A novel by Richard Rhys Jones
Copyright © 2013 Richard Rhys Jones
The door slammed shut and instantly Danny was awake, reason screeching in alarm. He saw his breath like steam in the moon's watery light and a slight tremor passed through his bladder. Pulling up the bed clothes, he covered his mouth as his eyes slowly grew accustomed to the dark corners of the room. It was back and at that moment in time he didn't feel as brave as he had earlier. He'd been ambushed by sleep and now, after being bluntly woken by the slamming door, he felt vulnerable and scared.
It was freezing again and the small voice at the back of his mind needlessly reminded him the window was closed. Not daring to move, he waited for something to happen, his mind racing in unspoken prayer that nothing would.
Slowly the temperature changed, and he sensed the cold retreating towards the closet. He could feel it ebbing away like a retreating tide, almost pulsing as it withdrew. It was leaving he told himself, willing it to be true.
Unexpectedly a small puff of cold air hit his face and he jerked back as something whispered hatefully into his ear, "Make no mistake, your mother's with me Danny and she's burning in hell for all the bad stuff she did for you."
Instinct's swift hand took over clear thought as Danny dashed under the covers, knuckling his mouth in silent, absolute terror; wishing he was dead so this horror could end.
Two weeks earlier.
On route to Old Colwyn Station on the north
Though he was older than the other children and he knew others had suffered as great a loss as he had, Danny Kelly kept himself to himself and ignored them. Having lost his mother to the German bombs only six weeks earlier, the pain of that loss sat like a cancer on his psyche, unmoving, pitiless and heavy. That his father had left when Danny was five to find work back in, "the old land", and had never returned, never bothered him. He could barely remember his face and only the indelible impressions of drunken rage and ready slaps gave any authority to his memory. But his mother, now that was different.
A soft spoken woman, the daily struggle for survival ridged under her eyes and yet always cheerful, she had given her all for him and now she was gone. For all his toughness in the school yard, all the hours in the boxing club, for all that he felt completely disorientated. He was out of his depths on this one, he couldn't deal with it and the hurt seemed worse because of his bewilderment at the sudden loss. Amid a holiday atmosphere of excited children he morosely looked out of the window as the train pulled along the coastline towards their destination. Despite the smiling sun looking down on the deep blue of the sea before him, Danny couldn't see further than the fight with his tears as he poured over the one remaining picture of the only person he had ever truly loved, and had truly loved him.
"Hello, you don't look happy."
Dan looked up to see a pretty blond haired girl before him. Roughly sixteen or seventeen, his age, she smiled as she nodded at the photo in his hand. "Your mother? She looks nice."
Biting back a defensive scowl, he nodded, "Yeah, thanks, she was." And then he stuffed it back in his jacket. He knew who the girl was and had often seen her at the orphanage but the burden of his loneliness and the guilt of feeling any pleasure had stopped him from any interaction with the other children.
"I'm Sandy, or Sandra if you want to be formal. I saw you at the orphanage a while ago but I guessed you wanted to be alone, so I didn't say anything. I lost both my parents too so I know how it is." She smiled.
Danny smiled tiredly and nodded. "I'm sorry, I only lost my mother and that was hard enough. Losing both must have really hurt."
"It did, but I'm over it now, at least we had quite a lot of time together, there are some kids on here who lost their parents at such an early age. You haven't told me your name yet and seeing as we're the oldest on here I suppose we should get to know each other in case we have to help control the younger ones?"
Feeling vaguely disappointed that she only wanted to know his name so they could work better together, Danny told her.
"Well Daniel, I hope that where ever we end up we'll be able to be friends, because if we haven't got families, what's left but friends, eh?" She smiled again and Danny felt a light go up in his heart. Before he could answer her she stood up and pointed excitedly.
"Look there's the station, I have to get my case, see you later." And she was gone.
Somehow the party atmosphere left the group at the sight of adults and the children filed silently into line to walk the mile or so to St: John's church. A few grownups accompanied them but up to now the only one who had said anything was a very tall, broad shouldered vicar who had demanded quiet when reading out the register. His angry demeanour spoilt his film star looks and Dan smiled at the girls admiring his rich black hair, spiv moustache and racy eyebrows.
"Now I know you're from the city of
but I will not have you being disobedient or disorderly while you
are here, do I make myself clear?" He'd bellowed in a strong south Liverpool
accent, frightening some of the younger. Daniel, who had come from a school
where the teachers depended upon the cane to stress their authority upon the
boys, was very impressed with his aura of menace. He hoped with his whole heart that he didn't
have to stay at his house. Wales
As the other children were one after another taken away by other families after having their labels inspected, Danny found himself among the last in a group of three. A kind-looking middle aged couple entered the church hall and after a brief greeting to the vicar and a look at his list, moved on to the children. Sandra, one of the others still waiting, looked back at him as the couple read her label and pulled her out along with the other two and then Danny was alone, with only the angry vicar for company. He groaned inwardly as he approached, hoping against hope that there had been some kind of mistake.
