Churchwell Avenue

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two boys experience fear and anxiety on a newspaper round in an area where there have been some murders. Is their imagination working overtime, or have they really seen something truly staggering?

Submitted: December 29, 2007

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Submitted: December 29, 2007

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A A A


 

Churchwell Avenue
By
Shahrukh Husain
 
 
‘That newsagent should pay me danger-money,’ grumbled Anthony, pushing out his bike.
‘Is that what you were telling him?’ Rez was impressed.
‘At least until they catch the killer,’ he evaded the question. ‘Those murders were on my round, you know. If I saw something horrible and dropped the papers, he’d probably dock my pay.’
Rez nodded, grim. ‘That’s why I’m here on a Sunday morning, isn’t it?’
Anthony pushed the bike uphill. ‘It’s slave labour,’ he puffed. ‘I mean, two pounds a day for this lot. And you have to wake up at six every morning of the year, well, nearly.’
Sundays were the worst. The colour supplements made the bag dead heavy. Luckily the bicycle carried most of the load. Ant just had to push it along.
‘Do you ride it when you’re on your own?’
‘Neah. Too much of a problem jumpin’ on and off at every house. Easier to push. You can lean on it, get the weight off your back.’ He broke off, pointing. ‘There’s the short-cut.’
‘I thought your Mum said stick to the main roads, man.’
Ant shrugged. ‘It’s downhill. There’s peoples’ back gardens on one side, the rail track the other. What can happen?’
They watched for a space in the traffic, shoved the bike across the main road and ran into the foot wide lane that separated the railway property from the gardens. The weight of the papers pushed the bike now – it glided down, sweetly. But then, just at the same time, the boys pulled back. A man in a red and green sweatshirt was filling the middle of the path, like a large bush. That would have been okay, they could have said ‘excuse me’ - it was an ‘Open Sesame,’ that phrase.  Worked like a dream. But this man was sweating and shivering and his eyes were so wide and gaping they were almost splitting round the edges.
‘Druggie,’ hissed Rez.‘Let’s get out of here, man.’  He started backing. ‘DON’T run. Just calm, like.’
They pulled the bike and rejoined the pedestrians on the pavement.
‘He could just be ill.’
‘I don’t think so. He’s a druggie.’
‘Having a fix.’
‘Probably.’
They rounded the corner on the way to the Maplehurst Estate. Across the road was the Church that gave its name to Churchwell Avenue. Recently the local papers had been saying a lot about it because they had found it was one of the oldest sacred sites of England. An ancient well dedicated to a medieval madonna,  it seemed, that healed people.
‘Is that where that nun… you know?’
Ant nodded. ‘He’s a perv. I mean she was a nun. He would’ve known, like, from her black and white gear.’
Ant didn’t believe in God and all that, well he never really thought about it, anyhow. But SHE did – the woman who’d been raped and killed. And you just don’t kill that kind of person.
 ‘A nun, you know, man. She helped people. And they give up…you know… boyfriends.’
Rez nodded. ‘What kind of sicko scumbag does that sort of thing?’
They went into Maplehurst. There were so many walkways and stairways it was hard to see where the people holed up. A lot of rabbits who took the Sunday papers.
Ant suggested splitting up to get the deliveries done quick.  Rez looked around him. He hadn’t been to the estate before. It was grim. His dad had told him there were a hundred and seventy sex-offenders living in this area. Those were just the ones the police knew about. He shivered. Maybe the man in the alley had seen something horrible. He felt something swill sickeningly in his stomach. How could Ant do this every day? Rez wasn’t splitting up. No way.
‘I thought the point was to be together in case of trouble.
Ant nodded. He was scared too.
It took a bit of time lugging the papers up and he had to lock the bike every time he left it. Newspaper boys were always getting them stolen.One of his friends had just whipped up the stairs quickly, chucked a paper on the mat, taken his Christmas tip and when he got back, the bike was gone. A racing bike - and it wasn’t second hand either. That was Christmas spirit for you. Well, Christmas was coming again. And Ant’s bike wasn’t going to be anyone else’s Christmas present.
Finally the round was finished. They pulled out of the estate feeling a lot lighter. And that was not just because there was less paper. Their shoulders felt lighter but their hearts, too. They crossed at the top of the road, started down the other side, resisting the impulse to chuck the papers in from the gate.
