This is my first attempt at a story. I'd love to hear some feedback at

This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons alive or dead are purely coincidental. All the usual disclaimers apply.

Chapter 6: Encounters

"Owww!" My arm felt heavy and my muscles ached as I groped for my cell phone to stop that damn noise. I wish I hadn't set the alarm now. Dad would have got me up sooner or later. I squinted in the direction of my bedside cabinet with blurry eyes and, locating the offending object, managed to shut it up with a slap.

I slumped back onto my pillow and, with a relieved sigh, rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Even those small movements felt like torture. I hoped that Dad didn't want any more of those boxes moved today because I didn't think I'd have the strength for it. Maybe a hot shower would help but, then again, that would involve moving from my comfortable bed. I groaned inwardly and forced myself to sit up and slid my legs over the edge of mattress. The floorboards felt refreshingly cool against my bare soles and I wiggled my toes as I sat contemplating the 10 feet or so to the bathroom door. Biting the bullet, I decided to get it over with and pushed myself off the bed. Once I was stood up though it didn't feel quite as bad as I thought it would so I walked slowly to the bathroom. Once I had gotten myself under the steaming shower spray I relaxed a little and let the hot water do its thing to sooth my aches and pains.

Fifteen minutes later I emerged feeling much more ready to face the day. As I finished toweling myself dry I thought about the night before and that weird tapping at the window. I'd have to check the ground under my window for any small stones or other objects that could have been used. What if it was that kid from next door playing a trick on me? But why would he do that? He doesn't even know me. I really didn't want to have any problems with people, I've only just gotten here for Pete's sake.

I finished getting dressed and opened both sets of curtains to let in some natural light. Before I headed downstairs I stopped in the doorway and listened for any sound of activity from Dad. I couldn't hear him in his room or downstairs so I wasn't sure if he was up and about yet or not. At least I wasn't greeted by the aroma of bacon and eggs this morning, I didn't think I could stomach that two days in a row. I'd made sure that we put a couple of boxes of cereal into the shopping cart yesterday so I'd have some options. Leaving my bedroom door ajar, so that Dad would see that I was up if he was still upstairs, I went down to the kitchen.

It was empty so I fixed myself some cereal and a glass of OJ. Sitting at the kitchen island I slowly munched through my bowl of Cheerios. When I had finished and was putting my empty bowl in the sink I heard the sound of a door closing coming from upstairs and thought to myself 'Well, that answers that question'. I crossed to the kitchen door in time to meet Dad as he descended the last few stairs.

"'Morning. What time do you call this?" I joked, miming looking at a watch to emphasize the point.

"Hah! Bloody cheek!" Dad shot back as I ducked his playful swipe at my head. "Have you eaten yet?" He asked walking past me into the kitchen.

"Yes thanks, I had some Cheerios." I said following him back into the room.

"Hmmm, cereal sounds like just the ticket this morning." He said taking a bowl from the cupboard and fixing himself some Cornflakes. "Any idea what you want to do today?"

I took a seat at the island again. "No, not really. If you don't mind though I'll pass on moving those last few boxes for today, I'm still a little sore from yesterday." I said as I rubbed my arms.

He smiled at me. "Hehehe, a little hard work never hurt anybody. But there's only a couple left so they can wait until you're feeling up to it." He said much to my relief.

"Thanks Dad." I smiled back at him.

"You know, I always found that the best cure for aches and pains is a long walk in the fresh air." He said pointing his spoon a me. "Why don't you go for a walk around the paddock? It'll help you get a feel for the area too as you can see most of the village from the top corner."

I nodded at his suggestion but didn't commit myself. I didn't know if I really wanted to go wandering around in some muddy field. Although, maybe the fresh air would do me some good.

"OK Dad, I'll give it a go." I got off my stool and walked to the kitchen door. "But if I'm not back in an hour or so send out a rescue party." I added only half jokingly.

"Hehehe, I'm sure you'll be fine, just come back when you're hungry." He chuckled. "And make sure you take your coat with you. It's still pretty cold out there and we'll probably have more rain later."

I waved as I walked away and headed to the entrance hall to get my coat from the cloakroom. Stepping out of the front door I finished zipping up my coat and closed the door behind me. It was cold and the air did feel moist, I thought as I looked up at the slate-gray sky. Maybe he was right about the chance of rain later.

