They looked so happy. A few years ago I’d have played with them, but they’re too fast for me now. These days, I sit on a blanket with the picnic and keep watch while they play.
It was a gorgeous day. Sun out, the buddleias all in bloom. Wildflowers everywhere – you never saw so many, it was spectacular. Once the tarmac’s crumbled, these broken up old car parks are the best place for flowers. Butterflies. Birch trees fluttering in the breeze. Birds going about their business. There’s loads of old wrecks still scattered around to hide in, so it’s the perfect place for hide and catch.
It was hot – too hot. I moved the blanket into the shade of an old van. I lay back and soaked it all up. It was so quiet – just the sound of the twins’ feet on the ground, the bees and the birdsong. It would have been busy here not so long ago, but now the only one about was old Bull Turner, armed with a gigantic saw, trying to cut a car in half. Every now and then he put down the saw and pulled at the body, trying to tear it like paper. He’s as strong as a . . . well, as strong as an ox.
I turned my face into the shadows and panted. It was such a relief, I was boiling.
There used to be quite a herd of cowmen around here not so long ago, but Bull’s the last of them. It’s a wonder he’s still alive really. We have a home, a proper one, a den of eight rooms all hidden away underground, but Bull always sleeps out in the open – and he’s so obvious! You can tell at a glance what he is. He knows how to make himself scarce, though. He acts all stupid, but he must have found somewhere good to hide even so.
It was so nice to be outside. I took my book out, but the day was so gorgeous, I just wanted to close my eyes and bask. I pulled my jumper off and rolled up my skirt to get some sun warm on my skin – lovely! I looked down at my legs and I thought – I’m a pretty girl, still, aren’t I? You can hardly see the fur, it’s quite thin and lays flat and white against my pink skin – like a puppy’s tummy. When it first came my mother tried to wax me from head to foot, but it hurt so much she stopped and cried instead. If I stand in front of the mirror, I look like a girl. Just a girl. Mum used to hate my fur, but she strokes me now. It makes me stretch and roll over, it’s that delicious.
I wonder who else will ever want to stroke me?
I closed my eyes and dozed, but I couldn't relax for long, you just can’t when you’re outside any more. I looked up to check on the boys – damn it, you can’t take your eyes off them for a moment. They were playing pee on my pee.
I jumped up and called to them – Yow!
They came creeping back. Bad boys! I signed them to chant – ‘Boy good, dog bad, boy good, dog bad.’
Dad taught them that to get it into their heads, poor things. I gave a little warning growl and waited for them to bend their heads before I waved them off. It’s getting harder to keep them under control. One day, maybe they’ll just run off and go feral – Mum’s always worrying about it. It was easier when I could still speak, of course.
I looked over to the front door to see if I could spot Mum or Dad – they always peek out from time to time when they let us out, just to be sure. It took me a while to spot it – that’s how well hidden our front door is. No one would ever know unless you actually showed them. It lifted ever so slightly. Dad, I think. Mum was down below digging another tunnel to keep us safe. I love our house. It’s just that . . . it drives you crazy having to stay indoors all the time.
We thought we were all purebloods before the twins came. I was fine, there was nothing halfman about me when I was little. Even when they were born, there was no way of knowing. Angel blue eyes, hands and feet, fingers and toes, all just so. But as soon as they learned to crawl, there they were, noses to the ground, sniffing their way along, cocking their legs to pee and chewing everything to shreds as soon as they got their puppy teeth. Mum wept for days. They never learned to talk, not really. Just phrases.
You see, my mum and dad never told one another that they had mixed blood. Dad had a tiny little tail removed when he was too young to remember and it was the same thing with Mum and her doggy ears. You’d have to get right up close and really know what you were looking for to see the truth – the neat little scars at the top of Mum’s ears and at the base of Dad’s spine. They both thought if they married a pure blood their children would be even less likely to show than them. But what happened – they fell in love with each other. Two parents with halfman blood – it was bound to happen.
I hate them for that. For lying to themselves and to each other. I try not to, but I do. If they’d told the truth, at least we’d have known this might happen. They didn’t even tell me straightaway what was going on with the boys because they still thought I’d got away with it. I looked human, I acted human – right up until I was thirteen and the fur began growing up my tummy. I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t know what was happening to me. I kept it secret at first – I was so ashamed. All the time I’d thought I was going to be a normal girl, get a job, have a boyfriend, all the rest of it. And then . . .
You know that feeling when you suspect you may be some kind of freak? And then it turns out you are . . .
I checked the twins again. They were snuffing something out around the wreck of an old lorry. Rats, rabbits. I don’t know. I left them to it. It’s almost impossible to get them off a scent these days. You used to be able to throw a ball for them – that always brought them running. These days, all they really want to do is chase rats.
I took up my book again, but I wasn’t in the mood. It was so lovely there. It made me want to cry, if you want the truth. Does that sound strange? Being out there – I suppose it made me realise everything I’d lost. All my old friends, the families I used to stay with to have tea or for sleepovers . . . all gone. Either purebred and won’t talk to me, or halfman and they’ve been killed. It feels like my whole life has just grown wings and flown away.
I’m being selfish, I know. At least we’re still alive. But this wasn't what I was looking forward to when I was growing up. Sometimes I think we’re worse off than the others, like Bull Turner and so on, who knew they were halfmen all along. As it is, we’re neither one thing nor the other.
Some tears fell out of my eyes. I bent my head so my hair fell over my face, in case Dad was watching. They have enough to worry about without seeing me like this.
Tut! Those boys! Look at them now, running up to the front door. Stupid. ‘Yow!’ I yelled. Get away from there. You never know who might be watching.
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