Rivulets of sweat traced their way down his back and chest, dripping off his nose and running from his forehead into his eyes. He paused only to irritably wipe the moisture from his eyes before moving onwards again. He was unaware of the passage of time or the harsh rasping sound of the breaths he exhaled with every movement from one point to the next. His only thoughts were of reaching the next, higher point which would bring this part of his ordeal to an end as quickly as possible.
Sheer tiredness and finding a naturally formed niche in the cliff-face gave the teenager a good excuse for few moments respite. Adam slumped gratefully against the hard rocks and waited for his heart to stop pounding, looking around at his surroundings.
Looking up at the cliff’s overhang, Adam soon understood how and why the accident had happened. From the top of the ridge, the edge looked as solid as the rest of the surface he and his father had walked on. However, from his perch under the ridge Adam saw that the underside consisted of little more than roots, soil and small stones, all tightly packed together.
In removing the large rock as he had, Adam’s father had weakened a small section of the overhang to the point where it could no longer support their combined weight. The resultant collapse had been inevitable, sooner or later. Adam surmised that, in removing the rock, and by association an integral part of the fragile structure of the overhang, his father had hastened the process.
Another of those unwelcome thoughts rose unbidden into Adam’s mind: how could his father have been so stupid? He quashed it as soon as it surfaced. This was no time to be finding fault and laying blame. He could not undo what had already happened. Instead, he turned his attention back to the matter at hand: negotiating his way over the cliff overhang above his head.
“If it broke away that easily once”, he reasoned aloud, “then it shouldn’t be too difficult to break some more away so that I can get up on top” After assuring himself that he was in no immediate danger of falling he moved himself into a semi-crouching position and raised both of his hands, then began to pull at the entanglement of soil and roots. He was showered with the detritus, his upper torso and face becoming quickly covered in dirt. He spat out anything that fell near his mouth and paused twice to clear his glasses when they became to densely covered for him to see what he was doing.
It proved to be a slightly more difficult task than he had anticipated. Some of the thicker roots proved difficult to pull away or to break completely. However, within a few minutes he had created an opening wide enough for him to clamber onto the ridge. He unconsciously wiped the dirt off himself as he contemplated the next difficult step on his journey: that of getting his tired body up onto the ridge.
Gingerly he stood fully upright, standing stork-like on his undamaged leg. Almost immediately both legs began to tingle with pins and needles. Even his injured ankle tingled uncomfortably. Adam waited impatiently for the tingling sensations to pass as he surveyed the relatively flat area in front of him for suitable hand holds with which to haul himself over the edge. He was slightly dismayed to note that there was nothing within arms’ reach. Undaunted, he placed both of his arms flat onto the dusty surface and, using only muscle power, attempted to launch himself over the crumbling edge.
For several moments only his arms and sheer willpower were the difference between success and plunging all the way back to the bottom of the slope. His feet dangled uselessly a couple of inches in the air as he tried to garner the impetus to propel himself those agonisingly close last couple of feet to relative safety. He was on the point of giving the idea up as unworkable when his ‘good’ leg found a sturdy toe-hold in the roots of a nearby bush. With a final, all-or-nothing, surge of untapped energy Adam Gurney rose into the air and threw himself forward.
He flopped ungracefully, but intensely gratefully, onto the stony path, exhaling nervous, shaky breaths. As soon as he could he scrabbled away from the treacherous cliff edge as though he was in fear of the Gods changing Their minds and casting him back the way he had come. He rolled tiredly onto his back, ignoring the sharp stones and pebbles that cut into him, gasping in lungsful of the rapidly cooling air.
The temptation to simply lay where he was and not move again was one that Adam found difficult to resist. Every muscle and bone hurt and ached, even those that Adam had never realised could ache. He began to gain an intimate understanding of the expression ’bone weary’.
He wanted nothing more than to sleep, then awaken in his soft, comfortable bed, his duvet fallen to the floor as usual. He wished to be able to open his eyes and see the rows of his books neatly lined-up on the bare wooden shelves he had eventually badgered his father into putting up for him, after he had complained repeatedly about them being stacked in untidy heaps on the floor and every other available surface
More than anything, Adam wanted all this to be nothing more than a particularly vivid dream, one in which his stricken father rose up and nagged him into doing this chore or that task. Adam would have gladly borne anything right then to hear his father’s exasperated voice complaining about anything in the world.
