Thursday 8 December 2016

Short Story - The Boy in the Hole by Michael Brookes

Here's a short story that I wrote for an anthology that unfortunately didn't come to pass. It's a little different than my usual writing as it's a children's story. It was a lot of fun to write though, so maybe it's the start of something new :-) Have a read and see what you think.


Wow - it's been almost 8 years since I posted this story! Over the past few days I've been playing with Midjourney (  - an AI tool that helps you create digital art. I decided to use the story as a prompt and see if I could put something together that would fit as an illustration.

I'm fairly pleased with the result, but judge for yourself below.

The Boy in the Hole
Michael Brookes

Little Jimmy stamped his feet in anger as he walked through the kitchen door and into the garden. To more grown up eyes it didn’t appear much of a garden. To Jimmy it was everything. He had enough space for his sandpit, and at the bottom an old shed where he wasn’t allowed to enter. Along one edge stood a washing line, it was only used when the bedding had been hung out to dry.

He liked running between the sheets while they billowed in the wind. Sometimes he enjoyed pretending to be a ghost, but his mum didn’t let him play with the washing.

She didn’t like ghosts either.

Jimmy did. Ghosts were cool.

No washing hung from the line today, the sky had darkened to grey and his mother had washed them just a few days ago. Except for the washing line and the shed, the garden was his, it was Jimmy’s special place. No-one bothered him here.

She always teased him; it must be because she was old. Not as old as his mum of course, but Talia had turned ten earlier in the year and to six year old Jimmy that seemed old indeed. His sister always poked him and called him names and she always blamed him when his mum told them to stop arguing.

Jimmy didn’t think it was fair that his mum always took his sister’s side. He always felt as if they were picking on him. It wasn’t fair, so he sat down in the damp sand of the sandpit. In a sulk he pushed one of his trucks over the sand so it left tracks in the sand. The downward turn of the tyre tracks matched the frown on Jimmy’s face.

If only he could go somewhere better.

Somewhere there was a place to escape his nasty sister, she was always mean to him. Talia liked to make him cry. Mummy said that big boys don’t cry and he was a big boy now, he still cried though. He didn’t want to, but sometimes he did.

He kicked the sand and then he saw his spade. It lay in the sand, made of blue plastic and it waited for him. It smiled at him. Jimmy’s spade was no ordinary spade, it was a very special spade. He’d received the spade on his first and only trip to the beach. What a brilliant day that had been! The sun shone and he ate ice cream and had even built a sandcastle.

Jimmy had a magical spade.

Talia had kicked over one of the towers, but on that best of days his mother hadn’t told Jimmy off for shouting at his sister. He’d never known that to happen. The hazy memory of sun and sand was a happy one for Jimmy and he wanted to live it again.

Jimmy decided that somehow he would return to the beach, but he didn’t know how?

The magical spade knew how.

He looked at the sand again, the beach had sand. He thought that he could dig into the sand and reach the beach. The spade assured him that the plan would work. Jimmy was a big boy now and he’d dig the biggest hole ever.

He would go to the beach.

So Jimmy grabbed his magical spade and started digging.

He dug and he kept on digging.

It turned out to be harder work than he’d expected, but he didn’t stop digging. He didn’t give up so easily. Jimmy wanted to go to the beach and return to that wonderful day. He had his spade and when he arrived there he would build the biggest and best sandcastle ever made.

Jimmy smiled at the thought, he liked where it would take him.

A voice from up above interrupted his digging. He recognised the voice, it was the voice of his horrid sister and he didn’t want to talk to her. Not now, not when he was digging his way to the beach. When his mum’s voice joined his sister’s he couldn’t ignore them any longer, so he turned around and looked towards the surface.

They were so far away.

The hole wasn’t very wide, but it was deep, much deeper than he’d expected. He saw his mum and his sister looking into the hole. The walls of the hole were the same light coloured sand that filled his sand pit. That didn’t worry Jimmy, it was almost like being at the beach already.

He had to shout for them to hear him and he told them that he was digging his way to the beach and they both laughed at him. They laughed so hard at him that it hurt his feelings. They were always picking on him, so he turned his back to them and resumed his digging.

The sound of his digging drowned out their mocking laughter.

Jimmy continued digging and before he knew it, he had dug for so long that his arms ached. His hands and face were so dirty he looked a giant mole. He stopped for a rest and while he sat on the ground he looked up again. The hole was now so deep that the sky had shrunk to a small dot far above him.

He had dug for hours and the beach didn’t appear to be any nearer. That worrying fact was accompanied by his stomach growling, the noise reminded Jimmy that he hadn’t eaten or drunk for hours. He didn’t want to dig anymore, he wanted to eat pizza, drink a glass of juice and watch cartoons on TV.

