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Extract from Hawke & Co.
The New Neighbours


The ballista, is a weapon of war, we are at war with the people next door

and you are supposed to jump on this end and send that rock flying.Got it?’




The Ballista


‘Fire!’ yelled Hawke from behind the old beech tree at the bottom of the garden.

‘Where?’ Spike shouted.

Hawke could see Spike looking worried and getting ready to run.

‘Can’t see no flames Hawke, where’s the fire?’

‘There isn’t one, I’m talking about the ballista.’

Spike looked puzzled and started to examine his hands.

‘Haven’t got no blisters.’

Hawke came out from behind the tree and pointed to the contraption on the grass, next to where his best friend Spike was standing.

‘I’ve told you twice already, what we’ve made is called a ballista.’

They both looked at the weapon; it wasn’t perfect but Hawke was sure it would work.  They’d made it out of whatever they’d been able to find.  Spike was supposed to jump onto the raised end and send a large piece of rock, which they’d borrowed from the rockery, flying through the air and over the fence.

‘Tell me again why we’re trying to get the rock into next-door’s garden Hawke.’

‘Because last week, when that snobby lot moved in, I was having a look through the hole in the fence and one of them comes and stares right back at me.  Then he calls me an oik and stabs his finger at me through the hole.If I hadn’t moved back quick he’d have poked my eye out.  Next thing he’s blocked the hole up.’

Spike looked towards the fence to where Hawke was pointing.

‘There’s a hole there now.’

‘I know, I unblocked it when he’d gone.  Not his fence to go messing with, but we’re going to get them back… I’m not having nobody call me an oik.’

‘But how do you know they’re snobby Hawke?’

‘Only snobs call people oiks and I heard their Dad telling them they could have a real den for the garden, whatever they wanted, a fort, tree house, it was up to them; you should have heard them bragging about how they’d have the best den in the street.’

‘Better than ours?’

Hawke looked sadly at their den, it used to be the garden shed; his Dad had emptied it when the new garage had been built.  His parents had said they could use it.  The shed’s only contents were a rickety chair and a multitude of insects and spiders.  It was now called The Den but it was far from ideal.Hawke had to share it with his little brother Sebastian; he had to share everything with Sebastian.  Hawke sighed.

‘Much better than ours Spike.’

‘They’ve already got a big pool and they’re having a new den too?’

‘Yep, told you they were snobs.’

Hawke wandered over to the fence and put his eye to the hole.  He could just see the sides of the pool at the top of next-door’s garden.  For days now he’d listened to them splashing about and keeping cool; they’d not invited anyone to join them.  Hawke chuckled; the rock they were about to launch was going to sail over the fence, land right in the middle of the pool and make a big hole.  That should put an end to their fun.  They’d have a big surprise waiting for them when they got home.  It was a good plan, a master plan, and he thought Spike had understood it.  Hawke sighed and went back to join Spike and began explaining again.

‘The ballista is a weapon of war; we are at war with the people next door and you are supposed to jump on this end and send that rock flying.  Got it?’

Spike nodded slowly and looked thoughtful.  Hawke continued.

‘So when I shout fire, you jump.’

Spike nodded again.

‘OK Hawke, I think I’ve got it this time.’

Sebastian appeared out of nowhere.  He looked at the ballista before speaking to his brother.

‘That looks dangerous, Mum and Dad won’t be pleased if they see it.’

Hawke glowered at Sebastian and pushed him away from the ballista.

‘No one asked for your opinion little brother.’

Sebastian ignored Hawke and had a closer look at the contraption.

‘You know it’s not going to work don’t you?’

‘Why not?’ asked Spike

Sebastian folded his arms and shook his blonde curls before giving Spike and Hawke his verdict.

‘The angle of trajectory’s wrong.’

Spike looked puzzled.

‘What’s a trad ectory?’

Hawke groaned; he knew Sebastian was about to launch into a long explanation and they didn’t have any time to waste.  Their new neighbours might arrive home any minute.

‘Ignore him Spike, just concentrate on jumping onto this end of the plank and getting that rock over the fence into next-door’s pool.’

‘OK Hawke... so there isn’t any fire?’

‘Fire!’ exclaimed Sebastian, ‘you know you’re not allowed to play with fire.’

Hawke shook his head and sighed.

‘There never was a fire, it’s what I shout when I want him to jump.’

Spike frowned.

‘Can’t you just shout jump and then I’ll know what to do?’

‘Jump it is,’ grumbled Hawke crossly as he stomped off to shelter again behind the trunk of the beech tree.

Sebastian didn’t move.  Hawke knew his brother would gloat if the ballista didn’t work, he took a deep breath then yelled, ‘Jump!’

Spike swung his arms and bent his knees but before his feet left the ground Sebastian interrupted him.

‘You ought to jump off something higher; you’ll get a lot more power that way.  Even then it’s not exactly how a ballista works, you know, this is more like a see-saw and I really don’t think…’

‘Now what?’ shouted Hawke as he came out from behind the tree and glowered at Spike, ‘why didn’t you jump?I thought we’d agreed I’d shout jump and not fire.’

‘Sebastian says I need to jump off something, I’ll go and get the chair out of the den.’

Without waiting for a reply, Spike went off to the shed and came back with the only chair they possessed and positioned it so he could easily jump onto the plank.

