The Ditch… An extract from the forthcoming Little Big Boy

The Ditch… An extract from the forthcoming Little Big Boy

From Little Big Boy by max Power

…….When darkness started to creep across the sky, I began to worry that my father had abandoned me to something far more important once again.  I knew he was in a pub somewhere, lighting up the room with his wit and charm.  He would be too busy to remember that I was alone.  It had happened before, but usually he would appear at some point later than expected, but always just about in time for me not to totally panic.  This time it was different and I don’t know why but I sensed it and I was more frightened than usual.

I was eight, so the name of the town we had spent the day in was unimportant to me.  It wouldn’t have mattered if I had known the place name anyway.  We were parked at the end of a country lane away from prying eyes, for it was sure the car had neither tax nor insurance.

I could see the spire of the church so the town was close, but I knew better than to follow my father to the pub so I waited.  There was a big field beside the lane surrounded by hawthorn, blackberry and hazel, but it was too early for fruit and the bright evening dragged on for ever.  By the time the sun finally dipped below the tops of the hedgerows, I knew I would have to find somewhere to sleep.  At first it wasn’t so bad. I wasted a few hours literally running around, picking up stones to see what might be underneath, catching spiders and letting them walk around my hand, but there was only so much of that I could do.   The car was locked so I couldn’t get inside and with the creeping darkness came a chill.

The day had been bright and sunny, so all I wore was my grey short trousers and a white, long sleeved shirt.  I pulled my socks up but that was little help.  Without a watch I had no notion of time, but I knew my father and I knew that once he went to the pub, time would be the last thing on his mind.  Well the second last thing maybe, for I knew I was the last thing he was thinking about.

It was important to stay close to the car, just in case he returned no matter how unlikely that might be in the short term.  I considered crawling underneath the car where no one would see me and I might be safe, but the gravel beneath was very rough and I was afraid I might be crushed if my dad returned and drove off without looking for me.

With each passing minute, the light drained from the orangey sky and I became more fearful.  What if someone came along?  That wasn’t really my greatest fear.  I was eight after all.  My fears were irrational and I considered monsters and Bogey-men, witches and Ghouls, all of which surely patrolled the countryside in the dark.  I knew of Banshees from the tales my brother told and in every hoot and howl, they became more real than I had ever really considered.  I had to find a safe place.

I looked at the hedgerows, but the few hazel trees that blended in with the denser brush were not suitable to climb, nor hold me safe off the ground.  I picked up a fallen branch and peeled away the leaves and sprouts to form a weapon.  It was rough but if anything attacked me, at least I could defend myself.  I practiced my swing and danced around a little, feigning an attack by some invisible beast.  It gave me only a sliver of confidence.

In the end I side-stepped into the ditch beside the car, to see if I could make something of the space beneath the hedges.  It wasn’t very deep or wide, but the ground was smooth and its sides and the overhanging scrub formed a sort of protective nest.  I had to use my stick to beat back some nettles and in the end, I hunkered down to survey my hidey-hole.  It wasn’t too bad.  I was more or less protected on all sides bar where I had beat my way in and all I needed was something to keep me warm.

I clambered out from my den and walked back along the lane.  All the while I was becoming more and more nervous.  There were no lights and no moon and I was soon going to lose what natural light there was left.  At the end of the lane, someone had dumped a load of rubbish.  I found an old mat.  It was filthy, with muck on one side but the other side was dry and I dragged it back to use as my mattress, before returning to the mini-dump to look for anything else I could use.  There was very little and eventually, I settled on two hessian sacks filled with what looked like damp sand.  It took me forever to empty it out.  It was very heavy, but I finally managed and quickly returned to my safe spot.

I didn’t want to lie in there, but I couldn’t stand in the laneway.  It was too exposed and I thought it was safer to be nestled away in a little burrow, than to be standing out in the open.  At least when I was in the ditch, no one or thing would see me.  The car was just beside my little hideout and if dad came back, I would hear him call me.

The barest hint of daylight clung on for quite some time and as my eyes became accustomed to it, there seemed to be an unending feint glow in the sky.  I gathered the sacks about me and half sat, half lay in the small bare ditch space, surrounded by the tangle of hedgerow.  I curled up in a ball and it was freezing.  The cold was really terrible.  My skinny, bare legs had no meat to keep them warm and the sacks barely kept the cold away.  I was lucky it was summer, but unlucky that it was an Irish one.

When the full touch of blackness enveloped me, all I could do was curl up into the smallest ball that I could manage.  My tummy rumbled with the hunger and I was so thirsty.  But hunger was not something new to me.  I could cope with hunger. Then I heard a thump in the distance and my heart leapt.  It could have been anything.  My tiny ears strained, to see if I could make it out should it come again.  It did, but at exactly the moment I relaxed and as the sound was unfamiliar to my city ears, I had no way of knowing what that country sound was.

The country sounds began to gang up on me.  There were hoots and howls, Fox shrieks and rustles in the undergrowth.  Something scuttled across my legs and I shrivelled back in the ditch.  Some of the sounds came from the fields in the distance.  Some sounds were emanating from the field beside me, or out on the road by the car.  The worst ones whispered in the undergrowth to my right and to my left.  They murmured behind me and crept along the ground right in front of me.

I began to shiver and the only consolation was that the sound of my shivering, drowned out some of the smaller scary sounds about me.   I wanted my Mam.  The worst thing was that the night seemed like the longest road ahead of me.  I had no way of knowing the time, or counting it and it felt like an impossibly long time to stay where I was.

I considered getting up and going back out onto the laneway to stand beside the car.  The problem was, that I had finally found a crevice of comfort in that cold hard ditch.  It was cold, but I had wrapped the bags tightly around me and they gave me more warmth than if I took them off.  If I moved, I would risk losing that tiny comfort.  I would risk being exposed again.  Maybe I would even give my position away to whatever creature stalked me in the night.

Something was stalking me I was sure.  The longer I lay there, the more sure I became and it made moving impossible.   I heard it breathing.  There was no doubt in my mind, that there were breathing noises.  When I listened really carefully, they would stop as though that thing watching me knew that I was trying to hear it.  The moment I relaxed, I would catch the sound but only briefly as hearing it, made me listen intently again and then, it would stop once more.

I heard distant voices and strained my ears to listen.  Again I considered leaving my den and stepping onto the lane.  Maybe it was my father at last.  I listened even more intently.  For a moment the stalking beast no longer existed, I heard a voice and I gambled on hope to save me…..

Little Big Boy by Max Power. Coming soon…

Max Power’s other books include, Darkly Wood, Larry Flynn and Bad Blood, all available on amazon to download or in paperback.

You can find more details about Max Power’s other books here : –

twitter @maxpowerbooks1

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