The Raft

This is a story of two young boys from different sides of the town embarking on the last adventure of the summer while struggling to maintain a fragile friendship that is emotionally mature before its years.

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1. The Raft

 

 

Summer

 

'We're here!' Freddy roared with his fierce little lungs.

His clothes, either from today or yesterday, were already covered in dirt and grass stains.

Freddy and Daniel stood infront of a dying industrial estate. These silent grey buildings were the last remnants of a colossal machine heart that once powered the town. Large patches of flat cement where structures had been knocked down surrounded every building. The span of concrete soaked up the clear sun and made them both forget the joy of summer.

Freddy ran from the grass field to the corner of a disused building leaving Daniel to follow him alone. '"We're here?" Where is here?', Daniel couldn't shake his worry, his parents knew a lot of people in town and with every car that past them he saw a face he knew.

Freddy ignored him and sustained a full sprint across an open patch of wasteland to the side of a long row of industrial warehouses. Daniel followed him, looking around at his cold surroundings. 'Tell me what we're doing or I'm going home.' Daniel wheezily commanded.

Freddy hunched his shoulders up and put one finger to his lips 'Shhh, ok. ok. We're gonna build a boat.'

 

Daniel pushed his dark sweat drenched hair to the side of his red face.

'Freddy we can't build a boat', Freddy whispered,'I can, I have the plan.' he crawled along the side of the huge block and knelt at the corner facing the back of the warehouse.

An unknown amount of men could be heard through a small vent. Metal hit metal, men shouted men's names, and up on the roof a chimney let out an occasional puff of white smoke.

'Ok we need to grab some things to build her.' He pulled a small red school jotter from his bag and began flipping through the endless pages of sketches and notes with thick arrows pointing to different aspects of the diagrams. 'Ah ok, here. Look-see.'

Daniel read the list, '4 large plastic barrel things(Must have the screw on caps), lots and lots of rope, 1 wooden pallet.' each item had a small descriptive drawing.

'I have the rope here so all we need is the rest.' Said Freddy.

'You want us to steal this stuff?' Said Daniel, slumped against the wall.

'It's trash Danny boy, nobody ever got done for stealing rubbish.'

Freddy's plan was simple. Daniel would stand lookout while Freddy searched the skips for the items and he would whistle if anyone was coming. Daniels eyes fixed on the sign slanting above Freddy's head during his well thought out plan.

 

"trespassers will be prosecuted"

 

'Oh calm down Danny boy, we're kids, we ain't tresspassin', we walked over here. It ain't like we cut some fence open or nothin'.' Without asking for permission Freddy climbed into the huge rusted skip. He found four empty plastic barrels. He took a quick look at Daniel then dived into the mountain of cardboard and paper for the screw tops.

Danny felt his insides tense up. Freddy was out of sight now and he felt abandoned and alone and exposed in this dank grey land.

Freddy finally fished up the last cap.He looped a length of twine through the handle of each barrel and tied it into one large loop. Danny saw him emerge from the other side of the skip dragging 4 large barrels and waved for him to come over.

'Put this round yer shoulder.' he said.

'Wha..', the weight on the twine dug into Daniel's soft shoulders, 'This isn't right Freddy. We're going to get caught. Lets just go.'

'Negative!' Freddy said, 'We won't give up now, the plan is in action.'

Freddy pulled himself back into the skip and grabbed a wooden pallet but before he could resume his scavenge he heard a high-pitched whistle. Freddy popped his head out of the skip like a curious meerkat to see a gruff, middle-aged man, cigarette in one hand and a frantically whistling Daniel in the other.

'Get out here now son', the man said tersely,

Freddy dropped out of the skip, dragging the pallet behind him. He scraped the pallet towards the duo, stopping just short of the mans reach.

'You'll let my friend go', Freddy stood bolt upright up to the mans waist.

Freddy saw the man had a good grip round Daniel's collar and he was in some discomfort.

Like an unruly mutt he jerked his collar 'Stop the bloody whistling already.'

'Your friend?' The man said mockingly. 'I doubt that, Danny's parents wouldn't let him near someone like you.'

Daniel looked at Freddy and began to cry, 'You know my parents?'

'Yes, I'm taking you inside and calling your father.' he looked at Freddy 'I don't think there's much point in calling yours is there?'

Freddy sent his shot straight back, 'You won't call my dad. And you won't be calling his dad either.

Because I know what you're smoking.' Freddy took a dramatic step forward.

During his hysterical sobbing Daniel didn't realise the man loosened his grip on his collar.

'I know that's weed you're smokin'' Freddy paused for effect, 'and I'll go right in there and tell your boss. If you don't let my friend go.'

The shell-shocked man said nothing, Daniel's sobs began to slow down and he looked up at the half-open mouth of the man.

Freddy sensed weakness and strode towards the man, hand out. 'You don't tell and we don't tell.'

The man bent forward without question and shook Freddy's grubby little hand.

