The Richardsons: Chapter 4 – The Move

—|| 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”|| —-

Places you leave behind are never entirely gone. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this yourself yet, but if you’ve ever moved you take pieces of that place with you. It may be a refrigerator magnet spelling out in cheery colors the name of the place you left behind or a jar of Pliffa beans that only grow in Outer Mongolia. If you touch that item and close your eyes tightly enough, you can be back in that place you left behind. There’s a sense of “there” that you can never fully get rid of when you hold on to old things.

Even though the Richardsons had been in their new home for eight days they were still in the midst of unpacking.  The Richardsons believed in the proper placement of their items, so it would probably take them weeks to finish unpacking. Back when they lived in Upper Eastton they hadn’t even finished all of the unpacking when it was time to move.

The house looked entirely different than it had on the day that Mrs. Miggleston had given them the tour. Half-empty boxes and collapsed, empty boxes lined most of the rooms and Jack’s room was no exception. Jack didn’t mind too much though. After all the previous moves that the family had made, he was quite used to it.

Jack’s room had been made up in blues and greens with sensible brown splashes.  Mr. Richardson had explained the need to suit a  male pallet in the room and Mrs. Richardson, who had gotten her way in almost every other design choice had relented.

The chief feature of the room was a large bay window that the backyard and the woods beyond. Mr. Richardson, whose carpentry skills were renowned in New Tokyo, had fashioned a window seat for Jack. Mrs. Richardson had sewn a cushion out of a green and blue-striped material. The brown curtains with the maple leaves stitched along the edge in an even darker brown were also Mrs. Richardson’s creation.

Jack’s bed sat high off the ground, just as he liked it. Underneath were two dark black steamer trunks with shiny silver fasteners. To the left of his bed was a small walnut nightstand with a personal LED lamp. The bottom of the lamp stand was an open box with a fake rock for Igor that heated up when Jack flicked a switch.  Opposite the bed was Jack’s pigeonhole desk. It was stuffed with old homework papers and drawings. Jack also had a shiny black laptop. Much to his dismay he had no Cortex access, but the laptop had come in handy when working on school reports last year.

Jack sat cross-legged on the floor of his new bedroom, holding a red and black toy zeppelin. It was like the one he had seen at Andrew’s Air Force Base when he was 7. His fingers slid along the tin toy and he remembered the day his father had bought it for him. The sky had been filled with hot air balloons, biplanes and, of course, The Blackhawk Zeppelin. It had looked strong and menacing as it glided through the sky. Everything else had looked tiny and insignificant next to it. Jack could almost hear it asking him, “Am I not the most powerful thing you have ever seen?” He had felt safe. It was a different kind of “safe” than he had felt before. It wasn’t the “safe” you’d feel when you wake up from a nightmare and your mother comes and holds you. This was a “safe” that vibrated through him and made him swell with pride.”

“I can’t believe you still have that,” Kendra said from the doorway of his bedroom. The tone was more in awe than it was mean spirited, but Jack felt compelled to be defensive.

“Aren’t you supposed to be unpacking?” Jack asked. He stood up and looked at his sister.  She had changed out of her traveling dress and was now wearing black shorts, a short purple skirt and a purple and white peasant shirt. She had forsaken her dark straw hat and had put her hair up in a bun at the back of her head. Jack could see tiny fluffs of white flowers and sparkly strings poking out of her hair.  The cooling system had not been turned on in the house yet, and both Jack and Kendra were trying to keep cool.

Kendra shrugged. “Mother and Father are out finding a lamp for the second parlor since it doesn’t have any gas lamps. They said to tell you they would be gone for a couple hours.”

“Oh,” Jack said and set the toy on a bookshelf. Jack had 5 bookcases in all. Thankfully the bedrooms in the Espenson house were rather large, so Jack could keep them all in his room. In their last house he had to make do with shoving them into the narrow hallway outside his bedroom door. Having all of his books in his room with him made him feel oddly secure. He slid a finger along the edge of one of the shelves already lined with books. Jack made sure they were all lined up properly just shy of the lip of the shelf. Mr. Richardson, being an expert in paper, had explained that the books were living things. They needed room to breathe. You can’t just shove them back against the wall; you need to give them their space.

Suddenly there was a large crash from upstairs that sounded like glass and something heavy colliding. Kendra hurried over to Jack protectively, not sure where the sound came from at first.

“It’s upstairs!” Jack said.

“But there’s no one upstairs,” Kendra said looking at the ceiling as if it could give answers.

“We should go look,” Jack said. “Maybe one of the chickens got into the rooms upstairs and got hurt.”

