The Grief we Stow

I don’t know how to begin this. I don’t know how to express the emotions I feel right now. I’m not sure if it’s hatred, fear or guilt for a time long lost, or only a nothingness – an absence of all feeling, leaving a growing despair.

A long repressed memory was brought back to me like a thunderbolt to my skull. I received an email from a name I had tried my hardest to forget. All it said was:

I’m sorry for what I put you through.

The name isn’t important, and not one I want to even think about, never mind commit to digital paper, he will be referred to as Damian. But I knew who it was, and I knew what he was talking about. It must have been twenty years since I had seen him, and the last time I did, I was glad, but the mental damage had been done.

I was thirteen. My voice was breaking and I was hiking with my scout troop up a hill to a little folly. It was July and the sun beat down so hard I thought I’d pass out. In true scout fashion, we were prepared. What I mean by that is we had our badges. We had been trained to fend for ourselves. We were unaware that the work to complete a badge was merely symbolic and hadn’t prepared us to find fresh water that we needed.

Damian was our sixer, the guy in charge of us, he was arrogant and athletic. The hike for him was easy. He was also a few years older than the rest of us.

Our seconder Josh was a nice kid, one of those people who’d do what he was told and never complain. He had a sense of humour that came so natural it was hard not to like him. So when my friend Chris complained about being so thirsty, he put his arm around him and gave him a pep talk Winston Churchill would have been proud of.

Damian did his best to ride Chris’s back until all the good Josh had done dribbled away, leaving Chris on the edge of tears. Josh didn’t complain. Damian smirked. I didn’t stand up to him, nobody did. It’s how he was.

The hill rose steeply and the folly came into view. Trees lined the worn path that we climbed. The ground brown and dusty from the drought that was the summer. I can remember feeling so thirsty my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth and my lips cracked.

Chris continued to complain, using up all his energy, always on the edge of tears.

“I say we leave him here,” Damian said, giving Josh a playful push.

“Man, he’s upset enough, can you leave it?” Josh replied in a once in a lifetime act of defiance.

I didn’t say a word.

Without warning Chris broke into a sprint.

“Fuck sake,” Damian said, jogging to catch up.

I stayed my steady walk. As I caught up, I heard the gushing sounds of water. I saw Chris cupping his hand and vigorously drinking from a stream that ran through our path.

I wasn’t sure if it was clean, but it was clear. The water rushed down the hillside and off into the forest.

Chris was rejuvenated from his drink and continued his run.

“Stop!” Damien shouted.

Chris didn’t listen. He ran all the way to the top and disappeared into the folly.

“That little prick,” Damien cursed, running to catch up.

Not in a rush, Josh and I ambled to the top.

“I hate Damien,” I said.

“It’s not his fault, he’ll get in the shit if we don’t come back in one piece.”

“But he’s such an asshole.”

“He is a little,” Josh said, letting out a wry smile.

It was as if the atmosphere changed when we entered the folly. The cold stone walls sucked the heat out of the air. The dim light made it feel later than it was. A sense of foreboding took hold. It was almost a premonition for what I was about to see.

“Let go of him!” Josh shouted.

Damien held Chris by the neck at arms length. His fingers were bone white from the pressure. Chris’ windpipe squeezed tightly, hard enough to hold him aloft and hard enough for his face to turn red and his eyes to roll back into his skull.

“He fucking bit me!”

“You’re choking him,” Chris pleaded, standing rooted to the spot.

With that, his grip released, sending a semi-conscious scout to the floor. I was petrified and remembered thinking, I hope this isn’t for another badge.

I turned to run and felt an enormous grip pull me back, ripping my shirt.

“You don’t go anywhere,” Damien said, his eyes wide and ghastly. Spittle ran down his chin as he ordered me, “Stand over there.”

He pointed to the far corner of the room, in which sticks and bramble had been piled.

“Face the wall,” he demanded.

“You don’t need to do this,” Josh pleaded.

“I’ll do what I God damn please.”

It was as if he was possessed by something of pure evil.

“Help me tie him up,” Damien continued.

Josh didn’t say a word.

Within minutes my hands were behind my back and held tightly by some rope. Seconds later a sack was placed over my head and a foot landed into my back and sent me falling into the pile of sticks.

Broken pieces of branches stabbed all over, sending pain rushing to my head. My back was arched and I couldn’t move. The panic began to overwhelm me.

I’m sorry for what I put you through.

Time was no longer measurable. Every moment seemed to last forever. I contemplated if this was the way I was to die. A shiver of anxiety enveloped me, sending my heart racing, missing beats as the adrenaline surged.

I heard crying from behind.

“I’m going to teach you a little lesson,” Damien announced and I braced myself.

I heard what sounded like a cricket ball hitting willow. Clock

“Jesus, Damien!” Josh shouted in panic, his voice wavered, “What did you do?”

Damien was silent.





I heard the sound of wood hit the stone floor.

“Do it!” Damien said, “Do it!”

Footsteps and a single squelch. Two pairs of footsteps running. Then nothing, silence. Except for the breeze that disturbed leaves, a light rustle.

