Here is Chapter 2 of ‘Fallen Past,’ a little story which I hope you enjoy.
The Sun beat down as Craig stopped at the top of the steps, breathing hard. He’d run all the way, but Ray had still managed to beat him. He dragged the back of his hand across his brow, and scanned the old quarry. Nature had reclaimed it, gorse growing thick, a profusion of thistle and cow-slips, overgrown tracks created by the tramping of numerous feet. ‘The Pit’ was one of those wonderful, almost mystical places that held new discoveries every time you went there. A little untouched copse, a hidden tangle of bushes, an abandoned cave. All perfect for adventure games and den building.
At the centre stood a large, imposing rock of granite. Known locally as ‘Eagle’s Rock’, every boy dreamed of climbing it. Craig had already done so, Ray too, now the competition was who could scale it the quickest.
Ray had always been a good climber. Bags of self-confidence meant he tackled problems head on, hardly ever worrying about the outcome, always assured of his own abilities. Craig was a touch more circumspect. This meant he was often more reluctant to ‘have a go’, but he always seemed to get there in the end. Taking a deep breath, he slumped forward towards the rock and peered up.
Ray grinned down at him from his perch. “Come on,” he urged, and then he waited, eyes glued on Craig.
Inside, Craig groaned. Another test, with the inevitable result. Ray was a good friend, but Craig always heard the silent criticisms, saw the mocking half-smile. He closed his mind to it, looked down at the rock face and searched out the first foothold. He moved forward.
It took time, and he moved with caution, keeping his grip firm as he pressed himself flat against the hard, unforgiving rock. He knew not to look down, or indeed up. That way led to certain disaster. Just concentrate on the next step. That was all you had to do. Grit your teeth. Press on.
He sensed his heartbeat increasing, fought to control it; the higher he got, the more the stress increased. Failure was not an option, not now, not here. Better to slip and fall than not succeed. Jeers, loud, painful. He’d had enough of those. A belly-full. He closed his eyes, settled himself, ignored his screaming muscles, hoisted himself on.
Before he knew it, Craig had made it to the top. A final lunge and he rolled over onto his back to stare up at the clear, blue sky. Safe. Success. Victory. He gulped in air, allowed the happiness and relief to overwhelm him. He’d made it, for about the third time. None of it made him more confidant in his abilities. Climbing was so difficult, and was never going to get any easier. He knew that, accepted it.
He sat up with a sigh, took a moment to settle himself, and pulled open the small shoulder bag he had brought with him. He glanced across to Ray, who sat there, like Buddha, cross-legged, checking his watch. His mouth moved soundlessly, calculating their individual times before he grinned and declared that he had won – by the staggering amount of twelve seconds.
“Twelve seconds!” Craig took a bite of the ham sandwich his mum had made him as part of a picnic lunch. “Cor…I could easily do it quicker next time.”
“Yeah. I’m sure.” Ray studied his own sandwich and smiled in expectation of the taste of the delicacy he was about to put into his mouth, “Golden Toms,” he said musingly.
“Toms. Me Da’ grows ‘em in his greenhouse down his allotment. Lovely,” and he sank his teeth into the soft, white bread and munched away ravenously.
Craig eyed his own, rather pathetic looking sandwich again and sighed. He wished his family had an allotment. Even a garden would do. He lived in a small terrace house with nothing more than a postage stamp for a backyard. Ray, on the other had, had a large, well-stocked garden at the back of his house and a beautiful front garden, piled up with roses. An allotment up in the Park, growing everything from tomatoes to potatoes. It didn’t seem fair really, to have a dad who was so good at everything.
“What does your dad do again?” asked Craig, now not at all interested in his ham.
“Electrician. Think I’ll be one when I grow up.”
“Really? Don’t you have to be clever for that?”
Ray peered at his friend, and for a moment his icy blue eyes sparkled with something like menace. Then he caught the joke and laughed. “Yeah, well I am clever, aren’t I?”
It was Craig’s turn to smile. It was true, Ray was clever. Much cleverer at maths than Craig was anyway. Perhaps that’s what it took to be an electrician, who knows. He shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve no idea what I want to do when I grow up. Tank driver maybe.”
“Tank driver? What’s that?”
Craig looked at his friend for a long time. “Er – someone who drives a tank.”
“What, like in the army?”
“No, in the air-force, you divvy!”
