in collaboration with
The bitter, driving wind had brought him to this place: a setting he was sure would look more appealing if it were daylight and summertime. However, the old, wood-panelled barn in the distance looked cold and sinister, accentuated by a pale winter moon.
Stood almost knee deep in mud, in a recently ploughed cornfield on the outskirts of a small farm near Pickering, he peered over the farm's crumbling, dry stone wall, waiting for the occupants of the building to retire to bed. He had watched the farmer and his wife moving about the property for what seemed like hours, and now he felt the stiffness of his legs, even through the biting pain of the cold.
At last! he thought, as a light downstairs in the farmhouse extinguished and a muted glow appeared in an upper room. Animated outlines of the occupants moved about behind the already drawn drapes.
It was now or never. No turning back. He knew he had to get warm or he could very well die in this muddy field with the distinct possibility of no one finding his body for days.
If his fifteen years on this planet had taught him anything, it was where there's a farm there's normally chickens, and where there's chickens there's definitely eggs. A teacher at school had once told him that you could eat raw eggs, which was a relief; he didn't have a way to cook them out here on the edge of a field.
The time he'd spent waiting for the occupants of the farmhouse to go to bed had been quite productive. He had noted three likely places that chickens might be kept, and had debated with himself the issue of honesty over hunger. He knew that stealing was wrong, but an empty stomach drove him. Finally he settled his thoughts by telling himself that he would repay the owner for the items he took.
Deep down he knew this was highly unlikely to happen, since he probably wouldn't find this particular farm again, even in daylight. He reasoned then that it was the thought that counted.
One thing he hadn't thought about was there would be no way he'd be able to get eggs from a chicken coop without creating enough noise to wake every farmer in the area.
An outbuilding, a hundred metres or more away, had caught his eye as a likely place to find chickens. It was larger, but looked similar in appearance to a doghouse, with a small arched door in one side.
Quickly and quietly he clambered over the mossy wall separating him from the smallholding, but in his haste he snagged his trousers on a sharp stone. He gave a small cry of pain as he landed heavily on the other side. Getting up, he inspected his leg. In what little light there was, he saw that he had ripped a large hole in his trousers and gashed his ankle, which was pouring with blood. Taking a tissue from the top pocket of his jacket, he gingerly lifted his trouser leg, wrapped the makeshift bandage around the wound, and tucked it into his sock. Pain from the wound seared up his leg, causing him to bite his lip with a small gasp.
Jack Simpson, you need to be more careful. If that goes septic you're in trouble, he thought. He had an unusual habit of chastising himself when something went wrong.
Limping slightly, he made his way towards the first of the outbuildings. To get to the structure he had to pass quite close to the farmhouse. This worried him. At this stage, he couldn't afford to be caught.
What immediately struck him about the farmhouse was that it was really no more than an extended cottage, and even in the moonlight the whitewashed brick extension looked shabby and broken down. As he limped his way past it, he glanced up at a thatched roof that had seen better days, its patchy straw overhanging the flaking, painted walls.
The doghouse-like building was bigger than he initially thought. Made of wooden shiplap panels, it had a small, double glazed window to the left side. The door to it was just large enough for a person to fit through comfortably. Creeping around to the left of the structure, he cupped his hands against the glass and peered inside. Seeing nothing, he listened for movement, and after a few seconds he heard something that sounded like scratching. His spirits lifted. Chickens?
As silently as he could, he tip-toed to the door and placed his hand on the handle, daring it not to make a sound. Turning it, it gave one small squeak of protest. He pushed the door, but it stubbornly refused to open so he tried again with a little more force. Still it would not budge. Feeling frustrated and about to give up, he noticed the hinges were on the outside, and rolling his eyes upwards in disbelief and embarrassment, he pulled the handle towards him. No one in his town would ever dream of leaving a door open, but this place was in the middle of nowhere and they obviously had different rules.
Very carefully he widened the gap in the door hoping it wouldn't creak, and listening for a moment, he stuck his head around the gap and waited while his vision adjusted to the gloom. As he did so, a large rat scurried past him and into the night. He nearly cried out in shock.
