This is the piece I mentioned the other day, as published. Interested if anyone has thoughts about the end.
Simon hadn’t told his mum the whole story earlier in the week when he asked if he could stay on Friday. Mum didn’t usually like him staying out late in winter. She said it was too dark to be lingering on the way home and eleven year olds shouldn’t be out wandering the streets at night. Just this once however, as it was a cultural event, she had agreed to let him go to the school film club.
He hadn’t lied. He had gone to the film club, but he had been a bit vague about the film that was showing. Art house production or not, she didn’t approve of horror films and would have said ‘no’ had she known. Simon wasn’t that keen on them himself if he were being honest and he had only asked because Steve had said it would be really cool to go when they wouldn’t be allowed to see it in a cinema for years yet.
The film had been worth the small subterfuge, it was much better even than Steve’s hyped billing in fact. A little too good for their tastes as it turned out, and so nerve jangling that Steve and Simon had felt the need to look away from the screen for long stretches. Both boys had been glad when the end credits rolled.
The night was very dark after the lighted precincts of the school. That had been part of the appeal in the planning of course, but in the reality of the film’s aftermath the thrill palled.
Both boys lived on the edge of town, only a few hundred yards apart, but their routes home from school lay along different roads. Simon lived up behind the church at Walley Heys and Steve’s house was at the back of the Old Hall up on Hambleys Rise. Each had two miles to walk alone in the dark, a boring commonplace trudge on normal school nights. Now, with the memory of what they had just seen lurking in every shadow, those miles were a marathon of fear.
There was an alternative. Sometimes after school they would walk together to one of their houses and the remaining boy would then walk the short distance home alone. They took turn about being the one to walk past the Old Hall and the squalor of Bailey’s farm, but tonight, being a one off sprint of terror, they tossed a coin.
Together they walked to Steve’s house, talking over loudly and being as macho as eleven year olds could. Anything to occupy their minds and stop the furtive glances at the shadows gathering as town turned to country. Their laughter became a little more brittle as they left the main road and turned off past the brick pond with its inky depths and soughing, leaf shrouded banks. They reached the driveway of Steve’s family home. Simon started one last conversation to delay the inevitable. The few hundred yards between the houses had seemed trivial outside school. Here the night seemed to swallow the road ahead in its hungry maw.
Steve trotted down the drive and Simon dragged his feet to the end of Steve’s road. Here his way led left, down the lane past the Old Hall, long deserted, and Bailey’s farm. No cars could get past the farm, the gate there remaining locked at all times. Pedestrians had a right of way through to the canal bridge and what had been the village beyond. If the brick pond and its surroundings had been gloomy, the grounds of the Old Hall and the fields around Bailey’s Farm were stygian.
The gaslights on the lane were a relic of the highpoint of the town’s nineteenth century expansion. They were supposed to have been replaced by electric lights the year before, during the summer of 1966, but council money was tight and they had received yet another year’s reprieve. Each lamp cast the feeblest of yellow glows, and Simon ran from one illuminated circle to the next, loitering in each as long as he could before darting to the next oasis of light. As he ran, shadows and flickering reflections wakened memories and ghosts of long gone splendours in the windows of the neglected Hall. Above him, the arching boughs of trees lining the lane scraped and screeched against each other where they met overhead. At last he was past the Hall and to his left front, across the canal, the lights of his own lane twinkled and beckoned. All he had to do was pass the farm, slide through the gap at the side of the gate, cross the canal bridge, and he was back on tarmac with electric street lights and the houses of living people. The things from the film that hung close on his heels and in the hedges and fields, and in each patch of darkness between the lamps could not follow there. He would be home.
Simon made a vow.
He would tell his Mum and Dad he didn’t want to go to film club again. He would do his homework before Sunday night, and he would help with the washing up and the gardening and wash the car, he promised in his head. Just as long as he got across the bridge in one piece. Fingers ran down his spine. Sweat from running between lampposts he told himself, but the hairs on his neck belied his thoughts.
He rounded the last bend before the farm. At the farm entrance he could see the gate and the pedestrian access at its side leading to the canal bridge and safety. Another gas lamp grew out of the grass verge, out of the shadows by the gap he had to walk through, out of time. From the iron cross piece, barring the way, grimly marking the transition between two worlds swung something grey and shapeless, bumping, slowly spinning at the end of a rope , a shapeshifting gatekeeper to his world beyond.