"So what's troubling you, kid?"
"It doesn't matter."
"You can trust me, Charlie."
"No I can't; you're a talking brick."
"I've already told you, I'm not a brick. I just happen to be the exact same size, shape, colour and weight as one."
Charlie sighed. All he wanted to do was eat his lunch in peace. It was just his luck he'd chosen to sit on a bench with the world's only sympathetic brick.
"I'm all ears, kid." Which was an outright lie -- the brick had no ears, eyes, mouth or any other visible sign that it was anything other than a lump of red stone. "Figuratively speaking, at least." it amended.
"Look, no offence, but you're evidently not real."
"But I am, Charlie." The brick had a gravely American accent, as if it either did film trailer voice-overs, or smoked fifty a day. "I already told you."
"No, you didn't." Charlie pointed out. "And if you're not a brick, what are you? Some sort of ghost?"
"Nope. I ain't any kind of spook." The brick said, with the trace of an invisible smile wrapped around the words.
"All right." Charlie said. "A demon? An angel? An alien?"
The brick laughed mellifluously. "I ain't none of those things, kid."
"Then there's only one other option." Charlie replied glumly. "I've developed some kind of personality disorder."
"Okay then." the brick said. "If I'm a figment of your imagination, what's my name?"
"Ummm . . . Kevin?"
"Nope. It's Bob. Bob The Piano."
"You could be lying."
"But I ain't." Bob The Piano said. "I can assure you, Charlie, that I am certainly not a product of your brain."
"Then what are you? You're also not a piano."
"I might not look like a piano to you, kid, but I probably do to somebody."
Charlie waited whilst a young woman jogged past. "So you're some kind of shape-shifter?"
"No, but I suppose you're getting warmer."
"Look, I give up." Charlie held his hands out to Bob in supplication.
"I'm an idea." Bob The Piano said.
"What a capital ‘I'?"
"Nope, just a regular ‘i'."
"So you're not important."
"Every idea is important." Bob chastised him, not unkindly.
"Whose idea are you?"
"I don't know."
"Are you mine?"
"If you don't know whose idea you are, how can you say you're not mine?"
"Stop thinking about me, then." Bob said.
"Can you still hear me?"
Charlie slumped on the bench. "Yes."
"And there's your answer."
An elderly woman walking a Scottish Terrier strode past the bench, and offered a warm smile to Charlie. He tried to give one back, and failed miserably.
"You still haven't told me what's bothering you, kid."
"The only thing bothering me is whether or not I'm going to have time to eat my lunch."
"That sandwich? What's in it?"
"Cheese and ham, with a little bit of mayo."
"Sounds tasty. Go ahead and start eating. I can wait."
Charlie did exactly that. He was starving. A gull wandered over from a nearby flock and eyed Charlie's lunch eagerly. "You gonna eat all'a that, buddy?"
Charlie's eyes widened and his mouth gaped, the sandwich held halfway inside it.
"Hey! Mike! Leave the kid alone. He's just trying to eat his lunch in peace."
"He can spare a corner, a crust, though can't he?" the gull had a definite New York accent. Charlie felt obliged to answer for himself. "No, sorry."
"Why not?" Mike demanded. "You got something against gulls? Or maybe ya just don't like birds, is that it?"
"I-I . . . "
"Take it easy, Mike. Jeeeesus." Bob rolled his invisible eyes.
"Are, are you an idea too?" Charlie frowned at the gull.
Mike blinked and shook his head. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Are you an idea, like Bob?"
"Bob's not an idea, he's a brick."
Charlie didn't know what to say to that.
"Let him eat his sandwich, Mike."
The gull muttered something under his breath and hopped up on to the bench beside Bob. They both respectfully remained silent whilst Charlie finished eating.
"Hope you enjoyed that ya selfish bastard."
"Mike!" Bob yelled.
"What is your problem?" Charlie had decided that, if he really was dealing with a sentient brick, and a talking bird, he could afford not to be as polite.
"My problem?" Mike choked. "MY problem!"
Charlie looked around. Thankfully, there was no-one else in the park any where near the bench. "Jesus Christ, Mike. Go take some deep breaths." Bob said. "What is it, Charlie?"
The young man's face had paled. "Oh no, they're here."
"Who's here?" Mike asked, hopping on the back of the bench and following Charlie's line-of-sight. "Those losers in the sports jackets?"
"Yeah," Charlie gulped. "Dave Jefferson and his friends make my life a living hell. I started to come to this park for my lunch coz I didn't think they'd look for me here."
"I knew it had to be something like that." Bob said. "Listen to me, Charlie. I can help you."
"Hold on, if you're going to start a fight, I don't want no part'a that, thank you very much." Mike flapped his wings and took off.
"Mike! Damn that coward." Bob growled.
