It was an intense hot summers day as the three boys hurtled across the playing fields of Frampton and to on their destination.
The reason for their high-speed dash across the fields, as their bikes creaked and wobbled under the pressure of frantic peddle-pumping, was an old war bunker that Nathaniel had spied while taking his dog for a walk earlier that morning. Nathaniel was so excited with his discovery that he almost got half way home before he realised he’d left the dog behind.
He couldn’t wait to go and tell Denny and Neil of his find. All this time they had been playing or messing around in the fields and never once had they seen any hint of such a secret.
The three boys all lived in and around the same little cul-de-sac on Clawshay Drive, and school holidays meant the three boys spent nearly all their time together.
When they each woke up in the morning their first thoughts turned to each other and what they would do with the day. It was Nathaniel that had today’s activities planned upon his fabulous discovery.
He called by Neil’s first, babbling frantically on his doorstep as Neil’s own anticipation of the find grew while he fell about trying to put his shorts and shoes on. He’d barely managed to finish his breakfast before he was out the door and sprinting over to Denny’s house with Nathaniel just behind. It took them all of thirty seconds to get there.
Denny took in the news Nathaniel had to offer (though at first both Nathaniel and Neil talked over each other) before he invited them in and was grabbing his trainers, suggesting they make the journey by bike to save time. Denny’s father came downstairs just as they were ready to depart and did his usual routine whenever his friends were there. “Alright boys, what’s your name again?” Denny’s father asked Neil. Neil, who always fell for it replied, “Um, I’m Neil,” he replied. “Oh please, stand, no need to kneel,” burst Denny’s father in delight as if it was the first time and not the umpteenth time he’d performed the gag.
The boys rolled their eyes and left Denny’s father to appreciate his own terrible joke, of which it seemed he had an endless supply.
After they had gathered bikes they made the rapid journey up to Frampton Fields, racing up the main road and then onto the small country lane, Old Frampton Road, that backed on to the fields.
There were three main fields in Frampton and the boys normally preoccupied themselves with the first. It had goalposts and a proper football pitch (Denny and Neil both played for the local football team) along with a cricket crease further up.
The first field ended with a little wall that acted as a border and a quick leap over the wall took you into the next field. The boys didn’t play there too much, there was no need to with what the first ground offered, but now and then they ventured in.
The second field usually had some cows meandering around and a bull which the boys dared to antagonise to the point of it charging them, before they made a quick break for the wall and leapt back into safe cover.
The field was free of cows or a bull today, so the boys handed each other’s bikes over the wall and followed Nathaniel who led them to the bunker.
It was unspoken but the boys cycled slowly now, a bumpy meandering ride across the dry hard field that flicked up cracked sun baked mud as they went. The energetic atmosphere they shared now turned to one of quiet anticipation. They reached the far corner of the field before Nathaniel discarded his bike and knelt at the spot of his find.
The two boys joined him as the three of them knelt together looking at a big patch of long matted grass. Nathaniel pulled the dry patch back that had hardened from the summer sun and there lay something that looked like a man hole cover. The three boys looked on in silence for a moment before looking to each other and smiling. “I couldn’t get the lid off of it,” whispered Nathaniel. “I tried lifting it, but it wouldn’t budge but I reckon with three of us here, we could move it between us.”
Neil, who was the strongest of the three didn’t wait on ceremony and tried himself to remove the lid. It moved ever so slightly which offered the boys encouragement. “OK, let’s do this together,” said Denny as he focused on the remains of a curved rusty steel bar that sat across the surface of the cap. “Nat, we need a rope or something to wrap around that bit of bar, that way two of us can push from one end and the other can pull from the opposite side using the rope. I bet that will shift it.”
The boys nodded in silent agreement before Nathaniel got up and wandered to his bike. Neil and Denny smiled at each other as they knew Nathaniel would have something practical at hand, he always did.
Denny briefly reflected on Nathaniel’s little ventures into invention. They rarely worked out his inventions, such as the eight wheeled skateboard he’d recently made and grandly named ‘The Centipede.’
The Centipede was a varnished shaped bit of wood with eight meticulously selected skateboard wheels and super cool ball bearings. Nathaniel dreamed of his envious friends staring aghast as he hurtled along on his eight wheeled wonder, leaving behind him a trail of flames and dust as he roared past.
In reality the skateboard wobbled nervously under Nathaniel’s tall skinny frame and barely got up any speed before stubbornly throwing him off.
Nathaniel returned from his bike holding a small piece of rope. “It’s from the survivor’s kit I made,” he announced proudly. Denny smiled while Neil noted the rope’s length. “That rope is shorter than you Nat, handy if you’re an Ewok I guess.” Nathaniel threw the rope to Denny, “You’re an Ewok,” he replied, and the boy’s concentration was briefly broken by a round of giggles before they set about their task.
