Weekend Fiction: King Dramilo

The dog showed up one day out of nowhere, and everyone said it wouldn’t hang around long. It was old and mangy, blind in one eye and half-blind in the other, brown and black with patches of whitish skin that made it look like it had undergone chemotherapy. People fed the dog scraps or gave it water, and it got to know almost everyone in the neighborhood after going house to house several times. All the kids got along well with the old hound, who wagged his tail and licked their faces when they petted him. Some kids called the dog “Buck,” others “Spike,” and one knock-kneed, thirteen-year-old girl, Ina, called it “King Dramilo,” because it reminded her of a Slovenian fairy tale her mother once read her. In the fairy tale an old peasant couple found a baby floating in a basket on a river. They named the baby Dramilo, or “a pick-me-up,” not only because he’d been picked up out of the river, but also because he was so cheery and made everyone around him feel good. Dramilo grew into an ugly little gnome of a man, but he had a loving heart, and when he died bravely fighting the evil monster Avar, he became king of a mystical land as big as the heavens. Ina’s name made the rounds once or twice and then stuck. Soon everyone called the dog King Dramilo, never just Dramilo, never just King.

*  *  *

The morning was sunny on the day King Dramilo showed up, but there were clouds hovering in the West. They were nasty looking, green-gray and dense, and they reminded Dejan of a stagnant pond out behind his folks’ trailer. They were living on the outskirts of an American rust belt city then, poor but not so poor they couldn’t scrape a life together. The trailer was located about two blocks past a huddle of houses, some boarded-up, others badly run-down, that people once called DeLoma Avenue but was now called “derelict” or “abandoned” even though you could see people there like Ina and her father.

Dejan’s father used to take him into the empty houses. “We’re just going to look,” he said, but Dejan knew what his father was doing. Growing up on the outskirts meant a thirteen-year-old boy had learned something about the world. He knew many people went around collecting stuff that others left behind when they moved out. The previous owners might not have wanted it or they planned to come back for it when they could afford a trailer or whatever. Dejan saw his father look over an empty refrigerator, an old generator, a rusted out snow blower. He knew his father would come back in a few days, just in case the item was still there, and haul it off, maybe sell it, maybe fix it up and keep it, or give it away to someone who needed it more.

Dejan’s outings with his father left the boy with a taste for exploring places that no longer had names. Places that families had to abandon because the factories had abandoned the families and the government said, “so sorry, you’re on your own.” Dejan figured a son had to follow in his father’s footsteps. His determination only became stronger when his father stopped collecting after he came back one night from an expedition with one eye swollen shut and a few teeth missing. His father walked with a limp for weeks after. Dejan asked his mother about the incident but she shushed him, and his father’s twisted grimace whenever he got up from his worn green easy chair told Dejan not to ask again. The injuries convinced Dejan he had to finish what his father had started, but unlike his father he wouldn’t be defeated by the perils of collecting.

So late at night, after he’d done his chores and made a nominal effort at homework, he’d slip his reedy body through his bedroom window at the back of the trailer and go collecting. That was when King Dramilo started hanging around more. At first Dejan didn’t want the tattered old dog shadowing him. He’d shoo him away, tell him to go see if Ina had a treat, even though Dejan knew Ina’s father didn’t let her stay up past ten. With a shotgun propped up next to him, Ina’s old man sat up watching TV every night as he swigged homemade wine. He lived by the motto “shoot first, ask questions later,” but Dejan figured King Dramilo had street smarts and would avoid the man if he sensed danger.

But the dog wanted to come with the boy, and Dejan finally gave in and let him trot along beside him. Turns out he was a good companion, especially the first few times, when the night fell thick and dark, and Dejan was scared (though he would not admit that to anyone). Because the dog’s eyesight was bad, Dejan figured his hearing and sense of smell would be even sharper, and that gave Dejan confidence.

