Out of Control - Chapter One
A black and rust, fifteen-year-old Ford Escort belched acrid blue exhaust fumes and stuttered down the residential street. Not for the first time that day, the children reluctantly moved the makeshift wicket from the middle of the road to allow a car to pass.
They watched impatiently, dirty faces wrinkled against the fumes that hung heavily in the air. The car, upon reaching a downhill stretch, gathered speed and turned left into the inappropriately named ‘Broad Avenue’; it was neither broad nor tree-lined. They resumed their game after shouting obscenities at the hapless driver. The car could still be heard long after it had disappeared from view, the exhaust note loud in the early evening stillness.
Pitch restored, their T20 World Cup final resumed. The right-handed batter prepared to face the wrath of the Pakistani pace-man once more. She took a leg stump guard and squinted directly into the sunlight that was only partially obscured by the bowlers’ left shoulder. She nodded, “C’mon then, five to win off the last over, lets ‘ave all you’ got!”
The bowler, ‘Wasim’, wiped the back of his hand with his nose and returned to his bowling mark, some fifteen paces back. He gripped the tennis ball firmly in a grubby fist, kicked an empty crisp packet out of his path, and then turned to face his tormentor.
--Bloody girls’ got it coming, he thought and moved lithely into his run-up, increasing pace as he moved towards the point of delivery. His bowling arm described a big circle, elbow locked and extended, arm brushing close to his right ear, just as his big brother had taught him. He released the ball and called out loud, ‘Cop that!’
The tennis ball flew fast and true on a perfect line and heading straight for the cardboard box wicket. It pitched full of length and leapt forward. Wasim’s exaggerated follow through allowed him a perfect view of the ball’s flight. He could see it, he could feel it; this would get her!
A grin broadened on his young face, but the girl's bat swung straight and true. It connected with the ball which immediately reversed course and sailed back over Wasim’s head in a fuzzy yellow arc. It all but laughed at him as it flew by. The boy’s smug grin disappeared instantly and he spun on his toes to follow the ball's flight.
The seven players of East Indian All-stars shouted and cheered as one; the Bengal Tigers fell silent. Onward if flew, over the road, over Mr Jenkins-at-number-23’s failed attempt at topiary, until it finally dropped into the front garden of Number 25.
“Oh no,” Wasim groaned to himself, “anywhere but there.”
“Six! We win, waahaaay!” the batter raised her bat high and danced round the unhappy bowler who looked ready to cry, hopes of fame and glory gone forever. Would he ever be able to look his five team-mates in the eyes again?
The bell in the clock on a church tower somewhere in the distance over Barton Way struck six times.
The cheering continued from the East Indian quarter, then as suddenly as it had started, the cheering stopped and the realisation dawned.
“I aint getting it!” The batter’s pre-emptive strike was strong, firm, and unshakeable.
The anticipated tea now forgotten, ‘Wasim’ shook his head violently. “I aint gettin’ it neither. You hit it, you get it!”
“I aint goin’ in there. Peter said he saw huge rats in the garden Wednesday,” one of the smaller All Stars nodded vigorously at this, “an’ everyone knows it’s ‘aunted. And anyway, I’m a girl and we won. So one o’ yous’ll ‘ave to get it!”
Her lower lip started to quiver, just a little, and her big brown eyes filled with tears. She sniffed twice and looked around for a saviour. The bat fell from her hand, cracked onto the tarmac, rocked slightly then fell still.
‘Wasim’ Patel stood his ground, head still shaking firmly. Nine-year-old boys do not need to show chivalry towards ten year old girls, especially if she had just thumped his best bowling into the sky and made him look like a divvy. He shook his head again, “Not me, I aint goin’ nowhere near the place.”
The six boys and five girls, shifted uneasily from foot to foot. They waited, wondering who would get the only tennis-ball left on the street. Delroy, a gentle giant of ten years and nearly five feet tall moved, recognising his chance to impress. “Babies!” he taunted, “Wot's to be scared of? I’ll go get it.”
“I’ve ‘eard noises comin’ from there at night!” piped one small fielder, lower lip quivering. “An’ my Gran says it’s ‘aunted,” he added.
“Rubbish. When have you ever been out late at night?” Delroy stood tall, challenging, “Everyone knows it’s been empty since Ol’ Eadie died, and she wouldn’t haunt nobody. She was nice!”
The little fielder muttered something under his breath and shifted his weight uneasily from foot to foot. Delroy turned and moved forwards, but more timidly than he had intended. The rest looked at each other in sideways darting glances, and then fell in behind him, but not too closely.
