the seats proved that Alex wasn’t a cautious driver. Fast food wrappers and plastic lined the dashboard, a few were now on Alex’s lap as we sped away from the scene. I could tell none of this mattered to my kidnappers as they were sharing a cigarette and sticking a CD in the player. I stuck my head into the front beside Alex. I stared at her sharp face, and before I could say anything Will grabbed my tee-shirt and pulled me into the backseat – the sirens were far away by now and the only thing I could here was Will’s low breathing and the occasional bang of the car pumping through potholes. Will’s hair reached his ears and was a dark black shade – it framed his face. His lips emerged out of his sallow skin and a scar about the length of the nail on a middle finger ran across his pale lips. Tiny beads of sweat clung to his forehead. The sun was now burning through the glass windows and the air inside the car was hot and heavy. I eventually took my gaze off Will’s face and peered out the window to examine where we were.

We were now skimming down the Californian highway, Alex weaved in and out of smaller cars until we slowed down to a stop. I could see a long string of cars backed up behind us and not a single one was wailing with blue and red lights. I turned back around realising that I was going to be stuck with these criminals for a very long time.

This story took shape at one of the workshops run by Fighting Words, which was founded by Roddy Doyle and Seán Love in 2009 to nurture young writers around Ireland. It is now in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Mayo, Wicklow, Galway, Donegal, Kerry, Wexford and Kildare