THE TRIALS OF AN ANGEL Part 13: Discovery
By Ed Crane
The search party found the three lost lads mid-morning the following day, but nobody returned to our community until late. In truth it was the lads who found them.
Alan was first to see the three waving at them about a half a kilometre away standing on the edge of a wide expanse of scrubby meadowland dotted with mature trees. Making no effort to approach the group they waved their arms wildly beckoning the search party. With the noise makers switched off the shouts of the lads could clearly be heard in the calm morning air.
Jack cupped his ear, ‘They want us to go to them.’
Thinking they were injured, everyone rushed across the grass. Alan noticed the grass between the stubby bushes was cropped short. The three boys jumped up and down like excited pups.
‘Alaan, Alaaan you gotta see this. Come here.’
‘Are you hurt?’ Alan and Jack called out in unison.'
‘No, no. There’s houses. Dozens of houses. Come and see. It’s amazing.’ Nick shouted directly into Alan’s face. ‘C’mon follow us.’
The boys led the group to what appeared to be an overgrown hedge. Heading for a small gap between a giant oak and a scraggy hazel bush, they squeezed through and waved everyone to follow.
They found themselves standing on a paved road sandwiched between hedgerows. The surface was crazed, bushes and shrubs standing proud in the gaps. The hedges, untouched for at least two generations, had crept onto the hard surface, cracked it open and set root.
The group followed the excited lads. After about a kilometre they came across a rusted triangular sign with a curved slash painted on it. Underneath a rust pocked plate read, CAUTION SHARP BEND. Around the curve the road straightened. Further on they found another two signs almost buried in the hedge. The long one similar to the triangular sign, except it was round. It showed 30 when Jack scraped away the moss. Beneath it a white rectangular shape lying on the ground read, BURNELHAM.
‘Will yer look at that,’ one of the guys shouted.
They looked. About 500metres ahead the road widened and bent a little to the left revealing a line of houses almost hidden behind overgrown shrubs and trees.
When the party finally arrived home around nine in the evening about a hundred folks stood around watching them trudge between the fields of wheat. Everybody wanted to know if the boys were alright and what happened.
Alan and Jack brought the boys to my house leaving the rest of the group to tell their story. After explaining how the lads were found, Alan let them tell me about their night alone and their discovery. Nick the eldest did most of the talking.
‘When Eric shot at the deer it fell over, but it got up straightaway and ran off. Roy saw it go and chased after. Me and Danny ran after him trying to get him to stop, but the little devil can really run and he didn’t stop. Roy thought he saw which way it went.’
‘I did see where it went,’ Roy piped up, ‘but it disappeared in some high bracken and I lost it. It must’ve doubled back or something ‘cos I carried on running in the direction it went for ages ‘til I give up.’
‘Lucky for you we heard you panting otherwise you’d have been out there all on yer own.’
‘You idiot.’ His brother Danny scolded.
I noticed Alan and Jack trying not to laugh.
‘What happened then?’
‘I dunno how far we went, Maam. We didn’t hear nobody calling or them noise things. We tried to go back the way we went, but the bushes and bracken was so thick we couldn’t see where we’d been.’
‘Then I thought I heard a noise thing. It was pretty faint, but we followed where we thought it came from, but we didn’t hear it again.’ Danny added.
‘That must have been when we stopped with the machines and listened out for anyone calling. Right, Alan?’
‘Must’ve been, Jack.’
‘Tell me how you found the houses, Nick.’
‘Well, Maam we just kept going in the same direction hoping we’d catch up with the others. Seemed hours. Then the trees thinned out and we nearly fell down this ditch. We crossed over it – lucky it was dry – and there was this big field. The hedge looked like the woods from a distance so we headed for it. That’s how we found the houses.’
‘Yes, Maam. We were about halfway across. We had to be careful, there were a few wild sheep around. One was a ram, they can be dangerous. Anyway, Nick spotted something odd in the trees near corner of the field. When we got closer we saw it was the roof of a house. At first we thought we were near our gebiet. We went through a gap in the hedge and found the road. It was quite wide with sort of long steps at the edges. On each side there were rows of houses all hidden behind trees and bushes. Really creepy it was.’
‘Yeah, and it was starting to get late, Maam.’ Roy put in.
‘What did you do next?’
The three of them got excited and all talked at the same time.
‘Wait, Hold on. I can’t get it if you all talk at once. Nick tell me what happened. Danny, Roy let Nick tell your story.’
The two younger boys clamped their lips together trying to hold back experiences bursting to come out.
‘We followed the road a bit, keeping an eye out for dogs. At first there wasn’t anything about. The first houses looked like they were all joined together in blocks of about five. Most of them had boards over the windows and rotting wood fences round them. They were pretty dirty ‘cos of the trees and ivy. We had a look around, but it didn’t look like we could get inside. Further on the houses got bigger and separated from each other. Most had little roads leading up to a building at the side. Danny said they were garages. Some of them didn’t have anything covering the windows.’
‘Yeah and we went inside—‘
‘Shuddup, Roy. Yes, Maam. There was a big one in a lot of space around. It looked cleaner than the joined up houses with less trees and bushes. It had a door with glass in it what was cracked so we pushed it over and went in—‘
‘It was full of stuff—‘
‘Let Nick speak please, Roy.’
