Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Mockingbird

Title: The Mockingbird
Authors: Rolf and Ranger

"Okay, fruit loop. You're unpacked, get to it."

The resounding slam of the door would have made a lesser man flinch. Marc just crossed his arms and waited. "Want to tell me what that was?" 
"Want me to tell you what YOU are?" Matthew invited. Marc shook his head, still waiting.
"No thanks. And the computer is down here, all set up for you."

"This is a VACATION." From the thud, Matthew had begun a sit-down strike at the top of the stairs. "Let me define the concept. NOT working. Taking time OUT. Having a BREAK."

"We are having a break, you're taking time off work, we're in this beautiful place in the middle of nowhere-"

"And you won't shut up about studying!"

"Matthew…….." Rolf said from somewhere upstairs. Marc quickly swallowed on the smile as Matthew thudded his way downstairs.
"Just three hours. It won't kill you. It's a big test you've got coming up, you need to do this. The rest of the day's your own."

"While you two loll about down by the lake and fish!" Matthew said bitterly, appearing around the doorframe. Marc pointed at the computer.
"Three sets of questions. When they're done, give me or Rolf a shout and we'll check it for you. Or we'll be back for lunch, whichever comes first."

"You're MEAN."
Marc sighed. "Possibly. I also want you to do well on this test. As do you."

"This STILL should be a week OFF-"

"We'll see you at twelve." Rolf followed Matthew in, checked the computer and took a couple of bottles of water out of the fridge. "And at least two sets of those questions need to be done by then. Got it?"
Marc you could safely call names to. Well, for a while at least. Rolf…
Matthew looked daggers instead, muttering ‘Yes, Sir’ in tones that left no doubt at all as to what it meant.
Rolf gave him a quick hug in passing. "Water in the fridge, crackers in the cupboard if you can't last until lunch; ring the bell outside if you want us."

Matthew muttered something, slumped down in front of the computer and glared at the screen, listening to the door shut and Marc and Rolf head down to the lake. Right now he could happily answer hours worth of questions on just whom his least favourite people on the planet were and exactly why.
It had been Rolf's idea to take the week at the cabin. Eric, Michael, Joe and Chris were joining them on Friday night, but the cabin provided an ideal environment for studying- seriously reduced distractions, opportunities for rest and recreation, and a serious incentive for getting enough work done to escape the cabin. He'd further invited Marc to join them when he'd found Marc had a week's holiday too. Partly on the grounds that Marc needed a holiday. Partly, Marc suspected, to make him take a break from the video and computer screen.
So here they were. Playing Matthew in the Middle. Take your places for the vacation from hell.
Not caring in the least about the economic history of the Soviet Union, OR currently passing ANY summer school class, especially this one, Matthew began to answer the questions on the screen.
It actually took him until about three PM , mostly because he was so fed up with the computer and the situation, that every question took an age to fight its way into his brain through internal ranting at Marc. By four PM , Matthew was at the lake and swimming, making his way well away from Rolf and Marc who were up on the sun-soaked dock. It was the last of the genuine heat of the day. Late afternoon was beginning to turn into early evening: the sun's heat was beginning to lose intensity, the colours were beginning to fade from the bright and sharp of day to softened, golden hues, and shadows were beginning to lengthen on the water and the woodlands around the lake. Mood lifting- marginally- Matthew turned over and floated, taking a rest, and watched the few birds circle over the one chalk cliff face that lifted out of the water. A shallow beach was underneath it- he and Chris had explored it once or twice, and made a tentative attempt to climb the crumbling cliff which Joe had rapidly put a stop to. They'd never yet succeeded in finding the top of the cliff from the woodlands. Maybe this week would give him a chance to find the way- the view up there would be magnificent.
Except the chance would be a fine thing. Angry again, Matthew turned over and swam, strongly, making his way into the shallows at the base of the cliff until he could wade up the beach. It was shingle rather than sand- rocks and pebbles which he picked his way over. He tried at both sides of the beach but the cliff hemmed it in on all sides- there was no way up to the woodland from here without climbing. And it wasn't really all that steep. Matthew cast a quick look back at the dock. He was some way off- probably a little too far to be seen clearly. And from what he could see, Rolf was still engaged in his book and Marc by all appearances, looked asleep. 

Apart from which, if he was spotted, at this distance it was going to take them some considerable while to stop him doing anything.
(Didn't you HEAR me calling?
NO Rolf…. I never heard a thing…..!
I was probably deaf from brain damage, caused by being made to STUDY while on vacation………)
The demon well and truly engaged, Matthew checked for handholds and pulled himself up the lower face of the cliff.
It actually wasn't that hard. The chalk was very weather-beaten; the storms around the mountains here were fierce and the rain had cut many natural hand and footholds. So long as you checked carefully and avoided the more suddenly crumbly ones, it was a fairly easy climb. Matthew took his time, wishing by the time he had a few scratches, that he hadn't tried it barefoot, but very satisfied with the speed of ascent. About five minutes later he pulled himself over the top of the cliff, ignoring the rush of pebbles and sand that cascaded over the edge, and lay down full length to get his breath back. It was grassed up here, thickly grassed, and the woods were only a few metres away. The more Matthew thought about it, the more convinced he became that he could probably find his way back through the woodland, saunter up onto the dock and give the other two a shock, since they'd last seen him swim out across the lake.
Matthew cast one last look at the lake and dock, taking his bearings, and headed into the woods.
It took him some time to find a way through the woodland brush. Clearly no one larger than a deer had tried walking this way in some years. Once he prised his way through and found himself back on the grass growing between the trees, he began to walk, keeping his direction firmly in mind.
The first thing he found was a second cabin.
There were several around the lake- maybe five in all, but at such a distance that it was rare to meet any of the inhabitants. This particular cabin looked derelict anyway. Matthew checked the half-open door, then peered briefly through the broken pane of the window. A couple of pieces of furniture remained, but the cabin hadn't been occupied anytime recently. The floor was thick with dust and the marks of animals, several of whom probably lived there. Making a note to bring Marc back with him and explore it properly, Matthew continued on down the hill. It was a surprising distance. From time to time he caught sight of the lake through the trees, enough of a glimpse to know he was still headed in the right direction. Eventually the path led away from the lake, coming into the steeper descent that meant it was approaching the dock. Matthew picked his way more carefully as the grass began to thin, and the voice behind him took him totally by surprise.
"Where did you come from?"
Matthew glanced around, heart jumping. The young man looked pretty much his own age. Wearing khaki slacks, boots and a white t-shirt, he stood out against the trees, dark hair in his eyes, a genuinely puzzled expression on his face. Matthew gave him a tentative smile, somewhat embarrassed to be caught half-dressed.  
"Hi. I'm from the next cabin up? Matthew Mocoso."

"Liam Gallagher." The young man gave him a slightly shy smile. "Been swimming?"
"Yeah- thought I'd try finding my way back through the woods."