Neil tied the short length of rope around the bar giving it a firm tug to see if the rusting brown bar could take the strain. It held. “OK, let’s do this,” Neil said satisfied. Nathaniel and Denny positioned themselves ready to push. “On the count of three,” ordered Denny. As he counted slowly he thought of his current favourite film and how this discovery echoed a scene he loved. It was Raiders of The Lost Ark, the part when Indiana Jones and his entourage had located the exact spot where the Ark of the Covenant lay hidden and buried. They dug as the thunder roared overhead and with great effort and combined strength, removed the seal to the chamber that lay beneath, letting out steam and air from a dark place hidden and secret for thousands of years.
As Denny and Nathanial started to push he saw the clouds overhead gather and the skies darken just like in that scene, although a little less dramatic. The smouldering sun was covered momentarily, while the seal to their own little discovery creaked and groaned as it slid slowly out of place. Neil pulled at the same time using the rope, letting out a yelp of effort as the seal finally slid off altogether and landed in the grass, cracking in one place as it did so.
The boys stared at each other briefly before daring to peer into the revealed hole below.
Peering down they could see a rickety rusting ladder leading to the floor of the shelter but the floor itself they couldn’t quite make out. Denny looked up at the cloud cover, willing the clouds to move and let the sun free to provide its light. He looked to Nat and Neil who were doing exactly the same. The three boys looked to each other and silently confirmed what they were waiting for.
The clouds dispersed, and the sun shone, warming their faces before its light worked its way over the black hole beneath them. The light provided the required detail, revealing a stoned square floor and the partially displaced ladder that led to it. They could just about make out two small spaces that may have once been concrete bed spaces for those hiding or taking shelter.
This was a World War II shelter they had discovered, and it lay there hidden and forgotten. The natural growth around it had eventually covered it and created the secret it had become but the hottest driest summer on record for many a year had dried and killed much of the grass and hectic growth around it.
Nathaniel’s dog had sniffed it out and found it and Nathaniel thought to himself now of how lucky they were to discover this hidden wonder before anyone else.
The three boys stared in and it took Nathaniel, the self-dubbed king of invention and discovery, to break the silence. “Let’s go down then?”
Denny inwardly felt a great reluctance to do so. He didn’t understand why but when he stared down there, into the dark before the light came, he felt a strange sensation. It was if he and his friends were the ones being stared at by something unseen below. He felt it for only a moment, but it was enough to make the hairs on his neck stand.
“I dunno guys that ladder looks dangerous and what happens if it comes off? We’re all stuck down there.”
“Mmmm, you have a point my friend,” replied Nathaniel dramatically. He had gone into discoverer mode, playing his part as the eccentric archaeologist or explorer. In spite of Denny’s instinctive fear, he fell into the game naturally and the three boys became world renowned discoverers far from home standing on the brink of history and fame. “OK, one goes down first, treading carefully on that ladder, see if it holds. If safe, the second of us follows but we keep a third up top should the ladder collapse, that way nobody is left stranded.”
Denny nodded in agreement enthusiastically. “Agreed, it could be dangerous Dr Nat…so you go first, followed by Dr Neil. We’ll need your strength down there, Dr Neil, should any ancient beasts appear and attack.” Neil, puffed with pride at the compliment, nodded in agreement. “After you then Dr Nat,” Neil gestured.
Nathaniel planted his foot gingerly on the first step of the fragile looking ladder. It squeaked in protest but held. Nathaniel repeated the trick lowering his next foot down with the same results. He wobbled his way down awkwardly and nervously before stepping off onto the floor. “I am down guys. It’s pretty cold down here. No signs of any life forms!” he bellowed up. Neil and Denny nodded down to Nat in response. “OK, I’m going down Dr Denny, feed the rope down to me when I get there.” With that Neil joined Nathaniel though he skipped the last few steps of the ladder and leapt down to the bottom with confidence. Denny in the meantime had re-tied the rope to the steel bar on the seal and fed the rope down to the two boys. The small length of rope had grown several metres in their collective minds as they imagined the discovery to be far bigger and deeper than it really was. “You coming down Denny?” called Neil. “Well no, if the ladder breaks we’re doomed,” replied Denny. Neil looked to Nathaniel and vice versa before holding a quick discussion, nodding to each other before Neil shouted up again, “The rope is strong and so is that bar it’s attached to, if the ladder breaks we’ll be fine with the rope. Come on Denny, you’ll love it down here.”
Denny reluctantly agreed after pride grabbed him by the balls and insisted he go down. He repeated the Neil approach of getting down there, dropping past the last few steps so as to look cool and aloof.
It felt too small down here. The four walls surrounding them were shabby and frail looking. The two sleeping spaces at either side of the shelter looked too small to offer any reasonable rest. The shelter was bare as Denny gazed around it, noting old dusty shelves that probably used to hold rations, conjuring up images in the boy’s minds of old tinned food.
