WorldStar & Son by Michael Botur

WorldStar & Son by Michael Botur

A bullied teen captivated by YouTube streetfight videos finds that his wish for his jellyfish-father to toughen up is coming true, as the pair form a daddy-son tag team and take on their tormentors.

1.

Dad’s in your room before you know it and your hand leaps onto the mouse and you pause the video in a hurry. Busted. Watching naughty vids when you should be sleeping. He’s probably about to ground your ass.  

Crunching your mattress, holding his phone in case he misses a call, the little moustached man sits his bony butt down on your bed. Separated, divorced, weary, he’s here to bond or get to know you. All that fatherly cringe junk.

Computer fans whirring and humming. Nipping, itching, corrosive Christchurch February summer outside. Heat-pressure.

Dad’s come into your room to tell you off for staying up late on a school night watching vids, you totally know it. Dad wants you resting or studying. Disciplined. Not that the stooped little nerd is man enough to enforce it.

He’s tapping his work phone against his thigh. Never lets go of that damn thing. ‘Whatcha watching, kiddo?’

‘Nothin.’

Stupid, stupid: you’ve paused the video on the most incriminating screenshot. It’s footage of two black guys wearing billowing white t-shirts. They’re on a patched-up street in Atlanta, smashing each other with bunches of knuckles in the middle of the road. Deano, your soon-to-be-stepbrother, told you you had to watch the vid if you wanted to be in his clique, his schoolyard gang, to harden you up for Thug Life. Where you’re up to is the taller black guy has taken a fist to the jaw and gone to sleep, falling so the back of his skull cracks on the kerb. He’s started shuddering like he’s in an electric chair and white foam is fountaining out of his mouth like a prank jar full of springy snakes.

With the image frozen, the black guy looks like he’s got a raspberry icicle sticking out of his mouth. Blood in the froth.

‘I’ll just go to sleep,’ you promise, finger hovering over the power button, sweeping hair behind your ear, ‘Sorry for staying up.’

‘What’s WorldStar?’

Black silence. Computer humming.

‘I’ve decided to take more of an interest, Max, in supporting your passions.’

Embarrassment seeps into the gap between words. May as well talk to him, urgh. Hurry him along. Pretty much guarantee this is some political shit with Mum. She’ll have criticised his parenting and this is what he’s doing to feel like a good dad again.

‘It’s not a passion, it’s like, I was just, I dunno. Getting rid of it, like making it move on… ?’

Dad needs to bounce so you can get sleep for school tomorrow, except he’s folded his right leg over his left, the girly manouevre Mum used to always give him shit for. Everyone gives him shit, which is half the reason he won’t let go of his phone, cause your dad gets told off by his bully-boss if he doesn’t answer calls immediately. You wish Dad was as hard as these streetfighters. Sadly he’s a black-haired midget-man with squinty eyes like olives. Comes from a long line of Polish pussies with squishy Jewish surnames. And he’s never had a scrap in his life.

Not that you have, either. Hence watching the vids. Imagining.

Dad’s still looking expectant.

‘So I guess, like, WorldStarHipHop, it’s, like, one word. This website-thing. People send them heaps of fight vids and stuff.’

‘Mmhmm, mmhmm,’ Dad goes, trying to keep up with your so-called passion. ‘And this is a rap music video? Is that Aranui I see?’

‘Nah, man. America.’ Not that Christchurch is so different from the projects anymore. The earthquake ten years ago ripped the community open, people’ve been saying. Rot’s infected the wound, plus The Press says post-Covid crime is worse than ever. Homeless nibbling the toes of the comfortable people. You tried to record a freestyle rap on TikTok about cleaning up the city superhero-style but you can’t imagine being staunch enough. Never told a stranger off, never thrown a punch.

Sigh. It’s 11:14. Has to be the first time in the history of sticky sleepless summers you’ve wanted to go to bed before midnight. ‘It’s like, WorldStar started out doing music vids but I guess people’ve got different appetites. People started upvoting fights so that’s what they publish now, mainly.’

Dad – little chest, folded legs, delicate computer-fingers – is smiling at you through the black. Whoever’s on his phone must be getting pissed. Probably his bully-boss, Travis Fong the Famous Founder, Mister App Inventor, jerk-egg-douchebag. The babyfaced fuck made Dad work all through summer, even Christmas Eve. He had Dad at 3am on his laptop for Zoom calls. Working on Berlin Time to try break into the European cybersecurity market. Dad was even named co-founder, at one point, but he didn’t have the balls to be the public face. Now he works under Travis.

Feeling cringe-y with Dad all supportive and lovingly curious, you unpause the video. Immediately ooze erupts from Cracked Skull Guy’s lips. He jitters like he’s dancing on his back. White T-Shirt Number Two moseys over, yells TWO-ONE-EIGHT WORLDSTAR, BITCH at the other guy’s shivering face, then with a crunchy splat, stomps his head.

Room dark and silent for ten stretching seconds.

You close the browser, pull your pants off, as in Hint hint, Dad. You gotta get outta here, I’m stripping off for bed.

‘Thank you for sharing your interests, Max,’ Dad goes, fingering the hem of his shirt, making sure it’s tucked in. The fuck? Dad’s having a midlife crisis or something. Must be lonely. He gets this way when something reminds him that he’s divorced and Mum’s marrying a new dude who’s not a software wuss. ‘I do intend to make more of an effort to, well, “hang out.” Just been a bit tied up at work, what with the IPO coming up. Travis is leaning on me pretty hard soooo… .’

