Back in July, Chuck gave us a link to a random title generator, which gave us six weird titles. I chose this one, and started off with no clear idea of where it would end. I love the way stories evolve. The changes in tense are deliberate and there is method in my madness. It’s 1100 words.
Windows in the Serpents
My brother Marty is always saying daft things. We mostly ignore him. Sometimes we laugh. Like when he asked, “Mummy, if trees have knots why do their trunks unravel?”
It was a good question, really. I had to explain about roots, since I’d just done them in science. Uptake of nutrients, anchoring from the wind, and something else, I can’t remember what, now.
He followed my explanation with “why do elephants need anchoring in the wind?”
I sighed. “Because they’d blow away if they didn’t, silly.”
That led to a whole load of elephant jokes, started by my dad, who was sitting in his favourite chair, reading the Sunday paper. Mostly he hid behind the paper, but sometimes he emerged, looking over his glasses, which had slid part of the way down his nose: “How do you know if elephants have been in the fridge?”
“Because they leave their footprints in the custard!” we chorused, joyfully.
Half an hour later, I was in the kitchen with Mum. It was going to be apple pie for pudding, so she asked me to open a can of custard.
“Why would anyone leave footprints in the custard?” I asked.
She did a double-take and then remembered the jokes earlier.
“In the old days you’d leave leftover custard in a bowl in the fridge.” she said. “It used to be a great treat when I was growing up, cold custard. Never lasts long enough to be put in the fridge these days.”
“Why didn’t you finish it up when it was hot?”
“I don’t know, maybe we were only given so many spoonfuls with our pie and the rest was saved till later. I don’t think they had as much food then, and we had to make it last more meals.”
I remember that afternoon so clearly, because Marty came out with another one. It was raining so we were hanging around, looking out of the window, well, looking through the raintrails, anyway, trying to spot anyone who was daft enough to be out in it, and waiting for our games hour. On Sundays we were allowed to use our games from 5 till 6, and that was it. I don’t know why my parents were so strict, but that was the Law.
Anyhow, Marty pauses and stops moving his finger, which is tracing the raintrails down the window. “There are windows in these serpents,” he says, really loud, half accusing, half astounded.
We ignore him at first, although I think Dad shakes his head sadly, as if Marty was a moron.
“There are, there really are, come and look!”
“Not now, Marty,” says Dad. “I’m busy.”
Well, he wasn’t busy, anyone could see that. He’d fallen asleep over his crossword and dropped the pen on the floor. He reached down for it. Marty seizes his chance and leaps down from the window to pull his hand.
“Come and look, Dad, come on!”
Dad sighs. “Serpents on the window, Marty, that’s all. They do look like them, you’re right.” He tries to settle back, but Marty is adamant.
“No, no, no, no, NO!”
“You might as well look, Peter,” Mum says, trying to stave off a tantrum.
Dad eases himself out of his chair and leans over us. Marty relaxes immediately. That boy knew how to turn it on.
“There, look, there, Dad.” He points at one of the trails running down the outside of the glass, and then another, then another. It was hard to keep up, and anyway, the trails were moving, the drops making new routes and falling away before you could register the detail.
“Oh yes, the window is reflected in the droplets, and the tiny trace of water they leave behind on the window.” Dad tries to go back to his chair, rolling his eyes at me, so Marty can’t see. “Have you told him about surface tension yet, Carrie?” he asks me.
“No,” I say, wondering how to explain that to Marty.
“They’re not our windows!” Marty is very cross with us. “Look, they’re not! They’re like the gingerbread house.”
Dad looks at Mum helplessly. Mum did the reading about the gingerbread house when we got that story. She read it when Dad wasn’t home. He had to travel a lot for work. “Let me look,” says Mum, getting up from her book.
Now that Marty has everyone’s attention, he isn’t going to let it go. He shows her, then me, then Dad has another look, and I get the book of the gingerbread house so we can compare them.
“Well, Marty,” Dad concludes. “You’re absolutely right. There are windows in the serpents, and they look pretty much like the ones in the gingerbread house. It’s amazing, and I have no idea what causes it to happen. Why don’t you ask Miss Wilson tomorrow?”
Miss Wilson teaches science at our school. She’s great and she knows lots and she makes science really interesting. Marty nods, satisfied that his discovery has been taken seriously. I’m not sure Miss Wilson would, without evidence, but maybe it would rain tomorrow, too.
Fortunately for Mum and Dad, it was games hour right then, so Marty went to his room and I went to mine and we played our favourite games, with our friends online.
We really wouldn’t have thought anything more about serpents and windows, except that Marty disappeared that night, without a trace. We thought he was kidding at first, hiding somewhere really clever. Then we thought he’d found a way of climbing out of his window, but the catch was locked on the inside. So was the front door, the back door, and coal cellar which doubled as a tornado shelter. The police said there were no signs of anyone entering or leaving the house because the rain had washed them away. There was no DNA evidence inside from anyone except ourselves.
Losing Marty was bad, but it got worse. They took Dad away for questioning and kept him locked up for weeks. Mum cried a lot. The kids at school stopped being kind and started whispering. They stopped that in favour of asking horrible questions, then they taunted me and said I’d killed him. Then nobody talked to me at all. I turned the phone off so I didn’t get any of the hate messages.
It’s raining again. I’m watching the windows in the serpents and realise what happened. If Marty doesn’t come back, I hope I can go and join him, and keep him safe. In the gingerbread house. If it isn’t too late.
© J M Pett 2015
PS I mixed up the elephant jokes, just for fun. It should of course be ‘because they leave their footprints in the butter.’ What’s yellow and dangerous? is ‘shark-infested custard’.