Henry sat on his bed and wished that they could return to the city. His mother said that this was their chance for a fresh start. His father said the country would be good for all of them. Henry knew that his father meant it would be good for Henry.
It wasn’t that Henry didn’t like his new room or the big house in the country, it was just that he knew he would miss his old life. The new house was what his mother referred to as ‘gothic’ — a big rambling thing with spires and turrets and lots of dusty corners to explore. It was surrounded by woods that promised to be filled with adventures and foraging expeditions. But Henry had liked their house in the city. He liked the hidden spaces there and the treasure hunts he went on in the cellar and the attic. He liked the noise from the street — cars trundling past and newspaper boys calling at dawn and the jangle of the bells on the blacksmith’s horses’ reins as they trotted beneath his window.
The new house stood all by itself at the end of a winding lane. There were no neighbors for miles and the quiet sagged like a heavy drape across the estate. Sure, there was the calling of the wood pigeons and the breeze nickering gently at the trees and he could hear his mother down below, calling directions to the moving men and his father clopping through the downstairs hall in his brogues. But beneath those sounds was a silence that threatened to pull him down into its emptiness. He would miss talking to Mrs. Atkins and Mr. Thomaston. He would especially miss playing for endless hours with Edward. His friends wouldn’t be coming to the big new house in the country — their place, they said, was at the townhouse.
So Henry sat on his bed, kicking his feet against the portmanteau he was supposed to be unpacking and watched the dust motes spin lazily through the sun that spilled like treacle through the windows.
His friends were the reason his parents had uprooted and come all the way into the middle of nowhere. Henry loved Mrs. Atkins — she let him sit with her for entire afternoons and told him stories about ‘the good old days.’ Mr. Thomaston regaled him with tales of intrigue and scandal surrounding the families who lived in the house before. Henry liked the games that Edward taught him. But, try as he might, he couldn’t float above the floor or through the walls like Edward did.
He tried talking about his friends, but his mother just cried and told him not to speak of them. The children at school ran and hid, or teased whenever he told them. They said they didn’t exist, that Henry was making them up. Jenny, the girl who kept house for Henry’s family refused to come with them to the country. She said she had had quite enough of Master Henry’s shenanigans and she would have nothing to do with his ghost stories.
So Henry sat in his new room and peered glumly into the portmanteau at his toys and clothes and books he had to find places for. It was just a big suitcase, but his mother insisted on calling it a portmanteau. She liked to use big words for things – apparitions, psychological fantasies, sanatorium. But she called Henry’s new doctor a ‘special doctor,’ when Henry knew the real name was psychiatrist. He didn’t know why he was the one who had to see the ‘special doctor,’ he was perfectly fine. It was everyone else who was acting strange and insisting they couldn’t see people who were clearly there.
Henry sighed. He was going to be lonely here at the new house, there would be tutors and nannies, but no-one interesting or fun.
Henry heard the stairs creak and jumped up from the bed thinking it must be his mother come to check on him. He rummaged through the portmanteau, looking busy so his mother wouldn’t scold him.
The door opened, but it wasn’t his mother who came in. A man dressed in black, his hair and beard peppered with grey, stood in the doorway. His face was pale and the irises of his eyes were so blue they were almost white. He smiled.
“Hello young man. Welcome to Burleigh House.”
Henry wasn’t going to be lonely after all.