The rest of our week in Northumberland went by pleasantly and quickly.
Dad managed to get two afternoons and one morning off work and on both of
his free afternoons he drove us around on explorations of the local area.
Tony wasn't as interested in castles as I was, but even he was impressed
by the coastline with its mixture of rocky headlands and almost-deserted
sandy beaches. However, though the weather was mostly sunny and warm,
we didn't go swimming in the sea as the water was very cold.
On Dad's morning off work we went to Prospect House to check up on the workmen
and also to arrange details of the housekeeping job with Mrs Crawford.
While he talked to her, Tony and Brian went outside to kick a soccer ball
about and I tagged along with them. Tom was nowhere to be seen and
Brian didn't mention him at all. Instead he spent much of the time
complaining how bored he was because most of his friends were away on vacation.
"At least you've got your brother for company," Tony said.
"Not any more," Brian responded with a frown.
He didn't elaborate on that brief comment although it must have been obvious
from our expressions that Tony and I were curious about what exactly he meant
by it. Instead, he kicked the ball in my direction, thereby drawing
me into their kick-about and giving me the opportunity to demonstrate my
total ineptitude at ball games.
"Well, boys," Dad said when he came outside after his discussion with Mrs
Crawford, "as it's nearly lunch time, why don't we get something to eat in
the village pub then I'll drop you off wherever you like before I go to work?"
"Sounds good to me!" Tony said, and I nodded my agreement.
"Would you like to join us, Brian?" Dad asked.
"Yes, thanks, I'd love to," Brian responded eagerly, "but I'd better check
with Mum first."
He ran into the house and a few seconds later he popped his head outside
the front door.
"Mum says it's okay, but I have to clean myself up and change my clothes."
"You're fine as you are," Dad said, "You don't need to get dressed up."
"I know that!" Brian said with a wry smile, "But Mum says I have to... anyway,
I'll just be a couple of minutes."
He disappeared from view and, true to his word, he was back in less than
three minutes. I must admit, he looked very handsome in his fresh blue
shirt and black jeans, and I wondered how he'd manage to get cleaned and
changed so quickly.
We ate our lunch as we sat in the shade of a tree in the pub garden, and
it didn't take long for Dad to discover that Brian played rugby for his college.
When Dad had been a student he had been on his University rugby team, so
the conversation for the rest of the meal revolved around rugby, with occasional
forays into soccer.
Although I tried to maintain an appearance of polite interest, my mind drifted
away from what they were saying. However my wandering thoughts were
neither deep nor consequential. I speculated about the sexuality of
the cute guy sitting with three young women and wondered if the little stream
behind Prospect House might be a tributary of the river at the bottom of
the pub garden. My attention was suddenly dragged back to my companions
when I heard Dad mentioned Tom.
"Does your brother play rugby?" Dad asked Brian.
"No, but he used to be good at soccer."
"Used to be?" Dad echoed. "What happened?"
"I suppose he just lost interest," Brian replied, obviously not wishing to
say any more on the subject.
During the ensuing lull in the conversation Dad looked at his watch.
"Time I went to work," he said. "Have you two decided where you want
me to drop you off?"
Before either Tony or I could reply, Brian spoke.
"Why don't you stay around here?" he said eagerly, "Maybe we could walk along
the river or even hire a boat?"
"Sounds good to me," Tony said and then looked at me. "That okay with
"Yeah, that's fine," I agreed.
"Well," Dad said as he stood up, "unless I hear from you otherwise, I'll
meet you back at the house about six thirty."
As soon as Dad was out of sight, Brian stood up and announced that he was
going to get us some more drinks, whereupon I pointed out that I wasn't really
"We are!" Brian said, winking at Tony, "The barmaid is a friend of mine."
With that, he went into the pub and I cast a questioning look at Tony.
"Just relax and enjoy yourself," he told me and smiled enigmatically.
Tony clearly knew something I didn't and I had the feeling that somehow he
and Brian had arranged this together. While we waited for Brian to
return I racked my brains trying to think when the two of them might have
had the opportunity to conspire without my noticing. Then I remembered
that Tony and Brian had been alone together outside while Dad ordered the
food and I'd gone to take a leak.
Brian returned and placed three cokes on the table, despite the fact that
up until then I'd been drinking shandy. As soon as he sat down, he
and Tony picked up their glasses, clinked them together, took a drink and
then looked expectantly at me. The expressions on their faces, combined
with Brian's earlier words made me realise that the drinks were probably
not simply cokes. Gingerly, I took a tentative sip.
"Yuch!" I exclaimed, trying not to attract the attention of people nearby.
"It's only a little vodka," Brian said in a low voice as he leaned across
the table. "You'll get used to it."
He and Tony grinned at each other and drank some more. I wasn't sure
if I would get used to it, or even if I wanted to get used to it. Although
I'd occasionally had enough wine to get merry, usually at celebratory meals,
I'd never been really drunk and I had no intention of getting drunk in such
a public place.
"But what if we get caught?" I whispered to Brian. "You're dad's a
"And everybody knows that," he replied with a grin, "which is exactly why
no-one will check up on us... as long as we're discreet."
