Jordan Bradley is a freelance writer from Staffordshire, United Kingdom, currently studying at Lancaster University. While writing website content professionally, his fiction inspirations include Richard Matheson, Robert A. Heinlein, and Stephen King. He appreciates any opportunity for his work to be read by others, and sincerely hopes the story entertains.
Talking to the Wall The Voice
TALKING TO THE WALL THE VOICE Harrison Little was not the first child to discover the Wall, and by no means was he the last. His discovery of its power came on a Tuesday, just like any other, around three-forty-seven in the afternoon. He was on his way home from school. It was raining on this Tuesday, heavier than Harrison had ever seen before. Not in real life, anyway. It reminded him of the gangster movies he sometimes caught glimpses of when his parents were watching one after his bedtime. The rain would be falling in relentless waves on a pair of grubby gangsters, battling it out with their bare knuckles in an alley way. Their suits and fedoras would be soaked through, and the way the concrete became riddled with a million bursting droplets in those scenes was exactly what Harrison could see through his classroom window now. He never intended to go down and sneak a look at those scenes from the dark hallway, but when he heard the brooding violins and the animalistic throwing of punches from his bedroom, he could never resist. That was the curious cat in Harrison. When he saw something that he didn’t quite recognise or understand – whether it was a couple of American-Italian mobsters beating each other half to death, or simply a magnificent demonstration of how much rain can possibly fall in just one afternoon – he wanted to investigate. Not from a sense of mischief, but honest, innocent wonder. He was a boy, after all. Harrison rarely cowered from the worst of the weather, but on this day in early April, he deemed his usual route home an impossible option, lest he let the inexorable showers soak him through and ruin his uniform. It fell like bullets from the murky heavens outside, accumulating in every depression in the ground and running along the grooves of every curb in rivers. It was the kind of storm he would have loved to run through when he was a bit younger, had his father let him, that was. Even then, the only rule had been to not let his clothes get muddy and force another spin of the washing machine, but that didn’t stop Harrison from dreaming. What it did do, however, was instil a sense of restraint in the boy which, despite clashing with his innate desire to discover, made him reconsider how he was going to get home when rain like this came along. It wouldn’t take long for the lashing downpour to pierce every stitch of his trousers, so the less time Harrison spent in it the better. When the school bell rang and released him from his less-than-captivating lesson, Harrison chose to walk through Peter’s Wood. Its canopy of dense foliage offered a haven of dryness compared to the openness of his usual route through the centre of town, and Harrison knew the ten minutes it added to his journey would be worth it to avoid the devastating power of the storm. This was the worst rain he had ever seen, remember, and he was very grateful that his mum had packed his big coat for him. The last thing he wanted was to upset his dad, so the choice – if you wish to be so cruel – was clear. Harrison was both relieved and disappointed as he slipped under the roof of the woodland. The time he spent hurrying from the school to Peter’s Wood was like being forced under a cold shower, but the relief of finally arriving was not as great as he anticipated. The brusque weight of the storm was lessened, but heavy blades of water still snuck through the vegetative defences, giving the impression that this was just a normal bout of rain and Harrison was underneath no such roof at all. It was strange, but he didn’t mind. He could deal with normal levels of rain. In fact, the temperate shower reminded him of walking with his mum, so it was actually quite a pleasant detour. If it had been a Sunday, rather than a monotonous, run of the mill Tuesday, Harrison thought it would be a perfect route for them to take, holding hands and chatting about what they could see. When he closed his eyes and did his best to picture the scene, he saw it in beautiful clarity. The forest would be the same, but his mother would be there with her large square glasses poking out from her ruby red raincoat. Whenever he tried to imagine his mother being somewhere, Harrison always painted her glasses first. For some reason, it was always the foundation that got his brain working and allowed him to sculpt her and place her into the moment. Her ‘specs’, as they called them, were what anchored her in his brain, and Harrison loved them. He loved her. He skipped a little as he dreamed of telling his mum about where he thought they should walk next weekend. Although it wasn’t as ideal as the one that danced before his playful imagination, Harrison still made the most of his walk home. And why not? For the most part, it was a nice path, and nothing out of the ordinary occurred. Harrison was a boy walking in the rain, and the wandering he practiced was nothing more than innocent play. He splashed in puddles, kicked the settled droplets from sprouting leaves, and naturally became intrigued when he heard the sound of gushing water. It was similar to the pattering rain above, yet separate, and it touched an inquisitive note. Harrison pursued the noise down a thin trail that divided the untouched bush and down a gentle slope. It looked like no one had ever come this way before, but that was not the case. Harrison knew this because of the slight trail that existed; someone must have made it. I can confirm he is correct. I have witnessed every contributing step to that trail. The trail seemed to go on forever, and the beaten pathway home felt like a distant land before long. Harrison was a spaceship, jumping lightyears at a time through galaxies of oak and nettle. Items of shrubbery passed one after the other in a never-ending block of autumnal colours until, finally, a clearing appeared. The gallery of trees blew away and a pocket of space expanded out before Harrison. But it didn’t look natural, even to such a young pair of eyes. To portray Harrison’s reaction to this area of Peter’s Wood in a single word would be impossible, as never had he felt such an intoxicating concoction of wonder and confusion. It wasn’t so much a mystical scene, like the fairy-tales he remembered being told when he was a little bit younger, but a simply new one. It just looked peculiar. He broke out from the bush and hopped down onto a small patch of oddly short grass. It was like a lawn, trimmed evenly and perfectly square, and the threshold between its border and the surrounding forest was as sharp as a cliff edge, with the erratic, voluminous foliage beginning the millimetre the fine, ordered grass ceased. At the centre of the lawn was a pool of bumbling murky water, perfectly circular. Despite the artificiality of its neighbouring land, it did not look like a man-made pool. Moss, sticks, and rocks cluttered the dirty water, and the waterfall above it looked equally natural. It flooded from the top of a tall, blunt rockface and thumped into the water below, giving it a convincing energy. The thunderous noise of the water smashing into the pool electrified the air, making the relatively delicate raindrops seem like a forgotten joke. The tumbling water was wide, stretching across the rock like a tie. As he stared, Harrison noticed that the water did not overflow from the pool at his feet. It fell and fell and fell, but the collection of liquid never seemed to rise. I know it seems absurd, and that was not the only baffling thing that Harrison noticed. The waterfall did not make sense, it was that simple. Where did the water flow from? Harrison had never seen a river in Peter’s wood before, let alone one large enough to have this much water. Not only that, but how had he or any of his friends never noticed this huge waterfall before? He could not count the number of times he had come here to escape the hot summer sun or make snowmen amongst the wintery oaks. How had he never heard this obtuse crashing of water before? How had no one else ever mentioned it? As time wore on, and Harrison began to digest more and more of his surroundings, the questions began to compile into a heaving mound. Why in the world was the grass cut here? Who would do that? How would they get a lawnmower down here? He took another look at the pool itself, as natural as it appeared, and inspected its bed and border. There was no outlet stream or pipe, and the water entering it was by no means a small amount. Where did it all go? How did it make sense? Of course, the only certainty lies with me. Every question Harrison fathomed had been asked more than once before, and not one had ever been answered. The Wall was not a place where questions were answered. Rather, it was one where they were asked. “Hello, little boy,” a voice whispered. Harrison screamed. He didn’t mean to do it, but it rang like a shrill squawk into the forest. His body froze from the moment it left his lips as if it was trying to blend into the forest and pretend to be just another tree. Harrison’s eyes watered as they scanned the surrounding bushes for the speaker, but to his disbelief, no one was there. He figured his best odds lay with remaining as still as he possibly could, but he soon learned that there was no hiding. He could have stood frozen for the next twenty-four hours if he wanted to, but the Wall would still find him. It would always find him. Again, the voice spoke. “I’m here.” With all of his muscles contracted in the clutch of fear, Harrison scanned the scene around him. No one was there, but this time the voice did not pause for so long. As his eyes locked onto the gushing wall and tall rockface, it came again. “That’s it. You’ve found me.” Harrison felt sick. Nothing moved, and yet the voice seemed so sure. It sounded friendly, belonging to what he thought was an older gentleman, but its high pitch and slow pace was unsettling. Harrison had had teachers that spoke in a similar way to seem more nurturing, but most failed to do it properly, sounding more menacing and predatory. They often reminded him of his father, but Harrison always worked to quickly shake off such associations. This voice, however, was weirdly succeeding at both impressions, and Harrison didn’t know whether to run or sit down. It was very, very strange, but one thing was clear. It didn’t sound anything like his father. “H-hello?” Harrison said. No one appeared from behind the water, nor did anyone shout out from the bush, signalling him over with a wave of their hand. Instead, the voice gently spoke again. “What is your name, friend?” Harrison swallowed and tried his best to shake off the paralyzing sense of shock. He stared at the constant stream of falling water like it was a single slit eye. “H-H-Harrison Little.” He let out a trembling breath. Harrison stood completely still, his body static in anticipation as the dulled rain continued to poke the outside of his coat. He felt like he was being watched, as though a set of eyes were staring right at him through the plummeting stream, waiting for him to move. It didn’t feel real, any of it, and yet he didn’t dare run away. A spell had been cast to lock him into place. “Hello, Harrison,” the voice said, politely. It had a distant quality about it that both bewildered and lulled the boy, yet a vivid proximity that deepened the shroud of fantasy that dominated the scene. The voice, as unrooted in sense and logic as it was, oddly relaxed him, making Harrison feel like he was talking to a friendly receptionist or parent of a friend. An adult who had been expecting him. It was like when he went to the barbers. The nice lady was always there with a welcoming smile, and every time he walked in, she welcomed him over like they were about to play a fun little game. It was always a warm occasion – the friendly chat and the relaxing buzz in his ears, his mother’s reassuring reflection in the corner of his eye – and this voice had the same peculiar effect. It sounded like it just wanted to chat. “What’s yours?” The flash of confidence came from nowhere, and Harrison immediately regretted asking it. But the voice answered pleasantly. “Well, Harrison, I’ve been called many things. I would probably say I am best known as the Wall, but, as a friend, you can call me whatever you like. We are friends, aren’t we?” Again, Harrison could not help but allow his guard to slip a little more. He thought of the lady barber and his mother smiling at him in the mirror. “Yes, I suppose so. Can I…can I call you Wally? You know, instead of the Wall?” “Why, of course, Harrison. That would be fine.” Several minutes of silence passed. It felt more and more like a dream with every passing second. To his continued surprise, Harrison felt the tension in his muscles and the panic in his mind gradually slip away. His heartrate calmed and his breathing slowed. “Wally?” he asked. “Yes,” the voice replied. “Are you a person?” A moment passed, then the Wall replied in as neutral a tone as any innocent being would. “Why don’t you look and find out?” The tranquillity cracked. The impossibility of what was happening rose and crested, and Harrison could not help but seize up again in anticipation of the wave’s bellowing crash. He was speaking to a waterfall. It wasn’t natural or normal or possible. But the Wall knew what was happening. It had been in this situation before. “Don’t be frightened, Harrison. You are safe here.” Wally’s reassurance chinked the boy’s nerve just enough for him to move. Harrison approached the waterfall, minding his footing around the pool, and inspected it. It felt like he was in school again, examining the bacteria of a petri dish and trying to make sense of the odd little shapes and colours, without entirely being sure of what he was looking for. The rock was just as thick as it was tall, and there was no way that someone could be standing behind it. Its back face was somewhere off in the bush, and there was no way a voice could sound so close from way back there. Upon getting closer to the water itself, Harrison decided to also take a look at the space behind it and saw that there was none. The flowing liquid appeared to slide as close to the rock as skin is to bone. There was no gap behind its gushing, and so no one could possibly be speaking from behind the watery vale. At last, he stepped away from the wall and returned to where he had been standing, puzzled. “So…are you magic?” Harrison asked. The anxiety of the scene had crystallised into a solid confusion. “I am many things, Harrison. How could I be magic?” The voice was playful, almost seductive, but Harrison did not notice. “I don’t know. If you’re actually a talking waterfall then you must be magic.” The boy paused, thought about what he was going to say next, then spoke again. His nerve had dissolved completely now. He felt like he was playing a game. “If you’re magic, you must have powers.” “Well, I have been known to do…some things.” “Really? What? What can you do?” “Well, I have been known to grant people things. Wishes, you may refer to them as.” “Wishes? Like a genie?” Harrison’s eyes glistened as though he were speaking with the real Father Christmas. Oh, how all of them think of that man. “Well, not exactly,” the Wall said. “A genie is one who gifts wishes. I am one who…rewards with them.” The emphasised word hung in the air like a foul stench. The push-and-pull of the encounter was so stressful yet alluring for Harrison that he could not help but be intrigued in spite of what he was hearing. The voice swayed so freely between being terrifying and entertaining that he could do nothing but give in to its motion. It was like being on a rollercoaster. He just had to hold on. “Reward? Reward for doing what?” Harrison asked. “That depends, Harrison, on what it is that you want.” Silence followed. Suddenly, Harrison’s mind was ablaze with ideas that he had never considered before. Fame, money, talent: everything passed through his whizzing mind. It was like high-speed traffic was blurring past. Everything went by and yet nothing was properly seen. There was too much potential. But then, after thinking about the craziest things possible, Harrison considered the simplest. He thought about home, about his family, about his father. “Could you make my dad less mean to me?” Harrison asked at last, sounding embarrassed. Nothing came from the waterfall but the natural splashing of the water hitting the pool at the boy’s feet. After a few seconds, Harrison thought he had imagined the whole thing, as if the voice had never existed at all. He considered running home right there and then and forgetting the whole thing, but then the voice came back. It had been considering the request. “How does your father treat you, my friend?”. Harrison immediately felt defensive, as though he had never said anything. His father wasn’t that bad. He would ask for something else, something better. But then the voice spoke again. “Does he hurt you?” A tear crept from the boy’s eye. “No! No, he just—” “Harrison,” the voice was firm, “do not lie to me.” The boy hastily wiped his cheek clean. “Well…he…he is a bit rough sometimes.” He sounded scared. His voice was weak and timid, but the Wall pressed on. “How rough?” “Erm…well…” No specific instant or memory came to mind for Harrison. Instead, it was an influx of blended images and feelings, fuzzy and unclear, yet innumerable. He saw his father getting home from work, and himself approaching to pester him about helping with homework or wanting to play a game. The cold response in his father’s face was like a wicked carving in a dark cave wall, and it flickered menacingly in his flickering memory. The Wall’s silence bore on Harrison like a dark cloud, and he felt the increasing pressure to answer. Despite the chilly weather and continuous dripping of the rain from above, he felt hot and sticky. “He has beat me up before. Cut me and given me bruises, but it’s because I don’t give him space. I need to leave him be after working all day.” It was strange how the voice never seemed to breathe nor sigh nor cough. When Harrison was speaking, he heard nothing at all to suggest something alive and organic was out there listening. But when he finished, the voice came back. It had heard every word. “Would you like your father to stop hurting you, Harrison? Because I can help you with that.” “No, no, it’s okay, Wally. I don’t want to get into any trouble. My mum says that if we call the police about it then—” “Police, Harrison? Who spoke of the police? Do you think I grant rewards through calling the police?” Harrison felt silly. “No.” “No, for that would be the way of a man. I am more than a man, Harrison. I can help you with your situation and stop your father from hurting you without calling the police or getting you into trouble. All you have to do is collect some items for me. Can you do that?” “What items?” “Well, I would consider them to be pieces more than items. If you can collect three pieces for me, bringing them each in turn, then I can assemble a machine. A machine which, with my guidance, you can use to free yourself from your current predicament. Without, I assure you, getting into trouble.” “How would the device work?” “It is hard to describe the ways in which I work, my friend. How would you describe the wind to someone if they had never felt its gust? I’m afraid you are going to have to trust me. All will be shown to you in time. Do you trust me, Harrison?” “Yes, of course. What do I need to find?” How malleable and warm the heart of a child is. Fear is nothing in the wake of a promise, and the Wall is second to nothing when it comes to making pledges to those who find it. Harrison had wandered into its path, told it his secret, and was now willing to do anything to receive its reward. It seemed impossible to attain, but then again, it was all impossible. He was talking to a waterfall. And it had made him a promise. “First, I need you to collect some string.” “String?” Harrison almost giggled. “Why string?” “If it so funny, Harrison, then I imagine that you are capable of performing your wish by yourself?” The tone shift was menacing in its speed. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. How much string?” the boy asked. “Enough to wrap around your wrist twice, my friend. But it mustn’t be damaged or dirty. Ensure that it is in good quality and whole, and it will work for the purpose I intend.” Harrison didn’t say anything for a moment. He was thinking. Where did he know that sold string? More importantly, how was he going to pay for it? They were important questions for a boy to consider, as he did not control his own pocket money and he had never had to purchase string before. He decided to ask Wally, given his seemingly divine knowledge, but he didn’t receive a clear answer. “Harrison, anything is attainable for one who is willing to reach out. If you cannot attain it by conventional means, then I suggest you think differently. I need that string. You must get it for me.” And then the voice was gone. Harrison called out, asking a few more clarifying questions, but nothing came back. He was alone, standing in the rain, with nothing answering him but the sounds of tumbling water and the subdued wind. He had no idea where he was going to get string, but that worry quickly faded. With Wally gone, he immediately felt the nip of the cold and the workings of time returning to his considerations. How long had he been standing there? His mother might be home by now, and what would she think if she came home and he wasn’t back yet? Would she call his father? That thought was enough to get him moving. With a quick final glance of the waterfall, Harrison bolted back up the thin trail, re-joined the path home, and began running out of Peter’s Wood. Somehow, someway he was going to get some string and give it to Wally. Wally, his new friend.