The sharp stones and pebbles digging into his back along with his various aches and pains were pointed reminders that this situation was all-too real and that his hidden-from-view father was relying on him, albeit unconsciously, for his rescue. Sighing resignedly, Adam pulled himself into a sitting position after only a few precious, but much-needed, minutes of rest.
Now that he had made it to the ridge, Adam's thoughts turned again to the cartons of fruit drink he had not allowed his mind to dwell upon earlier. His thirst was now unlike anything he had experienced before and he thought he was a good candidate for dehydration. His frail body had sweated like it had never done before. His sodden tee shirt and sweat-dampened jeans bore stark testament to his labours and the amount of fluid that had passed though the pores of his skin.
Adam was not at all sure how long it had been since he had last had a drink, but guessed that it was somewhere around three hours, when he and his father had stopped for their lunch. Under normal circumstances such a long gap between taking drinks would be considered acceptable, but these were hardly normal circumstances by any stretch of the imagination. His parched throat was demanding moisture... and quickly.
The tantalising cartons could not be too far away, Adam reasoned, although he was not exactly sure in which direction they lay from him. Gazing around at the uniform sameness of the terrain, trying to regain his bearings, provided him with few clues. He remembered that the cliff had been to their left as they had been walking and, as it was now on his right, he surmised that he was facing in the wrong direction. He swivelled himself around on his buttocks and allowed a small smile to crease his face as he recognised the bush behind which he had peed some thirty feet in front of him.
Too tired to get to his feet and hop again, Adam began to crawl to where he thought the bag his father had gathered their litter into lay. He studiously studied the ground in front of him, clearing away all the loose stones and other detritus to avoid further injuries. Within minutes he espied the red and white polythene bag he knew he'd see.
Moving as fast as he dared on the hazard-strewn path, Adam quickly closed the distance between himself and the carrier bag, his eyes seeking the two purple cartons he distinctly recalled seeing his father placing to one side as his large hands compacted the bag and its contents into a tight ball.
For tantalising seconds they remained hidden until he shifted his position and realised that his own shadow was concealing them from his view. With a dry-throated squeak of delight the teenager greedily grasped one small carton in one hand whilst, with the other, he removed the attached straw from its side. In his haste to access the drink, he could not seem to get the angled end of the straw to line up and pierce the special hole for it. Whimpering in frustration, Adam forced himself to calm down. He found the simple procedure that much easier to perform once he had done so. Placing the thin tube to his lips, he sucked the sun-warmed liquid into his mouth and sighed with a pleasure he would have had difficulty articulating.
It was only when he was more than halfway through the carton's contents that the voice of caution reminded him that he still had a long way to go and that he really ought to be frugal with what he had left so that he had something to drink later in his journey. "Yeah, you're right" he told his conscience, unwillingly withdrawing the straw from between his lips.
The drink had an almost immediate beneficial effect on the teenager. He found that he was able to think more clearly and sensibly for the first time in a while.. He sat down with his legs extended in front of him and thought aloud, fully aware that he was talking only to inanimate rocks and bushes and whatever birds and insects were within earshot, should they be interested enough to listen to him. Unabashed, Adam felt that talking aloud helped him to clarify his thoughts. Unselfconsciously, he talked.
"My ankle's killing me, but there's nothing I can do about that so there's no point in worrying about it really... It's dad I should be thinking about... I hope he's alright down there... As far as I remember it's a fairly straight route back to dad's car... About five miles away, I reckon... God! Five miles!... Not far really, five miles... But I'm so tired! Look, Adam, dad's hurt and he's relying on you to get help... He could DIE, you know... Oh well, no use sitting here... I'll just have to do what I can... It's only five miles, possibly less, even... Probably more, knowing my luck, though... Come ON, Adam, MOVE!... The sooner you get going the sooner this will be over, right?... Now, GO!
Adam barked an empty laugh at himself as he removed his glasses and cleaned them as best he could on his filthy tee shirt and returned them to his face. "Only five miles" he reminded himself as he pulled himself uncertainly upright and began to slow, pain-filled journey to his father's car, one small hop at a time...
He was denied full agonising consciousness. His heavy eyelids flickered open briefly. He was aware of a riot of pain from his left leg and other parts of his broken body. Momentarily, memories of walking with his son and the sickening sensation of falling zigzagged through his disoriented mind before the heavy curtain of oblivion fell once again and Alan Gurney slept in blissful ignorance of the trials and efforts his only progeny was making on his behalf...