"Now then young man, you seem a bit old to be an evacuee, shouldn't you be helping the war effort working somewhere?"
Dan stirred at the jibe. The fact was he did feel guilty about being evacuated like a kid but the authorities had thought it better for his mental health to have him away from the city and he didn't have the fight in him at that time to argue against their decision.
"The orphanage sent me as I lost my mother recently, they'll probably find work for me in the next few months and call me back, sir." he answered.
"Well, it seems like you're to stay with me for the time being. Now I have other business today so just sit down there and wait for Miss Trimble to come, she's my house keeper, and she will take you up to the house." Daniel sat down and waited.
On the verge of nodding off, he was curtly brought back to alertness by a sharp cough. He stood up automatically to be greeted by a stern looking woman of indeterminate age. Slim built and tall, she looked over her glasses at him like a school ma'am to an errant child and with her severely pulled-back hair, tight waspish mouth and large, black rimmed glasses she looked the very soul of severity.
"Daniel Kelly I presume?" She said, her crisp English accent reinforcing the school mistress impression he had of her. "Sleeping during the day, well we won't be doing that very much from now on mister Kelly, let me assure you of that. Now come on, chop chop, bring your suitcase and let's get you up to the house and have you scrubbed before tea." She marched off without waiting for an answer, leaving Danny to rub his eyes before following her out of the hall, past the frosty scrutiny of the large, scowling vicar.
The house was set up in the hills and the journey up to it very steep. Miss Trimble had set off at a furious rate and Danny, though not unfit, was overcome by fatigue after the first mile or so and was soon lagging behind. He paused to take in the countryside, the bird song and the view out across the bay. The road was all uphill so when he turned around the view almost brought a smile to his face. The bay was surrounded by hills that swept down to the sea. A long promenade curved around to a far off cliff that jutted out into the ocean as if cutting the area off from the rest of the world. In the middle of the curving promenade, like a sword against the elements stood a pier, brilliant white and fascinating to a lad who had never left his home city. The town of
sat on the outskirts of
the larger Old
Colwyn , but they seemed to merge into one big sprawl. Danny could make out
a couple of church spires and towers in the distance but not much else. The
view looked untouched and calm, a direct contrast to the devastation he was
used to in Colwyn Bay Liverpool.
For the first time since the loss of his mother, Danny felt a quiet contentment. He wondered if there was a heaven and if his mum was there now, looking down on him. Recognising the balm the vista before him had applied to his soul, he pondered on whether he should stay and live there? Join the army when he was old enough, save his money and then after they'd beaten the Jerries, come back to live there.
His reverie was broken by a stone landing near him and ricocheting off into the hedge, followed quickly by another that edged a little closer but still missed. The hedge rustled up ahead of him and four lads and a girl stepped out into the road. One of the boys towered above the others but it was a dark haired middle sized one who spoke first.
"Pwy wyt ti felly? Ffoadur o Loegr sy'n mynd i fyw yn yr hen ficerdy. Ti'n gwybod ei fod yn gadiffan, yn dwyt?" (Who are you then? An English refugee going to live in the old vicarage is it? You know he's a poof, don't you?)
Not understanding what was being said, Danny tried to weigh them and the situation up. One was younger than the rest, about twelve he reckoned, who held a loaded catapult in his hands. Another was red haired and looked about Danny's age. He grinned maliciously and it was the grin that spelt out the trouble he knew he was in.
The girl stepped forward and eyed Danny up and down as if inspecting an animal. "
ydio, un o'r hogiau o'r ddinas. Efallai bod ganddo bres ?" (He's English, one of those boys from the cities. He might have money?) Sais
"Look, I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're saying, my name's Danny Kelly, from
Liverpool," he smiled, hoping to curry favour. Danny wasn't afraid of a scrap but four against one was stupid in anyone's books, and besides, he didn't want to mess up his jacket.
The lad who had spoken first stepped forward. "Now listen Englishman, we own this area and it's our patch right here. You want to go through on our road, you'll have to pay." He looked around to the big lad behind him and then back to Danny. "Or Bryn here will kill you."
The girl giggled at Danny's look of dismay and the ginger haired lad laughed openly. For some reason the laughing red head didn't bother him, but the thought of being beaten in front of the girl was a sickener; and there didn't seem like anything he could do about it. Fight and she'd laugh at him, run and he'd hate himself. At that moment in time, Danny hated them all and he could feel the slow rise of vexed hatred boiling up within.
