Solstice

A story by Bard Boy [bard_boy(at)protonmail(dot)com]

Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction about an inappropriate relationship between a man and a preteen boy. One of the boundaries crossed in this relationship is engagement in sexual activity between the man and the boy. If you do not want to read such a story, or it is illegal for you to do so because of your age or where you live, you should stop reading now and go do something else instead. The fictional depiction of an inappropriate relationship between a man and a boy is by no means encouragement to any man who would seek to forge such a relationship for real. This story is not set in the present day, so rest assured every aspect is fictional.

This story is the property of the author. Do not repost it elsewhere without their prior consent.

The dry disclaiming out of the way, I hope you enjoy reading the story (in which ever way suits you best). Feel free to contact me on the email above.

One: Like the Birds

James looked exhausted as we sat in front of the tent by the fire. He'd been quiet all day, but with firelight playing low across his face like a December sunset, the dark circles under his eyes seemed all the more obvious, as did the pallor of his skin.

"If your dinner's gone down, maybe we should think about going to bed?"

He was sat with his knees drawn into his chest, gazing aimlessly at the fire. He nodded his head.

"Go and get your teeth brushed, then. I'll sort the fire out. There's a good lad."

Obviously captured by the thought of sleep, James yawned widely, his tongue curved up and forward like a cat, and his teeth on rare display. I was used to marvelling at his slightly crooked, slightly chipped front left tooth -- so characteristically James -- whenever he laughed or grinned mischievously. Seeing it now minded me that I'd never seen him so tired before.

I heard brushing and spitting behind me as I reduced the fire, putting it out as far as the last few warm embers; enough to keep the temperature in our little gully, but not enough to give off enough light or smoke to be particularly noticeable. By the time I'd slid into the tent, James was already in bed.

I could remember the first time I'd slept in that sleeping bag vividly. I'd been staying with some friends who lived in London. They'd recently bought it to share while camping at festivals, like the cool young couple they were. I'd been the official tester after a night of drinking and joint-smoking while out watching a band in Camden. The next morning, I confirmed it would sleep two adults comfortably, or several children. Or Michael Jackson and several children, my friend had jokingly surmised. It had been a semi-relevant cultural reference at the time. I was amazed the thing was still in one piece now.

James was still awake as I crawled in beside him. He wriggled to snuggle himself against me.

"I know how tired you are," I said.

He gave a little sigh and a `hmm' in return. I put my arm around him and took his hand in mine.

"We're really close now, I promise. We can sleep in late tomorrow. Do the last part under the full moon if we need to."

I felt him nodding his head against my chest.

"And then we'll be done. I said you were big enough to do it now, didn't I?"

"Like the birds," he whispered in agreement. "Flying south for the winter."


**


We'd been following the rivers for several days as they branched off and became progressively smaller. I was mainly navigating by instinct, but from the places we'd passed I was certain we were on the right path. It was just a matter of getting the right turning when the time came, and I was fairly sure from the swampy surroundings that it would be just ahead today.

A late start did us both good. James seemed almost back to his usual precocious self as we sat and ate brunch -- the apples we'd picked a couple of days previously. After we'd packed up and got back alongside the river, I had him take his coat and shirt off and dunked his head in, squeezing the remainder of our soap onto his hair, face, and armpits. He looked a lot fresher for it. His mousey brown hair had grown long, so his fringe began to resist his right-side cowlick, driving the hair above his forehead into a natural spiked-up quiff. It seemed to me to make him look younger than his eleven or so years, but then he was such a small and slight boy anyway; short with a lanky frame.

The turn -- a left turn -- wasn't too far ahead of where we began our walk for the day. I realised I recognised it from seeing it from the trains that used to run past, somewhere above and behind the trees on the main riverbank. So, we took our final river branch for the home stretch.

It took us until mid-afternoon to reach a point where the river disappeared into a big brick pipe beneath a line of trees. I led us through the trees, and we emerged onto a canal towpath. The waterway was deserted in both directions. I stopped us for lunch: the remains of yesterday's roast pheasant. James disappeared back into the bushes to attend a quick call of nature. I set us off to our right down the towpath, the water to our left. James made to hold my hand.

"That'd better not be wet."

He grinned, wiped his hand on the sleeve of my coat, and offered it again.

"It's clean now," he said.


**


Night fell quickly as we marched along the towpath. It was still in good condition; we were crunching gravel underfoot rather than skidding through mud.

