I’m publishing EarthWitch, my 2005 NaNo novel, here at this blog too. At each of the blog posts there will be a link to click to the next chapter, as well as navigation tools on the novel page link, and in the menu bar.
It was Midwinter’s Eve when Agatha and David came to stay in the house that wasn’t. At precisely 4 oclock in the afternoon the yellow taxi carrying the pair came hurtling around the corner of Parker Street as fast as taxis often do, and screeched to a halt outside number 18 Tate Street.
The taxi driver looked confused. He stared down at the crumpled piece of note paper on the dashboard which read, in large, looped cursive “Number 20, Tate Street.” Then he stared across the road to the northern side of the street.
“Number 16…hmmm…yes. Number 18…good…good. Number…22. Number 24? Now that’s odd,” said the taxi driver. “Not here. Then where I’ve never failed to get a passenger to their destination yet.”
“It’s meant to be here,” he said, with a heavy middle eastern accent. He shook his head, earrings jangling. “I don’t understand it. Are you sure this is the right address?”
“Perfectly sure,” said Agatha. She, too, stared across the street, in search of their destination. Nothing.
“Grandma Rolie?” she said aloud. “Where are you?”
As if in response, Agatha suddenly became aware of something, or someone, just outside her range of vision. Turning her head, a small, bent woman came into view. Agatha stared in amazement as the woman hobbled over to the taxi, and rapped on the window glass with a knobbly cane.
“Thought you were never going to make it!” she said, in a dry, raspy voice. “You’d be Agatha, right? And young David Bartholemew? Hmmm, yes, yes, yes. Good good. Well, you look a little silly sitting there. Not going to do you any good sitting in a lump of iron all day, will it? Iron’s not good for protection. Better get out. Come into the house. It will be dark soon. Dark is strong around here. No time to wait. No time to sit still. Come on. What are you waiting for?”
Agatha nodded dumbly, still sitting in the taxi. She gazed across the road again, looking for the house that *should* be there. Still nothing. Sighing, she turned the handle of the taxi, and stepped out onto the bitumen while the old lady who was Grandma Rolie paid the driver. David jumped out behind her, and stared across the road, his brown eyes wide and confused.
“But,” he said. “The house. It’s there. I can see it now. Why -?”
Grandma Rolie cut him off, “You blind, boy? It’s always been there. See?”
The taxi driver looked unfocussed as he took the notes from Grandma Rolie’s hand. “Of course it was…” he said slowly. Then, faster: “Of course it was!”
“See!” said Grandma Rolie. “People just don’t look properly. That’s all. Now, get your things and come inside.”
The driver got out of the cab and unloaded the children’s luggage from the car boot, then followed Grandma Rolie’s directions to leave it on the kerb. He still seemed curiously absent-minded and vague. He stared down at the notes in his hand, and pocketed them, then looked at Grandma Rolie, as if waiting for instructions.
“You’d better go now,” said Grandma Rolie to the driver. “It will be dark soon. You don’t want to get caught in the dark around here.”
“Hmmmm…yes. Yes, of course.” he replied slowly, and moved back towards his cab. Within a minute, he had turned the car around in the cul de sac, and was speeding off, zigzagging slightly as he drove down the road. Agatha and David watched the car turn into Parker Street and disappear. Then they turned to face Grandma Rolie. She stared at them with piercing blue eyes.
“You *do* see the house – both of you?” Her gaze turned to Agatha.
“No buts. That’s good. You can see it. So you belong here. That’s good. Follow me now. Pick up your cases – I’m an old lady and can’t manage them. Let’s get everything inside quick.”
Agatha stared at the houe that was now so evident she couldn’t undertand how she could have failed to see it before. It was as if the house wasn’t there. And then it was. But even as Agatha looked with interest at the old cream wooden bungalow that was to be her new home, she noticed a faint waxiness and blurriness about the outsides of the home, as if it had been placed in the street inexpertly by a scenery decorator on a poorly-funded movie set.
The house almost shimmered, as though it didn’t quite fit in with its surroundings. It seemed…odd. Yet so completely normal that it was impossible to question whether the house had not been there before she could see it. *Of course* it was always there. If things were there, they were there all the time.
“Are you sure about that, Agatha?” ask Grandma Rolie.
Agatha twitched with shock. “Huh?”
“Oh, don’t mind me,” said Grandma Rolie. “I have a habit of answering people’s thoughts. And yours are particularly obvious. But that’s alright. You mother named you correctly. Agatha. means ‘Good’. Yes, she got that right. Now, mind the step.”
*** *** ***
Inside, the house was a tumbled mess of old, dusty books, sewing projects half-completed, faded knick-knacks in glass display cabinets, and cobwebbed corners decorated by keen daddy long legs spiders. Curtains were old and patched, and every spare surface was covered by reams of paperwork.
Grandma Rolie directed Agatha and David to the back of the house (“You can choose which of the two spare rooms you’ll each have – just don’t fight over it.”), and told them to join her in the kitchen once they’d unpacked.
Half an hour later, Agatha and David joined Grandma Rolie in the kitchen, which was a large central room stuffed with drying herbs and spices, rows of dried chilllies, shelves of pickles, jams and chutneys, and volumes of ancient cookbooks.
