2006 – SAGA Competition
This story came to me when a solitary rat was seen sunning itself on the entrance door step at the rear of the office block where I worked. The office block is situated alongside the railway line where the trains run to and from London and there were many comments from the office staff about the presence of the rat, which had come up through the roots of a tree that was planted in the concrete yard of the offices.
After some time the rat man called and laid bait for the rat(s). One bait box was large and black and the other shaped like a foil tube. The day after the rat man called, the black box bore the label ‘MacDonalds’ and the foil tube, ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’. I know it was a wicked thing do, but it started me thinking and writing.
(This story is in 9 Chapters, the end of each chapter will link you into the next.)
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GEORGE GOODE checked the time on the gleaming, gold digital watch he was wearing. The intercom had just announced that the train on which he was travelling would arrive at his destination, on time, within the next two minutes. This meant that the journey from London had taken 2 hours 15 minutes, exactly how long it was scheduled to take.
The train gradually slowed as it approached a bend. George looked out of the carriage window and saw an old signal box in need of a coat of red paint and an old style signal with its metal arm in the ‘up’ position, which meant that the train could continue on slowly round the bend in the track and the driver could pull up level with the end of the northbound platform.
George stood up, lifted his overnight case from the rack above his seat and checked the creases in his trousers. He buttoned his jacket and fingered the gold cufflinks in his crisp blue shirt sleeves which had his initials ‘GG’ engraved on them. He bent down and flicked a speck of dust from the toe of his right shoe then moved toward the automatic doors. As the train stopped, the forefinger of George’s free hand slid effortlessly over the shiny silver door release button and the carriage door slid back without a murmur.
He stepped out from the inter-city express that had carried him safely from London, onto the station platform.
Twenty years earlier, George had stood on the opposite platform when he had taken the 10 am steam train to London. He was just 18 years old then and had been selected from all the players in his local football team to train with one of the top London clubs. He had climbed up the steps into the musty old train, walked along the narrow corridor and found an empty ‘No Smoking’ carriage.
The old leather suitcase, in which he carried two changes of clothes and his football boots, had its corners reinforced with stainless steel which had been stitched on, and a sticker for ‘Brighton’ stuck a little lopsided, faded and torn on one corner, right in the middle of the lid. He remembered the week’s holiday he’d had in Brighton with his mother and father when he was 10 years old. All his clothes for the holiday had been packed tightly in that suitcase and he could barely lift it, but he struggled on to the bed and breakfast house where they were to stay, following his parents from the station.
It had been a wonderful week playing football on the beach with his father and others they met there and it was on this holiday that he had first met up with Stanley Jones, who was a scout for a London club. Stanley Jones was so impressed with the way George played that some years later, asked about him when he was out scouting for new talent near where George lived. Stanley Jones had been pleased to see the progress George had made over the years and selected him as the only person to go forward from the many he had watched that weekend.
When George had left for London at 18 years of age, it had been the proudest day of his life and there had been a small crowd of friends on the platform to see him off. Scarves and hankies had been waved until well after the train had disappeared in a cloud of steam, round the bend in the track and on to London.
That journey had taken 4 hours, but the train had made a number of stops in large towns on the way south, and had also stopped to take on water, which it needed to keep up a head of steam. The journey today had been much quicker, and George had barely had time to settle into his seat and open his paper before the train made its first scheduled stop. This time he had not been alone in a single carriage as the new trains were laid out differently. The carriages were long, open without a corridor and some seats were facing forward and some backwards with a table between.
An invitation had been received to return to his old school to present the end of year prizes to the students. George had allowed himself an extra day to take a good look round the village where he had grown up, and to talk with people he knew.
During his return journey, George’s thoughts kept returning to the time he was growing up.
George’s parents had both died within a year of each other not long before this time but he was pleased that he had kept in touch with them while he was playing football all round the country and abroad, and had seen quite a lot of them as they had taken it in turns to visit with him in London or to come to matches where he was playing. The trip back home was therefore quite sad, as well as being a tremendous honour for him to be invited back to his old school, and he had accepted the invitation without hesitation.
When George lived and grew up in ORVILLE it had been a small village, 5 miles south of Nutwood. Everyone living in Orville knew everyone else at that time, but the people of Nutwood had been building houses for many years and these now reached the other side of the railway line. As a consequence of this, Orville became much busier as the people of Nutwood sent their children to the village school and would also come to the market on a Saturday.
George could see from the station that Orville still kept its character, it was a very old village whereas Nutwood was very new with most of the houses looking exactly the same.