"Well my dad will go ballistic if he smells alcohol on my breath when he
collects us," I said and pushed my glass across the table toward Brian and
As soon as I'd done that I began to have second thoughts and it occurred
to me that Tony might think I was a wimp. Brian appeared as if he were
about to say something uncomplimentary, but before he could do so Tony spoke
"Mark's not even sixteen yet so he's not had as much practice as we have."
Although he probably had the best intentions, his words came across to me
as being patronising and I became a little irritated. However, I didn't
want to spoil Tony's fun so I decided to make a tactical withdrawal.
"I'm going for a pee," I announced as I stood up.
By the time I returned to our table Tony had almost finished his drink and
Brian had not only finished his but had also started on what had been mine.
"I presumed you didn't want it," Brian said.
Superficially, his tone was apologetic, but I thought I detected a hint of
a challenge. In any case I decided to keep things as pleasant as possible.
"That's okay. I'm not keen on coke anyway," I joked, "that's why I
had shandy with lunch."
When all three glasses were empty, Brian offered to buy another round but
I suggested we go for a walk, and I was relieved when Tony backed up my suggestion.
We spent a very pleasant hour or so walking along the river and then Brian
suggested we go back to the pub to see if their boat was available for hire.
At first I was a bit nervous as I had very little rowing experience and the
other two had been drinking. However, although they both seemed very
relaxed, neither of them seemed drunk, and Brian said he was an experienced
rower, so I agreed to his suggestion.
When we'd had enough of messing about on the river we returned the boat and
decided to find somewhere cool to rest before we walked back up to the house
to meet my dad. Brian led us to a grassy area on the riverbank that
was shaded by a few trees and we lay down on our backs, side by side with
me in the middle. There was a long comfortable silence and eventually
I decided to take advantage of the relaxed atmosphere to try to assuage my
"Erm, Brian," I said tentatively .
"Hmm?" he responded, sounding drowsy.
"I don't want to seem nosy, but I was wondering..."
I paused and began to consider how or even if I should continue. After
all, for the last couple of hours we'd all got on really well and I didn't
want to spoil things.
"Hmm?" Brian prompted.
It occurred to me that if he was ever going to be in the mood to answer my
questions then this was going to be it.
"I was wondering why you and Tom don't get on so well... Is it just because
he spends so much time going out on his own? Or is it because he became
such close friends with the Miss Victoria?"
Although I didn't look at the other two, I could sense that the atmosphere
became less relaxed. Brian didn't respond for awhile and Tony, who
probably shared my curiosity, also remained silent. Just as I was about
to give up hope of getting an answer to my question, Brian spoke.
Again there was a long silence and I began to think that was the only response
there was going to be.
"He's a weird kid and he has some weird friends," Brian said, in a tone that
wasn't at all unkind. "But he wasn't always like that. Everything
was okay until he started having the nightmares."
"Nightmares?" Tony asked, betraying his curiosity.
"Yeah, they started four or five years ago. He'd wake up screaming
and shouting that he couldn't breathe. Then he started going off alone
into the woods and spending lots of time with the old lady. I must
admit that after he became friends with her the nightmares didn't happen
so often... but they never went away completely."
When he stopped speaking I felt that he wasn't going to say anymore, but
encouraged by his response so far, I decided to take things further.
"But I don't understand why there seems such bad feeling between you," I
said, "I mean, even if he is weird, he's still your brother."
"Of course he's still my brother!" Brian said irritably, "But he's
the one who doesn't want anything to do with me."
"Oh," I said quietly.
Although I felt chastened that my previous assumptions appeared to have been
wrong, I would probably have eventually asked for more information if Brian
hadn't volunteered it.
"Actually, I s'pose it may have been my fault," he said, "but it wouldn't
have happened if Tom and the old woman hadn't been so secretive. And
I still don't understand why he made such a fuss about it..."
He sighed wistfully, and then spoke again.
"A few months before the old lady died she gave Mum a really nice brooch.
Apparently it'd been in her family for ages and she wanted it to go to someone
close rather than some distant relative she'd never met. Anyway, she
also gave Tom a box that he called his 'box of treasures' but he wouldn't
tell me what was in it. So one day I waited till he went out, then
went into his room, found the box under his bed, and looked inside.
But he came back and caught me and went crazy. He shouted, screamed,
threw stuff at me and since then he hardly even speaks to me."
"But what was in the box?" Tony asked, just beating me to it.
"Just a bunch of old photos and papers. Really old stuff... rubbish
really. Like I said, I still don't know why he made such a fuss about
The following three weeks went by quickly, and in fact the time seemed to
go much too quickly. Staying at Tony's house was very enjoyable, though
we didn't share a room and I didn't get to see him naked. As I wasn't
used to being so close to someone for such long periods of time, I occasionally
had to shut myself away in 'my' (i.e.. his sister's) room. However,
he seemed to understand that I sometimes needed to be on my own and he didn't
put any pressure on me to be sociable when I wasn't in the mood.
Sometimes I felt guilty that while I stayed with Tony he didn't see much
of his other friends. I told him I didn't mind if he went out with
them, but he just said he could do that after I'd moved away and he wanted
to make the most of our time together. I made some joke about it not
being like I was dying, but it didn't lighten the mood much. All too
soon the end of July arrived and I realised I was going to miss Tony much
more than I'd expected.