Ray laughed again. “OK, yeah, I get it.” He contemplated another sandwich before putting it back in the little Tupperware box his mum had provided. Then he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and lay back on the rock. It was a lovely, warm day, the kind of day everyone wished would never end. Ray put his hands behind his head and gazed up at the clear, blue sky. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen. “I used to think I’d like to join the army. But me Da’ says it’ll be stupid, if a war was to come. We’d all be killed, he said.”
“A war?” Craig, worried by this remark, peered intensely at his friend. He needed some explanation. “What sort of war?”
“Dunno. Any sort of war, I suppose.”
“Against the Germans?”
“Nah, shouldn’t think so. Me Da’ says we’re friends with them now. On the same team, he said. Nah, he said it would be against the Ruskies. Said they had thousands and thousands of tanks, all lined up and ready to go.”
“Over here, daft. Me Da’ says we couldn’t stop ‘em and that the only way we could ever manage that would be to drop atomic bombs on ‘em.”
“Atomic bombs!” Craig’s stomach turned inside out as Ray’s words bit deep inside him. He wiped a trickle of sweat from his brow. This was not something he knew much about, and it scared him. Again, he wished he had a dad, like Ray, who would tell him such things, explain it all, lessen the fear. He swallowed hard. “They can kill thousands, those bombs can.”
“Millions, more like. And they blow up houses and stuff. No one could survive.”
“We might be able to. We could go up to Scotland or somewhere like that.”
“Scotland? How would that help?”
“I dunno. Lots of mountains and caves and… We could hide in a cave, or something.”
“A cave? What would you do in a cave?”
“I…I dunno. I’d find something. Make myself a bow and arrow, hunt rabbits.”
Ray gaped at him. “And how would you get all the way up there? You haven’t got a car.”
“Yeah…well…” Craig looked out across the old quarry. On a day such as this, with the air thick with Sun, insects playing around the wild flowers, birds singing so beautifully, it was difficult to believe it could all be wiped out. He wished he’d never mentioned anything about the army now.
“Still,” said Ray, closed his eyes and breathed out a contented sigh, “they’ll be needing lots of tank drivers when the war comes.”
Craig shot him a glance, then dug his friend in the ribs playfully, “Shut up, you!”
They both laughed and when Craig finished his sandwich, he threw away the crust and then settled down next to his friend to enjoy a few golden moments of peace.
Raised voices stirred them from their slumber and they both looked across the expanse of quarry to see two figures waving madly at them. Ray groaned and Craig felt a little tremor of fear ripple through him.
Adam Crossland was the meanest boy in school. Small, tough and a complete torment, he always made Craig’s life a misery in the playground as he pushed him, called him names, and basically caused every school day to be like hell. Craig had wanted to tell his mum, but thought better of it. He didn’t want to appear weak, not to anyone. Besides, no one liked a tell-tale. Ray was slightly more pragmatic and had stood up to Crossland on more than one occasion. He’d received a punch in the jaw for his troubles. Strangely, however, this had resulted in Ray receiving no further problems. Craig often wondered if he could do the same, but knew deep down that he couldn’t. Ray was quite tough and Craig wasn’t. Anyway, on this day, Crossland was with another school bully, Samantha Lloyd. Taller, older and infinitely more cruel.
The two unsavoury characters swaggered forward, until they were at the foot of the rock. Crossland peered upward, hand shielding his eyes from the Sun’s glare. “Is that you there, Craig? What yer doin’?”
“With his boyfriend,” snarled the girl. “That’s right, isn’t it Raymond?” Samantha enjoyed emphasising the last syllable of Ray’s full name. She always thought it was hilarious.
Craig could feel Ray bristling next to him. “Go away,” said Ray, and his voice sounded surprisingly confident.
“Don’t be like that, Raymond,” laughed Samantha. She tested the rock face with her foot, but thought better of it. “Why don’t you come down?”
“Why don’t you come up?” Ray shouted back, knowing full well that neither of them could. It was a small victory, but a sweet one nevertheless.
Crossland chewed his lip, and grew slightly red in the face. “We said, come down!”
Craig looked at Ray, who shook his head slightly. “No.”
The two below exchanged their own, infuriated look. “There’ll be another time,” spat Crossland and reached down to pick up a stone. He hurled it upwards and it sailed harmlessly past the two boys’ heads.
Ray giggled, “Not much good, are you Crossland?”