The String The journey home was a wet and hurried one for Harrison. His body advanced towards home at break-neck speed, largely on autopilot while his mind revised what had just happened to him. Wally – he already thought of the voice by its nickname – was an impossibility, and yet it had all actually happened. The voice had risen from the tranquil, unassuming nature and exchanged words with the boy, as easily as Harrison would share a funny anecdote with a fellow boy on the school yard. But Wally had done much more than share a joke. He had given Harrison a mission. That’s what it felt like to him, anyway; a mystical quest to gather valuable and useful resources. But as Harrison blundered through the rain, keeping his head down and moving as fast as he possibly could, the darker underbelly of what he had been asked to do rumbled and made itself heard. It was a serious promise that the voice had made, and with every step closer to home, Harrison felt the gravity of what he had agreed to drag him down with more and more force. Would his father be in a bad mood tonight? The very chance of it enraged Harrison’s engine and made his thoughtless sprinting turn reckless and erratic. He had to get home. Puddles were not avoided, pedestrians were bluntly overtaken, and roads were hastily checked and crossed. If a truck driver had decided to run a late yellow light, he may have been hit. Harrison developed a stitch in his side he ran so quickly, but it was all in vain. As he blundered through his front door and slammed it shut behind him, the first thing he saw was the tall, skinny figure of his mother and her wide specs. She had been worried. “Where the bloody hell have you been, Harri?” she cried, her eyes bulging from behind her thick, square spectacles. She stood in the middle of the hallway, having jumped from the kitchen in anticipation of her son’s delayed return. It must have been a rapid movement as her shoulder-length curls were still swaying across her cheeks. From her attire – work shoes, a light green shirt, and blazer – Harrison guessed she had only just got home herself. “Is dad home?” Harrison responded, kicking off his shoes and unzipping his coat. Sylvia Little paused, cleared her throat, and ignored the question. “Harrison. Tell me where you have been. It’s almost teatime and you should have been home ages ago. Now tell me the truth.” That, the boy knew, was impossible. It crosses the mind of each new friend of the Wall to speak the truth and let an adult pair of ears hear the mystical voice for themselves, but all refrain. It could threaten the deliverance of the promise, and that was not worth jeopardising. Harrison reluctantly had to lie. “I’m sorry, Mum,” he started. “It was raining so I… stayed in the library for a little bit to see if it would stop. I thought it would pass but it didn’t, so I ran home. I’m sorry.” It felt strange for Harrison to be dishonest, but it was a solid excuse despite his hesitation which seemed to slip by undetected. It held the perfect blend of believability and innocence that Sylvia couldn’t help but drop her guard. Her boy was a good kid, and he didn’t have a history of lying. None of them ever do. “Well, alright,” Sylvia said, her tone hesitant yet nurturing. “Get upstairs and get those wet clothes off. Your father will be home soon, and we wouldn’t want him thinking you’ve been doing something you shouldn’t have.” There was no malice in her voice, but Harrison couldn’t help but think of his reward at the mention of his father. The aroma of punishment was faint, but to pretend as though he had not been late home from school showed that it was certainly in the air. Harrison didn’t like it. He needed some string. Just before he ran upstairs and got changed into something more comfortable, Harrison stopped at the foot of the staircase and spun back towards his mum. She was shaking the raindrops from his coat and hadn’t noticed him stop. “Mum, do we have any string?” Sylvia looked up at her son with a curious glare. A few specks of water had rested on her glasses. “String?” Harrison’s heart skipped, and he tried to sound casually confident. “Yes, string. Do we have any?” A bead of sweat formed at his temple, but he hoped his mum would just think it another drop of rain. On the outside he seemed calm, but Harrison’s nerve was sizzling like a firecracker. “I think we should have some somewhere. It’s not like you to ask for something like that, Harri. What do you want it for?” This question was always the first test. While he was to have no awareness of it, Harrison Little was now in the same situation as all of the Wall’s companions that came before him. All – both tall and small, wide and thin, smart and slow – found themselves needing something that they could not honestly justify. And each time, as Harrison was milliseconds from realising for himself, the only choice was to avert the truth, to bend the reasoning for their newfound desire of that particular object, and lie. It was the only way. “Erm…well…” he began, but his brain staggered and stopped. His mind was working overtime – one half trying to think of another masterful fib, the other debating whether he should even try at all – and it burned out almost immediately. What would she believe? What would she say if she found out he was lying? Cognitive cylinders spun and clicked, but nothing concrete came out. Harrison felt like he was clasping for something to stop him from drowning, but nothing was within his young, short reach. He scrambled and scrambled for something to say, terrified at the very thought of being dishonest to his mother as he did so. She had always been his moral anchor, showing him how to be a good person and displaying the fundamentals for being a helpful and loyal friend. It wasn’t a deliberate choice. There was no point where Sylvia looked at her boy and decided to raise him by any particular code or set of commandments. It just happened, and honesty naturally sprouted and bloomed as one of the top priorities in the Little household. Being his mum’s biggest fan (as any son is), Harrison rarely strayed from this model of behaviour, but whenever he was tempted with dishonest intentions, a particular memory flashed and quelled the impulse. It was of when he was seven, not much taller than the kitchen table, and had accompanied his mother to shop. It was a Saturday, and the trip was just a small one in order to stock up on some tea bags and milk. While Sylvia was collecting the milk and trying to choose which brand of tea she wanted to drink for the next few months, Harrison had wandered over to the sweet aisle, looking to browse the sugary treats and, in doing so, force his mum to come over to that side of the shop. When she came looking for him, he would then ask if she would buy some for him, but on that occasion, the plan failed. “No, Harrison, we’ve got plenty of sweets at home,” she had said bluntly. To say the tiny Harrison was disappointed would have been an understatement – I have rarely seen such unwarranted upset, even from someone so young – and the blend of anger and surprise caused him to do something he had never considered before. Without thought, Harrison snatched a lollipop from the small, transparent tray and quickly whisked it into his pocket, but not fast enough. He hadn’t taken a single step before he noticed the piercing glare of his mother. Her eyes shone like suns in the small store, emitting a dangerous radiation that Harrison knew would kill him if he was exposed to too much of it. Those wide frames magnified their power, and there nothing else he could do but chuck the lollipop back into its place and apologise. Nothing but a river of relentless regret flowed from his mouth for the rest of the day, and although his mother had forgiven him and laughed it off, the power of the stare had remained like an unbreakable relic in Harrison’s mind. Those quadrilateral frames were like portals, offering a small glimpse into an alternate dimension where rules were abandoned and trust was broken, and he hadn’t liked it. Part of that response was fear – every child knows the dread of disobedience – but there was also shame, bubbling away as the secret ingredient of the concoction of guilt. Behind those lenses, he saw that his mother was hurt by his actions, and that was more than enough to keep him on the straight and narrow path from that point onwards. Until he met the Wall, that was. Years later, wet from the rain and amazed by what had just happened to him, Harrison was faced once again with those lenses, and he knew he was on the brink of spitting in the face of everything his mother had worked to instil in him. But what else could he do? Tell the truth and reveal himself to be a crazy little boy? His mother would never let him out again if he spoke of strange voices in the woods and wish-granting waterfalls. It would sound ludicrous. It was ludicrous! Debating the issue all day would only provide the same hazy sense of necessity and pain, and it quickly dawned on Harrison – standing on the bottom step, looking at his mother’s waiting face – that there was no other choice. He came out with the simplest lie he could tell, and he did it quickly. It was one that he thought wouldn’t be all that bad, but it hurt all the same. Pulling out a splinter was always rough, no matter how small. “Me and a few friends are building catapults after school tomorrow, and I need some string for it.” Sylvia said nothing. Instead of replying, she just took off her glasses to clean them. Now unobscured by the cluttered lenses, Harrison saw that her eyes were looking up at the ceiling as she thought about where there might be some leftover string. It was a relieving sight, but his heart did not rise much. Rather than simply telling him that his lie had passed by the detectors without setting off the alarm, her expression actually triggered one in him. The glasses truly were instruments of magnification, because without them his mother’s eyes were but a fraction of the size – round and innocent. Unlike the blazing suns that he remembered, they were like twinkling stars, minuscule in the distance of space, but just as bright and beautiful. Their light and colour were a gorgeous spectacle of the human form, and what were they doing? Looking around for inspiration to aid their son in his fictional motivation to acquire string. Harrison felt sick, and he could feel his heart beating to an uncomfortable rhythm in his chest as his mum considered his complete and utter lie. Those eyes were the night sky, an abyss into which Harrison could so easily fall, but something else rose in him then, shining out in that darkness. It was Wally. Like the Moon - gentle, guiding, present, the thought of the soothing voice of the waterfall stayed his wild desire to spit out the truth and end his mother’s thinking, and Harrison felt his shaking innards relax under the influence of Wally’s words. This was all for a greater purpose. All he had to do was shut up and bear it. And that he did. “I think I might have some in my bedroom, darling,” Sylvia said, eventually. “I will look later on this evening and cut off a piece ready for the morning. How long does it need to be?” The Wall’s echoed in Harrison’s mind. “Enough to wrap around your wrist twice,” he said. With her glasses now back on her face, Sylvia smiled up at her son. “Okay. Leave it with me and I’ll sort it. Now go get ready for tea!” And with that, Harrison sprinted up the stairs and into his bedroom, slamming the door shut behind him. He ripped off his school uniform, pulled out some fresh clothes, and got dressed. It was hurried and panicked, but he needed to get the toxic energy out of his system. He was hyper, not with joy, but with the dirty exhilaration of getting away with his crime. The shame clung to him like a dark, viscous sap, and he wanted to get it off as soon as possible. When he was dressed, he picked up his uniform and threw it violently into his washbag. The wet clump of fabric thundered into the cloth sack like a cannonball, but still he felt restless. Lying was so unnatural to him that he felt like something alien was still attached to him, something foul and cunning that spoke for him. It was too much to bear. He had to tell the truth. No matter how insignificant, it was wrong to lie to his mum, and Harrison couldn’t let some magical waterfall turn him against her. She needed to know why he really needed it, no matter how bonkers it made him sound. It was like she always said, honesty was always the best policy, and he knew there were no exceptions. The boy closed his eyes, and within an instant he was back in that shop, seven years old and dying for some sweets. His hormones analysed that day and replicated every feeling his younger self had experienced, and it was hardly any different to how he was feeling now. The lollipop was in his hand – the lie was out there in the world, ringing around his Mother’s mind as she considered whether to cut the string before or after tea – and a pair of omniscient eyes were waiting. They knew what he had done, both then and now, and all they had had to do was wait. Suns, stars, it didn’t matter what they looked like. They were his mother’s, and those beautifully round and magnified beacons deserved the truth. He had to oblige. Harrison relaxed a little bit at the idea of coming clean. The world wasn’t ending, and by no means was he breaking the foundation of trust between him and his mum. All he had to do was go downstairs and say what the string was really for. It would sound crazy, but so be it. Lying would only make it worse, Harrison knew that. Just as Harrison was about to return downstairs and tell his mum the truth, he heard the front door slam shut. Dad was home. The bass of his voice diffused through the walls and floors, and a bolt of wariness flew up Harrison’s spine. No conscious thought turned his body to the clump of wet clothes he had casually tossed into the washbag, but he had done it all the same. The only rule was to not force another spin of the washing machine. Dad had always been very clear on that. As quickly as he had thrust it to the ground, Harrison picked up the garments of his uniform and hung them on the radiator. He then dressed – not hearing the sudden quickness of his breathe - and creaked open his bedroom door as quietly as he could. His father’s words boomed up the staircase in startling clarity. “What? So where has he been?” Harrison’s body froze and he could no longer imagine going downstairs. His mother’s voice, muffled and quieter than her husband’s, explained why, and thankfully Rodney Little’s tone simmered. “Alright, well it had best not happen again. Who knows what could happen to him out there.” The irony of the statement was lost on young Harrison, but he was smart enough to know what fate his mother had saved him from. Puzzlingly, it birthed two sensations in him, each contradicting the other. Gratitude and caution fused together like different soft drinks and sat heavily in his stomach just the same, making him feel like he was seconds away from spewing all over his bedroom floor. His mother’s words had settled his father’s temper and altered what would have been a very frightening, violent course, and this made him want to tell her the truth even more. In her honour. But his father had been so angry, and over what? His son being a bit late from school? The confrontation also reassured Harrison that, as bad as it hurt him, he was justified in his actions. The reason for lying, the value of the string, the promise of the Wall – it all came flooding back in pristine simplicity. He closed the door.
