A Children's Story

Entry by: Paul McDermott

7th August 2015
A Childrens' Story

"Six an' out – an' you gorra find the ball!"
"Aren't yiz gonna give us a 'and?"
Billy's voice altered subtly as he pleaded for help retrieving the cricket ball. He wasn't a whiner by nature, but his native Scouse adenoids combined with the injustice he felt at having to find the ball on his own made him sound like one.
"It's the only half-decent 'corkie' we've got!" Paul, the current Leader of the Usual Suspects reminded him. The two 'best' bats (and the missing ball) were all his personal property, and one of the pairs of pads. The wickets, keeper gloves, and two pair of pads were supplied by his cousin, Tom.
"Can't we use the spare ball, an' someone waiting to bat can look for it?"
Even as the words left his lips, Billy knew he was on a hiding to nothing. The "Six and you're out" rule had always been in their Rulebook, as sacred as anything in Wisden's Almanac. He sighed and began unstrapping his pads, reflecting that this seemed unfair, scant reward for the glorious boundary shot he'd just achieved, a full-blooded straight drive soaring over the bowler's head and onto the disused railway line.
"Come off it, Billy: y'know the other ball's got an egg in it!"
The spare ball, such as it was, had next to no seam left for the bowler to grip, and was badly out of shape. Billy made one last attempt to appeal to the Team Spirit.
"Yeah, alright: but it'd be quicker if yiz'd give us a hand!"
Tom nodded and joined Billy on his long, lonely trudge to the boundary.
"Thanks, Tom: you know I'd do the same for you, any time!"
Tom nodded, and pointed.
"I think it landed just by the tunnel. We oughta find it pretty easy."
It was still only mid-morning, but the sun was already cracking the flags and the temperature was likely to be off the scale by noon. The rest of the team took a swift drinks break and began tossing the spare ball around.
They scrambled down the steep grassy bank into the cutting which led to a tunnel. Cars, buses and other vehicles rumbled by on the main road from Liverpool to Prescot and St. Helens, the noise curiously muted as if coming from somewhere much further away. The singing of small songbirds, the drone of a solitary bee, even the flapping of a butterfly's wings seemed louder, somehow more real than the general white noise of traffic, so constant it barely registered on the conscious mind.
Luck, it seemed, was on their side. The errant cricket ball glistened cherry red, easy to spot in the centre of the ancient, rusty rails. The gravel and stone of the railbed had restricted the growth of grass and weeds. Tom and Billy grinned, pleased they'd been rewarded for volunteering. Billy took a deep breath to relay the good news to the rest of the team but choked off his victory yell when Tom touched his shoulder.
"Hang about: what's this?"
Just inside the tunnel entrance, not quite in the shadow cast by the bridge was an object which didn't belong amongst the weeds, long grasses and flowers growing profusely all around.
"Dunno, it just looks like something someone's dumped" Billy said "C'mon, let's get back t' the game …"
"Nah, wait a minute. Looks kinda - I dunno, like I recognise it but I can't quite figure out 'zackly what it is …"
"It" had a definite shape: something manufactured, mostly made of wood, but somehow incomplete. Tom didn't seem to be listening to Billy. He sauntered over and squatted on his haunches, running his hand over the shape, which was about three foot high and four or five feet in length. It stood on two slightly curved wooden rails …
"I know what it is – or was!" Billy said, as a random memory clicked into place. "My Dad bought our Clare one fer Crimbo a few years ago! It's a rockin' 'orse – look, y' can see where the 'ead useter be!"
Once Billy had put a name to it Tom realised he was right.
"Guess you're right 'bout it bein' dumped: not much good to anyone wi' no 'ead!" he muttered. Their inspection of the broken toy was interrupted by a holler from above.
"Come on, youse two: ain't yer found that ball yet?"
"Yes, we gorrit! But come down an' have a decko at this we found in the tunnel!"
Tom's excited shout brought fifteen assorted bodies (mostly dressed in what had been 'whites' when they left home that morning) tumbling down the steep slope: Tom's kid brother, Pete, had been left 'on Dixie', guarding their cricket equipment against any opportunist thief.
"What'ya found, Tom?"
"Jeez, that looks ancient!"
"Where's the 'ead? Have you looked round?"
"D'yer think we could fix it – if we found the head?"
"Oh, trust you, Gerry! OK, your Dad's a chippie, but I doubt even he could purrit back together!"
Tom still had his hand on the horse's shoulders. He wiggled a couple of fingers inside the torn, ragged opening where the head had once been. He brought out a handful of coarse rags and stuffing, then frowned and dug deeper.
"There's something more solid down here: hang about …"
His fingers closed around something. It cost him some effort to pull it out: his clenched fist and whatever he'd found made it more difficult to extract his hand from the horse's neck.
"If yer go much deeper yiz'll be in its belly: hope that's not horseshit yer pullin' out!" Paul cackled, inspiring a round of rude, lewd and ribald comments from the rest of the group.
"Or look on the ground, under its arse: yer might find rocking horse droppings. Me Mam says they're so rare, they're worth a fortune!"
