The road looked the same as every other where we lived. Still, I stayed high on the wall sweeping my view in all directions, hoping there would be somewhere I recognised. I looked for my house first, of course. A cottage with a thatched roof, but that could be said for most of the houses for miles.
The fresh breeze helped to settle my stomach as I tried squinting, staring into the horizon, searching out anything that could be a building. I thought to look for my school. It would be easy to follow the road home from there. It would take less than half an hour walking. The problem was it was only a little bigger than my house, two small buildings, instead of one. Every year they only just got enough kids to fill the amount of space needed to keep it from closing. I knew soon I would have to go to a bigger school, the comprehensive closer to town. We’d have to drive, a long journey twice a day.
That was before today. Before last night. Before what happened to Mum and Dad.
Me and Tish would have to live with Nanna.
I turned, almost falling, a stone loose under my right foot. Tish wasn’t there.
How long it been since I last saw her?
Jumping from the wall I ran in a circle, twisting left and right, craning to see around the trees, not wanting to charge off in one direction in case she’d gone the other way.
“Tish,” I called. “Tish,” I said again, then waited. All I could hear were the rustle of the branches above my head, no little footsteps, no little laughs, no cooing at her latest fascination. “Tish. Where are you?” I was shouting at the top of my voice, widening the circle, my head darting all over the place. I looked at the ground, looked for her footprints, but the mud was cold and hard. I wasn’t leaving size four prints, so how would her little feet be marking out her path when she weighed about the same as my bag?
“Tish,” I called again.
How could I have been so silly? How could I have let Mum and Dad down so quick?
With my head darting to the right I didn’t see the branch coming out from the ground. I tripped, stumbling, falling, my knees scraping as I hit down hard. Tears came and I turned, planting myself on my bum. My head was hurting like I’d been playing on the Xbox for too long. My stomach tightened, my jaw falling loose. I knew this feeling and turned to the side. The beans came up, so did the water and last night’s dinner, lasagne and those crisps that had nothing to do with Mum staying on the bus.
Feeling better almost straight away, the world swaying only a little as I stood. The crack of a twig caused me to twist. There she was, running, her hands out wide, her face lit up like she’d been the one searching.
“Where’ve you been?” I said. “Don’t do that again,” I added as I bent down, pulling her close. She screwed up her nose at my breath, the stink reflecting back. It smelt like I’d eaten what goes down the toilet. My head swam.
Holding her tight, I took the few steps to where I’d left the bag at the base of the wall, just about making it before my legs gave way. Leaning heavy against the cold stone, I wrapped her in my coat as she sat on my lap, taking her cold hands in mine. I took a quick look around, making sure it was safe, then turned to look over my left shoulder and watched the sun peering over the stone wall. Taking a deep breath, I knew I had little choice but to sleep. At least just for a moment. Even the memory of something we learnt in school last year couldn’t keep my eyes open. At least I knew when I woke how we would get home.
“Tish,” I said, the cold air a shock as a sharp breath pulled in. I could feel she wasn’t lain in my arms like she had as I’d fallen asleep only moments ago. The morning was still bright as my eyes blinked open, relief coming as I saw her in front of me, bent over picking at the grass. Her pink trousers were dark, soaked through, her nappy sagging between her legs. I must have been out for longer than I’d thought, but it had done me good. The headache had gone and my stomach felt had relaxed, felt normal again. Empty, but normal.
Smiling, I kept my eyes on Tish, she was picking blades of grass and throwing them in the air. I turned and saw the bag was missing from my side. It was a few paces away, flat, the contents strewn across the wet ground, a nappy opened, the tapes pulled apart. I think she might have been going to change herself.
I couldn’t have been out that long, it was still morning. I remembered the last thing I saw and turned to my right, we’d done it in science last year. We’d done an experiment over a whole week, plotting the position of the sun throughout the day. I looked up, but it wasn’t there either. I turned left to where I’d seen it before, but it wasn’t where it should be, but as I concentrated, I saw the sun coming over the stone wall. That couldn’t be right. It was lower than it was when I’d closed my eyes. The only way that could happen was if I’d slept through the whole day.
Standing, I expected to feel weak, but the opposite was true. I was full of energy even though I’d not eaten for two days. Walking over to Tish, I changed her bum, feeling guilt for the pink, sore skin, but Mum had packed some of that white cream. Hugging her harder than I should have, I could feel she was freezing cold. At least she hadn’t gone hungry. The empty packets of the dried fruit scattered around the clothes told me that. Still I opened the last of the beans and we filled up. I was hungrier that I’d been for a long time and eager to get on with the trip home. Confident we should walk to where the sun was coming up, sure I could remember seeing the sun setting from my bedroom window before.
We set off through the trees, coming out the other side. I climbed over the wall after lowering Tish first, repeating over the opposite side. We were walking across fields, the view blocked by large trees everywhere, Tish happy to toddle along beside me, enjoying her fresh nappy and dry clothes. Soon I heard a sound I recognised and a wide smile bunched my cheeks.
A helicopter. Cool, and it was getting close. I grabbed Tish, pulling her in tight and ran towards the sound.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One