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Authors: James Everington

The Shelter

BOOK: The Shelter
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The Shelter

 

James Everington

Copyright © 2011 by James Everington

Cover Design © 2011 by James Everington

Cover Image © Dawid Zagorski

 

 

 

These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters and incidents are either products of the authors imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author.

 

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as author of the work.

 

 

The Shelter

 

It's strange, when I look back on it, that on a day we were worried would be boring, everything changed. It was towards the end of a long, drowsy summer, monotonous with heat and the lack of wind. I still have the nightmares about that day and what followed, when I awake into blackness, and the sheets that I’ve pushed to my feet seem like they’re reaching to drag me down. It’s been twenty years, and still the dreams; maybe writing this will stop them. I don’t want to dream any longer about the day when Mark Galloway said we should cross the fields to the old air raid shelter.

There were four of us sitting on the bench, or rather sitting on the bench’s back, with our feet resting on the seat. As boys do. We were fidgety, and bored, and didn’t want to admit to each other that we’d burnt out the long anticipated summer holidays too quickly. We’d left ourselves with nothing to do for the next few weeks but sit in the sun, play the same games and pranks, and taunt each other with the same old insults. Many of my memories after that day are hazy from drink or distance, but I can recall sitting on that bench in the sun as clearly as anything in my life.

Duncan Moore was my best friend, I suppose. We weren’t really very similar, or close. We just hung around together. I’m not sure there's any logic to who boys befriend at that age. Duncan was tall with broad shoulders; he had short cut blond hair and eyes as blue and dull as the summer sky. He always looked hunched and awkward, as if he knew his height was just a temporary victory over his classmates, and one he shouldn’t draw too much attention to. Despite his height, he tended to fade into the background because he did or said so little unprompted. He was, to be frank, thick as the pig shit that they sprayed on the fields behind the village as fertiliser. My school report cards started getting slowly worse after I befriended Duncan; they nose-dived after I met Mark and Tom.

Duncan may have been stupid, but he wasn’t cruel. Mark and Tom were both stupid and mean; bullies, to put it differently. Tom irremediably so; Mark may have had more to him than that, but I never got to find out.

The two older boys had started hanging around with Duncan and I at the start of the summer. We didn’t know why. They were two years older than us so we didn’t protest – it made
us
seem older in the eyes of our classmates. And besides we didn’t want to anger them. But we both knew we were out of our depth – maybe in two years time smoking cigarettes (which Mark stole from his dad) would have been exciting, but at thirteen? I’d just coughed frantically, and the others had laughed equally frantically at me. Similarly I'd hated the taste of the cheap lager Tom and Mark also stole, although now my girlfriend wants me to get help, I drink so much.

Mark was sitting on the bench next to me, his skinny body erect and his head craning about, as if looking for something to
do
in the boring ex-mining village in which we lived. But as I said, we’d exhausted it all already. Mark was really tall, and skinny – ‘lanky’ was the word we used, behind his back. His dark shaggy hair was only cut when his mum won on the bingo; it fell into his black eyes and hid a stud in his left ear. He was often scowling, as if thinking about a particularly difficult problem, but when he did smile it was uncharacteristically bright and carefree. Mark’s older brother was in jail for burglary, and village gossips concurred that he would end up in the same place. I don’t know what his home life was like, he never let Duncan or me into his house, only Tom. When they went in to filch something, we had to wait outside – he lived in what was still known as the ‘mining estate’ and I found the rows of long, brown terraces cramped and intimidating.

He was a bully at school, but in an offhand way, as if it was just the obvious and somewhat boring thing to do. His threats and dinner-money extortions loomed large in the minds of all kids younger than him - he had beat me up a few times, and Duncan too, but he didn’t seem to remember when he started hanging around with us that summer. Mark didn’t do well at school, but he did have a respect for knowledge, or at least for the kind of boyish knowledge that I possessed: knowing how to start fires with a magnifying glass; knowing about that UFO that had crashed in America after the war and been hushed up; knowing that if you scraped the stuff off the back of playing cards you could use it make explosives. He liked people who knew about things like that.

Tom White was not like that though, he was stupid and had no cunning or sense of fairness of any kind. He lived with his dad, who was an alcoholic and let Tom do whatever he wanted, which Tom did. As a consequence he was known as a troublemaker by the adults, and as a stupid wanker by us kids. We were both right. He was always doing stupid things and getting caught, like trying to escape an after school detention by climbing out the window, but getting stuck because he was so fat. Tom got very angry if anyone called him fat, but he was, and as kids who’d frequently been bullied by him, we felt no shame in saying so behind his back. Tom did whatever Mark said, because Mark was the only person who pretended to like him. Everyone but Tom knew it was just so Mark had someone to do his bidding, and occasionally take the fall if their misdeeds got out of hand. Even
Duncan
had worked that out.

And me? Alan Dean?

I was thirteen, and newly conscious of the fact that I lived in a four bed detached house on the other side of the village from the ‘miners estate’, and that this marked me out to some of my class-mates as ‘posh’ and easy pickings. I was the middle child of three. My sister Kate was eighteen and had just finished her A-Levels. That summer she was still deciding between Liverpool University, Manchester University, or her boyfriend who worked in a twenty-four hour garage. That this decision was taking place at all caused a lot of friction in our household. My younger brother was two, and to me at thirteen completely uninteresting. I didn’t have much to do with either of my siblings; my parents didn’t have favourites but that summer they had a lot on with both Kate and Robert, and I was left much to my own devices. I didn’t feel I could tell them anything.

