Box of Treasures
"No one's home," Tom said as he used his key to let us into his house, "Mum
and Dad are shopping and Brian's playing rugby."
He led me upstairs and for the first time I saw the inside of his room.
Up until then, apart from my own bedroom, the only teenage male's room I'd
been in was Tony's, and so my judgement of what a typical such room might
look like was questionable . However, it's reasonably safe to say that
Tom's room was probably not typical in that it was possibly the tidiest space
I'd ever seen.
The single bed on the far side of the room was neatly made, there were no
posters on the pale green walls and there was not a single item of clothing
to be seen. On my right, underneath the window, were a bare desk and
a chair, and against the wall opposite the window was a chest of drawers
and another chair. The only things that indicated that the room was
inhabited were the books and a few personal items placed tidily on a couple
"You can take your coat off and grab a seat," he said, gesturing toward the
desk and chair.
While I did as he suggested, he took a bunch of keys from his jacket pocket
and hung the jacket in one of the two wardrobes on either side of his bed.
He then used one of his keys to open the other wardrobe, from which he took
a wooden box which he carried across the room toward me.
"Miss Victoria gave me this," Tom announced and carefully placed it on the
desk, "If you want to know more about Edward and Tommy, there are some things
in here that you might like to look at."
He selected another key from the bunch and bent to unlock the box, and as
he did so I inspected it more closely. It was made from a dark and
highly-polished wood with white and gold inlays, and although my knowledge
of such things was negligible, I guessed that it might be a valuable antique.
I was much more confident of my other guess, that it was the 'box of treasures'
that Brian had told me about.
Standing close beside me and slightly leaning over the desk, his hip was
pressed against my arm as he opened the box and gently removed its contents.
There were several letters, mostly still in their envelopes, some picture
postcards and a handful of monochrome photographs. All were very old
and some of the writing was so faded as to be almost unreadable.
"Recognise anyone?" he said as he placed one photograph in front of me.
In the picture were about a dozen young men, mostly in their late teens,
dressed in army uniforms of first world war vintage. What immediately
caught my attention was that one of those young men seemed to be Tom, and
even in the ancient photo the unique eyes caught my attention. It was
only on very close inspection that I could see the small differences between
them. The person in the photo appeared to be slightly taller, older
and bulkier than the boy standing next to me.
"It's Tommy," I said, "but it looks like it could be you in a year or so.
When your mum mentioned a family resemblance, I expected that you'd be similar
to Tommy, not identical."
"Yeah," Tom said and laughed without much humour, "identical twins separated
by about ninety years!"
"Anyway," I said, finding it difficult to look away from the photo, "are
you going to tell me about Tommy and Edward now?"
"Okay, just let me get comfortable."
He went to get the other chair, then he put it next to mine at an angle so
that when he sat down he was facing partly toward me and partly toward the
items on the desk. Once he was seated, he leaned forward and rested
his elbow on the desk so that when he spoke his head was just a few inches
from mine and his voice was quiet. This, together with his serious
expression, gave me the feeling that he was about to tell me something secret,
or at least confidential.
"Almost everything I know about Tommy and Edward is what Miss Victoria told
me," he said, "though I got some more information from the things in the
box and church records...
"Which reminds me," I interrupted, "how did you get to be such close friends
with someone who was old enough to be your great-grandmother?"
"Easy. She liked to talk about the history of her family and mine,
and I liked to listen. Actually, when I was a little kid I never even
saw her. She never left the house and I was too scared to go there,
even to see my mum. Then one day, when I was eleven, she was looking
out of her window and saw me working in the garden and cos I reminded her
of Tommy she asked my mum to bring me to see her. At first I refused,
but Mum eventually persuaded me."
"And you hit it off?"
"No!" he laughed, "I was so scared of what I thought was a weird old woman
that I didn't say a word to her. But a few months later my nightmares
started and a bit later Mum happened to mention them to Miss Victoria, who
more or less insisted I go and tell her about them. Eventually, I went
to see her and over the next few months I found that talking to her about
Tommy and stuff was interesting and I didn't get nightmares so often."
Then Tom went on to tell me about Edward and Tommy:
When Victoria was growing up her father, Albert Armstrong, was a rich and
influential landowner who also owned several mines and factories. He
had inherited much of that wealth from his father, Henry, who had built Prospect
House, but Albert moved even higher in the social hierarchy by marrying the
daughter of a minor aristocrat. Albert had four children but only two
survived infancy - Edward and Victoria, who was seven years younger than
The Crawford family had lived in the local village for centuries before Prospect
House was built and after that many of them had ended up working either in
the house or on the estate. Tommy's parents lived in the gate house
and by the time he was born the two families, though of very different social
status, had developed a sort of symbiotic relationship.
Edward was born a few months after Tommy and for the first few years of their
lives, though their houses were separated by just a few hundred yards, they
were in very different social circles and rarely even caught sight of one
another. As the two boys got older it happened that they both developed
a love of the local woodland, where they could get away from their respective
families. Among the trees Tommy could escape from his crowded house
where there were always chores to do and Edward could escape from his overbearing
and domineering father.
When Tommy was ten and Edward was nine, they often met in the woods and formed
a friendship, but both boys knew that they had to keep that friendship secret.
They had been friends for less than two years when Edward was sent away to
boarding school and Tommy finished school to become an assistant to the head
gardener, who also happened to be one of his uncles. For the next few
years the two boys saw one another rarely, when Edward came home from school.
During that time Tommy became a skilled gardener and found great joy in growing
Victoria was only a small child when Edward first went away to school, but
although she didn't know her brother well, she looked up to him and admired
him. Similarly, although she didn't know Tommy well, she saw him often
when her nanny took her walking in the gardens. As she grew up, she
got to like Tommy, not only because of his striking good looks but because
he was so gentle and treated her like an adult, especially when he patiently
answered her questions about the plants and flowers.
