The Piece of Wood

Mat had lived in the very old small house that was just metres up from the sea wall for all of his life – he was a twelve year old only child who supported Stockport County. His Dad also had lived his whole life in this house before his son. Mat had just started a couple of hours apprenticeship at his Dad’s workplace – his Dad worked for a company called Tuldoss that made things like doors and fences and things of that nature for everyone from the normal public to horse race courses or rugby clubs, Mat did the apprentiship after school on four days a week. He got paid for it as well.

They were trying to sell the house but were having no luck as the house was small and it was on a busy seaside road that you had to take ten minutes waiting in the car with the blinkers on to get out of the driveway and back into the driveway when coming home. It had been on the market for months.

One day Mat was crawling around the driveway looking for a lost marble when he came to the old back steps leading to the small grassy garden in which he and his friend Mike played football and the pet rabbit ran around eating daffodils, (which was possible as the garden was neatly fenced off.) His Dad had backed the car into these steps just a few days ago but he had not noticed that the ancient solid wooden side to the steps had come loose. And now as Mat’s Dad was getting drunk inside the house as usual, and was probably sprawled on the lounge floor talking along to the TV, Mat was pulling at the wood and seeing a gap. He knelt up and looked around hearing his Mum doing the dishes and the busy road. The coast was clear and he felt an excitement that might explore under his house – might there be a trapdoor leading to a World War 2 code deciphering station, or a skeleton holding an ancient gold cup? He could not remember anyone else going under there.

He pulled at the wood some more and the gap was now big enough for him to squeeze through which he did. He had opened this doorway gap after a century, and possibly the steps were not in fact original – just very old, as there was a simply decorated window set a foot high in the house there that he could clamber through and arrive under the house. It was pretty dark under there with some light from behind him and some from ahead and also some light was getting in through a couple of small cracks in the side of the house along the drive to his left now. It was quiet, dry, very dim and still under there. He looked around but it seemed that all there was was old dry dirt and foundation bricks. But there was a big enough gap between the dirt and the bottom of the house above him for him to start crawling towards the front of the house. The first thing he saw apart from dust was a hamster skeleton; not his though as he had never had one. He stopped and gave the hamster a proper burial in a hole he dug out in the dirt. Ahead of him there was a wall type barrier with a gap in it below where the kitchen above went into the hall. He peered through this gap and saw it illuminated slightly from the small decorative holes in the original stone front door step and a couple more small cracks to his left. The wall to next door was solid, as in the first chamber. That was all the light there was except a small bit coming from the gap he was blocking. He quickly saw that there was a pond or big puddle of water through there. And floating motionless in the water was … a piece of dark wood … he could make out some concave markings on it in the gloomy light – an inscription! Maybe it was an unbelievably old piece of wood that had been searched for by archaeologists for a hundred years with secrets of the pyramids inscribed on it and had been preserved and made waterproof with embalming fluid or some such. He reached out, but the thing was out of reach, the water was flat and still not even the lorries outside affecting it. He put his finger into the water and then licked it – slightly salty. He was going to need a stick or a grabber to get the wood out of this tomb, so he turned round and headed back. Unfortunately his Mum was just coming down the steps into the garden when Mat was squeezing through the gap to get back out. She was not very cross but went in to tell Dad who must fix the gap in case foxes got in. Mat’s Dad was drunk and got all excited and asked if Mat had found any old things down there. Mat told them of the hamster skeleton burial and they gave a solemn nod. Then after some hideous laughter from the TV he told them of the piece of wood in the puddle, and Mat’s Dad became sober reaching for the remote to turn it off, and he was silent while he tried to think to himself how this piece of wood might have got there – the house was over a hundred and twenty years old after all. Dad’s eyes could be seen scanning the house below him from back to front. Dad finally pointed his finger seriously upwards and half spat through an addrenaline fuelled face that the inscription might mean an antique as the sides of the house or anything had not been altered for over a hundred and ten years according to the old fashioned property deeds that he had had sent from the solicitors out of curiosity, and the floorboards were original and had never been touched to his knowledge – not even when the house was re-wired that time. Dad sat up and became more serious and said that Mat should leave the wood where it was until tomorrow as it was getting dark, this might be something special, he said. They could get a fishing net on a pole from the garage tomorrow and fish it out. Mat told them again of the inscription and his Mum got all excited and started talking about Antiques Roadshow and auctions with Japanese phone bidders. Dad sat smiling. Mat felt proud and Mum went outside again to hang up the washing in an overexcited state singing and warbling.