At first the boy didn’t know what he was doing, but he learned quickly. After just a few outings he was able to get into abandoned houses without much trouble. He’d seen his father crowbar a door or break glass with a covered fist and twist an arm around to unlock a deadbolt. He used his father’s tools and was careful with them. He knew exactly where his father kept them and would have them back in his toolbox or hanging up in the hut next to their trailer before dawn. He carried them in a backpack, and soon discovered which were indispensible and which made his pack too heavy.

One night Dejan found himself in a house that real collectors, people like his father, had already gone through. Wiring had been torn out, appliances carted off, copper pipes ripped from behind walls. Everything of any value had been taken. Except for one item: an old table lamp with a frill on the faded pink shade and a flowery design on the body. Dejan had figured he could find objects no one else wanted, things only kids would want or even see, because kids saw the world differently than adults. Because it looked like the sort of lamp you’d have in a girl’s room, he thought “Ina” before he thought anything else.

Ina and Dejan had been friends since kindergarten, but over the past year, Dejan felt their relationship change. It was something in his stomach, which churned whenever she was around. There were times when he couldn’t think of a thing to say to her. Times when everything he uttered sounded stupid. But he still sometimes scooted by her place when he knew her old man wouldn’t be home and they’d walk around, or play with King Dramilo if he was in the neighborhood. Ina would tell him how lucky he was to have a mother and father, and how sad she still felt that her mother had died a year before.

“But you have your dad,” said Dejan.

Ina smiled her crooked smile and snorted.

Dejan hid the lamp under a silver tarp in a meadow just beyond the pond. A few days later he told Ina he had a gift for her, and took her to the meadow, where they crouched behind a rock. He pulled the lamp from under the tarp. “For you,” he said. Ina smiled, and the light in her eyes looked brighter to Dejan than any lamp could give off. “Oh Dejan,” she said. They admired the thing for a while, then she looked out toward the horizon and said, “Gotta go, my dad will be home in fifteen minutes. He’ll whack me if I’m not home when he gets there.” In one quick motion, she scooped up the lamp and gave Dejan a kiss on the cheek. His face glowed for the next hour. Soon he began to think of his life as Before Kiss and After Kiss. He thought he would someday find a treasure so big Ina would have a hundred kisses for him.

*  *  *

It was about that time that King Dramilo didn't only join him at night for expeditions but became his regular companion. Dejan's mother was so taken with him she started setting aside table scraps every afternoon. “He’s so homely he's pretty,” she said. “Look at the crooked way he walks. His whole body is on the diagonal.”

With King Dramilo trotting beside him, Dejan learned the collecting game about as well as any boy his age. He knew there were other guys who were doing the same thing, but everyone was secretive about where they went and what they took. He met them in the shadowy hallway of an abandoned school or hospital, or in the eerie half-light of an empty shopping mall, but they barely acknowledged each other. Dejan was at first disappointed by how isolated he felt. He thought collectors his age should be like brothers on a dangerous mission. But soon he accepted that collectors treated other collectors as if they were canker sores; it was just the way it was.

Dejan collected so many things he had trouble coming up with places to hide them. Garden hoses, an old pail, a working curling iron, a clean t-shirt with Wilco emblazoned on the front, a full set of old Oldsmobile hubcaps, a package of unused D batteries, a package of condoms, a rusty pocketknife, some pliers an adult collector had no doubt left behind. He figured one day he could give it all away to his parents or put it out on the curb for anyone to take, but it wasn't time for that. His parents would tell him he was too young to be collecting, it was dangerous business, there were people out their with guns who said collecting was like being in no-man's-land. His father would warn him about volunteer security crews more crooked than the gangs that sometimes hung out in abandoned houses. Maybe his father had been attacked by one of those crews. So he hid away his stuff the best he could, and if he forgot where he buried an item, King Dramilo was always there to sniff it out.

One of his biggest finds was a girl’s bicycle, which looked to be about right for Ina. It was rusted and had no tires, but he knew sooner or later he’d find tires and inner tubes. Some of the objects Dejan found made him reflect on the owner’s life, which might have been happy or troubled but was no longer lived in that exact spot. He didn’t want to think too much about the lives of things and people, since it would slow him down and make collecting harder.

