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Story: Candles and Fish

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Jeremy Pike could not remember his last time at home. He had skipped numerous birthdays, funerals and weddings until his family eventually stopped asking him to come for the events. Not that he minded—they’d never been close anyway.

But as his parent’s only child, it was him the solicitors came to when they died. After the joint funeral, it was clear Jeremy was expected to take care of the taxes and duties himself. He did so without much fuss, and one morning got on a train to take him to the town he’d worked so hard to avoid.

As the train puffed along, Jeremy leant back, shut his eyes, and tried to prepare himself for his trip. He dredged up the memories of himself as a child in Barrow-in-the-Hills. The birthdays he had celebrated, or the bank holidays—no Christmases, of course, not for his town. He especially remembered when the town council had declared Christmas simply a story, a flighty thing, and not to be celebrated when facts could be applied just as well. Who would celebrate a mere man being born thousands of years earlier? Christmas was illogical, and therefore banned. Birthdays were allowed—there was a factual calculation in place—and bank holidays tolerated. There was no good reason for banks to shut, but the rest of the nation hadn’t seemed to realise this yet. Stories and fancies were distracting, was the town council verdict, and took attention and resources away from what really mattered.

The library had been shut, to general applause, three minutes later. Jeremy had been in the crowd, hiding his hands behind his back while his parents looked disapprovingly at him.

Too quickly the train pulled into the station. Jeremy was the only one to get off. Barrow-in-the-Hills seemed the same as it always did, with the air giving off a stale sort of scent and the wind blowing harder as you got into the centre of town. He smiled a little, likening it to being pushed away from Barrow. The wind probably had the right idea.

”Diana and Edward’s son, unless I’m very much mistaken!’

Startled out of his thoughts, Jeremy turned to see a man that reminded him very much of a mole. Clad in a dark brown coat and scurrying towards him with a focused look in his small eyes, the man thrust his hand out at the last second before coming to a complete stop.

”I’m Kenneth Candleworth—you must be coming to look through their house—terrible, terrible what happened, but car crashes—happen every day, now, don’t they—well, if you need any help, the Neighbourhood Watch is ready for action, just call over at number 42—we’re armed with sandwiches!—well, yes, terrible thing—remember, number 42—“

He was waiting for an answer before Jeremy could even take in half of the first sentence. He felt rather as if he had been buffeted by the winds and then deposited outside his old house.

“I—er, well, thank you. I don’t think I’ll need a lot of help, though. They didn’t hold much stock by possessions, did Mum and Dad.”

Mr. Candleworth appeared to be having some trouble understanding how Jeremy could let one sentence out of his mouth before immediately tacking another one on. He waited for a while until Jeremy appeared to have no other signs of words possibly spilling from his lips, and then spoke in a furtive voice.

“Now, we all did our best to look after Diane and Edmund, but you must know, James, that near the end of their lives they did go a bit—funny—well, that’s what happens if you get too old, I suppose—“

”I thought they died in a car crash,” Jeremy said quickly, more for the sake of stopping Mr. Candleworth continue his tirade against his parents for anything else. However, the molelike man seemed to stop and have to gather his thoughts before he could go on.

“Oh, yes, yes, of course—but, ah, you see, Edwin started having some—very odd ideas, really—you didn’t get any letters from him? Correspondence?”

“No-o…”

”So you weren’t aware of his expulsion from the Watch? Oh, it was a blow to the whole community, especially to Delia, she was driving the car when it—well, it was a horrible affair, Jimmy—“

”Jeremy.”

”Yes, yes—well, in case there’s some—unwanted material in the house, you know what to do with it, yes?”

Jeremy nodded just as he had done when he was a child. Feet together, mouth turned downwards, hands behind the back and slump. It never failed to get the response he wanted.

”Ah, yes…” Mr. Candleworth seemed pleased. “Well, Jack, just remember, it’s number 42…”

And he was gone. Jeremy stood very still for a moment, head spinning, before turning and walking to his old house, number 21. It looked unkempt, though it couldn’t have been empty for more than a week. Compared to the gleaming houses on either side of it, the house breathed sadness. In Jeremy’s opinion, however, the shining houses didn’t breathe at all. He knew which option he preferred.

He took a tarnished key from his pocket, and opened the door.

The air inside the house smelt better than the air outside. Jeremy allowed himself a great big hungry sniff before he walked any further. Then he closed the door firmly, leaving it unlocked; he did not plan to stay for too long.

Jeremy walked carefully through the house, as he’d always been taught. His mother didn’t want him running, shouting, and especially not playing games. His father had always wanted everything neat and just-so. But as he went through the kitchen and up the staircase, he relaxed a little.

The official instructions from the lawyers had been to get all the important documents and then try and sell the house. Jeremy ignored the white dresser on the landing where everything was kept. Instead, he knelt and pulled out the drawer from underneath his parents’ bed where they had hidden his birthday presents year after year and thought he didn’t know about. His conversation with Mr. Candleworth had given him an idea; anything Candleworth condemned as ‘funny’ counted for something very good in Jeremy’s world.

With his heart suddenly pounding so hard he could feel it in his throat, Jeremy leant in to see that the drawer contained—

Nothing. Dust and scraps of paper. Suddenly methodical, child-like Jeremy again, fighting hard to keep his disappointment from showing, he slotted the drawer back into place and walked out of the room without a second glance. He looked grimly at the dresser as he walked out; silly to think Mum and Dad had suddenly realised they were wrong, silly to think Dad’s expulsion from the Watch was anything else than new rules becoming more ridiculous every day…

Wait. What was that?