Thanks to Sylvia, the rest of the evening took a rather tame and underwhelming course. Food was served and consumed, television was watched, comics were read in the haven of Harrison’s room. On the surface, it was like any other, but of course, that wasn’t the case. Flashes of guilt rose and knocked at the boy’s mind as he tried to focus on the adventures of Spider-Man, and they continued long into the night. The Wall, the string, the lie: it was like a swarm of bees in his brain, and Harrison had just kicked the hive. The harassing thoughts did subside eventually, and Harrison woke up the next morning to find a thin piece of string sitting on his bedside table. It was fairly long, and it looked good. There was no notable wear at all. The Wall would be impressed. That day was a long and nervous one for Harrison. He could not focus on his work throughout his lessons nor enjoy the company of his friends. Ball games were about as interesting as passing motorway signs on a road trip, and Harrison’s lack of attention in his classes reached a frightening level. At one point, a teacher asked him who was the son of God – religious studies was boring enough on a normal day for him – and Harrison had answered without even having heard the question. “Henry the Eighth!” he blurted out. The class erupted in laughter, as any assemblance of bored tweens would, but Harrison hadn’t meant to be funny. His distracted mind had genuinely forgotten that he had left history class half an hour before, but he didn’t care enough to listen to the correct answer. He thought only of his naughty deed and what was to come after school, and when the teaching continued, he mentally exited once again. He hoped that the Wall would accept the string and not ask him to attain anything so difficult again. There was no way he could lie to get something from his mum a second time, so hopefully it would request some paper or pens or cello tape; things he could easily get without being dishonest or cruel. After what seemed like a millennium, the final bell rang out throughout the school and Harrison packed up his stuff. He sprinted from the educatory halls and into the beaming light of the early afternoon, his steps rapid. It was sunnier than the previous day and unmistakably drier, so he knew he would not be able to pull off the façade of being late due to the rain again. This encounter with the Wall would need to be quick, and he prayed to God that it would be. As the sun pierced through the slight cracks in the dense forest roof, Harrison ran under its cover and hastily made his way to the sound of the running water. Peter’s Wood was alive with the orchestra of chirping birds and the soft grazing of wind on the leaves above the boy’s head, but it was all just background music that day. Vibrant green plumage and dazzling beams of falling light surrounded, but Harrison cared only for the frail piece of string in his pocket. He ran clasping it, refusing to risk it falling onto the dirt path and getting lost. The beauty around him was merely a passing blur, nothing to stop and waste time with. When Harrison approached the place where he had first heard the divine aquatic whispers of the waterfall its cool song was just as loud as it had been the day before. He carefully descended the thin trail between the bushes and, with a thud, blundered out of the shrubbery and landed on the finely trimmed lawn. It too was just as luscious and kept as Harrison recalled. Everything was the same – the grass, the sounds, the water gushing over the rock edge and falling into the little pool. Now he hoped the voice would still be here too. “Wally,” he called, feeling slightly silly. He had wondered the day before if it had all been a mirage, but now that concern had more gravity. What if he had been delusional throughout the entire previous afternoon? Had the canteen served anything to make him go loopy? They were valid concerns, and they grew exponentially as the silent seconds ticked by. Harrison recalled once that a girl had been off for two weeks after picking the wrong slice of pizza from the heated shelf in the school canteen. They said it was just a bad batch, but what if it wasn’t? Had she had odd hallucinations or heard strange voices? She hadn’t, I can tell you, but Harrison had nothing else to work with. From the woods, all that came back in response was the splashing of the falling water and the occasional croak of a bird in the distance, and everything soon began falling to pieces in Harrison’s mind. He had lied for no reason. It was all for nothing. Anger filled him. But then, just as the boy was about to toss the piece of string into the vegetation, the voice came with untainted ambivalence, as though it didn’t recognise Harrison at all. “Who goes there?” The Wall sounded exactly the same; Harrison knew he wasn’t crazy! ‘Hello, Wally. It’s me, Harrison!” There was no reply for a few seconds, but then the Wall came back with perfect calmness. “Ah, Harrison, my friend. Have you done as I instructed?” The boy pulled out the string from his pocket and held it up. “Yes. I have the string.” “Good. Very good.” “What should I do with it?” Harrison asked. “All you need do is place it into my pool. There, I shall do with it what I must.” Harrison hesitated. “But won’t it get wet?” “Yes, but I am beyond such simple states as wet and dry.” The voice’s expression soured, but then returned to its softer pitch. “Have faith in me, my friend. You need not worry.” A sensation of euphoria lay across Harrison’s shoulders. He imagined that this was what religion felt like to some people. The voice had that effect: it was quite the motivator. As gently as he could, he lowered the string into water. It sank slowly and manoeuvred through the layered liquid like a slithering eel, graceful but slow. He hastened its descent and pushed it to the bottom, the cold touch of the water igniting the pores of his hand. Eventually it lightly came to rest on the stone bed. Wafting the freezing droplets from his hand, Harrison stood back and looked down at the water. The string seemed so alien, so unwanted in such a little body of water, but what did he know? He was not the Wall. “I’ve done it,” he said. Relief poured from Harrison’s nostrils as he exhaled, and he looked upon the seemingly worthless string at the bottom of the pool like it was a bag full of cash. It certainly didn’t look like that impressive of a haul, but it certainly felt like it. It had cost him a great deal to acquire. “Excellent, Harrison. You have done very well. Now you must collect a second item. A small bar of wood.” Harrison’s head shot up, his face perplexed. He had only just retrieved the string, and now he was being sent for something else? It was very fast, too fast, and he didn’t know how he was going to get something so particular and peculiar. As he thought on it, Harrison realised that he didn’t even know what it was. A small bar of wood? His mother wouldn’t have one of those lying around the house, and where in the world was he supposed to start looking? He was confused but he didn’t want to question the Wall’s wisdom. Wally knew what was needed for the machine better than some boy. But then again, he didn’t have time to stand around bamboozled. He had to get home. His father wouldn’t want him late home again. “Wally, how am I supposed to get a bar of wood? I don’t mean to question you, but…I struggled to get the string and…and I had to do something I didn’t like to get it. Is there…erm…is there anything easier I could get? Would anything else work?” Harrison cringed all over. “No, Harrison. Nothing else will work.” It was suddenly like he was being told off by a teacher. A big, terrifying teacher. “In order to create the machine, I need a small bar of wood, large enough to hold in your palm but no bigger. It much be two inches thick, and no more. Any type of wood is fine, but it must be sturdy. Am I understood?” Harrison gulped. “Y-yes. Yes, I understand.” He felt like crying – the panic of not knowing where to even begin his search – but then the voice came again. The powerful quality was gone, and it now rang with prudence and care. Like a father. “What did you have to do that was so difficult, my friend?” “I…I…erm.” It was so hard to admit. Harrison’s mother’s glasses returned again, daring him to admit to what he had done. “I l-lied to my mum. I told her the string was for a catapult. I couldn’t tell her the truth but…I shouldn’t have done it. I lied to her.” The Wall was silent, as though it were preparing to offer the boy a hug. Of course, it couldn’t do that, so it used its greatest tool of both calming the boat and cooking up a storm. A tool which it had mastered with so much practice. “Harrison, my friend, in order for things to be accomplished, people often have to make sacrifices. They are compelled to change, alter, and sometimes abandon the structures to which they have grown accustom. For you, lying to your mother was a difficult task, but it was necessary. For the sake of the creation of the machine that will stop your father from hurting you, it was necessary. Now, I could tell you that you will not have to do something like that again, but I cannot. The road ahead is equally, if not more trying. The work you and I are attempting is not easy, but we must both persevere and make sure it is done. You must collect, and I must build. It is what is needed for the salvation I promise. Do you understand?” Despite not knowing what some of the words he had just heard even meant, Harrison did. “I’m sorry, Wally. I know.” But the Wall was not done. It heard something, as it always does, in its visitor’s voice that it could not leave unaddressed. It was doubt, the ever so slight ember of scepticism in the powers at play. Harrison still clung to the notion that what he had done was wrong. That was a barrier that could spark and set fire to everything. It needed to change. “Harrison, do you not realise that your mother will also benefit from my machine?” The boy’s attention sparked. “What do you mean?” “Well, I am crafting an instrument which shall prevent your father from hurting you anymore. Do you believe such protection will not also be bestowed upon her?” It is often the way of the cunning to work with the covert arts. The assassin, the blade; the saboteur, the whisper; the Wall, the riddle. “Oh…erm. I hadn’t…why would it protect her?” Harrison was completely lost. “Harrison, my boy. If he hurts you, what makes you think he doesn’t hurt her as well?” So finely directed, the question hit its mark like a bullet. Harrison had never considered the idea of his father doing what he did to him to his mum, nor had he ever seen any evidence of it. His mum never seemed bruised nor pained, but then again, neither had he. He always did his utmost to conceal the marks from his father’s tight grips and quick backhands, so could his mum also do the same? He felt sick at the thought, but it was possible. How had he never thought of it? Not only was there a putrid uneasiness in his stomach, but now a tsunamic shame bombarded his mind. Wally was right. And the Wall knew it too. “Go, my friend,” it said. “Collect what I need and bring it back to me. Then, once we have the final piece, we can stop your father and protect your mother from ever being hurt again.” Upon the Wall’s last word, Harrison turned and sprinted back up the thin trail. He jumped out of the bush, planted both of his school shoes onto the dusty path, and looked up to the green ceiling. The sunlight was breaking through the battalion of vegetation, and patches of brightness blotched the foliage like a hundred searching spotlights. In this weather, Harrison should have been home ages, possibly sat in the garden or playing videogames in his bedroom with the window open. If he was lucky, he could make it back just before his mum did, open all the windows, and pretend that he had been home for a while. It was doable, but he had to be quick. Energised by the afternoon’s warmth, Harrison bolted out of the wood and headed straight for home. The sky was a dazzling, clear blue, but the gorgeous purity of the world’s spring colour failed to soothe him. Harrison’s brain was closed for business. Images of his father beating his mum filled his head and fuelled his body to run as fast as it could. Far from blue and green, the world around him took on a noir palette, just like that gangster movies he remembered. Harrison was a man on the run, and the passing cackles of bike-riding kids were the stuttered firings of machines guns. Home was the safe house which he had to reach before the cops showed up, and time was running out. It was almost fun to think of it like that, but Harrison knew too well that, in those types of movies, there was always one character who ruined things for everyone and made life a living hell. That character was the Don, and the one in Harrison’s life had tasked him doing a job he wasn’t sure he could carry out. He didn’t know where he was going to find a small bar of wood, but it didn’t matter. Like a lot of hustler guys, he knew he needed to get it, and that was exactly what he was going to do. For Wally, for him, and for his mother.
