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The happy shrieks of children echoed through the air as the orphans from Wool’s Orphanage capered about in the meadow that they had been brought to for a picnic. Two outings in one year was an uncommon treat, but work was being done to the building and the workmen had requested that the children be absent to keep them from underfoot. Neither of the adults minded either because it gave them a chance to take in sunshine and fresh air, the latter of which London was in short supply of. The numerous factories kept the city under a pall of fog and smoke that sometimes made breathing uncomfortable.

They were in a different meadow than the last one they had visited and were happy that there were no caves to explore. Amy and the other little girl were busy playing on the shore of the pond as they made mud pies and the boys were wading in the shallow water looking for small creatures to capture. Martha and Mrs. Cole would occasionally shout out a warning or issue a command to a child who was not being mindful of the depth of the water.

Tom sat on the bank as he dangled his feet in the water and watched his reflection in its rippled surface. On occasion he would toss a pebble into the water to watch the expanding rings spread from its point of impact. Across the pond Billy was having a great time as he jumped into the water to create huge splashes. The boy was enjoying the fact that when he hit the water he would drench anyone in range with a deluge. Tom watched the boy with only mild interest and leaned back on the grass to stare up into the sky. This was one of those days that rarely came, a chance to sit outside and relax in the sun or play to your heart’s content.

His thoughts were rudely interrupted as a wave of water washed over him, courtesy of a laughing Billy who had swum across the pond to strike at the other boy. Tom sputtered as he tried to clear the water from his face and had nearly done so when a hand grabbed his leg and he was yanked off of the bank. He landed in the water and desperately stroked for the air above. When he regained the surface he tried to reach the shore but was grabbed again and pulled under by the larger boy. The pair grappled under the water, oblivious to the shouts of the adults who even now were running towards the scene. Tom finally managed to break free and swim to the surface where he was pulled from the water by a thoroughly wet and angry Martha. He struggled away from the water and collapsed next to a tree that was well away from the pond.

Billy surfaced on the other side of the body and then stood up in the water to laugh at the boy who was lying next to the tree. Martha screeched a directive to him to return to the blanket and he dove back into the water to swim to the scene. As he swam towards the other side of the pond again he was struck by an incredible pain in his midsection and he doubled over in the water before beginning to sink. Martha and Mrs. Cole noticed him vanishing but attributed it to defiance and made a mental note that the boy was in for severe punishment when he arrived.

The stricken boy sank towards the bottom of the pond as the pain in his belly intensified and he felt as though he was going to die. Panic struck him as he desperately attempted to regain the surface as his victim had done only a short time before. He had just reached the surface when he was pulled under again in a large splash that was visible to all on the shore. Breaking the surface again, he had time to shriek for help before he vanished under the water again. An unbreakable grip seemed to hold him as he was pulled deeper and deeper under the surface of the pond. Finally he felt another grip on his arm and he was yanked towards the shore and shallower water. When his face emerged into the air and he was able to breathe again the boy took a huge breath into his lungs. He felt himself being pulled onto the grassy bank and thrown onto his belly as they pressed on his back to try to force the water out of his lungs.

When he finally was able to roll over he opened his eyes and was able to see a very wet Martha standing over him while Mrs. Cole knelt next to him. Both of the women looked down at him with concern that was mixed with anger.

“What in heaven’s name were you trying to do, Billy Stubbs? You were repeatedly warned about fooling around in the water and could have been seriously hurt.”

“Something grabbed me and pulled me under.”

“Nonsense, there was nothing in that pond larger than a fish.”

“I swear, Mrs. Cole, something grabbed me and pulled me under. It took me all the way to the bottom to try to drown me.”

“The bottom was no more than five feet down and if it hadn’t been for Martha you may very well have drowned.”

“But I’m not lying, Mrs. Cole, something tried to pull me down. It must have been Tom, look at him, he’s all wet!”

“Tom is wet because you pulled him into the pond a short time ago and thought that it was very funny. He also has not left the tree where he went to sit down after you pulled your shenanigan. When we get back to the orphanage you can expect a taste of my switch for pulling him into the pond, not following Martha’s directions to come to the bank, fooling around in the water and lying about Tom. Now you are to sit down right here and you are not to move for the rest of the time we are here.”

Tom watched all of this with glee as the boy received a royal bawling out for what he had done. It had been fun to watch Billy as he struggled in the pond and Tom wished that it could happen again, but there was little chance of that happening. The matron had given him strict instructions to remain near the blanket and he wouldn’t be near the water again.

The rest of the children were disappointed when told that they needed to stay out of the water for the remainder of the day. The two small girls abandoned their mud bakery to return to the blanket after washing their hands clear of the mud that coated them. Tom realized that the women were gathering their charges back to the blanket and rose from where he was sitting to walk back to the blanket.

