Today’s been a lovely warm, sunny day, after all the rain yesterday. Nathan and Julie, their cousins and friends were out playing, running in and out of the trees, skirting their village. It’s like that most days, after school and before tea.
Their favourite game is tick and chase, rushing through the muddy fields to avoid being caught. They’ve been told not to go inside the fence surrounding the field but they go anyway. It’s worth crawling under the hole they’ve dug in the earth beneath the fence to pick the succulent shoots of sweetcorn, growing on the cob. What harm can taking a few stems do when there are so many? Julie’s especially good at crawling under the fence and collects a number in her jumper, throwing them over the high fence for her friends to catch.
Other times, they like to go off into the wood, exploring for animals. They may see deer or owls, lynx or wild boar, if they’re lucky. Once, a wild boar chased Nathan, who’d got too close to the piglets back up the track and he had to scramble up a tree quick to escape.
‘Tea’s ready!’, called their mum. Her singing voice boomed across from the village to the wood. The pair knew they had to be back by the third call or else they’d be for it. Washing the floors or emptying the compost bin were two of the best kind of jobs they could be given if they let their tea go cold. There was much, much worse. Don’t even go near the compostable toilet!
They waved goodbye to their friends, who were all heading back to their homes too for their own tea. It was summer. Still time to play out after tea and chores but usually they were too tired with homework to finish. Dad made sure of that. He was convinced that if they worked hard enough and do as their teachers told them, they could each go to university, something he’d wanted to do when he was young but had never had the chance. Farming was his way of life; his father’s too.
As the late evening birdsong drifted through the open windows, they sat down to eat, scents of wild lilacs wafting in through the doorway. ‘Tell me about your day’, Sarah, their mum asked. ‘We did maths and English and sport and I may get picked for the school team, if I keep playing well’, Julie said. ‘And me!’, Nathan blurted. He was more into chess and had recently represented his county at a competition. ‘Good,’ I’m pleased to hear it.’, their mum said. ‘And you haven’t been near the field with the fence around, have you? I’ve been hearing strange stories about it and nothing that I like. It’s not like your dad’s. They’re spraying it with chemicals and goodness knows what else, besides, to deep the bugs down! I want you to stay away from it. I don’t want you eating that sweetcorn, do you hear me!’ ‘Yes, mum. We won’t, mum.’ And they exchanged glances.
Later, not far away, some musicians were starting to pick up a tune in the square. The musical notes of the accordion carried to them in the air. It was a favourite pastime of the villagers during the summer. Soon, couples and older children would be dancing. Sarah started humming the tune to herself while she was ironing. ‘Come on, kids, your tea’s ready!’, it went. She sang and hummed over, swaying from foot to foot, heel to toe dancing with the shirts and blouses.
She looked across the room to her husband, Sam, who’d fallen asleep in his favourite armchair and threw a sock at him. ‘Wake up, sleepy head. It’s time to get the kids to bed!’ ‘Right, you two, off you go. No ifs…off you go, young lady.’ Julie, at 11 years, two years older than her brother, guarded her superior status as best she could but she was no match for a determined dad. Not yet, anyway. ‘Ah, 10 more minutes, dad, please..!’ ‘Oh go on, then, but then, bed, the pair of you. I mean it. That compost bin needs putting out, you know…’ His wife raised her eyebrows but couldn’t help a smile, though she tried not to show it. ‘Ten minutes, then, then off to bed.’ They raced towards the door. ‘And don’t forget to say goodnight to your gran and grandad too.’ ‘We won’t.’ They could still start a board or a card game, they knew, before bed, before their parents came to say goodnight. Till all that was left were their dreams. Another day done, another belly full. Come soon, tomorrow!’ While outside, from deep in the heart of the forest, echoed the cry of a wild beast.
Part one of four