Secret - 'Everybody's Got To Die Sometime'

October 1962

The World hangs on the precipice of annihilation. Russian weapons on discovered on Cuban soil. The world holds it's breath as the United States squares up to Russia. It seems we are only seconds away from destruction.

Meanwhile in North Yorkshire, Tom and his Dad are facing life without Toms mother. Meanwhile the new early warning buildings are rising up from the moors above their home. Do they provide security or threat ? Threats seem to be both near and far and dark days roll across Tom's world. His world has been turned inside out leaving him a short step from disaster.

As Tom's Dad says "Everyones got to die sometime".

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13. Billy & Chips

October 20th

Whitby (Afternoon)

Fish and chips are always good. You only have to walk past a chip shop and the aroma has you caught in its sinewy fingers, dragging you into buy and consume. There is nothing like eating fish and chips out of the wrapper with lashings of salt and vinegar. It really is ambrosia, food of the gods.

We waited our place in the queue, the heat from the fryers casting a chippy mist over the shop. I have no idea how anyone could work in a place so hot for all hours. The owner, a rotund man wearing a string vest under his apron, was feeding the mouths of the chrome plated fryers with buckets full of sliced chips. The flat sputtered and spat like lava in a volcano before he put the hood down over them. Huge fish were dipped in yellow batter before being carefully laid into the hot fat in the next fryer. The fryer wiped his battery fingers on his apron before adding more coal to the fire beneath the tubs. It was theatre to watch this man at his work, the sweat glistening from his balding head. The entire process made the wait worthwhile.

“Rock and chips please” Lily asked the woman who was serving at the counter when it got to our turn.

“Rock? Get one of ‘em from t’sea,” she replied laughing.

“She means rock salmon Maude,” the fryer said, “give her some Scarborough Woof, it’s the same thing,”

“Well why dint she ask?” Maude said shovelling chips into a bag before adding one of the fish from pile behind the glass top of the fryers, “do you want salt n vinegar?”

Lily nodded and accepted the package from the woman.

We got our chips and fish and went outside, where the temperature dropped about ten degrees, from sweltering to pleasant.

“Woof?” Lily said eyeing the fish in front of her with uncertainty.

“It’s a dog fish, very nice, try it.” I said.

She poked it a little before breaking off the end releasing steam from within the batter. Tentatively she placed a small bit in her mouth and chewed. The expression on her face changed and she nodded.

“Yep he was right, just like rock salmon.” She said.

The chips from the end of the west pier are always good. Thick white fish in crisp yellow brown batter that falls apart beneath the fingers. The vinegar appears to vaporise in the heat filling the nose with a delicious smell that only heightens the experience. The seagulls are the only thing to spoil such an experience. They swoop noisily down fighting each other for the scraps of food that others, obviously tourists, have dropped. We watched them swooping down to grab the waste fish and guts the fishing boats had discarded at the fish quay. Occasionally they’d swoop down and grab a piece of someone’s sandwich from their hands before climbing back to the heights again.

“Do you think Dracula did come here?” Lily said eventually gazing up to the abbey.

“Well so it says in the book. One foggy night his ship was wrecked onto the shore over there, a dead man lashed to the wheel. All that came off the ship was a huge black dog which ran through the street and up the steps to the abbey. On the boat are casks full of earth from Transylvania. Dracula then spend his nights stalking young women in the town before sleeping all day in a grave at the church by the abbey.” I explained, “there was a ship though that wrecked up here with no crew a few years before the book was written. Makes you wonder if it was true…”

I let the words hang in the air.

“Oh, stop it Tom,” Joyce said, “we all know Dracula is fictional. Don’t scare Lily.”

“You mean there might be vampires? Wow that would be so good. I could bite your neck Tom and you’d live forever.” Lily said animatedly.

Joyce laughed at the thought of it.

“I can just imagine you turning into a bat, Lily, and flying around the roofs of the town. Then swooping down, biting Tom draining him of blood.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t hurt Tom,” Lily replied looking horrified at the thought, “I love all the scary stuff though.”

“Then this area will be a real treat for you,” Joyce said, “there’s loads of really amazing stuff up at the museum. They even have a hand of glory.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a hand taken off a hanged man. Burglars light it when they rob houses to put everyone in the house to sleep.” Joyce explained.

Lily sat open eyed at the description. I knew what was coming next.

“Can we go? Tom do you mind? I know you don’t like scary things,” Lily asked.

