Before I get to the actual text, some explanation is order. This isn’t a poem as most of my usual posts are. It’s part of a project Ive started. It may turn into a short story or a novel but if I’ll be honest and admit I’m a bit stuck. I’m hoping for any advice thats forthcoming even just a comment on whether it’s an enjoyable read. Do remember that I haven’t edited it much. So with that in mind, here goes.
The Lord of Graves:
Let me start by saying, I really, really hate buses. All of the weird in my life seems to start on buses.
That’s how I met The Girl I Should Have Seen.
To be fair, I was trying not to kill her brother at the time, so maybe I can be given some leeway. Imagine yourself in my place for a while. I come from a strange family… what little I’ve seen of them. I was raised, if it can be called that, by my uncle Charles, a gentleman of the Old School, who believes that correct way to care for a boy is to hand him off to a succession of stone faced nannies followed by boarding schools in far flung corners of the world. He’s a good sort I suppose, I can’t say that I’ve ever wanted for anything in my rather spoilt life. He just doesn’t do well around people and given that I’m really not the touch-feely type myself, it works out well enough.
We have money, not as much as we used to in the ‘old days’ according to my uncle but more than enough for another generation or two. We do seem to have lots of property though and it was that fact that landed me in more trouble than I can honestly say I was comfortable with.
Some bleeding heart had been whispering in my uncle’s ear, which had given birth to a scheme. A scheme to found a boarding facility to give all the poor lost kids of the age (and his dear nephew) a place of refuge, a safe environment in which to socialize and learn… I believe the words tax and break may also have been mentioned. This led to me being stuck in a bus with a strange assortment of people. My uncle of course had misunderstood the idea of a needy child with his usual level of social aplomb meaning that none of the people around me really seemed all that needy. I say people because the word ‘kid’ appeared to be a rather loose term in his book as well. None of us were under the age of fifteen. I was almost seventeen.
We were headed to one of the old houses, a spacious place by all accounts, in a small town that had grown up around it. It’s bedrooms and defunct sunrooms had been remodeled to house all fifteen of us. Nine boys and six girls, some of us would have to share.
I suspected the plumbing would be a problem. It always was in the older houses.
I liked the countryside mostly, less people to be awkward around. This town however was by all accounts situated firmly on the arse-end of nowhere. The best attraction they’d been able to come up with on their website was an old church and an abandoned prison of some sort.
With this shining prospect awaiting me, I had to put up with some boy, Michael I think, doing his level best to become my new lifelong friend in a matter of a few hours.
Against my will, I’d registered that he and his twin sister, the reasonably pretty one up front with the badly dyed black hair, were orphans, non-identical, had no living relatives and were supported by a trust fund as they passed from foster home to foster home. By the state of their clothes and the model of his phone though, it had to be a pretty generous trust fund. See what I mean about my uncle’s understanding of the idea of ‘needy’?
The bus smelled like old socks and boiled cabbage, as they always did and Michael’s nasal voice and cheery attitude were not helping my mood. My protests at having to travel like this had gotten me no sympathy from uncle Charles. Over the crackling connection my phone had primly informed me that as a member of the founding family it was expected of me to set an example. My preferential treatment only extended as far as having a room to myself.
The driver announced a rest stop fast approaching as I replied once again that, no I hadn’t heard the latest song by a band called Sik and that no, I did not want to share his earphone buds to listen to it. Yes I had seen all the junk under the seats at the back and no merciful God I did not want to imagine the kind of thing that was stuck to the bottom of the much patched and clearly well traveled seats. They happened to be a dull brownish green. Maybe that’s where I’d gotten the idea of the cabbage reek. Pong by association.
We did finally roll to a halt at one of those big stations that has their own little convenience store. After the previous few hours, I’ll admit I mobbed it right along with all the rest. Anything at all, just to get the smell of the bus out of my nose for a while even if it was just to exchange the odor of unwashed feet for the smoky tang of diesel.
The overly cheerful attendant with the unfortunate skin seemed so determined to flirt with every girl in the group that they rather stuck together as they charged the shop, wallets jingling and eyes shining, leaving greasy faced lad to look after them longingly. The boys, as we are wont to do, drifted over in a much looser group, keeping each other in sight but remaining far enough apart to claim ignorance if someone should get up to some mischief.
