The sound of feet had receded.
The shouting was being swallowed up by the night, leaving Pete to breathe deeply.
For the first time in his life, he felt terrified. He had never been in such a situation before and had been fortunate that the stupidity of his would-be attackers had given him those few seconds in which he escaped their intentions. Now, his temporary sanctuary could easily become his cage. He had to find a way out.
Looking around the loading bay, he could see the large secure metal door where the vans would deliver their goods. This was raised above ground level so that the drivers could just back their vehicles up against them and then walk their deliveries into the shop. To the right of these were three large metal industrial bins. The unwanted packaging would be placed in these before being collected.
Pete noticed that one of the bins was full to overflowing and guessed that, like everything else, someone had not been doing their job right. To all sides of the delivery area was a huge brick wall that was further complemented by an ugly razor wire that ran along its entire length. Pete had only managed to scan his options when he heard voices returning.
He had seconds to make a decision.
In truth, he had nowhere to run and only one place to hide.
The metal bins could provide him with a hope. He could hope that they would not search them, that they would continue to be the stupid thugs that they had earlier shown themselves to be.
The bins were his only hope so he quickly climbed the steps onto the loading platform and lifted the lid off the nearest one. Like the one in the middle, it was obviously full. He replaced the lid and it made the slightest of noises. The night became still. Pete listened for the sounds of approaching feet and heard none. His heart was pounding and his hands began to tremble. The breaths he was taking became shallower and shorter; tears were beginning to form on the lower lids of his eyes.
More than anything else, he wanted his mum.
He’s behind that shop. The one with the van parked at the entrance of the drive.
It was faint yet clear. Pete recognised the thoughts of the leader. He tasted the blood that was still in his mouth and sensed the hatred that coated those thoughts.
There was no time left to wish for his mother. He was alone and needed to give himself a chance to stay alive. The last bin was full too, but when he looked more carefully he saw that one of the boxes had not been properly folded flat. This left a space and it was a space into which a young, scared four-year-old could creep.
Deliberate steps were making their way down the drive. Nobody spoke. For once they were working as a group. Their leader was still holding his wounded hand. His eyes had taken on a black intensity. The others followed him with the same intent. They would get their revenge for the attack. In their minds they felt as if it had been they, not the child, who had been unjustly provoked. In their minds, they had the right to avenge such an insult.
The rule of force would tell.
Without prompting, the gang stood around the bins.
The vain chance that the boy could escape their search was over. They would find him and their leader would exact some terrible retribution for the wrong that had been done. He had stopped holding his hand now. The triumph, surging within him, flooded his immediate thoughts. This would make him feel better. This would make him feel much, much better. He didn’t want to rush it.
“Go back to the van and break in. I’ll bet there’s an emergency supply of petrol in there. You know what they look like. They’re green plastic things with black hoses attached. Bring it back and we’ll have a little bonfire.”
Pete heard everything.
“I know you heard that kid. You’re going to be cooked like a barbeque. Let’s call it an early Guy Fawkes. Shame we haven’t any fireworks.”
That was when Pete really lost control. His bladder burst and the warm liquid ran down and along his legs. His shoulders heaved in a heavy realisation. His whole young body collapsed in on itself and he tried to summon the face of his mother and brothers, but they would not come.
He was alone, in a bin, waiting to be burnt alive and there was nobody coming to save him. His tormentors had won. They were now in charge.
They had found what they wanted.
“Lift the lids and pour equal amounts into each. We’ll have to guess which one he’s in once they take light.”
Dutifully, the others did as they were told. There was no more talk.
At the last moment before the lid opened, Pete controlled his tears. He felt the fluid falling around him and upon him. He almost choked on the smell of the fuel. After some moments, the first stage was complete. The leader stepped forward onto the platform. In his injured hand he held a box of matches. The lids had been taken off the bins and one of his underlings came to stand at his side.
He was holding his camera phone up to record the action.
“This is what happens to all those who defy us,” announced the leader. “Those who dare oppose the new way will die like this.”
He dropped a match into the first bin. He moved to the second and did likewise.
Pete held his breath and prayed.
He prayed that God would take him before the flames. He prayed that his mother would somehow find him and place him next to his father. He prayed that someday this would all be different. He prayed that it would be quick.
The match dropped and went out. Pete heard the word “shit” and then discerned the striking of another flame. It too fell, but this time it caught on some paper that was drenched in petrol. The initial flame rose and gave rise to others. Soon everything was alight.
Pete’s body felt the heat. He prayed some more and was reaching his final ‘Amen’ when his legs were grabbed from beneath. Fingers wrapped themselves around his ankles and pulled hard. The force was so powerful that it made his arms fly up above him. His stomach was in his mouth as he dropped at a speed that defied comprehension.
Later the gang would push over the bins and find only cardboard and plastic. Their triumph would be empty, but they would get over it.
The New Age was coming and they would be a part of it.