After Lights Out – by David Walklett
It would be easy to blame Tony Foster. Almost everybody did. He threw the pitchfork, didn’t he? I’m not sure that’s fair, though. After all, it had been my idea in the first place and, while I appreciated having people along with me, supporting me, I would have gone on my own if I’d had to.
The sun was already up, when we left the house at seven that July Friday morning to go swimming. We’d had special permission, the five of us, to get up before the morning bell so we’d have an hour at the pool before breakfast. For us it was just an adventure, a laugh. It wasn’t totally spontaneous; we’d planned it a bit, whispering well into the night after lights out. We had no intention of going swimming.
Watching the flames swallow the barn and Peter Stuart that night, I wished we had gone swimming.
I’d been in trouble all week and I’d had enough, so running away seemed a solution. Seemed the only solution. Like I say, I would have gone alone; perhaps I should have done.
By evening we’d hitchhiked sixty miles and needed somewhere to sleep. You could say the farmer was to blame. He showed us the barn full of hay bales and gave us paraffin lamps. ‘Can’t have you wasting electricity!’ he said, lighting the lamps. ‘And you look like sensible boys.’
We put the electric light on anyway while we decided on suitable places to hang the lanterns.
Tony Foster, for all his hard-man posturing, was just too easy to wind up. If only he’d let it go. But he wouldn’t and neither would I. He claimed he was scared of rats and there was bound to be loads of rats in a barn. He said they’d rip your throat out while you were asleep. I said we couldn’t sleep with that light on. He picked up the pitchfork and said he’d kill me if I switched it off. So I turned out the electric light and he threw the pitchfork. I’d been careful to put the door between me and him and as I flicked the switch I pushed the door shut. The pitchfork hammered into the door and ricocheted off, knocking a paraffin lamp over on a bale of hay.
I don’t know why Pete didn’t get out. When they found him they said it looked like he tripped or something.
They said the whole thing, with the fire and that, was just a tragic accident but you try telling Pete’s mum that. My mum was furious with me but at least she had me to be furious with.
We were taken back to school and caned.
We got a little bit of notoriety out of it but I could have made so much more of this story if it hadn’t turned out to be the only story I had to tell.
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