Efforts that had again reduced his son to crawling. Adam had managed to hop for no more than twenty minutes; twenty minutes of increasingly painful and difficult movement once he felt the first ominous twinges from the tendons in his lead leg. He had paused for a couple of minutes, hoping the twinges would pass. However, upon resuming his journey and with no noticeable improvement in his condition, he had decided that to continue in that manner would probably be more than his weakened body could withstand. He had no other option but to crawl again, hoping that ’resting’ his hopping leg would enable him to use it again later on, should it become necessary. “Which”, he thought, “won’t be very long”. His hands and knees were raw and sore, not being accustomed to or designed to withstand such misuse and abuse.
Doggedly the teenage schoolboy ploughed ever onwards, each forward pace an agony of willpower and determination, fuelled by thoughts of a large mug of hot sweet tea and the comforting embrace of a deep hot bath filled with masses of scented suds from the bubble-bath his mother favoured.
He was almost delirious with exhaustion. Jumbled, unconnected thoughts competed for coherence with snatches of songs by his favourite bands in his numbed mind. Details of the science homework he would have been completing had he not been coerced into this outing fought with images of his bedroom, his mother, his beloved books and his father.
Like a cloud of soot, his father’s image overlaid everything: angry at a real or imagined slight, laughing uproariously at the ancient Goon Show recordings he listened to on audio cassette, which Adam (nor his mother, for that matter) could find the humour in; pensive and thoughtful as he mulled over a knotty clue in the newspaper crossword or when reading the paper from cover to cover every day, Monday to Saturday, but never Sundays because he refused to buy them on the grounds they were ’full of sex, scandal and drivel’; genial, like he was earlier today, because it was the version Adam saw least often. All of these images flitted through his mind like butterflies, none remaining very long. However, the one image that did stay vividly was the last image he’d last had of his father, the one of his pale and sickly face.
The cartons of drink flopped around heavily inside his tee shirt where he’s placed them, having no other means of carrying them. Their smooth, shiny surface kept sticking to his sweat-slicked skin, which was increasingly irritating him, just another irritation on top of the aches, pains and cramps that threatened to reduce him to a gibbering wreck of a human being at any moment.
Yet still he kept going, one small painful arm/leg movement at a time. He was unaware of how far he had travelled or what the time was. Subconsciously, he had noted the changing colour of the sun: it was now a burnt-orange in the lowering sky, ringed with a halo of crimson. The horizon had begun to nibble at its lower edge. Darkness - complete darkness - when it fell would be absolute, Adam knew from his experiences of the many camping holidays he had endured in similar, though less inhospitable, surroundings. “No street lamps or artificial lighting her to alleviate the dark” he thought sourly as he rounded a slight curve he recalled from earlier in the day.
His flagging spirits revived a little as he also remembered a tree that had piqued his interest: a lightning-blasted thing of indeterminate age and species. As he exited the curve, Adam altered his course slightly. His heading: the lone tree.
It was obviously dead. The only splashes of colour were the green of a spongy-looking moss that grew abundantly around the base of the trunk and in scabrous patches on the trunk itself. twigs and small, brittle branches littered the ground around the tree, none of them large enough or strong enough to serve the purpose Adam had in mind.
As he had been hopping along the idea that a crutch of some description would be of enormous benefit to his efforts as it would take some of the pressure off his ‘good leg (which was in real danger of falling into the ‘not-as-good-as-it-was’ category’) and probably speed his progress, too. Unfortunately, the vegetation along his route to that point had consisted of scrubby bushes and nothing of substance that would even remotely render up a strong, supporting branch to serve as the crutch he wished for.
The lightning strike had rent a four-feet long gash in the now-dead trunk. Adam guessed that it was about ten inches wide at its broadest point, its blackened interior appeared to be grossly moist, ‘almost as though it’s weeping blood’ he thought, shuddering at his fanciful imagination. He quickly turned his attention back to his task.
He had already examined the deadfall around the tree, but had found nothing suitable for his purpose. Adam peered into the leafless skeleton of the branches the tree still possessed. And saw exactly what he was looking for.
It was a long, straight branch with two growths at its end that formed a natural 'V'. A perfect crutch! Smiling in the gathering gloom, Adam reached his arms up to the limb, but his fingers fell agonisingly short of his target. Not to be thwarted, he balanced himself on his good leg only to be further tantalised by being able to brush the limb with his fingertips, but not quite able to reach that little bit further and actually grasp the thing.
Five minutes of trying to stretch his body to enable him to grab the tree limb produced no other result other than a rise in his frustration. Breathing heavily, Adam pondered his choices. The one idea that did occur to him would inevitably mean causing himself yet more pain as it involved using his damaged ankle. However, having slowed his breathing to normal he conceded that he really had no other choice.
