Authors: Andy Frankham-Allen
The Garden: Book One of Four
By Andy Frankham-Allen
Copyright 2011 by Andy Frankham-Allen
Cover Artwork Copyright 2011 by Steve Upham
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
“Strands of Self” Â© Betty Medeiros 2011
Lyrics from “Start Again” Â© Sam Tsui 2011
Used with kind permission
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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Also by Andy Frankham-Allen and Untreed Reads Publishing
Serere, A Prelude
THE GARDEN: BOOK ONE OF FOUR
This is for the Sister
and the little miracle that is Lady R
A man can surely do what he wills to do
But cannot determine what he wills.”
Sam looked up as the head rolled along the floor
“I really must get better guards,” he said with a sigh
“Trust me, they won't help.”
Sam smiled as the man walked into his inner sanctum. It had been a while since they had laid eyes on each other, and time had not been good on his old friend. He looked old and worn, his shoulder length ginger-brown hair now greying. But there was a fitness about him that was new. He glowed with a radiant energy
“Must we do this now?” Sam asked
The man brandished his sword. “It is time.”
Sam stood up and approached the man, his eyes narrowing. “I know this sword. How did you come by it?”
“How do you think?”
The hilt of the sword was fashioned in pure gold, while the silver blade shone like the sun, the inscription on it plain. Sam's eyes widened in wonder. “Then it truly is time.” He sighed as he stepped back. “You could have said no.”
“Like you did? I didn't have the choice.”
At this Sam smiled. “Really? Let me tell you something about choice.”
Don't attempt to hinder me
from those dreams I dare to keep
Happiness is tenuous and fleeting
yet its price is forever steep
(Strands of Self, verse one)
Willem tugged his jacket about him, wondering just why he'd decided to go to a park in such cold weather. Curtis didn't seem to mind and, if he was honest, neither did Willem. Despite the circumstances he always enjoyed spending time with his nephew, and was happy for any opportunity given him, even if it was a result of another of his sister's “crises.”
He didn't know the specifics, and at that moment he didn't much care; he could probably guess at them and he'd be right. In one word; Jimmy. Willem shook his head and brushed the thoughts aside; when Lawrencia finally turned up for her son he'd no doubt hear all the usual excuses and be impressed by none of them. Right now all Willem cared about was that Curtis was safely away from the latest crisis and the shit no doubt surrounding it. Even if that meant visiting Ravenscourt Park in the cold, Willem was happy to indulge Curtis.
It was one of those odd March days where, although the sun had clearly put his hat on, the wind had decided to come out and play, too. It wasn't anything close to a gale force, merely a light breeze, but it was bitingly cold which left people like Willem in the odd position of having a thick jacket on while at the same time wearing sunglasses to protect his sensitive eyes from the painful light. There were others in the park wearing shorts and t-shirts, playing up the British stereotype of throwing caution to the wind (as it were) at the slightest hint of sunshine. He supposed he couldn't really blame them; after all it wasn't typical of March to have such sunny weather. Willem, on the other hand, was no fan of the cold and refused to leave the house without his thick jacket regardless of how intense the sun actually was. Two things he didn't do well; cold and bright sun. Today was not, in his opinion, a good day.
He had spent much time in Ravenscourt Park back when he was a kid himself, having been brought up in nearby Chiswick. Plenty of memories; welly throwing competitions, inflatables, summer fairs. All good times.
As Curtis climbed the steps of the slide once more, Willem looked around the play area they were in and felt a wave of sadness. It had changed so much since he was a child, gone were the small paddling pool and sandpit, replaced by more vandalised swings and even more dead space. There was so little for the kids to actually do in the play area. The swings were mostly buggered, the slide had more grip than his shoes, and the roundabout was a source of more sweat than actual fun. To get even the slightest bit of speed required the kind of strength that Geoff Capes would have been proud to possess.
Willem really was feeling his age. It was this place, he hadn't visited Ravenscourt Park in years, and the nostalgia was intoxicating.
The rumble of the train passing by on its way to Stamford Brook dragged his attention to the arches behind the play area. It was funny how times changed the way you associated things; back when he used to frequent Ravenscourt Park they were just further play areas where kids easily frightened would be dared by other braver kids to stand underneath when the trains passed by, egged on in their fear of the arch collapsing under the weight of the trains. Now though, as he stood there, he couldn't help but envisage Ricky and Phil working on cars, despite the fact that Ravenscourt Park was nowhere near Walford.
Willem shook his head and looked back over the play area. It was empty except for him and Curtis, but nonetheless Willem saw children and parents everywhere. Ghosts of times long gone.
