This is my first published book (although not the first written, as that one remains unpublished thus far), which has always been my most popular seller in paperback and as an e-book.
“Where are you going?” asked the young girl.
“Mind your own business,” replied her brother.
“What have you got in that rucksack?” said the girl, as she moved towards him and tried to take a peek inside the bag.
The boy quickly pushed his sister away.
“Just go home, will ya?” he snapped.
“No! Not until you tell me where you’re going.”
“If you don’t beat it I’ll kick your butt from here to Kingdom Come.”
But the girl didn’t beat it. Without warning, she tried to snatch the rucksack from her brother, which fell onto the dry, dusty ground with a thud. She immediately leapt upon it, fumbling about in excited anticipation as she tried to untie the drawstrings that held it together. In retaliation, the boy pounced upon his sister, grabbed her long hair and yanked her aside in a rough manner.
“Ouch! That hurts,” she cried in pain.
“It’s meant to! I thought I told you to clear off. Now, do as you’re told… GO HOME.”
“Yeow! Ow! Ouch! Let go of my hair!” the girl continued to squeal.
“Only if you promise to go away and leave me alone.”
“Okay, I promise.”
The girl quickly broke her promise, however; because, at the very moment the boy released the tight grip he had on his sister’s hair, she sprang forward and snatched at the rucksack once again. This time she was more successful in her attempt to seize the bag when one of the straps gave way, giving her the opportunity to pull it away from her brother. A vicious struggle then took place as the boy attempted to regain possession of his rucksack, and – although she was wrestling hard against her younger brother’s superior strength – somehow or other the girl eventually managed to untie the drawstring that held the rucksack shut. As a result, this exposed part of the contents when they spilled out onto the ground.
At this point the boy lashed out angrily, striking his sister on the side of the head and knocking her down. Knowing that she had been defeated, the stunned girl decided to remain where she had fallen onto the hard, dried-up mud track beside the river. Propping herself up with one arm, whilst rubbing the sore abrasion on her head with her free hand, she watched her brother stuff his belongings back into the rucksack. Then, just as he grabbed hold of the drawstring ends in order to close it, the girl cried out.
“Why are you carrying a hammer and copper pins in your bag? And that’s a length of rope you’ve got there, isn’t it?”
“Mind your own business, Ellie,” snarled the boy, as he retied the drawstring on the rucksack.
“Oh, I get it… Now I know what you’re up to! You’re going to try and climb the old oak tree, aren’t you?” she said knowingly.
The boy said nothing. He picked up his precious rucksack, flung it over his left shoulder and began to walk away.
“You know you’re not supposed to climb trees – especially that one! I’m going to tell Mum and then you’ll be for it,” Ellie shouted after him.
Upon hearing this remark her brother stopped dead in his tracks and turned around, before replying with a threat of his own.
“You snitch! If you tell Mum what I’m doing, then I’ll tell her that you’ve been hanging out with Maddie Jones and her gang, because you know you’re not allowed to do that either. And I’ll tell her you’ve been helping yourself to money out of her purse too… So there!”
“Hey, it was you that took her money, not me! I don’t do things like that,” she retorted rather indignantly.
“Yeah, but Mum doesn’t know that. She’s more likely to believe me, isn’t she? As far as she’s concerned I can’t do a thing wrong in her eyes… Thinks the sun shines out of my butt, she does.”
“Don’t I know it,” sneered the boy’s sister. “You’re always sucking up to her.”
“So what if I am? It pays off when it matters most, don’t it?”
“I ain’t no creep; I’m just her blue-eyed boy because I’m the youngest, and I always will be.”
“You might always be the youngest, but I’ll always be the cutest,” boasted Ellie, in an attempt to break even with the verbal battle she was already beginning to lose.
“Call yourself cute? Have you looked in the mirror lately, Spotty?”
“I can’t help it,” said Ellie with tears in her eyes. And the only defence she could find to that remark was to stick her tongue out at her brother.
“Spotty!” repeated the boy. He then followed up this insult with another, by chanting the words: “Pizza Face!”
“Leave me alone,” shouted Ellie as she burst into floods of tears.
The boy grinned smugly when his sister began to cry, knowing that he’d got the upper hand again.
“You know what Dad always tells us,” cried the girl, in a last-ditch effort to prevent her brother from paying a visit to the oak tree.
“Who cares what Dad tells us?”
“I do,” sobbed Ellie. “Anyway, Dad says that curiosity killed the cat.”
