Dawn broke. A deep crimson light staining the pale sky scarlet, shot with gold. The sunrise showed my face in a strange half-light. I thought of the previous night's events, and huddled closer into the musty, old rug I held around me. The girls, the game what had it meant? And, the screaming, the scream that shattered like a glass on the floor piercing the hearts of all and staying with them, for a lifetime. 'I must just be making things up'. I thought, hopefully. Sitting on the spindly, tin, spiral staircase outside, overlooking the garden (tall with frosted grass.) Clutching a cold cup of tea in my shaking hands, I watched the mist swirl past in low clouds which, had hung over the house since we arrived.
Redwood House was an old, wooden structure with several, small turrets at the top. The paint peeled (a faded duck-egg-blue colour) and the whole thing looked as though it might topple over at any moment. Creaking floorboards and broken furniture littered the long hallways and bedrooms. "Your Grandma didn't take very good care of the place," mum explained when we first arrived. "She, she was never the same after, after..." She took a sharp breath in. "After, your Granddad, died."
Mum had not been in contact with her parents ever since she left home, at sixteen. But when the will arrived, after her Mother's death, she point-blank refused to return to the house. Even Denny couldn't move her: "I'm not going back there, no way!"
"But, why?!" Denny boomed at her.
"Things... were never right there. I said that I hated my childhood and I'm not reliving the things I want to forget!"
She didn't even want to go to her own Mother's funeral.
"Some sort of family feud, probably." Mari had said once I had asked her about it. "From what I heard from Denny, he says that there was possibly a disagreement about a boy she was planning to run away with." She shrugged. "Something like that, anyway. her parents must have been up-tight people. Refused to give their blessing and so off she ran, with him. Our Dad, I'm guessing. It's just a theory, though."
But, she came round eventually. Denny kept throwing back the prospect of a family home, with no charge, in her face. And that by selling the flat, they would have extra money to do up the old house. And, to paint over all those bad memories to make it different.
So. We moved. Away from friends. Away from comfort. Away from civilization, infact. For, Redwood House was in the middle of nowhere. By the moors, so a heavy fog hung about all the time, and with the back garden leading into a dense, red-pine forest.
It seemed to loom out at me, silhouetted against the rising dawn, attempting to scare me off. I stared stonily at the dark mass of trees, then emptied my cup and retreated back into the creaky, old house which was nowhere near (what I would call) 'home'.
* * * * *
"Where have you been?" Mum shot me a piercing look from across the cereal, causing Denny to take her hand and give me an identical glare. "Just, in the garden." I pulled up a chair and sat myself down at the old table. Mum looked as though she had swallowed a lemon. "You... you have?" She stuttered and tripped over her own words. I reached towards the milk-jug, to fill up my glass, but a hand stopped me. "Alex. Stay out of there and don't go into any other parts of the house, for now." I looked up into Denny's concerned face, then my eyes flitted to my mother's mascara stained one. "Why?"
"We need to check it for... for any rot or unstable flooring This is an old house, after all and one can never be too safe..." I let him trail off on a tangent about his health and safety obsession and simply ignored his warning. Pulling over the milk-jug from underneath Denny's out-stretched arm, I silently humoured his suggestion. He actually thought that I would go exploring the houses' dusty, old upper-floors, searching for what? 'Hidden treasure?', 'ghosts and ghouls?' how old did he actually think I was?
"Morning, all!" Mari waltzed into the tense kitchen, without a care and settled herself in a vacant seat, jiggling about to some new tune on her iPod. Marigold was my older sister, seventeen, and totally against the house-move. She 'casually' reached over the table for some cornflakes, and gave Denny a look as she did so. "Hey, Denny..." She began in a slightly mock-concerned voice. "I saw some loose floor boards, on my way downstairs." Mari gave Denny a knowing look. " If you trod on those, they could fly up and whack you in the face! You could even say that they are... 'safety hazards.' " She added, hopefully. Denny frowned at her. "For the last time, we are not leaving this house just because of some minor things that can be easily fixed, Marigold!" Mari screwed up her face into a thunder cloud! He had touched a nerve. And, he seemed to just have noticed because he was looking shifty, as he stared into Mari's fuming face. She hated being called by her full name, especially by Denny. None of Mum's boyfriends (in her opinion) were allowed to behave in an over-fatherly way to me or her.
"Playing the Daddy, are we? Acting the hero, the sensible one?" Denny gave a sigh.
"Mari, calm down..."
"Well, our Mum looks like a total wreck, I know! But that doesn't mean that me and Alex are still five-year-olds'!" At these words, Mum steadily rose to her feet, supported by Denny. There were tears in her eyes. "Mari, stop... please..."
"Don't you see, Mum? He's trying to get inside, take control, become the dictator and force you down to the bottom of the pyramid he's building for himself!" It was Mari on her feet, now. Pointing accusingly at Denny, as Mum leaned into his shoulder, tears free-wheeling down her face. "See? You made your mother upset, now!" He shot her a fiery look, stroking Mum's back, as she carried on crying into his well-ironed shirt. Mari simply rolled her eyes. "Oh, please! Don't try giving me that guilt trip, again! Hasn't it at all crossed your stupidly, boring, perfectly, perfect mind that none of us wants this!? That your grey world of a perfect, ready-made family, with a perfectly immaculate, family home in the countryside with rolling hills and farms, is not going to work?"
"It's not like that! Stop making assumptions, Marigold..."
"Stop denying it! We all know it's true. Even though some..." She gave Mum a swift glance. "Choose not to see it!" Then, she picked up the milk and threw it all over Denny. I saw it as if in slow motion, the cool, white liquid soaring from its container and splashing down his beautifully pressed shirt and trickle down his smooth, shaved face, through his gelled-back hair and over his face. Then, time sped up and all I heard was the shattering milk-jug on the floor and Mum's piercing shriek that still rung in our ears.
It was tarnish. Mum had leapt back in shock, her face white as the eerie silence set in. Denny dripped (fuming), Mum stood stock still (a look of utter terror on her face) but, Mari stared daggers at Denny (her fists clenched, shaking.) No one spoke, or moved, or made a sound. After (what seemed like an age) Denny whispered. "Marigold, please... we can make this work, if you would only stop and listen..." At these words, Mari picked up the knife beside her plate. "Stop trying to reach me, intruder!" She slammed the point of the knife, into the table-top, splintering the wood, before exiting the tense, shaken room.