Take me home, p.1
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       Take Me Home, p.1

           Duncan James
 
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Take Me Home
TAKE ME HOME

  by

  Duncan James

  Published by Duncan James

 

  Copyright 2012 Duncan James

  ***

  ***

  TAKE ME HOME.

  by Duncan James

  They were in Stockbridge when they first saw the boy.

  Andrew and Mary Draper were shopping, and had managed to park outside the butchers, half way down the long, wide road that made up the village. They wanted to go in to the shop, anyway, so left the two dogs in the old Landrover.

  “’Morning, Andy,” said William, resplendent in a straw hat and slightly bloodstained striped apron. “Any rabbits for me today?”

  “Afraid not,” replied Andrew. “The dogs seem to be loosing their touch. They caught one earlier, which we kept, but don’t seem to have had any luck since.”

  “You need new dogs,” joked the butcher. “Can’t let my customers down like that, y’know.”

  “Nothing wrong with my dogs,” responded the farmer. “Probably this cold spell, keeping the rabbits underground.”

  Mary finished their shopping – pork chops and a pound of Will’s homemade sausages, and a couple of ham bones for the dogs – and there was the boy, outside, looking at the dogs in the car.

  “Lovely dogs,” said the lad. “They’re good hunters, I can tell, but do you shoot with them, as well?”

  “Not so much these days,” replied Andrew, wondering who the boy was. They reckoned to know everyone thereabouts, having lived in the area all their lives, but they had never seen him before. Probably with his parents, visiting the fishing tackle shop or something like that. They got a lot of visitors in the village, in the heart of the valley of the River Test, attracted by the river as much as anything. Part of it ran under the main road, and there was always a shoal of trout to be seen in the town duck pond, as it was known, and the inevitable ducks looking for their share of the bread the visitors brought with them.

  “We must get on,” said Mary, keen to finish her shopping.

  “I’ll see you again later, then,” said the boy, turning again to the dogs in the back of the four-wheel drive. The dogs were taking a lively interest in him, looking at him intently, ears cocked. But they were not barking, or disturbed by him in any way, the Drapers noticed.

  It was about an hour later when they saw him again.

  They’d been to the small supermarket, Andrew had been to the paper shop, and they had gossiped with a few friends and neighbours they had met. Mary had decided they should go to Lillie Langtree’s tearooms for some fresh bread and a sit down over a warm coffee. They had just taken their seat at a table in the window when the boy appeared outside. He looked in and waved.

  “Funny that he should still be hanging around,” said Mary. “I wonder if he’s all right?”

  “Looks a bit lost if you ask me,” replied Andrew.

  “Perhaps I should nip out and have a word,” suggested Mary. “He looks a nice lad – well spoken, too – but I wouldn’t want him to come to any harm.”

  “His parents must be around somewhere,” said her husband. “Probably shopping, like we have been.”

  “I’ll go and ask,” decided Mary, looking at the boy still standing on the pavement outside.

  Andrew watched as she went up to the boy, and saw him shake his head a couple of times in answer to her questions. After a few moments, they both turned and came into the café.

  “This is Tom,” said Mary to Andrew. “He seems to be a bit lost, just as we thought.”

  “Oh, dear,” said Andrew. “Tell us what’s happened, then,” he said to Tom, and beckoned to the waitress. “Bring another cup, will you please. Do you want a piece of cake or something?” he asked Tom.

  “That would be nice – thank you,” said the boy.

  “So how come you’re lost, then,” asked Andrew.

  “I really don’t know,” replied Tom. “I’m not even sure where I am, to be honest, or how I got here.”

  “You must have come in with your parents for some shopping,” suggested Mary helpfully. “This village is called Stockbridge. Does that ring any bells with you?”

  “No, it doesn’t,” replied the lad.

  Mary poured the coffee. “Do you take sugar?” she asked.

  “I don’t think so,” replied Tom.

  Andrew frowned. “What’s your surname, boy?” he demanded.

  “I’m not sure I’ve got one,” replied Tom.

  Andrew looked across at his wife. “Looks as if Tom is suffering from a loss of memory or something,” he said.

  He turned to the boy. “Can you remember anything?” he asked. “Where you came from, where you go to school, what your parents look like, why you came here – anything at all.”

  Tom frowned. “Nothing at all, really,” he replied.