"I haven't got any money." he declared, fearing for his pride and jacket.
"Then Bryn will just have to beat you until you can find something." The dark haired lad smiled. The girl became visibly animated as the lads strung out to bar his escape and as Dan dropped his suitcase to defend himself the young lad fired his catapult and the stone hit him in the leg. He cried out and bent down to rub his leg when suddenly the giant charged.
He landed on Dan like a ton of bricks and as he fell back onto the road he could hear his trousers rip at the back, which sent the girl into an uproar of squeals of delight. Helpless under the big lad's weight, Dan could only try and sit up to protect his face from the punches that were raining down on him. Suddenly the laughing and shouting stopped, as did the punches.
"What on earth is going on here?" It was Miss Trimble. "Daniel Kelly, you stand up and get over here right now, and as for you gang of young reprobates, I'll be having words with all your mothers!"
As Dan stood up he noticed the belligerent looks the five gave him. He knew that they felt it was his fault if she did tell their parents, and that they'd be back for him.
"Edrych ar ei drowsus, wedi rhwygo o gwmpas ei din." (Look at his trousers, they're split up the arse.) The girl giggled in Welsh. She stopped abruptly when Miss Trimble turned to her. "Go and wash that filthy Welsh mouth out with soap this instant, Elizabeth Thomas. I'll be having extra words with your mother about this!"
"What a start," Danny thought to himself. "What a bloody awful start."
The house stood to the side of an old church which was clearly abandoned to the elements and out of use. A massive oak tree had taken over one side of the building and it almost seemed to be leaning on the ancient roof. Miss Trimble caught his look of disdain and swiftly admonished him for it.
"Just because a building looks rundown doesn't mean to say that it isn't still a holy place. You, young man, will have to learn to curb your temper and hide your condescension. Not everyone was brought up in a big city, we don't fight everyone we meet and we don't pour scorn on anything that doesn't meet our expectations."
Danny knew it was pointless to argue, he had tried for ten minutes to tell her what had happened on the road but Miss Trimble simply wouldn't hear his side of it.
"I don't care who started what, all I know is that on your first day here you have managed to start a fight and ruin your trousers into the bargain. I fear the Reverend will be most annoyed by your rudeness."
So he followed meekly on, saying nothing and taking in the scenery as he met it. They reached the main gate of the grounds and though the church may have been derelict, the house next to it was still impressive. Surrounded by a high wall with a large wrought iron gate, he walked up the long path which ran between a large orchard on the one side and the graves of the dearly departed on the other towards the vicarage.
"The ground is still consecrated and will be while there's a war on as the graves will have to stay here until the council have someone to move them to the village." The house keeper pointed out. "The orchard is strictly out of bounds so don't harbour any ideas of stealing the fruit, do you understand?" Then she turned to pull out a key for the front door.
Danny paused to take in the building while Miss Trimble fiddled with the ancient lock. Old, two stories high with a roof that sagged with age and moss, its stained glass windows looked like they once belonged in the ruins next door. Ivy clung to the walls like scar tissue and the faint tang of mildew seeped from rotting timbers.
The door creaked open and above the sound of the tortured hinges Danny heard the low growl of a very large dog. The house keeper stood to one side as an Irish wolfhound stalked slowly towards him, the constant rumble of its anger revving between snarls. Dan was used to dogs,
Liverpool was full of them, but this black, shaggy headed monster resembled a small horse in its size. Its eyes were as black as its nose and its lips were pulled back and trembling over a double row of fangs that drooled freely as it growled. It stopped advancing and the growling grew in intensity, as if winding up to pounce and Danny, already retreating slowly, pushed his hands up to fend any attack.
"Well Mister Kelly, I do believe you're afraid?" The house keeper sniggered. Danny let his eyes move away from the dog and gasped when he saw her sardonic smile.
"Well Mister Kelly, I do believe you're afraid?" The house keeper sniggered. Danny let his eyes move away from the dog and gasped when he saw her sardonic smile.
"Such a big man like you, a fighting man like yourself, afraid of a little dog, well I'm shocked."
As if in answer, the snarling notched up a gear and Danny was now certain it was about to attack.
"Astaroth!" she snapped and the dog stopped as if she had flicked a switch and turned to her. "Go inside now, there's a good boy. The young man will be staying with us for a while so you're not to harm him, do you hear?"
Almost comically in Danny's eyes, the dog turned to give him one last warning growl and then padded inside. "Do not get on the wrong side of Astaroth mister Kelly. I don't think he likes you as it is so I'd be on my best behaviour if I were you."