The Wood Wednesday night was pasta night in the Little household, and that meant Harrison and his parents would be sat around the table together. On other nights, each could eat wherever they chose – in front of the television, in their bedrooms, or even out in the garden during the summer – but there were rules when it came to the midweek spaghetti or tortellini. It was family time, a small portion of the week for conversation, laughter, and sharing. That’s always what Sylvia hoped for, anyway. In reality, it was a tame little meal where each member of the family checked in and let the others know what was happening in their lives. But, while it was never a completely relaxed occasion for Harrison to sit opposite his father and answer questions about school, friends, and sports, this particularly Wednesday was going to be significantly cruel. This week he had a secret. The clock struck six and plates of hot food were placed onto the dining room table. Steam rose from the garlic bread and meatballs, dancing before the ravenous nostrils of Rodney Little who was already sat and waiting. He was still dressed in his work clothes – a neat baby blue shirt and green tie – and was happily perched at the head of the table, his hands clasped within one another, his eyes staring into space. The next person to sit down was Sylvia. She came in holding a drink in each hand, placing each at the designated seats of her son and husband, and then popped herself down beside her spouse. She smiled at him, and he sniggered back playfully, pointing out her steamy glasses. About five minutes after the table was set, Harrison joined his family. He entered the room quietly and took his place opposite his mother without speaking a word. Luckily for him, both of his parents were too hungry to address the impoliteness of their son’s arrival, and as soon as he sat down, they began feasting. The garlic bread was divided, the silverware was taken up and plunged into each dish of food, and all was quite well until the initial commencement of eating began. Rodney had eaten away his ignorance and was now curious to learn what his family had been up to that day. It was what usually happened on Wednesdays, but Harrison did not dread it as much as he often did. His capacity for fear was already at peak performance, scrounging his brain for an idea as to where he could get a small bar of wood. It was a blurry and chaotic thought process, and it blocked out much of the outside world with its activity, similar to the sensation of being underwater. Everything was continuing as normal above the surface, but beneath, it was all muted. But such things were not so obvious from the other side of the table. “So, Harrison, what have you been up to today?” Rodney asked. He did not lift his eyes from his plate as he spoke, and so his son did not notice he was being spoken to. After a few seconds, he asked again, his tone ever so slightly less keen. “Harrison,” he looked at his son directly, “what have you done today?” This time, the boy took notice. “I…well not much. School, mostly.” “And what did you do in school?” Harrison looked as though he was thinking, but that was not the case. He was disinterested in what his father had asked, but still he answered. “Science, P.E, Maths.” “Ah, yes. Maths. You had that test today, didn’t you? How did it go?” “Fine.” A wrong move. Undenounced to his mentally idle son, Rodney was now losing his patience and staring with a look of composed frustration. His fists gripped his utensils with a stern rage, and it would only take a few more accounts of rudeness for Rodney to put his foot down. Thankfully, Sylvia stepped in. “Harrison,” she said, pulling him from his daze with a slight tilt of her head. “Your father is speaking to you. He asked how your maths test went.” This worked well enough to simmer Rodney, but his temper remained active beneath the surface. It bubbled and swirled over his son’s lack of respect. “Oh, sorry! I’m sorry, Dad, I...” Harrison began. He shook his head faintly in an attempt to sever himself from his foggy mindset. Maths, maths…what maths test? His brain couldn’t shift gears quickly enough and his entire cognitive function stalled. He couldn’t think of when he had had his maths test or how he felt about it. ‘Ums’ and ‘Ahs’ fell from his mouth, but no answer to his father’s question. The intolerable seconds ticked on, and eventually Sylvia’s gentle prods could do nothing more to stop Rodney from speaking. “Harrison, must you be so rude?” he barked. It was common for a volatile response like this to come from such a mild inconvenience. Rodney’s own father would strike a stick against the calves of his children if they returned late from school or were anything less than respectful to their elders. Of course, Rodney himself was not beyond the use of such overtly violent means of discipline, but he always built to it, for he was not his father. The day that the bridge of outright violence was crossed for Rodney and his son was a dark and pungent in both their memories, but we will get to that, I assure you. But Rodney was not as quick as his father to clench his fists. He always shouted first. “All I want to know is how your day has been, and you are ignoring me!” Harrison could stutter no longer. The whites of his father’s eyes were visible, and Harrison also noted the veins on his father’s hands, pulsing from the ever-tightening grip around his knife and fork. The thunderous voice was daunting, but it was only the warning of the storm. Harrison saw nothing of his father’s memory, of the torment and violence he had experienced as a child. He only saw the martinet before him, always ready to administer whichever measures reaped the right response. He had to say something. “I’m sorry, Dad. The maths test went fine, I think I nailed the second half at least.” He still couldn’t remember having taken the test at all, but that didn’t matter. He had done enough. “Okay, thank you,” Rodney said. “That’s all I wanted to know.” Rodney Little returned his attention to his meal, and Harrison pretended to do the same, his heart racing. As he always did, he fought every impulse to cry. He raged against the thumping of his blood to stay calm, to sit still, to seem unfazed. But then, on a random spur of impulse, he looked up at his mother. It was the way of the Wall to change its visitors in small ways. Whether it be the way they think about their friends, the way they walk around their town, or the way they interact with their families. It always changed people. For Harrison, the Wall injected into him a flicker of suspicion. Just a flicker. And that, as was always the case, was enough to spark a reaction. Harrisons eyes shot up from his meal and latched onto the first thing he noticed about his mother’s face. The shape of her glasses was the same; her hair sprouted, curved, and ended at the same points as the day before; and her eyes were just as observant and quaint as he always remembered them. The only aspect of her image that struck him as alien was nothing to do with her features at all, but something that had decided to join them. A droplet of sweat glistened just below the left arm of Sylvia’s glasses, its tiny bubble body illuminated by the light of the lamp behind her. Harrison’s eyes then fell to hers, and they too had changed, as if the detection of the droplet had been a switch that turned the world upside down. They were fixed on her husband, unblinking and strained, with none of their prior calm. Finally, his pupils ticked down to her hands, which were no longer holding her knife and fork. Had he looked at them before noticing the droplet? One was holding her glass – the warm fingers planting round prints on the screen of condensation – the other was flat on the table surface, tapping. Her index finger moved relentlessly as though she was testing a faulty piano key, touching the table every other second. It filled Harrison’s ears like a clock counting down to something, but somehow his father didn’t hear it. Had she been doing it this whole time? Had she always done it? The Wall’s words came like the inevitable tide: What makes you think he doesn’t hurt her as well? Suddenly, Harrison’s entire demeanour changed. His heart slowed and his mind refocussed – he had something to find. “I also had Design today, Dad,” he said, “and I was wondering if you could help me with something.” Both of Harrison’s parents looked at him with unsheltered surprise. Rodney was intrigued, Sylvia’s feelings were clouded. Harrison didn’t notice, but there was a glint of fear in her eyes. I recognised it immediately. She knew that this could go extremely badly. But still, she remained silent. “With what, son?” Rodney replied. Harrison felt a cool excitement flowing through his veins. The thrill of treading on new ground was exhilarating, and it tickled his entire body, making him feel light and nimble. He felt invincible. “Well, we’re building something next week and I was wondering if you could help me find somewhere that sells one of the parts. I really don’t know where to get one.” “Well, what’s the part?” his father asked. This was tremendous. Crossing the threshold of lying had been arduous with his mum, but now he was let loose from his pen and able to roam the land at liberty. The untruths fell from his lips as easily as fruit from a summer tree, and it felt fantastic to be doing it right in his father’s face. Harrison’s mind gathered the pieces of his story as playfully as a child selects sweets. “Well, it’s like a…wooden bar, kind of. We need it to work as a handle for a machine. It’s got to be thick enough for a tiny bit of metal to go into it, you know. And it’s got to fit nicely in my hand. Because it’s a handle, you see.” Rodney ate this up like warm custard. “Hm, interesting. And you don’t know where to find one?” Harrison quickly glanced at his mum – who was still visibly nervous – and continued his lie. “Yeah, do you have any ideas, Dad?” Rodney scratched at his chin and twiddled his fork idly around his remaining food. “Well, you could try Mr Potter’s Workshop in town. It has loads of bits and bobs, and I’m sure he’d have something in the back that you could use. I can’t count how many times he’s got me something I didn’t even know existed.” “Okay, thanks, Dad.” He didn’t show it, but Harrison was utterly bewildered at what he had just pulled off. He felt like he had successfully robbed a bank. “Hey,” Rodney said, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out his wallet. Both Harrison and Sylvia watched in awe as he opened it, pulled out a five-pound note from one of its pockets, and handed it across the table. “Take this. I hope you find it.” Dumbstruck, Harrison thanked his father and placed the note into his front pocket. The rest of the meal then passed in complete silence as Rodney devoured the remainder of his food and his family nibbled away quietly. Nobody spoke, nobody shouted. All that could be heard was the slurping and gulping of pasta. Harrison gleamed inside.
For the mind that is focused, days tend to blend and mix together. It’s as if the Moon and the Sun are figments of one’s imagination, present only when the individual has time to think of them, to notice them. I know that the world moves independently of the individual, of course, but isn’t it interesting to see things like that? To think that this is all just a dream we choose to believe in? What am I saying? This is not important. After discovering where to find the bar of wood, and pocketing his father’s cash, Harrison slept, awoke, went to school, and waited. It was a dull eight hours, characterised by the same disengagement with the world around him as the day before, and the boy only thought of one thing throughout it all. Science mattered not, nor did the literature of the Romantic period. It all passed him by like a fickle breeze. All he thought of was the bar of wood and the five-pound note in his pocket. He placed his hand on over its outline in his trousers every ten minutes or so to check it was still there, and he was grateful every time he could still feel it. That note was his ticket to being one step closer to his reward. It was everything that day. In fear of boring you, I must just say once more that this is how it goes for every child who discovers the Wall. The cycle numbs each and every one of their lives, strangling and eroding every other motivation they possess until they are as passive as litter in the wind. It rains upwards, gravity releases them, and the sun turns cold as the world loses all sense of sentiment and order. The reward – that glorious and aloof machine - becomes Heaven and Earth, and everything remaining in the physical realm is not worth caring about. It is like clockwork. I shall not remind you again. The final bell rang. Harrison burst from the school, bumping shoulders with his peers as the school’s population tumbled into the grey Thursday afternoon, and began his journey to town. Knowing that he didn’t need to rush home that day was like a numbing drug. His parents knew he was going to Mr Potter’s, and so the pressure was off. The Thursday afternoon shopping crowd was a sparse one. A few pensioners roamed the wide single high street, walking slowly from one fruit and vegetable store to the next, but the town centre was largely empty. Harrison imagined the open street like a runway. A pair of withered signs offering 2 for 1 on flowers and half price on coffee marked his take off point, and the heart of the town up ahead was his wide-open sky. He was a jet plane, speeding up and preparing to fly across to his destination. He ran with tremendous speed, pelting the cobbled street with his feet so quickly that his legs felt electrified. He imagined that he had taken off, passing derelict video rental places, empty greeting cards stalls, and busy little charity shops like they were stagnant clouds. As older shoppers rinsed the charity shop of all of its cheap goodies, Harrison approached and surpassed the sound barrier, zooming faster and faster towards his target. He glided for a few minutes then noticed a familiar sight coming up on his left. It was time to buckle up and tell the passengers that the descent would soon begin. They had arrived at their destination. As he approached Mr Potter’s Workshop., Harrison remembered joining his father on many trips there when he was younger, always in search of some component or tool needed for the family car. It would usually be on a weekend, the perfect time for his dad to have a tinker with the engine, and the high street would be a bit livelier than it was now. Harrison and his father would walk, hand in hand, past all of the other shops and stores in an excited rush to return to whatever they were doing to the car. Harrison used to like watching his dad at work. It gave him an odd sense of grounding, like the car’s servicing was simultaneously tweaking and correcting his own sense of being alive. Heading to Mr Potter’s was an exciting extension of this sensation, carrying with it an odd blend of joy and anxiety. Going inside to get an essential tool or piece was like heading into the jungle to find treasure, but they were also against the clock. Would it be open? Would they make it back before dark? They worked outside on the drive on those Saturday afternoons, and so natural sunlight made the whole thing possible. Oddly – I think so, anyway – there was no sense of fear surrounding his father in those memories for Harrison. There was admiration and joy, but no fear. Very odd indeed. The shop itself was located inside an old bank which had a battered but colourful banner spread across its brick face. In large orange block capitals, it read ‘Mr Potter’s! Find anything here in my workshop!” and had a small cartoon of the young Mr Potter himself beneath it, smiling with his thumb up. It made Harrison smile as he passed under it. He was ready to see the real guy. An all too familiar aroma greeted Harrison as the door closed behind him. It was a peculiar but warming blend of oil and general uncleanliness. Not the kind that attaches itself to a public toilet, but a sort of deliberate dirty, like it’s all part of the plan. The smell filled Harrison’s nostrils and he felt like a toddler again, half expecting to feel his father’s hand in his own as though it were a Saturday of old and they were here for some scrap piece of engine or wing mirror. Of course, he was alone, but the inside of the store still felt like a preserved chunk of the past, shoved inside and frozen to avoid it spoiling in the heat of the everchanging outside world. As Harrison stepped forward and into the large room, he recognised everything. It was like he had only just been there, having stepped outside for a quick break. Mr Potter’s workshop was not the most aesthetically pleasing store, but it more than made up for that in stock and variety. Upon entering, the desperate mechanic or car enthusiast was greeted by the dull sight of rickety shelving stretching from the near side of the room all the way to the back in seven tall, grey rows. The metal structures housed boxes and trays of varying products, from nails and wrenches to window stickers and car batteries, with nothing but a scruffily written label on each of them to market their cargo. They would barely be intelligible in broad daylight, and in the low, limited lighting of the workshop, it was impossible to tell what lay inside each container without physically squitning. It was unappealing to look at, but Harrison remembered his father saying that nobody goes into Mr Potter’s just to browse. If you needed something, you went and asked the man himself, and then he would find it for you. It was the way it was, the way it had always been, and Harrison had no intent on straying from that custom now. Having had his fill of the nostalgia, Harrison walked down the aisle closest to the entrance – which ended with a half-hearted arrangement of car jacks, lawnmowers and wheel arches – turned right, and looked straight ahead to where Mr Potter’s desk sat, exactly where it had always been. It was a dingey corner of the room, only slightly brighter than the rest of the room thanks to a small lamp, but it was what all who entered the workshop were looking for. Mr Potter wasn’t in sight, but he never was as far as Harrison could recall. He always tended to show up upon the ringing of a small bell that sat on the desk. With a light tap, Harrison sounded that ringing, and the entire room ignited with its piercing echo. The boy half expected bats to start flying down from the ceiling in panic, but none did. All that came was the sound of a man hobbling out of the backroom, his feet scraping against the wooden floorboards as he did so. Mr Potter was older than Harrison remembered. Neatly combed silver hair clung to his small, wrinkled head, and his hunched body creaked and cracked as it wiggled across the floor. A full, yellow smile beamed out through the darkness beneath a set bright, baby blue eyes. Harrison smiled up at Mr Potter, who no longer looked anything like the cartoon version of himself on the banner outside, but the old man didn’t notice. He just continued to make his way towards the service desk. When he eventually arrived, Mr Potter looked own on the boy with a hearty grin. He was like a wizard from a fantasy story, eager to assist the weary traveller with a spell or potion to aid them on their quest. In the stories he had read at school, none of these reliable sorcerers had ever failed to help their hero, so Harrison was confident. “Hello there, young man,” Mr Potter said. “What can I help you with today?” His warm voice was so wonderful that Harrison did not feel nervous at all. “Hi, Mr Potter. I’m looking for something for school and was wondering if you could help me?” Now, this was what being an adult felt like. Harrison explained what it was that he needed, how big it needed to be and what it ought to look like, and Mr Potter took it all in. With a quick nod, he contemplated what the boy was looking for and took his time with an answer. Harrison watched as the old storekeeper itched his neck and looked to the dark ceiling, as though reviewing the store’s inventory written in the blackness, and then he suddenly came back with an answer. “Bear with me, lad! I’ll be right back.” Mr Potter waddled out of his corner with the swiftness of a walrus and disappeared into the maze of shelves. Harrison waited patiently for his return, his mind not really worrying too much, his hands reaching into his pocket for the five pound note his father gave him. He was thankful it was still there, despite having made sure of that fact so frequently throughout the day. He pulled it out and examined it in the dim light of the store. The Queen looked back at him in plain splendour, and the edges around her were free of rips or tears that might threaten her eligibility. Harrison examined the note so intently that he didn’t even notice Mr Potter’s return. “Here,” the old man said, plonking a piece of wood onto the desk and making Harrison jump. It was exactly as the boy imagined: small, smooth all over, and just the right size for his hand. “Is this what you were after?” “Yes, yes! Thank you, Mr Potter!” Harrison gleamed. The elderly man laughed. “I’m glad, son, I’m glad. So, it’s for school you say?” “Yes, for a project.” Harrison appreciated the interest, and Mr Potter truly was a lovely man, but he didn’t want to wander into specifics. “What do I owe you?” Mr Potter hesitated a moment – the gentle wheezing of his chest the loudest thing in earshot – then looked down. From underneath the desk he pulled out a notebook and began idly flicking through its contents. After a few moments, he stopped on a particular page, analysed the wooden block once more, checked the page again, then closed the notebook. “That’ll be eight pounds please, my lad.” The geyser of panic erupted immediately. Wicked fright zoomed around Harrison’s body and obliterated the sense of comfort and ease that Mr Potter’s soothing voice had done so well to create. With the five-pound note crumpled in his now trembling hand, Harrison felt stupid. “Oh, erm. Mr Potter, I only have five.” It sounded utterly pathetic, and Harrison could feel the sweat on his back touching his shirt. “Oh,” the old man muttered. “Well, I’m afraid it’s eight.” “Would,” Harrison felt desperate, “would you take five?” “No, I…I’m afraid I can’t, son.” Mr Potter frowned. “I don’t get too many people coming in here nowadays so I can’t afford to be giving out discounts. This place needs the cash.” It was a fair enough reason, but logic was not currently legal tender in Harrison’s mind. It was a locked box, and nothing in the world could possibly loosen it open except that bar of wood. “Do you have a mum or dad that we could call to bring you the extra few quid?” Mr Potter kindly offered. Sweet gestures of help were contraband to such a complicated situation. If one of his parents came to the workshop, Harrison knew that he couldn’t then run over to Wally and give him the bar. They would expect him to go straight home and then to school the next day, and come back with some kind of progress report on his project. That wouldn’t work, that wouldn’t work at all. The only thing that would help was getting it to Wally that evening and getting one step closer to finishing the machine. That way, everything would work itself out. The machine would sort everything. But it was not built yet. “M-Mr…P…” He couldn’t think of anything. Begging wasn’t going to get him anywhere, and Harrison definitely couldn’t afford anybody else getting involved. Sweat began pouring from his face and arms, and he felt increasingly uncomfortable in the dark store. The heat melted the pleasant memories until they were an unrecognisable gunk. The walls began to close in as if they were suspicious of why this intruder was behaving so strangely. The dark ceiling where Mr Potter had looked for inspiration was now a sea, full of invisible sharks. The old man watched him patiently, and Harrison wondered whether he noticed the anxiety of his young customer at all. Could he see very well? He seemed to easily read his notebook and navigate his way around the store, but how was he not reacting to the drenched bundle of worry before him? The train of thought seemed utterly pointless at first, but then Harrison considered something. He looked at the wood, he looked at Mr Potter. He looked at the wood, he looked at Mr Potter. He needed to act. He needed to think of something. He needed the wooden bar. There was no time for a moral assessment. Harrison snatched the bar of wood from the table and ran towards the door. Everything around him melted into a black goo, and all Harrison could hear was the thumping percussion of his heartbeat in his ears. His body was screaming at him to stop, but he didn’t listen. He pelted his way back down the aisle, past all of the different boxes and trays, and towards the exit. A distant call came from somewhere, most likely Mr Potter, but it was coming from a thousand miles away. Within a matter of seconds, Harrison was back out in the blistering sunlight and on the other side of the world from that cry. As if by instinct, instead of retreating back into the centre of the town, he found the quickest route out where he was less likely to be stopped. After a few minutes of manic sprinting, he came onto a main road that would eventually bring him back round to the right sight of town where he could then get to Peter’s Wood. Harrison took a breath then began running again along this way, slipping the bar of wood into his pocket beneath the five-pound note, like a child slipping under bed covers. By the time he neared the path to Peter’s Wood, he was crippled by a ripping stitch in the side of his stomach. It cut deep, ripping him from his hysteria and bringing him rapidly back into the light of logic. The reality of what he had just done shined through and burned. He replayed what he had done over and over again in order to put it to rest, but it wouldn’t settle in his mind. One second, Harrison was stood in Mr Potter’s Workshop, sweating and on the brink of tears, and the next he was out of the door, fleeing the scene like a true criminal. He had run so fast that he hadn’t even heard what was being shouted at him. Had Mr Potter screamed? Or was it a witness outside? The idea of having done something illegal made him feel sick to the stomach, but all he could think to do was start running again to beat back the lapping thoughts. He imagined the police knocking on his door. What would his parents say when they knew he had stolen something from an innocent old shop owner? What would his father do when he found out that he had wronged such a reliable friend? Maybe it was the growing exhaustion messing with his vision, but Harrison thought he could see the black and blue bruises already. He forced himself to run faster.
