A resounding winner of the second phase of the GKBC International Short Story Competition, picked by our guest judge Tim Weaver, Matty Millard’s short story ‘Weapons Of Mass Destruction’ was a truly inspiring read. Check out his story below and read his author interview here too.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
by Matty Millard
Hey! I’m Rotten Johnny, and you join me, panting for breath as I rest against the school gate.
Today was the biggest day of the Old Carrions Grammar School calendar, Finals Day for the all-important conker season.
I’m pretty good at conkers if I do say so myself. In fact, I’m the best.
I joined Old Carrions three years ago, and in all that time I have never been beaten. This year I was going to buy a new trophy cabinet from my winnings, but I don’t think it will be necessary any more.
I know, I’m not making a lot of sense. So let me start from the beginning.
The bell rang for lunchtime, and I ran outside, excited for my Grand Final. A crowd of mainly twelve and thirteen year olds had already formed around the school clock tower where the final is always played. I’m sixteen, and I know I’m a little old to still be playing conkers but it’s different at Old Carrions to other schools. Elsewhere it’s just kids swinging a horse-chestnut on a shoelace to break another conker, but it isn’t just a game at Old Carrions Grammar School. Conkers is a lifestyle.
At the edge of the crowd I was swamped by kids wishing me luck and trading high fives. So many different people love conkers at Old Carrions, it turns a school into a real community. Poor kids play because it’s the only form of entertainment they can afford. Groups of jocks are all fist pumps and bravado, they get really het up in the excitement. Others just like the tradition.
There’s also the groupies, who drive me mad. Most don’t care about conkers, they just want to know the popular kids in school. As reigning champion I put up with loads of these. I can handle the attentions of the ladies, of course, but there are only so many times I can answer that bloody question the newbies ask, “should I aim for the top, or the side of the conker?”
It doesn’t matter, just welly it!
Porky Pete grabbed both my arms as I pushed my way through the crowd.
“Please Johnny, you’ve got to win!” he whispered, stress lines etched across his face.
Porky Pete’s one of the worst kind of groupies, the “Stattos”. His briefcase is stuffed full of analyses of conker matches, player’s form, history between rivals, performance records on windy days. He studies everything, he’s obsessed.
“I will, don’t worry,” I told him. I knew the reason for his worries. Porky Pete had staked all of his savings on the Grand Final, and feared asking his parents for more dinner money. There would be loads more kids behind the clock tower too, trying to place a last minute bet. I was 25-1 to win within three swings, generous odds and a popular bet. This, of course, wouldn’t happen as I both “regulate” and fund the bookies thanks to the hundreds of pounds I make from selling the conkers off my parent’s tree.
Conkers is easy money. Without conkers I couldn’t afford the Doc Marten boots I wear to school every day, or the strong hair wax which glues my fringe in position. My Mom would never buy me these things so I have to make my own money. I’m not daft though, I don’t sell the best conkers. The biggest and the hardest ones I keep for myself.
It’s not all riches though, I’ve had a few uncomfortable situations with losing customers too. My friend Dangerous Dave, a stocky sixth former, once saved me from drowning in the toilets after Harry “Crusher” Harris lost one of the biggest wagers I have ever seen. Ever since, he’s been the head of my notorious “Enforcer” bodyguards.
A scuffle breaks out further forward in the crowd, so I leave Porky Pete and fight my way into the middle of two boys who are going tooth and nail at each other. I don’t know them, but they recognise me and stand back.
“Rotten Johnny”, says a distraught first year holding a conker-less shoelace. “You’re not allowed to play ‘stamps’ at Old Carrions are you?”
“Absolutely not!” I replied. ‘Stamps’ is a controversial rule only allowed by barbarians of the game, where you are allowed to stamp on an opponent’s conker if they drop it on the floor. I raised my hand and Dangerous Dave dragged the offender out of the crowd to teach him a well-deserved lesson.
I had almost reached the clock-tower when I felt another hand on my shoulder. Constant attention is the price you pay for being a Champion. Sighing, I turned to face an agitated first year.
“Rotten Johnny, can you moderate a deal for me? He wants me to pay ten pounds for this conker. It’s not even drilled!”
I glanced at the shiny new watch on my wrist. “Come to me after the match,” I replied. “We start in three minutes.”
As you can see, I own the conker world. I started and hence run the thriving black market. I vet the quality of conkers to ensure no-one gets ripped off. I determine the market value per gram of conker. Earlier in the season, strange betting patterns forced my Enforcers and I to close down a match fixing scandal after clear favourite Steve “the Smasher” Wallace missed his opponent’s conker and hit a wall under absolutely no pressure at all. An injury gained in “mysterious” circumstances meant that he still hadn’t managed to use the brand new football boots he had brought to school the following day.
Through my Enforcers, I ensure that everyone else plays fair. But nobody monitors Rotten Johnny.
