The Restoration

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
When Tom Hopper agrees to work on renovating the house of late great painter Ellis Wilson little does he know that there's more to the house than meets the eye.

Submitted: September 05, 2016

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Submitted: September 05, 2016

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Tom Hopper stood in the long hallway of the three storey terraced house. He breathed in. You could sense the history of the place. He put his tool box down on the rotting floorboards. He reached out and placed his hand flat on the wall.

The fact that this house had belonged to Ellis Wilson, the famous Salford painter, have him goose bumps. When the new owner of the property had asked Tom to work on restoring the ninety year old house back to its former glory he had jumped at the chance. He hadn’t revealed to the owner just how eager he was to take the job. His professionalism had kicked in. he had given the standard sharp intake of breath and explained that it was a massive job which would need both time and money to sort. The owner had outlined exactly what he needed doing and had told Tom to ‘crack on with it’.

And so here he stood, about to start work on the house of one of the most famous Northern artists. The painter had died in the late 1970s after spending his last years as something of a recluse. Tom rubbed his hands together. He grinned. He set to work. The first job was replacing the old floorboards. He got stuck into ripping out the old boards and replacing with brand new flooring.

The house seemed to be dark and full of shadow despite all the lighting Tom set up so he could see what he was doing. These old houses, he thought, they had real character. These great old buildings were something else. They were almost alive, the almost breathed. Not like new houses that seemed to be popping up everywhere these days. These old houses had a kind of magic about them.

Later that afternoon as he was busy with the construction work he heard the creaking and groaning of footsteps on ancient floorboard. He turned expecting to see the owner come to see how he was getting on, or maybe a fan of the artist come to take a look around.  There was nobody there. He stared into the shadowy corners of the room. He was alone. He shook his head, put the noises down to being the creaking of an old house and focused his attention on his work.

Just before five o’clock he packed his tools away and prepared to leave. As he closed the front door he heard a voice. The faint, gruff, male voice called out ‘I am a simple man’. A shiver went through him. He locked the door and rushed to the van.

The next morning he got to the house for just after ten o’clock. That, as with a lot of his fellow tradespeople, was what he called ‘first thing’. Flask of tea in one hand, tool box in the other he went down the long dark hallway. Then he noticed something. He rubbed his jaw in confusion. He crouched down and studied the paint spattered floorboards. How strange. A lot of the original floorboards had been marked with paint. But the paint marked boards he looked at now were the brand new panels he’d fitted twenty four hours ago. Spots of paint covered an area of around six feet. Dabs and dots of red, blue, greens and indescribable other shades now marked the new woodwork. He reached out a finger and touched the marks. The paint was still wet. How was this possible? He stood up and looed again at the marks. If he didn’t know better he would have said that someone had been doing some painting.

He told himself that there must be some logical explanation. Maybe he had dislodged something from the rafters with the work he’d been doing. There had to be some explanation. Anyway, he had work to do. Putting the matter to the back of his mind he busied himself with the restoration.

As he worked he could have sworn he heard footsteps and voices from the third floor. Tom grabbed his crow bar and, making noisy progress to frighten off any intruders, he went to investigate. Wielding the crow bar like he was batting for Lancashire he rushed into the first room on the third flor. Empty. The other rooms along the dark corridor were also empty. Only the last room remained. He headed for the door looming at the end of the corridor. Tom heard footsteps again and a male voice. There was definitely someone in the room.

He kicked the door open with a heavy boot. He had braced himself for a burglar or a squatter. He looked around in bewilderment. There was nobody in the room. Dust mites hung in the stale air. Tom sensed that the room had been shut up tight for a long time. Standing in the centre of the room was a blank canvas on an easel. That made no sense. He’d been told that the house had been stripped of all household items in order for the repair work to commence. And yet here was a blank canvas standing proudly as though the great Ellis Wilson had just been there. He stepped towards the canvas slowly. He approached it as reverential as a Christian approaching the altar.

