My Sixth Summer
Time started to drag after the death of my gran as I was still missing her frequent visits to my house. She used to come to see me every other Saturday as I was her only grandchild and I often found myself sitting under her tree with my back to the trunk. I did, however, make sure that I did not disturb the stones and soil near to the hole under the branch.
Whilst sitting there one day, I noticed little paths leading to the hole and sometimes, when I had nothing else to do I would try following the trails to see where they would lead. The paths criss-crossed the back of the shop, some went out into the alleyways and into the backs of other shops and across to the back yards of houses in the streets around the square. I never went into the back yards or the back of other shops but one day I did find one trail that seemed to go right round the alleyway that ran behind the shops on three sides of the square and which actually lead to the back yard of my house. This quite surprised me, so I searched very carefully to see exactly where it would lead.
I had followed the trails many times and was getting used to tracking the tiny footprints but sometimes I had to guess which way they might have turned, however, I could generally pick up the tracks again. When I looked carefully round my own back yard, the signs were quite clear and I found an entrance under the coal shed and woodpile, which had been excavated into the earth just behind a roof support. It was very clever of someone to put the entrance behind the support so you had to know where to look to find it. I wondered who had dug it there.
I decided that I would go to bed early that night and investigate further when it got dark. I pulled my pyjamas on over my ordinary clothes, I hid a torch under my pillow and made sure my slippers and housecoat were squashed under the bed. I knew that mum and dad would not come back into my room once I was asleep so when mum came to check I pretended to be asleep early with my eyes tightly closed. When I could hear mum and dad listening to the radio downstairs, I climbed down from my bed, pulled on my housecoat, tied my belt round my middle, wriggled my toes into my slippers, took the torch in my hand, tested that it still worked under the bedclothes and got ready for my first adventure into the night.
I was quite worried as I went down the stairs, I had never noticed just how much noise they made, as normally I ran quickly in my clomping shoes, but as I was trying not to make a noise this time and moving very slowly and carefully, it seemed that I managed to find every place that caused the stairs to creak and moan under my weight. I eventually reached the last stair when I heard my mum ask dad if he would like a cup of tea. I knew this meant that she would be going to the kitchen area and would have to pass the bottom of the stairs. I jumped the last step and flew, well almost, into the cupboard under the stairs leaving the door slightly ajar so I could see through the small crack behind the hinges I saw that part of my housecoat had caught in the door and was sticking outside, I hoped it would not be noticed as there were often things trapped in the door.
Mum came out of the living room and went into the kitchen area to put the kettle on the stove to make the tea. I knew it would take the kettle a while to boil and that this would give me a chance to escape from the cupboard. I waited for mum to go back into the living room and when I could hear them both talking about the play they had been listening to on the radio, I squeezed out of the cupboard and pressed my back hard against the wall as I edged along to reach the kitchen door, which was not far from the stove. I reached the door just as the kettle began to whistle quietly. By the time I had managed to unlock the door the whistle became more urgent and as the door closed behind me I heard mum come through the living room to make the tea. She did not notice me bending down behind the bottom panel of the door, I had to do that as the top half of the door was made up of six small panes of clear glass. I stayed crouched down there, holding on to the handle in case I had not closed the door properly, until the tea had brewed and mum poured it into the cups and took it into the living room. She then closed the door to keep out the draft. Then and only then did I let go of the handle, push the door gently to make sure it was closed and turned round to walk carefully down the yard.
This was the very first time I had ever been outside the kitchen door on my own at that time of night and in the dark. It was a good thing that it was still summer as the sky still had a faint glimmer, and I was able to see without turning on the torch.
I walked on tiptoe toward the coal shed and woodpile where I had found the tracks and the hole hidden behind the roof support. As I got closer I flicked on my torch and pointed it in the direction of the coal shed. I nearly dropped the torch. As I moved it across towards where the hole was, two small bright lights reflected back at me, they blinked and then they were gone. I hurried towards the hole. There was nothing to be seen. I spun round with the torch and pointed it in all directions. Still nothing. I explored further but did not dare leave the yard.
Sitting on a chair that had been moved into the yard to rest the washing basket on to save bending right to the ground, I put my arms around my hunched up knees and hugged them to my chest, resting the heels of my slippers on the edge of the seat and I just sat there quietly for a while. It was lovely outside, much cooler than the daytime, particularly at this time of year. It was not as scary as I thought it might be. There were lots of strange noises that I didn’t recognise, but I was not frightened.
After sitting there for a few minutes more, I decided that I should probably go back to bed and was just about to put my feet to the floor when I felt a tug on my housecoat, which was hanging near the ground. I felt it again so I reached for my torch and flashed it on. Once again the two small bright lights blinked back at me.
‘Would you please put that light out, you are blinding me’.
I immediately recognised the voice, it belonged to Mercury. I flicked off the torch and apologised to him. Unfortunately I had temporarily blinded him and he had to wait for a few seconds holding on to my housecoat before his sight came back, otherwise he would have bumped into things as he explained to me he had done earlier when I shone the torch on the hole. He showed me the small plaster he had on the end of his nose which was in the shape of a cross, like the ‘X’ you put on the bottom of a birthday card, but he said that he had hurt his nose when he ran into the roof support as he misjudged the entrance to his new home because he was unable to focus properly.
With that I knew who had been the clever creature to put the hole behind the roof support, but maybe not so clever as he had bruised his nose when he ran into it in a hurry. I then remembered that had been my fault.
I was really sorry to have caused him this injury, because of my thoughtlessness but he offered me his right front paw and we shook hands and made friends. He was my friend for another three summers before I lost touch with him when I became more involved in football and he moved away. I forgot that he was already a teenager at that time although still very young in people years and he did need to find a life of his own which he had not done due to his close friendship with me.
As I grew older, I wished sometimes I had been able to keep in touch with Mercury, but by the time I was 9 years old, I was playing football, and had more people friends and the things he and I had done together when I had no people friends all seemed long ago although they remained very real and I was pleased that we had met and shook hands as we had that night.
By the time Mercury and I had our little talk it was time for me to make my way back to bed. I snuck in the back door, locking it behind me and approached the creaking stairs. They didn’t seem to creak so much on the way up so I managed to climb them quite quickly and dive into my bed.
I was horrified when I realised that my door was opening and I saw against the light through the tiny crack between my eye lids that mum was standing in the doorway. I only hoped she would not come too close because I had jumped into bed with my slippers still on my feet and my housecoat wrapped round me as I had been unable to undo the knot in my belt. Mercury must have been hanging on the end of it when he was blinded and the knot was too tight to loosen. The torch, which was still in my pocket was now digging into my ribs and was beginning to hurt. Luckily mum turned and closed the door and I was able to wrestle out of my housecoat and slippers, put my pyjamas on properly and then it was not long before I was asleep, dreaming that I too had a plaster in the shape of an ‘X’ on the end of my nose.
To Chapter Three
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