As I rounded the corner, the gravel crunching beneath my feet, I spotted a wooden door set in a recess in the garden wall that I hadn't noticed yesterday. I walked over to it for a closer look. The door had been painted at some point in the distant past but now, as I ran my fingers over its weathered surface and traced the grain down one of the planks, the only evidence for that was a few curled up scraps around the edges of the door frame. The wood itself had faded to a similar shade of gray as the wall around it, which possibly explains why I didn't see it before. Being distracted by that kid next door pulling faces at me as I passed by didn't help either of course.

It did make sense to have access from the drive to the back of the house, I thought as I lifted the rusty iron latch and gave the door a push. It gave about half an inch but would budge no further. Hmmm, bolted from the other side maybe?I'd have to check it out the next time I was in the garden.

I continued on down the drive and risked a quick glance up at the window of the house next door. Thankfully the curtains in that room were closed. Maybe his parents hadn't let him out of his cage yet? The imagery that accompanied that thought tickled me and I chuckled softly to myself for the rest of the walk down to the garage.

I don't know why, but I started to get a little creeped out as I walked through the courtyard between the garage and outbuildings. Maybe it was just my lack of familiarity with the place but it sort of felt like I was being watched. My eyes darted to the small dusty windows in Gramps' old workshop but there was nobody there naturally. Still, regardless of my protesting thigh muscles, I hurried past and didn't slow my pace until I reached the five bar gate which I promptly scaled. I didn't even consider the easier option of just opening it until I was already on the other side.

I leaned on the gate and looked back the way I had come while I caught my breath. As I recovered from the rush of adrenaline I mentally beat myself up for being such a scaredy-cat.

"Get a grip Jon!" I muttered insistently to myself.

I expect I would have regained my composure soon enough, had it not been for the pair of arms that suddenly enveloped me from behind and wrenched me forcefully away from the gate. I didn't even have time to yell out before I was released and felt myself falling. My back hit the ground first and my breath exploded from my body with a 'Oomph!' sound. Thankfully the grass cushioned the impact somewhat but I was still winded and had no time to recover before the pressure was reapplied by a body sitting on my stomach and pinning my wrists to the ground alongside my head.

"Gotcha!" Exclaimed the high pitched voice triumphantly. "Who are you and what are you doing in my field?" Demanded the voice. The stars slowly cleared from my vision as I gulped in lungfulls of air and I recognized my red headed attacker as the kid from next door.

I was too stunned to answer and just lay there looking at him for a few seconds trying to figure out what had happened. A flicker of concern showed in his face as he looked down on me and his heavily freckled brow creased slightly but he didn't release his grip on my wrists.

"Er, are you OK?" He asked tossing his head a little to shift the curly bangs that had fallen over one of his eyes out of the way. "Who are you?" He asked again.

I wriggled and bucked underneath him to try to throw him off of me but he was not budging and he even shifted his weight slightly to put more pressure on my wrists. That really hurt.

"Ow! Get off of me you little shit!" I shouted and tried to buck him off again.

I was pissed and somehow found the strength to free one of my hands. He scrabbled to try and capture it again but before he could there was a 'smack' sound and he was suddenly not sitting on me anymore. I turned my head to the left and he was lying on his side holding his cheek with a wide-eyed expression of surprise on his face.

I don't know who was more shocked, me or him. I had never hit anyone in anger before and the sensation was totally alien to me. I sat up and looked down at the palm of my right hand. It was slightly pink but I don't know if that was from me slapping his face or from him tightly gripping my wrists. I turned to look at him again and he flinched away from me with tears springing to his eyes. I opened my mouth to say something to him but he'd jumped to his feet and was running to a door in the wall at the end of his garden about 30 feet away. Once he was through it, the door was slammed shut and I could hear a bolt being thrown.

I let out a heavy sigh and grunted in discomfort as I struggled to my feet. His assault had not done my aching muscles any good and now I had a sore back and wrists to go with them. I brushed myself down and considered what I should do about all of this. Should I go back to the house and tell Dad that I had been attacked by the neighbor's kid? I didn't really want to cause Dad any problems with the neighbors especially as we'd only just moved in. What if the kid goes and tells his parents that I had slapped him? Would I get into trouble over that? Had I over-reacted? I knew that I shouldn't have hit him, I did feel bad about doing that, but it had all happened so fast. Why the hell did he have to jump me like that? If he wanted to know who I was he could have just asked.

I thought that it would be better to tell Dad about it but I needed to think about it some more. I wasn't sure that I felt like continuing with my planned walk as my mood had been soured by what had happened. Although just standing there doing nothing wasn't very appealing either, so after a few minutes of indecision I slowly set off around the field.

