DEATH HOLDS NO FEAR FOR ME NOW
Copyright © 2014 by Andrew Foote
This is a short story about an elderly man and his chance encounter with a young twelve year old boy.
Scenes that describe this encounter contain a degree of sexual activity between man and boy so if for whatever reason you are not permitted to view such material then please think very carefully before reading on as the author cannot be held responsible for the consequences.
Comments and observations are very welcome and these should be addressed directly to the author at
Author's Forward: For those of you who are unfamiliar with the British Isles, perhaps I should go in to a little bit of detail by way of historical background, principally regarding one of the drivers of the industrial revolution.
During this period, say between the mid 1600's to the late 1800's saw a rapid growth in manufacturing industry of epic proportions and given that the transport infrastructure of the time was really not fit for purpose, new ways of transporting raw materials through to finished goods became a top priority and so given we have an abundance of one particular natural resource, water, a lattice work of shallow canals were dug all across the country specifically designed allow 'narrow boats' to carry cargo between the industrial heartlands then onwards to sea ports for exportation.
Initially, these boats which were typically 70 foot long by 6 foot 10 inches wide were horse drawn, hence the term 'towpath' but with advances in technology, steam power then latterly, early heavy oil and diesel engines were the order of the day.
The canals thrived for a time but then with the advent of a railway network and a more usable road system, they gradually fell out of favour to the point where by the middle of the 20th century, the fell into steep decline, many of them silting up through disuse becoming not a proud part of our industrial heritage but a dumping ground for rubbish.
Come the early 1960's, a man by the name of Tom Rolt wrote and had published a book called 'Canal Boat' in which he detailed his own experiences of life on the waterways and as a result the Inland Waterways Association was born and through the petitioning of politicians, public meetings etcetera, a movement of mainly volunteers began the process of restoration, not with the intention of their use as a transport network like before but for leisure use.
Some people such as myself bought new narrow boats fully equipped to provide every comfort to enable the owner to either live on or like myself, to enable long distance cruising. Others lovingly restored old working boats to similar standards and so now the UK has a thriving leisure industry based around our old waterways.
Thanks for being patient! Now to the story.
All my life I'd worked hard to get to where I was.
I'd begun my career as an engineering apprentice then over the years, gradually worked my way up the ladder eventually reaching the giddy heights of the CEO of a major manufacturing organisation but in 2001 I was diagnosed with a serious heart condition and my doctors warned me that if I didn't slow down I would most likely kill myself.
Well, anyone who's held a managerial position will tell you, you can't just 'slow down', you either do the job or you bow out gracefully and so, as the prospect of waking up dead one morning didn't appeal, I handed over the reins to my deputy and walked away into retirement.
Now I was faced with a problem. I'd always been fully occupied with business and having only very limited time for myself, boredom was becoming a problem but then I remembered I had a boat! Yes, I know! How the hell can you forget something like that? I'd hardly ever used it, that's how! I'd had the bloody thing for almost ten years and I doubt the powerful Isuzu Marine diesel had much more than a hundred hours on the clock but now I had time, loads of it so that's when I decided to use what time I had left to me to explore the waterways.
It took me a year's hard graft to put right everything that was slowly starting to fall apart through disuse. The water tanks had to be shot-blasted and relined, all the plumbing system had to be ripped out and replaced, a partial rebuild to the engine and gearbox, the boat lifted out of the water, the hull re-plated and blacked, new anodes and the superstructure completely repainted. I taught myself rope work, spicing and so on and so in 2003 I was ready to go and now, 2014, I've been continuously cruising only seeking refuge in marinas when winter weather dictated. I mean there's no fun to be had moored along a towpath when you're iced in and the boat is covered with nine inches of snow!
June 2014 I made my way across country where, on reaching Stourport I joined the mighty River Severn and following it down stream past Tewkesbury and Gloucester I eventually reached Sharpness which, under normal circumstances would be the limit of safe navigation given it was now tidal and all narrow boats have flat keels making them prone to capsizing in rough conditions but I wanted to go and explore the Somerset Levels which meant I had to go across the estuary.
I made a few phone calls and hired the services of a pilot who would accompany me and so picking a nice calm day with only a very light breeze, we set out in search of the Somerset coastline and the entrance into the Levels.
My pilot proved to be a God send. The route he told me to take didn't seem the most obvious but as he explained, sand bars and mud banks, even at high tide could spell disaster should I come across one and once we were mid-way across, I started to wonder if this was actually such a good idea after all but there could be no turning back as the tide was on the ebb and we still had a distance to go before we reached landfall.
