THAT House

Everyone knows that house; the overgrown mess that no one ever leaves because no one ever enters. Finn knows that house too and he wants to know its story.

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1. Chapter 1

Everyone knows that house. How couldn’t you? You know that one; that’s lost, with overgrown shrubs and thick grass guarding the façade and tangle weeds racing up its walls. It is locked with a chain and has barbed wire running the perimeter that not even bored, drunk youths dare try. They joke as we all do. I dare you to touch it. But you wouldn’t. Not even for a free drink down the pub.

‘It would make the cat laugh’ some might say, for the only things that dare enter are cats but even their visits are brief. Slip in through the shattered window and out again with perhaps not even a mouse to show for it.

The only thing excluded from any woman’s lips is that, one house. That’s the rule.

They are everywhere, those houses – that’s right, there’s more than one - in every county, every town, every village. You’ll be sure to find one. There’s always that house. If you haven’t yet found it, fear the day you do.

Finn Mackenzie knew that house too. Well, he didn’t really know it, more he’d seen it. But he’d not just seen it either. Every single day as the bus passed through Maiden Heath he would watch it. He took in its features, as though it were a stranger; analysing its demeanour. It stooped lower than the other houses around it, like those elderly silhouettes that you see on pedestrian crossing signs, and was centred on its plot of land adorned by sturdy, symmetrical lawns on all sides. Red bricks, a worn, coffee roof where tiles had been knocked out like teeth in a brawl and two, plain rimmed bay windows on the lower ground that were boarded up - and now as useful as spectacle lenses covered in wash proof plasters – idly presented themselves.

Everyone had been in that house once. Or at least they believed that they had. Undoubtedly, ninety two per cent of Maiden Heath had put themselves inside the house. They had imagined the décor, the number of bedrooms and the size of living room, the only exception to this being the pre-school children who couldn’t even write yet, though some of them were bright enough to speculate, and Finn’s father, who refused to have any relation with the house, even in ‘dinner-table’ speak.      

Mr Mackenzie was an estate agent and, naturally, should have been inclined to share in this common interest. But he wasn’t. In fact, he shared in none of the interests of the town. He preferred playing golf alone in Haycombe on his weekends. It was quite possibly the furthest anyone could get from Maiden Heath without leaving the county; an idyllic country retreat in which seven nursing homes basked. Mr Mackenzie spent, therefore, the majority of his time around broke back old-timers and ageing yet wealthy scholars. No wonder then, that he had little knowledge of how to look after children. If he’d have had more than just Finn, he would have felt the brunt. Seeing as how Finn was, however, that didn’t seem to be such a problem. He wasn’t the best behaved boy in the year, that was for sure, but he wasn’t, by far, the worst. He attended class and got sufficient grades, but it was just something ‘extra’ that was lacking.

Finn Mackenzie was a different child – odd perhaps – which left him subject to multiple classroom jibes and the occasional punch. He held a fascination for science which he openly admitted, this being the first of his oddities. He was constantly examining. How does this work? What happens if I do this? Why is that? Why a child of his age should have the level of curiosity that Finn did was not a particular surprise. Almost every child wants to know why. But the simple fact that none of his classmates shared his enthusiasm, made him different.

*

Finn gripped his clipboard firmly and anchored his eyes on the bottle. It was only filled with water but the concept was simply fascinating. Gas bubbles ballooned in the container as Mr Duncan, the only Cambridge educated Physics teacher at Fornburn High School, pumped the pedal attached to it through a narrow tube.

“Right,” he began with a strong fixation in his voice. “Now, watch this. What’s going to happen…” He took his foot of the pedal and left it to rest on the tarmac. “…is that as the air bubbles rush up the tube, they will increase the pressure in the bottle and it will just take off.” His hand shot up above his face to demonstrate the motion. A broad smile spread across Finn’s face.

“What I want you to see is how high it goes and then, write down your observations. Just watch what happens.” He returned his foot to the pedal and began to inflate the bottle.

