The night following my churchyard conversation with Tom, I heard the tapping
again. Unlike the two previous occurrences, which began just as I was
falling asleep, on this occasion I awoke to the sound in the early hours
of the morning. The tapping was very quiet, and as I generally sleep
quite deeply it is possible that it had been going on for some time and that
something else had awakened me.
Although I'd had only two other experiences of the tapping, they must have
been enough to condition me into expecting erotic feelings because without
thought I reached down and started fondling my dick. Still only half
awake, I realised that my dick remained completely soft and I wasn't even
remotely horny. On the contrary, feelings of deep sadness and loss
began to grow in me, and as I gradually reached full consciousness those
feelings became stronger. I got the impression that someone wanted
to make me cry, and when I didn't cry they cranked up the level of sadness
and despair. However, the last time I cried was after Mum died and
after that I was unable to cry no matter how unhappy I was.
The emotions rapidly became so intense that it seemed they were suffocating
me and I became very afraid. Beginning to panic, I got up and fled
from my room. Once I was in the hallway the feelings slowly began to
fade and I could breath more easily. As I stood there panting and trying
to gather my thoughts, I became aware that I was naked and that the summer
night was not particularly warm. Reluctant to go back into my room
to get some clothes, I went along the hallway to the second entrance to my
en suite bathroom.
Once inside, I turned on the light and put on a bathrobe. Then I saw
my reflection in the mirror and became so disoriented that I had to sit down
on the side of the bath. Of all the disturbing experiences that night,
that was the most nightmarish. In the mirror I recognised the individual
features of my face, but - I can't really express this in words - I felt
like the person in the mirror wasn't me. It was more like someone else
wearing my face.
Totally freaked out, I staggered back into the hallway, leaving the bathroom
light on. Leaning back against the wall, I wondered what to do.
My first instinct was to go to my dad, but I quickly put that aside.
What would he think of me, a sixteen-year-old, running to his daddy and waking
him up just because of a nightmare? What could he do or say even if
I did wake him up?
Although I was rapidly convincing myself that it had all been just a nightmare,
I was reluctant to go back to bed, so I decided to go down to the kitchen
and get a drink. As it turned out, I made myself some tea and toast,
not so much because I was hungry but more as an excuse for not going back
to my room. As I sat and sipped my tea, I tried to make some sense
of my experience, which I told myself had probably been a nightmare triggered
off by the afternoon in the graveyard bringing back memories of Mum's death.
In some ways the emotions I'd just experienced were similar to those I felt
when my mum died, but there were significant differences. First, and
most obvious, when Mum died I knew the cause of my misery, but in the nightmare
there was no obvious reason for it. Second, for weeks after she died
I was in such a state of shock and denial that the sadness and loss were
not as intense as the nightmare emotions.
By the time I'd finished my tea I could see through the large kitchen windows
that the sky was getting lighter and the wall clock showed that it was almost
four. Although I was feeling drained and tired, I didn't relish
the thought of going back to my bed. However, I told myself not to
be so silly and childish and motivated myself to go upstairs.
Warily, I entered my room and thought I could feel a hint of the sadness,
but it was more like a memory or faint echo of the earlier emotions.
I got into bed but I couldn't settle, so I carried my duvet to the spare
room next to mine and curled up on the guest bed. There I fell into
a fitful sleep but was awake again before seven o'clock, so I decided to
get up, shower and have breakfast with Dad. Although it was a Saturday,
he was going to go into work and I thought it would be nice to see him before
Around the middle of the afternoon I was sitting in the living room dozing
in front of the TV when I heard the front door open and then Mrs Crawford's
"Hellooooo!" she called, "Professor Kenny? Mark? Anyone home?"
I managed to find enough energy to drag myself up off the sofa and went into
"Hello, Mark," she greeted me with a smile.
Her appearance had taken me by surprise as she didn't usually come in at
weekends. Instead she made extra meals during the week and chilled
or froze them for us to heat up for lunches and dinners on Saturdays and
Sundays. As I got my brain into gear enough to return her greeting
she studied me and probably noticed my sleepy eyes and messed-up hair.
"Sorry, did I wake you up?" she asked apologetically.
"No, it's okay, I was just watching TV... well, maybe I dozed off for a bit."
"Yes, you are looking weary," she said with concern, "You're not ill, are
"No, just a bit tired, that's all."
"Well, why don't we go down to the kitchen and you can sit and relax while
I make you a nice cup of tea to go with this."
She raised the cake tin which I just noticed she'd been carrying under her
"But it's Saturday..." I said, a little confused, as I followed her downstairs.
"Oh, I'm not here for work, pet," she said, following my train of thought,
"I just came by to bring you a birthday cake."
"B-but..." I stammered.
"Yes, I know it was your birthday three weeks ago. Tommy told me last
night, but as we just missed it the weekend you moved up here, I thought
it would be nice to make you a belated birthday cake... Much better than
a belated birthday card, don't you think?"
She smiled, put the tin on the breakfast bar and began filling the kettle.
"Erm, yes, of course. Thanks..." I agreed, "but you really didn't need
"I know I didn't need to," she laughed, "but with all my menfolk away or
out of action I thought I'd keep myself occupied... and you know I enjoy
"Thanks," I repeated, not knowing what else to say.
She took the chocolate cake out of the tin and placed it on a large plate
so that I could see the words 'Happy Birthday Mark' written in orange icing.
"Speaking of menfolk away," she continued, "I suppose your dad's not home?"
"No, he's at work,"
"Well, maybe you'll save some cake for him!" she joked.
"And I hope you'll take some back home for Tom and Brian and Mr Crawford...
did you say they were away somewhere today?"
"Andrew and Brian have gone to see the football in Newcastle. Apparently
they're playing Manchester United," she said in a tone that indicated she
lacked enthusiasm for the game. "And Tommy's still in bed with a migraine."
"Oh, I'm sorry he's ill. Please tell him I hope he gets better soon."
"Yes, I'll tell him..." she said with a little smile.
