In that instant the moon was cleared of clouds and J was shocked to recognise Laurie, a boy he knew from school. His sweaty hair stuck to his forehead and cheeks and there was a sickly pallor to his skin that had nothing to do with the moonlight. Now, more curious than afraid, J moved closer and called out Laurie’s name.
“Hey Laurie, what’s up?”
The other boy took a moment to focus, blinking rapidly. His chest heaved with ragged breaths. J tried again.
“What are you doing out? It’s really late.”
“They let him in.” Laurie’s voice was shaky, barely a whisper.
“What?” said J, “they let who in?”
Laurie just shook his head, his expression haunted.
“I was safe until they opened the door and let him in.”
The alarm clock’s electronic bleating dragged J to the surface from his dream. His Dad threw his bedroom door open and poked his head into the room.
“Fancy a boiled egg J?”
“Unh – maybe.”
J was struggling to adjust to the fact that it was a normal morning and that the creepy events of last night had only been a dream. His long legs swung off the side of the bed. Rubbing his head, he tried to rouse himself from the sleepiness which clung. Outside his door were the sounds of normality, his younger sister talking to the dog and clatters in the kitchen from his Dad getting breakfast. Now he was hungry.
It wasn’t until J slammed the front door half an hour later, to set off for school, that he allowed himself to think about the strange events which had troubled his sleep. As he walked round Cranberry Gardens he passed Laurie’s house. Everything there appeared to be normal. He scanned the wall and the bushes, looked up at the window of Laurie’s room, but nothing seemed odd. Nothing to add to or detract from last night’s dream.
J loped on. A glance at his watch told him there was no time to dawdle, he had to meet Alex and get to class. He passed some junior boys from his school, the younger years wore cherry red blazers. A cut through the twitchell trimmed 5 minutes off his journey to school. He risked snagging brambles and mud on his shoes, but the twitchell came out opposite Alex’s house and most kids from Cranberry Gardens used it on route to St Ethelred’s High School.
At the front door he waited at the door for Alex to grab his rucksack, more pupils passed by. The girls clutched their folders to their chests or had colourful bags slung over their shoulders. Boys walked, hands deep in pockets, in separate groups – not many boys had the nerve to walk downhill to school in the company of a girl.
J’s attention was caught by Laurie passing by – his eyes were downcast and his face pale. J called out to his friend – he passed right by Alex’s drive. Laurie didn’t look up – didn’t even seem to hear him.
“What are you calling him for?” Alex was ready now, a piece of toast in one hand. With the other he struggled to shrug on the black blazer worn by the senior boys at St Ethelred’s.
“Homework,” J stalled, unwilling to talk about his strange dream just yet. “Wanted to know how he got on with the maths questions.”
Alex was not in the same set for maths, so he didn’t ask any more questions. Alex was a school ‘sports hero’: captain of the Rugby team, he also represented the school for long jump. J and Alex didn’t share many classes now they were seniors, but had been friends since their time at play school when both were fascinated by dinosaurs.
The two boys walked downhill, with only a few minutes left til registration, the Head was a stickler for punctuality. Luckily they could use the side gate into school – juniors had to use the main gate, at the bottom of the hill and round the corner. Darting through the narrow gateway, Alex & J cut across the quad into a low, flat-roofed building that housed their classroom. Miss Read had not yet checked the register. They sat in their usual places and another school day began.
Second lesson was Maths. J was keen to try talking to Laurie again, so he took a desk by the window, alongside him.
“Hey Laurie, how’s it going?”
Laurie looked up slowly – his eyes dull and vacant. He looked at J, or rather he looked through him. Then he looked away. Which was strange, but not as strange as his behaviour during the class. Laurie was a gifted pupil at maths, but he didn’t engage with questions or answers, in fact he didn’t participate at all.
J craned his neck to see his notes, but Laurie had not answered any of the problems. When the lesson ended Laurie scooped up his books and left the room, without trying to catch up with his friends or talk to anyone. J was puzzled – the boy seemed a shell of his usual self. Was any of this in relation to what he’d seen in his dream?
[To be continued]