Wake not in fear
Steven awoke covered in sweat. He was already upright and the thin tablecloth he used as a blanket was in an untidy heap upon the floor. He had the images of the dream still fully formed in his mind and he closed his mouth slowly as he became aware that the scream of horror must have been in his head and thankfully, not reverberating around the house where Ryan could have heard it. The last thing he wanted to do was wake Ryan. He reached up an unsteady hand and slowly wiped it across his face. That was some nightmare. His face contorted in wry acknowledgement that he usually woke with fear uppermost in his mind, but from what might happen to him, never before from his wild imaginings. It had been a while since he had gone to sleep on a full stomach it was true, but surely that could not have caused such a deeply disturbing occurrence. He desperately wanted to splash cool water over his face to rid himself of the clammy feeling that had gripped him, yet he knew of old that it was best never to do anything to wake Ryan. Once he had his breathing under control, he might decide to try to get to the bathroom but for now Steve leant back onto the wall and replayed the dream in his head. Ryan had taken him to
. He was in a strange town, with dark and dangerous inhabitants and they had all been intent upon harming him. There were guns and grenades stockpiled in rooms and the men had been trying to teach him how to use them. He had tried to refuse, but they had held him down and beaten him, laughing as they did so. That was not the worst of it. They had his Nana. She had been bound and gagged and tied to a chair in a smoke-filled room and they had held him and forced him to watch as they had slowly slit her throat. That was when he had screamed his impotent scream and woken to the cold dawn of reality. What the Hell did the dream mean? Nana had been dead for years; no-one could harm her now. Ireland
It was true that Ryan might be taking him to
, but Steven liked to think that he was made of sterner stuff than to let his stupid imagination generate ridiculous dreams. It almost felt as though it was a warning. Like his Nana was trying to stop him from doing something, something that someone else was going to try to force him to do? He wafted a hand over his face as he felt a tingle cross it, just like the feeling you get when you walk into a cobweb. That was a bit bizarre, as there were no cobwebs to be seen. He picked his cloth up and hugged it to him. His Nana had embroidered the tablecloth years ago and when Steve held it, it almost felt like he was close to her again. A small smile played around his lips. It was a silly dream, that’s all. Ireland
The clock in the hall struck six a.m. and Steven knew he was not going to be able to get back to sleep now. He tiptoed over to the cardboard box in the corner of the room. He rummaged through the contents, some dirty, some broken, some both and searched for his clean school uniform. Ryan regularly upended the box full of his possessions, but he knew there was one in there and thankfully, this term it was the appropriate colour for the current school. Over the years Ryan had forced him to wear numerous uniforms of different colours as they had been the cheapest ones to purchase in the charity shop. Little did Ryan care that these made him a target at school as he stuck out like a sore thumb. At the last school fair though, cheap old cast-offs of former pupils had been on sale and even though all had had name tags lovingly sewn into them, Steven had removed them. They may have been second-hand, but they were clothes that no longer drew attention to him.
Once he was dressed he made his way carefully to the bathroom and reached for the soap as the basin filled with water. He looked in the mirror as he slowly and silently washed and cleaned his teeth. He still felt the cold clutch of fear around his heart that had settled there since the disturbing dream, but at least he looked less panic-stricken now.
When he had collected his homework books he crept out of the house and headed to the edge of town. He smiled to himself as he realised he would be able to finish his homework by the river undisturbed. If he ever got to do his homework at all, it was always rushed and scruffy as Ryan was not a great believer in learning. He had gone to ‘the school of hard knocks’ as he constantly quoted to Steven, and if the ones he regularly dolled out were anything to go by, he could well believe it. Nothing good ever came out of school Ryan said, but Steven didn’t agree. He knew it was his best chance to create a new, safe, life for himself. He turned to his books and applied himself to getting the best marks he could for the work. By the time he had finished he felt confident that one of two things would occur. His teachers would either think he had been cheating, or that he had suddenly grown a brain. He smiled to himself as he headed for the school and unconsciously straightened his shoulders. He had made a pact with himself that he would do this from now on; make time to do his homework undisturbed and construct the best possible chance that he could to ensure a safe future. He stiffened his spine as he walked through the school gates. Today was a good day; he could feel it in his bones.
