THE ANGEL'S HEAD: CHAPTER 9 -- THE LOCK GATES

The Youngest climbed over the back wall and walked across the bumpy and scratched lawn to the kitchen door. It wasn't locked. Jimbo was stood at the worktop making a sandwich. He nodded hello and handed over the peanut butter-smeared knife to the Youngest who grabbed a slice of his own and dunked the knife back into the jar. Then he folded the single slice over and took a bite. The sandwiches slowed down their conversation but a few muffled words, nods and grunts were enough to decide that they should go on a bike ride.

After the escape from the graveyard, the panic had never quite died down for the Youngest. He had almost got used to living with the air somehow caught in his windpipe and his heart beating in loud irregular thumps. The plans they had made for battle had kept them busy the day after, then it had just seemed to be a matter of waiting for the Crescent army to charge up the hill screaming for revenge. Then, when they didn't turn up, the plans and preparations the Avenue had made started to seem a bit pointless, maybe even a bit silly. But still, it could happen any time, couldn't it?

The buckets of mud dried up and the water bombs leaked away. When Jimbo's Mum got curious about the piles of fist-sized rocks stashed in her garden, they had followed their story and use them as target practice against a line of cans. The cans offered no resistance though and they had already got a bit bored by the time her-from-next-door leaned out of an upstairs window and told them to quieten down.

The Youngest was always mesmerised by the boiling, churning force of the dirty green waterThey followed the road down past the playing fields and up over the railway bridge before swooping down towards the canal by the locks. They stopped as usual to sit on one of the huge black and white painted wooden gates. If a boat arrived, trailing a blue cloud of diesel smoke then Jimbo and the Youngest would help push the gates open and watch as torrents of water gushed in or out of the lock, depending on whether the boat was going up or down. The Youngest was always mesmerised by the boiling, churning force of the dirty green water.

'What would happen if you could blow it up?'

'Eh?'

'The lock gates – if you could dynamite them.'

The Youngest heard Jimbo's question but just stared blankly. Jimbo took this as a signal to keep talking.

'All the water would rush out yeh? But would it make a big wave all the way to the next lock, or would it just spill over the sides?'

He imagined being chased by a giant wave as he pedalled away in panic

The Youngest looked at heavy wood, then the long stretch of water beyond it and the tow path that you could ride along, all the way to town. That's the direction they would probably go later – go stare at the racing bikes at Ellis Briggs. He imagined being chased by a giant wave as he pedalled away in panic. It was difficult to picture that oil-still water rearing up in violence, but he tried it anyway.

'I think it would only be as high as the walls on either side. The rest would just spill over the edge.'

'Yeh, you're right.' Jimbo said. 'We'd need to do it somewhere where there are high banks on either side, then the water would have nowhere to go. Then it would just be …. Swooosh!'

'Like “Dambusters”?'

'Yep. Exactly.'

They both laughed. Jimbo often came up with mental ideas like this. And when he did, he always described them as if it was the next thing on his to do list. He talked about blowing up the canal as if he already had the dynamite and was just waiting for the right time to light the fuses. Sometimes, when a scheme didn't need any special equipment, he would get on with putting it straight into action. Jimbo had only just stopped limping after abandoning his project to become “immune to pain”. Every day he had bashed his own knee with a hammer “Until I get used to it”.

It took two weeks before he would admit that it was the angry purple lump that was was stopping him riding his bike and climbing trees, not a sudden interest in sitting around watching the Test Card.

'We should build a squirrel trap.' Jimbo said, without giving any clue as to why the subject had changed so abruptly.

'What's wrong with squirrels?'

'Not all squirrels. It's the grey ones. They're invading and pushing the red squirrels out of the forests. They came from America so they don't even belong here.'

'What sort of trap?'

'Dig a big hole, cover it up with leaves, then put acorns on top. Then when they go for them they'll fall through.

'They'll just climb out.'

