Jake Mutant - Chapter Three
By Jane Hyphen
Jake didn’t remember going to bed the previous night but he woke feeling re-charged with all the energy of the universe tingling inside his body. The smell of bacon and beans wafted up the stairs, it whetted his appetite and he threw on a jumper and met Bristol halfway down the stairs.
Grandad was dishing the breakfast onto plates, ‘You’re mother called me late last night Jake,’ he said without looking up.
Oh yes, my mum and sister, Jake thought, he’d almost forgotten them. ‘Oh,’ he said.
‘They’re staying at Chloe’s dad’s house. She didn’t sound that happy, said it’s very hot and Chloe’s dad has a new girlfriend.’ He put the plate down in front of Jake. ‘But they’re going to a hotel in a few days so hopefully things will be better.’
‘I like it here,’ said Jake.
Grandad smiled, nodding. ‘Yes, it’s magical isn’t it. My father, your great grandad was born here in Wales, so it’s in our blood.’ He stared at the boy then said, ‘I think Bristol wouldn’t mind a trip to the Gordon’s today. Mr Gordon is fond of dogs.’
Jake felt a beam of pressure coming from his Grandad. Perhaps he had promised Mrs Gordon some time in advance of his arrival that he would go there and hang out with Toby. He frowned a little and decided to ignore the question. Bristol lifted one paw, cocked his head, spun around on the spot and then did it all again. He knows, thought Jake, he knows what Grandad is saying.
After breakfast Jake spent some time in his room. The train went by, just a single carriage this morning. It was another sunny day, fresh and breezy too. Jake opened the window, leant out and craned his neck to look down the road towards the Gordon’s house, it was surrounded by trees and all he could see was some of the slate on the roof. He heard Grandad go out into his workshop. Bristol sat on the bed and stared at him. Everyone wants me to go, Jake thought, he sighed and tried to think of something else to do but the urge to count something started to creep in. He shot up and slipped on his trainers.
It was a short walk to the Gordon’s along a narrow strip of pavement. Vehicles were few and far between but they seemed to travel at a terrifying speed, Jake had to stop and hold Bristol on a very short lead until they had passed. Their house was wide with a huge, long driveway and a very overgrown front garden; bushes half-covered the front windows. He knocked the door and waited. He could hear a television on inside and the sound of footsteps running about accompanied by little shouts and squeals. He knocked again, louder and a few seconds later Toby opened the door very abruptly. ‘Jakus Maximus!’ he shouted, ‘I knew you’d come!’
Bristol began barking ferociously and quite unexpectedly a heavy Bassett Hound plodded up the hallway to greet them with a lift of the head and a strange howl. ‘I didn’t know you had a dog,’ said Jake.
Toby shrugged. ‘Dad’s wanted one forever, Mum gave in, at the beginning of the holidays. He’s a rescue dog...he’s got a weight problem.’ The boys and the dogs eyed each other up for a while then Toby held back the front door and stood behind it to let them in.
Mr Gordon was sitting on the sofa in a tracksuit reading a yellow book entitled, ‘The Ultimate Worst Case Scenario.’ Jake attempted to smile at him and he looked up, nodded but didn’t smile back. ‘Are you going out Toby?’ he asked.
Toby was tall for his age and very thin, he had auburn hair and plenty of freckles, his eyes were dark blue and always shiny, he had the sort of body language which made him appear connected to a strong electrical current. His limbs looked as if they’d been screwed on very loose and he was never calm and still, even his voice went up and down, changing in pitch. ‘Yes, yes Dad. Just getting my shoes on, grab some snacks, la, la, la,’ he hummed, ‘lead for the dog, got my phone.’ He tapped his pockets. ‘Back later Dad,’ he said. Mr Gordon peered at them from above his book.
‘Where are you going?’ said a little voice from the corner of the room. It was Holly, Toby’s little sister who was kneeling down at a coffee table building a cardboard plane from a kit.