Jimmy shouted for his mum, but she didn’t hear him, he was too deep in the ground. He even called out for his sister, the one who teased him and she didn’t answer him either. Poor Jimmy shouted until his voice hurt.

He told himself that he wouldn’t cry because he was a big boy now.

Jimmy looked at his spade, but he didn’t want to dig any more. Tunnelling to the beach didn’t seem such a good idea anymore. He just wanted to go home.

What Jimmy didn’t know was that his spade was indeed a magical spade. When Jimmy wished to go to the beach it wanted to do the same. It remembered digging in the wet sand under the sun and building sandcastles. That was what it had been made for, to dig and build sandcastles was its purpose. Unfortunately the spade didn’t want to go back to Jimmy’s home, for it the beach was home.

Now Jimmy saw that the walls of the hole were no longer yellow sand, instead he saw dark wet earth which smelled wrong. It stank like the green bin before the bin men collected it. Even worse, he saw things wriggling in the soil, not the usual worms but fat white things. He didn’t like them at all.

The spade gave him strength with its magic while he dug more than any boy ever could. In an instant the strength disappeared, now he shivered with the cold. The light at the top of the hole looked so far away it scared Jimmy and he feared that he might never get home.

It didn’t seem so long ago that the idea of not seeing his mum or his sister again had been a welcome one. The dream of being alone on the beach in the sun with his spade faded into misery.

He had to get out and there was nobody there to save him. His mother and sister weren’t there, so it was up to him.

 Jimmy decided try to climb out of the hole. That idea trembled under the sheer height of the walls, but Jimmy was a brave boy and he had no choice but to try.

This wasn’t the first time he’d climbed, but the frame at the playground was easy in comparison as it had been designed to be climbed by small boys. The hole wasn’t and the spade didn’t want him to leave. He put his hand into the wall, it felt warm and squidgy. Jimmy didn’t mind icky stuff, but this time it felt horrid and he pulled a face.

It covered his hand like rice pudding, he didn’t like rice pudding.

He kicked his foot into the soil and stepped up. As he pushed he reached up to grab a dangling root. As soon as he put his weight on his foot the soil crumbled and he fell. He tried again, and fell once more. He kept trying until he didn’t have the strength to try anymore.

In between falling and climbing he shouted for his mother, hoping that her face would appear at the top. He was now too tired to try any more. He slumped cold and miserable at the bottom of the hole and he wished that he had never left home. Sadder than he had ever been in his life Jimmy curled up in the dirt and fell asleep.

When Jimmy awoke he discovered that he now lay in a pool of water. He looked up and a drop splashed on his face. More drops fell and then more, they fell faster and when he stood the water came up to his ankles.

The drops rained down and the water crept up his legs. Now he was hungry, thirsty, cold, tired and wet. At least he could do something about his thirst. His hands made a poor cup, but better than none and he scooped some of the water. As soon as he tasted the water he spat it out, it was salty like the sea.

That thought made him look at the spade.

It looked back at him as the water rose over it.

More and more drops fell and the water reached his chest. He panicked because he didn’t know how to swim. He’d paddled in the sea, there his mum had held him and kept him safe in the shallow water on the shore.

The water continued to rise. He tried again to climb the wall and as before the wall crumbled beneath him. He fell back into the water and it swept over his head. He spluttered and waved his arms until he surfaced and was able to breathe again.

Jimmy was now so scared that he forgot about being brave and he cried, his tears added to the water rising about him. The water from above fell faster in a violent storm and the only sounds were the drops hitting the water and the thrashing of his arms. He kicked his feet as hard as he could and it took all the fading strength he had to keep his head above the water.

More than once water flooded into his mouth and when it did he choked and panicked and slipped under the surface. Over and over, his limbs were tired before, but now he was utterly exhausted. His arms and legs hurt so much that he feared they might stop working forever.

One time he tried to see what was happening up above, but he slipped again after catching a brief glimpse of light so far above him. The noise of the water was so loud he didn’t even hear his own cries.

He didn’t give up though, no matter how much it hurt. He kept on fighting.

Something grabbed him and he screamed in terror and more water poured into his mouth. This time he thought that was it, his arms weighed so much that he couldn’t move them anymore. More water filled his mouth, he tried not to swallow.

Too late.

Then arms held him.

Hands pushed at his chest.

Water exploded from his mouth.

Bright light.

Two smiling faces.

His mother and his sister held him tight, their tears still falling into the hole that now overflowed onto his sandpit. His mother shouted with joy and even his sister held him close and with soft words next to his ear whispered.

“You still stink like a pig.”

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