She appeared to have something on her mind so I didn't say anything except
a brief 'Thank you' as she served up the tea and cake - a huge piece for
me and a small piece for her. While I was eagerly eating the delicious
cake she spoke again in a tone that made me feel she was sharing a confidence
"Tommy only has these migraines after a really bad nightmare," she said,
"He's not had one so bad for ages and I was really hoping he'd grow out of
them. But last night he woke us all up with his screams."
The mention of the words 'nightmare' and 'last night' suddenly took away
my appetite and I stopped eating. Maybe she interpreted my action and
expression as signs of guilt because she gave me a penetrating stare.
"He told me you spent some time together yesterday afternoon. Did anything
happen that might have upset him?"
"N-not that I know of... we were just looking at gravestones..."
"Whatever for?" she asked, frowning.
"Well, I was more interested in the church than the graves," I said. "I like
old buildings... castles, cathedrals, that sort of thing."
The relaxation of her expression indicated that although she might consider
such interests to be eccentric, she didn't think they merited disapproval.
"I know Tommy and Miss Victoria were friends," she said as if trying to explain
her earlier frown, "but it doesn't seem natural for a young lad like
him to spend so much time visiting her grave."
Although I didn't say anything, I thought it just as odd that Tom had also
been taking equal care of the grave of a boy who'd been dead for almost
ninety years. She must have sensed that I was refraining from saying
something that I was thinking because she spoke again.
"Do you think our Tommy's a bit strange?" she said defensively. "He may be
a bit unusual, but he's got a heart of gold."
She took a drink of here tea, and not being able to think of a response,
I returned to eating my cake. Then, I thought of something I wanted
to say, though it didn't seem obviously connected to the earlier part of
"I don't think Tom likes me," I blurted out.
"Whatever makes you say that?" she said with a look of genuine surprise.
"Well," I said hesitantly, "lots of times when we're talking he'll just say
something and walk off before I can reply."
I was apprehensive about how she might react to this apparent criticism of
her son, so I didn't expect the smile and expression of mild relief that
accompanied her next words.
"I wouldn't worry about that. He does that with everyone, so you shouldn't
take it personally. When he has strong feelings about something he
doesn't like to show it, so I think he finds it easier to run away."
"Oh," I said.
From what she'd told me I still couldn't decide whether Tom liked me or not,
and for some reason it was important for me to know. However, I couldn't
bring myself to ask outright, so I tried a more oblique approach.
"Does he usually run away from strong good feelings or strong bad feelings?"
"Either," she said, then showing that she could see through my attempt at
subtlety, she smiled and added, "But he does like you. Last night he
suggested that I make the cake for you."
I couldn't hide my blushes, but she had the good grace to pretend she didn't
That night, with a little trepidation, I returned to my own bed and, contrary
to my expectation, I fell asleep quickly. Nothing unusual occurred
and I enjoyed a restful and uninterrupted sleep.
On the next night, Sunday, Tony phoned to let me know that he'd just returned
from his holiday and that he'd had a great time. Of course, it was
good to hear his voice, which was just as well because he was so eager to
tell me everything he'd been up to that I could hardly get a word in edgeways.
I had ambivalent feelings regarding one of his pieces of news. He'd
met a 'gorgeous English girl' in his hotel and they were going to stay in
touch now their holiday was over.
I should have been happy for him, and I was a little. However, it seemed
that not only were we separated by distance but also that now he was finding
new friends to replace me. Although up until then he'd never had a
serious girlfriend, I knew he was totally straight and that I had no chance
of getting romantic with him. Now I wondered if we would remain close
friends once he'd become romantically involved with a girl.
The rest of that week was mostly uneventful. Although I was a little
apprehensive going to bed the first few nights after the nightmare, I slept
well and the apprehension soon wore off. During the week I didn't see
much of Brian, who spent a lot of his time with his friends in Moreton and
Alnwick. According to his mum, Tom had quickly recovered from his migraine,
but the few times I saw him we didn't say much. The more I found out
about him, the more he fascinated me, and after his mum told me he liked
me I had hoped to see more of him and get to know him better. Well,
to be exact, in the middle of the week I did see more of him.
In fact, I got to see even more of him than I'd hoped, but I'm not sure how
much better I got to know him.
The weather at the beginning of the week was cool, cloudy and wet so when
Wednesday turned out to be much nicer I was grateful for the opportunity
to get out of the house and stretch my legs. In the morning I went
into the village to do a little shopping and after lunch, I decided to go
for a walk down by the stream that ran through our grounds.
First I crossed the stream and went to the clearing that I'd found in the
woods when I was exploring with Tony. Though I felt a slight tingle
down my spine as I entered the clearing, there was no repeat of the disorientation.
Even the tingling was probably not a real experience but was more likely
the result of my expectations. I was mildly disappointed and decided
to walk eastward, upstream. Eventually, I reached an area I'd not yet
explored and found a small tributary that flowed down from the wooded hillside.
Although the hill wasn't particularly steep, the water in the narrow
channel flowed rapidly into the main stream. On a whim, I decided to
see if I could follow the tributary to its source which, I deduced, must
be somewhere between where I was and the top of the hill.
The undergrowth in that part of the wood was quite dense, but running parallel
to the flowing water there appeared to be an easy route upward. While
it could certainly not qualify to be called a path, it did give me the impression
that in the recent past other feet had trodden here before mine. As
I walked uphill the trees with their full canopies of summer leaves grew
closer together so the stream and house behind me were soon hidden from view.
However, I didn't feel oppressed by closeness of the trees and the decreased
light, but instead there was a comfortable feeling of sheltered seclusion.
The water flowing past me made a pleasant chuckling sound but after walking
about a hundred yards I thought I could hear a louder splashing ahead.
Suddenly, I had the feeling that I wasn't alone, so I stopped and looked
around. As far as I could see there was no one else around, though
the trees limited visibility to just a few yards. The only sounds I
could hear were birdsongs and the splashing of water. Despite the lack
of evidence of the presence of anyone else, I proceeded more quietly and
After walking just a short distance further, the splashing grew louder and
I saw something pale-gold through the trees. I wondered if there was
someone up ahead and thought it might be Tom. After all, it was our
private land and only Tom had permission to be here. Despite the fact
that I thought I knew who it was, for some reason I wanted to see him before
he saw me so I approached quietly and carefully.