Daniel looked back and forth perplexed from the man to the smug Freddy. He waved his hands around ceremoniously, 'You are hereby pardoned my child.'

Freddy soaked up his victory with an improvised jig. Daniel and the man waited for their next command.

'Shall we?' Freddy said, dancing over and slapping Daniel on the back. He gave an ironic wink to the man and left with the clatter and scraping of their rewards.

 

Daniel couldn't rationalise his change in mood. He was happy. Excited even. They moved forward. The colours trickled back into the world. He enjoyed the carnival of noise and waterworks around him, neighborhoods awash with soapy foam and the smell of fresh cut grass in preperation for the usual hibernation come autumn. Daniel noticed a man encasing his car in a tomb of foam. Freddy reminded him how great it was to get the rare opportunity to get the upper hand on an adult. They had a laugh at the mans expense, even though Daniel still didn't understand the mans sudden change in mood. Regardless, Daniel was breathing free air. Freddy presented a bar of chocolate from his bag which they shared. He had completely forgot about the twine around his neck.

'Where to now?' Daniel said with his newfound zest.

'It's-a-surprise.' Freddy said, 'quit being such a eager beaver.'

Daniel relaxed his muscles and smiled.

 

The sun was a deep red now. Daniel saw familiar shadows that triggered a cold tremor of worry. The slowing of traffic and the lack of children on the streets and parks stirred in Daniels thoughts.

Soon the filaments of white and yellow and orange would rule and act as the universal signal to all children that yes, it was time to go home.

'Freddy?'

Freddy was struggling under the pallet balanced on his right shoulder. His face was scarlet red but still managed to glisten with sweat through his dirt peppered face.

'I need to go home soon', Daniel said, asking for permission.

'We're almost there.' said Freddy.

 

They had just crossed the river. Over the sky blue bridge of wrought iron. Down a small beaten out path and into the seemingly impenetrable undergrowth.

'My dad doesn't know I'm out. I-'

Freddy dropped his pallet gently in the dirt and confronted Daniel.

'Your dad doesn't know your out with me. Does he?' He said. His tone was soft but inquisitive, like any good social worker.

Daniel denied the accusation, he felt he had reacted well enough to convince him otherwise.

Freddy advised 'Your parents simply care too much about you. No big problem. Your an only child so it all gets focused on you. No mistakes can be made with an only child, just like me.'

Daniel knew these words weren't his own. He suddenly felt sad, he couldn't shake the idea that Freddy's love had been diluted somehow. The two sides that made him were now broken.

He looked away from his friend with wet eyes. Shifted the weight of the barrels up his hot neck to a cool spot and led the way.

The nature of this area was uncomfortable on his poor legs. The snap of each branch and the scrape of each nettle was something he never got used to. To the eye each step forward looked like a dead-end but there was definitely a rough path of matted grass to the river bank.

The bush gradually opened up to show a family of twisted up trees that spiralled together as if in conversation and then exploded in a dark green mass across the sky. Daniel must have slowed his pace because Freddy was nudging him from behind.

'Well?' Freddy grinned.

'It's....it's just amazing. How did you find this place?' Daniel said.

Freddy walked by him and looked up, proud.

'It took me three summers to make it. And design it. All by myself.'

Freddy began to lose Daniel with excited talk of 'weatherproofing' and 'dampness prevention' and so on. Daniel began to tune in on words like 'Wall insulation' and 'Lighting' that didn't fit in with Daniel's own image.

He tracked Freddy's gaze up the cluster of trees and on his second sighting he focused his eyes on a train track on the side of the straightest tree. The track spiralled round the tree's natural curve all the way up to the congregation other tree's. Daniel saw through the dark green hue unnatural lines among the maze of branches.

 

Daniel let out a pure and unadulterated laughter that stuttered so fast it tickled his chest something silly. He fell to his knees in the soft fertile soil.

'Fred. How?' Daniel said at the end of his rolling laugh.

'Three summers' Freddy repeated proud, hands on his hips.

'But we can go up later. It's getting late and we have work to do', Freddy said, breaking the spell Daniel was under.

 

Freddy reached into his rucksack and pulled out and unfolded a piece of paper titled "Treehouse Raft – Verzion 1.0." The plan was separated into four steps.

 

Make barrels empty and airtight.

Fasten up barrells to pallett.(Grapevine knot)

Waterproof the pallett.

100ft of rope.

 

Daniel sat on an exposed tree root on the river bank. Freddy laced the barrels to the raft. His actions were well rehearsed, expertly looping each length of rope symmetrically on either side and finishing each barrel with an unsual knot.

He fastened a small length of twine to one side of the raft and drove a large stick through a loop in the twine deep into the ground to anchor it for when the tide came in.

 

'That's us finished', Freddy said.

He walked into the water up to his ankles and let the cold water fill up his black plimsoles.

Freddy hunched over and splashed some water over his face, melting away the film of dirt. He licked the salt off his lips and spat it out. He ran his fingers up through his hair, exposing today's layer of dirt written across his forehead. Then squelched out of the water rejuvenated by his little tradition.

