YA short story this time – Colin Devonshire
Under the Roundabout
‘Leave my daughter alone. You filthy layabout.’ A young mother snatched the toddler away from Peggy the Bag.
‘She fell from the swing, I was helping her up.’ Peggy said cringing.
The mother squared up to Peggy. The bag lady fell to the playground floor, and covered her head, expecting a kicking. The teenage mum spat and stormed to her daughter, who ran and was huddled and crying under the slide.
Peggy turned her head, she saw something glinting under the roundabout. She spotted Old Gil laying on the grass next to his favourite bench directly opposite her.
‘I saw it first,’ she mumbled to herself.
Old Gil shifted his weight to his other elbow and bending to take his weight from his poor knee, he eased himself up. He waddled to the roundabout, Peggy was nearer, she stooped, her head touching the ground for a better look.
‘I saw it first, it is mine,’ she barked.
Gil puffed to a halt and leant on the steel. ‘Go on, get,’ he bellowed and flapped his arms at all the children. They were giggling at the show. They ran in all directions hunting for their parents. Two boys ran to the top of the slide and hid behind the wooden safety screen. The bigger of the two flicked his lighter, it had been his dad’s. He had stolen it weeks ago. Now it made him king of the playground.
Gil and Peggy put their ears to the floor and peered under the ride. ‘Look, what is that?’ asked Peggy.
‘Never mind the pretty light, that looks like some money?’
A note was flapping near the light.
The boys on the slide stifled their giggles.
‘It could be a £50 note. Can you reach it? My fat fingers won’t get under this damn plaything,’ said Gil.
‘I can wiggle mine, but nowhere near the treasure.’
‘How can we get it? How about a stick?’
‘Go on then, get one.’
‘You won’t grab the money and run?’
‘Idiot, I can’t reach it.’
‘Okay, but I know where you live.’
‘Yeah, next to your very own shop doorstep.’ Peggy laughed at him.
Gil snapped off a two-foot-long twig. They both fiddled and stretched their fingers. The stick touched the note, but couldn’t get it any nearer. The boys clamped their hands across their mouths, squeaking their joy.
‘We’ll have to move this roundabout,’ said Gil.
‘And how will we do that?’
‘The whole thing lifts. We have to get it high enough to reach the top of a strong shaft in the middle. The steel pin is buried in the ground and this round bit swings around it. Easy.’
Grunting and puffing, they failed to budge it.
‘I’ll get Porky, he is strong, he can help.’
The boys could barely control themselves. One grabbed the other to stop him from falling onto the slide.
‘I don’t know what you two are up to with a kids’ toy. But if we lift this. I’m having it, okay?’ said Porky.
Nods all around. They set to work.
‘We all have to lift together, if anyone slacks or lets it go, we won’t move it.’
They failed five times. Sweating and blaming each other, they tried again. Slowly, it inched its way to the top of the central rod. The frame slipped from Gil’s sweaty hands and crashed onto Peggy’s foot. She screamed and toppled over. Porky tilted the steel circle and wheeled it away to the town’s scrap metal dealer. Gil glanced at Peggy and grabbed at the money.
‘Is this a trick, or what?’ he said turning the note from back to front. ‘It is only printed on one side. It is fake!’
He kicked the tiny glowing ball and stormed away. Peggy was rolling in agony, she hugged her foot and swore at all men. She looked up at the slide and saw the boys standing and slapping each other’s backs. They were no longer worried about being seen. Perc flicked his lighter as a salute. They waved goodbye to the limping woman.
Sliding down they ran to the circle of concrete with its totem pointing at clouds.
‘That was fun, now what?’
‘I want my ball back.’ He ran after the plastic orb, red, yellow and blue flashing in the grass.
His smaller friend spotted a flattened beer can. Its printing had been worn away after years of living under the roundabout. Its shiny aluminium drew him nearer. He kicked it. It didn’t move.
‘Perc came and see, this tin is fixed somehow, it is welded to the ground.’
‘It can’t be, is it glued?’ he said as he slipped his little ball into his pocket.
The boys bent for a closer look. They couldn’t lift it or slide it.
‘It turns, look.’
As the flattened can was swivelled there was a click. Perc turned it like the hands on a clock, back and forth. The clicking got louder. But he still could not lift it.
‘Why is that, is it stuck somehow?’
‘How can it be stuck, it spins. Try it all the way around.’
The ground groaned. Then a circle appeared around the can. As if tattooed on the concrete, a four-inch thick slab lifted and hinged back. It looked like the turret of a submarine. But dark beneath, no lights were glowing inside.
‘What is going on?’
‘Shall we go in?’
’No fear, it is pitch black.’
‘Are you scared?’
‘Eh… No, but…’
‘Come on,’ said Perc. As Perc eased his way into the hole, his little friend turned and ran home.
‘Chicken,’ shouted Perc after him, as his shoulders squeezed into the gap.
He dropped into the gloom, hitting the base a few feet lower.
‘Hello,’ said a voice he recognised.
A lighter flicked. ‘Hey that’s mine, how did you get it?’ said Perc.
‘I’ve got a lot of your stuff. Your face, and your body. Your whole self.’
The dim light was now enough to see a mirror image of himself standing, grinning at him.
The new Perc scampered up and through the hole. The concrete slammed shut. The circle was no longer there, and nor was the flattened can.
The new Perc went to see his little mate, flicking his lighter all the way.