James' exhaustion had given me good excuse to offset the timing of our travel. It seemed more prudent to be approaching the city under cover of darkness. The moon was full and the sky only lightly cloudy. There was light to go by and our eyes were adjusted to the relative darkness. We came to the road bridge I had been aiming for and I ushered James up the steps ahead of me.

We walked down the middle of the empty carriageway. James gave an impressed gasp and a `woah!' as we passed some large, run down factory and warehouse buildings; the remains of an old car plant. An enclosed bridge spanned over us, which used to take new models from the factory on one side of the street to the distribution site on the other.

I led us down an overgrown lane. We were climbing steadily uphill into a murky gloom, as the moonlight struggled to penetrate the trees. James walked beside me in silence. We emerged into something of an eerily illuminated clearing, with a church and cemetery to our left, the light stone reflective in the darkness. He exhaled sharply and make a grab for my hand.

"It's just a church, James. Nothing to be afraid of." I stroked the back of his head. "Look, you're going to see something really cool up here, I promise."

I let go of him and led us up a slightly steeper incline, alongside and then behind and away from the church. I stopped us at the peak of the hill, as it opened out below us.

James was speechless.

The hill rolled steeply away below us into semi-open parkland, grass with little patches of woods, the trees giving up their leaves. Beyond that, illuminated in the moonlight as far as the eye could see, was a mosaic of rooftops and treetops.

"This is amazing!" he said. "How many people live here?"

"Well," I began, resting my hand on his shoulder and pointing vaguely into the distance in front of us. "If you keep walking for maybe a couple of days in that direction, between here and there this was a great big city of two-and-a-half million people."

"Two-and-a-half-million?"

Stevie Wonder could have seen James' eyes popping, even in the dark.

"Can you imagine that many people, James?"

"No," he said very seriously. "I definitely can't."

I wondered how much was the most people James had seen together at once in his life. Probably fewer than the least people I'd seen at a wedding party.

He was pulling at my sleeve urgently.

"Are we going down there?"

"Yes, James," I said, grinning at the excitement in his watery-blue eyes. "We're going home."


**


A cracked concrete path led down the hillside. I'm certain James skipped all the way down, despite the fact he'd seemed dead on his feet for days. He led the way down, turning for my direction at every fork in the way. I reached out my arm to direct the right path with the ease of mental childhood muscle memory. We went on a wooden bridge across a stream, past some almost unrecognisably dilapidated concrete tennis courts, and came to the edge of a housing estate. Looking around, I internally appreciated my good luck that the bushes were now too overgrown for James to have been able to notice an old children's playground slightly beyond the courts.

Overwhelmed by the human geography, James allowed me to lead the way once more. I instinctively zig-zagged us through the streets in the direction of our goal.

"I've never seen so many houses together," said James, still in awe. "It's like they just keep going on forever."

The houses didn't seem all that impressive to me in the pale of the moonlight. Just bog-standard post-war council houses, but most now without windows, doors broken in, cars hollowed out on the narrow driveways. For a moment I was apprehensive about the state in which I might find my own house, but I quickly reassured myself. These had been abandoned for a decade or more. Longer than James had been alive. It had only been three-and-a-half-years since I'd last locked mine up and left it behind, and there was hardly anyone around -- if even that -- to do it any harm anymore.

"The Din-gull," James sounded out the name on the hanging sign of an old pub. "What's a Dingle?" he asked, loudly and squeakily enough to cause a half-echo off the front of the nearest house.

"Someone from Wolverhampton."

"Oh," he said, and I could tell he didn't really understand.

"Anyway," I added, "We should probably keep quiet. We don't know for sure that there aren't any bad people around, so we don't want to draw attention to ourselves."

James put his serious face back on and nodded.

We were travelling downhill again. The houses were now unassuming 1930s semis; we weren't far away at all. Instinctively I felt my coat pocket for my housekeys, as if I'd just popped out for the afternoon and was worried I might have forgotten to take them out with me. James had pulled from his pocket a pair of AA batteries he'd found on the deck of narrowboat abandoned by the canalside, running them between his fingers. I had given him a portable CD player that had been gifted to me the Christmas before I turned 12, which I'd found on my last visit home. I'd let him bring it along, but without any of his four discs, for lack of backpack space. I'd told him there'd be more at the winter house when we got there. He was rolling them around with anticipation.

