Hidden high among jagged, sun-baked rocks, looking down on the dusty pass along which many a wagon train passed, odd gusts of hot breeze whipped up dry, powdered earth, and tumbleweeds now and then rolled on by. I waited. I waited, resplendent in war paint and head-dress. High above, eagles soared and screeched a hungry screech; in the rocks around me, the vultures spied cautiously with the beady eyes attributed to opportunistic scavengers, hungry for carrion… Ants scurried and scattered around me, about their business, in a hurry as they forever seem. Then the faint gallop of a horse as hooves thumped a hard, powdered surface. The path at this point would slow the animal and render its rider a more available target. Louder now, and nearer… With the sun burning down on my forehead and the savage latent heat of the ground scorching my body, I deliberately and slowly drew back my bowstring, forcing pound upon pound of pressure into it. My arrow sat across the thumb of the fist I had wrapped around my bow while the wrist and elbow on the other side of my tensed body strained almost to breaking point. I still waited. I held my breath, and the very moment my quarry was in range, I released my grip on the arrow with the most urgent ferocity!
My arrow flew straight and true, the impact would be fatal…
It wasn’t just fishing nets from mum’s tights and catapults from her bras that Derek, our window cleaner, taught us to make, he showed us a lot more besides – I’m beginning to think he had a hidden agenda? One of the best things was bows and arrows. Give a child a projectile that flies, and better still, sticks in things, then nothing is safe! Darts were great but I don’t recall any way of fitting them into a roughly fashioned blow pipe or being able to fire them from a bow! For that you’d rely on bic pens, empty of the refill and rolled up pieces of wet paper…and everyone had done that. Derek would often come up with ideas for things for us to make and would always say, “Get some bits together and next week when I’m around we’ll see what we can do.” Always true to his word too.
After much mischief, climbing trees and snapping a great number of branches, my brother and I settled on what we considered would make great bows. Of course we tried many times on our own; fashioning arrows from sticks and snapping countless lengths of string, by the end of the week, the idea had lost its appeal, almost. And then…Derek arrived with a decent knife and a roll of orange cat-gut fishing line that he said would work a treat. All excitement restored we fidgeted and fumbled, chatted and laughed until finally, Derek presented us both with the most fantastic bows and the seriously dangerous of dangerously sharp arrows!
The line on the bows would loosen now and then and the paper flights Derek made for the arrows didn’t last long either. Results after a short while playing were to say the least disappointing. Every time the line on the bow weakened, it was fastened up again twice as tight. Sadly though, the arrows didn’t fly straight. In fact they almost didn’t fly at all at times. Still, we could always pretend.
By the open door of my bedroom, I propped up a couple of pillows and propped against them were an action man and Stretch Armstrong. These were my targets. I’d fiddled long enough and tried to fashion new flights for the arrows; without being too successful but they flew a little. Little enough to fly a few feet across the bedroom from where I was hiding behind the bed – it was a sizable room, there were two beds in there and what we called the tank cupboard. The cupboard housed the hot water tank that would rumble like thunder when the water was far too hot from the coal fire downstairs. It was also inhabited by all sorts of weird, wonderful and scary creatures; at least in the night it did anyway.
Nana Kit often came to visit on a Saturday. She was always painfully thin with legs like lats. And she always came to see her favourite little grandson, always bearing a 2p piece and a go of her big wooly, fluffy gloves. She just appeared from behind the door at precisely the moment that my arrow was in mid-flight!
My heart sank, and I was sticky-cold with fearful sweat as mum and dad tried to comfort her as she lay on the bedroom floor, writhing in agony, holding her leg where the arrow had passed almost all the way through!
Have to admit though, hell of a shot!