One afternoon during the school summer holidays when Victoria was eight,
she followed her brother out of the house and into the woods. She just
wanted to be near her hero without bothering him or risking his anger, and
she didn't intend to be sneaky or spy on him. Having managed to cross
the stream without messing up her dress, she saw her brother disappear between
two trees. Peering through that narrow gap she saw that Tommy was already
in the clearing, apparently having been waiting for Edward. The two
boys hugged briefly then sat down on the grass, talking. She couldn't
hear what they said and she was just beginning to get bored and was considering
going back to the house when Edward took hold of Tommy's hand, raised it
to his lips, and kissed it.
This, especially after she saw them hugging, surprised her greatly.
Of course, at her age and in those days she had no idea of sex or sexuality,
but she was totally unused to seeing such physical affection. Occasionally
her nanny, or more rarely her mother, would hold her hand or even give her
a brief hug but she thought that such things were reserved for children.
As far as she knew, even her parents never hugged. Once the initial
surprise wore off, however, Victoria found that she was quite pleased that
two people she was fond of were being so nice to one another. In fact,
the only negative thought she had was a twinge of jealousy because neither
of them ever hugged her. One thing she was old enough to realise, however,
was that her parents would not approve of their son being so familiar with
Just then she heard her nanny calling her name and she knew she'd be in big
trouble if she was caught in the woods because she was under strict instructions
not to go near the stream, much less cross it. Panicking as she began
to turn away from the clearing she broke a small branch and caused the leaves
to rustle. This noise attracted the attention of both boys, and the
last thing she saw before she fled was Edward's face looking in her direction.
Unfortunately for Victoria, she was just crossing the stream when she was
caught by her nanny, who dragged the girl by her ear all the way back to
the house. There the nanny gave Victoria's mother a full report
of her daughter's transgressions. Had Victoria been a boy, she would
have been soundly beaten by her father, but as it was she was confined to
her room for a week, the first two days of which her diet was to be just
bread and water.
Late that evening, Edward sneaked up to her room with some cheese and fruit,
but kindness was not his only motive. He also wanted to find out what
she'd seen in the clearing and when she told him he begged her not to tell
anyone. As well as admiring her brother and being fond of Tommy, she
also felt very proud of being part of the big boys' conspiracy, so she readily
promised to keep their secret. From then on Edward, who had previously
not paid much attention to his little sister, became a much more caring and
Over the next few months, whenever Edward was home from school she noticed
that the two boys would often go missing at the same time and she guessed
they were meeting in the woods. She also saw the looks and smiles they
exchanged when they thought no one else was around, though they didn't seem
to mind her seeing these exchanges. In fact, when Edward noticed she
was watching them he sometimes gave her a conspiratorial wink, which pleased
While Tommy had been recounting this tale he'd leaned closer and his voice
became quieter, and that made me feel he that was sharing something very
private with me. Occasionally, I felt his knee brush against my thigh
and sometimes I felt the merest touch of his breath on my cheek. All
this, together with the intimate tone of his voice sent delicious tingles
along my spine. However, his next words changed those warm tingles
to a cold shiver.
One unusually mild night in spring the following year, 1917, Victoria was
unable to sleep when through her open window she heard a tapping sound.
At first when she looked outside she didn't see anything except the outline
of the tree whose upper branches were just level with her room.. Then
she heard the sound of an opening window, Edward's window, which was
immediately below hers. Peering down, she saw a large shadow move from
the branches of the tree and into Edward's room and then she heard the window
The next day Victoria mentioned her observations to Edward, who with a worried
look apologised for disturbing her and begged her not to tell anyone.
Now that she was aware that something was going on, each night when her brother
was home she tried to stay awake long enough to hear the noises again.
Several times she succeeded and one moonlit night she caught a clear view
of Tommy climbing from the tree into Edward's window. Although she
stayed awake as long as she could, she didn't hear him leave.
Toward the end of Edward's Easter holiday, Victoria was awakened in the early
hours of the morning by loud shouts and banging from below. She could
make out many words, but it soon became clear that her father was doing the
shouting and that most of the noise was coming from her brother's room.
Eventually, after more shouting and banging of doors, the house became quiet,
though as she fell asleep Victoria thought she could hear someone crying.
The next morning neither Edward nor their mother came down for breakfast
and everyone seemed angry or sad or both. All the information she could
get from her nanny was that her mother was ill and that Edward was being
punished for something. Her father was even more ill-tempered than
usual and so she knew better than to ask him any questions. After a
couple of days her red-eyed and obviously unhappy mother appeared in public
again, but Edward was not allowed out of his room until the day he returned
to school. She never saw Tommy again.
Over the next few months she managed to find out a little of what had transpired
that night, but it was only after her father's death, some years later, that
she managed to piece together the events leading to the later family tragedy.
Eventually, by the time she was in her late teens, Victoria had something
like a complete story, gleaned from her mother, old letters and some of the
more talkative Crawfords.
On the night Victoria heard all the shouting, her father had burst into Edward's
room and found the two boys in bed together. She never discovered what
caused her father to do this, but perhaps Tommy had been seen climbing the
tree or maybe the boys had made too much noise. Whatever the reason,
her father, shouting curses at both boys, punched and kicked Tommy out of
the room, down the stairs and out of the door. The only options open
to Tommy were to fight back or to flee, and he chose to flee.
Having thrown Tommy out of the house, her father returned to Edward's room
and beat his son with a stout cane kept specifically for that purpose.
Throughout the prolonged beating Edward was subjected not only to a deluge
blows but also to a torrent of shouted abuse and threats. Her brother
was so badly hurt that for several days he couldn't move from his bed.
