Frank first heard the sound on a rainy November evening. He was sitting on a bench outside the Friar’s Tavern. His dad was looking after him that night. He was in the pub and had left Frank outside. As he went in he said he wouldn’t be more than ten minutes. It was more than an hour later and Frank was tired and thirsty. The light and the laughter coming from inside the tavern made him hungry too, in a funny way. He wanted to be warm inside, like the pub was.
It was cold. He shivered. He wasn’t wearing enough. Then he heard the noise.
It was like a hammer hitting stone but it was bigger than that. There was something about the sound that made it seem bigger than the town. It came from miles away, probably out towards Middlesborough. Somewhere there was hitting something. He heard the sound three times, at regular intervals, about twenty seconds apart.
He called after someone who was going into the pub. “Can you ask Mick Mason to come out? I’m his son. Tell him I want him.”
He didn’t get an answer but about two minutes later his dad came out.
“Sorry Frank,” said his dad. “I forgot.”
They walked along Sullivan Street then through a gap in the wall and along the canal bank. It was dark. All that was visible were the flats on the other side, over the trees.
And there was the sound again. Frank stopped.
“What’s that sound, dad?”
Mick Mason laughed. “Come on,” he said, “come on.”
Frank asked his dad three times. His dad wouldn’t answer. After the third time Frank gave up. His dad went like that sometimes. All the way back Frankie could hear the sound, feel it, echoing in his head, a huge sound, big as a mountain.
When they got in Mick made some tea and brought some to Frank in a big mug.
He put his own mug next to his son’s and sat down.
“When I was about your age, I used to hear that sound. I remember I was with my dad fishing out on Monk’s Point. It was getting dark. The sound travelled right out across the river, like a ghost ship.”
“So what is it?” Frank asked again.
“I don’t know,” said Mick, slurping his tea. “It’s a good sound though, isn’t it?”