The weather had altered by the time Harrison finally arrived at Peter’s Wood. As he forced himself to jog against the crying pain in his side, he could hear the light tapping of a brewing rain above him. It was not a good week for weather. The rapid bouncing of droplets on the leaves blended seamlessly with the thudding of Harrison’s feet on the muddy track. For a moment his body felt so numb that it was like he were not moving at all. He and the world were motions of the same brush, and all that stirred was the falling heavens and the brittle greenery trying to catch it all. As Harrison slid down the thin trail and landed before the Wall and its pool, a great big droplet landed right in his eye. It was one irritation too many, and the boy was violently pulled to reality. He squealed like a captured pig. “Wally! Wally! I have the wooden bar, but you need to help me!” A brief crinkling noise came from somewhere beyond the waterfall, as if Wally were about to emerge from the shrubbery like a drowsy bear, but then the voice came as normal. “Harrison? What has happened?” The Wall sounded suspicious. “I have it! I have the wooden bar, but I stole it! I took it and ran because I couldn’t afford it!” “Were you followed?” “I don’t…I don’t think so, I—” “Harrison did you see anyone following you? Did anyone see where you were going?” “I don’t know! I don’t remember seeing anyone!” “Go!” the voice commanded with startling power. “Go and make sure that no one is approaching!” Harrison went to speak, flustered by the sudden strictness, but he was not granted permission. “Now!” The boy ran back up the thin trail and peaked out of the cluttered bush to see if anyone was around. The patter on the green roof was now a consistent block of sound, and Harrison strained to try and hear if anyone was walking up the path from either direction. He saw no one and heard nothing but the rain. That had to be enough. He dropped back down to Wally. “There’s no one. No one followed me.” But Harrison felt bad. Wally would probably be experimented on and tortured if he was ever discovered, as that was what happened to all of the mysterious creatures and monsters in the films Harrison watched. They were tranquilised, caged, and forced into laboratories against their will. How they would capture Wally was a hard thing to imagine, but Harrison couldn’t run the risk. Plus, it would cost the creation of the machine if Wally was discovered, and that was too high a price. He had risked it all to get the necessary piece, he shouldn’t be so reckless. “I’m sorry, Wally.” The voice regained some of its composure. “It is alright, my friend. Did you obtain the piece successfully?” Harrison held it up. “Yes, but—” “Place it in the pool, and then tell me your story.” He stepped forward and lowered himself to his knees but was amazed to find that the pool was empty. The string from the previous day had disappeared, and there was no sign of it ever having been there. Wally really was magic. This was really going to work! The bar fell from the boy’s hand like lead to the bottom, and no assistance from Harrison’s hand was required this time around. It clunked onto the stony bed, and it reminded him of a sunken battleship. “It’s in,” Harrison said, and he took the ensuing silence as a platform to tell his tale. He spoke quickly. “I got it from Mr Potter’s Workshop in town, I don’t know if you know of it. My dad told me to try there, and he gave me some money but when I got there, Mr Potter told me it cost more than I had. I asked him if I could have it for less and he said no, and I couldn’t think of anything else to do. He’s a lovely old man but he wouldn’t listen, and I could hardly explain. So, I just grabbed it. I grabbed it and ran, and he shouted after me but I didn’t stop. I ran and ran, and I left town and came straight here. I don’t if anyone saw me but…what if they did? What if I get arrested? They won’t believe me if I tell them about you, and they’ll send me to prison! What if they send me to prison?! What am I going to do?!” As the breath heaved in and out of the boy’s body like a needle sewing together his dread, the Wall remained silent. It was faceless and absent, all while his trusted friend descended into a pit. As a boy, Harrison’s understanding of prison was limited and stereotypical, but it was enough to send him. Spending years in a lonely cell and eating mushy food seemed worse than death, and the idea of taking that option did spring to mind. It’s awful when a child considers taking their own life, but I often scoff at everyone’s dramatic surprise to such a thing occurring. If a child is able to develop a relationship with an inanimate water feature, shouldn’t that tell you something about what their imagination can conceive? I would laugh, but then I suppose you’d think me twisted. The reality is, Harrison considered everything in those quiet moments, and the scene remained stagnant for a few minutes. The Wall’s connection was always of emotional promise rather than emotional presence, and when it finally spoke, it was as though there had been no pause at all. “Harrison, my friend, we must act with haste. I don’t know what is going to happen, but if you fear for your freedom, only my machine can guarantee its security. We must complete it tonight, do you understand?” Hooked like a defenceless fish, the boy had no route but forward. “Will it stop the police from getting me? The machine?” “Of course, my friend. If you have stolen something from the town centre, it is likely that someone would have seen you, and so only my completed machine can protect you from the dangers that may soon befall you. You spoke before of your father helping you with the acquisition of the wooden bar. Are you and him allies now? If so, I don’t know if I can—” “No! No, I still want the machine! He only helped me because I lied. I still need it. Please, Wally, what do I need to get?” Harrison could no longer feel the erratic motion of his heart. It was like he was on fire. “The final piece of the machine, Harrison, is a piece of glass. A long and sharp piece of glass, thin enough at one end to slip into a keyhole.” “Why?” Harrison asked, abruptly. It wasn’t the latest stage that a child had first asked the Wall why a particular item needed retrieving, but it was a contender. Most of them query the first piece from a sense of natural curiosity and suspicion, but Harrison’s intrigue was delayed, and it grew. The first two things were mystical and beyond comprehension regarding their usefulness together, but glass was different. Glass was dangerous, and it somehow stuck out as strange to him. Strange enough, it seemed, to make him forget who he was talking to. “Harrison, why must you question me again? We have no time to be wondering about why the piece must be collected. What use is telling you when you have no way of ever comprehending my craftsmanship or the essence of what it is that I am making? You are a boy, Harrison. A boy that I am trying to help, but you must cooperate. You must collect the glass or this isn’t going to work, and you will be left to the mercy of the police and your father. Do you think he will respond calmly when he discovers that you have stolen? Do you think your mother will be able to take the wrath that will soon unfold as a result of your actions? You need my machine before that happens, and that is only possible if you listen to me and do as I say. Do you—” “Yes! Yes! I will get the glass,” Harrison blurted. “Where, though? Where do I get glass?!” “Anywhere, Harrison! Anywhere you can! But I must have it by tonight. Find it as quick as you can and return to me before the sun sets.” Harrison had no idea what time it was, but the sun would only be up for another few hours at the very most. He needed to act fast. “Okay!” he shouted, but before he charged into the shrubbery and into the upside-down world, something else fell out from his mouth. As he spoke, he stared straight into what he imagined to be the soul of the waterfall, imagining there to be an all-seeing eye just beyond its aquatic veil. “Will it save me? Wally, will your machine actually save me?” The splashing of the waterfall’s constant collision with the pool below seemed to be all that would answer at first, but then Wally spoke to his friend with sincerity and poise. It was as honest as he had ever been to Harrison. He told him the truth. “Tomorrow, my friend, this will all be over.”
The Glass To his terror, Harrison had been right about the impending speed of sundown. As he tumbled from the cover of Peter’s Wood and desperately tried to think of where he was going to get a piece of long, thin glass, the sky had already turned a luscious violet. Darkness was on its way. Without much expertise to fall back on, being so young, Harrison scrambled for a place to begin his search. I forget sometimes how young these people are, the children that stumble across the Wall and engage with it. They are barely capable of walking into a shop and counting out the right amount of change to buy something, and yet it is as though the Wall’s words age them, making them its equal. It is fascinating, even for me after all this time. And yet, they are not its equal. To be equal, the Wall and its visitors would need to share a sense of compromise, to alternate between victor and loser, but this is never the case. Harrison’s first thought was to return to the town centre, but the obvious negatives of that quickly kicked in. The shopfronts were all likely closed (not that any of them sold glass, anyway), and all of their owners would be on the lookout for the notorious workshop thief prowling the night streets. Harrison imagined how fast the truth might have spread over the past hour or so. Would his parents know yet? Not likely, but they soon would, and then only the Wall would be able to save him. He needed to clasp every second available in order to get the machine completed and ready for use – whatever that meant, anyway – but where could he go? He thought hard, harder than he had ever considered anything before. It felt impossible with so little time and so few options. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack when you don’t even know if there is definitely one in there. He could look but he wouldn’t necessarily find. He felt doomed. But as he wandered the suburban streets surrounding Peter’s Wood, edging ever closer to the outskirts of the town under the blind pilot of his occupied brain, a memory came. It was faint and unfamiliar, but it was a memory all the same, and something about it stuck out from the rest with a helping arm extended. Like a book left slightly out of line on a bookshelf, it was noticeable and enticing. It told Harrison that it could help, and he tried to focus on it. He was only two years younger in the memory, yet it felt like an eternity ago. The reason why it stuck out in his mind was clear as soon as Harrison let the events replay, but he chose not to dwell. In the memory, he was beside his father, holding his hand pleasantly enough, and standing in a queue for something. Looking back, he knew it was for a grilled sandwich from Dingbat Baguettes – a small, lone-standing store on the very edge of a suburban field – but at the time Harrison was oblivious, caring only for the delightful view of the surrounding scenery. There weren’t many families around on that summer eve, many of them having already gone home after a warm afternoon of sunbathing and games, and so the wide stretches of green were open for the young boy’s eyes to enjoy. Harrison looked back and away from the small little outhouse where the food was served, moving only when he felt the anchoring tug of his father’s hand pulling him closer to it. Those larger hands had not yet administered physical punishment, but on the backend of that one summer afternoon, waiting for a cold can and pepperoni pizza roll, all of that would change. And it was all because of that luxurious field.
“Come on, Harrison. Stop pulling me,” Rodney said as they neared the front of the queue. Only one other customer stood between him and the window. Sitting around in the sun was one thing all by itself, but having to entertain his son in the blistering heat had taken it out of him. Sylvia was at home, overcome by the humidity of the day, so Rodney had been a solo act that afternoon. All he wanted now was a beer for himself and some food to occupy his son when they got home. That was all, but it was dragging on. “But Daddy, the grass is so nice,” Harrison replied, pulling his father’s hand gently. “I want to run around in it.” The heat had done nothing to diminish the boy’s energy, and even as the sun began to make its way to the other side of the world, he still felt like a fully-fuelled jet ski, ready to rip around the gentle waves and go as far out into the green sea as possible. But Rodney was stern. “I think you’ve ran around quite enough today, don’t you think? Come on, the faster we get this grub, the sooner we can go home.” The temperature had waned a little bit from its mid-afternoon peak, but there was still no escaping the incessant clinginess of the air. Britain might be miserable all year round, but when it got hot, it found all new ways to get under your skin. God save the Queen, Rodney thought. The thought of going home was not as appealing as what lay before the young boy. “But Daddy, I want to run around!” “No,” Rodney said again. He tightened his grip and pulled his son forward once more, this time with enough force to turn his small body. The motion parted the rancid film of sweat that had developed under Rodney’s armpit, and the new coolness of his skin made him feel disgusting and in desperate need of a shower. Didn’t he used to spend afternoon like this working on the car? The sun’s hesitation to leave had been a blessing those days, and the irritating body pulling him back towards the field had been a pleasant extra pair of hands. Upgrading to an electric car had seemed like such a good idea when Sylvia had suggested it, but now Rodney was starting to think it was the worst thing he had ever agreed to. He was getting more annoyed now at the relentless tugging of his hand, but the thought of the cool sofa and the sweet metallic kiss of a beer can went a long way in keeping a lid on his pot. It also made him forget about the car. He wouldn’t need to be here much longer. All he needed to do was-- Harrison jolted towards the field and pulled again, catching his father off guard. It almost knocked Rodney off balance, yanking him a few inches further away from the small sandwich shop, and it proved too much for his temper to tolerate. In a jerk reaction, he squeezed the boy’s hand harder than he had done before and hauled him back into position, but this time he did not have complete control over his son’s weight. His small frame flew forward and barged into the man ahead of them in the queue, slamming him into the wall of Dingbat Baguettes. The man dropped to the floor in a loud crash, and Rodney heard the faint whispered jingle of glass under the man’s groan. The sliding window beside the startled employee’s face was smashed. The man’s head – who Rodney now saw belonged to a large, frightening bearded fellow – had crunched against it. Glass shards fell like snowflakes from the pane, and blood dripped from the man’s forehead, as if they were both falling from the same cloud. Rodney did not notice the symmetry. All he saw was an angry man regaining his awareness and rising to an immense height before him. Bulging muscles covered his long arms and there were cuts on his knuckles. The Terminator doppelganger stood up straight, inhaled deeply through his nostril, and bore his gaze down onto the unlucky son of a bitch that had pushed him. The breath of the towering colossus stunk like the Friday night pub. “I am so sorry, mate. Really, I am. My son was pulling me, and I just tried to get him to stop and I—” The man’s right fist felt like a bullet train as flung across Rodney’s face. He fell to the floor and collapsed onto the grass, unable to hold his composure under such a heavy hit. The world spun but he had no time to find his feet as his stumbling attacker instantly came forth with more fury. “I’ll fucking have you if you want, mate!” He hadn’t seemed so drunk from behind. “Fucking…twat…” The man grabbed Rodney by the shoulders and hoisted him up as though he weighed nothing at all. Then, with mindless effort but incredible strength, he shoved his feeble victim to the wall and sent a barrage of kicks and punches to his gut. Rodney could do nothing but shimmy and tense his stomach, helplessly suspended by his attacker’s iron arms. After a few minutes of relentless pummelling, the drunken man ceased his onslaught and threw Rodney into the window, except this time it caused more than just a trickle of glass. His head flew through the pane as though it were not even there, and its entire glass body came flying out of the frame. Harrison jumped back; the employee inside of the shop screamed. With Rodney on the ground, the man walked away, ignoring Harrison. He stumbled straight into the wide-open field and towards the suburban homes where he presumably resided. He seemed to have forgotten that he was hungry. Meanwhile, Rodney did his best to pick himself back up. The ripping pain in his face and body was insurmountable, and all he could do for a few minutes was lie still and breathe in his bed of glass. Lines of red ran like streams across his face, but they didn’t seem to flow in vast amounts. The glass cuts were numerous but shallow, and Rodney eventually got to his feet without paying them any mind. He was only concerned about one thing. Throughout the fight, Harrison had done nothing but watch. Entranced by the confusing conflict, he had stood still and tried to comprehend what was happening to his father. What he did not understand was that it was his fault that it had happened. That fact was quickly addressed. Rodney smacked Harrison in the face and grabbed him by the neck like he was an infant pup. He didn’t care if anyone was watching or if the employee was still peering nosily out of the serving window. His brain was no longer a complex, multi-faceted machine considering multiple things at once. It was now a red block, utterly rigid and cemented in rage. His son squealed and asked to be let go, but Rodney refused to pay even a shred of notice. He stared straight ahead towards the housing estate and dragged his son’s body by whatever piece of skin his fingers could keep a hold of. His neck, his ear, his hair. The boy’s screams were muffled and benign. All that Harrison could understand as he was being pulled away from the sandwich shop was what he could see. He no longer looked out to the field of green. All his father’s careless hold would allow his head to see was the shop window and the ocean of glass below it. The sun caught the shards and crystals, and the blood flooding to the boy’s head made it all seem like water; the longer pieces jutting up like rising waves amid a raging tempest. That was all he could see as he struggled to get free, and it lingered so prominently in his mind because that was the last thing he saw before his father stopped walking. About halfway through the field, Rodney spun around, leaned forward, and screamed into the watered-down colour of his son’s eyes. The world changed in that moment. “You will never misbehave like that again! You will listen to me in future and do things as and when you are told! Do you understand me, Harrison?!” He slapped his son again. “Do you?! I could have died, you idiotic boy! I could have been killed because of your fucking silliness!” A few more quick hits landed on Harrison’s cheeks, and he could do nothing but cry. To get his boy up, Rodney kicked at his legs. Light and snappy, they were like electric shocks. The dragging then resumed and the illusion of the glass ocean was replaced by the smudge of real water. There they remained, the shards, behind the veil of tears.
