The Richardsons – Chapter 1: The Roof

—|| This is a novel I’m currently writing for my graduate school thesis, it’s not in it’s final form by any means, but if you liked it I’d love feedback and comments! Check out other chapters by clicking on the tag “The Richardsons”|| —-

If you were to visit the small town of Totleigh Terrace, in the middle of Benoza you’d find a sad looking family staring at a large, run-down house.  Why you’d want to visit Totleigh Terrace is beyond me, but if you were to take a trip to this small village in the middle of nowhere I’m sure you’d be struck with how extraordinarily boring it was (as are most small towns). Oh, and, of course, the family gazing up at this impressively awful house.  The family would be the Richardsons and the house was supposed to be their new home.

The reason for the Richardsons’ current state of disappointment was that the house was entirely wrong for them.  To start with it was three sizes too large.  It leaned to the left and everybody knew that they were more of a right-leaning family.  The eaves were wrong too.  They had specifically requested purple.   Mr. Richardson declared the current color was, in his words, “much too much muchness.”  Mrs. Richardson agreed.

There was something weird with the front steps. It was not that they particularly minded the steps, but they were quite concerned with the snicker-snack sound the steps made when you stopped on the bottom stair.   It wasn’t how steps should sound.  At least it’s not how Kendra Richardson, age 13, thought they should sound.

The biggest worry was the roof.  It wasn’t the grand, wire weathervane rooster that bothered them (though it did frighten their pet iguana, Igor).  It was not the crumbling chimney place where a family of swallows was nesting.  Nor was it the roof shingles that moved when even a light breeze wafted through the neighborhood.  No, what concerned the Richardsons the most were the tin-penny nails.   It was a small thing, but most things usually were.

The Richardsons were one of the few families who understood that the Great Battle of Hera had been lost because a cheap farrier had used tin-penny nails to shod the calvary horses. In the midst of the attack the horses lost their footing and pulled up lame in the middle of a great snowstorm. Tin-penny may be  fine for just any family, but the Richardsons weren’t just any family.

Mrs. Richardson broke down crying when she first saw the home.  Jack Richardson, age 10, was the only member of the family not entirely disappointed.  Of course, he wasn’t overly thrilled with the front door’s brass knocker shaped like a platypus, but he could live with it.  Being the youngest of the Richardsons he had never particularly been afraid of leaning to the left and the numerous rooms of the new house only sparked his imagination.

After sending a certified dispatch (Mr. Richardson always believed in certifying things, which had left their last dog, Bernard, in a terrible state last Easter) the family declared they should wait for their realtor on the front porch so they wouldn’t get attached to the unsightly place.  Jack murmured his agreement after crossing his fingers behind his back. He was a smart boy and knew it was better to simply agree with the majority when they were in such a state.

Mrs. Richardson took to fanning herself with a tiny Chinese water fan.  The mist it generated through the use of hydraulics was refreshing.  Jack craned his neck a bit to catch some of the droplets. Igor flicked out his tongue

Jack attempted to start a conversation with his parents, but they only answered with one-word answers or looks. Apparently, upon becoming a parent, you are taught a series of looks that can dishearten any child in less than five seconds flat. Soon Jack fell silent himself. He stared at the porch, trying to amuse himself by counting the number of circles in the grain of the wooden planks. They were painted an impossible gray color and, in several places you could see where the sun had made the pain crackle and start to peel. The paint was smooth to the touch otherwise, the boards must have been sanded to a smooth finish because Jack couldn’t feel the ridges of the wood grain. Jack was just on twenty-eight in his count of the rings when Mrs. Richardson started huffing. She huffed, then clicked her tongue, and then huffed again.

“I thought you had arranged things, Gregory.” Mrs. Richardson said fanning herself as if she could use the wind power to fly away from the dreadful house.

Mr. Richardson, who was never a very loud man, said very quietly. “I did, Meredith.” Mrs. Richardson just sighed.

I don’t know if you’ve ever sat on a front porch with a collection of angry relatives, but Jack imagined it to be much nicer to be sitting in front of a firing squad.  Of course, he had never done either before today so he couldn’t really say he was an expert of any sort. He tried to picture a firing squad out on the massive front lawn. There he would stand bravely, with a blindfold on and the men just about to shoot. Then there’d be a fantastic explosion and he would escape into the woods behind the house.