Laughing and joking, the swings looking brand new as dads pushed their kids, the older brothers gently spinning the younger siblings on the roundabout. It was 1981, the year of mothers dressed in the mass-marketed Azzedine Alaia knock-offs, and children with tight shorts and bright dresses. The boys were running around the park playing at being Indiana Jones, while most of the girls were combing the manes of Applejack or whatever
My Little Pony
they were lucky enough to own. Willem at five was less interested in Indiana Jones than he was in the craze that was then sweeping across the UK, in the shape of the Rubik's Cube.
He could see himself sitting there, on the edge of the paddling pool, his feet dipping in, showing his skill with the cube to the kid who was destined to become his life-long best friend, Jake.
Willem smiled at the memory. It was one of the best times he could recall from his childhood; for all the wrong reasons. Most people tended to recall a time of closeness with their families, where they felt safe in the presence of their parents, but not Willem. It was the best time because Jake had only been living next door for two weeks and, although he could never have expressed it at the time, Willem knew he'd found the one true friend that would always be there.
They were at the park with Jake's mother, who the five-year-old Willem found endlessly fascinating. It wasn't her amazing beauty, but rather her accent. She was American! It seemed an odd thing to be fascinated by, looking back in an age where the world was such a small place due to the internet, but back in the early '80s having an American family living next doors was akin to living next to Buckingham Palace. Americans were only really seen at the pictures, not that Willem went to the pictures much at that tender age, and on TV. Having a family who sounded like Buck Rodgers and Wilma Deering on the same street was the most exciting thing young Willem could have imagined. It didn't take Willem long to make friends with Jake, especially seeing as Jake ended up in the same class at school. Barely two weeks on and Willem was out at the park with his new American friend, the two of them were inseparable.
Willem sighed. He knew exactly why he'd come to Ravenscourt Park now. Things with Charlie were heating up, and now they were verging on actual relationship material. It was a new thing for Willem; never had he felt this way about someone. Well, not
true, a while back there had been Jacen, but he wanted Willem to changeâ¦whereas Charlie wanted Willem exactly as he was. The enormity of what was coming was not lost on Willem, and so when Curtis had been dumped on him, he had subconsciously chosen to take his nephew to the place he'd been happiest as a kid, when things were equally as new but in a different way.
Curtis called out to him and Willem snapped himself out of his reverie. He jogged over to the slide, laughing. “Not as slip-slidery as it should be, eh, kid?” he asked Curtis, who was unhappily stuck half way down the slide. For a moment it looked like Curtis was going to join his uncle in laughing, but his chubby brown face crumpled and the tears came. “Oh, come on,” Willem said, “are you being silly again?”
Curtis shook his head. “I'm stuck,” he said simply, and started coughing. It was a forced cough, the kind only a kid would try in an attempt to get more attention. But it wasn't going to work on Willem. He loved his nephew, he really did, and it annoyed him when he saw Curtis act like this.
It was his sister he blamed; one minute she would be lavishing all kinds of attention on her son, and the next she treated him like he didn't exist. And Curtis, being the sharp kid he was, soon worked out how to play on this neglect, and became a master at the choking cough.
Willem lifted Curtis off the slide and stood him on the ground. The boy continued crying, his brown skin taking on a red hue as he forced more tears out. Kneeling down, so he was closer to Curtis's level, Willem asked in a firm voice; “Why are you crying?”
Through sniffs Curtis replied; “For no reason.”
Well, Willem couldn't argue with that, but it wasn't the reason for which he'd been searching. “If for no reason, why you crying?”
“Because it's naughty,” Curtis tried again, his two-and-a-half year old mind coming up with another of the responses he'd been taught.
Willem laughed. “No, it's not naughty this time. You're just being silly. You don't need to cry if you get stuck. You call me and I'll help you. Do you understand?”
Curtis sniffed, his bottom lip trembling. “Yes.”
“Good,” Willem said, knowing full well that Curtis didn't quite get it yet, and took a tissue out of his pocket. “Now let's wipe those tears away before they become stuck to your face. You don't want that do you?” he asked, his tone now light and playful.
“No,” Curtis replied, the sniffing dissipating, “I look silly then.”
“Of course you would. Come here; give your uncle a skwudge!” Tears wiped away, Curtis embraced Willem and for a moment the two remained like that, the unconditional love of his nephew warming Willem's heart.
A slight vibration in his pocket and the unmistakeable emotive vocals of Sam Tsui alerted Willem to an incoming message, and he immediately released Curtis. “Go on, play,” he said, as he retrieved his phone from his jacket. He flipped it open and read the message from Charlie, but beyond the phone the blurred Curtis remained where he was, looking up at his uncle. Willem sighed and returned his focus to Curtis. “Shall we get you some chocolate?”
