Sunday, 11 November 2012

one : The Big House at the End of the Village

Arthur Ness was scared. Of everything.

It was almost Christmas of 1940 and Arthur was a long way from home. Enemy planes were flying over London every night and bombing everything, including his own neighbourhood. His mother was still there, alone. His father, a pilot in the RAF, was somewhere in the skies above, facing constant death battling the enemy. So, perhaps it could be argued that Arthur had many good reasons to be scared of everything.

Unfortunately, Arthur’s fear had been around a lot longer than the war. It had been with him for his entire life. He’d been scared of his first teddy bear (and his second… and his third). He’d been scared of his neighbour because she was too old. He’d been scared of going under his bed. He’d been scared of climbing trees. Of going swimming. Of animals. Of the strange way his cousin’s dolls looked at him.

Now, right now, Arthur was standing on the doorstep of a big house. It was nighttime and it was raining. He was in a village he’d never heard of in a part of the country that was miles away from his home. He was standing on that doorstep getting wetter and wetter and colder and colder.

And he was too scared to knock.

“You have to be brave,” his mum said as they stood on the platform in the train station. There were other children, other parents all around them. The platform was packed with them. Some, he recognised from school, most not. Arthur didn’t look at his mother. If he didn’t look at her, the conversation couldn’t finish. If the conversation didn’t finish, she couldn’t put him on the train. If he didn’t get put on the train, he wouldn’t get sent away like all these other children.

But his mum gently took hold of Arthur’s chin and turned his face toward hers. And she smiled at him.

“Be brave, okay?” she said. “For me.”

And Arthur nodded.

And then the conversation did finish. And he did get put on the train. And he did get sent away with all the other children. And even though he knew it was making him safe from the bombs, Arthur had never felt so alone. Or afraid.

Arthur sneezed.

The rain was beginning to soak through his clothes. His cap, his coat, his shorts – even his socks inside his shoes. All beginning to get squelchy and horrible and cold. His little, battered suitcase was looking exceedingly soggy. And the label that was hanging from the top button of his coat. The label that read;

Arthur Ness to :
Lord and Lady Roberts
No.1 Church Lane

Even that was getting hard to read – all the inky words now running into each other in a black, blobby mess.

Blinking against the rain, Arthur forced himself to look up at the house. It was huge and dark with horrid sharp edges and massive windows that looked like evil eyes looking out over the countryside. It even had a tower at the top, near the roof. Arthur shivered – and not just from the cold.

What kind of a person could possibly live here?

The kind of person who will be very angry with you
for waking them up at this hour of the night.

That was the voice. Arthur’s voice. Not the one he talked with. It was the one he thought with. The one that sat inside his brain and constantly reminded him how scared he was. Arthur never argued with it. Because it was always right.

But… scared or not, Arthur knew this couldn’t go on. If he didn’t go inside, he would freeze to death. And he didn’t like freezing to death, not especially.

He took a deep breath and raised his hand toward the wooden door – but before he could knock…


Arthur nearly jumped out of his skin as the deafening noise burst from behind the door. The noise of someone pulling open large, old, heavy locks. Then the door scraped slowly open. And there, emerging from the darkness inside the house into the half-light of the rainy night was the tallest woman Arthur had ever seen.

“Arthur Ness,” she said. “You’re late.”

<<< prologue two : lady eris >>> 

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