That Saturday morning he was shaking with excitement. He could hardly touch the porridge his mother had made for him, glazed in golden syrup, just the way he liked it. Every chore on the farm seemed to drag on, the imaginary clock in his head ticking at a snail’s pace. When it finally came around to Cleaning the stables, the brother’s last task of the day, Eddie swept through it at a record pace. Eddie noticed, however, his brother had been oddly silent the whole day.
“What’s up, Pete? Not getting the wobblies on me are ya?”
Peters’ face did not react, staring still at the ground as he brushed back and forth over the same spot he had been cleaning for the last ten minutes.
Peter’s eyes widened as he sprung around as if only noticing that his brother’s presence.
” Uh.. Yeah, I’m fine, I’m fine… just thinkin’ bout granda’s stories is all…”, His eyes flicked back to the floor.
“The ones ’bout the village? Ha! You ain’t gettin’ worried about some old ghost stories are ya?”
Eddie strode over to Peter and took the yard brush from his hands. He saw the patch Pete had been working on, it was spotless; the rest of his corner was still covered in muck, however…
“Here I’ll finish up this, go grab the torches from pa’s room and come back n meet me here, ok?”
Eddies hand grasped Peters shoulder, clenching as tight as he could before causing pain. He bent over so their eyes were at the same level, looked him dead on and whispered:
“Don’t flake on me brother”
It seemed to Eddie an age before Peter finally returned, gently cradling the two head torches as if they were made of porcelain. In reality, only twenty minutes had passed; the watch on his arm read 4:28pm. In that time, however, the sun had set and the grey-murk of the day was replaced with the black-gloom of night. Eddie hung the shovel and brush upon the stable wall and signalled to his brother as if a soldier infiltrating an enemy headquarters. The two stuck through a small gap in a hedgerow at the back of the house, avoiding the kennels as they went. Fathers dogs would be sure to bark and give away their plans if they got too close, Eddie thought. Crossing the field behind the house, their breaths stuck in their throats. All mother or father had to do, was look out of one of the many windows overlooking the field and it would be over. Eddie dreaded to think what punishment would be concocted for them if they were caught then. Fortunately, the pair made it to the over side of the field and to the next hedge that led onto the small winding road that passed up to the peak of the nearby hill. Eddie clambered through easily enough, pushing aside brambles without concern, still wearing his work gloves. Peter had taken his off when fetching the torches and Eddie had to carefully prise apart the branches to let his brother through.
“Aghh!”, Peter stumbled forward landing face first in a pool of ominously shiny brown liquid.
He spluttered and flapped his arms as If trying to fly, Eddie thought.
“It’s just mud, Pete, bloody ell you’ll wake half the valley with your whining!”
Eddie hadn’t known his brother to act like such a wuss before, he was young sure, but he wasn’t behaving like himself tonight. Oh well he thought, this was his first time sneaking out he was probably just worried about getting caught. After brushing his brother off as well as he could, Eddie pulled him to his feet and the pair continued onwards down the lane.
“Once we get past the last farm we can turn the torches on, we don’t want any of the neighbours snitchin’ on us,” Eddie said.
They moved with caution now, placing each foot carefully ahead of the other trying to feel their way forward in the dim light of the stars. Occasionally they passed a farm and lights would snap on showing them the road ahead momentarily, and their own weary faces. Once they reached the top of the road Eddie motioned for his brother to pass his head-torch and the pair strapped them on.
“We’ll head up the track here, to the top, and then go down through the pine forest to the reservoirs. Shouldna take us more than half an hour to get there.”
Eddie’s promise of a swift climb filled Peter with the hope he would soon be back in his warm bed and his pace quickened. They made the crest of the hill far quicker than it had taken them to trudge up the road, with the light of their torches illuminating the easy footing. Ahead of them, the path plunged into a line of pine trees, stretching along the ridge as far as the eye could see in both directions. Their branches rose ominously toward the sky as if slender malnourished hands reaching to pluck the stars down from their perches. Suddenly Around them shapes shuffled in the darkness. They stopped dead still, but it was too late, the shadows began to lurch towards them…
“E..edd..Eddie, what are they?”
Eddies torch flicked up to the shadowy figures, his eyes widened in terror for an instant…
Pete had been just as scared as his brother but he couldn’t help doubling over with laughter.
“Your face! As if you’d seen a goblin! Hahaha!”
Eddie soon joined in and the pair rolled around laughing for what seemed like hours.
Once they could breathe again they continued on into the trees, into the dark, where not even starlight could reach them.
Every footfall seemed to echo around them. Every snapping branch awoke a score of woodland creatures from their rest, sending them scattering off into the undergrowth, scurrying up trees or flying off into the night. As they descended further down the path the cold grasp of fog began to weave its way between the trunks hiding the path ahead and the one just travelled. Peter grabbed his brother’s arm and instinctively held him close. His eyes saw themselves mirrored in the un-light of the night fog, the ever-shifting shapes forming otherworldly watchers stalking the pair as they trudged on. The innocent minds of children can be a boon or bane depending on the setting the mind is set free in. Those dark menacing trees, seemingly reaching out closer as a tightening noose set both their minds ablaze with every horror they had the capability to imagine and some they did not. The dirt and pebbled path seemed like a stairway descending to the bowels of hell. The cries of animals like the wails of lost souls.
And then they emerged. Out of the dark, into the light.
The water stood still and unafraid before them, gently reflecting a mirror of the tree-lined hill they had just descended. In its quietness the terrors of the night seemed to slink away, replaced only with serenity and calm.
“Almost there…” Eddie said. Almost as a reassurance to himself as well as his brother.
The path led soon to the new bypass road, coiling its way up the hillside like a snake preparing to strike. Lights of the passing cars filled the brothers with hope as they regained their footing on civilisation. They soon left those comforting lights behind, however, as they descended once more into dark woods, this time following closely the shoreline of the reservoir. The dried-up bed had an unnatural look to it as if the boys were being allowed a look behind the veil to something they should not see. Jutting out the mud was an assortment of objects that had been lost in the waters over the years. A bicycle, tires, old sunken boats, and a 1964 plate ford falcon. Eddie loved old cars and seeing it in such a state filled him with a touch of melancholy. It was not long before larger things were visibly protruding from the mud, clawing at the horizon. At first, they looked like piles of rubble with no real distinguishable shapes, but as the boys approached they began to make out the foundations of buildings, a stretch of wall, and even the remains of the old village bridge – still reaching out across the old river. The other thing they noticed immediately was the stillness. No one else was around, and although at this time of night that might be expected, Eddie had been worried the media attention would have drawn inquisitive explorers to the ruins at night too.
Just before Eddie made to slide down the ridge, a rustling in the branches behind him caught his attention.
A small black crow drifted silently off its perch, landing a few feet from the pair. Its jet-black feathers were laced with veins of white as if the colour had mysteriously drained from them. Turning its head sideways, its pale milky grey eye locked onto Eddie’s face.
“Gobak Gobak!” It squawked.
It was almost as if it was trying to tell them something. Eddie put his fear aside, they had come too far to head back now, not without getting a look. And what kind of coward would he look like if he turned them around now?
“Git”, Eddie waved his hands hoping to scare off the bird. Instead, however, it hopped once onto a nearby rock and continued to stare at the pair.
“What’s wrong with it?” Peter said.
Their feathered companion was beginning to unnerve Eddie and picking up the most aerodynamic rock from around his feet, he launched it at the bird.
To his surprise, it did not move. The rock hit it square on and an explosion of feathers filled the air.
“C’mon”, Eddie gestured to Peter as he began trudging back down to the ruins…