Crouching down as low to the ground as he was able without toppling over, he propelled himself upwards in the manner of a jack-in-the-box, his arms extended high above his head. His fingers brushed, but failed to grasp, the elusive branch. Encouraged by his 'near miss' and trying to ignore the increased throbbing emanating from his injured ankle, Adam crouched again.
he pushed himself upwards with more energy and cried out at the pain he caused himself. he felt a momentary sense of triumph when his hands clamped over the branch. Unfortunately, his sweat-slick fingers were unable to maintain his grip and he lost his hold within seconds. He fell clumsily to the ground again, narrowly avoiding landing on his injured ankle.
Pausing only to allow the throbbing to lessen, Adam sat and stared at the branch. "You haven't beaten me yet" he scowled as he got himself into position for a third time. And missed the branch completely.
Uncharacteristically swearing in his frustration, he tried a fourth time, and let out a yelp of success as his fingers found solid purchase on the troublesome limb. He hung suspended above the ground, breathing hard and feeling both elated and slightly foolish.
From the ground it has appeared that the branch would break away easily once it was asked to bear Adam's weight. He could hear small creaking and cracking sounds as the tree complained at the extra burden it was being asked to carry. The sounds suggested to Adam that, with a little encouragement, the trunk would give up it's dead limb to him.
Using energy he could ill afford to give away, he began to bounce up and down as best he could. He was rewarded with the cracking sounds becoming louder and more frequent as the obdurate trunk began to release its reluctant hold. Even so, the battle of wills continued longer than Adam would have wished. his arms began to ache and he knew that if he was unable to free the branch very soon, he would have to temporarily abandon his mission until such time as he regained some strength in his arms. That was a prospect he was unwilling to consider. Time was passing far too quickly for his liking, and his father's condition would not be improving without the medical attention he needed.
With a last-ditch surge of his remaining energy, Adam bounced the branch as hard as he could. With a sound like a pistol shot in the vast emptiness, the branch finally broke away and it and Adam fell untidily to the ground. Grinning in spite of the pain and his aching arms, Adam rose unsteadily to his feet and examined his handiwork.
He broke off the two smaller branches that formed the 'V' to within about four inches of the main branch, then tried the crudely-fashioned crutch under his arm. It was several inches too tall for him to the extent that it was, to all intents and purposes, useless to him. Pondering the problem for a few moments, the teenager scoured the area around him. His eyes alighted upon a large piece of rock. Perfect!
He managed to position the branch is such a way that he was able to sit on it while he hammed away ay the end that had held it to the tree-trunk. Once again the wood proved to be tougher than it had appeared to be. It took him much longer to break away the six excess inches. With sweat running into his eyes and arms aching, this time when he placed the 'V' into his armpit, it felt much more comfortable. He reached into his damp tee shirt and located the carton of drink he had opened earlier and allowed himself just a few precious sips of the sweet drink. With a slightly lighter step, he resumed his journey.
The sun set in a glorious blaze of reds and oranges, peculiar to open spaces. On any other occasion it could have inspired Adam to write poetry about the beauty of the event. Of more immediate concern to him, though, was the inevitable cold that would follow the sun’s setting The teenager’s concern for his father and the potential setting-in of something called ’exposure’ troubled him.
Although he had only a vague idea of what exposure was, he had heard that people had died from it and so assumed that his father, in his immobile and unprotected condition, could be affected by it. Adam felt that he was luckier, in a sense, than his father in that he was at least mobile. In fact, he was still perspiring freely, in spite of the cooling air.
On the other hand, his father had not moved of his own accord for several hours now and Adam was certain that the loss of the sun’s warmth would be yet another burden for him to contend with. Sighing resignedly and trying to not worry himself about eventualities he had no control over, and moving as fast as he could with the aid of the crutch he’d made, Adam trudged on through the thickening gloom.
One of the very few areas Adam and his father really connected was in their mutual love of old music. Alan Gurney was a teenager in the 1970’s and his music collection reflected the eclectic mix of styles that that decade threw up. From his earliest years, Adam had been listening to music as diverse as the ’bubble-gum’ pop of the earliest years of the decade right through to its Glam Rock, Punk Rock and New Romantic phases. One of Adam’s clearest early memories was of his father singing along in a pleasant baritone to his favourite band of the era: the Electric Light Orchestra.
