The Piper 7

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Liam could not remember when he had last slept.

Maybe it had been years. Who cared?

What he did know was that when others chose to close their eyes, he wandered.

Everything had taken place as he had been told. He had a sanctuary of his own that had been provided with a computer. The had a chance to catch up wit homework and the present world. He was a boy who should have been give the chance to do well. Now he would seize the opportunity.

Liam attended school on a drip-feed basis.; whenever he needed to feed, he dripped. If all went well, he would become a bricklayer or something else that would require him to work with his hands rather than his head. Good physical labour would be his saviour, either that or a stint in the army. The boy who sat in front of the computer knew that the army would be his destination, but it would be an army that answered to him and not one that fought wars on foreign soil for the betterment of all.

This Liam was a very different the Liam that had been recorded in the records that the  school and social serves had.

At first, it had been the television with its late shows stretching off into the morning. He would then sit through the endless nonsense of chat shows and re-runs. Sometimes he would watch The Learning Channel and that was more rewarding. He found himself drawn to programmes about history, physics and especially religion. He loved religion and would pity those who now chose to ignore it.

If there was one key to the secrets of everything, then the Internet would provide it.

Since its beginnings, men had worked tirelessly to give their knowledge for free. At school, the teachers placed restrictions on access to this, believing that the boys would try to find sites for sexual yearnings. Many of them appeared obsessed with the female form, naked and defiled and Liam thought this was good, but he didn’t waste his time on such matters. Liam was a learner. He had always been one yet showed nothing of this to those who called themselves teachers or adults. Liam learnt in secret, scouring the world for everything that could be of use to him.

Since he had moved in with The Leatherman, Liam had grown in understanding. The body in the armchair had fascinated him. Its controlled preservation was nothing short of a miracle that awaited his own coming. During darkness, when only the light from his monitor fell across the room, he felt the eyes, long since turned to dust, watching him, pleading for release. Time would come.

Somewhere along the way, he had mastered many skills that enabled him to quietly contact others who had been waiting for him. He established websites that reached out insidiously across space, drawing in those who too didn’t sleep. Many were young like himself, but a significant number were older and some were very old. They had been waiting for him and word was spreading of his arrival like echoes in a sewer.

Soon, his nerves tingled,soon.

Liam had recently taken to wandering the streets. Moving like a shadow along the unwanted hours that people threw away. He loved the illicit mutterings of this time, of the groans of sleepers, the scuttle of feet belonging to creatures that ventured out beneath sight, the plotting of acts whose names could only be whispered. Liam was a nefarious tourist, glimpsing a kingdom that could soon be his. The Piper had been right. Everything was turning towards his promise. Everything was moving along the lines that had been drawn so very long ago. Everything, that was, until the two new boys turned up.

He knew of them before they had arrived. He had been warned many years before but had forgotten.

There are those who will not follow you. They are afraid of you, but they will stand against you. If you let them live, they will attract others from both sides of the void. You must find them before they find themselves. I have tried. There is something protecting them, something stronger than I have encountered before. You must break them.

Now those words flooded back, filtered through his plans and forced him to act. The night was his and he moved with the assurance of a nocturnal. He developed his other senses for detection. Sound and smell became his allies as he moved about the streets. He had checked the obvious routes, but someone had been at the school files and had ensured that there was no address for the boys. He had decided to have them followed, yet they seemed to pre-guess his plans and always managed to avoid their pursuers. It had never occurred to Liam that they would come with their own assistance. If you want something doing well, do it yourself.

Anyone who may have been on the same street as Flowers at this time would probably not have seen him. They would have heard the rush of movement as the floor became alive with sleek, dark bodies, but they would not have sensed their death. The city was alive with the whisper of vermin and a flood of expectation. Where he walked, there was a vague tune which entranced them to the core. A shared memory was being revealed and their gatherings were moments to rejoice.

This was what had been foretold, the bringer of The Piper, and now he wanted something from them. He wanted those who would stop what would happen, he wanted to end the line of those who had inherited the hesitancy of the lame boy so long ago. He wanted the Resistors.

