I’VE been thinking a lot recently about the big cousins of my pals from school. These guys were a different breed. When I was maybe 12 or 13, they seemed like they were in their mid-20s, even though they were probably only 16 or 17 at most.

If sharks are the most perfectly designed killing machines on the planet then these big cousins are the most perfectly designed wee-guy-terrorising machines. Stalking the sidelines of wherever we were playing football or just generally hanging about.

“Who’s that?” I’d ask my pal.

He’d look at me, then over to the scrawny but still imposing figure in the distance, walking the perimeter like an apex predator. “My big cousin. He’s aff his heid,” he’d say in a whisper.

READ MORE: Chris McQueer: Men are desperate for my socks. Here’s why...

Maybe the big cousin would leave us alone here, for now. Maybe we’d even forget about their presence, lulled into a false sense of security. But they’d still be there. Watching. Maybe after a while they’d join in and kick the ball about with us. Always kicking that bit too hard, showing off that they were a million times better than us.

Then the ball would scream into my face, skelped with such force that if it landed in the right spot on my jaw, it’d dislocate it. Maybe one or both of our jackets would be jettisoned over a fence too high for us to climb or simply flung up into a tree.

You see, your pal’s big brothers are scary enough, but you’ve normally been around them a lot. You know how to handle, hide from and avoid them.

But there’s something about big cousins, a more terrifying and unpredictable quality. 

Your pal, more than likely, won’t know them as well as they would know a sibling. You’re both at a disadvantage here, trying to protect yourself and each other from an enemy who always has the upper hand – the element of surprise.

The scariest pal’s big cousin encounter I had was when I was 14. I’d been exposed to a few big cousins by this point and knew what I was in for. But this guy was different. He was quiet.

“First time I’ve met him,” said my mate. “He’s been suspended fae his school.”

READ MORE: Chris McQueer: When I gave myself the only worse name than McQueer

Normally they’d be loud, wild, even funny. But this one was silent. While me and my pal played football, this guy just sat and smoked. Seeming quite content to just leave us to it. 

Our jackets remained as goalposts, unharmed and untouched. Our faces weren’t skelped by balls or indeed fists as had happened on occasion. He just moped about behind us as we walked back to my pal’s flat where he stayed with his da.

We were in my pal’s bedroom that night playing the PlayStation while the big cousin sat in the living room with the da, drinking cans and watching films. Despite being on edge and slightly unnerved by the cousin’s sinister silence, we’d managed to forget about him and relax.

Then a voice came from the other side of the bedroom door. “Yous like darts?”

“Wit?” replied my pal.

“Darts.” The bedroom door opened to reveal the big cousin, gently pricking the tips of his fingers with six very sharp-looking tungsten darts. “Dae yous like darts.”

Me and my pal looked at each other. This was the first time we’d heard the cousin talk all day.

“Eh, aye, it’s good,” I ventured.

“Sound,” he replied and walked away. We paused the game and sat holding our breath. Waiting for whatever was going to happen next.

“Yous coming or wit?” he shouted. We duly followed him down the hall to my pal’s da’s bedroom door.

He opened the door for us and gestured for us to go in first. It was a typical da’s room. An unmade bed, a telly with a pile of DVDs next to it and some detritus spread across the floor. The curtains were pulled over, the room lit by what must have been a million-watt lightbulb swinging freely from the ceiling.

Crucially though, there was no sign of a dartboard. I watched this realisation cross my pal’s face. 

He turned to me in a panic then our wild eyes moved to the doorway just as the big cousin switched off the light, plunging us into darkness, and slammed the door shut.

We stood frozen for a moment, scared to even breathe.

Then something whistled by my ear before a dull thud echoed through the room. My pal screamed. The guy was flinging darts into the darkness while me and my pal wailed and jumped around, desperately searching for the door, the light switch or somewhere to hide. We crashed and careered around the room, sending DVDs and other accoutrements flying. I listened for the sixth thud and breathed a sigh of relief as the light came back on. My pal was contorted in an impossible position on the bed, like a puppet that had been dropped from a great height.

“Did a get yees?” the cousin asked. Even though we were unharmed physically, we were too scared to reply. We both sat shell-shocked, like we’d just survived an air raid. Thanks to that boy, anytime I hear a dart nestle into a dartboard in a pub, I almost send my pint flying.