As it turned out, the Saturday of the weekend Dad came down to collect me
was my sixteenth birthday. Elaine, whom I'd visited a couple of times
per week while I was staying with Tony, insisted on throwing a joint 'birthday-and-bon-voyage'
party for me and Dad. Although I wasn't feeling in much of a party
mood, I ended up enjoying myself, not least because of the wonderful home-cooked
food Elaine provided for the party.
That night I stayed at Tony's and Dad stayed at Elaine's house and the next
morning we all met up again for a huge 'farewell breakfast' provided by Elaine.
Before we got into the car to drive off she gave me a big hug, but as I was
expecting it I managed not to cringe and even tentatively returned the hug.
She was well aware of the fact that I was very uncomfortable with any touch
more intimate than a handshake and so she wasn't upset by what from anyone
else might have been interpreted as a cool response.
When Tony also hugged me, however, just before I got into the car, I definitely
wasn't expecting it, and I just froze. I considered hugging him back,
but was worried that if I did then I might seem too enthusiastic and so betray
my true feelings to everyone. Before I could make any decision about
what to do, he'd released me and stepped back, looking a little embarrassed.
As we drove off a couple of minutes later I hoped that Tony knew me well
enough to realise that my lack of response was not a rejection.
Surprisingly, the men working on the house had finished ahead of schedule,
so Dad had already moved in, made the place livable and had even turned the
old library into a very nice office. We still needed to buy more furniture
but the smaller of the two reception rooms had been turned into a comfortable
living room and the kitchen had everything we needed. The larger reception
room was still completely empty and our dining furniture looked tiny and
totally lost in the huge dining room.
"I made your bed up so you have somewhere to sleep tonight," Dad said as
we carried my suitcases upstairs, "but all your other stuff is still in boxes.
You still have about three weeks before school starts, so you've plenty of
time to unpack and settle in."
Oddly, I was mildly disappointed as we entered what was now my new bedroom
because there was no hint of the weird feelings I'd had before.
Instead, I felt as if I was coming home, possibly because I could see my
old familiar bed and other possessions scattered around the room. While
Dad went downstairs to make us a snack, I unpacked my toiletries and a few
"I have to work tomorrow," Dad said when we finished eating. "If you're up
by eight we can have breakfast together and Mrs Crawford will be here at
ten so she can make you some lunch."
"Don't you think I'm old enough to make my own lunch?" I asked in a half-joking
"Probably. But she'll be here anyway and you'll probably be busy unpacking
and settling in.... which reminds me... Brian said he'd be happy to help
you moving furniture and stuff. So it seems like you've already made
a new friend here!"
It was obvious that Dad was very pleased and maybe a little surprised that
I'd started making friends so quickly. Of course, I too was pleased
but to be honest I would've rather had one Tony than a dozen Brians.
We continued chatting for almost an hour and although nothing particularly
deep or meaningful was discussed, I was beginning to feel closer to my dad
than I had in a long time. Maybe it would have been nice to talk for
longer, but I was very tired and so went to bed relatively early while
Dad went to do some work in his office.
My bed had been placed with the headboard against the northern wall of the
room but as I got undressed I suddenly felt that although the north-south
orientation was correct, it should be moved across to the eastern wall.
However, as several large boxes and a wardrobe were currently in the way,
I decided that moving the bed should wait until I could get some help.
Almost as soon as my head touched the pillow I was asleep and if I dreamed
I had no memory of it when I awoke soon after seven. The only slightly
unusual thing was that just before I fell asleep I had the impression that
the walls were a deep, dark red. When I thought about this during breakfast
it seemed odd that the room should seem red when it was in fact now mostly
blue and had been a pale green when I first saw it.
When Mrs Crawford arrived I was busy unpacking, but she called out my name
and I went down to greet her.
"Did you sleep well?" she asked.
On the face of it, that was a very ordinary question and the sort of thing
one asks just to be polite, but her expression of mild concern hinted that
she was genuinely interested.
"Yes, very well, thanks."
"That's good," she said, smiling as if relieved about something.
"Your dad said you picked your bedroom yourself," she continued after a brief
"Erm, yes," I responded, wondering where this conversation was going.
"That's the only room in the house I've never been in," she said, then added,
"Well, not until after your dad moved in."
"Oh," I said, unable to hide my surprise and curiosity. "Why's that?"
"Well, that room was always kept locked. I've no idea why. Miss
Victoria never talked about it, but I got the feeling even she'd not been
in there... at least not since she was a little girl."
"Oh," I said again, this time unable to hide my disappointment at not finding
"Are you hungry?" she asked.
The sudden and obviously deliberate change of topic temporarily disoriented
me, but made me realise that it had been over two hours since breakfast and
I was indeed hungry.
"Yes, a bit," I admitted.
"In that case, I have just the thing! I made you a special welcome
cake, " she smiled and tapped the cake tin I suddenly noticed she was carrying
under her arm.
We went down to the kitchen where she made tea for both of us but she declined
to have a piece of the gorgeous chocolate cake.
"How's the unpacking going?" she asked when I finished eating.
"So far I've not done much. I need to move my bed and other stuff around
first," I replied, then a little hesitantly I added, "Erm... Dad said
that Brian might help."
