Colin

Broken Window

Growing up on a council the council estate had some very interesting aspects. One was the social bubble. As a child, I played within the confines of the local area, and so didn’t really see much else of different social class other than on the TV. The other was the steady stream of temporary friends from the two children’s homes on the corners of Chelwood Close and Cuckmere Way.

I lived in the ground floor flat of one of the grey-faced, 3 story buildings that had been scattered across the hillside just after the war. My bedroom window had an unobstructed vista of the pathway that lead off the Close, which gave me a great view of the children’s home up the hill. The one opposite this was covered in by bushes and trees.

One night all the children were suddenly removed from the home. Me and my brother were woken up by engine noise and lights. Our parents were in bed so it must have been very late. We looked out of the window to see the kids being marched up the bank and into a minibus. Once they left 3 removal trucks pulled up. We sat silently as they took furniture and boxes, loaded them on the trucks and drove off. There was a woman shouting at a couple of police officers. I recognised her from home. A tall thin woman often dressed in jeans and a white shirt. Her loose permed brown hair bounced in the street lights as she was forced in the back of a police car.

The next day the home was still, though the net curtain still gave it a sense of being inhabited, Nobody spoke about what had happened, we all just accepted they were gone, like other friends that had ‘moved on.’

After a few weeks we started playing in the gardens. Teasing each other with ghost stories and throwing stones at the windows. Many got broken, but always quickly replaced, probably by the invisible caretaker. It was this instant fixing that gave me the idea of how we could get into the house.

The Trouble with broken windows is 2 fold. 1, it makes a lot of noise, so once a smash occurs, running must ensue, and 2, broken glass is sharp and can cut you so climbing through can be dangerous. However, what I noticed was, once they were replaced the glass, was the putty.

I was playing with one of the kids from the other children’s home that was still operating. I never knew his real name, we just called him Smurf. He was about a year older than me but much more worldly wise. The authorities had taken him from a family of Gypsies. This was his fifth home, he’d run away from all the others.

“I’m born with travelling blood, no one can keep me in one place.”

We were in the garden of the abandoned children’s home. The high hedges closed the area in away from prying eyes, which was perfect for getting up to mischief. It also had an unusual effect on the sound. The estate was built on top of the South Downs, so even though there wasn’t a lot of traffic noise, there was quite a bit of nature. Birds, wind, trees, all make a sound. Most of the time you just filter it out, walk around oblivious to it, however, once you remove it, deaden it down, you notice. It heightens your senses, putting you on edge. It didn’t matter how many times we played there, the feeling of excitement was always amplified.

I walked over to the kitchen window next to the back door.

“We broke this window yesterday.”

“I know,” said Smurf lighting a cigarette, “They’re always fixed the next day.”

“Watch.” I dug my finger into the putty, which was still soft.

“So.”

I continued to scrape away at the putty until it was no longer stuck to the window glass or the frame. I was left holding a small ball of blue tacky dough.

“Great,” he said, “I have Plasticine at home.”

I smiled and squashed the ball on to the middle of the glass then, using the putty as a makeshift handle, pulled the glass clean out of the frame.

“Mother shit balls.” Smurf dropped his fag and ran over to me. “You little genius.”

Laughing he put his hand through the opening and undid the latch of the window. The frame swung open. Without hesitation Smurf climbed through the opening and into the kitchen.

A muffled voice echoed out of the window, “There’s a key in the back door.”

A rattle and click later I was in the kitchen. Everything had been stripped. Bare floorboards, gas pipes sticking out of the floor where the cooker once lived, capped off water pipes. Whoever emptied this place knew what they were doing, not a cabinet left. Even the light bulb was gone. The doors, however, were still in place.

We walked through to the front of the house where we thought the dining room would be. Again, the room was bare, the gas fire, table, chairs, carpet, all gone. The only thing remaining here was a black and white photo of 5 children in the back garden. 2 girls and 3 boys, all different ages, they looked like they going to a fancy dress party all wearing old clothes, but not from the same time period.

We moved through to the living room. Fireless, carpetless, bare and void of anything, it was hard to imagine that there used to be 12 children and 2 adults living here. The hall had the same bare floorboards with wooden stairs leading up to the first floor. On the window ledge at the bottom of the stairs was a cream coloured telephone. Smurf picked up the receiver.

“Dead!”

As he replaced the handset the phone bell gave a solitary ding. The pair of us stopped, my heart raced. The seconds felt like minutes as we stood like statues, then, simultaneously, we both just started to laugh. I walked up the stairs followed by Smurf.

It was darker up there. The doors to the rooms were open, but there were wooden shutters on the windows. For the first time I felt an atmosphere. The empty rooms downstairs were just that, empty rooms. These felt, I don’t know, it was like we were explorers entering a freshly opened tomb. I entered what I assumed to be one of the bedrooms. As I passed the door I notice a bolt on the outside. “They used to lock them in?” I thought.

