"Father Benjamin said you'd have to pray forever to the New Testament God and eventually He'd answer your prayer. But if you sacrificed something to Old Testament God, hey, instant messaging! That's what Father Benjamin said."
Doug still rubbed his arm. "You really hurt me, you know."
"Sorry," I said. Obviously hurting him distracted him from his story. Saying sorry had the proper effect: he smiled then carried on:
"We can pray all we want, but if we want the heat to end soon we need a proper sacrifice, Father Benjamin said and Dad agreed."
We both looked at Archie.
Doug wiped sweat off his face. Maybe he was wiping away a tear as well, he still rubbed his arm.
"Is that it?" Even to me I sounded angrily patronising.
Doug held his hands to his head. "Father Benjamin said that everybody knew the God of the Old Testament was different to the God of the New Testament. If we wanted instant relief from this bloody weather we'd have to call on Him.
"So Dad said slowly, like he was too busy thinking to talk: 'Nothing else is working, Benjamin. Perhaps it's time to call on our Old Testament God."
They twisted inside me and my fist shot out again, but this time Doug jerked back and I missed.
"Okay okay, I'll tell you," he whispered hoarsely. "I heard my Dad last night and he said 'we need a sacrifice' just like you did."
"He was talking to Father Benjamin, a friend of his. Ours. Of the family."
I kicked out at him, maddened by his stupid, pointless talk "Get on with the sacrifice stuff" I demanded.
Doug swallowed hard.
"I listened to them talking. I shouldn't have, but anyway Father Benjamin said about sacrifices being out of fashion."
Doug looked again at Archie, who still slept. I looked, too. He looked like a baby, face wet with sweat.
Then it moved and I knew for certain it was there.
They say tree roots reach for the distance of their height. Quick calculation. Yes, we were just about at the fingertip edge of their roots. They could get to me.
I don't know about the roots of motorways. But their roar carries on the air, so why can't their roots carry under the ground?
Through the earth.
And like the roots of trees, up inside you, into your belly.
Sitting here, me and Doug, sitting in the bracken, everything felt... unattached. Unattached, that's the word. Me and Doug together, but only because he was near me. Archie slept, and he could have been a million miles away, not three yards. With the hot air shimmering around him, he looked like he he'd become unreal.
As for the rest of the world, that was lost in another time and another place. It had no more meaning than a memory and was less important. My family, our families, they'd all become dreams.
All our shimmering, fragile beings. We were all unreal.
"Thing is," Doug sat right next to me and nodded towards Archie, "and don't say anything, right?"
"Thing is," his voice became a whisper and he looked for ages at the palms of his hands.
"Oh for gods sake!" I couldn't help myself and punched him hard in the arm, "What? Thing is what?"
I'd hit him so hard I'd knocked him over and when he got back up his face was red.
"That really hurt!" he moaned.
"Jesus Christ, what?" I shouted into his face. I could see my spit on his cheek.
"Sshhhh" he whispered tearfully.
I may have slept. Don't know. My last few thoughts were weird, they didn't make sense. And when I looked around Archie was asleep but Doug was grinning.
"What?" I challenged him.
"You were talking in your sleep."
"I was? What did I say?"
"We need a sacrifice." Doug said it matter of factly, like it was a normal thing to say.
"Yeah. 'We need a sacrifice' you said."
Somewhere behind us the motorway rumbled, like some huge beast growling in its sleep. And in front of us, the trees settled on their haunches, watching their prey.
I've always had a feeling for time. Never space; just time.
It's like me and time run together, in parallel lines. I look across an emptiness and there's time, level with me; what's behind is behind, what's in front, who knows? Time knows, I don't. What's the point of knowing anything?
Time shrugs, like it agrees with me.
I don't really know what I'm trying to say. It's just that time had walked with all three of us that day, watched us, like shadows watch us.
It knew what was going to happen.
And it let us blame the heat.
We'd walked for about ten minutes over the gorse and through the bracken that fingered the edge of the wood, Doug and Archie in front, me a good ten yards behind, not knowing who I wanted to punch first, Doug for being right or Archie for being sensible and, well, Archie.
Finally, Doug and Archie slumped to their knees on their ground.
"I'm tired. I'm not walking any further," said Archie, "Let's rest then go back."
Doug turned to me.
"That okay with you? Rest then go back?"
"Suppose." I shrugged.
"Sorry," Doug said to me.
"It's okay," I lied.
There's something magical about trees. I don't mean the spirits you see inside them, the ones who's eyes you sometimes catch peering out with subdued violence through knots in the wood, or who's myriad legs are easily mistaken for windblown twigs high up amongst thicker branches.
No, I mean the trees themselves; always watching, forever huddling together, whispering and planning. Perpetually conjuring shadows, playing with people, leading them on, misleading them on, waylaying them.
And they waited now, their magics stilled and unspoken as we approached.
But stillness has never meant protection.