‘Ready,’ Spike called and began swinging his arms.

Hawke went back behind the tree, ‘Jump!’ he yelled, then crossed his fingers, hoping his carefully thought out plan was going to work.  He peeped round the tree trunk and watched Spike land perfectly on the end of the plank.  The rock went flying into the air then Sebastian began counting.

‘Three… two… one… and smash!’

There was a self-satisfied look on Sebastian’s face as the rock crashed straight through the window of the den followed by a resounding thud as it hit the inside wall.  The shed wobbled, and then, as if in slow motion began to collapse like a house of cards.

‘Nooooo!’ wailed Hawke.

Spike looked embarrassed and swallowed hard,‘Ooops, sorry.’

‘I told you the trajectory was wrong,’ Sebastian said smugly.

By now the whole shed was flat on the grass, the smashed window hidden underneath the debris of what had once been their den.

‘Maybe we should have sorted that trad ectory out Hawke.’

‘Maybe you should have jumped better.’

As usual whenever there was a problem, Sebastian disappeared.Hawke looked around expecting to see his Mum.  He held his breath but she didn’t appear at the kitchen door; she obviously hadn’t heard the crash.  Hawke began thinking fast to try and avoid getting into trouble.

‘Jump on the ballista,’ he ordered Spike.

‘I just did Hawke!’

‘Again stupid, break it up, if we put the pieces with the shed no one will ever know it was us!’

They quickly wrecked what was left of their weapon of war.It wasn’t too difficult; Spike’s jump had almost broken it in two.

Hawke sat on the chair to think.  This was his sign he wasn’t to be disturbed.  He knew Spike wouldn’t interrupt him; thinking was something Spike wasn’t very good at.  He was angry, his plan had failed and his dream of making their den the envy of the neighbourhood was now in ruins, or more accurately, splinters.  He knew it was beyond repair, a lot of the wood looked rotten.  He had to work something out quick or else he’d be in big trouble, but he was finding it hard to concentrate.


Hawke sat on the chair to think.


Just as he was beginning to despair an idea popped into his head.  The cross expression on his face turned into a rather large grin.  He was about to explain his new master plan to Spike when his Mum appeared at the kitchen door.  She took her headphones off and called down the garden.

‘Valentine, Sebastian, dinner’s ready.’

Hawke cringed.He hated his stupid name, just his luck to have been born on Valentine’s Day.His middle name wasn’t any better either, Sibelius, after his Dad’s favourite composer.  Another shudder ran down Hawke’s spine as his Mum called him again.  Spike nudged him.

‘Your mum’s calling you.’

‘I know,’ Hawke snapped, ‘I just hate that name.’

‘It could have been worse!’ Sebastian shouted as he ran past them towards the kitchen.

‘What could possible be worse?’ Hawke grumbled.

‘Romeo!’ Sebastian yelled before he disappeared into the kitchen.

Hawke scowled at Spike so he’d know not to laugh.

‘Better be off for my dinner too, see you tomorrow.’

Spike looked back at the pile of wood on the grass.

‘Where’re we going to meet now the den’s flat?’

‘By the tree, hopefully not for too long, I’m working on something.’

‘What about them next door?’

‘We’ve got all summer to sort them out, we need a new den first.’

Spike nodded slowly, took a last look at the remains of the old den, then shoved his hands in his pockets before making his way to the gate.


Once Spike was out of sight, Hawke dropped to his knees.He waited until he was sure he was alone and then began to cry loudly.  It wasn’t long before his mum came running out of the kitchen.

‘What’s the matter Valentine?’

Hawke sobbed even louder and made his body shake.

‘Oh!’ gasped his Mum when she saw the shed then gave a shrill shriek as she dashed down the garden.

‘Valentine, are you hurt?  What happened?’

So far so good,’ thought Hawke but he didn’t stop shaking or crying as his Mum checked to see if he was alright.

‘If… I’d… had… a… proper… den… it… wouldn’t… have…happened…’

Hawke was glad Spike had gone; he wouldn’t have wanted him to see his Mum with her arms around him.  Now he knew he wasn’t going to be in trouble it was time for part two of his plan.

‘Se… bas… tian… could… have… been… hurt… if… he’d…been… in… side...’

‘I knew you shouldn’t have been playing in that rotten old shed, I told your Dad it wasn’t safe, it’s a good job neither of you were inside, now dry your eyes and come in for dinner, I’ll have a word with your Dad and we’ll see what we can do.’

Hawke gave his Mum a wobbly smile and blew his nose on the tissue she’d given him.  He hung his head as he walked slowly back to the house, he didn’t want her to see how pleased he looked.It wouldn’t be long before he’d have a brand new den.  His Mum and Dad wouldn’t risk anything happening to his brother.  Sebastian was clever; he could read music, play the piano and was also having violin lessons.  Not only could he sing like an angel, but with a head full of blond curls and big blue eyes, he actually looked like one too.  Hawke was the complete opposite; he had no musical talent, couldn’t sing and his short dark hair was always a mess.

        By the time they reached the kitchen, Hawke was sure his Mum and Dad would get him a real den.  It would be better than anything the snobs next door would have.  Maybe his ballista plan hadn’t been such a bad one after all.