I turned to talk to Smurf about it. He was stood silent at the top of the stair holding his finger to his lips to tell me to be quiet. It was then I heard the sound from downstairs; heavy footsteps and a scraping sound, like stone on wood, like something being dragged. Smurf furiously waved his hand to tell me to hide.

I looked around. There was a cupboard built into the alcove so I moved as quickly and quietly as I could and climbed inside with the dust and spiders. There was a gap under the door so I lay down to peek through. Being towards the back of the cupboard restricted my view. The footstep got louder as, whoever it was climbed the stairs, the thump of whatever it was being dragged made my heart skip as it hit each step.

Suddenly the sound stopped. My heart beat so hard I thought the sound would give me away. My breath so shallow and quick I felt dizzy. Then came the scream. For all the maturity I thought he had, for all the bravado that came from his Gypsy blood, when terror struck, his scream was that of a child in absolute terror.

The dead sound, like someone smacking a meat cleaver into a cabbage, silenced his fear. I could hear movement, not walking, more shuffling, small movements, the sort of repositioning you do when lifting something big. The heavy boots I heard climbing the stairs entered the room. Behind them, dragging on the floor wasn’t stone on wood, it was metal. A huge single-headed axe with a wet looking edge scraped the floorboards. The noise made me want to scream. I put my hands across my mouth.

They came closer to the cupboard but stopped in the middle of the room. My mind raced with ideas. I could burst through the doors shouting at the top of my voice and make my escape before they knew what was happening. Or I could slowly sneak out of the door and crawl unnoticed. Or wait for the door to be opened and…

There are certain sounds you never forget. Like the sound of the car door being closed the last time you saw your father, or the crackling radio on the hip of the policewoman as she tried to explain to your mother why it was the last time you saw your father, or the dead thump when a bloodied body is dropped on a wooden floor headfirst. This was followed by Smurf staring at me under the door. His eyes lifeless, blood splattered across his face. The angle of his limbs was wrong, all twisted. There were no plans in my head now, no way I could think of to get out of this alive.

Staring at the crumpled body of my friend I didn’t notice his murderer walk over to the cupboard. Not until I jumped at the head of the axe landing hard on the floor directly in front of me, followed by the tap as the wooden handle was rested against my hiding place. I urinated.

The killer then pulled the axe away, dragging it across the floor. I saw killer’s hand as they stooped down to grab Smurf’s foot. Then, as if they were dragging a sack of potatoes in each hand, left the room and headed downstairs. I heard 3 very distinct sounds on the wooden steps; the killer’s boots; the metal head of the axe and Smurf’s head. I lay perfectly still in a puddle of piss until there were no more sounds.

I pushed the door open and tried to stand but it was pointless. Fear had taken the bones and muscles from my legs, it was like trying to stand on a space hopper in a high wind. I fell forward on to my hands and knees and vomited. With tears in my eyes, puke on my shirt and wet pants, dragged myself to the door.

Out in the hallway the light of the afternoon sun exploded up the stairs. This gave me the impetus I needed to run. No waiting for the killer to return, no thought that they might just be waiting downstairs to hit me in the chest with the axe as I tried to run past. All I wanted to do was get home.

Down the stairs and out through the back door. I didn’t scream, just ran. No one was in as I got back to the flat. I stripped and washed my clothes in the bath before putting them in the washing basket. In my bedroom I closed the curtains and sat on my bed. I wanted to find my mum and just cuddle into her, I wanted to phone the police but what was I going to say. Me and my friend broke into a house where he was killed by a mysterious person and yes, that Gypsy kid who keeps running away from children’s home is missing, again! They wouldn’t give a toss, and all I would do is alert the killer to my presents. I made a packed with myself to never tell another living soul about this, ever.

*****

A few years had passed. Me, mum and my brother had moved to the town centre. I was in my last yeah of high school and had been invited to a Halloween party at Mike Burnage’s house. This was quite a surprise as being a bit of a loner; I wasn’t invited to many places. My best friend Dylan had requested I go, I had a knack for remembering ghost stories and he thought it would be a good place to share some of them without looking weird.

I dressed as a vampire. I liked the supernatural stuff, ghosts, werewolves, zombies, all the stuff that wasn’t real. Serial Killers were not high on my favourite scares list. I still had nightmares but kept the fear in by filling my head with this horror nonsense.

It was a typical teenage party. The hard boys were getting off with the popular girls. Everyone cheered when a beer was opened. The music was loud yet nobody was dancing. I went to junior school with the lad playing the music. His parents had bought him a couple of turntables as he wanted to be a part of this new DJ thing that was on the rise with all the new hip-hop and dance music coming out of the States.

As the evening wore on the numbers dropped, soon there was just me, Dylan, Mike, a girl called Tracy, her friend Lucy and the DJ Chris. Some tunes played softly in the background and Dylan suggested I tell a couple of spooky tales. This had the desired effect of getting Tracy to cuddle into Mike, and Dylan to play the big hero with Lucy. Just after I had finished the tale of the ‘Queen’s Park Grey Lady’ Chris asked the group if anyone had ever done a Ouija Board. The girls look scared.