"If you want the cabin up from the dock, you're going the wrong way- you need to go back up the hill a ways."

"I thought I'd follow the lake around to the dock itself- my partner's there."

The boy's face changed a little and he took an involuntary step back. "Right."

"We're just here on vacation-" Matthew said, noticing the reaction. "Its ok, we're just swimming."

"Enjoy." Liam took another step back, about to turn.
"Where are you staying?" Matthew called after him. Liam paused.
"The old cabin back there- by the cliff."

"I didn't think anyone was living there."

"It used to be my parents' place. I'm just staying there for a few days."

"Are you here alone?" Matthew asked impulsively. The boy's face darkened again.
"Yes. I just got out of the army- I was overseas during the war. Needed a few days to get my bearings again."

Wow. Matthew swallowed, thinking of some of the pictures he'd seen of the American troops stationed in Iraq .
"I'm sorry."

Liam glanced again towards the lake, then sighed.
"You're going to get lost if you go that way. Come on, I'll show you how to get to the dock."

They walked in silence for a while, until the light started to get brighter through the trees and the water's reflection could be seen. Liam stopped there, nodding down the hill.
"Straight down. It's easy from here."

"Thanks." Matthew hesitated, looking at what he could see of the dock. "Why don't you come down- come meet my partner, come swimming with us."

Liam shook his head, retreating. "No thanks. I just wanted some time here on my own."

"What about your family? Do they know where you are?" Matthew was starting to feel he was being too inquisitive, but there was something faintly worrying about this boy. "Are you single?"
Liam shook his head. "My partner died - we were serving together."

Oh God. Matthew silently damned himself for tactlessness. 

"I'm SO sorry."
"We used to come here a lot together - he's very strong around here, you know? Very easy to remember him."

"Yeah," Matthew said softly. 
Liam turned without another word and headed back up the slope. Matthew watched him go, eyes stinging.

Since Rolf had pretty much convinced himself that Matthew had drowned, his reception at the dock was somewhat warm. Matthew, however, couldn't prise his mind off Liam. The large, brown eyes- less sad than bewildered. Lost. He managed to keep sufficient wits about him not to confess to climbing the cliff- thankfully that had gone unnoticed- but once back at the cabin with Rolf's mind off the evils of vanishing for an hour without explanation, he told him in detail about Liam. Rolf's sympathy and concern was immediate. Although he shook his head at Matthew's suggestion of passing the cabin to see if he was all right. 

"He obviously wants to be here and to be alone. It was kind of him to see you back down to the dock, but if he doesn't want to be disturbed we should respect that."
"The cabin's derelict." Matthew winced at the memory. "There aren't even whole windows or a door that closes, and he looks awful."

"The poor kid's just been widowed from what he told you," Rolf said gently. "And if he's only just out of the army too, he's probably suffering from culture shock. The cabin's probably not much worse than Iraqi deserts. If he's a soldier he'll be able to look after himself."
"But he wanted to talk. He didn't have to tell me anything."

"But he didn't want to come with you or talk to Marc and me," Rolf pointed out. "He clearly doesn't want the company; he told you he wanted to be alone and he'd come up here to remember his partner. He knows where we are if he wants us, he can come down to the lake anytime he wants and chat with you. We don't have the right to invade his privacy."
"It was awful," Matthew said, eyes starting to sting again. "I can't stand thinking of him up there on his own, going through that- can you imagine what it must be like?"

"He chose to come here and he's the only one who can decide how he wants to get through his grief- that's his decision, he knows what he needs to do." Rolf tousled his hair, getting up and firmly changing the subject. "If you want to grill tonight, suppose you find the stuff out of the fridge?"
Study and Marc kept Matthew too occupied on the following day to escape into the woods. It was early afternoon by the time he reached the lake and Marc was bored of sleeping on the dock, so most of the afternoon was spent swimming and wandering the beaches around the lake. It was nearly seven PM by the time Matthew came out of the shower and pulled clean clothes on. The afternoon had been too hot for any of them to be hungry yet. Rolf was on the porch, still reading. Marc had taken over the shower. Matthew quietly slipped out the back door and headed up the hill towards the woods. He would still be in earshot if Rolf called. And if he happened to see Liam, so be it - he wouldn't actually look. Through the whole afternoon, despite the distractions, he'd watched the woodlands by the abandoned cabin a lot, thinking of the boy somewhere in the trees, desolate, alone while they enjoyed themselves.
The empty cabin was just that - empty. But as Matthew tried to find his way back onto the cliff top, he caught a glimpse of white and found Liam, standing watching him from further up the hill. Matthew cleared his throat, immediately feeling extremely awkward and very much as if he'd been caught spying. 

"Hi- I - er- was looking for the path back up onto the cliff- you know? The way I came before?"
Liam didn't answer. Whatever he'd been doing, he looked calm. There was still that lost look about him but no sign of tears or desperation, no sign of harm.
"How are you?" Matthew tried, sounding as casual as he could. Liam shrugged.
"Ok I guess. Walking. Watching the deer."

"Where are they?"
Liam smiled faintly. "There's a trail further up the mountain. Dennis and I used to go up there at twilight and watch them come and go."

Dennis. Matthew swallowed and asked.
"Was he your partner?"

Liam nodded. "He didn't come from around here - I do - but he loved it. He was much better at the watching and waiting than I ever was."
Matthew gave him a tentative smile. "So's my partner. He's got the patience."

Liam returned the half smile. "Hey. Want to come up and try watching now? It's getting to the right time?"
And it would probably be wandering a little out of earshot. Matthew glanced at his watch, hesitating, then made a decision.
"Ok. But not long, or I'll get killed. I went a little too far out of sight yesterday and it did NOT go down well."
"Your other half sounds protective. Dennis was like that." Liam led the way up the hill, glancing back. "What's his name?"

"He's the tall one? Who's the other guy?"
"Marc- he's a friend of ours- you've been watching us?"
"Mostly hearing."

"I guess we are a little loud sometimes."

"It's nice," Liam said somewhat wistfully. "Sounds like you're having fun. It's nice to listen to."

It was growing dusk when they saw their first deer - red brown, moving softly through the bushes, pausing to graze. The evening was so still they could hear the tear of her teeth on the grass. Matthew and Liam lay soundlessly where they were, Matthew captivated.
"That's incredible," he said softly when the doe moved on. "I could stay here forever watching her."

"You don't seem to be around much most of the day," Liam commented, rolling over to watch him. Matthew pulled a face.
"No. I get to study."

"Study what?"
"A test. I'm working for a maths class. And it's taking forever."

"You must be committed," Liam commented. Matthew stifled a snort of laughter.
"Marc and Rolf are. I don't escape the cabin until the afternoon, and only then if I've got enough work done."

"Doesn't sound like much of a vacation."

