Acheron – Chapter 5
The thought of anyone laying hands on Áine, doing violence to her, wasn’t just unbearable to me, it was inconceivable. A monstrosity that could not, must not exist in this universe.
Roddy Grady’s girlfriend was Aurora Morgan, a tall, voluptuous girl with proud Maori features and long black tresses.
Quite apart from the fact that she was Roddy’s girlfriend, I had always found Aurora and her pouty, preening sidekicks terrifying, and tried to keep out of their way. Fortunately I doubt they even noticed the runty, blushing Greek boy.
Now, however, we had a problem.
Aurora had taken a dislike to Áine. I don’t know whether it was anything to do with Roddy; more likely it was a simple personality clash. Áine had a low tolerance for conceited behaviour and as she put it: ‘That big Kiwi chick is so far up herself she’s practically feckin’ inside out.’
Her distain had not gone unnoticed — and now a challenge had been issued. Aurora was going to bash Áine. At lunchtime the very next day, on the school oval.
My girlfriend didn’t seem to realise the gravity of the situation. She had been home-schooled for most of her life, and had a poor understanding of peer dynamics. She stood up to attempts at intimidation fearlessly — simply because she had never encountered real bullying and had no idea how vicious it could get.
Aurora’s last victim, in summer term of the previous year, had lost two front teeth and ended up in hospital overnight with a cracked rib and concussion. Aurora had only been suspended for a week. Her dad being a copper might have had something to do with that.
Áine was oblivious to the danger. ‘Fight? Ridiculous! I’m not going to fight anyone. Why should I? We’ll talk it through, settle our differences like grown-ups.’
I tried to make her see reason; to no avail.
I spent a sleepless night, fretting over how to save the love of my life from the hideous beating she wouldn’t or couldn’t see coming. By the time Áine sat next to me on the school bus the next morning, my mind was made up. ‘I’m going to fight Roddy Grady, on the condition that he calls off Aurora.’
Áine looked at me. ‘Don’t be ridiculous. Roddy’s twice your size. He’ll flatten you. Anyway, Aurora’s his girlfriend, not his dog.’
Later that morning, Roddy peered down at me. ‘Why would I fight you, pathetic little dweeb? What’s in it for me?’
I outlined the situation, man to man. Roddy considered. ‘I admire your balls, mate. But it wouldn’t make any difference. Aurora does what Aurora wants. If she wants to hurt your girl, nobody and nothing’s going to stop her. Sorry.’
At lunchtime, I found Áine sitting in the shade of the big beech tree, near the bike shed, reading Lord of the Rings. Áine and I liked to read passages aloud to each other.
I explained that Roddy wouldn’t fight me. Áine looked up. ‘Good. I should hope not.’
I explained that this meant that Aurora would be coming for her. Maybe it was best to leave the school grounds until the start of afternoon lessons?
‘Nonsense.’ She resumed her reading.
Any further argument was cut short by two shadows blocking out the sun. Aurora’s ‘seconds’, Kim and Debbie, had arrived. ‘Aurora wants to see you. Now.’
Áine looked up. ‘Sorry, we’re busy.’
Kim and Debbie looked at each other. This wasn’t the script at all. They retreated in disarray.
Not for long. Soon Warrior Princess Aurora herself strode over, followed by her entourage, giggling and sniggering like a pack of hyenas. They formed a ring around us.
I got up.
‘Not you. Her.’
Áine sighed. ‘For God’s sake.’ She got to her feet, reluctantly. ‘What is it, Aurora?’
‘You going to fight, or what?’
‘Why would I fight you, now?’
Aurora cracked her knuckles, stepped forward. I had to do something. I strode between the two girls.
‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS!’
It was the first thing that popped into my head. Aurora looked down at me, incredulous: ‘Fuck off, Gandalf.’
The next thing I knew, I was lying on my back in the grass and my nose hurt. Áine was dabbing at my face with her handkerchief. ‘I don’t think it’s broken … There’s a lot of blood, though.’
‘After you made your … speech … Aurora laughed. A lot. Then she hit you. Straight right cross to the nose. Impressive technique.’
‘Oh. Ah doo okay?’
‘Me? Yes, I’m fine. Punching you out seemed to put her in a good mood. We shook hands. She said you’ve got balls of steel. She’s right … Ye daft wee bugger.’
Getting knocked out cold by a girl would make me the laughing stock of the entire school, I expected. In fact, over the ensuing days, I got a lot of pats on the back and expressions of respect, even admiration.
As it turned out, everyone was terrified of Aurora.
Except Áine, that is.
Next week in ‘Acheron’:
Chapter 6 – Different Paths
Pan finds out more about the Doyles’ farming ideas – and finds much else of interest, down on the farmlet by the river. Bampás is unimpressed.