"Yes Miss Trimble." Danny intoned, breathing deeply in fear, and numbly followed her inside. A cluttered corridor led past two rooms, one the study, strictly out of bounds, the other the main living room; out of bounds between and . Next to the unlit fire, Danny notice Astaroth watching him as he trudged past. The kitchen had a highly buffed flagstone floor and a huge fireplace. The wooden tables were scrubbed, highly polished pans and utensils glistened from the walls and the whole room seemed in direct contrast to the rundown exterior.
"This is where you will spend your day until I can arrange for you to go to the local school. The other children here in Peulwys are all younger than you so I don't know how we're going to continue your studies. Perhaps the reverend will teach you, I'm not sure?"
Danny's heart sank at the thought and he hoped beyond that he could go to the school, and then his mind clicked into gear. "What about the other kids here, the ones who attacked..."
The house keeper angrily stopped him short. "Don't you dare ever back chat me boy!"
"But all I said was..." Danny stopped when he saw Astaroth standing in the doorway, growling again.
"If I say there is no school here that will have you, then there is no school here that will have you. Do I make myself clear?" Trimble elucidated in a hissed tone, the low growl of the dog in the background.
"Yes what? Show some respect boy!"
"Yes Miss Trimble."
A silence spanned between them with only Astaroth's displeasure making any sound. Danny broke his stare and looked away, ignoring the hiss of triumph.
Trimble broke the quiet. "Astaroth, back to where you were. Daniel, pull the bath tub out of the back room there, fill it up and scrub yourself, you're filthy. I'll give you a sowing kit, you can mend your trousers yourself."
Wordlessly Danny went to the door the house keeper pointed to, opened the door and pulled out the bath.
Dan had never woken up to the sound of a cockerel before. He'd heard that they cock-a-doodle-doo early in the morning but to actually hear one almost brought a smile to his face. However, the smile soon faded when he thought back to the shame and the terror of the day before.
The strangeness of his situation came to ahead the evening before, after he had filled the bath. Miss Trimble had perched herself on a stool and watched him boiling the water for the tub without saying a word. Out of the corner of his eye he could see her monitoring his progress until he'd finished. When she made no move to leave, he decided to tell her he was ready.
"So get in then." She answered, shifting her weight forward, as if to watch.
"But I've still got my clothes on, they'll get wet." He stammered.
"Take them off then you stupid boy." She scolded, loud enough to initiate a growl from the living room.
"But you're still here." Danny almost pleaded, looking once more to the living room door to see if Astaroth was there.
"So, do you think I've never seen a little boy like you in his birthday suit before? Now stop being silly and get in the bath before the water gets cold."
Danny's cheeks burned in unqualified shame and he contemplated refusing her demand, to simply run out of the back door and away, until the feral rumble of Astaroth's warning made him think again. Would she set the dog on him if he did run? Yes, he answered his own question, she would.
Miss Trimble now sat forward, eagerly watching. The fire of malice twinkled in her eyes as she goaded him to undress. "I know what you're thinking Daniel and I can tell you, yes, I would send him after you if you ran."
His shock was complete, how could she have known what he was thinking? A trickle of piss almost seeped out as the house keeper almost cackled her glee. "Now get in the bath before the Reverend returns." she hissed.
Slowly, as if in a walking dream, he took off his jacket and shirt. The house keeper watched him, a half smile playing on her lips and once again it was Daniel who broke the stare to look away. He untied his shoes and slipped them and his socks off, daring a glance up and nearly gasping aloud as he saw her slowly lick her lips. As he undid his belt she audibly sighed and then he dropped his trousers.
"There now, that wasn't so hard was it, you silly boy. Now off with those underpants and into the bath with you," Trimble said lightly as if nothing had happened.
His shame now lost to shock, he mutely took off the last garment and stepped into the now lukewarm water. She stood up to fetch some soap and a large wooden scrubbing brush, which she chucked into the water between his legs.
"Now scrub," she demanded. "Scrub yourself until you're red all over and I will be checking."
As if reading his mind, the dog in the front room growled a warning at any thought of rebellion he may have held, so he started to scrub, first lathering and then with the brush.
"No, no you're not doing it right," Trimble admonished him. "Stand up and really scrub, scrub to cleanse your wicked soul, boy. Or I'll do it for you."
So he did. Swallowing any remnants of pride that might have hidden itself from the shock of his situation, he stood up in front of her and scoured his body with the stiff bristles. His skin burned from the action of the brush but worse, far worse was the slow rise in temperature between his legs. He closed his eyes and willed it to go away but the more he thought about it, the bigger it grew. He opened his eyes again to see the house keeper eyeing up his tumescence as it guiltily stood out from his body. Her chest rose in great heaves, a deep blush painting her school mistress cheeks and the flames of excitement dancing in her eyes.