Instead, they split up this time. Ant had arranged the papers in piles, so he could hand one bunch to Rez and they could alternate – two houses at a time. They called to each other as they went. Walk up one path, drop in the paper, climb over their rail to the next one, walk out, down the path, miss two and so on. He’d been clever. Specially since Sunday sorting was such a bore. You got in early. Then you hung around talking to the other boys because as often as not the papers were late coming. It wasn’t even as if you felt much like a gossip at that time in the morning. And most of the kids went to the same school anyhow so, what was there to tell so early? When the papers arrived, you sorted through the piles, scribbled on addresses. And you only had to get ONE wrong for someone to call in with a complaint. Ant hated that part most. You walk in after a heavy morning’s work to be yelled at by Bill for not doing a proper job. Depending on how nasty the customer had been, you could even get some money lopped off. He hated the powerlessness of the situation.
They had reached the Church. Ant joined Rez.
‘It’s hard to find the entrance to the Vicar’s house. I kept going round and round the first time. In the end the Vicar showed me from the window. She’s a nice lady.’
‘A lady?’
‘Yeah, it’s a real female set-up in this Church. Woman vicar, nuns and they’ve just proved the saint of the well was female.  They’re having some kind of blessing thing for her today.’ His face clouded. ‘You would have thought she’d look after her own.’
Rez could see the nun’s murder had really got to Ant. 
 Ant continued. ‘She was a holy woman. She ran events for kids and stuff. Helped them, like.’
The vicarage door was tucked away, round the corner fronting onto what would be the back garden to most houses. The architect having a joke all those years ago, maybe.More likely, the area had changed in the past hundred or so years with the main road being changed.
The boys dropped the papers through the opening and moved along the lawn past the church.
‘What’s the time?’ asked Rez.
Ant stepped back, peering up above the large glass window, at the clock. Rez’s gaze followed. Then they both froze. A dark shadow fell across the window. A form tilted forward and leant its top on the window-frame. Ant had never realised before that the cross could look so much like a woman. Big, though, really huge. He looked at Rez; about to say it was a trick of the light, then changed his mind.  He didn’t want to offend her ghost – or spirit or whatever – if it was really around. Not after what she’d been through.  Better to keep quiet. You couldn’t pinpoint this kind of thing. The certainty was inside your head, you couldn’t explain it. He’d never mention it, well, maybe to Mum.
They took a few steps, walking backward, their necks still cocked, their eyes glued to the window. Then they turned and ran. Thank God, the bike was light now.
There was a crowd up ahead. Police vans, cars, an ambulance. They joined the gawping crowd as the ambulance took off. A body had been found by the railway track. Same sort of thing that happened to the nun. Inadvertently, Ant crossed himself. Rez looked at him, furtively did the same.'That guy in the alley.’
Ant nodded. ‘He must have seen it happening.
  ’Something drew his gaze and he looked up to see the red and green sweatshirt. The man in the alley looked normal now. Obviously, he’d alerted the police.
‘Hey man, stop staring,’ Rez said.
‘I’m not.’ But Ant’s eyes were glued to the man. The way he was looking back, Ant knew – and so did Rez -  that he was not a druggie, or a terrified observer who had alerted the police after getting over the shock and jitters. He was The One. He’d done it. And he knew they knew.
The man jostled the crowd, moving towards them. The boys broke into a run, shoving the bike to the crest of the hump bridge, hurtling down after it at a great speed. They looked back at the corner. He wasn’t chasing them. Ant retraced a few steps, craned his neck. No one. Maybe they had over –reacted. They'd been creeped out all morning.
‘You’re coming with me tomorrow, yeah? He handed Rez some money.
‘Sure man, I’m not letting you go alone. That’s a war zone not a newspaper round. You should give it up.’ 
Ant chewed his cheeks. ‘I’m not far off that play-station.’
‘Yeah, but is it worth dying for?’
They went a different route on Monday morning so they wouldn’t have to pass the alley in case the killer was lying in wait.  Whoever he was.  Rez slipped a hammer down the side of the reinforced polythene paper sack when Ant wasn’t looking. He had an alarm in his pocket.  Ant had an alarm too. He had spent five pounds on it. He had also nicked his sister’s hair spray. He’d used it once, mis-aimed and nearly blinded himself. He knew it was lethal. Neither told the other he was armed.
