When Life Gives You Apples

by Marcus Grogan

Preface

The disappearance of a child results in some rather fruity revelations.


1

I had always relished the idea of solving a mystery but I never actually thought that I would get the opportunity. An eleven year old boy, solving a mystery that not even the police could crack! You have to be kidding! Anyway, you're probably very confused at the moment, so let me explain.

My name is Arthur Adamson and my adventure began on just another ordinary day at school. I was sitting in the nurse's treatment room having antiseptic applied to my scuffed knee. In truth, it didn't need the attention of the nurse but it had got me out of a maths lesson. I was enjoying the fact that her room was the only room in the school that hadn't been invaded by the cabbage infused stench of that day's school dinner. Instead this tiny space was filled, as it always was, with a delicious aroma of sugar and apples that evoked memories of summer days and sweet treats.

"I think a plaster will suffice" said nurse taking a key that was always securely fixed to her skirt belt and unlocking her storeroom door. As she opened it slightly, squeezed through and shut it behind her, the school fire alarm sounded. Nurse reappeared and ignoring the screaming whine of the alarm, she locked the door, carefully reattached the key to her belt, checked the storeroom door was locked again and then suggested that we should evacuate the building.

From the moment I opened the door to the yard and saw everybody being registered, I noticed that the school's nosiest grass, Adam Simbers wasn't there. He would slither through school, rooting out mischief makers and snitching to the teachers. Adam was the teacher's pet and was always everywhere on time so it was strange that he wasn't at the meeting point.

I sauntered over to my form group and went to the back of the line. I was intrigued by the fact that all of the teachers were in a group shouting at each other. It was pretty ironic considering one of the school policies is never to raise your voice (obviously, that didn't apply to the teachers!) I tried to lip read the teachers' conversation and they were shouting about the fire alarm. Why? Isn't it quite normal that there has to be a fire drill every now and then? It was only when the headmaster burst through the group of teachers that I found out what was going on. Mr. Simbers, the headmaster and father of Adam Simbers, was a very tall, loud man. He had slicked- back black hair and was always combing through it like he was out of the movie' Grease'. Simbers rushed over to us and started shouting,

"I don't know whether it was an accident or whether it was a prank, but it certainly is not funny! Do you silly children even realise how long it takes to stop that bell from ringing?" We all put the look on our faces as if we were ashamed of ourselves. "Where is Mr. Peterson and where is Adam? According to the register, those are the only two people missing." Right after Mr. Simbers had finished talking, Mr. Peterson turned up, red-faced and breathless.

"I'm very sorry sir," panted Peters," " I was getting something from my car and it took me a while to realise that the fire alarm was going off."

"You should be sorry!" bellowed the headmaster, "I had to register your form because you weren't there. Anyway, have you seen my son? He's the only pupil that isn't here."

"No. I haven't seen him since this morning."

"Well fire or no fire I want you to go inside the building and look for Adam."

"But..."

"No buts, go!!" the headmaster shrieked at the top of his voice. Mr. Peterson went off into the school and before he reached the entrance of the back door to the school, I noticed a large cut on his elbow. It was clearly fresh. Ideas, like lightning bolts, started flashing through my head. Perhaps Mr. Peterson had taken Adam and Adam had attempted to break free by biting or maybe pushing him against a sharp object or perhaps Mr. Peterson had already buried or hidden Adam and he may have cut himself on his shovel.

While the teachers were chatting amongst themselves, I secretly climbed over the school yard wall, crouched down so that nobody would see me and then crept stealthily towards Mr. Peterson's car. Perhaps it held some clues to Simbers disappearance. When I reached the car, I thought that perhaps, the murder weapon (Yes, I admit I have a vivid imagination!) could be in the boot. I was surprised to find that the boot was unlocked. Suddenly I saw the English teacher, Mrs. Wills coming towards me. I was terrified. I didn't know what to do and so as quickly as I could, I closed the boot and jumped into the back seat of the car. To my horror, she leaned against the bonnet and lit a cigarette. I hid myself under the back seat of my history teacher's car and stayed perfectly still and quiet. I had a feeling I was going to be there for a while!

2

I woke up to just as the weak January sun was sinking from the ashen sky. I couldn't believe it: I had fallen asleep! I looked at my watch. It was four o'clock! I'd slept for three hours. I slowly sat up on the floor of the car. That was when I realised that the car was no longer in the school car park but on a busy street.

I ran through what could have happened to me and I soon came up with a plausible explanation. At one o'clock, I fell asleep in Mr. Peterson's car then at four o'clock, when school ended, Mr. Peterson must have come out of school and then, not realising that I was asleep in the back of his car, must have driven to the street location. "Wait a second." I said to myself. " For all I know, Mr. Peterson could have found Adam, returned him to Mr. Simbers, then left school as normal. " Assuming that was the case, I decided to try and get out of the car and find my way home before my mum realised I was missing. I climbed out of the car and ran as fast as I could down the pavement of the road in order to make sure I wasn't seen by anybody who knew me.

