Voices of the Past
Irish Times Shortlist 2020
My family has always lived in this house.
Our house is a little cottage, dating back to around the early 1800’s. It has a dark green door with a brass handle, plain grey brick painted with an even plainer grey paint and faded black tiles on the roof (most of them are gone, so you can see whatever substance they used to stick the tiles on underneath it).
The cottage stands alone on the edge of a small, desolate town, quite separated from the rest of civilization. The Anderson family, the Wright family, the Sanders family and old man Barney, are currently the only members of the town.
I am a member of the Anderson family. My name is Samuel J. Anderson, I was born on the 15th of April 1946 so I am 15 years old. I usually wear a scruffy brown cap and have a clumsy little think for a younger sister.
Saturday, December 10th, 1961 is a day I will never forget.
It had started out as just an ordinary day, I had gotten up, brushed the sleep out of my eyes, slapped my cap onto my head and proceeded downstairs.
I hope I don’t have lots of jobs I thought to myself, pulling my jumper on over my head. I really don’t feel like doing them…
I was greeted with an empty coal bucket and a shortage of firewood. Oh joy…
Deciding to skip my jobs for once, I grabbed a slice of bread and headed out the door, chewing my bread as I went.
I spent the rest of the day with Matt Wright, the two of us kicking the football Matt’s dad had brought back with him from the city. Unfortunately for us, Tom Sanders, the big kid who had been cruel to Matt and I since we were wee ones, decided to throw the ball into old man Barney’s front yard. We spent about five minutes trying to decide the best way to go about the situation, before finally settling on just stealing it away. That plan headed south. Old man Barney caught us in the act and, assuming we were trespassing (which we were, but for good reason) yelled at us for what seemed like an eternity but then gave up and whacked us in the shins using his cane.
“He’s just cantankerous,” Matt had said to me on our way home (Matt is rather fond of big words). “Welp, see ya tomorrow!” he called to me, skipping off to his house. I continued along my way, feeling an increasing pang of dread growing in my stomach. My jobs… I haven’t done my jobs… Ma is NOT going to be happy…
Sure enough, she was the opposite of happy. She was fuming!
“HOW DARE YOU NOT DO YOUR JOBS!!!! I HAD TO SPEND THE ENTIRE DAY DOING THEM FOR YOU! (she was exaggerating, I hope…)” she yelled, her eyes darting over the jug on the table, contemplating with herself whether or not to throw it at me.
In the end, my Da sent me up to bed with no supper and a pensive look on his face.
I slept restlessly for a few hours when I heard a bowl drop from the table, which woke me up with a start. I stupidly groaned, which caused my sister Millie to stir slightly. Feeling groggy, I noisily dragged myself out of bed and downstairs to see what the matter was.
The small cottage was queer at night. Street lamps cast huge, eerie shadows through the window, which made me jump every time I see them. The wind was mercilessly howling outside, causing our house to shudder violently.
I could hear my parents starting to awaken, their disheartening groans echoing through the empty house.
“Light a candle will you James,” Ma groaned. (we were still having trouble with the new electricity thingy) “I would if I had matches,” Da muttered, frustrated.
Another howl grabbed hold of the house, but this time from inside. There was a large crash as I realized one of the shelves had collapsed in on itself. Millie woke up screaming, followed by the thundering of human feet pounding down the stairs. “I-I didn’t do it…,!” was the first thing I managed to stutter. “Look! I’m nowhere near the shel…”
Before I could finish, another howl of wind took hold of the house, causing it to sway and rattle. Millie let out yet another shriek and Da, absent minded, reached for his gun, perhaps hoping it could harm whatever invisible force was attacking us.
“Do you think it’s a ghost?” Millie asked feebly from behind Ma. “Don’t be daft Millie, there’s no such thing as ghosts!” Ma snapped back. Just as Ma finished saying that, what I suppose to be a human-shaped mist appeared before us, then one of an old man followed by that of a young girl, no more than five or six in years. I think I was the one who shrieked this time.
What followed next was truly spectacular.
“They are very funny looking people, aren’t they Granda?” the young girl giggled. The elder ignored her and instead motioned to the supposed leader. Looking closer, I could see that he was wearing a military uniform. “What do you make of these intruders, Patrick?” “Not much, I’m afraid. Specially not this one, seems a bit of a wimp,” he answered.
We all completely lost it at that. Ma charged at them with her broom, Da shot at them with his gun, Millie toppled over and I … just stood there. Our antics amounted to something I suppose. They did disappear.
We moved soon after, and new people came to our cottage. They didn’t last long though. No one ever does…
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