I kept to the edge of the field as the grass seemed a little shorter there, making it easier to walk on. The field itself looked like it hadn't been tended to in ages and had been allowed to grow wild. There were clumps of thistles and other weeds all over the place and the hedgerow was thick with brambles. Reaching the lower left-hand corner I paused to check out an old stone trough that I assumed used to be for watering the horses. It didn't look like it would be much good for that now though as it had been turned on its side and was partly overgrown with moss. I walked on alongside the bottom hedgerow towards the woods that bordered the entire length of the far side of the field and extended past it in both directions. All that was separating the woods from the field was a rickety wooden fence and about 30 feet of assorted shrubbery, tangled and matted with brambles and nettles.

As I started walking up the far side of the field next to the fence I couldn't see any sign of the path into the woods that Dad had mentioned using as a child. At one point where the brambles looked a little thinner I tried to stand on the bottom rail of the fence, hoping I could see more from a slightly higher vantage point. The fence wobbled and let out a worrying creak as it took my weight, so I quickly abandoned that idea. As I couldn't see the base of the trees because of this thick barrier, any evidence of a path was totally obscured. The branches were all bare of leaves and their skeletal silhouettes scratched against the dull gray sky as they swayed slightly in the gentle breeze. Overall I thought that the woods had an unwelcoming vibe about them and the thought of entering them made me shudder involuntarily as I walked on.

Drawing level with the five bar gate on the opposite side of the field , I came across a particularly overgrown section of the fence. Brambles and shrubs appeared to have burst through into the field like water over a breached dam. I snapped of a three foot long branch of a shrub that was growing through the fence and stripped off the bare twigs from its length. Wielding the branch like a light saber, together with obligatory sound effects, I made a few thrusts and slicing strokes, imagining that I was defending myself from invading alien vegetation whilst trying to drive it back from whence it'd come. It was fun. That is until my back twinged during what was to my mind a particularly impressive kick and spinning backhand slice at an especially vicious looking nettle. Luckily my light saber converted readily into a walking stick as I abandoned my assault and leaned on it to rest for a minute.

"There he is!" Came a high piping shout from some distance behind me, startling me and causing me to wince as I twisted towards the direction of the sound.

"Shit!" I exclaimed under my breath, as I saw two figures running in my direction across the field. One was clearly the boy who had jumped me earlier; I could see his mop of red hair bouncing as he ran. The other boy I hadn't seen before but he was taller than the other, probably around my height if not a little bigger, and had dark blond hair. He was holding something in his hand but I couldn't make out what it was at this distance.

I started to feel a bit panicky and looked around me for an escape route but there was nowhere to go except left or right along the fence. I didn't think I'd be able to out run them, especially now with the twinge in my back still sore. So I backed up a bit until I felt the the fence behind me and simply waited anxiously as I watched them approach.

The soft thuds of their running footsteps in the long grass got louder and then disappeared as they both slowed to walking pace about 20 feet from where I stood facing them. The red haired kid was puffing and panting for breath where he'd been trying to keep up with his brother's pace. At least I assumed they were brothers, as their facial features did seem quite similar. Although whereas the red head had a mass of freckles across his forehead, cheeks and nose, the taller boy's complexion was very clear. Apart from the faint pink blush to his cheeks, probably due to his sprint across the field. He didn't look much older than me. They both came to halt about 10 feet away.

"That's...him Peter. He's the one...that thumped the face." The red head said between gasps and he bent over with one hand on his knee and the other pointing a finger at me. "You can...beat him, OK?"

I swiveled my eyes back to the taller boy and noticed that what he was carrying looked like a thick stick or...a club. Oh God! I raised my own stick in front of myself defensively but the boy made no move to attack me nor to come any closer.

"Stay away!" I shouted at him, trying to sound as threatening as possible, but my voice squeaked in the middle of 'away' and totally ruined the effect I was trying for. That, and the way my hands were shaking, making the tip of the stick waggle about madly, couldn't have looked less intimidating than if I'd been holding a feather duster instead.

The taller kid looked me over from head to toe and turned his head slightly to address the red head, keeping his eyes on me as he did so.

"Really? This is the one who beat you up, Simon? Are you sure?" He asked while looking me over once more.

"Yeah, that's him." Said the red head standing now after catching his breath. "Well? What are you waiting for? Pound him!" He demanded and thumped his fist into his open palm as if to demonstrate what he wanted done to me.

"This is the 'six foot weirdo' that jumped you as you left the garden?" He asked, raising an skeptical eyebrow.

