They Do Things Differently Here: Extract

They Do Things Differently Here - Front Cover

They Do Things Differently Here – Front Cover

When the Walden family moves to Templewood, teenagers Emily and Peter find that leaving the City for ‘a quieter life in the country’ is the least of their problems. Bubbling beneath the surface of their new home are challenges that could change their world forever, and end ours.

Templewood is an isolated community that is absent from maps and has no communications links with the outside world. The village is home to the Sect, a divided organisation planning an apocalyptic event intended to establish world domination, but which may destroy the planet.

The Sect has existed since ancient times, acquiring power and influence by infiltrating the major political movements of each age. Periodically, the Sect receives revelations of scientific knowledge that underpin its power base. Adherents now await the imminent discovery of the most significant advance to date which will provide them with the means to assert global domination by triggering a world-changing event, though there are divisions as to whether this will benefit or destroy civilisation.

Emily and Peter’s arrival is no accident; their mother and father may know more than they admit. The Sect has identified Peter as the chosen individual who holds the key to revealing the final piece of information necessary to trigger a world-changing event. One by one, mysteries are uncovered, until the terrifying objective of the Sect becomes clear.

In this scene, it is early evening. Peter decides to visit the Templewood village fair, following an afternoon during which he unintentionally angered the violent police officer, Creyte. Peter discovers an unusual object in Creyte’s sports bag. The outcome of the discovery will have a defining effect on Peter’s relationship with the villagers.  

What happened next was, and still is, the subject of much discussion and argument. No single accurate account of events exists and the story, as it is commonly retold, is accepted to be the sum of a number of accounts of the incidents building up to, or during, or after the tragic accident. It is perhaps for this reason that both groups of villagers felt able to interpret what happened into something to their advantage, and why no blame was attached for the most unfortunate accident.

It was almost time to leave.

Peter decided to cross the field one final time, to drain the last drops of the evening’s atmosphere.
Approaching the roped-off cricket square, where the hawks were now resting on their perches, he saw Creyte, also about to leave.

Creyte stopped to talk to someone. He dropped his sports bag and helmet on the grass and stepped a few paces away. He had recognised someone he knew, a friend or colleague in conversation with another man who stopped talking when he saw the policeman approach. Approaching from the side, Creyte put one hand on his colleague’s shoulder and half-whispered in his ear. The listener continued to look ahead, nodding in response.

Peter looked at the helmet, then leaned down and picked it up to examine it in more detail. Creyte continued talking. Peter was not acquisitive by nature, but there was something about this helmet. It was more than an item of protective headwear, a functional item designed for a particular purpose. He had never seen anything like it, not in sports shops nor on the field. It made a statement about the wearer’s power and aggression, but how? What was there about it that gave this impression? He drew the tips of his fingers over the fine metal grille. The wire was so thin, yet unbelievably strong. No matter hard he pressed with his fingers it did not bend. In the fading light he could see and feel the whole grille recede, almost imperceptibly into the helmet, then spring back to the original position.

‘Only a millimetre of movement. There must be a shock-absorbing mechanism that cushioned blows from a cricket ball,’ he thought, turning the helmet upwards to inspect inside.

‘Hey! What the hell do you think you’re doing? It’s you! Right…’

In a fraction of a second Peter froze, rigid with terror, then fired into an explosive sprint. Creyte was running towards him. He dare not be caught. Pure animal flight reflex: the zebra from the leopard, the rabbit from the fox. In and out the crowd he ran. Zigging. Zagging. Quick turns to throw off his fast, but maybe less agile pursuer.

He ran in the direction of the far boundary, from where the chanting had started. He dashed towards the groundsman’s compound with its sheds and machinery, its giant mound of composting grass and vegetation. More chance here of weaving and dodging. More chances to jump, turn, hide and escape.

The groundsman was climbing on his roller, warming it up ready to reverse through the compound gates. Oily black smoke rose in small coughed clouds, barely lighter than the air. The piercing staccato firing of the engine prompted the nearby group to disperse in opposite directions. Peter’s instinct told him where a gap would break, where he could race into the compound where his best hope lay, amid the confusion of closely-packed items.