I was browsing a little, more from a desire to kill some time than from really wanting anything, and I’d managed to get as far as the little display of electronics when I smelled something that definitely did not belong with the diesel and overcooked hotdog smell that seemed to hang about the place. It wasn’t exactly a flowery smell, like women’s perfume but less cheap than most I’d smelled. It made me think of berries.
“Hey!” The voice belonged to Michael of course and I tried very hard not to cringe as I turned to find him waving his hand about as though he weren’t only a few feet away. Too few feet if you want my honest opinion.
His sister wasn’t as objectionable, the dye job wasn’t quite as bad up close and she really was almost quite pretty. Still, since her brother was clearly more interested in talking to me than she was I moved to give her a better view of all the little gee-gaws on display… and not at all to get a little more space between the over-friendly Michael and myself, I promise.
“You gotta come see this!” he almost shouted and I remember him dragging me away by the sleeve in the general direction of the magazine rack that I’d already seen twice and I might even half remember seeing her, Eli? Elri? Reach for and take something from the shelf. I should have paid more attention.
The magazines hadn’t changed since I’d been there last but I bought one without looking, which I regretted when the cashier cleared his throat asking for ID along with my money. I wondered where to hide as I walked out, the magazine tucked into my inside pocket as stubborn pride would dictate, the small bribe to the cashier was the least of my problems.
My main problem was the wave of giggles that followed me. Trust me, boys giggle just as well as girls do… and it stings more.
I rammed myself down onto the nearest bench with somewhat more force than was needed and very nearly tipped it over… weren’t those things supposed to be screwed down or something?
Regardless, the break went by too quickly and I hung my head as I got in line to board the bus of horror once more, noting the flaking yellow paint and shaking my head as I did. What had my uncle been thinking?
The seating, much like the magazines hadn’t changed since id been there last, nor had the smell. Despite this, it seemed I might get some peace on the last leg of the journey as a bag laden Michael was busily chatting with his sister in her seat at the front and judging from the arm-waving and head-nodding they were both very interested in whatever the topic of conversation might have been. I suspect it centered around what looked like a little black tape recorder that his sister had bought.
I lay back as best I could, idly noting once more that I really, really hate busses as an almost comfortable if somewhat cabbage haunted sleep crept over my thoughts.
I woke to noise.
It took me a moment to identify it as cheering, ragged cheering. It seemed that we had arrived at last. Apart from being dark, I noticed a definite chill and that someone had lifted my erstwhile magazine from my pocket. Most of my new housemates seemed to look like I felt. Tired, sweaty and forcing themselves to move. They were managing it with a lot more cheer than I was.
The halt was much as one would expect. A shuddering followed by the feeling that one’s body was still in motion despite the eyes providing ample evidence that this was not the case. I looked out the windows at my new home.
I was not impressed.
I’d missed the sign on the way in but knew well enough what it said.
‘Krypt House’ and underneath in much smaller script, ‘to each his day’. The family motto as it happened.
The lack of sound seemed to fit the somber look of the place, in fact, it left one waiting for a bald relative in a trench coat to hop out of the bushes and announce their long awaited return from the Bermuda Triangle.
I decided that my uncle must have recently taken to smoking something illegal.
We were met by the caretaker and his wife, recently promoted to chaperones. My first impression of them was that they must have come with the original fittings. Mr and Mrs Pine, as the ancient couple introduced themselves, might well have been made of the same weathered stone that peeked up from the foundation in some places. They were… grey. Clothes, hair and skin, all in varying shades of grey. I had a suspicion that there would not be many parties in this place, at least not with their consent.
On their direction we gathered round to have our names called off the roll. Turns out that Michael and his sister, Elerene had both survived the trip, as had all the other twelve members of the house.
We were told in the graveyard tones that Mr Pine had clearly been practicing for many, many years that the boys would be staying on the ground floor, whilst the girls would be on the first. Most students would also be expected to take on certain responsibilities.
I did not like the odd look he gave when he said most.
The usual rules applied. Anyone who has ever been in a boarding school would know them.
No noise in the halls, no drinking, no destruction of property, no fornication, no drugs… all of which, to a teenagers mind at least, boils down to, don’t get caught.