Matthew pulled a face, briefly serious. "It isn't. It sucks."
The very faint clang of a bell brought him to his feet.
"That'll be Rolf. Want to come? I'm sure there's dinner enough to go around."

Liam shook his head, the shuttered look coming over his face again.
"No, you go. Thanks all the same."

"Hey, have you got enough up here to eat? Are you okay?" Matthew asked impulsively. "Are you sure there's nothing we can get you?"
Liam shook his head. "I'm fine. There's nothing I need."

"I'll see you tomorrow?" Matthew hazarded. Liam's smile came back, faintly.
"I'll be here. You know your way back? See you tomorrow."

"Apart from the fact that Marc and I are starting to forget what you look like, it isn't safe to go off alone like that! If you fall and break your ankle, or knock your head, it could take hours to track you down; we wouldn't even have known tonight what direction you took!""
"I was still in earshot!"

"JUST," Rolf said sharply. "I shouted several times before I tried the bell."

"But I WAS still in earshot."

"You didn't even say that you were going, never mind which way or how long you would be! Where were you?"
"I met Liam, he took me up to show me one of the deer trails - and NO I didn't go looking for him, he came up to me."
Rolf paused, voice quietening, "Was he ok?"
"He seemed better. Chattier. He still didn't want to come down, but he said he'd been listening to us on the lake and he said he'd look for me tomorrow."
"Well if he wants to see you, he's going to have to come down to the lake," Rolf said grimly. "I've had it with this disappearing act of yours; you stay in my sight tomorrow. If you can't be responsible about having freedom, then you can do without it."

"It's not like I have much anyway!" Matthew retorted, stung. Rolf shook his head.
"Don't even mention the word; I don't want to hear it."
"Neither do I!"  
Matthew stopped, but reflected darkly throughout dinner, glancing occasionally through the windows at the woodland up the hill. He wondered what Liam did in the evenings.
"Matty, come on…….." Marc coaxed, turning over to tread water. "You always like the island."

"I want to read."

"I'll race you."


Rolf glanced up from his book with an expression Matthew recognised. It was the one that started with, "Would you like to go back to the cabin?" and deteriorated from there. He sat up, irritated, and put his book down, just firmly enough not to be accused of throwing it.
"LOOK. I've done what you wanted, I've studied, I've missed the best part of the day, I've bored myself to death on those stupid questions and put in the hours YOU say I need. I think I'm entitled to an hour or two to do what I want, and I want to read. This is my vacation too."

There was silence for a minute, then Marc turned over without a word and swam out into the lake. Feeling slightly guilty, Matthew picked up his book and walked down off the dock onto the beach, finding an isolated spot. He loved Marc. Dearly. It just wasn't possible to go through this study regime on vacation AND be expected to be happy about it. Or to want to play happily with someone he'd spent a lot of the morning being mad at. He was starting to have the feeling that the week wasn't turning out so well for Marc either, but Marc wasn't the one who had to sit and work every morning. He and Rolf got along well, and whatever they did in the mornings while he was stuck in front of the computer, they seemed to have a good time. Therefore they could entertain each other now and leave him in peace. Matthew rolled over with his book, turning his back on them both. It was a while before he heard Liam's voice, some way off.

Glad not only to see him, but to have a conversation with someone he wasn't mad at, Matthew readily sat up. Liam was well away from the beach, still in the woodland area, framed by the two trees he stood between.
"Want to come for a walk?"
"I kind of got told to stay in sight today," Matthew admitted. "Wandered off once too often."

"Your Rolf sounds so much like Dennis," Liam said, smiling. Matthew nodded at the beach. 

"Why don't you come out here?"

"I don't like the water much." Liam's smile was instantly gone.
"Don't you swim?"
"I saw you working this morning. I passed your cabin. How did it go?"
Matthew let the change of subject pass. "It went. It's so slow. I know I need the damn exam but it isn't for several months yet, there's no need for this kind of slogging."
"But you want the qualification?"
Matthew sighed. "Yeah. I suppose so."

The flicker of movement caught his eye. Rolf was a few feet away, walking slowly towards them. Matthew got up, waving a hand at Liam.
"Liam, this is Rolf-"

He saw Liam's escape. Quicker and quieter than a deer, barely stirring the leaves around him, his fear clear on his face.
Matthew dropped his hand, puzzled and upset.
"That WAS Liam."

"I thought it must be him you were talking to." Rolf reached him and looked into the woods. "Doesn't he swim?"
"He said he didn't like the water."
"Mmn." Rolf put a hand out and sat down on the shingle, waiting for Matthew to join him. "Whatever he does, you need to be a little nicer to Marc. I think he's missing you quite a lot."

"I just want some time to myself," Matthew mumbled. "Its not like he doesn't have you-"

"It's still not very nice for him to feel like you don't want him around."

"I DO," Matthew said at once, stung. "It's not that."

I know. But that's probably how it feels to him."
Eh. People were way too complicated.
Having left Matthew and Marc in charge of cooking that evening, Rolf followed Matthew's described trail up the hill. It didn't take him long to find the cabin, and like Matthew, its condition shocked him. He tapped on the half-open door without getting an answer and risked a quick look around. From the chair pulled up to the single, rickety table, Liam had been here today at some point - but there were no signs of cooking or any kind of supplies. There was also no sign of the young man himself. Well aware that Liam was quite likely to be keeping out of his sight, Rolf moved back from the cabin and called a couple of times, keeping an eye out. There was no sign and no answer. He was on the point of giving up when an answering call came from further up the hill. He recognised the old man making his way down the path. The gamekeeper from the entrance cottage several miles away at the national park gateway. With his responsibilities for the cabins, and the land around them, he if anyone would know about Matthew's new friend, and hopefully his mental stability, which was what was beginning to worry Rolf. Normal, stable young men didn't live in derelict cabins - and 'live' was obviously a relative term, judging by the lack of evidence in the cabin - or vanish like scared rabbits at the sight of other people. Normal young men weren't often too stable when newly widowed.
"I was looking for Liam Gallagher?" he said when the old man reached him. "Is this the right cabin?"
"It's the Gallaghers' cabin." The man sat down on a stump, slightly breathless. "I heard you calling."

"I just wanted to check that he was all right."

"Have you seen him?"
"My partner has - said he was a bit fragile. Not surprising really."

"No." The old man got up with an effort. "I knew his parents. I haven't seen him for a while though."
"So long as you know he's here and he's all right." Rolf gave the man a somewhat anxious look. "Are you feeling ok?"

"Just a long walk." The man smiled, starting down the slope with him. "I have to take my time these days. Have you seen much of him? I do worry about him up here alone. I've kept an eye out but I think he avoids me."

"He's very wary of me and of our other friend- he just seems to have taken a fancy to my partner. Do you know him well?"
"I did when he was younger. He was a nice lad." The old man paused again to get his breath. "I think he's a little disturbed now."

