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The Boy Who Could Fly

by Michael Murphy 

Posted: 15 March 2011
Word Count: 2075
Summary: The hard life of a boy who finds the ultimate escape in daydreaming

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The Boy Who Can Fly
A stuffy, dusty classroom with rows of wooden desks each with a child sitting attentive to the teachers’ lesson.
"...acceleration of the falling body is calculated..."
Nine year old Callum O’Brien is finding difficulty concentrating feeling his eyelids heavy and distracted by a dull pain in his side. The teacher continues in a voice so low and monotone that it’s a strain to listen and digest the words;
"...therefore the equation is F=MA where M is the mass of the..." to Callum the words melt together into one long humming sound almost indiscernible from the noise of the steel works drifting in through the open window from across the river, where his father used to work.
‘I don’t know what he’s on about. If he is supposed to be so clever why can’t I understand him?’ thinks Callum looking around at the other boys. ‘Them lot seem to get it, it must be just me, why can’t he just tell me clearer so I know’
The teacher scratches chalk here and there on the blackboard adding blurred marks to the already fuzzy lines to Callums eyes. As he tries to focus on the dancing scrawl he sees lines in the black, lines like rivers of treacle running down through the white marks.
"...so the velocity is the average speed over distance between point A and..."
‘... Blah Blah Blah...’ Callums eyes drift out of the dirty window while his mind drifts away, far away to his favourite place, souring high above the world, up in the clouds with the birds, souring over the green hills far below.
"...is measured how CALLUM?" he is wrenched back to earth by the loud shout of his name. Looking at the teacher just in time to see the chalk streaking across the room with a trail of dust launched from the teachers hand and hit him hard, square on the forehead. The laughter of the other boys is quickly silenced by the teachers’ stern look as Callum rubs his head thanking God that he wasn't rubbing out at the time with the heavy wooden duster.
"Get your head out of the clouds O’Brien"

The playground teams with energetic children playing ball and running around, shouting and shoving, laughing and singing. Callum sits all alone, as usual, by the fence looking down at the murky water of the river and the white clouds reflected in the oily surface, happy for the moment to have escaped the gaze of McKenzie and his cronies. Not for long though, it turns out when he hears the familiar cracking of knuckles behind him, McKenzie’s usual calling sign. Callum sighs and turns to face them.
'Lets get this over with' he thinks drawing his scrawny frame up to his full height of four feet five, the top of his scruffy hair equal to McKenzie’s over large chin. As they taunt and begin pushing and shoving him Callum tries to look scared. He isn't scared but he thinks this is what they would want. They laugh at him being picked on by the teacher and they call him thick.
“That jumper used to be mine, I threw it out, did you get it from my bin?” taunts McKenzie to the amusement of the others lads.
None of this bothers him in the slightest; it’s all a silly game these bullies play. McKenzie then hits him full in the face knocking him into the fence and onto the grass. Callum can’t keep trying to look scared and begins laughing. The punch though hard is like a little girls slap compared to what he is used to. The bullies look down, confusion slowly crossing their round features.
“Freak” they call him as McKenzie hits him again and again with growing wrath until the laughter dies. Satisfied he has learnt his lesson they leave but Callum barely even notices they are gone. In his mind he is soaring far above the world with the wind rushing through his hair, weaving through a line of geese then swooping through the white fluffy clouds, looking down on the green hills of Ross Common far below.