Ryan was waiting for him when he came out of school. He never came to meet him from school and Steven felt the fear settle in the pit of his stomach once more. Ryan was leaning on the wall next to the entrance smoking one of the many cigarettes that he always put away each day and from this distance, looked sober. He felt his eyebrows shoot heavenwards as this thought hit home. Had the social worker made one of her infrequent announced visits? No, surely Ryan would also have given him advance warning of her arrival too, a warning to pretend like everything was okay or else. Anyway, a haircut usually preceded these visits and as he stood there he could feel the wind playing with his over-long hair just below his collar. No, it must be something else and he took a deep breath to prepare himself for what unexpected event may have occurred. As he reached Ryan the stench of alcohol was overpowering and he realised the relaxed stance was just another one of his attempts to portray a normal façade to the world.
Ryan’s hand suddenly extended out towards him and he noticed for the first time that his fist was closed around a note. Steven eyed him warily, unsure whether to take the money that he appeared to be offering him, or not. Ryan grabbed his hand and stuffed the note into it, before towering over him.
“You’ll need this. I have got some mates coming round and they’ll need to eat. I don’t care what you make them, so long as there’s meat in there somewhere, but I will be looking at the change, so you will only buy our food, right?”
As he leant forward to propel his unspoken threat home, the overpoweringly sickly-sweet smell made Steven feel physically sick, but he needed to know how much to buy if he was to get it right and he knew that it was important to get it right.
“How many are coming so I can get the right stuff?” he asked and waited whilst unconsciously holding his breath.
“Four”, he said and turned on his heel and, whilst lighting up yet another cigarette, began to walk away.
Steven felt his shoulders sag as he disappeared around the corner and just as he forced down a gulp of fear and took a deep breath of air, he turned to head towards the shop. Why were four men coming to see Ryan? Steven didn’t even know that Ryan had friends, well, not that lived around here anyway. He was always talking about his ‘brothers’ in Ireland, but he always got the impression that by that he did not mean the blood variety.
The corner shop contained shelves stacked with plenty of ideas and soon he was leaving the shop laden down with heavy carrier bags. He did not look up as he passed the park on his way to the house. It was almost as though he was on a mission. He did not hear the happy laughter of the schoolchildren in the park swinging on the swings with abandon or sliding down the slide with glee. He had to be home. He had to make sure this meal was ready and waiting for the men. It was like he already knew that the success or otherwise of this meal had the potential to alter the course of his life forever.
He had concentrated on getting the food perfect and had sneakily placed a small plate for himself in the pan cupboard (under a large upturned colander should Ryan have decided to check) before dishing out the rest equally onto the five plates. He noted that all of the men, although burly and definitely Irish, had taken no particular notice of him, so he had relaxed slightly. As he served the meal he noticed that two of the men were badly bruised as though they had been in a particularly vicious fight and he wondered if that was why they were here. Were they lying low, waiting for whatever heat to pass before moving on? Steven knew that Ryan did not work for a living, but he knew that he got money from somewhere and would not have been at all surprised had the men all announced they were bank robbers and shown him the proceeds. None of the men looked at him, but the conversation had ceased the minute he entered the room
Whilst he sat eating his portion of the meal, he contemplated what they could be doing here and whether they were stopping. He had noticed that two of the men had brought in big holdalls and they all looked really dirty as though they had been working outside somewhere really dusty. He was rushing his meal in his haste to remain undiscovered, but it was nice just to eat so it didn’t really register.
As he washed, dried and replaced all the evidence of his meal to the cupboards, he began to formulate a plan to overhear what they were talking about. It was best to know what to expect. He began to straighten out the kitchen and nearly jumped out of his skin when a voice behind him boomed,
“We need you in the other room kid.” The smallest of the four men was blocking the doorway to the kitchen with a can of Guinness in his hand and he gesticulated to leave the room. As Steven walked back in, he felt the man come up closely behind him and he felt the eerie cobweb feeling fleetingly cross his face once more.
“Sit”, was all that was said and as he complied he noticed that Ryan had a particularly unpleasant look upon his face. The small man placed one of the holdalls onto the table where a space had been made and opened it up. The temptation to peer inside was overwhelming, but he was glad he hadn’t as one gun after another was placed next to the bag.
“See these kid? We need you to get them out for us. Let’s just say we haven’t got permits for them.” A chorus of deep and dangerous laughter followed this statement and Steven felt the cold shiver of fear trickle its way down his spine.
“You just got to take them to the bus station for us. Do you reckon you can do that?”
Steven nodded emphatically. He had a horrible feeling that if he didn’t agree, he would be reliving last nights dream as some kind of horrible reality.
“Right then kid, get your coat. We will pack up the bags for you and you can take ‘em for us.” He shoved Steve to his feet and propelled him forwards.
