Beavers Fag Break (they mostly come at night, mostly)
By Jane Hyphen
‘Otter, wait for me!’
Otter strode ahead on her sturdy boots, thick rubber soles absorbing the uneven surface of the graveyard, half-sunken stone hidden in the long damp grass, creating perfect conditions for a twisted ankle. Porpoise hurried on after her, quite out of breath, switching the beam of her phone torch from Otter’s back and then to the ground so that she could see where to place her feet. It seemed that however hard she tried, she simply couldn’t catch up with her.
Eventually Otter stopped next to the gnarly old yew tree, thick and black, forming a dense shadow in the twilight. They were both out of breath as they stood reaching for cigarettes and lighters from their pockets. Otter turned away from her comrade. Even in the darkness, Porpoise could tell from the body language of her portly silhouette that Otter was annoyed and she was being snubbed. She coughed to break the ice, ‘I’m sorry, have I done something to upset you?’
There was a period of silence as Otter drew hard on her cigarette, at the same time drawing hard on her bank of suspended resentments, narrowing her eyes and blowing them out in smoke form. ‘I’m just pissed off that’s all,’ she said quietly.
‘Why? This is supposed to be a fun thing but almost every Friday evening you’re in a mood. You spoil it for the kids too.’ Porpoise immediately regretted that last sentence. She felt herself contracting, closing up like a clam and she was tempted to stub out her cigarette and leg it back to the church hall.
‘What do you mean by that, I spoil it for the kids? I’d give my life for those kids and you know it, Wild Boar knows it, Hedgehog knows it, Badger knows it, Edible Dormouse knows it and Linda knows it. Do you know how much effort I had to go to in order to get them to create a position for you and every fucking week you’re late.’ Suddenly Porpoise swayed slightly on her feet and lifted her arm up to her head. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Yes, I think so, just felt a bit dizzy. Anyhow, the reason I’m a bit late is because I work. I’m not a teacher like you, I’ve got a proper job. I don’t get home until six thirty.’
‘A teacher, yes I am. My job is intense, I don’t have any downtime or get to hang around coffee machines, talking about Love Island or whatever. Honestly Porpoise, I’m starting to think we don’t really need you, Beavers would run perfectly well without you. I’m not even sure if you should be around kids. You always end up swearing in front of them and you’re so rough when we play Crocodile Pit, you almost give Sebastian a black eye today.’
‘Oh don’t exaggerate, it was a tap. It was Sebastian’s evil little friend, Curtis, who tripped me up. I knocked my head on the edge of the stage. Hey, are we ever going to use that stage? I thought we could put on a show at Christmas.’
Otter huffed. ‘No way, it won’t work, it will be a nightmare. Those kids need structure. I have enough of that nonsense at work!’
‘I thought it would be fun, that's all. Maybe it’s you who shouldn’t be around kids. For a minute I thought I’d been teleported to North Korea when I arrived this evening to see those poor kids marching around the hall with their knees up and arms swinging.’
‘We were playing Ants in the Swamp! If you’d arrived on time you would have known the drill and been part of it.’
Porpoise sighed, shook her head and said, ‘Well I’ve never heard of that game.’ Then she strolled a few feet away and looked up at the stars.
‘Hey, step back into the shadow of the tree. You’re exposed there. I don’t want any of the children to see us out here smoking….or their parents!’
‘Are you nearly done Otter? I don’t want to walk back on my own, my phone battery’s almost dead and I’m getting nothing but bad vibes from you today.’
Otter shook her head. ‘No, not yet, I’m going to have another one. I’ve had a really bad day, two kids threw up in P.E. Ryan thinks I’ve given up so I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to smoke again over the weekend.’
‘Okay,’ said Porpoise gently. She’d noticed a softening in Otter’s demeanour and now it didn’t seem quite so painful to be hanging out with her. ‘I guess I’ll wait for you. Are you two still trying for a baby?’
‘No. Well I’m not, no bloody way. It’s not what I want. I don’t even love him anymore, I just need to figure out a way to, you know, sort out all the logistics. I can’t pay the rent on my own, that’s the biggest problem.’
Suddenly a bright light could be seen, swerving from left to right in the sky just above their heads, then whizzing off before settling into a space at the far end of the vast cemetery then rotating in small circles. Accompanying the bright lights was a strange vibrational sound, so profound that the two ladies could feel it disturbing the deeply buried tissues of their guts. It was like the most baritone of baritone voices, humming, filling the air and disturbing any creature which happened to be within its radius.
