Real Estate

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Has Bill been working too hard for too long or is this detour off the motorway just what he and his family needs?

Submitted: February 26, 2008

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Submitted: February 26, 2008

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They had been driving since five o’clock that morning, hoping to avoid the busy traffic on the motorway down to Cornwall. After nearly five hours in the car, with only a brief stop for breakfast (the traditional Hard Boiled Eggs and thermos of coffee with Juice Cartons for the kids) their hopes were dashed as they found themselves wedged between two freight lorries, themselves part of a tailback from Kings Lynn. Not that the kids minded. This annual ritual – the early rising and the journey – were part of the holiday itself and would be as important in their diaries as Christmas had they kept diaries or had they any concept of annual routine beyond the welcome adventure, at once familiar and exciting.

Dad was his usual self, though. He’d been tense and irritable since he was promoted at the Estate Agents’ office where he worked. They didn’t know exactly what an Estate Agent did except that it was something to do with houses for other (usually richer and posher) people and they didn’t know what Promotion meant at all, except that Dad sometimes laughed if they pronounce it wrong. Not a nasty laugh like they sometimes heard at school. A nice laugh. Jane sometimes pronounced it wrong on purpose because Dad wasn’t laughing much lately.

Dad wasn’t laughing now. He didn’t seem to spend much time with the children anymore. Well, not like he used to. Peter made out that this didn’t bother him (he was a big boy now, nearly eight-and-a-half). Secretly, though, he missed his Daddy’s laughing and his reading them stories as much as his sister, two years his junior.

His Mummy missed Bill too. He’d spend all evening in the office sometimes these days. But she had to pretend his obsession with work was no Big Deal. Like Peter, she was getting too old for stories and games. She had to learn to be realistic.

Beverley had even had to work at persuading her husband to take the time off at all this year. Thankfully, he had managed to convince his bosses that a week’s break would help to revitalise him for the next sale. “We’re concerned that you don’t lose interest in your work, all the same,” one grey suit had apparently droned. Real Estate (why the American term?) is an important business, as Bill knew. A solid business, they said. After all (here it comes again) each property is bricks and mortar at the very least. It was Bill’s dedication that made the investment pay off and turned those bricks into cash, they said. Beverley had to learn to be realistic.

They were going to the cottage in Cornwall and Dad was worried about keeping to schedule. That much hadn’t changed. It was a long distance and already the early sun promised a hot and sticky drive south and west.

“I told you we can’t see Stonehenge this year; it’s not on the way.” The slow-moving traffic on this stretch of the M11 was making Bill argumentative, though he really, really did want to make this year’s holiday a good one. God knew, with two weeks in the summer and that long weekend for their anniversary, he was unlikely to be granted a full week over Christmas.

“But Da-ad! You sa-aid.”

“No I didn’t, Jane.”

“You saw Stonehenge last year,” the girl’s mother reasoned, twisting her head to address her daughter in the back seat.

“But it was behind all that wire. We couldn’t go near!” The girl pouted which at least showed that she wasn’t going to host a Tantrum just yet and might be quiet until they got past this bad stretch of road at least.

“It’ll still be behind wire, Stupid!” Peter teased, “There’ll still be fences there. Mum, Jane’s stupid!”

“Sometimes I wonder which of you is the six year old, Peter.”

The boy didn’t stop to consider what his Mum had implied in this but started some Seat Bouncing (which was Against The Holiday Rules, of course). “Jane is! Jane’s only si-ix! Jane’s only si-ix!”

“That’s enough, both of you,” Bill snapped from the driver’s seat. He hadn’t meant it to come out quite so harsh as it did. Jane protested that she hadn’t done any thing wrong and began sobbing to the window. Beverly looked at Bill’s tired face and wished she’d had another go at attempting her driving test twelve years ago, when they were first married.

After a little while they reached an exit and decided to turn off the motorway. They could take the back roads as far as Bristol and join the M5 as it made its way west toward Cornwall. With the car moving at a steady pace, Richard seemed to cheer up, although the diversion was to add perhaps another hour or two to their schedule and they were unlikely to reach the cottage by lunchtime as they’d hoped.

