The Angel's Head: Chapter 5 - Afterwards

Chapter 5 -- Afterwards

The Eldest couldn't sleep. He was used to staring at the numbers of his clock radio slowly spinning but this was the first time he could remember seeing the hour get to 03. As he lay there he could hear birds starting to sing and he wondered if he would still be awake when the sun came up.    

His mind had been racing since he had heard the crack of marble splitting and watched the head fall.  Actually, first the head had moved upwards, thrown back like the dummies in those slow motion crash test films. Then it had spun back over her shoulder and tumbled for hours before the gravel crunch as it landed. The sequence had replayed over and over. Even with his eyes shut he could see it and each time it seemed to stretch out and distort. Now at 03:24 in the morning he wondered whether the Angel had really cried out against her attackers.

The Eldest tried to blink away the feelings behind his eyes. It was all confused and messy and he needed it to stop. He wasn’t used to having so many feelings swirling around his head at the same time. There was a bit of fear there, but only at what his Dad would do if they got caught. There was worry too, over where to hide the heavy lump of marble to keep it away from the Crescent. Then there was still the residue of elation that he had felt back in the cemetery, but this was shrinking all the time. There was also a new feeling: deep in his brain and also lurching around his stomach. It was like the feeling he got when he knew that he had made one of the little kids cry, but much stronger. He told himself that he was being stupid. It was only a lump of rock, not a real person. What about the people in the grave? They were just bones and nobody every placed fresh flowers there. Even their children would be dead by now. The other grown-up’s that walked there wouldn't even notice, but the Crescent would. That was their place, and they would definitely notice.

At that realisation, the Eldest smiled and some of the twisting in his insides seemed to ease. He was asleep when the sky faded from black to blue soon afterwards.

'I like time to think. You should try it sometime.'

The next morning there was a gang meeting. It was a Sunday and there were still two weeks left of the holidays. The Eldest hadn't even called the meeting. It just happened. He had been woken by the sweaty tangle of his sheets and jumped out of bed as if he was being chased out. He didn't give his dreams another thought. If anyone had asked him, he would have said that dreams were just weird stuff that didn't matter anyway. He was left though with a restless feeling that was hard to shake. He refused to think about it anymore. Instead, he went out into the yard to do some more work on his bike. It seemed like a Sunday morning thing to do.

Mouse had been first to arrive. He sat on the low wall and they said “alright”, but not much else. Long silences were often the main feature of a conversation with Mouse. There was nothing uneasy about it though. It was just the way he was. He seemed to send out waves of calm that made the Eldest really enjoy his company. Purr-man had tried to tease Mouse about his quiet nature but he had just said:

'I like time to think. You should try it sometime.'

That had shut Purr-man up. Well, it stopped him talking anyway. With his blocked sinuses, Purr-man was never completely quiet.

He picked up a single blob with the tip of his spoon. It wasn't crispy any more. He wasn't hungry

One by one the rest of the gang had turned up. It seemed that everyone had woken early. They sat for a while trading stories of sleepless nights while the Eldest moved the cloth across the steel of his bike in small circular motions, not saying much of anything. Then Jimbo rode past on his own bike and seemed surprised to see the yard so full. With a nod he rolled off to fetch the newest member of the gang.

The Youngest was sitting up at the kitchen table, picking his way through a bowl of Rice Crispies. Normally they were his favourite but today didn't feel like a normal day. He kept thinking about the police, and the Headmistress at school, and his Dad. It was hard to remember when Dad had ever been properly angry. There was the time that he had stayed in bed all day, and had dark patches under his eyes and shouted really loud even though the Youngest hadn't done anything wrong. It was his Mum who usually did the shouting but it was always the very worst when the two of them started shouting at each other.

He picked up a single blob with the tip of his spoon. It wasn't crispy any more. He wasn't hungry.

The Youngest heard a knock at the window and there was Jimbo mouthing something and making sharp gestures. The Youngest went to the back door.

'Alright. What's up?'

'Good, you're dressed. There's a meeting already started. Come on!'

'No one said anything about a meeting.'

'I know. Nobody told me either. You coming or what?'          

As the Youngest made his way up to the Avenue, the sense of excitement and panic that hadn't really gone away in the hours since they had left the cemetery started to get stronger. The gang had scrambled back through the woods with the older members taking it in turns to carry the heavy marble head. There had been an argument about where to store it. The Eldest had asked each of them if they could take it home but no one wanted the honour. The Youngest didn't need to refuse because the head was too heavy for him to lift. How could he hide it under his bed or somewhere if he couldn't carry it up the stairs? Eventually they agreed to hide the Angel in some deep and angry brambles until they could think of a proper plan. 

