The Hidey Hole
by David Price
|parts I - III|
The wind was picking up outside, each little sound fuelling the man’s paranoia. He poured another whisky and tried to ignore those shadows and little tapping noises outside; no child would be out on a night like this, he told himself; those shadows passing his window could not be human; the objects tapping at the glass could not be hands. And he certainly couldn’t hear any voices; they were in his head, taunting him, just as they always had been.
He drank another Scotch, and then another. But there was no release; the guilt had been with him far too long. He finished off the whisky and went to bed, pulling the blankets up over his head. In time he fell asleep and dreamt of the girl. After twenty-two years, her face was as clear in his mind as ever. But she had never made her presence felt as vividly as this before. Could it mean that his past was finally catching up with him?
The sight of that old railway bridge really sent a shiver down my spine. A dilapidated relic from a bygone era, it should have been demolished years ago.
Who knows? Maybe it had just been forgotten?
Situated in the heart of the countryside, it was overgrown with vines. The single arch was pitch-black, the other end having been bricked up. It would never be used again, but it had been a fun playground when I was a child; the number of times I had been in there...
I shuddered despite the warmth of the day.
Jo-Jo, walking ahead of me with a bunch of flowers in her hand, was a little more resolute.
“Are you ready for this?” she asked, as we approached the archway.
I looked into the darkness, took the torch out of my pocket and nodded. “Ready as I’ll ever be,” I said, which meant no, but I shone a light into the darkness and stepped into the archway with her. If only these bricks could talk, I thought.
Jo-Jo placed her flowers on the ground.
“Rest in peace,” she said.
That tiny gap, that niche in the wall, had once been my little secret.
I soon found out that it had a little secret of its own.
I opened my eyes, disoriented. The drip feed attached to my hand brought me back to reality. I was in hospital, a telemeter recording my every heartbeat. I felt for the probes. If they came loose a nurse would come running, making sure that my heart was still beating.
Yes, still in place.
I pulled the bedside table across and poured myself a glass of orange juice. It was just after three in the morning, but I was used to sleeping badly.
Heart failure; that was the diagnosis. I would soon learn a new term; dilated cardiomyopathy. Whatever you called it, my heart wasn’t beating fast enough to sustain me.
“How much longer am I going to be here? Hey, Ted?”
I was addressing my companion, Edward Ted, an old brown Teddy Bear dressed in a rugby shirt. Jo-Jo had left him there to cheer me up. Don’t ask why.
I pushed the table away, noted the amount I had drunk. I was restricted to 1.5 litres a day, which wasn’t much, considering they wanted me to piss like a horse every couple of hours.
Edward Ted just stared at me impassively.
“You couldn’t give a toss, could you Ted?”
It had started in a minor way, getting a little breathless running for a bus, then climbing a flight of stairs. Soon I couldn’t lie down, and at night it began to feel as though cement were slowly setting over my heart and lungs. Before long I was housebound, with Jo-Jo virtually waiting on me hand and foot.
One day, I cancelled an appointment for a blood test. The doctor came around to see me. Three hours later, I was in hospital.
Which was great — at first. I was helped into bed, and then given a remote control to adjust it. I made myself comfortable (which meant I was virtually sitting up) and then enjoyed the best night’s sleep I’d had in weeks.
But my sleep was to become very troubled indeed!
Jo-Jo had been nine-years-old when I first saw her, sitting on a wall with a woebegone expression on her face.
“You look sad,” I said.
“It’s my birthday.”
“That’s making you sad?”
“Mam’s sleeping off a hangover. She doesn’t care.”
I had a bar of Fruit ‘N’ Nut in my satchel. I took it out and gave it to her.
She wasn’t having a great time of it. Her old man had run off with a younger woman, and her mother had crawled into a bottle. Really, some parents want shooting!
I asked her what her name was.
“Joanne Josephine Barr. Everyone calls me Jo-Jo.”
“I’m Jason Oakleigh. Say, how do you fancy going to a fairground?”
She’d brightened up then.
“Cool,” she said, and a smile lit her face.
* * *
Jo-Jo became my best friend, and weekends were something to look forward to — a walk into a nearby village to buy comics, occasionally jumping on a train for a few hours at the seaside. It was a few weeks before I took her to the bridge, though. I still liked my little secret.