The old Escort’s exhaust fumes still hung in the humid air and added to the sense of foreboding. Delroy moved closer, his companions allowed the gap between themselves and their leader to grow a little. Far away a mother shouted something at an errant child. Elsewhere, an electric lawnmower could be heard angrily attacking some defenceless greenery. A bird in a tree chirruped happily in the early evening air.
Delroy began to wish he had not been so brave, and reluctantly pushed a hesitant right hand towards the broken wooden gate that defended the house at Number 25. The once black wrought iron handle, red now with rust, felt rough to the touch. It squealed in protest as Delroy twisted it downwards. The gate opened but canted down drunkenly; one of the hinges had long ago given way. Delroy moved slowly down the weed-strewn pebbled pathway towards the front door of Ol’ Eadie’s place.
Delroy stopped suddenly, aware that he had stepped on something squidgy that cracked under the weight of his shoe. He looked down, and then grimaced as he moved his foot aside to see the creamy white slime and pieces of shell that had until so recently been a garden snail. He wiped the sole of his shoe on the edge of what had once been a lawn and continued looking for the elusive ball.
He turned and beckoned to the others, “C’mon, youse lot can 'elp too!” None of them moved.
The damp smell increased as Delroy moved closer to the house. Overgrown conifers and a large tree cast dark shadows over the former lawn. Tall grass, turned to seed and specked with daises and other weeds, swished in the light breeze. Brambles, growing out from a once well tended herbaceous border, reached out to snag his socks and scratch at his bare legs. Delroy was not a happy boy, not at all.
The gang behind him waited at the gate in silence. One child, the smallest of the group, a girl, called out quietly, “Knock the door, see if anyone’s in!”
Delroy turned towards her, “Don’t be stupid, nobody’s lived here since Ol’ Eadie died, and no-one’s seen nobody near this place for months”. He shook his head at the foolishness but stayed well away from the front door just in case.
“Youse get lookin’ for the ball and I’ll look by the house.” He ordered again.
The others finally crossed the threshold of the gate and began milling around in the undergrowth, keeping as far away from the gloomy house as they could.
Delroy scuffed at the undergrowth with a foot then stopped close to a broken ground floor window. Curiosity got the better of him and he craned his neck to peer in. Pebbles ground together under the weight of his training shoes making a strange, soggy crunch that echoed quietly against the brickwork. His eyes attempted to pierce the gloom behind the partially obscured, glass. He thought he could see something in the room so he leaned in closer and cupped his hands around his eyes for a clearer look.
His body tensed in shock and he gulped in a short burst of air. A millisecond later he let out an involuntary scream, turned sharply on his left heel, and shouted “Run! Bloody hell, RUN!”
The gang, badly shaken by Delroy’s actions, dispersed in a melee of shouts, screams and waving arms. Questioning adult heads in nearby gardens turned towards the source of the noise, wondering what was going on.
Delroy rapidly overtook the smaller members of the group and raced towards the safety of his home.
He finally burst through the front door and slammed it loudly behind him. Still shouting he collapsed backwards against the door and slid down to the floor. Shaking badly now, he hugged his knees to his chest and started rocking just like he did when he was little and scared by a nightmare. He bawled loudly for his mother.
Big wet tears streamed down his dark cheeks. He cried in huge sobs; fear and shock etched into his young face. “Mum... MUM! HELP!”
It took a while for Delroy’s mother, a large black lady of indeterminate years, to reach her little boy. At first she couldn't understand what he was saying. It took her longer still to believe him.
“It’s true,” he took in great gulps air between sobs, “’orrible it was, blood everywhere.”
She eventually deciphered the garbled message and gasped in shock. She called up to her husband, in bed sleeping after another tough night-shift. He eventually appeared at the head of the stairs, a huge, heavily muscled forty-something, scratching unkempt hair and blinking away the sleep.
Delroy, still sobbing uncontrollably refused to return to the house, but stayed close to his mother. He held her hand tightly, something he hadn't done for ages, and watched as his father, dressed now, went to confirm his son’s wild ramblings. Mother and son stood by their gate. They saw the big man enter the garden and disappear from sight, obscured by the vegetation. Other adults began moving towards the house, drawn by the commotion and the agitated children.
Seconds later Delroy’s father came back into view, hurrying now back to his home. The shocked but determined expression on his face confirmed the boy’s story. His mother pulled Delroy closer and hugged him to her as her husband rushed past them into the house. He made straight for the telephone and picked up the handset; his large calloused hands trembled noticeably as he dialled the emergency number.
After a short wait he responded “Police please.” Then he slumped down into in the hall chair and began giving the details to the operator.