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5. & 6. Crossing

by joydaly 

Posted: 22 November 2016
Word Count: 2265
Summary: YA Psychological mystery/thriller
Related Works: 4. Crossing (revised) • 

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A machine-gun hammer against the rusty tin roof wakes me and I check my watch – 6.24am. It hasn’t woken me, rather dragged me from another dream. The shed has been on my mind all night.
I stretch, then slip out of bed. Even though it’s pouring, when I swipe my forehead my hand comes away slick with sweat and I’d kill for air-con. I stand in my boxers at the desk and my finger traces the words, Come and Play.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ Mum nabs me at the laundry door.
   ‘Out to the shed.’
   ‘I thought you said it was locked.’
   ‘It is, but I found a key.’
   ‘For the door?’
   ‘Not sure, haven’t tried it yet.’
   ‘Well you’re not trying it today. Look at it out there; you won’t get three steps before you’re drowned.’
She’s right. The sky is granite and I can’t see the shed through the rain. I shrug – I  can wait.
          ‘No you can’t.’
The voice is so loud, so real that I’m spinning around looking for it, for him. But there’s no-one.
‘What is it, Jack?’ Mum’s eyes are watchful.
‘Nothing.’ I turn away before she sees something she shouldn’t and I’m back to swallowing pills again.  