At the very centre of Orville was the village square; planted with trees to give shade in the summer and paved with big grey slabs. The square had recently acquired some smaller areas of old, worn cobbles. These old, worn cobbles had been the ones to be laid as a road when Orville was first built and they had withstood many storms, years of baking sun, the clatter of horses hooves and the twang of the steel rims on the wooden wheels of the horse-drawn carriages. The old, worn cobbles had been buried under the big grey slabs to modernise the square some thirty years earlier but one hot summer’s day there had been a leak in a water pipe deep under-ground which had caused a fountain of water to spurt five foot into the air.
One of the workmen digging for the leak had uncovered the old, worn cobbles and thought it would be nice to have some of these on top of the big grey slabs again, so when the water leak had been mended and the water fountain stopped, he re-laid the area that had been dug up and changed it round by putting some of the big grey slabs underneath the old, worn cobbles. The workman set out the old, worn cobbles so that the village children could use them to play hopscotch and other games that had almost been forgotten. This was a great success with both parents and children as many of the children now came to the square and would play outside whilst their parents were inside the shops. There was no traffic allowed in the square so it was quite safe for the children to play.
Around the square, stood the village hall, the school, and Town Hall. There were also a number of different shops, most of which were as old as the old, worn cobbles. Some of the shops were leaning a little to the right and some a little to the left so anyone new visiting the square spent a lot of their time moving their heads from side to side to try and make the shops appear to be standing straight but of course that could not be done. It was only the people who had lived in Orville all their lives that kept their heads straight when they were shopping as they were used to how the shops looked and it did not matter to them that the shops were slightly leaning to the left or the right.
You could buy almost anything in the shops; cauliflowers, carrots, cottons and clothes, in fact everything including chocolate cake and ice cream
There was just one shop that everyone went in because it sold useful things. This shop was one of the few, which still stood upright in the northern corner of the square. The window of this shop was also special as no other shop in the square had one quite like it. The window was bowed outwards and was divided by pieces of wood, which were wedged around blocks of thick glass. Most of the blocks were clear glass with tiny defects, which made the glass appear to be green in places, but some of the blocks had a big bump in the middle and the glass seemed to swirl into a circle. There were not many of these as they were spread over the window, so you could see through into the shop or look in the window. If you were a small person you would have noticed a very strange item in the very front corner of the window.
Some of the shops had things outside, either standing or hanging from hooks screwed into the sign over the shop window. Sometimes they fell down or blew away if a sudden gust of wind came from nowhere, to be lost forever.
Most of the shops had brightly coloured blinds, which were pulled down to keep out the sun. Some were striped and some were plain, some even had the name of the shopkeeper or the trade written on them, but every one seemed to be different and brightened up the square when they were shading the sun. Whatever time of day you happened to visit the square, shops on one side or the other would have their blinds down only to put them away again when the sun moved round to shine on another shop window.
Behind the shops there were alleyways which lead not only to the back entrances of the shops but also to the back yards of houses. These houses faced onto the streets running right round the square.
The houses were very small, as they had been built a long time ago when people themselves were smaller. The houses were joined together but with a gap between the ground floor of every alternate house. The bedrooms of the houses were joined over the top of the gap so upstairs of the house was bigger than downstairs. The front door of the house lead you straight into the living room which was the largest room in the house, but generally the family lived and ate in the room behind which was smaller but cosier as it had an alcove along one of the outside walls where an old stone sink stood on two piers of bricks with a brass tap coming out of the wall and a cooker which had to be stacked with wood or coal, whichever was available, this made the room warm in winter and hot in summer. This was George’s favourite room. he had been born upstairs in this house.
George’s mind returned to the job in hand, he bent down, picked up his overnight case and strode, purposefully, along the platform and out of the station. He was the last person to leave, even the Station Master had returned to his little office to sort out the money and tickets and to tidy up the waiting room alongside his office. He always liked to keep a pile of magazines on the table for people to read and a little pot of cut flowers and greenery to brighten up the room whilst they waited for their train to arrive.
There was a slight incline on the path between the station and the village square but as George walked up, he could see that he was headed towards the new hotel that had been built not far from the station. The hotel was two storeys taller than the shops and had a flag flying from its roof, so it was easy to locate. George had specifically booked a room there as he knew that it overlooked the square and the shops. He checked into the hotel, deposited his overnight case in his room, hung up his clean shirt for the morning and decided to have a walk around.
George left the hotel and meandered along, taking time to look at everything, and not in any hurry to go anywhere, he just wanted to see what was still in the village that he remembered and what or who might remember him.
