WE MOVED TO THIS TOWN. But it felt like it had moved to us.
Every new job of Dad’s meant a new school. Old friends forget quickly when you’re young, and new ones, those prepared to take a risk on an out-of-towner, are the lowest in the pecking order. Those fun filled days of hanging around in a pack of mutual disgust were a few months away.
Sycamore Drive – red spray paint had turned it to Sickamore – was dotted with bungalows, separated by chain link fences and sun slain lawns. A demonic force lay underneath ageing the residents. That was my only way of explaining the deserted pavements, and lack of kids my age. Go out and play! Mum always said. Every day. Sometimes I’d listen, breaking away from my tape collection or reading, popping wheelies and bunny hopping off kerbs, feeling eyes on me, those droopy eyed witches and goblins lurking behind curtains, wishing they had my youth, wishing me to face plant and crack teeth, just once to make them feel better about themselves, to give them drama lacking in their TV sets.
I stopped in the middle of the street, kicking my peddles backwards, chain whirring, noticing oil stains on my jeans, before spotting a sign of life: a man walking towards me. Squinting, I monitored his progress, my hands wrapped around the handlebars.
His shadow stretched out onto the other side of the street and kept going, a physical impossibility, as I tracked it across a lawn and over my neighbours house leaving me awestruck. I’d never seen anyone that tall before either. Wearing a trilby, and dressed all in black, with a button up jacket despite the heat, he came closer, an object dangling from his right hand dragging along the ground.
He walked so smoothly, like his brogues were attached to the baked pavement.
About eight feet away, I managed to see what he was holding in his big hand. The leather lead was attached to a collar, just dragging, as he made to walk straight past.
Bored I couldn’t resist needling the crazy. “Where’s your dog?”
He stopped abruptly, five feet away, the hat hiding his eyes. Instinctively I leaned back a little, reversing a few inches.
“He’s right here,” he said, pointing at the dog collar. His voice was smooth and rich like a 1950’s radio broadcaster.
“You’re crazy! There’s no dog.”
“Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” Walking onwards, his shadow crossed over me, unreasonably cold, harvesting goose bumps on my arms.
“Fucking wacko!” I yelled – suddenly brave – cycling away, turning my head to see him disappear around the corner onto Print Street.
Over dinner I told Mum and Dad about the psycho walking his invisible dog. “Just eat your vegetables!” They never believed me, or never cared whenever I spoke. At least I had a story for my first day of school.
Even after two months the house was crawling with cardboard boxes my parents hadn’t emptied, like we might be moving any given day. Mum had hardly decorated the house. We had no pictures on our walls. The only place that looked lived in was the kitchen and my room. At least I’d put some posters on my walls and emptied my crates, not that I had much. I spent the rest of the night listening to Creedance Clearwater, before falling asleep.
I awoke to pitch blackness, a hand firmly around my mouth. Struggling to breathe, I tried to move but I was pinned down reduced to thrashing weakly with my legs. Dad! Mum! Over and over again I screamed those words in utter terror, but that hand that smelt of leather silenced every one of them. Even though my window didn’t have a blind, I couldn’t make out the person in the dark. Screaming again, I felt my own saliva on the palm, hopelessly at the mercy of the intruder, visions of death parading across my now closed eyelids, awaiting on the final flotilla.
“Shhhh!” It said. “Open your eyes and listen!” The hand gripped tighter, my jaw aching.
I knew that voice!
“By your logic, just like my dog doesn’t exist, I was never here, because I don’t exist. So don’t bother crying for Mummy! Got it?”
I tried to nod, weak tears wetting the corners of my eyes.
I felt the pressure of the hand lift from my face, and I lay there rubbing my jaw, soon hearing the front door quietly closing, frozen in the same position the man left me in, confused and frightened, unable to call for a help that never existed, knowing I would eat my cereal at breakfast without saying a thing as his words circulated around and around.