“I don’t mind scary things,” I replied indignantly. I didn’t want anyone to think that I feared a hand in a glass case even though as a young child I’d been quite repulsed by the sight of it, “OK but I want to go to the bookshop on the way back.”

We placed our wrappers in the bin and walked off towards the town. On the way we stopped at the ice cream parlour to get ice cream. The sun had gone in and slowly I could feel the air getting cooler, but ice cream is ice cream and no matter what the weather I’ve never met anyone who would turn it down. As I thought earlier, the mist was coming in at a very speedy rate. The coolness of the fog making me shiver slightly.

“Wow you can’t see the abbey now,” Lily said pointing into the murk.

As often happens in Whitby when the fog descends the atmosphere changes in a heartbeat. Stripped of sunlight, the grey of the buildings mingles with the sky to paint a uniform drabness over everything. Noises are muffled and weirdly the seagulls are silent. It’s as if something horrible is about to happen and they’re waiting to observe. Holiday makers were coming off the beach to find sanctuary in the few amusement arcades, their pleasure curtailed for the day. From being bright and gay, it was rather like before the funeral, sombre and quiet.

When we reached the museum gardens the cloak of mist had covered the landscape so completely that you couldn’t hardly discern the trees. Every now and then you could hear the dull mumble of the fog horn on the harbour piers reverberating seeming to come from all directions at once. The museum loomed out of the gloom ahead of us. As a child I’d loved to come here. There were all sorts of weird items like the Hand of Glory. Items donated by people of Whitby and the surrounding area. It was the dinosaur bones that had gripped me though. Hard to believe that these bones were all that was left of monster sized creatures which roamed the area around here millions of years ago, or rather under the sea as most were sea creatures. Dad used to joke that the Ichthyosaurus was actually the Loch Ness monster that had been caught by the Whitby whale men. For years I believed him, and then I’d learnt to read. Dad was a real joker at times.

It had been a few years since I’d been to the museum so I was looking forward as much as Lily to getting inside. We were halfway up the steps at the front when I was heard a voice behind me.

“Oi Hukin.”

I didn’t have to turn around to know whose no so dulcet tones they belonged to. My heart sank hearing the voice. Billy. I’d totally forgotten that he worked in the park gardens. How to spoil a nice day out.

“You have to ask me permission to come in these gardens.” He sneered.

“Oh get lost Billy,” Joyce said.

“Typical Hukin,” he said to one of the other gardeners who was leant on his spade, “he has to ‘ave girls do protect ‘im. He’s a reet fairy.”

I stood still clenching my fists. Almost eighteen years old and yet I still had to put up with this sort of abuse. I stayed with my back to him not wanting to see his face.

“It’s public, Billy,” I replied trying to stop my voice from wobbling.

“You’re not public though, you’re a fairy and that doesn’t apply to you. YOU have to ask me, remember that.”

I heard the other bloke laugh.

“Leave him alone, you big … pig,” Lily said as she started down the steps towards him. I turned around to try and grab her but she was already racing towards Billy.

“Hahaha,” Billy laughed, “look he’s even got this short stop fighting his battles.”

Lily raced up to him and was trying to kick him on the shins, but Billy was holding her off with one of his long arms. I remembered what Joyce had said the other day about how bullies didn’t like to confronted, maybe now was the time to put that to the test.

“Get away short stop” Billy said and pushed Lily backwards with force. She almost flew through the air, such was the verbosity of the push. She landed on her backside stunned.

“You’re a bully,” Joyce said, “pushing little girls around.”

“I’m not little,” Lily said from the floor, although the voice betrayed more anxiety than I’d seen from her before.

“Leave her alone Billy,” I said walking towards him.

“Or else what Hukin,” he sneered again, “will you hit me with your fairy wand. Always getting the girls to fight for you.”

From halfway up the steps Billy looked smaller. As I approached him he was assuming mountain like proportions. His arms, honed by manual work digging each day, were the size of tree trunks, well at least branches. He was turning towards his friend laughing. I knew I had a chance of catching him by surprise.

Clenching my fist, I hit him with all my might catching him on the chin. In the movies this is the moment when they spin around and fall to the floor, collapsing like a pack of cards. Then I’ll stand over him and say ‘Let that teach you a lesson, never mess with me again.’

But this wasn’t the movies, this was my own tragic life. Instead of him falling, I felt a searing pain in my hand which I imagined was every metatarsal breaking.

“Ow,” I shouted the pain intense making me screw my eyes up.