You can't steal something precious then just chuck it in the bushes

The Youngest followed Jimbo into the Eldest’s yard and they waved a greeting. There were a couple of nods as they sat down but nobody spoke. The Eldest looked around and saw that everyone was looking at him. He realised that he was still holding a spanner even though his mind hadn't been on the bike really since the gang had started turning up. He stood up and did something reckless and quite possibly dangerous:

He dropped the one and a quarter inch spanner. Just let it tumble out of his hand, as casually as dropping a crisp packet. The polished steel clanged then tinkled, leaping end over end, then side to side over and over, and over before it came to rest on the concrete flagstone. The back of his mind prayed that his Dad had actually gone out as usual and by some evil twist, wasn't looking out of the back window.

The last of the ringing faded and silence settled over the yard.

'Right then,' the Eldest paced around a bit. He looked at each of them in turn. Only Mouse, Jimbo and the Youngest met his eye. 'Did you all have trouble sleeping or something? No reason to be up so early in the holidays is there?'

'I was having breakfast.' The Youngest said, and when everyone started to giggle, smiled broadly. The Eldest cuffed him lightly above his right ear.

'This one is fearless! Grow another couple of foot and you'll be a right handful.' The Youngest shrugged and his smile grew wider still.

'Shame he can't even lift that thing then.' Purr-man muttered.

'Ah yes,' The Eldest shoved his hands deep into his pockets. The movement raised his shoulders in an exaggerated shrug. 'The Head...' he tailed off and looked over to where the Crescent started. 'We showed them didn't we?' There was a nod and a shrug or two in response.

'Didn't we?'

'Yeh.'

'DIDN'T WE?'

'Yeah!' Purr-man even pumped his fist in the air.

'That's right.' The Eldest patted them on the shoulder one by one.

'What's next though?' It was sort of Mouse's job to ask the difficult questions.

'What now?' the Eldest replied and there was a pause. 'I suppose that's why we're all here eh?’ Everyone nodded.

'First thing. We need to find somewhere safe for it.' More nods. 'Then we need to rub their noses in it properly.' There were cheers again. The way the Eldest said it, it all sounded very simple.

Mouse didn't cheer. He sat glancing at everyone in turn with his face set in a grin but tinged with concern.

'We had better deal with the first thing, first.' He said.

The Eldest slapped Mouse lightly on the back. 'Okay, we already know that no one wants to keep the Angel at home.'  There were a couple of shrugs and shakes of head as he spoke. 'I can't say I blame you.' He said with a smile.

'The brambles aren't too bad for now, but it doesn't seem very...' He paused searching for the right word.

'Dignified?' Mouse offered.

'Exactly. You can't steal something precious then just chuck it in the bushes.'

'How about burying it – like treasure?' Noj said and there was a general hum of agreement.

'Not bad.' The Eldest said but then Mouse spoke again.

'It will take time to do that and we might be seen.' A few nods. 'Also it'll be impossible to move it in a hurry.' There were murmurs as everyone considered this sensible advice. Then there was silence, with faces scrunched in a show of concentration.

'What about the Citadel?' The Youngest asked.

'It's a bit out in the open.' Purr-man said.

'But no grown-up could climb up there. The nails wouldn't hold their weight.' Mouse said.

'Well I'm not going to carry it up there.' Purr-man said miming the act of climbing one-handed with something tucked under his arm.

'Between us we can keep a close enough eye. Then once it's night we can relax'

'We can use a rope to pull it up once we've climbed.' Jimbo said. 'We've done it before easy enough.'

'True,' the Eldest said. He tilted his head from one side, then to the other, making a show of weighing up the arguments.

'If we store the Angel up in the Citadel then we know that the grown-ups won't find it.' Everyone nodded. 'But any kid could climb up there.' More nodding.

'We could keep a watch,' Mouse suggested. 'We don't have to sit around the bottom of the tree or anything. Just make sure we know if any of the Crescent comes up the Avenue or down the back road. There's a few of us that can see the Citadel from our windows and Noj can keep an eye from the bottom of the Avenue.' Then he looked at the Eldest. 'Your room looks out over the back road. So we've got all the approaches covered.'

'Mouse is right.' The Eldest said. 'Between us we can keep a close enough eye. Then once it's night we can relax.'

'Yeh,' Jimbo said with a laugh. 'If anyone can make that climb in the dark, they deserve to get the head.'

'I'll tell you something else.' the Eldest looked over to the tall tree that held the Citadel. Its rough wooden walls were hidden amongst the dense foliage. 'The Citadel is the right place to keep the Angel – up high, closer to heaven, it's somehow more...'

'Respectful?' Mouse offered again.

'Yes. More respectful is right. It's like football. When a team wins the cup they don't hide it in the bushes. They put it on display.

'If we put the head on display, we'll get done.' Purr-man said.

'Yeh well, the Citadel is the next best thing.' The Eldest turned to the Youngest.

'Nice one kid.'

The Youngest took a deep breath. So deep that his chest expanded and his shoulders spread apart. He felt as big as any of them and he couldn't wait to start working with the others to get the Angel up into the tree.

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