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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6. Physics


 

October 16th 

I hover around the bus station that night after school. Staying late for extra physics classes means I've missed the usual bus home. Joyce had long since gone, throwing me a wave through the lab window as she headed out. Still it'd be worth it if I got the grades I needed to go to Hull.  

Tonight had been a lesson in radioactivity. Mr Rose, our hare-brained Physics Teacher, had got the sample of uranium out of the prep room and brought it out in it's wooden box. Uranium-235 it said on a yellowing label. There was a quiet reverence about the room as he'd opened the box to display the dull lump of rock that sat in the box. Small and unobtrusive it looked just like any piece of stone you'd pick up on the moors.  

"Is this the stuff they make nuclear bombs with sir?" Roy Wilkins asked. 

Mr Rose pushed the glasses back on his nose before talking. He never rushed a reply. His hair, never un control, gave him an Einstein appearance, which was quite fitting.  

"Wilkins, you make me despair at times. Uranium has so many uses in peacetime, good uses. Yet you persist in thinking that it's only credible use is in death and annihilation, " he said with his usual precise speech.  

"However you are right in the fact that they refine this ore to make these weapons of destruction," he continued, "now I appear to have forgotten my notes and other equipment. Don't touch anything and I'll be back presently." 

He shut the box up and left the room. Roy straight away had the box open again and had plucked the sample out before the time the door had shut. Roy was the joker in the class, always pushing the bounds and the teachers to the limits. It was fun having him the class though, a bit of light relief. 

"It feels just like a rock" he said tossing it up in the air and catching it. He ran his fingers over it and then smelt it. 

"I bet it's just a rock and they're fooling us it's radioactive" he said and tossed it in the air again.  

"WILKINS" 

The rock was halfway in the air when the call came. We turned to see Mr Rose come back in ignoring the rock which we heard hit the wooden floor with a resounding thud.  

"Can I not leave you for a minute without you try to destroy my samples?" 

"Sorry sir," Roy said picking the rock up and placing it on the desk. 

Mr Rose placed some papers and a large metal box on the bench next to the rock. 

"Sir ?" Roy asked. 

"What is it now Wilkins?"  

We could tell the teacher was getting fraught with him, his tone was shorter and the eyebrows bristled up under the glasses, rather like a cat puffs itself up when annoyed. 

"Well it's not real is it?" 

"What is not real?" 

"Well that lump of uranium" 

"Before I answer that, put the sample into its box please, " Sir said waiting for Roy to comply. When the sample was back in the box he continued. 

"Radiation is all around us. This instrument is a geiger counter which measures the levels of radiation" 

He flicked the switch on the top and instantly there was a ticking came out of the speaker on the side. 

"Now watch and listen" he said, "This is a watch which is phosphorescent, that means it glows in the dark Wilkins before you ask. The paint contains a little strontium which as you know is a radioactive particle with a half life of … Hukin" 

"Erm 28 years?" I said looking down at my notebook. 

"Near enough." 

He moved the wand on the Geiger counter nearer to the watch and the ticking got louder and closer together. 

"See how it detects the strontium," he carried on, "Now lets try the uranium. What would you expect?" 

"It'll go mental," Roy grinned. 

Opening the box, the teacher brought out the lump of ore and the counter got really loud and quicker. 

"Told you, mental" Roy said smiling. 

"Yes Wilkins, and that proves what?" 

"That that is uranium?" Mr Rose asked. 

"Yeah I suppose so" Roy admitted. 

"Radioactivity is found everywhere. The moors are full of places where there are traces of it in the rocks. Mostly it's harmless, but be wary it can be dangerous." 

The rest of the lesson had passed with us making various calculations and learning about nuclear theory.  

So here I was waiting for the late bus back to Goathland. I'd pulled my book from my bag and was reading the last chapter when I heard the voice. 

"Mum, it's that boy Tom from the village" 

I looked up and saw Lily stood in front of me. 

"Hi Tom," she said excitedly, "We've been up to the Abbey today. There's one hundred and ninety nine steps up to the top. It was really steep and we saw the Whalebone on the other side. It was a brilliant day." 

She hopped from one foot to another as she talked. 

"Dad couldn't come today so we're on the bus", she continued, "are you going on our bus?" 

"Yes," I nodded. 

"Oh that's good, I can tell you all about it. Whitby is a marvellous place isn't it. All those fishing boats, but the smell of that kipper man made me feel sick. I nearly couldn't eat that ice cream, could I mum?" 

"I think Tom knows all about Whitby. He lives here Lily. You shouldn't annoy him, he was reading his book." Lily's mother said. 

