He did not want to look at the man on his left. He didn’t. A young lad he was. Said he was nineteen but…well, he’d seen enough of them to know.
He didn’t want to look but the sound made him. Shrieks like that he’d never heard before – least not coming from a lad like that.
‘It’s all right, son, ‘ he said, and touched the boy on the arm, tried to still the twitching jerks of it. A whistling screech above started the convulsions off again; worse this time. ‘It’s gone right over, lad,’ he said. ‘Won’t hurt you there. You’re all right there. ‘ A lie. But you had to lie.
‘What we going to do with him, Harry?’ asked his mate, Robbo. ‘We can’t just let him sit there quaking like that. T’aint good for the others,‘ and with a jerk of his head he indicated the grey-faced lads beside him. Staring.
Harry knew this. Had seen it before. It only took one to fall apart, and the fear of God would spread through the rest of them so’s none could stop it. ‘It’s all right, Robbo. I’ll sort him.’ The stripes on his arm made him say that. But he would’ve anyway. The lad was too far-gone; he’d had enough. Too many nights holed up here in a funk hole with the Jack Johnson’s steaming overhead like trains. He’d had enough. They all had, of course, had had enough of sitting in the dark, waiting. But this lad – shouldn’t be here at all, thought Harry. Probably only fifteen - if that. Should be at home with his Mum and Dad having his supper.
He took the boy by the arm. ‘Come on, Stevens, son. Come with me.’
Stevens’ eyes bulged large and his lips twisted into spasm. He’s not hearing me, thought Harry. Another whistling shriek above – renting the air, then the force of it as it hit; a shower of earth pattering over them, clanging off their tin-hats. ‘Oh, ‘ breathed the boy, and curled his arms about him – small. ‘Stevens,’ said Harry, ‘Stevens, ‘ he shouted in the lad’s ear. ‘Get up. Get up and come with me. You’ll be all right with me.’
And twitching though his limbs were, a glint of recognition at the words showed in his eyes and he stood – as far