He realised he was still gripping the helmet. He rushed at the group.

Creyte was onto him.

Peter felt his outstretched fingers almost grab his shirt beneath the collar when the group separated then closed an instant, letting Peter through, then closing to bump Creyte, as though accidentally.

The roller was in the way, forcing Peter to swerve ninety degrees to his left and behind it, allowing Creyte to seize the direct route. Peter’s foot clipped the rear wheel of the roller. He stumbled, straining to keep on his feet, but running in a crouching position, digging in desperation to find the reserve burst of speed to stay upright. Creyte knew he had caught him and lunged forward. As his last hope, Peter flung the helmet behind him, tripped and rolled to his right on the far side of the moving roller. He scrambled for a few metres then collapsed. In his mind he had heard a loud bang, a sound between a cannon and thunder. He jerked his head back to deflect the blows about to fall, his eyes shut tight.

Half, perhaps a full second passed. No blows had struck. He opened his eyes. Creyte was not there.
From the other side of the roller he heard a shared gasp, followed by a groan. He stood up and walked round to the front of the roller, completing a circuit of the ancient vehicle. The group that had parted then closed to delay Creyte and help effect Peter’s escape, were staring in his direction, beneath the roller, all open-mouthed, some with hands to faces like a silent scream. One turned and audibly vomited.

Peter walked round to the front of the roller. The groundsman was revving the engine hard, unsure why his vehicle was not continuing on its backwards roll and unable to negotiate a bump that the rear wheels must have straddled. A narrow trail of what looked like dark oil trickled from behind the giant front wheel.

It was not oil.

Peter stood still. One half of the group ran away, like a spreading fan. Others rushed forward, shouting and waving at the driver to turn off the engine.

Was Creyte distracted by the drum before being struck by the roller?

‘Fetch Jay.’

‘There’s no point. Look at him.’

Peter stood shaking, unsure whether to flee. He must have caused the accident when he threw the helmet behind him. Running away would not help; everyone present would recognise him from the match.
But no-one else saw it that way. Some said Creyte had slipped and hit his head on one rear wheel, fallen between the pair. The driver had no chance to see Creyte as he reversed over him and unknowingly attempted to crush his body, sideways on. One man described in detail, with a hint of pleasure, the horror of the bulging eyes as the groundsman repeatedly tried to roll over the unseen obstruction.

Had someone intervened as the group of bystanders had separated to allow Peter through but not Creyte? Then there was the loud noise, the thunderous bang. With hindsight Peter recognised this as a roll on an enormous drum carried by one of the strolling musicians. Was the timing accidental? No-one would ever be sure.

Far from being attacked or arrested, Peter was hailed as a hero. Simon Barrington came over and spoke to Peter, within clear earshot of all nearby, saying it was an accident and that no blame could be attached to him, though how could he know?

‘Best not to discuss it with anyone. Wouldn’t like to worry your parents. I should go home quietly if I were you. We’ll sort things out here.’

An ambulance cruised towards the centre of attention, its headlights flashing to avoid further accidents. Sirens were unnecessary. Confused, relieved, grateful, Peter turned away from the confusion, and walked off unhindered. As he left the ground the chanting started, quieter than before, rising for a few moments above the communal murmur before subsiding, as if acknowledging an ending, bringing something to a close.

He removed his shoes on the back doorstep and let himself into the house. There was a light in the living room. His parents were bound to ask about the evening. He tiptoed up the stairs, taking care to tread in the centre of each step and avoid creaks. He peered into Emily’s room. She was already asleep.

In his room Peter lay flat on the bed, fully dressed, hands behind his head. He yawned.

‘Interesting place,’ he thought. ‘They do things differently here.’ Within minutes he was asleep.

Extract from They Do Things Differently Here by Owen W Knight. Copyright © U P Publications 2015.