I reached for his hand as I led us down an alleyway at the end of a cul-de-sac. He replaced his batteries in the front pocket of his tracksuit bottoms and took my left in his right. We came to what had once been a busy road, now deserted.

"What's an ice rink?" He whispered.

I was rubbing his knuckles absentmindedly with my thumb.

"You keep looking around and keep all of your questions in your head," I said lowly, into his right ear. "That way you can ask me when we get home, and we'll have all the time in the world to answer them all properly."

He nodded.

I squeezed his hand. He squeezed back.

The way was more undulating now, but we were still going slightly uphill. To the left the land rose more sharply, towards a high point where Saxons had once built a fortified hall. I kept hold of James' hand and led him in the right direction, as he looked around constantly, taking everything in.

"That's where I went to school until I was the same age as you," I said, pointing at a dark building set in the middle of a field, behind some fences. James nodded intently.

We were headed more steeply uphill again, as we reached the top of another small ridge before heading back down the other side. James was clearly flagging now. We had been on the road most of the day and it was getting very late. I practically dragged him up over the crest of the hill.

"Come on mate, we're really close now. Then you can rest as long as you like."

We zigzagged again and I led us down a long, straight street that descended into a ditch before rising slightly out again. A third of the way along, about halfway down the dip, I stopped.

"Look James! This is it!"

The driveway was a mess. The panels from the fence dividing it from the neighbour's front garden had mostly disappeared. But the roof and door and windows were intact. And that said a lot more for it than almost all the other houses in the neighbourhood.

I put my hand on James' rucksack and led us to the door. We looked at each other and giggled as I undid the main lock and put the key into the latch.


**


I opened the door and swung my heavy backpack onto the floor as James squeezed in beside me. I was facing the radiator as I lowered the bag down, so I heard James' yelp before I saw or felt a thing.

It was a big hit.

They must've come from the kitchen, waiting in the shadows as they heard the key turn in the lock. I was lucky I'd been sideways on to them. I braced myself with my shoulder and neck against the wall of the hallway, then, with all my strength, I pushed away, swinging us both into the wooden bannister. James whimpered and made for cover on the stairs. I hoped for his sake the wood didn't break and send the weight of two adults crashing down on top of him, but he was probably safer there than anywhere else.

My mind raced as I tried to hold the other person in place. I needed to finish this quickly, but I didn't have the space in the narrow hallway. Then I realised what to do.

I released the pressure on my righthand side, allowing them a little freedom. As they went to escape from being pinned against the bannister, they turned their back to the front door. I hooked my leg under their ankles and pushed, sending them tumbling backwards. There was an almighty crash as they fell straight through a large terracotta urn set in the corner of the room between the front door and the wall.

That's when I finally had the freedom to pull the handgun from the rear waistband of my trousers.

"What the fuck are you doing in my house!?" I panted, pointing the gun square at the figure.

It was a scrawny man, now grunting and wincing from the pain of having crashed through my urn. I wondered whether he was cut and bleeding.

"I didn't know there was anyone living here, I swear!"

"How long have you been here? How did you get in?"

My hand was shaking as I pointed the weapon, my voice an acid rasp. The front door was still open. James was still cowering on the stairs. The man was propped up on his elbows. I could see a trail of blood flowing down his leathery face.

"I've only been here a couple of days, boss, honestly!"

He was pleading. He was scared. So was I.

"James, go up the stairs and find the bathroom. Get undressed and ready for bed."

I tried to keep my voice as calm and level as possible. For a second, nothing happened. Then I heard a series of creaks almost as if James was climbing the stairs in slow motion, probably on all fours. I didn't dare turn around to see.

"How the fuck did you get in my house? Tell me!"

The man winced and groaned. "I go around. Try to find nice houses to stay. Intact, you know? I want to keep them nice. Warm."

I growled in frustration. There were a few seconds of silence.

I took a deep breath and enunciated every word, slowly, steadily. "How did you get in?"

He lifted himself up to a sitting position in stages, groaning hard. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a link of bendy, thin keys.
"I got lock bumping keys, ennit. Someone professional did your front and back. No chance there. Tried them a while back. Was passing by the other day and thought I'd give it another go. French doors at the back. Got the lock open just enough that I could pull them both apart. Locked it back up after, like. No point in breaking in or anything cos then you're in a cold house and it's no good to anyone. I just stayed in the front room the last couple of days. I swear on my life."