The loud school bell signals home time and Callum sighs as the others make their way home. As usual he is last to leave and walks slowly going over the fields and along the coast road. It's the long way round and is getting increasingly longer, ever since his dad took to drinking again. For years he seemed happy but not recently,
‘Not since he had an accident and fell off a wagon or something, he must have hurt himself really bad because he gets drunk now every night. He gets upset with me all the time, cos my school works not so good I think, but I don't understand any of it, why should I go to school anyway? I only go so he won't get angry but he gets angry just the same.’
Cliffs swell up taking the road high and looking down at the sea now crashing on the rocks below Callum feels a little dizzy and steps back looking further out towards where it meets the sky. It looks calmer way out there. In Callums mind he steps from the cliff and floats up among the large gulls and other sea birds that wheel and turn about the windswept cliffs, hovering arms outstretched face into the wind. Then with sudden dashing speed he swoops downs to the water’s surface zigzaging in and out of the high wind tossed waves that crash erratically into the rocky cliff base. Then he soars out over the sea skimming his hand in the rippled water sending a spray higher up behind him as he goes faster and faster flying towards the calm sea where it meets the paling sky.

The wind blows chill and salty and stars shine bright and clear in the black sky when Callum finally moves. Each step towards home is heavy, hoping his father is out or has drunk so much that he is sleeping. His stomach gurgles with hunger, the meagre school dinner now a faded memory. Walking away from the sea and over the hill, lights from town come into view and the road winds its way down towards them.
When he finally reaches his house the lights are out. Feeling a little relief he creeps up the path to the door. He doesn't know what time it is, he was given a watch for a birthday once but he could never get the hang of telling the time. Carefully opening the door he peers inside down the dark hallway. There is no sound. He creeps towards the stairs glancing at the kitchen door wondering if he should risk trying to get something to eat. After a few minutes standing in the dark and not hearing anything but his stomach grumbling he decides to risk it and walk up the dark hallway to the kitchen. Feeling for the light switch he flicks it on but nothing happens and flicking the switch on and off a few more time the darkness remains. Suddenly from nowhere a fierce roar and dark face filled with anger.
"Do yea know anytin bout this yea little shit yea?" his father lunges from the darkness grabbing Callum by the jumper and, with a violent jerk, hoists him irresistibly toward the whiskey stenched breath and harshly bristled chin.
"Why do thay do it? I told I’d pay em" he shouts incoherently shoving a crumpled letter before his face. He sways releasing the grip on Callum using the hand to steady himself on the table knocking it noisily. Callum backs off to the corner, his father blocking the way to the door. Curling up he covers his head with his arms and looks up at the huge shadowy figure finally steadied and looking around the dark kitchen for him.
"Don't you (belch) run from me boy, yea know shummat don yea?" in fear Callum lets out a sob and his father homes in with frightening speed.
"Gotcha" he hauls him up throwing him hard across the room. Callum lands painfully in the overflowing bin spilling the rubbish across the floor. For an instant Callum smells food and he thinks about finding something in here to eat.
"Why didya no... shi... tell… I der know... (Burp) they cut us off Cal" he shouts not making much sense but making the distance across the small room in one unsteady step fist clenched missing the punch and instead burying his fist in half a rotten chicken. Callum cries out in fear then the door swings open knocking his swaying father in the back and making him stumble.
"John!" Callums mother rushes into the room "John, for Christ’s sake leave the boy alone, it's not his fault the electricity was cut off, you keep pissing the money away. Leave him be" his father then turns his wrath on his mother and as the small room fills with sounds of slaps, thumps muffled cries, angry grunts, furniture crashing and dishes smashing Callum is flying away from the heat and violence high above the world with the stars and the bright silver orb of the moon. Going far away from the house, the town becomes nothing more than twinkling lights fading into the distance and disappearing in the folds of the shadowy hills. On he flies to new places, strange places where they don’t know him and won’t hurt him because he is smaller or stupider.

