When I was almost 16 the old decrepit house beside my own received new inhabitants. I remember being petrified of that house, number 32, Crawford Drive. It had sat there dilapidated for as long as I could remember, and probably long before that. It’s grimy, grey wooden walls were rotting and the windows bowing slightly. The old, off white paint was flaking from the window panes and the old window boxes were abundant with weeds. Once, the roof had been tiled but many of them had long since fallen off, leaving what resembled a red and felt chess board. The steps up to the front porch were in disrepair and creaked in the wind like a ghoul begging for forgiveness. The house was a monument of what so few people had managed to escape.
I often asked my Mother what had happened to the house - why ours wasn’t the same and why nobody else lived on the same street other than us. I was always met with the same reply, “You wouldn’t understand the hardship those people faced, and count yourself lucky you were never around to witness it.” It shut me up but I was never satisfied.
It took me until I was 14 to build up the courage to approach Mr Stokesfield about the house. He was an old chubby man, maybe in his late 50’s. He wore a twill waistcoat and an olive green flat cap, always. His brown trousers had a prim crease down the front and his shirts were always the same colour of dishwater grey. He had podgy hands and no neck. Mr Stokesfield was the town butcher in his younger years, the best and most affordable meat in the county by all accounts, but now he was retired and resorted to gardening and hoping his ‘enough to get by’ pension was enough to get by on. He was miserly and always had been. He was born and raised in Yorkshire, looking at the rolling hills since his first breath and until his last. I often compared his house to the one next door to mine. His was obviously much cleaner but very similar in design. My house was boxy and wooden with small windows and a creaky door, a very different habitat to Mr Stokesfield’s.
I walked the short detour to his house after a school day when I was feeling curious. I approached him in his garden and quietly mumbled, “Hello Mr Stokesfield, may I talk to you for a moment?”
“Yes of course deary,” he chirped like a spring bird in his Yorkshire twang. “What would you like?”
“I’m here to ask you about the house next door to mine, number 32.”
“I see. I knew the day would come when you and your small inquisitive mind would show up on my doorstep looking for words of wisdom about that house next door to yours,” He smiled and took off his cap to reveal a receding hairline and a hideous comb over. “Come on over here and pull up a seat.” I dragged a small wooden stool over to where he sat on a long swinging seat. I looked at him expectantly.
“Lets start at the beginning eh?” he asked rhetorically. I nodded anyway just incase.
“Back in 2045 a young couple moved into the house next to yours. I was just a boy when they arrived. They settled in and soon enough the lady was expecting. They became part of the local community and bought land to build allotments on. They set up a small fruit business that travelled our town supplying people with the best fruit and vegetables around. This was all within about 6 months of their arrival. News was coming in fast of a wild storm that was in Japan but travelling westward. Most people thought like most of the other storms, it would die out over the ocean. This one didn’t. It tore across the globe, leaving destruction and prospects of billions of pounds worth of repairs that would plunge any country it touched into a state of depression. After Japan it hit Russia, then Poland, then France wiping out everything. People were panic buying and building defences, preparing for this vast and unstoppable force.”
He paused here for breath and I noticed he had pain in his eyes. I sat still not wanting to upset him and I looked into the distance until he began talking once more.
“The weather men had promised no harm would come to England, that it would cause flooding down south but no unbearable damage. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Winds whipped through our towns and villages, houses flattened and flooded. It was like the end of the world had come. Your naïve neighbours believed the weather men and slept tight in their beds not knowing anything. There were only 4 survivors in the town but only 1 house remaining. 32 Crawford Street. It was as if there was a spell placed on that house, not one piece of damage could be seen; yet all of the inhabitants died on that night. It was a mystery and nobody knew how it could’ve stayed standing. A beacon of hope for a new beginning.”
I was frozen to the stool. My arms were dotted in goose pimples and my head hurt like a pick axe had been slammed through it. How could a beacon of hope now stand crumbling in on itself? Why had nobody moved in yet? What stopped the unstoppable? My mind was a race course for thoughts and questions. One part of this story didn’t add up for me. What killed the family if the house remained unscathed?
I needed to investigate. However this cleared up one mystery I’d had since I sat my first history lesson. Why were the people in the past so rich but now we are so poor and unadvanced. I knew now it was because the storm had been a black hole, pulling the globe into a depression that made 1930’s America look easy.
Walking to and from school for the next couple of weeks I wasn’t distracted by the boy who lived two streets away, my thoughts constantly drifted to the Beacon of Hope. Jacob went to my school and was three years older than me. His eyes were ice and he had long floppy hair that was so many different shades of blonde I couldn’t count. He had cappuccino skin that made him look Italian or Greek. His build was one of an ox and his jaw line was sharp. My eyes were for him and so was my heart. My mother had always disproved of me having a liking for him, saying he was less well off, a worker and that I could never be with him because it would shame her more importantly myself. Yes his family were not as well off as us, poor even, but I loved him and whenever I spoke to him a tingle would run down my spine and trough my legs all the way to my feet; this was not often however because the Johnsons and the Brooks (my family) didn’t mix unless it was at town events which were once in a blue moon. Even then we rarely exchanged pleasantries.
I had to do something or I would over think everything and imagine possibilities that were unfeasible concerning the history and enveloping mystery of number 32. I decided I needed evidence so I took it upon myself to plan and execute an investigation that would hopefully answer some of my questions.
The next time my mother was out getting groceries I snuck over to the Beacon of Hope. It drew me but for some reason my feet were stuck to the ground in front of the house. I decided that instead of my first idea which was to peek through the windows, I sat and drew the house in excruciating detail. It took weeks, and all my spare time. After homework I’d sit in the tree opposite and draw in my sketch book. I always took a newspaper out with me to hide my sketches so my mother wouldn’t get suspicious. I felt like a spy trying to look for evidence; like Sherlick, I believe that was his name. I was dedicated to my task. I was sure I would find out what had happened to that house, the Beacon of Hope, 32 Crawford Drive. It drove me mad but the madness pushed me forward. It was a vicious circle; but not in the way I had expected.