This story was told to me by someone, who with the passing of time has faded from friend to acquaintance to a person I think about only occasionally. I am not proud of this but can anyone maintain every friendship of their youth? What is remarkable is not the friendship but the story they told. It was revealed to me while we were still in the fuzzy embrace of slight drunkenness, that strange time of introspective quiet as you know a night of festivities are ending and you are resigned to return home, a bed or at least somewhere to sleep.
“You will not believe this,” his eyes slightly manic. This I attributed to his occasional vice of taking things that more of a kick than alcohol, for once, I stayed silent. It was the hint of liquid silver pain in the corners of the eyes. The absent-minded scratching of his forearm the skin turning to red with repetition. “I know you don’t believe in the afterlife,” strange I thought, we had discussed this before and mocked those with faith over a drink in a pub on more than one occasion. We were at university after all, young men of learning. We knew best.
So, he told me the tale, I call it a tale as if it could be considered true then it is something, I wish not to be even vaguely aware of. I shall retell it and endeavour to cover all the salient points. I will not aim to influence you; I simply leave it to you to decide upon the story’s voracity. Though I cannot recount this tale to you the way he did I will attempt to do it justice in my own fashion. In order to preserve privacy, the names of people and places have been omitted or changed.
It was while I was at school, it was one of England’s minor public schools, I was only a day border, going home in the evenings. I often snuck back into the dorms of an evening. I was always popular, my father was a drunk and kept bottles all over the house, never noticing if one or two went missing.
So, at the weekends I would meet with my friends. We were in fifth form when I first noticed him. A small boy, sickly looking. It was like when you notice a high-pitched noise when in a room. When you notice it, you cannot shake it, so it was with this strange little boy. I would glance over at him now and again he was there peeking at my friends and I. He would mostly appear when we were sitting and drinking and smoking secretly in rooms late at night. I tried to pay him no mind.
It was a glorious time, we behaved as all teenagers do, with a sense of superiority, ours bolstered as we went to a fee-paying school and our parents were well off and middle class. Our paths through life were to be ones of success, we would get into good universities and go into jobs that paid well. So, we celebrated (too often) drank and were irresponsible.
We whiled away time messing about. Still, I had my shadow. Still, he was there, watching with his dark eyes. Silent. Those eyes would suck the joy out of me.
I resolved to speak to him, I joked with the other boys about girls and who could drink the most, who would captain the rugby team in the Autumn term. I saw him, peering round a corner. “Right, I am going to have it out with that little shit!” I ran off round a corner, not hearing a murmur of confusion in my wake. As I reached the corner. Nothing just a darkened corridor.
Upon returning to my companions, they questioned me about the event. They laughed at me, mocking me. Questions of “what boy?” They all claimed not to see him. All except one who remined oddly quiet. The evening continued and I knew it was time to leave, I headed out of a window with a trellis that led to the ground below. A trick I had used a hundred times before. I had made my goodbyes and the bottles were empty. As I began my descent my arms were grasped by feverish hands. “You have seen him too, you swear!” Half in and out of the window as I was, I panicked and fell the eight feet to the ground, straight onto my back breath punched out of me. I stared at the figure surrounded with a halo of weak light around his silhouette. I do not clearly remember the next few minutes, but I seem to remember seeing a smaller face with dark eyes peering from behind the boy who had so feverishly asked the question.
I lay there the dew from the grass finding its way through the cloth of my trousers and jumper.
As I lay there my friend descended and apologised. He explained he had seen the boy time and time again, never outside of the school gates but only in the older part of the school of which his dorm room was one. He seemed genuinely scared, when he had asked the others about it, he had the same response I had. He had even asked one of the master’s about it. They had stiffened and told him to stop being peculiar. There was almost a mania to his story. Panic.
“Look what is the matter? It’s probably nothing.”
“Tonight, tonight, you saw him. He was not in the old building; look you’re not having me on?” I assured him no. In his mannerisms and attitude, it was as if he saw this manifestation as a harbinger of doom, he listed a string of misfortunes when seeing the boy and how joy left him with every visitation. I began to scoff at this. “Don’t laugh at me you just fell out of the bloody window.” With that he left and returned into the dormitory through the window. I turned with a disparaging remark and walked home booze still swimming around my head. My father had passed out in the armchair in the sitting room, television still on but quietly.
I went to bed dreaming of dark things and strange coincidences, of being trapped in old buildings. I went to bed with the expectation of seeing all my friends at school on Monday. Sunday passed uneventfully my father and I ignoring each other and nursing hangovers. I returned to school on Monday morning and saw all the boys. All except one. One who had asked so feverishly about a boy with dark eyes. It was not like in films, he had not left a note.
That was the end of his story.
“Oh, come on,” I said hoping to shatter the feeling of creeping dread.
“Yes well, I never saw that boy again. Not until recently.” It was then I remembered him telling me about the death of one of his school friends who had been cleaning a roof as a summer job, he slipped and fell onto iron railings.
We never spoke of this event again. As I said that friendship went the way of so many. I still think about him now and again.