It was a glorious day, clear blue sky, the early summer sun really making its presence felt and so it was that by mid-day we had moored up beyond the sea gates, once more in non-tidal waters.
I ordered a taxi to take my pilot back to Bristol and decided to take a break for forty-eight hours, regroup and restock the boat before carrying on into what most boaters tend not to cruise and after the end of that summer would become unnavigable to everything but small, unpowered craft as the Highways Authority were planning a bypass incorporating low bridges. A pity but not unexpected, after all the main purpose of these lattice work of ditches was to drain water from what used to be fenland in order it could be farmed so were never intended for transportation.
I set out early in the morning, cruising through peaceful countryside but the further I ventured, the narrower the cut became and while the water was as clear as crystal, weeds and Water Lilly's were starting to become a problem and I found I was having to stop periodically to unblock the weed hatch thus slowing progress.
I'd noticed that my map showed that I wasn't very far from a small village that had grown up around the canal and so as the navigation notes indicated that it supported a general store, a church and a pub, I decided that if once I got there and if I could get close enough to the bank to tie off, that would do me for the day and more especially as the clouds in the distance were taking on an ominous appearance of dark purple, what little breeze there had been had been replaced by an oddly disturbing sultry-stillness and I will admit to feeling a little frightened.
It was then I heard a voice, the voice of a young boy.
"Sir? Please sir?"
I looked along the banks but couldn't see anyone but still I could hear it.
"Sir? Please help?"
I don't know what made me do it, the water here was far too narrow for me to have passed another boat and anyway, I hadn't seen anything or anyone all day but I looked behind me and there, fighting to stay afloat, was a young boy in an odd egg shaped boat.
I slammed my drives into neutral, grabbed a line and threw it to him.
To say this boy was beautiful didn't do him justice. He was simply gorgeous!
His skin was pale as if it had never see the sun, his eyes, steel blue and set wide apart above his high cheekbones.
Our eyes met, our gaze locked for what seemed an age but then forcing myself out of my trance, I pulled him and his strange little craft alongside and helped him on board. His hands were warm and delicate, his fingers long like those of a piano player but then once he was safely on my boat, I hoisted his little craft out of the water and turning it upside down, placed it on the deck house roof to dry out.
"Thank you most kindly sir. Not many people hereabouts would come to my aid, indeed they would laugh at my predicament, throw scorn and derision in my face. You are truly a gentleman amongst gentlemen and I'm surely in your debt."
Now please! Nobody talks like that! The way he phrased himself is something confined to history!
I tried hard not to laugh, after all he was deadly serious but then noticing him shiver, I invited him below to the warmth of the cabin.
"Oh gosh! Where are my manners! I swamp your boat and I don't even have the decency to offer you a warm drink. Come on, let's go inside so you can dry off"
He reached the bottom of the companionway, paused and looked around him before turning to look at me.
"Sir? Are you a King? An Emperor perhaps? Such opulence, this is surely a palace?"
I noticed his little shapely feet caressing the carpet and then going down on his knees, he ran his hands over it almost reverently almost as if he'd never seen one before.
I tried to answer his questions.
"No I'm not a King nor am I an Emperor. I'm just an ordinary guy."
"Guy? Beg pardon sir but I don't understand."
"Oh I'm sorry. I'm just an ordinary man."
He looked up at me and smiled!
"Methinks a very rich ordinary man sir!"
Oh God! That smile, those perfect teeth!
Now I'll share a bit of my life with you.
I never married, not because I dislike women, far from it, they're lovely but perhaps it's because I was always too busy working, maybe I didn't want the distraction or was unable to give that level of commitment, who knows.
Neither am I gay although I will admit to a guilty secret, I like boys, not that I've ever succumbed to my desires but I do find them very attractive but now I'm faced with possibly the most beautiful boy I'd ever seen and worse, he's with me on my boat!
He looked up at me as if reading my thoughts.
"You are all alone sir. I can feel your loneliness. Your soul is crying out for love but alas, you have no one to give you what you so desperately need."
"You're very perceptive……..what is your name?"
"People hereabouts know me a Nat but my given name is Nathaniel sir."
"And which do you like most?"
"Okay then Nat. You are right. I am on my own but I have never given any though as to whether I was lonely or not and as for love? I think we can get accustomed to being without many things in life, maybe love is something that, because I've never been fortunate enough to experience it, I've grown used to it not being a part of my life."
"I find that very sad sir. Everyone deserves to be loved. Do you like me sir?"
"Yes Nat. I like you very much, too much possibly."
"I don't understand sir. How is it possible to like somebody too much?"
