Sample Story - Run

Book Details
They came at us from the back lanes, spilling through the trees. How they managed to surprise us without our scouts seeing them we’ll never know, unless our scouts were traitors or had been captured. We held our positions momentarily, but the hail of small stones from the tree tops sent us scurrying into the centre of the crescent, only to be attacked from there too. There must have been thirty of them. This part of the street was dangerous for me; it was too close to home.


The surprise attack was too soon, too quick for us, we were not ready. More seemed to pour from the side road and completely surround us. Our natural reaction would usually be surrender. Yet for some reason, yelling with fear, perhaps initiated by our leader, Lanky, we charged through the smallest engagement of the enemy towards the upper end of the street and thankfully away from my house.


Crunches of wood on wood and wood on legs and arms, thuds and yelps shot through the air. As we ran, the screams of success from the enemy hordes behind us sounded too close. We splintered in all directions. I ran with my partner Deccy and two others up the back alley of some houses in the next street. Looking behind from a safe distance, we could see the stunned faces of the Tinnies, our boyhood enemies from the bungalows a few streets away. Their brilliant plan had surprisingly failed to capture us and our equally surprising escape had caused disarray in all our ranks.


“Jesus, did you see that? How the hell did it happen?”


“Dunno”, said James, “but I got bloody thumped on me legs.”


“Quick, in here. They are starting to search for us,” I said.


“Shit, into the shed quick,” said Deccy.


The Tinnies seemed to have reorganised and split into groups: a few after us, and the others chasing the rest of our group who had scattered towards the main road. With any luck they would find their way home. We slipped through the hedge bordering the garden and opened the shed door, unsure of what we would find, hoping not to find a sleeping dog. Nothing, only darkness. I held the door closed from within, silence, listening intently as the gang swept by, running up the alley past our refuge. Hearing their squeals we stood still for a few minutes, holding our breaths.


“Are they gone?”


“Think so!”


I listened as hard as possible, hearing the dog bark next door when he heard us move. Pushing the door open slowly, I listened again, then stepped gingerly to the garden gate and peered over it - all clear.  I ran back to the shed, shutting the door immediately. We stood, holding our breath again, listening, and started to relax.


James farted in the darkness, so we swept out to bright, cool air, laughing with hands over our mouths, but tumbled behind the hedge immediately, again listening, terrified, as we heard some shouts. They must be close by, somewhere.


Thankfully, there was no one in the house looking out onto the garden. If there had been; they would have seen four bare-legged boys lying on their stomachs, craning their necks through the bottom of the hedge to scan the lane.


“We’ll split up”, says James, farting again, “I need to go to the loo, I need to go home. I’m heading back the way we came. Comin’ Deccy? What about you, Johno?”


“Aye, awright,” they both answered.


“I’ll head up the ways, meself, might be better on my own anyway. I think they are down at the bottom still. You can head back but I am headin’ up cause I think they’ll all be there waitin’ for us to return.”


“Jasus, I can’t wait, I’ll wet myself,” says James.


Off they went down the alley, keeping close to the fences and each other, leaving me crouched in the hedgerow amid nettles and rat holes. I watched as they crossed the bottom of the alley, darting into oblivion. What now?


Strategy, as Lanky O’Neill, our leader, kept reminding us, is key to any battle. Having studied numerous army picture comics, he told us he was aware of all the techniques of warfare known to all the great generals.


Our side comprised of a motley crew, all shapes, sizes and ages. Some wore green as Lanky had decreed green was our colour. Our forward attack group was known as the Giants, led by Lanky himself, this taller group giving cover for our smaller group to cut and thrust from behind and in between. His tactical exhortation was: work in pairs. Sure enough, it had paid off in two previous skirmishes, preventing capture and serious hurt.


My partner, Deccy, had prevented our capture on both occasions by the well known strategy known as ‘Run’.  At one point, when we seemed to be stranded and at risk of capture, Deccy roared at me, ‘Run’. It worked. 


Our armoury comprised of spears, shields and swords, similar in style to our enemy but not in colour. We were in various shades of green; the enemy were mostly in red. I had my personal handmade sword and shield, carefully pared with knives and chisels. All had been secretly made in my father’s shed, the finishing touches carved meticulously for days with an old penknife from my Uncle Jimmy. I was particularly proud of my heart-shaped shield emboldened with a Celtic cross, now a legendary survivor of the two previous engagements with the Tinnies.  


However, we did not have a name and, despite numerous discussions, it had never been finalised. My suggestion was The Crescent Warriors. Today’s fateful battle marked a turning point in the ongoing summer holiday skirmishes; the last major entanglement.


How do I get home? Deccy and the other two did not come back past me, had they been captured or did they make it back home? I thought I would travel up the alley and, if stuck, could take shelter in a mate’s house up there. I could always jump a hedge, and hide in a back garden again, if necessary, but being caught by an adult who might tell my parents could be worse than being caught by the Tinnies.


