Title: Cricket
Fandom: Chronicles of Chrestomanci
Character: Oneir
Prompt: #19 – White on fanfic100, 'spank, hysterical, hair' on the LJ comm amesoeur
Rating: PG-13
Words: 1243
Spoilers: Decent ones for The Lives of Christopher Chant.
Warning: Moderately graphic description of fatal wounds.


I live on the sidelines, now. I'm different from everyone else. Every second day I sit on the sidelines, watching the school team practice from the shade of a fast-growing tree. Sometimes they call out to me "Oneir! Throw us the ball!" and I scramble for the hard ball in the longer grass that lies on this side of the boundaries. When I overarm the ball to the Bowler they whistle in appreciation about the strength of my arm, for a kiddie, but that is all. Then I sit back down and wonder about the species of the tree I sit beneath, but I never think to ask when there is someone close who could answer me.

I haven't always desired the insignificance of a spectator – I was the centre of attention not long ago. Or, at least, the right-hand-man of the centre of attention, which was always Christopher Chant, which is close enough at the age of eleven. I had great, almost-realistic aspirations for the school cricket team not long ago. I had dreamed of myself, red sunburn making my skin shine against my blinding whites. Then the dreams had been shrouded in a red-grey haze, the clarity of Christopher Chant's splattering blood never fading to pink and watery grey.

Grey on the cricket bat, crimson on the grass; both brain and blood merged together on my whites.

I remember that day in bright, unchanging colour: the red of blood, the grey of brain, the brown-green grass. Christopher's black eyes, blank and wide open. The black hair slippery with fluids humans were never meant to see. The blood didn't flow from the wound after Christopher was already dead, I remember. That is all anyone else – Fenning and Davison and Fitzpatrick – remember: Christopher, with his blank eyes and his dead face. Even that they have mostly forgotten, and all they remember is Chant's wide grin when he returned without a scar.

But I will never forget the hard spank of the bat hitting Christopher's skull. The bone splintered and shattered under the force (and I saw irregular scraps of too white bone in the grey-red on the grassy sidelines). I felt the impact rippling through my hands, my forearms, my shoulders; it felt the same as it did when I hit a six-pointer. And then the blood around Christopher's brain splashed forth, landing on everyone in our tight circle, but they hadn't realised what had happened yet. Only I had, and the bat fell from my limp hands onto the still-clean grass.

In the laughter and the movement, in amongst the scrabble of boys, Christopher fell. His knees crumpled, and his back twisted in what seemed like an impossible movement. His body suffered a spasm, just once.

He was dead. Fluid dripping from his open skull onto the bare ground. Blood pooling around our sneakers. And the bat at my feet, like a blood-stained sword.

Fenning was the one who screamed, a hysterical screech that brought seven older boys running from the courtyard. I was the one who vomited, bent double until I was staring at the bloodstained grass. Vomit mixed with blood, which mixed with brain fluid, which slowly dripped down Christopher's neck as though striving to reach the yellow and brown stains that had appeared on his white pants.

A prefect, Harrington, pulled us all away, while another ran for the Matron. Harrington tried to stop us from turning around, but I was the only one who wanted to. I wanted to see Christopher jump up, grasp the bat and run towards the field, and we could chase after him. Maybe the others still expected him to. But I knew better, so all I expected to see was those blank black eyes. One boy had covered Christopher's leaking head with a school jumper. I could still see what I'd done, even through the lumpy blue wool.

It was over. Just like that. My friend was dead, and I was given a blanket and a hot cup of tea. Fenning and I slept in the infirmary that night. Or, at least, Fenning did, but I spat out the pills Matron gave me. The curtains in the infirmary room are red, I know, but in the moonlight they looked black. They helped the empty blackness that crept into the room, and that was all there was. The blackness didn't merge into sleep, but for a moment it tricked me into thinking that everything was soaked in a pool of red, moonlit black.

I didn't leave the infirmary for three days. I was scared of the faces that peered in the door at me whenever they could. I could hear the whispers out in the corridor, and I didn't want to hear what they said. I could see lingering terror in Fenning's eyes, and so the only time I slept was to escape the accusations that he never spoke.

After three days Christopher came back.

He laughed at me, first thing, but all I could do was hold back my tears. He laughed and slapped my back, as though I hadn't stolen a life from him. He asked if I'd do his algebra homework now, as repentance. He wondered what had happened in the school while he was dead.

And then he was gone again, and I was nobody. Christopher's reflected glory disappeared as quickly as it had come, and I stayed behind.

So I sit on the sidelines, underneath the tree they planted where Christopher had stained the ground. I think, and watch the practice matches with idle fascination. The whites shine from across the field, unchanged and unchanging. The game meanders, as all unprofessional games do, and maidens, leg-before-wickets, and appalling misses all pass me by.

I think about cricket. Maybe more than anyone else. But I don't think I'll ever play again.

I pull the crumpled letter from my pocket once more. I barely read it, but lines amble into my mind like the game before me. Gabriel de Witt is an utterly awful man, Christopher writes; I bet I'm the only person in the history of the Anywheres to get 500 lines for dying.

I watch Davidson's older brother stretch for a quick save, and throw the ball back towards the Bowler. One of de Witt's men couldn't get in from London for the cricket match against the village (how could anyone not have time for cricket? He doesn't deserve to play.) and I got to play. I caught the blacksmith out, and then scored the winning run. It was excellent. A three-run hit from Simons, and the batsmen skid to panting halts inside the crease.

Flavian always says 'when you are the next Chrestomanci', which is horrible and followed by a list of things I should be doing but don't want to. And they all talk about how Gabriel de Witt has only died once, and he's old. But I think that just means he's never done anything interesting. And when I am the next Chrestomanci I'm only ever going to do interesting things. The coach calls, and the boys come running in. The light is the golden smear of late afternoon, so they pull the sheeting over the pitch and joke all the way towards the equipment shed.

I would never have thought that it would be easier to die than to kill. But maybe that's because Christopher's an Enchanter, and they're different from the rest of us.