by Sarah McMahon
I had always been drawn to that place. Dunno why, after all it was just a field behind a high stone wall, next to a great big lump housing the pumping station of the underground reservoir. I thought it was weird that it was there in our local park but Dad said it was a common thing for the Victorians to have done and it meant there was a vast chamber or tank under the ground with masses of water in it. The mound he said was just for the above ground maintenance equipment but they built it into a grassy hillock so it didn’t offend the sensibilities of the Victorians’ Sunday park strolls.
It was the wall that did it to me. It made me want to climb it. It was just so tall and I needed to conquer it. Constructed of large blocks of sandstone worn to soft curves by time and weather, it offered many easy hand and foot holes. It almost spoke to me, well, in my head, anyway: ‘Go on, an experienced young climber like you can easy climb me!’ It was right, I did do lots of climbing, out of my bedroom window when I was grounded by Dad, up trees and up the shallower old quarry side that was deep down hidden in the woods. Yeah, I could do this wall, no problem!
I scaled the wall with relative ease, enjoying the ascent
and the feel of the smoothed crevices carved into the
stones by a history of wind and rain. Small holes
weathered into the blocks housed pebbles wrought
from the stone slabs themselves, and insect legs
scurried away from my fingers as I sought holds to pull
Finally I reached the top! I swung my legs over and sat
on the top soldier line of stones surveying the view. I
could see the full extent of the broad walled field and,
far beyond, the roofs of the houses on the estate I
lived on. To my left was the mound. It rose beside me,
a sleeping green-haired giant filling the view, blocking
the skyline as it cast its shadow over the adjacent area
of the field. In the side facing me I could see a heavy-
looking metal door set into the grassy slope of this
‘‘Hmm, worth an explore," I told myself. "How to get down?".
The field appeared to be set at a different level to the rest of the park, it looked lower and the wall looked much taller. Maybe it was just because I was sat on top of it, you know, the way your perspective changes when you look out of a high-up window.
I decided in fact that I was not actually that high up and I bet myself I could jump down. The grass would be a soft landing after all and I had jumped down from similar sorts of heights before now. My bravado kicked in again; oh, yeah, I could do it.
So I jumped. Simple as. Except I didn’t really factor in the landing. I hit the field heavily. The wall was taller to this side and this meant I had fallen further and faster than I had expected to. My legs crumpled beneath me and the soles of my feet smarted from the impact. A little breathless and shocked by the experience, I lay awhile on the grass, calming my banging heart. I looked back up at the wall, which now appeared to be a skyscraper of stone rising above me.
That’s gonna take some effort to climb back up. Right, then...
I pulled myself up to a sitting position and attempted to stand. A spike of pain shot through my right ankle and I yelped and fell back to the ground. Damn it! Fuck it! Dad would have gone mad if he had heard me swearing, but I just couldn’t help it. A mixture of pain and the realisation of my situation caused my eyes to prickle with unwanted salty tears.
Okay. Let’s try again. In my efforts to stand, steadying myself against the wall, being my own cheerleader wasn’t actually that effective, as pain bit hard again. However, when I had stopped panting from my initial efforts, I turned to the wall and began, slowly, ever so carefully, to climb back up. This side of the wall was evidently less open to the elements and the blocks had still largely retained their terse flat faces.
With far fewer handholds and my right foot dangling, useless and aching, I made slow progress upwards. I reckon I was a third of the way up when, BANG!
A loud metallic crash came from somewhere behind me. In my injured state the noise made me start such that I lost my grip on the wall and once more plummeted to lie as a broken toy on my bed of grass below.
The pain! I can’t describe how intense it was! I’ve never in my short life known such pain. My foot was now twisted to one side and it looked seriously weird. So weird that I actually started to laugh, hysterical, chocking laughter that soon tuned to tears. I’m not ashamed to admit that I now cried like a baby. Well, it was the shock, wasn’t it? I cried for Dad to come and get me, for ANYONE to come and get me, please....
Then I remembered the clatter that had caused me to fall. That had to be the door to the pumping station in the mound. With some fear but mostly desperation I shouted my lungs out – ‘Help me, please, help me!’
