On 5th November 2010, eleven-year-old me wrote her first piece of creative writing in Year Six, suitably entitled ‘Puzzled’. It was, of course, absolutely shite. The other day, I found my old creative writing notebook and all of the stories that I wrote at that young age, just four years before I started ‘His Frozen Fingertips’ (please tell me that I have got better). Of course, I have now decided that this is the time to gauge the effectiveness of the next eight years of my education, from SATs to A levels. For those who are brave and do not fear my childhood turn-of-phrase (such as “cough,” choked something quietly”), I have attached pictures of the original piece of work at the bottom of the revised story.
By Charlotte Bowyer (11/04/18)
The kitchen was silent, save for the restless ticking of the clock and the scratch of his grandmother’s pen as she filled in her crossword. Simon leant his head on the table and stared across the room, rolling a dusty marble across the gingham tablecloth in time with the slow, metronomic beat.
“Grandma, I’m bored,” he said, wrenching himself out of his reverie. His grandmother clicked her pen but otherwise paid him no heed. “Grandma!”
“Go and find something else to do.” His grandmother smoothed a crease in the newspaper, barely paying attention to him. Simon scowled at his shoes, bitterly regretting his decision to stay at home whilst his parents and sister went to the museum. It wasn’t his home anyway, his parents would never let him stay home alone. No, he had to go to Grandma’s, a thin-walled 1960’s house on the outskirts of town.
“There’s nothing here,” Simon groaned. “Can’t I go to the park?”
“It’s raining, play with your phone or your tablet,” said his grandmother, peering up over her bifocals. Her eyes were a piercing shade of blue-grey. “Your parents paid a lot of money for those, don’t you have them with you?”
“You don’t have WiFi,” said Simon patiently. Why couldn’t adults understand that a device without WiFi was basically useless? “I don’t have any games on there, either.”
His grandmother sighed and put down her pen with a touch more vigour than was strictly necessary. Simon met her steely eyes as calmly as he could. It wasn’t as if he was some sort of burden, wasn’t it her duty to find something to entertain him? A few minutes passed and his grandmother wiped her glasses on her cashmere jumper before she fixed that cold gaze on him again, entirely impassive.
“There are puzzles in the attic,” she said, before picking up her pen and turning back to her crossword. Simon knew that she didn’t love him but wished that she was better at pretending.
He slipped the marble into the pocket of his red jeans and stood up, ignoring the soft rustling sound the chair made as he dragged it over the carpet tiles that covered the kitchen floor. His grandmother winced at the noise and shot him a sharp look. Simon gave a sheepish smile but her face remained as blank as ever. It was not her fault, he reminded himself. Dad said that she had not been the same since her son, Simon’s uncle, had died all those years ago. Simon’s uncle had never been quite right, either mentally or physically. Though he was in his mid-thirties when he died, he never moved out, preferring instead to stay in his bedroom and work on his craft projects, geometric toys and games that Simon’s grandmother now guarded as jealously as any dragon. Dad said he suspected that Uncle Alvin had been on the autistic spectrum but back then they didn’t have the right level of mental health knowledge to provide him with the support he needed. It was a ‘trouble of the age’, whatever that meant.
Simon padded past the grainy photographs that lined the corridors, wondering what it was like to live in those days, when the fashions were so different and the people seemed to live in an entirely different world. It was hard enough going without his iPhone for a day, he couldn’t imagine not having one at all. His father looked happy enough, he guessed. Several photos showed the now dour man as a cheerful young boy, arms flung around his brother or parents and a huge smile splitting his cheeks. Simon smiled slightly at a picture of the baby CEO being bathed in the sink. His father’s family was better than nuclear, the pictures were so perfect that they could have come from one of his mother’s Good Housekeeping magazines. What had gone wrong? Simon trailed a finger over the edge of a gilded frame before he reached the end of the hallway. On one side stood an old cupboard, on the other a spiral staircase made from gothic wrought iron. It was not the most welcoming entrance but Simon disregarded the squirming in the pit of his stomach that the black iron invoked, instead choosing to focus on how to climb the stairs. Blocking his way to the bottom step was a wrought iron door, as middle-class a baby-gate as Simon had ever seen. All prior worry forgotten, he snorted to himself, lifted the complex latch, and climbed up the narrow staircase to the attic.
Simon had never been to this floor of the house. It was not cold or dark, as his parents’ loft was. Instead, the room looked like an old-fashioned tea room, a café where the décor was stuck in the mid-seventies. The carpet was bright orange and the walls were covered with pink wallpaper, the typical cardboard boxes scattered here and there like mother hens guarding their eggs. This was not the focus of the room, though. In the centre of the attic, where the roof was highest and a bare bulb hung down, stood a small bed. If thick dust had not coated each fold of fabric it would have looked as if it had been recently slept in. Simon paused at the top of the stairs. For some reason, he felt like he was invading the peace of the room, the sanctity of the silence that had previously been held here.
