On the 18th August, my novella “The Misfortunes of Oscar Goldberg” is being published in The Fantasist – a magazine dedicated to fantasy novellas. This will be my first published novella, and obviously I’m super excited!
“The Misfortunes of Oscar Goldberg” is an urban fantasy/coming-of-age story that mostly takes place over one eventful night. Unlucky Oscar and his best friend Mitch meet a mysterious woman who takes them gambling, and supernatural shenanigans ensue! The narrative is peppered with flashbacks, as Oscar begins to realise the cause of his crappy luck.
The following chapter is a flashback that I removed from the final draft because it slowed the pace too much. But I still like it as a stand-alone, especially because it shows the friendship between Oscar and Mitch before shit gets complicated. So, here we go…
The Misfortunes of Oscar Goldberg #34
When me and Mitch were thirteen and basically joined at the hip, nobody was sure which of us was the bad influence. Mitch was louder and more likely to muck about in school, but when he got into trouble he could usually charm his way out of it pretty quickly. I gave a better impression of being well-behaved, aside from the usual teenage moodiness, but if I got into trouble I tended to mouth off, so I stayed in trouble unless Mitch got me out of it.
There’s not much for a thirteen-year-old to do in East Twithering, so if one of us had some hare-brained scheme for how to spend an afternoon, the other rarely took much convincing to go along with it.
One such hare-brained scheme involved a dilapidated shed in a scrubby area behind the B&Q. It fascinated us because of the spray-painted words on the door, which read “LIVE SNAKE INSIDE”.
“There’s no way it’s true,” I said with confidence as we discussed it during a Maths lesson. “If you had a pet snake, you’d keep it in your house. Why would you keep it in some random shed behind a B&Q?”
“Maybe someone bought it as a baby and didn’t realise how big it would get. And when it got too big for its tank, they just shoved it in a shed and abandoned it.”
“That’s an arseholey thing to do. If someone had a pet snake that got too big, wouldn’t they just sell it to someone who had more room and could look after it properly?”
“People abandon dogs and cats all the time. Do you really think they’d feel guilty about getting rid of a snake?”
That settled it. The following Saturday, we headed down to the scrubland behind the B&Q. It was a dismal, grey-and-brown October day, and the shed looked profoundly spooky as we headed towards it.
“I bet it’s not a snake,” said Mitch, crunching his way through the bracken. “I bet it’s something valuable and whoever owns it spray painted “live snake inside” to keep people away.”
“Maybe it’s something illegal,” I suggested, “Like a meth lab.”
(Breaking Bad was really popular at the time, and me and Mitch thought there were secret meth labs everywhere.)
“If it is a snake, what are we supposed to do with it?”
“Call the RSPCA,” I said – firmly, because I knew Mitch was thinking of taking it home and selling it on eBay.
At the door of the shed, I peered through the keyhole but saw nothing. It smelled of damp and decay, and maybe something else as well. Paint thinner? Snake shit? Dead snake?
We searched all around the shed for a key. Well, I searched for a key while Mitch searched for something to pick the lock with. He tried using a thin twig, but eventually gave up and just threw himself against the door a couple of times. Since he was already twelve and a half stone, this proved effective against the flimsy lock.
Mitch was the first in, muttering “Here, snakey snakey.” I stood in the doorway for a moment, letting my eyes adjust to the gloom, until Mitch called me a pussy.
It was a big shed. The wooden floor was thin and springy – raised a little above the ground, presumably to keep the damp out. It hadn’t worked. The unlabelled cardboard boxes lining the walls were all soggy, and a couple had mould growing on them.
“This is a cool shed,” said Mitch, spreading his long arms out and smiling at the fact that nothing got knocked over. “It’d be a good place to hang out if we tidied it up a bit.”
“Yeah, we could throw awesome parties here,” I said, sounding more sarcastic than I meant to.
Mitch ignored me and started looking through one of the boxes at the side of the shed. I sauntered towards the back, not in any hurry to find the possibly non-existent snake. I gingerly lifted the flap of a cardboard box, and found a peach-coloured bedside table lamp, a large torch and a couple of small glass bottles. The next box contained a load of boring-looking magazines called “Knowledge” with pictures of things like skyscrapers and ancient Greek vases on the front covers. I started to hope for a snake, or meth lab equipment, just to liven up the proceedings.
“Any sign of a snake over there?” I called to Mitch.
“Nope. We should stamp a bit. Snakes can hear vibrations in the ground, so maybe it’ll come out if it hears us.”
