First year piece about a memory from childhood:
It was called “The War Den”, a make believe battlefront hiding away at the corner of the swing park. A tree that was never quite in bloom, some buds and leaves would half-heartedly blossom in spring. The bark was almost black in comparison to the shocks of red, mauve, browns and oranges that covered the wood, it’s branches forming almost perfectly in to cradle like shapes and little benches, where the children could sit and spy through the parting of the branches at the dog walkers tripping over the broken patches of grey pavement and sparse dollops of grass which escaped through the cracks.
There were many days where the swing park had a tint of greyness to it. An inherent dullness that could not be explained, the rainbow coloured swing set would look slightly duller than usual, and the opening of the den was a gaping hole into an unknown darkness as the thick branches which blocked the shreds of sunlight from illuminating the safe little spot. Inside the den a trodden dirt path kept the echoes of footprints from the many children which led further and further down to the leafy banks of the burn. Hidden by a wall of nettles and brambles, children would precariously trundle down to the burn, often muddying their trousers and skidding into tangles of leaves. The burn was lined with old thrown away bits of debris, things you could see travelling downward into a barred tunnel. A mysterious gungey substance lined the smooth walls of the tunnel; the children would say it was toxic waste, an alien, radioactive. But it was unanimous that you don’t go near the orange, dripping goo. It was a reminder that they were in an area that they shouldn’t have been in, an area that was a secret to all but the street dwelling children. Instead they played adventure games, using the burn as the seven seas, and old trolleys covered in decaying rubbish and safe way plastic bags as stepping stones to islands and boats. Sometimes a casualty would occur, a child would slip, a foot would dunk into the repugnant water or sometimes a whole body would be covered in the filthy water, dirt clinging to their clothes and the smell of something revolting and chasing their skin, even when they’ve been scrubbed furiously by their mothers who warns them of the dangers of the burn, fretting that they may drown or be struck down by an incurable disease the burn no doubt carries. On some days, especially the days where the world of suburbia was a just that slightly bit greyer, there would be a young red headed girl in the den, her chubby hands and stumpy legs pulled her bit by bit towards the top of the den, where the children said the leader could only sit. She would sit in the perfectly formed circular branches and lean back carefully positioning her leg between another branch that acted as a harness. She would look up aimlessly and thoughtfully at the tumbling grey clouds above her and wonder about what the other children were doing right now, and worry that they may find her and disturb the rare solitude the den provided. Raindrops would tickle her freckled nose and run down her pale cheeks, unwilling to move and find a more sheltered area. Only listening to the noises of the trees, the scuttling of rats in the bushes and the trickles of the burn flowing steadily and constantly.