“I doubt that,” Kendra said slowly. “But, maybe it’s the gardener? If he’s hurt he may need help.”

Jack grabbed his backpack, yanked out his flashlight and hurried toward the staircases before Kendra changed her mind.  He stopped off in the kitchen to grab the large iron key that opened the doorway between them and the staircases. Kendra had barely come out of his room when he returned with the key. He flashed it at her with a smile and started towards the parlor and the locked door.

“Wait!” Kendra called. “I need a flashlight too!”

Jack dropped his backpack on the ground and fished around it. “Here!  He produced a second flashlight. The flashlights were exactly the same except one was blue and one green.

“Your flashlights are the same color as your room?” Kendra asked. Jack just threw her a look.

“Come on! Lets go.” Jack bolted for the door. He stuck the large metal key into the door that separated him from the stairway. Kendra peered over his shoulder as he did so. He could smell the light strawberry scent of her shampoo and wrinkled his nose. Why do girls have to smell? It had never made much sense to Jack.

As soon as the door was open Jack ran to the stairs. Jack wasn’t really running as much as “walking quickly”, but once he actually saw the staircases he stopped so abruptly that Kendra ran into him from behind.

“Ow,” Jack said, more out of habit than actual hurt. With your siblings, you tend to say “Ow” more than mean it. His not-really-in-pain “Ows” had saved him more than once from being picked on by his sister. Jack figured it was some kind of unwritten rule. It’s almost as if half of your time with your sister or brother was some kind of contest to see who could get the other injured, or in trouble first.

“What is it?” Kendra whispered. Her eyes hadn’t yet adjusted to the darker front room. Both Jack and Kendra flicked their flashlights on. Jack shined the light on the staircases. The steps were missing. In their place was a smooth, inclined plane.

“What?!” Kendra exclaimed grabbing her flashlight tighter as she raised the light to point up to the second floor.

Jack looked carefully at the steps. The sheer absurdity of it all was incredible. He bent down and ran his fingers along the wood. The same red carpeting he had sceen on the staircase ran down the middle of the slope, it was almost as if –

“These are the stairs,” Kendra said, pointing her flashlight up. “They’re just,” she searched for a word like Ponce de Leon and his mythical fountain.  “Flat?”

“Flat?” Jack slowly stood and looked up into the darkness of the second floor. “But how?”

Kendra didn’t answer for a while. She walked around the base of the not-there-staircase. Jack sighed inwardly. How could they climb up there? He flirted with the idea of a rope, but it gave him bad flashbacks to a summer camp he had attended where they said, “rock climbing is fun!” Taking them at their word Jack had attempted the climbing wall. Halfway up Sticky Wilson, who had been below Jack, had tied Jack’s laces together. Losing his footing, Jack started to fall. The young counselor, Jefferson, hadn’t been paying attention to Jack. Instead Jefferson was busy flirting with a female counselor. As a result Jack hit the ground so hard he could have sworn he saw cartoon stars above his head. Thankfully the floor was heavily padded, but still it hurt. Ever since then Jack had vowed to never trust camp counselors or climbing ropes.

“Help me look, Jack.” Kendra’s voice broke through Jack’s memory. He looked over at her. She held the flashlight high, pointing down the side of the banister. She was methodically groping along the side of the stairs with her fingertips.

“Look for what?” Jack asked as he reached into his backpack and found his last stick of Fizzle Gum. While popping it into his mouth, he missed Kendra rolling her eyes in exasperation.

“A switch to turn the stairs back on.”

Jack hadn’t thought of that.  Sometimes, he thought, sisters can be really smart.

There was another loud crash from above their heads. “Oh my goodness!” Kendra said. She sounded so much like their mother that Jack had to try not to laugh. The seriousness of their situation took the laughter away, however, when they heard a loud yell followed by another crash.

“Oh, where is it?” Kendra’s fingers searched a paneled sidewall. Her flashlight bobbed against the darkness. Jack tried to swallow against the rising panic in his throat.

“Help me Jack!” Kendra said. “Someone could be in trouble.”

Jack didn’t bother to tell her there wasn’t much they could do if there was real trouble. Instead he spun in place slowly as his flashlight moved around the walls.  The purple wallpaper looked different in the harsh glow of the flashlight. Jack noted that the room was full of threes. There were three staircases. Three doors that led to other parts of the house. Three umbrella stands. Three switches on the wall. Three switches? Jack jumped up on his toes to look at them better.  All three were cast-iron animals with a small switch in the center of the ironwork. “I found something!” Jack said, calling over to Kendra who was already examining the second staircase.

Kendra walked over, shining her flashlight on the switches. The first switch looked like a frog and the second looked like some sort of crane. Jack grimaced when he saw the third one – another platypus! As if the doorknocker hadn’t been enough.