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Before long, he would have them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Piper 6

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Liam could not remember when he had last slept.

Maybe it had been years as he could not recall ever having slipped from the paltry reality of the world of waking. What he did know was that when others chose to close their eyes, he wandered.

Everything had taken place as he had been told. He had a place of his own that had been provided with a computer that had been thoughtfully linked to the Internet. They had provided it as a means of allowing him to catch up with his schoolwork. His situation was specialand he needed to be reintegrated into both school and society. He was a boy with a certain amount of intelligence who had been forced down the paths of illiteracy and innumeracy like so many others. His reading age was estimated to be between the ages of eight and ten but the computer would help him.

Liam attended school on a drip-feed basis allowing him that unthreatening path back to their straight and very narrow understanding of educational opportunities. If all went well, he would become a bricklayer or something else that would require him to work with his hands rather than his head. Good physical labour would be his saviour, either that or a stint in the army. The boy who sat in front of the computer knew that the army would be his destination, but it would be an army that answered to him and not one that fought wars on foreign soil for the betterment of all. This Liam was a very different Liam from the one they thought their records knew of and understood. This boy was seizing upon everything he could as a means of gaining an appropriateeducation.

At first, it had been the television with its late shows stretching off into the morning. He would then sit through the endless nonsense of chat shows and re-runs. Sometimes he would watch The Learning Channel and that was more rewarding. He found himself drawn to programmes about history, physics and especially religion. He loved religion and would pity those who now chose to ignore it.

Later, when he had been given a computer, there was the Internet and this was where he could find everything.

If there was one key to the secrets of everything, then the Internet would provide it. Since its beginnings, men had worked tirelessly to give their knowledge for free. At school, the teachers placed restrictions on access to this believing that the boys would try to find sites for porn and their lack of faith was continually rewarded. Many of them appeared obsessed with the female form, naked and defiled and Liam thought this was good, but he didn’t waste his time on such matters. Liam was a learner. He had always been one yet showed nothing of this to those who called themselves teachers or adults. Liam learnt in secret, scouring the world for everything that could be of use to him.

Since he had moved in with The Leatherman, Liam had grown in understanding. The body in the armchair had fascinated him. Its controlled preservation was nothing short of a miracle that awaited his own coming. During darkness, when only the light from his monitor fell across the room, he felt the eyes, long since turned to dust, watching him, pleading for release. Time would come.

Somewhere along the way, he had mastered many skills that enabled him to quietly contact others who had been waiting for him. He established websites that reached out insidiously across space drawing in those who too didn’t sleep. Many were young like himself, but a significant number were older and some were very old. They had been waiting for him and word was spreading of his arrival like echoes in a sewer. Soon, his nerves tingled,soon.

Liam had recently taken to wandering the streets. Moving like a shadow along the unwanted hours that people threw away. He loved the illicit mutterings of this time, of the groans of sleepers, the scuttle of feet belonging to creatures that ventured out beneath sight, the plotting of acts whose names could only be whispered. Liam was a nefarious tourist, glimpsing a kingdom that could soon be his. The Piper had been right. Everything was turning towards his promise. Everything was moving along the lines that had been drawn so very long ago. Everything, that was, until the two new boys turned up.

He knew of them before they had arrived. He had been warned many years before but had forgotten.

There are those who will not follow you. They are afraid of you, but they will stand against you. If you let them live, they will attract others from both sides of the void. You must find them before they find themselves. I have tried. There is something protecting them, something stronger than I have encountered before. You must break them.

Now those words flooded back, filtered through his plans and forced him to act. The night was his and he moved with the assurance of a nocturnal. He developed his other senses for detection. Sound and smell became his allies as he moved about the streets. He had checked the obvious routes but someone had been at the school files and had ensured that there was no address for the boys. He had decided to have them followed after school yet they seemed to know something and always managed to avoid their pursuers. It had never occurred to Liam that they would come with their own assistance. If you want something doing well, do it yourself.

