curiosity #2

The houses on the first street are all boarded up. Dark and silent windows, forbidding signs, stating ‘That despite obvious dilapidation, any offers are welcome, and then refurbishment will commence immediately.’ The words are almost as old and worn as the houses themselves. Nobody comes here anymore. The man on the train said ‘Something was up’. Clearly.

Things cheer up a little when he reaches the square. There’s a juggler on the street corner, and a girl by the fountain, head in a book. Shops are still open, and general chatter drifts out onto the street mixed with the crackly radio at the juggler’s feet. A black cat streaks past. More bad luck, exactly what he needs.

‘Any boarding houses round here?’ he asks the girl. She looks up from her book, the tiny bells on her earrings jangling. She gestures with an arm.

‘Right off down that street, there’s one at the end. More of an inn, if I’m entirely honest. But it’s cheap and cheerful, guaranteed. If you want a proper boarding house you’d have to go further in town, but your bags look heavy, and I thought I’d try and save you the walk.’

‘Thank you. That’ll do for now.’

‘My pleasure, Sir.’

Again, with the Sir. He closes his eyes tight and walks away. Almost nothing is worth strangling someone over. Certainly not the irritating misuse of a relatively harmless title.

The street she mentioned is a long one, with many more disused, and generally deteriorating buildings to the left and right. Right down at the end is an immeasurably tall, thin house with rickety front steps and hundreds of mismatched windows.

It’s pretty. It’s bizarre. It towers over the whole street, and blocks out the fading sun. He’s walking in its shadow long before he’s close enough to read the signpost.

Warm light spills out the door, and voices, many voices. As he approaches, they become less of a distorted hum and turn into shouts and screams.

curiosity

‘What’s it like being a twin?’ Brodie asks, tired of listening to the talk of travel. Reece and Ed look at each other, attempting to give the same answer. They open their mouths at the same time.

‘Magic,’ Ed says.

‘Overrated,’ says Reece.

They look at each other again, this time with entirely different expressions.

‘Well done, Brodie…’ John mutters. Brodie almost smiles.

‘I’m sorry. Forget I asked.’

‘No, it’s okay,’ Ed says, looking martyred. ‘We can have separate opinions, we’re separate people. I mean, I’m obviously the brains of the operation.’

‘Yeah, sure,’ says Reece. He rolls his eyes at Brodie. ‘But I make up for the stupidity with quick wit and general good looks.’

‘Good looks!’ Ed snorts scornfully. They bicker on. Lilly catches Brodie’s eye.

‘Do you think we should tell them they look exactly the same?’ she whispers.

work in progress

The men with guns never stayed out too late in the woods round Jaundice Hill. Jaundice Hill was an old, old manor house, with fading yellow brickwork and a sliding slate roof. The house was hidden deep in the middle of the woods, and the estate belonged to Charles Malkovich. Charles Malkovich was old, old man, with fading yellow skin, and thinning slate grey hair.

‘Stay late and try your luck with the birds and the deer and the rabbits,’ Mr Malkovich said. He spoke with a growl and an accompanying twitch. ‘Stay late and shoot them all. They aren’t doing me any good.’

Like the inevitability of death, Mr Malkovich took comfort in the punctual sound of birds wings and gunshots. He hated the animals and the way their legs worked. He hated the animals in their youth an innocence. He was reassured by the men with guns and their basic instinct to hunt.

All day they’d come up from the village, and desecrate his forest. From sunrise to sunset there was always half a dozen men with guns peppering the air with shots. Then darkness would fall, and they’d all pack their things and leave, quarry or no quarry.

‘Stay as late as you want,’ Mr Malkovich would tell them. ‘Stay all through the night if you want to. I don’t care.’

But they never did. Stay out too late, and Janet Wilcox would come down through the trees in her indecently short skirt. With her sultry pout and her eyebrows plucked like a turkey.

They didn’t know the first time. She walked down as they built a campfire and laid down their guns. She walked down and she saw what they’d done; and she put her hands on her hips, and stuck her chest out.

‘Hello, men with guns,’ she said. Innocently the first time. ‘I’ve come to collect your fee.’

Nobody minded the prospect of a fee, because Mr Malkovich’s land was rich with game, and the girl that asked them was attractive in a dark and dangerous way.

Nobody minded except plain Suzy Crawford with her rabbit fur scarf; rocking her baby by the fire. Her husband had a look in his eye.

‘Mr Malkovich never mentioned a fee,’ she sniffed. ‘Never mentioned nothing of the sort.’

‘Didn’t he?’ Janet said, and there was a gleam in her wickedly dark eyes. ‘That’s because he’s gone in the head. Has trouble with the memory. But I remember.’

She looked at the dead rabbits and the dead birds, in a pile by their feet.

‘Well, it’s simple. Kill and eat our animals, and we take your children.’ Janet Wilcox made a grab for the baby. ‘Pay up!’

