Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Stanier slowly opened his eyes; his body ached and was completely wet from the puddle of cold, green, pungent water he was lying in. On top of that, his head ached with a throbbing that was hard to ignore. He reached up to touch a bruise on his forehead. It felt about the size of an egg, was badly grazed and stung as he made contact, leaving traces of blood on his fingertips. He struggled painfully to his feet, woozy and unsteady.
Looking around, all he could see were four green walls. The floor, also green, was covered in puddles of rank-smelling water and rotting vegetation, whilst above, a cloud-strewn sky peered down at him.
It appeared as though he was in one of those ‘get out of that’ quiz shows and despite the pain and discomfort, he chuckled as he envisaged himself running round and round until he was puffed out, but his smile left his face as he realised this was very real and very serious.
The ‘room’ was about fifteen feet by twenty, with four large round grates about two and a half feet in diameter, no more than a few inches above the floor; two on each of the longer walls, all of them green with algae and God alone knew what.
The walls rose about fifteen feet vertically and there was evidence that at one time, a maintenance ladder ran down one of them, though sadly, all that was left were a few rusty bolt stubs.
He shook his head, attempting to ward off the sense of impending panic and formulate a plan for getting out.
* * *
“It’ll be fun,” his schoolmate Simon had said at school one day. “We can explore the tunnels. Just like old times.”
Vinnie was all for it. For one thing, he liked exploring and he and Simon had spent many hours wandering the tunnels at the old military fort in Newhaven. It had been a while and it felt good to be doing something with his friend once again.
As they made their way up to the Pond Lane Water Treatment Works, Vinnie began having second thoughts. As they passed through the main gate, He became less sure about it being such a good idea. It was private property after all, and whilst the danger aspect didn’t really bother him, the idea of getting into trouble did. ”You sure about this?” he asked.
“Oh yeah,” Simon replied as they climbed the hill. “Dead sure. Ben told me about it. The tunnels go on for miles and come out by the river. They stopped using it years ago and now hardly anyone ever comes out here.”
That settled it and Vinnie followed his mate up the hill with renewed vigour.
* * *
“Tunnels, my arse!” Vinnie grumbled looking at the heavy iron grates as he limped round the large concrete enclosure, sloshing through the puddles and slipping occasionally on the slick algae, dead leaves and other detritus, which apart from the light above, resembled a scene from one of the Quake games. “They’re just pipes and probably sewer pipes at that. Anyone wanting to spend any time slithering through those wants their head examined.”
He stopped as the penny dropped.
“You fuckin’ idiot!”
He shook his head as it dawned on him that there were no tunnels, never had been. There was no exploring either. Simon’s sole objective had just been to get him there. It was that simple.
“I must be getting slow,” he said under his breath. “Must have been that bang on the head.”
The walls of what Vinnie guessed was a water tank of some form, were every bit as slick as the floor, at least near the bottom and the idea of climbing out of there seemed a remote possibility at best. Perhaps there was a way of getting into the pipes and maybe they really did come out by the river. It would be a possible way out.
He tugged on each of the grates in turn and not one of them would budge an inch, so he tried turning and pushing on them before spotting the six enormous rusty bolts around the edges, securing them to the pipes.
“Shit!” he spat and leant against the wall.
Staring at the top, he once again considered the idea of climbing out. The bolts from the maintenance ladder weren’t ideal hand or footholds, but if he tried, he might just be able to get enough purchase on them to climb up and get out.
He looked at the two rows of stains that led from about two feet from the floor to the top of the wall. The first three pairs were missing entirely and all that remained of them were rusty holes. This meant that first actual bolt was about shoulder height from the ground.
“No way,” he whinged and slid down to the floor against the wall, sitting in the putrid water with his head on his knees, wondering what he was supposed to do.
He took out his mobile phone and frowned – no signal. Not that that was surprising. He was more surprised that it worked at all, but in a submerged concrete structure that was doubtlessly reinforced with steel, creating something of a Faraday cage, the likelihood of getting a signal was pretty remote.