What is it about rats and me? he thought, shuddering at its appearance, his heart thumping wildly in his chest.
Stepping into the darkness of the building, he glanced at his elongated shadow cast on the floor from the moonlight, then flicked his eyes up to the ceiling where a light bulb swung precariously in the breeze.
Instinctively he put his hand to either side of the door opening. Not able to find a light switch there, he stood under the bulb and waved his hand under it until he came across a long, thin wire. Pulling it, he was momentarily blinded by the glare of the light as it shone out, and he rubbed his eyes in an effort to stop them tearing. Then he saw them. Row upon row of vegetables: peas, carrots, and cabbages. The rat that had nibbled some of them was now long gone and Jack picked up a carrot from the nearest shelf, put it to his mouth, and took a bite.
What the hell? he thought, spitting it out. It was as cold as ice.
It was only then that he noticed the temperature seemed to be even colder inside than out. Looking about him, he saw what appeared to be a large upturned radiator along one wall that had something written on it, and the walls, he noticed, were covered in white cladding.
Jack stepped over to the radiator and scrubbed off a layer of ice with his hand to reveal the writing. Freezeasi. Mobile Refrigeration Unit, it read.
'Dammit!' he cursed, tossing the carrot away. 'What do I do now?' He sat on the chilly floor for a few moments hugging his knees, and then an idea came to him. He decided to collect some vegetables, find somewhere warmer to sleep and let them defrost naturally, at which point he would be able to enjoy them. Not much fancying raw cabbage or peas, he grabbed a handful of carrots, stuffed them into his pockets and left the building much as he found it, apart from the single carrot he left on the floor.
Now to find somewhere to rest. The barn seemed like the best option, and although dreading it because it looked ominous in the moonlight, he knew it would offer the best place to sleep. It was bound to be full of lovely warm hay he could curl up in.
After plotting his route, he slowly and painfully made his way to the barn. He had quite a distance to go across a muddy, puddle-bound courtyard, and from what he could see it appeared that the whole farm was badly run down. Paint peeled from almost every window frame and jagged cracks adorned the walls of the farmhouse and outbuildings. Although the farm had stood on this location for two hundred years, Jack thought it unlikely that the majority of buildings would last another ten. He did notice farm machinery covered in a heavy tarpaulin to protect them from the elements, but even that was failing miserably, with deep gashes and holes marring the surface.
As he trudged across the courtyard, he caught a slight movement from the corner of his eye and turned to see a rather large dog just a little way off in the distance. He froze on the spot, terrified of facing his worst nightmare. Thankfully, it was leashed to a kennel and facing away from him, but he knew that any kind of sound would alert the animal and the game would be up.
Jack quickly surveyed the area for an alternative route. The best by far looked complicated, but at least he would be hidden from view. He double backed slightly to remain out of sight, and crossing the courtyard he made his way behind some machinery that screened him from the farmhouse. It was darker here, and he had to pick his way even more carefully, desperate not to make a single sound. Finally, however, he saw his goal. It was then that he tripped over a large stone sticking out of the mud, and fell against an empty plastic barrel, knocking it over. Before he had even scrambled to his feet, the dog began to bark at the top of its lungs, signalling an intruder.
Jack panicked; he had to hide. Out of fear, he did the first thing that came to mind and crouched behind the wheel of a tractor that was covered with a tarpaulin. Shaking with terror, he waited for the inevitable.
From somewhere behind him he heard a door open and the boom of an angry voice. 'What is it Rusty?'
'Oh, the farmer. Great!' Jack whimpered. He'd heard stories of farmers scaring away trespassers with their shotguns and he didn't particularly want to be on the receiving end of one. He could hear him moving about the courtyard, stopping every now and then to listen. When the farmer stopped beside the tractor, Jack held his breath. From his vantage point he could see a pair of Wellington boots and something long and cylindrical, which shone with a metallic quality through a hole in the tarpaulin. The dog began to bark again and the farmer strode away, his Wellingtons sloshing in the puddles.
