The Noogan

Somewhere in Britain’s ancient and mystical landscape, there
lies a village. A place that has witnessed ages come and go. Its
stories are many. Most forgotten, some buried. And at least one
is hidden.

1939 three children were evacuated to a country village in
the south west of England. The idyllic yet antiquated village of
Abbeyton Lacey. By the end of the following summer, pretty-faced
Rosey Larchwood had disappeared. One foggy night she ran off and
was never found again.
In the summer of 1976 a schoolboy found a dilapidated diary
hidden in an overgrown garden.
But only now, many years later, the time has finally come for
him to tell of what he had discovered. The tale of those three
evacuees, consequentially of his own childhood and the dark side
of a village called Abbeyton Lacey.

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6. Playing With Flying Machines

 

The next morning, my mum had sent me up the post office. The postmaster was a rather frightening old man who never spoke. His face was hidden by a big wirey beard and an eye patch. On top, his thin hair was cropped close and divided by a thin black  eye strap that seemed tied far too tight. There he sat, always behind that counter. To me he seemed like a dangerous criminal imprisoned there with just a little barred window for contact where he spent all day pounding envelopes and parcels with his rubber stamp. If there were a few envelopes, he'd begin his specific rhythm to and from ink-pad to envelope. BomBANG.BomBANG.BomBANG and on it went.  When it was my turn to pass my letters through to be stamped, he would retrieve them back inside from that little space. Then his one pale grey eye overshadowed by an eyebrow of wild black hairs would swivel up to the passer of the envelopes, giving no clue to the emotion within( almost it seemed as if anticipating to lunge snarling like a mad man at the little window that contained him.)Then bomBANG! Down came the rubber stamp. I could leave.

  While riding my bike back I saw Andrew Clarkson coming the other way. Did I want to see his new model airplane fly later? He was a rather smarty pants sort of bod at our school and looked it too, with his beany shape, gappy smile and basin haircut. But we both shared an interest in sending things into the air. Last november following bonfire night, it had been some small rockets out of a piece of drainpipe. I'd seen his models. They were worked on a good deal by his dad too. All types of familiar and strange model planes hung suspended with fishing line about his garage like a secret museum for boys. His dad though was not particularly friendly when I visited. A funny sort of chap with glasses and a bowl haircut who always wore his knitted jumper. He was morose and seldom spoke, other than a formal hello and goodbye. He always eyed me a little suspiciously like an intruder as I marvelled at those model planes in suspended animation. Worried he was, that I would  touch one when his back was turned and I'm quite sure he warned Andrew to watch me when he wasn't around. So in the afternoon I peddled my bike towards their rather neat looking redbrick house. All the houses up this lane stood on the fringe of  farmland. It was overcast that day, but the air was warm and as I let my bike cruise down the hill to his road, I held my collar open to let the air run inside. 

  They were already out the back, his mum told me and  directed me around the side and over the fence to the farmer's field where I would find them. Andrew waved as he saw me coming, while his dad continued with some expert adjustments on the plane. So for half an hour or so I settled for being a spectator. The two of them carefully handled their fine model of a german Mezerschmitt. With serious face, Andrew’s dad then held it aloft, set the engine to 'on', where upon it buzzed into life. Andrew, ready with a remote control, shouted 'ready!' in a seemingly, much rehearsed procedure. His father responded, gently thrusting it away. Transfixed, I watched it take to the air on its own. Up it went,buzzing like a large winged insect. His father then took over the controls and I watched it fly. They had it circle this way and that, until it was just a black insect against the pale grey clouds above sending out a distant buzz. I began to grow bored. Finally, they landed it in the far corner of the field and went scurrying over to check for damage. Then, we all departed back to the Clarkson’s house where I needed to collect my hooded top. We entered via the back conservatory and I saw Andrew's white haired grandma sat in a cane armchair with blankets over her legs. Last time she had  thought I was some boy from her childhood and kept calling me young Stanley. Each time, Mrs. Clarkson, with an embarrassed smile would reaffirm to her mother that I was Andrew's friend Michael. Today I closed the glass door carefully so as no to wake her. But Andrew insisted I not worry as she wouldn’t hear a marching band coming through the door. Mrs. Clarkson, busy making something in the kitchen, offered me a fruit drink and sent Andrew off to fetch my top. Before I responded she was retrieving a jug from the fridge telling me she had made it up herself. In contrast to her sullen husband who had disappeared back to his garage, she was always cheery and seemed to like children especially. She was tall and lean and I could see where Andrew had gotten his bean like shape from. Her jet black hair was straight and cut not unlike the other members of her family. Except hers was longer and it surrounded a pair of owl-like glasses and wide smile.“Hows' school?” she asked me brightly while I stood in the kitchen watching her pour some out. The drink was cloudy and I could see the odd lump slip into my glass too so I prepared for some false enthusiasm. She then handed  me the glass and I said thank you.

“Fine,” I replied politely then took a sip. It was like most homemade fruit drinks. Always lemon flavour, more sharp than sweet with a pithy rind after-taste. Why did adults like to put rindy pith matter in their food and drinks? That and cloves which always gave me a nasty surprise while biting into one of  my mums apple and blackberry pies.