Callum wakes with the morning light coming in through the kitchen window. The smell of rubbish strong in his nostrils, he picks himself up from where he still lies in the overturned bin rubbish and looks gingerly around. His father is gone, his mother too leaving only debris of the fight in the night all over the place. Hungry he searches the cupboards and mess for something to eat; all he can find is stale bread which he eats hungrily with water to wash it down. Peering cautiously into the living room, still dark with the heavy curtains drawn he hears loud breathing. He allows his eyes to adjust to the dark while chewing hard on the brittle bread which becomes gloopy dough in his mouth.
‘That must be mum on the settee because dad snores like a lawnmower’ he thinks as he creeps toward her wanting to wake her up so he can talk to her, get some reassurance from her and a hug, to hear that everything will be alright and it won’t happen again, but looking at her face he stops. Tears well in his eyes and sobs burst from his heart seeing the awful swelling and dark bruising disfiguring her beautiful features.
‘Why doesn’t dad like us anymore? He wants me to make the lights work again but I don’t know how. It’s my fault that mums hurt. If I go he will like mum again’
He leaves the house quietly walking into the chilly silent dawn and goes up the long road towards the cliffs. All he can think about is flying away, leaving the school and the teacher to their effequalsemmay rubbish, lifting off the ground and flying faster and faster leaving it all, leaving that stupid bully McKenzie. Leaving the broken light bulbs and the dirty kitchen with no food in. But most of all, leaving his dad so he can get better; With him gone dad won’t be so angry about him not doing his school work and will get better from falling out of the wagon and will like mum again and will kiss her instead of thumping her, and he could even fix the lights and make the house bright again. He reaches the edge of the cliff and without a pause he jumps lifting up and flying high leaving it all behind him. He flies free and totally happy at last, up into the bright white fluffy clouds swirling all around him as he spins and loops and turns, laughing out loud feeling all the worry and pain and misery and helplessness falling away from him, heading out far far away and then on into the beautiful blindingly bright light of the rising sun. While his limp frail body crashes onto the rocks far below and is swept away lifeless and broken by the icy cold water.

Copyright © Michael Murphy 2011

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Comments by other Members

euclid at 18:39 on 15 March 2011  Report this post
Hi Michael,

This is an interesting piece, but I would have a few grammatical quibbles with it. Mainly, because there are too many compound sentences, which need to be broken up, like this one:

‘That must be mum on the settee because dad snores like a lawnmower’ he thinks as he creeps toward her wanting to wake her up so he can talk to her, get some reassurance from her and a hug, to hear that everything will be alright and it won’t happen again, but looking at her face he stops.

The green fields of Ross Common. If you mean the green hills of (County) Roscommon, this county is entirely land-locked and has no coastline.

How old is this boy? There seems to be a mismatch between his apparently young age and the advanced level of the (applied) maths lesson.

Effequalsemmay doesn’t work for me. I had to stop and unpick it before I worked out what you meant and this spoiled the flow of the story.

Hoping you find something useful in these comments.

Michael Murphy at 21:05 on 15 March 2011  Report this post
Thanks for the comments, they are exactly the kind of observations and suggestions I need. I should have researched Irish geography first, thats a bit embarrassing. You're right the lesson is too advanced for a nine year old. The grammar and structure of sentences and paragraphs is one of the main things I want to improve and practice. I tend to just right quickly as it comes into my head and i go back over it tidying it up as well as my limited understanding of the rules of written English allows. If the effequalsemay thing distrupted the flow then it will have to go.

Thanks again for the comments they are much appreciated and I will certainly use them to improve the structure of this piece and future ones


I tend to write quickly not right quickly. see what I mean?

Gerry at 19:40 on 16 March 2011  Report this post

Hello Michael,

I go along with what JB says about the long sentences and the grammar. But there are some good moments here that are worth working on.

We see some things directly from Callum's point of view, and maybe it would be good to give us some more of that. The section beginning 'That must be Mum on the settee ...' works well despite the grammar glitch at the end of the sentence, and you could use this style a little more extensively perhaps, let us see the world exactly as he does a lot more than you do.

Also, I'd be careful of 'loud' school bells, or anything else that may sound a little redundant.

Anyway, welcome to the group.