We’re into the Big Wet. At least that’s what Dad reckons the guys at work call it. Three days now since I found the key. The rain keeps bucketing down and I still haven’t been back to the shed. Three days for me to think about the box, the key and the note. And as the hours have gone by, the questions have become a silent mantra. Who? How? Why?
          The last time those three words were spinning in my head, I couldn’t find the answers. And the words got faster and louder and I almost went crazy.  I’m going to get answers this time. I don’t care what it takes.
We’re going into town this morning, not to buy anything. Apparently, there’s a mountain of bills from the past year of welfare. I’m headed for the library, don’t know where Mum’s off to, but she’s acting strange. The note is in my pocket and I’m already formulating the questions for the librarian. What is it made from? And more importantly, when was it around?
The library is built with limestone blocks and Doric columns support the soaring portico. It’s the grandest building in town other than the Church of England down the road and just as hostile. The library at home had grey concrete walls and huge sheets of frameless glass, with panels of primary colour covered with quotes from dead philosophers. So much cooler than this.
I leap out of the car and sprint up the stone stairs to the double-doors. They’re hard to push open and just inside there is a long strip of grass-coloured, absorbent matting. I stand on it, dripping for a second. It must be rolled out for the Big Wet.
The library is a cavern of grey, tiered metal shelves that stretch across the floor. Despite the fluorescent tubes streaking the ceiling, everything is dim, gloomy. Nobody is behind the counter that runs along the left wall, but I’ll bet the librarian would appear in a flash if I yelled.  The rear wall is lined with windowless, two-seater cubicles made of oak panels, carved with scrolls. A computer and keyboard squats in each and I’m already flexing my fingers as I slide onto the seat in front of one and open my backpack. We still don’t have the net on at home, something about being so far out and the network not being available, but I think it has more to do with the bills mum keeps going on about.
   I pull out the yellow, oilskin notebook and drop it on the desk. It's been five years since I bought it. Well, I didn’t buy it; the newsagent felt sorry for me and let me have it – a present he called it. But, even back then, when I was only nine, I knew that the presents they gave us were wrapped in gratitude. Gratitude that it was us and ours, not them and theirs. I took the notebook anyway and wrote on the first page, Who? How? Why? The handwriting looks so babyish now.
Rolling the swivel chair to the keyboard and slapping a pen on top of the open book, I address the first word. Who?  
Who wrote that note and hid it in the hole?
I found the lease that mum and dad signed. It’s for twelve months and they weren’t joking about the rent. It is so cheap that I wonder why the owners bothered.
There’s nothing about the owners on the lease, it just lists the real estate agency and I visit its website first. Not much there. Local agents, been in the town for over a hundred years, business passed from father to son. A sepia picture of a bearded man without a smile, through to an airbrushed businessman minus the beard, but with the same squinty eyes and bushy brows, tracks the proprietorship through the generations. There is no way dad could make me stay in this town, even if he had a brilliant business.
 Our house has dropped off their database and I suppose that figures. I try a search through homes.com for a rental or sales history. This gives me a bit more. It hasn’t been listed for sale, but it was rented in 2004 and for less than we are paying. I try to go further back, but the records finish in 2003.
I rest my chin in my hand as I stare at the screen. Google isn’t going to cut it. I begin closing windows, until I am left staring at the face of the squinty-eyed, bushy-browed, current proprietor of Breedon Real Estate.  The address listed is just down the street, in the strip of shops that passes for a mall in this place.
I can hear the muffled splat of rain and decide to leave my backpack here. I pull out my raincoat and two minutes later, I slow to a walk, breathing hard as I make it to the tin veranda that runs the length of the shops. It makes a hell of a noise with the rain and although a car splashes past, I can’t hear it. About halfway down, there’s a sign swinging from a post. Breedon & Sons – Realtors.
A bell connected to the door tinkles and the receptionist, maybe a couple of years older than me, looks up as I stand dripping on her mat. The look is uninterested and I’m stung, I may not be Chris Hemsworth, but I usually get a second glance.
   ‘Hi, I’d like to speak with Robert Breedon,’ I say, smiling.
   She can hardly be bothered to answer as she clicks away on the keyboard, her nails blood red and sparkling with bling. Nails like that reminds me of talons.
   ‘No. I just need a sec.’
   ‘Sorry, he’s not available.’ She turns back to the computer screen, but not before I see the spiteful satisfaction.
   Hey, what did I do to you? I want to say, but instead I raise my voice. ‘Is Robert Breedon here?’ I guess my voice will penetrate the wooden door behind her desk and I’m not wrong. The man I saw on the net, minus the airbrushing and plus maybe ten kilos, bustles out, his hand already extended.   
   ‘Who wants me,’ he says.
Everything about him is buttoned down, compact, except for his brows, sprouting so bad I can scarcely see his eyes, and his hand folded around mine. It’s shovel-like, with hairy knuckles and ropey veins.
   I release it as quickly as I can. ‘Mr Breedon, I’m Carole’s and David’s son, Jack.’
   For a moment, he looks blank, then he says. ‘Yes, the West place.’
   West – I make a mental note.
   ‘What can I do for you, young man?’
   I thought that nobody besides my old English teacher used that term and I smile ingratiatingly as I say, ‘I have a few questions about the town, Sir. They won’t take long and I’m hoping you could spare a couple of minutes.’
   He consults a fob watch, the chain clinking. ‘Well young man, I do have a couple of minutes before I have to leave for a showing.’ He snaps the fob’s lid closed and slips it into his waistcoat pocket. He ushers me through the door and points to the padded chair on the other side of his desk.
His office looks like him, spare and compact except for a couple of peculiar features. Next to a utilitarian pen holder on his desk, there is a crystal globe like the ones fortune-tellers use and behind his desk there’s a painting on the wall. The painting is boring. A dull oil of a shack, but the frame around it is fantastical. It looks like it’s been made with swirls of rose glass and in each corner, there is a 3D crimson  glass heart, the size of my hand.
‘Yes,’ he prompts and I drag my attention back to him, not sure where to start. Sucking up never hurts, so I begin with, ‘Thanks for seeing me without an appointment. I know you’re busy so I really appreciate it.’
   He nods, and pats his pocket.
   ‘I’ve been on your website. It’s excellent. The pictures of your, I suppose Great, Great, Great – how many Greats do I need?’
‘Eleven generations have been in this office starting with Bartholomew Breedon, back in 1896.’
   ‘The original hipster,’ I say, smiling.
Breedon stares at me, uncomprehending and I change the approach. ‘Is he the guy with the beard in the first sepia photo on your site?’
   Breedon leans forward, his face appreciative. ‘Why, yes young man.’
   ‘Wow, you must have been here almost since this town began.’
   ‘We came here with the first settlers; we were apothecaries back then. Didn’t take us long to get into real estate though.’
   ‘Have you always been in this building?’
   ‘Oh, no. This strip was only built in 1926, before that we had a standalone establishment,’ and he points to the painting. ‘They don’t make them like that anymore. Solid as a rock.’
I take a closer look and see it is slightly grander than a shack, made from rough-hewn, almost black planks, that look identical to the planks on my shed. A sign hangs crookedly from the top of the veranda. Breedon – Realtor. This must have been before the Sons started popping out. 'Your family have been here forever.’
   He nods proudly. ‘For as long as there’s been Alstonwick, there’s been Breedons.’
   ‘Do you have records for all that time?’
   ‘Of course,’ and I read the same expression on his face that I do on dad’s when he holds his football pins in his hands. Dad’s a mental Aussie Rules guy and he has pins from clubs that don’t even exist anymore.
‘We keep them in the basement,’ and he points at a door behind his desk in the corner.
‘Would it be possible to take a look at them? I’m really interested in the history of this place.’
‘This can’t be a school project? You’re still on holidays.’
‘No, Sir. It’s personal.’ And I can see that he likes that answer.
‘Personal,’ he repeats, his voice soft. ‘Well, young man, my archives are personal to me and I’m inclined to allow you access to them, but you are going to have to promise me that you won’t damage any of the records. Some are quite brittle, you see.’
‘I promise, Sir. I’ll wear white gloves.’
 ‘White gloves? Like they do in the national archives?’
‘Yes Sir, just like that.’
‘He smiles broadly and holds out his hand. ‘Right, I’ll let Aleisha know to expect you…’ and he looks at me.
‘Tomorrow,’ I blurt as I reluctantly shake the ropey shovel again.
‘Tomorrow,’ he repeats as he shows me back into Reception. ‘Aleisha will let you through.’ He pulls out his fob watch. ‘I must away. Nice to have met you, Jack. It was Jack?’
‘Jack,’ I say.
He nods and then he’s gone.
‘See you tomorrow,’ I say to Aleisha.
When mum picks me up from the library, she has a large cardboard box on the back seat of the car. ‘Sit in the back,’ she calls after she cracks open the window and hurriedly rewinds it against the driving rain.
‘Sure.’ I throw myself into the car and bang against the box. It vibrates and makes a weird, snuffling sound. For a crazy moment, I think Mum’s caught a gremlin.
 ‘Open the lid,’ she says, twisting in her seat to look at me, excitement radiating from her in a cloud of perfume.
Already I’ve caught it, and my hands tremble as I undo the flaps. And out pops a puppy. Its bright brown eyes fix on mine; its little pink tongue is stretching out to lick my hand and it is so cute. ‘Mum,’ I breathe, as I scoop it up and bury my nose in its silky hair. It smells of warm milk and doggy fur.
 ‘She’s a Yorkshire Terrier. Doesn’t have a name. The pound at Avon had her.’
Avon is nearly three hours away. Mum has been driving since she dropped me off.
‘Thanks Mum.’
Mum babbles on and it washes over me. ‘Rosie,’ I whisper into her ear and her tiny tail thumps my leg.