You nod and your hair falls in front of your eyes. It’s an If-I-wanted-you-to-care-about-my-shit-I-would-tell-you nod.

‘Listen, you had any more problems with Gavin’s son – Dave-o? Deano? The red-headed little creep?’

Hacky sack slaps. Getting downtrou’d in the tuck shop line. Deano’s little magpie babies laughing. Tackling you way too hard and bruising your hips when you were supposed to be playing footie at lunch time.

 ‘Nah Dad. No problems.’

Dad fingers your curtains. Peers outside. Wish he hadn’t bought a place on the edge of Hagley Park. Taggers and homeless crackheads camping in the bushes. Waiting in the darkness.

‘World’s getting rougher, breakdown of the good ole social fabric-y stuff,’ Dad goes in his best Ned Flanders voice, ‘I just want you to be safe, eh?’ He takes a step forward. You know he wants to squeeze your shoulder, but that’s not a Hard Man thing to do. You let your long, silky, chin-length hair fall across your cheek, screening him out.

Dad does a little bow instead. Sleep tight.

He leaves you with the sounds of cicadas, distant clubbing, fights and smashing glass getting nearer plus the worrying whisper of something you wish was waterpipes but you’re pretty sure is the hiss of a spraycan as a tagger graffitis fences down your street.

At 1.33, you still can’t sleep.

Glad that Dad’s been and gone, glad that none of the evil shit on screen is touching him, you watch fight vids till 3am, hands between your legs. Not loving it. Just staying on top. Learning what fighting back looks like.

2.

Friday drop-off at Mum’s place. The sun makes Christchurch glow as it hits the bare yellow slopes of the Port Hills. Road still melting as dinner time draws near. Mirage-cars shaking in the heat.

The shadow of Gavin’s massive blue Mercedes-Benz 18-wheeler truck darkens half the lawn. It’s a truck so big that Gavin sleeps in it sometimes. Dad hovers his tiny-in-comparison Honda on the driveway, leaves the engine running. You doubt he’ll get out. Since Mum got engaged to a hard man, Dad’s become even more of a bitch than when Mum left him. Lets Gavin eyeball him and talk down to him and stuff. Pherosterone or whatever that chemical is that men spray all over each other. Your parents have a 50/50 split so this is a Mum week. Total emphasis on the weak. Stepdad Gav always starts your weak-weeks with Yardwork Fridays then manly Saturday shit, paintball and hunting and watching UFC.

Stepdad Gav’s trimming the hedge as Dad drops you off, box of bourbons and a red plastic can of petrol on the lawn behind him. Your soon-to-be stepdad, marrying mum next month. His son Deano will go from School Bully to Stepbrother Bully. Fuck your life.

You hop out of the Honda and your sports bag thuds on the ground and you drag it across the grass. Dad comes around the car and you hope nobody sees him give you a kiss on the cheek.

So-called Stepdad Gav looks over his hairy orange shoulder, twisting the tattoo on his neck. Curses as he pulls his earmuffs off and throws down the hedge trimmer, striding over in his big boots. Picks up your heavy bag with ease, leaving a smear of sweat from his shoulder, then shoves the bag into your arms. You rock and stumble.

‘Your old man still hasn’t sorted you a haircut?!’ Gavin goes, ‘Fuck me, Maxipad. Bring your boxing gears this time?’

He’s talking about the Tapout gloves he gave you for Christmas. Can’t tell him that Dad threw them out cause Dad doesn’t like violence.

You’ve just reached the doorstep and you can smell burnt onions, scorched meat, bloodjuice, charcoal. Mum’ll be coming down the hall with an apron and barbecue tongs.

Dad’s about to burble off in his Honda when Gav catches him.

‘HOLD YOUR HORSES.’ Gavin goes over and slaps the roof of your dad’s car then starts ranting at him. ‘Wee Maxy here. You don’t mind if I take him out for a shoot tomorrow? You’ll be working on your computer shit anyway, won’tcha.’

His delicate little hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel, staring awkwardly forward, Dad nods through a lecture about “Manning the kid up, he’s sixteen already, fark me.” Gavin finishes by patting the roof of Dad’s car, like Attaboy. Dad hates hunting and would never encourage you to take part – but he’s glad to have permission to leave.

Dinnertime, Deano pricks you with his fork. Steals your steak and puts it in his manwich. Eyeballs you while you picture stomping his head so barbecue sauce squirts out of his crushed eyes when you start hearing So we’re off at dawn, oi, OI, Maxipad ya softcock, wakey wakey, you listenin?

Hunting, tomorrow, out in the hills, he’s saying. South Island high country, Geraldine-ways. Something about bagging wallabies.

Come over to me, son, I’ll raise you like a real fuckin bloke, Gav says without saying.  Love having me another boy. Shame your old man’s such a softcock. Y’know we can go through family court, eh? If you wanna get away from him.

Whatever, I’ll come, you shrug. You’d rather watch horror flicks, but you can’t be bothered with the static if you say no.

5.55, they order you out to Gavin’s pickup truck. You fall asleep in the back.