"They've seen me." Charlie whined, hunching down anyway. Across the park, the three older boys grinned at each other and quickened their pace.
"I knew meeting you would be serendipitous." Bob said. "Tell me, how long have those mooks been hassling you?"
"This last year." Charlie said. "I'm not sure why. I've never done anything to them."
"Their sort never needs a reason." Bob said.
"Charlie! Fancy seeing you here!" Dave Jefferson called out. His sidekicks sniggered and jostled each other as they approached.
"Have they ever beat you up?"
"Loads of times."
"Do you ever provoke them?"
"Never! I don't want to make it worse!"
"This is what you need to do, then, Charlie." Bob said, his voice gaining a sense of urgency as the three thugs came closer. "You have to stand up for yourself. That's the only way you can get them to back off."
"I can't!" Charlie moaned. "They'll turn me into paste."
"Who you talking to, Charlie?" Simon Moore, skinny and tall, sneered.
"You can do it, kid. You need to do this."
"You can! You've got me-"
"Of course!" Charlie shot up, and actually made the three other boys flinch.
"Charlie Barker's grown some balls." Keith Delson, short and stocky, laughed.
"Come on then Charlie." Dave grinned. "Let's see what you've got."
Charlie scooped up Bob the Piano and vaulted over the back of the bench.
"Wait a minute . . . " Simon said.
"Leave me alone!" Charlie yelled, brandishing Bob above his head.
"Wait! This isn't what I meant!" Bob yelled.
"Take it easy, Barker." Dave held his arms out, and took a step back.
"No! Don't do th-" Bob screamed as Charlie hurled him with all his might at the three older boys. They all shouted as one and leapt out the way. Bob the Piano narrowly missed Dave's burly neck and clattered against the footpath, breaking into several large chunks.
Dave, Simon and Keith watched in stunned confusion as Charlie cried "Bob!" and lunged for the pieces of brick. "Bob! Come back!" he scooped up the rubble and tried to fit it back together.
"You're a psycho!" Dave pointed a trembling finger at Charlie. His co-horts shared a look of uncertainty as Charlie stood up to face his attackers with tears in his eyes. "He was supposed to help me."
"Who was?" Simon couldn't help but ask.
"Bob The Piano!" Charlie yelled, defiantly. He raised the pieces of broken red stone he held in each hand and shook them at Simon. "You made me do this!"
Simon and Keith started to become increasingly unnerved as Charlie took a step towards them. "Hey, Charlie, we were just messin'..." Keith laughed nervously.
"All this last year? Messin'?" Charlie was becoming apoplectic, his body trembling. "What are you waiting for!" Dave shouted. "Hit him!"
"Mike! Help me!" Charlie screamed at the sky. Simon and Keith looked momentarily worried until Dave asked Charlie who Mike was. "He's a gull."
"A bird's going to save you?" Dave laughed. His arrogance bolstered Simon and Keith's confidence and they again advanced upon the smaller boy.
Right then, there came a great draft as a storm of feathers descended upon the three thugs. Their screams were drowned out by the sounds of harsh tearing and fluttering as wings battered their bodies and beaks tore at their flesh. After no more than thirty seconds, the feathered tornado rushed back up into the clouds in a whirl of grey and red, leaving one gull on the path beside Charlie's feet.
"Christ, kid, you killed Bob!" Mike cawed, ignoring the ragged bodies in front of him. "I didn't mean to." Charlie sniffed, somewhat stunned by what he'd just witnessed. "You came back to help me. I wasn't sure you would."
"I thought Bob was gonna get a chance to tell you what to do." Mike blinked. "And since you misinterpreted his intentions, I thought I'd better step in. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I let you get trashed by those losers, when I had the means to stop them."
"Do you know what Bob was going to tell me?"
"No idea." Mike said, his beady eyes twinkling at the insinuation of a pun. "Look sharp, Charlie -- here comes the fuzz!"
Charlie turned in despair as two policeman puffed their way across the park, led by a group of four teenagers, their faces as white as chalk. "What do I do?"
"Beats me, kid." Mike jumped up and flapped his wings, brushing past Charlie. "I'd better skedaddle. Take care, buddy!"
"Wait! Will I see you again?"
"I doubt it, Charlie, I'm a busy gull." Mike called as he gained altitude. "And don't worry about anyone else picking on you -- something tells me that once word of this little incident gets out most people are gonna give you a wide berth." he offered a laugh, that might not have been anything more than a gull's high-pitched cry as it wheeled upwards into the clouds.
Charlie looked at the pieces of Bob in his hands, then at the cops as they approached, their eyes wide at the sight of the tattered bodies. "I'm sorry, Bob." Charlie said. He dropped the chunks of brick on the ground and waited patiently for the police to start asking their questions.