A few hundred metres down the road, I reached a small post office where I asked for directions to Hamilton Street (my street) and the saleswoman suggested that I should take the No. 32 bus.

The sky had darkened and the freezing air gnawed at my hands and face. The number 32 bus came to a halt at the stop and I stepped up into it. All the way home I wondered if I had allowed my overactive imagination to get the better of me. Perhaps Adam was safe at home now, tucking into chicken nuggets and chips. Or, perhaps not!

Soon enough the bus reached my street. I had never been so glad to see the comforting wash of yellow light that filled the hallway of our house. On the computer in my room, I scrolled through the list of local news stories, until one headline sucked me in, enveloping all my senses and casting everything else into oblivion.

'Avon and Somerset Police report that a ten year old boy named Adam Simbers has been missing since one o'clock today. It is thought that the young boy may have been abducted whilst a school fire alarm was going off. Police and forensic scientists are on the scene, but so far nothing of any significance has been discovered. Some 150 friends and family of Adam are out searching for him around his school, Oldbury Village Primary, for any signs that may lead to the disappearance of the ten year old boy.'

I lay in bed that night thinking about what might have happened and whether Mr Peterson could have been involved. His late appearance at the fire meeting point, his weak excuse and the cut on his arm was suspicious but was it enough to take to the police? Would they take the suspicions of an eleven- year old boy seriously? Of course not! If this case was going to be solved, I would have to investigate it myself.

The following day was Saturday and I reluctantly followed my mum around the supermarket and dutifully went to my piano lesson while my thoughts swam in a soup of suspicion and possibilities. By evening, I had formulated a plan and I was excited and determined to solve the crime by myself. At 9pm, I changed into dark clothing and put on my balaclava that mum made me wear whenever there was the slightest chance of a breeze. After I had made sure that mum was snoozing in front of the TV as she was prone to do on a Saturday night, I left the house with the quiet stealth of a panther.

After twenty minutes of jogging, I reached my school and for a second, I thought I had arrived at the Blackpool Illuminations. The whole school was lit up inside and out. Police and sniffer dogs were busying themselves in every corner like ants in a sugar mill.

I tucked myself under a bush in the grounds and lay low. My heart thumped like a drum-beat in one of my dad's heavy-metal CDs.

"Right lads, let's pack up the equipment and call it a night," said an officer. The officers started to haul their forensic equipment into the police vans, climbed in and set off. I had to launch myself from the bush into the long soggy grass to avoid being spotted under the glare of the headlights.

I looked at my watch, "9:15 already!" I whispered to myself. The back of the school was still lit up when I walked round to go onto the decking. I had to be careful not to knock any of the scaffolding down that stretched up the walls of the old Victorian school. Before the disappearance of Adam, we had had builders coming in everyday to fix the school bell. The work hadn't been finished because, of course, the builders had had to leave.

Standing on the deck, I quickly came to the conclusion that if someone had taken Adam, they must have taken him out by the back door, across the deck, onto the playing field and off into the adjoining woods. After all, the front of the school was always far too busy to escape without being noticed. I stepped nervously off the deck onto the playing field, the soft muddy ground squelching under my trainers. The school field was always very boggy and I could see large foot prints in the soil, they looked about size eleven shoe marks and they looked like walking boot prints. Now, the women teachers always wore high heel shoes and the male teachers had to where leather shoes (that was one of the school rules.) Somebody else must have been on the field. But then I remembered how the builders took there break on the edge of the woods and I realised that the prints were probably theirs. I walked over to the edge of the woods and rested against a tree, cold and dejected. My investigation was as cold as the icy night air.

As I stood looking back across the field towards the school the moon cast its watery light on a straight muddy track leading from the deck to the wood across the field. Could Adam have been dragged across here?

"Wait..." I thought to myself, "Adam left the science lesson because of a headache. I remembered that he asked if he could go and get a tablet from the nurse. Had something awful happened to him on the way? I remembered thinking at the time that his 'headache' was probably an excuse to get out of the lesson by heading to Nurse's apple-scented room for a while.

At that moment I heard a twig snap and turned around. That was when I saw a dark figure appear in the mist of the cold night. He or she began to walk towards me. I turned around and ran back towards the school. When I looked back, the silhouetted figure was running towards me. When attempting to jump over a bush, I could feel large thorns sinking into my flesh, sharp reminders of my stupidity in investigating Adam's disappearance alone. I carried on sprinting and then, when I looked back for a third time, the person had vanished. I could see that my leg was covered in thorns and bleeding, the oozing red liquid feeling warm on my bitterly cold skin. I lay down in pain and didn't even bother trying to get the thorns out. I was in too much pain. I lay in the grass for hours.