'Yeh? Then we can put sharpened sticks at the bottom.' He made a strangled squeak noise that must have been a Jimbo impression of the death throes of an impaled squirrel.

The Youngest paused, not really wanting to ask the question. Then he asked it anyway.

'How do you know that the grey squirrels will fall in, not the red ones?'

Another pause.

'Yeh, well, they're both as bad as each other aren't they?'

'I suppose.' The Youngest said, but he had a fair idea that they wouldn't be putting that particular plan into action any time soon.

***

There was a massed scrape and clank like a massacre of rusty gates. They turned to see the Nuttalls and a few other Crescent kids coming over the bridge. The Youngest couldn't help thinking what the Eldest would say about their bikes: old shoppers, girls bikes, kids bikes too big or way too small for the riders. He would have laughed if his heart hadn't been stopped by fright. There was no longer a connection between his brain and the workings of his body, otherwise he might have looked over to Jimbo for a a clue as to what they should do next. It wouldn't have helped. Jimbo was staring straight ahead, his eyes locked on Andrew as he came closer. If the Youngest had looked harder, he would have seen Jimbo's jaw muscles clenched so tight they made his cheek bulge out at one side.

Maybe they could have made a dash for it? Their bikes would have been faster, but the Youngest knew he had no strength to pedal.

Then the Crescent gang were gathered on the grass below them, their own bikes laid on the grass, making a garish rusty mess.

'You 'right Martin?' Andrew Nuttall asked.

' Alright,' Jimbo replied and the Youngest was amazed at the calm of his reply.

'You ' right Farleys?' This time he addressed the Youngest, who felt his face reddening. He nodded.

'Saw you two the other day, running through the woods.' It was a statement, not a challenge or an accusation. 'You know you're not allowed in the Cemetery? Not since you started hanging around with the Fat boy.'

Jimbo shrugged. The Youngest sat as still as his fear.

Andrew walked up the grassy slope and stood in front of them. The rest of the gang hung back.

'I've got nothing against you Martin, you're alright. And you little Farleys, your Dad knows my big brother.' He paused and gave a wonky freckled grin and the Youngest couldn't help thinking of the football head Mouse had made. Andrew seemed to read his mind and the grin disappeared.

'Throw them in the canal!'

'Shut up Frankie!'

'You saw what they did?'

'I said shut up.' Andrew scowled at his brothers then turned back to Jimbo and the Youngest still sitting, still quiet.

'I've got a message of my own. You tell the fat one that we are going to get him. Just him. You understand?'

'We understand.' Jimbo said. The Youngest just watched.

Andrew stared at them then nodded. He turned and walked down to his bike, picked it up and pedalled down towards the river. He didn't look back. The others stood for a moment. Frankie scowled as hard as he could, but when everyone else set off after Andrew, he followed too.

The two of them sat in silence until Frankie had disappeared and the dry chain rattle of his bike had faded. Then the Youngest exhaled loudly, even though he hadn't really been aware that he was holding his breath.

'Exactly,' said Jimbo.

'I thought we were dead.'

'Nah.' Jimbo stared out over the water. 'I know what you mean though.'

'Shall we go tell him then?'

'What?'

'Go tell the Eldest?'

'Do you want to tell him?'

'Err, no, not really.'

'Well then. No, he'll go mental and I don't want to get it, just for telling him.'

'What shall we do then?'

Jimbo sat in silence. Then he picked up a few stones and threw them, one by one, into the water. The Youngest knew he was thinking.

'Let's talk to Mouse. Maybe he can be the messenger?'

The Youngest felt the relief break over him. This was a good idea. He saw that Jimbo thought so too. He was smiling broadly. ‘Come on then.’

More about the author

About the author

Russell McAlpine abandoned his polymath ambitions to concentrate on writing and living a quiet life on the South Coast.

The Angel’s Head is his second novel.

He is also working on the screen play of a low budget zombie movie for children and writes poetry that will go to grave with him.

He spends the rest of his spare time watching the horizon.

Follow Russell on Twitter.

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