Crouching down and peeking through the undergrowth I could see a small open
area, about ten yards long and just over half that in width. On the
far side from me was a tall outcrop of brown rock out of which, about a third
way up from the ground, water poured, presumably from an underground spring.
Where the water dropped onto more of the brown rock it had worn a large hollow,
and water overflowing from the hollow proved to be the source of the tributary
I'd been following. Because of the surrounding trees there was no direct
sunlight on the water, but the movement of the dappled light filtering through
the leaves reflected around the hollow to produce an almost magical appearance.
That alone would have been a beautiful sight and well worth the climb up
the hill. However, what really took my breath away was the sight of
Tom lying on the edge of the hollow. He was on his back on a dark green
towel, with his legs, bent at the knee, dangling over the edge so that his
feet were in the water. His head rested on his hands, his eyes were
closed and he had a contented smile on his lips. The reason my breath
had been taken away was that he was completely naked.
Up until that time I'd considered Tom to be reasonably attractive, but not
as much as his brother and certainly not in the same class as Tony.
However, at that moment Tom shone with a beauty that put even Tony in the
shade. In his face there was a serenity that I'd never seen in anyone
else and I would never have expected from him. His whole body, slightly
tanned to a pale gold, seemed to glow with health and vitality.
His smooth, slim body was certainly not muscular, but his muscles could be
distinctly seen, as if finely drawn by an artist. And he was naked.
Believe it or not it was several seconds before I could tear my eyes from
his face and look at his more private parts, and what I saw did not disappoint
me. His soft uncut dick, just a little darker than the rest of his
skin, was resting in the crease at the top of his left thigh, just below
his light brown pubic hair. In its current state it appeared to be
between three and four inches in length, and I guessed that it would be a
respectable size when erect.
At that moment in time he was the most desirable person I'd ever seen, and
in my crouched position my stiffy became extremely uncomfortable in my jeans.
Not wishing to disturb him, I crept slowly away until I was far enough from
him to stand up without betraying my presence. Then I made my way as
quickly as possibly back to the house, where I shut myself in my room, threw
off my clothes, lay on the bed and had a wonderful wank.
That night I heard the tapping again. Much to my relief, it turned
out to be the prelude to intense erotic feelings. This sort of strange
experience I could live with, especially when I had images of a naked Tom
to add fuel to those feelings. Eventually, I fell asleep, exhausted
and with a tender dick.
The following week was my last full week of vacation before I started at
the sixth form college, and to be honest I was getting rather nervous.
I was dreading having to meet and deal with lots of new people. At
my previous school I'd managed to hide myself away in a sort of a social
backwater and was quite happy that few people apart from Tony paid any attention
to my existence. I hoped that my new face and outsider's accent wouldn't
attract too much attention in my new school.
On Tuesday morning Brian turned up at the house and invited me to go into
Moreton with him. As I'd declined similar invitations in the past I
was surprised that he'd asked again. Then I remembered that Brian and
Tony were in occasional email contact and the latter frequently told me I
should be making new friends, so I wondered if Brian's persistence had anything
to do with Tony. On the other hand, maybe I was just paranoid and imagining
My first reaction was to find some excuse to decline Brian's invitation,
but three things changed my mind. First, I had run out of reasonable
excuses. Second, Mrs Crawford, who came up from the kitchen when Brian
arrived, encouraged me to get out of the house and make the most of my vacation
before term started. Third, Brian was accompanied by a pair of identical
The twins were introduced to me as Keith and Kevin, and Brian informed me
that they lived just outside the village and they played in the college rugby
team. They were so identical that the only way I could distinguish
them was by the colours of their tee-shirts. They were about the same
age and height as Brian, though not quite so muscular, and they had very
short sandy hair and pale blue eyes. Although I might not have found
them especially attractive individually, when I saw them together I found
We turned left out of our driveway and walked the few dozen yards to
the bus stop. On the other side of the road were fields marked off
by fences and hedgerows. In the distance I could see farm buildings
but the only nearby building on that side of the road was a white-painted
cottage separated from the road by a large garden. About fifty yards
to my left, in the opposite direction to the village, the road forked with
the larger, left-hand branch leading toward Moreton. In between the
two branches of the road was a densely wooded area.
So far Brian had been doing most of the talking and I'd said nothing to Keith
or Kevin since my initial greeting. As we waited for the bus
there was a lull in the conversation and, contrary to my usual reluctance
to speak to strangers, I felt the urge to say something more to the twins
"There's a lot of woodland round here," I commented and nodded my head in
the direction of the fork in the road, "Where I come from there's a lot more
houses than trees."
"That's Shotton Wood. You should stay away from there!" Keith responded.
Although he laughed I got the impression he wasn't totally joking.
"Oh?" I said.
I expected to be told some sort of ghost story or hear about some grisly
local murder, but Keith's next words, and even more his tone, were more shocking
than my expectations.
"Don't go there, especially at night," he said, "cos that's where the queers
"Yeah," Kevin added, "bloody poofters!"
"My dad keeps getting patrol cars to come by and chase them off," Brian said
disgustedly, "but the buggers just keep coming back."
If my three companions were typical, I thought to myself, then local people
were much more anti-gay than people where I used to live. Having just
met the twins, I had no previous opinions about them, but Brian's attitude
shocked me because it seemed so out of character.
The conversation turned to other things, but I didn't join in much, perhaps
because I was subconsciously afraid of saying something to make them suspect
I was gay. Although they were very friendly toward me, I didn't feel
as if I were with friends and I started trying to think of an excuse to go
home, but the bus arrived before I could come up with anything.
As soon as we got to Moreton we went to a cafe and met up with two girls
and another boy. One of the girls, Julie, behaved as if she were Brian's
girlfriend, but it didn't appear to me that he had any deep feelings for
her. Brian, apparently keen to make me part of the group, told me that
all of us, including the twins, would be going to the same college .