At the top of the back lane I could wait until the coast was clear and run into the next alley and then down into our street, with cover all the way. Most back gardens had hedges blocking the rear view of the houses, with gates leading up the paths to the back door. Often they were painted green, adding another shade of emerald in their moist gardens. Some had thriving vegetable plots, others were neglected and weedy, a muddy dog pen with a kennel here and there, the back door often scratched by the animal, wanting social warmth.


I made it to the top without any hassle, glanced out from the hedge-filled edge, and spotted several of the enemy sitting on a foot-high wall facing away their headquarters, a horse box with its ramp down. Inside I saw a table and darkened shapes milling around. I pulled back and waited.


Looking out again after a minute, the same scene greeted me. I could make a dash down the open road and, if spotted by the trio on the wall, I might be able to outrun them as I had a good start. Providing I didn’t run into any others, coming up.


It was also possible that the Tinnies wouldn’t rough me up in such an open space, with the possibility of been seen by adults. I reckoned this was my best bet, the best strategy of them all – Run. I retreated again into the long grass under the hedge, waiting for the right moment. Listened intently, crouching on all fours and wishing I had vertical dog ears. Again I went forward, the same scene; nothing to my right, the road was empty. I could do it. Moving on all fours to the road I stood up, ready to run.


I was immediately grabbed from behind, arms twisted up my back, kneed in the bottom of my spine. Forcibly stooped, I was frog-marched to their headquarters. The two boys who had captured me had swollen expressions of laughter, hooting to the three on the wall, who jumped, whooping, from their seats, waving their swords and shields in victory.


Fear and tears welled inside me, as I was pushed up the ramp and into the trailer. The ramp was pulled closed. The joyous bellowing stopped as I was stood in front of a table with the scent of horse manure up my nose and fear in my belly. The older boy behind the table, sitting on a box, has glee written all over his face. His cheeks were risen red, his eyes wide open, his mouth half smiling, relishing his moment of power. He leaned forward.


“Name,” he shouted, I gave it.


“Are you a spy? Are you a sss...spy?” he yelled into my ear.


He repeated, shouting as loud as he could. Terror was his game, and he worked it into a frenzy. The rest joined him in a chorus of ‘we kill spies; we kill spies,’ while banging the sides of the horse trailer. I was terrified.


They ripped my T-shirt and vest off over my head. God, I thought, they are going to strip me. Beating me up would be less embarrassing. Being stripped was just too much; my legs became jelly, their excited faces, a reddening blur. Bodily functions were committed behind locked bathroom doors, getting ready for bed involved speedy covering of body with pyjamas. Nakedness was not part of my upbringing, nakedness I could not handle. The shame it carried was bottomless. I was on verge of inconsolable tears. Their leader then poked me with his sword and flung my T-shirt at me. I stood upright, surprisingly controlling my fear.


“Put it over your head. Where are the weapons hidden? We want them.”


“They got lost,” I stammered.


Actually, I hadn’t a clue what he was saying. The thought occurred to me, though, that I could use this idea as a bargaining tool. Perhaps they would let me go in exchange for information. I, too, watched spy movies.


“Someone’s coming!” one of the boys shouted outside.


With that exclamation, everyone said “Shhh.”  A sword was pushed into my neck; it was the other enemy, the enemy of the enemy, and they belted the side of the horse box and roared:


“Get out to hell of that box. Get out, and I don’t want to see any of yous in there again. Out now!”


The enemy of the enemy is our enemy too, adults, although in this case, the enemy became my saviour. I was glad to see the glowering face of the man as the gate was lowered. My instinct told me to run. I did, and was gone down the street that ran parallel to my street.


“Hey, where are you going? Right all of yous, now not a word from any of yous, put those sticks away and go home too or else I’ll tell your parents.”


Not looking back once, I pulled on my tops mid-run. I was never so glad to see my house.


It was too late. News of the battles travelled far and wide, the enemy with real power had been alerted and adults roamed the streets mopping up strays with belts across ears and bellows of further retribution.


I was met with parental consternation and sent to my bedroom. After a while, I sneaked into my parents’ room to look out their window onto the street. I saw the dregs of warriors scampering for cover or being routed by parents. The sight was depressing: parents walking up and down the pavements or knotted in groups, heads wagging. They had taken over our streets. My comrades, heads slumped, dragged themselves towards their homes.


Lanky O Neil stood solemnly beneath my window, his father by his side, chatting to my father, their bodies in knowing empathy reflecting each others’ gesticulations.  Such is the reduced circumstances of a gallant warrior class subdued by a mightier force.  Perhaps he saw the curtain move, as Lanky glanced up towards me and, barely moving his head, he winked. It was as good as being knighted. I felt all my soldierly efforts had been worthwhile, and a huge blush rose from my stomach into my face. I floated momentarily. Within minutes, the street was empty.  


