Smoke and Mirrors

When a boy moves into his new home, his hopes and dreams crumble like the old house's walls. But upon discovery of a strange mirror, could his new home be a bit less boring than he thinks?

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2. The House

Moving. The terrifying struggle between new and old; losing old friends, meeting new ones; a strange, hostile environment coupled with strange, hostile neighbours. Every child’s nightmare - you just had to make do with it.

         “It won’t be that bad,” they told me. “You’ll get along fine.” “Everything will be lovely.” “Think of all those new friends you’ll make!” But I knew better. The only good that could come of it would be escaping the teachers and homework of my previous school.

         Stepping out of the purring, midnight black Jaguar, my feet met the crumbling pathway. Rain spattered the ground and the back of my neck, and finger width pebbles of water dribbled down the back of my number 08 hoodie. Plastered to my forehead, my hair stood up in short spikes and splashed droplets onto my face. The end of my nose dripped like a leaky tap, and my whole body shook with freezing cold and apprehension. Wet and miserable, was how I could be described.

         “Isn’t the weather lovely?” said my ever-joking never-funny dad. “Fine pathetic fallacy, I say, but take no notice, squirt.” I will never understand father-speak.

         We hurried through the front garden, a lake of mud and rainwater, and into the porch. A jingle of metallic clinks, and the keys twisted in the lock. Inside, the new house was no more cheery than out. Grey, peeling wallpaper clung to chipped plaster, and patches of mould and damp were puzzle pieces in the drab jigsaw of the crumbling walls. Stained planks covered the floor, irregular and creaking and squealing under the slightest weight. Picture hooks jutted out, nails knocked in lopsidedly, like scattered spears in an otherwise unarmed army of bore. However, only a fraction supported any frame, and even less, a picture. Everything in sight was miserable shades of murky green, muddy brown and polluted grey, including the moods of the new owners of the house. The house with a dank and clammy air of ancient unstableness. I couldn’t possibly have imagined a more cheering and exciting new home! Yeah, right.

         “Did you actually get a chance to see this dump before you bought it, or was this just some cruel trick to make me actually believe I’ve got to spend the rest of my sorry life here before you show me our real new home?” I questioned sarcastically, unable to believe why my parents hated me so much.

         “Now now, that’s enough of that cheek. You know full well that we’re planning for the future, and with the rest of the summer holidays on our hands we have time enough to add a lick of paint here, some new curtains there and flowers, painted or real, in some artistic nook or cranny.” A lick of paint?! The hovel needed a gallon to make it look clean, yet alone hospitable. And the summer holidays! To be holed up in the lopsided shack, with nothing to do except cheer it up, with no friends to listen as you moan about it – I knew I just couldn’t bear the thought. And if the weather continued to be as miserably pathetic as Dad said, well… But at least it gave me some time to myself before daring to venture within the evil clutches of the teachers at Kingston Private Secondary (boys 11-16), my new prison (school). Yeah right, time to buy my uniform would be Mum’s interpretation. Guess what colour my wool jumper would be? Yep, that’s right, grey.

 

“Come on kiddo, it’s not so bad,” my Mum told me in an attempt to “make it all better”. I couldn’t tell whether she was joking or not.

         “Look, it’s a fantastic old house, maybe a bit decrepit but we’ve got time to patch that up. You never know, it’ll probably end up looking great. And I bet you’ll find plenty to do, exploring all these winding corridors. There’s bound to be secret passages. Now I know you’re missing all your friends, but you’ll meet plenty at school. Just think, you’ll have a fresh start here. All new and exciting!” The only thing I could see that was fresh was the bottle of milk Mum had brought with her, “for emergencies”. But hey, I had one card to play.

         “Can I pick my room?” I got a reply of yes and no, being said simultaneously. Barging past Dad and giving him a suggestive glare, Mum took over.

         “I don’t see why not. We’ve got the whole of this huge old house, we’ve rooms to spare! And you can explore at the same time.” I grinned, grabbing my bags and running, before their hushed arguments could change Mum’s mind.

         The stairs screeched and bowed under my off-white trainers. As they scuffed away the dense film of dirt, I coughed as cloud of dust rose into the air. Once upstairs I had a good look around: same screechy floor planks, same grey walls. I padded along the corridor and around the corner. A floor-to-ceiling mirror hung on the wall, cracks criss-crossing its surface. I reached out a hand to touch its cool surface, and pushed slightly, towards the reflection of the corridor. Of course it didn’t give way, I wasn’t really expecting an Alice Through the Looking Glass moment, but I couldn’t shake the slightly edgy feel of the glass doorway.

         I backed off down the corridor, walked round the square hallway around the stairs to an opposite corridor, and tried that one instead. I didn’t pass the  stairs for a long time after that.

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