The house creaked as a breeze picked up and I really did not envy the girls spending their nights up on the first floor. We were finally permitted to follow our new, note the irony there, overseers into what would become our new place of residence. The entrance hall was large enough, if only barely, and very dusty, with patterned floors made of little wooden blocks all arranged in geometric patterns. Sneaking around would be a problem on those. I knew this for a fact because the few we had crossed made odd little xylophone sounds with every step we took leading Michael, of course, to try dancing some kind of jig, to the reproving stares of the Pines. It ended when he tripped on a loose block.
“Mind the splinters dear.” Was the only comment from Mrs Pine, though I’d swear I saw a nasty little smile cross her face right before she said it and if I’m honest I had trouble hiding one of my own.
Dinner was waiting, a rather formal affair held around a huge banquet table somehow jammed into a room that was far too small for it. It was grey stew, eaten to the sound of hushed whispers as anything more would draw withering glances from the Pines. As we ate I noticed that everything in the house seemed to be at least as old as the pines themselves but much better maintained under all the dust. A vague ammonia smell also hung in the background. The crystal chandelier was lit in all its dim glory and I made the effort to compliment the old couple on the upkeep of the place since I was seated right next to them and they did technically work for me in an indirect sort of way, which earned me a sour smile from the Mrs and a grunt from the Mr.
So much for that conversational gambit then.
I looked over the table and saw the twins staring at me with oddly serious expressions on their pale faces. I wondered what I’d done to offend them and whether repeating it would get Michael to leave me alone in the long term. On his sister I had few thoughts, which was strange since I’m usually the first to notice an attractive member of the female species even if I don’t usually go chasing after them and trust me, they’re a definitely a different species… in every country. Even this observation though slid away from me as Mrs Pine announced that it was time to show us to our rooms and our responsibilities.
I had an idea of what these might be, given our family history and the rather distinct smell of the place. It was the one move I rather applauded my uncle for. I wouldn’t be sure until I’d seen it for myself though.
My new housemates and I followed the Pines along the hallway leading to what might charitably called the eastern wing. All the bedrooms were set on this side of the house to catch the first rays of the rising sun, or at least they would if the entire property hadn’t been ringed by huge trees. Oak and Eucalyptus, their branches reaching easily past even the first floor windows. Frankly I was surprised that the others didn’t seem to be finding the whole place rather creepy. I at least had the excuse of being used to it since most of the family properties I’d visited looked more or less like this.
We halted in front of the first room, sat in the southern corner of the house and Mrs Pine cleared her throat before announcing grandly
“You will now meet your responsibilities. You will take care of them and they will, in turn, teach you and take care of you. They are to be kept with you at all times whilst you are on this property and at most social events. You will see to their comfort and care as you would your own or you will leave. This is not negotiable, as I believe your guardians were informed before you were accepted to this house.”
I had to smile. I knew what my uncle was up to now and I understood why he thought that two ancient caretakers could manage fifteen unruly teenagers. It was really rather brilliant if you knew the man.
Her wrinkled hand grasped the brass handle and the door creaked open.
Out they came, making an unholy racket, rolling and jumping over each other, except of course for the inevitable matron of the glaring following behind at her own queenly pace.
Cats, a lot of them.
Perhaps I should have mentioned earlier that when I said my family is weird, I meant really weird. As in supernatural weird… and we have a thing about cats.
My uncle tried explaining it once I think but all I got from the long lecture was that by naming them truly five times they would become a retainer of some sort. Sure there was a ceremony involved and the feline in question had to be willing but according to him, he’d never found one that wasn’t willing to serve the house in exchange for all the comforts we provided and they were a lot smarter than we gave them credit for.
Apparently the old people were just for show, each of us would have our very own furry chaperone watching us at all times.
The cats all settled in front of us, each looking up at their prospective person with that sly and somewhat endearing grin that all members of that species seem to have. They were of different colors and shapes with beautiful eyes ranging from a crystal clear sapphire to green and even violet. I was even beginning to look forward to playing with them.
What can I say? I’m a cat person. It runs in the blood.
Something bothered me though. There were only fourteen of them. Someone was not getting a cat and I had a suspicion of who it might be.
I didn’t like it. I wanted a cat.
The others seemed very pleased at the idea of having a new pet. I suppose they’d been checked out before being given a place in the house to make sure they were cat people too.
Once everybody had been chosen by a feline, the girls were led away by Mrs Pine and we boys were shown to our places by her husband. I got my own room, right at the northernmost end of the hall, a cozy place with heavy wooden furniture and green walls. My bags were already there and I assumed that the others had found their belongings similarly deposited, though by whom I had no idea.