After walking for a while George decided that he would sit at one of the many tables now scattered round the square and get a bite to eat and a glass of beer. As he had been busy with games all season he had not been allowed to drink as this interfered with his training, he therefore knew that he would enjoy the beer all the more.
He finished the last mouthful of a delicious ham and salad sandwich and lifted the glass of beer to his lips, the froth did not have chance to touch his lips before he heard someone calling his name. George looked up and saw a face he thought he recognised but he wasn’t quite sure who it belonged to. He was slapped on the back of his shoulder a few times then the glass of beer was whisked away and his hand was shaken vigorously. By the time the shaking stopped George thought his arm was just about to fall apart at the elbow.
This semi-recognised person turned out to be John, the boy who had given him his very first football and started him on his career path in the professional game. Had it not been for John, George may not have started to play football, be spotted, or be selected to go to London for training.
They sat and talked for some considerable time, and then George said that he really wanted to look around the village. They both stood up and ambled around the village together, reminiscing on old times and discussing the merits of all the changes.
As they reached a corner of the square, George stopped walking. This was the corner where his parents had kept their shop.
George and John both sat down on a rickety bench in the corner of the square and George began to recall his early childhood. He talked on and the tale he told fascinated his old friend, who had no idea what George’s life had been like when they were at school together before they started to play football in the same team.
George explained that his mum and dad had worked very hard in the shop in the northern corner of the square, which had bowed, glass block windows, and a very strange item in the corner of the front window that only a small person would notice.
George also reminded his friend that he had been called ‘Sonny’ in those days.
As an only child, George explained that he spent quite a lonely childhood, playing only with other children in the street when the weather was good, and on his own either in the back of the shop in the corner of the square or at home, behind the shops on the other side of the square, when the weather was not so good.
Quite often his gran would visit and he would be taken down to the local pond to feed the ducks.
These visits stopped the year he fell into the pond when he was trying to catch a too large piece of bread that he had thrown in by accident. He only wanted to break it up so the ducks could eat it more easily, but his mum was quite upset with his gran when he got home all wet and muddy. She thought he had nearly drowned but the lake is only about 8” deep above the mud-line so the likelihood of his drowning was quite remote, he simply stood up and waded back to the bank and clambered out, making his gran all muddy as well when she gave him a hug to stop him crying. He showed her the large piece of bread he had saved so that he could break it up small for the ducks. Unfortunately his splash in the pond had frightened away all the ducks and there were none to eat the bread, so they started off home hand-in-hand, with the piece of saved bread in his other hand for next time. He thinks they spoke to more people that day than he had done in all his 6 years.
When they reached home, he got scrubbed from head to toe and came out all pink and shiny and smelling of carbolic soap. Gran was warned not to take him near the pond again and she never did.
George reverted back to that time in his mind and was remembering and really talking to himself out loud, his friend, John, did not need to say a word and just sat there listening to George recalling his childhood as ‘Sonny’.
George cleared his throat and continued.
Not long after this little adventure in the pond, my gran became very ill and died. After the funeral there were lots of people in our house and I just had to get out of the way so I wandered off, in my best clothes, down the back yard, along the alleyways and round the square. I found myself in the back yard of the shop. There were lots of old wooden crates, barrels, boxes and rusting metalwork lying around but what I always liked best was the tree that my gran had planted 20 years earlier when she had worked in the shop. She put it there so it would shade her from the sun when it got very hot on the long summer days. I was so very unhappy and sat on the ground under the tree with my back to the trunk just how gran had told me she used to sit.
I suppose I was there for quite a long time. The breeze was gentle over my face, drying my tears and the branches of the tree were waving gently making patterns over the boxes and old wooden crates. Nobody was calling me or looking for me and I must have fallen asleep.
At first I wasn’t sure whether I was dreaming or whether I had woken up, but I heard a squeaky voice calling my name.
‘Sonny, Sonny, are you awake? Please could you move your foot as you are knocking lots of stones and soil all over my front door mat and I have just swept up.’
I moved my feet very carefully and sat up, I had fallen over sideways and was lying on my side with my head resting on my arms. My feet were against one of the raised roots of the tree and I could just see a hole beneath the root. Peeking from the hole was the face of something I had not seen before. It was covered in what appeared to be a browny-greyish fur, with two little ears, bright eyes, a pointed nose, long whiskers that kept twitching and what appeared to be some very big, sharp pointed teeth. Surely this was not what was talking to me in that squeaky voice.