Becca at 11:14 on 17 March 2011  Report this post
Hi Michael,
this is highly emotional writing, I rather hoped at the end that the boy really could fly and he doesn't die. However, as the others have said, your grasp of the written word does need to improve, [I sound like a teacher now]- the written word is the writer's tool so you have to be able to use it to effect. I don't think there is a huge amount wrong - I noticed a fear of commas, confusion/hesitation about apostrophe use and sentences that weren't sentences because of missing words. I'll elaborate in another posting.

Becca at 13:55 on 17 March 2011  Report this post
So, the places that commas go in a sentence is where, when you're reading the sentence out, you stop to pause for a fraction of a second. If you read out your writing aloud, you'll see where they should go.

Apostrophes denoting possession - if it is singular it's Callum's, teacher's, girl's. If it's plural it's teachers' and girls'.
'...to the teachers’ lesson' - you did put one in but the apostrophe goes in front of the s if there is only one teacher.

Unfinished sentences - 'A stuffy, dusty classroom with rows of wooden desks each with a child sitting attentive to the teachers’ lesson.' You need something like Callum is sitting in a stuffy, dusty classroom.....

This is a stylistic comment, but '... Callums [Callum's] eyes drift out of the dirty window while his mind drifts away,...' If his eyes drift out the window, then he's blind. He, Callum can look, gaze or stare out of the window, but his eyes can't drift out. Similarly, 'Each step towards home is heavy, hoping his father is out or has drunk so much that he is sleeping.' This means that the steps hope his father is out, and that's impossible as they are only movements. 'Each step Callum takes towards home is heavy; he is hoping his father is out or has....'

Michael Murphy at 22:13 on 17 March 2011  Report this post
Wow, thanks Gerry and Becca for these comments.
This is exactly the kind of guidance I need and I really appreciate it. This site and the people on it are just what I have been looking for and I am going to sign up to the full membership.

I like the point about seeing things from Callums point of view more and see that this could improve parts of the story.
Also I see what you mean about the redundant words, I can see a few more places too where I can trim it a bit to be more efficient with words.

Becca, your explaination about commas makes clear to me something that I have never really got to grips with, so thank you. I will practice using commas better and like the idea of reading it out loud to see how it sounds.
To be honest I have just never understood apostrophies at all so thanks for this explaination too.
I understand what you mean about the unfinished sentences and again reading it out loud it sounds more like an instruction to the director for setting the scene in a play or film.
The sureal image I now have in my mind of Callums eyeballs drifting out of the window will always remind me to be carefull of how I describe things in future.

I have been writing by myself and for myself for so long and concentrating more on what I was saying rather than the how I was saying it that it may take me a lot of practice to get things right. You have certainly given me a lot to think about.

Based on all the advice I have recieved so far I think I can improve this story a lot but how does this work now? Can I edit the post here or should I change it and repost it?

Thanks again for taking the time to read this and give me your opinions.



Oh dear, I have missed two apostrophes from this post.

Gerry at 08:16 on 18 March 2011  Report this post

Hello MIke,

I'm glad to have been some help. Becca's advice about reading it out loud is really key, I think: how what you've written sounds is all important. And if when you've read it, it sounds not quite right, change it or scrub it. And never be afraid to scrub it if you have any doubts about it working or not. If you don't have one hundred percent confidence in it, the reader never will. And they have to feel safe in your hands.

We've gone on a bit about grammar, and it does matter, but I would say that you shouldn't make yourself a slave to it, or let it get in the way of something you really want to say. And try and be aware of which rules are useless or ridiculously pedantic, and which you should stick to. For example, that last sentence has what some people would call three 'grammatical errors' in it, but I would only regard one of them as really worth worrying about, and not very much at that. Punctuation is, however, vitally important, and its rules are there to help make what you are saying clear to your audience. But as Becca says, the way, for example, commas are used tends to follow speech patterns, so it should all come out right if you read it out - and it's sooooo important to do that.

Anyway, welcome aboard. And good luck.


Becca at 08:34 on 18 March 2011  Report this post
Hi Michael,
I'd take it down, give yourself some time with it and then change it and re-post it.

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