Anyone who may have been on the same street as Flowers at this time would probably not have seen him. They would have heard the rush of movement as the floor became alive with sleek, dark bodies, all gathering to feel the sensation that had been written into their genetic code. The city was alive with the whisper of vermin and a flood of expectation. Where he walked, there was a vague tune which entranced them to the core of their instincts. A shared memory was being revealed and their gatherings were moments to rejoice.

This was what had been foretold, the bringer of The Piper, and now he wanted something from them. He wanted those who would stop what would happen, he wanted to end the line of those who had inherited the hesitancy of the lame boy so long ago.

He wanted the Resistors.

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Before long, he would have them.

 

 

 

The Piper 5

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Nightmares happen.

The young man had woken with a start. He was in that instant that sleepers recognise, that moment when they wake surprised by the strangeness of their surroundings. The boy was waking up on a bus that was a long way past the place he was meant to get off. Nightmare!

He must have gone way past where he had intended to be because he didn’t recognise anything. Before he climbed off the vehicle, he asked the driver where he was and received a reply that he had been dreading. He was near St Agnes, in the West Lake Park estate, and this was not an area for an outsider to be in at this time of night.

With the bus heading off into the wet splash of the darkness, he pulled his hood up around him and crossed to the other side of the road. From there, he would walk until he found another bus stop that would take him back. The driver had told him that one would be along within another fifteen minutes or so. Fifteen minutes felt like a century.

The road he was walking along looked like any other council estate road in the city. He knew from experience that some places were decent and safe whilst others were best avoided. This one fell into the category of ‘AVOID AT ALL COSTS’. Another thing he knew about was the evidence of gang markings in the form of graffiti.

The gangs used this method as a form of marking their territory; it meant KEEP OUT. Of course, they were happy if someone wanted to cross into their turf as this meant that they could lay down another marker that usually meant a severe beating that would be filmed on mobile phone cameras. These shots would then be uploaded to an Internet site where the prowess of their gang could reach a wider audience. The boy was not a gang member, but he was not from around these parts. If he was lucky, he would be on the bus back to where he was supposed to be. The streets were empty of people and he hurried along looking as inconspicuous as he possibly could.

To his relief, he spotted a bus stop that had a shelter where he would be able to wait until he gained his escape. He did not see the things that were watching him from the darkness and was not able to hear their alerts and communications.

He looked at his watch. There was no timetable to read as it had been the subject of a sustained campaign of vandalism. Marker pen and spray paint had been used with limited effect whereas the latest strike had resulted in something entirely more permanent; it has been torched. Somebody had doused the thick plastic casing in some inflammable liquid or other and had set light to it causing the plastic to give way to the intensity of the heat and run in unrelenting rivulets along its surface.

Now, as the boy stared at the charred results, the timetable not even a distant memory, he wondered how long he would have to wait. At least the rain had provided him with cover.

A long shiver ran down his spine and he pulled his coat around him. He tried not to think of the things he had heard about. The gangs here were legendary. The stories that surrounded them were stuff of dark mythology and their quoted exploits were too much to even contemplate. He tried not to think about this, but they came back to him, seeping through his consciousness and quietly drowning any optimism that still remained. He looked at his watch again and the hand did not appear to have moved. In the corner of his vision something did move and caused his head to swivel quickly towards its perceived location.

There was nothing.

He looked once more, but found the darkness had become impenetrable. Just the dark, he thought without finding comfort. If he could not see into the darkness, then the darkness could not see him or into him. Odd that last thought.As he sat, his mind imagining the arrival of the bus, last rescue, a dark circle was forming around him. Slowly, imperceptibly so, it began to draw itself towards its focus.

He looked at his watch and tried to pull the minute hand along by squinting his eyes. This way, the whole thing went blurry and he could make the time anything he wished. He was doing this, adopting a Chinese face, when he felt something brush against his leg. He jumped.