I was sure I heard a noise behind the door but no one came. Dunno how long I was yelling for but my throat soon became hoarse and my voice dropped to a whisper. All the while my foot throbbed and spiked with pain and had become so swollen it now looked like I was wearing one of those big comedy slippers you can buy down the market. Only I wasn’t laughing anymore.
Evening was starting to cloak the sky, and my belly knew it was past my teatime. By this time I would normally have done my homework, had my tea, and would be sprawled on the floor in front of the telly being told by Dad to turn it down, or not to lie so close to the screen cos it would ruin my eyes. What I would have given for a full stomach and a nagging from the old man right now. Instead here I was stuck behind this stupid wall, with a stupidly swollen foot, lying in a stupid field. Stupid, stupid, stupid me.
It was growing much darker now. The field had no lights, of course, but I could see the low sodium glow of the streetlights from way beyond the wall as it spilled into the deepening gloom of the sky.
What was that? I lifted my head to better hear. Voices in the park! Dad’s voice! They were searching for me! I heard my name called over and over, echoing across the park beyond my walled prison.
‘I’m here, Dad, I’m here behind the wall.’ But my voice was nothing more than croaks from my dry, cracked throat and the callers moved away to throw my name out to the far end of the parkland. Gradually all became silent again and I was alone.
I had never felt so lonely. I just wished for my room, my bed and Dad yelling me down for my tea. Dad. The thought of his gruffness, the way he would ruffle my hair and pull me into a wrestling-hold-type hug made my chin quiver and my eyes stream. I wondered if he and the others searching would return, but as night drew itself across the ceiling of sky above my field my hopes drifted away. Anyway, having had no lunch or tea and all that earlier shouting meant my throat was as dry as the bottom of our budgie’s cage and I could no longer yell for help.
It had been a hot summer day so I was only in T-shirt and jeans. It wasn’t exactly cold but I felt the cool of the night air, the little hairs on my arms standing up like rows in a crop field. I hunkered down into the grass shifting painfully to move myself into a more hollowed patch.
Having never been out alone this late at night, I was half fascinated by the night sky and the different soundscape and half terrified being here, trapped, alone and immobilised by my pain. So many stars though, amazing, and the occasional distant drag of cars and the hooting of what must have been an owl! Never heard one of those over on the estate, that’s for sure.
So I shivered a little, looked and listened and at some point I must have found the will to turn off my brain and drift off to sleep.
A grinding noise awoke me. Blinding light washed over me. I blinked into the brightness, seeing the big metal door to the pumping station standing open. In the doorway stood a figure, a dark mass outlined in the opening. The figure looked to be eight feet tall from my prone spot and seemed to fill the whole doorway. A man, a beast of a man, heavy-set, square of body and head. He looked like he was wearing one of those leather aprons you see on people who are making horse shoes in old films. I could see the outline of tufts of hair sticking up on his head and he seemed to be clenching and unclenching his massive paw-like hands.
I thought my heart might actually push its way out of my chest, it thumped so hard, and blood filled my head making my ears throb. I could not move, never mind speak to this apparition. I panted trying to regain some control of myself. Had I not been so dehydrated I would probably have pissed myself like a baby, right there and then.
The figure just stood there. It, he, didn’t say a word. I could see it was alive, the streams of its breath misting in the chilled night, but it just stood there. I could feel its eyes upon me, like it was studying me, and then without a word or movement to assist me it turned and walked back inside the mound. The door closed and my terror pushed me to the point of sheer panic. What the fuck was that? Why didn’t it speak, or help me? What did it want from me? Will it come back?
I opened my mouth in anguish, my throat full of sand, I moaned low and hacked a dry heaving cough, further exhausting myself. Bewildered by what had just happened, I attempted to stand, forgetting my injury. Agony! Searing pain shot through my leg. I crumpled, blinded by the pain. I think I must have passed out for some time.
Somehow I pushed my way through mental layers of cotton wool to consciousness once more and saw with bleary eyes the figure, the man ‘thing’, again backlit in the entrance. Fear gripped me by the throat once more, and I again attempted to rise from my huddled spot to flee. Pain and weariness however seemed to be my constant companions now and the effort made my head swim. I had a fuzzy feeling, like I was in bed with my duvet being pulled over me. This was surely all just a bad dream! I slipped back into the darkness of oblivion. As I drifted away on my sea of hazy pain I caught one last glimpse of the figure as it, only now, advanced towards me.