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Skinning

Sir Ian McKellen reads 'Skinning' by Brennig Davies - winner of the BBC Young Writers Award

The 15-year-old Welsh writer gets his story read by none other than Sir Ian!

By Brennig Davies

Today, he says, today I’m going to make you a man.

The boy shifts a little. He didn’t know there was a process, besides growing up.

His father slaps the creature down on the table. A bloodied maw. Stirring paws and nose: as if it hasn’t even realised it’s dead. A rabbit, from the fen, the woods by the house.

The boy’s never seen a fresh kill before. He’s never seen a kill.

His father grasps its legs in his fist and shakes it, as if to prove it’s no longer alive. The eyes in its head burrow into the boy. The sky is one long gasp.

Take the knife, says his father. The boy shakes his head.

Take it. Now.

His fingers brush the hilt; they stay clear of the blade. His hand curls around the knife, slow, as if it’s an animal that might bite.

He’s never held such a big knife before. Blade shines. He wants to drop it and run; his father grabs his shoulder.

Now, he says, but soft, now cut off its legs. Cut off its head.

The boy wants to be sick. The rabbit lies splayed on the table. The scent of death mixes with kitchen spice. The eyes watch him- the rabbit’s eyes, his father’s. The room holds its breath.

His hand shakes. Do it, says his father. Don’t be a girl.

His hand shakes. His father takes the knife and brings it swinging down. The feet come off; the head goes rolling.

Jesus Christ, says his father. Why couldn’t you have done that?

He gives the knife back to the boy and guides the boy’s hand to the carcass. Make the incisions. The blade glides through the game, like ribbon, like scissors through paper.

Can you see that? Pink flesh pokes out from beneath the fur. The colour feels rude.

Now, says his father, now grab hold of the fold. The boy’s hands reach over and touch the body. It’s still warm. His hands sink under the hair, where the cut was made.

His father shows him what to do. He begins to peel. The fur comes off in strips. Comes off easy.

See, says his father. It’s not so hard. Not so hard after all.

The boy reaches for the knife again. His hand doesn’t shake. He pierces the skin and cuts across the stomach.

Long gash. Thin slash. His fingers plunge into the rabbit’s chest.

They go past the ribs. They emerge: his hands are fistfuls of guts, saucers of blood. Out comes the liver.

The boy moves quicker now. The movements come easier. They are more fluid, instinctive; they know what to do.

The boy moves quicker now. The movements come easier. They are more fluid, instinctive; they know what to do.

He cuts through the diaphragm. Out come the lungs, small and pale. Out comes the heart. His father has to prise the knife out of his fingers.

It’s exciting, isn’t it? Skinning. Gutting.

Isn’t it strange, how you thrust your hand down its throat? How you pull out its soul? Bite into it with little teeth, and gnaw at its flesh.

And it’s everywhere: the blood. In the small pores in his hand, the crease of his wrist.

Red and red and red, tides of it, rivers: he’s drenched in death.

His eyes drop as his stomach does. For a moment, he thinks he might vomit. He doesn’t.

Instead, something small within him kicks up. Wakes. Woken by the carnage. Buried deep, surging from the earth.

A still, small voice. A hunger.

Clean your hands, his mother calls. The thing inside him calls too.

Clean up, it says. Go on. Clean it up.

But he’s rooted to the spot and the sink, white basin, is over in the bathroom, through the screen door, wired cross like a cell. A rising, an ascendance, a call from the marrow of his bones: clean it up.

Not wash. Not get rid of. Revel in, and clean. He moves in motions he can’t control.

The voice says: what fun is control?

Slowly, he leans over. Crouches, by the cold floor and the entrails and the blood, the blood… the blood rushes to his head. The blood weeps on his skin.

He’s like an animal. Ready to pounce. Haywire, the circuits in his brain. A frenzy, boiling through him. Threatening to consume him.

Clean it up, says the voice. You know how.

He brings his hands to his face. Out comes his tongue. Like a dog, he begins to lick away the blood.

Lick, lick, lick, crouched like an animal. The licks become bigger; the strokes of his tongue become broader. Lick, lick, lick.

And where’s the rabbit now? The body, legs caught up in his father’s hand. Being taken through to his mother, who waits with the boiling pot.

And he’s so hungry. So very hungry. As hungry as the sky above him.

He never knew blood could taste so good.

It tastes even better now he’s a man.

Shortlisted for the BBC Young Writers' Award 2015

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