“Huh! Who cares about cats either? Be seein’ ya, Spotty Old Pizza Face,” he taunted cruelly before finally walking away.
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When the boy arrived at the foot of Sunrise Hill he found that it was shrouded in mist, like it so often was, and he couldn’t even see more than halfway up the hill, let alone the peak. But within moments of his arrival the mist mysteriously cleared away to reveal the mighty white oak tree perched on top of the grassy slopes – where it had proudly been for maybe 300 years or more – its gnarled, twisted limbs stretching eerily into the air like ghostly white fingers beckoning him towards it.
For a while he stood admiring the quiet giant above him, the distinctive silhouette of its spooky-looking shape dominating the skyline. Ever since he could remember the boy had always wanted to climb this tree, and he had vowed to do exactly that some day. But now the time had come to take on this challenge the boy felt nervous as he thought about the stories that circulated regarding this particular oak tree.
Legend had it that the tree was haunted – perhaps possessed by evil spirits – although nobody knew for sure. Folklore told that it was once a noble warrior who, when he passed into the next world, became immortalised in wood to preserve the man’s heart and soul forever. Apparently, the hard texture of the tree’s knotty grain was the warrior’s strength that would forever remain with him, while the thick, coarse bark was his tough skin and the outstretched limbs were the warrior’s arms, welcoming anyone or anything that came within his reach but never letting go again. The boy shuddered at this thought and he tried not to feel afraid. His friends were afraid, though, but they were nothing but cissies as far as he was concerned, so he had to climb the tree just to show them he wasn’t a cissy like them.
After psyching himself up ready for his conquest, the boy eventually trekked uphill to where the tree towered over him like a pale, mystical giant and appeared even more menacing now that he was right up close. It was very blustery on top of Sunrise Hill and any leaves that had been on the tree’s branches now lay scattered upon the ground or swirled manically around in the late autumn air. One particularly large oak tree leaf flew around his head several times before eventually slapping the boy in the face – as if the action had been deliberately dealt by a person wielding a floppy leather glove – making his cheeks smart and almost forcing him to jump out of his skin.
If that wasn’t enough to frighten him, the wind made a most uncanny wailing sound as it blew between the tree’s bare branches overhead, causing a shiver to run down the boy’s spine yet again. Whilst he stood there, shuddering, upon the hilltop beneath the great oak, the boy’s keen hearing also picked up another peculiar sound. He was quite convinced that he had heard a series of meows coming from within the tree, albeit faint, as if there were cats trapped inside it; so he stepped closer to its trunk and placed his right ear against the knotty bark in order to investigate further. After listening intently the boy finally shrugged off this ludicrous notion and told himself that all he had really heard was simply the distant bleating of sheep in the fields surrounding Sunrise Hill, their far-away cries carrying high into the air on the strong afternoon breeze and reverberating throughout the tree.
However, little did he realize that the great white oak was a very special tree indeed and it harboured a deep, dark secret… for it was actually the Earthgate to a nether world known as Catland! You see, deep within the bowels of Sunrise Hill – far beneath its innocent-looking grass-covered surface – there lay a labyrinth of tunnels, which led to an underground kingdom where cats were its dwellers. Here was a place where all the cats in the country congregated: whether they were trying to escape their owners for a while or whether they were lost or homeless, this was a land where they could chill out until they were ready to move on again.
(So, if you have ever wondered why your cherished pet cat sometimes disappears for several hours – or even several days – then now you know the reason why.)
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Completely unaware of this secret world beneath his feet the boy placed his rucksack against the bole of the tree, untied the drawstring and removed the length of rope, which he draped around the immense tree trunk. Then he wrapped the rope around his own body too, before looping the ends together to form a slipknot that would pull taut when the pressure of his body’s weight was applied against it, although it would not come undone. (His dad had taught him to do this because he was once employed as a truck driver and had to tie knots like these to secure a vehicle’s load.)
Having satisfied himself that the rope would hold his weight when he leant back against it, the boy began to climb the tree. To begin with, his ascent was aided by a few hand- and footholds, randomly carved by nature into the lower section of the oak tree’s massive beam – although they had been formed as if someone had deliberately chiselled these out for the purpose of climbing. How they had got to be there nobody seemed to know, but they existed, nonetheless, and this helped to make the first climbing stage an easy hurdle to overcome. Like a monkey, the boy clambered nimbly upwards, making use of these natural grips, but the going quickly became considerably tougher thereafter. This did not deter the boy, though, because he had prepared himself for his mission.
