What follows after

Two hands appeared on the fence, gripping tight. A head came next, sandy hair darkened to brown and flattened by the rain. The face was scowling and determined, and before the boy was over his eyes were already scanning the ground on the other side in search of the lost ball.

He swung himself over, not caring that the fence swayed and creaked under his weight, landing lightly on the cracked tarmac as the rainfall ended and the sun came out. Between the cracks weeds were already spreading, creepers and mosses and a straggly plant with small purple flowers that sprouted all the way along one side in a tangle around the litter of empty cans and take-away cartons passers-by had tossed over the fence. There were the remains of an old bike, gears rusted, wheels missing; a cheap plastic doll, its eyes full of dirt and its once flaxen hair a matted mess; someone's shoe and jacket and another ball, not his, lying partially deflated in a puddle.

He guessed where his ball had gone and eyed the second fence despondently. If he noticed it seemed newer than the first he didn't wonder about it, or seem to find it strange, but he shivered, his thin shoulders bunching under the damp fabric of his shirt. He stood for a moment, looking toward it and the determined scowl reappeared. He ran at it, jumped and scrabbled, scuffing the toes of his already ragged trainers, and was over.

Nothing seemed to happen for a moment, although the air went very still, the breeze that had been rustling through the weeds and litter dropping abruptly. A person standing and watching all of this might have felt their ears pop.

The ball came bouncing back over the wall, round and orange, and rolled to a stop beside a clump of grass as two hands appeared again on the fence. It wasn’t the boy who came after it however, but a grown man, who stood where the boy had stood and breathed the fetid city air with apparent satisfaction. He shrugged his backpack into a more comfortable position on his shoulder and went, the way the boy had come.

Everything was quiet after that; the boy did not come back.

The watcher, who had seen it all, waited a while longer and then sighed. She left eventually, creeping away as the shadows lengthened, back to her own private affairs.

The End

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