Jimmy sat down in a heap on the grass. The heat was burning through his sweat soaked t-shirt. Wet clumps of mud streaked across his jeans and caked to the bottom of his trainers. He looked down at them forlornly knowing that his mum would 'shit a brick' when she saw the state he was in. Richie flopped down beside him, his skinny chest heaving up and down. He flung his toy shooter on the ground in front of them and pulled off his hat, using it to wipe perspiration from his forehead.
"Oi Jimmy, give us a smoke!" He demanded, leaning back onto his hands and stretching his legs out. His own trainers were equally covered in dark sludge.
This morning the sun had been shining. It seemed like a great day to Jimmy to call on Richie and get a game of cowboys and Indians going, or rather cowboys and cowboys as neither one of them had wanted to be an Indian. Where was the fun of having pretend bow and arrows when you could both career around with shooters?
They had tried to gather a few more friends to make the game more interesting but no one was about quite literally. Marty's parents had gone up to the city for the day and Marty himself had been dragged with them quite reluctantly, Amy was visiting her father in Homeland Hospital and Ben's mother had told them sternly that he was ill in bed and not allowed to play with them in case he got even sicker. Jimmy had shrugged at that. He spared no thought to Ben's illness, only thought about how it sucked to be him missing out on a day of playing in the sunshine. The summer always seemed to go on forever but as they we're getting older and older it seemed to get shorter and shorter and he for one wasn't going to waste it indoors.
Jimmy pulled out a battered packet of Richmond's he had lifted out of his dads car and pulled out one of the four in it, then chucked it over to Richie who caught it one handed. They shared a match and both leaned back on their elbows smoking and watching the cloudless sky in a relaxed silence.
They had spent the morning pounding the pavements livening up their game by taking aim at innocent bystanders pretending they were fearsome Indian chiefs. Mr Hounslow had taken particular offence to this and chased them the whole way down Theatre Street shaking his fist, his face turning bright red with the exertion.
They had legged it down the hill into the overgrown foliage that used to contain the town's only tram lines. No adult ever bothered them down here; it was always smelly and damp. There was a small stream that ran through the bottom. It didn't go anywhere, just pooled from one end of the old tram lines to the other. Once Jimmy, Marty and Richie had found an old stinking chair with rubbish littered around it. Old fag butts were pushed into the ground and the remnants of a fire still remained in the clearing. Richie had spent the whole of that day spooking Marty into believing it was Frankenstein's monster paroling the trams for children, especially fat children who couldn't run very fast. Eventually Jimmy had to cool him off before Marty wet himself with fear. They'd all had a good laugh at his expense and the monster was quickly forgotten about. It was just another day in the long stretch of summer.
Richie flicked his butt into the grass and sat up, rubbing at his eyes a little wearily. Jimmy copied him and then stood up, putting his toy pistol into the waistband of his jeans like a true gunslinger in the Wild West (or so he thought).
"Hey Richie," he whispered, crouching down low and narrowing his eyes, staring ahead of him into the bushes. "There's a big old buffalo over there, real mean and ugly lookin', looks like it's gonna charge. Best we take it down before we become dead meat."
Richie drew his plastic shooter closer to his chest, game for a little buffalo hunting.
"Well then Jimbo, what's the plan? Do we ambush him or just go in blazin and hope for the best?"
Jimmy was always the leader in their make believe games.
"I think we oughtta go around, try get out of sight then take him out when he least expects it," Jimmy grinned and got onto his hands and knees. They were both already filthy from running back and forth through the stream; a little more dirt would hardly make a difference.
Richie gave a determined nod and got onto his hands and knees too. They crawled along the verge they had been smoking on as slowly and quietly as they could.
"Shit Jimmy, there's something behind us too, we need to bail and fast!" hissed Richie, adding into their game hoping Jimmy would go for it.
"Quick!" He jumped into the bush in front of them and reached a hand out to haul Richie in behind him. Richie secretly felt a little pleased that Jimmy hadn't questioned his contribution to the game and had gone along with him.
They both peered out of the bushes, really seeing the big cat stalking the buffalo they had been planning to hunt. Richie made his eyes go really wide and Jimmy shook his head sadly.
