Young Will looked from the veranda across the road, silent and wishful. The grey sky was turning darker, and the air was chilling. The roads were empty, it was past curfew,only the brave and foolish remained out, chancing the wrath of the wardens. Will thought himself the latter, but he couldn't think with Wilhelmina's snoring erupting from the adjacent bedroom. He wanted to concentrate, and he did so best alone, in the quiet. He rubbed his arms for warmth and nervously glanced up. He had spotted three boys on the opposite side of the road, drawing from tainted rolled cigarettes for at least ten minutes. He didn't want to catch their gaze, fearful of the repercussions, but they intrigued him.
He knew them from the public school, all eighteen, one of few in the highest class, and they had a reputation to fear. Still, the way they leant carefree against a porch banister, oozing nonchalance. Will wished he could be their friends, he wished he could know what it was like not to fear everything and everybody around him. But those boys hated him, and if he looked at them the wrong way, he knew he would wind up bruised and bleeding.
Then, an old black dog trotted down the road, its tail wagging happily as it left the warden's office towards its post at Sicarius Gate. Its stomach wallowed low, its smoky, black face drooping down and its tongue sticking out of its mouth. It slobbered and panted contently towards the hillside, and as Will watched it with amusement, he saw the boys grinning worryingly. The bulkiest of the boys dropped the cigarette and rubbed it into the mud at his feet, then they all followed up the hillside, their trouser legs dragging behind them, their stinks like a putrid aura.
A sickening feeling stirred in Will's stomach, foreshadowing something bad, and ambivalently, considered what to do. He knew that if he was caught following, he would be in trouble, but he couldn't ignore his feeling of worry. He waited a moment until the boys disappeared from sight, then stood and followed quickly.
He reached the top of the hillside, the poorly-constructed wall sloping upwards and forming the perimeter of Vincula, the exit marked by the wrought iron gates, the thorny metalwork sharp enough to cut. Near the wall, Will spotted the boys moving animatedly and together, kicking and crouching to punch. One held a sharpened stick, and when he pulled it back, the point glistened wet and red in the moonlight. Shortly after, there was a desperate whimper from below them, Will realised in horror that the object of their violence was the dog.
'Stupid mutt!' shouted the boy who brandished the stick. 'Some sentry you are. Fight back!'
'We'll beat your brains out, if you have any at all!' cackled another, landing a hard blow with his steel-toed boots. The dog let out another pule, curled helplessly on the ground.
'Stop,' Will said, calling louder than he had wanted to. The three boys spun around, all of them looking rabid, their features strengthened by a land of violence and hate. They were each distinguishable, the boy with the stick had long, dark hair, greasy and uncombed. Another was becoming fat, his face covered with gashes and spots, seeming to be going bald already. The third was the tallest and most attractive, though his open, snarling mouth revealed yellowing, askew teeth.
'Piss off,'the balding boy spat. 'Unless you want your brains beaten out too.'
Will took a terrified step back down the hillside, the tall boy's mouth twitched with a smile of satisfaction. Suddenly, he was flooded with a pleasant sensation, as if the blood in his veins had heated up. He took a deep breath, like filling out his frame with courage, and indeed, he suddenly appeared taller, stronger.
'You shouldn't do that,' he said, steadying his nerves and standing firm against them.