“I’ll fix you,” said Crossland.
“And me,” chimed in Samantha. She waggled her finger towards the boys. “I’m going to hurt you, Craig. Get you down in the dirt, and make you beg for mercy.”
Without thinking, Craig scrambled backwards, putting more distance between him and the tormentors. If anything, he feared Samantha more than Crossland. Perhaps it was because she was a girl, and the humiliation of being knocked down by her.
He stopped then, and thought about that. Humiliation, being on the receiving end of a good beating from Samantha. He didn’t understand why, but the thought of that wasn’t so terrible. Craig looked at her, as for the first time. Her face. Lovely eyes she had. The purest blue, and a mouth…
“What you looking at little Craig? See something you like?”
Craig felt his face begin to burn and looked away from those penetrating blue eyes of hers, forced a cough.
Samantha said something to her friend, then they turned to go. At that moment, an elderly man appeared, breathing hard as he came over the top of the steps that rose up from Pit Road. He used a stick to help him walk and around his feet scurried a small, wiry looking Border Terrier. This was much better sport for the two young bullies, and they began to dance around the dog, called it names and waved their arms about. The old man brandished his stick, but this only caused more uproarious laughter and they ran off, rude words fired off as they went.
Craig breathed a sigh of relief. “I’d forgotten about them two, how horrible they are. Especially her.”
“I think she’s quite nice.”
Craig gaped at his friend. He’d actually voiced exactly what was in his own mind. Could it really be true? He knew, however, he couldn’t give too much away, so he said, “Nice? Are you serious?”
“She’s the prettiest girl in school, Craig. There’s no argument about that.”
Craig had to admit that much was true, certainly as far as their school was concerned. Slowly, thoughts turned to the girl at the tennis court, and Craig knew that Samantha wasn’t the prettiest of them all. There were other schools in town. He wished he knew which one she went to. “Do you think all girls are like Samantha?”
“You know, the way she is. Like she has to prove she’s tougher than us boys? I thought girls were supposed to be softer.” He caught Ray’s look and again he felt the heat rise to his cheeks. He rushed on, “I think it’s all a big act, that she’s not really that tough. I think she puts it on, for Crossland. She must fancy him like crazy.”
“Yeah…well…” Ray looked troubled. “Big act or not, we’ll have to take care going home. We’ll have to wait here for a bit longer, just in case. They may not have gone.”
Craig nodded. He noticed the old man stooping down to rub his dog’s flanks. Had the others hurt the little dog, he wondered? Craig took a breath, “Is he all right, mister?”
The old man looked up, face a mask of fury. “You mind your own damned business! I’ve a good mind to call the police, you snivelling little runt.”
Taken aback, Craig gawped at the man, “It wasn’t us, mister. We didn’t do anything.”
“You’re all the same you young people, causing trouble. You’ve got nothing better to do with your time, that’s what it is. Why aren’t you at school?”
“Bah!” The old man brandished his stick, walked off and muttered something under his breath. The little dog ran off to explore the nearby undergrowth with great enthusiasm. He seemed fine, with no apparent injuries.
“Caw,” said Craig and shook his head, “he’s a bit of a nark, isn’t he?”
“Old and bitter,” said Ray. “That’s what my Da’ says. Old people get like that, he says. It’s not their fault, just the way it is.”
“He looked old,” said Craig softly, “but I don’t think he really was.”
“Eh? What d’you mean?”
“Dunno. Something about him. Maybe he’s ill or something. He didn’t have grey hair.”
“My Da’ says that people can be old before their time – smoking and drinking he says, they’re the worst.”
“Your dad knows a lot, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah,” Ray smiled.
Craig felt worse than ever at that simple remark, but didn’t say anything, not wanting Ray to feel bad about mentioning his dad all the time. It made Craig miss his own even more. He hoped Ray hadn’t noticed his change of mood. But even if he had, Craig knew that being such a good friend he would never say anything. The pain, however, bit deep and he had to struggle to keep the tears at bay. Just like he always did, every single day since it had happened. If only he could make amends, undone it all, turn back the clock, make life good again. If only Dad were still here…
I hope you enjoy what you find there.
I’ve been interviewed, and you can pop along to http://nickwale.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/stuart-yates-is-back-nick-wale-heralds-the-return-of-stuart-yates/ and read what I think about writing, and get some insights into my own, personal journey.