Two girls to the side of Finn twirled their hair in their fingers, one resting their head on the others shoulder.

Three more compressions and the container shot six meters into the air trailing water as it did so. There was a chorus of gasps from below and then screams as the two girls that had been besides Finn were showered in the spray. An eruption of laughter and ‘ohh’ came from the boys as they pointed and half covered their mouths with closed fingers.

“Burn!” was one comment.

They sniggered and then a group of about four boys looked to Finn who was standing to the side of the crowd that had formed around the girls.

“Girls pack in the screaming! It’s just water. Now go to the toilets, get yourself some paper towels and dry yourselves off,” ordered Mr Duncan.

“I’ll sue you sir! I only had these extensions put in yesterday! You’re finished mate.”

Another round of laughter broke out amongst the class.

“Well, somehow I doubt that Miss Anderson! But we’ll see. Now, pack in the lip and get inside.”

“Wha’ever,” they muttered as they abandoned the group, massaging their hair in the process.

 

“Oi, square-head!” Jonathan began.   “Catch this.”

Finn turned towards the voice. Jonathan was holding the bottle that, just moments ago, had been rocketing through the air. He threw it and it hurtled towards Finn. In a panic, he stepped a few paces back so that the bottle just missed the tips of his shoes. He looked at it, stunned. He had deflected the first shot! Jonathan and Robert always aimed things for Finn but never had he ever dodged them. Paper always hit him in the head. Staples always jumped down his shirt. He wasn’t normally able to avoid anything.

“Let’s get him!” Robert shouted and the pair ran at him full speed.

Finn started to run too but not before letting a brief scream escape his lips. This sent another surge of giggling among the group which soon turned into chants of “Rob! Rob!” or “Jonny!”

The cuffs of Finn’s trousers billowed as he ran. His chest began to burn.

“BOYS!” yelled Mr Duncan above the din. “STOP IT THIS INSTANT!”

Finn continued to run.

“You’re a rat, Mackenzie!” they called out behind him.

Despairingly, Finn felt his legs give way and he stumbled then, promptly, slumped to the ground. Jonathan and Robert were on his back instantly, pounding it with closed fists, whilst Finn struggled under their weight.

“BOYS!” called Mr Duncan again.

It was some time before Finn felt any relief.

“Jonathan Hartley and Robert Dimple, how dare you? I expected better from you both. Especially after last week Mr Hartley. Remember that conversation I had with your social worker? And how we agreed that you’d improve if you wanted to carry on attending this school? Hmm? You bring me to shame young man.”

Finn saw Jonathan stiffen.

“As for you Mr Dimple, I am beyond words. Now, get yourselves to the principal straight away or there will be severe sanctions. Do I make myself clear?”  

“Yes,” they said in unison.

“Yes what?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Right. Now get out of my sight.”

They slouched off and ambled inside. Mr Duncan shook his head.

“Right the rest of you inside. This practical is over,” he said flippantly. The group disbanded.

“Now, Mr Mackenzie,” Mr Duncan began with his back turned from Finn. “Are you alright?”

There was silence and only then did he turn to look at Finn. He was deep red in the face and shaking.

“Bloody Hell!” he gasped. He knelt down to Finn who was sprawled on the floor and put his face adjacent to his. “Samantha!” he called and waved his hand at one of the students as they filed in. She turned and so too did the others. They began whispering under their breaths and then sniggering.

“Get Finn’s inhaler, will you? It’s in my drawer in the classroom.”

“Yes Sir.”

“And hurry up! We haven’t got all day!”

He addressed the remainder of the class. “Inside now! I’ll be with you in a minute.”

He turned back to Finn. Mr Duncan lifted Finn’s limp body and rested his back to the wall of the school building.

“Hold on there, Finn. You’ll be alright. Just…stay calm. Good boy.”

 

If Finn’s first quirk was his eagerness, his second was, most certainly, his frequent and uncontrollable asthma attacks. 

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