The Swap - By Antony Moore

Prologue: Cornwall, 1982

'Superman One?' The 'odd boy' turned his face, never completely clean, towards the school building and Harvey watched his nose wrinkle as to a bad smell. 'Why would I want that?'

Harvey gave a deep, exaggerated sigh; it wasn't as if he needed the deal.

'I don't know. Who cares? I'll swap with someone else. It's just not my sort of thing really. Superman's not so sharp, yeah? I like the Silver Surfer. This is so old, it's the first one . . . Kids' stuff really.'

'So why would I swap?' The odd boy was plaintive and Harvey sighed again. Did he need to explain? Because you don't have friends to play with; because you want to be in with me; because it breaks up the tedium of the school day; because this'll give you something to carry and show to people that won't make them laugh at you, that'll actually be halfway acceptable in the classroom between eight forty-five and nine o'clock when everyone is just killing time, usually by killing you. Any of these things would be easily said, except when you are twelve – even if you are sort of thinking them. So Harvey just shrugged and waved his hand. 'Up to you, in't it?'

'And you want this?' The odd boy put his hand to the thin piece of plastic pipe that he was wearing round him like a bandolier.

'Not really. But I'll swap.' Harvey had seen the odd boy slashing the grass with it as he walked up the track from the road towards the school, seen the way it lopped off the heads of the grasses, sending the seedbags spinning into the air. He liked that: neat, even balletic destruction. Every boy's idea of beauty.

'And if I say yes, that's it. I can't have it back?' The odd boy was being odder than usual and Harvey was losing interest fast. He wasn't a bully but he wasn't a bloody nanny either.

'Of course not. Once you swap, you swap, you can't undo it.' He turned and began to make his way up the track that led to the back entrance to the school, a cart track really, overhung with great, untended cedars. 'But forget it, it's not worth it really. Who cares?' That was an expression Harvey was growing into. He'd started saying it last year when it had sounded unnatural and he had always expected someone to say 'well, you do of course'. But they never did, so he was growing into it. He felt that by next year, the start of his teens, it might suit him rather well. He had those sorts of feelings. And he sensed they set him apart: he kind of anticipated how things were going to be, he could see where he was going. Certainly he was different from classmates like Bleeder, the odd boy, who now trailed behind him up the path. Bleeder because of the nosebleeds and the scabs that always seemed to bedeck his body. Odd, for obvious reasons.

'No, hang on. I'm not saying I won't.' Harvey heard the bleating need for a normal interaction in the odd boy's voice, the instant nostalgia for being treated with respect. He wondered vaguely if he'd done wrong. Mean to get his hopes up.

'Look, you fucking freak, do you want to swap or not? 'Cause if you do let's get it over with. I don't want to be seen talking to you at school.'

'OK, don't . . . don't . . .' The odd boy's voice made no real change as he took the verbal blow. This, after all, was what he was used to. 'I just. I stole it like.' He looked at Harvey, who had turned to regard him without sympathy, and for the first time their eyes met. 'I stole it and it's difficult to give it to you.'

Harvey ignored the bait; what did he care where he got it? 'So don't swap then.' He turned again and made, with some relief, for the farm gate that separated school grounds from the surrounding fields. This was the last time he bothered with the deadbeats, he'd done it before, talked to freaks and got caught up in things that really didn't interest him. Sod it, it wasn't worth it. He was on his way out of this, out of small-town life and into the city. He'd been to London – admittedly with his Auntie Kate – but he'd been there and it was where he was going, that