We skip Geography, race to the cliffs and dance incoherent patterns on the roof of a World War Two pillbox. Harry pulls his trousers down and pees over the cliff edge until the wind blows it back onto his legs and the three of us collapse in laughter. We lie on our backs and watch high cloud scurry in off the horizon to the sound of the North Sea gnawing at the foot of the cliffs below.
‘It s-s-s-s-sounds like Grandad after dinner on Christmas Day,’ says Logan.
‘Do you think she actually likes Bullimore?’ I say.
Harry knows who I’m talking about.
‘I mean, she can’t can she? It’s not physically possible.’
‘I like the way it s-s-s-s-sounds like one of his s-s-s-sighs every time a wave breaks.’
‘Don’t ask me.’
I turn my head to face Harry.
‘But you’ve got a girlfriend.’
‘Tell me about it.’
I laugh, turn my head skyward again and we lie in silence for a few moments.
‘Did you hear that?’
I definitely heard that.
‘What?’ says Harry. His eyes are closed and he’s smiling, off on some reverie.
‘Wait,’ I say. Logan sits up. He looks scared.
‘You’re hearing things mate. Just the wind whistling around this old thing,’ says Harry, patting the roof.
‘You have to help me.’
Harry sits up, wide eyed, and Logan shuffles closer to me.
‘It’s coming from inside,’ says Harry, who clambers off the pillbox. I follow him down as Logan hesitates on the roof. We walk around to the front of the squat concrete bunker, where it faces the sea, and peer through the narrow opening into the damp darkness.
Harry’s voice echoes in the black.
‘Oh thank God. You have to get help, I’m stuck.’
The disembodied voice sounds weak and distant, but not that old. Not old, old anyway.
‘What happened?’ says Harry.
‘The entrance collapsed behind me and I’m trapped.’
Logan jumps down.
‘It’s okay mate, we’ll go find help,’ I say, but Harry grabs my arm and leads me along the cliff edge.
‘We can’t,’ he whispers. ‘We’re not supposed to be here.’
‘But we can’t just leave him here.’
‘He’s right,’ says Logan, looking up at me. ‘If they know I’m here, y-y-y-you’ll be in as much trouble as m-me.’
‘More,’ adds Harry.
’So what do we do?’
Harry walks back to the pillbox, but stands to the side of the opening to avoid being seen.
‘It’s okay mate, we’ll go get help.’
‘Thank you boys. Thank you so much!’
We walk inland, taking care not to go near any main roads or the school. Finally, we reach the woods and climb our tree, where all the big decisions are made.
‘We can’t just leave him,’ I say.
‘Here’s what we do,’ says Harry. ‘We take him some food and water, some first aid if he needs it. We keep him alive. But we don’t tell him our names and we don’t talk to him, especially you Logan. When he does get out we don’t want him identifying us by your stammer.’
So that’s what we do. We go back to school in time for break, finish the day as normal and agree to meet at six with supplies stolen from cupboards at home. When we get to the pillbox, Adam – that’s what we’ve decided to call him – is pretty angry.
‘Where have you been? You left hours ago!’
Harry says nothing and throws the food and first aid kit through the gap.
‘My foot is trapped under the concrete. I can’t reach it.
‘But that’s all we’ve got,’ says Harry, dropping his voice like an octave lower to disguise himself. ‘Sorry.’
‘You’ll have to get more and next time, throw it more to your left.’
Harry motions for us to leave.
‘We’ll be back tomorrow.’
‘Stop, you can’t leave me here! Get someone who can help! Please!’
We shut out his screams and walk away as fast as we can without running.
The next day at school drags so slowly and it’s raining. I tell Logan he can’t come to the pillbox tonight because it’s too risky, but he says unlucky, I’m coming and if you don’t let me I’ll just tell Dad what’s been going on, so Logan comes with me to meet Harry at the pillbox. It’s still raining and we’re standing right next to it. Adam doesn’t even know we’re here. Harry tells me it’s my turn to throw the food in, says I’m better at sport, so I take what we have – which is really only a couple of bananas, a packet of Rich Tea’s, a bottle of water and a sandwich from Tesco that went out-of-date yesterday – and throw it in.
‘Am I supposed to say thanks?’ says Adam.
We don’t say anything, just stand outside in the rain, half-wishing we were inside in the dry. We stay there for a few minutes, listening to him eating before leaving without saying goodbye.
Harry’s Dad owns a newsagent in town. He helps his Dad out after school, unpacking deliveries, collapsing cardboard, tidying the stockroom, so it’s easy enough for him to get his hands on stuff, although nothing particularly nutritious.