By way of an attempt to alleviate his loneliness and to stop himself thinking about the distance he still had to travel, Adam began to sing, his voice harsh and cracked even to his own ears. He worked his way through all the tracks on a particular favourite album his father had once played often: Out of the Blue by the Electric Light Orchestra. Adam was proud that he knew all of the words to every track, an accomplishment that had him pegged as slightly weird by his school-friends when he’d mentioned it to them once. That they found him weird in general was of no concern to him, and he’d laughed along at their good-natured mocking of him.
Full darkness fell very quickly once the sun winked out completely as it set completely on the horizon. The cloak of full darkness soon enveloped the bruised and battered teenager as he sang and hobbled his way step by slow step towards his father’s car.
Unable to see very far in front of himself, Adam missed the low rise that he and his father had crested and where they had stood so companionably earlier. Had he seen it, Adam would have realised that he was already a long way towards his destination. Instead, in his haste and lack of full concentration occasioned by tiredness and concern for his father’s wellbeing, the crutch he had fashioned struck a large stone and slipped from under his arm.
Caught totally unaware and in mid-song, Adam was unable to prevent the resultant fall as his sole means of support was unceremoniously whipped away from him. As the crutch fell to one side, Adam dropped very heavily onto his knees. He let out a high-pitched scream of fear and agony as he felt an excruciating pain sear into the knee of his ’good’ leg.
For many mindless moments the teenager writhed on the ground clutching at his leg, muttering ’uh, uh’ uh’ noises as he fought desperately to not succumb to the heavy veil of unconsciousness that beckoned invitingly to him. Many long minutes passed during which he was unable to do or think of anything other than this new agony his body was being forced to endure, along with a revival of the pain from his already-damaged ankle. As he’d fallen, his injured foot had hit the ground solidly and was once again a throbbing mass of sensitive nerve endings.
As soon as he was sure that he was not going to faint, Adam fought another battle with the meagre contents of his stomach. He could not recall ever experiencing such nausea. It was a tussle he almost lost, having to swallow back acrid bile two or three times before he was satisfied that his stomach’s contents were going to remain inside him.
For what felt like an age, the fire in his knee blazed uncontrollably, leaving him feeling weak, sick and dizzy. Adam filled his lungs to maximum capacity with the cool evening air and was relieved to feel his head clearing. Eventually the worst of the agony was replaced by a dull, painful throbbing at the site of this new injury.
With tentative fingers, he felt the wound. He was alarmed to feel sticky warm blood, blood that was still dribbling from the wound down his leg inside his jeans. Adam knew without needing to explore further that it was a serious injury and would almost certainly need stitching at a hospital. As that likelihood was remote at that moment, he thought how useful a bandage would be right then.
His bloodied fingers felt his tee shirt. It was the best he had available. He pulled the sweat-stained, grimy garment over his head. Attempting to tear the fabric with his hands proved futile so he used his teeth to tear it. He tore a wide strip off the bottom and wound it tightly around the bloody gash on his knee. He was aware that he could possibly be doing himself more harm than good by covering the open wound with a filthy, germ-infested piece of cloth. “But beggars can’t be choosers” he muttered as he tied-off the tatty ends. He slipped the remainder of the tee shirt back onto his torso, it’s hem now falling several inches short of his jeans’ waistband.
The cartons of drink Adam had been carrying had fallen when he had. He groped blindly in the dark for them, expecting one or other of them to be within easy reach. he swung his arms in as wide an arc as he could reach from his seated position. His fingers eventually located the open carton. Grateful for that one small mercy, he did not feel inclined to waste any more time trying to locate the other one.
Adam thirstily drank the remainder of the drink and guiltily dropped the empty carton where he sat, imagining what his father would have to say about that. Thinking of his father was just the spur he needed to unsteadily rise to his feet again.
As he stood upright and tucked the makeshift crutch under his armpit, a fresh wave of dizziness and nausea violently struck him. Unable to stop himself, he vomited the drink he had just consumed onto the ground at his feet. Swaying unsteadily as his head spun and his stomach cramped, Adam dry-heaved several more times. His face felt hot and feverish yet he shuddered uncontrollably. Hot prickly seat broke out across his brow and his eyes dimmed alarmingly.
Fighting the urge to lay himself down, Adam stood as still as he was able until he felt the heat leave his face and some strength return to his legs. His newly-injured knee throbbed painfully but the pain in his ankle had abated to a tolerable dull ache again. He took two large breaths before once more resuming his arduous journey one unsteady, but more cautious step at a time.