Keeping his toes planted firmly in the footholds, he leaned backwards, placed his weight against the rope and began to hammer a long copper pin into the tree’s heartwood, which would provide him with an extra climbing support. Immediately, there came a strange, high-pitched squealing sound and a blood-red sticky sap oozed from the bark of the tree, which trickled all over his hands. The boy looked at the gooey sap in disgust.
“Ooh, gross!” he muttered out loud.
When he tried to wipe his hands clean on the rough surface of the tree trunk, he found that the sap stuck to his skin like glue, seeming to become stickier than ever. No matter how hard he tried the boy just couldn’t remove the tacky sap, so he eventually had to give up trying to rid himself of its nastiness and return to the job in hand.
After hammering home the next copper pin, once again the awful red sap spilled from the hole... followed by that weird squeal again! The boy stared at his hands for a second time. It really was some disgusting stuff that came out of the tree – which made his hands appear as if they were covered in blood – but the show must go on and this wasn’t going to put him off climbing to the top of the magnificent oak tree.
It was a slow process but, steadily, the boy began to make progress. At this particular point of the climb he was feeling exceptionally pleased with himself because, to his knowledge, nobody had ever scaled the oak tree to such a great height. Now there was only a short distance to go before he would be at the halfway mark, where the tree’s branches began to thicken and spread. Stories abounded that anyone who had previously reached the lower branches of the tree had never returned to the ground again. Apparently, they had disappeared forever and were never to be seen again, as if they had simply vanished into thin air. Of course, he disbelieved these ridiculous stories and put them down to simply being make-believe old wives’ tales.
At last the boy reached the lowest branches, some fifteen feet from the ground, and he heaved himself up. Here he sat upon a huge branch, taking a much-needed breather whilst contemplating the next leg of his epic climb, the leg that would take him to the crook of the tree where several boughs fanned out in all directions. From there on it would be plain sailing to the uppermost reaches, he thought, although there was still a lot of work to do just to get to the crook.
When he eventually arrived at the wide crook of the tree the boy stood upright amidst the tangle of gigantic boughs that surrounded him, looking down upon the ground that was now far below. Although he felt greatly chuffed about his achievement, he was also wondering how he was going to get down from the tree when the time came. This was going to be another feat altogether, he imagined, and could well have been the reason why stories had been bandied about that no-one ever returned to the ground… because, quite simply, they couldn’t get down! A rather gruesome thought began to trouble the boy’s mind right at that moment, and he warily glanced around him, searching the area to check that there were no skeletons of previous climbers lingering amongst the tree’s branches. Then he laughed out loud at this ludicrous idea and got on with the task of continuing upwards.
But, at the very moment he stretched out his arms and grabbed hold of an overhead branch in order to pull himself up, a loud commotion broke out above his head. Suddenly, several squirrels appeared out of nowhere. There were dozens of them, and they were red in colour. The boy immediately became greatly alarmed at the presence of these noisy, vicious creatures – although they were daintily-featured, with finely-tufted ears and bushy tails. However, at the same time, he felt mesmerised by their beauty, for he had never before seen red squirrels.
They were, in fact, quite a rare species that had chosen this sturdy oak tree as their safe haven after driving out their archenemy, the grey squirrel, from its lofty branches. The occupants of Catland did not like grey squirrels because they were basically vermin that were destroying their beloved tree by eating its exterior, so they were extremely grateful to the red squirrel clan for getting rid of the pesky varmints. In return for ridding the great oak of its intruders, the ruler of Catland appointed Sciurus, Queen of the Reds, as guardian of this very tree, whereupon her clan became the protectors of the great white oak.
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“Get away from me, you awful creatures!” yelled the boy, waving his arms about angrily in the hope that the squirrels would run away.
This seemed to make the tree’s protectors noisier than ever, though, and the squirrels continued to chatter away, hissing and spitting at him with all their rage.
“What is it with you? Get lost!” he ordered.
But, instead of disappearing, the army of squirrels advanced upon him. The boy hurriedly retreated, cowering down in terror whilst flailing his arms around like a demented thing, until he stumbled backwards and lost his balance. Then he fell, and at that precise moment the centre of the tree trunk appeared to open up like the jaws of a huge beast and swallow him whole.
He plummeted like a stone, falling down deeper and deeper into the endless hollow of the tree, not once touching the sides, until he ceased to fall any further. Fortunately, a split-second before he was about to make contact with the ground – as if this action had been caused by some sort of natural instinct – he twisted his body and landed on his feet. Then there was a flash of brilliant light, just like a lightning strike, followed by temporary darkness.