“Which one is it?” Kendra said eyeing the switches. “I think this is where Mrs. Miggleston turned on the gas lamps. But we can’t turn those on; they light up the whole house. It could scare whoever is upstairs.”

Jack considered that this might not entirely be a downside, but he didn’t tell Kendra that. Instead he closed his eyes and tried to think. “I can’t remember.”

Kendra examined the switches more closely, nearly bumping Jack out of the way. “This one looks more worn.” She pointed towards the slight discoloration on the frog-shaped switch. “It would make sense if this one was for the lights; that’s the switch you’d use the most. Not the ‘make-the-stairs-impossible-to-climb’ switch. Jack laughed a bit at this.  “That leaves the crane and the platypus.”

“Does something seem off with the platypus?”

Jack inched forward, standing up on his toes to peer down at the platypus. The metal sheen of the platypus was newer than the other two switches. It had an almost glossy texture to the surface rather than the rougher metal found on the first two. “Is it plastic?”

Kendra reached out and stroked the switch with her index and middle finger like you would pet a cat. “It is! I bet that’s the one. It’s new.”

“But why would someone make that kind of switch?”

“I don’t know.” Kendra shined her light up the stairs. “Maybe because of the earthquake? So they don’t get sued if someone gets hurt or lost upstairs.”

Jack wasn’t sure about that either, but he didn’t comment. Instead he flipped the switch and there was a soft whirring. The flat boards started to move, rising like when you open the blinds.

“You found it!” Kendra exclaimed. Within seconds the flat planes were restored to three proper staircases. Both Jack and Kendra raced up the “up” staircase as Jack had taken to calling it.  Running up the stairs took effort, for it was rather a long staircase. At the top of the second floor landing they both stopped and listened.

Jack focused, trying to picture in his mind where the sounds had come from. The house was eerily quiet. Even when Jack had explored the upstairs that first day he hadn’t thought it was this quiet. Jack could hear Kendra’s short breaths, a distant clock ticking and his own blood racing in his ears. The hallways stretched in front of them and behind them almost as if they had landed in the middle of an Escher painting. Jack wasn’t sure where to go next.

Jack was just about to ask Kendra what she thought when a third crashing sound made them both snap their necks up toward the third floor. This crash was filled with the sound of glass breaking and wood splintering.  They hurried up the stairs to the third floor of the house. They were about to run down the hallway, when a sharp yell stopped them dead in their tracks

“Could you be any stupider?” A voice rang out.

Jack’s eyes went wide. It was Mrs. Miggleston! The screech was unmistakable. He looked over at Kendra, whose brows were pushed together in her concentration. They both peered down the hallway. The sounds were coming from a room not far from where Jack had stopped by the attic ladder. Even though his heart was pounding, Jack inched closer to the door where he had heard the voice. Kendra hesitated. She had started to grab at Jack’s shirt to pull him back, but then decided to follow him.

The long hallway stretched out in front of them forever. It was as daunting as the long stairs Jack used to navigate to his math class. Since he hated math class the trip on that staircase was particularly lengthy. Jack trudged along thinking how odd it was that just a couple weeks before he had relished being up here. Now he was nervous. What was Mrs. Miggleston doing? Why had she sounded so mean?

Just then there was a long sound of splintering wood. After that there was a man’s heavy grunt and another sound of cracking wood. Jack tried to imagine what the sounds were.  The grunting continued as whomever it seemed to struggle with his task. “Come on, Grison! Put some shoulder into it,” another male voice said gruffly.”

So there were at least three people in the room beyond. “Be QUIET!” Mrs. Miggleston bellowed. “Those Richardson brats are downstairs and they’re too curious for their own good.”

“Too bad we need them,” a third voice said. Jack imagined this was Grison who had stopped grunting. “Otherwise…” He let it drift off.

“Later,” Mrs. Miggleston snapped. “Focus on the task at hand. The sooner we find the Agauegis, the sooner we can be done with those officious children. Jerry, help Grison with the final box.”

Kendra inched forward toward the door. Jack watched her move, not breathing. The shadows seemed longer now. The little bit of light that filtered through the slats in the giant shutters revealed the descent of the dust onto the floor. Kendra’s soft soled shoes made little noise on the dark red carpeting. Jack noticed, for the first time, the chalk X’s that Kendra said she had seen. Sure enough, five of the doors in the hallway were marked with a white chalk X on the right side of the doorframe.

