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Authors: Tyler Keevil

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Fireball

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Contents

Title Page
About Tyler Keevil
Dedication
Fireball
Acknowledgements
Copyright

Fireball

Tyler Keevil

Tyler Keevil was raised in Vancouver, Canada. He first came
to the UK in 1999 to study English and Lancaster University.

Since immigrating to Wales to marry his wife Naomi and live
in Llanidloes, he has won several awards for his short fiction,
and his work has appeared in a variety of magazines and
anthologies. He recently started lecturing in Creative Writing
at the University of Gloucestershire. Tyler enjoys winter
sports, including ice-hockey and snowboarding, but since
coming to Wales he has also discovered the wonders of hiking
and camping – particularly along the Pembrokeshire coast.

for all the Cove kids

1

Chris knew it was coming to an end. He didn't say anything, but he didn't have to. I could just tell. We'd gone down to the beach at Cates Park to drink a few beers and throw away those stupid medals. That's where it happened. They said I helped him, which is complete crap. Chris didn't need my help. He could have done it blindfolded, with one hand. Of course, nobody wanted to believe that. Bates claimed we did it together, and that's how the papers wrote it up. If it weren't for my dad, I probably would have ended up in jail.

But basically, Chris did it alone.

‘Shit,' I said. ‘Did you kill him?'

‘Beats me.'

We were standing on either side of him, looking down. His face was a mess. Drops of blood lay scattered all over the sand, like bright red bugs.

I leaned in closer, listening. ‘I think I can hear him breathing.'

It wasn't much – just this gentle gurgling sound.

‘I guess he's alive, then,' Chris said. ‘Not that it matters either way.'

I didn't know what he meant at the time.

After he stole the squad car, they tried to stop him by setting up this shitty little roadblock. For most people it might have worked. Not Chris. He just drove straight through it at a hundred miles an hour. Almost instantly, the car became this blazing fireball, bright as the sun. Even that didn't stop him. He kept going, off a cliff and into the ocean. At first, it was impossible to tell what killed him: the impact or the fire or the water – or the guns. Apparently they shot him a bunch of times, too. Afterwards they handed the body over to some expert – this forensics expert in thick glasses and a huge turtleneck. When I saw him on the news, I flipped out and tried to kick over our television. No joke. My dad had to hold me back. I mean, Chris would have hated that guy.

He hated turtlenecks.

The sun glittered off the sand and scattered light across the bay. A sticky film of sweat coated my face. I couldn't stop trembling. In that kind of situation, I'm pretty much useless. I just freeze up. But Chris knew exactly what to do. He crouched in the sand and patted Bates down. They said we stole his wallet, which was another lie. We threw his wallet in the ocean. The only thing we took was his keys. And his car, of course. That turned out to be a big deal, but at the time it just kind of happened.

‘Maybe we should get some help.'

That was me. I was shitting myself, for obvious reasons.

‘Whatever. Let's just go.'

Chris walked over and opened the door. I picked up our bag of weed and followed, like always. From as far back as I can remember he'd been leading and I'd been following. That's just how it was between us. He got behind the wheel, taking his time. He was still sucking wind from the fight but his face was calm, the calmest I'd seen it since we saved the old lady. He shut the door, then rolled down the window and adjusted the mirror. His knuckles were bloody and swollen, as if he'd been punching a brick wall.

He looked over at me.

‘You coming?' he asked.

2

When I got to my new school, a lot of people freaked out. Everybody in Vancouver had heard about Chris by then, and as soon as the other kids discovered that I was the friend – the unnamed friend always referred to in the news reports – they totally wet the bed. Hardly any of them would talk to me, and the ones that did always acted way too friendly, as if they wanted to get on my good side just in case I had a hit list. The parents took it even worse. A few banded together and started this feeble protest. Seriously. Not that I cared. Nothing ever came of it, and once the uproar died down I was pretty much left alone – which was fine by me. These days, I'm not too stoked on people in general. The problem is that they're always making assumptions, and I just can't handle having to deal with that shit any more.

‘You knew that Chris guy, right?'

I was asked that by some kid at school – this little weirdo with a blue mohawk.

‘Yeah. So?'

‘So was he like, you know, a total nutcase?'

I just stared at him until he left.

That's what everybody thinks, and it harsh pisses me off. They go around assuming he was a nutcase and they never even met him. They just heard about him, or read about him, or saw his picture on the news. And it's the same with me. They all just assume I'm as tough as Chris because I knew him. I'm not, of course. I'm not half as tough as him. At my old school, people found it weird that we could even be friends. That's pretty weak, though. I mean, it's not like Chris was fighting constantly. He only fought when he had to. The rest of the time we just hung out. We went swimming, or got stoned, or watched movies. We watched pretty much every kind of movie you can imagine, but what we really liked was anything about a giant shark or mutant snake or radioactive spider. We couldn't get enough of that stuff. Every other weekend we'd pile over to Julian's and watch a creature feature on his dad's widescreen TV. Of course, all that changed once she came along.