“No it’s fun,” Chris tried to reassure, “Mike, have you got Scrabble.”

“I thought you wanted to contact the dead, not play word games with them.”

“No dickhead,” Chris used his hands to mimic a board, “We can make one with it. We put the letters in a circle and use an upside-down glass.”

Mike stood up and fetched the board game from the shelf, “Wine?”

“Yes you do,” laughed Dylan, “A fucking lot as well.”

“The glass,” Mike flicked his middle finger at Dylan, “will a wine glass do?”

Chris took the board game and started to set up on the floor, “Yeah, that’s perfect.”

He placed the board facedown and sorted the letters so that the entire alphabet was in a circle. In the centre he placed the wine glass so that the base was up.

“Right, now everybody place the index finger of your right hand on the glass.”

We did as he asked. There was some nervous laughter and name calling. Mike and Dylan being all manly to prove they weren’t scared, yet their eyes told a different story. Chris had the air of a scientist conducting an experiment. I was just doing it for a laugh, it was the living that frightened me.

Chris asked the question in a strange deep voice, “Is there anybody there?”

Everyone went silent; Chris asked again, “Is there anybody there?”

Just then, Dylan farted. The nervous tension released in an explosion of laughter. It took at least 10 minutes for us all to compose ourselves again. We all resumed the position.

“Is there anybody there?”

The glass twitched, then smoothly slid across the board coming to a stop by the ‘C’. Before anyone could speak it was off again, ‘O’, then again ‘L’

“OK, ” I said, “who’s pushing it?”

It kept moving ‘I’, ‘N’

“Why has it spelt out your name Col?” Mike said

“I don’t know?”

Chris joined in, “I don’t know either, that’s only 6 points.”

The glass kept moving, letter after letter, ‘Remember’.

My heart was beating fast, “This isn’t funny guys.”

‘M’, then with a violent scrape, ‘E’. The glass started to move round and round, faster and faster. A jolt, like static, pushed our hands off the vessel. The glass flew off the board narrowly missing Lucy’s head before smashing into the wall. The girls screamed, Chris, Mike and Dylan yelled. I sat in silence.

Mike threw a litter at me, “Colin remember me. What the fuck man?”

I couldn’t speak. The others all raced around, shouting at each other about cleaning up, scaring the girls and mum’s best crystal. I just sat there. Mike called me many names, all of which referred to mental health but none of it mattered. Without any control I spoke softly.

“Smurf?”

“SMURF?” Mike was furious, “You need locking up!”

That was the point when I realised he was blaming me for this. I stood up, holding back my tears. I fixed eye contact with our host.

“Trust me,” there was a cold reality in my voice, “there is no way in the world I would do that. What I want to know is, who fucking pushed it?”

Something about me made everyone very aware that I wasn’t messing about. Someone here either knew something about my past, or had just luckily stumbled on a random phrase that hit the mark. Either way, I was now in a very unstable frame of mind.

“Fuck all of you!”

I left.

*****

I was restless, feeling a need to return. I moved away from the South Coast nearly 30 years ago. Pushing all the memories far down, so far that I didn’t even talk to my brother anymore, nor did I make the 300 odd mile trip to visit my mother now her and dad were back together again under the same stone. But I felt restless, and I needed to go back.

I parked the car at the bottom of Cuckmere Way and walked up the hill, the same route I used to take home from school. I reached the corner of the Close and looked further up at the old children’s home. It was now a private house. I turned my attention to the building on my left. From the outside it looked no different. I approached the gate that lead to the front door, the open front door.

Curiosity got the better of me. I opened the gate and approached the entrance. As I walked through the gate the sound changed around me, that deadening of nature. It was like being 11 again. I slowly walked towards to door calling out to see if anyone was there. I could see the hallway had a carpet as did the stairs, it looked like this was also a private dwelling. I peered inside and called out.

“Is there anybody there?”

For some reason I felt compelled to step inside. Like flicking channels on a TV my mind switched between the lovely decorated home before me and images of the bare heartless building from my youth. I walked through the living room and into the dining room.

“Hello, is there anybody there?”

In the middle of the oak table that now furnished the room was a black and white photo. I picked it up to have a look. Confusion filled my mind, this was the photo from all those years ago, I recognised the five kids at the front dressed in different period costumes only, this wasn’t possible, there where now loads of other children, all dressed from different time periods. And there, just behind the boy from the original, was Smurf.

I swallowed deep to hold back the vomit that wanted to escape. I turned it over to see if there was anything written on the back, then flipped it over to the image again. Nothing made sense, it was impossible but then, oh then I saw it, and fear gripped me. Stood at the back of all the children, was me. Everything around me disappeared. The room, the furniture, the carpet, the only thing I could see was me stood at the back of a photograph of children from over 30 years ago. Then she spoke.

“Did you think I’d let you go?”

I turned around. Standing there was a tall thin woman wearing jeans and a loose fitting white shirt. Her soft permed brown hair bounced against her pale sharp featured face. I looked down at her feet. Those boots, oh my god those boots. I urinated. Looking up I saw the axe coming down…