You dream of WorldStar beatings. Wake to find a hardon beneath your seatbelt and the city gone.

Inland Canterbury is thirsty hilltops, pockets of snow hidden in mountains like white teeth, ribbons of dark blue meltwater in deserts of riverstone.

After crossing a mile-wide river, you rip up a dusty track and squirt to a stop at a dry cattle pen with dangling meathooks. Ssh, sssh, behind the water tank, Gav’s telling his son, Not too quick, they’ll run. Apparently there’s some quivering fluffy mammal on this farm to obliterate.

Deano watches his father for cues. Hunter Father and Hunter Son stalk up to a collapsing shed where a bunch of baby wallabies are cowering. Gav draws a bead on a cornered wallaby, its wet purple nose twitching with fear, and splats the head of the first one while Deano’s sprinting round the far side of the tank, rifle dangling from its shoulder strap, gunbarrel pointing at you several times, choking with hyena-laughter like he’s having an asthma attack, and 28 shots later you have six red-soaked pillows of fur in the back of the pickup as you rock and rattle all the way back to Christchurch.

When you get back into cellphone reception range, there are only three new messages on your phone.

First is a WhatsApp from Dad. Shows him pulling up at some business in what looks like Moorhouse Avenue, downtown. Holding his phone, recording with a blissed out smile, you can see he’s at Hunting & Fishing, a shop you guarantee he’s never set foot in. Not till today, at least. Stands at reception for a second, looking like a doofus. Then he gets in the zone, showing off for his video update. The recording’s got him stroking fishhooks and animal traps, then hunting knives, rifles, silencers. Deep in the shop, he picks up StagStopper mace, hefts it in one hand, strokes a spear gun in the other hand, winking into the camera to impress you, going “Oh my, the Beuchat Mundial Competition 750-mil Speargun, looks deadly, and only three-ninety-nine?”

He’s being weird, like what’s that dumb humour grownups use? Ironic. Kind-of making fun of hunters, like he’s superior.

Hell’s gotten into Dad? He off his chill pills or what?

Second video clip, Dad once again acting like he’s some fine breed. He’s been touring the store like a total outsider, posing with cabinets of knives and racks of camouflage gear and a basket of two-for-$30 balaclavas. Guys like dad will never fit in in this shop. His ancestors always worked sewing machines. Delicate fingers for stitching, measuring, caressing spreadsheets, budgeting.

Halfway home in the windy plains outside Temuka, your (urgh) soon-to-be stepdad and stepbrother pull over and piss on the tyres, laughing and waving their cocks at cars. Deano loves nothing better than copying his ginger caveman father. You’ve seen a granddad drop round to their house, too. All they do is talk guns and metal and boats. Seems to you these people are an unending line of Scottish hardarses who kick furniture and never smile.

Meanwhile you clear the rest of Dad’s WhatsApp messages. Looks like he bought a bunch of hunting junk.

Probably to impress Gavin. Try win Mum back or something. Be the lion with the biggest mane.

3.

    You funnel into class, shoulders and backpacks and green neck ties. Reeking cloying deodorant spray, musk and alcohol. In all of your classes, there’s Deano and his crew of goons, never more than a couple metres away. Even on breaks, Deano and his magpies wait in clefts in the concrete, stairwells and shadows. Grey wool shorts bulging with ammo. Biffing acorns and conkers. Tech, cooking, computing. Deano pricks you with a compass, slaps you with a spatula, fires darts and spitballs and boogers.

Tuesday, Mum squawks that you have to “Stay with your brother” at the skate bowl after school, as if Mister Bully Bro needs company. Wednesday, you beg Mum to take you grocery shopping so you’ll have private time and talk about Dad’s weird ironic videos. Thursday, you have to sneak to the toilets four times to watch WorldStar on your phone.

Finally, Friday arrives and Dad picks you up at sunset, barely touching his tyres to the lip of Gavin’s driveway as a call comes through in his Bluetooth earpiece from Boy Genius Travis. Dude chews your dad’s ass off, something about GET. ANDREESSEN. SET. THE MEET. TODAY and Dad grits his teeth like ‘Yes, yup, yessir, will do,’ calling him sir even though the little arrogant hoodie-wearing Zuckerberg wannabe’s not much older than you.

Friday night, while normal people round the world are having KFC and ribs and burgers, Dad serves up quinoa with jackfruit, plus brown rice, smiling so forced that the skin bunches around his eyes. Come on Dad, you want to cry. I know you’re depressed ‘n shit. You don’t have to fake it.

You eat at the silent table. Vegan recipe from Cambodia, Dad explains. Sad silence. Like there’s no fight in the food.

Kids in a dope whip cruise past outside, Nissan Skyline, lowered, turbocharged DOOFTDOOFTDOOFT. The bass from their stereo rattles the windows. 30 metres up the road, where the street borders Hagley Park, you know there’s a crackhead living in the bushes, rough and ugly like an orc, yellow pirate dreadlocks, and through the kitchen window you can see the agitated bum come out and stagger into the road, trying to attack the car, throwing a stick at it while his waist-long pirate dreads wave like a dirty mop.

You pull the blinds safely back, duck and crouch. Feels like everyone out there is doing gangsta shit except Loser and Son.