‘Hope you like Curly Wurly’s’ he says as he tosses a box in the next day. The sun is fizzling pink into The Wash and I want to watch it disappear, so I climb onto the roof of the pillbox and sit on the edge. Harry and Logan follow me.
‘What are your names?’ calls out Adam, his mouth full of chewy toffee. ‘There’s three of you, right?’
His accent is weird. He sounds like uncle Gary, who comes from Manchester I think. I can see Logan is about to answer, but a stare and a shake of the head stops him and we stay quiet, watching the sun.
‘Do you know how long I’ve been in here?’
‘You found me on day three. I’ve been stuck in the dark here for six days. Can you imagine what it’s been like? Six days. Have you ever been stuck somewhere for six days? A couple of hours at the most I imagine, in double Maths or at Grandma’s, right?’
‘Our Grandma is brilliant!’ blurts out Logan. ‘We love g-going there.’
I wrestle him to the roof of the pillbox and put my hand over his mouth.
‘I’m sure you do. Where don’t you like going then?’
‘Come on, there must be somewhere.’
‘I’ll tell you somewhere. Prison. Yep, you won’t like it there, trust me. It’s a living nightmare, especially when you shouldn’t even be there. And it won’t just be six days you’re stuck there if you don’t get me out. Oh, I know you’re kids, but they have kids prisons. Did you know that, little one? The one who loves his Grandma. You know about kids’ prisons, right?’
‘Well they’re just as bad as the grown-up prisons, but worse because you’re little and there’s no one to protect you from the bullies. Believe me. I imagine you get bullied, little one, don’t you, what with that stammer and all.’
I don’t want to watch the sun anymore. I don’t want to be anywhere near this place anymore, I want to get Logan away as quickly as possible, but none of us dare move. We are barely breathing.
‘Yes, stammers are a terrible thing.’
The words seep out of the pillbox and hover in the air above us. I slowly release my hand from Logan’s mouth. He is crying, tears streaming down his face. He does his best to stay as quiet as he can, but can’t help the involuntary sobs as he catches his breath.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ says Adam. His voice sounds nearer somehow. ‘I didn’t mean to upset you little one. I just want you boys to get me out so that I can stop rotting in this hellhole and you boys don’t get in any more trouble.’
Harry grips my arm and straightens his back.
‘What’s your name?’ he says, assertive.
‘Oh, hello again. To you, my name is Robert.’
Harry stands on top of the pillbox.
‘Right, well we’re going now. We’ll bring you more food tomorrow, but if you make my friend’s little brother cry again, that’s it, no more.’
We climb down off the roof and walk slowly away, Logan leaning in to me as I put my arm over his shoulder.
‘Good night boys,’ cries Adam. He’ll always be Adam to me. ‘See you tomorrow!’
The pillbox echoes with laughter as the evening chill sets in.
I don’t want to go to the pillbox the next day and neither does Logan, so we tell Harry at lunch break, but he says we have to.
‘There’s an empty box of Curly Wurly’s inside the pillbox and it won’t take them long to figure out how it got there if we just let him die.’
It’s a boiling hot day and we ask our History teacher Mr Sampson if we can do the lesson outside, as a Friday afternoon treat. He goes one better.
‘Let’s go on a trip,’ he says.
He leads the way as we walk out of school, cross the road and head into the fields.
‘Stick to the path, we don’t want Mr Banstead out here shooting over our heads.’
‘Where are we going, sir? asks Harry.
‘To the cliffs. We’re going to have a look at one of our first lines of defence during World War Two.’
I vomit into a hedgerow and think about just lying down and hiding until this all blows over in about three years, but Harry lifts me to my feet.
‘Stop worrying, it will be fine. I’ve got a plan.’
A plan. Harry’s got a plan. Harry toboggans through life as if he’s seen the end of the world. I do’t like his plans, but then as we pass the last hedgerow before hitting the open field towards the cliffs, we are met by the disco lights of two fire engines, a police car and an ambulance, all blocking our way.
‘Wait here children.’
Mr Sampson does that weird half-jog half-walk thing that he does to disguise the fact he’s too old to actually run now and is met by a police officer. They talk for a moment before Mr Sampson returns.
‘I’m afraid we’re not going to learn about pillboxes today children.’
There’s a collective groan because this presumably means we have to go back to class.
‘But I’m sure Mrs Long won’t mind if I encroach on her Geography patch for an hour and we get a first-hand demonstration of the power of coastal erosion.’