The scene was an enjoyable one, but when he had finished playing it out in his mind Jack realized, once again, how frightfully boring he was. Jack had wanted to sit in the front porch swing, a dirty whicker bench that was covered with grime and dust. It was probably white once, but now looked more like the gray wood under Jack’s feet. Despite the faded Indian print of the cushions and the strange dark color discoloration on the left cushion, Jack was willing to risk the germs. The problem was Mrs. Richardson was not. “Don’t even think of sitting on that porch swing.” Mrs. Richardson said without turning her head. How does she do that, Jack thought.  Instead of the swing Jack opted to sit on one of the front porch steps behind his mother.

Kendra smiled sympathetically at her little brother.  “You want to play a game, Jack?”

“What sort of game?” Jack said squinting into the yard.  “It’s too warm to run.”

“How about I Spy?” Kendra said.  “You can start.”

Jack considered the offer.  He loved starting; it filled him with an inordinate sense of power.   It was much like keeping a secret or knowing where the last jar of marmalade was on baking day.

“I spy something that begins with the letter—” Jack did not get to finish his sentence for, at that exact moment, a rather large chicken fell directly in front of the Richardsons. It produced a very loud squawk as it hit the concrete.

“My word!” Mrs. Richardson proclaimed, dropping the Chinese water fan.  The fan sparked as it hit the concrete, but no one seemed to notice.  All of the Richardsons, including Igor, were staring directly at the very fat, very alive hen that lay on the sidewalk in front of them.

Jack pushed himself up off the stair and slid farther away from the strange creature.  “Where did that come from?”

Mr. Richardson, always the leader, stepped forward until he was almost beside the chicken.  He removed his large silk top hat and squinted up at the sky.  “The roof?” he muttered to himself.  Then he turned to his family and drew himself up.  “The roof,” he declared, as if Galileo himself had given Mr. Richardson the knowledge.

Kendra stood up slowly, adjusting the brim of her black straw hat, and cooed at the bird.  “Don’t be frightened.  What a nasty spill you took.”

“Don’t touch that filthy creature.” Mrs. Richardson put her hand to her mouth.  “Who knows where it’s been.”

“On our roof,” Jack mumbled, straining his neck a bit as he watched Kendra inch forward towards the chicken.  Secretly he was jealous of her sudden bravery.  She reached into the pocket of her dress and pulled out a crumbled piece of banana bread.  She pinched her fingers and gathered some of the crumbs.  Deftly she tossed them near the chicken that had just found her footing.  The bird seemed to flinch and then hesitate.  Finally she seemed confident enough to stretch out and peck at the offered crumbs.

“Well, I never,” Mrs. Richardson said.  “What a perfectly good waste of banana bread.” Kendra gave her mother one of those looks tinged with unbelief and exasperation.  Her mother, as mothers are wont to do, ignored it.  “Do you think there are more?”

The question was pointed at Mr. Richardson, who was still squinting up at the roof.  “No way to be entirely certain of that,” Mr. Richardson said without shifting his gaze.  “Not without visiting the roof, of course.”

Kendra had, at that moment, squatted about a foot away from the chicken in question.  She smiled at it.  “Do you have friends upstairs?”

The hen just clucked.

“We should investigate,” Jack said finally.

“No one is going anywhere until the real estate agent comes.  We’ll leave it to her to sort out the chickens on the roof.” Mr. Richardson set his top hat back on his head and returned to the front porch.

“But father, what if another one falls? What if it kills someone?” Jack asked, picking up a stray stone that had wandered up to the porch.  He briefly considered its out of place-ness.  How had it come so far? Perhaps it had hitched a ride on someone’s shoe.  It may have been slung by the neighborhood holo-projectionist.  Jack could not be entirely sure.  All he did know was that he wanted to throw it back into the tall grass of the lawn.

“You know as well as anybody that a chicken falling would not injure anyone.” Mrs. Richardson said as she picked up her Chinese water fan.  She frowned at the object.  It had stopped spraying its fine mist.  “These things are so poorly constructed.”

Mr. Richardson patted his wife’s shoulder.  “No fears, Meredith.  Once we are out of this town we shall find you a proper fan.”

Jack felt the pull of investigating. He hadn’t been scared of the house like he had been of the chicken. Houses don’t have claws, Jack thought. Still, he wished his parents would come with him. The house was three stories tall and impressively looming over his head. Finally he decided to act, like Kendra had with the chicken, and be brave. While his parents were busy fussing over the fan, Jack slipped into the house.

Kendra kept feeding the chicken.

As Jack entered the house he noticed how dark everything looked. The sunlight filtered through the closed shutters, but the corners of the rooms were filled with shadows. Thankfully Jack was a Gopher Scout and their motto was, “Have everything handy.” Of course, this meant having to carry a very large backpack full of useful things that Jack thought were UNuseful most of the time.  Today though, he was glad to have his favorite flashlight. He reached in the bag and pulled it out, shining the light around the room.