  “Well, this is serious then,” announced the farmer. “What do you think, Mary? We’d better go round the village, I think, to see if we can see anyone looking for the lad, or see if we can find someone who Tom recognises, don’t you think?”

  “Yes, I suppose you’re right,” replied his wife. “But I haven’t seen anyone outside looking anxious. Not since we’ve been sitting here.”

  “Drink up, then lad. The sooner we start looking for whoever you’re with, the better.”

  They hurried outside, and went from shop to shop down the High Street, making enquiries and looking out for anyone who might be searching for Tom. Tom recognised no one, and no one appeared to recognise Tom.

  As they left the butchers, the boy turned to William and said, “We’ll bring you rabbits next week. Plenty.”

  Outside, Andrew caught Tom by the sleeve. “How do you know I bring rabbits to this shop?” he demanded.

  “I must have heard you talking, earlier, I suppose,” replied the lad.

  “And what makes you think we’ll have plenty to bring down next week?”

  “Your dogs are good hunters,” replied Tom. “They’ll catch lots.”

  Andrew looked at Mary and shook his head, as they went on, from shop to shop.

  In the fishing tackle shop, Tom seemed fascinated by the boxes of tiny imitation flies. “Is your father a fisherman?” asked Mary. “Is that why you came down here – to visit the fishing shop?”

  Tom had moved across to the rack of fly rods on display. “No. I don’t think so,” he said. “But I’d like to try catching fish with one of these.”

  “Come on,” said Andrew, getting irritated. “I haven’t got all day. I need to get back to the farm.”

  “Your sheep will be all right,” said Tom.

  “And how do you know I keep sheep, may I ask?” demanded the farmer.

  Tom shrugged. “Somebody must have mentioned it, I suppose,” replied the boy.

  They came to The Vine Inn, in the centre of the village.

  “We’d better look in here, in case his parents are having an early lunch, or someone has heard something,” said Andrew.

  As they went in, the landlord called across.

  “Hey, Andy – morning Mary. Don’t often see you in here. What can I get you?”

  “Nothing thanks, Fred,” replied Andrew. “We’re in a bit of a hurry as a matter of fact.”

  He explained quickly what the problem was.

  Tom had been listening, and quietly took Mary to one side. “If you would like to stop here for a drink or some lunch with your friend, please do,” said the boy. “I can tell you that there’s nobody in the village who knows me, and nobody I know, either.”

  Andrew heard what Tom said.

  “How can you be so sure of that, if you don’t know who you are or how you got
here?” he asked.

  “I just know, that’s all,” replied Tom. “So please don’t waste any more time searching.”

  Andrew Draper sighed. “I really can’t make you out, boy,” he said. “But I could certainly do with a pint while I think what to do next.” He nodded to Fred behind the bar. “And a small shandy for Mary, please,” he said.

  He turned to Tom. “Would you like a Coke or something?” he asked.

  “I’m not sure I know what that is,” replied the boy, “But I’d like to try it. Thank you.”

  They sat at a small round table, and Tom sipped his Coke through a straw.

  “Hum – nice,” he said.

  “Have you never tasted that before?” asked Mary.

  “Never, so far as I can remember,” replied Tom.

  “Well I’m blowed!” she exclaimed.

  “What we need to do next,” said Andrew Draper, “is decide what we need to do next. It looks as if we shall have to report you as a missing person to the Police, young man. Then that means that Social Services will probably look after you, until they find out where you come from and what’s happened to your parents, so that they can send you home.”

  “I don’t think I have one,” said the boy. “Why can’t I stay with you and the dogs?”

  The farmer looked across at his wife.

  “Well, I suppose you could until they sort you out, if that’s what you want,” he said.

  “Providing they let us,” added his wife.

  “Who are ‘they’?” asked Tom.

  “The authorities, that’s who ‘they’ are. The people who will have to find out about you and get you back home where you belong. That’s who ‘they’ are,” replied Andrew.

  “But it would be nice to have you stay for a few days while they sort it out,” said Mary. “If that’s what you’d like and if they let us,” she added.

  “Yes,” said Tom emphatically. “That’s definitely what I’d like. Please take me home.”

  So that’s what they did. Tom sat in the back of the Landrover, to the delight of the dogs, who behaved as if they had known him all their lives. “We’ve got to catch lots of rabbits next week,” Tom told them. “I can show you how to do it better than you have been,” he added.

  They almost seemed to understand. There was something very odd about that boy, thought Andrew. Very odd.
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