Mr O’Shea came out of his front door, scanned the street, pulled a weed in his stride to his front hedge and started clipping his privet. Mrs Duncan came round the corner and waddled across the road, towards the town’s bridge, shopping bag swinging from one hand. Normality; people going about their chores, but this was the summer and the streets should have been full of school holiday kids amusing themselves under the grey laden sky.


Was this the end of my street-fighting career?  Had I received a badge of honour from my leader? I was one of the boys. Being an old hand with three engagements behind me, this was a waste of my talent. I excelled at the cut and thrust of swordplay, and, despite my minor stature, or perhaps because of it, I could sail into the throng and exact some damage. Being an ardent student of Robin Hood, and the swashbuckling Saturday movie matinees, I perfected my skills.


The days of street battles were over. Parents became aware of what had been happening during the long absences of their dear little ones. Strict instructions were laid and retribution was to be swift and severe if caught fighting in the streets again. Fashioning swords and shields in the sheds and garages on rainy days were prohibited, and indeed, any form of woodwork scrutinised.



 We were bored kids during these uneventful childhood summers, finding amusement in the soft weather on the damp narrow streets. The fights had never been serious, but we did get bruised  and hurt and were fearful of being caught in the enemy territory. Parents didn’t think that raging groups of children would hack bits of flesh off each other. They didn’t worry that the multitude of kids that swarmed over the pavements, streets and green boggy fields would get into any bother.


Most of our houses looked the same: semi-detached, brick-built and pebble-dashed, metal windows clothed in lace and net, tidy front gardens, green-bordered with privet hedges. Some had narrow back gardens where clothes were hung on long lines to dry. The washing lines were often items of pride; many were creatively constructed, hooked to trees. The longer the better, more room for sheets and clothes. Personal items were hung close to the back yard, out of sight of the knicker-thieves. Wooden or metal posts supported the long lines in the middle. Naturally created wooden hooks where branches divided were sought after and considered lucky. We commandeered some of these poles to be used as lances on the battle field.


There were plenty of adults around to police our streets: many wives stayed at home, and unemployed men occupied their days with their pigeons or racing dogs. They pottered about their sheds and vegetable plots, when not walking to the town, to back a horse; they congregated with their cronies on the street corners to discuss the fate of their losing horses and football teams, or the current state of world affairs. Getting a bat on the head or scolded from some neighbour or adult for misbehaving or for wandering the streets of the town when the children should have stayed closer to home was commonplace. Sometimes meeting an uncle or another relative proved beneficial when a winning horse had provided good form and some cash; a few pennies could send a kid merrily to the first sweetie shop.


Despite dire warnings, the final battle that summer took place at the foot of the hill, every one sworn to secrecy. The hill was a few fields away from our houses, belonging to the Big House, pretty useless and strewn with thistles. It was reputed to be haunted, a burial ground of a fierce battle between two tribes of Ulster, centuries ago. Previous owners had dug it up and found bones below the surface, so it had been left to Mother Nature. At night people avoided the area and its ghost-stories were well-known, but others dismissed them as the wind in the trees or a trick of light.


In one corner, a grassy knoll separated itself from the rest of the field. Here, another battle was arranged with the Tinnes, only this time, it would be between the big boys. That left me and Deccy out. The open street battles were over but the grassy knoll was hidden from prying adult eyes!


 It was to take place at around one in the afternoon in the last week of the holidays on a typically damp, overcast day. We gathered along the hedgerow and kept our distance from the Tinnies. The younger ones like me climbed the trees, to get a better view. There was much talk of an escape route, so we didn’t go too high up for fear of capture.


As our crowd was gathering, by the hedge fence, we could see Tinnes gather on the far corner, near the grassy knoll. Deccy and I were up a tree and he called to me to look at what they are carrying, looks like poles, I said. Some poles had flags flying from the top. About a dozen boys were gathering around the knoll and I counted 6 poles, four with flags, red triangles and rectangles.  Our boys had nothing like that, and serious discussion ensued. What would they do to oppose such a display of force? Before long all of our force was atop the trees viewing the enemy.


The decision came quickly. The Tinnes formed in a line on the knoll and, holding their lances horizontal, they suddenly charged towards us. Bodies dropped from the trees like apples in the wind. Dull thuds as boys landed on their feet, bums and heads. All ran down the field towards the exit, the gate, the only escape route. More bodies threw themselves over and through the three bar gate, heading down through a wheat field. By our good fortune, getting the lances over the gate slowed the Tinnies and once again we celebrated our luck by utilising that tried-and-tested strategy, well known to all armies since time began - Run.
© Hugh Vaughan 2015