‘What?’ screeched Suzy Crawford, who tended to overreact. ‘You’re a madwoman! I’m not giving you my child!’

‘Don’t look so scared,’ Janet Wilcox said. ‘I only want to look after it.’

‘You’re crazy!’ Suzy Crawford insisted. ‘Don’t come anywhere near us! John, do something!’

‘You must be mistaken,’ John Crawford said dumbly. ‘Mr Malkovich never said anything about this. You can’t be serious.’

Janet Wilcox’s mouth set bitterly, and she snatched Suzy’s rabbit fur scarf.

‘Disgusting,’ she spat, and she dropped it on the fire. ‘To kill and wear something so innocent. I wouldn’t trust you around children with that kind of behaviour.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Suzy shrieked hysterically. ‘You’re crazy, you’re mad!’

‘Get out!’ Janet Wilcox yelled directly in her face. ‘Go back to your village, woman. You’re raving like a lunatic. I can’t understand a word you’re saying.’

‘Hang on now,’ John Crawford said calmly. Janet Wilcox was too captivating in her tight clothes, with her dark hair; and they couldn’t be angry with her. ‘That’s my wife you’re talking too.’

‘Poor you,’ Janet Wilcox said. ‘Watch she doesn’t skin and your baby on the way home. I’d start hiding the carving knives if I were you.’

Suzy screamed something at her, and Janet Wilcox turned and marched back up to the old manor house. The men with guns still hunted in the woods round Jaundice Hill, but they knew when Janet finished working, and they never stayed after dark again. Never long enough to speak to her. But sometimes they’d watch as she walked down the front steps to ask for their children.

Janet Wilcox was mad, they all said. But Janet Wilcox was not mad.

little section of an abandoned story

Melody doesn’t know who Mr Boboguard is, but she doesn’t doubt Jake will rat her out the first chance he gets. Still; so far, she’s been lucky. She grins in Jake’s direction, and he glares back so hard she can almost feel it.
Having finally managed to rouse sleeping Victor; Aiden rises swiftly to his feet, pulling his reluctant brother with him.
‘Vic, we warned you to be careful with this fragile human body,’ he tuts. ‘It’s broken now, look.’
They both stand facing each other; Aiden authoratively holding Victor’s forearms; and Victor’s head hanging forward. Out of fatigue rather than shame, Melody thinks. He keeps irritably trying to free himself as he says, ‘I’ll get a new one.’
‘You can’t just get a new one, dummy. That’s not how it works. It’s not like when we were kids and they warned you not to be too rough with your toys. You can’t just swap it for mine this time – you have a hole in your face, did you know?’
‘Yes, I know!’ Victor snaps. The question awakens his dead demeanor; straightens the slump out of his shoulders. With a sudden burst of energy, he yanks his arms away, and puts several steps of distance between them. ‘I brought you all dinner, so you can let me go now.’
‘You mean Melody?’ Aiden says, giving her an appraising look. ‘To be honest, I think she’s more trouble than she’s worth, little brother. Judging by the state of you. And she pushed me, you know? It’s not that we all wouldn’t love to eat her, I assure you –’
‘Not Melody!’ Victor interrupts. ‘She’s mine and she’s a guest. Dinner’s in the drive.’
The light spilling from the hall and down the front steps doesn’t reach far enough to illuminate the ice cream truck; but Aiden glances out into the pitch darkness and seems to see it anyway.
‘Ice cream?’ he says, disappointed. ‘We don’t eat ice cream, Vic. Are you sure you’re alright?’
Victor rolls his eyes. ‘No wonder they don’t let you out, Ade. Don’t be so stupid. The driver’s dead in the back.’
‘Oh, good,’ Aiden says, ignoring the other comment completely. Though for a second his pale eyes seem to deepen a few shades. ‘Jake, go get the body inside, and park the truck round the back. Don’t get blood on the carpet, and take Melody to the great hall. Make sure the others know she’s out of bounds will you? Vic, wait.’

Ed’s Moon (oldish short story)

‘You know what I like about the moon?’

Pete sighed and stared at the ceiling, suddenly brought back to earth. His mind had been wondering limitlessly, swirling round and round the black hole in his brain, trying to avoid being sucked in. Pete had a loose grasp on science, he was less than sure how black holes worked. Perhaps it was more like a whirlpool. But regardless, now he was back on earth, away from space and sea. Stranded, flat on his back on Ed’s bed.

‘What do you like about the moon, Ed?’

As if Pete was the one who had started the conversation, Ed shrugged disinterestedly and didn’t look back.

‘I don’t know. It’s just… Cool. You know? Does that make sense, or am I just saying words that aren’t registering in that overactive brain of yours?’

‘Are you high?’

‘What? No. Can’t a guy appreciate the moon in his own home? I’m not always high!’

He’s laughing now. Pete is far away. He feels lost in the shallow waters of the conversation.

