Danny’s father is in hospital and none is telling him what’s happening. Wen Danny does to walk his dog in his local woods he hears a voice calling from help out of an airshaft from a disused railway tunnel. To read parts I and 2 of
A Christmas Miracle
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I think about Joe on the way home. It must be someone playing about. Or a dream. No one can get into that old tunnel, can they? Though Mr Gold’s worried face stays with me. ‘You know, Hound, I don’t get adults. Mr. Gold knew something’s up, didn’t he? Do you think I should call the police?’
Hound wags his tail. He’s more interested in Mr Gold’s bag of buns. ‘Do you think Mr Gold was a secret agent? Maybe he reads people’s faces.’
It’s still pouring down and there are huge puddles right across the road. Under the bridge by the pub the left side of the road is nearly completely covered and when I wade in it comes up to my calves. There’s no one about so I jump a bit and Hound goes mad, using his tail as a snorkel. At least the mud comes off.
I’m still wondering about Joe and the police and the buns when Mr Sense, our neighbour appears from nowhere. ‘How’s your dad, Danny? He alright?’ He doesn’t wait for an answer but turns for his garage. ‘Bloody car’s dead. Come on, I need a hand.’
Dad says Mr Sense is a tinkerer. He’s always in his shed or garage or under his car. This time though the car is propped up on a ramp, half in and half out of his garage. I haven’t been in his garage for ages. Last time it was full of polystyrene boxes that smelt of fish. Now there’s a load of furniture at the back, a sofa and a table and two chairs, like he’s using it to watch the TV and have his dinner. On the wall there are so many tools you can’t see the bricks. To my horror, Hound sniffs at one of the chairs and then pees on it. Mr Sense doesn’t notice.
‘Take this.’ He gives me a lamp, lies down on a board on wheels and rolls under the car. ‘So, he ok? Point the light over there.’ He points towards the back.
‘I dunno, Mr Sense…’
‘Sure to be. Strong man your dad. More to the left, Danny.’ Some sort of black gloop has started to puddle under his board and is approaching my trainers. There’s a lot of grunting and I’m getting cold from the earlier soaking.
‘I’d better go in, Mr S… Frank. Find out how he is.’
‘Wha…? Oh yeah, sure. Just a little to the right, Danny.’
‘Frank, there’s some water or something. Black stuff. I’ll have to move…’
‘You what?’ He rolls rapidly out and take the lamp from me. ‘Oh shi… you’d better run along.’ He begins unwinding a huge amount of kitchen roll. ‘If you have time later, I could do with a hand.’
‘Mr Sense, do you think anyone could get into the old railway tunnel?’
He’s already on his roller board again ‘Tunnel? Nah. Now, he’ll be fine’
He disappears, muttering. I think he’s talking about dad.
Indoors my cousins are playing monopoly and arguing.
‘What’s the main river of Cambodia?’ Beth.
‘There isn’t one. It’s all desert.’ Liam. ‘Why are you smelly?’
‘God, you’re stupid.’ Beth.
‘Yeah but at least I’m not smelly.’ Liam.
My cousins are such fun to be around. Not. I sneak into the kitchen and stash the buns in the bottom of the fridge. Hounds flops into his bed and falls asleep. Auntie stands by the kitchen door and blows smoke down the garden, staring at the neighbour’s shed. When she registers it’s me, she says, ‘He’s being assessed later. They’ll call later. Your mum is holding up.’
Auntie uses expressions like ‘holding up’ which I think are stupid. Mum’s tiny; she can’t hold up much and if dad asks her to help with DIY she moans about her back. I know what’s she’s doing. She’s ‘hiding an unpalatable truth’. I read about that in ‘I Robot’.
‘You’d better get changed, Danny. You’re very wet. I’ll get some food.’
In the sitting room, Liam and Beth are arguing about the price of hotels. Judy is at her table methodically colouring the top with crayons. I find a picture we can colour together. It’s a giant eating a pie in a cave.
‘Are you playing, Danny?’ Beth
‘He can play the winner. Me.’ Liam.
‘I’ll have a nap.’
Beth glares at me. ‘You’re the host. You have to entertain us. It’s the rules. I’ve we’re going to be trapped in your stinky house, then you’ll have to join in.’
Dad likes monopoly. Maybe we can play when he’s home. I stare at the giant and the pie he’s holding and hear a voice. Calling for ‘help’. Someone who’s trapped.
I stand, nearly knocking over Judy’s table. ‘I’ll be back later. Tell Auntie I’m seeing a friend.’
I like the way both of them stare at me in surprise.
Auntie doesn’t mind when I say I have buns for a friend. She’s stirring something and nods a couple of times as I make up a story. She doesn’t even tell me to be back by a certain time. Now I’ve made up my mind to go back to the tunnel, I need a plan. I’ll take Hound for company and safety. He can run home if needs be. I also take a torch and matches.
The day is pretty gloomy even though it’s only just after one. The rain has stopped. When we reach the entrance to the Woods I let Hound off his lead and he shoots off. Normally he spends the first ten minutes being really irritating – just sniffing everything. But today he runs ahead and disappears. I planned to go back to the chimney but I can’t lose him now. Once I catch up he’ll go back on his lead and we can find the chimney.
I catch a glimpses of his white coat as I follow shouting for him to stop. Sometimes his doggie brain is so irritating. He could almost be a cousin.
Finally I see him, holding his ‘I’m ready pose’. I have to swallow hard. He’s by the gates that bar the entrance to the old tunnel, staring inside, into the dark.
When I join him, he barks once. Softly, like he’s waiting for something. If he can see anything, then I can’t.
Now I’m here I wonder what to do. I press my face against the metal mesh and peer as hard as I can. Nothing. By my side, Hound begins to growl, his hackles rising. He’s making me nervous and I wish I’d brought my cricket bat rather than a torch and the buns.
What to do? I’m about to shout into the dark when Hound jumps up and throws himself against the gate. Rather than bouncing back into a muddy heap, Hound and the gate fly inwards. The chain holding the gate shut slides to the ground; it looks like the padlock is broken. I’m really surprised. Joe said they were trapped. Maybe they’ve got out.
I really want to leave but in seconds Hound is invisible, the white of his coat lost in the pitch black. My attempts to call him back just echo around me. As my voice dies away another sound comes from inside the tunnel. A woman. Screaming. Followed by Hound barking. He doesn’t seem too far away.
I enjoy adventures. When I’m in my bed, under the duvet with my torch and the rain and wind are battering on the windows outside and the adventure is inside a book. But here, inside a dripping black tunnel with a screaming woman, I’m not enjoying this one at all.
Mr Gold said to share a trouble, half a trouble. But there’s no one here to share my troubles with. I call out, ‘Hound, please. Here, Hound.’
And there’s a scream, like a cross between a weep and a scream.
Oh god. I turn on the torch and step inside the gate. My cheeks are wet, not from rain which has stopped. The gate clangs shut behind me and I take a deep breath.