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Hey Joe

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I remember that day so clearly. June 14th, 1986. It was the day my childhood best friend died. I was twelve and Joe Collins was nearly twelve, he would have got to be twelve years old if things had turned out… Different. He was coming up the garden path when I opened the front door. It was almost eleven and I had been up for hours. We had talked about building a dam the day before. The closest part of the river to us was shallow enough and would have been no more than fifteen feet wide.

‘Hey Alex,’ I can still hear his voice so clearly today as if that day was actually the beginning of this day.

‘Hey Joe.’

‘We are still on for today aren’t we?’

‘Oh yes.’

My mum, being not so far behind me, overheard what we were saying.

‘What are you two planning?’

‘Nuthin mom, me and Joe are just gonna hang out for a while.’

‘Hang out is it? Just don’t be hanging out of any trees and behave yourselves.’

‘Yeah mom, cya.’

I moved outside and closed the door behind me. I didn’t want mom to see where we were going. The river wasn’t all that far away. How I wish I hadn’t been thinking that way. If someone had been keeping an eye on us… Well. My wellies were already stashed outside and of course, mum didn’t see me grab them. Didn’t want her to question what I wanted them for. A couple of hours had passed and we, me and Joe, or Joe and I, being more grammatically correct, were sitting on the riverbank proud of the dam we had created. It was warm and the sun was shining bright.

‘I could stay here all day.’

‘So, could I’ I said responding to Joe, ‘next time we should bring a lunch.’

‘Yeah, hamburgers and cheese.’

‘You mean cheeseburgers.’

‘Them too and some fizzy orange as well.’

At this point, the town bully showed up and he had his two friends with him. The town bully, yeah, I remember him well. He thought he was so cool. Him and his leather jacket and hair gel. Jessie Roberts. He was fourteen, nearly fifteen and a fair bit bigger than either me or Joe.

‘Hey, what are you two sissies up to?’ called out Jessie from the top of the riverbank, his friends laughed, ready to take command whenever he was to give it.

Joe and I were about halfway down and on the other side.

‘None of your business and that’s for sure’ responded Joe.

If he hadn’t of responded like that then he may be still alive today, but who knows for sure?

‘What did you say to me?’

Jessie waded through the river, the part being backed up by the dam and not the other side where very little water was getting through. He came that way to scare us or possibly more so to give himself a reason to cause us grief.

‘Now look what you two sissies made me do’ continued Jessie as he moved up onto our side of the bank.

Joe and I were still sitting. Jessie grabbed Joe and being bigger and stronger; he threw Joe into the water easily enough and it wasn’t long before he was atop of Joe, moving on to hold Joe’s head under the water.

‘Joe,’ I called out as I stood and attempted to get to my friend.

Unfortunately, Jessie’s two friends got to me first and they prevented me from getting to Joe or Jessie. He apparently gave instruction without me knowing and they had come across via the other side of the dam. A moment or so passed and Jessie was still holding Joe’s head under the water.

‘Let him go,’ I shouted.

Joe was still under and it was clear to one and all that he was struggling. Jessie’s two friends were even beginning to worry at this point and this was quite obvious, even before one of them spoke.

‘Jessie, maybe you should let him go there.’

‘I will let him go when I am good and ready.’

My heart skipped a beat or two when Joe stopped struggling. Jessie seemed somewhat surprised. I like to think that he did not intend to seriously hurt Joe, and I guess we all would have expected him to last at least a little bit longer, but Joe didn’t move. Jessie just looked down for a couple of seconds.

‘C’mon, let’s get outta here.’

Jessie and his friends all soon went back up the side of the riverbank that they had come down from and were gone, just like that, didn’t call for help or anything. I grabbed Joe and took him out of the water and lay him down on his back.

‘Hey Joe,’ I shouted at him, I even slapped his face but nothing, he was not breathing.

‘Hey Joe,’ I shouted again, nothing.

‘Help, somebody please help,’ I called out at the top of my voice.

A stranger came down to us, a man I have never seen before, then someone else came down and others soon came too. Nobody could do anything.

I never did see Jessie again. I can only presume that he was punished in some way for what he had done. The rest of my childhood was difficult, to say the least, and I never forgot Joe, but the strangest thing happened to me a few days ago. There was a knock on my front door. A stranger was standing outside when I answered. I had never seen this man prior to this moment, well not that I am aware of anyway, but something clicked.

The man smiled before he could say anything. The smile reminded me of Joe. Joe has been dead for coming up to twenty-seven years now but this guy before me, there was and is something about him. If I were to guess, I’d say he would be a good ten years, maybe eleven or twelve years younger than me.

‘Hey Alex,’ he said.

I looked into his eyes before I could speak, actually, he spoke again before I could get any words out.

‘It’s me Joe; remember I would always say Hey Alex and you would say…’

‘…Hey Joe. What is this? Some sort of sick joke?’

‘No joke my friend. I am being serious.’

I was gobsmacked. How was I supposed to respond to this?

‘My name really is Joe, and I cannot explain this. Maybe it is some sort of reincarnation or something, I don’t know but trust me I am your friend from all those years ago. Do you remember our last conversation? I could stay here all day…’

‘…So could I’ I say in response thinking I must be crazy for even having a brief thought that this could indeed be my childhood friend Joe. ‘Next time we should bring a lunch.’

‘Yeah, hamburgers and cheese.’

‘…You mean cheeseburgers.’

‘Them too and some fizzy orange as well.’

What is this? If this really is Joe somehow then how did he find me? I don’t live anywhere near the town I lived in back then. Though for some reason or another I will be meeting this Joe person again next weekend. We are gonna go back to that river and rebuild that dam. I am bringing cheeseburgers, or should I say hamburgers with cheese and he is bringing fizzy orange. Crazy huh?

 

 

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