He hid the bike away and put the tires and inner tubes on his mental checklist, which had grown quite long. He had to be careful about that list, he told himself, since if he let it direct what he was doing, it might cause him to do stupid or unnecessarily risky things. He had to let the world come to him, and that meant to collect what he could even if he didn’t need the thing right just then.

The only person who knew about his collecting was Ina. Dejan had not only given her the lamp but also taken her to most of his hiding places. Of course, he kept the bike a secret, since that was going to be a big surprise once he had the whole package together.

He would occasionally offer her little trinkets, some of which she accepted. But most of the time she said, “you keep them, Dejan. Give them to your mother. If I took them, my father would find out, and that could be a problem.”

“Did he find the lamp?”

Ina nodded.

“What happened?”

Ina put her finger to her lips. “Shh.” Then she turned and raised the back of her t-shirt for him. Her lower back was covered with bright red welts. “My butt is worse,” she said matter-of-factly. It was the last time they talked about the lamp, and the first time Dejan decided he needed to do something about Ina’s father.

*  *  *

One night, Dejan and King Dramilo were in a neighborhood they’d never been in before. As time went by, Dejan had become bolder, and he was always willing to let the dog’s sense of direction get him back home if he lost his bearings. They were in the warehouse district out by the freeway. The city had tried to do something with the huge dilapidated buildings that dotted this part of the city. They tried art galleries, dance halls, a bowling alley. Nothing had worked, and the place continued to have a reputation for being unsafe any time of day. Dejan assumed if he was careful and avoided the security guards and gangs that hung out here, he might come across an interesting item. He guessed that none of the other boys his age were willing to venture this far beyond the outskirts, so unless adult collectors had stripped the place clean, he was bound to discover something.

After no more than a half hour poking around in one of the warehouses, Dejan was rewarded for his efforts. Most of the time King Dramilo never barked. But that night he gave out one hoarse sound, more of a croak than a bark, and it startled Dejan. He shushed him; the warehouse was like an echo chamber. Dejan knew there was activity outside since he’d seen a bonfire and several older teenagers drinking and throwing empty beer bottles at the building. If they detected him, he was in trouble.

Once he was satisfied King Dramilo hadn’t roused their interest, he looked around toward the spot that drew the dog’s attention. Most of the windows were broken, and there was bright moonlight outside. There were rows of empty metal shelving along one side of the interior, and it made Dejan wonder why collectors had taken everything but the shelves, which would bring good money on the black market. On the other side of the building was a high loft, with a stairway at the side. Some dogs had a problem with open stairways, but not King Dramilo. He followed Dejan up the metal stairway with no hesitation. King Dramilo acted like he was ready to bark again, but instead he darted over to a spot to the right of the stairway and back toward a window that had long since lost its glass. Dejan followed, and it was there that the smell hit him.

Dejan had never smelled a dead person before, but without even wondering about it, he knew what the sickly-sweet odor was. He buried his nose and mouth in his sleeve to block the smell, but it didn’t help. He felt sick to his stomach. As his gut battled, he saw something glint in the moonlight. In a moment his curiosity overcame his nausea, and he moved toward the body.

A gun. Whoever the man was - and Dejan dared not try to make out his face - he had carried a gun in a holster clipped to his belt. Dejan knew that King Dramilo didn’t care what he collected, but in the weak silvery light, he thought he saw the dog’s face burn with anticipation. Dejan recognized the holster; his father had a similar style. Dejan knew something about guns. Most people living on the outskirts of a derelict industrial city hunted and fished and did what they could to wrench food from forests and meadows that were creeping back into town and recovering what had once belonged to nature. Dejan’s father had taught him to shoot a pistol and promised that in six months on his fourteenth birthday he could shoot his rifle. Without hesitation, Dejan unclipped the man’s gun and attached it to his belt. He hadn’t even checked the weapon, which now felt heavy on the hip of his camouflage trousers. He didn’t know what kind it was, or whether it was loaded. The only certainty was that he and King Dramilo had to get out of the abandoned building before the drunks found them.

