Jenna

Fifteen Nightingale Road – Extract 2

The unveiling of the dinosaurs… 

 (Please note this has not been edited.)

Jenna covered Ben’s eyes as she led him down the hallway to his bedroom. Joel and Pete were walking just ahead of them, and she couldn’t help noticing the protective way Pete had his arm round her brother’s shoulder. She missed having someone to do that for her, to be strong when she felt weak.

“You too, Jen,” Joel said, his hand resting on the door handle. “Eyes closed.”

“What?”

“You heard me. If your eyes are open too soon, you’ll spoil the magic.”

“Yeah, Mummy, don’t spoil the magic!” Ben admonished her.

Jenna sighed and rolled her eyes at Joel, but closed them without saying anything further. The murky colours that floated behind her eyelids filled her vision, and she felt a moment of disorientation before someone took her arm and she heard the door being opened.

She felt the grip on her arm lead her into the room and she pushed Ben gently in front of her, hands still over his face. When she had taken four or five stumbling steps, she heard Joel’s voice.

“Okay, stop there! Right, ready? Open your eyes.”

Blinking in the warm light, Jenna found herself face to face with a stegosaurus. It was painted on the back wall, just as Ben had requested, its tail raised as if to attack. Its cold, reptilian eye stared at her, sizing her up.

“Oh wow,” Ben murmured. “Wow!” The last word came out in a long drawn out breath.

“I take it you like it, then?” Joel asked. He was standing behind her, but Jenna could hear the grin in his voice. “It’s not all finished yet, but anything we don’t get done today, I think we can trust your mum to do.”

“If your head swells any more you’re not going to be able to get out the door,” Jenna said drily, but she was impressed. She could handle a pencil or brush reasonably well, but Joel had always been the one with the real talent.

The stegosaurus was not the only inhabitant of the room. There were a pair of velociraptors stalking an ankylosaurus on the wall with the window and on the other wall was a triceratops standing by a nest filled with eggs. There was even a pterodactyl on the ceiling. Not everything was fully coloured in and detailed, but everything had an outline and a face at least.

“What do you say?” she prompted Ben, who was still staring at the room with his mouth open.

“Thanks, Uncle Joel!” Ben threw his arms around Joel’s waist, hugging him so hard he was nearly knocked off his feet. “They’re the best dinosaurs. I don’t even mind that velociraptors wouldn’t have actually hunted ankylosaurus.”

Joel blushed slightly and rubbed the back of his head. “Ah, sorry, Ben. I’m not really much of a dinosaur expert. I just painted the ones I knew. Your mum said I wasn’t allowed to do any of the big scary ones. She didn’t say anything about the little scary ones.” He gave Jenna a wink.

“If either of us has nightmares about being eaten, I’m phoning you in the middle of the night,” Jenna promised.

“I won’t have nightmares, I promised,” Ben said. “And don’t worry, Uncle Joel, I don’t mind a bit. They’re all really cool.”

“I’m glad you like it. Don’t forget to thank Pete, too. He helped lots.”

“I don’t know about lots,” Pete admitted. “I’m not much of an artist. I did the grass, though.”

“It’s very good grass, love,” Joel said, leaning over to kiss his ear.

“Yeah, it’s the best! Thanks, Uncle Pete!” Ben could not stand still. He hopped from foot to foot, his gaze darting around the room, drinking in the sight, taking in every detail. His eyes were the widest Jenna had ever seen them, and his mouth would flap when he spotted something new. A gentle breeze from the open window ruffled his hair occasionally, like a friendly caress.

“Is there anything for lunch, Jen?” Joel asked. “All this excitement is making me hungry.”

“I’m sure I can find something,” she replied. “What about you, Ben?” He said nothing, staring intently at a space near the stegosaurus’ tail. “Ben?”

“I think we’ve lost him to the age of the dinosaurs.” Joel grinned. He put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and Jenna saw Ben jump and then blink as he had just woken up. “What do you want for lunch, little palaeontologist? Brontosaurus burger?”

“There’s no such thing as a brontosaurus, Uncle Joel. Can I have a cheese sandwich, Mum?”

“That’s the second time I’ve been schooled by a seven year old today,” Joel admitted as they headed downstairs. “I’m just going to stop talking.”

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Fifteen Nightingale Road – Extract 1

Jenna’s brother uncovers some strange things in the attic of her new home…

 (Please note this has not been edited.)

They returned to the house with a rainbow of paint cans. Ben had stared at the sample cards intently for what felt like hours before deciding on a shade called Cerulean Delight. It was the exact same colour as the sky on a warm July morning. It would be perfect for the little room, cheerful and light.