He cursed again, slipped his phone back into his pocket and with his head still pounding, he considered the predicament he found himself in.
* * *
“Looks an awful long way down,” Vinnie observed. “Imagine getting stuck down there. You’d never get out.”
“That’s the plan,” Simon, who was standing a few feet from Vinnie, his hands thrust deep into his pockets, replied.
“What? Simon, you can’t be serious.”
“Oh, I’m serious, you bastard. In fact, never more so.”
Vinnie started to move away from the edge of the sunken tank.
“You couldn’t leave her alone, could you?” spat Simon, scowling. “You said you were my friend, but no, you just had to take her away from me, didn’t you?”
“Simon,” Vinnie gasped. “I didn’t take her. She dumped you ages ago, remember?”
“Yeah, well, friends don’t go out with their friend’s ex-girlfriends.”
“Look, mate. This is stupid. You weren’t going out with her, she likes me and I like her. Get over it.”
“We were going to make up; just like we always have.”
“Not this time.”
“You don’t know that,” said Simon accusingly. “Now I have to do something about it.”
“Have to? What do you mean have to?” asked Vinnie. “There’s nothing to do. She’s with me now and nothing you do’s going to change that.”
“Oh, I can think of something,” he said, with a smirk. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I don’t want her anymore.”
“So then what’s this all about?”
“I have to teach the two of you a lesson. There are rules and this is what happens when you break those rules.”
“Oh?” Vinnie wondered just what he had in mind.
“I’m going to make sure you and she are together - forever,” he said, laughing.
“Don’t be stupid, Si. You’ll never get away with it.”
The two of them continued to circle one another as Simon, full of venom explained further.
“I told you no one ever comes up here. It might be months before they find you and by then, there won’t be enough of you left to tell them it was anything other than suicide or an unfortunate accident.” He laughed hard. “Once I’ve dealt with you, I’ll go and get Alison and make sure she sees just how she’s going to end up. It’s a brilliant plan; so simple, but brilliant.”
“You’re mad, Si. Off your trolley, mate. You need help.”
“Mad, am I?” Simon snarled and with that he rushed at Vinnie, his larger frame carrying the momentum he needed to virtually lift Vinnie off his feet and carry him towards the edge of the tank.
Vinnie fought back, trying for purchase on the ground around the edge of the wall. “Simon,” he shouted. “For God’s sake; think about what you’re doing.”
“I’ve done nothing but think about it,” Simon replied as they struggled.
Vinnie’s feet slipped and Simon pushed him further towards the edge of the tank, both of them huffing and blowing as they grappled with each other. Vinnie tried to side-step, but lost his footing.
He could remember the feeling of weightlessness as he spun round on the edge of the wall, his arms wind-milling as he attempted to regain his balance, but to no avail. He felt another shove in the back from the person he thought of as his friend, pitched forward and saw the ground rushing to meet him as he fell in a head-first dive towards the floor of the concrete tank.
* * *
Vinnie sat bolt upright, his eyes going wide, the words “I have to teach the two of you a lesson…” screaming in his brain. “Allie!” he shouted. “I’ve got to get out of here.”
The pain he felt in his body from the fall was nothing compared to the thought of leaving Allie in the clutches of that madman, Simon. So with grim determination, he got up and went back to the stubs left of the bolts that at one time had held the ladder in place.
Weathering had done little to round over the sharp edges that had been left as the iron corroded, making holding them painful and dangerous.
With an almighty effort he managed to get to the second nub, grinding his little finger against the concrete and feeling the skin being abraded from the middle knuckle. The pain almost caused him to let go, but again, the thought of Alison and Simon, or more precisely, Simon’s plans for Alison, kept him going.
Despite the stinging, he hung on and began pulling up. He searched with his feet for the last stub, his grip becoming less firm, but at last, his foot found the brown metal shaft and he pushed.
His body shook as he attempted to put more effort into the ascent, the knuckles on his right hand white with the exertion. He pushed harder, his foot barely on the bolt stub and within millimetres of reaching the next stub, his foot slipped.