"Oh you wicked, wicked boy," she breathed and then smiled lasciviously. Taking a step forward, she peered down at it. Then abruptly, she straightened up and tutted as she turned to walk away.
"Make it go away," she commanded over her shoulder.
By the time the reverend had returned the bath was packed away and it was dark outside. Danny heard him enter from his room as Miss Trimble rattled off the list of things he was allowed to do, (work) and not to do, (everything that meant fun or rest). The room was a bare dusty cell with one threadbare carpet over the boards, a closet for his clothes and a bed that creaked when he put his suitcase on it. As with the rest of the house, it had no electricity and relied on a cheap, sputtering candle for light. The house keeper had made it quite plain that the bed was out of bounds during the day and any spare time he had would be spent either working in the kitchen or in the garden. She gave him a brush to clean the dirt off of his trousers and instructions to unpack, clean his clothes and come downstairs when he was ready. Her preamble was interrupted by the front door opening and the reverend's loud booming voice calling her name. With a stern look of disapproval she told him to clean his clothes then come back downstairs again and then left.
She had acted as if nothing had happened, which was a minor relief if the truth be known. After wordlessly watching him in the tub until the end, she then left him alone, telling him over her shoulder to pour the bathwater away when he was finished. The dog stopped barking as soon as she came into his line of sight which struck him as being very strange. He knew there and then that he had to get away, the woman was mad. However he also knew that he had no chance of outrunning the dog so he was stuck until something came up.
Opening the case, he pulled out his frayed spare clothes and laid them on the bed. His second jacket and trousers he hung on a hangar and took over to the closet. It was dark inside and without the candle he hardly saw anything. Groping with his free arm to find the hangar rail, he sliced nicely through a thick tangle of spider webs and onto the damp wall. Deciding that it might be a good idea to clean the closet first, he returned the clothes to the bed and retrieved the candle.
Peering inside, he gasped in shock at what the candle illuminated. Amid the cobwebs, damp and grime on the walls of the closet was writing. A couple of sentences and one long passage, all written in a foreign language. He first busied himself with the cobwebs and then gave up on the idea when he realised the job was too big and that he needed a cloth to do the job properly.
Closing the door he pondered on what the writing could mean? He suspected it was Welsh but didn't know for sure and he wasn't about to ask Miss Trimble or the reverend either. Perhaps he could copy some of the passages down on paper and ask one of the locals? His thoughts were interrupted by the reverend shouting for him to come downstairs.
He stood on the threshold of the living room, not sure whether he should enter or not. The reverend sat in a chair with a Bible on his lap reading, Miss Trimble stood next to him patting the dog. He decided to ask for a cloth and some water to clean the closet with, to give a good impression and maybe find the first rung on the ladder to their approval.
He coughed lightly and was about to ask when the Reverend looked up and roared, "You wicked, evil, vile specimen!"
The vehemence of the attack rocked him and his jaw dropped as the reverend stood up and advanced on him, shaking a walking stick in anger. "I brought you into my house as a haven from the German bombers and you treat it like a
and Sodom ! This is a
house of God, a holy place, how dare you play with yourself in my house you
piece of filth!" Gomorrah
As his voice crescendoed, the stick waved dangerously in his hand. The blow was coming; Danny just had to time it right so he could dodge it. He cast a glance at Miss Trimble to see her gleefully smiling at him, patting Astaroth. She slowly closed her eyes and wrinkled her nose at him in mock pleasure and then the older man, still shouting his rage, swung with all his considerable might.
Danny stood back and let the stick rush past him, causing the reverend to stumble slightly, but not enough to stop his advance. Danny saw Astaroth stand and growl and his mistress nodded in caution. He realised she wanted him to take a blow; she wanted to see him hurt. He felt sickened that any attempt at retaliation would end with a mauling with him looking the villain, so as the next blow from the stick came he stepped forward and into it, catching it further down its length on the fleshy part of his forearm so it connected but without any real power.
The years at Fazakerley boxing club for boys had trained him to take a punch on the arms and though the old man's swing had been arrested it still hurt like hell. He stepped back to rub where it had connected and mentally decided he'd take the dog on if he had to, but he wasn't going to take another one from the stick. However, there was no need. The reverend, now blowing by his anger and effort merely pointed to the stairs and said, "Go, go now to your room. There'll be no tea for you tonight; you can dwell on your sin with an empty stomach."
