The Miracle of Maldon (Part One of Three)
Draft for a 3-part story.
The Miracle of Maldon (Part One of Three)
The moon hung low in a blue sky, an intruder on a twilight horizon. The day was nearing its diurnal shift into night. A chill breeze swept across a panorama of trees. Leaves danced in the air, woods alive with birdsong and the scratching sounds of animals. Roe deer drifted gracefully amongst a copse whilst red foxes prowled for prey. Badgers had started to appear with their young in anticipation of nocturnal roaming.
A teenage boy, small in stature for his age, wearing a muddied t-shirt and black trousers skipped through the flora on his way home. He had cut through this way on many occasions. Nitrous oxide from small, silver canisters still lingered in his body. It was the ever-present fuel these days for after-school shenanigans with his friends on waste ground next to his school. Maybe it was this that was making him feel anxious.
Bobby Weaver ploughed on, piles of leaves forming a path from being kicked as he ran by. His eyes darted left and right, a feeling of seeping claustrophobia sweeping over him. He couldn’t shake a sense of being watched, being followed. Light was fading and shadows had started to form, cast long by trees that were greeting the arrival of dusk in their stoic way. The teenage boy looked up at the sky, trying to gauge whether he would be home before dark. He took his mobile phone from his pocket and checked the time on the screen. As he stared down, he tripped on a stray branch that was loitering on the ground. He jerked forward on contact and lost balance. His Samsung phone was catapulted into nearby undergrowth as he fell in a heap.
Bobby’s first thoughts were to recover his mobile. For a few seconds, he took time to compose himself. He could feel a dull ache in one of his legs but, otherwise, no serious damage done. As he rose to stand, he felt a clammy hand being placed on his shoulder from behind.
Sunlight struggled through recalcitrant cloud cover as time stood still over Millwood School. At least, that’s how it felt to Freddy Gray. He could hear that clocks were striking thirteen. According to a reluctant reader nominated by Mr King. The apathetic teenager peered over his shoulder and out of the classroom window at the fields that backed on to the school. Woods were only a few hundred yards away. Schoolchildren were told to stay away after sunset. All manner of strange things and stranger people were said to roam about the trees after dark. Separating the wild from the urban was a set of grey, concrete courts used for various sports activities and as a playground. A tarmac road snaked around the outskirts of the school.
“Are you joining us today, Freddy?” barked the bearded English teacher.
Freddy jolted and turned to face the front. He looked down at his thumbed copy of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and followed the opening lines with his eyes. Pondering why clocks would strike thirteen, he blended into the rest of the class, losing himself in the story. He felt a nudge against his arm and noted a conspiratorial grin from the boy next to him. Freddy and Danny were the best of friends. Both fourteen years of age, they tended to like the same things. Freddy always thought that his sidekick was more cynical than he was; inclined to doubt things and assume the worst. That’s what everyone else thought including Danny’s own mother. She was always berating her own son for not showing enough belief and lacking in confidence.
The text of the story being read aloud by a now different student had moved on to “Hate Week”. The protagonist in the book - Winston Smith - was staring at a poster of an enormous face and there was something about “Big Brother” watching. Danny thought about being stared at by his teachers – always watching, often judging. He also reflected on the mousey, Essex-tinted voice of the girl reciting to the class. Nevertheless, he wasn’t keen on reading aloud himself. It was that feeling of self-consciousness that came with being put on the spot, not helped by listening to others stumble their way through written passages.
The general mood amongst the student population was one of being unsettled these days. There had been disappearances of several children recently. As yet, none had been accounted for. The local police had a number of people under suspicion but with little to go on, had yet to take anyone in for questioning.
The sequence of readers was ended with a question from Mr King: “So does anyone have thoughts they want to share about the dystopian world created by Orwell? Can anyone tell me what dystopian means?”
The English teacher took in the sight of a sea of black, school uniforms, all with a crest stitched onto top pockets. Brows furrowed with students either considering an answer or trying to look blank to avoid being picked on for an answer. It was the worst kind of question – tricky and a second teaser sneaked in. Danny raised his hand in a crooked motion, the rest of his body falling away as though he didn’t really want to say anything.
