Half Bad(The Half Bad Trilogy #1)

Half Bad(The Half Bad Trilogy #1) by Sally Green




SALLY GREEN lives in north-west England. She has had various jobs and even a profession but in 2010 she discovered a love of writing and now just can’t stop. She used to keep chickens, makes decent

jam, doesn’t mind ironing, loves to walk in Wales even when it’s raining and will probably never jog again. She really ought to drink less coffee. Half Bad is her first novel.





For my mother





‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

Hamlet, William Shakespeare





part one


the trick





the trick


There’s these two kids, boys, sitting close together, squished in by the big arms of an old chair. You’re the one on the left.

The other boy’s warm to lean close to and he moves his gaze from the telly to you, sort of in slow motion.

‘You enjoying it?’ he asks.

You nod. He puts his arm round you and turns back to the screen.

Afterwards you both want to try the thing in the film. You sneak the big box of matches from the kitchen drawer and run with them to the woods.

You go first. You light the match and hold it between your thumb and forefinger, letting it burn right down until it goes out. Your fingers are burnt but they hold the blackened match.

The trick works.

The other boy tries it too. Only he doesn’t do it. He drops the match.

Then you wake up and remember where you are.





the cage


The trick is to not mind. Not mind about it hurting, not mind about anything.

The trick of not minding is key; it’s the only trick in town. Only this is not a town; it’s a cage beside a cottage, surrounded by a load of hills and trees and sky.

It’s a one-trick cage.





press-ups


The routine is OK.

Waking up to sky and air is OK. Waking up to the cage and the shackles is what it is. You can’t let the cage get to you. The shackles rub but healing is quick and easy, so what’s to mind?

The cage is loads better now that the sheepskins are in. Even when they’re damp they’re warm. The tarpaulin over the north end was a big improvement too. There’s shelter from the worst of the wind and rain. And a bit of shade if     it’s hot and sunny. Joke! You’ve got to keep your sense of humour.

So the routine is to wake up as the sky lightens before dawn. You don’t have to move a muscle, don’t even have to open your eyes to know it’s getting light; you can just lie there and take it all in.

The best bit of the day.

There aren’t many birds around, a few, not many. It would be good to know all their names but you know their different calls. There are no seagulls, which is something to think about, and there are no vapour trails either. The wind is usually quiet in the pre-dawn calm, and somehow the air feels warmer already as it begins to get light.

You can open your eyes now and there are a few minutes to savour the sunrise, which today is a thin pink line stretching along the top of a narrow ribbon of cloud draped over the smudged green hills. And you’ve still got a minute, maybe     even two, to get your head together before she appears.

You’ve got to have a plan, though, and the best idea is to have it all worked out the night before so you can slip straight into it without a thought. Mostly the plan is to do what you’re told, but not every day, and not today.

You wait until she appears and throws you the keys. You catch the keys, unlock your ankles, rub them to emphasize the pain she is inflicting, unlock your left manacle, unlock your right, stand, unlock the cage door, toss the keys back to her,     open the cage door, step out – keeping your head down, never look her in the eyes (unless that’s part of some other plan) – rub your back and maybe groan a bit, walk to the vegetable bed, piss.

Sometimes she tries to mess with your head, of course, by changing the routine. Sometimes she wants chores before exercises but most days it’s press-ups first. You’ll know which while still zipping up.

‘Fifty.’

She says it quietly. She knows you’re listening.

You take your time as usual. That’s always part of the plan.

Make her wait.

Rub your right arm. The metal wristband cuts into it when the shackle is on. You heal it and get a faint buzz. You roll your head, your shoulders, your head again and then stand there, just stand there     for another second or two, pushing her to her limit, before you drop to the ground.



           one   Not minding

       two   is the trick.

       three   The only

       four   trick.

       five   But there are

       six   loads of

       seven   tactics.

       eight   Loads.

       nine   On the look-out

       ten   all the time.

       eleven   All the time.

       twelve   And it’s

       thirteen   easy.

       fourteen   Cos there ain’t

       fifteen   nothing else

       sixteen   to do.

       seventeen   Look out for what?

       eighteen   Something.

       nineteen   Anything.

       twenty   N

       twenty-one   E

       twenty-two   thing.

       twenty-three   A mistake.

           twenty-four   A chance.

       twenty-five   An oversight.

       twenty-six   The

       twenty-seven   tiniest

       twenty-eight   error

       twenty-nine   by the

       thirty   White

       thirty-one   Witch

       thirty-two   from

       thirty-three   Hell.

       thirty-four   Cos she makes

       thirty-five   mistakes.

       thirty-six   Oh yes.

       thirty-seven   And if that mistake

       thirty-eight   comes to

       thirty-nine   nothing

       forty   you wait

       forty-one   for the next one

       forty-two   and the next one

       forty-three   and the next one.

       forty-four   Until

       forty-five   you

       forty-six   succeed.

       forty-seven   Until

       forty-eight   you’re

       forty-nine   free.

    You get up. She will have been counting but never letting up is another tactic.

She doesn’t say anything but steps towards you and backhands you across the face.



           fifty   ‘Fifty.’

    After press-ups it’s just standing and waiting. Best look at the ground. You’re by the cage on the path. The path’s muddy, but you won’t be sweeping it, not today, not with this plan. It’s rained a lot in the last     few days. Autumn’s coming on fast. Still, today it’s not raining; already it’s going well.

‘Do the outer circuit.’ Again she’s quiet. No need to raise her voice.

And off you jog … but not yet. You’ve got to keep her thinking you’re being your usual difficult-yet-basically-compliant self and so you knock mud off your boots, left boot-heel on right toe followed by right boot-heel on left toe.     You raise a hand and look up and around as if you’re assessing the wind direction, spit on the potato plants, look left and right like you’re waiting for a gap in the traffic and … let the bus go past … and then you’re off.

You take the drystone wall with a leap to the top and over, then across the moorland, heading to the trees.

Freedom.

As if!

But you’ve got the plan and you’ve learnt a lot in four months. The fastest that you’ve done the outer circuit for her is forty-five minutes. You can do it in less than that, forty maybe, cos you stop by the stream at the far     end and rest and drink and listen and look and one time you managed to get to the ridge and see over to more hills, more trees and a loch (it might be a lake but something about the heather and the length of summer days says loch).

Today the plan is to speed up when you’re out of sight. That’s easy. Easy. The diet you’re on is great. You have to give her some credit, cos you are super healthy, super fit. Meat, veg, more meat, more veg, and don’t     forget plenty of fresh air. Oh this is the life.

You’re doing OK. Keeping up a good pace. Your top pace.

And you’re buzzing, self-healing from her little slap; it’s giving you a little buzz, buzz, buzz.

You’re already at the far end, where you could cut back to do the inner circuit which is really half the outer circuit. But she didn’t want the inner circuit and you were going to do the outer whatever she said.

That’s got to be the fastest yet.

Then up to the ridge.

And let gravity take you down in long strides to the stream that leads to the loch.

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