The children had always been fairly patient on these trips really. When she’d finished sulking, Jane had agreed to a game of Travel Chess with Peter. Neither knew how to play chess (neither Peter nor Jane had that much patience) but for a few minutes they engrossed themselves in a game they called Travelling Castles. This was something they’d developed on previous holidays and seemed to involve the black and white rooks taking turns to chase the knights around the outside of the board, whilst occasionally the knight would move to the centre and pursue a terrified bishop. To Bev and Bill’s knowledge they had never formulated any set rules but made the game up as they went along. Perhaps this was the reason why Travel Chess was one of the few things the pair never quarrelled over.

A bright day blew past outside and mellow jazz played on the stereo. They always took turns to play tapes. This was something that Dad called one of his Compilations. The kids liked to hear the scratching noises at the beginning of each tune. Dad had said that this was the sound of a Needle, which used to be used to play music in the Old Days.

The kids slept for a while in the back, heads touching and mouths agape, their closed eyes making them look like new-born kittens when Bill or Beverley looked in the rear view mirror. They were awake before long, though, and starting up another rendition of Yellow Submarine. Beverley came in on cue as the children bridged the song: “Next verse, same as the first, little bit louder and a little bit worse!”

Bill smiled but he didn’t join in.

They were right out in the Countryside now, miles and miles from anywhere. Beverley helped Bill by navigating on the Ordinance Survey map from the glove compartment. “Perhaps we should have stayed on the motorway. I haven’t a clue where we are now,” Bill was getting tense again.

Out of the silent horizon, a Volkswagen camper van sped towards them. It was yellow, like the submarine in the song. A group of teens and twenty-somethings waved scarves of all kinds of colours out of the window, shouted excitedly and pointed down the road as they passed Bev and Richard’s Vauxhaul. One girl with a nosering pushed her grinning face right up to a side window and made a thumbs-up sign to the kids in the back. The driver honked a staccato medley of beeps as he zipped by.

“I hope that doesn’t mean we’re going to get stuck in a load of festival traffic,” Bill thought aloud.

“Remember when you wanted to get a van like that?” said Beverley.

“He was going too fast for these roads,” came Bill’s muttered reply as he continued frowning at the open road. It was looking increasingly alien, dusty and remote like something from a movie. The sky seemed bigger than usual and Bill fought off a feeling of apprehension at surroundings so unfamiliar. He was meant to be relaxing, damn it. 

Peter and Jane waved from the rear window as the VW disappeared and then continued their game of I Spy.

“Sky?”
“Nope.”
“…Sister!”
“No,” Peter was wearing one of his Wicked Grins. “Give up?”
“Yeah.”
“The SEA!”

“You CAN’T see the sea! That’s not fair. You CAN’T see the sea ‘cause we’re not THERE yet!” Jane protested.

“Yes I CAN see the sea. Because we’re GOING there. And that means I’m thinking about it so when I close my eyes,” he made a point of doing this, “There’s the sea! S’just in my mind but I can see it!”

Jane was about to offer argument to counter this logic, perhaps incorporating physical action, but by the time her sibling opened his eyes again all her objections had been forgotten. She hadn’t needed to say anything as both her parents were staring to the right in disbelief as well. Jane’s Daddy was already slowing the car to a halt by the side of the dusty, narrow road because Bill had been the first to see the Big Red Castle that was standing like a miracle in the fields a short distance away.

Now please don’t picture some historical relic or a hidden-away stately home. We’ve all seen them and, beautiful though they can undoubtedly be, this wasn’t like that at all. Not at all.

It was as if a piece of faerie tale had been left behind by whoever put the real world there: a huge palace standing in the field amongst the barley and the beet. The walls seemed to shine, a glistening shade of purple and scarlet and pink that couldn’t possibly look right on a medieval building. And yet it did. It was insanely beautiful. Towers reached up into the clouds, defying the eye as they jutted from the structure’s base. Archways and pillars that stretched around the outside of the castle mocked symmetry and teased the plastic will of Order until, in giggles, it conceded to chaotic Beauty. Windows, like bursts of stars all over the walls, reflected the sunlight, making the image seem to glitter in its undeniable splendour.

