White vapour escaped our mouths as we walked side by side in silence in the direction of the abandoned detached house. The white fence was in a very poor state, the gate already opened, barely hanging on its rusty hinges. The porch was equally damaged, the tall wet grass damping our trousers as we got closer to the entrance. It was awfully quiet, the only reassurance was Harry right in front of me, leading the way.
As soon as we stepped foot on the porch, the wooden structure squeaked under our feet. It seemed as if an inattentive step would result in the collapse of the whole structure.
“The door is locked,” Harry stated once he noticed the chain on the front door.
“Oh well, guess we will have to leave then,” I spun on my heels, thrilled that we would be avoiding an evident awful experience.
“Not so fast,” Harry called “There must be an open window on the lower floor, we just have to search.”
“Thank God you found a solution,” I said sarcastically “I would be so disappointed if we couldn’t get in the house.”
“Oh come on...” he dragged his words “Where is the Summer I know, always seeking for new adventures and unafraid of anything?”
“I think she might have stayed on the train.”
He rolled his eyes and hopped off the porch. He went around the house, trampling over the wild vegetation in hopes of finding an open window.
“Over here!” he called. He was clearly overly excited. “Although the window is locked, the glass is shattered so a small hand can unlock it from the inside.”
“Let me guess, I’ll have to do the job,” I stated, studying attentively our improvised entrance. The hole of the broken glass had sharp edges, but my arm fitted perfectly through it without touching them.
I pulled my sleeve as far as the thick garments would let me and stuck my arm through the glass. I reached for the lock. It seemed like it was stuck, and I had to pull it as hard as possible until it budged, careful not to get cut by the sharp blades of the glass.
“Since I opened it I have the right to go first,” I stated, getting in position to lift my body upwards. I noticed Harry moved to help me, but he soon found out I needed no help as I pulled myself inside the house almost gracefully.
“I think I have mastered the ability of climbing windows, don’t you think?”
“Clearly,” Harry stated, joining me inside as he followed my actions. As soon as his feet landed inside, we fell quiet.
We looked around the division of the house we found ourselves it.
“It looks like a dining hall,” I stated, observing the furniture around me. The house, it seemed, was completely intact. All furniture, along with carpets, chandeliers, tablecloths, paintings, cutlery, wallpaper, was left untouched. We thought it was an inhabited house, that it was empty and left uncared of, but now, as we took in the sight in front of us, it seemed like the house had been left all of a sudden, never to have any visitors or residents again.
“I think we should go,” Harry sounded, his voice jittery “Clearly this house has an owner and wasn’t simply abandoned. We could be arrested for trespassing private property.”
I completely ignored his statement, fascinated by what we had found “Do you think they left suddenly one day, I mean, the owners of the house?”
“I doesn’t matter, we just have to leave, right now.”
“You were the one that said you wanted an adventure,” I spread my arms turning to him “Isn’t this a great adventure? We are not leaving until we have a good look, not now that I am interested.”
He sighed in frustration, clearly having an inner debate “Fine, one look around, but we are leaving in five minutes.”
I clapped my hands and whispered an excited yes as I reached for Harry’s hand, guiding him further into the house. Everything was in the exact place as it was left, a significant layer of dust covering every single object.
The house was impossibly cold, even colder than the outside. It had a gloomy feeling to it, and the silence was unsettling. Every step we took, the wooden floor would creek, and that sound alone felt like enough to disturb the morbid silence that house held.
“It’s so cold in here, “I whispered, feeling like talking normally would seem like shouting in that environment.
That was when I felt warm lips connecting with my hand, a warm breath heating it up instantly, a rush of heat running through my body like a shiver. I looked behind me; Harry’s eyes were already connected with mine once I met his, glinting in the dim light.
I instantly connected my free hand to the one he was holding. Harry copied my actions. He held both my hands in his, heating them up with the warmth of his breath.
“WHO IS THERE?!”
I screamed and jumped back, turning around in a flash, our intimate moment interrupted abruptly. I looked at Harry, his eyes were wide in fear. That meant the hoarse, raucous, booming voice I had heard was real. My heart was beating faster than ever, it seemed like it was going to jump out of my chest.
That was when the source of the sound came into view. My breathing stopped and I automatically grabbed Harry’s jacket, getting closer to him.
There, in front of our eyes, was a man, a homeless man. His dirty hair was wizened, his beard resembling straw. His clothes were musty and soiled, and although he was as skinny as a leaf, he stood dauntingly.
“Uh...Uh...” I tried to speak, but my words were caught up in my throat.
“Well?” the man asked in a booming voice, making my bones rattle.