With his eyes open now, he took moments to adjust to whatever was left of the light… The rain was still pelting down, cutting away his long view of the street. He suddenly felt really alone and shivered from something that was now more than cold. Something else brushed past his leg, something bolder, something without fear. He looked down towards the floor and thought he saw a rising tide of black water. Must be from the drains. Drains must be flooded.He didn’t have chance to recoil before some other thing barged into his calf followed by another and another. Must be stuff washed up from the sewers.His legs were now deeply rooted in a living stream of blackness. The whole area around him was moving, swirling in angry eddies of intent and he felt fear, a fear that he could never have imagined, and it gripped him in its ancient hands.

He was drowning in the torrent, being carried or dragged along by its relentless progress, when he reached out and saw the approach of someone who would save him.

“Help,” he almost screamed before a black form ran into his mouth and bit completely away, with razor sharp teeth, his tongue.

“What’s wrong? Rat got your tongue?”

Before he disappeared beneath the deluge, he saw that the person before him, the one who he had hoped would be his rescuer, was not really a person at all.

Only a shape; or a shadow.

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The darkness grinned as his motionless body was pulled down through the more than welcoming opening of the drain.

 

 

The Piper 4

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Tony Blackledge read the case history and almost cried.

All his years in the field of social work had never fully salted the wounds he felt at the injustice that was regularly visited upon many of society’s most vulnerable citizens. He particularly felt the pain of the young who were caught up in cycles of abuse and indifference and rarely had the chance to escape. He liked the words of Elliot Ness from the film The Untouchables, ‘Let’s go do some good’ and kept it as a slightly ironic motto.

Now, as he saw the boy, he could not help thinking that he ought to have felt more than sorry for him. There had been lots of cases where the child had suffered as a result of a bad parent or just plain bad luck. Liam had had both. So Tony should have been able to understand his plight and to show empathy. What Tony did not expect to feel was fear.

From the first moment the social worker had been given the file, he had been aware of a particularly bad headache.

“You need a holiday,” his manager laughed.

Tony had laughed back but that did not assuage the pounding that had begun to vibrate around the lining of his skull. That night, he tossed and turned the hours away and by morning he was feverish and feeling decidedly under whatever weather was waiting outside. He called in sick and meant to get an appointment at the doctor’s. He fell back to sleep before doing so.

What Tony fell into was like nothing he had experienced before. Even sleep, with all its inversions of reality had never come anywhere close to producing something so profoundly unnatural and disturbing as this. For what seemed a decade, Tony literally fell and fell. The helpless sensation pervaded his soul and he gave into the desperation of the powerless. He fell until finally he hit the lake.

He now thought that he would drown in this darkness of a sleep that was not sleep. As he lay powerless in the depths, he sensed the movement of many things around him. Disembodied hands were pulling at him. Some were pushing and some were pulling him towards the surface and he was hopeful that this was the precursor to him regaining consciousness, but that day never came.

Instead, he was deposited on a shore with turgid waters nibbling at his feet. He was sure that he was in Hell. Tony spent time on that black ash carpet and woke to the sound of a serpent-like tune sliding across the lake towards him. The more he listened, the more it seemed that the notes in the tune were in fact separate entities that were raised from the depths to conjure yet more discordance. With each whip of the tune, Tony’s body and mind flinched. Something was being summoned.

“So he found you?”

Tony knew this was Flowers although he had never met him previously. In the semi-darkness, Flowers stood assuredly. He was neither boy nor man, but a being caught in the exaggerated gaze of prime. Dressed in a cloak of dark material, Flowers looked every inch an Old Testament prophet.

“He said that he would bring you before me and, you see, he has.”

“Who is he?”

Flowers fought to suppress a snort of derision.

“He is the darkness itself. He is the plague that blights your dreams. He is vermin and hatred. He is the taker of souls and the giver of dreams. He is The Piper. If you’re lucky, you may get to meet him.”

The boy was waiting for him at reception. Tony almost fell out of his own skin when he saw him. It was the boy of his dream, but here he was different. Here he was still a boy, unkempt and not yet grown into his older stature. He had the look of knowledge about his eyes, eyes that the social worker found almost impossible to avoid.