The day had been a long one and I felt it in my bones. Is it possible to have jetlag from a bus? I remember thinking that it must be.
I wanted to unpack. I wanted to call my uncle and find out why everyone except me had gotten a cat. I made the mistake of letting my head hit the pillows though and I knew no more that night.
I dreamt of cabbage and grey stew.
The next morning I missed breakfast.
I was told that everyone had been woken by their new pets right on time. It was a Sunday and since my family didn’t hold with mandating religion all of us had the option of spending the day in any way we wanted. I was sitting outside on one of the several cast iron benches that were spread around the yard, about to phone my uncle to ask about the distinct lack of cat in my life, when Michael came jogging around the corner with his feline, a ginger female named Smiley because of the odd grinning expression that she always wore, tucked neatly under his arm.
Of course he made a beeline for me.
There was a pond out back, he informed me and a huge bird’s nest in the tree right outside his sisters window.
“I asked the old lady, we can visit the girls’ rooms any time we want! Just so long as we keep our cats with us. Odd isn’t it?” He paused.
“Why don’t you have one too? They’re great!”
His blunt interest reminded me of my irritation with the situation but I tried sounding as nonchalant as possible.
“I guess my uncle has something else in mind for me.”
His eyes widened once I explained that the place belonged to my family and he rubbed his hands together eagerly and went on.
“So you can’t really get kicked out? Imagine the all the cool stuff we can get up to!”
I rather quickly squashed that idea by telling him about my uncle’s instance that I set a good example.
“After all, he wouldn’t stand for me tarnishing the family name. This whole town was built around this house, and we owned it even before that happened.”
Michael deflated at that but didn’t seem to take it to heart.
“Can we go see the church?” the question caught me off guard.
I tend to agree with my uncle about that sort of thing. A man’s soul is between him and his chosen gods, no need for the bowing and scraping or rushing about to get to services on time.
Given what later transpired I should probably have worried about catching fire for setting foot on holy ground instead of getting conned into having to sit through a long and droning sermon but I was never any good at having to sit still, or listening for that matter.
“Maybe some other time, I’m not really religious…” I tried to explain but he interrupted me with a laugh.
“Not that one! The Tin Church! I saw it on the net when I checked out the town! They say it’s haunted too! Wouldn’t it be great to see a real ghost?”
No it wouldn’t.
The proximity and idea of death did not sit well with me, much less the undead, which given that my family seemed to be into all kinds weird might just turn out to be real too. I had never in my entire life attended a single funeral or set foot in a graveyard and I planned to keep it that way.
The church had looked interesting enough though. A wooden building, all built and painted and then covered in corrugated tin sheets for a reason that had been lost to history. The only places older in town were the graveyard and the house where I now lived.
Despite myself I agreed and off we went, Smiley hanging from the crook of Michael’s arm as though she’d been there since the dawning of time itself. I would almost swear that the lazy creature winked at me… but with cats who can tell.
What can I say? Even with Michael as company I wanted to see some of the town I’d be living in.
My first impression of the place was that it was… flat. No hills, no tall buildings apart from the occasional church steeple. The streets were functional but hardly in good repair. What most fascinated me though were the houses.
There was no real order or style to anything, rundown hovels stood shoulder to shoulder with grand follies in seeming comfort, dead and empty yards filled with nothing but bare earth rubbed up against minutely manicured rolling lawns and flowering rose bushes. That seemed at odds with most of the places I’d lived before but I found it comforting in some way. Everybody just let everybody else get on with living their lives.
The school of course was only a block away but we barely gave it a second glance. Honestly, who would? I mean, It’s school. Time enough to worry about that later.
By the fifth block I was starting to regret my decision to go on this little outing. Apart from being flat, the place was hot. Call me a snob but I dislike sweating unless it’s for a good reason. Seeing an old church that someone wanted covered in tin ages ago just didn’t qualify once you were out and baking in the sun. Michael on the other hand seemed to be getting more and more enthusiastic as we went along, listing all sorts of mundane facts that I already knew. This did not improve my opinion of him.
Eventually our destination came into sight. From a distance it didn’t look like much, just a church shaped building covered in tin and then painted white. The glare off it was terrible.
