Part One - The Camping Party

Chapter 1: The Path To Nowhere

"Oh you'll never get to heaven,"

"in a baked bean tin,"

"coz a baked bean tin's"

"got baked beans in."

"Oh you'll never get to heaven,"

"on a Playtex bra,"

"coz a Playtex bra"

"won't stretch that ... ow!"

Jon was stopped mid-verse when a small piece of sandstone struck his shoulder. He turned to face the thrower, looking hurt and accusing.

"What did you do that for?" he demanded.

"Your singing is terrible," stated Jane, his aggressor.

"Well I've got to do something. This walking is so boring," said Jon.

"If you start singing 'val-deri, val-dera' I'll have to kill you," threatened Jane.

With years of experience I'd learned that it was better to step in earlier rather than later, so I decided to intervene before things escalated.

"Come on you two, stop bickering and enjoy the sunshine," I said.

"Yeah, at least it's not raining like yesterday," added Katie, trying to be helpful and defuse the situation. She was a good kid. Kit said nothing, just grinned as he walked, expecting trouble and anticipating further entertainment. He didn't get any though, as Jon elected to stop singing. We walked on quietly for a few minutes. I took in the views and enjoyed the peace and the warm weather.

"Mr Foxton?"

I sighed inwardly. Kids could never stay quiet for more than a few moments.

"Yes Jane?"

"Is it time for lunch yet?" I looked at my watch.

"No Jane, not for another hour or so."

"But sir, I'm hungry."

I took off my knapsack and rummaged inside.

"catch," I told her and threw an apple in her direction. She caught it and then looked at it as though it might be poisonous. She frowned and put it into her own knapsack. I shrugged my shoulders. Kids these days. All they ever ate was chips.

Up ahead there was a fork in the rocky path we were on. Once we reached it I dug out the OS map and had a look. I didn't remember the junction when we'd hiked in the opposite direction yesterday. It didn't appear to be marked on the map either.

"Are we lost sir?" Kit wanted to know.

"No Kit, I'm just checking we don't take the wrong path. Otherwise we might get lost."

I put the map away and chose the right hand path with a confidence I didn't really feel inside. Hopefully a familiar landmark would appear on the way soon.

The kids were less talkative now. I reckoned that they were starting to get tired. At the camp last night they had stayed up for most of the night talking, playing cards and telling outrageous ghost stories to each other. The sandstone trail began to dip downwards slightly. That seemed right as we did need to descend to get back to the car park where we'd left the van.

"Eew gross," Katie was saying. Jon was poking the carcass of a dead sheep with a stick. The animal was lying across the path and smelling faintly. Its flesh was almost completely desiccated and there was grey wool strewn over the path. It must have been dead for several days, possibly weeks.

"Sir, are you sure this is the right way?" Katie was asking again. "I don't remember any dead sheep being here yesterday." She had a very valid point, I thought. It looked like I would have to swallow some pride and admit that we'd taken the wrong path.

"Yeah, this is just a path to nowhere," said Kit. "Look ahead, it just ends at that rocky place there."

He was right. Up ahead there was an old disused sandstone quarry. The path we were on lead into it and there were no other paths in sight. I decided to make a small face-saving decision.

"Okay you lot, time for an early lunch. We'll have our sandwiches in the old quarry. After that we'll go back to the turning and take the other path." There were murmured cheers and nods of agreement. We set off to cover the short distance to the quarry. When we got there, everyone started retrieving their lunch packs from their knapsacks. Everyone that is, apart from Jon who decided he was going to practise his rock climbing skills by traversing the perimeter of the quarry.

"Don't go too high Jonathan," I warned him, "you're not roped up."

"Yeah, monkey man," said Kit, "you don't wanna end up like Dolly back there." Jane looked at Katie and raised her eyes skywards.

"What a show-off," she huffed and sat on a boulder to munch her sandwich. Kit and Katie apparently agreed with her, as they ignored Jon's antics and went over to join her on her boulder.

