I was abruptly awoken by the piercing alarm of our car that was screaming and seeping through the broken panes of glass in the windows. I ran along the worn floorboards in hope of discovering where Dad had placed the keys amongst the layering of dust that coated almost every surface. The rest of my family had managed to stay asleep which perplexed me because the alarm was so fucking loud and so I wandered out into the dirt-ridden front yard to the car.
It took only a few seconds for what had happened to register with me. The back right hand side door to the car was hinged wide open along with the boot.
Had we been robbed? Were we that tired that we fled the car and didn’t bother to lock it properly?
With trepidation I faltered towards the vehicle. Immediately I observed our belongings that had been tampered with and mistreated, some of which were lying lost on the floor and others blown a few feet away in the strong overnight wind. I then realised the lock on the gate that had been vehemently disconnected which led me to believe that we were indeed robbed and living amongst “civilised” thieves. But who? The affluence of the area didn’t give me the impression that our neighbours were so desperate nor immoral, but on further inspection of our car I realised that nothing was taken except one thing.
I ran back into the house and into the living room where I slept the night before, trying to avoid waking up my parents and my near-unconscious brother. I examined the entire building desperately looking with intricacy for the omitted item of importance to me. I couldn’t avoid being filled with conviction that my dad had put it down somewhere after we arrived at the new house. I had searched everywhere possible and the perimeter of the new house was surrounded by abandoned, averagely sized conifers, which meant that if it did blow out of the car, it couldn’t have gone a great distance. From spending one evening in that house I felt not only entrapped and enclosed, but suffocated. It was a very bizarre feeling of discomfort. However, this was evidently juxtaposed by my overly comfortable family who, still at 11:32am, were asleep.
I ran back to the car for one last assessment to see whether it had just slipped my sight, but it still wasn’t there. I rummaged through my backpack several times and then through the glove box that was overflowing with Mom’s old CD’s only to be more confused.
My dad strolled out to me in the clothes he wore the previous day, “Josh, mate, what are you looking for? Why’s everything on the floor?” to which I clarified that we had been robbed. He laughed to himself at first as if to insinuate I was being stupid and that we lived in a village that wasn’t like the urban, crime-surrounded town in which our previous house was situated. I insisted and questioned if he had put it somewhere before we went to sleep, but he said he never had it and that I had hold of it throughout the entire journey. I was still baffled at the fact someone would steal something so little, something so invaluable out of all the other objects we had in the car. Surely if you’re going to steal something, at least steal something of worth, but no.
Why would somebody take my map?
Why would somebody take my map?
Why would somebody take my map?
I was unsure. I’m not the type of person who easily jumps to conclusions and makes accusations without verification of my gathered evidence and so I went about my day as normal, keeping my thoughts and questions at the back of my mind.
I hauled the final few boxes through into the hallway out of the delivery van, which found difficulty in pulling into our compact driveway, but had somehow managed. An hour passed and my brother and sister finally woke to the conveyor belt that me and my parents had operating, passing items from the excessively taped boxes to their correct place and things were really starting to shape up. We had lunch and then returned to transforming our house from ruin to family home.
My brother and sister had no chance in picking their room before me. Forget “ladies first”, forget traditional ritualistic doings, I would be and was the first person to choose their room. Mine was the biggest and emptiest. As I stepped through the threshold from the warmth into the coldness of my new room, I noticed broken pieces of felled wood on the floor that had drifted from the tired beams holding up the roof. That aside, I loved it. The lack of windows gave the space character and as a whole felt quite removed from the rest of the house, which I craved. There’s nothing I wanted quite as much than space from my annoying petulant little brother and never-ending arguments with my sister and so it was a relief to know the proximity between our rooms was quite distant. A sizable, dense wooden door barricaded the room off from the landing and prevented any sound from getting through. I liked the isolation because it was a space of my own whereby I could follow my own rules and live my life ungovernable. I heard a faint knock on the door that was tailed by a further round of monotonous, bothersome knocks until I eventually found the energy to walk over and open it.
“What do you want?” I asked Ben.
“Can I look at your room?” He enquired.
I told him to go away whilst simultaneously closing the door in his face as he still endeavoured to get through.