Willem smiled, and took Curtis's little hand in his. “Yes, we'll get you a
. Come on.” Together they left the play area, Curtis smiling at the thought of the upcoming “trick.”
Willem didn't notice, his attention was on the text message. He smiled broadly, feeling the familiar samba within, and quickened his pace.
* * *
He should have realised that getting home in any amount of time that could be considered quick was a virtual impossibility, but he had been so caught up in the anticipation of his forthcoming chat with Charlie that Willem had totally forgot it was almost midday on a Saturday, and more importantly that two big matches were being played that day.
It was one of those rare occasions when both Chelsea and Fulham were playing at home and no matter which turning he took off from Hammersmith Broadway he would hit heavy traffic. True, there were plenty of back streets he knew that he could cut through to get to his house, but first of all it meant navigating the busy roads off the Broadway.
He stopped at the traffic lights before turning onto Fulham Palace Road, waiting for a 220 bus to emerge from the bus station that sat atop the main shopping precinct of Hammersmith Broadway. As the bus slowly cut through the traffic, Willem was reminded of a time before the Broadway precinct had been built, when the mall down King's Street was the centre for shoppers in Hammersmith. He smiled as he saw Jake and him going into W. H. Smith to look at the latest
toys; just to look, of course, since there was little to no chance of them affording Ultra Magnus.
Willem blinked away the memory, and idly wondered what was the what with his mind today; it seemed to be stuck on the old lane of dusty remembrances.
By the time he'd got through the traffic that didn't want to let up, Curtis was fast asleep in the booster seat, after nattering away to himself during the slow journey from Ravenscourt to Fulham Palace Road. The length of the rest of the ride home was clearly too long for the boy to keep his mind active, and sleep had soon won over the previously interesting stream of people they passed. Willem didn't want to wake the kid for two reasons; one, it was good for kids Curtis's age to have midday naps, to re-energise their batteries; and two, he wanted to have his conversation with Charlie in private, and with Curtis sleeping in the spare room Willem wouldn't feel the need to censor or guide the conversation onto something safe. But, alas, Curtis was one of those light sleepers, and as soon as Willem unbuckled the straps, Curtis began to stir.
Acting quickly, Willem scooped Curtis up and held him so that Curtis could rest his head on Willem's shoulder. With the addition of a few soothing sounds Curtis was soon back to sleep, and Willem rushed inside his house as quickly as he could, careful to keep Curtis's face out of direct contact with the oncoming cold breeze.
His house was a pretty typical affair from the outside; one of the many converted Victorian houses situated on Barclay Road, just off Fulham Broadway, but the ramshackle look of the outside belied the luxury within. It was left to appear a little rundown externally on purpose by Willem; a safeguard against potential burglars. Despite its rise to prominence due to the recent development of Chelsea football club and the Broadway shopping centre, this area of Fulham was still quite known for its high rate of crime, and burglary played a not so small part in that. Willem, thanks to his coffee shop business which, with three shops now, was turning into a profitable small chain, was living quite comfortably but he didn't wish it to become public knowledge and so he allowed his house to appear dishevelled. Burglars generally chose places they knew they'd make a quick profit off, and to their mind Willem's house was just another old Victorian home settled by some old codger who barely had enough money to maintain it.
Within the walls though, it was another story. The entire interior, from lounge to bathroom, had an air of homeliness to it. Framed arty pictures decked the walls of the hallway and the lounge, going all the way up the two flights of stairs and along both landings. Once the front door was closed behind him, Willem dumped Curtis's little rucksack on the carpeted floor and kicked off his shoes, before jogging up the first flight of stairs to the spare room.
Certain that Curtis wouldn't stir for a while, Willem left the door open a crack and bounded downstairs, into the lounge where his laptop was still sitting on the glass coffee table before the Como sofa. He opened the laptop only to discover that the battery was dead, and only then recalled he hadn't bothered removing the charger from the laptop backpack when he'd returned home the previous night. He scouted around the room for the backpack. The lounge was, being the centre of his social interaction when at home, done out with luxury and relaxation in mind. The three-seater Como sat opposite the old Victorian fireplace, which still used real wood to warm the lounge, and was complemented by a Como chair which sat adjacent to the fireplace before which stood a footstool done out in the same Como style. Many a cold night was spent by Willem lounging in the chair with his feet resting on the stool, the burning logs warming his feet. By the bay window was the latest in home cinema software, a Sony DAV HD widescreen TV, sitting on top of a stylish metal frame, the bottom shelf of which housed a DVD recorder, a Wii and an Xbox 360 Kinect.