Despite the fact that Grandma Rolie had indicated that she was too old and weak to help carry their cases, Agatha got the distinct impression that this old lady was tougher than she allowed people to know. It was quite clear, at any rate, that Grandma Rolie was an active person – this was a house where there was a lot going on. There was no television in sight, and only an old transistor radio on a perched on a kitchen shelf near the window gave any evidence that they were in the twenty-first century at all, although even it looked like it was a good fifty years old.
Grandma Rolie moved over to the stove, and put a kettle on to boil. “You’ll have tea,” she said more as a statement than a question. Agatha nodded politely.
David said nothing – he was more interested in peering around the room, taking everything in, not missing anything, as was his style. David was a sharp young boy – he was always the one to notice what was *really* going on in any given situation. He wouldn’t just hear the words people said or see the actions that they did – he would see beneath the surface and note people’s motives and their feelings and intentions.
Grandma Rolie gathered three cups and three sauces (that didn’t match), and three greying teaspoons (clean but irrevocably stained), then poured the tea. Then they all sat down at the large pinewood kitchen table, pulling up slightly wobbly old chairs.
“Well,” she said, sitting down and sipping her tea. “You’re here, and I have to deal with you. I can’t say I’m happy about the situation, but there’s nothing doing with your mother gone and no father to claim you anywhere. So it’s just me. I’m sorry about your mother – I liked the lady, even though she was my daughter. It’s rare to like your relatives, you know. I don’t expect you’ll like me much, but you haven’t any choice in the matter.”
Agatha didn’t know what to say to this. “Oh.”
“Now,” Grandma Rolie continued. “There are a few rules in this house. Not many, but I expect you to abide by them.
“First: You will not go out after dark. Never. If I find you out after dark, you’ll be packing for England and your aunt’s house within the hour. Got it?”
Agatha nodded silently.
Grandma Rolie continued: “You heard what I said. Second: No friends, no invitees, no associates, no gang members, no salespeople – absolutely *no-one* is to enter this house without my permission. That means animals too. I don’t want to see any insect collections, any stray dogs or cats, or any other animal invited in. Got it?”
Agatha and David nodded again.
“Third: You will *not* tell anyone where you live. It’s fine to provide an address when yu tart school; they’ll expect that. But *never* point out this house to anyone you meet, and never show anyone where you live. Understood?”
Agatha said, “But why-?”
Grandma Rolie said, “There is no why. No questions. This is my house. These are my rules. If you want to live here, you follow them. If you don’t, you don’t have a home here.”
*** *** ***
Agatha couldn’t help thinking that Grandma Rolie was a little bit crazy when it came to her privacy, but she soon found out that these rules had a lot more to them than first met the eye, and it wasn’t simply a crazy grandmother’s whim.
The house was invisible. Sometimes it was there, sometimes it wasn’t.
When you were inside, you couldn’t tell whether there house was existing for people outside or not. You didn’t know whether you were, to all accounts, invisible to the street.
This had quite a few advantages for Grandma Rolie that were immediately obvious to Agatha and David. The first Sunday morning that they had moved in, they watched from the front living room window as young evangelists from the local fundamentalist church worked their way up the street, wearing their cheap, new black suits and freshly pressed white shirts. They would visit every house, knock on every door. Sometimes the response was kind and friendly; other times the young men (it was always men) would be turned away angrily by annoyed homeowners whose primary interest in Sunday mornings was their regular sleep-in.
But when the young men got to Grandma Rolie’s house, they would walk on by, not noticing the house – not seeing Agatha and David peering out from behind the curtain. That very first unday morning, Agatha was sure one of the young men looked straight at her – but it was as if he looked straight through her. As if she wasn’t there.
“It *is* invisible,” said David, confirming their suspicions. “Peope don’t see the house. They don’t know we’re here. It’s like their eyes and their brains switch off until they’re past the house. But Grandma Rolie likes it this way. No people harrassing her to by their religion. No kids selling girl guide cookies – did you notice that last night?”
“Yes – and no junk mail. We never get any.”
“Actually,” said David slowly. “We never get any mail *at all*. Grandma Rolie doesn’t have a mailbox. The postman rides on by on his scooter. I’ll bet he doesn’t even know this house exists. *No-one* knows this house exists. Even the neighbourhood cats don’t come here. The kids don’t graffitti Grandma Rolie’s fence – yet every other fence on the street has been written on.”
“It’s weird,” agreed Agatha. “I’ve never been to a house like this.”
“But I’ve been to a shop like this,” said David thoughtfully. “Remember that coffee shop on Lygon Street that we went to last time we were in the city?”
“You joked that it was invisible. It was empty. Every other coffee shop was so busy, but that place – we were the only ones there. You joked that the shop was invisible.”
“I was just joking.”
“But maybe you were right. Maybe some houses – some buildings – are invisible-”
“-and this is one of them?” finished Agatha.
“And this is one of them!”
Agatha and David stared at each other in silence. Then Agatha laughed, “But that’s impossible! It’s ridiculous!”
David’s brown eyes widened. “Don’t be so sure.”
Although Agatha was doubtful about the ‘Invisible House Theory’, as she called it, she soon had to admit that there was no other explanation for the weird things that went on to do with Grandma Rolie’s house. She finally tried to question Grandma Rolie, but was admonished quickly and briefly: “Poppycock!”
No othe theory fit, though, and soon Agatha and David were used to thinking of their new home as ‘The Invisible House’. The house that wasn’t.
Read Chapter 2 of EarthWitch here
Chapter 1 word count: 2124
Total word count so far:2124.