30 minutes later, you sit in the lounge, watching Animal Planet lions fight. Not that those things are found in New Zealand. Pussy palm tree paradise. All green and neutral and nuclear-free. Rednecks run rampant.

Dad’s mobile rings, but he’s hypnotised by this interesting thing on the TV. An ageing lion getting pushed out by younger, stronger animals waits until there’s no moon. Then, in the night, it ambushes them, using the dark for advantage. Bites the throat. Ends the fight. No more question who’s the daddy.

‘Iiiiiinteresting,’ Dad concludes as the lion show finishes, letting his phone bleat for the longest time ever, pressing the green button on his phone as his boss’s shouting immediately come through, something about Series B round and Angel Investors and ANDREESSEN GOD DAMN HOROWITZ, CHARLES –

He drops his phone on the couch. First time he’s ever ignored his boss.

But Dad’s concentrating on something important.

‘You saw that, son? Not everything’s about muscle.’

Dad is inspired.

4.

Every single night, now. In the black ocean, 4.30am, bobbing far from the shore.

You have ten tabs open, to confuse the internet gods.

Friday night’s video: teacher versus student. Inner city school. A heavy-shouldered hunched-over fat kid is crammed into a chair while a frustrated-looking teacher wearing a tie circles him, yelling, pointing at a text book. Finally the giant kid shoves his papers off his desk. The teacher whacks him immediately in the head with the book. The student gets up out of his chair and shoves the teacher backwards into a watercooler, which topples. The teacher rises, tackles the student and they roll around the class, slipping on the watery linoleum, toppling tables while kids film and chant World-STAR, World-STAR.

Saturday, you and Dad watch this documentary about the old timey brown-and-white Jews of the 1940s getting pushed to the edge of Europe until they made their own country and got real tough real quick and hunted down the bullies. Inspiring shit. You creep to bed, sleep a few hours, get up at 2 and check out a video of three girls clawing this other chick’s face off on a train in Sydney.

Sunday, you begin the day with a road rage fight. Biker clobbered with a roadcone. Dude falls in front of a bus. It brakes, swerves, destroys a bridge support.

Monday, you watch a video of two little kids fighting in a wintry Chicago playground over who gets to ride the merry-go-round. The kids pummel each other, the mums step in, then the cousins, the aunties, wielding handbags, ripping clumps of hair out with purple fingernails. A man in a puffy down jacket fires shots. One of the kids rolls off the merry-go-round, face in the snow. You watch it again the night after, sound on, sound off. Echoing each outcry, each utterance. Mimicking the pistol grip. Kicking clothes out of the way on your bedroom floor so you can copy the stance of the shooter. The casualness of the killing.

Wednesday midnight. ISIS video, rusty Mobil gas station somewhere in sandy Syria. Hypnotic. Ugly and beautiful all at once. Men in kaffiyeh and overalls saw off the head of this shrieking journalist and it takes two guys to hold the head’s ears and sideburns. The knife keeps slipping and something’s wrong with the reporter’s gurgling throat, it doesn’t bleed at first, you can see the pinky-white of the windpipe and it actually sucks the blood inwards as the dude drowns and before you know it your hand is pushing your undies down, gripping your stiff cock.

After you finish, you open the door to creep to the toilet and wash your hands.

Standing there in the blackness is a man-shape.

‘DAD, JESUS.’ Panting. Watching his shape clarify. ‘What is it?’

‘Outside. Our homeless friend. And I used the word friend loosely.’

Dad pulls down your blinds. He, or it, the crackhead, the homeless man with the yellow mop-dreadlocks, is peering into car windows, looking for shit to steal. Neighbours’ve been complaining about their cars getting broken into this month, parking coins and cigarettes and SatNavs going missing. The culprit is right there. The supervillain, going car to car.

His nose against your father’s windshield.

Then up the path. His disgusting fungus-y toes on your Welcome mat. His face against your front door peephole. Sniffing.

‘Pre-emptive strike,’ Dad whispers. You’re both frozen, upstairs in your bedroom. Worried the hobo will bang on the door.

Dad stoops, leans in. ‘We shouldn’t wait until we’re victimised. You with me, son?

Gulp. ‘Like, go tell him to move along or something?

Dad takes big puffy breaths, looks hard at the door, scampers downstairs, rips it open. Chasm of night. No one on the doormat. The hobo is sprinting away, bare feet slapping on the stones.

Dad steps down. Chases the smell of the man to the end of the path. Loses confidence at the letterbox, though he spots something intriguing. Someone new.

Fresh graffiti that’s appeared overnight from the other villain. The tag of Jekkill, golden on the letterbox metal, sprayed like lion-piss.

The fight has gone, but for a moment, as he stands panting under the lamplight, Dad’s not a wallaby.

5.

Sleep all fucked-up, drunk on weird restless dreamy hormones, your body stumbles through school and you float above your own head, watching yourself walking through the oaks, clutching your bag strap, leaning into a drinking fountain, cutting through crowds, humming to yourself, dazed, bouncing off shoulders and elbows like a pinball. Zero expectation anyone’s ever going to be nice to you ever again. Doesn’t matter now if you backchat the teacher, or use white-out to daub the Worldstar logo everywhere. WorldStar in your maths book. WorldStar on the desks and windows and heaters.