After a few trips up and down the tall staircase and my legs lifeless, all of my boxes had touched down in my room. I counted them and there were 24 and when I boxed everything up before we left our old house, I did not realise they would amount to this volume. I don’t have many belongings, but I did have lots of scrapbooks that encapsulated my thoughts and ultimately my life. The other boxes enclosed my clothes, chess trophies, books and posters that I instantly mounted on my bedroom walls. I grabbed Mr. Sheen and the nearest cloth and polished over my dust-coated room to little effect, but I adopted and embraced the rustic, worn look. I felt like I was stuck in a historical time period. The dated décor and musk scent in the room gave me an inkling that this room wasn’t initially a bedroom, but something other that I wasn’t aware of. I must have explored my box-shaped bedroom for over an hour, opening and closing the closet door, running my hand across the walls incase I discovered a doorway to a hidden passage. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. It wasn’t going to be the adventurous room I had hoped for, but better still it was the best room in the house and it was all mine. Once I had accomplished putting my stamp on the blank canvas that was my new bedroom, I decided to pull out my scrapbook and begin writing down the thoughts I had stored in the back of my mind from earlier regarding the peculiar theft of my ordinary map. Before my pen was millimeters away from reaching the page, Ben detonated through my door running around my windowless room, which undoubtedly resulted in the commencement of our second argument that day. On an average Campbell family day, it wasn’t abnormal for me and my siblings to have a minimum of 6 arguments, simply due to the fact that we are very strong minded people who do not like to back down. In a way, we’re impartially resilient individuals, but of course that comes with its defects. I told Ben to get out of my room but he contended with me until I caved and let him wander. I gave him a time restriction of 5 minutes to do just what he had to do and explore, but after those 5 minutes were up, he was never to step foot into my room again (unless he had prior consent from myself). I sat on my bed watching and counting every literal second on my painfully loud clock that sat proudly on the set of drawers a little distance from the doorway, the sound rebounding off the paperless walls and solid wooden flooring that put me on edge and made my mind spiral into a hypnotic state where I could not decrypt one single thought. Thankfully, the sound of Mom’s piercing shouting overrided the droning sound of the clock, “Benji, Josh, Ella, downstairs now please!” An excuse to get Ben out of my bedroom at least, which unfortunately for him, cut his exploration time down to a disappointingly early 2 minutes and 51 seconds. I gladly escorted him out onto the landing, ensuring my door shut firmly behind me and walked after him down the stairs. When we reached the kitchen, we noticed Mom, Dad and Ella all sat around the circular table. The atmosphere was mild with a slight allusion of anxiety as our parents introduced to us, “Operation Moving In” – my parents were always trying to make non-exciting-things exciting. They assigned us roles and the first person to finish putting everything in our designated boxes away was the winner and the prize was… well… nothing and as you can imagine, the lack of incentives resulted in my lack of concern for this activity. It felt like I was being conscripted to go to war, forcefully made to do a job I didn’t want to do, although, I came to terms with the idea that whilst putting things away out of the many boxes, I may just come across my map.
Mom pulled out her breeze block of a phone and whilst squinting, used the stopwatch on it which subsequently brought to life the competitive streak in my family. The game was well and truly on.
We each had 7 boxes in clusters in the centre of the bare and echoic living room. As soon as we were enthusiastically instructed to go, I fumbled aggressively to remove the unnecessary tape securing the items in the boxes away from any actual interaction. After a minute or so, I noticed that Ella was already pacing around the ground floor putting stuff in their correct destination. How had she even got the box open? My mind then refocused on my goal and I was eager to locate my invaluable map, which now seemed to have a sentimental value to me. Like the Hulk, I teared apart my first box and started racing ahead, cheating a little, but I was thinking tactically - that if I didn’t move fast, I might miss an only opportunity to grab my map. After a few minutes of patrolling the house clearing the boxes, I was mindful of the likelihood that it was indeed adrift eternally. Ben was taking this game so seriously and was relishing the opportunity to win his big brother, I decided to allow him a moment of playful rivalry and success. I never really gave him the time of day, which I sometimes regret. He was on his fifth box whilst I was on my fourth and so the game was tight and because she’s a girl, Ella gave in after three boxes. She was “too tired” and wasted all of her vigour in the first few minutes, which wasn’t strategic at all. Then again, what can be expected of a teenage girl who is overly confident she’s going to win? The tension heightened as Ben sluggishly pealed open his last box. Mom, like a hooligan, stood from afar cheering Ben on as he hurried around the house assigning the final few items to their specific rooms and like the good brother I am, I gave him some leeway to be ahead of me… some. Neck and neck, brother to brother we battled out the final round with sweat drenched t-shirts and drained and aching bodies all to the frenetic soundtrack of our family inciting us from the sidelines. As we darted past one another, I saw his box emptying quicker than mine, which made me want to move faster but I couldn’t because I was also ashamedly “too tired”. It felt kind of disappointing to lose at the first game we’d ever played in our new home, not only for me, but I felt like I let the house down and didn’t commit my all to it which was strange. That aside, my brother, ostentatious in his own right - as he was whenever he won anything - won nothing but still ensured he rubbed the ‘Winner’ status in my face that annoyed me to a certain degree but was challengingly ignorable.
