The events described in this story are fictional. The author makes no assertion about the lives or characters of the real people whose names and identities she has used in the writing of this story, and makes no money from it.

A Shack in the Woods

"I guess it's just like ... my life isn't my own any more. Like it's public property, or something."

Elijah had been feeling all day as though something nasty were building up inside him, something poisonous and rank that wanted to get out. Now he was lying on the couch in his living room, looking very, very hard at the ceiling. There wasn't much up there he hadn't seen before, but he looked anyway, because Dominic was in the room too, sprawled on the floor with a copy of Premiere, and he was kind of hoping that Dominic would notice and ask what he was staring at. He didn't, of course.

"Yeah, well, newsflash mate. It pretty much is." From the way he spoke, Elijah could tell that Dominic hadn't looked up and at least half his brain was still occupied with the magazine.

"But isn't that terrible? Don't you think that's terrible? I mean ... fuck that! You know?"

Dominic said nothing. Then he laughed. Elijah didn't need to look over to know it was the kind of laugh people did when they were reading something and not listening to what you were saying. The poison inside him shifted about weirdly, and for some reason that made him want to hit something.

"What?" He spat the word out; a dart of irritation dipped in black bile, but it bounced off Dominic as harmless as a ball of screwed-up paper. No, more harmless than that: a feather, a tiny translucent bug, a stirring in the air so faint it may as well never have occurred at all. Elijah fidgeted uncomfortably on the cushions and thought how lovely his new sofa was, and how much he didn't care.

"Right, you'll love this, right. Some twat has actually taken the time and effort to write in to this magazine to say, 'Natalie Portman is so talented and beautiful, she's sure to become one of the most highly regarded actresses of her generation.' D'you reckon he's taking the piss or what?"

He laughed again, shaking his head over this appalling display of twattiness. Elijah aimed a look of pure hatred at the ceiling, and wondered why it hadn't split in two, or burst spontaneously into white-hot flames, its surface bubbling into a blackened mess. Carrie, he thought. Now there was a girl who had a lot going for her.

"Guess he has a right to his own opinion."

"Some people shouldn't be allowed opinions, if you ask me. It's for their own safety."

"Nobody did fucking ask you, Dom!"

The dart hit home, and Elijah took a moment to bask in the hot glow of victory, before shame kicked in. He felt Dominic look up from the magazine, felt his expression -- surprised but not actually offended. Amused, even. Elijah thought, I can't make him angry, it's actually not possible. Probably, this should annoy him, but it didn't really. He felt deflated. The poisonous stuff in him had gone with a soap-bubble pop, whizzing up like hot air to that big white expanse of ceiling. The ceiling itself had ceased to fascinate, so he stopped looking at it.


"Bloody hell, Lij, if I'd known it was that time of the month I wouldn't have bothered coming round."

"Yeah well…"

"What are you on about, anyway? I mean, you knew it was gonna be like this."

"Yeah, whatever."

Now Dominic was actually listening to him, Elijah couldn't think of anything to say. He had really been a lot more comfortable in the neglected victim role. What am I on about, he wondered. Sometimes, he had no clue at all.

"Maybe you should go and be a recluse or something. Go and live in a shack in the woods like JD Salinger or someone. It was him, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Yeah. That would be so cool! You could grow like this really long beard, and hunt animals for food and that." Dominic paused, his attention apparently caught by something high up on the wall, something invisible to the human eye. Elijah thought, he's thinking what kind of animals I'd have to hunt.

"So, tell me, Dom -- is it nice on your planet?"

"No, listen right -- you'd be there in the woods, hunting, like wildebeest and … koalas and things--"

"Uh -- where are these woods again?"

"--and nobody would ever see you again. Or they might think they saw you, like on a dark night, chasing something with your beard blowing majestically in the wind … but they couldn't be sure. Too dark. But then, in, like, fifty years or so, someone'd say, 'Hey -- whatever happened to that young fella that was in the movie about the hobbit, hmm? He could've been a goddamn star, dang it!' And I'd say, 'What, Elijah Wood?' And they'd say, 'Aye, that was the name of the young varmint.' And I'd say, 'Nah, mate, he were rubbish.'"

"Well, thank you Dominic, for that strange and confusing insult."

"Any time, mate." He leaned back on one elbow and looked at Elijah. "Actually, I reckon a full beard would suit you, Lij -- have you ever given it any serious thought?"

"Not really, no."

"Pretty damn sexy, if you ask me. You'd have to accessorize, of course. Sawn-off shotgun ought to do the trick."

"Mm, I dunno. Do I get to have one of those little hats with the racoon tale hanging off the side?"


"Okay, I'll do it."

"That's m'boy!" Dominic gave him the thumbs up, and went back to his magazine.

Elijah flipped himself upright on the couch. He leant forward and looked at Dominic, resting his chin in his hands. "Dom?" he said. "I'm a little worried about you, man. You're seriously fucked up."

Dominic put the magazine down again and leaned back on his elbows. He looked supremely unruffled. He stretched out a bare foot and poked the corner of the sofa with his toe.

"Where did this come from?" He sounded as though he had genuinely only just noticed it.

"I bought it," said Elijah. "In a store. With money."

"Oh," said Dominic. "Nice."

"Yeah," said Elijah. He smiled suddenly. "Wanna test it out?"

Dominic leaned back a little further, his eyes half-lidded, and the hem of his T-shirt lifted an inch or two, parting company with the waistband of his jeans. He appeared to be sinking very slowly into the carpet. If he were any more relaxed, thought Elijah, he'd melt.

"Yeah, okay," said Dominic. He smiled back.