Set in London during the early 1960s, this is a story of friendship that turns an ugly head to jealousy that reaches to Australia and back.
Freddie dodged out of the way of the tennis ball whizzing past his legs. “Missed me!” he yelled in jubilation. The other children were laughing.
Lizzie Kempton stood hands on hips, vexed. She’d thrown that ball with all her strength at Freddie Fuller’s ankles, but knowing she was as lousy at throwing a ball as she was at catching one, there hadn’t been much hope of actually hitting him anyway.
She watched as the ball clipped the kerb, bounced into the rowan tree growing out of the pavement then rebound off the trunk only to fly over Mrs Norden’s front gate into the old woman’s garden. Lizzie raced after it, intent on retrieving the ball now rolling down the cracked concrete path, but pulled herself up short, a hand hovering over the latch of the gate, hesitating. Should she be going in there or not, she wondered.
Ginger Springer ran across the narrow banjo of Walnut Close where they played to stand beside her.
“‘Ere, don’t you go in there, Skinny Liz, the old witch’ll getcha. I’ve seen kids disappear in there and never come out again. She gobbles ’em up. Ain’t you read Hansel and Gretal? It’s just like the gingerbread house in there, it is.”
“How would you know? You’ve never been in there.” John Dunster sniped back, flopping down on the kerb.
“‘Cos I heard my mum and yours talking about her over the back garden hedge the other day. Said the witch was loony and rides a broomstick round the houses at night.”
Lizzie was having none of it. “You’s talking out the back of your ‘ead, Ginger. No such thing as witches.” Despite her bravado, she considered his comment cautiously. What if Ginger was right? She stared up at the open bedroom window and wondered if they were being watched from behind the white net curtain gently flapping in the warm evening breeze.
Deciding the miserable old goat wasn’t there, else surely the woman would have called out through the window, yelling at them to bugger off, Lizzie bravely opened the gate. The metallic click of the catch resounded in her ears. Behind her, she could hear the sharp intakes of breath from her playmates.
Encouraged by her own sudden daring, she crept stealthily along the garden path on tiptoe. The ball had come to a stop in the dirt of the neat flowerbed beside the path. She scooped it up then turned tail, dashing back out to the safety of the road as fast as she could. The others huddled around her as she fastened the gate.
“See,” she shouted triumphantly, holding the ball aloft in the air like a prized trophy. “I ain’t scared of her. You’s is all cowardly-cowardly custards.”
John patted Lizzie on her back. “Gosh, that was brave of you.”
Still unable to believe her own audacity, she gave the house one last, long stare before aiming the ball with newfound courage and an unmistakable determined expression on her thin little face. The others scattered, running away fast, but they were safe. Ginger was her victim and this time she was adamant she wouldn’t miss.
Date for publication to be confirmed