"Yes, Brian told me he'd volunteered himself. Unfortunately, he's out
all day with his dad. There's an open day at police headquarters...
did Brian tell you he wants to be a policeman like his dad?"
She sounded very proud of both her husband and her elder son and it occurred
to me that I still hadn't seen Mr Crawford.
"No, he didn't mention that," I replied.
I couldn't help imagining Brian in a police uniform, then immediately had
to make sure Mrs Crawford couldn't see the growing bulge in my jeans.
"Why don't you ask Tommy to give you a hand?" she asked brightly.
"Oh, there's no hurry," I responded quickly, "It can wait till I see Brian
"But why waste today? Tommy may not be as big as Brian, but he's stronger
than he looks."
"Well, Brian offered and Tommy... Tom hasn't."
"I told him you'd promised he could have free run of the estate and he was
very pleased, so I'm sure he would offer if you gave him a chance...
But you've not really talked to him yet have you?"
I'm not sure, but I thought I detected some disappointment in her tone and
I remembered what she'd said a month earlier. She'd seemed to think
Tom and I could be good friends, but asking him to move furniture didn't
seem to me to be a great way to start a friendship.
"He's in the walled garden now. Go and ask him to help before he disappears
into the woods for the rest of the day."
Her voice was quiet and polite, but it was clear she was used to getting
her own way and as I had no reason to do otherwise, I agreed.
Tom was pulling up weeds as I entered the garden, but when he saw me he threw
a handful of them into the wheelbarrow and stood up. Although not yet
noon, the day was sunny and hot, and with the back of his hand he wiped the
sweat from his eyebrows. He looked wary, but not unfriendly as I approached
and he just nodded a greeting, waiting for me to speak. Yet again I
was struck by his unusual eyes and it occurred to me that no matter how often
I saw him in future I would always be amazed by the beauty of his eyes.
When I'd seen him previously his eyes probably distracted me from noticing
the rest of his face, but this time, for the first time, I also noticed his
high cheekbones and high forehead. These observations, combined with
his liking for the woodland made me think of an elf, and I couldn't help
laughing when I found myself looking to see if he had pointy ears.
"What are you laughing at?" he said, frowning.
"Oh, nothing... just thinking of something I saw on TV last night," I lied
lamely, unable to think of anything else to say.
He looked doubtful but fortunately for me he didn't ask exactly what I'd
seen. Again he seemed to be waiting patiently for me to break the silence,
so I told him that his mum had suggested I ask him to help me move stuff.
His response took me by surprise.
"In your bedroom?" he asked.
"Erm, yes, mostly."
"I'm not sure..." he said, frowning again.
Despite what his mum had just said about my room, my first thoughts on hearing
his words were that he might suspect that I was gay and that I might try
to seduce him. As Tony often told me, my mind must be very weird.
However, his next words pointed to a more obvious but no less curious reason
for his apparent reluctance to help.
"Mum told me you moved into the locked room."
"Well," I said, trying to make a joke of it, "it wasn't locked when I chose
it and it isn't locked now."
He wasn't amused by my attempt at wit and for several seconds he seemed deep
in thought. Just as I was getting concerned by the length of the silence,
he spoke again.
"Okay," he said, "give me an hour to finish this and clean up, then I'll
see you up at the house."
With that he went back to his weeding, apparently ignoring me.
"Right, thanks," I said, and not knowing what else to do, I left him to his
From the way he said 'the house' I knew he meant Prospect House.
I'd already learned that Brian, Tom and their mum said 'our house' or 'home'
or 'the gatehouse' when they referred to their own home, but when they said
'the house', especially when spoken as if with capital letters, it always
meant Prospect House.
Anyway, true to his word he turned up at the house just over an hour later.
He helped me out for a couple of hours and then his mum made us all a late
lunch. Although he was very relaxed in the rest of the house, in my
room he seemed on edge and he didn't stay any longer than was essential.
However, it didn't seem as if he were afraid of the room but instead it seemed
that being in the room made him very distracted.
He left immediately after lunch and as he made his exit from the rear of
the house I went to thank him again. Just as he was leaving, I remembered
something he'd said when I'd asked him for help, and I couldn't resist the
urge to ask him about it.
"Tom, remember in the garden you were talking about my room and you called
it 'the locked room'? Do you know why it was kept locked?"
He frowned and hesitated before he replied.
"It's Edward's room."
Before I could say anything else he turned on his heel and strode off rapidly.
I watched as he made his way across the lawn and down to the stream, eventually
disappearing into the woods. Then I went back into the kitchen where
his mum was loading up the dishwasher.
"Mrs Crawford," I asked, "who is Edward?"
At first she didn't seem to know what I was talking about, then she seemed
to remember something.
"Do you mean who was Edward?"
"Erm, I'm not sure. Tom just mentioned an Edward."
"Oh," she said as if suddenly understanding, "that's probably something Tom
picked up from Miss Victoria. She had an older brother called Edward
who died when she was just a girl. But she never spoke about him...
well, not to me anyway, though it wouldn't be too surprising if she mentioned
him to Tommy. All I really know is that Miss Victoria was buried next
to Edward in the churchyard."
Over the next few days I settled into my new life which, apart from missing
Tony, was just as happy, or at least no more unhappy than my former life.