‘We couldn’t believe it, Maam. It was full with furniture, really big chairs all padded. They looked pretty clean. It had an upstairs and that was full of stuff. Four big rooms all with beds. Looked like it’d just been left. A lot spiders webs everywhere though. Outside the Sun’d gone down. Me and Danny thought nobody would find us with night coming on so we decided to stay in the house and sleep, then go back the way we came in the morning. We reckoned if we went back to the field we might see someone looking for us.’
‘That was very wise, Nick. Good on you.’
‘Thanks, Maam. Downstairs was a big room with a lot of cupboards and machines.’
‘It was a kitchen, Maam.’ Danny blurted.
‘Yeah, Danny. It was a kitchen. It had a door that opened into the building on the side—‘
‘OK Danny, let Nick talk please.’
‘Inside was sort of bot-car, but nothing like I’ve ever seen. It was all covered in dust, but it looked alright. It had a funny smell sort of like the oil Jess uses to clean his gun.’
‘That was a car people used long ago before bot-cars, Nick. Didn’t you see the ones in the big house?’
‘I heard about them, Maam. But this one was really round and smooth. Jack told me the ones in the big house were square.’
‘That’s right. I guess it was one of the last ones. There’s probably quite a few around in that place.’
‘Yeah we saw some outside in the morning, but they were all dirty and broken.’
‘Roy’s right, Maam we did see a couple outside houses. After we decided to sleep in the house Roy and me went round clearing away the webs and dust and Danny went outside to a look around.’ Nick giggled. ‘Didn’t stay out long though did you?’
‘Neither would you have done.’
‘He saw a pack of dogs.’
‘They started barking really aggressive. They were going to chase me.’
‘Yes, they looked pretty nasty. There was a big cupboard in the room with chairs. We pushed it against the door. We went looking for something to protect ourselves. In the garage we found spades and stuff and in the kitchen we found a lot of big knives. The dogs had a sniff around outside then wandered off, but we knew we’d probably need the stuff we found for the next day.’
‘Did they return?’
‘No, Maam, but while we were looking in the kitchen we found candles and lighters like we used after the “big green” so we had light. And then we found a load of canned food like we used to get from the ‘droids in the winter. They were in a little room on shelves. They looked exactly the same. We opened one with beans in it. They tasted ok. I remembered from your lessons that canned food lasts forever so we ate them and some potatoes we found in another tin. There was loads of them so we knew we’d be ok for a while if we didn’t find anybody. Danny, here said there must be a lot more in the other houses so we wouldn’t starve.’
‘Nice to know you listened during my lessons.’ I laughed.
‘That’s about it, Maam. We slept in the big room, we had a big chair each. There was a lot of blankets in the cupboards upstairs that hadn’t been covered with cobwebs. In the morning we found a bag to put some cans in and followed the path we came on. When we got to the big field we carried on for a bit ‘cos we thought home was in that direction. Then we heard the noise makers coming from the field. Roy was the first to see Alan and everybody.
‘So you didn’t explore the village?’
‘We wanted to but we thought it best to try to get home and we didn’t want to run into the dogs. ‘Course once Alan and Jack found us we all went back. There’s so much there some really big buildings. I reckon we could live there if we had electricity.’
I looked for Alan and Jack’s reaction, but they just chuckled and shrugged their shoulders.
‘Not sure about that, Nick. First we need to get a group together and thoroughly investigate the place. There must be a great deal of things we can use. You, Danny and Roy have proved yourselves lads. You’ve been really smart. When we go back you’ll be welcome to join any team that go again. Now you better get home it’s getting late, I guess you’re hungry and your mothers will be worried. Jack will go with you.
After they left I asked Alan to come to the mansion with me. I wanted to have a look at the maps in the library.
‘It’s going to get dark in a couple of hours, Ma.’
‘Well If I find the ones I want I can take them home and look at them there. I want to figure out where this place is. Burlenham was it.?
‘Oh right. Well if we can find it on the old OS maps we can get an idea of what’s there and figure out a route to get there easy instead of bungling in the woods.’
Alan was right. By the time we got to the library and found the maps I wanted it was very dark inside the mansion. Not wanting to strain my eyes in candlelight I took them home and told Alan to come to me in the morning and bring Terry.
The house was empty when I arrived. I guessed Rachael had stayed with Jess. She’d said his ankle was very swollen so I supposed he still needed help. I kept repeating the name Burnelham to myself and I couldn’t resist a quick scan of the old map. When I found the village I was surprised at how far it was from our estate. Those poor lads must’ve walk for hours. Another thing that shook me was how big it was. Kind of big to call a village, but too small to be a town. I had a stab at working out a way to get there, but I was tired. I couldn’t concentrate. I needed to sleep.
Once in bed the name of the village kept going round my head. I remembered how I felt it was getting near time to break out and check out the land around us. I knew it had to be done, but I always had worries about how it would affect our community. People were getting older, they weren’t kids anymore. They’d want to feel their feet, be independent. It was the way of things.
Probably if we still had AI to help this wouldn’t have happened so soon. The need wouldn’t be there. Circumstance accelerated things. We had no choice. I knew I’d been putting it off, afraid of the future. Nick and the brother’s discovery forced my hand. Now this was out we couldn’t stop at just one village. Folks would see so much to fire their imagination. Like honey, alcohol or sex once experienced they would want more.
For fifty-five of my seventy years my role was to grow this community with the tools passed on to me. My duty, I always felt. My community, my family were approaching the point where they owned it themselves. Jess already figured that out and he wasn’t going to be the last. He’d make sure of that. This chance discovery would change things forever. For good or worse? That remained to be seen.
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