“How is it?” she asked gleefully.”

“Fine,” I said and then  backed that up with “Very nice thank you” in case 'fine' was deemed ungrateful. Meanwhile she continued shaking flour into a bowl placed on a set of scales. “Tell your mum I look forward to her next little party,” She said with her smile. It was my mums occasional Tupperware party she was talking about. They usually involved a houseful of strange women clucking away and being directed to our front room. Once in, the door was closed and those clucks along with clinking cups and saucers became muffled. The smell of coffees, coffee cake, scones and cigarette smoke would permeate the house. On those evenings, my brother and I were banished to our bedrooms. There we could hear the occasional goings on as the door was flung open by someone in need of  the loo and the volume increased for a moment until the door was shut again.

“And what have you been up to over this holiday so far Mickey?”  asked Mrs Clarkson, now rolling out pastry. I looked for something suitable to tell her. 

“Umm..I've been playing down on the river a bit,” I offered.

“Yes,” she nodded wistfully,“...we used to paddle about down on the river  during summer when I was a girl. I see someone's put up a swing there again,” she added. “Just you take care down there, mind. Wont you?” she warned  gently and I smiled back. It was then that I began to wonder if she might have known the two girls from the diary. Perhaps she had gone to school with them. 

“Mrs Clarkson,..” I began, “did you have two girls at your school by the name of Rosie Linden or Catherine Nelson ?” Her head slowly began shaking in growing certainty 

“No..No Mickey,” she replied puzzled “Cant say I knew those names. Why’s that?” she then smiled, intrigued while continuing to roll pastry. “Who are those  girls then?” as if it was some amusing story I had to tell. But now I had no real explanation and I didn't want to start talking about the diary. 

“They..” I began, searching for something in my head. “They..their names were written under my desk at school. That's all,” I replied as if it was of no importance.

“Oh?” she replied, giving that confused expression. The one where they move their head backwards in an attempt to look at you again from a slightly further distance to make sense of it. “But you've got quite new desks in your class. Haven’t you? I remember from parent’s night.” 

“Yeah,” added Andrew who I hadn’t noticed had been standing in the kitchen doorway with my hooded top in his hand. “We've got new desks. They wouldn’t have been there when mum was at our school.” I could feel myself getting hot as I saw they both thought something wasn't right with my explanation. So I tried to brush it off. 

“Well, not my desk. In the old storeroom. There are some old desks in their. You've seen them, haven't you Andrew?” I asked, knowing full well there were none.

“Are there? Where’s that then?” he pursued, oblivious to the fact that I wanted to escape this  conversation. 

“At the back of the..you know, where they keep all the old sports equipment..” I mumbled trailing off.

“Haven’t seen that.” he replied with a smirk as if it was some guessing game I was playing. To change from the scrutiny, I took my hooded top.

“Thanks. What was in that fruit drink Mrs. Clarkson? It was very.. nice,” I said preparing to leave. But just then, a voice and it came from the conservatory.

“They lived at Ellingham house,” she said. “The large old house across the river.”

“Yes. Ellingham house. I know where that is mum,” confirmed Mrs. Clarkson, continuing with the rolling of her pastry.

“It was taken over..requisitioned by the M.O.D first, of course. During the war,” said Andrew's Gran and then added. “Oh, this was all before you were born Judith. I'd already had your brother. You weren't to come along for another seven or so years then. We was all surprised when you..”

“Yes, go on..Ellingam House, mum..” prompted Mrs. Clarkson suggesting it was a tedious job to steer her mother back to the topic. “People don’t want to hear all about that,” she added, looking a tad embarrassed. It was apparent that Andrew’s gran was now having a conversation with Andrew’s mum and I began to wonder if his gran had thought it was his mum that had first mentioned the schoolgirls’ names. I began moving inconspicuously to the kitchens wall, wondering if it was impolite to remain listening to the two of them. But I was too intrigued to leave, and wanted to hear everything the old lady had to say about the matter despite feeling like an eavesdropper. 

“Ellingham House,..” Andrew's gran continued, then paused to suck on some sweet in her mouth. Awaiting her next words, I was forced to listen to the internal tumblings of that sweet as it clacked against her false teeth. “It was taken over,... ”  she began and then clacked a little more, “.. by the Ministry of Defence first. They wanted to use it ..as a kind of base, because, well they were building an airfield five miles away near Stowe. But later that house, it became a home for evacuees and orphans. Those children, I still remember those blessed names quite clearly. Funny that innit?” she said smiling and looking back at Andrew's mum. “What with my old memory. Yes,” she nodded confidently, “Catherine Nelson, Rosie Linden and Little uhmm.. Bronte, that's it. Well it was quite a to-do at the time.” She sighed, casting her memory back.“See, they was all living here in the village for a while, then that Rosie girl, she went missing. Missing here in Abbeyton Lacey.” The old woman then stopped, removed her glasses to wipe a speck away that seemed to be bothering her and continued. “Apparently, you see, she went out one evening and was never seen again. Some reckoned she'd drowned in the Lacey. Others thought,..” and then Andrew’s gran became quite still, pondering on something unpleasant.“Others thought someone had, you know,.. done away with her.”

