School: Lockerbie Academy, Dumfries and Galloway
I’m going to write this so that maybe one day when I’m older and I look back on it I’ll understand more clearly.
No one knows who the boy with the red balloon is. He sits on the rickety old bench in the town square, we can’t remember a day when he hasn’t been there, his blank expressionless face staring at the grimy windows of the army recruitment office across the road.
Nobody is really sure where he came from – Mother says he is an orphaned child who has been sent to foster parents here in the town, Bert says he lives in the old log cabin up by the creek and big Eddie, well, Edward thinks he’s been sent to spy on old Jeremy the butcher by the police but we’re not so sure about that theory…
I’ve always wondered why he sits on that bench, clutching the red balloon in his hand but I’ve always been afraid to ask him because my mother always told me not to speak to strangers. I asked Father James once but he simply told me that sometimes it’s better if the past stays in the past. Looking back I regret asking him – I didn’t know at the time his two boys had died – Sammy had died when he was only 7 and Joseph didn’t regroup with his Battalion after a gas attack by the Germans near Verdun, presumed dead. I really feel for Father James – he’s been through a lot in his life; losing his two boys, his wife running away in the middle of the night never to be seen again. Yet even with all this happening he seems to have been able to hold on to his faith in God. Some say that and his love of Jazz music is all that’s kept him going.
I wonder if he’s ever spoken to anybody when he’s sat at the bench. He never talks to us even if we stand right in front of him – he just ignores us, it’s as if he stares right through us like we aren’t there. Winston Graham, the crazy old hatter who’s always getting drunk at The Royal George claims he spoke to him one night as he was walking through the cemetery but I don’t believe him. We asked Winston what the boy said and he just muttered some garbage about “a storm coming” then sauntered off before we got a chance to get any more information out of him. It was probably a load of tommyrot anyway…
5 Years Later
Thank God I found this. My mother was adamant it must have been thrown out by accident but I knew I would never have let that happen to my diary. A lot has changed since I wrote in here all those years ago. We’ve declared war on the Germans and everyone’s worried about what’s going to happen now. I’ll be old enough to enlist in a few months but I don’t want to go, to end up like Joseph James, the name on a small grey headstone.
The boy with the red balloon has vanished, but the day he disappeared, he gave me a message. I now believe in spirits and the supernatural. I understand it may well be scientifically impossible and nobody shall believe me, however I know what I heard. I was at the cemetery planting some fresh flowers at my father’s grave – the heart attack came out of the blue, nobody expected it but we’re never really prepared for anything, are we? Anyway, that’s where I saw the boy, he was standing over Joseph James’ grave, still clutching that wretched balloon of his, I really sometimes had the urge to go and pop that thing – it really gave me goosebumps, I’m not really sure why, it just did. I knew better than that, though, so I never tried to pop it in the end and I don’t regret it. I strolled over to him and asked him why he was at Joseph’s grave. He turned round and for the first time I can ever recall, he looked at me as if there was something even vaguely alive in the expression of his face, and he began to open his mouth. What he told me I shall never ever be able to erase from my memory – it is from now on etched into my head permanently. He simply said to me, “I know you’re scared of what’s going to happen in the next few months but you’ll be ok – I’ll make sure Joseph takes good care of you, tell Daddy we’ll always love him.”
A chill went right up my spine and my face went as white as a ghost. I nodded my head and walked away, shocked and overcome by what he had just said to me.
Mother is calling me for supper. It won’t be long till I’ll be joining up to the army now, only a couple of weeks, I hope to God what the apparition of Sammy had said to me was true, as I was even more scared than I was then. Until I get another chance to write in this, goodbye.