Rodney Little had never hurt his son in the same way as he did on that diminishing summer day, but it did not matter. Each metre of grass covered as he hauled his son by the earlobe was imprinted into Harrison’s mind. Every slap to the face was another comma in a long list of shame. Merely remembering that day pulled him from the streets around him and forced him into a dark and dingey crevice of his mind. Every time he thought about it, he wanted to crawl into the darkest cave in the world and wait to die. But Harrison fought against that urge this time. He hadn’t gone back to wallow or cry or bathe in the remnants of the worst day of his life. He had done it for a purpose, an all-important reason. He pictured the glass. The glass that had always been nothing but a reminder of suffering, dancing playfully upon the stage of his dreams. But it represented something else now. It marked the finish line.
It took a while for Harrison to get to the particular field he remembered. The streets were dark and indiscernible from one another with only the light of the sparse lampposts to work with. Eventually, however, he managed to sift through the cul-de-sacs and alleys, aided largely by the very memories that he always considered a scar, and arrived at the shore of the field. The green he remembered was drearily tinged by the lowering sun, and now looked a measly grey. The temperate green sea was now a boggy swamp, dull and dangerous. This was saddening but ultimately terrifying – changing shades meant that time was running out. Out in that darkening space was the outline of Dingbat Baguettes, lying in the centre of the field like a beached whale waiting to die. The sun looked like it was fleeing rather than setting, desperate to get away from this place. An apocalyptic dye was spilt, and it set almost immediately over the world. Colours became cruel, and the whale in the distance was seconds from crumbling into a haggard, useless skeleton of black. Harrison sprinted towards that block of darker space like it was an oasis in the Sahara. He had to get there before he couldn’t see anything. The ground below him was hard and flickers of fatigue were creeping into his legs, but Harrison ran anyway. There was nothing on this planet worth stopping for. Above him – Harrison looked up to distract his mind from the heavying sensation of tiredness – the sky was dulling evermore. There was only so much juice left in the day, but by the end of it everything would be okay. Harrison almost felt happy, thinking about where he was and where he would soon be. This field, this area of grass, this minute expanse of the Earth, it was where his life had tectonically shifted. But by the time the sun had retreated beyond the horizon and the moon had clocked in for its watch, the world would be anew. Harrison’s entire life would click back into place, and everything would be fine. Wally and his machine would fix everything. I sometimes wonder whether I should have intervened at this point. Events are still unravelling I know, but may I take a moment? I’m just considering how many times I have to watch the same thing happen before I think I ought to step in and do something about it. Don’t misunderstand me, I am no moral being, nor do I aspire to live within such frameworks of dirt and mud. I merely ask myself from time to time whether I should step in at this part of the tale and show my hand. Play the game, so to say, rather than being the observant dealer. Every child reaches this peak of wonder and power, and they all fall, each in their way, so I suppose that is worth watching. But could I prod the situation, divert just a single child’s path, and send them to a different fate? It is a conundrum for me. You may think me deranged in a way, unwilling to derail the course of things when I know the exacts of their conclusion, but that isn’t true. Patterns are not laws. Cycles can stop; but then, am I the thing required to stop them? I am unsure. Harrison is a child, like Michael, Courtney, Alicia, James, Ronald, and Jessica were all children. To this point, he has followed an almost identical path to his predecessors, excusing the details, of course, but they are merely colours filling in the same lines and borders. When it is not the abusive father, it is the antagonising sister, the untrusting mother, the thieving friend. They all have their motivations, and each follow them like donkey chasing carrots; but I assure you, it is not I that wields the stick. They meet the Wall, as it insists on being called, and it promises things to them all. They follow its guidance, ‘collecting’ or ‘performing’ whatever it is that it ‘requires’. Then again, maybe that is my fault. Each child goes forth doing the Wall’s bidding, and they all climb the very same summit, staring up into the sky or thinking beyond the present, certain of victory. They look me in the eye as I remain quiet, and I ponder whether to play the game or simply keep watching. You may plead to my conscience, but what am I to do? The chips are always stacked against me, and to interfere is to risk toppling the stack and making a mess. Anyway, we are going off track, and I have told you this too many times before. Does that make me a pattern? I keep telling the same story to the same people, reminding them of the same facts and having the same debates. I suppose that does put in good stead to be considered a cycle myself, but alas. It’s certainly one to ponder. Anyway, I shall continue. Harrison approached the beginning of his decline almost seconds after he had graced his peak. It’s horribly funny that way. The heavenly ceiling was met and passed, and then the features of the sandwich outhouse’s opaque silhouette began to manifest before him. Its shape was the same as he recalled, as well as its overall structure. It was a block in the middle of the field with a serving window on its front. A large wooden board sat at the top where the Dingbat Baguettes sign had hung wide and proud. But as Harrison drew closer, the mirage of the past fell away as though nothing but a thin cloth, and the present that lay beneath was disturbingly different. Where the face of the beloved shop had been, bearing its bright font and recognisable name, there was nothing but a bare skeleton. A plain wooden board sat exposed, selling nothing and attracting no one. The menu that Harrison recalled beside the serving desk was gone too, revealing the crude and tasteless brick that sat behind it. Holes where the nails had pinned it up were still visible, remnants of the treasure that had once been here. The most horrifying sight was the serving window which, despite the seemingly decrepit state of the rest of the small building, had been repaired. A fresh set of panes were fitted within the static and sliding frames, and the glass pile that had been there for so long was gone. The ocean had dried up at long last. How was this possible? Harrison was a young boy, barely familiar with John Steinbeck and covalent bonding, but even he could see the inconsistency here. The building was abandoned, lacking any form of character or future enterprise, yet the window was fixed. Why? Granted, he hadn’t been there for a few months – having only passed it in the case of visiting a friend from this area or using the neighbouring grassland for football – but how had it been addressed and fixed so recently? It seemed uncanny. Unbelievable, even. But as much as he despised the curve ball, it had happened, and Harrison had to do something. The sky was blackening, and the wind was getting colder and colder with every breathe of the approaching night. The hunting moon would find him soon, so he had to think. Then the worst happened. “Harrison? Harrison, are you here?” The boy froze. A woman was shouting from the streets behind him but, as he turned in the near darkness, there was no one in sight. The island of light beneath the distant lamppost was empty, revealing nothing but the pavement and curb beneath it. Harrison thought he recognised the voice, but he was too alarmed to consider who it could be. It was so distant, and he had to hurry. His head shot to the glass. The batting waves of panic harassed him, but he put all of his conscious effort into repelling their pull and thinking rationally. What could he do? What could he try? Then he was interrupted again by the woman’s calling, this time joined by a deeper and louder set of vocals. “Harrison!” his mother and father called together. It was an unmistakeable harmony. Before long, he could see their small bodies rising out of the sea of black and stepping into the lamppost light. There was no stopping the panic now. How did they know he was here? There was no way this could be happening. Harrison squinted his eyes as they drew closer under the dome of yellow light, and it became ever clearer that the tiny figures were his parents. The taller figure trudged mercilessly closer from the street, unfazed by the world of black before it. Behind, a pair of huge, square glasses glistened beneath the streetlight. Mum. Harrison rapidly assessed what lay around him. A stick, scattered litter, a rock. He grabbed the rock and did the only thing he could think of that would help him in getting some glass. Without any further consideration, he threw the rock as hard as he possibly could at the window, causing it to shatter and split into a thousand pieces. Between the calls of his name, like small marks of punctuation, he could hear the twinkling sound of falling glass. Although he couldn’t see very well in the swelling darkness, Harrison thought about where the pool of glass had gathered before and approached. He closed his eyes (although there was little point in such blackness) and he saw the blazing brightness of that summer day, the tall drunk ahead of him in the queue, the window. Startled muttering slithered through the night, and Harrison quickly knelt down to where he thought the pile would be and began assessing the individual fragments he had created. Most of it was useless grains of the former pane, but his blind hands knew something more significant sat amongst the rubble. It was like he was feeling a variety of rocks from another planet, each a different size and composition, trying to figure out what alien characteristics they possessed. The sound of feet hitting the hard grass rose behind him and the incessant repetition of Harrison’s name began to feel like it was coming from the world’s most annoying alarm clock. He wanted to smash it to pieces, but instead his hands moved faster to feel out his prize. Ouch! Damn! Ow! The material fought back like a miniature army, scratching and pricking Harrison’s smooth fingertips, but he couldn’t stop. He might have been bleeding, he had no way of telling, but he needed that glass. The approaching footsteps and retreating sun demanded he quicken his pace. At long last he found a piece. He held it carefully in his stinging hands, trying to judge what it looked like without cutting one of his fingers off. It was long enough, as best as he could tell, and there was no denying it was sharp. There was no way of knowing whether there were any compromising cracks or whether the shape was adequate for its unknown purpose. That would have been impossible to deduce even if it wasn’t dark, so Harrison quit trying. Gently trying to avoid snapping it in his grasp, he stood up, but couldn’t run away. Before he could even entertain an escape, his father was grabbing his shoulders and spinning him around to face him. The glass tumbled to the ground and clattered a few yards into the dull evening light, lost. “No!” Harrison screamed. “Harrison! Harrison, stop! What is going on?!” Sylvia caught up to her husband and cried out in heavy, gasping breathes. “Harri! Oh my god, thank the Lord you are okay! Why are you out here? We’ve been worried sick!” But Harrison didn’t hear a word. He shook off his father’s grip and plunged into the dark. He scanned the ground with his feeling hands, praying that a sharp point or edge met him, but nothing did. Instead, he felt the arm of his father wrap around his stomach and rip him from the ground. “Be careful, Rod,” Sylvia whimpered. “Oh, Harrison, thank God you’re okay!” She was delirious with relief, but I can assure you, God was not listening. “Easy, Harrison. Easy!” Rodney tried his best to walk back towards the light of the street but his son’s manic kicking was proving too much to handle. It was like trying to control a lit firework in a bottle, and it quickly got out of hand. “Harrison! Please will you—” The heel of the boy’s right foot met Rodney’s teeth with immense power, and he let out a blunt cry of pain. The strike caught him off guard, largely thanks to the low light, and he stumbled to a stop. Not even realising (or caring about) what he had done, Harrison quickly looked to take advantage. He began rapidly kicking again and shaking his entire body like a terrified fish. Rodney dropped him, and Harrison sprinted back to where he thought the glass was as soon as his feet hit the grass. As he searched, his father regained his balance and began drawing nearer again. “For God sake, Harrison! What the hell was that?!” “Rodney, please!” “He’s just kicked me in the face, Sylvia! What am I supposed to do? This has gone on long enough!” The hurt bled from his words and complicated his rage. His steps were now multipurposed, no longer taken with mere irritation at his son’s careless galivanting, but with a blend of that and fiery revenge. Harrison’s belligerence would go on no longer. Rodney stomped towards his son’s silhouette but soon lost him in the confusing shadows. The whispers of the grass gave him a loose indication as to where to look, but his aging eyes were struggling to determine the boy’s body from the rest of the colourless world. He thought he found him again but stepped into empty space. He was the bull, the taunting darkness his infuriating matador. “Harrison! Come here now!” He got no reply. A few metres away from his growling father, Harrison felt like he was getting close. Rather than a harrowing pedal on the pressure, he used the shouting and screaming as a twisted incentive which electrified his body and quickened his hands. The old man could keep hollering and crying like a little girl all he wanted. Once Harrison found this piece of glass, he was going to be free of his aggressive and hurtful brute of a dad and the pain would finally be over. This glass would be the key to a tranquil life, free from the bruises, cuts and grazes of that animal. Under the powerful percussion of his father’s booming voice was the gentle weeping of his mother, but that also added to Harrison’s thrill. Fear not, mum. This glass was going to save everyone, and these tears will be your last. Wait and you’ll see! Once this glass is found, then you’ll see! Harrison’s hand hit a spiked blade and instantly knew what he had found. He picked up the glass and tucked it gently between his body and arm as to not cut himself. There was no time to delicately assess its body this time, and Harrison knew there was nothing to do but run. As he set off, he heard his father speak from a few feet in front of him. By now, the field was almost pitch black. “Harrison, are you there? Harrison, please stop this. Your mother, she’s…this isn’t right, son.” The boy paused before his father’s words. He had been lectured by his father more times than he could remember in his short but troubled life. They were angry, demeaning speeches, often accompanied by a firm hand on his small shoulder or a set of blazing eyes positioned directly in front of his own tearful pair. The display was also often followed by an encore of quick hurt, depending on the scale of his father’s displease. It could range from a sharp smack on the bottom to a push into a wall or chair if he was truly furious, just like on that horrible day on the field. But the words Harrison heard now were different. They did not fire from the cannon of his father’s mouth and fly at dangerous speed, nor was their content vulgar and cripplingly patronising. It was like someone had swapped the pistol for the crop hose, and now Rodney’s speech was gliding over and setting into his son’s head, planting seeds. It held a confusing tone, but Harrison resisted as best he could. “Listen, son,” Rodney said. “I don’t know what this is about, but me and your mother just want you to come home. We…we can talk about whatever it is that’s the matter. I promise.” Harrison’s nerve swayed. Never (and I can confirm this one) had his father offered to talk like this. It was a trick, a vicious enticement to get him back into his clutches, but then Harrison felt his grip of the glass shard loosen. The words were slipping into his ears and manoeuvring their way south, unlocking his body’s aches and tensions like a warm, paternal key. His dad was finally offering the hand he had always been denied, and somewhere in the darkness it was being extended physically. Muscles relaxed, and the flower of Harrison’s palm threatened to blossom. If the world was frozen at this point in time, the relationship between Harrison and his father may have found the material to rebuild, to grow. The seed could have taken to the soil of the boy’s mind, and upon the next rise of the sun it could have been nurtured to health. A bond might have sprung, reaching higher and rooting deeper with every passing day of conversation and quality time. They may have discovered that they both missed the car and the spiritual gravity of those weekend afternoons. Maybe they would have bought a new car – not electric, of course – and got to work, sharing the labour this time around. A new master and apprentice; teaching and learning long into Harrison’s teen years, rolling so far from their troubled past that it was no longer visible in the rear-view mirror. Working on his own car – an adult by then, his father grey but as enthusiastic as ever – Harrison might have even told him all about the Wall and its promise, and they might have laughed together, embraced, and shared a tear over their regrets. Whether it was right or just a fantasy, the runway to salvation was ready and waiting for them. But alas, as you and I both know, time waits for no one. The next second changed everything. Sylvia shouted from somewhere in the near distance, “Harrison, we love you, come back! Please, Harri, come on. Come back, please, come back!” “Shut the fuck up, Sylvia!” Rodney screamed. “I am handling this!” “Don’t shout at her!” Harrison screamed in return. He charged at his father and punched him in the only place he knew would generate enough pain to cripple his movement. His fist flew straight into his father’s groin, and he heard the violent exhalation of air as the large body keeled over. But Harrison didn’t stop running after that. Tumbling faster and faster into the black, he ignored his mother’s screaming and thought of nothing but the feeling of the glass in his hand and the lamppost in the distance. Harrison ran as fast as he could, and he didn’t look back when he eventually came to the lamppost and its island. The Wall was a vast and trying voyage away, and Harrison was already late. Very, very late.