I shouted for help. No one answered.

I tried to move, but the pain was unbearable.

I laid there in silence.

My vision became hazy, grey speckles gathered in the far edges of my vision, slowly making way to the middle until I cannot remember anymore.

I’m sorry for what I put you through.

I deleted the email as soon as it came in. I went to the trash folder and deleted it permanently. My heart was thumping. It was something I had not thought about for so long, it was actually gone. But now, it replayed again and again in my head, I was reliving it.

I couldn’t sleep that night, instead I drove. I took the main road out of town and out into the countryside. It wasn’t far. I turned off and took the small lane that wound up the hill and parked the car. It was pitch black, except for the moon that shone brightly in the sky. I walked the final few hundred yards by foot, making my way through trees until I arrived at the top of the hill that looked down on the valley below. Directly opposite me, I could see the folly, gently lit by the moonlight.

I stared. My body shivered involuntarily. It appeared so small from here. A fake castle built to ward off invaders. It was as if my innocence was taken that day. I never felt the same afterwards. I was no longer the happy child I’d been before. The noises I heard replayed in my head.





“Do it!”

That place was where my life was taken from me, as well as Chris’. Damien and Josh were sent to a Young Offenders’ Institute. I never saw them again.

I’m sorry for what I put you through.

I was about to turn and leave when a red light lit up the glassless windows of the folly. It was as if hell itself had opened up. Little pin pricks of evil on the horizon. There was a part of me that wanted to get back in the car and go home, and try to forget again, like I’d done so well before.

I sat in my car, turning the heat to full, but it couldn’t shift the cold that had penetrated my bones. I turned the car and drove down the hill.

The sky was tinged with red, as if the sun was setting, but that happened hours ago.

At the fork in the road, I wanted to turn back, to travel out of the countryside and back to my house. I knew I wouldn’t sleep. The red sky was guiding me. I was driving in the opposite direction without realising.

The road swept around to the right and I saw the forestry commission sign, and parked up. I wasn’t prepared to be out in the cold. I was wearing jeans and a T-Shirt. The night air had grown icy. I continued anyway.

The path up the hill was now muddy and my trainers slipped, making my passage to the top laboured. It wasn’t as easy as it was when I was a teenager. Years of smoking and no exercise had taken its toll. I coughed as the frigid air roused my lungs into action. I trudged on. The path snaked its way upward. As I reached the last bend, I heard the babbling river, sending ice cold water plunging down the hillside.

I stopped as the folly came into view. The red light shone brightly, lighting the way like the Christmas Star, illuminating my path to an all more sinister destination.

I jumped over the brook, gathering my pace. I was exhausted but was drawn forward. Compelled.

A hundred yards from the tower I stopped. I heard something in the otherwise still night. I strained to hear, instead hearing the insistent thumping of my heart in my chest. Even in the cold, my forehead dripped. Rings of sweat hung from my armpits and chest. Light drafts cooled the liquid, making me shiver.

It was the sounds of crying, a little boy.

“Hello?” I asked the night.

The crying stopped.

I forced myself to the top of the hill, stopping in front of the folly.

The red light from above did little to illuminate the room I now gazed into. Instead the moonlight leaked in.

I heard it again.

I squinted, peering into the room. In the corner, a little boy lay on sticks, his body contorted and a sack held over his head, his arms behind his back held tightly by rope.

I raised my hand to my mouth.

“Don’t move,” I said rushing over to him.

Sticks pierced his clothes.

“Are you hurt?” I asked.

I heard him continue to cry.

Gently I reached down, put my hands around his stomach, and lifted. He was so light.

His whimpers echoed around the small room.

I placed him on the floor, undoing his ties.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I said.

He was covered in cuts, where the branches had pierced his skin.

“I’m going to take the hood off.”

My hand shook as I slowly moved it close. I grasped the burlap material and pulled.

I raced backwards, falling to the floor. I recognised him. It was just like that day.

“Why didn’t you help me?”

The right side of his face had collapsed, a flap of skin was rolled back to reveal the pink and bloody remains of his brain, it glistened in the lowlight. His eye dangled from his socket, gently rocking back and forth.

“Why did’t you stop him?”

As he talked, snapped and broken teeth greeted me.

I shook my head.

“Why did you hit me?”

The room grew bright with red. I averted my eyes. When I opened them, I was standing. Looking down at my hand that held a chunk of wood covered in blood and detritus.

“Do it!” Damien said, “Do it!”

Damien’s eyes were on fire. Josh was standing next to him, staring at Chris on the floor, blood had soaked through the sack that covered his head.

It was as if I was outside my own body watching my arm swing down.


Then the red light was gone, so was Chris. It was morning. The low sunlight shone through the entrance of the folly, alighting the inside like a pagan tomb. On the floor was the burlap sack.

Maybe it was a defence mechanism, maybe it did happen the way I remembered it.

I thought about the email.

I’m sorry for what I put you through.

I wished I never deleted it. I have no idea how I can find him. Damien isn’t on social media. It’s like he’s a ghost. For something I tried to hard to repress. I now need more than ever to know what happened.

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