Of course, Tommy was immediately dismissed from his job and banned from the
estate, which effectively meant that he could no longer live with, or even
visit, his family in the gate house. Ideally, Mr Armstrong would have
wanted Tommy to be thrown into prison for corrupting his only son, but he
couldn't make any official complaint without risking a scandal. So,
while Edward was recovering in his room, his father hatched a plan with which
he intended not only to punish Tommy but also to keep him as far away from
Prospect House as possible. Years later, when Victoria discovered this,
she became quite sure that her father also hoped that the plan might ensure
that Tommy could never return.
Mr Armstrong summoned Tommy's father to his study and instructed him to pass
on an ultimatum to his son. Either Tommy immediately joined the army
or Mr Armstrong would dismiss all of the Crawford family and throw them all
off the estate. This, of course, meant that those living in the gate
house and other tied accommodation would become homeless. Furthermore,
if Tommy didn't join up then no member of his family would be allowed to
work in any factory or mine owned by Mr Armstrong.
Although Tommy's father wasn't completely sure exactly what his son had done
to deserve this, there were enough clues to support his own suspicions and
he thought it was likely that Edward had corrupted Tommy. However,
he had no choice but to pass the ultimatum on to his son and two days later
Tommy enlisted with the Northumberland Fusiliers. No one was allowed
to mention Tommy again if there was even a slight possibility Mr Armstrong
might hear it.
Edward, still covered in bruises, returned to school and Mr Armstrong probably
hoped that his son would forget this childish aberration and become a respectable
citizen of the British Empire. Victoria had no idea what Edward was
like at school, but she could see that whenever he was at home he was a totally
different person than the brother she'd previously known. He seemed
to have no interest in anything, he never smiled and he spent much of his
time alone in his room. Although he obeyed his parents his sullen attitude
earned him frequent beatings, but he didn't seem to care whether he was punished
Despite what had happened, Tommy was still very popular with many of his
large extended family and Victoria suspected that they may even have passed
on news of him to Edward. However, none of the Crawfords ever admitted
this to her and she knew they would never have dared pass on any direct communication.
Then, the following year, Victoria heard from one of the servants that Tommy
had been killed during a German counter-attack at Cambrai.
After hearing this news, Edward became even more sullen and solitary and
Victoria hardly ever saw him, even when he was home for the long summer holiday.
Early one morning, shortly before Edward was due to go back for his final
year at school, she heard a commotion outside her bedroom window. Looking
out, she saw two men standing at the base of the tree and another lying on
a sturdy branch cutting through a piece of rope. The leaves obscured
whatever was suspended from the rope, and before she could get a clearer
view, her father appeared at the foot of the tree and yelled at her to get
away from the window and draw the curtains. Knowing that her father
demanded instant obedience, she quickly did as she was told and sat on her
bed, hoping someone would tell her what was going on.
The maid who normally woke her and set out her clothes arrived tearful and
late, and told her that Mr Armstrong had given instructions that Victoria
should have breakfast in her room. At first Victoria wondered if she
was being punished, perhaps for looking out of her window, but the maid just
said that there had been 'an accident'. A couple of hours later, her
father came to see her. Normally he was so controlled and reserved
that the only real emotion he displayed to her was anger, so on this occasion
she was shocked to see him so agitated.
He told her that Edward had been playing in the tree when he fell and broke
his neck. Her first reaction was disbelief because as far back as she
could remember her brother hadn't played in any tree. Apart from anything
else, he knew his father would disapprove, and if he were to go against his
father's wishes, she thought, why do it in a tree so close to the house?
When Victoria tried to voice her doubts, her father silenced her and told
her that whatever she thought she might have seen that morning, she must
never mention it to anyone.
When she realised that Edward was indeed dead, the initial shock gave way
to grief and she cried all through the funeral which took place three days
later. Two days after that, the tree was chopped down. The following
week Victoria was walking in the formal garden and passed close to two of
the under-gardeners talking quietly together while they worked. As
soon as they noticed she was there, they looked guilty and greeted her respectfully.
However, before they noticed her, she'd overheard a few words. "...why
Master Edward killed himself?"
There Tom finished the story and sat back, assessing my reaction. I
don't know what he expected and I don't even know what my expression showed
because I was too busy absorbing what he's told me. As my mind processed
the information and linked it to my own experiences, some things seemed to
fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
"So, what do you think?" Tom asked, sounding a little disappointed at my
apparent lack of reaction.
"Very interesting..." I replied, still distracted by my own thoughts, "You
think Edward killed himself then?"
"Miss Victoria was certain that he hung himself from the tree."
"And she believed your nightmares were Tommy's last memories," I said pensively.
My brain was still putting various bits of information together, so those
words were really my thoughts spoken out loud rather than a statement addressed
to Tom. However, he must have interpreted them as a criticism of his
"You think she was just a crazy old woman!"
"No," I said, anxious to rectify the misunderstanding, "I was just thinking
out loud... trying to get everything straight in my head. Some of the
things you said were quite scary."
"Yeah, cos if you've been having some of Tommy's memories, I think I may
have been picking up some of Edward's... Remember I told you about the sadness
followed by choking in my nightmares? Maybe that's what Edward felt
when he hanged himself."
Tom considered this for a moment and then frowned doubtfully, so before he
could voice any doubts I told him about the tapping I'd heard and, with a
blush, I even briefly mentioned the erotic feelings. However, I did
not mention the subsequent frenzied wanking sessions.
"Hold on, though," he said after a few moments thought, "maybe my nightmares
are linked to Tommy because we're from the same family, we look like twins,
we both fancy boys, we were brought up in the same place, even lived the
same house. But look at this."
He picked out one photographs that he'd taken from the box and showed it
to me. It was clearly a portrait of a family dressed in formal old-fashioned
clothes, with a teenage boy and a younger girl positioned between their parents.
The boy was tall and thin with high cheekbones and dark, possibly black,
"That's Edward," Tom said, pointing at the boy, "See, you don't look anything
like him, and you don't have anything in common. Your family isn't
from around here, you've only just moved into the house, and... and you're
not gay. How can you have a link to Edward?"