For the first time I discovered the joys of email, but only insofar as it
gave me an additional means of contacting Tony. I didn't see much of
Tom, but when I did he was always friendly unless I was with Brian, at which
times he was cool but polite. Brian, apart from his obsession with
rugby, proved to be a pleasant companion and took the time to show me around
the local area. He even asked for Tony's email address so they
could stay in touch. Despite a totally unjustified twinge of jealousy,
I gave it to him.
During my first week in the house, once I'd moved the bed to the 'correct'
place, there seemed nothing unusual about my new bedroom. Then, eight
days after I moved in, some strange things happened. Well, from an
external point of view, nothing really actually happened so it would be more
accurate to say that I experienced strange things.
First of all, the fleeting impressions of deep, dark red in the room became
more frequent. Usually when I was falling asleep, sometimes as I was
just waking up, and a couple of times when I was just sitting quietly reading.
Then on two occasions that week I heard a tapping noise just as I was falling
asleep. The sound continued for a few seconds, then stopped for a while,
then started again, and although it was very quiet it had a profound effect
The longer the tapping went on the more it seemed to excite me and I became
very restless. Not only did it arouse me from my near-sleep but it
also seemed to arouse me sexually. In fact, I became so horny that
I didn't look for the source of the sound but instead I wanked intermittently
for hours and had at least three orgasms. However, the orgasms didn't
satisfy me and the excitement wouldn't go away. Eventually my dick
became very sore and I managed to sleep only after becoming totally exhausted.
On the fourth night after that first incident, just as I was dozing off,
the tapping started again. Ignoring my growing sexual arousal, I tried
to locate the source of the sound and tracked it down to the window.
Outlined against the external darkness were the deeper shadows of tree branches
and I presumed the wind was causing twigs to tap against the window.
Of course, that didn't explain why I was so horny that for the next hour
or so I was wanking frenziedly.
Unlike my usual wanking sessions, during which I fantasised about Tony or
some other guy I fancied, this session wasn't accompanied by any fantasy
at all. Instead it was a pure, primal lust centred on my own dick.
All external stimuli, even the tapping sounds, were tuned out and nothing
existed for me except a desperate need to achieve orgasm at all costs.
After my second orgasm the erotic frenzy disappeared, leaving me with a sore
dick and a feeling that I'd been drained of all energy. However, despite
my tiredness I couldn't go to sleep because my mind was in turmoil as I tried
to make some sense out of these recent experiences.
When Tony, always in the nicest possible way, called me weird I took it as
almost a compliment. I was proud to be different from the other kids
I knew. However, even Tony didn't know about my 'mini-visions' or the
intense emotions I sometimes felt when I visited certain places. The
only person I'd ever told was my dad, and his reaction discouraged me from
mentioning the subject again.
I'd grown accustomed to experiences that other people would call 'weird',
but since I'd first visited Prospect House things had escalated so far that
it was difficult to convince myself that it was just one of my little eccentricities.
On the other hand, I couldn't believe, and didn't want to believe that there
was anything wrong with the house. Apart from anything else, I'd persuaded
Dad to buy the place and there was no way we could move out now.
Looking for other explanations, I told myself that the sound I heard was
merely the tapping of tree branches on my window and that my resulting irritation
had triggered off nightmarish versions of my 'mini-visions'. The disturbing
nature of these recent experiences was probably caused by the disturbance
of moving to a totally new place. No doubt the references by Tom and
his mum to the 'locked room' stimulated my subconscious imagination and my
normal teenage sex-drive gave rise to the strong erotic feelings. Yes,
when I thought about it, everything had a reasonable explanation. Keeping
those thoughts in my mind, I gradually calmed myself down and eventually
When I came down for breakfast the next morning Dad's greeting was accompanied
by a look of concern.
"Are you okay, Mark? You look awful.... your eyes make you look
like a zombie!"
His words were joking but his tone indicated genuine worry. Having
seen myself in the mirror when I got up I could see his point.
"I'm fine. Just tired that's all. I didn't get much sleep last
"What's the matter?" he asked, then before I could respond, he answered the
question himself, "Maybe you're coming down with something."
I told him about the tapping and the tree branch, though I didn't mention
the effects it had on me.
"That's strange," he said, "I don't remember seeing a tree so close to the
"Actually, neither do I, so I s'pose we both missed it."
"Well, you'd best ask the gardeners about removing the branch before it breaks
the window... and if the tree is too close to the house we may have to have
it removed before the roots damage the foundations."
Dad left for work while I was still having breakfast and after he'd gone
I tried to remember if I'd noticed the tree before. On the one hand,
I didn't recall actually seeing it, but on the other hand if I closed my
eyes I could summon up a very vivid and detailed mental picture of it.
Feeling the need to settle the matter, I quickly finished my mug of tea and
went outside to the grassy area between the path and the east side of the
house. There was no tree.
I looked up and saw my bedroom widow so I knew I was in the right place.
The nearest tree was at least ten yards away and was on the other side of
the path, so there was no way that it could be the source of the shadowy
branches I'd seen. Feelings of dislocation and disorientation swept
through me and I felt so dizzy that I had to lean against the wall.