Nathaniel in his mind’s eye could see two former soldiers perhaps on local guard duty, hunkered down in the small rest spaces, eating lukewarm baked beans while planes thundered over-head and bombs howled through the sky plummeting towards their intended targets. Nathaniel began to narrate the very same vision to his two companions. “Highly likely yes,” replied Neil. “The RAF station remains not far from here and would have been a target for the Germans. This poor town would have taken quite a hit,” (although there was never any real history to suggest that was the case). “I suspect our two brave men died down here and were later removed before closing this bunker up for good. God rest their souls,” sighed Neil at this newly created myth that now took on fact in the three boys’ minds. “Dr Denny, any observations?”
Denny continued to survey the old space around him. The air felt damp and suffocating and as his eyes wandered to the farthest wall from him he noticed a patch that seemed almost circular in shape. Denny was back in the game and playing his role as intrepid explorer. He walked up to the patch on the wall and prodded it. “Now this is interesting, look here Dr’s. This patch has been painted over I think or covered. I wonder why? Perhaps to hide blood or some sort of doorway.” The other two nodded knowingly. “I agree and they did it in a hurry you can see from the crappy way it was slapped on,” commented Neil who had lost the knack of the inquisitive explorer’s language. “Must be blood,” he added as an afterthought.
Denny took over from Nathaniel’s narrative, impeccably describing the action that took place in this hole long ago. “One soldier would have stood here, against this wall, the other soldier there on the opposite wall. I think they were discovered by the enemy.” He looked around the shelter for any little holes and whether he saw them or not he insisted there were bullet holes all around from enemy fire. “They were trapped down here and had to return fire best they could, taking out German soldiers heroically in a last stand as their position was exposed. The soldier here was the first to get it, bang! He flew up against the wall here, where this patch is and slid down the wall as the Germans closed in. His friend continued to shoot but he was outnumbered, and I can only conclude, he was either killed or more likely was captured. Perhaps we can find tracks where they dragged him away.” The other two boys were lost in the moment, taking in every word with relish. “Do you think the soldier died straight away or did he try to hold on?” asked Nathaniel.
“Good question,” replied Denny. “Let me investigate a moment,” he continued as Denny prodded the wet patch on the wall again. He was surprised to see his finger almost sink into the wall as it started to shudder despite such little contact. A crack started to appear when he quickly removed his finger and dust started to crumble from overhead. The boys looked at each other in alarm as the wall let out a groaning noise and the three boys seemed to almost shift sideways without moving themselves. “Whoa fuck me, it’s gonna collapse guys!” shouted Neil no longer playing. Nathaniel’s skinny long frame was already half way up the ladder before the other two could agree to do the same. “Go!” shouted Denny to Neil who quickly sprang up the ladder and made his way out the hole as Nathaniel helped pull him out. Both boys screamed for Denny to move it. He didn’t need a second invitation as he made for the ladder. He could hear crumbling behind him and a far-off sounding roar as he stumbled up the loosening ladder. “Hurry!” shouted Neil, clearly alarmed, and he was right to do so as the ladder came away from the wall.
For a sickening moment Denny was tumbling down but was quickly relieved as his hands found and grasped the rope. Beneath him the far wall was collapsing as it wobbled forward, creating a thunderous noise and moving the surface underfoot. Neil grabbed the rope and yanked Denny upwards as the shelter started to collapse in its entirety. The exit to the hole was getting smaller as mud and ground from above started to rush downwards past him. Denny started to scream. He looked down and saw the one wall that had started the destruction, crumble to dust revealing black space and nothingness.
Denny was transfixed by the seemingly eternal blackness. Just before Neil pulled him up with one final almighty yank, Denny thought he saw something emerging from within the black and gasped. A rasping whisper floated into Denny’s mind from the black below. “Life without end ,” it said before Denny found himself face down on the welcoming grass of Frampton Fields as Neil and Nathaniel dragged him away from the newly created wreckage that collapsed in on itself.
The three boys lay there panting frantically before hysteria set in and Neil, followed by Nathaniel, burst into rapturous laughter. Denny looked at them bemused then joined in and there the three of them lay, rolling around laughing at their near escape.
When the laughter stopped, Denny asked, “Did you see anything down there, when the wall collapsed?”
“I thought I saw some coal down there, like what you have in your shed at home,” replied Nat.
“No, it was something else, like a person maybe,” muttered Denny.
His two friends looked on mystified, “You mean the skeleton of the soldier?” replied Neil.
“No, I mean for real’s, there was something behind that wall. I could feel it….” Denny broke off realising his friends hadn’t seen or heard a thing. “It doesn’t matter I got spooked out I guess. Forget it and let’s get out of here.”
With that the boys sped off on their bikes leaving behind the wreckage and as kids often do, moved on to the next adventure with not a thought for the dangers they had narrowly avoided.
Denny though continued to hear the remnants of that seething whisper echo in his mind.
Life without end.