I sighed, realising that an important decision had to be made. I could
either just shrug and accept his points or I could expose my secrets, showing
him the same trust he'd shown me. At that point I wasn't too concerned
about revealing my sexuality to him, but I was very worried about admitting
that I believed that I'd inherited some sort of 'sensitivity' from my mother.
Because I so desperately wanted him to like me as much as I liked him, I
was terrified that he'd think I was crazy. With another sigh, I made
"Actually," I said, "I am gay, so at least I have that in common with him.
Also, I've been sleeping in Edward's bedroom, I have the same birthday and
I don't think I need a genetic link to, well, feel things."
For a moment his face lit up in a smile, then his brow furrowed.
"Feel things?" he asked, "What sort of things?"
Although I'd felt comfortable enough with Tom to mention my sexuality, I
wasn't yet ready to tell him about my mum and about some of my own
strange experiences, especially since my first visit to Prospect House.
My friendship with Tom was going so well that I didn't want to give him cause
to think I was mad or a freak. Thinking quickly, I looked at my watch.
"Damn!" I announced, standing up, "I'm late for lunch!"
My attempt to avoid his question was crude and probable obvious to him, but
if he suspected that I was just making excuses then he was polite enough
not to show it.
"You can have lunch here if you want," he offered as he got to his feet.
"Sorry, but I told Dad I'd be back to have lunch with him, and I should've
been there about forty minutes ago."
Actually, it wasn't a complete lie. Dad had in fact been due to arrive
home about half an hour earlier, and although we hadn't made specific plans
for lunch, we did always eat together when we were both home. Tom escorted
me downstairs and as he reached over to open the door for me, he leaned in
and briefly touched his lips to mine. He blushed and I felt my own
cheeks flush, then before I could react, he opened the door fully.
"Thanks for telling me that you're gay too," he said as I stepped across
Embarrassed, I raised my hand in acknowledgement and trotted up the slight
slope to Prospect House. The kiss had been the lightest possible touching
of lips, but I could still feel it as I made my way home, and although it
had lasted for no more than a second, in my mind I had no doubt that it had
definitely been a kiss. That was the first time I can remember anybody
apart from Mum kissing me on the lips and I will remember it forever.
When I went to bed that night I was half expecting and half hoping to hear
the tapping followed by an erotic episode, but nothing unusual happened.
That isn't to say that nothing happened at all, but it was just my usual
bed time wanking as I remembered how close I'd been to Tom that day.
As I moved my foreskin back and forward in a leisurely fashion I recalled
the feeling of his knee on my thigh and lips on mine.
The next day I moped about the house, hoping that Tom would visit and maybe
invite me on another walk, but he never came. Of course, I could have
gone to see him, but I didn't want to get in the way if he had other plans
and I didn't want him to think I was chasing after him. As the day
wore on I mentally kicked myself for not making specific arrangements to
see him again. By the time I went to bed that night I was miserable
and wondering if my talk of being 'sensitive' had put him off.
As I lay in bed my heart was so heavy that I couldn't even work up enough
enthusiasm for a wank and I fell asleep consoling myself that at least I'd
see Tom on the way to school the following day. Perhaps surprisingly,
it never occurred to me that he had been at home all day hoping that I'd
contact him and that he was afraid to come to see me in case I'd been freaked
out by his little kiss.
In the middle of the night I woke up and it took me ages to get back to sleep
because I couldn't stop thinking about Tom and how we seemed to have suddenly
become so intimate. I'd never admitted my sexuality to anyone before,
not even Tony, who'd been my best friend for years, yet I'd shared that and
other secrets with Tom. As I considered things further I realised that
I had very strong feelings for Tom, though I couldn't yet allow myself to
describe those feelings as love. At first, I felt guilty about my feelings
for him, not because of the sexual overtones but because up until then I'd
only ever felt that way about Tony. In a strange way, it's almost as
if my emotions were being unfaithful to Tony. However, the guilt was
considerably decreased when it occurred to me that although I still fancied
Tony and loved him as my best friend, my feelings for Tom were different
When I turned up at the gate house to meet with Brian and Tom the next morning,
Brian was his usual cheerful self, but both Tom and I were subdued.
We were both trying hard to pretend that nothing was different and I was
determined not to let anyone suspect the way I felt about Tom. However,
our caution must have made our behaviour seem unusual because at the bus
stop Chris frowned at me and Brian actually asked if Tom and I had had an
argument. With sheepish expressions on our faces, Tom and I both denied
any form of disagreement or altercation.
That afternoon Tom, Chris and myself were on the same bus going home from
school, Brian having decided to stay in Moreton with a couple of his friends.
Tom and I walked home from the bus stop together in silence and I really
wanted to ease the uncomfortable atmosphere between us. Unfortunately,
I couldn't think of a convincing way to break the ice, so when we reached
the gate house and were about to go our separate ways, my desperation made
me say the first thing that came into my head.
"Erm, do you want to come up to the house for a Coke or something?" I said,
my heartbeat speeding.
Tom, who'd been gazing down at the ground as we walked, looked up at me with
a slightly startled smile which quickly faded to be replaced by a frown.
"Sorry, I promised Chris I'd go round to his place and do some homework together
"Oh, okay," I said, unable to hide my disappointment.
Avoiding meeting his gaze, I began to turn away from him to carry on up the
drive toward home.
"Hold on a sec," he said before I could turn away completely, "What about
tomorrow? I could come up after school... if that's okay?"
"Yeah, great!" I said, "I'll look forward to it... see ya tomorrow then!"
"Okay," he replied with a grin, "See ya tomorrow!"