3

The sun was peeking out over the horizon and it must have been approaching the morning. I needed to get moving so that my mum wouldn't find out that I had been out all night. I dragged myself to my feet. The blood had dried up but the pain was still really bad. With my right leg dragging behind me I headed for home all the while asking myself who was the other person on the field last night. Was it the person who had taken Adam? Or a policeman, or perhaps someone who wanted to solve the mystery like me?

Mum wasn't awake when I got home. I took the first aid it from the medical kit and locked myself into the downstairs bathroom. I sat down in the bath and started to wash my leg. The pain was horrific but it was definitely worth it after everything was clean and I had applied my plasters. The stairs started to creak and then I heard my mum singing. I grabbed some clean trousers from the washing basket, unlocked the door and went over to say good morning to my mum with the innocence of a boy who had been tucked up in bed all night.

4

After breakfast, I opened up my laptop and I typed in Hethersgate Woods which were the woods at the back of school. I wanted to know if there were any buildings hidden in its shady depths. The only building in the whole of the woods was a small electrical maintenance building on the east edge of the woods. If Adam was trapped in the woods then he would surely be in that building.

Just like the previous night, I waited until 9:00pm and then set out to go to Hethersgate Woods. The woods were quite a long way away and so it took me longer to get there. When I reached the woods, I didn't want to go straight into it and so I followed the main road up to the east area where I had never been before and I entered the woods from there. It wasn't long before I found the maintenance building. There was a problem though. It was situated on a small island in the middle of lake. An old rowing boat rocked gently to and fro against the shore. It looked like that was the only way to reach the building.

I climbed into the decaying boat and pushed myself away from the shore with the oars. My skin bristled with the fear of falling into the inky, murky water and being swallowed up without a trace. I was terrified .The bells of a nearby church rang out at a sharp pitch. It was midnight and I was alone, in a rowing boat on deep water .The long wooden oars of the little boat splashed against the moonlit water whilst every ripple brought me closer to the island and the possibility of finding Adam Simbers alive: or dead!

By the time I reached the shore, a fog as thick as concrete had descended. I stepped out onto a wooden jetty which was a slippery as the scales of a salmon and clambered up to the old building.

The building was covered in moss and the bricks that were visible were covered in cracks. It looked as though it had stood abandoned for a dozen years. I was scared and didn't want to go in but I had to. If Adam was in there, then I had to save him no matter what.

The rotten wooden door creaked on its rusty hinges as I opened it. Cobwebs disintegrated into dust as I pushed through them. A spider fell onto my shoulder and I recoiled away from the door in fright! As I watched the spider creep away, I saw something on the floor glistening in the pale moonlight. It was a key. I recognised it from somewhere. I was distracted by a muffled moan from inside the building, so, putting the key in my pocket, I ventured inside to find Adam Simbers, his mouth muffled by bandages and tied to a water pipe.

Before I could reach Adam, I was struck from behind and knocked to the ground, my head hitting the floor with a great thud. I saw my life pass before my blurred eyes but I had come this far and wasn't giving in now. I stumbled to my feet and lunged at my attacker and as we grappled each other I was aware of a strong smell of apples!

"Nurse!" I shouted with alarm. She turned and fled into the darkness. I untied Adam who was breathing but very drowsy but his pulse was fine. A massive sigh of relieve exited my body. His heart was still beating at a normal pace. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and called 999.

"This is an emergency!" I shouted down the phone, " I have found Adam Simbers but the kidnapper is still on the run and we are in danger. Please, help!"

I explained to the person on the other end of the phone where we were and they assured me that the police were on their way.

Adam's eyes opened and he stared right at me.

" Arthur? Is that you?" He cried. I went over to him. "You're safe. The police are on their way." For the first time ever, I looked at Adam and actually felt sorry for him. His face was stained with tears and he looked like he hadn't eaten for a week.

"What happened" I asked him. "And what does it have to do with Nurse"

Adam was weak and only able to mutter something about how he had gone to her room for a headache tablet and had found her store cupboard open. Being curious, he had looked inside to see an amazing assortment of crates and bottles. Before he could investigate, Nurse grabbed him, knocked him unconscious and locked him in the store room.

"Then you must have been in there when I went to see her with my knee" I said, amazed. " She must have set off the fire alarm from her room to create a diversion." I figured. "Then, when everyone was out at the front of school, she must have dragged you into the woods. But why?"

"She must have thought that I would tell my dad about the strange stuff in her cupboard and she was worried about losing her job" mumbled Adam.

At that moment, I remembered the key in my pocket and realised that it was Nurses key to her storeroom. It must have fallen from her skirt belt in her struggle to carry Adam into the disused building. I decided that I had had enough excitement to last me a lifetime, so, when the police arrived, I handed them the key.

The following day, Nurse was arrested and charged with the assault and kidnap of Adam Simbers. Her storeroom was raided and hundreds of bottles of home brew cider were taken away as evidence.

I realised, with a little disappointment, that never again would I seek refuge from a boring maths lesson in a tiny room filled with the sweet smell of apples!

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