The stories ‘by the burn’, ‘Lassies are trained that way’, ‘A walk in the park’, ‘Unlucky’, ‘Street-Sweeper’, and ‘it’s the ins and outs’ are included here, and are considered to be some of Kelman’s best work in short prose. Passionate, exhilarating and darkly humorous, The Burn is an extraordinary collection of short stories by an unsurpassed prose stylist.
Out of print
Year of Publication
This book can be purchased or ordered from your local independent bookshop or from Waterstones
This excerpt is taken from: pp140-2 Polygon paperback edition (2009)
An extract from the story entitled ‘Unlucky’
The three of them waited another few minutes but nothing arrived and nothing departed; the entrance still gaped open. Ray led the way, Lecky continuing on to his position at the corner of the main road. When he reached it and looked back the other two were out of sight. From somewhere he could hear a vague whining sound like the engine of a bus revving and straining in too low a gear, then it had died into silence.
A clank. Coming from the shop doorway. Another clank then a crash. Really fucking loud. Lecky stepped back against the wall, squinting across at the windows of the nightshift building. The faces looking! But there werent any. Nobody was there at all. Thank fuck for that.
And now silence. The two of them were inside. Lecky edged out from the corner, seeing both ways into the distance. If he did see a squad car he would fucking whistle. No he wouldnt that would be fucking mad, fucking mental, he would just stay still, he would wait, he would wait till it had passed. No he wouldnt he would whistle, he would have to, unless he just ran down, he would have to run down, he could run down quick before they came, he would have to tell them, otherwise they wouldnt fucking know, they wouldnt know they were fucking there. He had smoked the whole of Ray’s fag. He had nothing in his pockets. Even a bit of chewing gum! He walked a couple of paces away along the main road, turned back. No sign of the moon anywhere. It was funny how it disappeared. Clouds were so fucking thin but they could hide the moon. He got to the corner and looked round and there was the man in dungarees, the big skinny guy with the specs, he had seen Lecky; he was smoking and had taken the cigarette from his mouth while staring over; now he was staring into the shop doorway, now back to Lecky. And Lecky stood still. If the guy didnt actually see him but was just staring in the general direction. He wasnt, he was watching; you could tell, just by the way he was standing, he was obviously fucking watching, the fag sticking out his mouth. Lecky stepped back behind the corner. A moment later he peered round again: the man in the dungarees continued to stare at him. What to do. He walked a few paces away from the street, along the main road. What was he to do? He stopped and turned. What. Back to the corner. Fuck. Right round it and along to the shop doorway, that fucking bastard still standing there staring, fucking staring bastard, skinny big specky-eyed bastard standing there fucking staring as if he was a fucking sentry on guard duty, fucking Buckingham fucking Palace. Lecky stopped opposite him and he stared across, the big skinny staring back. He wanted a smoke, a smoke would fucking be good. And then the man about-turned and went in through a door and Lecky moved smartly into the shop and the interior, pitch-dark till his eyes got accustomed and there was another room; stairs down to the basement: John! John! Lecky yelled: John! Fuck sake!
John! Quick! Right now! Move!
Then a loud banging sound and footsteps rushing and Ray was in view below. That big bastard, cried Lecky.
He saw us, he’s away to fucking do us. Quick!
What? Who ye fucking talking about?
Him, the big skinny bastard – the one that reversed out the lorry.
Ray was gazing up at him.
Honest man I’m no kidding ye, he’s away to fucking grass us, yous better fucking come…
But Ray was off before he finished talking and he felt like going right after him, gubbing him one on the fucking mouth, ignorant bastard, he was a fucking ignorant bastard – a good bit aulder than Lecky but so what: Lecky was bigger and he was fucking harder, he knew he was fucking harder, and he would knock fuck out him. So fucking ignorant. Lecky stared down into the basement, so gloomy and dark. Where the fuck was John? He glanced back at the doorway, walked towards it, then stopped. What was he to do. Another room to the side, also in darkness. He stepped a pace and his heel crunched glass, a lot of it. Sounds from the basement but quite vague and far away. Bloody smell of dampness too, like fungus or something – it was as if the place hadnt been used for years. So dark. He stood still. The very last thing was to close his eyes, no even for a moment.
Was that a thump! He crouched. It was like a thump. He stood very still then dashed to the top of the basement stairs and shouted, John! John! Fuck sake come on!
Nothing. They didnt answer.
© James Kelman