A door clicks.
Footsteps accompany cracked, rasping breaths.
I quickly coorie under the covers, and lie as deadly still as a corpse. I try to suppress a growl from the depths of my stomach but it insists on betraying me. I can only pray that its loud rumble will go unnoticed. The single-pane windows chitter then repeatedly rattle as the wind grabs hold of their cold metal frame, trying to force them out. I peek at the handle being coerced into giving up its remaining screw. The wind hurls and hurls and hurls the rainy spray at the fragile glass; its salivating, gaping mouth is intent on devouring everything in its path. This is my only means of escape should things get worse. I hold my breath. I shut tight my eyes. I strain my ears. The stiffness in my limbs slowly surrenders to numbness as I listen to the shadows, silhouettes, spectres who insist on seeking me out in the darkness. I steal some shallow breaths, stifled by the heavy inhalations hovering above me. I can’t do this any longer. I can’t do this. I can’t. But the anticipated shriek of disapproval does not materialise. The presence recedes with a creak and a click as the door closes. Satisfied? Longer breaths shake from my mouth and I cautiously keek over the cover. The furniture seems innocent enough but the insidiousness of the peeling wallpaper is palpable: its long shadows point accusingly at the black mould which assaults my nostrils. Muffled voices from below: conspiratorial.
Feeling safe again, I flick the switch on my torch. The warm glow envelopes me and illuminates the darkness. I must somehow make my way back to Kirrin Island to meet with my friends: Julian, Dick, Anne and George. After all, we five (plus Timmy the dog, of course) were famously on the verge of solving the mystery of the sunken ship and its secret haul of treasure. My eyes frantically scan the print on the well-thumbed pages held in my hands and come to rest. I pull the book closer to me, balancing my torch between my chin and shoulder. I lie on my side and sigh. After that simply dreadful storm, I’m back on George’s small boat, sailing towards the safety of her rocky, little island. Splendid. Home and dry.
My parents always safely tucked me up in bed, issuing strict instructions not to read longer than thirty minutes. The obligatory check, to ensure that I was sleeping, came much later. The problem was that I always read longer than my limit. Always. This meant that I had to keep an ear to reality; I had to be prepared to swiftly spring into action to avert any ensuing parental wrath.
My love for books began from as far back as I can remember. Their pages took me down many paths as I escaped into other people’s worlds. How could I possibly resist their calling? The Famous Five were constant companions to the eleven year old me, helping me to break from the humdrum: sniffing out shady characters; solving mysteries and generally making the world a better place. I joined my friends whenever I could and, no matter their perilous pursuits, all ended well. Their parents neither worried nor chastised them for having good old-fashioned adventures. I was in my element.
But in order to fully experience my other lives meant that I also had to deviate from the shy, quiet self that everyone thought they knew. Time off school with run-of-the-mill childhood illnesses was often extended thanks to the hidden hot water bottle which kept my cheeks suitably flushed. I could lie undisturbed, listening to adult conversations in the background, and read the unnoticed book lying at my side. Even when out playing, my defiant side was continuously kindled when I wandered away from the noisy neighbourhood, with a book stuffed in my pocket, to seek a secluded spot forward of the trig point on the braes. Here, I read in peace and quiet, oblivious to the dangers of the real-life scenarios playing out in the sprawling Glasgow City below me. If my parents had known I was out here alone... But, I did abide by one rule: as long as yer back afore the street lights come on!
I suppose I learned from an early age that adults tend not to notice children who sit silently and behave. Even at school, I took advantage of this and my book – perched precariously on my lap – was surreptitiously read at any, and every, opportunity. And so, I experienced lives I would never have encountered had I not insisted on deviating from the rules. These lives were so far removed from my version of reality. They were not chalked pavements, counting potatoes, playing cowboys and Indians; they were a brighter sun, greener grass and birds twittering in the thorn.
In the early years, living in the idyllic adult-free zone of my novels gave me the freedom to roam childhood in blissful ignorance with no real concept of danger or harm. But, I was an inquisitive child and this led to me questioning all sorts of ideas and perspectives as I grew older. Unsurprisingly, my five friends faded into obscurity as I became more daring and widened my circle: I had other treasure islands to explore, schooner ships to sail, and swashbuckling pirates to fight in more tropical climes.
Nowadays, my literary tastes are quite far removed from what they once were and my groaning-to-the-point-of-collapse bookshelves hold far too much dust and stour for most people’s liking. Throw them out...I couldnae be bothered wi all of these... No, I will not throw away my many lives. And, for the record, when folk tell to do something? Well, I do the opposite.