I looked at her for the first time. She was quite a severe looking person, thin and gaunt in the face, her wavy hair making her look like a film star. Joyce would know better, but the clothes she wore looked expensive and out of place in Whitby. She stuck out like a sore thumb. I don't know what it was, but there was something I didn't quite like about her, a feeling nothing more. It was as though she resented Whitby. Now it's not the centre of the world but most people here were decent. 

"It's OK" I said putting my book away. Looking up I could see it annoyed her mother and that pleased me.  

Lily sat next to me swinging her legs under the seat chatting about counting all the steps up to the abbey and thinking she'd missed one. She talked non stop, hardly pausing for breath until the bus came. I got on first and sat about halfway back. Lily plonked herself beside me, much to her mothers distaste. The old bus pulled out and chugged slowly up the hill out of town. 

"I saw a lobster today and it was alive" Lily continued, "right down by the harbour. I wanted to buy it and keep it as a pet but Mum said no. There were loads of fish, isn't it stinky down there?" 

I sat back and let her words wash over me a little. It was nice to hear someone chat to you. At home Dad and I used to talk all the time about everything from our favourite football team, Sheffield Wednesday, to what was happening in the news. Even though what Lily was saying wasn't the same, it was nice to hear someone talking to you and only you.  

I watched the countryside pass slowly by, the story of Lily's day in one ear. Eventually she stopped and it went silent. Lily had stopped her day and asked me a question. 

"Sorry what was that again?" I asked embarrassed that I hadn't heard. 

"I was asking about your mum and dad?" 

"Ah OK," I said biting a lip. I didn't usually have to talk about my parents. Everyone knew what had happened. In a small community it was like that, everyone knew each others business. 

"So what do they do?" 

"Well mum died last year and dad is a physicist at the Fylingdales station." 

"Oh, what happened to her?" 

I hesitated and looked across to the girl who was chewing a sweet.  

"She got knocked down by a car" I replied matter of factly, feeling the emotions breaking through my voice. 

"Oh I'm sorry," she said, "my mum and dad died when I was little." 

I looked at her puzzled. 

"Then who are the man and woman you call mum and dad?" 

"Oh they adopted me last year," she replied and then dropped her voice as a whisper, "they tell me to call them mum and dad so I do, but they're not like my real parents." 

She giggled and looked back at the woman. 

"We live in this big house away from everyone I used to know. The girls at the school make fun of me. They say I'm common." 

"Oh that's sad," I said genuinely warming once more to this girl.  

"When I'm old enough, I'll be rid of that old bag," she whispered conspiritivly. 

"LILY", the woman shouted down the bus, "come and sit with me now." 

"Yes mother," Lily said rolling her eyes as she left to go back down the bus. 

I settled back and smiled to myself. It explained why the woman appeared so different from her daughter. The rest of the journey went with me looking out of the window. We passed Fylingdales on the way. Dad would probably still be there working away in one of the areas. I was never sure what he did. He did electronics at university and had worked at a company in Middlesbrough until they started building the base at Fylingdales. He used to just tap his nose when I asked him and say 'Loose lips sink ships', whatever that meant. 

"Can we get some sweets mother," I heard Lily ask 

"The shop will be shut now, it really is the back of beyond. I don't know why Ronald brought us up to this god forsaken hole," her mother replied with disdain. 

I got off the bus in front of them and looked down the street towards the shop. Olthwaites would be shut now, but if you went round the back they'd serve you what you wanted. I noticed the black car that belonged to Lily's adopted parents outside the shop. Two men stood next to the car and it looked like they were having a heated exchange. One was Lily's dad and the other was my dad.  

I saw Lily's dad gesticulate in our direction but couldn't hear what the raised voice was saying. He looked as though he was angry though. I watched him get into the drivers seat and drive down to pick up Lily and her mother.  

"Bye Tom," Lily said. 

"Look after yourself Lily," I replied as the car accelerated away from the curb. 

Walking down the road towards my dad I could see he was bothered about the exchange that had happened. 

"What was he wanting?" I asked. 

"Oh," my dad replied stroking his chin, but not meeting my eyes. 

"Nothing, just directions to Pickering" 

"OK, he seemed pretty angry." I said. 

"No it was nothing," he replied, again failing to meet my eyes. 

He'd never usually been like that. I instantly knew he was lying to me. 

"Do you know him?" I asked. 

"No... well I've seen him around" Dad said again looking the other way, "anyway how was school?" 

"It was OK, messed with uranium tonight after school" I said and then went on the tell him about Roy and his antics.  

Later that night, after tea, we talked like we used to. I realised how much I'd missed him. That night I slept well praying that it wasn't just a blip and he was back. 

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