*  *  *

Twenty minutes after finding the gun, Dejan sat behind high grass bordering a drainage ditch. He’d followed King Dramilo through the warehouse area and out into open land, and now the dog crouched in the dark next to him. King Dramilo was panting heavily, and for a moment Dejan worried a passerby would hear them. But there was no one around, and the night was full of sounds - a distant train whistle, traffic whirring on the freeway, cicadas’ persistent hum - that drowned out the dog's breathing.

Dejan could now see he had found a pistol with a fully loaded clip. His heart pounded twice as fast as King Dramilo’s panting, and as he worked the clip in and out, he felt a mix of emotions - excitement, pride, fear, but also a strong undertow of something else. Something ugly. He remembered reading in a horror story about how a man had stolen a gold filling from a corpse. Was he that man? Was he no better then the grave robbers one of the kids down the block told him about? The ones who dug up graves and sold what they could from the wood and metal of the caskets.

He looked at King Dramilo. He seemed content now, and his breathing had settled. Dejan wished his heartbeat had. He thought about telling his parents, but he knew that was impossible. First, it would mean they’d know he was sneaking out at night. Second, they’d find out he was collecting. And third, this. He could tell them he found a corpse but not a gun. Or a gun but not a corpse. He shook his head No, as if denying some unseen accusation. Dejan’s father had once told him that once you lie, you spend your life telling more lies to cover up the first lie. Dejan knew he couldn’t go to the police. Collecting was a gray zone as far as the police saw it, but a thirteen-year-old collecting in the warehouse district? And finding what he’d found?

Dejan thought about the dead man. He had no idea who he was or how long he'd been there. He had no idea why he was there. Maybe he’d been an evil man and got what was coming to him. Maybe he’d been a security guard. Or a cop. The last thought almost paralyzed Dejan. He stroked King Dramilo’s head, but it didn't make him feel better. He swore under his breath he’d never go collecting again, but he knew that wasn’t true. The urge was too strong, the adventure too great. But not this adventure. Not finding a dead man with a loaded gun in the warehouse district. That was too much.

Dejan had to cover it all up, never let his parents know, never let anyone know - except one person.

*  *  *

Dejan’s stomach churned in the next several days. He reminded himself many times what a great discovery he’d made. What other thirteen-year-old collector on the outskirts had come across a gun? A gun from a corpse? Yet each time he concentrated on this thought, his anxiety unfolded into parallel streams of fear and guilt that carried his excitement away. It didn’t help that he’d not seen Ina for three days. Telling Ina would somehow ease his tension, he was sure of it. But Ina had missed school, and that was doubly worrisome. Not only did it mean he’d have to wait to share his secret; he was also concerned she was sick. Unlike him, she loved school. He treated school like the flu, but she approached it with all the knock-kneed enthusiasm she could muster.

On the third day of Ina’s absence, Dejan felt he had to do something. Instead of going collecting, he would walk to Ina’s in the dark and meet her. It was after ten, but if Ina’s father had the TV up loud enough and he’d had his fill of cheap red wine and fallen asleep, Ina could slip away. All Dejan had to do was tap her bedroom window three times with a twig.

Ina met him at their usual spot out behind an abandoned water tower. Despite not having a good look at her in the dark, Dejan knew something was bothering Ina. He heard it in what few words she spoke. She seemed to be there but not be there.

“What’s wrong, Ina?” he asked after getting monosyllabic answers from her.

She collapsed into his arms and sobbed. Dejan was uncertain what to do. Despite having fantasies about kissing and touching her, he’d never really considered how it would feel to be so close. Slowly, hesitantly, he wrapped his arms around her as she buried her head in his shoulder.

“What’s wrong?”