“Oh God,” sighed Mrs Clarkson, putting her hand to her chest. “Did they find...,” but Andrew’s gran continued, eyes fixed on her memories.

“My grandmother, your great grandmother, often used to say that perhaps it was the Noogan that had gotten her.” Andrew’s gran then looked at her daughter intensely as she said it. “She used to believe in those stories, my gran,” she said, shaking her head and pursing her mouth.

“Noogan?” repeated Mrs Clarkson and then the words were echoed by Andrew, still standing near the door. Andrew seemed less interested than I. In fact it seemed he believed his gran’s recollections to be largely unfathomable ramblings as he glanced at me with an embarrassed smile. It appeared to me that he had taken his lead from the way his own mum spoke to her, as if with an air of pretended interest and sympathetic disbelief.

“Oh yes,” she assured her sincerely, “You see..,” continued Andrew's gran “...some strange things did go on that summer. That was for sure.”

“What things?” asked Mrs Clarkson.

“Odd things,” she replied, starring out of the conservatory window. “People in the village began  losing the odd animal from their farms. I remember Buzz Rafferty's two goats turned up on Grenleigh Chase.”

“Well,that's not so odd mum,” replied Mrs Clarkson with a smirk. ”That sort of thing happens every..”

“Half eaten apparently.” Andrews gran interrupted. “Both of them. Seems sort of wasteful.” Mrs Clarkson raised her eyebrows in response, not sure whether to take her mother seriously.“That's why some people, they began talking about it being the old Noogan come back. See?” she added, saying ‘they’ in a manner to suggest she did not perhaps share that opinion. Andrew followed this by glancing at me to show a bewildered smile and then a shake of his head. “We'd see them, those three children knocking about around the village,” continued Andrew’s gran. “Down at the ford, that's where they liked to knock around most of the time.” Andrew’s gran took on a somber look as she prepared to continue. “But then something happened.” After a pause it was just a name that she said. “Emmit, the Rudges' boy.”

“What? The Rudges who run the post office?” asked Mrs. Clarkson in between retrieving a baking tray from the cupboard and frowning.

“He was a bit simple,” said the old woman with a rather obstinate expression. When she said it, I saw the grim postmasters face in my mind and I began to consider him with a life story that I hadn't before.

“I didn’t know they had a son,” said Mrs Clarkson genuinely surprised.

 “..A mentally retarded son,” the old woman sighed.

 “Oh what a shame.”

“Maybe for the Rudges,” snapped Andrews gran, taking on a ruffled manner.“Haven't got any sympathy for that Emmit though. Soppy old sod. Always would see him wandering about the country lanes. 'Dopey', some people would call him. Apparently he took to tagging along with those three from Ellingham House. Those poor kids probably felt sorry for him..Course people said 'he wouldn’t hurt a fly'. The Rudges said it too.” The old lady then turned her head back to make eye contact with her daughter and looking over her glasses she whispered as if they were forbidden words..“But he was older than those girls”. Mrs Clarkson blinked uncomfortably in response.“Despite his mental age,” she continued in the same manner, “physically..,” she hesitated and then raised her eyebrows candidly, while keeping her eye contact fixed with her daughter’s “..he was growing into a young man.” She then added, to emphasise her point. “A grown boy like that, alone with those girls? Well I ask you,” she said and returned her gaze to the garden, pulling her blankets further around her legs.

“So where is he now?-the Rudge’s boy?” asked Andrew’s mum looking a little concerned.

“Well, he wouldn't be a boy anymore. He must be getting on a bit now.” An interval followed as the old lady moved the sweet around her mouth for an age and then crunched for a further age. “Well..,” she started again, “... the police, they couldn’t get no sense out of him about it apparently. You know, the disappearance of that girl Rosie. Something had to be done about Emmit. At least because of the distrust people in this village felt about him. He got bashed a few times-so I heard. Wasn't surprised,” said the old lady coldly. “After that he didn’t go walking the lanes anymore. Then later it was said, they had to send him away to a special school. Somewhere proper where he could be watched, you know.”

“What about the girl that went missing?” asked a concerned looking Mrs. Clarkson.

“Never found her,” replied the old woman quizzically and then repeated the words again to herself which faded away to a whisper. “No. Never found her...”

 

 

That evening with my mind lingering on those words, my eyes soon wandered from my bed. And there I glimpsed it, in a  brown paper bag amongst my shoes in the cupboard. I could smell its feint odour from where my head lay on my pillow. It was the smell of someone else’s life sitting in my bedroom. 

  The next day, the story of Catherine, Rosie and Bronte would move around within me like a large cold stone continually reminding me of its presence. Their lives had taken a darker turn and I wasn't sure that I wanted to follow my curiosity about them any more. Had Emmit Rudge really murdered Rosie?

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