The heat inspired us to close what little distance remained as quickly as possible and it wasn’t long before I stood before the little gate in the chain link fence surrounding the place with its patchy lawn.
As soon as my hand fell upon the metal to open it though, I no longer wanted to go in. In fact, I quite suddenly felt like running as fast as humanly possible in the opposite direction. Why, I couldn’t possibly tell you but I knew down to my very soul that I did not want to enter that place.
Michael of course, being the clod that he is, felt no such thing and barreled right inside, still nattering on like I was listening to him. He even managed make it to the door before Smiley, by far the smarter of the two, decided to throw a tantrum and bolted for the street, leaving behind a cursing Michael to nurse his scratches.
The ginger comet passed my feet and went blazing down the road more or less in the direction of the house and in his first sensible move of the day Michael abandoned the idea of playing tourist and gave chase.
I followed some ways behind him. Stubbornness and pride would not allow me to run for home but had I possessed less of either trait I’d have been there before Smiley. That place had quite literally given me the worst case of the creeps I could remember having at that point but what bothered me most was that for the life of me I couldn’t begin to tell you why. Maybe it really was haunted.
I caught up to Michael and a still visibly annoyed Smiley about two blocks further and after she finally deigned to let Michael pick her up the rest of the walk home went quietly. I rather enjoyed it… you know, apart from still being puzzled as to why I’d developed a sudden and intense aversion to tin covered churches.
Luckily Michael’s sister was lounging about in the front yard and he scurried off to her as soon as he saw her, no doubt to report on his latest adventure. I noticed in passing that she had the little black tape recorder thing in her hand as he approached her and seemed to be chatting happily into it but I paid the whole thing little heed and headed to my room. I felt oddly tired after our little excursion and I was asleep before id finished considering whether a nap would be a good idea.
I dreamt that I was standing in front of that awful church with my hand somehow stuck to the gate, as sometimes happens in dreams, still feeling the most unnatural compulsion to run but being totally unable to do so.
Of course I missed lunch too.
It was just not turning out to be my kind of day.
I woke up. Eventually.
The house was so quiet that it took me a few moments to remember where I was.
There was a smell hanging in the air. An odd sticky sort of smell. Like old leaves being raked over. Something was bothering me but I couldn’t quite place it. It felt almost as though someone were watching me but that would be impossible. I felt as though I were listening to something I shouldn’t, which given the silence of the room was even more impossible.
I got up somewhat unwillingly, intending to head for the bathroom in a vague way.
As soon as me feet touched the floor though, I felt something new and quite unfamiliar to me. Dread. A cold creeping fear that seemed to leech up from the ground and through my bones. With it came an odd curiosity though. It was definitely fear I was feeling but it didn’t feel like mine.
I’m no hero, I’ll freely admit, but when I was scared it was a hot, trembling feeling that sat in my stomach and churned itself around until I managed to calm down. This new sensation was… cold.
Cold and creeping and dead.
It was only when I bumped my shoulder lightly on a doorframe that I noticed my feet had carried me as far as the entrance hall. The door leading outside was still firmly closed and there was a little light coming from beneath it. The porch light I assumed.
Tilting my head I looked at the door closely.
For some reason it suddenly seemed very important that I do not, under any circumstances open it. At the same time though, something seemed to want me to lay my hand on the handle. Just for a moment, just to feel the cool metal against my skin.
This was all confusing.
Confusing and very annoying.
I was never like this. I knew the inside of my own head, I made a point of knowing my own foibles since it made mocking others for theirs easier. It was all rather irritating really.
That was it!
As soon as I got irritated, my natural state I guess, the cold dread melted away, the door lost all of its hold on me. I couldn’t just let vague feelings and fear dictate my actions. Why, I had half a mind to storm out there just because I could…
Luckily for me it was right at that moment that I hear, right behind me, the most piercing and carrying screech I’d ever heard a cat make.
I quite forgave Smiley… after I’d recovered from the minor heart-attack she’d just given me and shed bolted off, back to her annoying owner no doubt. That sudden and stupid urge to rush outside had been as much in my nature as meekly opening the door had been. Whatever else was going on, something was most definitely messing with my mind.
I turned around and marched back to my room with a determined stride I’d seldom found reason to employ. I threw myself onto my bed with a mix of relief and a little spite at whatever had been planting ideas in my head.