'Damned dog; it's probably a badger. Get in there, you!' the farmer cursed, ordering it into its kennel.
A female voiced piped up. 'What is it love?'
'Nowt but some badger. Go on now, get back ta bed,' was the last Jack heard as the farmhouse door closed with a bang.
Jack's heart pounded as if it wanted to escape his chest. He breathed a huge sigh of relief and decided he would wait a few minutes before making his way to the barn, taking the opportunity to calm down.
In the end it took several minutes for him to muster up the courage to venture across the courtyard, and now, stepping up to the barn, it looked exactly as he had first seen it: old and run down. The main doors were made of sheet metal rather than wood, and there was a small door situated within the two larger ones. He tried the handle and again, to his surprise, it was open.
Checking no one was around, he stepped inside, closing the door behind him as quietly as he could. Two things hit him immediately: how warm it was, and that a small light had been left on in one corner, casting strange shadows on the walls from a range of hand tools and harnesses that hung from wooden beams. The thought of the light worried him. What if someone was in here, or was coming back? Looking around and then up, he noticed that there was a hayloft above him, dissecting the length of the barn. To his right, a wooden ladder stretched up to the loft.
The perfect place to hide! he thought.
A sudden noise came from the lit area of the barn and Jack flinched, ready to run, fearing the farmer was in the building with him. But then a long nosed, hairy head appeared from behind a wooden screen.
'A horse!' he laughed in relief.
The animal was a beautiful shade: white, with a few black speckles. He didn't know its breed, but by the swell of its stomach, it looked pregnant.
Leaving his backpack at the foot of the ladder he edged towards it and lightly patted it on the neck. 'Sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you. I just need somewhere to stay tonight,' he said, and then glowed red with embarrassment at how foolish he was for talking to it, even though no one could see him.
He made his way to the ladder, grabbed his backpack and started to climb, agonising though it was due to his stiffness, fatigue and gashed leg. He was just two rungs from the top when a noise startled him, and in panic, he gripped the rungs so tightly that it made his knuckles white. Cautiously, he turned his head.
The farmer, an elderly, yet big and burly man with a large bald patch, stood in the doorway. Not again! Jack silently prayed that he wouldn't look up, because if he did, Jack didn't stand a chance. He was trapped.
The farmer strolled over to the horse and Jack watched as he crouched next to the animal and rubbed its neck before placing his ear to its stomach.
'That's it dear, not long now,' the farmer crooned as he checked her over. 'I'll call the vet for you tomorrow.'
Despite the circumstances, Jack almost giggled at the sound of the farmer talking to the horse. He permitted himself a grin. At least he wasn't the only one.
The farmer stayed with the animal a few minutes more, started to make his way back to the door, changed his mind, covered the horse in a big blanket and then, to Jack's relief, he finally left. Jack took a deep breath and relaxed so much that he nearly lost grip of the ladder. His legs were stiff from not moving a muscle during the farmer's presence, but finding the strength, he finally moved and reached the top. To his delight, he saw that the loft was like one big bed of straw.
He found a dry spot in the corner and sat down amid a rustling of hay. He hid his backpack in the straw next to him and emptied his pockets.
The night's events had taken its toll on him, but only now that he had sat down had he really begun to feel it. He lay back and watched a spider on a nearby beam start to spin its web.
If only my life was as simple, he thought.
Watching the spider at work was quite hypnotic, and coupled with tiredness, he drifted into a deep sleep.
Unbeknown to Jack, a dark, shadowy figure entered the building from a side entrance while he slept, and sat waiting in an unlit part of the barn. The figure struck a match, highlighting his face in the glow. He sported a satisfied grin as he lit a cigarette.
Jack was sleeping peacefully until it came, as it did every morning. His stepmother's voice.
He hated her call; it would irritate him. It wasn't a normal civilised cry; it was a shriek, like that of the Valkyries.
'Jack Edward Simpson! How many more times do I have to call you? It's time for school.'
Jack had no sooner pulled the duvet over his head when she opened the bedroom door, strolled over to his bed and yanked it off.