I have been selling counterfeit conkers for almost two years now. 95% of the conker swinging community of Old Carrions Grammar School have bought some form of contraband item smuggled in a conker shell from me, whether chewing gum (the illogically prohibited scourge of Grammar schools), or a photo of a girl from a naughty magazine. The most recent addition to my portfolio is the sale of conkers stuffed with crack-cocaine, and quite frankly I’m laughing all the way to the bank.
I finally got through the crowds and reached the clock tower, where I winked at my best customer. Charlie the Conqueror hates me bitterly, and I have to say the feeling is mutual. Charlie is both jealous and a terrible loser, as he demonstrates annually when I beat him in the Old Carrions Grammar School Grand Final.
Earlier in the term, I sold him a gram of cocaine so that he could temporarily forget his woes. Every lunch-time nowadays, I see him doing a line behind the bike sheds. Each time he buys from me, he tells me how much he hates giving me money. I just smile, because he keeps coming back.
Today is a showcase for sport, not business, so I extend my hand to Charlie. In return I get a vitriolic stare. A hush descends across the crowd. They want to hear what is said, everyone knows our history.
The 2012 Grand Final had finished with some rather ugly scenes when Charlie the Conqueror had publicly questioned my ethics. Everybody knows there is a widespread problem in the game with competitors baking conkers, soaking them in vinegar or varnishing them to get a head-start, but to suggest that the conker of the most respected man in the game is a fake was just way out of line.
I had feared more trouble this time, as Charlie had far more at stake than last year. I hadn’t stopped selling coke to Charlie when he had run out of money. I hadn’t stopped selling to him when he had pawned all of his heavy metal CD’s, but I did stop selling to him when Charlie had said that all he owned were the clothes on his back, and the conker in his pocket.
I couldn’t take his clothes, nobody wants to see that. And taking a stricken man’s conker is just bad form. I have absolutely no problem with gallantly smashing it into tiny little pieces though, and that was exactly what I planned to do today.
Charlie the Conqueror was equally desperate to win, as if he did he would make £500 from the bookies. That would buy him a lot of cocaine.
The bell rang to signify it was one o’ clock, and more importantly, it was time to start the Grand Final. The tension was palpable.
Charlie won the coin toss and elected to go first. He hit with each of his first three swings, and celebrated to the applause of the crowd. I repeated the pattern, and bowed as the roars intensified. Charlie continued the trend for his next two, but on the second hit a small flake of shell fell from his conker. His face was awash with annoyance.
“Rotten Johnny should be disqualified,” announced Charlie. “He sells trick conkers.”
A general murmuring rumbled around the playground. Everyone knew it was true, but the lack of outrage indicated that people were okay with it. The world of conkers was about far more than just winning a tournament after all.
I grinned, knowing that it would force a rise out of Charlie. “Charlie, I knew you were desperate but this is really clutching at straws. I know you’re losing, but trying to get me disqualified for selling you conkers full of crack will never work!”
Charlie would have been better off if he had tempered his irritation. He wouldn’t have won the match, but he would have looked like a far more competent conker player had his anger not taken his focus from accuracy to power.
I laughed heartily as Charlie’s wayward conker missed mine, wrapped around his arm and struck his own knuckles. I swung my “Weapon of Mass Destruction”, as it had been dubbed, three times with power and accuracy. As he cursed openly, Charlie’s hopes lay on the ground in a smashed mess of conker and shell.
“You win again,” Charlie stated forlornly, but I could see that he wasn’t finished. “But I think you’ll find, that after three years of undefeated conker playing, we must insist on breaking your conker to check what’s inside.”
I knew there was no argument I could have with this statement. It was clearly stipulated in the rules that the conker used must be from the present year’s harvest, so I would have no further use for this one. A quick glance towards Dangerous Dave confirmed this.
It was all over. I couldn’t stay whilst they uncovered the truth, the consequences would be catastrophic. I ran out of Old Carrions as fast as I possibly could, pushing past and trying to ignore the stunned faces of the crowd. After three glorious years, I had finally been found out.
Behind me, Charlie placed the conker on the floor and raised a stone in the air. I can only imagine the glee he must have felt as he prepared to expose my scandal to the whole school.
Stopping to catch my breath, I leaned on the school gate and looked back from where I had run. As the metal casing inside my conker split, the chemicals inside it mixed freely. I saw the explosion rip the slate roof off the clock tower. Flames and smoke engulfed the old leaded windows of Old Carrions.
I’ve been standing here for about five minutes now, and I’ve come to a decision. There is still a lot to be said for conkers, and I’m definitely getting better at it.
I just need to get through that awkward conversation with my Dad first, about how I need to go to a new school because my current one has exploded and everyone has died, again.
“But this time, Dad, could you please send me to that private school in the hills where all the rich kids go?”
Featured image: JefferyTurner