Confused, I studied the area between the path and the house, but all I could
see was a slight hollow in the otherwise flat ground.
"They never could get it flat."
The shock of hearing the voice, coming so unexpectedly from behind me, almost
gave me a heart attack. I turned my head and saw Tom standing on the
path with his hands in the pockets of his tan shorts.
"You okay?" he asked in a concerned tone.
"Yeah. Thanks," I managed to croak. "You just startled me, that's
"Oh, sorry," he said, looking a little sheepish.
We looked at one another then, unsure what to say, I looked at the ground.
"That dent makes it a bugger to cut the grass," he said. "My grandad
said that when they filled the hole in they couldn't make the ground flat.
No matter what they did, the ground just sank again. So eventually
they gave up."
As I was still recovering from the confusion and shock, I didn't immediately
respond, so I suppose he must have thought our conversation had ended because
he started walking toward the rear of the house. By the time I got
my mind into gear he had moved a couple of yards along the path.
"Hey, Tom!" I called out, "Do you know what made the hole?"
"Yeah. When they pulled out the tree stump."
"Tree... what tree... what happened to the tree?" I asked rather stupidly,
my mind spinning.
"Miss Victoria's father had it chopped down when Edward died," he replied,
giving me a very strange look that I couldn't interpret.
My mind filled with more questions and while I tried to sort them out, I
looked back down at the hollow. However, by the time I looked up again
with a question on the tip of my tongue, Tom had gone, presumably having
given up on our conversation.
I went back to my room and looked out of the window but couldn't see anything
that could have been the branches I'd seen, or at least thought I'd seen,
the previous night. I sat on my bed and despite the warmth of the summer
day, I shivered. Maybe Dad was right and maybe I'd caught a bug.
No one else I knew around here was ill, but maybe it was a local strain of
virus which affected me more because I'd just moved here.
Before going to bed, when it was dark outside, I looked out of the
window again but there were no shadowy branches to be seen. During
the next few days there was no return of the tapping and no more unusual
experiences. This reinforced my previous conclusions that it had been
some sort of nightmare-mini-vision triggered by the move and new surroundings.
However, the knowledge that there used to be a tree outside my widow left
me with a nagging doubt.
The only notable nocturnal experience during the following week was an erotic
dream which featured Tony. Such dreams about Tony were not at all uncommon,
and this dream was in one of the usual formats until right at the end.
The way it ended was with me lying on top of him naked and rubbing our cocks
together. While we were kissing he had his eyes closed and when he
opened them again he was looking at me with Tom's unique blue-gray eyes.
During my first week or so at Prospect House I was kept busy unpacking, arranging
my room and generally settling in. Tony and I chatted on the phone
a couple of times per week and we exchanged daily emails. The third
week, however, Tony was on holiday in Spain with his parents and I had little
to do. In the past, back home in the Midlands, I would have been happy
being on my own and content to read, listen to music, play computer games,
or just go for a walk. However, although I didn't feel lonely in my
new surroundings, I did feel restless and somehow dislocated, so I couldn't
settle down to my usual solitary pastimes.
Dad was at work most of the time but Mrs Crawford was around the house from
ten in the morning until three in the afternoon and I found myself chatting
to her quite often while she was cooking, though I kept out of her way while
she was cleaning. I soon became accustomed to her sometimes brusque
manner and I gradually began to feel at ease in her presence. She was
an excellent cook, possibly even better than Elaine, but I knew that for
me she could never take the place of Elaine.
To be honest, until the second week in Northumberland I hadn't realised how
much Elaine meant to me. For the last nine years or so she'd always
been there and I'd just taken for granted all the little things she
did for me. Indeed, as I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling one morning,
I remembered some of the 'motherly' things she did that I never even noticed
at the time. That night I phoned her for the first time since I'd moved
north, and from then on I talked to her on the phone at least once per week.
Brian and I went cycling together a couple of times and one day we went all
the way to Moreton, where he showed me the college I was going to attend.
However, by then most of his friends were back from their holidays and he
spent a lot of time with them. One morning he asked if I wanted to
go into Alnwick with him and some of his friends, and he seemed genuinely
disappointed when I made some excuse for not joining them. The truth
is that although I got on okay with him, we didn't have a lot in common and
I felt we'd never be really close friends.
I finally got to meet Mr Crawford when I went to meet Brian at the gatehouse
before setting off on the first of our cycling trips. Up until then
his shift pattern had prevented our paths from crossing, but on that occasion
it was clearly his day off and he was washing his Volvo in the driveway.
He was very friendly and asked the usual polite questions about how I was
settling in etc. but we didn't really have a conversation. In appearance
he was much how I might expect Brian to look when he was about forty.
Although Tom wasn't in sight at the time, the similarity between Brian and
his dad emphasised to me the lack of family resemblance between Brian and
For most of the first couple of weeks I rarely saw Tom, and when I did we
usually just exchanged polite greetings. However, on the Friday afternoon
of the second week our paths accidentally crossed and we had something approaching
a conversation. At lunch time that day, Mrs Crawford had been telling
me a little about her family history and mentioned that for centuries her
ancestors and those of Mr Crawford had been buried in the graveyard of the
local church. As my mum was from Scotland, my dad was from the south
of England, and I was born and brought up in the Midlands, I was fascinated
by the idea of families being so closely attached to one location.