"It's very hard for me to explain. There's a big difference between liking someone and……..'liking' someone. I realise that may sound ridiculous but I know of no other way of explaining what I mean."
"No, I fully understand you sir. You 'like' me in a way you feel isn't appropriate."
"Oh God! I feel so ashamed of myself!"
"Please sir? You have no reason to be ashamed? We none of have control over who we like, who we love? Our Father in heaven dictates that. If it is the will of God that you find me desirable then you have a duty towards him to live your life according to his dictate."
"But it's so very wrong!"
"But if God doesn't think it's wrong, who are we to judge? God made all of us in his own image, it therefore follows that because God is good, God is merciful and kind, how can the feelings and emotions you feel inside your soul be wrong or wicked? It is mankind's own prejudices and beliefs as to what is right and wrong that overrides God's will and we have no right to do that and if I may be so bold, God would be very angry indeed if we were to do so."
"You have given me much to think about. What you say makes sense but then we have laws that mean such things are impossible."
"I realise you have no religious faith sir but perhaps you might find help in quiet contemplation? But I must go now but before I do, I will lead you to a safe haven, somewhere you can rest in safety but sir? I have to ask you to trust me."
"I do trust you Nat! You are a remarkable boy!"
Nat guided me another couple of miles downstream until we came to a sharp right hand bend but as I swung the tiller so Nat stopped me.
"No sir. Go straight please."
"But I'll smash into the bank?"
"Do you trust me sir? You have to trust me."
I looked down at him and instinctively I felt that all-consuming love for a young boy I'd always denied myself. I steered the boat directly towards the bank, closed my eyes and waited for the collision that I was sure would follow. None did and on opening my eyes, I found we were in a basin of sorts. The sun reappeared and all around us was deep, clear water, fish jumping all around, bird's singing in the trees and then edging the boat to the bank I hopped off and moored up. I got back on board expecting to see Nat waiting for me to help him down with his little boat but he and his boat were gone.
I went below, slumped down on my bed and fell into a deep and refreshing slumber.
I awoke a few hours later then checking my boat was secure, I walked down in the direction of the village.
I'd missed the shop as it had closed at six in the evening but at least the pub was open.
It was really quaint! A half-timbered building with a thatched roof, neatly tended gardens and with a few cars on the car park meant that even this early in the evening, it was a thriving little business.
I went inside and noted that the interior was just a nice as the outside, almost as if time had stood still for a century or so but it had sort of given up the fight as it was lit by electric light, refrigerated cool cabinets behind the bar and soft background music coming from a modern stereo system.
The landlord also looked as if he's just come off the set of a period costume drama. An affable red-faced chap who looked to be around my age with a white apron tied around his waist.
"Good evening to you! What can I get for you?"
"A pint of your finest Guinness please. You really have a nice pub here!"
"Thank you! We like it don't we lads!"
There were a group of four men sitting at a table playing dominos.
"That we do Arthur, that we do! My Missus reckons I should've married the pub, not her but that's women for you!" he laughed.
Arthur, the Landlord placed my drink in front of me which I paid for before he engaged me in friendly conversation.
"So, I've not seen you round here before? Just moved into the village?"
"No, just passing through."
I went on to explain where I'd come from and where I was going. "and so eventually I'll get back onto the Kennet and Avon Canal and make my way to Reading then decide where to go from there."
He pulled me another pint before continuing.
"Well I reckon you're bloody lucky to get this far. The Environmental Agency haven't dredged the levels in a number of years. It's all to do with this bypass so I can understand them not treating it as a priority.
Where abouts are you moored? It's difficult to find a spot where you can get close enough to the bank."
"I'd noticed that! I was thinking I'd have to toss an anchor over the side but then I had a spot of luck.
"There was this young lad, I don't know, eleven possibly twelve years old? Well aside from almost capsizing his boat and having to pull him from the water, he guided me to a really wonderful spot, sort of like a lagoon but actually it was a millpond because I spotted the mill on my way here."
The room fell silent. The old boys stopped their domino game and turned to look at me then one of them, his voice trembling said "This……..this boy. A fair haired child paddling a coracle?"
"Coracle. I knew I recognised it but I couldn't think what they're called. I must be getting old!"
"Now please Mister, you're not making fun of us, are you? You see, that millpond you speak of has been dry these last fifty years."
"No, I'm not making fun of you? It's a fabulous spot! The mill is obviously not used but looked to be complete? The water was as clear as crystal, full of fish, even the bank looked as if it had been recently cut back. What are you trying to say?"
"Did……..did this boy tell you his name? Please, this is very important!"