Pausing slightly to look at both the old man and his house keeper, he contemplated telling them he didn't want to stay here, he'd sooner go back to the German bombs than live in their madhouse, then decided against it. Miss Trimble's smirk of victory and the reverend's anger creased face would brook no quarrel on this day so, shaking his head in the only show of defiance he could muster, he walked back upstairs.
A feline growl of annoyance greeted him as he opened the door to his room. On the bed, curled up next to his pillow, lay a large ginger cat. One ear almost missing, fur as ragged as the carpet in his room and a large scar over one eye. Danny judged him to be at least fifteen years old, though he was no expert. It lifted a massive head and yawned widely, showing a set of broken teeth and fangs like a battered, curved saw blade. He put his hand out towards him and approached the bed carefully, "Hello there old boy, what's your name then, eh?"
Instantly the cat sprung up on all fours and arched its back while hissing its outrage at being disturbed. Dan backed off and moved to his case, chiding the cat as he did so.
"Alright, have it your way you bad tempered old goat. I only wanted to be friends but if you don't want to be, then that's fine..." A cold blast of air from the closet stopped his muttering dead and he turned to look what had caused it.
Nothing, there was nothing to be seen, although he noticed the door had moved with the gust. Shrugging the incident off he turned back to the bed to see the cat was now gone.
"Suits me fine." he muttered to himself. Another longer blast of cold air blew the candle out and suddenly he was in darkness. He hadn't thought about matches and didn't want to go back downstairs, so he simply decided to leave everything in his case and go to sleep.
The draft coming from the closet grew colder so, by the light of a three quarter moon, he quickly shut the door, with a bit more force than he meant to and jumped into bed. He cursed as he realised he'd left the case on the bed but he pushed it to the far end with his foot, amid a choir of squeaking springs, and closed his eyes.
He turned over the day's events in his head, and wondered about Sandra and where she was. He grinned to himself as he remembered her smile, crystal blue eyes and the flick of her long blonde hair. If only it had been Sandra there today in the kitchen and not that dreadful hag Trimble. His grin faded as he recalled the look of excited fascination as she watched him, the mouth slightly open, cheeks a high blush and the glee, that awful glee in her eyes.
As sleep wrapped its solemn arms around him, he heard the words in his head, over and over again.
"Oh you wicked, wicked boy. You wicked, wicked, wicked, boy..."
Dan had never woken up to the sound of a cockerel before. He'd heard that they cock-a-doodle-doo early in the morning but to actually hear one brought a smile to his face. However, the smile soon faded when he thought back to the shame and the terror of the day before.
Rubbing his eyes, he sat up and gasped at what he saw. The entire contents of his case were strewn around the room; the case itself was still on the bed. Springing out of bed he saw the closet door was open as well.
"What on earth...?" he whispered. Treading slowly towards the closet, he wondered who had had opened it and why? Did the Reverend and Miss Trimble do this, it didn't make sense? Why would they want to do that, or had it been the dog being curious, or maybe even the cat, though he doubted it?
He reached the door and looked inside, then gasped in shock at what lay on the floor. Amid the dust and old cobwebs, the dead flies and dried husks of long gone spiders was the picture of his mother. Taken from his jacket and thrown to the floor like waste.
Lovingly he picked it up, blew the dirt off and held it to his chest. A sudden realisation of how alone he was hit him, this whole situation would never have arisen if she were still alive, if those bloody bombers hadn't bombed their home. Tears flowed rich and wide onto his chest at the memory of her laugh, the way she sang, rubbed his head when he was cheeky and all the other million recollections he held within him. Right there, as grief and humiliation slowly turned to rage, he decided to leave.
Marching wordlessly into the kitchen he took out the biggest knife he could find. The reverend and Trimble were in the living room, but more importantly so was Astaroth so he turned for the back door.
"Where are you going Daniel?" The house keeper asked in her best address-the-class voice from the other room. Danny decided not to answer and made for the door. The now familiar low growl stopped him in his tracks, so dropping his case he hefted the knife and turned to face it.
"I'm going out, away from this mad house," he shouted. "And if that fucking dog comes near me I'll gut the fucker. Now leave me alone!"
By this time both the reverend and the house keeper were stood at the kitchen door. The reverend shocked, not quite knowing what to say, Trimble calm, so infuriatingly calm.
"Well reverend, we'd better let him go then." She drawled as if already bored by the confrontation.
Dan turned, opened the door with one hand, then holding it open with his foot, he picked up his case and ran out. The click of the latch falling back into place was sheer music and he set off at a jaunty pace, leaving the horror, antagonism and degradation of the house behind him. He didn't have a plan other than to get away from there and go back to
Liverpool by any means
The back door led into the orchard so he doubled back past the house to the main gate. There was a brief panic at the thought of meeting them again at the front door but there was no one there and the path was clear.