The front parlor wasn’t anything extraordinary. It appeared to be normal, if not dark and dusty. There was a large grandfather clock, some small tables and chairs, a Cortex computation terminal that looked about fifty years old, a an umbrella stand.

Jack hadn’t realized how difficult it might be to find the roof in this massive house, but he figured one must go up. There were three large, nearly terrifying staircases that encircled the front parlor. Carefully Jack stepped forward and started up the center staircase. The steps, not unlike the front step outside, made very peculiar sounds. FIT-gh! One step seemed to say. Yo-RO! Another step creaked. The sounds were very distracting. Despite this Jack was able to make his way to the top only to discover the staircase led straight into the ceiling.

“What an awfully useless staircase,” Jack grumbled as he headed back down. He didn’t seem to notice the stairs stopped making noises.

Upon reaching the bottom of the useless staircase Jack looked left and then he looked right. The other two staircases stretched up into the darkness and Jack couldn’t see where they might lead. He was trying to decide which one to choose when Igor slipped through a crack in the wall.

“Igor!” Jack was very glad to see his pet iguana.

“Ssssst,” Igor responded with a flick of his long tongue.

Jack pointed the flashlight at the left staircase. He thought about how his parents hadn’t liked the house at all and how the entire house seemed to lean to the left. He decided to try that staircase. He reached into his backpack again and pulled out Igor’s leash and harness. It glowed bright blue and Jack didn’t want to lose Igor in the darkness.

“Here you go Igor,” Jack said adjusting the harness and putting Igor on his shoulders. It was Igor’s favorite place to be and he snuggled into Jack’s backpack. “Lets go find those chickens.”

Igor just blinked.

The two started up the left set of stairs. These stairs made no strange sounds, just creaking as normal steps do. As Jack climbed he noticed some of the portraits hanging on the wall. They were massive oil paintings of men and women and sometimes children.  Jack passed his flashlight over them. He recognized some of their old-fashioned clothing. Large, flowing skirts and puffy sleeves adorned most of the women while bowler hats and curly mustaches were on most of the men. The fashion was at least 100 years old.  How old is this place, Jack wondered.

At the top of the stairs was a large painting of the house. It looked a bit better than it did now, not so much lean and a row of beautiful red rose bushes lined the outside fence. The shingles were straight, painted a respectable beige color and the front door knocker looked more like the Chinese symbol for hope than a platypus head. Best of all, there was not a tin-penny nail in sight.

“Wow,” Jack said to Igor. “If the house looked like this now, I think Mom and Dad would like it better.” Jack traced a finger over the dust on the frame and a thought occurred to him. “I bet we can make the house look like this again.  Maybe then we can stay.” He gazed at the painting for a while then remembered the chickens. He turned and pointed his flashlight around until he found a hallway that looked promising.

Jack and Igor made their way down a skinny hallway. There were rows and rows of doors, but no clear sign how to get up to the roof. They turned a corner and saw another hallway. This one had a row of windows lining the left wall and another row of doors lining the right. “Wow, how many doors are there?” Jack was sure he’d seen at least twenty.

He was just about ready to give up when Igor climbed on his head. Jack reached up to capture the iguana and, while doing so, spied something hanging the ceiling. It was a red cord, no thicker than Jack’s finger. It dangled in fancy loops that were coated with grime and dust.

“This has to be it,” Jack said to Igor. He picked the Iguana off his shoulders and set him by a nearby door. Then, stepping on tiptoes, Jack reached for the cord. After missing it a couple times he was able to capture it and carefully yanked on it. A set of stairs, almost like a thick ladder descended slowly from the ceiling.

“Whoa,” a voice behind Jack said. It was Kendra.

Jack nearly jumped out of his skin in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“Mom saw you were missing and told me to come find you.” Kendra gazed up into the attic. “What are you doing?”

Jack pointed his flashlight up the steps. “I’m trying to see if there’s more chickens.”

“Well,” Kendra said slowly, tearing her eyes away from the attic. “We can’t look now, the agent is nearly here and if we aren’t there to meet her mom is going to blow a gasket.”

Jack always pictured his mother as a robot when Kendra said, “blow a gasket”. It made him laugh. Mrs. Richardson, like most mothers, always seemed on the verge of blowing a gasket. Jack wasn’t even entirely sure what a gasket was, let alone how someone would blow one. What he did know was that his parents were already cranky and, as much as he wanted to look at the attic, Kendra was right; they’d have to head back. Jack promised himself he’d come back when the adults were talking.

“Can we keep the chickens if we live here?” Jack asked scooping up Igor and setting the iguana back on his shoulders.