"Well...he must be a weirdo, just look at him." Said the red head, gesturing wildly in my direction. "Look at that hair! And those eyes! He looks like a zombie or a vampire or something!" He paused briefly then let out a gasp. "Don't let him bite you..."

"Simon!" The taller boy said sharply as he turned his head fully to look at the red head. The warning tone in his voice clearly worked and the younger boy fell silent, although judging from the glare he shot me he wasn't happy about it at all. "Just shut up for a minute will you? I'm going to..."

But I'd had enough. The red head, Simon, clearly wanted some damage done to me and the other one, Peter, with the club still in his hand, had the means and apparently the intent to deliver it. I couldn't take the stress of the confrontation any more and I bolted while his head was still turned away from me.

I had limited options for escape. I had no chance of getting past them both and running on up the field or back the way I'd come wouldn't work either, as I doubted that I'd get that far with my back as sore as it was. That only left the mass of brambles and nettles that lay on the other side of the fence I was backed up against. I doubt whether I'd have taken that last option had I been thinking straight but the time for thinking straight had just passed. I just needed to get away from them.

With the older boy's full attention focused on the red head for those few moments, I turned and scrabbled over the fence as quickly as I could. I was immediately thigh deep in ensnaring brambles and stinging nettles. Thankfully I'd carried the short branch I'd been holding over the fence with me and started to hack away at the plants, trying desperately to put some distance between me and my would be attackers. But there was just too much of it for me to make any progress. Maybe if I'd had a machete or a weed whacker I might have had a chance but a flimsy branch was was no match for the fibrous stems of the brambles, which seemed to just bounce back into place each time I struck out at them.

I was also taking some serious punishment from the thorns and nettles' stingers and had scratches and inflamed welts all over the backs of my hands. I couldn't have gone more than three feet from the fence and I could tell that trying to continue onwards was pointless. So I just dropped the branch and stood there with my head lowered amidst the brambles, breathing hard and facing away from them I was feeling utterly defeated. I could feel a growing burning sensation in my hands and I raised them to waist level and looked down at them. I'd never liked the sight of blood and especially not my own. To be honest there wasn't that much, but the deeper scratches had released a few bright red drops that had, with my frantic thrashing about, trickled over the backs of my hands and down my fingers, making it look a whole lot worse than it actually was.

My vision started to gray at the edges and I was having difficulty focusing. Suddenly I felt the world tilt around me but there was nothing I could do about it. Everything went dark as, with an almost relieved sigh I pitched forward, face first into the brambles in a dead faint.

I don't know how long I was out for but before I came to I think I was dreaming about Mike and Stacy. They were both sitting by me, each holding one of my hands in theirs and telling me that it would be OK and not to worry.

As I gradually became more aware, I could make out snatches of a whispered conversation but it seemed to be coming from far away.

"...sure he's not dead?"

" fine..."

"...mean for him to get hurt..."

" fault..."

" trouble..."

When my eyes finally flickered open I didn't know where I was for a moment and glanced around. It all suddenly came back to me and I was horrified to see that those boys had taken Mike and Stacy's place. I flinched and ripped my hands away from them trying to scoot back through the grass and out of their reach. Grass? How did I get back on this side of the fence? I paused mid scoot and looked down at my hands in the damp long grass, grasping at a few of the blades to confirm they were real. Okaaay, so I was back in the field again. I looked back at the two boys who hadn't yet made any move to pursue me and who both now wore similar concerned expressions.

'Fuck that!' I thought angrily to myself and struggled to my feet. I wobbled unsteadily for a moment then turned and started across the field away from them and towards the five bar gate that I could see in the distance. I was limping a little and my hands and face were sore but I was far too mad to pay that any attention.

"Wait!" Came the shout from behind me. "Please don't go! We're sorry, OK? We didn't mean to scare you, honest!" I ignored them and limped on, the five bar gate my only focus.

I knew they were following me and heard them speed up to catch me up. The older boy caught hold of my arm bringing me to a stop.

"Please..." He started to say but couldn't finish because I had turned and given him a good solid push to the chest with both hands forcing him back several steps.

"STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME! BOTH OF YOU!" I shouted as loud as I could then turned and continued on my way.

They didn't follow me this time. When I'd gotten to the gate and had slowly climbed over it a few minutes later, I glanced back and could see them still stood in the middle of the field where I'd left them. I couldn't hear what they were saying but they appeared to be arguing. I didn't care, just as long as they stayed away from me. Just wait until I tell Dad...