'Natalie!' Jack screeched, scrambling to cover his nakedness.
'Sorry,' she said, her cheeks flushing red.
She stepped over to the thick blue curtains covering the window and drew them back, flooding the room with light. Jack immediately buried his head in his pillow as his stepmother perched on the edge of the bed.
'Jack, what's wrong?' she asked. 'I'm worried about you. You seem so listless lately.'
'Nothing's wrong. I'm just a bit tired,' Jack said, his voice muffled under the pillow.
'Are you sure that's all it is?'
'Positive,' he lied.
'Then l'll leave you be,' she said, patting his leg through the covers and standing up again.
Under the pillow, tears were filling Jack's eyes, and he screwed them up tight to hold them back.
'I'll see you downstairs. We're having a full English this morning,' Natalie said as she closed the door.
Jack lay there for a few minutes more and then rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. The truth was that Allie, his girlfriend, was moving away to Derbyshire with her parents and he was pretty sure his heart was going to burst.
He wiped his eyes and crawled out of bed, then padded over to his en-suite bathroom and stepped into the shower. When the steam fogged up the shower screen, he wrote Jack loves Allie surrounded by a giant love heart in the condensation with his finger. Happy with his masterpiece, he had a thorough wash and then sauntered back into his room, his feet leaving wet impressions on the carpet. He dried himself quickly, catching a glimpse of his well-defined body in the mirror. Going to the gym three times a week had certainly paid off; his pecs and abs were prominent now. He studied himself for a moment, then pulled on his shirt, jumper and trousers. Haphazardly tying his yellow and black striped school tie around his neck and tucking it under his collar, he set off downstairs.
A steaming plate of food was waiting for him in the kitchen and he slunk into his chair at the breakfast table. His appetite had vanished, and not really wanting to eat he just stared at it. He knew though, if he didn't make an effort, his stepmother would know something was up.
'Where's Dad?' he asked, hesitantly chewing a mouthful of beans.
'Oh, he's popped to the shop for a newspaper I think,' Natalie replied, her hands soapy from the dishes.
Jack prodded a sausage with his fork. 'He's been so busy lately. It would've been nice to have seen him before school.'
'I know love. He did say that he'd be home early today. You'll see him then.'
'But why can't we see him more?'
Natalie sighed. 'I don't know. Something to do with his work. You have to understand that he's a very important person, Jack.'
'I know that, but-'
'I'll tell you what,' Natalie interrupted, drying her hands on the tea towel. 'I'll talk to him later and see if we can arrange some kind of holiday for us all. How does that sound?'
Jack perked up. 'It sounds great. Do you think he'll go for it?'
'Course he will,' she smirked, her eyes taking on a mischievous look. She glanced at the kitchen clock on the wall above the window.
'Jack, look at the time. You're going to be late.'
His appetite regained, Jack polished off the food on his plate, stood up, and kissed his stepmother on the cheek before grabbing his backpack from the hall. When he reached the door, he checked himself out in the hallway mirror as he did every morning before leaving the house. With a crop of auburn hair, blue eyes, and a smile that could knock any girl dead at ten paces, he was a good looking lad. In the past he had been made fun of because he was taller and broader than most of his classmates, but now, as Captain of the school rugby team, he used it to his advantage.
Satisfied with his appearance, he hollered goodbye and left the house, slamming the door behind him. As he strolled down the driveway, a tall, smartly dressed man was just entering the front gate.
'Is your father here?' the man asked.
'No, he's out. He shouldn't be long,' Jack replied.
The man sighed. 'Ok, I'll catch up with him soon,' he mumbled, turning around and heading back into the street.
Jack didn't wait around. He knew that many a time strange people - or who he thought were strange people - would come to the house. When they did, his father would give him some money and tell him to go out. This wasn't new to him; his father did it to his stepmother at times, too.