‘Do you think I'm too skinny?'

That was exactly the kind of thing she liked to ask him. It wasn't insecurity. She knew she wasn't ‘too' anything. She was perfect. She just wanted to draw attention to how perfect she was.

‘You're okay.'

‘Just okay?'

‘Better than okay.'

Chris took a swig of beer. The three of us were sitting in Julian's jacuzzi while he mixed drinks inside. She had her arms stretched above her head, examining her body like it belonged to somebody else. I could see the lines of her ribs pressing through her skin. She was pretty thin, actually. Not super thin. Not anorexic thin. Just slender.

‘How's your hand?' she asked.

Chris held it up. He'd broken a knuckle on some clown's face at the Avalon. He tested it experimentally, clenching all five fingers before flexing them straight.

‘Getting better.'

‘That guy was such an asshole.'

‘Everybody's an asshole. Except Razor.'

Her lips curled into a smile – this very ironic smile. Secretly she loved it when he talked like that. Hardly anybody can talk tough and get away with it. If I tried, I'd look like a treat. But Chris could do it, because with him it wasn't an act. That's just how he was.

‘Don't be so negative,' she said.

Beneath the water, beneath the cover of all that foam, she put her hand on his thigh and started stroking it like you might pet a puppy. I guess she thought I wouldn't notice. Chris looked away, pretending to ignore her. The more he did that, though, the more she wanted him. That's the way it works. He wanted her too, of course. We all did. You just had to look at her and you couldn't help wanting her.

‘What's up?' she asked him.

Chris shrugged, took a sip of his beer. Totally casual.

The thing is, when it came to that kind of stuff, Chris wasn't super experienced or anything. None of us were. I'd only ever made out with one chick before – in a closet, back in grade eight. After that I hit a pretty long dry spell. Jules claimed he'd gotten gummers from some girl at a West Van party, but he wouldn't tell us her name and I'm pretty sure he was lying. Chris did a little better than either of us, for obvious reasons. He'd never hooked up with anybody like Karen, though. It wasn't just the fact that she was super hot. It was in the way she acted, the way she carried herself. Before Chris, she'd only dated older guys.

We met her a few days after we got our medals. We were down at Cates Park, hacking a dart, when she came out of the water and walked right over – as if she'd spotted us from a long way off. Most of the chicks down there are bleached blonde, fake and bake clones. Not Karen. She had dark brown hair that hung down her back in wet little snarls, and as she crossed the sand her body glistened all over with saltwater. Totally cinematic. At the beach she always wore the same thing: this blue bikini, super skimpy, with tiny gems in the pattern of three waves on her hip. She didn't look like any girl I'd ever seen. She looked more like some kind of mythical sea creature sent to seduce us.

‘You guys are the heroes, right?'

Julian said, ‘That's us.'

‘I'm Karen.' She showed us her teeth. ‘I saw your picture in the paper.'

We didn't know what to say. We were still pretty messed up over the whole thing, and Chris hated talking about it. I was surprised he didn't tell her to fuck off. Instead he made room for her in the sand. She stretched out next to us, her body burnt to butternut from weeks of tanning. Every time she moved – even if it was just to flick her hair or shield her eyes from the sun – we were aware of it. We lay like that, with all three of us feeling her presence, for about six or seven minutes.

‘What are you guys doing later?' Karen asked.

‘I don't know,' Julian said. ‘Just hanging out.'

‘Can I come?'

Me and Julian kept quiet. It was up to Chris.

‘If you want,' he said.

For the next few weeks, until everything fell apart, that's what the four of us did: we hung out. We'd laze around the beach all day, then go find a runner to pick up some booze. We drank at Julian's house, since his parents were always on vacation, or we went to the Avalon. Some nights we just cruised up and down Lonsdale in Julian's car. Chris got in a few fights, a few more than usual, and Bates started causing us trouble. Other than that, there was nothing extraordinary about it. That's what I tried to explain to the cops, and the press. But everybody just assumed we were out doing all kinds of crazy shit – beating people up and taking drugs and starting riots – and Chris was made out to look like the ringleader.

That's another problem with people. They need things to be simple – especially in news articles. Hardly any of the papers mentioned our medals. If they did, it was in a super snide sort of way. The headline in the
Province
read:
‘Hero' Loses Control
. The fact that they put ‘hero' in quotation marks harsh pissed me off. It was like they were trying to say he'd never really been a hero at all. Not that he wanted to be one in the first place. He hated that crap. So did I. Julian was the only one who liked it. But basically, nobody wanted to hear about the decent things he'd done. That's way too complicated. In their eyes, you're either a good guy or a bad guy. Chris had beaten up a cop and stolen his car, so he had to be a bad guy. The fact that he'd saved an old lady's life didn't mean shit. The funny part is, he would have agreed. It didn't mean anything. We shouldn't have bothered to haul her out of there in the first place. We should have stood around like everybody else and watched her drown.

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