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What I am about to tell you is absolutely true. Trust me when I tell you this because I have heard it first-hand from a tiny, invisible, luminous green creature. It shall be our secret, so I implore you that the story should go no further – unless, of course, you feel it completely necessary to share it with others in order to explain the unexplained. Let me explain…
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Meet the Jacksons and the Inkybyes
In a particular street of a particular village there stands a particular house where there lives a certain family who are definitely called the Jacksons. The exact location of the property shall have to remain a mystery, although it can be disclosed that the dwelling has affectionately been dubbed “Jacksonville”. You may also be told that this residence is located in the dreamy village of Snoresgently, a sleepy place that nestles in the fantastical county of Bedslumberland.
Jack Jackson is the head of the household. Or at least he thinks he is, because, in reality, his wife wears the pants and whatever she says goes. He is generally referred to as “Pa”, and – apart from the fact that he is the father of two children – the reason for his title will quickly become apparent. You see, when Jack Jackson reached adulthood he met his wife to be, whose name, by a strange quirk of fate, turned out to be Jacqueline. Therefore, once they had wed her married name became Jacqueline Jackson and this began to cause confusion in the Jackson household due to their names being so similar. As a result, alternative titles had to be found for each of them. Thus, Jacqueline was referred to as “Ma,” whilst Jack became known as “Pa”… titles that it would become necessary for them to use long before their children were even born.
The first of their offspring to enter into the world was a girl. Now, choosing names for children is a difficult thing for parents to do because whatever name they decide upon will mean that the child will be stuck with it for the rest of their life and they may well grow up to detest it. With this in mind, after much consideration Ma and Pa opted to call their precious baby daughter “Jackie” – a name traditionally in keeping with their family style so that the initials would always appear as “J.J.” That was not the only reason why they picked that name, mind you, for both Ma and Pa were somewhat lacking in imagination and the reality was that they simply could not think of anything more original. Apart from that, “Jackie” was also the title of Ma’s favourite comic book when she was a youngster, and she had always known that if she ever had a daughter she would endow the child with that particular name anyway.
Almost two years after Jackie had popped into the world a son was born unto Ma and Pa, whereupon, once again, the dilemma arose of picking a suitable name. After much careful thought they decided to settle for the name “Jacques”, mainly because Pa had a leaning towards all things continental – particularly Dutch – and the French-sounding name of “Jacques” was also the first name of his great-grandfather. (Incidentally, Pa’s great-grand-daddy was no more French than he was Dutch, but nobody would have knowledge of that fact nor would they really care even if they did, so this is purely an irrelevant piece of information in all truthfulness.)
The next addition to the family home came several years later with the introduction of a pet. This took place on Jackie’s eighth birthday when the delighted girl received a present in the form of a beautiful black and white cat, which she promptly named “Jackson” as she had inherited the family trait of not being capable of coming up with a more imaginative name.
There is not much to be said about Jackson the cat because he does little else but sleep and eat, although it is known that his favourite food is cheese, with hamsters being the next best thing on his “To-Have” menu. This was quite a bizarre notion to him, mind you, because Jackson had never set eyes on a hamster. All the same, a natural instinct told him that they existed, for he was forever dreaming about these little furry creatures – and he believed that they could be made into delicious-tasting jam once they had passed away, for reasons also unbeknownst to him! Little did he know, however, that an explanation for his limited knowledge of hamsters was shortly to be forthcoming.
Anyway, aside from all that, Jackson Jackson quickly settled into his new home to become the fifth member of the “J.J.” clan. Thenceforth, things got ever more complicated in the Jackson household, mostly due to the fact that every member had a similar sounding name, together with the same initials too. Nonetheless, they were all wholly contented with their lot.
As time went by, though, the Jackson family were soon to increase in number again as young Jacques began to express a desire to have a pet of his own too. The only problem was that he could not decide what species of animal to keep as a pet. That is until the night before his tenth birthday, when Jacques had a vivid dream telling him the pet he should choose should be nothing other than a hamster. Now, this would have been the last choice of animal on Jacques’ wish list because, as far as he was concerned, hamsters didn’t do much of anything. In his opinion, they were merely an insignificant, wasted bundle of flesh and fur that disturbed everyone in the middle of the night and amassed large amounts of pooh in the bottom of their cages. And he had learnt this fact after staying overnight at the homes of friends who kept hamsters as pets – for they did exactly this, much to his annoyance. No, Jacques had always been adamant that he did not want a hamster and nothing would persuade him otherwise. But, little did he realise that dreams could have such a big influence on him and the power of those images would persuade him to change his mind.