He thought about the last bit for a moment.

"Put the gun down, will you?"

"Stay where you are."

I backed into the kitchen.

Still facing the man, I grabbed a soggy cloth of dubious origin from the work surface and tested the tap. Cold water ran in a trickle. I soaked the cloth and returned to the hallway, the gun still fixed on the man.

"Hold still."

His scalp was gashed badly on one side. The thin skin had been sliced open. I pressed the cloth to the wound, and he moaned out loud again, but didn't complain. With my other hand, I pushed the barrel of the gun into his cheek.

"I'm sure you're a nice bloke just doing his best, trying to survive," I hissed. "But the thing is, I've got a little boy with me. I just marched him god knows how many miles to get here. Then some fanny jumps me in our hallway as soon as we get home. You've probably terrified him. Do you get that?"

The man was wide-eyed. He nodded slowly.

"So, I can't trust you. And you can't trust me."

I eyeballed him. Neither of us moved.

"Keep the compress for your head, but get up now, get the rest of your stuff and get out."

He was nodding more quickly. He took hold of the cloth and I stood up and back from him, keeping the gun pointed at his head.

"Go on! Do one!"

He cowered. I heard a ceramic clank from somewhere upstairs. I lowered my voice again.

"If I find any of the keys are missing from this house, or anything that makes me suspicious, I'm going to wait here as long as it takes for you to come back and I'm going to kill you. Is that understood?"

"Yes, boss," he whispered, looking at the floor between his legs. "Sorry, boss."

Gingerly, he got to his feet and hobbled as quickly as he could to the living room. He grabbed a couple of bags and pushed his way out, running -- in so much as he could -- through the front door. I slammed it behind him and made sure it was locked. I put my flaming, sweat-drenched head to the cool glass of the door. I held it there for a long time. I let the gun drop from my hand to the floor with a soft clack. Eventually I turned around and climbed the stairs.

James was sat in the shadowy bathroom, sniffling. His eyes shone, caught in the moonlight from the window as I walked in.

"Okay?"

He nodded vigorously, sniffing again and using the back of his hand to wipe his nose and eyes.

"Did you brush your teeth?"

Another nod.

"Come on, I'll show you where we're going to sleep."

I scooped him up from the toilet seat. I could feel him trembling, his heart still thumping. I'm sure he could feel mine too. I spun backwards and right from the bathroom to open the door of my childhood bedroom with my back, James occupying both of my arms. I sat him down on the double bed.

"Make sure you take all of your clothes off. They're dirty and you'll probably be too warm in them anyway now we're back indoors. I have to go back downstairs and check some things."

I left him sat there and returned downstairs.

I checked the living room. I could make out, and smell, the remains of a fire in the fireplace, but nothing seemed amiss.

I walked through the dining room and checked the double back doors that were the intruder's apparent entry point. He had been honest about locking them back up, and they seemed inconspicuously sturdy as I pushed against them.

Lastly, I checked the kitchen. The back door was still securely locked. From what I could make out in the half-light of the full moon, it seemed he'd forced a few of my locked cupboards open. I'd have to check more thoroughly in the morning, but it was unlikely he'd taken much. The cupboards were a decoy for the real prize. I surveyed the long-dead fridge-freezer. The lock was still intact. He hadn't seen through the ruse. For the first time since retuning home, I felt relief.

I opened the door with my back again as I returned to the bedroom. This time I was carrying a glass of water in each hand, one for each of us. James had left his clothes in a pile on the floor beneath where I left him and taken up residence snuggled into the dead centre of the bed. I placed the glasses down on the floor and quickly undressed. Then, I grabbed one of the glasses again.

"Here, this is yours. I'll put it on the bedside table next to you."

I slid under the covers next to him and reached over to place the glass on the table.

"That means you have to move over; you're sleeping on that side so you can reach it."

His skin felt warm to the touch as I unceremoniously shoved him with my thigh. I settled myself down next to him and placed a hand on his flat tummy.

"I think there's a lot we need to talk about tomorrow, isn't there?"

"Mmm-hmm," was all he offered.

"Will you be able to sleep tonight, James?"

"I think so," he said. His voice was small, and he kept his eyes shut fast.

"You remember where the toilet is if you need to go?"

"Yep."

"And I'm right here with you if you have any bad dreams, okay?"

"Goodnight, Jake."

"Goodnight mate."