Jack put the man out of his mind and continued on his way to school, stopping only to visit Mr Misri's Newsagents. A lot of the kids made fun of him, but he liked Mr Misri. Since the age of thirteen, he'd had a paper round at the shop five times a week, though today was his day off. Jack was nearly always late for school on his paper round days because he and Mr Misri would talk for ages, about anything and everything. Jack considered him a close friend and although he could hazard a guess, he could never really understand why the other kids ridiculed him.
He pushed open the door to the familiar ding of the bell and instinctively grabbed a chocolate bar from the counter and a litre of milk from a crate on the floor, as he had done countless times before.
'Hi, Omar. How's it going?' Jack asked, counting out his money.
The man smiled. 'Fine young Jack. And you?'
Jack shrugged, and the smile fell from Mr Misri's face.
'Want to talk about it?'
Jack handed over the coins, debating whether or not to tell his friend about Allie, but he decided against it. 'Not today,' he said.
'Okay, if you are sure. But I am always here for you.'
Jack smiled. 'I know. Listen I have to go. I'll see you tomorrow.'
'Bright and early?'
'Aren't I always?' he laughed.
Despite having had a hearty breakfast, he downed the litre of milk in one and polished off the chocolate bar in three bites.
The fresh winter air was cool on his skin and made him shiver. It was only a short walk to school, though looking at his watch he realised that he would have to run, to save being late.
Slightly out of breath, he arrived at Kings High School, one of only two in his town. He had learned once from his history teacher that there was a large bomb shelter underneath the school, which was used during the last war. He thought it was fascinating and even asked where it was, though no one would tell him; they said they didn't want anyone getting hurt down there. At one point, the school had thought about opening it as a museum to raise money, but the idea was scrapped before it reached the drawing board. He'd spent many a break time searching for the bunker to no avail. Why it intrigued him so much he didn't know, he just wanted to know what secrets it held.
He swung open the double doors of the school, and passing the main reception, he waved at the two women behind the desk as he entered the main hall.
It was a hive of activity with teachers and students running around laughing, shouting, and pointing.
'Whoa! What's up?' Jack said, as his closest friend and classmate ran into him.
'I'm knackered,' Phil gasped, out of breath. 'One of the teachers said she saw a rat, so everyone's out to catch it. Bates says he's gonna kill it for interrupting assembly.'
Jack glanced at the headmaster who was standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips. He didn't look too pleased. 'Which teacher?' he asked.
'Mrs Hatchet. I wish it'd bitten the old cow.'
Jack laughed. 'She'd have deserved it too.'
A cry went up from a corner of the hall.
'I got it, I got it! Blimey, it's wriggly, isn't it?' came the unmistakable voice of Mr Schism, the PE teacher. Or Psycho Schism, as he was unaffectionately called by the pupils, and even a few of the teachers if you believed the rumours. He stood up, untangling himself from a pile of chairs he had knocked over while diving for the rat, and flattened what little hair he had left on his head. The rat, which was being held by its tail, wriggled furiously, trying to bite Mr Schism's fingers in an attempt to escape.
'Thank you Mr Schism,' said a shaky Mrs Hatchet, who was stood on a plastic school chair with her skirt hoisted up over her knees, revealing very hairy legs.
'No problem. All in a day's work, love,' he said smugly. He was a giant of a man, and an exceedingly strict teacher who was apt to take a swipe at you, even though the law said he couldn't. Not even Bates would argue with him. Passing Jack, he whispered something, and Jack raised an eyebrow.
'What did he say?' Phil asked.
'Having a nice day?' Jack said, mimicking his voice.
'That man's weird.'
Jack watched as Mr Schism marched up to a group of sixth formers who had gathered near the exit of the hall and swung the rat in their faces. Some of them laughed, but the majority ran off, a few screaming.
The teacher strolled off, laughing like a high-pitched hyena. How someone that big could laugh like a girl, Jack didn't know.
Assembly had been cancelled due to the rat incident, so Jack headed outside into the wind in an attempt to find Allie before class started. After five minutes of searching he found her behind the five-a-side pitch, leaning against the wall of the court and smoking a cigarette with her friends. As soon as Allie saw him, she grabbed Jack's arm and led him out of earshot of the others.
