Chapter Two – Zack Abandons His Walk
It was getting light by the time Zack patted the dog’s head on his way out the front door. The dawn was grey with drizzle. Not the best start to a great adventure. At the end of his road he paused, wondering which way to turn. Seeing the mail van coming one way he went the other, ducking behind a car when the mail van approached him a little too close for comfort. The cut between two houses looked to be the best choice to escape prying eyes, and through it he dashed.
Slurping through mud in his brand new training shoes, the ones that he was banking on to speed him effortlessly to his uncle abroad, Zack was already beginning to show signs of impatience.
‘I don’t like this mud,’ he said accusingly.
The track had been squashed into a quagmire by a thousand ramblers in their wellington boots. As for their dogs, they didn’t have to make their mess right there where everyone walked, Zack thought. Squelching step by step to avoid the worst of the mud, Zack was taking so long to cover such a short distance from road to field that away in the distance he could hear the new day rousing to the sound of car engines petering out, the train level-crossing squawking, a train drumming over rails, and a chorus of collies barking in the rickety sheds at the old station house, now a puppy farm.
Eventually, he came to a large kissing gate, behind which was a bull. Unsure of what to do next, Zack held back in trepidation. By now the drizzle had turned to rain, and even with the hood up on his raincoat, his head felt damp and his prospects of crossing the field even more miserable. Warily he observed the bull haul its enormous body far enough away on unsteady legs to give Zack a fighting chance of outpacing it to the gate at the far end of the field. When the monent was right he flicked up the latch, inched forward the gate and made a dash for it across the field. But not before he tripped and fell flat on his face into a round, dark mound left by the bull. Disgusted by his misfortune and all of a sudden spooked by how just vulnerable he was there in no man’s land with the bull eyeballing him from goring distance, he wiped the cow pat from his eyes and ran like billy-o with tears in his eyes toward the gate.
Safely on the other side of the gate, Zack’s face looked the picture of pure misery. Looking at his reflection in a puddle, his cheeks, forehead and the locks of his fringe were caked in dung. The smell of the country was not remotely pleasant to his nostrils, a fact that made him stop again and wonder if he should just call off this stupid adventure until he had scrubbed his face with his favourite flannel. Going against his better nature, he splashed puddle water onto his face and proceeded onwards down the path that led to the next village.
Meeting a villager out walking her dog, Zack froze when she asked him why he was going to school alone and so early. Plus, she wanted to know why he looked like he had been dragged through a swamp backwards.
‘I’m going to visit my uncle,’ he said after a while, quite matter of fact.
‘Well, young man. You had better get a move on or your uncle will start worrying.’
‘Which way is middle east?’ he asked her after she had set off again down the path.
She spun around to catch what he was saying. ‘You mean east? East is in that direction,’ she said, her finger pointing toward the railway station.
So Zack made his little legs work harder than ever to reach the middle east, which was seemingly somewhere in or around the railway station. Minutes later he arrived on the platform. His uncle was nowhere to be seen, but at least the sun was out, and his raincoat was drying nicely, as was the dung caking his hair.
Zack stood on the platform, peering down the track. The rear of the 7am commuter train was trundling away into the vanishing point and the rails glistened in the sunlight like two laser beams. Twisting his head a half circle in the other direction, another train was approaching. Bigger and bigger it loomed until a spine-shivering screech from its ageing brakes sprung Zack from his daydream.
‘I know this place. This isn’t abroad.’
Although having covered only a solitary mile from the start of his journey, Zack’s little legs were tired. The effort to free his feet from the horrible glue where the firm ground of the path used to be had whacked him out completely. Besides, he had skipped his breakfast this morning trying to leave the house unnoticed. Beverley, another four hours twenty-eight minutes and four seconds on foot, was beyond his ability. His strength could not possibly carry him there, least of all with nothing lining his stomach.
The light came on and train doors gaped open. The conductor’s head peeked out from the engine car. His flag went up, he surveyed the platform, then as he was bringing it down the door alarm sounded three times and on the third note Zack boarded the train. The doors jammed shut and the train gained speed. Finding a seat away from the few commuters scattered here and there in the carriage obvlious to him, he hoisted his satchel off his back and from within it removed his beloved pet dinosaur, Tyrone. Together the two of them looked out of the window at everything they knew to be familiar fade away from sight.
In spite of the look of mourning on his dung-covered face, Zack plonked Tyrone on the carriage table and said,
‘Not long now, Tyrone, until we’ll be seeing uncle Henry. Wait till Oscar finds out what I’ve done. He’ll be jealous of how brave you and me are.’
Just then a man in a navy-blue uniform, cap, and wearing a machine creeped up behind Zack.
‘Hello young man,’ he said. ‘Where to?’
‘Two tickets to the Middle East,’ he answered plain as day. ‘Please. One for me and one for Tyrone.’
The man chuckled, his face coming closer. ‘We don’t do discounted fares for dinosaurs, I’m afraid, young man. And what’s that on your face. That’s no soap I know,’ he added, chuckling even harder.
He scrutinized the young boy. ‘We can’t take you to the Middle East, but I can take you as far as the next town. How does that sound?’
But Zack had given up listening, so intently he was fixed on catching a glimpse of his uncle amid the piebald cows in the pasture down by the railway lines.
‘Yes, please. Two seats. One for me and one for Tyrone. He likes being by the window. So do I.’
‘Right, lad. Your friend goes free, but you need to cough up two pounds and fifty pence for a child’s fare.’
‘What?’ answered a surprised Zack. ‘But, my uncle is waiting at the other end. He’ll have it.’
The train zipped right through the next station, arriving in the larger town twenty minutes later. Zack had enjoyed the view very much. Again the brakes screeched the train carriages to a halt. Zack peered out the window at the glum-looking commuters standing in a line. His uncle was nowhere to be seen.