One hot summer morning, only weeks after his father’s death, Davie steps out his front door into the familiar streets of the Tyneside town that has always been his home. But this seemingly ordinary day takes on an air of mystery and tragedy as the residents learn that a boy has been killed. Despite the threat of a murderer on the loose, Davie turns away from the gossip and sets off toward the sunlit hill above town, where the real and imaginary worlds begin to blur around him. As he winds his way up the hillside, Davie sees things that seem impossible but feel utterly right, that renew his wonder and instill him with hope. Full of the intense excitement of growing up, David Almond’s tale leaves both the reader and Davie astonished at the world and eager to explore it.
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It’s an ordinary summer day, the day that Jimmy Killen dies and comes to life again. It’s the middle of the summer, when it sometimes seems like time stands still, when it seems there’s nothing at all to do. Davie’s in his bed, in the shadows behind his bedroom curtains when it all begins. The whole day lies before him, but he wants to stay there. He wants to be older so he could be with a lass or go drinking with the lads. He wants to be younger so he could run about yelling like a daft thing.
His mam calls up from down below.
“Davie! Get yourself out into the sun, lad!”
He peeps through the curtains. He’s dazzled by the light. He can see nothing when he turns back to his room. He rubs his eyes till his sight returns and he sees it all anew.
He starts digging through some ancient toys. Animal masks have been hanging inside his wardrobe door for so long he’s nearly forgotten that they’re there at all. They’ve been gathering dust since he was four or five. A gorilla, a tiger, a horse, a fox. The fox was best. He’d pull it on and leap and screech to make his parents terrified. He does it again now, alone in his shady bedroom. He looks out through the fox eyes and raises his claws, and he snarls and imagines he’s slaughtering a coop full of chickens.
“Davie! What the heck you doing up there?”
He laughs and rips the mask off. He laughs again to see the plastic antlers dangling on the door as well. How could he have forgotten them? He sticks them on his head. He steps quietly through the room, looking out for predators. He rocks his head and shakes the antlers. He leaps and dances silently, and soon the antlers start to feel like proper antlers. The room feels like a forest. He starts to lose himself in the old game of being a boy who’s also a beast.
He pauses. Why am I doing all this? he wonders.
Maybe it’s time to get rid of things, time to chuck this childish stuff out.
Mam calls from down below again.
“Aye!” he calls. “Coming, Mam!”
But he keeps on digging. He finds some ancient coloring pencils, from when he was maybe five or six. There’s an old sketchbook as well, with a faded green cover and brittle pages. He opens it and comes upon things he hasn’t seen for years: scrawled pictures of dark monsters and slithery snakes. Stick figures of his mam and dad, pictures of the house, a scribbly sketch of a lovely black-and-brown dog they used to have called Stew. A page full of pictures of himself. A picture of a baby with messy writing beside it: Davie as a bayby. A picture of an ancient man with a beard: Davie wen he is old. And here’s the beginning of an ancient tale that starts and then gets nowhere past the first two sentences: Wons ther was a boy calld Davie and he wonted an advencha. So he got sum sanwichs and he got his nife and set owt into the darknes. The ends of the pencils are chewed and he chews them again, and he thinks how weird it is that he’s probably tasting himself as he was all those years ago.
There’s an old gray haversack. His dad gave it to him a few years ago. Davie used to stride around the house with it on his back, marching and saluting and carrying an imaginary rifle on his shoulder. He puts the fox mask, the antlers, the pencils and the book into it. He slings it across his shoulders and goes down.
Mam’s in the red-hot kitchen. She’s been baking, making bara brith and lemon meringue pie, such lovely things. There’s a smell of lemon, raisins, warm yeasty dough. Davie salivates as he imagines the delicious food on his tongue.
She stands there with her arms folded. There’s drifts of white flour on her red-and-white apron. Dad’s favorite painting, of sunflowers, is shining bright on the wall behind her. Sunlight pours into the room.
“About time!” she says. “Now eat that breakfast and shift those bones.”
She guides him to a chair at the table. There’s a bowl of cornflakes and some toast and some orange juice. She hums a tune and spreads her arms and shifts her feet in a gentle dance. She smiles and sighs as he eats and drinks.
“Now get yourself out into the world,” she says.
“The lovely world outside that door.”
“I’ve been there before, Mam. I’ve seen it all before.”
She grins back at him.
“Aye,” she says. “But you haven’t been in it on this day, and you haven’t seen it in this light.”
“And what if there’s a mad axman on the loose out there?”
She taps her cheek and ponders for a moment.
“That’s a good point,” she says. Then she shrugs. “It’s just a risk you’ll have to take!”
She laughs at the haversack. She asks what’s inside and he tells her.
“Those old things!” she says. “Didn’t you use to love them!”
She smiles as she gazes back into the past for a moment.
Then she puts a little package into his hand. It’s a piece of warm bara brith, wrapped in waxed paper.
“There’s butter on it,” she says. “And there’s a slice of Cheshire cheese with it. Won’t it be delicious? Put it in the bottom of your sack so you won’t be tempted to eat it too soon.”
He does that.
She puts her hands around his head and plants a kiss at the top of his skull. She blows away the floury dust that she leaves there. She spreads her hand across his back and gently guides him to the door.