I rapidly got the feeling that Brian was the leader of this little group,
although I couldn't point to anything specific that was said or done to confirm
The boy, Nick, was about my age and the most notable thing about him was
his height, which I guessed to be at least 6'6". His height was
further emphasised by the fact that he was so slim. Although it had
been an exceptionally sunny and hot summer, his skin was very pale and contrasted
with his short black hair and big brown eyes. One thing that quickly
became clear to me, though Brian didn't seem to notice it, was that Nick
had taken an instant dislike to me. However, that didn't bother me
because the antipathy was mutual. As soon as I could do so without
being rude, I made my excuses for going home. Needless to say, I was
relieved to get back to Prospect House.
The first morning of the new school term arrived and, as had previously been
arranged, I went to meet Brian at the gatehouse. Dad had offered to
give me a lift to the college, but his office was in the opposite direction
and he needed to be in work by eight-thirty. So I declined the offer
as I was already nervous and I didn't relish the prospect of hanging around
the college for more than an hour before classes started.
As I walked down the drive it hit home to me that this was the first time
for years that I'd started a new term without Tony by my side. Despite
Brian's good intentions, after meeting up with his friends in Moreton I realised
that I'd never fit in with his group and since then I'd been missing Tony
more and more.
When I arrived at their house, Brian and Tom were ready to go and we immediately
set off to the bus stop with Tom lagging a couple of feet behind us.
Brian was very chatty and cheerful and seemed to enjoy playing the part of
my mentor, whereas Tom never said a word after he greeted me. Since
that day by the spring he'd become a regular part of my wank fantasies, so
after that, whenever I'd seen him I'd been a little embarrassed and found
it difficult to look him in the eye. Also, I felt a bit guilty
about spying on him and was worried how he might react if he found out.
Just as the school bus came into sight in the distance, movement in my peripheral
vision drew my attention across the road, where I saw a red-headed kid coming
out of the garden in front of the cottage. The boy ran across the road
and although he arrived at the bus stop just a few seconds before the bus,
there was enough time for me to get a good look at him. He was slightly
shorter than me, slim but with a round, boyish face and he appeared to be
about the same age as Tom. His green eyes and darker green sweater
made an interesting contrast to his bright read hair. He and Tom greeted
one another with big grins, but Brian seemed to make a deliberate point of
ignoring him. Neither of the brothers introduced us and I had no idea
who he was, so feeling a little awkward, I gave him a hesitant smile then
turned my gaze to the approaching school bus.
Brian led me to the rear of the half-empty bus where I saw the twins in the
middle of the back seat, which they had apparently reserved for us.
Brian sat next to Keith and I sat between Brian and the off-side window.
Tom and the red-haired boy followed us onto the bus and sat together a couple
of seats in front of me.
"Your brother's still hanging out with the little fairy, then?" Keith said
"I'm fed up of talking to him about it," Brian said, frowning and shrugging
his shoulders a little. "I've told him he should choose his friends better,
but he doesn't take any notice."
"They are only friends, then?" Keith said suggestively.
Brian's face went red and he turned, pushing his muscular forearm against
Keith's throat, forcing him against the back of the seat.
"Are you calling my brother a queer?" Brian growled.
"Of course he's not!" Kevin said, grabbing Brian's arm. "It was just a joke,
now calm down before you get us chucked off the bus."
"Well, it wasn't very funny," Brian said, releasing Keith.
As Brian leaned back in his seat, he seemed to remember I was present because
he turned to me with a sheepish smile.
"Keith's got a sick sense of humour," he said.
Realising that Tom and the other boy were near enough to have heard most
or all of what had just been said about them, I looked in their direction.
The red-head was sitting with his head bowed as if he were studying something
on his thighs and I had the impression that he was pretending he hadn't heard
anything. Tom had turned around and after glaring long and hard at
his brother and the twins he gave me a less harsh look before turning back
and saying something to his friend.
For the rest of the journey the memory of the look in Tom's shining
eyes burned in my mind and my imagination produced several possible interpretations.
It seemed the most likely ones were: 'How can you associate with people
like that?' or 'You disappoint me' or 'Now you see why I don't get on with
Brian?' Maybe the real meaning of was a mixture of all three.
Nick and Julie got on the bus together a couple of stops after we did, and
both immediately joined us on the back seat. Julie seemed rather put
out when she saw that Brian was sitting between me and Keith and with great
determination she managed to squeeze between Keith and Brian. As Nick
passed the red-haired boy the back of his hand tapped against the seated
boy's face. Although I couldn't be sure, it didn't seem like an accident,
but in any case the red-head appeared to ignore it.
By the time the bus got to Moreton it was almost full, and I noticed that
seating arrangements were roughly related to age. Although there were
a few exceptions, often with apparent siblings, I observed that the older
a student was the nearer they sat to the back of the bus. I also noticed
from the way that many of the other passengers greeted him that Brian was
a very popular person, even among the younger kids.
About half way through the first week of term while we were waiting at the
bus stop I heard Tom address the red-haired boy as 'Chris' and that's how
I found out his name. Tom never introduced us and Brian continued to
ignore Chris's existence . Chris and I occasionally made very brief
eye contact and exchanged hesitant half-smiles but it seemed neither of us
had the courage to say anything, especially when Brian was around.
Also, I only saw Chris when we were travelling to or from school as he, like
Tom, attended the high school and I went to the sixth-form college.
Brian, I suspected at least partially at Tony's request, kept a friendly
eye on me and continued to try to include me in his group of friends.
I must admit that I admired his surprising persistence. However, for the
most part I tried to keep to myself, not least because the more time I spent
with Brian the more Tom seemed to avoid me.
Several times on the school bus I'd heard people refer to Chris as being
gay. Mostly the words they used and the way they spoke were derogatory,
but sometimes the terms were neutral and their motives seemed to be just
curiosity or gossip. Of course, I observed Chris as much as I could
without appearing too obvious, and although I thought I detected a slight
effeminacy, it may have been my imagination because it certainly wasn't obvious.
