Skiving off from English Lit had proved to be easier than expected. Although I had the unfortunate experience of running into Mr. Burrows in the hall, he didn’t say anything to me as I made my excuses to go to the infirmary. Oscar and Jack were already poring through microfilm when I finally showed up at the library.
“Bloody hell, would you have a look at this,” exclaimed Jack. Oscar and I shushed him in unison, but it did no good. Jack twitched around in his orange plastic chair like he was being electrocuted.
“Jesus, Jack, what?” I asked.
“Just read it, you pillock,” Jack hissed.
My mouth went dry. “Are you having me on?”
“Oh my God,” gasped Oscar. His eyes were practically bulging out of their sockets. “We are well and truly buggered.” I could think of a few choice expletives I would’ve used if I wasn’t in shock.
“So, what happened to them?” I asked.
“I dunno,” replied Jack with a new edge in his voice. “It was back in the ‘40s before the War ended. It just says the boys disappeared from Hallow Park. It sounds like most people thought they had enlisted.” Jack shook his head.
“What?” I asked.
“Well, they left everything behind. Everything.” Jack didn’t have to re-iterate for us. We knew all too well that what little things that we actually owed, we cherished. Being an orphan didn’t afford you many opportunities to acquire prized possessions. I thought about my mum’s locket that I kept stashed under the ticking of my mattress.
“Maybe it’s just a coincidence,” insisted Oscar.
“No way,” said Jack. “Read it for yourself. Their friends said that they kept saying they were cursed by a wooden boy. It’s him.”
I cleared my throat. “Okay, supposing it’s the boy with the thorn in his side. Does it say anything else?”
“Not exactly,” said Jack, clearly frustrated with me and Oscar. “It references another microfilm. Give me a sec.” Jack pulled back the lever of the machine causing the glass plate to pull up and expose the film. Jack gingerly removed the flimsy film and trotted off to the librarian’s desk. Oscar and I avoided making eye contact.
“Okay, here we go,” said Jack before promptly shutting up. His eyes scrunched up in concentration as he adjusted the viewing lens and started scanning across the film. Finally, he came to an abrupt stop on one particular marked frame. His face went rigid.
“Bollocks,” croaked Jack.
I didn’t even bother asking Jack questions this time around and read the article word for word myself. It was a historical essay on Hallow, and I didn’t know why someone would connect the piece to the disappearance of the boys from Hallow Park – until I got to the part about the death of a young acolyte. Back then Hallow Park hadn’t been an orphanage, it’d been a priory. He’d fallen out of a window to his death, which would’ve been horrible enough except that he was impaled by part of the priory gate on his way down. He never made it to the ground.
“Sod this for a game of soldiers,” breathed Oscar. Jack and I looked at each other. Oscar had jumped up quickly, his face drawn and pale.
“Oscar,” I began, but he’d already turned and fled. I watched in dismay as he squeezed his flabby buttocks through the field of library tables.
“Come on.” I sighed and grabbed Jack’s arm. He rolled his eyes at me, but didn’t say anything. It didn’t take long to catch up with Oscar.
“Oscar, wait up,” I shouted. He turned and looked at us, but didn’t slow his pace down any. If anything, he tried to speed up.
“Oi! Plonker!” shouted Jack.
That seemed to do the trick. Oscar stopped dead in his tracks.
“What gives?” I asked as I reached his side.
“I don’t have it in me like you lot do,” said Oscar sweeping his arm in our direction. “I’m weak and soft . . . I’m pathetic.”
The silence that followed was uncomfortable.
“Look,” Jack said. “Ain’t none of us perfect, but that don’t mean we have to dwell on it, do we?”
Oscar didn’t look convinced.
For some reason, Oscar’s cowardice made me lose my rag in a way that was utterly unexpected. I snapped. “At least your mum wanted you before the cancer got her,” I said. “Me mum. She couldn’t handle it. She’d rather have killed herself than be with me!”
“I didn’t mean-” stammered Oscar.
“You’re either in or you’re out. If you wanna give up then that’s your business, mate, but I’m gonna fight him the whole way.”
I didn’t wait for his answer as I strode off in the direction of Hallow Park, leaving my friends to gawk after me.
* * *