Maybe if I hadn’t shut my eyes I might have seen the punch coming but the next thing I remember was my jaw exploding with pain and me toppling over onto the ground. Then I felt, rather than saw a boot go into my side spreading waves of excruciating pain throughout my body. I felt physically sick. Then another boot collided with my arm and then another. When was this agony going to end? I went automatically into the foetal position to protect my head. It seemed Billy was intend on finishing me off totally. I felt like passing out as blow after blow hit my body. It must be nature’s way of protecting itself, to revert to the form we all once were in for safety. My mind started to shut down.

“Stop that at once”

Through my fuddled and shutting down brain I heard a man’s voice shouting. Then the beating stopped and I lay still on the floor.

“Billy Barker, if you don’t stop I’ll give you the sack.”

I looked up to see Professor Hawkings standing next to Billy as the other gardener held Billy back. The Professor was the curator of the museum and had spent many an afternoon explaining the dinosaur exhibits to me. Now he was playing the role of my guardian angel.

Billy didn’t look as if he was too bothered about the sack, but the Professor stood between me and Billy and looked determined to stop him.

“You’ll save,” he spat at me on the floor menacingly.

I tensed wondering if another blow would come towards me but it didn’t.

“Let’s get you up,” Hawkings said.

With a little difficulty and a lot of cursing under my breath I manged to stand. The pain I felt in my body was intense. Shooting pains whizzed around me when I tried to move or touch one of the areas Billy had hit. I felt nausea building in my throat and a feeling I was about to faint.

“Come on, better go inside and get you cleaned up,”

He helped me inside to the warmth. Each step I took was agony and I wondered if I’d make it without passing out.

Lily held open the door and I could see tears in her eyes and a very concerned look. Joyce had never looked so white and shocked.

“It’s Ok”, I managed to say, “I’ll be fine.”

“That lad is a menace at times,” Hawking said, “I’ll get onto his supervisor about him. Are you OK ? Should I take you to the cottage hospital?”

“I shook my head slowly, frightened it might fall off or at least bring the dizziness back.

“Well wait here and have a rest, I’ll go and see your friends are OK.”

He left me. After a while I plucked up courage to look at my side, where most of the blows had gone. It was an angry mess of redness with bruising starting to come out already. I felt like I’d gone ten rounds with Sonny Liston. The nausea dies down. Luckily apart from the one blow to my jaw, my face hadn’t been touched.

The door opened and I tensed up thinking it might be Billy come to finish off what he started. It was Joyce and Lily though who came into the room. Lily flung herself at me hugging me which brought an involuntary yell from me as she touched one of the many sore parts of my abdomen. She pulled back looking concerned.

“It’s OK, I’m just sore, not dying” I joked.

“Don’t ever do that again…” Joyce said punching my shoulder.

“Ouch” I said managing to smile and grimace at the same time.

“You told me to satnd up to him.” I reminded her.

“Yeah… well never listen to what I say,” she said sheepishly.

We stood eying each other. I would really have liked a hug from Joyce at that moment. We both looked apprehensive, maybe both feeling the same thing, but it was Lily who brought us back to the present.

“I’ve seen the Hand of Glory” she said excitedly, “it’s amazing …”

“Good, maybe we can use it on Billy and he’ll fall asleep.”

We all laughed but with an uneasiness that came from a feeling that I’d got off lightly.

“Thought you might be spending your birthday in hospital,” Joyce said.

“When’s your birthday?” Lily asked.

“It’s on Monday, but he’ll never tell anyone. Always keeps it a secret from everyone.”

“Are you having a party? Can I come?” Lily enquired, yet more questions.

“No,” I said, “I’m going to York with my dad for the day.”

Lily’s smile dropped and her bottom lip came out.

“See what you do Hukin when you don’t celebrate your birthday. You disappoint your biggest fan.” Joyce said.

“Tell you what, why don’t you both come over to tea tomorrow at my house?” I said. I guess it would be OK with Dad.

“Oooo thanks,” Lily said.

The journey home on the bus was agony. Every rut in the road, every man hole cover I could feel with my bruises. At one point I thought I would pass out from the pain, but the numbness set in after a while. The fog was every present all the way home, covering the moors and making seeing anything out of the window impossible.

I worried all the way home how I was going to explain it all to dad. I didn’t like to tell him that I’d been beaten up, he had enough on his plate to deal with. Maybe he wouldn’t notice or I could say I tripped up on the Abbey steps? 

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