Then it all came out. In the last weeks her father’s beatings had gone from the occasional, alcohol-infused flurry to nearly nightly abuse. “Look at me,” she said, as Dejan studied her in the dim glow of a light attached to the base of the tower. Now he could see what he hadn’t noticed when they’d when they’d been running through empty fields to get to the tower. The skin around her left eye was puffy, her lower lip swollen. She rolled up her sleeve and Dejan could see angry bruises dappling her thin arms.

“My God, Ina.”

“He used to beat my mom. She tried to cover it up, but I knew. I saw the bruises. I saw when she was using a lot of makeup.”

“You can’t undo what he did to her. You have to protect yourself now.”

“I’m his new punching bag.”

King Dramilo had been wandering around the tower. Now he came to sit next to them. He placed his head on Ina’s knee and she laughed weakly. “Dogs know when you’re hurting,” she said as she petted the dog’s head.

“I knew there was something going on,” he said. “When you showed me the welts on your back.”

King Dramilo gave out a heavy sigh.

“But a man’s fist is different than a strap,” Dejan said.

“There’s nothing to do about it. Just wait until he calms down again.”

Dejan thought for a moment. “I wanted to show you something,” he said. “Come.” He took her by the hand, the first time he’d ever thought of doing such a thing. But now the world had shifted, and holding Ina’s hand felt not only natural but necessary.

They ran. In order to reach where he’d hidden the gun, they had to cross a busy highway and negotiate several streets where homeless men and women milled around bars and pawnshops. They walked quickly and ignored the devastation. Soon they were in a glass-littered field behind an abandoned apartment building. Underneath a corner of the foundation, Dejan dug out dirt with his hands and pulled out a rusty metal box. He opened it.

“Dejan!” Ina put her hand to her mouth as she gasped. “What are you doing with that?”

“I collected them. The ammo too. And holster.”

“Do your parents know?”

“Of course not. You’re the only one who knows. I found it out by the warehouses.”

“You just found a gun? Like, laying around?”

“Well...no.”

Dejan could feel Ina’s brown eyes, wide open and expectant, burning. “You have to promise never to tell. Anyone. Anytime.”

Ina nodded. “You know I can keep a secret.”

“There was a dead guy.”

Again Ina gasped.

“I collected it off him.”

Ina shook her head but said nothing. In her silence Dejan thought he heard many responses. “How could you be so stupid?” or “you must be crazy, Dejan,” or even, “you’re in big trouble now.” As her silence grew, so too did possible responses.

“Do you believe in fairy tales?” asked Ina excitedly, as if struck by an intriguing new thought.

The question caught Dejan off guard. He had been rehearsing justifications for taking the gun. “What do you mean?”

Ina laughed. “Just what I said: do you believe that fairy tales come true? Whether for instance King Dramilo really can become a king, like the boy in the tale who was found by peasants. He battled an evil monster, gave his life, and became king of a land as big as the heavens. Do you think that’s possible?”

“I don’t think too much about that kind of stuff.”

“You should.”

Just then, King Dramilo stretched out on the ground a few feet from where they sat, raised a rear leg, cleaned his penis with loud, slurping licks.

They laughed. “He doesn’t look like a king,” said Dejan.

“Maybe not,” said Ina. Then, agitated, she looked around. “I have to get back.”

*  *  *

Dejan couldn't sleep the night after he met Ina by the water tower. Nor could he sleep the next few nights. The gun, the corpse, Ina’s bruises - it was too much. He stopped collecting for several nights, but that was unsatisfying too. The urge was still there, as strong as ever, but he felt like the gun had insinuated itself into every part of his life. A beating heart in the center of things. Maybe someone beside Ina knew he’d taken it. Maybe they saw him and King Dramilo in the warehouse. Or maybe someone found his hiding place. Knowing all these possibilities meant he knew none of them.

He visited the hiding place several times a week, but that too caused only more anxiety. He knew that by covering and uncovering the gun, he was calling attention to himself. The gun was a spike in his consciousness, impossible to ignore or remove.

Again he considered his options. Tell his parents. Tell the police. Tell one of his teachers. The longer he hesitated, the harder it was to consider any one option seriously.