Finally, not long after the meal was consumed the children were gathered into the wagon that had brought them out to the pond and soon were on their way back to the road where the bus awaited them. All of them knew that likely this was the last outing of the year and that definitely one of them had an appointment in the matron’s office when they got back to the orphanage.

Tom watched as the countryside moved past them and occasionally glanced at Billy.

‘How did you like your swim, Billy? Next time, maybe you won’t come back up until they drag the pond! I will try to make that happen next time.’

Billy sat next to Mrs. Cole the entire trip back and knew that the matron wasn’t going to forget her threat. He was going to a switch used on his backside and there was precious little that he could do about it. The whole episode had been very queer, he had been fine until his belly started to hurt and then the powerful pull had taken him. It had felt just like large hands were pulling him under the water and he had been powerless to resist it. The most frightening thing about it was the fact that when he had closed his eyes he had seen what appeared to be a set of glowing snake-like red eyes staring at him as if waiting to see him die.

The trip home was much shorter than any of them wanted it to be, with the exception of Martha who couldn’t wait to get out of her soaked clothing. They left the bus which had brought them home and soon were crossing the courtyard to enter the building. Billy entered the building feeling the familiar dread in his belly and grip of the matron’s hand on his ear as he was directed to her office. The remaining children were shooed upstairs to change their clothes if they were muddy or wet. They would be expected to bring them down to the laundry to be washed.

As they hurried up to their rooms they heard the door to Mrs. Cole’s office close and then the rhythmic sound as Billy received his punishment. The boy would have a hard time lying on his back or sitting down for a while, the matron was making certain of it. The expulsion of her wrath would take a very long time from Billy’s point of view.

Tom had changed his clothing and taken it down to the laundry in near record time so that he could hear the happenings in the office. Nothing pleased him more than the fact that Billy was getting yet another dose of the switch. He had been highly angered by the fact that Billy had pulled him into the pond and had thus deserved what had happened to him in the pond and what was happening to him now.

The noise from the office ended and then the door opened to release a sobbing Billy and a still angry Mrs. Cole. Tom made haste to continue on to the laundry so that it wouldn’t be apparent that he had been listening to the interaction that had occurred behind the closed door. Martha greeted him as he dropped off the clothing and then took the lid off of the cookie jar to offer him a treat. The boy eagerly reached into the container to select a cookie before returning to the dining room to sit down to enjoy it.

It wasn’t long before he was joined by several of the other orphans who had their own cookies to enjoy. They sat quietly as Mrs. Cole entered the room and told them that they could go out into the courtyard to play. As he walked to the door to go outside Tom wished that he could bring the truck out to play with it but knew that the adults would question its current state. There was no possible way that he could explain the repairs that had occurred and he didn’t want to try.

The doors to the building burst open and the children rushed out into the remaining sunlight of the day to play with the few toys that they had. Tom found a shady spot under the small tree that graced the courtyard and gathered some twigs to build a small structure out of them. He imagined an old man who lived there with his idiot son and crazy daughter as they went through their horribly dull lives. In his mind he saw the girl watching a man on a horse and realized that it was the same man that he had seen in his dreams. He watched as the woman tried desperately to gain the attentions of the handsome man and then one day offer him a drink of cold water.

His thoughts were interrupted by Martha calling them in to the building to wash up for dinner and he realized that he had been daydreaming for quite a long time. He rose from the place that he occupied and walked towards the building, but not before smashing the tiny structure flat with his heel. He realized that it was simply another piece of the puzzle that he needed to solve before he could find out who he actually was. There was no doubt that the people that he had seen were a part of his life and he wondered if the woman might not have been his mother. He certainly hoped not, what he had seen of her told him that she was completely mental. The rest of her family was even worse than she had been.

As he washed for the meal, the boy shuddered as he remembered the state of the home that the people he had seen lived in. It was little more than a hovel and even this orphanage that he live in was wonderful compared to it. He finished washing and turned to find Billy glaring at him from the other side of the room. At first, Tom thought that the larger boy was going to attack him, but Billy merely watched him from a distance as he left the room.

‘He is probably a little tender after his meeting with Mrs. Cole,’ Tom thought as he smiled to himself as he walked to the dinner table. He turned in time to see Billy emerge from the lavatory and then walk back down the hallway to the stairs. The boy slowly ascended the stairs and Tom could hear his tread as he walked to his room and then the door closed behind him. Obviously Mrs. Cole had ordered him to bed without dinner and the sentence would be carried out.

Dinner that night was pleasant and Tom was soon settling down with the rest of the children and the adults around the radio as the program played. The show was incredibly funny and he laughed along with the rest of those in the room. When the program ended the children were shooed up to their rooms after using the lavatories and were soon settling into their beds. Tom smiled to himself as he thought about the boy who had dragged him into the water of the pond. Billy was no doubt hungry and wishing that he could get something to eat. Tom went to sleep dreaming delicious thoughts about the revenge that he had taken on Billy and the punishment that the boy had received from the adults.