The Machine The green of the shrubbery drained into ubiquitous black as evening slipped into night. It had not been a dry week by any means when Harrison had discovered the Wall, but that did not stop the evening of their final encounter from unleashing a downpour that even the roof of Peter’s Wood could not fight against. None of the mortals below could see the clustering clouds as they formed into shadowy blocks in the sky, but it did not take long for them to hear their snarls. The thunder began to crack as Harrison navigated the main roads, and by the time he arrived at Peter’s Wood, the artillery had begun its viscous barrage. The floor beneath the usually solid canopy of the forest was damp and muddy as the boy trudged along the path, and the dark leaves around him danced under the machine gun fire of rain droplets. Puddles were wide and countless, and the whipping wind slithered through the trees in an unrelenting surge. Still, Harrison fought on to run and jump over the obstacles before him. Water was everywhere, delaying from below and battering from above, but he eventually arrived at the right area of shrubbery and wasted no time in diving between its bushes. The sound of the waterfall was muted by the falling heavens, but Harrison was now confident in its whereabouts. At this stage, all of them were. The hop down onto the neatly trimmed lawn was calculated and slow. The glass still hugged Harrison’s side and, despite how late he was, he didn’t want to end up puncturing an organ with its sharp edge. He got one foot steadily placed before he leapt down, and when he had both securely set, he pulled the glass out. Unlike the previous times he had visited Wally, Harrison could barely see anything. The only source of light was a single sword of moonlight that cut through the green ceiling and illuminated the very base of the waterfall. Harrison hadn’t noticed the hole above him until now but, then again, why would he? He had never been here at night. It was like someone had cut it just for this occasion, and it worked a treat. The dull line twinkled on the still pool at the foot of the tumbling water and brightened the edges of its cascading flow. It was enough for Harrison to get his bearings, and it somehow made it all feel even more surreal than usual. The world outside was pitch black and consumed with the storm, but here, even though the rain still forced its way through, at least he could see it. He existed in a protected pocket of the world, constituting its own universe of time and space. # Harrison was grateful, for this was probably exactly what the Wall could do. With its power, it could change the world around it and create whatever it deemed necessary. He felt excited as he looked down at the glass in his hand, which now shone under the low light. He could not quite see his reflection, but that was ultimately a good thing. Children at this point should never see themselves. It would destroy them. Harrison’s eyes were bloodshot and raw around the edges, and the rest of his body was a murky affair. Dirt covered his school trousers, and muddy handprints decorated the points where his father had tried to seize him. On his hands, dry brown had fused with the hellish red of his own blood, sourced from the cuts he endured as he had searched for the glass. They were dead man hands, and like I say, if he had seen them himself, Harrison would have thought they belonged to a corpse. “Wally!” he shouted. His voice croaked and fell flat in the busy air. The rain riddled the ground and leaves, and it was like the entire forest was chanting. The choir rose and rose in volume, but the boy fought to make himself heard. “Wally! Wally!” A pair of birds snapped from a nearby branch. The distant thud of thunder broke from above the canopy like a giant knocking on the forest roof, demanding to be let in. Harrison thought of his father. Would his parents have tried to follow him, or would they now be at home, reporting their missing son to the police? Either way, someone must be coming. The excitement in Harrison’s bones became contaminated with the familiar zing of fear. He screamed again, forcing all of his breathe into a long, stretching bellow, but still nothing responded. He recalled the difficulty of getting the Wall to respond on the other visits, but he was now in no mood for theatrics. Every wasted second was a cluster of steps taken towards him by those out looking for him. His mum, his dad, the police maybe. But what if it wasn’t a game? He had been expected by sundown, so what if Wally had left, transported himself to another part of the world and given up on him? This really got him worried, and Harrison quickly started making his way towards the waterfall, begging for some recognition. His free palm slapped the stone face as his voice punched its way through the relentless downpour. He pleaded with the Wall, with anything that was out there, to help him. He needed the Wall. He was running out of time. “It’s me, Harrison!” the boy screamed. That was his final throw of the dice. A sharp rustling of leaves came from behind him, but he shrugged it off as the pushing and shoving of the storm. The previously still ceiling was now beginning to sway, and the shrubbery to his sides was cracking and crunching with the heavy raindrops. Thunder boomed far away once more, and a small animal of some kind scurried along the ground. When the voice finally came, Harrison thought he might cry. “Harrison?” the Wall said. The boy placed his hand on the rock. “Yes! Yes, Wally! It’s me!” He spat the rain from his lips, and drops began rolling down his forehead. It was really breaking through the treeline now. “I have the glass! It’s what you asked for, but I’m really going to need the machine now! I hit my dad, and I’m going to be in a lot of trouble when I go home! Wally! Wally, what do I do? Do you need it in the water? Wally! Wally!” The voice spoke as calmly as it could whilst still managing to break through the competing noise. “Yes! Yes! Place it in my pool, Harrison!” The boy quickly turned and bent down, slipping the glass into the water. Tiny geysers of water cluttered the pool’s surface as the rain droplets plonked into it, but the glass sliced amongst them as if it were not even solid. Once underneath, it sat and blended into invisibility, and Harrison quickly lost sight of it in the dark liquid. “It’s in! It’s in!” The voice boomed, and Wally sounded different. More alive. “Can you feel it, Harrison? My friend, can you sense what is happening?” Lightning flashed beyond the small hole in the leaves, and Harrison felt his spirit rise. This was magic. Actual, real-life magic. He cheered and the voice spoke again. “Harrison, my friend. I must ask you to leave me for a moment. I must now craft the machine!” “Leave?” The uplift ceased. “Why do I need to leave?” “Do you not see, my friend? I must craft the machine! I cannot do it before you, for I do not wish for any harm to come to you. Trust me on this, Harrison. It will take just a few moments. That’s all.” The boy acquiesced. “Alright, well…where am I supposed to go?” “Just step away a moment. To the path, perhaps. I will call you when it is finished, and then the world shall be yours!” Harrison did as he was told and trudged up the slippery trail, cautiously popping out onto the path. No one was in sight, although he couldn’t see much at all now in the darkness. He leant up against a nearby tree and waited, as though at a bus stop waiting for the morning commute. He trained his eyes to look forward and away from the Wall’s construction, busying his mind with keeping watch. If someone were to come strolling up the path, either searching for him or completely unaware, he would need to hide. It was pitch black and the air was getting colder, so if someone found a young boy just lingering in the woods out in the rain, they might have some questions. With his eyes switching between all the possible sight lines, Harrison felt proud of himself. It was a clever consideration in such an immense moment, and as he scanned the black for any anomalous outlines, he felt like a grown up. The world was gloomy and wet, and yet here he was, standing alone, looking after himself. No silent angel or watchful guardian looked over him. All that surrounded was the pantheon of oaks, stoically minding their own business. Their branched hands waved in the brisk waves of the wind as though batting away evil spirits, but that was all in the boy’s head. When the storm passed and the winds simmered into uninteresting breezes, the gentle motion would stop, yet the evil would remain. “Harrison!” He sprung to his feet and darted down the trail. As he dropped onto the lawn for the final time, Harrison looked around and assessed what had changed in his absence, and he couldn’t help but feel disappointed. There was no majestic chariot waiting to take him away or glowing sword sticking out of the ground. His analysis deemed the neat lawn and the falling water to be perfectly identical to its former state. “Wally, wh-where is the machine?” The tumbling water roared as the rain above eased. It was still thumping all around him, but its wild strength had diminished, and it had a strange effect on the scene at play. The tamed downpour lured Harrison’s attention to the cold which had snook its way into the world. He could now see the clouds breathe gliding into the night from his agape mouth, and the hairs on his arms now resembled the army of trees around him. “The machine,” the Wall said, “is right in front of you. Look into my pool and you shall see it.” The voice was serene in its composure, casting that familiar bubble of protection around its young visitor, though its film was a little thinner this time. It was as though the Wall were unaware of the rain, the wind, the cold, the pressure of the moment, the significance of Harrison’s situation. Either it did not care, or it was nestled comfortably within its own confidence in the machine’s efficiency, and so felt no need to consider such irrelevant variables. I know which one it was, but I shall leave that for you to discover. It will not be long now. Harrison approached the pool, squinting to decipher what the object was that lay beneath the surface. The pale moonlight strip met the twinkling ripples but dove no deeper, and the boy quickly realised that he would have to put his hand in to grab it. Invisible frost clutched his quivering fingers as he lowered them towards the pool. It felt like an electric shock as the tips graced the surface. It instantly became clear to him that speed was the best option, so he quickly thrust his hand downwards. He felt the handle of the machine immediately. It was oddly familiar, like Harrison had somehow held it before. Without focussing on its texture and shape for too long, he ripped the machine out from the water and held it out before him as the freezing water dripping from his shaking hand. Sharp, drastic breathes rushed in and out of Harrison’s mouth, but he soon found it impossible to stand still. The machine was relegated to an afterthought as he frantically wafted the water from his arm and tucked it into his body in an attempt to dry it. But once he had finished, a feeling of disdain clogged his mind. What he held made no sense to his erratic, shaking body. The reason for the handle’s recognisable texture was obvious from the second the thin strip of moonlight struck its wet surface. It was the wooden bar. Harrison couldn’t believe his eyes at first, but it was definitely the same piece of wood that he had supplied to the Wall. It was the same shape and felt just as heavy, but there was one thing different. Around the top half of its body, a thin piece of string was wrapped and tied tight. Was this the same string that he had asked his mum for? He wasn’t one hundred percent sure, as he couldn’t deduce its length in the poor light, but it would make sense. Same wood, same string, same… “Wally, I don’t…” Harrison’s voice fell away. He didn’t understand. The string was wound so tightly around the top of the wooden bar that it secured within it a long, sharp material. Some of this mysterious component lay beneath the string as to secure it, but the rest stuck out, fixed in place. The boy wanted to punch and scream at his inability to see what he held in his hand. He focused and stared, but to no avail. In a frustrated and thoughtless bid to find out, Harrison placed his hand onto the material and slid it gently down its spine, and that proved to be enough. A flash of pain sizzled his skin and he instantly pulled away. It was the glass! “Wally, it’s—” “Yes, Harrison!” the voice bellowed. “I have used your bravely collected pieces to assemble a device that will answer all of your sorrowful woes and desires! Your quest has been arduous and strained, and yet here we stand. You have your reward, and you shall soon have your prize. Can you feel its power? Do you sense what you are to do with it?” “No, I…” The segments of the device were like old friends, strangely alien despite their identifiable appearance. Harrison felt stupid. “Wally, I don’t understand!” The voice’s words surged with emphatic volume, and all competition with the storm was obliterated. Now the voice and Mother Nature joined forces and unleashed a coalition of bombarding noise and vibration that rose to the forest roof and thundered back down again. The wind flew and the voice’s words rode it like a berserk warrior into battle, unstoppable and engulfed in red mist. “Harrison, you fool! Do you not wish for your father to cease his demonic reign of violence and selfishness!” The wind picked up and Harrison felt like he was going to be whisked up and suddenly flung into the waterfall. “Do you not want to save your mother from the inevitable, reoccurring bruise of your father’s hand!” A thud of thunder smacked the black sky above. “You say you don’t understand, but Harrison…I think you do!” The boy looked down at what lay in his hands, the offensive wind advancing in long, aggressive strides against his face. The rain flooded down as if dropped from a divine bucket. “Harrison, you need to take this machine and plunge it into your father’s heart! Kill him! Kill him, Harrison, and rid your life of vile, vile ways! Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!” The plug was pulled, and the world began to swirl. Harrison stepped back, disorientated and lost. It was collapsing, all of it, and the lightless depth of the sky was suddenly around him, hugging his shoulders and legs, smothering him. A cloud passed over the moon, and the beam of light was snapped. “Wally, I…I can’t do that!” The muscles in Harrison’s face contracted and his eyes threatened tears. “But you must!” the Wall bellowed. “It is the only way; it is what we have been working towards!” The flimsy assemblance of scrap material felt pathetic in Harrison’s small hand, yet unforgivingly heavy at the same time. “But I can’t kill him! I…Wally, I thought this was magic! Real magic! I…” The tears came now, and the boy’s lips began to shudder in the wailing storm. The rolling droplets left lines of ice down his cheeks. “You said this was magic!” “Oh, but it is, Harrison! Can’t you see? Puncturing the heart of that rancid devil of a man and watching the blood trickle from the wound will do things that no wand or genie ever could. Plunge it and twist it, right above the solar plexus, and see the life drain from his body with passing second. Push it further, sending him to the floor. Yank it out and thrust it into his body again, counting how many times you can make him scream before his final breathe secretes from his pathetic lungs! Lacerate the skin until its nothing but a suit of torn muscle and out-sticking bone. Do it, Harrison! It is my machine, it is our machine, and you must now use it! Use it! Kill him! Kill him!” “No!” Harrison thrust the blade onto the ground. Blood soared around his body, thumping now more in rage than upset. Rather than plunging into a belly of dirt, the fickle machine thumped against the solid surface and fell apart. The glass popped from its hold; the string snapped under the pressure of the blade and unwound from its host; the wooden block bounced and gave out a deep knock as it met the ground. In the pitch black, Harrison could make out the various pieces of the pathetic contraption, and hysteric anger erupted from within him. The fact that he was not standing on real grass, and instead cheap AstroTurf, meant nothing. He didn’t even notice. If he had, maybe he would have had a chance to run away and alert someone as to what had happened to him. Maybe he could have stopped the cycle – doing what I really ought to, I suppose – and saved countless others. But he didn’t. It was dark, wet, and he was a child. Just like