I get some bread and cheese and lemonade and we sit on the bench at the back door. The raven's on the gatepost now.
Jak jak! Jak jak!
It stabs its beak towards us. It flutters its wings, it bounces and bobs.
"What do you want?" I laugh.
Jak jak! Jak jak!
A printer whirrs upstairs. Dad, hard at work as usual. We look up, towards his open window.
"What's he writing now?" says Max.
"Dunno. He tells nobody nothing till it's finished."
We chew and listen.
"Weird," says Max.
I swig the lemonade, swipe my wrist across my lips.
"Aye. Sometimes it's like having a ghost in the house. Come on. Let's head out, eh?"
So we leave the garden.
We get onto the footpath that skirts the house, then head along the long potholed lane towards the village. There's a single hiker in a red cap moving ahead of us. There's kids on the field beside the village school. Somebody's screaming, like they're getting lumps kicked out of them. Then there's a cheer and a howl of laughter, and a bunch of them break away and belt uphill towards Great Elm.
"Want to join in?" I say.
"Mebbe," says Max.
Gordon Nattrass appears at the edge of the field. He watches us from the fence, then he jumps over it and comes towards us. He's carrying a rusty saw in his hand.
"Hello, brothers," he says.
Brothers. It's what he always says.
"What you up to, brothers? Where you off to, brothers?"
"Nowt," says Max.
"Nowhere," I say.
"What you up to?" I say.
"Fun and games," he says. "Come on over, eh?"
Another jet screams over us and streaks away towards the east.
"Bomb them back to the Stone Age!" yells Nattrass, then he spits. "Come on," he says.
I'm about to go with him, but Max holds back.
"Mebbe later," he says.
I look at Max. I look at Nattrass. Nattrass and I were friends when we were small. We did the blood brothers thing one day, cutting our thumbs, then pressing the wounds together and letting our blood flow into each other. I touch the knife at my hip as I remember it. But it was ages back. After that he started changing, started becoming the Nattrass we know today.
He winks at me.
"OK, brother," he says. "Later, then. I'll look out for you."
He rests the saw blade at the side of his neck, then drags it back like he's going to saw his head off. He laughs, runs back to the field, and soon there's more screaming.
"I hate that bastard," says Max.
"Me too," I say.
Excerpted from Raven Summer by David Almond Copyright © 2009 by David Almond. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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