That's kind of the impression I'm getting," Rolf admitted. "Is there anything we can do to help?"
The old man shook his head, starting once again down the slope. "I'll keep watching for him. I'd just keep an eye on your partner. Liam always was a little given to getting carried away and forgetting about safe ground or wandering too far off the track; he used to drive his father mad up here when he was a little lad."

"I've got one just like that," Rolf commented. "Ok, thank you."

The old man nodded and turned towards the path that led by the dock, leaving Rolf to walk back to the cabin, mind on the young man hidden up in the woods. .
Joe, Chris, Eric and Michael were due the following evening. Rolf spent some time that morning cleaning the cabin while Matthew worked, and made lunch with half an eye on his partner still focused on the computer screen.
"How do you feel about camping?" he asked when Matthew got up and headed for the fridge. Matthew pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge.
"As opposed to what?"
"Maybe on Saturday morning. The forecast's good - we could take the tent and walk up the mountain, camp further up and come back Sunday afternoon. The others will be here to keep Marc company."

"Study?" Matthew said sarcastically, nodding at the computer. Rolf swatted him, fairly gently.
"Two days off?"
"I'm there!" Matthew dodged him, grinning. "That sounds good. Will Marc be ok?"

"He'll have the others for company. I'm sure he'll be fine and we'll have a couple of days to ourselves before we go home."
And it would keep Matthew well away from Liam for the last two days they were there. Sorry as Rolf was for the young man, he was starting to worry about the effect this friendship was going to have on Matthew, especially when they had to leave.
Rolf managed to keep Matthew and Marc busy in and around the cabin most of the day, and the short swim they all took was noisy and to let off steam- if Liam was anywhere in the trees watching them, he didn't attempt to come out and join in. Joe and Chris arrived soon after six, and were unpacking when Eric's car pulled up. Twilight was falling, early as it always was near the lake, and Matthew was getting the last of their cases from the car when he saw Liam some way off, on the edge of the treeline, watching. Matthew put the last case down on the porch and jogged up the hill towards him, following him back out of sight of the cabin.
"Hey. You can see, we've got some company, I can't stay long."

"Who are they?" Liam asked nervously, peering down the hill.
"Just some friends- they come up here a lot with us, it's good fun. Are you ok?"
"No," Liam said frankly. He was shaking. As Matthew followed, he could see the rigidity of Liam's shoulders and the whiteness of his fingers at the end of his tightly folded arms.
"What's wrong? What happened?"
"What's upset you?" Matthew persisted. They were almost at the second cabin now. Liam stopped, some way off from it and nodded towards it with a twistedness to his face that did nothing to ease Matthew's anxiety. 


"Your-" Matthew broke off. "He's HERE? I thought-"
Liam nodded, shaking. The words suddenly burst out of him in a flood, rapid and terrified. "Oh God, Matthew, I've been seeing glimpses for a while- I thought I was going mad. Just flashes, like he was there, and then when I looked again I thought I'd imagined it. And then this morning I heard him. I actually HEARD him. I was still half asleep, I slept in the cabin last night, and I could hear him talking," he paused, taking a deep breath. To Matthew's horror, tears were running down his face. "NOT like dreams- God knows I dream about him- but he was THERE, in the room, I could hear him moving. When I woke up, he was gone but the door was shut and stuck- I couldn't move it. I had to batter my way out, I was so scared."

Oh God. Matthew swallowed, wishing Rolf would shout from below and give him an excuse to move away.
"Liam - Dennis was your partner - he wouldn't do anything to hurt you surely?"
"He's dead, who knows what happens to people that die?" Liam said bitterly. "He's dead and I'm not, that's probably enough reason for him to be angry!"
"Are you sure you didn't imagine it? You look so tired- you're not eating right, you're up here on your own in the middle of nowhere-"

"I'd KNOW Dennis!" Liam's voice rose, somewhat hysterically. Matthew retreated another step.
"Look. Come down with me, sleep at the cabin with us tonight. If anything happens down there, Rolf and the others will help deal with it-"

"Will you stay with me tonight?" Liam said suddenly and desperately. "Please? I can't sleep up here alone. I've got nowhere else to go. Please."

"Come down with me then."

"I can't."

Liam ran his hands through his hair, sounding near tears. "I don't much want to be around happy couples right now, you know?"
"I'm sorry," Matthew said gently and very unhappily. "I really am."
"Please stay. Just tonight. I'm so scared, I can't be there alone."

"Liam I'm sorry, I can't. Rolf would never agree to that."

Liam didn't answer for a long time. Then gave him a tight smile. 

"I know. How long are you staying?"
"We're going camping- up the mountains- tomorrow until Sunday.  Home Sunday night. Liam I need to go-"

"Just walk with me a little longer?" Liam gave him a tremulous smile. "I can't sleep in the cabin. I'm going up to where we saw the deer, please, just come that far with me?"
"Oh, he has flipped," Matthew chanted to himself as they walked, Liam's arms still tightly folded around himself. "He has flipped SO much and SO hard, he is completely out of his tree; you are walking around in the dark with a TOTAL crazy and this is SO not good…"
"He's wandered off with that bloody boy again," Rolf said savagely, grabbing his jacket when all shouting and bell ringing failed to produce Matthew. "I knew it, I took my eyes off him for two minutes-"

"This is the one you were worried about?" Eric picked up his own jacket. "I'll come with you. Mike stay here, we won't be long."

"I've got a couple of flashlights in the trunk of the car if you want them," Joe said, following them to the door. "He'll be a few hundred yards away, chatting, that's all. He's probably just forgotten the time."

"What's got you so worried about this kid he's met up with?" Eric asked quietly as they struck off up the hillside. Rolf shrugged, not happy.
"I don't know. I've never actually laid eyes on him, but the gamekeeper seemed wary of him- he just seems to be lying in wait for Matthew; every time he's on his own for a moment Liam grabs him."

"He's probably lonely."

"I'm starting to wonder if he's having some kind of breakdown," Rolf said frankly. "We've got no way of knowing what, if anything, that he's told Matthew is actually true - Matthew!!"

The shout, in the darkness, echoed a long way. There was no reply. Shouting at intervals, the two men continued up the hill and through the woods.

The speed at which it got dark was alarming. Eric jogged back down to the cabin after eight and found Marc, Michael, Chris and Joe playing cards. Joe got up at the sight of him, face anxious.
"No luck?"
"Not yet." Eric glanced at his partner, nodding at the stairs. "Mike, find a jacket and another flashlight. Joe, I need you and Mike; we need to look a little more systematically. Marc, you and Chris stay here in case he comes back; ring the bell if he does."