'I've got something to tell you,' she said, her voice deadly serious.
'What?' he said. Even though Derbyshire was miles away, they had sworn they would still stay together, somehow. Perhaps she had changed her mind? His stomach flipped.
'We're not moving.' Allie smiled.
Jack whooped for joy, picked her up in his strong arms, and swung her around before finally lowering her to her feet. He tossed his backpack on the grass then sat down, beckoning her to join him. For ten minutes he didn't say a word.
'Jack, are you alright?' she said, unable to stay silent any longer. 'I thought you'd be happy.'
'I am! I'm so glad you're not leaving.' He paused. 'I would've followed you, you know.'
'You'd have done that for me?'
'Yes, of course. I love you. I'd do anything for you.' He flushed a bright red. 'So what happened?'
'Dad's new job fell through,' Allie said.
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
'What was that for?'
'Because I love you too, you plank.'
Jack smiled, thinking how lucky he was, and when the school bell rang, Allie jumped to her feet.
'Can't we just stay here for a bit?' he said, gazing up at her.
'Don't be daft. Come on, we're gonna be late. It's maths with Mrs Hatchet,' Allie said, heaving him up from the grass.
They both ran across the courtyard, heading towards the side entrance, when Mr Schism stopped them.
'Allie, get to class. Jack, I need a word with you. Come with me,' he said, without so much as a please or a thank you.
Allie shrugged her shoulders and carried on her way while Jack was escorted to Mr Schism's office in the P.E. block.
Time passed slowly as Jack was there quite some time, with the teacher asking him all sorts of questions about his family and home life.
'So what do you do after school? Go to your friends; have a play in the park maybe?'
'Yeah, something like that. Why do you want to know all this, Sir?' Jack asked.
'We've never really got on, have we Jack? I thought it about time that I got to know you better. Besides, I think you'll be ideal for a position representing the school's Rugby team to the Local Education Authority. It's an ideal opportunity to gain increased funding.'
'Hmm, I'll think about it, Sir,' he said, not quite believing what he had heard. It was unusual for Schism to pick him for anything, despite him being Rugby Captain.
'Good; you do that. I look forward to hearing your decision. And if you have any more questions, just ask.'
Jack nodded. 'Is that it, Sir? Only I really have to get to class.'
'Yes, that's it. Oh, wait.' Schism scribbled a note on a small pad on his desk, tore off the page and handed it to him. 'To excuse your lateness,' he said.
The rest of the day passed like a dream. Allie had left school early, pleased with her free period. Jack was on a high as he made his way home, the weight of the world now lifted off his shoulders. Phil tagged along as usual. He was shorter than Jack, and was broader around the waist than the shoulders. He had a shock of red hair, giving him the nickname Ginge. He had hated it at first, but soon became used to it.
The two boys walked down Old Mill Road, a winding downhill affair, towards the centre of town. The shopping centre itself was old, much like York in many ways with its cobbled streets and wooden framed houses, now converted into sympathetically fronted shops.
On the way home they stopped off at Phil's house. He lived in the middle of a row of small terraced houses, many of which had been trashed and subsequently boarded up by the council. Blackened upper windows revealed fires had been started by arsonists in a few of them.
'Hi Mam,' Phil said to his mother as he walked into the small, dimly lit kitchen. He immediately went to her and gave her a hug around the middle and a kiss on the cheek as she stood at a sink full of dishes. Mrs Bryant was a large woman in her mid forties, with slightly greying hair cut into a neat bob.
'Hello love. How was school? Oh, hello Jack,' she said, noticing him in the kitchen doorway.
'Hello Mrs Bryant.'
'School's school,' Phil said.
'What's that supposed to mean?'
'Oh, you know, the same boring lessons with the same boring teachers,' Phil said with a smile on his face.
'You little beggar. You should be glad you're getting an education. Your Granddad didn't. He had to work very hard at your age,' she said.
Phil rolled his eyes and Jack suppressed a laugh.
'Go and get changed. Tea will be ready at seven. I suppose you'll be going out?'