"There goes our catch,"
A noise behind them startled them both at the same time. It sounded a little like rustling and a little like something rather big and rather heavy dropping at the same time. Both Jimmy and Richie whipped their heads round but saw nothing. Jimmy shrugged. They were quite deep into the undergrowth and they hadn't seen any other kids about, he was pretty sure they were alone.
"Perhaps we could take out the cat?" Richie asked in a hushed whisper, hoping to keep the game alive.
Jimmy pulled his gun and took aim, closing one eye and squinting, pointing the muzzle at the big cat's large head. Richie followed suit, holding his breath and waiting for Jimmy's command to fire.
A noise, like a gunshot sounded right behind their heads. Richie jumped up and screamed. Jimmy got to his feet and whirled around. He heard hot and heavy breath, laboured and ragged. It sounded really close. He dropped his gun and took a step backwards. The wilderness behind them before had looked like a light and airy patch of trees, now it seemed dark and black, it was almost rushing out at them.
They both heard heavy footfalls, starting out rather slow and far away, but getting louder and quicker by the second. Another gunshot sounded and Richie screamed again, he dropped his gun on the floor and grabbed Jimmy by the back of the t-shirt.
"Jimmy, come on, let's move!" He shouted as a rushing blackness came at them. It seemed to stop all light dead in its tracks. They both felt air blowing straight into their faces. Richie, who had his mouth open, felt winded by the sudden rush of air into his lungs. It smelled foul and tasted worse. He couldn't even comprehend just what it reminded him of. Much later, in his adult years as he recalled the incident, he decided it was almost a rotten, decaying dead smell. Cloying and thick.
Jimmy spotted what looked like green glowing lights in the blackness that was coming at them, threatening to engulf them. His feet seemed rooted to the spot and he was powerless to move. Whatever was in it was getting closer, his ears were picking up a low audible hum and his skin felt electric, his arm hairs all standing on end.
Richie smacked him in the back of the head and he broke his gaze from the green glow and rushing darkness. His fight or flight instinct came back after a temporary leave of absence.
"Go Richie, move it!"
He jumped the bush they had been squatting in only moments before, crushing his black plastic gun under his heel in his haste. Richie jumped too, running right behind him.
"It's got me Jim, I swear it's got me!" Richie was howling.
Roaring sounded all around them and the green of the grass and the trees in front seemed faded and dull around them. It was greying out and turning to black.
They never would have admitted it later, not even under duress, that they grabbed each other's hands, both screaming and screaming. Jimmy felt his bladder let go and the thought briefly flew through his mind that his mother was really going to kill him when he got home.
They made it halfway up Theatre Street. Tears were streaming down Richie's cheeks; half of his shirt was gone as if it had been torn from his body. Jimmy had a thin trail of blood running from his hair down his forehead and into his left eye which he wiped away with one hand. He couldn't even remember how it had happened and certainly felt no pain. He pulled Richie to a stop outside Roxy's Convenience Store, whooping and coughing, trying to catch his breath. Richie collapsed to the floor, still sobbing although a little quieter now.
"It's.. gone." Jimmy said.
He glanced back behind him. The sun was still shining down the street. Mrs Oliver was weeding her front garden in a ghastly yellow housedress and Mrs Needham was shouting at her two younger boys to "get the fuck out of the road you little shits!"
Richie dared not to look and instead rubbed at his eyes and face, all the energy and exuberance from this morning was gone.
"I'm going home," he whispered finally. "Mum will be wondering why I haven't come home for lunch,"
"Yeah, mine too. Do you want to come back to mine? I've got a shirt you can borrow and my mum makes a mean soup. We could have it for lunch and you could ring home when we get there."
He helped Richie get to his feet. The tears had stopped now, his face was still a little red.
"Sound's cool," He nodded. "I'm starving."
Jimmy slung his arm around Richie's shoulders.
"I've got a couple of smokes left too; we could sneak them out my bedroom window if you want,"
Their thoughts turned to food; pre-lunch cigarettes and games they could play in the back garden until Richie's dad came by to pick him up in the evening and take him home.
Back in the trams, behind a rather large bush, a forgotten black plastic gun lay crushed and splintered in the dirt. Next to it perfectly imprinted in mud was one really rather large paw-print and half a white t-shirt. A low hum was almost audible over the gentle summer breeze.