The rest of my short journey home was completed with a smile on my face and
a warm happiness in my heart. As I dug the house key out of my pocket
I reflected on the fact that just a few words from Tom had raised me from
depression to euphoria. No one else could effect such a profound and
rapid change in my emotions and I found the thought of him having this power
over me was scary, but it was also strangely elating.
Three times during that week Tom came around to my house after school.
Although he brought his homework with him, mainly to help justify his visits,
neither of us actually did much studying, apart from one occasion when I
helped him with a maths problem. Most of our time together was spent
just chatting, mainly about ourselves, and I even talked about my mum, but
never once did we mention our sexuality or 'the kiss'.
We told one another about our respective pasts and discussed the relative
merits of growing up in the city and the countryside. We talked about
our current interests, school, and family and we shared our hopes and plans
for the future. Never had I been so open with anyone, not even Tony,
and never had I been so excited about exploring and discovering another person.
Up until then I'd never had any interest in gardening, but Tom's love of
growing things was infectious. Also, I enjoyed being with him so much
that in order to spend more time in his company I would have gladly shared
any of his interests.
That, however, was how I felt when I was with him. When I was alone,
especially lying in bed, my feelings were more sombre. For years, ever
since Mum died, I'd been emotionally independent and had held myself aloof
from everyone except Dad, Elaine and Tony, and even with them I always kept
a large part of myself private and reserved. When I was with Tom, however,
it was much more difficult to maintain this reserve and I was scared of this
threat to my emotional independence.
At the weekend Tom gave me a guided tour of his walled garden, entertaining
and amazing me with his horticultural and botanical knowledge. He also
took me on another walk, and although on that particular walk we didn't go
to either of his special places, he did show me several parts of the estate
I'd not seen before. The reserved and taciturn Tom I'd met when
I first arrived at Prospect House had become a lively, amusing and totally
Of course, the two of us didn't exist in a vacuum, and probably others observed
this change in our relationship. However, at that particular time everyone
apart from Tom existed like shadows on the periphery of my consciousness,
so it really didn't occur to me wonder what they were thinking. What
I did know was that those few days were the happiest I'd been since Mum died.
Then, as if to punish me for being too happy, in the middle of the following
week I had another very bad nightmare.
The nightmare started off as usual, with the deep sadness and sense of loss,
but this time instead of being crushed by a weight on my chest I felt I was
being suffocated. All the air seemed to have been sucked out of my
room and I was overwhelmed with a need to escape. However, I couldn't
move and didn't have enough breath to scream. Somewhere in the distance
there was a crash and then a wave of freezing coldness washed over me.
"Mark! What's happening?"
Suddenly, my breathing became a little easier, but my screams were still
silent and I still couldn't move my body or even open my eyes.
"Mark! Mark! Wake up!"
Someone grabbed my shoulders and shook them, ending my paralysis, so I opened
my eyes and I tried to sit up. At first I was terrified because the
grip on my shoulders was holding me down on the bed, but then I relaxed when
my eyes focused and I saw Dad's worried face in the light from my bedside
lamp. Seeing that he was sitting on the edge of my bed, I allowed my
body to go limp and took a huge, deep breath.
"What happened?" Dad asked.
"Bad... dream..." I replied, hyperventilating.
"But it looked like you were choking!"
"I'm okay now," I said, still a little breathless.
Dad looked at me doubtfully and released his grip on my shoulders.
Feeling a chill, I shivered and looked down to see I was lying uncovered,
having apparently thrown off my duvet. Embarrassed at being seen naked
by my dad, I moved my hands down to cover my crotch, trying to seem as casual
as possible, despite the fact the reaction to the nightmare was making me
"And what about the window?" Dad asked.
"Window?" I echoed, having no idea what he was talking about.
"Yes, what broke the window?"
Looking over my shoulder, up the wall next to my bed, even in the dim light
I could see that the lower half of the window was broken. The
cold winter air was blowing into my room, and that obviously explained why
I was so cold.
"I don't know," I said, shivering "Where's my duvet?"
"It's here on the floor," he said, looking down toward his feet.
"Well, can I have it please?" I asked, a little irritated that he hadn't
already picked it up and covered me with it.
"Better not, there may be broken glass on it..." he said pensively, looking
up to the window then back down at me, "Actually, I'm surprised there isn't
any glass on you or the bed.
Having just woken from the nightmare to be questioned about a broken window,
I was confused and all I could think about was how cold I felt.
"But I'm freeeeezing!" I said, whining a little.
"In that case," Dad said, standing up, "we'd better get you out of here."
He leaned over and with surprising ease picked me up in his arms, demonstrating
that he retained much of the strength he'd built up when he used to play
rugby. Now I was embarrassed not only by my nakedness but also by the
fact that I was being carried like a child. He took me into the adjacent
spare room, placed me on the bed, turned on the light and then covered me
with the duvet.
"How're you feeling now?" he asked.
"Better... still cold."
"How about I bring you a hot drink then? Milk? Tea? Hot chocolate?"
I chose the hot chocolate and curled up under the duvet while he went downstairs
to prepare it. A few minutes later, he returned with a mug for each
of us and, still keeping myself wrapped up, I sat up and sipped my drink.
Dad sat on the edge of the bed and gazed at me thoughtfully, then he gave
a little smile.
"I remember sitting like this quite often when you had all those nightmares
after your mum died," he said, "You used to wake me up with your screams...
but this is different. Tonight I didn't hear any sounds at all, apart
from the breaking window, and you seemed to be having difficulty breathing.
So it's just as well that I still hadn't gone to bed as I doubt I'd heard
it if I was asleep in my room."
"I didn't break the window," I said.
"I know that. When I got to your room it was just seconds after I heard
the glass breaking and you were lying on your bed and obviously having a
nightmare... so there was no way you could have done it."
"Maybe someone outside threw something?"
Even as I said it I wondered who it could be. It surely wasn't any
of the Crawfords and it was a long way for anyone else to come just to break
a window. Also, of all the windows in this large house, why choose
mine, especially as only the Crawfords and Chris knew which room was my bedroom.