‘I wish it wasn’t so dark,’ Rez blurted out as they started off.
  Ant flashed a small but powerful torch. ‘I know. That’s why I brought this.’
The round went quickly because they’d done it before. They had some worries about bumping into red-and-green sweatshirt in Maplehurst – the walkways, the stairs – it was spooky up there. But once they got out of there, they felt fine. Light, like the day before.
 They flew through the row of houses in Churchwell Avenue with wings on their feet. But they slowed down automatically as they approached the gates to the vicarage. Heads down, they walked with slow, determined footsteps to the hidden door and pushed the newspaper through. Nearly 7.45 and it was still dark.
‘Quiet isn’t it?’
Ant nodded. ‘They had a blessing ceremony for the saint. The first in centuries. Now they’ve all gone off on some religious trip.’
‘What, you mean she’s not even here?’
‘No. They’ve all gone. It was in the paper.’
‘So why did you drop her paper?’
‘She never cancelled.’
Rez nodded, but he didn’t get it. It was a wind-up, Ant dragging him here, so terrified, if the vicar wasn’t even here. He could have dumped her paper in the next day. Ant sensed Rez’s irritation.
‘I have to be responsible. She’s a vicar. Who do you respect if not someone like her?’
‘I don’t get it. You’re not supposed to believe in God. You’re always on about science…’
‘So? What’s that got to do with a newspaper round? I mean a job’s a j…bloody hell!’
Rez had a knife at his throat. The alarm in his pocket was useless.Read and green sweatshirt fixed his glare on Anthony. It was sheer menace.
‘What do you want? We’re just kids.’
‘Shut up!’ the Killer’s voice hissed, like a distorted machine, surreal.
‘We’re not going to tell the police. Just let us go. We don’t know anything.’
The man beckoned Ant to join Rez. Ant hesitated. Why should he listen? The man was an insane killer. He was going to kill Rez anyway. Should Ant go willingly to the slaughter knowing this - it always irritated him when they did it in the movies – or should he make a break for it and run? His hand shot into his pocket to set off the alarm. The bloody thing didn’t work. Shit! He could see the batteries still in their pack on his pillow.
A few minute beads of blood oozed out where the knife grazed Rez’s skin. The boy was paralysed with fear.
‘You next. As soon as I’ve killed him,’ growled the man. Suddenly he flicked the knife, gashed Rez’s cheek. Ant wished he’d carried on with his karate. He would start again, tomorrow. If he got out of this.
‘Get here,’ the man ordered.
‘Please,’ mouthed Rez. ‘Do it..’
Ant would have to. Slowly, mindlessly, he moved forward. The only thought in his head: ‘Now I know why they do it in the movies.’
Rez’s words were coming true. They were going to die for a play-station. Well, at least it was in a church. That should count for something. Shit! What if Hell was real?
The man grabbed him. He was strong. Ant noticed for the first time how isolated the place was – even in London on a weekday morning.
The man pushed him towards the bottom of the garden to the iron fencing of the railway lane. Suddenly everything went black.
‘Damn! I’m passing out!’ thought Ant, half-panicky, half-relieved. He felt Rez tensing beside him. So, it wasn’t just him.
There was a clap of thunder. Ant gagged as the man’s arm tightened round his neck, pressing the knife into Rez. Then, with a power like an explosion, all three were thrown free. Rez and Ant landed on the soft grass, winded. A howl ripped the air. The boys raised their heads and saw the killer impaled on the metal spikes of the rail.
Black and white billowed in the window below the clock in the attic, settling , like a cross. The boys looked at each other. It wasn’t dark anymore. Rez reached in his pocket for his alarm – he no longer cared if Ant knew – and pressed hard. A shrieking noise filled the air.
The police came first, with their vans. One of them threw up at the sight of the killer on the rails. The others came out with choice swear words.
‘How the f… did you do that?’ they asked the boys who were lying, still breathless, on the grass, at least fifty yards away.
The boys shrugged, their eyes drawn spontaneously to the window. Ant scratched his head and improvised.
‘Don’t know, he was kind of, like, holding on to us then…’
‘There was this thunder-clap…’
‘The thing is,’ Ant interrupted. ‘We don’t really know what happened.’
‘Shock,’ the officer said to another copper. ‘Just have to give them time. At least the bastard’s out of circulation.’
The nearest copper adjusted his cap, rubbed his chin. 
‘Getting impaled like that after what he did to those women. Well, it’s got be divine justice, don’ it?’
 
 
The End


© Copyright 2017 shah. All rights reserved.

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