© Juliet Hill
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Truth or Dare
A Short Story
Oliver didn’t need to be a genuine victim to know how to behave. He and the others accepted the hugs of strangers and were stunned by the number of goodwill messages from around the world. When the body was found, they all spoke of their grief and their guilt at being elsewhere at the time. But he always knew that the visual memory of what really happened would refuse to be overwritten by their carefully-rehearsed stories, and one of them would crack. It might even be him.
Apart from the brothers, the boys hadn’t met before. They’d all escaped from their families up in the village and found each other in a bar between the small harbour and the even smaller beach to one side. There was a huge screen in one corner with non-stop football, and a seemingly endless list of cocktails, most of which looked as if the ingredients had been thrown together so that new, sexier names could be invented. A couple of the boys were still underage but the owner was cool.
Alex, in his self-appointed role of Alpha Male, had already tried quite a few of the cocktails. Oliver watched him standing at the bar and trying to chat up the waitress, exaggerating the cocktails names and looking around at the others to make sure they heard, as if it was really for their benefit. Which of course it was.
He swaggered back to their table, his flip-flops dragging over the sandy decking.
‘OK people, we have now officially had a drink in every bar here, both up in the village and on the beach. I’ve confirmed it with the eminently fuckable Maria over there. Are we all agreed there’s bugger all to do here? ´
He sat down on the canvas chair, spreading his long legs and leaning back.
The lack of reaction didn’t worry him.
‘Right, so we’re going to have to make our own entertainment and, while we’re at it, give the locals something to think about.’
This time Jon looked up from his messaging.
‘You mean the Greeks here? Come on Alec, what have they ever done to you?’
‘Sorry. Alex. But like what?’
‘Just trying to liven things up a bit, mate. If you want to spend the week water-skiing on an inflatable banana with a bunch of twelve-year-olds, go ahead. But I reckon we can make the week a whole lot more interesting. These people don’t give a fuck what we do here as long as the money keeps rolling in. They’ve used up all their extra euros, the lazy bastards, and we’re paying for it, so I say let’s get something going they won’t forget in a hurry.’
He caught the eye of the boat hire man passing the front of the bar, his Panama hat tipped forward as if he were an elderly Cuban musician trying not to be noticed.
‘Talk to you tomorrow about boat hire, yeah?’
The man nodded.
Alex turned back to the others.
‘How about you Ollie? Come on, we’re going to be bored shitless if we don’t do something.’
Oliver hated being called Ollie. In his primary school they’d sung Sweet Polly Oliver and Polly Ollie stuck for years.
Suddenly in the spotlight, he said the first thing that came into his head.
‘How about a truth or dare thing?’
He cringed when Alex slapped him on the back, as if he was five years old.
‘That’s more like it. I know, even better, we can make it progressive; every night something bigger.’
Dan had arrived with Alex and hadn’t said much until then, but now he sighed and leaned forward.
‘Whatever it is this time, how about we do it here in the bay, Alex? Up in the village people know who we are, they’ve seen us with our parents.’
Alex just laughed.
‘That’s the whole point, you dick. It’s not much of a dare if you can’t get caught.’
He looked back at the others.
‘This moron isn’t really my brother. Blended family.’
He made finger quotes around the last two words.
Jon managed to tear himself away from his screen for the second time.
‘He’s got a point Alex. If people think we’re here alone, they’ve got nobody to complain to.’
Alex put up his hands in defeat and leaned forward.
‘OK, OK, we’ll do it here. Now, who’s going to get the ball rolling?’
They started by chatting up Greek girls and trying to get them to come out in a boat; then they moved on to older women. They stole from the supermarket; they pissed on graves in the churchyard; they climbed over a fence into the grounds of a huge private villa and painted rude pictures on the pristine white walls. At first Oliver had to admit that it was exciting, in a childish way. But after a few days it was as if they’d stumbled into a Spaghetti Western, where the locals went silent or whispered about them as they passed. They’d never been caught but everybody knew.