"That did occur to me," Dad said, "but there didn't seem to be much glass
inside your room. I'll check outside in the morning and see how much
glass is out there."
I'd watched enough TV detective stories to realise the implication if he
found most of the glass outside.
"Anyway," he continued, "while we finish our drinks, why don't you tell me
more about your nightmare? I'm concerned that you seemed to be choking."
From the expression on his face and the tone of his voice there was no doubt
that he was genuinely concerned, so I described the nightmare to him."
"This isn't the first time, is it?" he asked.
His question took me by surprise and I wondered if he knew or if he was just
guessing. I was reluctant to lie, but maybe he'd think I was crazy
if I told him the truth, especially if I included my speculations about a
link to Edward. While I was considering how to respond to his question,
he spoke again.
"Sometimes, especially before we got married, your mum had really bad nightmares
and they were rarely just one-off events. You're very like your mum
in lots of ways... and I thought..."
"You thought I might be mentally ill like her!"
I don't know why I said that just then, especially in such an angry tone.
The words just burst out without any forethought, rising up from deep inside
me and spewing forth uncontrollably. I was shocked by my own words
and Dad looked as shocked as I felt. As my shock turned to embarrassment,
I also experienced a sense of relief, as if the expression of my inner fear
had released a pent-up pressure inside me.
"I... I never thought that!" Dad said, then with a hint of anger in his voice
he added, "And who said your mum was mentally ill?"
Only then did I realise the implications of my outburst. I'd trapped
myself into an extremely uncomfortable situation and I couldn't see an easy
way out. Even if I wanted to lie to my dad, which I didn't, I couldn't
think of any credible lie to tell him. Telling the truth would mean
breaking my promise to Gran, but there seemed no viable alternative.
"Gran told me. But she didn't want to... I just kept on at her till
she gave in."
"Your gran told you that your mum was mentally ill?"
"Well," I said, trying to remember Gran's actual words, "she told me mum
had been in a psychiatric hospital."
"Not everyone in a psychiatric ward is crazy. Your mum wasn't and I
don't think you are."
"But Gran said that Mum saw things... heard voices that weren't real."
"They were real experiences for your mum..."
"But if no one else saw or heard those things, that's got to mean she was
crazy," I muttered.
Dad frowned and I detected an increasing annoyance in his face, then he paused
to think and his expression relaxed. After taking a deep breath, he
"Look, if you lived in a country where no one could see colours and you started
talking about green leaves or a blue sky, would they be right to think you
were crazy? And if people kept denying that colours existed and kept
telling you that you were crazy, don't you think that you might get so frustrated
that you might begin to shows signs of mental illness?"
"Maybe," I said, shrugging my shoulders.
"Your mum was never crazy and so she didn't 'get better'. She just
realised that she had to keep her experiences private. But locking
them away inside herself gave her some really bad nightmares."
We both sat in silence for several seconds while I tried to assimilate this
information and Dad waited for my reaction.
"You said she didn't have so many nightmares after you got married?" I asked,
hoping that maybe Dad might have some way of stopping the nightmares I'd
"Yes, over the years they became less frequent and less severe until eventually
she rarely had any."
"Just because she talked to you about being able to see and hear stuff?"
I asked, doubtfully.
"And because when she talked to me she knew that she was talking with someone
who believed that her experiences were real."
"But... but you're a scientist!" I protested incredulously, "how could you
believe what no one else can see?"
"People do that all the time!" Dad said and laughed gently, "People believe
in love and even scientists believe in subatomic particles that no one has
ever seen. You can't see the love that other people feel for you, but
I hope that from the way they behave you can believe that they love you."
I blushed when he said that because I realised that he was referring to himself
when he said 'other people'.
"There were so many times that your mum's feelings about a person or a place
turned out to be true," he continued, "and so many times when her experiences
mirrored real events, so eventually I couldn't help believing.
And then when she talked about her experiences, I always believed they were
real, though I didn't always agree with her interpretation of them."
While he was speaking I began to see my dad from a different perspective
and the mental model of him that had developed during my childhood seemed
to be crumbling away. It was all very disconcerting and unsettling,
and as if trying to steady itself, my mind grasped upon one word.
"Interpretation?" I asked.
Dad looked startled that I should have chosen that particular question out
of all the possible things I could have asked.
"Er, yes," he said, gathering his thoughts, "For example, sometimes we'd
go to a place and she'd see and hear people that no one else could see.
Occasionally they were dressed in old fashioned clothes or maybe we found
later that they seemed to be linked to the history of the place and were
no longer alive. So your mum, who believed in spirits, thought they
"But you didn't?" I interrupted.
"Let's say that I had my own explanation that I thought much more likely."
"Which was?" I prompted.
"Well, we know that the brain produces electrical signals, so maybe extreme
emotions, especially if they continue for a long time, can produce strong
signals that are imprinted on a particular location. My own interpretation
is that you mum was somehow able to detect and decode those signals so they
appeared to her as sights and sounds."
"And you think I'm like Mum?" I asked after a long pause for thought.
"A bit, yes. But probably your sensitivity isn't as great."
There was another long pause as I absorbed the implications of what he'd
told me. I began to understand why he'd told me that I mustn't tell
anyone about my 'mini-visions' but there were several other things that were
still unclear. However, before I could form my thoughts into specific
questions, Dad spoke.
"I know you've got a lot to think about, but you didn't really answer my
"What was that?" I asked as I mentally tried to backtrack through our conversation.
"This isn't the first nightmare here is it?" he asked, then when I shook
my head he added, "Did they start when we moved here? Are they getting
When I began to answer I intended only to address his specific questions,
but it needed only a couple of gentle prompts from him before I found myself
pouring out everything, including how I felt it might be linked to the story
of Edward and Tommy. The only things I kept back from him were
Tom's nightmares and my feelings for Tom.