I’d discovered it two years earlier, while taking a walk on a hot summer’s day. I’d just moved into the area, and I was still exploring the woods when I chanced upon it. Roughly the size of a house and spanning a ravine, the archway had been alluring enough for me to go back with a torch and take a look around.
Of course, I didn’t get too far. A brick wall on the far side saw to that. (Okay, I expected to find hidden treasure, or some artefact. I was ten years old. Cut me some slack here!)
Realizing there was nothing there, I soon got bored with the adventure. But then, just as I was about to leave, my light fell upon some loose bricks. I knelt down, pulled a few of them out and shone a light inside. I couldn’t see a lot, but I was chuffed to bits at finding myself a little hidey hole.
Can keep my little secrets in here, I thought.
I can remember happily leaving the tunnel, listening to Ocean Colour Scene over my Walkman.
Then suddenly wheeling around with a start and shining my light into the darkness.
Of course, there wasn’t a soul around. I’d have seen them. Feeling like a complete jackass, I put the torch back in my pocket and went home. Just got spooked by the darkness, I told myself, and put it out of my mind.
* * *
The tunnel became my secret hiding place.
Then I met Jo-Jo, a girl who, like me, had no real friends. Of course, I was delighted to have someone to share my secrets with.
* * *
It was a Saturday afternoon, and we were on a train back from the seaside when I finally decided to tell her about it. At the time, I’d lived in an isolated rural bungalow with my parents. They knew of Jo-Jo’s situation and didn’t mind her stopping over. In truth, I think they felt a bit sorry for her, although since we’d become friends, she couldn’t have been more cheerful.
Later that evening we were sitting out in the back garden, drinking coke, listening to the radio and looking up at Hale Bopp, a passing comet. It had been a baking hot summer’s day, the night was close, and I reckon we were both feeling pretty good.
I shared my secret with her.
“A hidey hole?”
“It’s not much, just a few loose bricks.”
“Can we go there?”
“Sure, I’ll take you tomorrow.”
On a Sunday afternoon just after dinner, we met up at the allotment and set off for the bridge.
* * *
How many times had I been there without Jo-Jo?
Yes, I’d felt something, a crawling sensation on the back of my neck, but it was a derelict construction, the kind of place that does give you the creeps. I’d learned to ignore it.
Mind you, the place did look a little eerie, so JoJo hesitated a moment. But then she smiled and said, “Let’s go.”
I took the torch out of my pocket and led the way in, knelt down by the hidey hole, and started removing the bricks.
“And this is where...”
A large section of the wall suddenly collapsed, a cascade of bricks that I only just managed to avoid by jumping back.
We fled, a choking cloud of black dust chasing us out into the light.
“Jo-Jo, are you...”
I caught a movement in the corner of my eye and turned back to face the archway.
What I saw unnerved me, for the cloud of dust looked like a ghostly entity floating out into the light.
No way, I told myself as it drifted away like a disintegrating shadow.
After a while I calmed down, and when the dust had settled, I went back into the tunnel to get my torch.
But hesitated, for I could now see shadows and sense...
There’s nothing there, I told myself, but my inner voice sounded like a frightened child.
“I’m just going to get the torch,” I said, and stepped into the darkness.
Picking it up, I shone a light into the niche and saw ‘everything’ for the first time.
* * *
For how long can you fool yourself about what you are seeing? It wasn’t a ball or a Halloween novelty. It was a human skull.
I just stood there and stared, my skin crawling. No way, I thought, but that skull just kept on grinning, mocking me.
Something touched me, a hand pressing down on my back, just between the shoulder blades.
“There’s nothing here,” I said aloud, and said it again just to convince myself. Then I forced myself to walk away calmly.
Then something, a sixth sense, make me look up...
It would be another twelve years before we went there again.
But in my nightmares I would revisit it many times, until the need for closure finally drew me back.
* * *
Having put the flowers down, we left the ravine and I drove us to a local coffee shop. I was glad to leave a place that I hadn’t visited in more than a decade, but of course, we’d have to discuss ‘that’. It had been ‘something we just don’t talk about’ for far too long. Ordering coffee and blueberry muffins, we sat by the window. This place hadn’t even been built the last time we were here.
For a time we made small talk, but you can’t keep ignoring the elephant in the room. So, finally, we discussed it. After all these years, I think we both needed to get it out in the open.
An hour later, we finished our coffee and left, got into my blue and rather aged Citroen Saxo, and I drove off.
Finally, I was able to lay my ghost to rest.
Copyright © 2010 by David Price