After the Awards Ceremony, I swiftly exited into the kitchen to grab myself a drink as the game had wholly dehydrated my body. With struggle, I eventually managed to turn on the cold tap to equalize the not-yet diluted squash with water. I sat on the countertop for a while, taking in my new surroundings and trying to elect my emergency escape route. This was the third house we had moved into predominantly because in our first home we had a kitchen fire which we left when I was 3, our second house so that Dad didn’t have to commute to work and now here we are, on day 1 in our third-time-lucky house. The kitchen fire frightened me and still to this day. When you’re stuck in a confined environment where the limited oxygen is being consumed by thick, lung-destroying smoke, it precipitously becomes more and more difficult to not only see, but breathe. At the time it happened, my mom, dad and Ella were all in different rooms but all fortunately close together – not like our new home – and although this worked to our advantage in some aspects, they may as well had been miles apart as we could not see anything for the grey smoke. Obviously I survived this traumatic occurrence else I wouldn’t be sat here recalling these events, unless I truly was a spirit not yet passed over… It was a surreal experience, having to attempt to scream in the midst of nothingness for my mom and dad, nearly missing finding them. I finally heard the breaking of glass behind me amongst the Gas Mark 70,000 roar of the flames and as I was carried through my bedroom window, leaving behind the now-wreckage, I came to realise that Mom, Dad and Ella were all safe, choking up on the front lawn. The smoke had declined our breathing rate and so we were all frantically gasping to revive our lungs. At this point, all of our neighbours were surrounding us, requesting if we were OK between the desperately loud coughs. After lodging at my grandma’s house for the following 2 months, we finally started afresh in our new relegate. It didn’t have many rooms and so when my parents told me that I would have a new brother soon and that I would have to segment my room with him, I wasn’t altogether enthralled. We dwelled there for 11 prolonged years until just yesterday, when we thankfully made the move. The only reason I concocted an escape route was primarily because of the absence of windows in my new bedroom and if there were to be a fire, where would I go? Though I loved it profusely, I wasn’t drawn to the potential circumstance that I wouldn’t be being pulled through a window to safety again and that I would inevitably die in the wooden, box-shaped death trap and being quite remote from my other family members, I wouldn’t be able to wait for them to save me if it ever occurred again. I would have to help myself and follow my premeditated route. Given the house was fairly large and the distance from my bedroom to the nearest jumpable-from window was far, I chose to redesign my route which precariously led out of my bedroom, across the landing, down the staircase, through the kitchen and out of the patio doors. But again, after thinking on this for a while, I was sceptical that trying to remember the route might kill me before the actual fire. I gulped the last bit of my beverage; gratified of its coldness and the way in which it brought taste back into my mouth before placing my cup in the sink and returning to my bedroom. As I walked my escape route backwards, I stopped in the hallway to pick up an old-looking letter that had been dropped on the doormat through the discoloured letterbox. I was struggling to decide whether to open it, or whether to take it to my parents and after much deliberation, I took it to my room. It was addressed to what I assumed to be the previous residents, William and Eleanor Mendenhall. I stopped again at the end of the infinite landing and observed the cold vacancy. I disliked how all of the doors were open, how still the atmosphere was, and how little light provided me with restricted vision. I think light is imperative. I hate not being able to see and not that I like to publicise this humiliating fact about myself, but I am afraid of the darkness. I’m not the regular child who is terrified of who may be underneath their bed and needs a nightlight. I’m fearful of how darkness plays with my mind, how it creates things that aren’t there, how environments we know very well become abruptly distorted, our senses become heightened, our mind becomes more active, as do things which in the daytime, do not exist. I collected myself together blanking out my irrational thoughts and made my way to my dull room closing the door behind me. Running straight to my bed, I cautiously extracted the letter from the envelope. It was handwritten.
For the urgent attention of Mr. and Mrs. Mendenhall
I refrained from continuing for a moment, anticipating whether I was doing the right thing – but I was curious. I recall my parents telling me that nobody had lived in this house for over 17 years and so I was inquisitive as to why would they still be receiving letters. The letter was sitting there on the floor, calling my name, it was destined for me to open it and so I proceeded.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Mendenhall,
Following your abdication, we are now held at a standstill with our contracted ceremonies. Please be aware that we will continue to anticipate the completion soon and that if we do not hear back from you, we will assume your reluctance and therefore forbid you to partake. However, should the news be heard elsewhere, you would know it has been done.
If you are reading this letter, we ask that you come to visit us at the customary location (Parish Centre) so that we can confer the second phase.
Time is perishable, as is this unmissable opportunity.
I hope to hear from you.
If undelivered, please return to the following address:
Our Lady & Saint Kenelm
Back Walls, Stow-on-the-Wold, Cheltenham,
Gloucestershire GL54 1DR