Everyone crowded to see what Tom had pulled out of the horse's innards. Tom stood to one side, next to Paul, scrutinising whatever it was Tom had found. There was something indefinable about their stiff posture and total silence which quelled the boisterous, unruly crowd. Everyone gathered round in silence, holding their collective breaths.
Tom had a sturdy elastic band looped round his thumb. He'd taken it from a tight roll of brown-and-white pieces of paper, all the same size. These he flattened out, passing about half of them to Paul
"Bloody hell!" muttered Eddie "I've never soon so much moolah …!"
" … all in one place!" Norman added. The silence was becoming unbearable.
Paul's eyes met Tom's: words weren't necessary. They both removed their caps, placing the notes they'd already flattened out inside them and put them on the ground, weighted down with a stone. Tom took first turn at rummaging inside the wooden frame: as he withdrew his hand with another bundle of similar size and appearance, Paul was ready to try his luck.
"Norman, you go next: then shoot off an' bring our Pete. Give him a 'and carryin' the gear, I don't think we'll be playin' much more cricket today …!"
By the time the last shreds of stuffing had been completely removed from the horse, a total of nineteen rubber-banded tubes of notes lay in the cinder and gravel bedding between the long-defunct rails.
"They all look the same size, to me: I vote we just count 'ow much the one open pack comes to, 'stead o' unpacking the 'ole lot!"
"More t' the point, Tom: what we gonna do with it? For starters, it's not ours: an' ferra third-fourth-fifth, me Mam & Dad'll go batshit if I turn up with so much as a single tenner – even a fiver, she'd know it's more'n I ever 'ave in me pocket!"
"Paul's right: no way any of us would be able to bullshit our way outta this!" Pete added, bringing instant and unanimous agreement.
"Have you had a look round the rest o' the tunnel?" someone asked. Paul thought it might have been Eddie but the acoustics of the tunnel deadened and slightly distorted the speaker's voice. He couldn't be certain who'd spoken.
It didn't matter, for the moment: the suggestion caused general mobilisation without further discussion. Paul and Tom grabbed a couple of wickets from the bag and used them to prevent the unchecked surge from trampling the ground: who knew what might be concealed in the grass and weeds? In the tunnel's mouth alone there was a considerable amount of vegetation: the railway line had been disused since before any of them had been born, and even without the rubbish and scrap which had been dumped there over the years there was plenty of natural cover in which more Treasure Trove might be discovered.
"We should do this like the cops do on telly"
Paul was the oldest of them, by a whole three days, and as it was 'his' season while Cricket ruled supreme, nobody queried his right to assume command.
"We make a line across the tunnel. Use a bat, a wicket, or a stick o' some sort to poke the ground in front o' yiz before taking a step forwards."
Everyone had seen these scenes on CSI and other police dramas but this was for real . Now they'd find out if there was any merit in this forensic search technique, or if it was just something that 'looked good' on the small screen.
Inch by methodical inch they edged carefully into the tunnel. As the light faded from the entrance behind them they dropped to their knees to scrutinise the ground more closely. One or two curious items turned up. A few unidentifiable items were small enough to be pocketed for later inspection, but nothing was found which might prove to be valuable.
Heads down, concentrating, they weren't fully aware of the gradual improvement in the lighting until Tom happened to glance up.
"We're nearly there, y'know! The other end o' the tunnel, I mean!"
A muted cheer (not quite sarcastic in nature) greeted the news, and they applied themselves to completing their self-appointed task as carefully as they'd worked so far. As the light continued to improve they dragged themselves back to their feet and resumed their earlier methodology, testing the ground at their feet with sticks, wickets and bats.
They all sensed immediately that there was something different about the daylight as they emerged, scruffy, soiled and panting, from the tunnel. Automatically, Paul checked his wristwatch. Had they been so absorbed by the intensity of their fingertip searching that he'd lost all track of time? It was still unbelievably hot: his watch reassured him it wasn't yet noon, but his eyes told him a different tale.
The shadows were long and spidery and in a direction he hadn't expected. The sun was also much lower in the sky than it had any right to be: to his left as he stood and faced back the way they'd come, hanging like a blood-orange over the Mersey … in the West? Surely they hadn't been that long searching in the tunnel? Had his watch stopped? No, the figures on the dial pulsed steadily, granting each second its full (if brief) allotted moment of existence. Where had the day gone? The difference in the quality of the daylight was without doubt because somehow it was now early evening, a fact proved by the ever-lengthening shadows and the unexpected position of the sun in the sky. He spun on his heels to face the other way. The rest of the gang were still brushing themselves down, rubbing stiff knees, complaining and cursing as pins and needles heralded the return of circulation in their legs. Nobody else had given their surroundings a second glance.
"Er, guys: we might have a problem here!"
Tom was first to react, springing to his feel with a confused look in his eyes.
"Chuffin' Hell, where's Sainsbury's supermarket gone?"