Running away from his bullies one day Tom stumbles into another world. He is befriended by a beautiful young girl who tells him about the opression her people are under and reveals to him a dark secret.


2. Running Away

‘Stop you w*nker’ 


I heard the voice behind me bellow in that angry way that could only mean that George Hodgkins was there. The way he spoke normally was enough to send me into panic and launch the nightmares in my mind, but now the menace was in his voice and my blood turned to water, never mind what my bowels were turning into. I could tell he sensed blood and that blood belonged to me. 


I ducked off the main road and down into the woods, the coward in me pushing me further into the woods to hide. I ploughed deep off the path into the undergrowth in the hope that he’d give up the chase. Today had been a bad day all round and I didn’t want to confront George tonight. Life has a nasty habit of placing one bad thing after another like hurdles on the track. Some days you could jump them with ease and there was no problem, today wasn’t one of those. I’d hit at least three of them already and now this was the biggest one.


I stopped an crouched down about twenty yards from the track, hopefully invisible to everyone. I heard footsteps run past down the path, echoing through the woods, and saw three shapes flash past as they defended down towards the river. I held my breath, feeling sure that he’d hear me but George wasn’t that subtle. I thought I’d escaped his bullying and mindless tirades when I’d left school last summer, but like the proverbial bad penny he’d shown up on my first day turning the sunlight of my new life into a grey uncompromising storm. At least I didn’t have to put up with him in my lessons, George was doing foundation skills whilst I was doing A Levels. Still he was around in the corridors at meal times, annoyingly finding all the places I tried to secrete myself, as if he had some heat seeking radar attachment.


I leant against a tree waiting for them to come back this way and continue on their way. I loved these woods. As a child I’d come here often with my mum and dad and wander around. In summer it was full of life, rabbits and birds inhabiting every corner, in autumn a wonderful display of browns, reds, yellows and in winter and spring a place to wander away from the cold winds which inhabit these parts. It has a wonderful Tolkiean feel at times. Overgrown ruins of mill ponds now overrun with bushes and trees, narrow paths surrounded by creepers which occasionally part for long enough to display a waterfall through it’s leafy frame.


I wandered further back into the woods, making my parallel path towards the river and the waterfalls. I moved slowly and a quiet as I could emerging into a small clearing just above the river. From here I could look down and not be seen. The remains of a small fire were on the edge just above the level of the water, I smiled at the memory of the last fire I’d lit there the weekend before. This wood had been my lifeline since my parents had been killed in the car crash a year ago. When the world got on top of me I retreated here for solitude. The wood and stream gave me peace and it’s location meant I was rarely disturbed. Sinead had come with me at times, until my moods had driven her from the centre of my life to an orbit that was far enough away not to feel she was there.


I sat on the ground upon the crisp yellowy brown leaves. Autumn was almost over and the ground felt cold and damp against my rear. I pulled my hood over my head and filed my arms in front of me as a method of keeping the cold out while I waited for George and his mob to flee the area. I would have thought that they’d given up by now, but I guess George needed to take his day out on someone. I’d heard in passing that he’d been pulled before the college principal for breaking a computer. He had these rages, as I knew only too well, where he would just take his frustrations out of inanimate objects or me or both. The last time Sinead had seen me she’d mentioned that her mum had said that George’s dad was threatening to punish him if he got into anymore trouble. Maybe that was why he’d ignored me recently.


I sat and waited, my mind turning to Sinead once again, wondering if she would ever come back to me, or was she lost. She’d drifted away a few weeks ago when she’d started a new college. Up until that moment we’d been close. My moods hadn’t helped. I had been in turmoil about my mum and dad and probably took it out on her, even though she never complained at the time. My mood swings meant I didn’t appreciate her closeness and I guess in the end the change of college meant she didn’t need to see me anymore and she slipped away.


The cold started to seep through my body, I shivered as much for the memories as the damp patch on by bottom. I stood up and wondered if it was safe to go back. I hadn’t seen George come back but he might have gone down the valley and out the other side. Impatience and the cold forced me to move though, I’d contemplated lighting a fire but it was too late in the day and I’d give my place away to everyone. I worked my way back to the track that ran by the side of the millrace. It was narrow, muddy in places where you had to watch you didn’t slip and end up in the river to the left below. To the right the almost still and menacingly black water of the millrace looked uninviting as well. The light was beginning to drop as well sending areas into frightening darkness.


I made the decision to make my way over the old packhorse bridge and out of the area that way rather than retrace my steps. Little did I know how that fateful decision would affect my life in such a drastic way. At the time it seemed the best way to go. If I hadn’t have turned left at that moment then I might not have had the experiences that I now have. It was peaceful until I was nearly by the bridge. At that moment I heard the footsteps and voice that meant that George and his mates had caught up with me. I almost let them catch me but I couldn’t, not today. 


I ducked off the tracks and down to the river bed making towards the high arch of the bridge. As much  sI tried to stay on the rocks and pebbles, water started to seep through my converse. As the cries got nearer I ducked under the stones of the arch and pressed myself into the shadows, catching my breathe as I heard them walk onto the bridge above me. I tried to hold my breathe as I heard them stop and discuss me.


I always imagine that moment like in a film, where the action is being filmed by a third party switching from me to the gang and to a long shot. Weird when you think about it as I couldn’t see what was happening but knew it in my mind.


‘Where’s ‘e gone’ That was Georges dulcet tones.

‘’E came this way, I’m sure, saw those orange shoes of his’ I think that was Brandon, but it could have been Joe.

‘Well he hasn’t gone back to the road, we would have seen ‘im.’

‘We’ll wait ‘ere a bit for ‘im, ‘es got to come this way’

There was silence for a while as I imagined them leant against the wall. I heard a match go and a few seconds later the smell of a cigarette burning wafting down to me making me realise how close they were.

‘Maybe he went under the bridge?’ Brandon or Joe said.

‘Scramble down and ‘ave a look’ George ordered


I pushed myself as far into the stonework as I dared as I heard someone scrambling down the bank. The wall I was leant against seemed to give way slightly as though the stone had changed to rubber. I pushed harder as I could hear the water splash. It stretched more, I could see the bevel of the stone and the little alcove I’d made. It was the most weird sensation as though I was warping the world behind me. I started to panic but the danger from the gang made me push back even more pushing the elasticity to it’s limit.


I swear there was a pop as suddenly the brick gave way and I was plunged into a frightening blackness. I screamed. At that moment I thought I’d rather face George and my body started to panic. Had I died? Was this a dream? I felt out with my hands in front of me and could feel the cold wet texture of the bricks. I pressed and felt the stonework give with the same elasticity as before. At that moment I realised I could get back and the panic started to slip away. Now I was more intrigued. I thought I’d wait a while before reappearing, waiting for them to leave. I started to count slowly ‘one elephant, two elephants’ They’re only real seconds when you add the elephant. I got up to five hundred before I thought it was safe to come out. At this time I was taking in my surroundings. It was pitch black, not even a pinprick of light.


I pushed forward slowly feeling the stones give way and eventually it gave way and I was free of the stone. I stood getting used to the light again. The first thing I realised I wasn’t in a river, the second was the warmth and humidity of my surroundings. I turned back and saw not the bridge but a rock face. It felt solid but yet gave slightly under my touch. Turning round I saw I was no longer in the river under the bridge but all around me were greenery. Somehow I’d be transported to what I could only describe as the jungle.

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