THE LAST STRAW
target date - November 1992]
was in the forest walking his dog when he found the car. The
windows were clouded and running with condensation. Had it
been later in the day Fred would probably have made a detour
to avoid embarrasing the occupants. But it was morning, the
timing was all wrong, there was no moaning or giggling and
the lone driver was completely silent.
Fred felt the blood draining
from his face. There seemed to be a direct corrolation between
the amount of detail he could see and the amount of colour
left in his cheeks. Nervously he gripped the door handle.
When the door-seal broke, the smell of fresh pine trees vanished
in a poisonous rush of carbon monoxide.
Inside the car was a grey-faced
man made of stone. Fred kicked impulsively to silence the
yapping animal at his feet. He would have shouted, but couldn't
find a voice. The man in front of him was dead. It took a
few minutes for Fred to penetrate the mawkish profile. With
recognition came breakfast and then blind panic. Fred came-to
on a doorstep, stammering with a speech impediment that he
thought he'd outgrown thirty years ago. In the woods, our
freckle-faced school-friend had turned to stone.
Davo was one for mad ideas, that
he should end this way was tragic but not altogether surprising.
A bit of an outsider, his family settled in the village some
years into our schooling. But his interest in mechanical things
drew him into our small group of aspiring inventors. We wanted
to build robots and space rockets. We toyed with motors, tape
machines, old telephones and electrical components.
The gang usually assembled at
Martin Fletcher's house where we had the run of his Dad's garage.
Our activities were competitive, daring and downright dangerous.
And when I heard about Davo's death, it reminded me of the day
we built 'the tank'
The tank was a huge shed-sized
structure made out of old doors and sheet metal. We built it
around the back of Fletch's garage so that his dad couldn't
see what we were up to. We tested the tank for strength with
iron bars and half-bricks. It passed the test and could easily
support the weight of three boys jumping up and down on the
A small hatch descended into the
dark interior and once sealed, a tiny slit provided the only
contact with the outside world. Because it was so cramped, we
took turns to go inside. Sometimes we'd invite other kids over
to sample our fantastic structure. It was so impressive that
it usually didn't take much to coax them inside, whereupon we
would slam the lid shut and laugh as the unsuspecting victim
screamed in claustrophobic terror.
Things escalated to the point
where we decided to introduce another element to the game. Fletch
found a tall metal cylinder which was ceremoniously lowered
into the tank. This was filled with flammable material; polystyrene
blocks, bits of wood, engine oil, petrol, old nylon stockings,
foam rubber, it all went into the drum. Beside ourselves with
excitement, we drew lots to see who was going to be the first
victim to meet the challenge. Davo looked at the stunted straw
between his grubby fingers - he was the one!
We sat on top of the tank and
watched as Davo lowered himself onto the seat. Once the hatch
was sealed, Fletch, issued matches and instructions through
the observation slit. Davo's muffled voice was really comical
and I had to clutch my groin to stop myself wetting my pants.
'It's going, it's going' he cried as thick black smoke started
billowing from the observation slit. Within two minutes Davo
was screaming. The hatch was flipped and our freckle-faced hero
was dragged out of the tank, choking and speckled with soot.
HE WAS THE ONE...
In the forest, raking over the
troubles of the world, I wonder whether Davo thought about our
madcap schemes, how he cheated death in the tank. And when the
engine started, did he look at the stunted straw between his
fingers and realise that he was the one?
- Paul Fillingham
Last update - 19 August, 2001