The morning sun mirrored the freedom in his heart and as he turned to look one last time at the vicarage and derelict church, his heart stopped in his mouth. At the front door stood Trimble, with Astaroth by her side and the ginger cat from the night before rubbing itself against her legs.
"You'll be back, Daniel Kelly. You'll be back and we'll be here, we'll be here waiting for you."
He turned and started to walk again. Running was out of the question but he upped the pace and set off down the road to the town, her words ringing in his head like echoes of a bad dream.
He hadn't walked five minutes when his stomach started to rumble. Provisions and funds for the journey hadn't been high on the agenda when he made his break and now he regretted being so impetuous. Turning a corner he spotted an orchard he hadn't noticed on the way up and he took that as a sign his mother was watching over him. He dropped his case by the wall that stood between him and the trees, jumped up and pulled himself over.
He landed as light as a cat on the other side and stood up to be greeted by the five who had attacked him the day before. Once again it was the middle sized dark haired lad who spoke first.
"Well well, what have we here?" He grinned broadly, though Dan saw no affability in his smile. The other four dropped what they were doing and turned to face him. Danny took heart from the large kitchen knife he'd tucked into the back of his belt but decided to leave it there for the time being.
"Look, I don't want no trouble. There's four of you so that'd be unfair..."
"Five of us." the girl butted in aggressively. "There's five of us."
Danny nodded and held his hand up to placate her but the ginger haired lad broke in. "Shut up, since when do you ever fight? You only ever start them, it's always Bryn who has to fight for you."
"Talk in Welsh Geraint, he doesn't understand that." The leader directed him and a light bulb went up in Danny's head; perhaps they could read the writing? If only he'd written it down..
"Have any of you ever been up to the old vicarage by the church?" he interrupted. "Any of you ever stay the night there?
"No," the dark haired lad answered. "We're not poofs like you."
Daniel ignored the jibe, "I don't blame you, I'm running away from there, it's too weird; that's why I came here, I'm starving and I want some apples."
"Well it'll cost you." the smallest of them said, slotting a stone into his catapult.
However, Danny saw a spark of interest in their leader who had half turned to raise his hand as if to stop him firing any stones and said, "Why, what happened? Is the old goat really a poof after all?" The five moved in to hear him, but what would he tell them? Why did he suddenly feel the need to understand the writing in the closet when he was set on going home anyway? He didn't know, but they seemed friendlier now so he'd talk with them for a while and then go.
"No, he isn't, far from it I think." He smiled when they collectively let their shoulders fall in disappointment but swiftly moved on. "But, the thing is, in my room there, there was a closet, and I opened it to hang my stuff up and it was full of writing, I think it was in Welsh. And that house keeper? She's strange, I had to get away from there."
The girl, Elizabeth, had her fingers to her mouth in rapt attention, but the others didn't look so interested. "So," the red haired lad called Geraint asked. "What's that meant to mean? We are in
, you know?" Wales
"I don't know what it's meant to mean, but I think that she's a witch and that that bloody dog of hers is dangerous. Do you know if anyone's been killed around here?"
Now they were interested and started to babble as one in Welsh. Dan suspected they thought that too about Trimble and the monster dog so he let them talk while he ate an apple he found on the floor. Finally the spokesman of the gang turned to him.
"We think she's a witch too, you better come with us to the village and tell Sergeant Evans about what you've seen there."
"What am I going to say? She looks like a witch, the dog's dangerous and I found some writing I think is Welsh? He'll laugh at me and they'll send me to the loony bin."
The girl giggled and the others joined in. "Well, we'll walk with you to the village anyway if you want? My name's Huw by the way." The dark haired leader smiled. "Bryn you know, Geraint and the youngest is Dafydd. I think you know Beth as well?"
They shook hands and Danny felt very solemn doing it. The cheerful worth of the moment was cracked by the voice of an adult. "O'r gorau, gollyngwch yr afal, a dewch yn eich blaenau!" (Right you lot, drop the apples and let's be having you!) A stern voice called out in Welsh from the other side of the wall.
Who's that?" Danny asked, wide eyed in panic.
"Sergeant Evans" Huw answered resignedly.
Sergeant Evans turned out to be the kindly looking man who had taken Sandra and the two other kids in on their first day in the church; though he looked far more severe in his uniform.
"Look lad," he said matter of factly after Danny had told him he why he had to leave the vicarage, all be it in a very watered down version of the events. "I know the Reverend is a bit loud now and then, and Miss Trimble is a bit old fashioned when it comes to discipline, but I can't have you running around the country on your own. You'll have to go back, I'm sorry but them's the rules."