And was that the figure of a woman (a princess, surely) that moved past that window there? Was that a knight, running across the ramparts? Or just a trick of the light as the bright sun bounced off the roof? Peter thought he saw a unicorn run over to the forest to his left. Bev and Jane followed the flight of huge tropical birds as they circled the main tower and then disappeared into one of the windows. They just stood outside the car and looked, feasting their eyes on the vision before them.

Nobody spoke a word. Not even Peter. Nobody did anything but stare at the Big Red Castle that reached into the clouds and was standing impossibly in the field in front of them.

After perhaps six or seven minutes, it disappeared.

It may have been sooner than that but the Big Red Castle was there long enough for them to have absorbed the sight and drunk in their fill of it. They stood, blinking, a while longer and, still, nobody spoke a word. The desire to cry out, to ask “Where’d it go?” was as strong in Bill and Beverley as it was in their children but still nobody spoke a word. Instead, Bill reached out and clasped his wife’s hand, feeling her gently squeeze back, feeling like he hadn’t been aware of his hand for much, much more than six or seven minutes.

Witnessing this exchange, Peter took hold of his sister’s hand. She pulled away, wiped her nose on her palm absentmindedly and then grabbed his hand back. His smile now was further from his customary, teasing Wicked Grin than ever. For a very, very brief moment, Jane noticed he looked like his Dad.

Then they got into the car and Bill started the engine and, still, nobody spoke a word.

A mile or so down the winding country road, Bill stuck on the stereo again so the jazz played, more quietly this time. “Was that a Travelling Castle?” he asked his kids.

Peter was the first to reply, of course: “Yeah! A real life one, Dad! There aren’t many of those around anymore. They only turn up when they think nobody else is going to be there. Did you see that knight up on the roof? Well, he was searching for missing monsters to kill. There’s probably lots living in that forest – a whole gang of ‘em. And that’s why it disappeared so quickly too. The knight will have seen us and wanted to stay secret.”

“No, no, Peter’s wrong,” It was Jane’s turn to wear that infamous grin. “It’s a travelling castle, all right. But it’s owned by a beautiful princess. She’s really, really beautiful and she goes all around the world, right, looking for the most handsome Prince in the land so she can marry him. He has to be a really handsome prince, though, because she’s so pretty and her father’s a King, of course, and he won’t let her marry anyone who’s not handsome enough and he has to be kind and loving too and…” She burst into giggles, “and that’s why it vanished because she must have seen Peter and his face scared her off!”

Jane’s brother turned to glare but then he reached out to tickle his sister, which made her giggle more.

Beverley smiled, only partly out of relief that her children weren’t coming to blows. “You’re both wrong, kids!” she announced. “That was a travelling castle but not in the way you’re thinking of. It was from…” She paused for effect, “Another Dimension! It looked like a castle but really it’s a spaceship from the other end of the galaxy. It didn’t disappear. It just took off so quickly we couldn’t see it.”

Peter frowned and resolved to tidy his room like a Big Boy in future. He’d always assumed it was Jane who’d ‘borrowed’ his Science Fiction comics but now decided it may have been his Mother taking her time over putting them back in the drawer.

“And at night time it turns into a Vampire Castle, I suppose?” the boy said.

“That’s right,” smiled his Mum.

“Only when there’s a full moon, though,” continued Bill, seeming to waken from his silent driving.

“Oh, of course,” the Wicked Grin transferred itself to Bev’s face and she suddenly seemed a lot younger, “Only during a full moon!” Bill winked at her and smiled out at the lazy open road in front of them.

“Da-ad…?” Jane enquired.
“Ye-es…?” her father replied.
“What was that?” She said. “I mean. Really?”
“Yeah, Dad, what was it?” Peter asked.

“Well,” Bill stretched his arms out on the wheel, “It’s a long story…”

The fascinated silence told him what to do. He thought again of that impossible vision in the field. “Once upon a time,” he began.


© Copyright 2017 Richard Elliott. All rights reserved.

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