The Grey House

This is a novel for young adults about a boy that moves into a new area and is befriended by his next door neighbour. As the novel develops it becomes apparent that he is a refugee from another planet in disguise as a human being. The novel deals with attitudes towards strangers, the homesickness of being a refugee, and the possibility of friendship between very different people.


1. Chapters 1-3

Chapter 1

The grey house looked a little different every time she passed it.
On Monday the windows were blank; dark meaningless squares in the neat stone wall.
On Tuesday blinds were up; the house had eyes, and eyelashes. It surveyed the street, and returned her gaze.
Then the front door changed colour; from a dingy chipped green to a clear blue. The window frames followed suit; the walls were scrubbed to a soft dove grey; flower baskets appeared; a car arrived outside.
They were in.
The new neighbours.
What would they be like? Would they be nightmares, as her parents feared, or godsends?
While she was doing homework in her room, in between checking Facebook and texting Sally about Nathan, Kate wondered if her family might turn out to be the new people’s nightmare neighbours. After all, their house was always full of musicians and cables and running kids and Mum swearing because no-one had done the washing up again.
‘Kate!’, yelled her Mum up the stairs.
‘It was your turn to do the washing up. If you don’t, I’m not cooking supper and you can all fend for yourselves.’
‘On my way. Just finishing this essay.’
‘Oh yes? When did you last finish an essay? Come down now. At once. This minute. Or I will lock you in the coal-hole and starve the cockroaches so that they are ferociously hungry and aggressive. ‘
‘We haven’t got a coal-hole’.
‘Cockroaches aren’t aggressive anyway. They’re very good mothers. They’d probably adopt her, not eat her.’
‘One less mouth to feed. It’s fathers that bring up cockroaches, anyway. Them and seahorses. Only known useful males in the whole animal kingdom.’
‘She’d stagger out years later waving her feelers pathetically and spend all evening dodging round the chair legs so we couldn’t see her. Although mind you with a bum the size of ..
‘Will! You bastard! ‘
Kate gave up all pretence of doing her homework and thundered down the stairs.
As she got through the kitchen door her mother thrust a sponge into her hand and disappeared thankfully towards the sofa, kicking off her high heels as she went. Her brother was on his x-box, eating a sandwich.
From the study came the familiar reassuring bong bong of the bass and the sweep of the piano as the band tried out the latest version of the rhythm section.
The kitchen window looked into the next door neighbor’s garden.
As Kate washed the coffee grounds down the sink, and checked to make sure that nobody had noticed that she hadn’t emptied all the dirty water out of the basin before filling it up again, she saw a boy about her age wander into the garden. He stopped next to the apple tree, bent to peer at the bark, broke a piece off, and stood looking at it.
‘Great. A new boy moves in next door and he’s a tree-hugger.’

Jon looked carefully at the bark. Its clouded colours and wrinkled texture looked soft, but it was papery and harsh to the touch. He loved the gentle way it curved to fit the trunk. He fitted it back in place, but it fell off immediately and lay in the grass under the tree.
Chapter 2
‘What a pleasure it is to welcome you all to the beginning of a new school year on this lovely sunny day..’
Kate was pleased to see that the automatic cut-out system she had had in place for years still worked. The Headmaster’s inexplicable enthusiasm faded into the background and she was free to look around her and check her friends out without being disturbed by any thoughts of progress or focus.
Sally had cut her hair. It fell forward on her face and hid the spots a bit, which was good.
Imogen was sitting cross-legged further along the row, immaculate shining head above clean shirt, gazing raptly ahead of her as if drinking in Mr Hanson’s every word. The thin white wire that snaked down from hair to collar explained why.
Further along Bella was watching the Head carefully. Kate guessed that she was still trying to work out whether he dyed his hair or not.
Rob was pushing his foot surreptitiously against the back of the boy in front, trying to get him to fidget, while texting rapidly in his lap.
They were already resigned to being back, really, quite pleased underneath. A new year was always exciting; another step up the ladder; more stuff to look out for..
And then she noticed the boy next door. He was sitting quietly in the same row as her, which meant that he must be in her class. There was something odd, lonely, new, about the way he sat. Instead of crossing his legs like most of them - next year they would be on chairs! - and relaxing into the floor - he had his legs awkwardly bunched together in front of him, and he looked down instead of around him.
She remembered that feeling when her family had just moved here, and she didn’t know anyone. Dying for someone to talk to you, but afraid to look at them .. On the other hand, if he turned out to be a dork, and she was nice to him, she might get landed with him to and from school for ever..
She ruminated all the way to their new room. They had a new form teacher. They usually did. Always someone fresh to the school, who could be conned into taking them on. 
When Miss Burns, a very nervous and far too friendly English teacher who was going to be fun to break in, went round the room asking their names, and what they were taking for their GCSE’s, instead of rattling them off and being far too cool to smile at the teacher, Jon looked up politely and slowly, carefully, almost as if he was speaking a foreign language, gave his name - Jon Smith - and recited his subjects. He sounded very posh.
Darren, behind him, sniggered, and put his hand up.
‘Yes, -Mark?’ Said Miss Burns brightly, checking the seating plan in front of her
‘Nobody’s really called Jon Smith, are they, Miss? I mean not really. Its the kind of name you use in hotels, don’t you Miss, when you’re on a dirty weekend?”
Slightly less brightly, Miss Burns said fatally ‘Well, I wouldn’t know ‘ only to be drowned out in a chorus of ‘Oh yes, Miss?’ ‘Never been on a dirty weekend, Miss?’ and other witticisms which she managed to quell just as the bell rang for the end of form period.
The stampede out of the classroom started; just as Darren got to the door he turned and hurled his parting shot “ Doesn’t sound like us, anyway, Miss. He’s probably a German spy!’
Kate turned to look at Jon. He was standing stock still next to his desk, holding his bag, white as a sheet, without a vestige of a smile on his face.
He didn’t just look embarrassed. He looked terrified.
Chapter 3
‘Terrified. Honestly. I’ve never seen anyone look so scared. Perhaps he really is a German spy. He looked just like David Attenborough on the train in The Great Escape when the Nazis got on.’
‘Will, you’ve had three of those already. Let someone else get a look-in.’
‘I need protein, Mother. I’m playing rugby tomorrow. ‘
‘There’s not much point in being a German spy now, is there?’ said their father, reasonably.” I know you’d never think so from the telly, but the war was actually over last century.’
‘There isn’t any protein in pancakes.‘
‘Dad’s noticed the war’s over, Mum.’
‘Maybe they are still training them just in case.’
‘In case of what? The Duke of Edinburgh invading Europe?’
‘Maybe he’s an Afgan spy. Or a suicide bomber. ‘
‘Why would anyone want to blow up Year 10? Except possibly the staff.’
‘They aren’t allowed to. It’s in their contract.’
‘Well, there you are then. ‘ Dad put his fork down and started to ease innocently up from the table. ‘What are the parents like?’
Mum, who had opened her mouth to tell him it was his turn to clear away, stopped and thought.
‘Well, now you come to mention it, she is odd. I haven’t spoken to her, but she looks a bit Stepford. When I left for work this morning, she was hanging clothes in the garden. In an apron. And there was a smell of baking coming from the kitchen.’
‘No shit? Definitely a German spy. ‘
‘Will! How many..’
A tinkle of piano music drifted from the study. Mum forgot all about Will's language and the neighbors and swore herself.
‘I won’t get him out of there for hours now. And I’ve got three costume drawings to do before tomorrow. Who’s going to clear up? Kate, I know its not your turn, but..’ she said to the empty kitchen.

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