You can’t stop thinking about the videos of heads spraying watermelon juice, of a throat sucking thick black blood down the vacuum-pipe. Men and women and children scuttling like cockroaches as they’re torn apart. r/justiceporn on Reddit. Bully in Brixton slips on a Burger King floor and breaks his leg; Paris gang girl punches cafe window, bleeds out.

The bell blows, the tide flows. Shoulders collide in the corridor. Lockers slam. Sharp limbs. Hungry eyes. Sneering lips, teeth and tongues. Nipping magpie beaks. 

‘Fuck’s up with you lately?’ Stepbro Deano asks as you get to the parking lot, breaking away from his magpies, ‘You been pissing me off at home. Only reason you’re living with us is your Mum’s rooting the old man. You suck your dad’s dick on your weeks with him or what?’’

Your elbows rise. Knuckles curl into a fist.

‘Oh you cannot be serious, Maxipad!’ He shoves your chest. The magpies and Deano turn, for a moment. Big Gav’s Big Truck is steaming into the parking lot. Taking up ten spaces, turning heads. Gasp of airbrakes as a solar eclipse darkens the parking lot. Deano’s dad, back from another overnighter.

‘Gonna swing on me, G? Sweet, G, my dad can watch, cunt.’

‘OHHHHH!’ somebody guffaws, ‘WORLDSTAAAAR, getcha phone, getcha phone.’

Your limbs stiffen with ice. You’ll shatter if you try fight right now. Feel the shadow of the truck on you.

‘What, you wanna rob my dad’s truck? Quit staring, pussy. My old man never leaves that motherfucker, yo.’

Whole of Canterbury crushing. Heavy blue sky. Even the Port Hills are looking down on you.

Another vehicle’s pulling into the parking lot. A Honda, small and meek and soft, in the shadow of – what’s that giant beast that’s in the Bible? – Behemoth.

In the car, Dad’s different. Tired. No more fucks to give.

‘Sup with you? Work suck today or what?’

‘I’ve had a gutsful. Utter, utter waste of time tendering to government when procurement’s in favour of their old boys’ network with the…. With people who don’t have our…background

. Shouldn’t tolerate it any longer, really.’

Him, you mean. Shouldn’t tolerate him. Right? Your boss? Isn’t he, like, the issue and stuff?’

After three kays, the turn-off to your home appears. Could stop in the driveway right now, but Dad trickles on. Dad’s got something on his mind, pulling him forward in a pissed-off way.

Fclopkf. The nob on your door slams down. Your eyes say Let me out, Dad, what the hell?

‘Just wait an hour, Maxy. Can you do that? Play on your phone or something.’

You pray Dad won’t start any small talk.

How was school today, wellll, we played hacky sack with Brands and Deano punched me and in Computing Class his tribe made me share my login and my debit card and they ordered a bunch of double-ended dildoes, cackling and I’ll bet over at your workplace you got bullied by a 29 year old, Dad, and staff didn’t intervene and Travis Fortune 500 Fong hassles you all day long, Dad, even though you’re the company’s Chief Financial Officer, even though you boost revenue streams, control debt repayments, make yourself super low-status to pitch to investors to get big capital injections, and prepare the accounts for generous tax write-offs, despite emptying yourself for him you still suck his dick, WHY, Dad, WHY? Walk away or fight back, man, Jesus.

Could say the same to you, though.

Your phone’s got a bunch of Instagram updates of Deano showing off in your shared bedroom, putting his nuts on your toothbrush, your pillow, your drink bottle. Urgh.

19 minutes of timewasting in the car so far.

‘Sun’s almost down, Max. Not much longer.

You clear your socials. Play Crystal Craze on your phone for another twenty mins.

Hear him snuffling now. Nostrils wider than they’ve ever been.

‘Thaaat’s 48 minutes,’ Dad-the-scientist goes, checking his Apple watch.

Once the sun slides down the horizon, Dad goes, ‘Ready?’

The hell is this?

Your father gets out and scampers 30 metres up the pavement. It’s twilight, but he’s not crossing the road to go home. Dad lowers himself so much his knees creak and pop. He’s peering into the – not the – aw Dad, you seriously– he’s messing with the bushes that belong to that homeless creep. Pushing two branches away, you encounter a little camp, orange tent, gas bottle, cooker, bottles of fluid. You’re trespassing on someone’s patch, their tiny kingdom, carpeted with cigarette butts, chicken bones, teabags and beer cans, all moving with flies.

Dad kicks the orange Kathmandu tent, which swallows his foot. For the first time in history, he shouts.

‘Get-get. GET. Get away from our HOME you MONGREL.’

‘The HELL?’ Shuffling, tumbling. Beast stirred. Ugly animal prodded out of hibernation. ‘FUCK ARE YOUS DOIN HERE?’

Viking-blond hair stained brown. Yellow beard that creeps into a collared shirt with a necktie. Thin grey Salvation Army jacket. Burnt pink skin pickled in sweat and alcohol.

This is not your place. Shouldn’t’ve messed with this guy.

‘Dad. Let’s boost, man, we have to go.’

The sun goes out. Trapped in the tight scratchy bushes.

The homeless man trudges across dead leaves, tightening the drawstrings of his sweatpants. Still shoeless. He looks at Dad, does a half-snort, half-smirk thing with a sound that says ‘So yous actually gonna do anything or nah?’