"I'm worried about the choking part of your nightmares..." he said when I'd
finished talking, "and that broken window. I'll have to look into that
in the morning, and we'll talk more about all this tomorrow, but for now,
I think we should both try to get some sleep. "
He stood up then leaned over and kissed me on the forehead.
"G'night, Mark," he said softly.
This was the first time since I was twelve that he'd given me a goodnight
kiss, and I was so taken aback by it that it took me some time to respond.
"Night, Dad," I said as he left the room.
My sleep was undisturbed until I heard Dad knocking on the door and telling
me it was time to get up. In the grey dawn light I dragged myself wearily
out of bed and went to my bedroom, which because of the broken window was
bitterly cold. I went in as quickly as possible to grab some clean
clothes, then got dressed in the bathroom. When I went down to the
kitchen the lights were on and the kettle had just boiled but Dad was nowhere
to be seen, so I began to prepare breakfast. A couple of minutes later,
Dad came down the stairs from the hallway.
"I've just been outside to look at the glass from your window," he said in
response to my questioning expression, "As I suspected, there's a lot more
out there than there was in your room, so it was most likely broken from
I was just about to protest my innocence when he raised his hand and spoke
"Don't worry, I know it wasn't you," he smiled and then frowned in thought,
"The odd thing is that the pieces are really small, as if the glass was almost
pulverised rather than just broken... Anyway, I'll try and get someone
to fix the window today."
He joined me in getting breakfast ready and nothing more was said until we
sat down to eat. This early morning silence was quite usual for us,
mainly because I'm not usually fully awake until after my morning cup of
"You know, Mark," Dad said as I began eating my croissant, "Even when the
window's fixed, maybe it's best if you move into a different room.
If your idea that the nightmares are linked to Edward is correct then maybe
they'll stop if you sleep somewhere else."
"I don't think it's as simple as that," I said, "I had a really bad nightmare
when I slept in the old guest room during Tony's visit. And it's harder
for me to get to sleep in the guest room than it is in my own room."
Dad's concerned expression became more worried.
"The nightmares would be bad enough on their own," he said, "but they would
be even more of a problem if the broken window is somehow linked to them."
"Maybe it's just coincidence," I said without much conviction.
"Maybe it is. I've been thinking about that. It was very cold
outside last night... maybe that and a fault in the glass caused it to break,
especially if there was a drop in outside air pressure. We'll probably
never know. But if it is linked to your nightmares I don't want to
risk anything happening to you."
"I'm sure I'll be okay," I said confidently, "Anyway, there's not much we
can do about it."
"Actually, I was thinking about that as well. Perhaps we should think
"No!" I protested loudly, "No way! I like living here!"
The idea of moving, especially of moving away from Tom, filled me with panic.
"You've spent a fortune on this place," I continued, "and in any case
it would take ages to sell the house and find somewhere else."
"Mark," Dad said earnestly, "your safety is more important than money and
inconvenience, and you could stay with Elaine or Gran until we find a new
His words and obvious sincerity touched me deeply and they even cut through
my panic at the idea of leaving Prospect House.
"Surely there's something else we can try," I said in desperation, "less
drastic than moving?"
"What, you mean like an exorcism?" Dad asked doubtfully, "I really don't
think that would have any effect on your nightmares."
My mind went into overdrive as I desperately tried to think of a way of allaying
Dad's fears and staying in the house. After a couple of minutes an
"Last night you said that Mum's nightmares gradually went away after she
started talking to you about things... well last night I talked to you, and
last week I mentioned them to Tom, so maybe mine will go away as well."
"I don't know..." Dad said doubtfully, "it may not be the same. After
all, nothing ever got broken during your mum's nightmares."
"We don't know what broke the window," I replied, then had another idea,
"You said you thought Mum could pick up signals of strong emotions recorded..."
"Imprinted, not recorded," he interrupted.
"Imprinted then," I said, mildly irritated and not seeing any difference,
"Imprinted on places. Maybe those recordings or imprints or whatever
can be erased or covered over by the emotions of people who live there later.
Maybe if I stay here the bad recordings will fade away."
Dad looked even less convinced by that idea than he'd been by the suggestion
that talking about my nightmares would make them go away. Before he
could voice his doubts, I spoke again.
"At least let's give it a chance," I pleaded, "Before we make any drastic
decisions, let's see if the nightmares fade like Mum's did. Please?"
He considered my plea for a few seconds, then sighed.
"Okay," he said, "We'll wait and see how things go, but you must promise
to tell me if you have more nightmares or if... well, if anything odd happens."
With a sigh of relief I eagerly nodded my agreement to his conditions.
"I promise," I said.
The conversation at breakfast put me behind schedule, so I had to hurry to
get down to the gatehouse to meet up with Brian and Tom. As Tom had
recently been having nightmares on the same nights as I had, I thought that
he might have a migraine and so was a little surprised as well as very pleased
to see him at all that morning . In fact he looked very well and completely
On the way to school there was no opportunity for us to speak privately,
so I didn't mention my nightmare until he came up to my house late that afternoon.
He informed me that he'd had an undisturbed night's sleep and asked me for
details of my experience. When I told him about the broken window his brow
creased into a worried frown.
"It's just as well your dad heard it," he said, "or you might have frozen
to death in your sleep."
"I'm sure the cold would have woken me up if Dad hadn't," I said, making
light of the matter.
He didn't look very reassured by my assertion, so I continued in an even
more cheerful tone.
"Anyway, look on the bright side. At least it means that your nightmares
aren't caused by mine."
"Is that what you thought?" he asked, looking mildly surprised, "When you
told me we'd been having them on the same nights I was a bit worried that
you were somehow picking them up from me. Still, even if we don't have
them on the same nights every time, it's hard to believe they're not related
"I s'pose not," I said.