In actual fact, it wasn’t simply a dream that changed the boy’s views on hamsters, for it was a creature known as a Dremlock who had purposely installed the image of this creature into his head. But Jacques would not have known this either, as no human beings were aware of the existence of these tiny, invisible creatures. However, the Dremlock – or Dremlocks in this case, for they always operate in groups of three, which are also referred to as “Dream Teams” – had a very good reason for putting this image into Jacques’ mind. A lot of bad dreams had been taking place in Jacksonville at that particular moment in time, you see, and something really needed to be done about it before the situation got completely out of hand.
And there was also a reason why these nightmares were taking place. Perhaps you will recall that it has already been mentioned earlier in this chapter that Pa Jackson had a liking for all things of a continental nature? Well, if you do, it will come as no surprise to learn that this includes foreign cheeses. Dutch cheese, such as Edam and Gouda, were especially favourite snacks in Jacksonville, but any foreign cheeses were considered to be great delicacies, whatever country they came from. Naturally, Pa’s liking for cheese had rubbed off on the rest of his family and everyone was hopelessly addicted to cheese – including Jackson the cat.
Unfortunately, though, there is one side-effect that is often associated with eating too much cheese – generally before falling asleep at night – this being the belief that cheese can induce nightmares. To be perfectly honest there is some truth in this old wives’ tale, except it is not just cheese alone that can bring on nightmares because yet another tiny invisible creature plays a major part here. And this was exactly what was taking place in Jacksonville, for the Jackson family were consuming vast quantities of cheese before retiring to their beds for the night. The cheese, in turn, was unwittingly attracting a most unwelcome breed of dream demon, for this delightfully tasty snack food is also a favourite of the Inkybyes, and the horrible creature had frequently begun to invade the premises in their hordes.
Inkybyes are also invisible but they are jet black with pointy tails and fiery eyes of burnt orange, the colour of fire. They are a cowardly bunch that will attack people especially when they are feeling low and vulnerable; such as when someone is ill, or when something terrible has happened, or just after eating cheese before going to bed.
These nasty pieces of work are an all-female breed that sneak around beneath floorboards and lurk in the darkest of places – like chimneybreasts, for example. They are the bringer of nightmares, pouncing upon their sleeping victims and inserting the deadly nightmare germ with a weapon known as a snore-gun. It should be noted that not only can this weapon insert nightmare germs, but it is also capable of extracting good dreams too. Once this has taken place these despicable dream snatchers like to jumble up people’s healthy dreams with their own bad thoughts and then reinstall their revamped package, allowing it to brew for several days during the incubation period until it eventually develops into a full-blown nightmare.
On very rare occasions some particularly mischievous Inkybyes will deliberately force a person or animal to sleepwalk as well. However, this can only be achieved if there is a large group of dream demons present – normally around twelve in number – and will only be put into practice if there is a task that needs carrying out which they are not capable of doing themselves.
Fortunately for the Jacksons, none of the family had yet been subjected to bouts of sleepwalking, although nightmares were becoming commonplace in Jacksonville and this matter urgently needed addressing.
“Here we are,” announced Amanda’s mum, rather triumphantly, as their car turned off the narrow country road into a driveway flanked on either side by stone pillars.
A pair of wrought iron gates – in desperate need of a fresh lick of paint – hung precariously from the shabby, crumbling stonework of the pillars, which at one time would have been the entrance to a magnificent country house. However, Amanda thought that, judging by the current state of these structures, those grandiose days seemed to have faded into oblivion long ago. Her heart instantly sank as she studied the decaying pillars, wondering what kind of horror house they were going to be moving into which lay ahead of them at the far end of the driveway.
Once they were through the gates, Amanda’s mother stopped the car and glanced back over her shoulder in the direction of the removal van that had been following her vehicle. Amanda also turned to face the same way and they both watched in silent anticipation, for several tense moments, while the pantechnicon struggled to squeeze between the pillars. After inching its way through with nary a hair’s breadth to spare, the large van eventually made it and the small convoy set off again along the lengthy, winding driveway (more akin to a dirt track) that was full of potholes and fissures.