"I know the area pretty well," Marc said anxiously, getting up. Eric spared him a brief look of reassurance.
"I know you do. But if Matthew comes back, he'll want you here. Do NOT you two wander off anywhere- I need you here, and I need the two of you rested and fresh in case someone needs to go for help later on."
"You think he's hurt?" Marc demanded. Eric shook his head at once.
"No, Marc. He's most likely lost his way. Or he sat down somewhere and fell asleep. I'd think the worst we'll have to deal with is him being scared and cold, but there's no sense in not taking all the precautions."
"We're ready," Joe said, coming downstairs with a jacket on and one of Matthew's over his arm. "Where do you want us to look?"
"Around the lake, while Rolf and I carry on with the woods-" Eric led them out onto the porch. "Mike, you know the ground there, check all the beaches, anywhere he might have wandered."
Marc stood in the doorway, watching Joe and Michael set off towards the lake at a steady jog. Eric headed back up the hillside. In the distance, far away, Marc could hear Rolf's voice, strong and still relatively calm, along with the flicker of his flashlight.
"Matthew!" Joe's voice echoed from the other direction, down by the lake. The flashlights zoomed between the dark trees like fireflies.
With some determination, Marc made himself go back inside and shut the door.
"I swear he's not here," Michael said darkly, picking his way back over the boulders. "That's all of the beaches- unless he swam, which he'd be crazy to do in the dark. He's got to be up in the woods."

"I'd think that'd be where he'd most easily lose his way," Joe admitted. "Come on, suppose we walk up and find the other two, see if we can help up there?"

Michael moved readily ahead of him up the bank. He and Joe were steadying each other over the rocky slope when the sound of a heavy, stuttering engine reached them. Joe instinctively glanced up and he and Michael ducked, fast, as a huge, dark shape swept low over their heads, bringing the smell of hot metal and oil in its wake. The plane was quite large- barely distinguishable from the night sky, just the shape of the body and the wings.  Within a few seconds it was gone into the darkness and the sound of the engines was fading.
"CHRIST," Michael said reverently. "How low was that?"
"Probably trying to stay near the lights of the houses- looked like its own lights were out." Joe was recovering himself slowly. The shock of the plane, so close and so suddenly, had been severe. "There's an airfield about fifteen miles away from here- small, private one. Looks like that plane's in trouble."

"I'm not surprised; it's blacker than hell out here."


"Well it is," Michael muttered, starting up the slope into the trees. "It’s a horrible night for flying."
"Rolf?" Eric shouted again, moving further left. Rolf's flashlight beam moved from the trees and Rolf climbed over the bushes to reach him, stumbling slightly.
"This is ridiculous; we don't have a hope under this cloud! This has to be the time to call out the mountain rescue."

"They mostly use helicopters; they probably won't come out until dawn if we do call them," Eric said steadily.
"The best thing to do is keep moving and shouting- he'll shout back once we get into earshot."

"If he's in any fit state to shout!"

"This isn't such uneven or dangerous ground that he'd find it easy to do himself any real harm," Eric said with all the reassurance he could muster. "I'd think the very worst he could do would be to stun himself if he did fall- not enough to knock himself out. He'll shout when he hears us."
"Hey!" Joe shouted from below.
"Up here!" Rolf shouted back. They heard Michael and Joe start up the hill towards them.
"Bear left," Eric shouted back, "We've covered this ground."

"Got it."
"What's that?" Rolf demanded, spinning around. Eric strained his ears.
"Just Mike and Joe-"

"NO- splashing-"

The clear sound of a shout echoed to the left. Rolf set off at a jog, moving as fast as the torch beam allowed. Eric followed, trying to keep track of where the lake was. 

"Rolf, be careful, we're near the cliffs here."

The sound of splashing was clearer now.
Further down the hill, Joe burst through the undergrowth, raising his voice to a shout.
Several incoherent shouts in the darkness answered him.

That's different voices!" Michael said, fighting his way out beside him, "Listen!"

The words were indistinguishable - the voices were male. Panicky. It was impossible to make out how many, but Mike was right, there were more than one. The splashing came softly, from some way out.
"That plane," Michael said in horror, "What if the plane ditched in the lake?"
"We'd have heard it go down, surely." Joe strained his eyes, trying to see into the darkness. The water glittered, its movement vaguely showing where it was, but even the torch beam barely showed its depths. Above them, Eric's voice echoed over the water.
"It's the plane!" Michael yelled back. "Eric, a plane went down!" 

Joe turned, gripped Michael's arm. "My cell phone won't get a signal here- get back down to the cabin, run, and call the police. Say we've got someone missing and we lost track of a plane, it looks like it tried to ditch in the lake - go on. Careful!"
Michael ran, picking his way in the darkness. Joe struck up the hill, pushing through the greenery, hoping for the clouds to clear and give them some visibility.
"Liam!" a man's voice shouted from somewhere to his left. Joe paused, throwing the flashlight beam over.
It wasn't Rolf or Eric who answered. A man in his late twenties, dressed in khaki slacks, boots and a dark jacket came out of the trees, a flashlight in hand.
"No- we're from the cabin down the hill, we lost one of our friends up here this evening- Matthew?" Joe peered to see the man's face in the dark. "We thought he and Liam might be together."

"I only made it to the cabin an hour ago and found him gone," the man admitted, heading up the hill ahead of him. "I'm sorry, I hope he hasn't led your - Matthew? - into trouble."

"We got worried once it got dark. Are you a friend of Liam's?" Joe paused in a clearer patch of ground and shone the light on the man's face. A young man, anxious and grim.
"His partner. Dennis Allerton. Where have you looked so far?"
"Up this hill and around the cabin."

The man glanced around him, grimly weighing up the light and the terrain. "Maybe we should try the deer trails, Liam might find one he knows and try following it out of the woods."

Joe followed him gladly, grateful to find someone who knew the ground.
"I'm a little surprised to see you. Liam actually told Matthew you were dead. He pretty much gave your death as being the whole reason for his being up here."

Dennis turned, shining the flashlight for him to find his way up the hill, his face sad.

"Liam's pretty confused- he might even believe that, I don't know. It's taken me some time to track him down."
So Rolf was right- they were dealing with a mental patient. Joe quickened his step to catch up with Dennis.
"He said he was an ex-soldier."

"That's true. We were serving together overseas, I think it took quite a toll on him. We got separated on the journey home, but I knew he'd come here. This was always a special place for us. Let's try this path- there's a clearing up here Liam used to like to go to."
"Will Matthew be safe with him?" Joe said bluntly. Dennis didn't look round, but his voice sounded grim.
"I hope so."
"This isn't the way," Matthew said, stumbling over yet another bush. It was one too many. He sat down and rubbed his ankle, glaring at what he could see of Liam in the darkness. "This is madness, we can't see a thing and you have no idea where we are."

"Neither have you," Liam spat back. Matthew looked at the ground, trying to control his breathing. Right now, he wished he'd never left the safety of the cabin porch. He knew by now Rolf had to be looking for him- he and Eric would check the woods, it was only a matter of time before he heard the shouts and Rolf would come and hopefully scare off this lunatic. Liam had always run away before at the sight of Rolf or Marc.
"I can see some light over there," Liam said suddenly. "Come on."