‘Isn’t it your mom’s home?’

‘Okay, you can shut up now, smartass.’

Pete considers the uninviting prospect of sleep and silence and he sighs. ‘What do you say we go out and appreciate that moon of yours together? I feel like this is a waste of a perfectly nice night stuck in here.’

Pete knows Ed’s weak points. The kind of person who will drop everything for a midnight adventure is the kind of person he despises. Why would they want to do anything else, when they can sleep and sleep and maybe one day never wake up. He’s never been that lucky so far.

A spark ignites in Ed’s eyes. ‘Oh, you know me too well, Peter. You know me too well.’

‘Yeah, sure. Don’t call me Peter.’

One day Pete will escape this house, this town, this world if it were possible. For tonight, this house is enough.

Ed’s moon is a day away from full, and so bright it makes the frosted grass sparkle. They track through it silently, and Ed tries to take Pete’s hand but Pete rejects it like he always does. Ed doesn’t care, he rarely does. Pete would give anything to have such an innocent carefree existence. He wishes things were as simple and round and bright and beautiful as the moon. He considers how infinite the sky is on the way into the woods.

‘Don’t you get bored, Ed?’

‘Maybe. Bored of what?’

‘Everything.’

‘Pssh. What’s the point? That would be boring.’ Manic laughter at his own pathetic excuse for a joke. Pete just stares at him.

‘Are you sure you’re not high?’

Ed stands stock still, staring upwards at the branches silhouetted against the sky. The light reflects in his eyes, glittering mischievously.

‘I will be in a minute,’ he says, and Pete says, ‘What?’ though he knows what Ed means.

‘Come on, come up with me.’

‘Nah, I don’t want to.’ Pete folds his arms and shakes his head. ‘You climb the tree. I’ll stand here and watch. Don’t die on me though.’

‘Pssh. Come on. As if I’d do that. You’d crash and burn without me.’

‘No doubt. But it’s getting cold. So get it over with.’

Ed scampers up the tree like a monkey, light and agile. Pete watches him idly, thinking he’ll pause on the biggest branch, the one overhanging the ground he stood on a moment before. He’ll wave and laugh and boast about how skilled he is. Then he’ll jump down, trying to make a grab for Pete’s hand again, and they’ll go back inside. Pete will feel exactly the same as he did when he suggested they go out. But at least they passed ten minutes or so getting some fresh air.

But Ed doesn’t do as predicted. He doesn’t stop. He pauses on the biggest branch, then whoops in excitement and keeps going.

‘Pete, this tree is awesome! I can’t believe I’ve never tried it before, it’s just like a ladder! I could totally get right to the top!’

‘Good for you,’ Pete says dully. ‘Be quick about it.’

‘You can’t rush perfection! I’m going to be so high!’ Another manic howl of laughter. Pete glances down at the wet grass and wonders if it’s worth sitting down. Moments pass. Ed’s head suddenly appears up at the top of the tree, his triumphant expression just visible.

‘Dude, I’m so high up! You should totally join me!’

‘Yeah, no thanks. Now come on, you’ve had your fun. Get down here.’

‘Give me a minute to bathe in my own glory! Oh, you should totally try it! It’s so easy, even you could climb it!’

‘Thanks. Come on, Ed. It’s cold.’

Ed laughs. ‘Look, no hands!’ He waves wildly, and Pete’s heart jumps into his mouth.

‘Quit it, Ed! You’re going to -’

Reckless laughter, a movement too swift. He slips, falls, the tree swallows him and the black hole in Pete’s brain implodes and takes him over completely. He feels nothing, knows nothing, is nothing. He squeezes his eyes tight shut and locks himself in his own head.

The branches shake, there’s a thump. Pete dares open one eye and Ed’s lying lifeless in the frosted grass.

‘Ed?’ Pete’s voice sounds weak. He tiptoes closer and nudges Ed’s side with his foot.

‘Are you dead?’

He’s dead. He’s gone. Pete is gone too. He closes his eyes with the intention of never opening them again. There’s nothing worth opening them for anymore.

A sudden scream of joyous laughter. ‘You thought I was dead?’

Pete opens his eyes again and Ed jumps up and points and hoots with laughter. ‘You fool! Come on, as if I’d die after I promised you!’

‘That’s not funny!’ Pete snaps. He hits Ed’s arm. Then hits it again. ‘Stop laughing at me!’

‘I’m sorry, it’s just so funny. I’ll shut up. Let’s get back in the house before we freeze.’

When Pete wakes up the following morning, he feels hopeful and clear headed. The sun glints through the window, and Pete shakes Ed again, just to double check he isn’t dead.

‘Ed? You know what I like about the sun?’

‘What do you like about the sun, Pete?’ Ed mumbles, face in his pillow. Pete smiles.

‘Everything. It’s just cool, you know? Come on, let’s get out there and climb some trees.’

 

The End