Now that I was thinking clearly, or at least hoped I was, I noticed that the night was indeed strangely quiet. It had never been noisy of course but there weren’t even any crickets chirping at the moment. The sounds of the cats moving about the house was also absent.
I sat up, childishly drew the covers over my head like a tent and thought.
Why would I have all these strange ideas? Shouldn’t I be more frightened?
Calling my uncle seemed prudent. I’d once been moved from one of my dorms because someone had found some kind of deadly fungus or mold or something. Maybe the house was infested?
No doubt it was Mrs Pine’s cooking… No I hadn’t had anything to eat today… why wasn’t I hungry?
Dawn came while was still thinking about this and that and as the gloom behind my drawn curtains lightened I forced my tired self to get ready for school.
There was a line at the bathroom.
Apparently the other boys were all evil sneaky and had conspired to get there before me and I found my thoughts drifting away from my strange night as I eventually got down to the therapeutic activity of brushing my teeth. My peace of mind didn’t last though.
As I was trooping out the door with the rest, Mr Pine held up a gray hand and said in his tomblike voice,
I waited expectantly for more but he simply nodded toward the dining room where we’d all eaten on our first night in this madhouse my uncle had condemned me to.
With no obvious alternatives, I trudged over to it and settled myself into one of the chairs that sat around the oversized table. Smiley was snoozing under it with a few of her friends. Closest to her was the male calico that belonged to Michael’s sister. Maizey? Lazy? Crazy?
I wasn’t quite sure what his name was but I admired his beautiful multicolored fur and big blue eyes. He had a particularly cute black patch over his left eye that made him look a little like a pirate in my opinion. I was reminded that I was still annoyed at my uncle for not getting me a pet too. I spent a few minutes playing with the felines but eventually even that wore thin. I was literally halfway out of my chair when the door opened and Mrs Pine shuffled in on her stiff legs.
She was carrying a bundle of books.
‘I’m sorry dear, your tutor can’t make it today, you’ll have to study on your own.’
That was all. No further explanation apart from putting down the book and opening it to a seemingly random page.
I couldn’t just accept that of course.
‘Mrs Pine!’ I said in an angry tone as she turned to leave, earning a half turn and a raised brow for my efforts.
‘What’s going on in this house? I don’t get a cat, I don’t get to go to school with everyone else and my uncle doesn’t tell me a damn thing! I want an explanation!’
The silence stretched on a bit. I like to imagine she was thinking of a polite and properly chastened answer, since I was part of the family that employed her but after some time she simply nodded to the book and said,
‘Ask your uncle when you’re done with lessons dear.’
What was there to say?
I applauded myself for not storming out in a snit. See how mature I am?
Picking up the book I paused to give it a sniff. I happen to love the smell of old books.
This turned out to be a bad idea however as I inhaled a desert’s worth of dust and ended up in a sneezing fit which lasted for quite a while. Once I was done however, I had no idea what to do next.
I wasn’t being stupid I swear.
The book was gibberish. It was a fairytale about goblins stealing children. I closed it and looked at the title engraved in faded gold on the spine. It was too faded to make out.
So there I sat, stuck in a room with nothing to do but read fairytales while the others were off learning unimportant things like how to function in society. As one can imagine I was pissed at my uncle and pretty much everyone else by the time Mrs Pine came back in with sandwiches and some juice to tell me that by some miracle five hours had passed and I could go after I’d eaten.
For a moment I was disturbed. I still wasn’t hungry. Maybe I was sick?
My anger quickly made me forget all about that though.
I stormed to my room and called my uncle.
The conversation that followed was one of the strangest I’d ever had.
He calmly listened to my shouting and cussing and then explained very quietly that it was time I took on some of the family responsibility and that the tutor would give me specialized knowledge in that particular field and that we could talk about my getting a pet when I’d proven I could handle myself in my ‘new role’ whatever the hell that was supposed to be.
Then he asked a question that stopped my heart.
‘Are you eating well?’
Suddenly all the strangeness of the previous night came rushing back, and the horrible feeling I’d had in front of the tin church.
To this day I wish I’d told him the truth and I can’t explain what possessed my tongue to tell the lie that followed.
‘Yes uncle, I’m enjoying the food a lot. Mrs Pine is very kind’
I heard him laugh, his customary reserved little laugh, as if he knew from experience that Mrs Pine and her cooking didn’t merit any kind of compliment.
I said goodbye and lay back to think.