At the foot of the easel was a cup and saucer. The rim of the saucer had smudged paint thumbprints around the edge. It did look as though the artist had just popped out for a moment. He bent down and picked up the cup and saucer. The shock of the hot tea in the cup made him drop it. The cup and saucer smashed to the floor, brown-orange tea splashing the boards. Now this was weird. The canvas may have been left by some chance when the house was being cleared. But how could it be that the premises he knew to be empty had a steaming hot cup of tea in it?

He ran a hand through his hair. No. It wasn’t possible. His mind must have been playing tricks. The tea, along with the canvas, must have been overlooked by the removal lads. And when he picked up the cup, his mind must have projected the sensation of heat.

He really had to put all this nonsense out of his head. He had to carry on with the job he was being paid to do. Yes, he would throw himself into the task at hand and try not to over-think everything. But first…

He grabbed the easel and canvas. They had to have belonged to the great painter himself. And the owner believed the place to be empty. Therefore anything he came across was fair game. If nobody knew it was there then who would notice it was missing? And if at some later date he was asked about it he would state as convincingly as he could, that, no, he hadn’t seen any easel and canvas while in the house. Or at a push he could say he had found it and put it to one side to make sure it did not get damaged during construction work.

He packed the easel and canvas gently in his van. Hopefully he would be able to hang onto it. Imagine having a canvas that had once belonged to a famous painter. He would be boasting about this for years.

With the glory of his new discovery going round his mind he launched into the restoration work with a renewed vigour.

As he drove home that evening he stopped off into a retail park he passed on the way. The retail unit had something for everyone. There was a small supermarket, a toy store, a pet shop, a stationers and an American fast food chicken outlet. Tom called in and ordered the deluxe chickeny-chick-chicken box meal. He found a free table and munched on the fried chicken pieces while watching the people going by.

After he’d finished his meal and blown his weekly recommended calorie intake, he headed back to the van. Halfway across the carpark he stopped. He turned and without thinking he ducked into the stationers. He wandered up and down the aisles in a daze. He found himself at the shelves filled with oil paints. His expertise in paint lay firmly in matt and gloss but he was drawn to certain products. He snatched at tubes of paint. It was like someone else was controlling his hand. He selected several brushes and tools, again clueless to their use and quality.

Back home he tossed the paint products on top of the mantelpiece. He set up the canvas in the corner of his living room. He stared at it with pride. He pointed a finger and spoke aloud, that canvas once belonged to the Ellis Wilson. Wait till he told his family and friends.

He grabbed a beer from the fridge and settled on the sofa in front of the television. He flicked through the channels and settled for a repeat of Games of Thrones. He soon lost himself in the story of sex, violence and dragons. He downed a few more of lager.

A few hours, Game of Thrones having given way to Red Dwarf, Tom ordered a Chinese takeaway. He slurped on the hot and sour soup and dunked prawn crackers. He then tucked into shredded chilli beef and special fried rice. While he was devouring the food, swigging beer and watched repeats on TV, he couldn’t stop his eyes from wandering to the canvas in the far corner of the room.

After he’d finished eating and he progressed from beer to whiskey. From his position on the sofa he raised a glass to the canvas. To the artist, he said raising his glass. Things from that point became a bit blurry as the whiskey kicked in.

He woke the next morning with a hangover headache creasing his eyes and stinging his forehead. He sat up. The room swayed around him. He rubbed his eyes. Then he noticed his hands. He studied both hands staring in confusion. His fingers were covered in splodges of paint.

‘No way.’ he mumbled.

He climbed into his tracksuit bottoms and pulled a t-shirt over his head. He stumbled, half-fell down the stairs. He tumbled into the living room.

He gasped. The canvas was now no longer blank. The off-white rectangle was now a glorious colourful painting of life in a northern town. The painting was typical Ellis Wilson.

‘But how?’

He heard a voice whispering.

‘You don’t need brains to be a painter, just feelings.’


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