Oliver’s paranoia wasn’t helped by Alex’s new friend, Petros, a small-time dealer with eye-watering acne, who screeched around the island on an ancient moped. He could get them pretty much anything they’d heard of and a lot they hadn’t, all at suspiciously low prices. After an evening of hair-raising hallucinations, they stuck to the odd spliff but Alex would always disappear when they heard the familiar splutter of the engine.
And of course Alex got the final dare. Oliver suspected he’d deliberately failed on the previous one, just to get the kudos of starting the final and most extreme challenge. OK, so it would have to be something big, something he couldn’t or wouldn’t do. The three of them huddled together in a corner of the bar their final morning, while Alex downed his first beer of the day with his feet on the table.
After a long discussion they faced him and Dan spoke first.
‘You have to steal a farm animal.’
‘Like a chicken or something? What’s so hard about that?’
‘Something bigger than a chicken.’
Oliver looked at Jon. They hadn’t planned that. What was Dan playing at?
‘Then you’ve got to bring it to the beach, get it into a boat and we’ll go to the next bay. When we get there, you have to kill it.’
Alex raised his eyebrows.
‘Serious challenge guys. I like it.’
As if. Oliver almost laughed at his fake nonchalance. Just one more night and they could all go their separate ways.
They spent the evening in the sports bar as usual. The staff fixed their smiles and took their orders with clenched teeth, as if they weren’t counting the hours until they could wave them goodbye.
Out of the corner of his eye Oliver could see the boatman leaning back in his habitual deckchair. His hat was over his face and his foot was tapping to the music in his headphones. It hadn’t been easy to persuade him to rent the boat out overnight but eventually Alex had worn him down with 207 euros and a pair of brand new trainers.
By midnight the place was heaving and Alex suggested they take some cans down to the beach.
‘Come on, these people are pissing me off and it’ll be cheaper this way.’
‘You can’t have forgotten Alex. We’ve booked the boat. Where’s the animal?’
‘All in good time. I won’t let you down. Wait for me on the beach.’
The rest of them exchanged glances and made their way to the far end of the beach where the boatman had left them the boat, and waited. Clouds covered the moon and the darkness was punctuated by sporadic rustling in the copse behind. Probably a cat, one of the tribe who spent the evenings rubbing themselves against pink tourist legs. At least they’d specified a farm animal.
They’d been dozing for a while when Jon’s phone vibrated.
‘Alex says go now and he’ll meet us in the next bay.’
‘Yeah, right. He’s not going to be there yet. How about we go half way and wait? Tell him to call us when he gets to the bay.’
Dan jumped up and pulled the boat towards them.
‘God knows why he’s such a dick and what shit he’ll pull this time, but he’s just as bad at home. My dad thinks he’s some sort of psychopath but my step-mum just can’t see it. Can you give me a hand with the anchor?’
They stopped beside the cliff, just before the bay widened out into the open sea. It wasn’t a sheer cliff, more a series of graded levels. In the upper part a few scrubby plants hung on the shallow earth the best they could, but by half way down they were replaced by large rocks which continued underwater, iceberg fashion. They had a couple more beers and Jon fell asleep. Oliver was beginning to doze when he made out a movement in the corner of his eye.
‘Is that Alex?’
Jon jerked awake and the hoodie he’d been using as a pillow slid into the water.
‘What happening? Fuck, it’s soaking.’
With the help of the moon, they could just make out a figure on the highest part of cliff.
Oliver waved but Alex didn’t see him.
‘Try the motor. He’ll hear that.’
Dan tried a few times but the engine just spluttered and died.
‘That’s weird. I’m going to leave it for a bit. Maybe it’s flooded or something.’
Oliver waved again and shouted.
‘Alex, over here.’
This time Alex turned and shouted something.
Oliver turned to the others.
‘Did you get any of that?’
‘If he’d come in the boat, we’d have the whole thing wrapped up by now. Why don’t we just call him? If we really can’t get the boat started, he could go and find the boatman or somebody. I need more clothes or I’m going to die of hypothermia.’
He rifled in his shorts and checked the pockets of his wet hoodie.
‘Shit, shit, lost my bloody phone now. Great, that’s the third one this year.’
Oliver handed him his.
‘Tell him we’ve tried the engine two or three times and there’s nothing doing.’