Porpoise grabbed hold of the sleeve of Otter’s fleece. ‘What the hell is that?’ she whispered.
Otter laughed a bit, ‘They mostly come at night, mostly,’ she said. Then stumbled on the edge of a grave. ‘Oh no, I’ve dropped my fags.’ She began using her phone to light the ground, searching in the grass.
‘Turn that off!’
It was too late. The strange craft in the sky had detected them again and was spinning towards them, getting lower and lower. ‘What’s going on?’ said Otter. ‘I’m scared now.’
‘Maybe we should leg it back to the church hall?’
‘No Porpoise, it might follow us and there might still be Beavers there, waiting for their parents to collect them. I don’t want anything to happen to those children!’
Instinctively the two women crouched down on the ground and raised their arms above their heads in a protective stance. ‘The kids will have gone by now, surely it will just be Linda counting the subs. How long have we been gone for?’
‘I don’t know. It feels so weird, something’s not right.’
‘I always knew this would happen,’ said Porpoise, ‘and now I’m fucking terrified.’
‘You knew what would happen?’
Ever since I was a kid, I knew they’d come for me. I used to dream about it, about aliens. I’m on their list, I’ve always been on their hit list and now it’s happened.’
‘My legs are wet,’
‘Fuck! Don’t look up.’
Porpoise was panting now, almost hyperventilating. Otter leant over and rubbed her back. ‘Oh, I feel like a midwife. Try to stay calm, slow your breathing. I’ve done plenty of lockdown drills at school with the children. You get under the desk, raise your arms above your head and stay quiet. Use your phone to call emergency services..’
‘I’m not touching my phone. I can’t move!’
The light was so bright that it cancelled out everything else and there was a strange heat as a cylindrical shape hovered lower and lower. It coasted over each of the ladies in turn then settled on Otter. ‘It’s me they want, not you,’ she said with defeatism in her voice. ‘I can feel it sucking me in, I can’t resist it Porpoise. I can’t resist! Say goodbye to Linda for me…and the children. I love them all! Goodbye Porpoise. Sorry if I upset you, stick with us, stick with the Beavers. I think you’re great and I didn’t mean any of it. I’ve just had a really bad day.’
The spacecraft sucked up her so that just her black boots were visible beneath the tube of light, her feet were kicking back and forth and then with a quick sucking sound they disappeared too and Porpoise was alone in the cemetery. For several minutes, she perched there in shock, hoping that somehow Otter would be dropped back and everything would return to normal but there was only silence except for an owl hooting and the sound of her own heart thumping.
Eventually she found the strength to walk back to the church hall, trying to figure out what words to use when informing the Police and Ryan and the rest of Otter’s family. It was a relief to see that the lights were still on in the church hall. She saw Otters Fiat Punto in the carpark looking so lonely now. Edible Dormouse was just leaving, she bade Porpoise fairwell but she was too weak to respond with words and simply lifted her hand.
Linda was inside, clearing away the play equipment. Porpoise stood quietly next to her for a second or two, trying to gather up the strength to talk about what just happened. Just as she opened her mouth to speak Sebastien came out of the kitchen with his mother who was speaking to another adult. To Porpoise's astonishment, the other adult was Otter, looking absolutely normal and smiling. ‘We’re just filling out an accident form for Sebastien,’ she said.
‘Oh,’ said the boy’s mother, ‘you look like you’ve had a bump on the head too. You might want to get that looked at.’
Porpoise lifted her hand up to her head. There was indeed a large swelling which had risen on the side of her forehead.
‘Yes, she caught it on the edge of the stage. Porpoise is very clumsy,’ Otter laughed. ‘I can give you a lift home if you don’t feel up to driving?’
Porpoise nodded slowly. ‘Yes maybe that’s a good idea. Hey…did we just go out for a smoke just now?’
‘You did but I had to stay here until Sebastien’s mum arrived. I said I’d catch you up but she was late and you know what it’s like. I’m supposed to be giving up. Ryan and I are trying for a baby.’ Otter turned around to Linda and shouted, ‘I’m giving Porpoise a lift, she looks a bit peaky.’
‘Okay girls. Thanks for your help tonight. See you next Friday!’
‘Oh you do look shell shocked. Why are your legs so wet? You look like you’ve been hiking all round the graveyard, you nutter! You can come to our’s for a bit if you like. I’ll get Ryan to order us a pizza. Get in, mind your head now.’