Hisssssssss. Jack blinked. He could have sworn he had just heard a snake. His eyes darted around the room quickly. He saw nothing except Kendra who was trying to look through the keyhole. Jack looked everywhere on the floor, but saw nothing. He hurried over to Kendra. He was just about to push her out of the way so he could see through the keyhole when the doorknob jiggled.

“Lets get going,” Mrs. Miggleston said. “Bring that crate, I bet Bob will have a lock pick for it.” The door started to open and Kendra nearly fell backwards in surprise. Jack reached out to steady her, but her loss of balance caused both of them to tumble to the floor.

Horror filled Jack as he realized there was no way the three behind the door couldn’t have missed the sound of them falling.

“What was that?” Jerry said, a bit loudly.

“Probably one of those chickens,” Gregson said. He grunted, like he had just lifted something, but a loud crashing sound followed almost immediately.

“Idiot!” Mrs. Miggleston bellowed. “Haven’t you done enough damage today?” The floorboards squeaked and they could hear her move away from the door.

Jack took advantage of the distraction and grabbed Kendra’s arm. They darted towards the nearest room and barely had time to hide behind the door when Mrs. Miggleston stepped out into the hallway.

Despite his rising panic, Jack had managed to leave the door open a crack. He knelt on the floor so Kendra could also see out. Once he was down he shifted himself slightly so he could see Mrs. Miggleston. Her gray hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her dress was covered with dirt and grime.  Mrs. Miggleston marched into the hallway with an air of authority. It reminded Jack of Artie Wilson when he had been chosen to be hall monitor. He tried not to giggle thinking of Mrs. Miggleston in the ridiculous hall monitor outfit Artie had to wear.

“Can’t we use the elevator?” Grison whined as he came into Jack’s view. Grison was a portly, short man with dark brown hair that poked out of a soft gray cap. He too was covered with dirt. There was a dark smudge of coal on his cheek and cobwebs in his hair. He was obviously out of breath and straining under a large wooden crate that he was carrying while walking backwards.

“I’ve told you a hundred times. The elevator is so loud the Richardsons would hear it.”

“But they’re gone.  You said so yourself.” Grison shifted the box uncomfortably.

“Please boss, otherwise we have to listen to Grison whine all the way downstairs,” Jerry said diplomatically. Jack craned his head slightly so he could see Jerry better. Jerry was taller than Grison, but had a similar build. He didn’t seem quite as out of breath as Grison though, and held tightly to the other side of the wooden crate.

“Fine,” Mrs. Miggleston said as she crossed her arms. “Richard will not be pleased with your laziness.”

Both men fidgeted with the box. Their eyes dropped to the floor and they mumbled something Jack couldn’t quite make out. Mrs. Miggleston sighed and then reached into her pocket. She drew out a deep red handkerchief, the ring of keys they had seen the week before, and a small piece of white chalk. Mrs. Miggleston took the chalk piece in between two of the fingers of her left hand and drew a quick X on the doorframe.

“I will be so glad to be rid of this house,” Mrs. Miggleston grumbled as she shoved the piece of chalk back into her pocket. She wiped her face with the handkerchief and started walking down the hallway. Jack and Kendra moved back further in the room so they wouldn’t be seen. She stopped in front of the doorway that Jack and Kendra were standing behind.”

Hisssssssss.

There it is again. Jack blinked. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw a dark shadow move. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t blink. Kendra must have heard it too because she grabbed his arm so tightly he could feel her fingernails digging into his skin. The room they were in was too dark to see much. There was a soft orange glow coming from one of the corners of the room, but it didn’t help with making out more than dark shadows.

Hisssssssss.

The shadow moved again. Jack, despite his best efforts, panicked. What could he do, he couldn’t turn on the flashlight for fear of alerting Mrs. Miggleston.

“Didn’t you boys close this door?” Mrs. Miggleston’s voice had a distinct were you born in a barn sound to it. “You’ll let Edward out.” There was a solid click as Mrs. Miggleston pulled the door shut. It echoed in Jack’s ears like a death sentence.

“Sorry boss,” Jerry said with a gulp.

Edward? Who was Edward!? Jack shivered. He silently prayed that Jerry, Grison and Mrs. Miggleston would use the elevator. Especially if it meant they would leave faster. Thankfully God must have heard him because the floorboards creaked and soon Jack couldn’t hear them anymore.

Jack let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding and scrambled to turn on his flashlight. As soon as he had, he wished he hadn’t. There, inches from his face, was a dark yellow snake.

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 4, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Tabz, I love where you’re going with this. I have to confess, though, I am a bit jealous over Jack’s five bookshelves. I have a 2500 square foot HOUSE and I still don’t have enough room for all my books.

    (There are three shelves of books in the Word Lounge, and they make me feel “oddly secure.” )

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