Imran hit the floor with the thud that forced the air from his lungs. He tried to breathe but nothing happened. Waves of desperation flooded over him. He sucked air again. Nothing. Doubled up, he felt the pain of the impact on his chest, but a worse feeling was growing inside his chest as he struggled for air. His mind drifted to the journey that had brought him here. His missing father. The other children with missing parents. The letter from 1850. Nothing made sense.
And then he realised that he was breathing again. The air back in his lungs, the blood taking oxygen to his brain once more, he began to notice his surroundings.
It was dark. There were indeterminate noises somewhere in the distance.
As his eyes became used to the dim orange light from the street lights, he became aware that he had landed between the wall of a house and a few low bushes. It was a side passage that lead to a nondescript wooden gate of some back yard or garden. A few days ago he would have looked at the house he knelt by and thought how modern and new it looked. Of course the experience of the last few days had blown away any previous notions he had held of 'new'. Growing up in a Victorian house, surrounded by street after street of Victorian terrace, he was used to the grey stone and faded magnificence of that era, not the shabby red brick of sixties modernism.
The noises grew louder. Peering over the bushes he could see that beyond a wide grass verge, a road sloped darkly down to a T-junction at the
bottom of a hill. Perhaps one hundred metres way, at the junction, he could see shapes of people. He was sure that was where the noises were coming from.
Perhaps seven people, were gathered, seemingly laughing and shouting in the middle of the road. They were a range of heights, mainly adult-sized, although there was a smaller person there too – maybe about Imran's size. There was something about the tone of the shouting that made Imran rather nervous. It was a bit too loud, a bit too forced, a bit too raucous. And then Imran realised that there was something lying on the floor at their feet. Something, or someone – it was dark shape about man-sized and lying quite still. It was also the object of their attention. He could see them kicking it, bending down to touch it and laughing at it. Then all of a sudden, the smallest one pointed and shouted something. The others looked and howled – a terribly ominous cry – and then they ran off in the direction shown to them, leaving the dark shape lying on the floor.
As the hooting and howling faded into the distance, Imran realised that he was alone. The answer to a small mystery lay a short run away at the bottom of the hill. So not having anything better to do, Imran jogged as quietly as he could down to the dark shape lying on the floor.