Wait. Should I tell him what had happened? I'd already pretty much decided not to say anything about being jumped earlier by the red haired kid, Simon I think the other boy called him. It would only cause more problems for us, wouldn't it? What if I didn't mention it, how would I explain all the scratches to Dad? I could always just say that I was looking for the path to the woods and fell off the fence, or something like that, it was partly the truth, I was trying to cut a path to the woods. Maybe if I cleaned myself up a bit before I saw Dad it wouldn't look so bad. But how could I do that without bumping into him in the house, he was bound to hear me come in.

I moved away from the gate and walked slowly through the courtyard. I glanced towards Gramps' workshop and a thought occurred to me. Maybe Gramps had a place to wash in there, so that he could clean up before returning to the house? It would make sense to do that wouldn't it? I changed direction and limped over to the workshop door and turned the handle. Locked! Damn it! I sighed and leaned my forehead against the wood of the doorjamb. I was about to walk away, resigned to have Dad see me in this state, when I wondered whether Gramps might have hidden the key nearby instead of taking it with him each time he locked up. It was a bit of a long shot but I looked around the base of the door for any stones large enough to conceal a key. Nothing. Nor were there any pot plants nearby. I also tried the top of the lintel as a last resort, not really expecting to find it in that most obvious of places to hide a key. To my surprise though, and relief, my fingers closed around a small key-shaped metal object. I took it down and slotted it into the lock and turned it. It was a little stiff, probably because of lack of use, but the lock finally clicked and I was able to open the door, despite the whining complaints from its hinges.

I left the door ajar as I walked in to the workshop so that a little more light could get in. The windows definitely needed a good clean and the naked light bulb dangling from one of the wooden rafters didn't work when I tried the switch just inside the door. Dad was right about Gramps being disorganized, the place was a real mess. The worktops along both front and back walls were full of either power tools or bits and pieces of partially worked on picture frames and other less identifiable projects. There were small piles of sawdust here and there and everything was covered in a layer of dust.

I spotted what I was looking for tucked away in the far corner. It was a small sink but looked big enough for my needs so I walked over to it and turned on the single faucet. Nothing happened at first and I thought my hopes were dashed but then there was a belch like sound and some brownish water sputtered out. I let the water run and within a minute or so the pressure had stabilized and the water was running clear. It was cold but it would have to do. I checked out the cupboard under the sink for something to dry my hands with and found a pack of coarse but clean paper towels and, much to my surprise, a first aid kit which looked pretty old and beat up. I snapped open the white tin box and found an small assortment of bandages and cotton dressings as well as some ointments and a half empty bottle of disinfectant. I left everything else but the bottle and a pad of cotton wool and, with these items on top of everything else, put the kit off to one side.

Wetting a couple of the paper towels I cleaned as best I could around the sink area and taps. When I was satisfied I discarded the towels and looked again a the backs of my hands. The scratches were no longer oozing drops of blood and the stains on my hands and fingers were turning a dark rusty red at they dried. The welts from the nettles were still sore but were not as raised and angry looking as they had been. My cheek and forehead also felt sore but I couldn't check that out as there wasn't a mirror nearby that I could see.

I was leaning on the edge of the sink feeling pretty miserable and wondering what else could go wrong when I heard the sound of a throat being cleared. I snapped my head around and scowled at the blond haired boy as he stood hesitantly in the workshop doorway.

"Get out!" I hissed at him and looked around the workshop for something to defend myself with. The only thing within reach was a solid looking wooden mallet, so I made a grab for it and held it out in front of me unsteadily. "Stay away from me!"

The boy raised his hands placatingly. "Look, I'm not going to hit you, OK? I just wanted to say sorry and to see if you were alright." He said quietly, not moving from the doorway.

"Well you've said it and I'm fine, so just PISS OFF AND LEAVE...ME...ALONE!" I yelled drawing back the mallet as if I was going to throw it at him. I wouldn't have thrown it of course but he didn't know that, so he flinched and took a step back, raising his hands again.

"OK, OK, I'm going. I...I just thought that we might be friends." He said shrugging his shoulders. "I mean...because we're going to be in the same class in school and..."

"What?" I asked, frowning in confusion and lowering the mallet unconsciously. "What do you mean 'we're going to be in the same class'? You don't know me. How the hell could you know what school I was going to let alone which class I'm going to be in? Are you nuts or something?" I raised the mallet again, thinking that maybe he really was a crazy person.