“Liam? Liam Flowers?”

The young face stared back at him mockingly. Its gaze pierced the thin veneer of the We have never ever metroutine that was being played out.

Yes, we do know each other,Tony thought, but you were something altogether different then. You were not this mere boy.

“Right then Liam, let’s see if we can get you set up with something.”

As the social worker was saying this, he was aware of a tape playing in the back of his mind. The tape was giving him details of the ideal house that Liam could go to. The family at the house was a good family who would help Liam to develop ways that would help him for the rest of his life. He found himself moving to his workstation and typing in the name Harrison. In a few weeks the boy would be in the care of a responsible foster family and on his way back to being a fully active member of society.

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The need to find sleep overtook him with a nausea he had experienced before and it was all he could do to complete the paperwork before running to the bathroom and being violently sick.

 

 

 

The Waking Dread…

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A pulse of excitement ran through me yesterday as I looked at my phone and saw that an email had arrived in my inbox.

RE: English Position, it promised. My heart raced as I saw the thing that I wanted for the future offer itself to me; with the slight obstacle of an interview.

As another teacher was talking to me, I was nodding my head as if I was an active participant in her conversation. As she continued, my mind struggled to focus in the same manner that my fingers were struggling to open the attachment.

Disappointment fell on me. It was one dreaded moment of my new reality that I never wished to meet.

My invitation to interview was for the school that I am currently doing supply at. I had popped the letter of application in a number of weeks previously and had not heard anything since. I thought I was safe. My initial excitement had been for one of the schools in Spain that I had applied to, but I am obviously an old log, trapped in a lumberjack’s log-jam whilst slowly rotting away with the other old logs.

So there I was being invited to interview at a place that I have been teaching at for almost six months. I was asked to bring my passport, police checks, and qualifications. I was asked to be there at 8.30, prompt. I was told that I would be teaching a sample thirty minute lesson and would be observed. I don’t quite know how many Fs their are in HOOK, but I felt that I had been landed.

This morning, I woke at 4am and stayed awake. My wife was not speaking to me for something that I inadvertently said before we went to bed. When I got out of bed, I knew that this was my last chance to be abnormal.

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Dread is sitting beside me as I write.

It’s got a dark smirk of victory wiped across its face.

“Welcome back, boy.”

 

 

On Being ‘Bang’ Out Of Order…

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When I was leaving school today, as the rest of the staff were going into a whole-school meeting (lucky devils), there was not a soul on reception. There was no cheery goodbye or wearied statement of half-intent to see me again tomorrow.

As I was signing out on one of those digital wonders of a singing out book, I noticed a mother and her daughter waiting outside of the external glass doors. She obviously had things on her mind as the thundercloud above her head testified to.

In all my time in teaching I have tended to avoid these natural disasters and have chosen, instead, to find different routes of travel. Here, unfortunately, I was trapped. I had my bicycle gear on and was pushing my bike which made it almost impossible for me to fake a different exit. Instead of putting on a poor RADA performance, I thought that I may as well face the bull with the horns (I think that’s it).

“I’m afraid that they are all in a staff-meeting and there is nobody on reception,” I offered as apologetically as I could.

She growled.

“I can’t let you in, I’m sorry,” but I was not telling the truth.

“Dun’t matter, I’ll wait here all night if I have to.”

I believed that she would wait a while, but not all night.

Bang out of order,” she exclaimed. “Bang out of order.”

I gathered that she was talking about something rather than rehearsing for a role in a play or television soap.

“Bang out of order!”

She was a well-built lady so I chose not to disagree. But I was interested.

“What is out of order?” I just could not help it. It was like lighting the fuse to a firework. Light blue touch-paper and retire. As I was semi-retired, I thought that this was good advice. I lit it, watched the flame catch, stepped back a little, and waited for the explosion.