When they were halfway along the drive, Amanda happened to be looking out of the side window of the car when she thought she spotted a small figure dart between two trees, and then it was gone. She turned around to ask her mother whether she had seen it too, but Mum was looking in the rear-view mirror so Amanda did not bother to say anything. She thus put her supposed hallucination down to the fact that she was overtired and imagining things. After puzzling about this for a few moments she pushed it to the back of her mind when the car finally drew to a halt in a circular, gravelled turning area outside the front entrance porch of the old mansion house.
“Isn’t the house lovely, Amanda?” exclaimed her mother in an excited tone of voice. “I tried to describe to you how wonderful it was and it’s exactly how I remember it to be. Well, you can decide for yourself… What do you think now that you can see it?”
“Huh! It’s okay,” Amanda sulked, seeming to be not in the least bit impressed, although she was secretly quite relieved because the house was in much better shape than the entrance pillars she had seen upon their initial arrival.
“Oh, cheer up, Darling. You’ll soon get to like it; I promise you will. It will be so much nicer living here than it was in that big city we left behind. What, with all those fumes from traffic and the pollution from chimneys…. and so many people too? Think how much healthier it will be for us here in the countryside.”
“But what about all of my friends?” replied Amanda woefully, “I’ll never see them again.”
“You’ll soon make new friends out here. And you will be starting your new school on Monday, so in no time at all you’ll have some new playmates,” Mum replied.
The unhappy girl was not at all convinced and this showed in her facial expression. The scowl on Amanda’s face failed to go unnoticed by her mother and she immediately tried to cheer up her daughter.
“Now that we’ve got a big garden with plenty of room, how would you like it if Dad has a small stable block built, and then you could have that beloved horse or pony that you’ve always wanted?”
Suddenly Amanda appeared to be enthusiastic.
“A white horse?” she exclaimed.
“White, purple, pink, yellow – whatever colour you want!”
“Oh, thank you, Mum,” she said gleefully, and she threw her arms around her mother as she embraced her warmly.
“Well, at least that’s cheered you up a bit,” said Mum. “Let’s go and take a look around now, shall we?”
They got out of the car and began to walk towards the front door of the house, but Mum became interrupted by the removal men and she paused to give them instructions as to where she wanted them to put the household belongings. During the adults’ conversation Amanda soon became bored, so she decided to wander off to explore the vast grounds of the house.
The garden was huge and mainly consisted of a lush emerald green lawn, in dire need of a good cut, which surrounded the whole house. It was full of plants and trees too, although they had become very overgrown because there had been nobody living at the property for a long time. At the rear of the house, the far end of the garden was enclosed by a high brick wall, in front of which there stood a small, tumbledown barn. Being of little interest to her, Amanda looked at the barn very briefly before turning to walk away. But, at that precise moment, something caught her eye.
Swivelling swiftly around again, she glanced back at the old building, but whatever she had spotted had already disappeared. Although Amanda was almost certain that she had seen it, she knew that it was also possible she may have only imagined seeing the small figure silhouetted in the doorway of the barn; however, this was the second time she had seen it in a short period of time and she thought it was too much to be a coincidence. Just then, whilst she pondered over this, a voice that came from directly behind her suddenly made Amanda jump out of her skin.
“Oh, there you are, darling! I wondered where you had got to.”
Turning once more, Amanda quickly recovered from her scare when she realised it was only her mother.
“What’s that old building, Mum?” she asked, holding her hand over her chest to contain her racing heart.
“Well,” answered Mum, pointing to the high brick wall, “in Victorian times that area would have been the kitchen garden, so I assume that the barn was a large potting shed where the gardeners used to store tools and seed.
“Many years ago a house of this size would have employed several gardeners who grew vegetables for the household all year round,” she explained.
“I think that I saw something moving around over there,” Amanda said excitedly.
“It was probably a stray cat or a rabbit, or maybe just your over-active imagination playing tricks on you,” Mum said with a big grin on her face.
“No! It was bigger than a cat and a rabbit put together. Let’s go and take a look.”
As soon as she had finished saying this Amanda eagerly set off across the lawn.
“Come back, Amanda. There’s nobody here except us and the removal men,” Mum shouted after her. “There really is nothing to see. Besides, your father warned us to keep away from the barn because it is not very safe…so come back here this minute!”
Amanda stopped running and let out a huge sigh, shrugging her shoulders in frustration.
“Please let me take a look,” she pleaded.
“Oh, Mum!” groaned Amanda, at the same time stamping her feet in temper.
“Stop being such a spoilt baby just because you can’t get your own way. Now, come along – I want to show you around the house.”