Nope. Dad’s got no plan. Blond Stinkyman laugh-snorts again, folds his arms to fully assess how badly he’s going to punish you both. As you try to back out of the bushes you knock over his gas bottle, trip, land on your butt. The man reaches to grab your ears, scraping the sides of your head, while your eyes watch Dad raise a silver keg over his head as you shake out of the homeless bastard’s grasp and tackle him into his tent, rolling and thrashing in the orange fabric, pulling yourself away from the man before he gets up and kills you.

Dad can’t hold the gas bottle any longer.

He slams it down and the tent implodes like burst bubblegum. Wet crunch. Eggshell dropped on concrete.

You wait for the stinky man to stand up. The tent flaps just sigh and settle.

Run home, exhilarated. Holding white tense hands all night, scanning news channels, Al-Jazeera, Newshub, TVNZ for updates on squashed skulls and hurt hoboes. Nothing.

You watch with a blanket on your lap burying your erection. Gooey with excitement.

Extra scoops of ice cream for dessert, and some sort of Psst or squirt or hissing.

Pulls the blinds apart.

No blue and red lights of police, thank God, but there’s a cat-man scuttling between the cars.

He’s tagging.

You’re almost grateful. He is delivering himself to you. To Worldstar & Son.

‘Dad, yo. Oi. Outside. C’mere. Look. Another one.’

‘Another what, son?’

Another bully to stand up to. 

6.

You checked the news?

Nothing bout a dead homeless guy. Think we’re safe.

WhatsApp messages, Monday. There’s intensity in his words, now. Impatience. Like he knows trouble’s gonna come.

Do we need 2 move body sh*tloads of flies coming in my windowz

Negative. Do not engage.

Then a follow-up text. Proud of you son.

His confidence reaches into school while you’re waiting outside the tuck shop, stuck at the back of the line with your stupid stepbrother and his magpie babies. One minute they’re jostling you, making fun, asking you if you want a Hertz Donut, punching you anyway, then the next minute you’re drunk and numb and stoned and outside of your body and unfazed and even laughing a little as you tell Deano, plainly, that you’re going to kill him. When he looks down, you’re ready with the pig knife, the pig knife Dad gifted you at the table last night, Hunting & Fishing price tag dangling off. 

Deano jerks away, electric-shocked, face blue and cold, tries to find his way out of the tuck shop line divider-bars. ‘Didn’t have to get serious, man,’ he says, glum, muttering something something psycho. Deano’s troops follow him as he slinks away, chewing their cheeks, puzzled. When they turn to look back, you’re standing like a tree. Unmoving. They can tell you don’t care anymore. 

Deano won’t sleep in the same room that night. Lays a sleeping bag on the couch.

Mum, taking crackling roast lamb out of the oven, tilts her head and looks at you as she plates up dinner. She’s seeing someone different.

More WorldStar videos each night. So many flavours and molds and dynamics of violence. Israeli soldiers raiding a mosque, dragging men by their hair. A pack of private school girls pummelling a paedophile pulled from a van.

Your brain speaks in YouTube headlines and WorldStar titles, now.

Baby Daddy Smashes Stepdad. Kid Dunks Bully in Trashcan. Ex Lights Up Home With Gas U Gotta See 2 Believe.

4.29pm Friday, handover time, Dad arrives at Mum and Gav’s place to take you away. Doesn’t cower in his car for once. Gets up, walks onto Gavin’s property and kisses his boy right in front of the disgusted faces of Comyns and Son.

You’re grinning, smirking, shaking your head with belly-laughs as you hop into the passenger seat and tell him Drive, Dad, drive, Jeeesus.

He stops the car shortly before your house, parking beside the bushes where the humming’s loudest. Doesn’t make sense, for a moment – he’s stopped outside a fence with a fresh throw-up from that tagger, Jekkill. Then Dad rolls down the car windows. A baked rancid smell curls into the car, floats above the glowing vinyl. Coming from the camp inside the bush where Dad crushed the hobo’s eggshell head. The stench of bacon turned bad. Bluebottle flies fat as jellybeans pour through the window, land on your skin, darken the windscreen.

Inside the bush-camp, what used to be a man is now a pile of dropped laundry with two shrivelled gloves sticking out the ends of the Salvation Army sleeves. The face is – moving? Winking? Under a wig, cockroaches race in and out of a dark triangular cavity where there used to be nostrils and eye sockets. All a sinkhole, now. Yellow maggots ooze into the leaf litter.

The smell follows you home. Into the r/vigilante subreddit. Into r/justice and r/standyourground. Into the shower.

You lick your lips. Salty, good. Stroke your stiffening penis.

At midnight, the knock comes. You sit up, breathless. Dad’s lips through the door-wood. 

‘He’s out there. Our young Picasso. We doing this?’

You pull on your camouflage, your boots. And balaclava.

Exactly 12 stairs to descend and trot across. Stay against the right side of the house so the floorboards don’t creak. Leap the pile of leaves so they don’t crunch. Soft pads on the asphalt. 

Is he – there he? – nah. That thing between the two cars up Number 68a, that’s a recycling bin. Go close, though, and from here – surely that’s – nope. Just a rolled-up carpet put out for collection.

You ooze down the street, dodging pools of honey-coloured night, shadow to shadow.

