Free Itchcraft by Simon Mayo

Book: Itchcraft by Simon Mayo Read Free Book Online
Authors: Simon Mayo
South Carreg and the pit that had become South West Mines, where he and Jack had briefly worked last year. The coastal setting and the position of the winding tower were instantly recognizable, and Itch studied the old black-and-white images.
    Rows of miners, their faces set, stared out at him. Some wore protective helmets; others wore caps or were bare-headed. Underground images of rock faces and primitive drilling machinery filled the next few pages, and then Itch noticed a page with a corner folded. The section told how the lift machinery, operated by a ‘man-engine’, had collapsed and thirty-two miners had lost their lives. There was an image of the mine and an account of how the disaster had unfolded. Itch was gripped by the story of an unnamed miner, aged only fifteen, who had lost his brother and uncle in the disaster. He read the next sentence and then sat up straight.
    He read it again, out loud: ‘
There was much grieving in the village as the boy had only recently lost his father to the vomiting disease
.’ The words had been faintly underlined in pencil. In the margin – in what Itch was sure was Mr Watkins’s handwriting – were the words
Cross-check with FLOW
    If Itch’s mind had been racing before, it was turbo-charged now. Sleep was forgotten as he read furiously through the entire section on Cornish mining. There were no more folded pages, but one other paragraph had been underlined. It told of a mine near Land’s End, where recent casualties had been attributed to
rock falls, drill-slips
 . . .
    ‘Ouch!’ said Itch out loud. ‘. . . and the vomiting disease.’
    That phrase again.
    Again, Watkins – he was sure it was him – had written
Cross-check with FLOW
in the margin.
thought Itch.
But that makes no sense
 . . . He read on until he reached the section about mining in Wales, but there was nothing of interest, nothing underlined. He flicked through every page, but found no more pencil marks.
    Itch shut the book and stared at the Periodic Table on his wall. Getting out of bed, he stood in front of it. He traced his finger down the column which started with
Fe, Iron
, passed through
Ru, Ruthenium, Os, Osmium, Hs, Hasmium
, and ended where his father had handwritten
126, Lt, Lofteium
    Surely not.
    No way.
    It was Mr Watkins who had told him that the rocks of 126 had been traced to South West Mines at Provincetown. They had been dug up and thrown out on a spoil heap. To disguise their illegal deep mining, the company had scattered the ‘waste’ over three counties; it was thought that the 126 ended up in Devon, where it was bought by Cake, the element dealer. He had later died from radiation sickness, the rock’s fierce radioactivity then causing a violent illness that had nearly killed Itch, Jack and Chloe.
    And it had been to Mr Watkins that he had asked why the rocks had come out of a mine. Itch had hoped that they were like the last of an endangered species and that, once they were disposed of, the 126 would be gone for ever. He understood its power and its potential for good but had seen first hand what it could do to people. With the 126, guns and violence were never far behind. He recalled Mr Watkins’s words then and spoke them out loud, softly: ‘
Maybe they’ve been thrown away before
    Even though it was only 5.30, Itch got dressed. He suddenly felt cold.
    In a London sorting office, a brown-uniformed parcel delivery service employee was approaching the end of his shift. It had been busy – the New Year sales had meant a rush of packages needing delivery. Most seemed to be the size of books and DVDs, but there were larger parcels too. The man checked the addresses, felt their weight and enjoyed guessing the contents: clothes, tools – food maybe.
    His last four packages were identical. Slightly larger than A4-sized padded envelopes. Heavy. No movement inside. Typed address labels.
Reference books
, he guessed.
Encyclopaedias maybe, if anyone still

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