Chapter 1 https://readingroomcafeproject.com/2017/04/16/saving-time-chapter-one-escape/
Chapter 2 https://readingroomcafeproject.com/2017/04/23/saving-time-chapter-two-rest/
After a good night’s sleep and a large breakfast the children waved good bye to Mr While and headed out. They were going to take the book to safety with a woman twenty three miles away who lived in and protected what the old man called a “fortified library.” neither Tag nor Lila knew what that meant, and he’d explained that it was strong and made stronger and would be easy to defend, like a castle. They would have to walk for a couple of days to get there.
It would only be half an hour away by train but the trains were no place for unaccompanied children in this day and age. Neither were the streets, not really. If it looked like no one would miss you, you could be sold to the highest bidder and sent to the country to work on one of the farms. Tag wasn’t really sure what farms were for, but he knew he didn’t like the sound of it. Labor was in short supply now the migrant workers had been sent back, and children were cheap.
So they dropped into the sewers as soon as they could to make their way to the river bank that way. It was warmer today and even underground the heat above took the chill out of the air.
“Want to tell me what that’s all about then, Del?” Tag asked once they were on their way. “Or should I say Lila?”
“He’s an old friend of mum’s or something.” she said, watching her elusive footing on the slippery ground carefully. “After dad went off and mum went down, I had nowhere to go, so I lived down here with you lot. Then about a year ago I got word that my mum sent me a letter. I went and picked it up.”
“What? From the post office?”
“I know, weird lot they are. Anyway. The gist of it was that she’d tracked down some old man she knows and he’s promised to look after me. I just have to help him out in the shop. Turns out the old boy lived here all along! Can you imagine? I’ve been scratting around for over two years trying to hang on to my food and my boots and fighting anyone who’d try and take them off me and I could have been up there, in the world with him!”
“Bit weird, though, that. You going to live with an old man. And where does he get his money from? There are four bedrooms in that house and I never saw one customer in the shop all of yesterday.”
“What are you saying?” Del demanded as they rounded the corner to Aldo Reloj’s cavern. “You think because he’s not suffering and dying like everyone else that he’s some sort of crook? You’re a stupid boy. You really…” she froze.
Tag took a couple of steps more than she had and had to turn around to face her. “What now? You’re not falling out with me are you?”
“Tag.” she whispered. “When you turn around you’re going to want to scream or shout or make a lot of noise. Don’t. Just turn around slowly and keep quiet. Just look once and then we’ll run.” deli’s voice was quiet and frightened. Tag had never seen her afraid before. He’d seen her angry and frightening, but never afraid. “Or don’t look and we’ll just run.” she continued. “But do whatever you decide to do quietly.”
Tag turned round and stared out of the darkness into the jumping flames that climbed the walls of Aldo’s cavern. The whole place was ablaze and the light threw long shadows from the three men who stood at it’s base and picked through what remained of Aldo’s things. Tag opened his mouth to speak and found Deli’s hand across it, pulling him back, deeper into the shadows. “Let’s get out of here.” she whispered. So they ran.
They ran down the gloomy passageways under the town and along the way to where the sewers spat out by the river.
“Those men, they’re with the Church Street Gang.” Tag spluttered as he struggled to get his breath back. “And they killed Aldo Reloj!”
“The fire could have been an accident…” Del began, but she doubted it.
“He knows about fire, though. You know that was well as I do. He’s good with fire. He understands it… understood it…”
And they sat on the bank of the river and cried. Tag would always have a tear in his eye when he thought of his friend, when he grew up and had children of his own he would tell them this story, of how he saved the world, and he never left out the gory bits. He’d hug them close when he got to this part, when he and Del sat on the river bank and cried for an old man who had been so kind.
The wild flora along the river bed had grown out of control into a jungle. The hogweed and Japanese balsam grew across the muddy path, churned up by dirt-bike gangs and the ground was carpeted with ferns and bracken. Summer, though it was not as warm this year as it should be, was giving life to the most incredible, impossible things. The size of the hogweed and the speed at which they appeared as if from nowhere was like a trick. If you ever see them, remember that they’ve grown to that size since the spring, and disappear completely over the winter. They are spectacular, if dangerous, plants and Tag and Del stared up at them in wonder.
“I feel like a little doll, standing here.” Del said.
“When we get to the river turn left, Opa pa said.” Del took a deep breath and scrambled to a better position on the bank. “Are you ready for this?”
They walked all day: though the mud, scratched at by brambles and burnt by the spatters of giant hogweed sap that flicked into their faces and onto their bare arms. When the light started to fail they stopped under a bridge. They were muddy and bloody and cold and hungry. They had walked for eight hours and the scenery, it seemed, hadn’t changed much at all.
“I don’t feel like we’ve got very far.” Tag said, easing himself down onto the rocks below. “I just feel sore.”
“We’ll feel better when we’ve eaten.” Del pulled a small, cold pie out from her pack and bit into it. “Eat.” she said. “Then we’ll work out where we are.”
The two children sat under the bridge in the dying light and ate. They took off their boots and rubbed their feet. They put their boots back on. The put salve on their cuts and burns. They argued about whether it was twelve bridges they’d passed or thirteen. They looked at the map and decided it was, actually, only eleven. And then, at last, they slept.
Join me next Sunday for chapter five, The River
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