Sal Hindergart was trying to die gently behind the warehouse next to the railway line. He sat with his back against the grimy wall, hugging his knees, the empty bottle of whisky nestled in his lap. The bushes made a rushing sound, battling the wind in the darkness beyond the security light. He listened to the soothing noise, rocking back a little against the wall. The light was always on, illuminating the tarmac sprinkled with factory dust and ground glass, but nobody was ever here after ten. He needed to be in the startled silence of places that used ear-mufflers all the working day. He liked finding half-curled pieces of wire and mangled screws. In comparison, it made him feel like the only whole being in this world.
And it had been a wreck of a week. He hadn't felt right - hadn't been sleeping - so things kept going wrong. Mrs. Crawley kept suspecting him of things like drinking all of Moses' lactose-free milk or stealing Darren's football boots. He hadn't done any of them, but arguing his case just made him snide which never convinced her. Millie had smashed up the activity room again and Sal had got the blame for it because he'd walked in there and sat down reading a book without reporting the state of it. It had been the same at school. He'd fallen asleep in Geography and was somehow unable to hear the teacher explaining the equation in Maths, so sat for twenty minutes in a daze. Two detentions in one day meant they'd sent a letter back to the home.
His only solution to the snaky unfairness of it all and his hollow-gut feeling, was to steal Mr. Crawley's alcohol and go watch the trains. Through the gap in the chain-link fence, below the overgrown bank of weeds, the bronze railway tracks forged a direction through the darkness. He liked watching the freight trains go past under the eerie glare with their rattle of dark carriages and long, mournful wail. It was silly, but somehow it made him feel calm. There was always something moving in the night, always someone going somewhere when the rest of the world was stuck sleeping. He liked to imagine that the trains never stopped. Their tracks just went on and on forever. It meant that he could keep moving too, and maybe he'd disappear in the middle of the night and just keep going and going.
He was slipping in and out of sleep. Another train rushed past sending a soft brush of air against his face. The lonely whistle faded away into the trees. He blinked and tried to sit up. He was shivering so bad his teeth were chattering. He wished the train would come back so he could climb inside one of those warm, metal carriages. Come to think of it, bet those tracks are warm down there from all the trains going over them. What if he went and lay down there with the tracks like a radiator along his back?
"I wouldn't do that if I were you?" Sal jumped, half surprised that there was a person standing next to him, half surprised he'd apparently been talking out loud. "You'd get run over by a train, wouldn't you?" the voice, male, didn't seem to be put off by this idea. There was the tug of amusement in his voice.
"The freights on'y come ev'ry three hours, idiot," Sal mumbled, the words coming thick in his mouth.
"Idiot? That's nice. I'm only looking out for your welfare." Sal tried to raise his head which seemed to have turned into concrete.
"Well, you can shove off," he said into his lap. He closed his eyes again.
"How old are you? You don't look old enough for that bottle, young man."
"I'm old enough!" Sal said, clutching the empty bottle. Indignant defiance made him struggle to look up at his companion. The man was standing a few feet away, leaning on the wall. Sal was shocked to see he looked young, not much older than himself, even if he talked like an old lady. He was wearing a heavily padded black coat, thick gloves and a woollen hat.
"How old are you?" Sal said, a sneer in his voice.
The man grinned, his teeth shadowy white under the glare. "Old enough."
"Why are you dressed like that in summer?" Sal asked. He cringed. It had just slipped out. Why was he even talking to this weirdo?
"I find this climate particularly cold, don't you?"
"I'm fine," Sal frowned, though he was still shivering. The wind was beginning to sober him up. "What are you doing here, anyway?" Sal said.
"I was just walking. You?"
Sal scowled. "I was just sitting."
"Touché. Would you like help standing?"
"No, thanks. I'm okay." To prove his point, Sal stood up quickly. The world blurred and he crashed his shoulder into the wall.
"Now now," the man said, taking a step forward with his arms outstretched.
"Don't come near me," Sal said, holding onto the wall. He stared across the yard at the lines of dormant lorries. They began to tilt sideways.
"Easy," the man said and Sal felt a hand grip him tight under the armpit. Everything went black for a second and an arm wrenched firm against his stomach. He dropped the bottle which smashed next to his foot. Then he leaned over, with the man still holding him and threw up. The sound was disgusting, the splatter on the ground. That was his only thought. When he'd finally finished, he stood there groaning, his stomach sore and empty. The world was black. He couldn't open his eyes again. The strong hands shifted and his feet left the ground.
There was a pain in his stomach. His heavy body was bouncing to a trot that made him feel nauseous. He struggled to open his eyes, but saw spinning tarmac and closed them again. He groaned quietly to himself. His fingers clutched at the slippery padded material. He realised he was being carried over that man's shoulder. Was he being kidnapped? He didn't want to be kidnapped. He really couldn't handle being kidnapped right now. He started to struggle and yell out across the empty yard.
"Shut up!" said the man. "You'll get us both in trouble."
This guy obviously didn't know anything. "There's never anybody here," Sal hissed. The real meaning of the words pounded their way into his half-drunk brain. There was nobody here to help him. That's nothing new, his brain answered sulkily. He was alone and probably being kidnapped. But the man had said he was concerned, hadn't he? Maybe this was a good thing. Maybe the man would take him home. Not that he wanted to go home, but somewhere. Sal opted for a tactic of stockholm compliance.
"Who 're you?" he asked.
"An interested third party."