The Outcasts

by Cole Parker

4

The next day, Will found himself looking for Blake at breakfast. Will was sitting in his regular seat and as usual his table companions were talking around him, not involving him with themselves. Today, when he found Blake with his eyes, the boy wasn't looking at him. He was looking down at his food, which he appeared not to be eating, but merely moving around on his plate with his fork.

Will wondered. What was his interest in this boy? He usually had no interest in any of the other boys at all. To be wondering about this one took him completely by surprise. It was outside his normal pattern of thought, a pattern that was very self-contained. The fact he was straying from it was unusual, and made him do some self-evaluation to find the cause.

Why did he feel anything at all about him? That was the really strange thing. He simply didn't have those emotions any longer.

Not coming to an answer, Will resumed eating his breakfast. Today was a Saturday devoted to games and there would be no lessons this morning, a departure from the norm. The other boys at the table were busy making plans, those in a team excitedly discussing their expectations of a win, those not so engaged planning their other pursuits. Will wasn't included in any of this, of course, and now the day lay empty before him. He had not thought how he'd spend his time. Maybe go for a walk, he mused. The country surrounding the school was gentle hills, some woodlands, and of course the River Willowbeck valley, an area possessing a subtle beauty which he'd often found to have calmed his soul.

He was among the first to be finished with his meal as he was doing no talking and the others were, bubbling in their enthusiasms, looking forward to their freedom. As he left the building with the fields as well as the day stretching before him, he decided he'd head for the river. It ran through wooded and open land to the west of the school, and he could easily spend until lunchtime lazily walking beside it. Having decided, Will stepped across the path that connected the school buildings and houses with each other and began hiking across the lawn in the direction of the river.

It was then he noticed a figure some distance ahead of him, also walking in the direction of the river. He was far enough ahead that Will couldn't recognize him. Will almost stopped. He almost turned in another direction. But something about the figure, even at this distance, arrested him.

And then, he knew what it was. It was the blond thatch of hair gleaming in the sun. He realized the boy ahead of him was Blake.

While normally Will still would have chosen a different direction to walk, one that would have kept him remote from anyone else, the picture of this boy weeping uncontrollably last night came back to him vividly, and he found himself continuing to walk in the direction he'd originally planned. Whether it was curiosity or something else he didn't know, but he did know he wanted to follow this boy. He was unable to analyse his feelings, but was accustomed to that; introspective he was not, and being unable to decide why he felt as he did didn't upset him. He simply followed.

Blake was walking perhaps a hundred yards in front of him. He was walking steadily. He never looked back, and surprisingly to Will, he never seemed to look anywhere but straight in front of him, totally oblivious to the attractive scenery around him. Will had set out for a leisurely stroll, but quickly saw that he would have to walk faster than he'd intended or he'd lose sight of Blake. Accordingly, he picked up his pace.

Blake headed into the wood that fell in a shallow, long reach down to the River Willowbeck. It was an old wood of mostly beech and alder. The trees were not crowded and the undergrowth was kept thinned out and so this wood provided an easy walk. Will had no problem keeping the other boy in sight through the trees.

As they walked further into the wood, Will realized they were heading towards Stonehill Bridge. It was an ancient structure, built to cross one of the few stretches where the river narrowed, deepened and was treacherous to ford. Where the bridge stood, the river was studded with large stones. At one point in its history, someone clearing the land had brought piles of stones to this spot, used some to build the bridge and dumped the remaining ones in the river. The rocks over time had caused the river to churn and boil and so cut a gorge deeper than the surrounding land, and consequently the bridge stood a good twenty feet above the water and rocks below.

It was towards this bridge that Blake was headed. Will followed. When Blake reached the bridge, Will was still his hundred yards behind. Blake walked to the centre of the bridge, then stopped and looked over one side, down at the splashing water that tumbled over the rocks below. Will stopped too, not wanting to approach the other boy, just wanting to watch him. Yet, for some unknown reason, he felt he should walk still closer. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. This was not like him at all, and even as he was assessing the situation, part of him was feeling surprise at his emotions.

Blake stood looking down at the river. Will hesitated, then slowly began moving towards the bridge himself, being as quiet as possible and even slipping behind trees where he could to remain unnoticed. The sound of the rushing water close by concealed any noise he made.

Moving stealthily, he had closed his distance from the bridge to only about thirty yards when Blake moved from where he'd been standing. He'd been leaning against one of the low sides of the bridge. Now, he pushed back from it, looked around himself once, then put his leg up on the side of the bridge and commenced climbing up on it.

His intention was apparent; there could only be one reason for climbing up to where he had. And suddenly, Will lost his indifference, the desultoriness that had marked his personality for months. Suddenly, Will was entirely, soulfully, engaged in the world around him. He knew he had to stop this boy. He'd never felt anything so strongly before. He had to stop this boy from jumping, from dying. The need to do so was so powerful, it took total control of him. The feeling crystallized within him and entirely took him over. He had to stop him! He had to!

"Stop, " screamed Will, and he jumped out from behind the tree that had been concealing him and began racing toward the bridge. As he ran, he kept yelling. "Don't jump! Blake, don't do it! Stop! Stop!"

Blake was shocked to find himself not alone. He'd been deep within himself, working up his resolve. Just when it had reached its peak, just when he'd been able to climb onto the bridge railing, he'd been awakened by a voice. Now, realizing just where he was, he looked down and saw clearly the raging water and heaped stones below him. He tottered, looked back again to see who was yelling at him, and his balance began to falter. It was then that Will finally reached him. He grabbed Blake around the thighs, Blake slipped and fell onto Will, and they both collapsed onto the bridge.

Blake was on top of Will. He looked down and saw a boy he only knew by sight, a boy with tears streaming down his face. A boy who'd saved his life.

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