"Have you learnt your lines yet?" asked Katie.

"Yeah," said Jane, "well, mostly. I'm having trouble with scene five."

"The murder scene?" Kit queried.

"Yeah, the bit where Aegisthus consoles me."

"Well I wouldn't mind that part," Katie murmured. The other two turned to look at her slowly, then just as slowly at Jon who had almost circumnavigated the quarry without touching the floor.

"You fancy Jon the monkey man!" Jane arrived at the obvious conclusion. Kit just sat there grinning to himself.

"No, err, no. I just think he's alright, that's all," Katie denied. Her blushing face betrayed the truth. She looked downwards at the floor and her glasses slipped down onto the front of her nose.

The embarrassing moment was saved, or at least broken by an abrupt shout from Jon. He had slipped from a small ledge and managed to deposit himself in a small gorse bush below. He extracted himself and looked around to make sure no one had witnessed his fall. They had.

"Aha ha ha, look at the great climber," scathed Jane. Kit had sunk to his knees and was laughing. Katie went over to him.

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah, fine. I just slipped. My eyes must be tired. I thought I saw a hand-hold but it wasn't there."

"Oh well, as long as you're okay," she paused then smiled. "It didn't half look funny though." He just gave her a weak smile. "Come on, come and eat your lunch with us."

Jon didn't move though. He was staring back at the quarry wall where he'd fallen from.

"What is that?" he asked. Katie looked at where he was pointing. There was a weakly flickering light dancing near the ledge Jon had been standing on, like a collection of very dim flashbulbs going off randomly.

"I've no idea," Katie replied staring at the unusual light show. "Some kind of atmospheric effect maybe. Hey come and have a look at this," she shouted over to the others.

"What is it?" shouted back Kit, making no effort to move. I wandered over to take a look myself and saw the mini light show.

"Wow, yes. Look at that," I said. "I think it might be St Elmo's fire, which probably means there's a thunderstorm coming soon. Come and have a look at this," I told the other two over my shoulder. They reluctantly trudged over, but their eyes opened wide and their mouths dropped when they saw the glowing coming from the quarry wall.

"What's causing that?" Kit inquired.

"Is it dangerous?" Jane wanted to know.

"St Elmo's fire," I told them. "It's caused by electric charges in the air, usually during thunderstorms."

"How come it's only over there where I fell from?" Jon asked.

"Well," I said guessing wildly - I teach drama and PE, not science, "perhaps when you fell you broke some sandstone which generated some electricity. That can happen you know, but I don't remember the name for the process."

"The piezo-electric effect," Katie helpfully supplied. She was good at most subjects, including science.

As they watched, the light show dimmed and faded away into nothing. There was a small popping sound and a miniature dust devil swirled where the lights had been. Then nothing.

"Where did it go?" asked Jane.

"The electric charge has dissipated," said Katie.

"What does dissipated mean?"

"Duh."

"It means the charge leaked away," I put in.

"But where to?"

"Just into the surrounding rocks. You know, like lightning doesn't last more than a few seconds because once the charge has all gone there's no more energy to make the flash." I was fairly sure of my facts but resolved to check with Pat Elliot the Science teacher when we got back to the school. "Come on folks, time to head back."

We collected our things and walked out of the quarry and back to the junction, passing the dead sheep on the way. The kids were excited now and chattering constantly about the phenomenon we'd witnessed. The subject didn't last long though and soon they were talking about the play we were rehearsing at school. An ambitious one for school kids, I thought, but it was coming along quite nicely. Once we were on the left hand path homeward, they even started practising their lines. After about an hour we reached the car park where the mini van was stationed.

I drove them back to the school and waited patiently until their parents arrived to collect them. Then I locked the van and got into my car. On the drive home I began to feel tired, now that I was allowed to be tired. It had been a long weekend but I felt the kids had enjoyed themselves. I arrived home, put my car away in the garage and went to the front door. Looking around I noticed that the weather was still perfect.

No sign of any thunderstorm.