Only one thing gave him respite from his fevered imaginings: Ina had attended school regularly for several weeks and seemed to be her old self. Dejan assumed that the beatings had stopped. That her father was behaving himself. He was being good to her. No more drinking, or at least less than before. Ina was happy. But there were times when Dejan couldn’t avoid the feeling that Ina was too much of her old self. As if all her mannerisms - how she blew her bangs away from her forehead, the funny grimace she made when Dejan told a bad joke - were exaggerated versions of what had come before. She was playing at being herself.

Late one Saturday afternoon Dejan went to check on his gun. King Dramilo knew the routine. Dejan whispered to him, “go check, King Dramilo,” and the dog would go around the corner, sniffing, tail wagging, then return. If King Dramilo acted normally, Dejan would go to his hiding place and dig up the gun with a small garden spade he’d collected. Then Dejan would feel the gun’s heft in his hand, load and unload the clip, wear the holster for fifteen minutes. The reasons for this little ritual were unclear to him. Yet he did it, and it made him feel better, at least temporarily.

King Dramilo returned after a few minutes, but he was not at all normal. His body curled and re-curled in agitated twists. He emitted a low growl. “What is it, boy?” whispered Dejan. King Dramilo continued his anxious dance until Dejan gentled him by stroking his head and holding him firmly with the other hand.

His heart a fist pounding against his rib cage, Dejan edged around the corner. He saw a small pile of dirt by the foundation. He ran to the spot and saw that the hole was empty. He looked around, more out of fear than expectation he might still see the culprit. The lot was abandoned. The factory building stood silent, its dozens of broken windows a testament to Dejan’s despair.

Going home, he and King Dramilo took a circuitous route. Why, Dejan couldn’t say. He told himself nothing had changed, really. He had a gun, now he didn’t. He could go back to his normal life keeping lots of small secrets from his parents instead of harboring a Really Big Secret. Chances were that someone had come across the gun by accident and didn’t know Dejan from Adam. It could have been another collector. Or an ordinary thief. It didn't matter, he told himself. “We're okay,” he said to King Dramilo as his parents’ trailer came into view.

Yet there was something that had begun to gnaw at his consciousness as he kneeled staring at the empty hole by the factory. Something he’d pushed away only to find it kept returning. Something building as he and the dog scurried through empty fields and weed-choked parking lots. Something that the dark, boarded up houses of DeLoma Avenue intensified. By the time he’d reached the outskirts, it was a full-fledged anxiety, barbed, churning. It was as if saying out loud “We're okay,” revealed the lie he’d created inside his mind. It was not okay. Everything was not as it should be. “Ina,” he said to King Dramilo.

*  *  *

Ina heard scratching at the back door and knew it was King Dramilo. Even though he slept most nights at Dejan’s, he was a nomad at heart, and he still loved going into the woods beyond the outskirts to tree raccoons or follow the intoxicating scent of foxes in the dark. Ina looked at the clock; three in the morning. She got up to let King Dramilo in and quietly hustled him off to her bedroom.

Her sleep had been fitful. Ever since she’d taken the pistol from Dejan’s hiding place a week before, she felt a mix of guilt and fear. Guilty about avoiding Dejan, who’d come around several times at night and rapped on her window. Guilty about ignoring his inquiring glances at school. Fearful that having a loaded gun under her bed would lead to catastrophe. Yet the gun also made her feel more secure. Her father had been on a drinking binge the past few days after several weeks of relative calm. He would drink himself into a stupor, then wake up in the middle of the night to storm around the house, cursing and slamming doors and looking for more booze. If he found she’d let King Dramilo in, there was no telling what his reaction might be.

King Dramilo snuggled up to her in her bed. He smelled of the woods, of moss and mushrooms and pine needles, and Ina buried her head in his neck. She could hear his crooked tail thump-thump-thumping on the blanket. Just as she drifted off into semi-sleep, she heard a ruckus in the kitchen. Her father was up.

King Dramilo raised his head and Ina petted him and said, “shh.”