the rest. “So, all this time I’ve just been making a knife?!” the boy roared. Never in his short life had he experienced such untainted fury. Hatred bubbled, sizzled, and popped within his every limb, and he had no idea how to process or manage any of it. But it wasn’t just the wrath of being deceived that fuelled his words. He had hit his father, lied to his mother, stolen from Mr Potter. The boy he was had been abandoned, and the mask of a servant had been obscuring his face for nothing. When his parents eventually came to search Peter’s Wood, likely accompanied by a search party, and found their boy, what would they see? A dirty criminal who had completely lost their respect and love, hiding away in the wild like the animal he was, and they certainly wouldn’t hear the voice coming to his defence. He would leave, sit silently like a startled rat, and leave Harrison all alone. He hated Wally in that moment, more than he had ever experienced towards his father. “Wally, why?! Why have you let me do this?! This isn’t magic! What in the world am I going to do?!” The Wall did not answer. “Answer me, Wally!” Harrison screamed. The storm stood no chance of muffling him. “Wally, I need you to fix this! Make a better machine, please! Make me something that can get me out of this! I need you to! Wally! Wally! Wally!” Harrison did not accept the silence. He dropped and ripped the pieces up from the machine from the ground, launching them at the rock face. The glass shattered under the force; the wooden bar clanged and flew into the vegetation, disturbing the dense leaves. The string did nothing, as you would expect, and this lack of satisfaction compelled Harrison to step forward and approach the waterfall. He let out a barbaric shriek and punched the flat wall of stone. The bones of his knuckles clicked, sending his entire hand numb from the blunt impact, but he didn’t care. He opted for a change in tactic and began kicking at the base of the waterfall over and over again like a shot horse, ignoring the freezing touch of the tumbling water. He demanded at the top of his voice for a response. “Answer me! “Answer me! “Answer me!” Blood spilt from the cuts on his knuckles. He slapped and smacked the rock, he banged and boomed, he tried to beat the words out of the inanimate formation. There is a popular phrase about trying to get blood out of a stone, and I had never understood it until that night. Frustration built with horrific speed, and it took only seconds for the tears and the screams to merge into an ear-blistering whine of panic and hysteria. The boy was collapsing, his sense of awareness diving deeper and deeper below the surface. If he were watching himself from, say, the position I am, he would not even recognise himself. Red covered his hands and dried into the pores of his skin, and his feet were numb from the relentless kicking. Raindrops and tears camouflaged one another, and his face was a rageful rouge. “Wally! “Wally” “Please!” Harrison thrust a blind fist into the waterfall itself, and then the mirage began to shatter. As his knuckles smashed through the curtain of water, he was struck by the fact that his hand had not met the blunt denial of the rock face on the other side. Instead, it had slipped into a gap behind the water, a small crevice of some kind hiding behind the screen of liquid. Was this where Wally’s heart was? Where his brain was? The neurons in Harrison’s brain fired out every imaginable explanation as his freezing hands felt around with revitalised energy. He had no idea what he was looking for, but that didn’t matter. Something soon found him. At first, Harrison thought he had touched some kind of animal, and he pulled his hand from the hole and shook it wildly. After realising that there was nothing there, he reached in again, and this time felt what he had initially thought to be a body with a bit more care. The adrenaline racing around his body was still lightning fast, but his mind was channelling it into focus. The peculiar item behind the waterfall had a smooth, flat surface like the bonnet of a car. It was a box, he could tell that much, but there were no features to decipher what exactly it was supposed to do or why it was placed there. Was this Wally? Harrison didn’t think so, but as his fingers slipped down to its face, his conviction dried. Cylinders and switches littered the front of the item, sticking out in varying directions like the features of a robotic face. Unwilling to imagine any longer, he gripped and tore the item from the hole. The mysterious item came easily from its perch, but it did not come alone. Harrison ducked as something came flying down from above, and the forest came alive in a symphony of chaos as heavy objects fell and smashed onto the grass behind him. It was like an aeroplane was breaking through the canopy above, but the boy was not crushed or killed. When Harrison opened his eyes, all he saw were two large, rectangular speakers, lying cracked and chipped on the tidy lawn. Glancing up above the waterfall, he saw from the flattened grass that they had fallen from above him when he pulled the strange item from the hole. Long, thin wires poked out from the backs of the speakers, extending from their bodies like black, rubber snakes. The wire of each speaker was long and gangly, but they came together in what seemed to be a small device lying on the ground between them. From what he knew from his design classes at school, Harrison could tell that it was a receiver of some kind, designed for sending radio signals and messages. But why would there be radio equipment in Peter’s Wood? Who would want to send a message out here? “Wally?” The night was not listening. Harrison stepped forward in the empty world. Nothing existed except himself, the objects, and the rain. Descending to one knee, he attempted to twist one of the large speakers, but it was incredibly heavy for his small, tired body to haul. He settled for moving around it instead, and when he did, he saw its large, gaping face staring back at him. His father had enormous speakers just like this in his study room, mostly used for blasting the radio on Sunday mornings when he was working on the computer. His father’s had varnished wooden sides, but these speakers were jet black. The circular diaphragm looked back at the boy like an enormous eye, unblinking behind its netting cover. The raindrops made the inanimate object look as though it was crying. Harrison felt like joining it. This couldn’t be Wally. It wasn’t possible. He had promised so much. He shuffled along the damp grass to the small box he had dropped amidst the panic. It was upside down, surrounded by its bigger brethren, and Harrison feared he had broken it. He had yanked it through the waterfall, soaking it in the process, and the rain was now relentlessly pelting its metal body. There was no one around to tell him off or express any anger at its potentially damaged state, but he was anxious all the same. It’s a thing with children. Fear is just in their nature. The boy’s frozen hands lifted it from the ground and just about managed to turn it the right way around. His fingers were sending so little information to his brain that Harrison could no longer feel the rain thumping onto his bare skin. He examined what he could about the receiver, hoping it still worked. For what purpose, he didn’t know. The buttons meant nothing to him, nor did the small white letters accompanying them. AM. FM. Had he seen those letters in the car before? He searched his mind, wishing something from that stupid design class would come back to him now, but nothing arrived except for the banging cry to go home and go to sleep in his warm, dry bed. Droplets exploded upon the receiver’s roof, thumping the metal like a rapid, ominous drumroll. A small black dial stuck out from the centre of the box and Harrison directed his stiff fingers towards it, hoping he could learn more about the device that way. They were like chopsticks in how senseless and rigid they were, and he could neither experience the texture of the dial nor move it in the exact way he intended. The best he could manage was connecting the tip of his index finger to the coarse outer layer of the dial and poking it until it spun around. On his first attempt the dial spun, and as it moved, a sound erupted from the speakers like a car tail-spinning on a dry summer road. The screech was intense, but then came a voice. “…and that’s what I’m saying, Jessica. If the government refuse to address the question that the Labour Party – and let’s be honest the rest of the country are asking – then the public have every right to wonder why the Transport Minister was allowed to…” Harrison threw his head to the thin trail; certain a group of adults had found him. The voice was so close and so clear that the speaker could be no more than a few metres from him. The man continued, explaining something the boy couldn’t understand, but nobody approached. The forest was as still as it had been before, and then Harrison realised that the voice was not even coming from the real world at all, but from the large speakers beside him. Embarrassment rose but was swiftly beaten down by an overpowering force of curiosity. He moved the dial again. “…that was a good one, wasn’t it? Always been one of my favourites, anyway. Stay right here, folks, because we’ll be playing more tunes like that all night long, only on—” And then again. “…and he has to start scoring! He cost the club sixty-four million, Terry, am I the only one that expects more from him?” And once more. “…I…get what you’re saying, Anna, I do, but the figures! Your team couldn’t sell as much as the other team and their profits were almost triple of what your team generated. I’m sorry but, for that reason, you’re—" Harrison moved the dial a final time but only static came through. Empty noise filled the space, but the voices still rang in his head. Clear, loud, realistic. They had sounded like they were right next to him, speaking to him as though just from the other side of the pool. They sounded just as clear as Wally had. “Wally? Are you actually here?” The forest answered. A bush, somewhat off in the distance behind where Harrison was kneeling, parted down the middle. The boy turned at the noise and trembled at what he saw. What had he hoped for? Wally, shining in the moonlight, gliding through the air with a halo and wings? Possibly. His school did fill his head with such images, but no angel had come for him. Instead, it was something more down to earth. Gut-wrenchingly real. A man stood in the hazy distance. Alone. His tall, grey silhouette broke out like a blooming tree from the general foliage beneath and just stood there, completely still in the falling rain and rising mist. Harrison stood up. The body was nude, male in anatomy, and shrouded in the dark of the night. A wide chest floated in fog, a stem of rigid abdominals beneath. It looked like a statue, and yet perfectly human except for the fact there was no face atop its shoulders. Where Harrison expected to see a nose, chin, and skull indents to signify the presence of eyes behind the veil of darkness, a set of semi-circle beacons glowed out into the darkness. Yellow in colour, modest in brightness. They neither succumbed to the blackness nor brought the world into visible colour. They just hovered there. Shining enough to see, shining enough to be seen. It was like a pair of hands were over Harrison’s ears, the static from the speaker numbing the world around him. Lightning cracked across the sky, flashing down to the world below, but no thunder followed. The universe hung in suspension. Timeless, motionless. All movement belonged to the lightning as it flashed the scene into the theatre of existence. The wind held its breath. The man did not move, and neither did Harrison. The spell lifted, and an eruption of thunder threatened to crack the pane of the world. Harrison winced and went to cover his ears, but his eyes stopped him. Just as the first had, and with startling similarity in its movement, another figure sprouted from a bush. It assumed the exact same posture and stillness as its predecessor. It was naked, just the same, and shared a similarly impressive physique. Again, there was no face, and its stillness was harrowing. Two more amber eyes glistened. Harrison didn’t know whether it was just a trick of the light, but both of the figures seemed incredibly pale. He suddenly questioned whether he was in a dream. Dread cemented his body to the spot, and he didn’t think he could scream even if he wanted to. His throat was dry and stale, and if he screamed, he knew nothing would come out but a dusty croak. The bone-coloured bodies continued to linger, unmoving and seemingly unmotivated to. They were part of the forest, another set of trunks like all the rest. But those eyes; they were not from this forest, and Harrison knew that they did not belong. They were opaque, pupil-less eyes: they did not belong to a living being. Character, instinct, reaction – they looked devoid of them all. They were hollow. Whether there was a difference between the first body and the second, Harrison could not tell. It was as though the same muscular form had been copied and pasted, and there was nothing of the face within view to examine. They were both just out of reach for a decent visual analysis, and even if they were, Harrison’s eyes may not have been capable of conducting one. He was tired, betrayed, confused. All he could focus on was the four yellow eyes now staring at him, and his own pair were beginning to dry in their stationary glare. His brain was slipping from its chair too. Fear, as sharp an emotion as it is, was losing its venom. Fatigue was beginning to grease the sides and help it slip from its perch. But then terror found its footing once again. Another body appeared. Then another. And then another. Harrison gasped and almost choked on his own breath. A galaxy of amber now levitated before him, resting upon a series of organic scaffolding, nude in the chilly night air. But there was no sun in this universe. No sun, no planets, no God. There was nothing but the cold, the rain, and the eyes. Harrison thought he couldn’t scream, but that idea was quickly dispelled. I can tell you for a fact, that boy could scream. I heard it myself. The bodies ran towards him.
The Story Hello, and welcome to the regional news at 10. I’m Tom Davidson. Our top story tonight: local police have pledged to double their efforts tonight after yet another child has been discovered dead in Peter’s Wood. Harrison Little is the thirteenth child to go missing and the sixth to be found dead by police in the last twelve months. He was found in the early hours of this morning, naked and with several stab wounds. Police Chief Michael Jacobson, also father of Courtney Jacobson who disappeared earlier this year, says he will not rest until the killer is found. “I have said it before, and I will keep saying it until the individual or individuals responsible are brought to justice: these are the most disgusting and perverted acts of evil I have ever encountered, and my colleagues and I will not stop our investigation until the families affected are given the answers that they deserve. My wife and I have never healed from Courtney’s disappearance and…and we can’t…I’m sorry. And we can’t imagine how the parents of Harrison Little must feel. I send them my thoughts and prayers, as well as my complete and unwavering determination to apprehend and punish those responsible.” Harrison’s father, Rodney Little, says that he and his wife, Sylvia, are devastated. Some viewers may find the following clip distressing. “Sylvia and I are…crushed, obviously. I…I…I can’t believe it. Harrison was our b-boy. He was such a good kid, and he was only just finding himself in this world. We just can’t take it in yet. It doesn’t feel real. I just wish I could tell him that I love him.” “Harrison was my little baby! Rod and I wanted the best for him and…and we just want him to know that we will always love him. We struggled as parents but…but we’re going to keep praying for him and telling him that we love him. We…oh it’s just so much to take on. We just love and miss him so much.” Very moving words there from Sylvia Little. Of course, we will keep you updated with how the story develops, and everyone here at Local News will certainly be praying for little Harrison. Now, are you struggling to get the most out of your supermarket loyalty card? Well, it seems that many people in our area are finding it hard to know what their loyalty cards even do, so local grocer Kathy Jenkins has started an online help service to lend support when it comes to getting more bang for your buck. Our reporter Phil Gilmore has the story. The End