By Damien McKeating
JANINE had not kept her promise. She had never intended to keep the promise so she thought it was probably okay to break it.
Instead of going straight home after school she went down to the woods to hunt for conkers. Lee Ferrow had a six-er already and had told her girls couldn’t play conkers; so
now she had to beat him.
Her boots trampled on a red and gold path of fallen leaves. She huddled into her coat and plunged between the trees, putting the well worn woodland at her back. The best conkers had been taken from the obvious places; she had to branch out for somewhere new.
She pushed her away around brambles and forced her way deep into the woods. Above her the tree branches rattled in the wind and stretched their bare branches across an iron-grey sky.
She realised she wouldn’t have much time before it was dark and that maybe her mum had been right and she should have gone straight home.
But then she saw them.
With a satisfied smile she stepped into a grove of horse chestnut trees, the ground littered with their fallen conkers. She had a found a treasure trove. She began to fill her pockets and sang to herself.
“Boil them, bake them, soak them; swing them, bash them, smash them.”
She stopped with her hand stretched out towards a big, brown conker.
A pair of shoes were sticking out from under a bush. Janine shuffled forward on her knees, scared that someone would need her help. She saw the bottom of the legs, the school trousers torn and ripped as if they’d been wrapped in barbed wire.
Come straight home, her mum had said.
Janine reached the bush and pushed it aside. She saw the purple school sweater, just like her own. She saw a mop of blonde hair and a hole where the rest of the head was missing.
Come straight home; the Williams’ boy is still missing.
Janine sprung up to her feet and stepped away from the body. She had forgotten just how quickly it got dark. The trees were shadows and there was no sign of the path.
She plunged her hands into her pockets and felt the conkers there. Someone had bashed the boy’s head in just like…
She turned to run.
She hit the ground hard and tasted blood in her mouth.
There was pain in her legs and when she looked down she saw long, thorny branches wrapped around her ankles. The thorns cut her legs, digging in deeper with every movement.
There was a creaking in the trees, loud, like wood splitting.
Janine stared up in silent terror. In the dark twilight she saw the shadows of the trees moving; but there was no wind.
The air was snatched from her lungs as the bonds around her legs pulled tight. She was dragged along the ground and into the air.
“A big one,” said a voice like a creaking door.
“Swing and bash and smash,” said another voice like rustling leaves.
Janine looked across the grove. She thought she saw someone else there, a person hanging upside down from the trees, their legs wrapped in brambles, swinging as the branches moved.
Then the world tilted.
And she was flying through the air towards them…
© Damien McKeating 2016