It was unnerving being out in the open in pitch darkness at the best of times, such as under canvass with one’s parents at hand. Out here, alone in strange and unfamiliar surroundings, it was more than a little scary. Odd sounds and noises seemed to emanate from all directions as small night creatures scurried by, rustling leaves and twigs as they went, probably more frightened of the strange being shambling past than he was of them.
Bushes rustled and small stones and twigs rattled like the bones of a monstrous being while the light breeze rustled leaves. It sounded to Adam like they were whispering conspiratorially amongst themselves under the cover of the moonless sky. He cursed himself for his all-too-vivid imagination. It had won him accolades and good marks for his composition in English classes at school, but he had now succeeded in spooking himself. At no other time today had he felt more like the tired and frightened fifteen-year-old schoolboy he really was.
Although an unusually bright and mature young man, Adam wanted nothing more at that moment for an adult to come along and relieve him of his fears and worries. The wish had quickly become a desire as he acknowledged that that eventuality was not going to happen unless he made it happen. Hot stinging tears pricked the corners of his eyes and he made no effort to wipe them away as they made clean tracks in the grime on his face.
Loss of the sun had robbed Adam of any inkling of the time. He guessed it to be around seven o’clock in the evening. His mother would not be expecting himself and his father home for at least another hour and would not begin to worry for at least another hour after that, reasoning that they had been delayed for one reason or another. Not until she had exhausted every other avenue would she give consideration to the possibility that they had been involved in some sort of accident. Only then would she begin the worrisome task of telephoning the police and hospitals.
Adam smiled fondly as his stomach growled with hunger. He imagined the huge dinner his mother would have already prepared in readiness for his and his father’s return from their trip. She was an excellent cook, having learnt the basic skills from her own mother and honed them over the years of her marriage.
Juliette Gurney, nee Parsons, was the second of three daughters born to Matthew and Audrey Parsons in comfortable, though far from affluent, circumstances. Matthew Parsons had died suddenly shortly after Juliette’s sixteenth birthday.
Unlike her future son-in-law’s mother, Audrey Parsons had not had to make the same sacrifices to ensure a healthy and happy upbringing for her three daughters. Juliette, and her sisters were bright and intelligent girls. They adapted to their change of circumstances with the strength of character they had inherited from their mother.
According to his mother, Adam’s maternal grandmother had been a large-boned, no-nonsense woman of passive nature until riled. His mother assured Adam that his grandmother’s temper was legendary when given full vent. She had said this with great love and affection and she related many anecdotes about her to her son. He wished that he had had the opportunity to know his gran, but she had died of natural causes two years after Adam’s birth.
His aunts, Linda and Bernice (‘Bernie’) had doted on their sickly nephew, especially Aunt Bernie, who was dying from cancer. Her passing had upset the then nine-year-old Adam almost as much as it had the two surviving sisters and he still felt her loss keenly at times. Now was one of those times.
Like their mother, none of the Parsons girls were particularly physically attractive. Their beauty was very much from within, which became evident when one got to know them.
Juliette had been the first of the trio to marry. Whilst Alan Gurney had not been considered a ‘good catch’ he was honest and reliable, an excellent provider and not likely to stray from the marital bed.
He had not related well to his late sister-in-law and had a combative relationship with his wife’s other sister, Linda. She never hesitated to tell him when she felt he was out of line, especially where it concerned her nephew. She had made her visits to the Gurney household infrequent and short.
Juliette Parsons had never entertained girlish notions of Jane Austen-type romance and courtship. On the day she become the spouse of Alan Gurney she settled herself emotionally and physically into the role as second-string to her new husband. She knew she flew in the face of modern convention, but she felt that her marriage and her son were of far greater importance than so-called women’s liberation. If asked if she was happy she would have answered an unqualified ’yes’.
It pained her that her husband and son did not communicate as well as she would like, and she suspected, her husband would like. She knew of her husband’s history, of course, and did her best to make allowances for and be understanding of his behaviour. At those times she felt he had been particularly unreasonable to Adam she did her best to compensate the boy by being as kind and as loving towards him as she knew how to be. Mother and son had grown very close as he’d grown. She worried that she could be turning Adam into a ‘mummy’s boy’ but her son had developed his own core of resilience and independence. Adam valued his mother as much for her friendship as her mothering skills.
Neither Adam or his father knew of the secret tears she cried at the hurt and longing for love she saw in Adam’s eyes when his father berated him for his inadequacies, as he saw them. Her son’s pain was her pain, but she kept it to herself so as to not to undermine Adam’s confidence in her. Only when she was certain of being alone and undisturbed did she give full vent to her own distress.