The path to the dresser had led him past an open door. With a start, he realised it was his old room; nothing more than a room for boxes, now, except from the bed. That was still intact. And the drawer under that was not fully closed; it had been used to store something lately…

Abandoning all pretence of caring about the legal documents anymore, Jeremy raced into his old room, knocking aside boxes labelled ‘Bank statements, ’89-‘91’ and ‘Wrapping paper (used), violet-yellow’, falling to his knees and wrenching out the drawer.

There it was. Lying flat in the large space was a large, blue book with ‘Fairytales’ stamped into it in silver.
Jeremy sat back on his heels for a moment, blinking to clear his eyes and to check he wasn’t seeing things. When his breathing had calmed down and his heart was at a normal rate again, Jeremy looked once more.

The book was still there. It was real. It looked read. Fairly new, but well-thumbed. Reverently, he lifted the book from the drawer and opened it at random.

His father’s handwriting was all over the page. In red ink, he had written down the main fallacies of Snow White, the idiocy of her ‘death’ by an apple, the rarity of handsome princes. However, as Jeremy flicked the pages, the red ink seemed to be seen less and less. It was if his father had stopped seeing the plain black type and seen the meaning of it instead.

Jeremy shifted, sitting cross-legged now, on the floor in his old room with its grey carpet, and turned to another page. There were fingermarks—a green thumbprint. That had to be Jeremy’s mother, always gardening, clipping and neatening the verge. Jeremy imagined the two settling down for the night, pulling the curtains to and then unveiling this secret…

But, he realised with an unpleasant jolt, it hadn’t been a secret. Hadn’t Candleworth said they’d gone ‘odd’? At the very least, he had guessed the involvement of his father. Why else would he have been expelled from the Neighbourhood Watch? Perhaps, instead of scribbling over the stories, he began to read them and timidly present this new point of view at the meetings.

Candleworth would not have stood for that for very long, Jeremy thought numbly. Candleworth, who was currently in number 42 with a host of people who believed the same as he did, who probably guessed Jeremy was the same as his parents. Candleworth who might have murdered them, who would have no trouble entering the house as Jeremy had left the door unlocked--

He whirled around, book held high as a weapon against a would-be assailant. Nobody was there.

It was at that moment Jeremy realised he couldn’t stay another second in Barrow-in-the-Hills. Fools, stupid, stupid fools, to keep a book in the house, to let the Watch know they were enjoying it…they should have moved away. Moved away like their son; he wasn’t a coward, he told himself. Far from it. It was just safer not to be there. Safer to stay as far away from people like Candleworth as possible—and deal with the effect they’d had after they were gone.

In the meantime, the book had to go. Jeremy got out his cigarette lighter, carrying the book to the sink in the family bathroom. Muttering an apology to his parents—wherever they were—he lit the book, watching without a word as the paper charred and disintegrated.

Then Jeremy got the papers he needed from the dresser, and left, marching smartly up to the train station.

***

’He’s gone,’ sighed Candleworth in relief. ‘Pass the sandwiches, Maisie? Oh, the brown bread’ll be fine…and you kiddiewinks, run along! Marcus, are you taking them fishing? Good boy…I must say they’re a credit to you, Maisie.’

Marcus, a stout boy of ten, nodded to the older man and beckoned the four that made up their gang—not that the grown-ups knew, of course, it was just ‘all the children on the Terrace’ to them—to him. Within five minutes they were all trooping along as a group in the opposite direction to the way Jeremy had gone.

’I really thought he was meant to give one of us that book,’ Rachel grumbled. Eight and recently-elected second-in-command to Marcus, she was almost bent double against the wind.

’Nah. Adults are useless when they’re that age. Look at Mr and Mrs. Pike! They didn’t get clever again until they were really old. Like 50.’

A collective shudder went through the assembled children as they imagined hitting 50 and presumably having bits drop off and losing their mobility.

‘So,’ piped up Florence, the littlest of them at five. ‘Do we not get any stories?’

They had come to the place where the pond was. Here, the wind did not press harshly at the trees, it more twined around the branches. The children arranged themselves in a ring, while Marcus picked Rachel to be the Wicked Queen and her twin sister to be Snow White. The only other boy was shoved up to be the Prince, and then Marcus cleared his throat importantly.

‘We do get stories,’ he said to Flo, currently deciding whether to be a dwarf or a forest animal. ‘We just do them by ourselves.’
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[User Picture]
On October 16th, 2007 05:50 pm (UTC), kickthehobbit commented:
I really liked it. The only thing I'd think about changing is the background information—it's almost a little too subtle, so it's hard to pick up on why the book is such a big deal till the very end.
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On August 10th, 2010 02:08 am (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
the idea has been done before
Don't take this as much of a criticism, because my first whole novel was based on this same theme, as in Farenheit 451 - the ultra-practical, anti-arts society and the lone rebel who loves the arts. Nicely written, but not very complex.
[User Picture]
On August 10th, 2010 08:57 am (UTC), puredeadthingy replied:
Re: the idea has been done before
It doesn't matter if the idea's been done before, in my opinion, just if you make it fresh. I haven't read Farenheit 451, but I think I did realise Jeremy was too 'I AM THE HERO OF THE PIECE' and so made him a coward at the last second. Thanks for the feedback :) Much appreciated.
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