Jon found the number and waited.
‘He’s not answering. It might be the coverage. We’re off the fucking map here. Last time I tried, I got connected to some Albanian network.’
He waved his hand in a circle as he listened to the message.
‘Bla de bla de bla ..Here we go. Alex, mate, forget the challenge. The boat’s given out on us. We’re fucked. Could you go back and get someone to come for us? No hurry, but like now.’
He looked at the others.
‘Anyone else got the boat guy’s number? It was in my bloody phone.’
Oliver shook his head and felt in his pockets.
‘How about one of those cards they give out at the sports bar? At least they’d speak English or something resembling it.’
Dan started opening the cupboards under the seating.
‘Come on, Ollie, this is serious. They’re not going to want to help us now, are they? After everything we’ve done. Look, we don’t even have any oars.’
‘Of course it’s fucking serious and my name is Oliver.’
‘Oliver, you pretentious git, you started the whole truth or dare thing. You were happy to ramp it up at the time.’
They sat glaring at each other until Jon broke the silence.
‘Alex hasn’t done it though, has he? He hasn’t completed the dare.’
He delivered it in his usual laid-back way, as if it was a minor misdemeanour, but he was right. They’d spent a week going along with Alex’s stupid, random challenges, like pissed marionettes with him pulling the strings. Now he was laughing at them.
But he wasn’t laughing. His terrified scream forced their eyes up to the top of the cliff. There was a cow falling down the side of the cliff and Alex was falling with it. They seemed to be shackled together like prisoner and guard, bouncing and slipping over the shallow earth.
Time stretched to snapping point. As the two bodies gained momentum, they crashed against sharp edges, crushed trees and slid over grass. A small avalanche of loose earth, pebbles and branches flew ahead. A couple of loud cracks made Oliver put his hands over his ears. He could hear Dan shouting, his knuckles white on the wheel, but the words made no sense.
Then something, somehow, propelled the dark shadows up and out over the final rocks, as if on a ski jump. They held their breath before the final impact, only a few metres away, created a huge wave that nearly flipped the boat. The boys tensed and grabbed at the sides.
Dan was sick, his vomit mixing with the water in the bottom of the boat. Jon clutched the side as if waiting for a second wave.
After a while Oliver tried to look around, out of the corner of his eye, without the others noticing. He couldn’t see anything floating in the black water but waited a little longer before speaking.
‘We didn’t see any of this, ok? We need to go now.’
They looked at him blankly and Dan wiped his mouth before speaking.
‘It was Alex. It was Alex with a cow. I don’t understand. What do you mean we have to go? We can’t just leave him here.’
Oliver shook his head.
‘We have to go. There’s no way he’s still alive.’
Dan looked around as if expecting Alex to appear and swim to the boat.
‘Where’s the cow? Why was he with a cow? He might still be alive.’
‘Dan, shut the fuck up with you? You suggested a farm animal or a large animal or whatever. God knows where he got the cow but we don’t know anything about it, OK? We’re not in any position to look for him. They engine’s fucked and we haven’t any oars. Once we pull up the anchor we’re going to have to paddle like hell to get over to the other side of the bay. We can’t go back on this side.’
Dan coughed and wiped his mouth again.
‘We say nothing. If we say we were here and saw everything, we’re fucked. They’d be after us for drugs, theft, God knows what else. Maybe even murder. And they’re not going to believe anything we say if they talk to the people in the village, are they?’
‘Yeah, come on mate. There’s nothing we can do here.’
Dan started to cry and Oliver put his hand on his shoulder.
‘We went to the other side of the bay and stayed there. Alex said something about going for a walk but we didn’t know where he was going. The boatman didn’t see him so we’re clear. If we can get over to the other side of the bay, I’ll call my parents and get them to send somebody.’
It seemed like a long time since they’d been desperate to avoid anything to do with their families.
‘Yeah? So we’ll just have to paddle the best we can.’
They sat in silence again. Then Dan pulled up the anchor and started to paddle with his hands and the other two joined in. They moved slowly across the bay, and their only company was the distant beat of a ghostly party boat passing behind them in the open sea.