Dan's desperation turned swiftly into panic. "I can't go back, they'll kill me!"
"Don't be so bloody daft, now are you going to come with me or do I have to make you?"
Danny sized the man up. Though he looked amiable enough, he was a very big man and he doubted very much he could best him, he could run though...
"And don't even think about running away, because when we catch you, and we will, you'll have me to deal with and I hate being made to look stupid by young lads." Then in a more sympathetic tone, "Look lad, I'll take you up there and I'll see what's what, but you'll have to go back and that's final. Now, are you going to make this easier on both of us?"
And that was how he found himself back at the front door of the old vicarage, facing a very angry priest. The policeman's persuasion, his lack of preparation and the fact that he didn't even know where he was going had made up his mind for him that he'd have to return.
"Ah, Constable Evans, I see you've brought our Jonah back to the fold."
"That's Sergeant Evans, reverend, and I believe his name is Daniel?"
The reverend nodded sagely, "It is Sergeant, but Jonah was the man who tried to run away from God, and was swallowed by a whale."
Danny looked up to the policeman with a see-what-I-mean look on his face but Evans ignored him. "Well reverend, from what the young man tells me, it's more like Daniel being pushed into the lion's den."
Just as he spoke, Astaroth poked his head out from behind the reverend and panted in an almost friendly manner. Dan took a step back but the Sergeant placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Easy now lad, it's only Astor, he may be big but he's as daft as a brush is that one."
"He's a killer, Sarge, she was going to set him on me!"
As if on cue, Miss Trimble came to the front door in a waft of perfume and smiled at the policeman. "Good morning Sergeant, so glad you found our runaway, and we didn't even have to telephone you to tell you, how very efficient you are." Daniel noticed she had taken her glasses off and her hair was let down, which had an obvious effect on the Sergeant.
"Well, thank you Miss, but it was pure luck really. I caught him scrumping up by Jones Milk's orchard and, well it was no bother."
Closing his eyes in despair at the Sergeant's embarrassed, almost teenage twaddle, Danny decided to try once more.
"Look Sarge, that dog's a killer, she was going to set it on me. Last night the reverend beat me with a stick and I was sent to my..."
"But why were you sent to your room?" The reverend exploded. "You dare to lay accusations at my door; shall I tell the good constable what you did to be sent to your room? Or what you put poor Miss Trimble through? Shall I, shall I?" Without waiting for an answer he turned to Sergeant Evans and spluttered in his indignation, "Playing with himself, in full view of Miss Trimble, Sergeant. Playing with himself, so what do you think of that then?
Dan gasped in horror and then quickly rallied, "She made me do it, I swear! She made me do it!"
Sergeant Evans, now fully out of his depth, looked aghast at Daniel. "I have never, in all my years in the force, heard of such a thing."
"And there's more Sergeant," Trimble added. "Ask him who was threatening who with a knife this morning? Who wanted to stab poor old Astor? I bet he still has the knife on him."
Daniel deflated in submission, he knew he was beaten; by circumstance, his own stupidity and the workings of a woman's wiles on a middle aged policeman.
"If you still have it on you, I suggest you take it out now lad." Evans said in a threateningly low tone, all trace of his earlier good nature now gone.
From behind his back, he pulled out the knife, eliciting an audible gasp from the policeman. "Lad, I know you do things different in
Liverpool, but here, in Old Colwyn, we don't tell lies, threaten old people
with knives or play with ourselves in front of the ladies. Now I'm going to
hand you back to the reverend, who's a man of good standing in the village. If
you run away again, I'll have you arrested for theft, threatening behaviour and
public indecency. You'll go to prison for that and I don't need to tell you
what happens in prison to perverts like yourself, do I?"
Daniel couldn't bring himself to speak; his humiliation was complete so he merely shook his head.
"I didn't think so," Evans admonished. Handing the knife back to Miss Trimble, who held it as if she were holding a dead rat by its tail, he gave Daniel one last look of distain and then politely nodded to the reverend. "I'll leave you all to it then, reverend. Good day to you both." With a lingering smile at Miss Trimble, the policeman was gone and with it any hope that Daniel might have had of escape.
He watched Evans go and then turned back to the door. The reverend was already inside; the boy had been dealt with and for him the matter was over. However his house keeper stood waiting to meet Danny's eye. Gloating like a cat with a cornered mouse, she smiled and rubbed her tongue over her lips. "Don't try that ever again Danny Kelly, you belong to me now and there's nothing you can do about it."
As if to underline his mistress's words, Astaroth gave a quiet growl and eyed him as he trudged back into the house.