As far as I could tell, whenever Chris heard comments about his sexuality
he just ignored them, but on a couple of occasions I saw his eyes, and then
I got the feeling that he was hurting inside. When Tom was present
during such comments he'd glare at the speaker and then say something, presumably
comforting, quietly to Chris. This only rarely elicited any negative
comments directed toward Tom, and I guessed that he was to some extent protected
by his brother's reputation.
Although I didn't know if Chris was really gay, his apparently close friendship
with Tom made me wonder about Tom's sexuality. Was he gay and showing
solidarity with Chris or was he straight and just showing a protective loyalty?
In either case, he earned my admiration. He also made me feel guilty
because I didn't have the courage to try to help Chris. I was too afraid
even to be seen talking to him, just in case people would question my own
sexuality. The only thing that I did was to try to ensure I wasn't
associated with the negative comments made about him in my presence.
One evening in the middle of the second week of term the phone rang while
I was doing some maths homework in my room. Dad answered it downstairs
and as he didn't call for me immediately I assumed it wasn't Tony.
A few minutes later he came upstairs and stood in my doorway.
"That was your Gran," he said.
That wasn't a great surprise as we exchanged phone calls with her a couple
of times per month and we were about due for a call. Usually she'd
chat to Dad then to me, so I stood up to pick up my extension.
"She's already hung up," Dad said, stopping me in my tracks.
I wasn't really disappointed at not being able to talk to her, but I was
a bit concerned by the departure from the usual routine.
"Is everything okay?" I asked.
"Everything's fine. She's just about to go out and didn't see any point
in spending money on a long distance call when she can talk to you in person
We both smiled and he knew I understood his humour. Gran had a reputation
for being very careful with her pennies. She wasn't mean or anything
like that and she could be very generous with others, but when it came to
paying for things for herself she always bought the econo-version and never
spent more than absolutely necessary. Then the second part of Dad's
statement sank into my brain.
"Talk to me in person soon?"
"Yes, she's coming for a long weekend next week," he replied without much
"Presumably with Auntie Kath?"
"What do you think?" he said, smiling at the expression on my face.
Of course Auntie Kath would be coming as well. She always did.
She lived with Gran, supposedly to 'help her out', but Gran didn't really
need help as far as I could see.
Dad and I had similar rueful expressions, but for different reasons.
He dreaded Gran's visits because she didn't believe that a single father
could bring up a child properly, so she constantly interrogated him and tried
to find fault with his parenting. On the other hand, I dreaded Auntie
Kath's visits because no matter what I said or did there was always something
wrong with it. She criticised everything from my choice of clothes
to the way I talked to my dad. Even when Dad told her I was doing well
at school she told him to keep an eye on me because I was 'too clever by
"How long is a long weekend?" I asked.
"They're arriving on the Friday afternoon and leaving Monday."
"I s'pose we'll survive," I joked.
"That's the spirit," he laughed, "and at least you won't have to sleep on
the sofa now we have plenty of spare rooms."
"But we only have one spare bed," I pointed out.
"There's just over a week to do something about that."
"And we need some more bedroom furniture," I added, "It wouldn't be very
nice staying in a bare room with just a bed."
"This could turn out to be an expensive weekend!" he said with a rueful smile.
"Would it be cheaper to put them up in a hotel?" I asked brightly, only half
"Don't tempt me!" he laughed.
In the early hours of the following morning I awoke to the tapping sound
and while I was still half asleep I began to feel a sadness and loss.
As I came awake I attempted to fend off the increasing misery by joking to
myself that it was just a bad dream, probably caused by the prospect of spending
a long weekend with Auntie Kath. However, despite my attempt at levity,
the nightmare progressed.
The previous nightmare had involved the impression than an abstract 'someone'
was trying to make me cry, but this time was worse because the 'someone'
now seemed to be a real presence in the room. Oddly, instead of making
me more afraid, the 'presence' gave me something to fight and made me determined
not to panic and flee the room as I'd done previously. As a matter
of personal pride, even if I'd been able to cry I would have resisted the
pressure to do so. Lying on my back I stared into the darkness with
my fists clenched trying to assert control over my own emotions.
Suddenly, the painful misery was replaced by a resigned depression and at
first I thought the worst was over. However, then I felt an increasing
pressure on my chest, as if the unseen presence was sitting on me, and breathing
became more and more difficult. By now my determination to fight the
fear had evaporated and in growing terror I tried to sit up but found I couldn't
move. Then I blacked out.
The next morning, thinking back to the experience, I wondered if instead
of blacking out maybe I just fell back asleep, or maybe I'd never been awake
and had drifted from nightmare to normal sleep. In any case, I had
no more memories until I was awakened by my bedside alarm clock.
I found that getting out of bed and into the shower was a real struggle because
not only was I as tired as if I hadn't slept at all, but I also ached as
if I'd spent all night doing heavy physical labour.
Over breakfast Dad commented that I looked ill, but I told him I was okay
and had just not slept well because of a nightmare. I was grateful
that he just let things drop there, but it turned out he wasn't the only
one to notice my haggard appearance.
"You look like shit!" Brian greeted me when I met him at his front door.
"Thanks!" I said sarcastically.
He didn't ask for and I didn't offer any explanation. Instead he just
closed the door behind himself and started walking toward the bus stop.
"Where's Tom?" I asked.
"Oh, he's in bed with one of his headaches," he replied without slowing his
"Is he ill?" I asked as I caught up with him.
"Not really. He usually spends the day in bed after waking us all up
with one of his screaming nightmares," he said, apparently less concerned
about his brother than about the loss of his own sleep.
Struck by the coincidence of both of us having nightmares on the same two
nights, I stopped in my tracks. At first the coincidence seemed weird,
but then with a little more thought it seemed probable that it was just the
result of random chance. As his mum had told me, he'd started having
bad nightmares years ago, long before I met him. Also, I reasoned that
as I'd only had a couple of nightmares recently there could be no relationship
between his and mine. Still, I wondered what Tom had nightmares about.