“Probably not,” Kendra said dismissively. “We’re not staying here.” Big sisters always seem to do that, Jack thought. He could have the best idea in the whole world and his sister would always dismiss it as silly or impractical. Jack figured it wasn’t because she was mean, just being bigger she often forgot the wonderful things kids know. She was too close to being an adult. They seemed to forget anything was wonderful.

The pair headed back to the front room.  “Why would anyone need so many rooms?” Kendra asked. She opened one of the doors. Golden sunlight streamed into the hallway. She shaded her eyes and squinted into the room.

Jack shrugged. “Maybe it was a big family.”

“Even the Prisocks don’t have this many children. And they have over a dozen.” Kendra sucked in her breath as she her eyes finally adjusted. “Look at this.”

Jack stepped forward and peered around Kendra’s full skirt. His small, circle-shaped glasses instantly tinted to protect from the bright sunlight. The room was large and furnished. Deep-colored satin materials in various golds and creams were draped along the walls. A large dark chestnut bed with four spire shaped posts sat opposite a marble fireplace.

“Someone rich must have lived here.” Kendra said. She instantly fell in love with the room, especially after she caught sight of the soft, fur blankets that draped the bed. “Maybe a holo-star.”

Jack squinted. He tried to imagine his favorite actor, Hercule Nightmore, living in this house. Somehow, it didn’t seem to quite fit.

“Jack! Kendra!” Mr. Richardson’s voice echoed from down the stairway.

“Coming father!” Kendra called loudly, making Jack cover his ears. Kendra reluctantly closed the door and stepped down the end of the hallway and waited for Jack to catch up since he had the flashlight. “Stop dawdling.”

“What does that mean?” Jack said, stopping to examine a picture hanging between two of the doors.

“It means,” Kendra started. She paused when she realized she didn’t really know. “It just means hurry up. The real estate agent will be here soon and then we’ll be going to our real new home.”

“I want this to be our new home.” Jack was sure of that statement. More sure than he was that he loved rippled eggs and bacon. “I like it.”

“Well, it definitely is interesting,” Kendra admitted. “Whoever lived here was an eccentric.” Kendra stopped at the stairs and looked down. She carefully gripped the railing and stepped down slowly. The stairs made a horrible racket. They squealed and grumped with each step. The sounds were loud, echoy and nearly deafening. Kendra put her hands on her ears. “Why is it doing that?”

Jack stood, mystified, at the top of the stairs. “I don’t know, it didn’t make those sounds when I came up.”

“We can’t go down these stairs,” Kendra said. “It’s just too awful.”

“There’s another set.” Jack pointed his flashlight to the opposite staircase.

“I thought there were three staircases. Where’s the middle staircase?” Kendra asked.

“It doesn’t go anywhere.” Jack said with a shrug. Kendra said stepping back up the steps. They made no sounds as she walked up. “How very odd.”

“Maybe,” Jack suggested. “these stairs are only for going up.”

“Whoever heard of such a thing? You can only go up these stairs?” Kendra shook her head. “That’s ridiculous.”

Jack had already run off to the other staircase. He stepped down the steps slowly and then stopped on the third one. He started back up and the stairs started making all sorts of grating noises. “See!” Jack pointed at the staircase. “This is the going down staircase!”

Kendra just laughed. “This is an awfully strange house.”

Jack nodded vigorously and waited for Kendra to catch up. The two descended the staircase.

“What does the middle one do?” Kendra asked when they finally stood at the bottom of the stairs.

“It goes nowhere,” Jack said. “I climbed it early, it stops at the ceiling of the second floor.”

“Well,” Kendra finally declared after thinking for a moment. “I guess it’s not so strange that there’s a chicken on the roof.”

Jack laughed.  Igor flicked out his tongue again.

“Looks like Igor’s hungry.”  Kendra petted his head.

“Me too,” Jack said as he pulled opened the door.  “Let’s hope this goes fast so we can go eat lunch.”

Stepping out of the doorway, Jack, Igor and Kendra were greeted by a stern, older woman in a bright red dress with huge purple flowers. Jack looked up. She had a large mole on her neck that seemed to be jiggling with anger. She opened her mouth to speak and a flash of a gold tooth sparkled in the sunlight. She towered over the children and glowered down at them. “What were you two doing in there?”

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One Comment

  1. Anneliese Hohmeier
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    Hey there. Good start! I was reading through and just noticed a couple grammar errors, nothing major. In the 13th paragraph, Jack should realize how frightfully bored he is, not boring. And ‘whicker’ should be ‘wicker.’ Other than that, great job! It reminds me of the Series of Unfortunate Events series.

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