The girl stared at Jake and frowned, ‘Can I come,’ she said quietly.
‘No!’ said Toby and Mr Gordon in unison.
‘Let’s get out of here Jake - and you Sorry, come on, you need to get fit.’ Toby pulled the dog towards the front door, it dragged its feet and looked at them with sad, droopy eyes.
‘Why is your dog called Sorry?’ said Toby.
‘You’ll find out,’ said Toby slamming the door behind him, ‘when we’re in a confined space.’ He did a quick check of the road and then charged across it towards a gate on the other side.
‘Wait, aren’t we going to the wood?’
‘I’m bored of the woods Jake. I’ve been waiting, waiting for you to come so I could walk this path. It used to be a proper road you know, a single lane road that you could drive on but the farmer put bollards at the entrance.’
They weaved between the concrete cylinders and began walking on an old tarmac road now half covered in long sticky grass, nettles and giant hogweed. There was a strong smell of lanolin and the chirruping of crickets could be heard. Bristol began to pull like mad on the lead and make excited snorting sounds, it took most of Jake’s strength to hold him back. Toby walked on his toes, occasionally doing a little skip or jump. He talked and talked as Sorry plodded behind them, stopping to sniff then trotting to catch up. It was as if he’d had nobody to speak to for weeks; he chatted about his teachers and trumpet lessons, his sister’s Brownie cake sale, his allergies to cheese and cats, his mum’s new job and how a train had broken down on the track last week and everyone had to alight in the field. Jake zoned out and looked at the surroundings. Occasionally, where the hedges were low he could look back and see Grandad’s house and work out where they were in relation to the view from his window.
They passed by the field of sheep, were there really ninety nine? Jake began to count, they looked scruffy, daubed in blue dye to identify them and with dark, messy wool on their backsides, some were lame. The ones closest to the fence sensed the dogs and began to run and scatter, bleating with wild eyes, Jake quickly gave up. They waded through a puddle beneath a little bridge where the railway line passed overhead. Sorry’s ears got wet at the ends and Jake paused to give him a pet and a little cuddle. It seemed that Toby had no affection for the dog at all or perhaps he was just so immersed in himself that he forgot all about Jake and the dogs. Occasionally he'd ask Jake a question or his opinion on something but as soon as Jake began to answer he’d quickly interrupt and take over again.
The road began to curve to the right and they walked around the base of the mountain and alongside a large field of jet black cows, then through the middle of a boggy golf course which was quite deserted of people. Here it was much more exposed and windy and there was a familiar smell. Bristol got very enthusiastic suddenly. Jake looked up and saw the dunes ahead and the course grasses dancing in the breeze. ‘Oh - we’re at the sea!’ he said.
Toby grinned. ‘Yes - I’ve walked it with my dad a few times, ages ago. It’s easy you can’t get lost. I didn’t know if Sorry would make it, I don’t think he’s used to long walks.’
They both took off their shoes, the sand was warm and dry, deep and unstable, they sank and slid, the grass scratched the soles of their feet. Jake let Bristol off the lead and he ran and ran like a mad thing, up and down, round and round causing a miniature sandstorm around his rough little body. Toby’s ankles were impossible white and slender, like two poles as they sunk into the sand ahead of him, he was out of breath now and had stopped talking. Jake took the opportunity to ask a question. ‘Toby?’
‘Yes Jakus maximus?’
‘What’s wrong with your dad?’
Toby twitched and shrugged, ‘Nothing really, he had a frozen shoulder and had to give up work, then it spread to his other shoulder, then it went into his head or something….he’s fine, he just can’t have any stress or lift his arms above his head, he’s not allowed to use self-service checkouts or paint the ceiling.’