"What's the matter?" Brian asked when he noticed I was no longer following
him. "If you don't get a move on we'll miss the bus."
"Just wondering if Tom's okay," I said, not wanting to divulge my real thoughts.
"Don't worry about Tom," he said with a wry smile as I resumed walking, "at
least he gets to catch up his lost sleep, which is more than you can say
for the rest of us."
"Does he have these nightmares often?" I asked.
"He used to have them a couple of times a month, but he's hardly had any
for the last couple of years. Mum said he was growing out of them,
so I hope they're not starting up again."
When we got to the bus stop Chris was already there looking anxiously behind
us, and it was obvious he was wondering where Tom was. He gave us a
hesitant questioning look, but as usual Brian ignored him.
"Tom's staying in bed," I found myself saying, "He's got a headache."
Brian frowned his disapproval at me, but didn't say anything. Chris
looked despondent at my announcement and slightly surprised that I'd spoken
to him. Whether either of us would have said anything else I don't
know, because at that moment the bus arrived.
That afternoon going home on the half-empty bus I sat alone in my usual seat
at the back. Brian and the twins were at rugby practice and I've no
idea where Julie was. Nick, who seemed to be avoiding me, was sitting
a couple of seats in front of me. Chris was sitting alone across the
aisle from Nick. Not long before reaching his stop Nick looked around
as if to see if anyone was taking any notice of him. The few people
on the bus either had their attention elsewhere or were, like me, obviously
of no consequence to him, because much to my surprise he went over and sat
in the empty seat behind Chris. Then he stared out of the window for
a few seconds.
The whole manoeuvre made me think of some second-rate spy movie, as if he
thought that anyone who had noticed him changing seats would think it was
just to look out of that side of the bus. He then leaned forward and
said something into Chris's ear. I could see Chris's shoulders tense
up and then he shook his head, apparently saying 'no' to something.
Nick said something else and Chris shook his head more violently. Then,
as we were approaching his stop, Nick stood up and made his way to the front
of the bus. Although I caught only a glimpse of his face as he moved
from the seat into the aisle, I got the impression that he was frustrated
During the rest of the journey Chris didn't turn around and although he stood
up before I did as we approached our stop, he kept his head down so I didn't
see enough of his face to be able to detect any emotion. As I stood
behind him waiting to get off I toyed with the idea of asking if he was okay,
but as soon as the doors opened he ran off toward his home. Maybe it
was my imagination, but as he paused to check for traffic before he crossed
the road, it seemed to me that he was crying.
On the Friday afternoon Dad met Gran and Auntie Kath at Newcastle railway
station and brought them back to the house. By the time I got home
from school he had already given them the grand tour and it appeared that
even Auntie Kath was impressed. They both loved the kitchen, not only
for its size and traditional feel but also for the views across the rear
lawn and over to the wooded hills. Those hills were especially beautiful
at that time of year as the leaves were turning to all shades of golds and
Of course, Auntie Kath found things to criticise; for example, wasn't it
a pity so many of our rooms were unused, especially the beautiful huge dining
room. Gran scolded Dad for choosing a house so far away from the nearest
town and my school, but I pointed out that the choice of Prospect House had
been a joint decision. Despite that, it was nice to see them, though
anything more than a long weekend would probably have become irksome.
Dad and I decided to put Gran in my room where she would have easier access
to the bathroom. I moved into the spare bedroom adjacent to my room
and Auntie Kath had the newly-furnished bedroom on Dad's side of the house.
When Dad had suggested giving Gran my room I wondered if she would experience
anything strange, but if she did then she didn't mention it.
Saturday morning we had a walk around the garden areas and down to the stream
and back. After lunch Dad and Auntie Kath went into Alnwick and Newcastle
to do some shopping but Gran said she was too tired and as I don't enjoy
shopping I was happy to stay home and keep her company. In the middle
of the afternoon we sat in the kitchen enjoying the view as we drank tea.
For a couple of years there had been something that I'd wanted to talk to
Gran about but the right combination of circumstances had never cropped up
before. The two most important circumstances, my being alone with her
and being determined enough, now coincided and I decided that this was the
best chance I was likely to get. As she looked out across the rear
lawn I studied her to try to judge her mood so that I could pick just the
From her face, especially the deep brown eyes, it was clear she was my mum's
mother. Even the light brown hair, now touched with grey, reminded
me of my Mum. Not for the first time it occurred to me that Auntie
Kath, with her thin face and black hair didn't look like either of them.
In fact, from photos I'd seen of my granddad, who died soon after I was born,
I don't think Auntie Kath looked like her dad either. Then I realised
that I was allowing my thoughts to wander because I was nervous about how
to start the conversation I wanted. However, the more I delayed the
more nervous I got, so after a deep breath I took the plunge.
"Graaaan," I said.
She must have recognised that the lengthening and modulation of the vowel
indicated a potentially delicate topic and she gave me her full attention.
"Yes, dear?" she responded in her Edinburgh-Scottish accent.
My liking of the accent was slightly offset by my hatred of being called
'dear', but from Gran the epithet could be tolerated.
"You know I've never met my other gran and don't even know if she's still
alive," I said, approaching the topic obliquely, "In fact I've never
met any of Dad's family."
"Of course I know that, dear," she said patiently, "and you already know
why. They didn't like it when he married your mum."
"But why didn't they like it?"
"Maybe you should ask your dad about that," she said warily.
Her tone of voice, her body language and the fact she looked away from me
all told me that she wasn't comfortable with this topic. Of course,
I had expected that, which is why I'd waited so long for this opportunity.
"I can't. Whenever I get anywhere near the subject he finds some excuse
to avoid it. He was more comfortable giving me the 'facts of life'
"Perhaps he's waiting for the right time... when you're older you may understand
"I'm sixteen now, Gran! Surely that's old enough?" I said, my frustration
increasing. "After all, I'm old enough to have sex now..."
"You're not, are you?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.
Her question threw me off balance for a moment and I lost my train of thought.
Then I wondered if that had been her intention.
"Er, no," I said, then dragged the conversation back to my chosen topic.