It must be ten, eleven minutes before Dad, cloaked in a black patch of someone’s lawn where the streetlights don’t reach, snaps his fingers once.

Jekkill the tagger doesn’t hear, doesn’t notice. The tagger – a small figure, really, just a hunched ski jacket under a baseball cap– probably thinks he’s just heard a twig snap.

Swiftly on your paws like cats. Crouch. Hug the dark patch under the nose of a car. Tagger turns, twitches, sniffs. Bumps the cap up his head to get better vision. Standing in the hellebore flowers Mum planted by your letterbox, he goes back to spraying your fence with strokes of gold. J, E, K, K –

Dad leaps off the roof of a stationwagon, flattens the tagger. They roll once, and the tagger shakes Dad off, gets up first and prepares to sprint.

Dad’s got his left leg, though, and you’ve got the right, and the tagger falls on the hard kerb, landing with his knuckles under his spraypaint. Your face takes an elbow, though the balaclava absorbs the blow.

The can of Royal Gold runs out from under his fingers. As Dad crawls up the young man’s back – God, Dad, please don’t move off, you’re barely heavier than this guy – you step back a solid metre out of the tagger’s grasp, uncap the paint.

Kick the cap off the tagger’s head, taking a chunk of hair and skin with it, leaving a sneaker-patterned scrape across his forehead, smearing his nose. Open the can of spraypaint. Blast his eyes till he’s rolling, clawing his nose and lips in agony, suffocating, face dripping shiny blood, burbling something that sounds like “Stop, bro, I’ve got kids” as he hiccups gold bubbles.

 Dad, balaclava’d, kneels on the guy’s shoulders, carefully adjusting his weight. Tries to snatch the dude’s tongue out of his mouth. Finally, when the tongue can’t be grabbed, you kick the dude in the jaw, cracking it. The jaw turns black. The tongue trickles out. Working with Dad, you prise the jaw open. Spray gold down his throat till he chokes on puke and just as he’s close to losing oxygen forever, the can splutters empty.

You haul him up, release him with a kick in the arse. The tagger hobbles away, blind, crashing into a wheelie bin, once, stumbling through circles of orange, spitting out gold every few steps.

200 metres away, where your street intersects with busy Hagley Avenue, the tagger collapses on a traffic island, legs out in the road.

A sudden bus fills the night. Loud roaring stink as it hoons past.

When it’s gone, Jekkill’s pants are left empty and twisted and wet, his shoes flattened into placemats. His jacket and cap are metres away with his stomach, his arms, his golden head. Guts strewn like sausage.

*

Changing room after gym. Steam and silence and slippery floor. Hard steel lockers up to the moldy ceiling. Benches and wet towels and every boy showing off his pectorals, booming, comparing one or two chest-hairs. Tight cold room full of pale bumcheeks stepping into underwear.

Walls studded with wooden pegs holding up shorts and singlets. The floor slopes down to a drain-hole.

You’re trying to forget how much basketball sucked and you’ve just got your undies over your balls when something wet and gooey like cum splats on the backs of your thighs. The fuck?

You reach down, pull your fingers out. They glisten with pink slime stinking of flowers.

Hand soap.

Whirl around, naked except for underwear with a dark patch and wet fingers oozing down your thigh. Deano’s shoulders are tittering. The baby birds on either side of him are trying to swallow their laughter, shivering with evil joy.

‘You chucked soap on me?’

He turns, pretending like he’s weary. Obviously excited to fight. Deano’s in his socks and underwear too. Fat nipples. Ginger hair running from throat to navel. Thick body like a walking porkchop, fed on wild meat and grease.

Behind him, a spread of leering boys. Eyes shiny, beaks open. Hungry for a fight.

‘Talkin shit about me, G? In fronta my crew?’

Throws his right foot back like a boxer and jabs with his left. It catches you in the teeth. You bend over, stagger. 

Turn away.

Pull your backpack from the locker, rummage to the bottom. Pull the mask on. Black balaclava.

Cackling baby birds behind, calling Max to come back to the fight – but Max isn’t here. You’re not even on the same plane as these wankers. Floating above.

You watch from the afterlife as a boy in a balaclava crosses the cold sluiced floor, puts his face against his cocky opponent’s laughing mouth and just as Deano’s daring Balaclava to kiss him, Balaclava reaches down and seizes Deano’s balls.

You begin crushing. Hard as an armwrestle. Deano’s fists and fingers batter your head, attempting to tear skin from your shoulders and neck. Your cheeks scrape. Intimate. Cuddling standing up.

He is deflating. Weaker with every second.

You’re surprised at the noise venting from your throat, your nose. Same roars you heard on Animal Planet.

‘ALRIGHTALRIGHTALRIGHTALRIGHTOWOWOWLETGO, YOU’REINYOU’REINYOU’REINTHECREWFUGGINFAGGAAAAAAAAAALEMMEGO, lemme go.’

You deepen the squeeze past 10 out of 10. 11 out of 10, now, and intensifying. Deano is feebly slapping the wrist you’ve used to grab his penis. With your spare left hand, you hold his neck down.

You dig with your fingernails till Deano shuts down and his knees are nearly touching the drain. Feels like baby carrots packed in a sockful of snails. You’ve disconnected something down there.

Hold up your hand. Purple-black blood under your fingernails. Curly orange hairs.

The baby birds clutch their gym bags, edge along the wall.