They waited. Her father was muttering something, slamming cupboard doors. There was a loud crash. Had he knocked over a kitchen chair? Then Ina felt a cold shiver rumble through her spine. He was coming down the hallway, shuffling, grumbling about his truck. She heard glass breaking in the hallway, and she knew what had happened. Her father had lurched to the side and brushed up against some pictures on the wall. She hoped he hadn’t hit the framed photo of Ina as a baby seated on a blanket next to her young, smiling mother.

The door flew open and Ina was blinded by a shaft of light. Her father’s bulky figure loomed in the doorway. “I smell that goddamned dog,” he rasped. “Get that fuckin’ dog outta my house!”

“I'll take him out, dad,” said Ina, holding King Dramilo close to her on the bed. The dog sat up and a low growl came from somewhere deep in his throat. “Shh, boy,” said Ina to the dog. “It’ll be okay.”

Her father stumbled toward the bed, a heavy shadow moving across the shaft of light. “I'll kill that damned mutt.”

King Dramilo sprang from bed, out of Ina's grasp and toward the dark figure. “Shit!” yelled her father, who recoiled from the dog’s sudden attack. “That mongrel fuckin’ bit my hand!”

Ina’s father grasped wildly for the dog, but King Dramilo flung himself at the man again and latched hold of his forearm with his jaws. Several powerful ratchets, and the dog let go, leaving Ina’s father on his knees. Everyone remained frozen, Ina on the bed, King Dramilo on the floor, poised for another attack, and Ina’s father, breathing heavily and still on his knees in the corner. Ina felt relieved. It was over. King Dramilo had saved her from her father. Like in the fairy tale, he’d battled the monster and won - and he was still alive. She would quickly dress and take the dog with her. She’d find someplace to stay for the night, maybe go to Dejan's, and wait for her father to sober up.

Then, in a sudden move, Ina’s father rose and grasped the chair at Ina’s small desk, raised it above his head, and slammed it down in the direction of King Dramilo. The chair hit its mark, the dog squealed in pain, and wood splintered.

Without hesitation, Ina reached under her bed, grabbed the gun, clicked off the safety. King Dramilo lunged for a third time as the pistol’s report reverberated through the small house. A single bullet traced a path through the dog and into the man’s neck.

Ina’s ears rang as she jumped off the bed to reach King Dramilo’s body. Next to the dog was Ina’s father, who lay on his back. She could see a dark pool of liquid growing on the floor next to him. She sat and placed her hand on King Dramilo’s head, waiting for his back legs to stop twitching. Only when she heard the back door squeak on its hinges did she look up.

The air was thick with smells of gunpowder and wet blood as Dejan and his father entered Ina’s bedroom. Dejan's father switched on the light and gasped. Ina’s eyes were empty as she looked at Dejan, who quickly rushed to her side. “He whimpered,” said Ina in a monotone voice. "Before he died. He said he’d earned his kingdom as big as the heavens.”

*  *  *

Hours later, after they’d hauled away Ina’s father in a black bag on a gurney and Ina was whisked away by County Social Services, as the sun crawled above the horizon, Dejan and his father dug a hole to bury King Dramilo. Only the rasp and huff of shovels and dirt broke the morning’s silence.

Once they’d smoothed the mound, Dejan’s father looked at his son. “Any last words for the old guy?”

Dejan gazed at the dirt. “None of it’s true,” he said. “The fairy tale.”

Rudy Koshar

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With just 16 months until Britain leaves the European Union with or without a trade deal and with the final exit bill still not settled, Chancellor Philip Hammond has little room for manoeuvre. And with an election some four years away, there is little incentive to blow any cash now. Hammond's second budget will be a holding affair.

Scottish Labour Shifts Left with Richard Leonard. Jeremy Corbyn Will Count on His Success

In a widely expected result, Yorkshire-born Richard Leonard defeated Anas Sarwar to become Scottish Labour leader. He is tasked with taking on the SNP and reviving Labour in Scotland. To get to Downing Street Jeremy Corbyn might need him.