 

Daniel sat silently on the log. Drained of energy but relaxed. The breeze off the river gave him a welcome shiver before dying down and letting the dusky sun take over.

Freddy hopped up beside his friend and pulled his head into an affectionate headlock.

'Don't you worry Danny boy. I'll bring you back tomorrow ok? That treehouse is for you and me and we have plenty of daylight ahead of us.

 

Daniel said nothing. He sat in silence staring across the river. He savoured the last moments of the day and all that had come with it. He looked down at his hands. His nails were stained green and smelt zesty and fresh. His nails had little crescents of dirt. Tears began to make small black spots on his dirt caked hands.

'This was the best day of my life Freddy,' he said, completely embarrassed with himself.

'Oh come on Danny boy. A girl crying is tough, but I got no defense against a guy crying,' Freddy giggled.

'Besides. I have more stuff planned all week. Just you wait and see ok.'

'No!' Daniel screamed through the broken wails and sniffs.

'I can't come back here ever again. This is the last of our adventures. I....My father says I can't

be around you anymore.'

Freddy was speechless. He sat alone on the log. Looking up at the now hysterical Daniel.

Daniel continued, 'He said you're a bad influence and your family are all wasters and your mothers an addict who drove your dad to his grave.'

Daniel couldn't stop himself, he was choking back all the dirt and salt collecting at the sides of his mouth in an endless cycle of pain.

'He said your family don't even care that your dad's dead. He said..'

'Enough.' Freddy said tersely. He was breathing heavily out of his nose.

He couldn't move from his seat, the cruel information had left him naked and wounded.

Freddy looked up at Daniel through painfully dry eyes. His throat was also dry and constricting.

Finally, slowly and carefully he said, 'Do you believe it?'

'I....I don't'

'Do-you-believe-it?' Freddy repeated, the pain visible on his darkened face.

Daniel began to cry again 'I don't want to believe it but your dads been gone for a long time now and well I just want to say I'm sorry he's not here for you.' He continued 'your mum shouldn't have to care for you alone. I wish my parents could care for you too and we could be brothers or-'

Sharp bluish purple circles were around Freddy's eyes, his face irrigated with streams of silent tears.

He looked Daniel in the eyes. 'Your dad. Is a fucking poison. Worse than any drug. So addictive he can corrupt my only friend and someone as innocent as you.'

 

Daniel stuttered backwards not recognising the boy he was speaking to. Without any head of thought he ran for the raft. He could hear Freddy's screams but he couldn't take any more truths or lies.

He kicked out towards the middle of the river using the anchor as a makeshift paddle.

His weight submerged the pallet partly as the current soaked his feet. He did not care one bit. To his left was a lost friend and to his right was the home he lost him in. He could see the speckled form of Freddy darting in an out of sight along the bank.

He had no plan but to coast along in purgatory. For a while at least. Just until he could make sense of his situation. The darkness brought choppy waters and the current steered him a little to the right.

He lost the sensation of water constantly refilling his shoes. The barrels, because of their journey, had sprung several small leaks and were filling with water.

The raft had only sank to his ankles but the fear made him feel it in his chest. He was alone now, in the middle of this unforgiving river, on this failing raft with only the lights from the bridge to witness his fate.

The noise from the traffic and the river drowned out his screams.

'Freddy! Freddy! Help! Please. I'll believe anything you say please. I..I love your father! I....I love him more than my own please..'

Daniel noticed a shadow moving on the large concrete foundation under the bridge.

Freddy had a rope weighted with a stick. Swinging it like a lasso.

He reeled forward and released the coil of rope and it streamed through the air like some great silver eel. Daniel grabbed hold of the rope. The water was near enough to his waist now. He strained what little muscle he had against the current that was now using his own body against him.

The rope burned in his hands. All the bumps and grazes and bruises on his body ached now. His brow tickled with fresh sweat under the old crust. But he would never let go of that rope he thought. His friend had come to save him, he needed him more than anything in the world.

 

Freddy was under a similar affliction. His little arms bulged and bled. His back muscles locked tight and ground against his spine. He was stuck in a tug-o-war for his friend's life. Freddy shakily edged his burning feet to the right and with a sharp spike of pain he jerked his entire bodyweight backwards.

Just like the currents, Freddy manipulated his foe. The raft catapulted round the solid support into the breakwater.

 

Daniel had no time to contemplate his actions. Freddy had him up on the walkway pinned to the ground.

'Don't you ever say you don't love your parents.'

Freddy's face was older than his years. He felt Freddy's voice on his face.

'Your parents both love you more than you can ever appreciate now. No matter what stupid opinions they got. It is all for you.'

Daniel stood up and cleaned his face with a dry part of his t-shirt, ashamed of himself.

'What about you? What about school.' Daniel said sheepishly.

'What about school.' Freddy gave a sly grin.

'And besides...' he said, shaking himself back into his cheeky confident smile.

'I have it all planned out, don't you worry one bit Danny boy.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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