'Yep. We're going to Jack's.'
'Well don't be late mind, or I'll give your tea to the dog. And I want to see you make an attempt at cleaning your room.' Mrs Bryant feigned a swipe at his head. 'Boring indeed,' she mumbled as the boys left the kitchen.
Mrs Bryant had a point because Phil's bedroom wasn't exactly the neatest in town. He was a hoarder, just like his father, and never threw anything away. You couldn't blame him though, considering his father was a scrap dealer.
While Phil changed out of his uniform, Jack flicked on the PlayStation.
'What have you done with the controller?' he said, searching under the piles of junk on his bed, not daring to look underneath it.
'Should be there. I was playing it this morning,' Phil said, as he struggled to find an empty spot on the floor to get into his jeans.
'Oh, great. That's a big help, that is,' Jack said sarcastically. Then he laughed as Phil tripped over an old car tyre and fell headfirst into a takeaway container of mouldy chicken that had been sitting on the carpet for weeks.
'Ugh,' Phil said, picking himself up. 'That stinks!'
'Serves you right. You should clean up more often.' Jack snickered, wondering what the hell Phil was doing with a car tyre in his room.
'Come on, forget the game. Let's get to your place. I want a dip in your pool.'
Jack glared at him. 'What! In this weather? Are you mad? It's winter outside, or hadn't you noticed?'
'Me Dad says it's good for ya. It puts hair on your chest. Or is that whisky?'
'Well he's as mad as you, then.'
Phil finished changing, stuffed his swimming shorts into his pocket, and both boys headed downstairs, pushing and shoving each other and making such a row that Phil's mother came out of the living room.
'Shut that racket! I'm trying to watch telly before your Dad gets in.'
'Sorry.' They both giggled as they rushed past her and opened the door.
'And don't slam the -'
On the way to Jack's house they bumped into Allie, just coming out of Mark's Chippy, the local greasy pit that served everything from fish and chips to burgers, and pizza to kebabs.
'All right Jack? Hiya Ginge,' she said, before leaning over to kiss Jack on the cheek. 'I was just coming to your house Phil, in case Jack was there. I thought we could go to the cinema or something.'
'I'll have to ask Natalie. You know what she's like; needs to know where I'm going and who with. You'd think I was a kid or something.'
'Well I can't go,' Phil said. 'I've got to be in for my tea at seven.'
'It looks like just the two of us then, if your Mum says yes.' Allie smiled. 'I want to spend time alone with you for a change,' she whispered as an afterthought.
Jack liked spending time alone with Allie. He enjoyed their long talks about life and the future, and hearing all the gossip from school. He felt lucky to have her as a girlfriend and knew there were plenty of other lads who would gladly step into his shoes, given the chance. It wasn't surprising though. With long brown hair, green eyes, and cute little dimples that appeared on her cheeks every time she smiled, she was gorgeous.
'Phil wants a dip first, but I'll ask anyway. Maybe I can get a sub from Dad,' Jack said, pinching one of her chips.
'Phil?' Allie said, offering him the bag.
He reached in and grabbed a handful, then shovelled them into his mouth.
'You're a right porker aren't you?' Allie remarked, raising her eyebrows in shock.
'Best way to be. Got to keep my figure, ya know,' he said, slapping the flab of his belly.
They all laughed and carried on their way, past the old park which was a favourite haunt when they were younger. It was looking run down these days; the fountain no longer worked and sections of the fencing surrounding it had long been torn down. The council had recently received funding to rejuvenate the area, and Allie had complained that the money would have been better spent renovating some of the housing in the area instead.
'I wonder if there's still a swing on that big oak tree?' Phil pondered. His favourite pastime had been to try and swing the highest in the country and try to gain himself a place in the Guinness Book of Records. He never did, though.
'I don't know. Perhaps we should have a look tomorrow,' Jack said. 'We haven't been to the park together for years.'
'It would be good to do that again sometime. Maybe have a swim too,' Allie added. She often thought back to the times they spent lazing in the sunshine, watching the world go by, and swimming in the lake on hot summer days.
