Here’s my attempt at the Sunday Scrawl prompt challenge, which I recently begun myself; it will run from Sunday on a weekly basis. If you want to know more about this challenge, feel free to check out the page here.
The light sprinkling of snow that had settled over Bridgewater that morning crunched under my feet as I walked. It was strangely satisfying to hear the crisp snapping sound accompanying my every step, almost as though there was some strange echo following me along the pavement.
I was just in the process of asking myself why I found the noise so comforting, when others may have thought it unnerving, or, at the very least, irritating, when a shout made me look up. My path ran parallel to the railway; a temporary clearing of trees allowed me to stare right down at the tracks, from where they disappeared under a long bridge. At first, I couldn’t work out where the sound could have come from, but then I noticed, scampering down from the far bank, a pair of scruffy looking boys. They skidded onto the railway, and, taking deliberate care not to touch the tracks, ducked under the bridge and pressed their backs against its wall. The taller of the two held his hand out across the other’s chest, his finger on his lips.
Astonished, I paused to watch the scene, wondering fleetingly whether I should call the police or not; the boys were clearly off limits, and could cause a serious accident down there. My phone was actually in my hands, the first nine dialled, when another, more high-pitched, shout made me look up again. A smartly-dressed woman was now approaching the top of the bridge, her crimson coat wrapped tightly around her and her fluffy black scarf shielding her from the wind. She stopped at the top of the bank where the boys had slipped down, eyeing the route suspiciously. Daintily, she placed one, heeled foot on the muddy bank, as if she was considering descending to the tracks. Then, she straightened up again and looked across the bridge, moving away from the bank to scurry across.
I eyed the boys curiously, watching as their eyes flew skyward when the woman crossed; evidently, the sound reverberated all around the tunnel. Then, a few seconds later, the taller, scruffier of the two, dragged his accomplice back out of the tunnel and helped him up the far bank. Then, without a backwards glance, they scurried off into the distance, moving as fast as their grubby, little legs could carry them. I watched the railway for a few seconds more, then, sighing, turned towards home. My feet were frozen lumps of meat in my shoes by now, and I was quite ready to get back to my bed, but my progress was impeded, however, by the figure who now stood right in front of me.
I was now facing the woman in the red coat, who’s path had evidently cut into mine from ahead.
“Hello,” she said unsmilingly. “What were you looking at?” It wasn’t really a question, more a demand. I attempted a cautious smile, but, still, she did not return it. I swallowed, biding for time; this woman had clearly been looking for those boys, but for what purpose, I couldn’t decide. She could be their mother, I supposed, yet their shabby, torn clothing and muddy faces didn’t quite relate to her immaculate visage in my mind.
“Are you not from around here?” I asked, finally coming to a decision. “We don’t get much snow. It’s so lovely to see.” I laughed, trying to scoot around the woman, but she blocked me.
“You didn’t, perchance,” she continued, crossing her arms accusatorily, “happen to see two young vagabonds down there, did you? They seem to have gotten away from me.” I couldn’t help but notice the note of disgust in her voice as she mentioned the ‘vagabonds’, and I think that it was this, more than anything else, that made me lie to her. I told her I hadn’t seen anyone and, again, tried to leave. She let me pass this time, but kept watching me all the while I scurried away from her; I could feel her eyes boring into the back of my neck as I skidded on the snow. I’d stood motionless for so long that the once crisp, satisfying snow had turned weak and icy underfoot
I made it home unscathed, however, and, as I warmed my hands around a mug of hot chocolate, I couldn’t help thinking that I would never hear of anything to do with those boys, or that very strange, woman, ever again. I thought often of what had happened, though; I was deeply afraid that I’d done the wrong thing – what if that woman had been trying to help them, and by feigning ignorance to her, I’d just condemned those boys to a life on the streets? It must have been the fear in their eyes as they’d hidden under that bridge, because something about them had forced me to pity them, regardless of logic and regardless of reason.
To my great surprise, however, I did hear of the incident again; two weeks on from that fateful day, when I was stocking up on groceries in my corner shop, I saw the red-coated woman again. This time, though, she was on the front page of the local newspaper, under a headline that read: Infamous Child Snatcher Caught at Last. I snatched up the paper from its stall and devoured it with my eyes, heart beating wildly. Her name, apparently, was Cecelia Bordman, and her hobby had been to lurk outside children’s houses so that she could grab them as they walked by.
There was no mention of the boys in the paper, but then, I supposed, why would there be? If they’d had any sense, and they must have done, considering how they’d hidden under that bridge like that, they wouldn’t have hung around. They would have run for their lives, because, when it came down to it, they really were running for their lives. I put the paper down again, a pleasant sense of satisfaction rushing over me. It wasn’t just that I’d made the right decision in helping the boys; that was too simple. As I looked at the sneering photo of the woman on that paper, I realised that I had this feeling because, for the first time in my meaningless life, I’d done something. I’d stopped something terrible from happening. I hadn’t just been another bystander; I’d been there, right in the midst of it all.