“Teachers take away her phone,” she pointed angrily at her daughter. “Last lesson of the day, they take away her phone and tell her that she cannot have it back until tomorrow. Bang out of order those bloody teachers. Who do they think they are?”

“Bloody teachers,” I wanted to answer. “Bloody teachers who have to deal with your offspring on a daily basis. Bloody teachers who have to try to educate your kids, give them an idea about the world where perceived rights come freely without any responsibilities. Bloody teachers who try to do their best to unpick the worst of what poor parenting has managed to instil. Bloody teachers who are supposed to be skilled professional educators and not bloody babysitters.

Bloody teachers who are all in a meeting right now and will be for the next hour and will therefore not emerge from the mind-numbing consumption of their free-time in time for you to ambush them at the gates. You will, I am sure, have gone home by then…”

I didn’t say any of this. Instead, I climbed on my bike and rode off.

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Bloody teacher, eh? 

 

A New Beginning (Autumn 2007)

Home from Home

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1.

 

The Volvo let out a sigh as the ignition was switched off. Its passengers sighed quietly too as everyone sat looking at the new house.

“Well guys, we’ve made it.”

At the age of forty, Laura Andrews turned with her work in progress ‘not a problem’ smile and patted the steering wheel. She could have said that shehad made it and that would have summed up her terrible journey of the past fifteen years. She had been happy, no she had been more than happy, but that was in a previous life and that had changed, Changed Utterly… Simon would have jumped in with the name of the poet and Laura would have given him that Duh response as they had both studied Yeats as undergraduates. For a second she thought of the Wild Swans At Cooleand of how they were destined to spend the rest of their lives with their first mate. She felt anger welling up from far below and remembered what she had been taught to do. When she had first gone into therapy she had suffered from panic and anger attacks and had been shown how to think through these anxieties, to counteract the darkness with light. The light she had chosen had been the one that was closest to her heart. She saw herself on a bench, just as the sun was setting. Their first baby was in her womb and she was – had been – happy. If she could sustain this vision, the darkness would eventually go away. Now she decided to make her way to the garden and counted slowly before saying, “Brian’s made it again.”

Michael, who was sitting next to her in the front passenger seat, nodded.

“Brian’s done it again,” he repeated.

Brian was the name they had decided to give the Volvo estate car. It had served them well for over five years and had managed to compensate for the unusual driving techniques sometimes employed by Laura Andrews. It was called Brian because of its speed and colour. A surprising yellow and a turn of pace that would match that of the snail on the children’s TV programme was an appropriate name for the vehicle. Still, it had never let them down. This was the sixth time they had moved house in three years and the boys were becoming dab hands at packing what little they had and moving at a moment’s notice. They never thought to complain.

The new house was situated on a very ordinary road on the outskirts of a very ordinary district of the city. It was constructed from an austere stone that wore the soot of a century’s coal fires. The front garden was evidence of the neglect it had witnessed from the numerous tenants who had stayed in its confines and the door, painted green, was stained with the dirt of traffic.

Hall Road was a late Victorian terrace that had always found itself in what town planners liked to call a transitional zone. In layman’s terms this meant that it had never had the opportunity to make its mind up whether it was a residential area, a commercial area or a bleak industrial area. In truth, it was all of these things and none of them. Hall Road was an afterthought for planners and for those who lived, sold or worked in and around it. It was a meeting place for those who had fallen on hard times, those who were recently arrived or those who merely wanted to hide. The Andrews family ticked all of these boxes.

“It’s sad,” uttered a small voice from the back of the car.

Peter, the four-year-old of the family, had not yet learnt to allot emotions to humans or at least things that were animate. He saw things in terms of happy and sad rather than in any physical manner.

“Yes, I’d say it was sad,” agreed Chris, his second eldest brother before his mother shot him a glance. “It needs us to cheer it up,” he added in an effort to save himself.

“Yes, we can do that. We can cheer the place up can’t we Mum?” Michael, forever the diplomat, the peacekeeper and the image of his father interjected. “We can cheer the place up just by turning the lights on and giving it a bit of company.”

