The Angel's Head: Chapter 4 - The Angel

There was a path that led from the back road of the Avenue to the back wall at the oldest part of the cemetery. No one had been buried here for about fifty years and there were never any fresh flowers on the big marble slabs. It was not a place for friends and family anymore. They were all dead and buried somewhere too, or else up the chimney at the crematorium further along the path.

This evening it was quiet. It was always quiet here. They were only a few minutes’ walk from a row of shops and the heavy rumble of traffic on the main road. That was where the big stone gates were. Then there was a long and unused driveway that led down here to where the old graves stood. High trees arched over the stone walls which had crumbled in places. The tumbled stones were being smothered by bracken and brambles. There was an isolated, almost magical feeling about this place, as if it had broken away from the real world and was held tethered only by a few muddy paths and the odd empty cider bottle.

the trees were watching them and whispering their leafy suspicions to each otherIt was late and the Youngest could tell from the gloom that he should be getting home. It was starting to get cold too, even though they were still in the middle of the summer holidays. There was no wind where they were standing but the branches were swaying above them and there was a rushing whisper that rose and fell with the gusts. It made the Youngest feel like the trees were watching them and whispering their leafy suspicions to each other.

And the trees were right to be suspicious. The Eldest had led the gang here with the sole intention of causing some mischief and then making sure that the Crescent knew about it.

The Eldest walked slowly, making a show of searching thoughtfully. He rubbed his chin as he turned his head fully to the left and then to the right.

'What are you looking for?' Purr-man asked and the Eldest rolled his eyes. He was trying to create a bit of tension like Miss Wilson his Drama teacher had taught them, but as usual Purr-man had missed the point.

'Something, that, will, show them.' The Eldest stopped beside a grave. It was covered with the usual marble slab but the ground had subsided at one side and there was a gap that led down underneath. It was big enough for a small kid to crawl into.

'Maybe,' the Eldest spoke even more slowly. He wondered if he should do a scary voice but decided against it. They might laugh and he didn't want them to laugh. 'No, it's too much.'

'What?'

The reckless part of his brain; excited and up to no good, had blurted the words before the cautious and now horrified part of his brain could stop it

'I was just thinking,' the Eldest pointed down the hole. 'One of us could go down there and get a bone. No, let’s get the Skull!'

There was a gasp and lots of whispering. The Eldest was pleased. The idea had turned his stomach even as he said it, but he had got the reaction he wanted. The gang had to know he was serious about this, had to know that they needed to do something that would show the Crescent. Show them that the Avenue wouldn't be pushed around.

'I'll do it.' The Youngest found himself saying. The reckless part of his brain; excited and up to no good, had blurted the words before the cautious and now horrified part of his brain could stop it. That must have been the part that was now churning up his stomach and wobbling his legs.

The Eldest stared at the boy. He was impressed, but he was also appalled. What if he did climb down there and emerge with a human skull? As leader it would be the Eldest's job to carry it around and keep it safe somewhere. He took a deep breath so that they wouldn't hear his fear.

'Well done Youngest. We'll have to come up with a new name for you soon.'

'How about “Grave robber”?' Jimbo said. 'Or “The Goul”?' Mouse said with a laugh. The Youngest looked around at them and then at rest of the gang. He was grinning, but at the same time he felt like he might collapse at any second.

'Actually,' Mouse spoke again, 'The main problem with stealing from a grave is that the Crescent wouldn't know anything about it. Not unless we told them anyway.'

'True.' The Eldest nodded. ‘That would spoil the effect wouldn't it? Unless we threw the skull through their window or something... No that's not our style at all.' The Eldest stared around trying to come up with a better idea.

Then he saw her.

She seemed to hold the fading light. Her upturned face shone gently against the deep greens that tumbled over the wall behind her. Her eyes looked over and beyond them. Her hands were clasped, not quite praying, not exactly pleading.

'She's perfect.' the Eldest said and stepped towards the carved angel standing on a low stone plinth.