"Anyway, I think I'm old enough now to know about Dad's family, but he won't
talk about it."
She chewed her lower lip, obviously wondering what, if anything, to say.
So, though I'm not proud of it, I admit I decided to apply a little emotional
"You're my gran. Surely I can rely on you to tell me about Mum and
my dad's family?"
"I know almost nothing about his family," she said, still trying to evade
I was beginning to feel a little guilty about putting her on the spot and
putting pressure on her, but I felt I had a right to know about my own family.
Having gone so far, I was unwilling to give up, especially as she seemed
almost ready to tell me what I wanted to know.
"But you do know why they disowned him when he married my mum," I said.
She remained silent for awhile and it seemed she was trying to gather her
"Alright," she said eventually, "But I'm not sure you should let your dad
know that I've told you this. At least not until you give him another
chance to tell you himself."
I nodded my agreement and she continued.
"As I said, I don't know much about your dad's family and I never met any
of them. I'd only met your dad a couple of times before your mum told
us she was going to marry him," she paused and smiled. "Notice I said she
told us. She didn't ask and she didn't consult us, but I didn't mind
as I liked him and she was obviously in love. Anyway, after they got
engaged we intended to meet his family before the wedding, but with us being
in Scotland and them living south of London it took some time to make arrangements
Before we could make any definite plans your mum, very upset, phoned us and
told us your dad and his family were no longer talking."
"But why not? What happened?" I prompted her.
I already knew most of what she'd just told me, at least in outline, so I
was anxious that she should get on and tell me the things I didn't know.
"Well, I only know what your mum told me and she only knew what your dad
told her, and even that I didn't find out until just before the wedding.
So if you want to know for sure, you should really ask your dad."
She sat back in her chair and looked out of the window, obviously hoping
that I would indeed wait until I could ask my dad. However, I knew
from past experience that Dad wouldn't talk to me about it, at least not
in the foreseeable future.
"Well, at least tell me what you know. Pleeeease!" I wheedled.
She returned her gaze to me, sighed, and continued.
"Alright, then," she said, then paused as if considering her words carefully.
"From what I understand your dad's family is very well off and quite well
known in their part of the country and they didn't think your mum was a suitable
wife for him."
I was hurt and outraged. How could anyone think that my beautiful,
loving mother wasn't 'suitable'?
"Not suitable?" I almost shouted, unable to hide my anger, "But why
"I suppose they were just snobs."
Something about her tone and the way she glanced away from me gave me the
impression that she wasn't being entirely truthful or that she was at least
keeping something back.
"But after they were married, after me and my sister were born, surely they
could see they were wrong? Surely they could see what a good mother
she was? Didn't they ever want to meet their own grandchildren?"
She smiled gently and reached across the table to put her hand on mine.
"I think it was all too late by then," she said sadly, "but believe me, Mark,
the fact they never met you is more their loss than yours."
I blushed at the indirect compliment. Of course Gran was always nice
to me and I knew she loved me, but she wasn't usually so open about her feelings,
so I felt a little embarrassed. Without giving the matter any real
thought, I said the first thing that came into my head.
"Maybe I could get in touch with them? Maybe that could fix things
up between Dad and his family?"
"Trust me, dear," she said with a frown, "I don't think that would be a good
idea. You'd only get hurt."
Again, although this time she didn't look away, I knew she wasn't telling
me everything she knew.
"Why would I get hurt? What makes you say that?" I demanded.
I think that by now she got the message that I wasn't going to give up and
that I wasn't easily diverted. Of course, if I'd tried the same tactics
on Dad he would have angrily cut off the conversation by now and would probably
have walked out of the room. Although I felt guilty for the way I was
almost bullying Gran, I just couldn't help myself. I felt that I needed
to know what she was keeping from me. Maybe she realised this because
she removed her hand from mine and I detected both irritation and resignation
in her voice when she replied.
"Well, if you really must know," she said bluntly, "either your mum or your
dad happened to mention to his parents that your mum had been in a psychiatric
hospital. As soon as they found that out they told your dad he shouldn't
marry her because they didn't want 'bad blood' being brought into their family.
They didn't want any defective grandchildren, especially as your dad was
their only son. They told him if he married her then he would no longer
be part of the family. Maybe they expected, or at least hoped, that
the threat would make him break off the engagement. But it didn't work
and as soon as he married your mum they broke off all contact."
After all her attempts to be evasive, I was shocked by the almost brutal
way she had recited the whole story. I was so shocked that I couldn't
actually think of anything to say, though two words unconsciously slipped
from my lips.
"Defective grandchildren?" I breathed.
"Of course you're not defective!" she said angrily. "There's nothing wrong
I wasn't sure if her anger was directed at me for dragging the story from
her, or whether she was angry herself for telling me, or angry at dad's family,
or any combination of those. However, even if I was at least partly
the target of her anger, as the story sank into my brain, there were other
things I had to know.
"Why was she in the mental hospital?" I asked, "When? How long for?"
"Psychiatric hospital," she corrected.
"Whichever," I said, unable to see any distinction.
"You remind me of your mum," she laughed.
The sudden change of subject as well as the rapid change of mood took me
"What?" I asked, totally confused.
"Sometimes you're like a mix between a bloodhound and a rottweiler," she
replied and smiled, "Once you get the scent you won't be distracted and once
you get your teeth into something you won't let go. Your mum could
be like that."
Before I had the chance to demonstrate further the canine characteristics
she'd just mentioned, she continued speaking.
"About your mum... it's a long story..."
"Well, Dad won't be home for a couple of hours and I've nothing better to
"At least let an old lady have a cup of tea first. All this talking
has parched my throat."
Maybe it was just a delaying tactic, but it probably wasn't because my throat
was dry as well. So I nodded my agreement and we made tea together.
When we sat down to drink it I waited silently, but not quite patiently,
for her to tell me more.
"When your mum was a little girl she sometimes had strange, vivid dreams..."
"Nightmares?" I interrupted?
"Not usually. Just very detailed life-like dreams, and she could remember
them all when she woke up. I think it was just that she had an overactive
imagination, which wasn't a problem until she was fourteen. Then her
imagination just seemed to get out of control."