Matthew got up and limped after him, more scared at the thought of being alone than being with Liam. 

"What is it?"
"The lake!" Liam's mercurial face had lit up. Matthew followed him, his own heart lifting at the shine of the water through the trees. The clouds cleared rapidly as they walked, making the water clearer, until by the time they reached the bank, it was almost as light as day. Liam turned to grin at Matthew, voice regaining its hope.

"We can climb down the cliff to the beach- swim across to the dock. It's only five minutes from here."

"I thought you didn't want to come back with me?" Matthew said pointedly. Liam shrugged.
"You said you needed to get home. We can stay here if you'd rather."

They were on top of the cliff, overlooking the lake. Realising, and pleased in spite of the situation, Matthew straightened up to look around. 

"I don't know about swimming here in the dark-"
Liam shrugged. "It's that or go back through the woods."

That was not tempting. Matthew looked dubiously at Liam.
"I thought you didn't like water?"

"I don't, but I don't want to be alone in the woods either." Liam sat down, pulling his jacket off. "Are you going to climb down with me or not?"
There seemed to be no alternative. Very far from happy, Matthew moved to the edge of the cliff to look down.
"The water's so clear- I can see right to the bottom-"

"DON 'T talk about the water," Liam snapped. Matthew shook his head.
"You were the one who wanted to swim!"

"It's horrible- full of shadows-"

Liam's voice trailed off. Matthew looked around and found him huddled at the far end of the cliff, arms around his knees. Gentling his voice, much as he was coming to loathe this maniac, he moved towards him.
"What? It's ok, I didn't mean to sound mad. It's an easy swim really; I've done it before-"

"Cold- you can't see down there. Just red light, nothing to see-"
At that moment Matthew would have given anything in the world for Rolf or Marc to appear.
"Liam, I won't let anything happen to you. We'll swim across, I'll go up and get Rolf; it'll be fine."

Then we get the men in little white coats, you lunatic.
"Help me..." Liam muttered, rocking. "Den please...help me..."
Matthew swallowed, trying to find the tone Rolf would use for someone totally and utterly out of their tree, in urgent need of a straitjacket.
"I'll help you, Liam; it's ok."
That seemed to help. The rocking slowly stopped. Liam lifted his head and looked up at him, eyes wide but no longer tearful.
"Would you? You can if you really want to."

"Of course I can- we can swim across together," Matthew said, fighting to keep his voice steady, "It'll be fine."

"I just need you to wait here," Liam said, walking towards him and the edge of the cliff, step by step. "Just for a while- just until Den comes-"
Matthew's heart turned over and he moved quickly out of Liam's way. "Liam, be careful, it's a long way down."

"Just long enough," Liam said soothingly as though he was talking in someone else's voice, his face absolutely blank. 

Matthew backed away, his heart starting to pound as Liam got closer.
"Liam, STOP it- what the hell do you think we're going to do? Jump?"
"I'll help you," Liam promised, grabbing his wrist. He was ridiculously strong. Matthew wrenched and his heart nearly stopped as Liam pushed him towards the edge.
"Liam- Liam, don't for God's sake! ROLF!"
He could hear the echo of his own yell, magnified with desperation.
"MATTHEW!" Rolf shouted, swinging around. A split second later Matthew's voice shouted again, higher and still more desperate. Eric grabbed Rolf's arm, swinging the flashlight uphill.
"Up there."

The clouds had suddenly parted without warning, five minutes ago. The moon and stars appeared over the lake in a light so bright it was like day, turning everything silver and grey around them.
Further down the hill Joe heard the shouts and quickened his pace, stumbling ahead of Dennis.

"That sounds near the shore!"

"It's the top of the chalk cliff," Dennis sounded tense and anxious. "Go round to the left; I'll take the other side. Be careful!"

Matthew's heart jumped at the sound of Rolf's reply, then Liam's hand closed over his mouth. Lunatics were often powerful- Matthew remembered reading that somewhere. Liam's grip was like steel.
"Shhhhhhhh! They'll hear us!"

Matthew struggled, trying to kick Liam's feet out from under him, or bite the hand around his mouth. Steering him step by step, Liam edged him once more towards the cliff edge.
"It's ok. It won't be long. It won't take long."

With his last ounce of strength, Matthew twisted, wrenching away from the grip on his mouth.
Rolf's answering shout was instant and much closer. Matthew struggled and managed to get down to the grass, lying flat where Liam's attempts to move him would be much harder.
"You're MAD ! You're out of your tiny MIND -"
Liam's hand closed once more over his mouth, his voice nearly crooning.
"It isn't so bad- really- not so far-"  

The hands abruptly slackened. Matthew wrenched free and rolled over, wheezing for breath. The voice wasn't Rolf's but it was low and sure and filled with authority. Liam let out a wail of sheer terror, piercing and horrified.
"Go AWAY!"
"Liam, listen to me."

The man walked slowly from the woodland. Matthew propped himself on one elbow, looking from Liam's petrified face to the man's.
"Liam. It’s all over now, you're safe, it's all right."

"Honey, it's all right. It's me, it's all over. It's all over now."

Liam stayed frozen until the outstretched hands nearly grasped him, then flung them away, retreating. His eyes were nearly starting out of his head, he sounded utterly terrified. The man backed him step by step away from Matthew, closer and closer to the grass edge of the chalk cliff.
"No! NO! HELP ME! Someone HELP!"

"I'm going to help you, darling," the older man's voice was soothing and utterly determined. "It's going to be fine now."

Liam made a sudden dart to get past the man's advance and run into the woodland. The man easily blocked his path and gripped his arms, taking one last, long stride forwards. Matthew ducked his head into his arms, stifling his own cry as the two men went over the cliff edge, the older man holding Liam tightly. Liam's scream went on for what felt like years before it cut off. Matthew clutched the turf, too shocked to move or to shout. A moment later light burst out of the woodland, hands grabbed him, then Rolf's familiar grip closed on his arms, yanked him off the turf, and Matthew clung to him, burying his face in Rolf's jacket.
"They went over! They went OVER-"
Joe knelt beside them, trying to see enough of Matthew's face to hear what he was saying. Eric took his flashlight to the edge of the cliff and peered over, then lay down full length to look right down the chalk face. Joe got up, leaving Rolf rocking and murmuring to Matthew, and went to peer with him. Eric looked up at him, face white.
"There's nothing there. They must have been washed out by the lake.”
The police and an ambulance reached the cabin not long after Rolf carried Matthew down the last half-mile of the woodland slope and into the small cabin living room. He'd been too incoherent and shaken to explain anything. Joe chased the others into the kitchen and left Eric and Rolf to deal with the authorities. After a few minutes the ambulance left, and awhile later the police car followed. Eric came through to the kitchen. Michael slipped through the group and under his arm, anxious enough not to care who was watching.
"What happened? Is Matthew all right?"
"He just seems very shaken up."