Oddly, Juliette was certain that her husband loved his son despite, as he saw them, Adam’s shortcomings. It was patently obvious to all that Adam did his very best at all times to please his father. Not being one given to handing out compliments, Alan Gurney visibly struggled at times to say the right thing to his son and it fell on his wife’s shoulders to encourage the boy.
“Maybe some good will come of all this” Adam thought as he progressed. He regretted the strains in his relationship with his father and the emotional distance between them. he determined that, as soon as he was able, he was going to tell his father he loved him, and damn the consequences, whatever they may be. It wasn’t the done thing for adolescent boys to say such things to their parents. Adam, like his mother (although he didn’t know it) was not bothered by what was or was not ‘cool’. Adam felt that something inside him had changed today, although he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what that something was. He was equally sure that his father would not recognise it anyway, but Adam was going to do his damndest to make him aware of it.
Adam dragged his emotive thoughts back to his father’s car. They had travelled for less than two hours from their home, along mostly deserted country roads. As far as he could remember, his father hadn’t actually mentioned the name of this place to Adam or his mother. Adam recalled the last town they had passed through shortly before parking. it had one of those peculiarly unpronounceable Welsh names that seemed to be all consonants. Unbidden, the name popped into his head - Cwmdyllch. Adam repeated the name to himself over and over until he was satisfied he had it memorised. “No use getting to the ‘phone if you can’t tell anyone where you are he advised the empty night.
He hurt. He hurt like he had never hurt before and never wanted to hurt again for as long as he lived. The cut on his knee was bleeding again: his foot was wet with the blood that had leaked into his boot. The tendons in his legs were tight and sore and his hips, feet and arms ached mercilessly. The muscles across his shoulders were tightly knotted and the crutch had abraded his armpit to rawness. Add to all that the headache he was developing through hunger and Adam felt himself to be in a pretty sorry state.
He desperately wanted to stop and rest and not to have to move again, but he did not dare pause for another second. He was cold, the chill evening air cooling his perspiration and cloaking him in a damp blanket, causing his to shiver steadily. Each successive hop was accompanied by increasingly severe pains, which made the next one harder to even contemplate, let alone make, but make it he did.
The beckoning fingers of despair and defeat taunted his tired, over-stressed mind constantly. He waged a war of wills with and against himself as he took the next step, and the one after that, inching closer to his goal, by a whisker at times managing to avoid falling into the embrace seductive defeat offered him.
Slowly, Adam neared his destination, moving more by willpower than conscious effort, his mind a blank except for concentrating on making the next hop...
So complete was his concentration that he almost missed the 'darkness in the darkness' that indicated the stand of ash trees where his father had parked his car. Only a primeval sixth sense alerted Adam to its presence. With a last burst of energy he hopped quickly over the intervening yards between himself and his means to summon help.
In the lambent light, Adam could just about discern the silhouette of the large family saloon. He felt his way around it to the driver's door and grasped the chrome door handle. He pulled it hard.
For several long moments his face wore an expression of complete befuddlement. His exhausted mind just could not comprehend why the door had not swung open. After several seconds of standing completely motionless, Adam shook his head and uttered an animal-like bark of a laugh. He had finally remembered that that particular model of car had a small lever behind the handle that had to be depressed in order to open the door. He slid his hand along the smooth chrome until his fingers located the lever, depressed it and pulled.
The door remained very shut.
In desperation and disbelief Adam yanked frantically at the door handle, refusing to accept the obvious. No matter how hard or how many times he yanked at the handle to car door remained stubbornly shut against him.
When common-sense finally prevailed and the truth dawned upon him, Adam screeched an agonised "NO!" at the top of his voice. His mind's eye replayed their arrival here. he saw his father conscientiously travelling around the vehicle, checking that each door was indeed securely locked (this in spite of the fact that that particular model boasted a central-locking mechanism activated by the key in the driver's door) . Adam saw his father dropping the small bunch of keys into the right-hand front pocket of his jeans, then patting them as he always did. And that was where they still were...
Adam had not so much as thought about keys when he'd remembered the car-'phone. His sole focus had been on getting help for his father and himself. Only now, after everything he had been through, did they come to mind. He berated himself severely for his sheer stupidity and lack of foresight, totally at a loss as to what to do now. Tears of frustration bullied his eyelids as he struggled to regain his composure.
