Part Two of my Latest Free Serial

Breaking Ground is a Darkeningstone novella – it's a standalone book: a bonus story. I'm presenting it here in weekly parts. Each part on this site is tagged ‘breaking ground' so you can find all the published episodes easily. I'll add a link at the end of this episode. I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 1

2007

The Christmas decorations in the shop window seemed all wrong.  I pushed my hands deeper into the pockets of my parka and gazed at the coloured lights, the plastic snowmen.  Above the illuminated Santa Claus, the rifles hung like a whispered threat.  Among the tinsel, telescopic sights gleamed darkly.  A brightly lit glass case turned slowly, presenting its array of glittering knives in turn.  A small plastic reindeer stood among the vicious serrated blades of hunting knives.  Someone’s idea of a joke.  I looked away.  This wasn’t what I’d come to see.

The metal detectors stood in a neat row.  I smiled.  All five were still there – sleek, black and as tempting as always.  I craned my neck to read the display cards alongside each model, although I already knew what they said.  I always started with the basic machine on the left – the cheapest.  As I worked my way along the row, I chewed my lip, weighing up the extra features, balancing them against the cost.

A hand dropped onto my shoulder.  “What are you looking at, Jakey?”

“Dad,” I moaned.  “You shouldn’t creep up on people.”

He took his hand away.  “Oh sorry, I’m sure,” he said.  “Just came to tell you, we’re going to find somewhere for lunch.”  He half turned, looking over his shoulder.  Mum was standing a little way off, surrounded by carrier bags.  She smiled and gave us a little wave, then made a point of hugging herself, rubbing her arms to keep out the cold.

“Oh,” I said.  “I was just…”

“What?  Did you want to go in – have a look?”

I looked up at Dad.  “Really?  I thought…what about Mum?”

He smiled, gave me a wink and turned back to Mum.  He pointed to the shop then held out his gloved hands, extending his fingers.  “Ten minutes,” he called.  “All right?”

Mum opened her mouth in disbelief and shook her head.  She shrugged her shoulders and raised her arms, her palms outwards, exaggerating the gesture.  A couple of old ladies skirted around her, giving her a funny look.

Dad chuckled and gave her a friendly wave.  He turned back to me with a wicked grin.  “Come on,” he said, “before she gets really cross.”  He patted me on the arm then marched toward the shop door.  It was too late to stop him now, and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to.

“Are you coming then?”  Dad stood in the shop doorway, holding the door open for me.

If we were quick, Mum wouldn’t mind, would she?  “Yeah,” I said, “but we’d better not be too long.”

“Sure,” Dad said.  “No problem.”  He smiled and went inside.

I risked a quick glance back at Mum, but she was already bending down, gathering up her bags of shopping.  I turned away and followed Dad as quickly as I could.

***

“But what would you do with it?”  Mum said.

I sipped my hot chocolate and moved a menu card to make room for the mug on the cluttered table.  “Detect metal,” I said.

Mum rolled her eyes.  She opened her mouth to speak, but Dad cut in: “I hope they bring the food soon,” he said.  “I’m starving.”

“Yes, well they’re busy, aren’t they?” she said.  “Perhaps if we’d come in when I said, we’d have beaten the rush.”

Dad scowled.

Not now, I thought.  Please.  Not in front of everyone.  “Gold coins,” I said.  They both looked at me.  I hurried on.  “There was this man, right?  First time he used his metal detector, he found Roman coins.  Forty of them – all solid gold.  Worth a hundred thousand pounds.”  I looked from Mum’s blank expression to Dad’s puzzled frown.  “It’s true,” I said, “it was on the news – BBC.”

Dad smiled, crinkling the corners of his eyes.  “Must be true then,” he said.  He looked at Mum.  “We’ll have to see, won’t we, love?”

Mum watched him, her head tilted to one side.  “I suppose so,” she said.  “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

***

On Christmas Day, Mum and Dad sat on the sofa together and watched me rip the wrapping paper from a promisingly large box.

“Wow,” I breathed.  “It’s the C250.  Thank you.”  I slipped the polystyrene packaging from the cardboard sleeve.  The metal detector was in several parts, each nestling in its own snug compartment.  I ran my hands over the smooth components, smiling.  The C250 was the mid-range model, and I was very happy.  I’d have settled for the basic machine.

“I’ve put the batteries in,” Dad said.  “You’ve just got to assemble it, and it’s ready to go.”

“Thanks, Dad,” I said.  “It’s great.”  I took out the instruction leaflet.

“You don’t need that,” Dad said, “I’ll help you if you like.”

“Er – I think you’d better let Jake do it himself,” Mum said.

Dad gave her a look of mock indignation.  “You’ve never forgiven me for that Ikea TV stand, have you?”

“TV stand?” Mum said.  “It was meant to be a wardrobe.”

We all laughed.

Later, I’d remember that moment.  I’d remember how good life used to be.  And while it would hurt to remind myself of all that I was missing, it would give me hope that, maybe one day, I wouldn’t be alone anymore.

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