Jake’s legs were tired now but Toby charged ahead, up to the top of the tallest dune to look at the view. Sorry waited at the bottom and caught his breath, he watched them for a while then lay down heavily on his side. ‘What’s that Toby?’ A small stone building, half-sunk into the sand had caught his eye. There was a bell tower at the top and large wooden doors obstructed by four foot of sand piled up in a drift like snow.
‘Oh, that’s the hointed church.’
‘Well, haunted actually, except it’s not really haunted - or hointed.’
Jake ran down the dune towards it but before he got there he tripped on the top of a gravestone sticking up above the sand. There were a dozen or so poking up, it was just possible to see some of the names of the dead; Owen Williams 1735 - 1798, Elena Jones 1610 - 1619. Bristol started to bark, perhaps at his new friend Sorry who was yet to catch them up. ‘This is creepy,’ said Jake.
‘It’s not that creepy, it’s not usually buried in sand like this. I used to come here to Sunday school. We had some storms last year and the sand just built up and built up. The vicar used to come and shovel it back but he’s had a hip replacement and since Farmer Knowles blocked the road no-one’s looked after the place.’ Toby went up to the window and lifted his hands to block the reflection on the window so he could see inside. ‘That’s one of my sister’s pictures on the notice board, I can tell by the nose, Holly does noses with massive nostrils. She used to call it the hointed church - because that’s how she says haunted. Anyway it isn’t haunted at all. The only place round here that’s haunted is the abandoned railway station at Rhuddmont coalmine. We could walk there one day Jake?’
‘It’s inland that way,’ he pointed, ‘in the middle of nowhere really. There’s a tricky bit with the river but I reckon we could do it. A boy died there in the seventies, he got into some rolling stock on the line and his friends pushed him down a chute, apparently he travelled for three miles, faster and faster, deep into the bottom of the mine.’ Toby’s eyes shone. ‘They never found his body. He might still be down there, living on batmeat and sucking on stalagmites for minerals. People have heard his voice, singing songs, songs from back then, you know, from the seventies. They’ve heard the pit ponies too, neighing, they were never brought back up after the mine closed because the sunlight would’ve burnt their eyes out.’
Jake looked at Toby, expecting him to say it was all a joke but he looked very serious. ‘I don’t think so,’ he said, checking his watch. Some hours had passed by and there was a long walk back. It was a shame because he’d not really had any time to appreciate the sea. ‘I think we should head for home now Toby, Grandad will be waiting for me and we seem to have lost Sorry.’
Toby looked very disappointed. ‘Oh - ok. You can stay for tea if you want, we can play Halo together. Dad won’t mind…’
‘It’s okay Toby, thanks but my Grandad wanted me back in the evening.’ Another hour or two with Toby was all that he could stand and it would take that time to get back. They returned to the path where Sorry was waiting. Bristol was very tired now, he’d found a pebble but kept dropping it. Jake picked it up and put it in his pocket. He was going to put Bristol’s lead back on but he hesitated, would the dog really run off? It seemed unlikely so he decided to him his freedom and the two dogs trotted along together like old mates. Jake had some snacks in his pockets and they ate chocolate biscuits and crackers as they walked.
It was early evening when Jake got back. The back door was unlocked as usual and Grandad was upstairs running a bath. The bathroom door was ajar and he was perched on the edge in his dressing gown, nodding and talking to himself. He looked up, ‘Oh you’re back. I’ve saved your dinner and Bristol’s, can you give it him?’
Jake nodded. ‘Who were you talking to Grandad?’
‘Your Grandma. I hear her through the taps, when the water’s running. Listen,’ he said, holding his potato hand up to his ear.
They both froze and listened. At first Jake heard nothing except the white noise of the water but the more he listened the more he heard, if not actually words, at least the tone of his grandma’s voice.
‘Yes,’ Grandad nodded. ‘Hear that? She speaks. I’m not sure if she even knows that we can hear her but she is chattering away there.’ Suddenly he got up and started to close the door. ‘Well I’d better get clean now Jake, you go and eat your grub steaks now, you must be starving.’