Mum began to walk towards the house and – pulling a face like a constipated hippopotamus might do – Amanda reluctantly headed back across the lawn, casting occasional glances over her shoulder towards the barn. All of a sudden the ramshackle outbuilding really did seem more interesting than the boring old house because she was intrigued by the thought of something lurking within. Nevertheless, Amanda followed her mother into the house.
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Their new home was much larger than the one they had left behind in the city – in fact, the ground floor alone was bigger than both levels of their previous house put together. To begin with, a heavy solid oak front door opened into an immense hallway that contained a beautiful tiled floor – finished in crimson, black and white. Leading off the hallway were two living rooms with gaping fireplaces which, Amanda discovered, were big enough for her to stand upright in. And then there was a kitchen, the likes of which Amanda had never seen before, except in glossy magazine pictures of stately homes. The inside of the property had only just been renovated by a local construction firm and the smell of fresh paint still lingered in the air, so Amanda’s mum opened all of the big sash windows in every room as they passed through the ground floor in order to let the odour of paint fumes escape.
A broad, winding staircase led from the hallway to an enormous galleried landing with access to seven bedrooms and the most luxurious bathroom Amanda had ever set eyes upon. Here, a king-size bath with clumsy-looking cast-iron feet stood alone in the centre of the room, its gold-plated taps casting a lustrous reflection upon the newly-enamelled bath surface.
“The four bedrooms at the end of the landing will be guest rooms for whenever we have any visitors staying over,” explained Mum, “and they all have en-suite bathrooms too.”
“This will be your playroom,” Mum continued as she opened the door next to the bathroom. “Here you can play away to your heart’s content with your numerous toys and games and I won’t have to worry about picking them up after you.”
Amanda’s mouth hung open in awe, but before she had time to say a word she was quickly whisked away to the adjoining room.
“And this is your bedroom,” Mum proudly announced.
“It’s huge!” squealed Amanda in delight.
Without saying anything further, she quickly ran across the floor to peer out of the window, which overlooked the rear garden with its high brick wall that separated it from the fields beyond. There was a perfect view of the tumbledown barn from Amanda’s bedroom window and, as she stared at the building, she felt there was definitely something odd about it. Determined to find out, she was sure that she would get to the bottom of whatever it was eventually.
“There’s a small vanity bathroom en-suite as well, just in case you get caught short in the middle of the night,” Mum said with a grin.
“Wow! This house is just like a fairytale palace,” Amanda exclaimed.
“There you are, you see; I knew you would like it once you had seen the inside… I am pleased.”
Then, a man’s voice – that came from somewhere on the galleried landing – suddenly brought their conversation to an abrupt halt.
“Excuse me for interrupting,” said the removal man, “but would you mind if we started to bring your furniture upstairs now? We’ve finished unloading on the ground floor and it won’t take long to cart the rest of your kit up here.”
“Of course you can,” replied Mum. “In the meantime, I’ll try to find the kettle and make you all a cup of tea.”
“That’s a great idea, missus. I’m pretty sure the lads are all gagging for a cuppa… I know that I am.”
“Please bring the boxes marked ‘TOYS’ up to the playroom first – Amanda will show you which room that is.”
“Will do,” replied the removal man, and then he redirected his conversation towards Amanda. “Lead the way then, lassie, and we’ll get on the case right away.”
“As soon as the men bring your stuff up you can begin to unpack straight away, Amanda,” said Mum, as she set off down the stairs in her quest to locate the kettle.
“That should keep you occupied and out of harm’s way until your father gets home,” she added as an afterthought.
>>>>>>>>> ooOoo <<<<<<<<<
Amanda’s father was called Bill, and he worked in the city of London. She really had no idea exactly what he did there but she believed that he had offices and lots of people worked for him. He would probably be late home from work now that they would be living in the countryside, thought Amanda, because he had much further to travel than he used to have to their previous home in the city.
Sure enough, it was six-thirty that evening when her dad arrived home from work, and, as soon as Amanda heard the sound of his car engine she ran outside to greet him; she was always pleased to see him. As usual, he hoisted her off the ground until she was looking directly into his eyes.
“How’s my favourite daughter?” asked Dad.
Then he gave her a big kiss on the cheek and placed her back down on the ground. Amanda put her hands on her hips and emitted a long-suffering sigh.
“Dad… I’m your only daughter!” she informed him.
Her father placed his right hand over his right eye and looked around him.
“Oh, yes, so you are!” he agreed, and they both laughed.
This was a routine they often went through together and it had become an expected tradition.