She also mentioned that parts of the village church were over eight
hundred years old, and that also caught my imagination. So after lunch,
as it was a beautiful sunny day and I had nothing better to do, I went for
a walk and took a look at the church and graveyard, both of which turned
out to be bigger than I expected for such a small village. The church,
on the southern edge of the village, was situated on top of a small hill,
one side of which was quite steep . The gravestones, interspersed with
some large trees, were scattered around the church and down the shallower
slopes of the hill.
To give myself a chance to cool off after my walk, I decided to look around
inside the church before exploring the gravestones. I didn't see anyone
as I walked through the churchyard and the only person inside the church
was an old woman arranging some flowers at the side of the altar. When
she saw me she nodded and smiled, then without speaking she returned to her
task. Emerging from the building a few minutes later I was dazzled
by the bright sunlight and had to shield my eyes until they adjusted.
Then, close to the church door, I saw a familiar figure crouched by a couple
of graves, on both of which were fresh flowers. It was Tom, stuffing
some weeds and dead flowers into a plastic bag. He obviously
had no idea I was standing just a few feet behind him.
"Hi, Tom," I said quietly so as not to startle him.
He looked up quickly, clearly surprised to see me and, despite my efforts,
he appeared almost shocked.
"H-hi," he stammered as he stood up.
"Sorry I startled you."
"S'okay," he said, quickly regaining his composure.
"Looking after the family graves?" I asked, mainly just to make conversation
and give him time to fully recover.
"Erm, not my family."
He looked down at the headstones as if he were embarrassed, then he gave
a brief and almost humourless laugh.
"My family don't get to be buried so close to the church," he said, "They're
mostly over there."
He nodded his head further down the slope toward the lichgate. My curiosity
aroused, I took a close look at the two headstones, one obviously much older
than the other. The more recent marble stone was much more easily legible
'Victoria Elizabeth Armstrong
Sister to Edward
Died 7th Oct 2001, Aged 93
Now at Peace'
The words on the older, adjacent plain sandstone were:
'Edward Albert Armstrong
Born 26th July 1901
Died 16th Sept 1918
Beloved brother to Victoria'
The final line must have been added some time after the rest of the brief
inscription because the letters were not only slightly different but also
they hadn't been eroded as much as the preceding lines.
"Oh, I see..." I said, "Your mum said that you and Miss Victoria were friends."
Tom's seemed to be tense as I looked at the inscriptions, so my words were
intended to make him feel more at ease. However, in truth I found it
difficult to see how he could have become such close friends with someone
so much older than himself. Even harder to understand was why he was
putting flowers on the grave of Edward, who died about seventy years before
he was born.
"My family are over there," Tom said abruptly and started walking rapidly
away from me.
I had the suspicion that he had sensed the questions arising in my mind and
that his rapid departure was intended to prevent me putting those questions
into words. Not wishing to cause him any further discomfort, I decided
let the matter drop and trotted after him.
"I thought there'd be more Armstrongs here," I said when I caught up with
My comment was made mainly to put him at ease by showing him that I wasn't
going ask questions about Victoria or Edward, and I didn't really expect
him to respond.
"Miss Victoria's parents are buried inside the church with the really posh
people," he said.
The fact that he'd responded so seriously to my throw-away comment surprised
me a little and that is my only excuse for my what I said next.
"So Miss Victoria wasn't posh enough to make it inside," I joked and grinned.
From the expression on his reddening face I knew immediately that I'd made
a mistake. Knowing they had been close, I should have thought
before I spoke. 'Why is it,' I thought as I mentally kicked myself,
'that I manage to upset Tom almost every time I speak to him?'
"Of course she was posh enough!" he said quietly, though his voice grated
with annoyance, "But she preferred to be with her brother."
"Look, I'm sorry," I said earnestly, "I'm really sorry I said that.
It was just a feeble attempt at a joke, and it was stupid of me..."
He was still glaring at me, his eyes shining so brightly that I had to look
away from his face.
"Forgive me? Please?" I pleaded.
Normally I didn't much care what other people thought of me, except of course
for Tony, Dad and Elaine. However, for some reason I didn't understand
it was very important to me that Tom shouldn't be angry with me.
For several seconds he remained still and silent but I saw his body relax
and a couple of seconds later he resumed his rapid stride down the hill.
Not knowing what else to do, I followed him. Even as I began moving,
questions popped into my mind. 'Why had Edward not been buried inside
the church? Why wasn't he posh enough?'. However, bearing in
mind Tom's reaction to my light-hearted question about Miss Victoria, I thought
it would be unwise to voice my thoughts.
"Most of the Crawfords are here," Tom said, coming to a halt so suddenly
that I almost collided with him.
There were quite a few headstones with the Crawford name around the place
where Tom had come to a halt and he pointed out some of his closest relatives,
including his grandfather. Most of the recent graves were reasonably
well looked after, but none had any fresh flowers. Recalling what his
mum had told me about Tom's namesake, I looked around for a Thomas Crawford,
but couldn't see a headstone with that name. Remembering that he'd
died in the First World War, I thought I'd try to impress Tom with my deductive
"I guess Thomas Crawford, the one you were named after, is buried in France,"
He looked startled, instead of looking impressed as I'd hoped. For
the second time in just a few minutes I had to look away from as eyes as
they stared intently at me. His unusual eyes were fascinating, even
beautiful, when his attention was directed elsewhere, but when his attention
was concentrated on me they could be very disconcerting. It felt as
if he were trying to read my mind or see into my soul.