"What about Liam and Dennis?" Chris demanded, having prised enough of the story out of Joe to have an idea of what was going on. Eric shrugged.
"We don't know. The police are going to have a quick look now, but it'll mostly have to wait until morning. Matthew swears he saw both of them go over the edge of the cliff."

"What about the plane?" Marc asked subduedly. Eric shrugged, at the end of his tether.
"They swear no light planes in this state were allowed to leave the ground tonight, neither private nor commercial- the cloud cover was too heavy."
The police were back in the morning. All the brats slept late, since no one went to bed earlier than two AM. Eric made himself coffee about seven AM and pulled a jacket on, checking his pockets for ID and a notebook before he let himself out of the back door.
Michael appeared ten minutes later, jogging behind him, sleepy and roughly dressed.
"Where are you going?"
"To the cabin." Eric turned around, waiting for him to catch up. "I thought you were asleep."

"I didn't sleep too well. Too much happened last night. What was that plane? Do you think they DID actually see a plane?"
"Matthew and Joe both saw it- or say they saw two separate ones. Rolf and I heard two go over head. Very low, sounding like it was in trouble."
Michael followed him, thinking about that for a moment. "What are you looking for in the cabin?"
"Any ID. Anything about who this Liam is. The police said they were going to pull up the discharge records this morning- there." Eric broke off and nodded at the yellow helicopter as it moved over their heads. "That's the search starting."
"Why do you think they jumped? Is that what you think happened?"
Eric was quiet for a minute. He and Joe had discussed that several times last night without coming to any real conclusion.
"I don't know.  I really don't."

"Do you think Liam had done something? Something bad enough for Dennis to kill them both?"
"Mike, that's dramatic and we don't know anything like that happened. We don't even know for sure that they jumped." 

"Matthew said something to you about Dennis pushing Liam over, that he did it deliberately. I heard him."

"You shouldn't have been listening then," Eric said heartlessly. "Come on, this way."
The cabin was still a mess. Michael walked right around the outside, looking for evidence of a fire or any personal belongings, then followed Eric in through the broken door. The table and chair were in the same place, a candle stood up in a dried pool of wax on the windowsill. Michael pulled the flashlight out of his pocket but Eric's voice stopped him following into the kitchen area.
"Mike, go outside."

"Go outside NOW ."
"What is it?" Michael demanded, retreating. Eric came out with a handful of papers.
"Go back down to the lake and bring one of the police up with you- and tell them we need an ambulance."

"Is it Dennis and Liam?" Michael said, voice rising. Eric shook his head.
"No. It's the old man, the gamekeeper. You don't need to hurry, Mike, he looks to me like he died some hours ago, quite peacefully."

Eric went with the police and the body to the nearest town, some miles away, leaving Joe to determinedly keep Chris, Michael and Marc away from the windows while the police continued to search the lake and the ambulance party came down from the hill. Late that afternoon, Matthew and Rolf came downstairs, Matthew still very white and quiet. Rolf's expression deterred anyone from asking him questions. They were sitting on the porch, out of sight of the police operations and watching dinner grill when Eric's car pulled up outside. Michael got up and went to meet him, following him back a moment later, his face faintly puzzled. Eric looked abstracted, as though his mind was a long way off. They ate in a relative hush, the light slowly starting to die down over the woods, the stillness of the evening making the last sounds of the departing police loud from the direction of the lake.
"There's a story I want to tell you," Eric said at last when it was quiet once more. "I'm not sure what I think about it, but I think you all ought to know."

Matthew didn't look up from the swing where he was sitting as close to Rolf as he could get, Marc on his other side. Chris leaned back against Joe's legs, waiting. Michael got up from the steps and came to sit on the porch rail beside his partner. Eric stared into his glass for a long time, then took a deep breath and began to talk like he was discussing the weather.
"During the war, the second world war, a lot of US airforce personnel were stationed in England, taking part in bombing raids over Europe, trade routes, air defence and so on. When the war ended, most of the plane crews just flew their planes home. In short hops - UK to Greenland and so on, back into the US. The airfield just on the other side of the town was a receiving base then- refuelling and sending planes on to bigger airfields further north. Except with the weather changing so suddenly here- the mist coming down, storms- the planes had no radar systems and sometimes coming over the mountains, the pilots came out of the clouds and found themselves flying right into the ground. One night, three bombers coming back as part of a detachment, all went down together- two flew into the mountains back there, the third one hit trees but the pilot managed to pull up in time. The plane was damaged but still just in the air. The pilot was a local boy- knew this area well and knew the lake was here, and clear of all obstructions. He knew the plane was going down so they left the detachment and said they were going to try to land on the water. The pilot got the crew ready, he held the plane steady and the crew bailed out into the lake. The pilot then put the plane down in the lake. His co-pilot managed to escape but it was dark and cloudy, and they were separated by the water. In the morning, when the crew found each other on the banks around the lake, they realised the pilot wasn't with them. They looked, but they never found him, and eventually they realised he must have drowned, trapped in the plane as it sank. A very brave man. He'd stayed until the end to try and get the others out alive," Eric paused and took a long drink. "The plane wasn't found- and so many planes were being decommissioned and scrapped that no one cared about one at the bottom of a lake, so it was left there. She was called the Mockingbird. The pilot was a young man called Liam Gallagher, aged twenty-five."

There was a hush from the group around him. Only Matthew looked up in shock.
"The bombardier, Dennis Allerton," Eric went on conversationally, not looking at anyone, "Was a close friend of his and had been for years- the aircrew said they were like brothers, always together. He survived the accident. He left the aircrew soon after, and disappeared, no one knew where he went. Apparently he was heartbroken at Liam's death. Liam had sworn to him that it was possible for everyone to get out of the plane alive. I imagine he probably told him that to make him jump while there was still time."
"What about our Liam?" Rolf said quietly. "He heard this story, got obsessed with it?"
Eric tipped his glass, watching the shine on it.
"He told us Dennis was dead?"

"Yes," Matthew said without looking up. "He told me Dennis had died in action."

"He didn't," Eric said bluntly. "He died in the abandoned cabin yesterday afternoon, aged eighty-seven. Apparently of natural causes."

"The gamekeeper?" Rolf said in shock. "HE was Dennis Allerton?"
"He was," Eric confirmed. "Don't worry, it gets better. The police took me back to Allerton's cottage since I knew this story and by now I was starting to make noises like a wet hen. I found this."

Rolf leaned over to take the paper from him, holding it where Matthew could see it. It was a picture of a group of young men gathered around a plane, all in khaki and flight jackets. Two men were standing close together at the end of the row and Matthew's finger went straight to them.

"That's Liam. And that's the other guy."

Joe got up at once, leaning over them to see. Then swore softly. 
"It is. That's the guy who called himself Dennis."

