The Artful Dodger from 'Oliver Twist'

A Short Story

I never saw sand before that day; I hated it after one day.

We were taken to Australia, we were - all 48 of us 'outcasts. ' Dumped in an ol' crate-like cart, we were jostled along rocks and gravel and all that you could imagine. 'Shared the same air, we did. But, to be honest, it weren't even that. It was moist. Hot. No air. Just heat. And we fought for it like there was no tomorra'.

I remembered the sky being an endless blue – beautiful at first, I admit. But after a mere hour, it was a curse. Claustrophobia crept up on every one of us, I bet. I was willing to bet my heart and lung on it, and verywillingly at that – I would do anything to get out of that hell hole. The sun scorched us all. It always towered dead over us. I was unconscious for most of the journey – I was glad; it was the worst day of my life.

When we were nearing our destination – a flat, barren stretch of land with sand dunes formed towards the East – we were driven at full pelt and smacked into each other's limbs. All tangled with the boy next to me, I could literally smell the fear, abandonment and anger leaking from his body. I had mirrored his feelings, and lingered on the latter. It angered me that we were treated as such, but 'ere long, we were criminals. But were we to do, eh? We were poor. Hungry. Stark naked by the looks of some of the other boys. We had no choice in the matter; dejected and deduced as slaves and thieves. We were considered nothing more than that – not if the way we were being handled was anything to go by.

We all screamed in unison as we were dragged out of the cart and strewn onto the scorching red gravel.

"Oi! You's best getting rounded up now, if you wanna keep your limbs at ye sides. Now get!" I remembered a prison counsellor bark as he strode from the horse carriage in front. He held a two metre leather whip in one hand, and a thumb hooked through a pistol on the other. We were burnt, so we were hopping around on the ground, trying to keep as little contact with the sizzling heat of the gravel as we could. Our shoes were filled nearly to the brim with it.

We were all so busy recoiling from the heat of the desert underneath our thinly-soled feet, that we didn't notice the counsellor raise his hand in the air, and pull the trigger.

Bang! We all – if not stood still – went dead quiet.

Moments passed.

Sweat poured down our faces; my heart missed a beat there and then.

The event that followed, I tell ya now, was horrid.

"OW!" A boy with tussled brown hair and a dozen freckles beneath them screamed. Wrong move. His knees were grazed and his elbows gashed. But we didn't dare warn him to keep his gob shut – we didn't, wouldn't, interfere.

"I can't take it anymore! I haven't done anything wrong! Take me home you bastards!" The boy, I later found out, was called Tom. Thomas Fikklestein. He was accused of stealing from a shipwreck four times. His dad was a blacksmith.

Tom was whipped so hard it'd sliced through his cotton shirt. As if it weren't already holey.

Four weeks later, we were down to 26. Nearly half of us had died.

At first, I thought they'd had it easy, what with 'em up and gone, no need to worry about them spinifex bushes and slithery snakes. But us lads, the outcasts...the ones drowning forever in least we'd never had to die they way they all had. Dying of thirst, I heard – which, on our 8th day, proved to be as true as the sky was blue – was the most painful death you could imagine.

Your tongue would split open, it would.

Your organs, one by one, exploding, shrivelled up and prune.

Maybe, I think to myself every night, there really must be a Lord up there. Behind the cloudless blue sky, and the peachy-dawn, the misty twilight...

After all, I still have my tongue intact. For now.

So, yeah. I know it's not much! But hence, it is called a short story..

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