Standing with your foot on Deano’s back, you say it loud and simple enough for the baby birds to understand.

My crew.’

7.

You drive a crazy spaghetti-loop round the neighbourhood. Settle at a Denny’s diner. Dad doesn’t want to go near home. You order bloody steaks and ribs and Dad shares the video he’s recorded.

You have to see this, kiddo.

Shaky camera. Dad marching into the office with rare confidence. Cream walls. Striding past the lunchroom where one woman purses her lips, as if she wants to say You shouldn’t be here, Charles.

At the end of a glass hallway is an office with a framed photograph of Travis speaking at TEDx. Wobbly footage, shaking. He looks up from his computer monitor, begins waving his hands immediately as Dad enters the office. Barge shatter shake scream, some secretary trying to tell Dad to go home, to cool off, Leave immediately, Police have been called. Dad holds up his can of StagStopper mace. Turns back to Travis who’s going No-no-no-no-no-no-NO, no-no-OUT, OUT. Dad melts Travis’s face into a slippery mask, the chemicals scorching his babyface skin. Travis becomes a puddle of elbows and shoulders. As Dad pulls out the speargun strapped to his back, the video finishes.

Analog clock on the wall of the diner. Loud hard ticks. Christchurch about to boil over.

Dad. You have to drop me at mum’s.’ You gather your phone, your sneakers, your hair gel and deodorant. ‘Drop me at Mum’s-‘n-Gavin’s place, I should say.’ Weary sigh. ‘And Deano’s. If he’s alive. Hurt him pretty bad, they sent an ambulance to school. Thought his boys mighta narked and I mighta got myself in jail but… .’ You throw up your hands. ‘Guess they’re my boys, now.’

In the parking lot, police cars patrolling. Scary white and blue chequers like something venomous.

Dad drives a five-mile loop around the neighbourhood as the sun becomes low and intense. When Dad pulls in at BP to gas up the car, you watch him tug his shirt out of his pants as he crosses the forecourt. Takes a red plastic petrol canister and rings it up at the counter. Smiling serenely as he drifts to the pumps, fills the car, then lifts the green nozzle to squirt petrol into his new petrol canister with the price tag dangling off it.

‘Daaaad, man, stop! We don’t take unleaded 91, the hell?’

Dad just taps his nose. Thinking of mowing his lawn or something. He’s out of it. Must be back on the chill pills. Cold uncaring calm.

You enter the cul-de-sac finally and Gavin’s massive manly truck blocks out the sun and you stop the car in the truck’s cool shadow. Gav is snoozing inside the truck cab with sunglasses on. Window left open a little so he can breathe.

Phone out. Gotta film this.

Dad takes the red plastic petrol canister, peers inside the truck window, shakes the jerry can against the glass.

Gav wakes, unspooling his white toes from the tiny cot. Glasses off, sunblind, blinking, he starts punching and scraping and slapping his eyes and – dazed, woken from a deep sleep – tries to find the way out so he can assault dad.

‘DON’T TOUCH MY TRUCK, SPECCY CUNT.’

 Through the aperture, Dad has sloshed reeking petrol, spattering the steering wheel, the seat, and Gavin’s face.

Dad takes a moment to wipe his spectacles on the corner of his untucked shirt. Pushes the shirt-flaps back into his pants, prim, proper, professional. As Gavin opens the truck door, roaring, Dad rummages in his pocket. Matches in his hand, now. He sparks one, lights a cluster. Flicks them into the cab. You hear the whoof as Gavin is covered in purple. Gavin doesn’t take a single strong step on land. Finds the door handle, falls out in a costume of feathery flames lifting like feathers into the air as his hair and skin melts, arms out, wanting help, collapsing on his knees on his immaculate lawn. Shards of burning singlet fall off. His boxer shorts fizz and split and his hairy back turns to dirty petrol-smoke.

As you back up the lawn towards the house, holding your mobile phone with two hands to keep the footage steady, Gav crawls like a burning baby, stopping every metre to roll and twist. His scalp trickles down over his eyes. Burnt hair-grease in the wind.  

Mum is waiting on the porch, leaning against the door frame, holding tongs, apron on. Pinching her nose against the brown smoke-wind. Better wrap up the video soon.

 Later, sirens will split the night. The hedge will strobe red-blue, red-blue. Police will point their flashlights at a body barbecued on the lawn.

For now, it’s tea time, and Deano has put aside his crutches, closing the door behind you, welcoming as a waiter. He’s bowing down, ushering you and Dad in, and Mum is pleased to see her men.

You can enjoy family dinner in a moment. No phones allowed at the table, so you lock your mobile and hand it to Dad, but not before you’ve finished the vid with WORLDSTAR, BITCH.

Michael Botur

Michael Botur WorldStar & Son

New Zealand author Michael Botur is author of 13 books and was the first Kiwi winner of the Australasian Horror Writers Association Robert N Stephenson Award for ‘Test of Death.’ He is currently writing screenplays and writing treatments for increasingly complex – and awesome – horror stories. www.nzshortstories.com

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  • Jim Mcleod

    Jim "The Don" Mcleod has been reading horror for over 35 years, and reviewing horror for over 16 years. When he is not spending his time promoting the horror genre, he is either annoying his family or mucking about with his two dogs Casper and Molly.

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