“We were just looking around and we found this house and it seemed to be abandoned so we just came here to explore, we aren’t even from here we just took a train and we are waiting for the next one to arrive we are just killing time we will never bother you again I’m so sorry please don’t kill us.” The words tumbled out of my mouth in one single breath. Harry was incisive on whether to stare at me or at the man, clearly in shock.
The man was silent, studying us attentively. Then, abruptly, he burst out laughing, a loud, deep laugh.
I didn’t even dare to look at Harry, completely terrified of the man in front of us. Why was he laughing?
“Look at you, you are shaking like leaves!” he laughed some more at our expense. I was perplexed.
Harry held my upper my arm, pulling me behind him “Let’s get out of here.”
“What, so soon?” the man asked, “But you just arrived.”
I looked at Harry for the first time since the man appeared. I knew he was thinking the same as me.
“I’m sorry, but who are you?” Harry asked, more angry than afraid now.
“Jeffrey Abbott, and this is my home!” he bowed, extending his arms and crossing his legs, laughing once more. He was surely making fun of us, and no matter how scared he made me feel moments before, the adrenaline had transformed into anger. I could feel Harry was likewise not enjoying that mockery.
“How can that be? I see you can barely afford new clothes, how could this household belong to you?” I spit, my pride speaking louder than my fear of this foreign and unpredictable man.
“Ah you see, this is not really my house, I just crashed here one day two years ago and I stayed here ever since,” he explained, and surprisingly I found myself listening.
“Nobody ever came here to claim it as theirs?” I asked, a question I had asked myself as soon as I noticed the house had its household effects intact.
“No, not ever. Lucky me, cos if they had I would have to leave and I like this place too much!” he laughed once more, the smell of liquor hitting my nose mixed with the scent of days without taking a shower “For the time being, that is until the police officers don’t find me, I am the official owner of this house, and I believe it is rather rude of you two to just trespass someone’s house.”
“Well, you surely wouldn’t know about trespassing,” Harry remarked sarcastically, but Jeffrey seemed to take it light-heartedly.
“I will consider you as my visitors, but first I have to know your names.”
He stood in front of us, his arms crossed over his chest, his horrendous nails exposed to us. He was waiting for us to answer, but I wasn’t simply going to tell him our identities without knowing his intentions.
“My name is Mary, and this is Jacob.” I used the names I had used earlier that day at the train station in London to fool the officers that we weren’t who Mr Hansen claimed us to be. It was better to keep our true identities hidden.
Jeffrey smirked at us, a hint of amusement in his eyes “You see, all the young couples that usually invade my house is either for two things, to get high or to get laid, and by the looks of it, it seems you were planning on the second option.”
My cheeks certainly went bright red as I remembered the weird but very real conversation I had had with the mysterious woman on the train.
“Didn’t you hear what I told you? We were just exploring.”
“I didn’t say otherwise, did I?” the man let out a deep laugh once again. That man certainly was very entertained, but this time I knew he wasn’t mocking us. I had a good feeling about him; surely he wasn’t going to harm us, he was an old, helpless man with legs as skinny as my arms.
“If you insist you were exploring, why don’t I give you a tour around the house? It is the least I can do since you are now my guests.”
I glanced at Harry. His eyes were wide, silently begging me to get the hell out of there, but he was the one who insisted in the first place that we came; we weren’t simply going to leave, not now that we were asked to stay.
“We would love to.”
The old man smiled widely, surely glad to have some company. He told us usually teenagers would invade the house, but I knew that wasn’t true; if it was, he wouldn’t have scared us to death in the first place, he would have known how to handle the situation, which he clearly didn’t.
He seemed like a miserable and lonely man to me, but Harry didn’t seem to follow my train of thought.
“Are you crazy, let’s get the hell out of here now!” he whispered-shouted in my ear so that Jeffrey couldn’t hear us as he led the way through the corridor of the house. “Maybe he is planning on drugging us or worse, killing us!”
“Relax Harry, can’t you see he is harmless?”
“He doesn’t look that harmless to me... Besides, he knows where all the knives are-”
Our exchange was cut short when Jeffrey turned abruptly around to face us “Which would you like to see first, the kitchen or the library?”
“How long have you been living on the streets?” Summer asked as she took a seat on the dust covered sofa, too relaxed for my liking. I just couldn’t believe she was actually engaging in a conversation with a homeless man, a man who had scared the living hell out of both of us moments before. My wish was to leave that very instant and go back to the train station and wait patiently for the train, but I couldn’t leave Summer alone with the foreign man, who knows what he could do to her.
“It’s a long story, you wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me,” she insisted “I know you and your ilk, the story can’t be too complicated.”
I stood far away on the corner of the library, too nervous to look the man in the eye, but that sentence caught my attention, and it seemed it caught Jeffrey’s too.
“Oh really? My ilk uh? Now I’m curious to know what you know about people like me.”