Billy was having no delicious thoughts about anything. He lay in his bed on his belly thinking about how much his backside still hurt and the fact that his stomach was empty. True, he had experienced the switch and the lack of dinner before but tonight was different. Somehow Tom had managed to nearly drown him in the pond and had gotten away with it.

But how had he done it? When Billy had last seen him, Tom was sitting underneath the tree well away from the water and could not possibly have reached him. Then there was the set of red eyes that Billy was sure that he had seen before he had blacked out. What were those all about? How had Tom done this to him? Billy intended to find out and make the smaller boy pay. No other boy had ever angered Billy as much as Tom did and now Billy was under careful scrutiny by the women that ran the orphanage. There was very little chance that he could get to Tom unless…

Tom, asleep in his room, didn’t hear Billy climb out of bed and creep to the door of his room. Billy cursed silently as the door creaked softly when he opened it, he stepped out into the corridor and stood in the darkness to determine whether he had been heard or not. When there was no response from anyone in the building he stole quietly towards the room that held his intended victim. He snuck along the wall, keeping to the shadows, as he approached the door to Tom’s room.

“You’re going to get yours now, Tom.”

He arrived at his destination and tried to quietly open the door into the chamber. Tom, deep in sleep, didn’t hear the door as it opened or the soft sound made by Billy’s bare feet on the hard wood floor. The small space between the door and the bed meant that Billy was soon standing over the other boy and he looked down at the sleeping visage with malicious intent. Billy leaned down and drew back his fist in preparation to strike at the child in the bed.

Tom awoke at the last instant and realized the danger that he was in. Having only a moment to react he twisted to one side as the fist slammed into the pillow that his head had rested on only a moment before. He lashed out with his foot towards the belly of the larger boy and was rewarded with a grunt of pain from Billy. His joy was short lived as the larger boy’s fist slammed into his cheek and Tom felt the almost instant bruising on his face. Tom struck again, this time scoring a hit of his own on Billy’s face which drove the larger boy backwards to slam into the wall.

In her bedroom below, Mrs. Cole was awakened by the sound of the conflict in the room above and rose swiftly to hurry out of her room and up the stairs. The shouted curses from Billy and Tom drew others out of their bedrooms as the sounds of the fight continued. Billy hadn’t counted on the fight being so two sided and realized that the noise just might bring one or both of the adults to the rescue. His attention was drawn at the wrong moment and Tom took advantage of it as he swung once again.

Billy took the surprise punch and staggered away before clutching his now broken nose as the blood course down his face from the injured feature. The large boy was starting to recover when the door swung open to reveal Mrs. Cole, who strode into the room and grabbed Billy by the arm to move him forcefully out of the room and into the hallway. Tom remained where he was as he tried to catch his breath and keep an eye on his attacker.

“What is the meaning of this?” Mrs. Cole shouted at the boys after Tom had recovered enough to approach the matron.

“Tom hit me, I think that he broke my nose,” Billy responded as he tried to staunch the flow of blood dripping from his nose.

“I doubt very much that he broke your nose, but I would like to have you explain to me just why you were in Tom’s room at this time of night. As a matter of fact, Billy Stubbs, you were told to stay away from Tom when I spoke to you in my office.”

The large boy stood silently as he tried to think of a reason for being where he had been and realized that no excuse was going to work. He had been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar and now faced severe punishment. Tom sported several bruises and it was obvious that he had been struck several times by Billy. He had obviously fought back as evidenced by the injuries that Billy had sustained.

“Tom, what can you tell me about this incident?”

“I woke up and Billy was in my room and he was getting ready to hit me.”

“What had you been doing prior to that?”

“I was in my bed sleeping, Mrs. Cole.”

The children who had gathered in the hall to view the proceedings hurried back into their rooms as a stern gaze from the matron met their eyes. Mrs. Cole finally looked at Tom and then told him to go back to bed before fixing Billy with a withering gaze.

“It’s downstairs and into my office with you Billy Stubbs! You obviously need another dose of the switch to convince you to leave the other children alone.”

“Please, Mrs. Cole, I promise that I will leave Tom alone. Please don’t switch me again.”

“Downstairs now, young man, I will not argue about it. You have earned it and shall receive it.”

Tom listened through the closed door of his room as the matron and luckless Billy walked down the stairs. He could hear the boy pleading with the woman and knew that it would do no good. Once the matron’s mind was made up it would be easier to move the orphanage than change the coming course of action. Billy would definitely sleep on his belly tonight and would feel it in the morning when he had to sit on his chair in the dining room and the wooden bench in the classroom.

Tom went to sleep smiling that night. His hated enemy had gotten his punishment but good and the only injury that he had sustained were a few bruises. Billy had yet to learn, and Tom couldn’t wait to teach him a lesson.

 

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