I’d always been short and skinny, and when they started to hang around with us Mark and Tom had started to call me ‘the Ethiopian’ after the pictures they'd seen of the famine on TV. I’d like to say that even then I knew it was beneath me to respond to such a crass insult, but I didn’t – I desperately wanted to comeback with something witty and biting, to which they would have no reply. I was fair haired and fair skinned, and blushed a lot, and burnt easily in the summer sun. I probably spent most of that summer holiday looking red. And it was a
hot
summer, or so I remember it. Certainly
that
day was, prickly with August heat and the lack of rain or breeze.

It was hot and we were sitting on the back of the bench, bored – Mark kept half-heartedly giving Duncan a dead-arm and jeering when he flinched; Tom was singing over and over again, “I know a song that gets on everybody’s nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody’s nerves...” I had the feeling that Mark and Tom were becoming bored with Duncan and me, that whatever attraction there had been in befriending kids two years younger than them had paled. That they might get up and leave me and Duncan, just walk away like we were toys they’d outgrown. And I'd have been half glad if they had.

Then Mark straightened as something occurred to him, and he spoke without looking at any of us, staring at the terraced houses opposite instead.

“Hey everyone why don’t we go up to...

 

***

 

... that old air raid shelter that Gordon Ross an’ all them lot were talking about? Up at Clipston?”

Alan, the smallest of the boys sat on the bench, felt a sinking feeling in his stomach at the words, although he couldn’t have said why. He looked to his left at Duncan, but Duncan was already grinning blankly in agreement with Mark. Whatever sudden disquiet had overtaken Alan was one Duncan obviously didn't share.

Someone say no
, Alan thought.

“But I thought you couldn’t get in any more,” Tom said, pulling his sweaty white t-shirt away from his chest. “I mean, that’s what Gordon Ross told Mickey and Mickey told me.”

“So?” Mark said, with annoyance. “So? Have we got anything else to do? I don’t want to sit here all day with you pussies. Anyway, maybe
we’ll
get it open.”

“But it’s
miles
to Clipston!” Tom protested, and Alan felt his heart sink. Tom always moaned when physical activity was suggested, but Mark always goaded him into it by referring to his weight. If that was the only argument Tom had then the matter was as good as settled. Mark stood and stretched his back in a curiously adult and weary manner, and Tom got up slowly too, grumbling. Duncan rose without commenting and waited passively.

Just let them go without you
, Alan thought, still with no idea of why Mark's suggestion had made him feel so tense. Mark turned to look at him, and beneath the humour of his words Alan saw real anger in his dark eyes:

“You coming, jerk?” he said, and Alan suddenly saw why Mark was angry – he was uneasy himself, and angry at his own unease.

“Sure I’m coming,” Alan said, standing up.

 

***

 

Clipston was a small village of about fifteen houses at most, about two miles from the larger village where the boys all lived. It was largely unknown territory to them because there were no kids in the small community, so none of them had reason to go there. Besides, there was nothing there. Alan had once been up to the woods nearby because he'd heard there was a badger set, but he’d never heard anything about an air raid shelter.

There was a path across the fields to Clipston, but to get to it the boys had to walk past Alan’s house.

Alan's mum was in the front garden weeding as they idled past. She looked up squinting in the sun, and waved them over.

"Hi," she said still on her knees, smiling. Alan muttered a greeting back; his parents always embarrassed him somehow and he was edgy to get away. He knew his mum would probably put a stop to their trip to some abandoned air raid shelter if she knew about it, and while he wanted not to go, he didn't want the reason to be because his mother
forbade
him to.

"Hello Mrs Dean," Mark said - like many bullies he was conscientiously polite to the parents of those he tormented. Tom and Duncan hung back looking uncomfortable; Alan hadn't realised before how much Tom
smelt
, but now he was stood awkwardly in front of his mother he was aware of the stink of BO on the air behind.

Alan's mum politely said hello back to Mark, but her smile had hardened. Alan knew she thought his friends two troublemakers and an idiot. She was probably right. But he had the vague feeling that he should be allowed to stick to his choices, good or bad.

"What are you up to darling?" she said brightly, and Alan almost winced. He could picture the others smiling behind him - none of
their
parents called them "darling". It was embarrassing, just like the fact that both his parents were also teachers. It wasn't fair.

"We're just going up to Clipston," he said reluctantly. "Just for summit to do."

"Something," she corrected absently. She always corrected him when he spoke in the same way as the kids from the mining estate. But how could it be wrong when
everyone
spoke like that?

"You boys be careful," she continued. "You know what happened to that boy who disappeared," she said, although they
didn't
know; no one did. "So you all be careful."

"We'll be careful," Mark said before Alan could answer. She smiled up at him looking slightly uneasy, as if just realising she was knelt down. The four boys turned and walked away, Alan and Mark with a backwards wave, Tom already complaining about the pace.

They rounded the corner and were out of sight. Alan's mum looked after them for a while, then went back to her weeding.

 

***

 

The name of the boy who had disappeared was Martin Longhurst. Invisible at school, he had become famous in the playground after he was no longer around. Whenever there was a new photograph of him on the evening news, or yet another tearful plea by his parents, the boys all discussed it the next morning. Although Alan understood, on some mental level, that it was a dreadful thing that had happened, in his gut he also knew it was something else: exciting. Nothing else had happened in his home village
ever
.

BOOK: The Shelter
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