His mother breathed out an apologetic laugh.

“Just until we get ourselves going again boys. It’s only for a while. I promise.”

That was the thing with their mother, she felt the guilt of having dragged her young sons through her own descent. The dark terrace stretched out before her with cars lining either side and she thought for a moment of the life that had been theirs until recently. For where they found themselves now, a few short years may have well have been a century or belonging to the life of another. Again, the she tasted the bile and swallowed hard.

“It’s all right Mum. It’s going to be fine. This new job of yours will make all the difference and we get the chance to go to a new school don’t we Chris?”

“Oh. Yes, a new school. Great.”

It was Michael’s turn to shoot his younger brother a look of censorship. Chris got the message and rolled his eyes.

“They’ve got a good set of football teams. That’ll suit you won’t it Chris?”

Chris smiled in agreement.

“With your skill, you’ll walk straight into the first team.”

“If they don’t break my legs I might. St Agnes is the dirtiest side in schools football. If they can’t win on the pitch they do it off it. They take no prisoners.”

“You boys make it sound as if it’s war rather than an innocent game of football. It’s not about the winning but the taking part.”

“Yes Mum, but it’s the way they take the parts that I’m not too fond of,” responded Chris in his traditional deadpan. As usual, he could always make his mother laugh even in the darkest of her moods.

“Well, do you want to stay here all night steaming up the car or do you want to get in and give the house something happy to think about?”

“Happy Mum. Happy,” little Peter echoed from the rear of the car.

Once they had unpacked themselves from the car, their mother led them up the short path to the door. She took out her key, placed it in the lock and turned. Obstinately it refused to turn at the first time of trying, but then it clicked into place, moving stubbornly to allow entry. Open, the smell of its emptiness wafted into the evening air. Laura hesitated for a moment and touched the frame of the door, sliding fingers along the neglected paintwork. Michael had seen her do this many times before when she came across something new. It was as if she had to check its solidity, touch its tangibility, feel the reassurance of its reality. She had done this frequently in recent years and today’s ritual seemed to have done the job. She smiled to herself and nodded to her sons.

 

The next moments saw them following their mother in through the front door. The first light didn’t work so Michael made his way into the living room and turned on the main light there. It immediately threw out a shaft that lit up the central hallway. A pile of letters had managed to build up and had been pushed against the wall by the door upon opening. A stairway ran away from them towards the bedrooms and an ancient musty smell greeted their arrival.

Moving from room to room, the family investigated their new surroundings. Immediately behind the front room was another, smaller one. Then beyond that was a kitchen that was long and thin with reasonable fittings and decoration. Out back was a strip of worn turf, the remains of a small garden orchard and a hut. They didn’t venture beyond the paved area.

What was more interesting was the upstairs where they found three decently proportioned bedrooms and a bathroom with separate shower. Laura Andrews said something about first appearances and book covers and this seemed to put a smile on her face. All things taken into consideration, it appeared that the house had managed to exceed their expectations.

Michael and Chris set about bringing in their possessions from the car, working in tandem so that there was always someone to make sure that nothing went missing. They had heard a few things about this end of town and didn’t want to take any chances. Their mother stayed indoors with Peter sorting through the cases and placing the appropriate things in the appropriate rooms. Their industry was rewarded when the last of the boxes was unpacked and the kettle was beginning to boil.

It was already dark outside as the August night was prematurely being vanquished from the skies. Although rain had threatened throughout the day, it was still dry and seasonably mild. The work that they had done had built up decent appetites and it was decided that the two eldest boys would go out to hunt down some fish and chips for a late supper. One of the benefits of living there would be the proximity of fast food takeaways.

With purpose in their steps, the boys set off along Hall Road towards the main thoroughfare where they had noticed a line of shops including what looked like a small supermarket, an Indian takeaway, a newsagent’s and a fish and chip shop.

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What they didn’t notice was the outline of a figure standing back from the road, clothed in the garb of shadows, watching everything they did.