Mollusc

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The snails had emerged in number after the rain, and now the boy was placing them, one by one, in a sandwich bag. The rain – the first there had been all holidays – had been hard, but had now stopped. The air, earthy with its scent, hummed with the sound of water running down the outside of the house. There were a dozen snails in the boy’s bag, each languidly flexing its foot against the bag’s inside walls, glistening with mucus. The boy had set such bags out in the sun before, and watched as the snails therein slowly boiled inside their own shells, but there was no sun today – just the wind, and the rain, and skies the colour of ash. He had decided he would take a mallet to them instead, a big, rubber-headed one that Dad kept in the shed for hammering tent stakes into the ground when they went away. As usual, Dad had forgotten to lock the shed so getting the mallet was easy. But now the boy stood in front of the bag, its contents slowly squirming, the weapon – for that’s what, in his hands, it had become – limp. The frying of the snails had been relatively impersonal – he had simply walked away, and come back a couple of hours later to find them seared into a smoky, shapeless composite – but this felt different, less passive. Anger would have helped, but the boy felt none. It was boredom that had driven him to this, the unique tedium of the only child at a loose end, temporarily friendless and without anything good to read. The mallet felt neither light nor heavy in his hand. He had swung it before, at stakes and screws and bricks. He had clubbed himself with it, once mashing a toe so badly that it had almost required plastic surgery to repair, but never another life form. He prodded the bag with his boot. The nearest snail struggled drowsily against the bag, its stalk-like eyes probing the moist plastic. As the snail arched up suddenly, leaving a streak of mucus on the bag, the boy could see its mouth, a tiny, dark slit shaped like a frown. ‘Sam,’ the boy thought, the name seeming to come from nowhere in its easeful alliteration. After a moment the boy put the mallet away and sat on the step, waiting for sunshine.

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