"Well," He grinned. "First of all, I can tell you're an American by your accent. Secondly, last week we were told that a new pupil from America would be joining our class next Tuesday." He was folding down the fingers of his right hand one by one as he listed each point. "And last of all, we were told that his name was, sorry I can't remember his last name. So is that you? Is your name Jonathan? It is, isn't it?" He asked and folded his arms across his chest accompanied by a smug grin.

I was shocked that he knew my name and not only him but apparently the whole class had been told I would be starting next week. Why had they done that? Dad had said he'd asked them not to make any fuss, that I just wanted to blend in quietly. It didn't sound like that was going to be possible now. It felt like it was going to be a freak show and I'd be the freak on display.

I didn't want to admit to him that he was right, I didn't owe him any answers. I just wanted him to go away.

"I'm not going to be your friend." I said quietly, dropping the mallet on the workbench and turning back to the sink. I didn't want to look at him anymore and I didn't want him to see the tears that I could feel building up in the corners of my eyes. "I'm not going to be anybody's friend. So just go away and leave me alone. Please."

There wasn't a response so I waited for about 30 seconds before quickly swiping away the excess moisture from my eyes and risking a glance at the doorway. Empty. He was gone. I let out a deep sigh and turned back to the sink again. Strangely, as much as I had wanted him to go and had even yelled at him to leave me alone, I think I felt worse now that he was gone. I didn't understand that and just shook my head, I didn't want to think about it either.

I concentrated instead on tending to my hands and rinsed them under the running water. There was a dried out and cracked piece of soap at the back of the sink that was perfectly usable once I had moistened it and rubbed off the surface grime between my palms. I used it to wash my hands and also rubbed some on my face in case the scratches that I could feel on my cheek and forehead needed to be cleaned. Rinsing the soap off my face in cold water wasn't ideal but it did help to make me feel more alert. After patting my hands and face dry with some paper towels I was now able to see the criss-cross pattern of scratches on my hands clearly. They didn't really look all that bad now; I suppose the blood made them look far worse than they were. Most of them were just very thin red lines where the thorns had barely broken the surface. The two or three deeper scratches looked a more angry color but even that had faded a little after running them under the cold water. There were still a few reddened itchy patches from the nettle stings but they were mostly limited to the sides of my palms and the backs of my pinky and ring fingers.

I thought I'd better put some disinfectant on the scratches just in case and, wadding up some of the cotton wool, I poured on a little of the amber colored liquid. I knew it was going to sting so I clenched my jaws together to try to avoid making too much noise. I was right, it stung like a bastard, and I sucked air in through my teeth as every swipe and dab of the cotton wad felt like I was scratching my skin all over again. The scratches on my face were especially sore to treat and I couldn't help but yelp as the disinfectant did its job. Making sure the top was screwed down tightly, I put the bottle, and any cotton wool that I hadn't used, back into the first aid kit and tucked it back onto the shelf in the cupboard where I'd found it. The used cotton wool and paper towels I just bundled up into a tight ball and left on the workbench next to the mallet. I turned off the faucet and slowly walked to the doorway before peeking out to make sure the coast was clear. There was no sign of either kid so I stepped out and closed and locked the workshop door then returned the key to its hiding place on top of the lintel.

I looked towards the five bar gate and shook my head sadly. I'd only wanted to go for a walk around the field. Around OUR field. But I couldn't even do that simple thing without screwing it up. If I hadn't hit that red haired kid maybe things would have been okay. Now though, I've got two neighbors that probably hate my guts or at the very least think I'm a wimpy weirdo who has panic attacks and who faints over a few tiny scratches. I bet they can't wait to tell all their friends at school so that they can all have a good laugh about it.

It's not as if I make a habit of fainting. It was only the second time that I could remember it ever happening. The first time was after cutting my finger on a paring knife while trying to help with the washing up when I was about 10 years old. It had only been a little cut but it had stung and bled a lot, to my mind, and I'd freaked out over the blood and passed out in the kitchen.

I was still puzzled about how I had fainted in amongst the brambles but woke up on the grass on the other side of the fence. The only explanation of course was that those kids had managed to get me out of there between them somehow. Being manhandled by those two over a fence wasn't a pleasant thought and I didn't like the idea that I should be grateful to them for helping me out of that situation. Although, it was a situation that I wouldn't have been in in the first place if it wasn't for them threatening me, so that would make us even wouldn't it?