"What makes you say that?" he asked warily.
"Well, erm," I mumbled, and forced myself to look into his eyes, "I can't
see his grave here and your mum said he died in the First World War.... so
I just sort of guessed."
He looked at me thoughtfully, as if he were assessing me. Occasionally
his mother had made me feel very self-conscious by giving me a very similar
look, especially soon after I first met her. However, it seemed to
me that Tom was assessing me, even judging me, almost every time I met him.
It was very unsettling.
"Actually," he said eventually, "No one knows where he is... they never found
His tone was quite neutral, so I've no idea why I was overwhelmed by wave
of sadness so deep that the light seemed to dim. I thought that a cloud
had passed in front of the sun, but when I looked up there were hardly any
clouds to be seen, and none that would have so recently covered the sun.
I shivered and staggered but fortunately steadied myself by leaning on a
"Are you okay?" Tom asked with genuine concern.
"Yeah... Yes, thanks," I said unsteadily, feeling a little foolish.
He looked at me dubiously, and for a moment I thought he was going to reach
out to support me. Quickly, I straightened up and in an attempt to
distract attention from myself, I said the first thing that came into my
"It's sad that his family never had a grave to visit or a funeral to say
"It was the same for lots of other families..." he said quietly, "and at
least there's the Memorial."
"Memorial?" I echoed.
"The War Memorial by the village green. Surely you've seen it?"
"Oh, yeah," I said, again feeling foolish.
Of course I'd seen it, but I'd not really looked at it. After all,
virtually every village in England had a similar memorial. It was just part
of the background scenery that I never paid much attention to.
"Thomas's name is on the Memorial," Tom said, "Come and see."
He walked off toward the centre of the village. I wasn't particularly
interested in seeing a name on a memorial, but as I'd brought up the subject
I felt I ought to follow him. When we got there I was surprised by
how many men from just one small village had been killed in four years of
war. There among the alphabetical listings was Thomas.
'Pvt Thomas Albert Crawford died Cambrais March 1918 aged 18'
Again I attempted to impress Tom, this time with my observational skills.
"I see both Thomas and Edward had the same middle name," I commented.
"Albert was a very common name in those days," he responded, clearly totally
"Well, I noticed another coincidence," I said, not yet prepared to give up,
"Edward had the same birthday as me!"
I gave him a small, almost triumphant smile and observed his expression,
hoping for a small sign that I'd impressed him. For a moment his face
betrayed some strong emotion, but he suppressed it so quickly that I couldn't
interpret it. However, I was pretty certain that the emotion could
not be described by the word 'impressed'.
"I'd better get back home," he said and immediately strode off.
It occurred to me that saying something briefly and then immediately walking
off appeared to be one of Tom's main characteristics, at least when he was
with me. I wondered if he did the same thing with everyone. Then
I wondered whether he wanted me to follow or leave him alone. As I
had no idea what he wanted me to do, I did what I wanted.
"I'm going home as well," I said as I caught up with him, "so I'll walk with
He didn't say anything and didn't give any other sign to indicate whether
my accompanying him was either welcome or an annoyance. In fact, he
seemed so caught up in his own thoughts that he appeared totally indifferent
to my presence, if he noticed me at all. We walked along for a few
minutes, neither of us speaking until we were more than half way home, by
which time I was finding the silence uncomfortable.
"I notice you and Brian don't seem to get along," I said, merely trying to
open up a conversation.
His only response was to increase his walking speed. He'd already been
walking quite fast so keeping up with his new pace made me a little breathless.
Obviously he was fitter than I was because he was still breathing normally.
"It's a pity," I pressed on, "cos Brian seems to be a nice guy."
Still he didn't reply. To be honest, his lack of response, combined
with the hot summer sun and the strain of such a fast walk, had made me irritable.
Also we were within sight of his house and I knew if I didn't get him to
say something soon then it would be too late. Maybe getting him to
speak was a challenge I couldn't resist. Whatever the case, my next
words were perhaps unwise and probably a breach of Brian's confidence.
"He's sorry he opened your box, you know. Maybe you should forgive
and forget. After all, he is your brother."
He stopped and stared at me, almost as if he couldn't believe what I'd said.
For awhile he seemed to struggle with himself, as if there were several things
he wanted to say but couldn't decide whether or not to say anything.
"That's what he told you is it?" he said with an angry frown. "That
it's just about the box?"
Having prodded him until I got a response, this particular response made
me wish I'd not pushed things so far. Fearing that anything else I
said might make him even more angry, I just nodded my head.
"Well it might have started with the box, but it's not about that anymore.
As Brian seems to be telling you so much, maybe you should ask him to tell
you the whole truth!"
With that he ran off and disappeared inside his house, so I continued up
the driveway toward my own home. Whatever was really going on between
Tom and Brian, I decided that with the risk of such emotional reactions it
would be unwise to ask either brother about it.