Authors: Tom Llewellyn
Text copyright © 2010 by Tom Llewellyn
Illustrations copyright © 2010 by Sarah Watts
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Tricycle Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Tricycle Press and the Tricycle Press colophon are registered trademarks of
Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Llewellyn, Tom (Thomas Richard), 1964-
The tilting house / by Tom Llewellyn ; [illustrations by Sarah Watts]. — 1st ed.
Summary: When Josh, his parents, grandfather, and eight-year-old brother move into the old Tilton House, they discover such strange things as talking rats, a dimmer switch that makes the house invisible, and a powder that makes objects grow.
[1. Dwellings—Fiction. 2. Eccentrics and eccentricities—Fiction. 3. Family life—Washington (State)—Fiction. 4. Rats—Fiction. 5. Human-animal relationships—Fiction. 6. Washington (State)—Fiction.] I. Watts, Sarah (Sarah Lynn), 1986- ill.
HE WOODEN SIGN
on the porch read TILTON HOUSE.
“Why’s it called that?” I asked. No one knew. Not even the real estate agent, Mrs. Fleming—though the way her hands were shaking made me wonder if she was hiding something.
We were all standing in the house’s front yard next to an overgrown holly tree that reached higher than the rooftop.
“Fourteen eighteen North Holly Street,” said Mom, looking over the information sheet. “This is the cheapest house in the neighborhood, even though it’s got to be one of the biggest.” Mom looked up at the agent. “What’s the deal?”
“Maybe we should go inside before I answer that,” said Mrs. Fleming. “The previous owner was a bit eccentric.”
“It’s a classic,” said Dad. “Looks like a custom design. It’s got a nice big front porch, and it’s in a decent neighborhood.”
My little brother, Aaron, and I glanced at the house next door when Dad said this. Boards covered most of its windows.
The house in front of us wasn’t in much better shape. The two windows on the second floor and the sloping roof over the porch made me think of a gray old man with a drooping mustache.
Half an hour earlier, I would have said that any house was better than the cramped apartments we’d called home my whole life. Now I wasn’t so sure.
“It needs paint,” Mom pointed out.
“So we can paint it,” said Dad. “What’s your favorite color? Josh and Aaron’ll help—won’t you, boys?”
“Can we paint it today?” asked Aaron.
“See?” said Dad. “The boys are excited.”
“I’m not,” I said. “This place looks like a dump.”
“Quiet, Josh,” Dad said quickly.
“You’d only be the second owner,” Mrs. Fleming chimed in. “The original owner lived here more than seventy-five years.”
“Oh, is he …?”
Mrs. Fleming nodded. “Yes. He passed away just recently.”
“A dead guy lived here?” Aaron asked me in a whisper.
“Before he was dead,” I replied. “Not after.”
“Who’s that man across the street?” asked Mom. “He’s staring at us.” On the front steps of the well-kept old home opposite sat an elderly man. He was looking right at us and his lips were moving, but from where we stood we couldn’t hear what he was saying.
“I’m sure he’s harmless, honey,” said Dad. “Anyway, you’re the one who’s always saying you’re sick of living in apartments. This is our chance! There is no way we could afford another house like this.”
“Well, let’s look inside,” said Mom. “But there’s got to be a reason it’s so cheap.”
We followed Mrs. Fleming up the front steps. She unlocked the door and placed a shaky hand on the doorknob. Then she hesitated and turned to face us.
“Now, it may be a bit … unnerving when you go inside, but remember what a good price this is. And remember what wonders a coat of paint can do.” She smiled weakly and opened the door.
We walked inside and the world tipped.
Aaron fell against me.
“Watch it!” I said.
“I can’t help it!”
Mrs. Fleming sighed. “The floor tilts three degrees precisely. If you’re thinking the house is settling, it’s not. It’s as solid as a rock. The house was built this way and I can show you the original blueprints to prove it.”
“You mean the whole house is like this?” asked Mom.
“I’m afraid it is. Every room.”
“Why would someone design a house with tilting floors?”
“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Fleming, checking her watch. “It’s a bit of a mystery.”
“Cool!” said Aaron. I glared at him and took a few steps into the hall.
A ray of sunshine streamed through the open doorway, lighting up swirling particles of dust. As my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I noticed something. Words, numbers, diagrams, and
drawings scribbled in pen and pencil covered the walls, the railings, and most of the floor.
“Walls are easy to paint,” Mrs. Fleming said, following my gaze.
“I wouldn’t dream of painting it,” said Dad softly. He walked lopsidedly to the nearest wall. On the faded rose-patterned wallpaper, the words
, were written in spidery script next to a drawing of a cone-shaped device. Wires connected the cone to the ears of a beautifully drawn and detailed human head. A chart of numbers next to the head was labeled
“It’s strangely beautiful,” Dad said. “Honey, this could be an important work of outsider art. The museum should know about it.” He turned back to Mrs. Flemming. “Was the owner an artist?”
“I don’t know. None of the neighbors ever met him.”
“I thought you said he died just recently.”
“He kept to himself,” said Mrs. Fleming. “That’s what the neighbors say at least. But neighbors say a lot of things.” Her hands were shaking harder than ever. “I can drop an additional ten thousand off the price if you make an offer today.”
met him?” I asked.
“I’m sure someone did.” She put her hands behind her back. “Look, I understand if you’re not interested. I’ve shown this house over twenty times and no one’s ever gone past the entry. Just say the word and we can go our separate ways. No hard feelings.”
“I never said we didn’t want it,” said Dad. He turned to Mom, who was shaking her head. “Give it a chance, hon. This house could be a serious artistic find. Look at the detail on these drawings.”
“They look like they were drawn by a crazy man,” Mom said.
“People thought Van Gogh was a crazy man.” Dad was trying to win her over—Van Gogh was Mom’s favorite artist. “And look at the trim! It’s probably cherry.”
“Actually, it’s holly,” said Mrs. Fleming.
“Did you hear that? Holly! Holly trim on Holly Street. What other house has holly trim? Look at the carving on this stairway. And what about these original wood floors?”
“I saw them. They’re all tilting.”
“Okay!” cried Mrs. Fleming. “I’ll drop the price by twenty thousand, but that’s as low as I can go!”
“It’s not low enough,” I piped in.
We bought the house. For that price, Mom said she could get used to the tilt and the scribbles. I think she realized that Dad was right: We’d never be able to afford a house half as big on Dad’s art museum salary and the money Mom made working part time at the school office. We were doomed to live in a dumpy, tilting house.
Two weeks later, on the first day of summer vacation, we moved in: Mom, Dad, Grandpa, my brother, Aaron, our cat, Molly, and me. We left behind a two-bedroom apartment across town, where my parents had one bedroom, Aaron and Grandpa the other, and where I had slept on the living room couch.
On moving day, while the rest of us hefted boxes, Grandpa eased into the porch swing and pulled out his pipe and tobacco pouch. His wooden leg made him kind of wobbly, so he sat puffing and directing traffic.
Aaron and I stopped a moment to rest on the porch. Grandpa ran his hand along the carved armrest of the swing. “This is fine craftsmanship. Some of the best I’ve seen. I can tell that this porch
swing and I are gonna be good friends,” he said. “Now I can smoke even when it’s raining.”