The first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t hear Oscar snoring. My eyes snapped open and I jolted upright with a start.
Oscar wasn’t in Jack’s bed.
“Jack, wake up,” I said. I shook his shoulder to wake him up. Jack muttered in his sleep beside me. I shoved hard on his arm this time. “Jack!”
“Wha? What time is it?” he asked, rubbing his eyes.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “but Oscar’s gone. Get up.”
“Maybe he’s down the hall having a slash,” mumbled Jack as he tried to turn over in the tiny space of the bed.
“Get up,” I ordered before pulling the covers back. “Something’s not right. Nothing’s happened.”
“What do you mean? I was sleeping, that was somethin’ wasn’t it?” complained Jack yet he pulled himself upright and looked around.
“No, you dolt. Our dreams. I didn’t see you or Oscar. It was just me and my mum again. We didn’t banish wood boy.”
“Fuckin’ hell, you’re right,” Jack said. He was alert now.
“Shite,” I uttered as I scrambled out of bed looking for my bathrobe and shoes. “We’ve gotta find Oscar. I don’t have a good feeling about this.”
Jack didn’t argue.
With our shoes and bathrobes on, Jack and I tiptoed down the hall. Every room had the door wide open and each bed was filled with a dozing occupant. The rest of the hall sat still, blissfully asleep, and completely oblivious to our presence. The stillness unnerved me. It was almost too quiet. Nothing stirred – there wasn’t a single snort, wheeze, or sigh in the entire place.
“Wait here,” I whispered to Jack as I stuck my arm out.
“What are you doing?” Jack hissed, but I had already moved around him.
It seemed a crazy thing to do, but I crept into the closest room and looked down at the figures reclining in each bed. Neither moved nor made a sound. I reached down and yanked the bed linen off the figure on the left. There was no body. It was a pair of pillows.
I moved over to the other bed and did the same thing with the same result. No body just two faded cushions snuggled together on the cot. I ran back to the hallway not caring who heard me or not anymore. It was a ruse. It had always been.
We were still dreaming.
“Where is he?” Jack stammered. His eyes had widened causing the whites of his eyes to gleam in what little light there was.
“I don’t know.” There was no confusion as to who he referred to. “It doesn’t matter, we still have to find Oscar. Let’s go.” I tugged on his arm forcing Jack to follow me down the hallway towards Oscar’s room. Oscar’s bed was padded out with cushions just like every other bed we’d passed.
“Bollocks!” I uttered. “Where the blazes is Oscar?”
We got our answer as we traced our steps back out to the main corridor. There was a chilly breeze blowing gently down the stairwell that I didn’t remember being there before. It swirled around our ankles and picked at our bathrobes as we stood there, the dread sinking in. Someone had gone up, not down. And there was only one more stack of stairs that went up. It led to the roof. Jack and I looked at each other, each of us waiting for the other to move.
The roof was the last place we wanted to go.
“Maybe Oscar’s not up there,” prompted Jack. He knew better.
“We can’t leave him.” I paused. “If it was you up there, you’d want us to come.”
“I know,” said Jack trying to gather up his courage.
I gave him a quick clap on the back. Jack didn’t flinch this time. “Be ready with the verses,” I said as I stepped back.
He just nodded his head, his eyes full of fear.
We took the stairs two at a time and reached the open door in less than minute. What hadn’t been obvious to us as we stood at the bottom of the stairwell was how windy it was atop of the roof. And bitterly cold. The wind whipped my bathrobe back and forth across the front of my legs causing me to shiver. I wished I had put socks on. And maybe even a hat and coat, too.
“Come on,” I shouted to Jack over the howl of the wind.
I sat down on the first ledge and hopped down as gingerly as I could. Jack followed my lead and we slowly crab walked our way down the first steep pitch towards the next roof. Jack went ahead of me this time and straddled the small foot gap to the next roof before scrambling sideways across the incline and back over the hipline heading for the valley between this roof and the next one in line. We continued this way for what felt like hours, carefully plotting our way towards the chapel roof, the place we both felt like we’d find Oscar. I couldn’t tell you why we thought that, but it was like we knew that that was exactly where he’d be.