They stumbled to the car to find what they needed for the night. Derek fumbled in the dark, in the boot, for the sleeping bags and meagre toiletries, tooth brushes, paste and aspirin while Colin recovered eight cans of lager and a packet of “Jammy Dodgers” from the back seat.
“Breakfast” he declared.
“Breakfast of Kings” agreed Derek.
A beam of light swayed across the yard and paused at their feet, followed by footsteps in the gravel. The light twitched to the right, along the length of the pub, then back, beckoning to a pathway in the overgrown grass.
“Oi’ll show you the way” softly as if not to wake others, though there was not a single light elsewhere in the village to suggest a sign of life.
They caught Stanley up at the corner of the building and it was a surprise to see that he held a large torch and not a lantern on a bent stick. He shone it down the side of the pub where an alley had been formed from the overhanging trees which met the wall by the eves of the sloping roof. The torchlight gave the impression of walking in a dark green tunnel, it’s arc of light moving with them as they went, over short soft, mossy grass.
Stanley led, they followed, out onto a small lawn overlooked by the sightless glazed rear facing eyes of the pub. Through an overgrown arch in a ewe hedge they emerged, as the moon appeared from behind a ruffle of cloud, into an orchard. It was a bright moon sailing high in the sky, not yet full as if the quirky smiling face were wearing a flat cap at a jaunty angle.
Stanley turned off the torch revealing rows upon rows of twisted apple trees, dark and grotesque, writhing shapes given preternatural semblance of life by the moonlight that dusted their uppermost branches. They stood for a moment, their breath making plumes in the chilly late summer night air, and the trees breathed back.
“Do you get many pixies?” asked Colin in a small voice.
“Not since the war” said Stanley, breaking the spell, “they was all rounded up and deported, funny pointy-eared little buggers”.
They all laughed a little too loud and Stanley set off again picking his way through the groping trees.
In a very short while they passed the last of the old apples, the largest, looking like all the world as if it were lifting its gnarled and twisted limbs to bathe in the light of the moon. The ground sloped down slightly feeling grittier, less grassy under foot towards the edge of a large, gently sparkling pond.
Imbued with an ancient animal urge, wherever man meets water, Derek tucked the sleeping bag in his right hand under his left arm and stopped to pick up a flat stone. He stooped, bent at the knee and skipped it across water. “Splat…splat..splatsplatsplat" it went followed by a dull thud and then a sudden great caterwauling “Quaaaaaaaaack, quaccck, quack, quack quack!!! and a furious flurry of wings.
“It’s a duck pond” said Stanley sagely and quite needlessly.
“Shot” whispered Colin.
Derek mumble a "sorry", fidgeting with his baggage and followed them just twenty yards along the bank to where Stanley had stopped. He pointed, “here we are”, at a dark shape standing ten yards back from the bank.
The boys looked at each other sharing an unspoken thought, the cramped comforts of the car suddenly seemed so much more inviting.
Caravans come in all shapes and sizes, from those towed by geriatrics and sadists who seem interminably lost, to the enormous comfortable semi-permanent habitations of those who disdain “package holidays” but are happy to spend two miserable weeks in a large tin can.
This was a beast of a different colour, literally. Oxidised, blackened, formerly galvanised tin to be precise, it reflected no light, a tiny, squat mushroom of darkness suspended on a cushion of rising mist.
They stood transfixed, appalled.
“You’re havin’ a giraffe” complained Derek.
“It’ll do for the noit” said Stanley.
“Its derelict, I mean look at it, it’s falling apart”.
“T’aint that bad” said Stanley chirpily, “old Natty lived in it for years”.
“What was he, the local hermit?” asked Colin blackly.
“No, the mole catcher”
“Perfect. That’s what it is isn’t it, they got their own back and smothered him in a ginormous fucking mole hill?!!”
“Don’t be darft” said Stanley, “if you want to know, he drowned, roit there in the duck pond….”
The boys turned to look at him and Stanley stuttered realising his mistake.
….dead drunk he was” smiling a little cheesily
“Timing”, said Derek, pausing for emphasis “is the secret of comedy”