Precious minutes ticked by, Adam’s frustration and agitation growing with each passing second. An idea had occurred to him; an alternative method of entry yet, even now, he hesitated.
There were few material possessions Alan Gurney cherished: a few sporting trophies, the tools of his trade, a couple of photographs of his wife and son. But above all else, Alan Gurney loved his car. No expense was spared in maintaining his most prized possession in anything less than tip-top showroom condition
Adam had only once witnessed his father’s real fury when, one day, he had gone out to his car and discovered that all four tyres had been maliciously slashed. For the one and only time in his life Adam had been afraid of his father. Such was his apoplectic rage that day his son genuinely feared for his father’s wellbeing. He was convinced that his father was going to do real harm to himself. It was several days before he calmed down again, yet he still made reference to the incident every now and then.
And now here was Adam - his own son - contemplating committing an equally deliberate act of vandalism. He did not dare to waste time wondering how long it would take his father to get over this one, if he ever did... Deciding that there was nothing else he could do, the determined, but somewhat nervous teenager, crouched down, his fingers exploring the ground around him.
He was looking for a good-sized lump of rock capable of breaking the glass in the driver’s door. His probing fingers soon alighted upon what felt like a suitably-sized object. He had to wriggle it back and forth before it came free. Hefting it in his hands he brought himself upright again. Muttering a soft ‘sorry, dad’ raised the rock high in the air and brought it crashing down onto the glass.
The sound of the glass shattering into thousands of tiny shard was obscene in the near-silence. Adam himself was both shocked and slightly sickened by what he had done. Never before had he done anything remotely so criminal. He dropped the rock, his urgent need to contact the emergency services overriding his feelings of guilt and shame. Carelessly he brushed away the remaining glass from the door, located the knob that released the lock mechanism and yanked the door open. Sitting sideways-on in the plush, glass-covered seat, Adam reached for the neat compact telephone mounted in a matt-black holder securely fixed to the dashboard. With trembling fingers he firmly hit the number nine three times...
The area was awash with emergency vehicles, their red and blue lights giving the scene a movie-like feel. A helicopter hovered above like a mechanical bird-of-prey, its piercing white searchlight slicing through the blackness as it sought the recumbent form of the injured man.
The soft-voiced paramedic’s radio squawked and spluttered with messages being passed back and forth on the air as she sat with her arm protectively wrapped around the teenage boy. When she heard her call-sign she stood carefully and, acutely aware of the intensity of the stare of Adam’s eyes at her back, she acknowledged the call. She listened to the message being relayed to her, signed off then turned to face the boy.
She nodded ‘yes’ to the unanswered question written on his face. Realising she may have given the wrong answer to the wrong question she walked quickly to where she had sat with Adam and enfolded him in her comforting arms.
“They’ve found him, Adam” she said softly, “and he’s alive, thanks to you”
The dirty, dishevelled, battered and exhausted schoolboy at last released the tears he had held in check throughout his lengthy ordeal. As the paramedic held him tightly, Adam sobbed freely.
As the clattering noise of the returning helicopter approached, Adam told the paramedic that he wanted to ride with his father to the hospital. In moments a message was relayed to the pilot and he was setting the craft down again nearby to pick-up a very important passenger.
His face was still pale and drawn and it looked older somehow and less severe. Adam had never loved it as much as the moment it turned to him and the eyes opened. There was pain in them, but also something else.
“Adam?” his father whispered hoarsely, lifting an arm with a drip attached to it. Adam tentatively reached for his father’s hand and slid his own much smaller hand between the strong fingers and gripped them tightly. he felt a weak but significant squeeze on his own fingers in response. Adam felt a tightening in his chest and more tears threatened to spill from his eyes. He brusquely wiped his free hand across them. He sensed his father looking at him and felt a familiar flush of embarrassment warm his face.
“It’s okay, son”, his father whispered, squeezing Adam’s fingers again. Adam looked at his father’s face and was astonished to see two large tears slipping from his eyes.
“I am SO proud of you”, he said, “so very proud”. Two more tears slipped from his fathers’ eyes and Adam’s chest swelled with more love for this hard-to-love man than he could ever recall.
In a tremulous voice, he uttered the words that he had, at times, ached to say.
“I love you, dad”.
Alan Gurney smiled, a smile that Adam had never seen before. He felt that more words now were unnecessary. he simply sat there perched on the edge of his father’s hospital bed, holding his hand while he drifted back to sleep.
His own tiredness seemed to have vanished in moments and Adam knew, just knew, that things would be different from now on.