And unspoken has never meant unheard..
"I didn't bring you," Doug pointed out. "You followed me."
He was right again, but I wasn't having it.
I yelled at him "You couldn't expect we'd let you come by yourself, you idiot! You knew we'd follow you!"
"I didn't know. That wasn't our pact. Our agreement was - "
Archie butted in: "Let's just skirt the woods. Not go in, just see what's there."
I said "Shurrup Archie!" and Doug said "Good idea, let's go!" both at the same time. So Archie and Doug set off towards the dark hungry trees, while I just stood there glaring after them.
There was a gap in the traffic. For a minute this part of the motorway resembled a giant empty carpark. I shoved my hands in my pockets and strolled across, whistling, as if I didn't have a care in the world.
As disguises go, it was the best I'd ever done, and it hid a multitude of feelings.
I scrambled over the barrier and joined Doug and Archie.
"So, where'll we go now?" I asked.
"I'm not going into the woods," Doug announced.
I exploded, screeching at him "You bought us here and now you're not going into the woods?"
Traffic on the Southbound motorway was less dense and Doug waited on the far side wearing a huge grin. I vowed I'd wipe that stupid grin off his stupider face when I got to him but Archie told me to grow up and mind the traffic. Then he was gone.
Behind Doug, Lastwailing Woods loomed above him, a blackened, almost leafless, skeletal monster. It moved and yet didn't move, it waited with Doug... and now Archie... for me.
"Quick!" yelled Doug.
"Be careful!" shouted Archie.
Something, somewhere inside me stirred, something not even the heat had awakened. I ignored it.
I think I screamed as the side of a bus, all metal and earsplitting horn, filled my vision for a second. Then it had gone and I fell into the barrier on the central reservation. I wasn't sure how, but somehow I'd made it across.
Archie, sitting on the barrier, scolded.
"That was the stupidest time you chose to run across."
I didn't answer him. I really couldn't remember anything and really didn't want to know.
Archie gestured behind him. "Now for the Southbound lanes," he grinned.
"Jesus, Arch, you're enjoying this aren't you?"
He just laughed. "Maybe," he said.
"Come on," Archie shouted.
I stayed put. Catching up with Doug didn't seem such a good idea anymore.
"I'm going home," I said. I could hear the shake in my voice and hoped Archie couldn't.
"Come on," he repeated. Then, "We can't leave him here."
Yes we can, I wanted to say, but Archie pointed out that the traffic was thinning out, at least on our three lanes. Then he was gone. His legs pounded the tarmac, horns blared hysterically, and then I was running too, blindly, with the heat blistering like my Dad's blowtorch pressed hard into my face.
I gripped Archie's wrist when a blare of horns squealed through the air.
Suddenly there was no traffic in the near lane and we saw Doug clearly, standing on the markings between the middle and far lanes. Vans braked and veered from the middle to the near lane; a car and motorcycle thundered past him in the far.
There was a gap.
Doug stepped forward, then retreated hastily as a sports car shrieked and flashed before him. Lorries in the middle lane roared and hid him - and the next time we saw him he was standing on the central reservation.
At the top of the embankment we saw Doug. He was two lanes across the three lanes, heading for the central reservation. In the near lane, high sided lorries wailed past, hiding then revealing him in split-second still-life shots.
Just like the chapel had a different quiet, the motorway exhaled a different heat. It was a stronger, more threatening heat, more immediate and visceral than that which boiled down from the sky. Here the searing force billowed off the tarmac and suffocated you; you could almost see its fingers crawling down your face and asthmatically caressing your throat.
I closed in on Doug just before we got to this side of the motorway. He knew I was there because he looked quickly back, but he carried on and climbed the steep grassy bank, saying nothing.
Archie shouted "Wait!" but Doug either couldn't hear or ignored him. I waited for Archie to catch me up, glad to stop for a few moments and wipe sweat off my face.
By the time we started clambering up the bank, Doug had disappeared.
"He'll wait for us at the top," I panted, but Archie grimaced sceptically and I didn't believe me either.
Nobody played down the woods. But I didn't care. Part of me wanted to fight Doug and beat crap out of him and another part of me was scared for him, too: Lastwailing Wood was not a good place.
Kids disappeared there. Witches turned you into goblins or trees tripped you with their roots then swallowed you whole.
As well as that, they'd built a flippin' massive motorway this side of it and there was no way over or under, not unless you wanted to walk five miles to the bridge and back.
Archie followed me.
No turning back now.
We'd argued again. It was something about school, can't remember what.
I'd said something, Doug said I was a fool and I said something nasty about his Dad, something about thinking he was always right because he thought his Dad was God. I could tell he wanted to hit me, but fair play to him, he just turned and walked away.
"I'm going to Lastwailing Wood, leave me alone." he'd said, stomping away.
I started following.
Archie tried holding me back but I pulled roughly away.
"You know we're not supposed to go down them woods," Archie yelled after me.