Sunday, 26 April 2020

[Glory Brats 5] Through the fields

Gradually the houses thinned out, and increased in size. The path wound around them, planted up with trees and shrubs. Some of the trees had fruit on, and Sparrow stopped the cart so they could replenish their stash of apples, pears and plums. She let them eat the plums right away. "But not too many or else you'll be sick..."

Dee discovered he was good at climbing trees.

Tekla ran back and forth in excitement, "This is where we walk to school. Our house is just around the next bend." 

The path veered away to the right and continued on a small bridge over a stream. Tekla pointed out their house, although it looked just like all the others. Sparrow tugged at the cart impatiently, wanting to be past it quickly.

"Can we go in?" Dee asked, running up beside Sparrow. 

"No." She said shortly. "It's locked and I don't have the key."

"I...I could try and get it open..." Zed suggested, speaking up from the back.

Sparrow stopped. "Could you?" She looked over her shoulder at Zed.

He nodded. "I can try, anyway."

"He got the door open where we were before." Bee added, not liking the tone of disbelief in Sparrow's voice.

"Alright then, let's see you do it."

Tekla jumped up and down with excitement. She grasped Dee's hand and squeezed it. "Now you can see the seeds I planted all by myself."

Sparrow watched Zed as he fiddled about with his metal pick and the tweezers from the medi-kit. He tried not to show that he was bothered by her concentration.

"Now why couldn't you have done that earlier?" she said when he'd finished.

"You never asked." he said, and pushed the door open. Sparrow stepped into the hallway, and breathed in the comforting scent of her own home: the freshly laundered sheets that she'd helped dad fold and stack in the cupboard, the scent of the shampoo bar from the washroom, mixed with polish from the boots on the low shelf by the door.

The others clustered round and Tekla pulled them into the house past Sparrow, eager to show them everything. She could hear their voices out in the back garden as she walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table. A bunch of wilted garden flowers stood in the centre. Mum had put them there before she left for Central. Wearily, she got up and began to look around the kitchen for anything useful. She stacked some tins and packets on the table, and opened a drawer. She took out the big knife. It was the one dad used for chopping pumpkins and turnips, and Sparrow wasn't allowed to touch it. She wrapped it in a towel and shoved it at the bottom of her satchel. Just in case. After all, they were going to have to go through the woods.

Bee was sitting on the back steps. She shifted aside a little as Sparrow came outside. "Tekla's showing them how to plant seeds." she said.

"Why not you too?" Sparrow asked, then felt stupid, because of course Bee couldn't see how to plant seeds because her eyes were broken. "Sorry," she said, "Stupid." --meaning stupid of me, but Bee didn't know that.

Bee was silent for a while, but something boiled up inside her and she stood up. "Show me. If you're so clever then show me how to plant seeds."

"What's the point?" Sparrow countered, "We won't be here for them growing."

But Bee was stubborn, and the pair of them joined the others at the end of the garden. Sparrow took a seed from the packet that Tekla held and pressed it into Bee's hand. "Now you poke a hole in the earth with your finger and put the seed in, and cover it over. Then we water it."

"Then what?" said Dee, staring at the ground as if he expected something to happen at once.

"It takes a long time to grow." Tekla said.

"Longer than we have to hang around here." Sparrow finished. "Come on, you lot, up out of the dirt and let's get going."

They left the house behind and eventually they came to a chain-link fence, taller than Bee, with a gate set into it. Beyond lay fields, and buildings in the distance that glinted in the sun. Dee bounded forward. "It's not locked!" he exclaimed, pushing the gate open.

The path they followed was different now, thinner and dustier, and wound around fields of crops that lay limply in the late afternoon sun. As they got closer, the glinting buildings turned out to be greenhouses, full of plants that pushed green leaves against the glass as if they would burst out. Inside they felt warm all over, and the air smelt of soil, and damp and green things growing. They picked tomatoes and cucumbers, and even grapes, although not many of the grapes made it into the cart. When they came out, the air was cool on their faces. Sparrow marched them on past the greenhouses, and towards the other cluster of buildings by the fields. A big barn surrounded by grass loomed ahead of them, with birds perched along the roof. Another tall fence enclosed the grass, and set it apart from an area of wilderness that lay beyond, with trees beyond that. The tree-line stretched as far as they could see on either side.

"Where do we go now?" Zed asked, as Sparrow had stopped for some time, just looking at the woods.

"We follow the fence," she said at last. So they followed the fence around the fields and the wilderness until they came to a point where the fence stopped suddenly. Barriers had been set up to block the way, but they were useless without guards to stop them going any further. Part of the ground beyond had been torn up by machines and dug away at, heading through the wilderness towards the woods. In the other direction, a rail line sped off towards the city, although parts of the track lay by the side, waiting to be lifted into place. Temporary buildings had sprung up alongside the track and down in the cutting.

"This is where my dad was working," Sparrow said, "Before he disappeared."

"...what happened to him?" Bee asked.

"That's what I'm going to find out," Sparrow replied, as she stepped onto the slope of the cutting and skidded down to the bottom.

They picked their way amongst piles of earth and stones dug out from the ground. They travelled in silence, mostly, apart from when the cart had to be lifted over obstacles in their path. As they travelled further into the cutting, tree roots stretched their long tendrils out of the sides, except where they were cut off abruptly to force a way through.

Sparrow kept an eye on the trees, even to the point of stumbling as she tripped over stones and roots. The trees now arched over their path, branches reaching out to one another, enclosing them in a never ending circle of dry roots and green leaves. She shuddered, and looked back at the others, walking blissfully unaware into the gaping maw of the woods.

"Stop, " she said, halting the progress of the cart. "The woods are dangerous."

Zed looked around at the carpet of moss that lay before them, draping itself over fallen branches and softening the edges of forest pools, dimpling where the earth hollowed out between the roots of the trees. Sunlight dappled the forest floor, piercing the canopy of branches above. It looked peaceful. Beautiful. Anything but dangerous.

Sparrow glanced around and saw a cabin with sides of corrugated metal. She pulled the others into it and sat them down. "What I'm about to tell you is true. Well, almost certainly true. Well, it really happened to Fern's older sister's friend, and she told me about it last year."

They turned blank faces towards her, so she began anyway, hurriedly, to get the words out before the fear stole them from her. "It was when a group of kids were camping in the grass near to the fields, like we all do with school. And this group were the closest to the woods, just next to the fence. And anyway, they were all daring each other to get close to the fence, to touch it, which is against the rules. And this one boy, he was dared to go at night, when everyone was supposed to be asleep. He left the tent, and they never saw him again. But in the morning they found a place where the fence was broken, and the grass beyond looked like something had been dragged through it to the woods..."

Eyes wide, the others sat in silence, so Sparrow continued, relishing the audience, "They say the trees in there are alive, and trap you with their branches and roots until you can't move, and eventually there's nothing left of you but bones. Sometimes the bones are found almost swallowed up by the bark. They say you can see skeletons hanging from trees or just lying under the moss from where people have wandered in and not been able to get out. The plants in there are poisonous and some can kill you just by touching. And wild animals roam the woods just waiting to get anyone that enters. So you have to be careful. Call out if you see anything. You should probably get a weapon too, just in case something attacks us." She brought out the kitchen knife she had packed away earlier and unwrapped it.

"I'll go first, because I've got this." She looked around the inside of the cabin and saw a stack of tools in the corner. "There. Go and see if you can lift any of those."

A few minutes later, they all trooped out of the cabin, the others bearing an odd assortment of dirty spades and broken wooden handles. Sparrow inspected them all and nodded her approval. Even Rat was carrying something that looked like a metal claw.

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