"What exactly happened?" I asked.
"We'd just moved from a block of modern flats outside Edinburgh to a lovely
old apartment in the city centre. It was more convenient for your granddad's
job and bigger than our flat. Your mum didn't want to move and said
she hated the new place. We couldn't understand why and her dad thought
she didn't want to move to a new school or that she was just being awkward."
She paused to sip her tea, then continued.
"Of course she had no choice but to move with us, and at first she seemed
to accept it. When she became withdrawn and sullen we put it down to
teenage rebellion, but then one morning she got up looking quite ill and
begged me to let her go and live somewhere, anywhere but there . When
I pointed out that it just wasn't practical she burst into tears and said
something evil was in the apartment. I told her it was just her imagination
and she should make some local friends and get more involved with real life.
"Well, it seems she must have made new friends, because she started staying
out with them all the time. Your mum was a very clever girl, but she
was doing badly at school so her dad and I tried to make her stay in and
study. She said she'd study with her friends, but her dad insisted
she come home to study, and she seemed to accept that.
"The next morning," she continued, "when I got up I found a note on the kitchen
table saying she'd gone away and wasn't coming back. We thought
it was just teenage dramatics or emotional blackmail, but when she didn't
come back that night we became frantic with worry. We tried to contact her
friends, but as she'd only just met them we didn't know who most of them
were. We ended up searching the local streets for her. Eventually,
we decided we had to call the police. Two days later, the police brought
her home. They told us she'd been sleeping rough in a derelict building.
Gran drank more of her tea and seemed to be gathering her thoughts.
"Your mum seemed to be happy to see me, but she said she'd run off again
if we made her stay in the apartment. Her dad lost his temper and locked
her in her room until, as he put it 'she came to her senses'. He thought
she was just going through a teenage phase, or maybe was on drugs.
I wasn't sure it was so simple, but couldn't see any harm in locking her
in the room until we could think things out more calmly, and at least she'd
be safe and off the streets.
"When her dad put her in her room she begged and pleaded and screamed and
banged on the door. I was in tears but her dad said we should just
wait until she calmed down, then we could all discuss things reasonably.
After awhile things quietened down and when she'd not made a sound for an
hour or so I went in to see if she wanted something to eat or drink or if
she needed to go to the toilet. It was fortunate that I went in when
I did because your mum had slashed her wrist with a piece of broken mirror.
I put on a tourniquet and we just managed to get her to hospital in time."
I stared at Gran, hardly able to believe what she was telling me. The
girl she was describing couldn't possibly be my calm, loving, devoted mum.
Wouldn't she have had scars on her wrist? I didn't remember seeing
any, but the last time I saw her was almost nine years ago when I was only
seven. Maybe I'd just forgotten seeing them, or maybe I never noticed.
"You must think we were awful parents," Gran said sadly, "locking up a sick
girl when she needed treatment. But we didn't know enough about mental
illness to recognise it, even in our own daughter."
I didn't know what to say. My heart bled for my mum and I was angry,
though there was no specific focus of my anger. Gran didn't seem like
a horrible cruel parent and I had no doubt that my mum had loved her.
Would I have dealt with the situation any better than Granddad?
"What happened when she got out of hospital?" I asked, my voice not much
louder than a whisper.
"Actually, she didn't get out for almost a year. After the cuts were
fixed up she was moved to a psychiatric ward and after a couple of weeks
she seemed almost back to her old self. But as soon as anyone mentioned
coming home she became hysterical and threatened to kill herself if we made
her live in the apartment. She claimed she heard voices saying horrible
things to her and telling her that if she didn't kill herself she would kill
someone else. Eventually she was transferred to a long-term specialist
"The doctors couldn't seem to do anything for her apart from giving her drugs
that turned her into a zombie. So, as the apartment seemed to be the
centre of her problem and we could, just about, afford to move, we found
a house just outside Edinburgh. It was further for your granddad to
go to work, the local schools weren't so good, and Kath didn't want to move,
but we thought it would be worthwhile if we got our daughter back.
"As soon as we told her we were moving she started getting better but she
insisted on visiting the house before we bought it. We managed to get
the doctors to agree to us taking her out for a few hours and as soon as
your mum went into the house she seemed really happy and gave me a big hug.
Over the next few weeks she returned to normal, especially after they took
her off the drugs. The doctors seemed surprised at her rapid recovery,
but then I got the impression they hadn't ever really known what was wrong
with her. Anyway, she came out of hospital and never had any more problems.
"There. Now you know everything."
When Gran stopped speaking she gave a deep sigh and studied my face, trying
to read my reaction to her story. I don't know what she might
have read in my expression because my thoughts were such a jumble and my
emotions were all mixed up. Unable to think of anything coherent to
say, I just looked at her and noticed she looked tired and maybe older than
when she'd started her tale. I realised that complying with my request
for information had been an ordeal for her and I was deeply grateful to her.
"Thanks, Gran," I said eventually, "I really appreciate you telling me all
That night I lay in bed wide awake, unable to sleep as my mind was still
absorbing what Gran had told me. Was Mum's reaction to the apartment
similar to my feelings when I fled from the house we looked at before Prospect
House? What would I have done if I'd been forced to live in that house?
A shiver ran down my spine as my mind shied away from imagining that possibility,
but I suspected that I too would have ended up in a psychiatric hospital
- or worse. Then it occurred to me that maybe she just pretended she
heard 'evil voices' in order to avoid going back to the apartment.
My mind was flooded with questions. Were mum's vivid dreams the same
as my 'little-waking-dreams'? Did she really stop having them or did
she just start keeping them to herself? Possibly she confided in Dad
and so when I told him about my own visions he thought I might have the same
'overactive imagination' as Mum. Maybe he told me not to talk about
my mini-visions in case I got sent to a mental hospital. If that were
so, then I dreaded what he might think if I told him about my recent nightmares
and strange experiences.
I wondered if he already thought of me as the 'defective grandchild' his
parents wanted to avoid. Maybe I was.