In the other room Steven forced his arms into his coat sleeves whilst breathing heavily. How was he going to get the bag to the bus station without anyone seeing? He was going to look a bit conspicuous; a little kid with an enormous heavy holdall. Why the bus station? Was someone going to meet him there and relieve him of his dangerous cargo? He stood there like a ghostly apparition in a long green coat two sizes too big and tried to put his pumps on without his hands shaking too much.
“Oi kid, what’s taking yer so long?” came the voice from the other room and Steven hurried back.
“I don’t think we need to remind you how important this is do we?” the man asked as he came through the door and a sucker punch hit Steven’s midriff as he turned to answer. He bent double trying to catch his breath through the pain and almost immediately a strong crack came across the back of his head and he hit the floor at once. He slumped against the wall trying to focus and wondered bizarrely whether they had learned that from Ryan. He knew the places that would hurt the most, yet leave the least evidence too. He noticed that they all stood around him looking down at him expectantly.
“No, no. You don’t need to tell me how important it is. I get it, I get it.” He hastened to assure them, though how well they could hear it through the strained painfulness of his speech was unclear, but the man with the large black beard and moustache dragged him to his feet in a kind of acknowledgement. He handed Steven the bags and as he slung one over each shoulder he tried to concentrate on evening the weight of the bags rather than giving in to the unbelievable pounding agony of his head and the stretched tautness of his belly. As he was about to leave, Ryan held out a hand to stop him.
“You need to take a bag with you, as you will be going with the bags on the bus. I suggest you pack a few things for the journey and I will meet you later in
He glanced around at them all in fear as the last thing he wanted to do was get on a bus to
, but if he was expecting one of them to say something to help, it wasn’t forthcoming. He put down the bags and ran into his room. There was no way he was going to be able to fit everything from his box into his bag, but he thought on his feet and just put in the bare essentials. At the last minute he put the fishing rod in, right in the side where it wasn’t obvious it was a pocket. After all he had to eat and he sincerely doubted that Ryan would be giving him any money. He carried the bag into the other room and picked up the holdalls again. Conversely, they felt heavier even before he picked up his own bag. Ireland
The man who had given him the sucker punch nodded towards the smaller man and they both stepped forward to accompany him out the door. As they walked he tried not to look at anyone on the street. If anyone had looked at him they probably would have seen the stark fear etched on his face, but no-one did. A small pale boy carrying big bags whilst two men walked alongside him holding nothing didn’t seem to attract attention. As usual everyone was going about their own lives, their heads filled with things only important to themselves.
“Don’t think about any funny stuff kid,” the smaller man said as they passed the edge of town,
“I will be looking in your bag too to check. Nothing can stuff up the mission.”
Steven raised his eyebrows at such a strange turn of phrase, but was concerned more with how he was going to conceal the fishing rod. Somehow it seemed imperative that he hide it.
“I need to go to the toilet,” Steven said and watched in alarm as an amused look passed between the pair. Yeah right, they would think that he needed to go to the toilet because he was so scared. Well, if it worked that was all that mattered.
He paused by the riverbank and indicated some trees. As he put the bag down he felt into the side pocket and removed the rod. As he straightened up he pushed it down the back of his trousers and as it looked like he was rubbing his back because of the weight of the bags, they didn’t even notice. He wandered into the shaded tree area and pretended to go to the toilet. The two men looked away to light up some cigarettes and that was when Steven hurriedly buried the rod in the light brown earth. He brushed his hands down the back of his trousers as he straightened and wandered back to the men. He would find a way to escape and when he did, he would come back here and retrieve the rod.
The bus station was packed. One man had paid for his ticket whilst the other stood guard over him and they practically frogmarched him to a bus at the far end of the station.
“This is the one. Don’t forget to stow the bags away properly lad. You wouldn’t want to end up in prison now would you?” the man bent and whispered into his ear in a sinister manner and Steve nodded. As he slowly began to go up the steps into the bus he looked back at the men in the station. They both stared right back at him unblinkingly and Steve turned around and began to stow away the bags in the luggage holders above the seats. He then sat down in the seat underneath them and turned to watch the men disappear as the bus pulled out of the station, his brain already working on how he would get back for the rod.
As the bus disappeared into the distance the small man turned to the burly one and grinned,
“Do you think he’ll figure out that the bus isn’t going to
“No, Ryan says he’s not that intelligent and anyway by the time the bus is on the M62 it will be too late. He’s so scared of the guns in the bags; he won’t even notice the bomb.”
Hope you enjoyed this chapter just as much as the opening one. I am at chapter seven with this particular novel, but this is the one I will continue working on when I have got my romantic fiction novel to first draft stage. I may share chapter three with you all if you want.... K