Eric handed over several other pictures. They were all the same. The same two men. The others sorted through the photographs in silence. 

"The plane went down," Eric went on blandly, "At eleven twenty-three PM, on Friday the 21st of this month. Dennis Allerton took the job here in 1947, about a year later. Seems like he knew where Liam would be."

"Liam had seen him," Matthew blurted out. "He said Dennis was haunting him- he thought Dennis was dead."
"Haunting?" Rolf said softly. Matthew stared at the picture in his hands. Liam to the life. The same Liam he'd grappled with last night. He'd felt the touch- hard, strong hands, with the grip of desperation. The terror in his face when he saw Dennis.
"He said he'd seen flashes. Heard his voice. Mostly when he was sleeping."

"He didn't know he was dead," Marc said softly. Everyone looked at him. Marc flushed slightly but shrugged. "I did a lot of research on hauntings- that kind of thing- for a psychology class in school. I read a lot of accounts. It sounds like Liam didn't realise he was dead."

"Or didn't want to realise," Eric said abstractedly.
"He had no sense of time," Matthew said very softly. "He said he'd been there a few days- he wanted to remember Dennis there."

"He must have thought he killed them," Marc agreed. "That he was the only one who'd escaped."

"He was terrified of the water. He wouldn't go near the lake- he remembered it being full of shadows- something about a red light-"

"That was probably all he could see on the flight board underwater," Michael said subduedly. "Poor guy."
"But he was so frightened of Dennis!" Matthew burst out, looking at Rolf. "He was terrified!"

"He thought he'd killed Dennis," Marc said gently. "He thought Dennis was dead- and coming back to blame him, because he'd survived. Poor kid, he'd been here alone- over fifty years, scared and confused, with all that guilt."

"And he'd lied to him," Joe added. "You lot get wound up enough not just when you're caught out in a lie, but over the fact of having told one. He'd lied to get Dennis out of the plane and leave him, and he'd lived with that lie a long, long time."
"We're all talking like the guy is real!" Chris snapped. "For God's sake, do you ALL really think you were walking around with ghosts last night?! Rolf must be right, this Liam kid just heard the story and got obsessed with it- Joe, you said this Dennis guy told you, they were both out of the army and Liam had run away?"
"No, that's how I interpreted it," Joe said soberly. "He said it had taken him awhile to track Liam down, they'd been separated on their way home from their overseas posting. And that Liam was confused and didn't know what he was saying. He was very worried about what Liam would lead Matthew into."
 "We saw the plane ditch," Michael said in an awed voice. "We heard the shouts and splashes of the crew in the water-"

"That was about eleven-thirty," Eric said without looking up. "I remember looking at my watch, marking the time to tell the local police. It was also about the time that Dennis Allerton died according to the police surgeon- in the cabin owned by the Gallagher family, of natural causes."
"He'd been here all these years, looking for Liam. He knew Liam was here."

"I told him, I was worried about the friendship between Liam and Matthew," Rolf said quietly. "I saw him on Wednesday. Said that Matthew had seen Liam and that Liam seemed a little- odd."

"And Dennis just sat down and died?" Chris demanded. "ON the anniversary, AT the right moment-"

"Partners do that sometimes," Eric said quietly. "Long-term partners. Sometimes they die to the day or to the hour- sometimes they die within days of each other, or die because they can't go on without the other. I've seen cases like that enough to know it can happen. Pure human will."
"I suppose he thought if Liam was manifesting himself to Matthew so strongly, there was a chance he could catch Liam and make him realise," Marc said more or less to himself.
Matthew shuddered, pressing closer to Rolf.
"So what I don't understand," Michael said slowly, "Is why Dennis pushed him- them both- over the cliff edge? Did he do it to stop Liam k-" he paused, catching Eric's eye.
"-endangering Matt? Couldn't he stop him any other way?"

Joe answered, fingers tangling absently in Chris's hair on his knee.
"I'd guess he had to find a way to make Liam realise and face the thing he was most scared of- that he was dead. The only way to convince him was to prove it."
"The police haven't found any bodies, have they?" Chris said sharply, looking at Eric. Eric shook his head.
"Apart from Dennis Allerton's, no."
The plane was lifted, intact from the water, by the crane, and put down on the bank. Filled with holes, rusted, it was a hulk, nothing like the shape that had rushed overhead in the night sky. The front and one wing were badly damaged. The two divers who had come up with it, went to the cockpit and a minute later, firemen with cutting equipment went in, their tools raising sparks from the metal. The figure they lifted from the cockpit seat was dressed in fragments of khaki and a dark sweater, deeply discoloured by the water.
"He'll get a military funeral," Rolf said in Matthew's ear as they watched the ambulance crew move to take the remains of Liam Gallagher. "All the honours. He was a hero;  he got seven men out of that plane alive."

"He should be buried with Dennis."

"Sweetheart, Dennis found him. He waited over fifty years to find him, and he didn't let us get in the way. Where they're buried won't make any difference now."
Matthew managed a fairly tremulous smile over his shoulder.
"And you looked all night. Would you look for fifty years?"
Rolf growled into his neck, pulling him closer. "You try it and just see what you get when I catch up with you."
At the top of the cliff, the older of the two men crouched to put his hands on the shoulders of the younger, rubbing soothingly. The younger glanced up, jumping slightly, then leaned back against him as though he was starving for the touch.
"She did what I thought she'd do. She did stay afloat long enough for Gordy to get out."
"He got out safely. We found each other on the bank."

"It was dark. Dark for so long. It took me hours to get out and when I did, there was no one there. I shouted and looked for hours and there was no one-"

"I know. I know, it's all right now."

"I had to do it. There was no other way to get the plane down and I knew you wouldn't go-"

"That's over now. Let it go."
The crane whined again, lifting the wreckage up onto the back of a truck.
"She was beautiful," the younger man said softly. "The Mockingbird."
In the silence he looked back at his partner, eyes sliding down a little.
"I wouldn't have hurt him- I didn't mean to hurt him- I just wanted him to stay. He was the only person who'd understood and he was angry and fed up too-"

"A little. A very little," the older man said with a touch of sternness. "You don't make decisions for other people, young man. Look at him. Do those two look unhappy to you?"
The younger man shook his head, eyes on the ground. The older put a hand under his chin, pulled it up and kissed him.
"We've dealt with that. It's finished with, it's over now. Come on, sweetheart."
The younger man got up, but waited a moment longer, eyes on the stretcher being loaded into the ambulance. Dennis took his hand and pulled.
"Liam. It's not yours any more, let it go."
Liam took a deep breath, turned his back on the lake and they wandered together, back into the woods, still clasping hands in the last of the evening shadows.

~ The End ~

Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2010

1 comment:

PJ said...

Thanks for sharing this again, Ranger. I love reading anything you and Rolf write.
Sad and Happy a true love story.


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