siblings

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.”

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Apple – Extract 1

After leaving home together, Apple and her brother Skye discuss what to do with their lives.

He comes over and ruffles my hair with his big, calloused hand, staring off into the distance as if thinking hard. After a few moments of this I have had enough and punch his arm. He looks down and gives me a grin as he pulls out a coin from his pocket.

“Heads, we try and find our way back. Tails, I’m stuck with you. Deal?”

I nod, slowly.

“You understand, though,” he continues, suddenly serious. “You understand what it will be like? You might have to sleep out in the rain, or go hungry for days. That’s really want you want? To be cold and dirty and hungry?”

I nod again, harder this time. “Yes,” I tell him firmly. “That’s what I want.”

Skye flips the coin and it goes sailing up above our heads, spinning over and over, changing our fate with every turn. It flashes as it rotates, catching the sun, then begins to fall, still turning, heading towards the mulch of the forest floor. Skye snatches it back before it gets close, slaps it on the back of his left hand and clamps the right over it. He turns his face away from me.

“I can’t look!” he announces theatrically to the forest. “Will I be trapped with the wormy Apple for the rest of my days?”

Ignoring his jibes I pry his fingers up and look at the coin that will decide my destiny.

“It’s tails!” I declare, grabbing the penny and putting it in my pocket.

“Is it? Well, I guess we’re stuck with each other then.” He doesn’t sound angry or upset now. In fact, I think he sounds happy. I think that was the option he was hoping for, too. “Do I get my money back?”

“Nope. This one’s special, so I’m going to hang on to it for a while.”

“Is that so?” He raises an eyebrow. “Oh well, better get moving.” He takes my hand and we start walking down the road. “So, what sort of work shall we look for? Head to the sea and enlist on a ship?”

I shake my head. “No, I bet you’ll get sea-sick! And neither of us can swim,” I point out. Neither of us has seen the sea. In fact the largest body of water we have experienced personally is the duck pond in town.

“No boats then. What about joining the circus?”

“That’s a better idea. I could be an acrobat, one of those ones that rides on the back of a horse and does back-flips and things.”

A circus came to town a when I was ten and I can remember it vividly. The whole tent smelled like burnt sugar and paraffin. The ring master wore a scarlet coat with bright brass buttons that shone in the light. He cracked his whip and made a great big bear dance a jig around the ring. There were acrobats and jugglers and a man who walked across a rope suspended high above the ground. Clowns with painted-on faces and shoes three times the size of a normal foot pranced around, playing pranks on each other and unsuspecting members of the audience.

I liked the woman who rode the horse best, though. She was wearing this beautiful flowing dress with skirts of blue gossamer, and her horse was a pale gold colour with a blond mane that matched the rider’s own hair. Her feet were bare and there were little bells around her ankles that jingled every time she moved. As the horse cantered around the ring she turned and flipped and jumped, never once losing her balance.

Skye looks sceptical. “Really? You on a horse? You can’t ride any more than you can swim and besides, you wouldn’t go near Dorothy-Mae until you were ten.”

“Dorothy-Mae is really big and she doesn’t watch where she’s putting her feet,” I protest, scowling as I think of the farm’s great dun work-horse. More than once I’ve had to snatch my toes away from the clumsy animal’s path. “And she’s really, really big. I know: you could be a clown, Skye. Since you’re so funny.”

Skye confessed to me after the circus that he found the clowns really creepy, which is strange because Pa’s most terrifying ghost stories do nothing to scare him.

He doesn’t seem to like that idea, funnily enough. “I could be a knife thrower. I could throw them and skewer apples on your head,” he suggests as an alternative, miming throwing invisible blades at me.

“No!” I shake my head emphatically. “I don’t trust you with sharp objects. In fact, I don’t trust you at all!”

“That’s a bit stupid, given that you’re stuck with me,” he points out. He’s quiet for a moment. “Apple?”

“Yeah?”

“Love you, sis,” he mutters.

“I love you too, Cheese-for-brains! What are you being all soppy for?”

“Cheese-for-brains?” he retorts, pretending to be insulted. “I try to be nice and what do I get in return? I ought to tie you to a tree and leave you for the wolves.”

“Wolves are meat-eaters, Skye,” I explain patiently. “They don’t eat Apples.”

He groans. “One more joke like that and I’ll gag you with your own pigtails,” he threatens. “Maybe then I’ll have some peace.”

“You’ll have to catch me first,” I call, skipping ahead down the road.