A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

Introducing Josiah Pyke aged ten, and his unhappy early years.


Josiah was what some might have called a sickly child when he was little. He couldn’t help it, but every time something catching drifted his way on the wind then he caught it. He suffered quite a lot, too. His mother (of which very little more will be said) was Wendy Pyke, married to the Reverend Julian Pyke, and she had her own brand of cures for all things that might make noses run, chests hack or diarrhoea loose.

She had a bottle. Her own special bottle that contained a mixture of ingredients that had been passed down to her from her grandmother, a wise old woman who most people had very gently referred to as a witch. Wendy kept this bottle topped up with the ingredients every time she chanced upon any of them, and the contents after several years of such care and attention was possible toxic.

Which might go some way to explaining why the young Josiah Pyke was a sickly child.

But it mustn’t be thought that his childhood was miserable: it wasn’t, it was worse than that. Besides his mother’s wonderful cure for all things to do with failing health his father was what is usually called a strict disciplinarian.

Julian Pyke had one certainty in life. And that one certainty was that there was the simple irrevocable certainty that all that existed anywhere were the here and now and the Hereafter, and that the here and now was a training ground for the Hereafter.

The Hereafter, he was convinced, was important. It meant shining light, fluffy clouds, minstrels with wings and harps, and a glorious, shiny-faced (behind the whiskers) deity with benevolent eyes and an endless supply of love. And that love, he believed, was untarnished by lust. It wasn’t even troubled by the presence on anyone of such obscenities as genitalia. It was pure as the driven snow in a Hereafter that was devoid of any kind of snow. It was both attainable and losable and the Reverend Julian Pyke was determined that his sickly son wasn’t going to lose his chance of a voyage to the Hereafter when his time came.

So out came the punishment. Punishment, he knew, was a sure way of rescuing an evil child from ways that would deny him the Hereafter. Punishment involved bruises, weeping, gnashing of teeth, and even, if the impurity was so vile as to involve naughty words, blood.

And that’s how little Josiah lived. Toxins at one end and the switch at the other.

Until, that is, his tenth birthday when something very strange indeed happened.

He should have been at school that day but wasn’t because he was sick. He’d been treated with medicine to banish the fever that flushed his brow and a few whacks with the belt just in case he was lying about feeling sick. Lies, his father always said ferociously, were Satan’s work, and that was a conclusion he preached weekly in his church when his (smallish) congregation were so filled with his brand of bile that they started shaking with fear lest they miss out on the Hereafter for not paying full attention.

So it was young Josiah’s tenth birthday and he was out and about when he should have been at home in bed. It wasn’t that he was being naughty but that his mother had an errand for him to run before she tucked him into his sick bed and dosed him with more medicine. She needed some gin. A whole bottle of the stuff. And she often sent her son to the shop to buy it because he looked so pathetic that Mr Sumner the shop keeper often knocked a few coppers off the price and told the boy how lucky he was to have such loving parents.

Thus he was ten and it was his tenth birthday and he had a bottle of gin wrapped up, carefully, in a brown paper bag.

On that day at that time he knew two things other than the big one, of it being his birthday. He knew that his father was in church with the mother’s group (which consisted only of Maria Fairbrain, a young mother who would never go to the Hereafter because she had sinned so hugely that she’d had her son out of wedlock and, in the good Reverend’s eyes, might as well risk having a second squawking infant by a bit of judicious sympathy in the vestry because having missed out on the Hereafter once whatever else she did wouldn’t make a smudge of difference. He also knew that his good wife was occupied scrubbing the church aisle (well out of sight of anything occurring in the vestry and its locked door) as a penance for daring to appear before her holy husband dressed in nothing more than a brassier and a pair of drawers yesterday at bed time. Such visions did something to the Reverend that he’d prefer to think didn’t happen, something that made him venture to dwell on thoughts that might be interpreted as being unfaithful to Maria Fairbrain and her membership of the mother’s group.

It was a possibility that he never considered that the true love of his life was the Mother’s Group, presently consisting of Maria Fairbrain, but she was only one of a long series of members.

But back to Josiah and his tenth birthday.

He had time on his hands because both parents were in the church and the vicarage would be locked up. They always locked it because there was a great deal of evil in the world, especially in Henstooth where the vicarage was, and they might be robbed at any moment.

Josiah decided to explore a little road that was new to him. It wasn’t that it was a new road … it had probably been where it was when the Romans came that way a couple of millennia ago. But it was new to Josiah, and he took himself down it.

Unknown to him Mildred Haystack lived down that lane. In fact, she was the only person to live down it.

Mildred Haystack was one of those women you could say was one in a million. She found life sparkling even at her age, which was around fifty something. She had buried three husbands, all of them true gentlemen who had probably suffered from terminal exhaustion as a consequence of her own joyous nymphomania. She knew that some of her expectations, especially during the hours of darkness, all the hours of darkness at that, had been wrong of her, but she couldn’t help it, but they had been handsome men, hadn’t they? And generous men? And caring men? The sort of men a woman would die to know … and she’d known all three of them spectacularly well.

And all three had died during the hours of darkness, in bed, in her bed at that, and there were three mounds where they lay in her cottage garden. Three mounds that she cared for with fastidious love and conspicuous attention. So now she was on her own, a happy smiling widow with a heart so filled with love for everything that she never considered that there was any other state than the one she was in: contentment with her life even though it was childless, which was a shocker bearing in mind the excesses she’d gone to that really ought to have provided her with a football team or more of playful youngsters.

And into her garden and unaware that was what he was doing or where he was wandered the ten year old Josiah Pyke clutching his brown paper bag complete with bottle of gin. And what a pathetic sight he was! Pale and wan, drawn and showing signs of fading bruises, and clearly lost in a world too big for little boys.

Why, hello there!” she said from next to a well-tended mound as he leaned on her apple tree, clearly exhausted. “Why aren’t you at school today? Surely it’s not holiday time again?”

He looked up at her, surprised.

No,” he said, “it’s my birthday and I think I’m lost.”

You’re the Pyke boy, aren’t you?” she said shrewdly, “from that terrible vicarage in Henstooth where that dreadful preacher preaches?”

He nodded. “I’m sick,” he confided in her, “and I’ve got mummy’s gin.” He held the brown paper bag up as evidence of his purchase.

I tell you what,” murmured Mildred Haystack, “I tell you jolly well what! Why don’t you come to my nice apple tree right here and pick a nice shiny round red apple, and then let me give you a glass of my special juice in my toasty kitchen before you go home?”

Josiah had never had an apple His father had said they were Satan’s fruit and forbade them in his house, though it was rumoured he did allow a glass bowl containing ripe red apples in his vestry and even actually ate one now and again. So, aware of the prospect of committing a really dreadful sin for the first time in his life and with a certainty that he was unlikely to suffer the rod as a consequence, he nodded his head, smiled and offered his brown paper bag to the smiling woman.

You can have this,” he said, generously.

And you can stay with me, little boy with a birthday, if you like,” she told him, smiling and knowing deep in her soul that she was saying the right thing, “You can stay with me all the time if that’s what you want. But first, come and get your lovely red apple and we shall see what we shall see.”

© Peter Rogerson 06.03.18

© 2018 Peter Rogerson

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Added on March 6, 2018
Last Updated on March 6, 2018
Tags: Josiah Pyke, parents, Hereafter, apple, nymphomaniac



Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 78 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..