“Where’s Tabs?” asked Amanda, a worried frown suddenly appearing on her face.
‘Tabs’ was the name of Amanda’s two-year-old cat – a British silver tabby – that had spent the previous night and all of that day in a cattery whilst they moved into the new house.
Dad tapped the side of his head with his index finger after she had put this question to him.
“Oh, no! I knew there was something I had forgotten,” he said. But when he realised that Amanda was about to burst into tears he added more to his comment. “I’m just kidding, of course. She’s in the car really. Come along, let’s go and fetch her out and introduce her to her new surroundings.”
Tabs hated travelling in cars and she seemed extremely happy just to get out of the vehicle. The cat made a huge fuss of Amanda, as if she had not seen her owner for more than a month at least, purring excitedly and nestling comfortably into her arms. Amanda beamed at her father.
“Look, she’s pleased to see me,” she said.
“Wouldn’t you be if you had been locked in a cage all day long?” said Dad. “Let’s take her into the house now and give her a bone.”
“She’s a cat, not a dog, silly!” Amanda said scornfully, but she laughed all the same because she realised that he was joking around. He always said stupid things to her and she liked that because he often made her chuckle.
Amanda told her father how much she liked the new house but the only bad point was that she would miss her friends. In answer to that, Dad gave her a big hug, assuring her that she would soon make new friends, and then he accompanied her into the living room.
“Hello, Janet,” he said. “The traffic was terrible travelling out of the city, but I suppose I’ll have to get used to it.”
“You’ll definitely have to get used to it,” his wife replied. “I’m not moving home again in a hurry. What an exhausting day!”
“You seem to have got everything pretty much in order, though,” he said, looking all around. “It looks great.”
“Well, the removal men did the donkey work – they certainly earn their money. In fact, they only left here a short while ago.”
“I know. I had to pull onto the grass verge to let their van pass by along the lane.”
“I’ve only had enough time to sort out the bare necessities so far,” Mum continued, “but there’s still an awful lot to do and it will be days before we’re back to some sort of normality.”
“These things take time… Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say.”
“Dad, when can I have a horse?” Amanda interrupted. “Mum says that we have enough space here to have one now.”
“As soon as the stable is built you can have a horse,” Dad replied.
“When will that be?”
“Oh, in about three years’ time I expect.”
Amanda looked disappointed.
“I’m only joking,” Dad said with a grin on his face. “Give me a chance to settle in, for goodness sake! We’ve only moved in today so I haven’t had much time to think about it yet. Hopefully, in just a few weeks, we’ll have your precious stable built for you… At this particular moment, though, it’s time for you to get ready for bed, young lady. It’s been a long day and we’re all tired. I’ll come upstairs to tuck you in when you’re ready.”
“But it’s only seven o’clock and we haven’t eaten dinner yet!” Amanda complained.
“Dinner’s on its way,” shouted Mum, who was heading in the direction of the kitchen at that very moment.
“I’m sorry, Amanda,” Dad apologised. “It has been a long day and I seem to have lost all track of time; thank goodness it’s the weekend now. Okay, I stand corrected… after you have eaten you are allowed one hour to let your meal digest and then you can get ready for bed. Does that sound like a better deal?”
“That’s much more like it,” Amanda agreed.
“Come and get it!” Mum’s voice wafted in from the kitchen.
“Let’s go and wash our hands before we eat,” said Dad. “Race you to the sink… Where is the sink, by the way?”
Amanda had already taken off before he had even finished his sentence and, of course, she beat him to the kitchen sink because she was already getting used to their new house and knew exactly where to locate it.
When dinner was over Amanda went up to her bedroom to finish arranging her cuddly toys. Then she had a bath, combed her hair, brushed her teeth and was in bed by eight-thirty sharp, without messing around like she normally did.
“What’s this, a new world record?” asked her father when he poked his head around Amanda’s bedroom door. “It usually takes up to an hour for you to get into bed after you’ve been sent there… I can’t believe that moving house is what it takes to make you turn over a new leaf.”
“I’m in bed early because I’m tired,” said Amanda, blinking her eyes drowsily. “I think I shall dream about white horses all night long,” she managed to say between yawns as her father tucked in the bedclothes. “Goodnight.”
Dad then bent forward in order to give his daughter a kiss whilst, at the same time, she raised her head to meet him halfway. After that, she yawned once more and then Amanda was asleep before her head had even fallen back onto the pillow.
This is the sequel to The Incredible Adventures of Amanda and SKELLY. But if I was to add a chapter, then it may well give the game away...