'You're joking right? That lake's a death trap.'
'You know, I could restart my quest for gold,' Phil chimed in.
'Ginge. Five years ago you stopped that silly Guinness Records thing because you fell off the tarzy and nearly broke your neck,' Allie reminded him.
'So? I'm older and stronger now. I mean, I can hold on better.'
Allie shrugged. 'Well it's your funeral. Don't say I didn't warn you.'
'Well all I can say is, if that's what you want, you go for it mate,' Jack said, smiling at his friend.
Phil smiled back at him, satisfied it was his destiny.
Twenty minutes later they reached Jack's neighbourhood, commonly referred to as the posh town. This area was in sharp contrast to where Phil and Allie lived. There were no burnt out cars or decaying houses, and no fear of people mugging you for your trainers.
Every town had its bad parts, usually brought on by a minority, and sadly everyone else had to suffer because of them. Allie debated heavily with Jack on the subject and planned to do something about it when she was older, perhaps even go into politics, she had once said.
As they passed the large community hall, three police cars with sirens sounding and lights blazing whizzed past them.
'Whoa! They were going pretty fast,' Jack said.
Allie lit a cigarette to Jack's disgust. 'Probably out to catch a burglar or something.'
Phil, who was walking ahead of them, turned back to face them. 'Bet you any money its Todd and Shaun Price from Granville road.'
Jack had never heard of them. 'Who?'
'Oh, you wouldn't know them. They're from our area. Go to St. Helen's School over the border,' Allie told him. 'A couple of guys you don't want to know. They're into everything dodgy.'
'If it's anything big we'll hear about it on the telly anyway,' said Phil. 'I mean, you have to be posh to live here.'
'I'm not posh,' Jack objected. 'I only live here because of my Dad's job.'
Phil made a face. 'Have you found out what he does yet?'
'No, he says its secret and he can't tell me.'
'I think your Dad's a spy,' Allie said mysteriously.
'Don't be daft. My dad a spy? Hah! He's scared of his own shadow! Once he was working in the garden clearing away some old bushes. He screamed and ran into the house, shouting: "There's a big snake in the garden!". Anyway, he called the Environmental Health people and they found it. Turns out it was a hose pipe.'
All three burst into fits of laughter that lasted until they reached the start of Bridewell Grove, where Jack lived. And there an awesome sight met them - the biggest police presence they had ever seen.
'Something's going on! Looks like it's next to your house,' Phil said.
They hurried up the grove, intrigued by the commotion, when a policeman stopped them in their tracks. 'Sorry kids, we have an incident here. I can't let you through.'
'Why? What's happened?' Jack asked, 'I live here.'
'Do you? What number?'
'What's your name, son?'
'Just you stay there. Don't move, I'll be right back.' The officer turned and strode further up into the grove.
The teenagers could see him talking to a man in a dark suit. Both men conferred for a moment, and the officer pointed at them. The man in the suit nodded and started to walk towards them.
'Jack. Have you done something wrong?' Allie whispered.
'Course not,' he said, squeezing her hand a little tighter.
The man in the suit arrived, accompanied by a female police officer. 'Which one of you is Jack Simpson?'
Before he could stop himself, Phil spoke. 'Who wants to know?'
'Detective Chief Inspector Evans,' was the stern reply.
'Sorry about him. I'm Jack Simpson,' Jack said, facing the Officer, slightly worried he was about to get arrested for doing nothing wrong at all.
'We've been looking for you; we thought you may be missing as well,' the Inspector said in obvious relief.
'Missing? What do you mean?'
'You'd better come with me,' Inspector Evans said. He turned to the woman. 'See these two get home safely. I'm not taking any chances.'
'Yes, Sir,' she said, before turning to Phil and Allie. 'Come on, I'll give you a ride home.'
'But what about Jack?' Allie asked worriedly.
'He'll be all right. He's in safe hands,' she said.
With that, she led the two to a waiting police car, which turned full circle and sped off a minute later.
End of Sample. Please note: This is a published piece.