Keep Out

At the top of the wooded hill, the boys pushed deeper into the forest. Scotty was in the lead and stopped short of a forest track. It was where they had seen the gamekeeper speed along in his vehicle a few times. Steve dropped to a knee and signalled with his torch for Scotty to look upwards. The beam hit a slate sign attached to a branch with  ominous white stencilling.


They grinned and moved toward a natural dip in the land. It was dark in there and they got to work. Scotty brushed dried leaves away to reveal mud on the forest floor. Steve crept away to find a silver birch tree, the bark of which contained flammable oil. Those trees were aplenty in this area so he soon located one. Opening his bag, he pulled out a knife and peeled the bark sideways. With a small pile of curled bark in his pocket, he moved back toward Scotty and stopped. Clasping his hands together, Steve blew into both thumbs and made two hooting sounds, like an owl. Seconds later three hoots returned through the darkness. It was their all clear signal. Steve returned to Scotty, who had built a pyramid of branches. The silver birch tree bark was placed inside the branches as tinder and Steve prised open the lid of his survival kit. From a waterproof container, he poured an amount of potassium permanganate and sugar mix onto the silver birch bark. Striking a match, Steve soon got the fire going and the flames licked around the dry wood. Smoke billowed and Steve looked up to see the tree canopy above and moonlight shining down.

Copyright © 2021 Callum Stanford.  All rights reserved.

Tactical Movement

The boys knew the street light was to be avoided, so they moved forward and into the next door neighbour’s front garden. Hunched by the window, they could hear the TV was still on. One at a time, they crawled under the window and made it to the far end of the house. The wooden fence was six feet high, but they knew how to traverse it. Scotty, who was stockier than Steve, was up and over in seconds. He hid by a bush on the far side. Steve had his hands on the top of the fence when the front door clicked open. He moved down the side of the house and lay in the shadows as a man clinked an empty milk bottle and looked around. He closed the door. Steve heard the key turn and waited.

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A week later, Steve and Scotty got permission from their parents to camp in Scotty’s back garden. It was the summer holidays and they had already put the tent up, and arranged their gear. The boys each had a bag hidden inside. Scotty’s Mum had cooked some food earlier and they were now in their sleeping bags as dusk settled in. The boys switched off their torches at about 10:30 p.m. and their eyes became accustomed to the darkness. But they stayed awake, whispering about their plans for the night. Scotty looked at his watch and nudged Steve with an elbow. It was 11:36 p.m.

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Barks and growls reverberated around the trees and the dogs sped uphill. The gamekeeper stood with hands on hips and watched his dogs. The boys leapt to their feet and sprinted downhill. Scotty led the way as they weaved between the trees. All stealth was gone and they knew the gamekeeper would be able to follow their footprints. That was of less concern than the dogs, which were gaining. Scotty saw an old stone bridge in the base of the valley and headed to the left of the bridge. Steve followed and stormed toward the stream, trying to keep up with his bigger friend. Scotty got there first and turned around.

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Steve Nobody spent a lot of time in the local forest, known as Ragged Wood. He and his schoolfriend, Scotty, were into anything army. They formed a club called the Night Fighters and kitted themselves out in military clothing and equipment. In the local countryside, the boys learned about camouflage and tactical movement. They crossed barbed wire fences and explored the land beyond. With sharpened senses, they walked with stealth at day or night and became skilled in leaving little trail behind. Being surreptitious was essential because the fields and forest beyond were an estate owned by a wealthy family who lived in an enormous country house. The land had tenant farmers and a gamekeeper was employed in part to ensure no one trespassed on the private land.

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Despite their differences, the Gronk and Nobody families were both Outsiders. But the Nobodys did not care about status, although they saw education as important and sometimes did quite well for themselves. The Gronks, however, wanted to be higher up the social scale. Many an attempt had been made over the years to climb that slippery ladder. The rank of Poshey was the ultimate goal, but it had so far eluded them. Sooner or later, the Gronk family were convinced they would be rubbing shoulders with the Snook elite.

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Know Your Place

The Snook should have been a model of respectability, but it had a reputation as a hotbed of snobbery and prejudice. Pleasant tree-lined streets shielded large houses from the roads, although there was some smaller housing for the less well off. It had been popular with the rich and even famous over the years, which enhanced its standing as the place to be. An obsession with status grew in the Snook and a natural order emerged. Separation was the order of the day, so everyone knew their place.

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The Snook

The modern day picturesque village of Snookington was known as the Snook. It used to be a charming little place set in beautiful countryside, but large swathes of forest had been cut down and housing estates now surrounded the original characterful cottages. An urban sprawl joined the village with surrounding towns in almost every direction. It was regarded as one of SmogCity’s leading urban villages. At one edge lay a token farm besieged by the metropolitan expanse. But the local powers-that-be intended to bulldoze the farm and replace it with more houses in order to stamp out any semblance of green.

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