His arm locked, trying desperately to hang on to the bolt he had his hand round and prevent himself from dropping further. His foot rose and fell in an attempt to locate the small steel protuberance and when eventually it found its goal, he pushed, slipping again and grinding his ankle into the raw metal.
Pain shot up his leg and he could immediately feel the warm blood soaking into his sock, down into his shoe. He saw stars as the pain seared up the bones and he could hang on no more. Dropping from the wall, he crashed back to the floor with a splash and a bang to the back of his head, just to add to his growing list of pains.
“Shit!” he exclaimed. “Shitshitshitshitshit!”
Feeling strange and somewhat groggy, he tried again, taking it slowly, methodically. Climbing with calmness, trying hard to keep his mind focussed on the task; using every ounce of his determination not to let whatever Simon had in mind come to pass.
The climb must have taken a good forty minutes, if not longer, and when he reached the top, he spent a few moments just lying on his back a safe distance from the edge, taking deep breaths and regrouping.
He didn’t give the tank a second look as he limped away and off towards town, wondering what Simon had planned for Alison. Every thought he had got darker as he realised that whether Simon was being truthful about what he had in store for poor Allie or not, there was no way he’d get to her house before Simon and that was something he just had to do.
En route, he spotted a police car and ran out into the road to flag it down.
* * *
“I don’t understand,” said Allie. “Why here?”
“I don’t know, he just told me to bring you here.”
Simon led the way towards the tank, with Alison hanging back.
He stopped and turned to face Vinnie’s girlfriend, who didn’t look at all comfortable. “Don’t be scared,” he said. “It’s all going to be over before you even have time to think about it.”
Alison’s face showed shock followed by intense fear. “Over? What d’you mean? Where’s Vinnie?” she asked, as Simon began moving towards her. She tried to keep as far from him as she could.
“He’s not far away. You’ll see him in a minute.”
“What’s going on, Simon? You’re scaring me.”
Simon sighed, theatrically. “Well, I supposed I had better tell you,” he said in an off-hand manner. “It might make what’s coming easier to swallow.” He made a grab for her, caught her arm and twisted it up behind her, pushing her towards the tank. “Look,” he demanded, manhandling her towards the edge, laughing as he did so.
Alison screamed and fainted, dropping to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
“Fuck!” Simon cursed, giving her still body a violent poke with his foot.
* * *
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” asked Sergeant John Grant.
“You gotta help me. It’s my girlfriend,” Vinnie said, panting. “I think she’s in trouble up at the old water tank.”
“Now just calm down a moment, will you,” said Grant. “I’ll need some details from you first.”
“We don’t have time for that, officer. Please, let’s get up there and I’ll give you all the information you want.”
Grant couldn’t really argue, or he sensed the urgency, but for whatever reason, he elected to go up to the treatment plant. He began asking questions of Vinnie almost as soon as they set off.
“So exactly what happened?”
“My friend, Simon lured me up there. I thought we were going to explore the tunnels.”
“No tunnels up there, son,” said Grant, taking a left turn.
“I know that now,” said Vinnie in a sarcastic tone. “Anyway, we had an argument about Alison and the fact I was going out with her.”
“Not happy was he? Is she his sister?”
“No, officer. He used to go out with her before she dumped him.”
The policeman stopped at a pedestrian crossing, looking at the pale lad beside him, his clothes green and torn and his hands and face showing signs of trauma. “So why there?”
“So he could teach me a lesson.”
“Doesn’t sound like much of a friend,” said Grant. “What made you go out there with him?”
“Well, I thought we’d got over it. I thought he’d decided to let bygones be bygones.”
“Don’t look like it, judging by the state you’re in.”
“The climb wasn’t easy,” Vinnie said, ruefully, holding out his shredded hands. “But I had to make sure he didn’t do anything to Alison.”
“What makes you think he’s going to do anything to her,” Grant asked as he pulled through the main gates of the treatment works.
“Because he told me he was going to make it look like a suicide pact.”