Fairytales for lessons, no appetite, my uncle being a psycho… nothing made much sense.
Michael found me there a few hours later.
It seemed I had a friend despite my best efforts.
Explaining to him why I hadn’t gone to school with the rest of them nearly made him swoon at the possibilities for mischief I’d passed up. Eventually though the lure of food drew him away and I made my escape into the backyard. I liked a spot under another old willow there and I hoped Michael wouldn’t find me too quickly.
It turned out however that I wasn’t the only one who like that spot. Elerene was there, sitting in the shade, talking to her recorder again with her calico up in the tree above her.
She was prettier than Id given her credit for at first.
I cleared my throat as she clearly hadn’t noticed me coming up to the tree. By the way she jumped though, you’d think I’d set off a bomb behind her.
As I life lesson, I could have done without knowing that little black recorder things hurt when theyre thrown at you, even by girls.
It took a few moments but she did calm down and after an awkward moment we both laughed a little at her reaction.
‘I’m so sorry!’ I managed but she interrupted me before I could get very far.
‘No , no! I was miles away. You’re Michael’s friend right?’
I considered being brutally honest but when for diplomacy instead. After all, she really was pretty. In fact, her eyes were holding my attention very solidly. One seemed to be a slightly different shade of blue than the other. On her, with the dark hair (still not very well dyed but less horrid than I thought) it just worked. Her voice was melodic and as we talked and I got to know little things about her, I realized that I could actually see myself spending time with her.
Given that said time would probably include Michael though I decided it probably wasn’t going to happen. By late afternoon we were ready to head inside. Her to do homework and I to brood over my fairytale book some more.
I did find myself thinking of Elerene a lot while I did though.
It was the first time I went to sleep in that house with a smile on my face.
It was also the last.
I was dreaming.
There was a fog in the house and I walked though it at peace with myself and the world. Nothing worried me.
I saw small forms scurrying through the fog. Cats I realized, they were cats!
I was still musing to my dream-self about how much I liked them when I heard it. It was a thin drawn out scream. Not being overly familiar with screams I wasn’t sure if it was born of fear or pain but it was female and it most definitely was not pleasant.
In a moment I was awake but the scream went on. The pitch had changed though, now it was definitely a panicked scream and being made a different voice.
Up. I had to get up.
It only took me a second to get out into the hall and to follow the scream up the stair to one of the girls’ rooms with the door standing open. One of the younger girls was in front of it and still screaming her head off.
The Pines arrived in the time it took me to peek in and see why.
Elerene was on her bed.
Maizey her cat was standing at the foot of it, every hair on end, spitting and hissing and yeowling, the only moving thing in the room.
The only breathing thing.
My heart stopped and I froze as the Pines pushed past me.
They shook Elerene and shouted for her to wake up but there was no mistaking that absolute stillness. Whatever animating force had been housed in her body was gone.
Maizey wouldn’t anyone but the Pines near her. When the ambulance arrived Mrs Pine had to shut him in the girls bathroom. The sounds he was making were almost as heartbreaking as the ones coming from Michael.
I sat with him. To hell with hypocracy.
Heart failure one of the men had said and gently asked him if it ran in his family. He didn’t know.
It was an awful night. The cats were in an uproar and so were the students. Nobody could accept that one them was gone so suddenly. Michael and Maizey and Smiley stuck together, by turns being consoled and lashing out at whoever came near them. I had no words. I just sat with them.
I couldn’t quite accept it. I’d been talking to her just the day before! I’d been thinking of hanging out with her just hours ago!
She’d been perfectly fine!
A grim silence hung on the house once everyone had calmed down slightly. Most went off to school. Only Michael was given leave to stay in his room and grieve. I was called eventually and told my tutor would be arriving in an hour.
It all seemed like so much nonsense.
I was too numb to argue though. I trudged to the dining room and sat down with my fairytales.
Before I could think, or maybe after thinking about nothing for an age, a thin man dressed in black came in.
He looked ridiculous.
Thin as a rail, his clothes hung on him like sails. His pale face had few lines and his weak chin was not quite hidden under a black goatee, paired with a silly little moustache. He looked like an animated scarecrow.
His voice was magical though.
You know the type. That kind of voice that can make you pay attention regardless of what’s being said, a voice to sway crowds, a voice to teach with.
It even managed to pierce my confused grief.