Later on his mate Mike came round with his Playstation in a sports bag and Mat got permission off his Mum to play the new violent fighting game that Mike had bought with his paper round money. In the lounge Mat’s Dad said very loudly “HI MIKE HOW ARE YOU DOING?!” waving his arms slightly. Mike was glad to say he was good thanks and asked Mat’s Dad how he was. After this Mat told Mike about the piece of wood as they were going up the stairs and were setting up the console. Mike was happy and enthusiastic about it, telling him he would keep quiet at school about it in case anyone came and stole it. Mike wanted Mat to ring him when the message on the wood was known, Mat agreed.

As Mike was giving a tutorial of the game for Mat as he watched on noting what the buttons did he picked up the cardboard game disk box and started absent mindedly chewing it like he often did with objects. He was sometimes thinking of the piece of wood down below. Mike was very energetically explaining how the multiplayer worked for when they had a fight in a minute. He was explaining that if you do three normal combos you can do a super combo or a combo breaker on the opponent. Then Mike turned round as it was time for Matt to have a go, but he saw the game box being chewed and drooled on. Mike was not cross but thought it was hilarious and got up and attacked Mat giving him serious beats on the arm and legs. Both were laughing uncontrollably and then they calmed down and had a fight on the game for an hour in increasingly serious silence.

They went down and had a giant plastic cup of Irn-Bru as usual and then Mike went home after helping Mat feed Nergmolb the rabbit.

*

The next day Mat was very excited all day at school, he could hardly wait to get under the house and fish out the piece of wood where it had laid dormant for a hundred years in that puddle that must accumulate from rain and from when the spray from the rough sea sprays up over the busy road. Hopefully the inscription was still legible, but he thought it would be from what he had seen. What if it was in hieroglyphics he thought with excitement? The day seemed to go on a long time, but his friend Mike said not a word about it just gave him a slight nod as they met up for dinner.

They met up again to walk home and as Mike went up his garden path he casually reminded Mat to ring him with news please.

Mat got changed and his Mum gave him a lift to the factory where his Dad was dumbly fitting things together. Mat got helping and did some sanding his mind became completely focussed on learning the work. It was in the car on the way home that Dad broke the work mood by remembering for them both that he had searched the garage for the fishing pole and had found it. Mat blinked and then remembered and got excited again. They got some chips on the way home and some mushy peas for Mum.

After they had stuffed themselves they got up and Dad said they should go and get the pole but Mat should put on his old jeans as it would be him going under the house. Mat came back down wearing an old jumper as well. They went out to the garage where the pole was inside the garage door. Mat pulled the wood under the back steps aside and crawled through the gap. It was still light outside but under the house was still and dim and the cars on the road were muffled identical to yesterday. He turned and without a word a wide eyed Dad passed him the pole and Mat took it and then scarmbled through the window thing and started towards the gap in the brick structure below the kitchen wall. He also had a nice stone to mark the hamsters grave which he put in place as he went past and gave a nod of respect. The piece of wood was still in its puddle and the water was dead still and dark. The wood was motionless. He reached out with the pole and outside Dad was drinking his Scotch and waiting stroking his moustache looking at nothing in particular. Mum was warbling again in the kitchen. The pole hooked onto the wood and the water rippled as Mat pulled it towards him. It did look a very old piece of wood somehow. It was now in reach and he picked it up. It was too dark to read but he wanted to read it with Dad anyway and so he rubbed it a bit with his sleeve and was just glad that it had not simply crumbled to atoms and then turned and carefully crawled back towards the back of the house almost laughing, but grinning and breathing loudly. He left the pole for later. His Dad held open the wooden side to the back steps and Mat crawled out holding out the piece of wood as if he was in Egypt a hundred years ago. Then they both gathered round and looked down eagerly at the message on the surface, both of them grinning. It took them a moment for it to register to them both; it read “visit http://www.tuldoss.co.uk”

THE END

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