Thursday, December 1, 2011

"The Shelter" by James Everington (Novelette)

Genre:  Horror

Short Story Type:  Novelette

Summary:  It’s a long, drowsy summer at the end of the 1980s, and Alan Dean and three of his friends cross the fields behind their village to look for a rumoured WW2 air raid shelter. Only half believing that it even exists beyond schoolboy gossip, the four boys nevertheless feel an odd tension and unease. And when they do find the shelter, and go down inside it, the strange and horrifying events that follow will test their adolescent friendships to breaking point, and affect the rest of their lives...

It's strange, when I look back on it, that on a day we were worried would be boring, everything changed. It was towards the end of a long, drowsy summer, monotonous with heat and the lack of wind. I still have the nightmares about that day and what followed, when I awake into blackness, and the sheets that I’ve pushed to my feet seem like they’re reaching to drag me down. It’s been twenty years, and still the dreams; maybe writing this will stop them. I don’t want to dream any longer about the day when Mark Galloway said we should cross the fields to the old air raid shelter.

There were four of us sitting on the bench, or rather sitting on the bench’s back, with our feet resting on the seat. As boys do. We were fidgety, and bored, and didn’t want to admit to each other that we’d burnt out the long anticipated summer holidays too quickly. We’d left ourselves with nothing to do for the next few weeks but sit in the sun, play the same games and pranks, and taunt each other with the same old insults. Many of my memories after that day are hazy from drink or distance, but I can recall sitting on that bench in the sun as clearly as anything in my life.

Duncan Moore was my best friend, I suppose. We weren’t really very similar, or close. We just hung around together. I’m not sure there's any logic to who boys befriend at that age. Duncan was tall with broad shoulders; he had short cut blond hair and eyes as blue and dull as the summer sky. He always looked hunched and awkward, as if he knew his height was just a temporary victory over his classmates, and one he shouldn’t draw too much attention to. Despite his height, he tended to fade into the background because he did or said so little unprompted. He was, to be frank, thick as the pig shit that they sprayed on the fields behind the village as fertiliser. My school report cards started getting slowly worse after I befriended Duncan; they nose-dived after I met Mark and Tom.

Duncan may have been stupid, but he wasn’t cruel. Mark and Tom were both stupid and mean; bullies, to put it differently. Tom irremediably so; Mark may have had more to him than that, but I never got to find out.

The two older boys had started hanging around with Duncan and I at the start of the summer. We didn’t know why. They were two years older than us so we didn’t protest – it made us seem older in the eyes of our classmates. And besides we didn’t want to anger them. But we both knew we were out of our depth – maybe in two years time smoking cigarettes (which Mark stole from his dad) would have been exciting, but at thirteen? I’d just coughed frantically, and the others had laughed equally frantically at me. Similarly I'd hated the taste of the cheap lager Tom and Mark also stole, although now my girlfriend wants me to get help, I drink so much.

Mark was sitting on the bench next to me, his skinny body erect and his head craning about, as if looking for something to do in the boring ex-mining village in which we lived. But as I said, we’d exhausted it all already. Mark was really tall, and skinny – ‘lanky’ was the word we used, behind his back. His dark shaggy hair was only cut when his mum won on the bingo; it fell into his black eyes and hid a stud in his left ear. He was often scowling, as if thinking about a particularly difficult problem, but when he did smile it was uncharacteristically bright and carefree. Mark’s older brother was in jail for burglary, and village gossips concurred that he would end up in the same place. I don’t know what his home life was like, he never let Duncan or me into his house, only Tom. When they went in to filch something, we had to wait outside – he lived in what was still known as the ‘mining estate’ and I found the rows of long, brown terraces cramped and intimidating.

He was a bully at school, but in an offhand way, as if it was just the obvious and somewhat boring thing to do. His threats and dinner-money extortions loomed large in the minds of all kids younger than him - he had beat me up a few times, and Duncan too, but he didn’t seem to remember when he started hanging around with us that summer. Mark didn’t do well at school, but he did have a respect for knowledge, or at least for the kind of boyish knowledge that I possessed: knowing how to start fires with a magnifying glass; knowing about that UFO that had crashed in America after the war and been hushed up; knowing that if you scraped the stuff off the back of playing cards you could use it make explosives. He liked people who knew about things like that.

Tom White was not like that though, he was stupid and had no cunning or sense of fairness of any kind. He lived with his dad, who was an alcoholic and let Tom do whatever he wanted, which Tom did. As a consequence he was known as a troublemaker by the adults, and as a stupid wanker by us kids. We were both right. He was always doing stupid things and getting caught, like trying to escape an after school detention by climbing out the window, but getting stuck because he was so fat. Tom got very angry if anyone called him fat, but he was, and as kids who’d frequently been bullied by him, we felt no shame in saying so behind his back. Tom did whatever Mark said, because Mark was the only person who pretended to like him. Everyone but Tom knew it was just so Mark had someone to do his bidding, and occasionally take the fall if their misdeeds got out of hand. Even Duncan had worked that out.

And me? Alan Dean?

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