I stamped a foot experimentally, but no snake appeared. Me and Mitch carried on stamping with increased enthusiasm, until I worried Mitch was going to put a foot right through the floor. Just as I was about to warn him of this possibility, my right foot went through the floor.
“The floor broke!”
My foot and ankle had disappeared. I could feel leaf litter around my foot and sharp shards of wood against my leg. When I tried to pull my foot up, the sharp bits dug into my flesh and hurt like hell, so I was totally stuck. Mitch, of course, found this hilarious. He took a bunch of pictures on his phone while I scowled at him and made various obscene hand gestures so that everyone on Facebook would know the pictures were taken against my will.
“Owowow, this really hurts. I think my ankle’s busted.”
“You mean it’s broken? Sprained?”
“How am I supposed to know? It’s all cut and bleeding.”
“Should I go and get someone? I could get someone from the B&Q, they’d have tools and stuff to cut through the floor.”
I thought of the probably non-existent but still possibly existent and possibly poisonous snake, lurking amongst the jumble of discarded stuff. “No, don’t go.”
He turned towards the door anyway, and just as I was about to swear at him, he opened a box he’d been rummaging through earlier and pulled out a pair of gardening gloves. He pulled them on, then sat on the floor in front of me and started tugging at the sharp bits of wood, trying to free my foot. This actually made things worse for a moment, but then he managed to snap off a piece and the pain was slightly less excruciating. After about ten minutes of breaking up the floor, piece by tiny piece, things were looking promising. I had a go at getting my foot out, but my ankle gave a painful twinge as I bent it.
“What’s that?” Mitch hissed, snapping his head to the right and springing into a squatting position.
“Something moved over there. Over by that wheelbarrow.”
“I don’t see anything.”
“Can you get your foot out yet?”
I braced myself against the inevitable pain and tried again. “Almost.”
Something moved from out of the shadow of the wheelbarrow, straight towards us. I didn’t have time to see if it slithered or scuttled; if it was a snake or a rat or just a big spider. In the space of about three seconds, Mitch had grabbed hold of me and pulled me out of the floor, then dragged me out of the shed on my busted ankle. Outside, I collapsed on the ground and laughed like a nutter until I rolled up the leg of my jeans and saw all the blood. There was a lot of it, and I started to get dizzy.
“Are you all right?” said Mitch. “You’ve gone white.”
“Shit, don’t throw up.”
I didn’t reply, because I was too busy trying not to throw up. When I was reasonably sure I wouldn’t, I tried to stand up. That was a mistake. “Ow! Fuckfuckfuck it’s really busted.”
“OK, I’m calling your mum.”
I watched blood oozing out of my mangled ankle and dripping into the leaf litter, while Mitch called my house. Unfortunately, it was Dad who picked up the phone instead of Mum. I knew as soon as Mitch said “Hi. Um, hi. It’s Mitch, I’m with Oscar, and there’s been an accident,” in a voice that went from nervous toddler to nervous old lady and back again.
Mitch had a brief, uncomfortable-sounding conversation with my dad, which began with him awkwardly explaining how I had busted my ankle by getting my foot stuck in the floor of an old shed, and ended with him answering an excessive number of questions about our location.
“We’re outside the shed … Right outside … The front … About twenty metres I think … Behind the B&Q … Straight down the footpath … It’s about a two minute walk … On the left.” The conversation ended with Mitch saying, “OK. Oz, do you want to talk to him? Oh, he’s gone. He said he’d be here in ten minutes.”
I wiped some of the gradually clotting blood off my ankle with a leaf and tried to steel myself for whatever was going to happen next.
Dad was always more of a worrier than Mum, which meant that whenever something bad happened to me, he got stressed out, and when he got stressed out he got angry. Sure enough, when he came to pick me up he was concerned for about five minutes, but by the time we were in the car and on the way to A&E, the anger started to leak out.
“What the hell were you thinking? You think it’s a good idea to mess around in dodgy old buildings with snakes inside them?”
“There might not have been a snake, actually,” Mitch piped up. “There was definitely something in there, but it might have been a rat or a mouse.”
“Not the point,” said Dad, in that teeth-gritted way that parents talk when they’re annoyed with a kid who isn’t their kid and they aren’t supposed to tell that kid off. “You need to start thinking, Oscar. You’re not a child any more. You need to start making sensible choices.”
“I was thinking,” I protested. “I’m always thinking. But bad stuff happens, no matter what.”
“Just try not to bleed all over the car.”
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed that, you can catch up with Oscar and Mitch when they are six years older, not much wiser, slightly drunk and dealing with some supernatural nonsense on the 18th July.