Misplaced Innocence - Part Two
The river viciously spat its white foam up onto the fallen tree that lay in front of the boys, the brittle bark on the underside already worn and flaked from the torrent’s endless barrage. Charlie grabbed the thickest branch he could find sticking from the makeshift bridge, shaking it to see how well the unsteady structure would hold.
‘Seems pretty good.’ Charlie stated with confidence, despite the trunk moving a little with each shake of his wrist. ‘Let’s go, it will be dark soon.’ It was William who paused, his stare first weighing up the fallen trunk and then moving to judge the current below.
‘Are you… are you sure?’ Charlie could hear the subtle hint of fear in his friend’s voice. Standing confidently on the tree, he turned his head to face William a sly smile spreading his lips before the chicken calls erupted from his throat. It was his turn to mock Will for a change.
‘Just get up here and lets go.’
‘Charlie?... Charlie are you there?’
Once more in his cave Charlie picked up the walkie from the mattress, discarding his game gear in the process.
‘What are you doing now?’
‘Just been playing Sonic…’
‘You want to come round? Mum says it’s ok now.’
‘Yeh… awesome, give me five and I will be over. Over.’
Before waiting for a response Charlie was crawling out the cave, the duvet catching on his head as he stood. He took the walkie and placed it in the side pocket of his rucksack. Gathered his copy of Golden Eye, a few comic books and piled them into the pack. Charlie almost fell down the stairs as he hurtled down, jumping down two at a time and nearly crashing into the banister twice.
‘Charlie is that you? What are you doing?’ His mother shouted from the spare bedroom where she had spent the afternoon ironing his father’s shirts for the upcoming week.
‘Just going out… won’t be long.’ He shouted, his stride not faltering.
‘Charlie? Where are you go…’ Sophie shouted as she herself rushed down the staircase, but too late he was already out the house making his way across the darkening garden as the evening took hold.
‘Charlie!’ The shout now came from the kitchen window as she desperately called out for her son. A minute later Charlie heard the fast paced footsteps behind him, squelching on the wet grass. Just before he reached the road, ready to cross to William’s house, a large hand grabbed his shoulder before a strong, powerful arm wrapped around him.
‘Hey Kiddo… Where you off to? Can you not hear your mum shouting after you?’ His father’s breath was slightly heavy from the short run from the house, as he recovered he bent down to Charlie’s eye level.
‘Yeh but… I am only going to Will’s… I won’t be long but it feels like ages since I last saw him and he said I can finally go round.’
‘I know Charlie…’ His father said, now standing once more. His hand pressed harder against Charlie’s shoulder as he angled him back toward their own house. ‘I get it must feel like a really long time, but… you can’t go over there… not now. Besides your dinner is almost ready. I know how much you love my spag bol.’
Charlie’s father walked with him back across their lawn as Charlie reluctantly obeyed, half way across the grass looking back to William’s house, for a moment he saw movement in the upstairs window. That shadow, the echo of movement was the closest he had come to seeing William the whole week.
The sun was already making its way behind the trees, casting an eerie twilight to the air as the two boys crouched down behind the rocks, part hidden by the stone and the browning foliage. They stared up to the grey stone tunnel that stuck out of the rock about four feet from the ground opposite, it’s grey walls greening as algae and moss spread over the aging cement like veins. A light trickle of water spouted from the dark emptiness that formed the mouth.
After a moment, all was still and so the boys made their way under the pipe, Charlie boosting William up onto the ledge before being dragged up himself. The tunnel lay dark, stretching out before them. From inside the two must have looked like featureless silhouettes against the dulling twilight behind.
‘There is not a chance I am going in there!’ Charlie leant his weight on the stone pipe, defiant to move.
’You are such a chicken shit! Just come in you loser.’ William was already making his way into the tunnel.
’Will… William!’ Charlie pleaded, shouting after his friend as he disappeared into the darkness.
’Just come on!’ William’s voice echoed, bouncing off the walls and reaching Charlie as a whisper.
‘For Fu…’ Charlie started to exclaim. Seeing the branch broken at his feet he bent down picking it up. The branch was bark less and heavy. Charlie swung it round a few times testing it’s suitability as a club. Clutching the wood in hand he followed his friend into the dark.
‘Dan… I’m worried about Charlie.’ Sophie spoke softly to her husband, not wanting her son to hear the conversation. ‘I’m scared he isn’t handling this very well.’
‘He’s ten Soph. How is he meant to handle it? How are any of us? I know you read about this sort of thing happening, see it on the news all the time. But when it happens on your street… hell, to your neighbour nothing prepares you. It could so easily have been Charlie we were scouring the woods for.’ Daniel tried his best to keep his voice low but was unable to maintain it the whole time, a defensive tone breaking through and raising the level.
‘I know that… of course I do… but the walkie-talkie… he says he’s talking to him?’
Daniel walked over to his wife, taking her in his arms, ‘I know what you mean, but… but honestly I think it’s just a coping mechanism. Right now I think he’s playing make believe, like he always did with William. I think he needs this to cope with the unknown… maybe he can’t grasp what’s actually going on.
‘Hey…’ he gently grasped his wife’s cheeks in his hands, raising her bowed head so they were looking in each other’s eyes. ‘He will be ok, we all will.’