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Comments by other Members

andinadia at 07:42 on 23 November 2016  Report this post
Some lovely writing here. You're doing a great job of hinting at the slightly gothic/old world feel of this new world he's arrived in, compared to where he came from. Including the description of the estate agent.

My main comment on these chapters is that it just doesn't make sense that Jack should be trapped inside the house for three days by continuous rain, unable to pursue his quest to enter the shed. For one thing, does it ever rain absolutely solidly, even in monsoon regions? But also, the rain-affected delay holds the plot back. Typically if a main character is prevented from moving forward with the action, we as readers would need to feel their sense of frustration and see their attempts to overcome the challenge, rather than simply saying that three days have passed. I think you need to resolve exactly why he does not and cannot get into the shed, so that we maintain our interest in his research into the parchment note. (I'm guessing you've inserted 'What is it made from?' to answer the earlier query about how he would know it was parchment.)

The library and estate agent scenes work well. It's just that as readers we'd probably rather be back at the shed!

I think you could make more of the puppy scene... the anticipation about why mum has asked him to sit in the back, about what's in the box (maybe some noises and movements from inside the box?), and the thrill of opening the box. (Very indirectly hint at the echo of the earlier opening of a box?)

Detailed comments
It's a bit confusing at the start, when it seems that he is hearing the rain on a roof above his head. But more importantly, how do we understand the plot if in the previous chapter he decided not to try and open the shed door because it had started raining so hard, yet now he decides to go the shed even though it is still raining.

'I’m back to swallowing pills again' - what does this refer to?

A slightly wordy opening. It might be more immediate if you were to start with the line 'We’re going into town this morning ...'

'we still don’t have the net on at home,' - I think we need to know this earlier, so that we can appreciate why he was so ready/keen to go into town.

'Well, I didn’t buy it; the newsagent felt sorry for me and let me have it – a present he called it. But, even back then, when I was only nine, I knew that the presents they gave us were wrapped in gratitude. Gratitude that it was us and ours, not them and theirs. I took the notebook anyway and wrote on the first page, Who? How? Why? The handwriting looks so babyish now.' - I didn't get this.

'I found the lease' - I think first we need to see his thought process, why he was looking for the lease. But also you may need to explain what a lease is, for the target age of the reader.

'The painting is boring.' - No need for that; the point is made in other references.

I really like the flow and detail of the whole scene from ‘Hi, I’d like to speak with Robert Breedon,’ I say, smiling....' to '‘... See you tomorrow,’ I say to Aleisha. ‘Whatever.’

'Avon is nearly three hours away' - That sounds a bit far! It would mean that up to 7 hours had passed since she dropped him off.

joydaly at 20:33 on 23 November 2016  Report this post
Hi Andy,

Great comments - as per usual!  Will be editing accordingly.
Your question about the pills.
In the first chapter I refer to the shrink and his stupid labels and shitty pills. As the story progresses it is revealed that Jack was medicated at one stage because he kept hearing Sammy's voice.

Thanks Andy, your efforts are so appreciated.



Issy at 22:07 on 01 December 2016  Report this post
This is getting good, thoroughly intrigued now! Just catching up.

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