“Oh…” said the policeman, lifting the handset from the dashboard and keying the mic. “Base, this is 67 at the Water treatment works on Pond Lane. Possible attempted murder in progress. Request back up. Be on the lookout for one Simon Briggs…” He looked round and Vinnie had gone.
The befuddled policeman looked up the hill and thought he saw Vinnie nearly at the top, several hundred yards in the distance.
“Blimey that kid can move.”
* * *
Vinnie headed towards the tank. He’d left the policeman behind and had sprinted for all he was worth towards where he hoped he’d find Simon and Alison, arriving just in time to see Alison faint and Simon give her a kick after swearing. He took his chance, rushing at the clearly deranged boy.
“I can’t let you hurt her, Simon. I don’t know what you thought you were doing, but this can’t go on.”
Simon’s eyes went wide and the colour drained from his face. “V-V-Vinnie?” he asked, his voice quivering as he pointed, firstly at Vinnie and then towards the tank and back again.
“Didn’t think I’d get out, did you?” Vinnie asked, chuckling.
“You what?” Vinnie asked and started towards Simon, completely ignoring the bigger lad’s size advantage. “You thought you could just do what you wanted with no repercussions? Think again, sunshine. It’s not going to happen.”
“B...b...but…” said Simon, continuing to back away shaking his head, looking wide-eyed and confused.
“Listen, Simon. I know you’re unhappy with the idea that Alison doesn’t want you anymore, even that she wants me instead, but that’s no reason to be a complete wanker and try and kill your friends. You need help.”
Vinnie took a couple of steps towards Simon, his hand out. “Now come with us before you do some real damage.”
“No!” he yelled. “You’re not real. You can’t be.”
“Of course I’m real,” Vinnie replied. “I’m here aren’t I?”
“Get away from me!”
Vinnie moved forwards, towards the panicking lad.
“Arghhhhh!” Simon screamed, as he turned and ran, obviously in a blind panic as he careened down the hill, crashing head first into the Sergeant, who was still struggling to run up to meet them.
* * *
Alison came round a few seconds later and found herself staring straight up into Vinnie’s dark eyes.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“I...I...I…” she stammered, frowning. Hadn’t she just…? “I thought you were dead.”
“Me? Nah!” he joked, smiling down at her.
“But…” she began. “The tank…”
“I climbed out,” he told her. “Can you get up?”
“I… I think so,” she replied, getting to her feet and staring at the boy before her.
She was sure that she’d seen Vinnie lying at the bottom of that tank in a pool of blood, his eyes staring blankly up at her. Just the thought of it made her feel nauseous again.
She couldn’t resist, she had to know.
Walking slowly, she made her way to the edge of the tank and shut her eyes tight. “I can’t…” she said, but slit-peered into the depths of the tank, her vision falling on a deep red stain and two brown eyes staring back at her.
She turned to face Vincent.
His face was sad, his head cocked slightly to one side, eyes focussed on the scene in the bottom of the tank.
“I don’t understand,” she said quietly.
“Neither did I at first, but it’s alright. I did what I set out to do and you’re safe.”
“It’s not alright, Vinnie, what am I going to do?”
“You’ll be fine.”
The sound of the police sirens pierced the afternoon quiet and Alison turned to watch the Sergeant wrestle Simon to the ground.
“Will I…” she began, turning quickly to face her boyfriend, but Vinnie was gone. With tear-filled eyes, she looked back over the edge at the body in the murky waters of the tank below. His eyes were closed, but the corners of the mouth were slightly upturned as if he was smiling.
Looking down at his sweet face, she remembered the times they shared and the plans they had made for the future, but her silent reverie was broken by the arrival of a sweating and very out of breath policeman.
“You haven’t seen Vincent have you?” he asked. “I thought he’d be up here… Simon’s under arrest.” He pointed down the hill where his colleagues were bundling Simon into a Police van.
He took Alison’s arm, “You alright love? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
He peered over the edge of the tank wall straight at Vinnie’s inert body. “Hey! That’s him; that’s the boy…”
“I think we’d best keep that to ourselves, officer, don’t you?” said Alison, wiping a tear from her cheek.
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