Harry by Michael Fitzalan
Harry by Michael Fitzalan

Chapter One – The Escape 

It was not the best day to escape from school, in a foreign land. 

Boom, the thunder rent the silence, a stunning sound of such violence that Stephen’s chest-cavity shook. Clouds scudded across the sky, grey stratus sheets, layer upon layer of oppressive pressure; it was a truly horrible depression. The frozen rain fell not as a summer cloudburst but as an autumnal downpour, unusual for spring. 

Stephen wore a navy, nylon windcheater, zipped to his chin, the hood over his head.  Drops of rain collected on the rim, above his forehead. Then, it trickled down to his neck and inside his jumper, cold water dripped onto his face. Already, his long school shorts were soaked, the light grey turned leaden. 

He screwed up his eyes to stop the stinging of the sleet.

Shivering with cold and walking down the asphalt driveway, his feet picked up a rhythm as the road dipped and curved around to the left. He was making progress, making good his escape. 

The ostinato of rubber soles thumping on tarmac reassured Stephen; each step just like the sound of his mother’s heartbeat when she hugged him close. On his right side were the woods, which he had planned to cross before the rain came. To his left was the vast field that formed the perimeter of the front drive of the school. 

The slippery, round, iron rods of the three bar fencing could be climbed but. Still, behind them, there was an electric fence to cross over as well. It was a long thin wire that carried a painful belt of electricity if touched, and then there were the masses of cowpats to avoid. It was a strange feeling,. Stephen walked quickly. He wore a vest, a grey school shirt, his green jumper and the jacket so his body was hot and yet his extremities felt cold.  Anything exposed to the wind and rain felt like ice. His face and hands were red raw. If he had been sensible, he would have worn a scarf to protect his face and a pair of gloves to keep his hands warm and dry.

The chilled sleet stung and that fact surprised him. The windcheater protected most of his body, thankfully.  

Stephen could not remember experiencing such foul weather, ever. Even his shoes were soaked, and they normally kept his feet dry. 

His socks were squelching in the sodden leather and he hoped that his feet would warm up once he walked further along the road. The hard tarmac road was the easiest course to take and he ignored the rain lashing against his bare knees; drenching his school shorts and long socks that covered his shanks, turning them dark grey.  

As long as he could keep moving, he realised, then, he would remain relatively warm. Once he stopped to rest, there was every chance that he would freeze. If he had planned things better; he would have chosen some long trousers, corduroy or thick wool to keep him warm.

In his pocket, he carried a sandwich that he had hurriedly made in the morning at breakfast; two pieces of cold toast, smeared with Seville marmalade, thick cut, his favourite, a treat for the escape.

The rest of the jar was in his tuck box, how he wished he could have brought more food with him. 

In the other pocket of his shorts, he had a penknife and a five-pound note, taken that morning, during break, from his tuck box. The money was meant for the tuck shop account, he should have deposited it with the bursar at the beginning of term, but he had instead buried it between a jar of ‘Lemon Curd’ and a bottle of ‘Robinson’s Lemon Barley Water’. 

Up ahead he saw the fork in the road, the right fork led to the gate house at the bottom of the hill and to the left, the straight path led to the high walls of the back drive. There was no gate there; he could cross the road that ran past, skirt the pond and be into the forest within minutes, disappearing into the coniferous maze where he would be safe. The forestry Commission land covered hundreds of acres and he would be impossible to find.

It was then that he heard barking and his heart stopped.  Harry by Michael Fitzalan

All feelings of cold, all confidence in making his getaway were crushed in that one sound. He stopped, stock-still, looking anxiously around and listening intently for the next bark.

The sound was coming from up ahead, near to the fork, he could see now, and he felt the familiar feeling of frustration well up in his heart. An enormous off-white, almost beige, figure was making its way towards him; a big black dog ran ahead, heading straight for him. 

The Labrador seemed to view him with undisguised hunger. Stephen wondered when the dog had last eaten. 

The figure stood out from the laurel bushes due to a conspicuous colour; it was beige, almost white against the verdant background. 

He glanced at the wood, there was no path and there was a bog beyond the trees, there was no way out that way, looking left, he saw no escape either, the fence was wet and slippery and the electric wire behind offered another hazard. 

The white figure walking over the black tarmac, the dog threading along the laurel bushes in case a rabbit should appear, padding over the grass verge, struck Stephen with terror. His escape would be curtailed for sure if he could not avoid meeting this monochrome duo.  Harry by Michael Fitzalan

’Black Dog’, he shuddered, remembering the pirate form Treasure Island that his father had read to him.

As they approached, he was literally petrified, turned to stone, stuck to the spot, the black spot of tarmac.  Desperately, he searched for a way to avoid being caught but there was no time to find a good hiding place. 

Stephen thought of walking back and starting again later but it was too late, he realised, he had been spotted. The dog had noticed him first, but the striding figure was equally suspicious of the child in the wrong place and at the wrong time. 

There was no cover, it was too late, he felt exposed; he searched desperately for an excuse for being on the front drive instead of the sports field during games time.   

Ursula Watts walked up to the boy; she was a statuesque woman of 

Nordic descent and she towered above the nine year old Stephen. 

She was the Headmaster’s wife; there was no higher authority in the school apart from the Head. 

She wore a raincoat made by ‘Aquascutum’, beige, turned tan by the rain, pristine, not a trace of dirt on it. She had buttoned it up so that the raised collar protected her neck from the elements and it was buckled at the waist. 

On her feet, were a pair of stout black ‘Dunlop’ wellingtons, which looked like they were brand new, there was not a speck of mud on them; they were shop quality, clean and scuff-free. Harry by Michael Fitzalan

Her brown curly hair was protected by a transparent, plastic scarf, which she had knotted precisely about the chin, to form a perfect bow, both ends being of equal length. She looked a fearsome sight as she stopped in front of the boy; looming over him so that Stephen had to lift his head directly into the frozen rain to see her properly; and the rain drove into his face, the sleet stung his eyes. 

“Sit!” Mrs. Watts commanded brusquely. Harry by Michael Fitzalan

Stephen wondered whether she was addressing him and almost sat down on the driveway but he was too terrified to move. He looked at the damp grass as a softer option, he did not want to sit on the tarmac drive, but stopped himself from pointing at his own chest and asking if she meant him. 

The black Labrador immediately sat down at her mistress’s side, her tongue drooping from her mouth as she panted. Dinah’s coat was matted with rain and the sheen was gone but her eyes were eager, shiny and alert while she sniffed the air with her jet-black nose. Harry by Michael Fitzalan

There was the faint trace of fresh rabbit on the wind but she ignored it in deference to her owner’s need. She understood that a good dog stayed by its master’s or mistress’s side in certain situations.

Written by Michael Fitzalan

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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