Up close she was even more beautiful. The smooth marble skin of the small rounded nose and half-smiling lips made the Eldest want to lean in towards her. The eyes weren't right though. The Eldest was fascinated by the strangeness. He understood that it would be difficult for a sculptor to do the eyes. You couldn't carve life or colour into bare stone, but it seemed wrong to just leave them blank like this when the rest of the face was so perfect. It made him think of an old dog with cataracts.

He put his right arm around her shoulder. She was smaller than life size, although the Eldest had no idea how big a real angel should be. Standing on her plinth she was just about as tall as the Youngest.

'Yes, she's perfect.'

'Perfect for what?' Purr-man asked.

'Wait and see.' The Eldest stroked the stone cheek with the back of his left hand. 'Jimbo go find me a big rock from the wall.' His fingertips ran down her nose to rest on her lips, as if to gently quieten her protests.

'Don't worry,' He whispered. 'We'll look after you.' Then Jimbo was at his side. The rock he had selected was perfect for the task, even if Jimbo didn't know what the task was. Covered in Lichen greens like all of the others in the wall, the rock was heavy but just small enough to be held by one open hand.

The angel stood motionless and serene. The Eldest's rock hadn't had any effect at all

'Thanks Jimbo.' the Eldest uncurled himself from the Angel's shoulders and took the rock. He held it at shoulder height as if trying to guess its weight.

'We are going to take a head tonight,' he spoke slowly, 'but not some mouldy old skull.' He turned to the carved marble and ran the fingers of his free hand over the face. 'She'll do.' He said, more to himself than the rest of them. Then he raised the rock above his head.

Crack!

The Eldest brought the stone down as hard as he dared, striking the angel just behind her left ear. The Youngest gasped but managed to stop himself sobbing. That was what he really wanted to do. Purr-man laughed but everyone else stayed silent.

The angel stood motionless and serene. The Eldest's rock hadn't had any effect at all.

'She's tougher than I thought.' He hit her again.

There was splintered crack and something flew off. The Eldest yelped slightly as the the rock split into two pieces and fell from his hand. 'Wow, I need something else. He was flustered and angry at himself for making such a stupid noise, but he tried not to show it. Purr-man went to get another piece of the wall.

'Get a bigger one.' The Eldest called after him.

'That kind of rock is softer than the marble.' Mouse looked solemn. 'That's why it's not working.'

'How about this?' Asked Jimbo. He was holding up one of those little marble cubes with a kind of tea strainer lid that was made to hold flowers. Jimbo had picked it up with two hands. It looked heavy.

There amongst the moss and dead leaves, was the beautiful face staring up at the sky

'Go on then!' The Eldest didn't want to lose face again so he waved Jimbo on. Jimbo walked slowly towards the angel with a side to side waddle as he struggled with the weight. Then, when he was standing directly in front of her, he started to swing the block – two handed- up in front of him and back between his legs to get some momentum going. Then:

'Grahh!' Jimbo let out a scream and there was a crack followed by two duller noises.

Everyone stared at the angel in silence. For the Youngest, the silence was fuelled by horror, with maybe a bit of surprise too. There was a flat stump of neck where the head had been, just seconds before.

The whole gang, as if following a signal, looked to the ground. There amongst the moss and dead leaves, was the beautiful face staring up at the sky. The Youngest knew it was silly, but he couldn't help being surprised that her expression hadn't changed. Even so, there seemed to be a trace of shock across her marble brow. Or was it sorrow?

One by one, they all looked over to where the Eldest stood. He didn't notice them for a minute. The shock and the violence held is attention and only drained away gradually, leaving a stain of nausea and panic. He took a few deep breaths and the sick feeling faded too. The realisation began to sink in: This was proper, local newspaper vandalism. And it was the Avenue that had done it, not the older kids who rode motorbikes and drank cider and certainly not the Crescent.

The panic faded away and his stomach calmed. The Eldest began to smile.

'Blimey Jimbo.' he said, 'you after my job or something?' Then he laughed and that broke the spell. Everyone else joined in and he could feel a wave of relief break across the gang. When the Eldest patted Jimbo on the shoulder, everyone else crowded around and did the same.

Chapter 5

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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