My stomach rumbled and I remembered what Dad had said about coming home when I got hungry. I don't know how long I'd been out here but I figured that it couldn't have been more than an hour or so, two maximum. I slowly walked back up the drive, thinking about what I was going to tell Dad. As I neared the house I had that tingly feeling on the back of my neck again, as if I was been watched, and I looked up at the window of the house next door. I wish I hadn't. The red haired kid was there again, staring at me with an unreadable expression on his face. I turned away quickly and considered pretending that I hadn't seen him but I knew that wouldn't work as our eyes had already connected, albeit briefly. So I looked up again and stared back but didn't stop walking. He raised a hand and gave tentative wave. A wave? What the hell was wrong with this kid! I scowled back at him and he dropped his hand slowly and lowered his head while chewing on his bottom lip. He looked to his left suddenly as if he was being spoken to by somebody further back in the room and shook his head slowly then walked away from the window.

I carried on walking, frowning to myself as I rounded the corner and approached the front door. Letting myself in and hanging up my coat I opened the the inner door and paused to listen for any sounds that might indicate where in the house Dad might be. A faint 'clink' from the direction of the kitchen provided the clue I was looking for and I headed towards the sound. I was a little anxious about what Dad's reaction would be to seeing me all scratched up as I didn't want to him to fuss over me, he did that enough already.

He was facing away from me when I walked into the kitchen. He'd obviously just finished having a bite to eat and was washing the dishes he'd used. Hearing me approach, he looked back over his shoulder and smiled in my direction.

'Hey kiddo, how was your..." He started to say but then stopped what he was doing and frowned. "What happened to your face?" Drying his hands on a towel he walked over to me and gently took my chin in his hand, turning my head towards the window to let more light on the subject.

I took a step back and turned my head back to look at him. "It's nothing Dad," I said, adding what I hoped was a convincing chuckle. "I had a disagreement with some brambles on the other side of the field." I raised my hands and turned them so he could see the other scratches. "They look a lot worse than they feel, really."

"Well you'd best go and wash them, we don't want those scratches getting infected. I'll make you a plate of sandwiches for lunch while your doing that." He said turning me around and swatting my butt playfully to send me on my way. "And try to be more careful in future." He shouted after me as I started up the stairs to my room.

"OK Dad!" I yelled back. That had been surprisingly easy and I was relieved he hadn't made more of a fuss about it.

I didn't think I really needed to wash my hands and face again after already doing so in Gramps' workshop but I thought it better to be safe than sorry so went through into my bathroom and filled a basin with hot water. Using plenty of soap I repeated the earlier procedure, thankfully this time without the disinfectant. I dried off carefully and went back downstairs for a bite to eat.

Dad sat with me and drank a cup of coffee while I ate my sandwiches.

"So did you see the village?" He asked.

I swallowed the mouthful I was chewing before trying to answer. "Um, no I didn't. I didn't get that far around the field. I was actually looking for that path to the woods you told me about but couldn't find it. I gave up after this happened." I held up my hands, displaying my scratches again.

"Well I suppose you'll have to make your own path then." He said taking another sip of coffee. "That's the way we did it after all. It's well worth it though as the woods are great to walk through. There even used to be a decent size pond in the middle that we used to mess about in in the summer. I'm not sure if that's still there though. It used to be fed by a brook, so if that's still running I suppose the pond should be there too. You'll have to let me know if you find it."

"I dunno Dad, those brambles are pretty thick and..." I said shaking my head doubtfully.

"We should be able to find you some thick gloves and there's bound to be some garden shears around here somewhere that'll make short work of brambles and the like." He continued enthusiastically. "Tell you what, while you finish eating I'll go have a quick scout around and see what I can find, okay kiddo?" He downed the last of his coffee and left the kitchen without giving me a chance to object.

I really didn't want to go anywhere near that field again today. Not if there was a chance of running into those kids again. I continued to munch on my sandwiches, though I didn't have much of an appetite anymore as the mornings events played over in my mind.

I was just finishing the last bite when Dad came back in to the kitchen. He'd obviously found what he was looking for and placed a pair of gloves and the shears on the counter.

"These shears are a little rusty but they should be sharp enough." He mused as he picked them up again and opened and closed them a few times. "They should loosen up a bit as you use them. Just be careful with them and take your time OK?"

"Um, I'm not sure I really want to do that today Dad." I said pushing my empty plate away from me. "I'm still a little sore from earlier."

"Oh, OK. Well you could have said so before I went hunting for this." He said, putting the shears down again and sounding a little disgruntled. "I thought you could at least make a start on it before it starts to rain again. You might not get chance again until next weekend otherwise. But if you don't want to..." He picked up the shears and gloves and was about to take them back to wherever he'd found them.

