Old roads lead to new haunts.
Old roads lead to new haunts.
New roads lead to old haunts.
Jeremiah came up over the hillside. Jeremiah came up the middle of the road because there were no cars this early. Jeremiah came through the new estate because he wanted to see the McAllan house.
The McAllan house had become essential to his routine. First, he stopped at the base of the hill and looked up beyond the first rise, the rise that led to the new estate, to the second and third rises beyond. That was where Jeremiah would do his logging that day, cutting down the pine and birch that had inspired local minor poets, so that the second new estate could be built. Then, when he got done looking and ascended to the crest and went along Blackmore Drive, across Swift Terrace and down Walpole Avenue, he came to the McAllan house on Defoe Street.
The sun was burning holes in his shirt, the shirt that itched like it was stitched from hair. The early morning was muggy, promising sweat to come, promising dehydration, promising passing out after a couple of beers that evening. He didn’t mind; the remnants of his thinning quiff stuck to his forehead, the tongue of his boot rubbed at his skin, the remnants of his teeth clenched as he pulled himself further on, muscles already aching, muscles already knotting. He put his aviators on, he rolled his flannel sleeves up to the elbow, he ran a damp hand through his greasy locks. His boots clumped on the pavement, sent little dust clouds and pine needles scattering. He would get there and hear the banging.
Dogs barked on Swift Terrace; ironically, the swifts screamed on Walpole Avenue, as they red-arrowed in formation around the right angles of the dumpy square houses with their front four windows and their back four windows, all-in-a-line. Jeremiah thought they should have added portholes for novelty. Novelty told you where you were. Right now, you couldn’t be sure.
Once the streets had been ricocheting footpaths, breaking off tangentially from the road and disappearing in the growth. Now the forest had shrunk back to the higher eminences and would keep going back, back, back, until the trees went backwards over the edge and toppled down to rest in the valley, never to be seen no more. McAllan’s was an old haunt, maybe: old forest spirits laying down new roots in the little boxes colonising their land. Banging about, letting you know- I’m still here, can’t be rid of me so easy; I won’t go walking in that lonesome valley.
Defoe Street had thirty-four squares, sub-divided in places so that there were forty-eight homes. They had back gardens, long back gardens, but a tiny patch of front. Land wasn’t wide enough for more, not for broad American roads, not on the hillside where the forest used to be. Had to sacrifice somewhere. All curtains were still closed, very few stirred except for a man in a leather jacket getting into a Ford at the top of the street and staring wearily at the dashboard, thinking and thinking before going. Maybe the banging kept him awake at night. Maybe the banging echoed down here.
The McAllan house was number fourteen. It was not sub-divided, fully detached not semi. The front garden was paved with pink slabs. A wooden gate, somehow mildewed already, sat in front. Jeremiah lent himself against it, his bent elbow resting on the top. No-one looked from the windows at him; no-one appeared in the doorway to shoo him off; no-one ever noticed his morning appointments.
He breathed as well as he could in the mugginess; he lit a ciggie. His empty stomach was set alight by the warmth. He liked to walk on no food, liked the way the weakness went through him, hit him in the solar plexus after awhile. Let him faint if he had to.
The banging came after a few minutes; inside, he could hear it, like a fist hitting against an old boiler coated in scrap iron, a thudding sound with no centre, with a gap in it. Then it was like feet against a plastered wall, making holes, crumbling the hard work. Then the palm of a hand flat against the window; the window rattled. Little Marie turned on the light in her bedroom. Her silhouette in her nightdress appeared against the curtain, then her head jerked down violently. Distant sounding of a scream. The phantom, as it sometimes did, had pushed her or slapped her, not hurt her, but made her feel the force all the same. The parents’ bedroom light came on. Peter McAllan, the joiner, appeared in shadow against the curtain, then went to carry crying Marie away. The banging went downstairs, started sounding like the drummer of Tedworth, whacking away ahead of battle, calling in the troops. Marie wept in her mother’s arms. The drummer-boy went through the living room, into the spartan kitchen, out into the back-garden and then away, no more noise, no more sound. Scotty McAllan hadn’t stirred, rarely stirred. Psychokinesis, one professor had said, direct from the resentful boy. The reporters who came occasionally harkened back to the Civil War battles, harkened back to a physical reality for the drummer, a distant relation, an old story about a bog and no-one about to rescue the child drowning. Just stories though, just stories the lot of it.
Jeremiah withdrew his arms from the gate, smiled to himself, clenched his teeth and carried on towards the second rise. No wood cuts itself, no wood is enchanted like that. The foreman would be scanning the horizon for him; the foreman could go to hell or down to the valley. One little push, all it takes-
– in the house, Marie kept crying and an hour later, the drummer came in from the garden and started banging on the boiler again.
Billy Stanton is a London-based working-class writer and film-maker, originally from Portsmouth. His short fiction has appeared in Wyldblood, The Chamber, Horla, The Rumen, Rural Fiction Magazine, Literally Stories, Tigershark and the ‘New Towns’ anthology. He co-runs the ‘Noli Me Tangere Short Film Festival’. His blog is: steelcathedrals.wordpress.
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