I tentatively spoke very quietly as I did not want to frighten whatever it was.
‘ I – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do it, I must have been dreaming of playing football. I hope I haven’t made too much mess, can I help you clear it up’.
‘Oh no, that’s all right’ said the squeaky voice, ‘I can manage, really. I just didn’t want you to kick the root and cause the ceiling to fall in that would have made a terrible mess’.
As I moved to edge closer to the hole under the root to get a better look, I thought I had better make sure I wasn’t dreaming so I pinched my arm. It hurt quite a bit and turned red, so I decided that I was really awake. Then it struck me that squeaky voice knew my name. At least the name my mum and dad called me and what my gran used to call me when we sat together under the tree talking.
‘H – How do you know my name?’ I asked.
‘Well, I have lived here for three summers now and I have listened to you since you were a little one when you had to hold your gran’s hand to walk over the tree roots without falling over and grazing your knee. I have listened to you laugh and listened to you cry when you got told off for doing something naughty. I know you almost as well as I know my own children’.
‘H – How come I didn’t know you were there?’ I asked
‘Well, when there are people around my children have been taught to be very quiet and not to squeak or scamper around for fear of being caught, so you see it was only because you were alone and were knocking stones and soil onto my floor that I decided I would wake you up and ask you to stop. I hope you don’t mind’
‘No, of course not. I’m very sorry’.
‘Yes, I’m sure you are, you are a very nice little boy, Sonny, and I know you are very sad at the moment. Would you like to meet my boys and girls? Unfortunately you cant get inside my house, but we can come inside the shop if you would like to meet us all.’
‘Oh yes please’ I said ‘I would like to meet you all. How many of you are there?’
‘Well there are quite a few of us, but not many of us are comfortable meeting people so I don’t think you will get to see us all, but I have always told my boys and girls to treat people kindly and hope that they will treat them in the same way. They are good boys and girls, just like you so I hope you will be kind to them.’
‘Yes, of course I will.’ I said, wondering why anyone would not want to be kind to them.
‘Go into the shop then and look behind the sawn timber that is stacked in the corner, behind the back door, we will meet you there, I will just make sure that they are presentable before they come to meet you, we won’t be long’.
I found the key to the back door, which was always hidden under a crate, unlocked the door by standing on a low box which I pulled along the ground to the door and went inside, taking the key from the lock outside and putting it in the lock inside, as gran had shown me. ‘That way you don’t lose the key’ she had always told me and so that is what I always did. I still do it today.
I went over to the sawn timber that was stacked behind the door and curiously looked around everywhere to see whom it might be that had such a squeaky voice and where they would come from. I must have been looking the other way because I did not see the coming of them, only these funny looking creatures lined up in two rows on a plank of timber. They all looked similar, but not all the same. I looked quickly along the rows to see which one it was that had squeaked at me, and I counted how many there were. . . . . 6, 7, 8, 9 … 10.
10 creatures, standing in rows,
all have a head, four feet with five toes,
some are fat, and some are thin,
but all have whiskers on their chin.
‘Oh’ I gasped, very surprised. ‘Who are you?’
A medium sized one, not fat and not thin, and certainly not covered with skin, moved forward, in the same squeaky voice that I had heard outside, she explained that this was her latest family. This family had been a particularly large one, but that as they were all very good boys and girls, there had been no trouble and all had grown up to be happy teenagers, ready now to leave home and start their own lives,
I looked along the rows as I was introduced to them all in turn. I am afraid to say that as there were so many names, I was unable to remember them all and it wasn’t until the very last one, who was overly fat, or should I say rounded, and rather slow moving that I actually remembered the name I had been told. ‘Mercury’. I thought this a very strange name for a creature that was obviously overweight, and not at all light-footed. I had heard my mum talking to my dad about Mercury, who was the God of wrestling and gymnastics. I don’t think they could have been referring to this ‘Mercury’ somehow. Anyway, that was the only creature whose name I remembered.
We spent about an hour talking about the shop and some of the things that were to be found in there and about the different items that had found their way into the house below the tree roots, because they were useful. At the end of this time most of the others had wandered off to do what they had to do and I found that I was talking only with squeaky voice, and Mercury. I never did learn the name of squeaky voice, but I never saw her after that day. I still sometimes think it was all a dream.
After another few minutes we said goodbye and I locked up the back door of the shop, placed the key back where I had found it and I went back home as I was feeling quite hungry. I had promised not to tell anyone about what had happened and I haven’t done so up until today.
To Chapter Two
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