“OK Danny, let’s have it.” The English teacher half-smiled, not sure what to expect in terms of a contribution.
“I think the stuff about thirteen clocks means that there’s something strange going on. Like all of those kids going missing and the rumours about weirdos in the woods at night.” The thoughts offered were coherent even if they strayed into controversial territory about the children that were being searched for. This made things awkward for those present. Students shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.
Mr King was an experienced teacher. With twinkling eyes, fuzzy hair and a beard, he was a borderline Grizzly Adams in appearance. It looked as though he was about to hold a large salmon up to a camera. Students liked Mr King. He was laidback and quick witted. Lessons generally eased along mostly due to his ongoing humour and likeability.
“Thank you for your insight, Danny. It’s best if we all….erm.…stay focused and not speculate on recent events until we know more. I know that’s difficult….but keep smiling.” The reply was filled with reassurance even if the subject matter was never far from everyone’s thoughts. The statement was designed to close off any debate before it started.
“And a reminder that tomorrow is mufti day. The school is raising money for the charity – Shelter. Hopefully everyone’s efforts can raise lots of money to support the homeless.” Freddy looked up and stared at the circular clock, high on the wall behind Mr King. It was nearly 12.30pm and time for lunch break. The bell duly rang out with a piercing shrill. Books closed and a murmur turned into a crescendo of noise. The class were summarily dismissed; Freddy and Danny hustled their way to the door and out into the corridor.
Lunch time was a cavalcade of activity. Duty-wardens wearing what looked like life jackets from The Titanic would patrol the grounds, trying to nip bad behaviour in the bud, stopping fights and telling kids to pick their litter up. Having eaten at the canteen, both boys found themselves standing on the corner of school block D. From here they could look out to the concrete courts and beyond to the woods. They both leaned against the wall flicking between the screens on their mobile phones and watching other students mill about.
Freddy’s thoughts drifted to the children who may had been abducted. Watching other students going through their lunchtime routines made him wonder what might have happened to those absent under potentially spurious circumstances. He was striking for his age. Tall, he had ginger hair that cascaded to his shoulders. His face had freckles on its cheeks making his blue eyes more prominent still. His voice had a quiet lustre that came with an underlying authority.
“That was brave of you mentioning the missing kids…..or a tiny bit mad.” Freddy spurted out.
Danny wondered why his pal hadn’t mentioned this while they were eating lunch. The conversation had been about teachers, football and which girls he quite fancied at the moment. Maybe he was being sarcastic. If he was, it was difficult to tell which was a sign of adroit irony.
“Well it’s not as though much seems to be happening.” Danny’s brow creased. He was jealous of Freddy’s looks. He was smaller in stature and with his short-cropped, dark hair and glasses. He looked like a young Harry Potter from the earlier movies. This didn’t help when he was angling to get a date with a girl.
“Rumour is that they all went missing in the woods. Joel Henderson says that it’s the site of former witch trials or something. He said he’s researched it.” Freddy glanced across at a couple of year nine girls as they strode past, deep in conversation. He slouched, hands in pockets, trying to look cool.
“Yeah, didn’t he also say that mad Sarah, the local down-and-out, was involved somehow? Something about her being a real witch?” Danny screwed his eyes, staring at his friend to elicit a reply.
“Some say that little Bobby Weaver was last seen heading towards the woods. Supposedly, he was following old Sarah. God knows why?” Danny’s observation was met with disinterest.
“I dunno about all of that. All I do know is that something funny is going on. Maybe Putin has sent some of his special forces over to abduct kids. Eventually, there will some kind of ransom demand and Boris Johnson will be put under pressure.” Freddy thought about this further. He was following events in Ukraine like everyone else. He didn’t like the idea of war but surely the Russians wouldn’t make it as far as the UK.
“So….we still on for tonight? The special military operation?” Danny lowered his voice to make sure nobody else could hear. Ginger Tom from year ten was pulling at a girl’s arm, laughing whilst she was doing her best to pull away. One of the wardens was watching from a few feet away.
Both boys looked at each other and smiled. Furtively
Image free to use at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kuopio_forest.jpg