Still, anything would be better than sitting downstairs with his grandmother’s scratchy pen and dry cough. Simon made his way carefully across the orange carpet, small puffs of dust following his footsteps. There was a bookcase next to the bed, a simple white tray-table that was stacked with plain white boxes. These must be the puzzles that his grandmother were talking about, thought Simon, though he was hesitant to touch them. Thick dust covered the boxes and by their plain covering he was almost certain that they were no store-bought toys. If anything, they seemed handmade.
Only one person in this family made his own puzzles, thought Simon. This must have been Uncle Alvin’s room.
He had never met his uncle, the man had died many years before Simon was born. Nonetheless, the room did not feel abandoned. Dusty, yes, but certainly not abandoned. He supposed that his grandmother must come up here from time to time, a thought that made his insides twinge with something that felt like sympathy. To distract himself from his thoughts, Simon turned to the desk. It was too small for an adult, almost perfectly sized for his ten year old frame. On top of the polished mahogany stood a box, like any of the others on the bookshelf. However, unlike the others, it was not covered in dust. Simon supposed that his grandmother must have recently examined the contents, something that made him feel a little better about sitting down on the dusty little chair and opening the lid.
The first thing that he saw was a perfect, child-sized jigsaw, its blade only slightly dulled with age. Had the puzzle been crafted in this very room? The pieces beneath the saw were small and brightly painted, each one a vivid flash of colour. Simon grinned and tipped the jigsaw onto the mahogany table. Loathe as he may be to admit it, he liked making puzzles. He discarded the box carelessly on the floor, he never had to clear up his toys at home. However, the thud it made as it hit the floor made him pause. It almost… it almost sounded like a muffled footstep on the orange carpet.
Uncertain, Simon glanced behind him. No one was there, of course. The room was as brightly lit as ever and the only footsteps in the dust were his own. For some reason, this made him laugh a little. Even for a ten-year-old, believing in ghosts was a little silly. He turned back to his puzzle and started putting the pieces into neat piles according to shape and colour. Orange went in one pile, pink in the next, brown in the other. The border was garishly bright, a gradient of rose and peach that looked like a salmon sunset as Simon slotted the pieces together. But it was no sunset that was appearing before his eyes. It was a room, and he had only ever been in one room that was decorated in orange and pink.
“Holy shit,” he whispered, glancing back to check that no adult was snooping on him. The pink walls seemed to wink at him as the lightbulb flickered, highlighting the dusty carpet. Something clenched in Simon’s chest, snapping his body upright. He could have sworn that he had heard a soft cough, though there was clearly no one there but himself.
I don’t believe in ghosts, he thought desperately. What sort of ghost lives in a 1960’s house, anyway?
It had to have been someone outside. Simon leant forward and tapped the sloped pink wall. It was as thin as he had thought, almost like fibreboard and not brick. He breathed a sigh of relief. Someone outside could easily be heard from this quiet room; it wasn’t like there was double-glazing in this drafty house. Simon squeezed his eyes shut before setting his concentration on the puzzle again. By some fortuitous chance, the pieces he found always matched the ones at the edge, meaning that he could work his way through without having to pause much to think. He supposed that he had not shuffled them enough.
It took thirty minutes to put the whole thing together. Simon wished it had taken longer, he was thoroughly tired with puzzles by now and couldn’t be bothered to make another. There were just a few more pieces left. For some reason, the central figure of the image was almost entirely excluded from his prior efforts. All Simon could see was a boy, around his own age, hunched at the desk by the bed. The family resemblance was uncanny. He wondered if the boy was his Uncle Alvin, a self-portrait of his relative at his own age. The image was drawn in the blocky figures of a child but Simon thought the painter was a rather good artist. All he was missing were the last few pieces of the bed, which had somehow dislodged from their assigned pile. Simon slotted them into place and smiled at the gloss of the finished product, the seams so well made that it seemed as if it was just a painting. Then he froze, eyes fixed on the scene depicted.
As he had thought, it must have been Uncle Alvin who was sitting at the desk, putting together some sort of puzzle. However, Simon’s eyes drifted to the bottom of the image, where the unmade bed stood. Beneath the dusty comforter were a pair of glowing red eyes and the glint of something sharp and dangerous. Though the drawing was childish, it sent a shiver up his spine. Why had Uncle Alvin made such a sinister painting? It was growing clear to Simon that his uncle was just as disturbed as his father had said. Was it symbolic? Why, the creature under the bed was only feet away from the earphones dangling from Alvin’s red jeans pocket! It was then that Simon remembered and his limbs grew weak.
They didn’t have earphones in the 1980’s. It could not have been his uncle in the picture. But if it was not his uncle, then it must be— the thought was too horrible to be contemplated. Slowly, he turned around…
And, for the avid reader, here is the original!