She chuckled dryly “I asked first.”
And with that Jeffrey told us his story. He had been sleeping on the streets since he was eighteen after being kicked out of his house by his parents. The reason he did not tell us, but it became pretty obvious once he told us he drank a lot during his young years. He went on like that for years, drinking and sleeping wherever he could, made some good friends as he travelled aimlessly through England in hopes of finding more booze or a place to spend the night.
“That was when one night one of my friends decided it would be funny to put some petrol over me and set me alight in my sleeping bag,”
“And then what happened?” I found myself listening attentively to the man’s story, intrigued with the bizarre stranger we encountered.
“Luckily, I didn’t have to go to the hospital, but I got badly burnt and I feared for my life at some point. I never saw those sons of bitches again, and that incident was a wake-up call for me. I decided to get my life straight; I got a job as a garbage man, received an hourly wage of eight pounds, which was more than I ever got in my life. I was still living on the streets, but I was done with the booze and was seeking help from the local services, I even met this terrific girl, her name was Monica...”
“She told me I could go live with her as soon as I got enough money to take care of myself. She was my only hope to get my life truly normal again, it was as if God had given her to me as a second chance... But she was too good to be true, and soon enough I discovered she was cheating one me. Never saw that whore ever again either, and one day as I roamed around, I found this palace, which let me tell you, is very very far away from everyone that has ever betrayed me.”
We were silent after that, the weight of the words falling on us. For the first time, I kind of felt sad for the poor man.
“Now Mary,” the man broke the silence with a loud voice, startling us both, “I asked you a question that hasn’t been answered...”
“Oh, you mean how I know people like you?” Summer lifted her head towards Jeffrey, a soft smile on her face “I have grown up in a really poor neighbourhood in Birmingham since I’ve been born. I know poverty, I know crime, and I know what it feels like to sleep on the streets.”
I stood silent, listening attentively. I knew this information, but Summer had never gone too deep in explaining how she had lived before I met her, and curiosity was eating me inside, especially know since she seemed to connect with this stranger.
“Ah... Birmingham... I have been there for a couple of years. You have had a tough life Mary, although there are much worse places to live.”
I was starting to get incredibly nervous. How was it possible that this man, this filthy, drunk man and Summer understood each other? I imagined a younger version of Summer, dressed in similar clothes, sleeping on the streets, knocking on doors for food, walking to school in the rain, taking freezing cold showers. I imagined her parents, applying for every single job they could, degrading jobs I suppose, just to pay the bills of the house.
I then realised that the man in front of me that I thought so lowly of could have been Summer if she had never gone to Hudson, if she had never left that neighbourhood she had grown up in.
“You know you can start rebuilding your life again, nothing is stopping you.”
“But I like this life; you expect nothing, you get disappointed by nothing. I just don’t like the idea of having something, because if you have something, whatever it is, you can lose it. Besides, I like being alone, I have everything that I need in this house and I go get food from people who are willing to give. It’s not the ideal life, but one thing I am sure of, it can’t get worse.”
“That’s for sure,” Summer agreed “Jacob, what time is it?”
I was called to reality as soon as she called my name, or my fake name, clearing my head of such mysteries that I had to figure out sooner or later or I would go insane “We have ten minutes before the train arrives.”
“I forgot to ask you, where are you going?”
I was just about to respond we were going to Tilbury Port before Summer interrupted me.
“I told you I know your kind, and for that reason, our destination shall remain a mystery.”
I looked at Summer in shock. She just bluntly said that she didn’t trust the man and I was afraid of his reaction, but I should have known better than to worry; he laughed, of course (it seemed he didn’t know how to react any other way). That laugh reminded me of Santa Clause’s laugh, but it wasn’t as joyous or vibrant.
“Oh Mary, Jacob, you have made my day a pleasure! I wish you good luck in your adventure.”
“Thank you, Mr Jeffrey Abbott, you certainly have made ours a little different from what we expected.”
Summer thanked him, and I, as usual, stayed quiet. Jeffrey showed us the back-door of the house and took from his pocket a key. He opened it and the first thing I noticed was the tremendous rain. It was raining so heavily that the once high grass looked like it was glued to the muddy ground.
“Another good thing about this house is that it keeps you safe from the rain,” Jeffrey added as the three of us stared out the door.
“We have to run to the station. It’s not too far away from here, but we will get soaked anyway.” I said.
Summer turned back and extended her hand to Jeffrey as she said goodbye to him. He extended his hand too, and they shook hands. Her small, white, clean hands seemed made of porcelain compared to Jeffrey’s massive, wrinkly, dirty hands.
We said nothing more as we headed out the door, sprinting through the abandoned garden, but I did notice Summer looking back and waving her hand at Jeffrey Abbott, a man I hoped to never see again.