George and Edward Whittaker were brothers, of eleven and ten years of age respectively, they were the oldest siblings of a large family of children, who shared a common mother, a number of different fathers, and were the product of a single parent home.
Georgie and Teddy often vandalised the streets of Blakewater, while their drug addicted mother appeared to have lost control, if indeed she ever exerted control in the first place. Once tired of breaking windows in the derelict properties awaiting demolition, the boys headed towards the canal towpath, where horses once towed barges laden with coal, to fuel the steam engines which powered the cotton looms.
A pair of mute swans had built a nest in the shallow water, where a retaining wall had collapsed allowing stones from the wall, and soil of the banking, to fall into the water and create an artificial island.
“I wonder if there are any eggs in that nest.” Teddy queried of his brother, as he threw a large stone at the pen to scare her from the nest. The pen left the in a hurry, and Teddy laughed, but he hadn’t taken account of the large cob swimming serenely on the almost ripple-less water close by.
The angry cob launched itself at the boys with a flapping of its wings, and with its long neck outstretched in a gesture of attack. The boys ran for their lives, with the swan giving chase in fits, starts, and flutters. The boys were scared by this unexpected attack, and they ran, and they ran, until long after the swan had given up the chase. As they bent double, while gulping in Lancashire’s polluted industrial air; they began to laugh hysterically due to the adrenaline rush of having escaped the angry cob,
“Shush, Georgie ordered. What’s that noise?”
Teddy stopped laughing, at his brother’s command, and listened to the buzzing sound which appeared to be emanating from a cast iron grate set into the canal towpath beneath their feet.
“There must be a cellar down there.”
“Let’s find it,” said Teddy, with the intent of creating more mayhem.
Twenty feet from the grate and set into a factory wall, they discovered a planked door of rotting wood. It had, at some time, been fitted with an asp and a staple, indicating that it had once been secured against intrusion using a padlock. Georgie operated the latch, and pushed the door open to reveal a flight of worn stone steps, fashioned by time, and the footsteps of long forgotten workers.
The buzzing sound became louder as they descended the steps, accompanied by a squeaking sound which initially they failed to identify. Georgie went first, in his capacity of older brother, with Teddy hanging onto his shirt for security, and peering nervously over his brothers' shoulder.
The room would have been in total darkness, except for a shaft of light which intermittently flooded through the grated coal shoot on which they’d so recently been standing. A second shaft of light followed them down the steps from the open doorway, creating distorted shadows which led them to an uneven flagged floor in the cellar below.
“Can you see anything?” asked Teddy nervously, while leaning so heavily against his brother, to enable a view, that they toppled down the last few steps and fell in a heap on the cellar floor.
“You idiot,” Georgie moaned under his breath, as he examined a grazed knee.
It was becoming increasingly dark, as they left the light afforded by the open door, but the boys were aware that the room was cluttered with objects of an industrial nature, as they felt their way between oil drums, and wooden pallets, to approach the source of the buzzing sound.
“Get ready to run,” Georgie warned his brother. “It may be a bee’s nest, or even worse it could be wasps.”
“What’s that horrible smell?” Teddy asked, while covering his nose, and mouth, with a rather unsavoury looking handkerchief retrieved from his trouser pocket.
“I don’t know,” answered his brother, screwing up his face in disgust, “but I think I’m going to be sick.”
Rounding an oil drum, Georgie imagined he could see the outline of two people standing in the shadows.
“I think there’s somebody over there,” he whispered into Teddy’s ear, and they hid behind a stack of wooden pallets in total silence for fear of discovery.
“They seem to be tied up; do you think we should free them?”
“You do it,” said Teddy, whose concern for his own safety far outweighed his curiosity, “I’ll wait here.”
Georgie crept closer to the human shapes, while ensuring he remained hidden from view. He could distinguish the people a little clearer as he approached the light from the coal shoot. One appeared to be a woman, not much taller than he, and with long straggly hair. The other one also had long straggly hair, and could easily have been a woman, but Georgie reasoned the second figure to be a man because of the height difference. They were standing facing each other in total silence, and Georgie listened intently to hear if something was being said above the unidentified buzzing and squeaking sounds.
Suddenly the sun came out from behind a cloud, and a shaft of light streamed down the coal shoot illuminating the figures. Flies swarmed all around them, and Georgie could see that they were tied to one of the iron pillars which supported the vaulted ceiling. Rats milled around their ankles squeaking excitedly, and the couple stared at Georgie from eyeless sockets.