When I went on to tell him about my dad's idea that some places could be
'imprinted' by strong emotions, Tom was more sceptical than I had anticipated,
but he was still concerned about my welfare if the nightmares continued.
Because I'd already dismissed Dad's suggestion that we might move, I didn't
mention that as a possible solution.
That evening we were both even less inclined than usual to do homework and
without even opening our school bags we decided to just see if there was
anything on TV. As it turned out, there was very little that either
of us wanted to watch, so we ended up just sitting together on the living
room sofa and chatting while some banal late-afternoon game show droned on
in the background. We both sat back, relaxed and close together but
not quite touching. Close or prolonged physical contact with anyone,
even Tom, made me uncomfortable, and I think he could sense that.
He was in a very pensive mood and I was tired because my sleep had been so
disturbed the previous night, so the conversation gradually began to fade.
However, we were both very comfortable in the lengthening silences and, neglecting
my hostly duties, I dozed off. Not long later I awoke to find my head
tilted sideways and my right cheek resting on something warm but lumpy and
not very comfortable.
There was a slight pressure on the top of my head and on opening my eyes
I saw a pair of knees, clad in blue jeans. For a few seconds I was
disoriented then I realised that my head was resting on Tom's shoulder and
I lurched upright. As I made this sudden movement the top of my head
collided with the source of the slight pressure.
Tom, more startled than hurt, was rubbing his ear, which I guessed had been
resting against the top of my head.
"S-sorry," I stuttered, feeling embarrassed and guilty for falling asleep
on my guest.
"S'okay," he said and smiled.
Then I noticed that there was a darker spot on the shoulder of his mid-grey
shirt and with shame I realised I must have drooled during my sleep.
Not only had I fallen asleep on my guest, I'd banged his ear and drooled
on him. My cheeks burned red.
"Sorry..." I said again, then because my transgressions were too many to
list individually, I added simply, "...for everything."
"I told you, it's okay!" he said, then with a shy smile he added in a much
more quietly, "Actually, it was quite nice."
Now we were both red-faced and as if by mutual agreement we looked away from
one another and toward the TV.
"Anyway," Tom said in a teasing tone, "I s'pose it's my fault for being so
boring that you couldn't stay awake!"
"You're not boring!" I protested, turning to look at him again, "I'm just
very tired after last night."
"Yeah, I know," he said, his eyes twinkling, "I was just winding you up."
We both relaxed back on the sofa and this time when our shoulders touched,
instead of moving away I leaned against him.
Bearing in mind how embarrassed I was at the time, it's perhaps surprising
that the little incident on the sofa signalled the start of a new phase in
our relationship. After that, whenever we were alone together we were
often in physical contact. At first it was just apparently casual,
almost accidental, brushing of hands, then later there were times we sat
so close together that our sides touched one another from shoulders to ankles.
How exactly it happened I don't remember, but within a couple of weeks we'd
progressed to occasionally holding hands.
Having privacy together in Prospect House wasn't difficult as Dad spent so
much time at work. Of course, whenever anyone else was around we were
careful to maintain both a physical and emotional distance, and our public
behaviour, even in such details as where we sat on the school bus, remained
unchanged. From the looks that Chris gave us it was clear that he had
some idea about the situation between me and Tom, but his only reaction appeared
to be one of mild amusement. This may have been because Tom had made
an effort to ensure that spending time with me didn't cause him to neglect
his friendship with Chris. If anyone else had noticed that Tom and
I had become closer, they showed no sign of it.
Neither Tom nor I talked about our feelings for one another or about the
more tactile nature of our interactions, but there was no doubt about our
growing closeness. My own attitude to this was somewhat ambivalent.
I enjoyed being with Tom and now I felt comfortable when he touched me, but
I was still made a little uneasy by the fact that he'd infiltrated both my
emotional and physical spaces. The possibility of falling in love scared
me so much that I didn't allow myself to even think about it. From
my point of view our relationship was progressing about as fast and as far
as I wanted. I found out later that Tom would have liked things to
go faster and further but he sensed how I felt and was patiently letting
me set the pace.
As Christmas inexorably approached my life was going smoothly and my relationship
with Tom seemed to reach a sort of plateau. We were very comfortable
together and our emotional intimacy deepened but our physical intimacy never
went beyond the private cuddles and holding of hands. A few times I'm
sure that Tom wanted to take things further but on those occasions the involuntary
tensing of my body or the look of fear in my eyes must have dissuaded him.
From what Tony and Brian had told me about their exploits with girls, they
sometimes moved from a first meeting to snogging in a matter of hours.
Maybe there was an element of bragging in what my two straight friends told
me, but I believed they were being essentially truthful. Also I knew
that Chris, gay like me but almost a year younger, had already got as far
as oral sex, so I began to wonder if I was odd because of my reluctance to
go further with Tom. I hoped that Tom didn't think I was too weird.
I wanked at least once per day with fantasies of Tom in my mind, so there
was nothing wrong with my sex drive and I certainly found Tom attractive.
On one level I wanted to be more physically intimate with him but whenever
that seemed likely to happen in reality, I drew back in fear. I was
afraid of making a fool of myself because of my total inexperience.
I was afraid that if I gave in to my desires Tom might change his mind and
reject me. I was afraid of how vulnerable I'd be if I became even more
emotionally attached to him. I was afraid of how people, especially
my dad, would react if they found out about us. The list of my fears
During the weeks between the breaking of the window and the Christmas holiday
neither Tom nor I had any nightmares and I didn't hear the tapping or experience
any of the strongly erotic episodes. Despite this period of calm I
couldn't really relax because I had a strong impression that my existence
was n a state of unstable equilibrium and that, for good or ill, things were
about to change. Feeling powerless and unable to control events, all
I could do was wait with metaphorically bated breath for events to unfold.