I didn't like hearing him sound disappointed so I caved again. "Wait! Okay Dad, I'll try but I can't promise I'll finish today." I got off the stool and walking over to him took the shears and gloves from him.

"I don't want you to feel you have to do this Jon but I think a bit more exercise would be good for you." He said placing his hand on my shoulder. "Give it a go for a little while and see how you get on. It probably won't be as tough as you think."

It wasn't the work involved in clearing a path I was worried about but I couldn't tell him that of course without having to explain about my earlier encounter with the neighbors.

"Yeah, maybe your right." I shrugged. "Well, I'd best get to it then."

"Oh, if you're looking for the place where the path used to start, check the top rail of the fence. I carved my initials there years ago and they should still be visible." He added, following me as I walked out of the kitchen.

He took the gloves and sheers from me while I put my coat on again and opened the front door. Handing them back he smiled and waved me off, the heavy wooden door closed behind me with a solid thunk as I made my way down the drive again.

The sky was still a slate-gray color and as I neared the five bar gate again I thought that, if I was really lucky, it might start to rain pretty soon. I scanned the field to make sure the coast was clear before clambering over and heading across as quickly as I could, following the path left by the trodden down grass from my earlier crossing. When I got to the other side I turned around and looked back the way I'd come, checking for any activity from the neighbors' house. Nothing. So far so good.

Rather than start looking straight away for Dad's initials on the fence rails, I headed up to the top corner of the field; remembering what he'd said about the view from up there. He was right too; thanks to a natural rise in the land at this point I could see for quite a distance, including a large portion of the village. Having not been into the village center yet it was difficult to match the view before me to how things would look from street level. I could sort of work out roughly where the main streets were based on there being several larger buildings grouped together and the spire of a church nearby. I'd have to take a walk down there to put things properly into perspective. It was a nice view though and, despite the overcast conditions, I could see that it would look really nice in the summer.

I made my way back down the field slowly, staying close to the fence and scanning the top rail of each section for any sign of Dad's initials. It wasn't until I was about 20 feet away from the spot where I'd had the run in with the neighbors that I spotted what I was looking for. They were a bit faded but still distinct enough to make out the initials 'TB' incised into the rough wood of the rail. Another set of slightly fainter initials were a few inches away. 'PS'. I assumed they belonged to Dad's best friend, Paul, at least I think that's what he said his name was. What the 'S' stood for I had no idea.

On the other side of the fence the tangle of brambles and other weeds didn't look quite as thick they did elsewhere which supported Dad's story of a path from here to the woods. I put the thick gardening gloves on and snapped tentatively with the shears at a few brambles that were poking through the fence, so that I could get a feel for how much effort it would take. The shears must have been sharper than they looked because I could feel very little resistance as the stems were severed. After this successful test I leaned on the fence and tried to think on how best to tackle the main body of brambles and nettles.

It was practically impossible to see where the brambles began and ended as the stems all seemed to twist and weave about themselves. I decided that the best approach would be to try to cut a channel about three or four feet wide, snipping at all the stems on either side and pulling away what I could from the middle. The snipping was easy enough but removing the cuttings was much tougher than I expected and I was soon puffing and panting with the effort. I had to stop every five minutes or so to carry the debris back to the fence and dump it into the field so that I had enough room to work. I was making slow progress but as I persisted the brambles seemed to be thinning out and after about 45 minutes I could see through the barrier to the woods beyond.

Finally, after cutting away the last few stems and dragging them clear I was suddenly free to move forward with only a few low bushes and some nettles between me and the woods, some 20 feet or so away. Without the tall mass of brambles obscuring my view I could make out what might have once been a well worn path but now was just a slightly less grassy patch of ground leading up to the edge of the woods. I supposed that the hard packed dirt of the path would have been more difficult for the grass to populate although, after all the years that had passed since the path was last used, it was still surprising to see any trace of it at all.

As I stood there catching my breath I did feel pretty pleased with myself; I had triumphed over nature and rediscovered that which was long lost. I chuckled to myself at that thought, picturing myself dressed like Indiana Jones and rediscovering a lost temple in the jungle. I was looking forward now to taking my first steps onto the path, thinking it would be good to venture a little way into the woods to see if I could follow the path clearly or whether it would fade away. I would have done so too, had I not heard the irritatingly familiar sound of someone clearing their throat coming from a little way behind me.

My heart sank. I closed my eyes and ground my teeth together and my hands clenched tightly around the handles of the shears that I realized I was still holding in front of me. Slowly, I turned around.

To be continued...

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