Jenna had chosen a green so pale it was almost white for the lounge, and slate blue for the kitchen. There was terracotta for the hall, and a dusky rose colour for her bedroom. They had not decided yet on what colour to do the spare room, but there was no hurry on that. They had to live in the house themselves before they could consider having guests over to stay.

She took the paint cans in and set them down in the hallway. Ben carried the selection of brushes and rollers she had picked up. She had bought far more than they were likely to need, but she couldn’t help it. It had been hard to resist buying lampshades and new taps and a hundred other things while they were shopping. She’d felt like a child in a toy shop.

The house seemed quiet, almost as if it were still and sleeping. There was no sign of her brother.

“Joel?”

“I’m up here, Jen.” His voice drifted down the stairs, sounding muffled.

“What are you doing up there?” She started up the stairs and heard his footsteps on the metal of the ladder. Jenna reached the landing at the same time as Joel made it down from the attic.

“Sorry, I found your torch when I was sorting through the boxes and I really wanted to take a peek up there. Looks like this place wasn’t cleared out properly when the last owners left. There’s still a bunch of stuff up there.” He sounded excited, slightly breathless.

“Bunch of stuff? That’s descriptive!” She reached out and pulled a cobweb out of his blond curls. There was a smear of dirt on his cheek that looked like a scar.

“We have an attic?” Ben asked, awe colouring his voice. “Cool! Can I go up there?”

“No, you can not,” Jenna told him firmly. “I’m not having you fall off the ladder and I don’t know how strong the floor is in there. Besides, it’s clearly filthy and probably full of spiders.”

“It doesn’t look…” Joel started, then caught his sister’s eye. “Yeah, it looks quite…er…wobbly. Best you stay on solid ground, Ben.”

Jenna saw disappointment pass over her son’s face like a cloud. She was glad there was no way he would be able to reach the cord to open the door. Ben was not normally a rebellious child, but the lure of the attic had been strong enough to ensnare Joel, and he was twenty-five, not seven.

“So, what did you find?” she asked, turning back to her brother. As soon as the words were out of her mouth she felt the curiosity building up within her. It was as if she was a child again on Christmas morning, poking her stocking for hints about what lay inside.

“Oh, right.” He disappeared up the ladder again, and then came down, a couple of items clutched against his chest, smearing dark dust over his t-shirt. “There are lots of boxes, but I found these just sitting on the boards. Here.”

He handed the first one to her, a black metal case, with a handle and a lock. It looked like a briefcase, only hard and square. When she took it from him, she could hear paper moving inside. He handed Ben the other object.

“A doll?” Ben’s tone was part confusion, part disgust. “I don’t want a doll, Uncle Joel.”

Joel laughed and took it back. “That’s probably more your mum’s thing as well, isn’t it? Sorry, Ben, I couldn’t find any dinosaurs up there. I looked around as much as I could, but it was getting hard to breathe with all that dust.”

Jenna took the doll from her brother. It was quite heavy, the head, hands and feet made from china. The body, though fabric, was firmly stuffed so it could sit up and hold that position. It was dressed in an elaborate pink silk dress, thick with ruffles and white lace, and had a matching bonnet over its long black curls. Its eyes were dark blue and when she tilted the head, the eyelids slipped down, making it seem like the doll was asleep.

“Looks old,” Joel commented, looking at it over her shoulder. “Might even be worth something.”

“Might be, might just be junk. It will look nice in my bedroom, though.”

“You can’t seriously want to sleep with something like that watching you in the night?” Joel protested. “Your mother’s crazy!” he muttered to Ben, tapping his temple repeatedly. Ben gave him a long-suffering nod.

“Knock it off, you two. Come on, this house isn’t going to paint itself.”

She set the doll on the windowsill of her room. The head slumped forward and the eyelids slipped down. It looked peaceful and content, the sunlight glinting off the dark curls. Jenna folded the doll’s hands on her lap and set the metal briefcase down on the floor near it.

“I’ll have to give her a name,” she muttered to herself.

“Her name is Marie Antoinette,” Ben said suddenly from the doorway. He pronounced it as Marie Anty-net. “You know, like that queen who had her head cut off.”

Jenna turned to him in surprise. She hadn’t expected anyone to have heard her, and she certainly wasn’t expecting Ben to come up with a suggestion like that.

“That’s an interesting name, Ben. What made you think of Marie Antoinette? Have you been studying the French Revolution at school?”

He shook his head. “That’s her name,” he said simply.

Jenna glanced at Joel, who shrugged, looking as bemused by the exchange as she was.

“Very well, Marie Antoinette it is.”