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Cold Boy’s Wood







First published in the UK in 2021 by Head of Zeus Ltd

Copyright © Carol Birch, 2021

The moral right of Carol Birch to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN (HB): 9781838939410

ISBN (XTPB): 9781838939427

ISBN (E): 9781838939403

Head of Zeus Ltd

5–8 Hardwick Street

London EC1R 4RG



Title Page


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

About the Author

An Invitation from the Publisher





We’d been driving across England, west to east, somewhere in the middle, hours it seemed in our old red and white Ford Anglia. Everything had gone on for so long and so boringly that it felt as if we’d been driving for a million miles, and I’d fallen asleep and woken up feeling sick over and over again in the back seat. I was fourteen with greasy hair and slouchy shoulders. It was a lip-chewing, knicker-wetting time of crying secretly in closed rooms, and it seemed, like the journey, to have been going on forever. There were vans along the sides of the road selling stewed tea and oily hotdogs and hamburgers.

I woke: hedges, fields and such, the car tootling along, my dad saying, ‘This is no good, we’ll have to stop somewhere.’

I can’t remember what it was for. Maybe they needed a chemist. It doesn’t matter. ‘Over there,’ my mum said.

There was a spire a long way off, across fields. Woods running over hills. A turning and a signpost. Andwiston 2, Copcollar 4, Beggar’s Ercol 9.

The lane was long and twisty. There were cornfields with rolls of corn in neat symmetry. The windows were wound down for air, but the car still smelt strongly of petrol and heat, and more faintly of cleaned-up sick from me and my brother. And in spite of the heat there was rain on the heavy air and the clouds were bruising, and in the village there was a haywain in an open shed and all the shops were closed. Not a soul was in sight.

It was a strung-up Adlestrop kind of a moment. Andwiston.

It was not like seeing it for the first time. Thunder murmured far away. My brother Tommy said he wanted a wee.

‘There in that grid over there,’ said my mum. ‘Go with him, Lor.’

‘So where is everyone?’ shouted my dad, at us, as if everything was all our fault.

‘Maybe it’s early closing,’ said my mum in a tight strained voice.

‘He can’t wee in a grid,’ I said. ‘What if someone comes?’

‘He’s only five!’ My mother pulled off her glasses and started polishing them furiously.

‘Let him go in the woods,’ I said.

‘What woods?’

‘What woods? The woods all around.’

‘I know what you mean, Lorna,’ my mum said. ‘But in case you haven’t noticed, we’re not in the woods, are we, we’re in the village.’

‘So drive out a bit. There’s nothing here.’

‘Bloody ridiculous,’ my dad rumbled, ‘village of the dead.’

My mother started putting her glasses back on, but just at that moment my father yanked his jumper up over his sweating face and tossed it into the back. His hand knocked her glasses.

She went ‘Uh!’ and grabbed at them as they fell. The jumper, warm nylon, sweat-smelling, landed on my knee and I flicked it away as if it was a snake. It started to rain. My mother caught the glasses and put them back on her face. Through the open window I saw across the rough triangle of the village green a small row of shops: a butcher’s, a co-op, a ladies’ hairdressers with a window full of faded blue-tinged images of smiling girls with meticulously regimented flick-ups and ruler-straight fringes. The rain sloped across it all, bright and clean and steely. I felt funny. Why don’t people like rain, I thought. And the feeling grew that I’d seen it all before.

‘You’ve just knocked my glasses off, Ray,’ my mum said in a martyred voice.

He ignored her, turning his beet-red face to the back seat. ‘Well, are you getting out or what?’

I felt as if I’d been much older a long time ago, not just old but ancient, and we’d just dropped out of somewhere else into here.

‘I said, are you—’

‘No,’ I said. ‘Go to the woods, I’ll take him there. We can keep dry under the trees.’

So we did. Just outside Andwiston I took my little brother Tommy for a wee in the woods. If I looked one way I could see our car through the leaves, if I looked the other I saw the back of Tommy’s head, his fragile neck and jug ears, and I could hear him singing to himself, ‘a pig is an animal with dirt on its face,’ and all around us was the whisper of rain on leaves and the smell of wet forest. I sent him back to the car when he’d finished.

‘I’m going to have one now,’ I said, ‘won’t be a min,’ and sent him scooting off while I went in deeper, further and further from the track. I stood still in a tiny space among dark green holly and ivy. The trees stretched far away above my head, and I was almost completely shielded by wet leaves. If

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