"Yes as it happens, he did. He said his name was Nathaniel. Is there a problem?"
"Oh Holy Mary Mother of God and me not even a fucking Catholic! He's……..he's back! A problem you say? I'd say so! The biggest problem you'll ever face friend! What you saw was a haunting! Nathaniel was killed some one hundred and fifty years since."
Arthur pulled down a litre bottle of Scotch from the shelf then reached down and set six glasses on the bar and poured a sizable measure into each of them.
"You mustn't go back to your boat tonight. You must stay here, I'll have Alice make up the spare room. You are in more danger than you realise."
"But how? He seemed like a really nice boy?"
"I'll try and explain. You see, Nathaniel was born to a local family around the time they started to dig the cut. His father was killed in a farming accident so when Nathaniel was old enough. He would go out in his coracle and sell beer and bread, possibly even himself to the navvies.
Anyway, so the story goes is that he would give little favours in exchange for money but then one of the men, no one knows who, asked for something Nathaniel wasn't prepared to give and in a fit of rage he was clubbed to a pulp and left to die.
It is said that he reappears from time to time and takes out his hatred on those who use the water, the last time was fifty year ago. A boater, similar to yourself, moored in the exact same place as you describe but was found two days later. He had been subjected to an horrific attack, mutilated but not sufficient enough to kill him outright but he died an agonising death over the next two days. It was after that incident that they filled in that millpond so if what you say is true, you are in mortal danger. Please, I beg you, don't return to your boat tonight and then come the morning we'll see what has to be done in order to dig you out."
Hard drinking was the order of the evening and I'm not a heavy drinker and by half eleven, with everyone else having passed out and no sign of my room, perhaps stupidly, I let myself out and made my way back to my boat.
Despite my alcohol intake, I wasn't drunk in the accepted sense of the word, I felt calm and in full control.
I rounded a corner and saw my boat was in exactly the same idyllic spot as it had been when I moored. Moonlight cast shadows over the tranquil water and save from the occasional jumping fish and the call of a distant owl, I couldn't think of a more peaceful and serine place to be.
I let myself into the boat and closed the hatch behind me, took a quick shower and fell into bed.
I don't know how long I slept but I suddenly woke sensing movement by my bed but on opening my eyes, I saw Nat smiling down on me.
"Don't be afraid beautiful man. I know you've heard the stories concerning me and there is little to be gained by voicing any denial but please, be assured, there is no way on earth or in the beyond that I could ever hurt you. You put your trust in me, I can feel the love that you have for me in your heart so now I need you to see, experience the love I feel for you." And with that he slowly got undressed.
Oh God he was so beautiful!
I have never, before or since, seen anything that could vaguely compare with the image that now stood before me.
He pulled back the duvet back and settled in beside me. He smelt so fresh and vibrant, a strange, almost hypnotic aroma of orange blossom and freshly mown grass invaded my senses as he leaned into me and kissed me with a passion I had only ever dreamed possible.
We made love the entire night. I lost count of just how many times I climaxed but despite my advancing years, I never seemed to tire and dawn was breaking when we finally drifted off to sleep, wrapped up in each other's embrace.
By the time I woke, the sun was streaming in through the portholes. I looked but there was no sign of Nat, not even any indication that last night actually happened barring that aroma of orange blossom and newly mown grass which from that day on, never went away serving as a constant reminder that I had been in the presence of the love of my life.
I threw on some clothes and made my way out onto the deck.
The morning was perfect so I started the engine, cast off and made towards the lagoon's exit. I turned left into the cut and as I looked behind me, so the entrance that I'd only seconds before come through, closed up in front of my eyes then looking elsewhere, the old mill that had seemed the day before to be in reasonable condition, began to fall apart. The wooden shuttering, fell away, the waterwheel bent on its rusted shaft but as I refocused my attention to where I was headed, there on the roof, neatly folded, were the rough woollen britches Nat had been wearing.
No dream this. I had solid, irrefutable evidence that everything I remembered had indeed taken place but then I heard a voice, Nat's voice, far away but clear as a bell.
"It is my time beautiful man. I can finally take my rest, my job is done and I can now take my place in God's heaven but this is my promise to you, a sacred promise I can never break for I will always be with you in spirit. I will watch over you for ever and when your life's journey draws to a close, if it is your wish, we can be together for all eternity."
Tears were cascading down my face as I answered him.
"Yes Nat. Please wait for me. I love you so very much!"
Ever since my condition was diagnosed, my one all abiding thought was just how much I wanted to live and although I still have places I want to see and things I wish to do, death holds no fear for me now.