“Has everyone got everything?” Victoria asked.
“Yes mum,” Beverly groaned.
“Kevin, have you got your iPod?” she asked the boy coming down the stairs.
Kevin, holding his passport between his teeth, just nodded.
“Frank?” she shouted in the general direction of the kitchen.
“I’m coming,” came a yell from upstairs. “I’m just changing the ink in the printer.”
She sighed. “Print the boarding passes in black and white,” she shouted.
“It’s the black that’s run out,” came the reply.
She shrugged and checked her watch. Nearly four in the morning, and they were running late already. Why on earth did she agree to go on such an early flight?
“Come on kids,” she said. “Let’s get in the car.”
She reached out for the handle and tried to pull it downwards. It wouldn’t open. Puzzled, she bent down to get a better grip and tried again. It didn’t move.
“Kevin,” Victoria looked at him, then pointed at the door. “Can you try this?”
The teenager put his passport in his back pocket, sidled past his mother, and grabbed the handle. He tried pulling it downwards with both hands, but it wouldn’t budge.
“It feels like someone’s holding it closed from the other side,” he said.
“But it’s not that kind of lock,” his mum said. “There isn’t a handle on the other side to hold.”
“I didn’t say they were,” Kevin grunted, still heaving at the handle. “Just what it felt like.”
From upstairs, Frank gave a shout of triumph and the sound of the printer started.
“It’s going,” he said. “Should have them in a moment.”
“Should have printed them before we went to bed, like I said in the first place,” Victoria muttered.
Kevin gave another grunt and turned to look at his mother.
“Sorry mum,” he shrugged. “I just can’t move it.”
“Oh let me -” Victoria began.
All the lights went out.
“Nooo,” they heard Frank scream. “Not now.”
“Can’t we just print them at the airport?” Victoria shouted up the stairs.
Rapid footsteps and Frank’s head appeared over the banisters, barely visible in the moonlight coming through the landing window.
“We can,” he said. “But they’ll charge us.”
“I don’t see we’ve got a choice,” Victoria sighed.
Frank pouted, and thought for a moment.
“OK then,” he said, and started down the stairs.
There was a click and the front door opened.
“I’ve done it,” Kevin said, incredulously. “I’m not sure how, but I’ve done it.”
“Oh well done,” Victoria smiled, grabbing a suitcase from the hall carpet. Frank followed behind her and picked up another suitcase, and followed the other three outside. The front door closed behind them.
Frank went to the boot of the car and felt in his pocket. “I think I’ve left the keys upstairs,” he said. “They’re not in my pocket.”
Victoria opened her bag and started looking. “They don’t seem to be here either.”
“Have you got your house keys, Kevin?” Frank asked. The boy reached into his left pocket, and frowned. He checked the other pocket, then the two side pockets of his jacket. Finally, he shook his head.
Victoria sighed. “Let’s hope we left the bathroom window open then,” she said, and started walking towards the garden gate.
“I can go up,” Kevin said.
“It’s OK, Kevin,” Frank said, following after her. “Your mum’s done this before.”
The gate, of course, was bolted from the other side. It wasn’t quite head height, but tall enough to cause a problem. Frank helped Victoria over and then pulled himself up so she could help him over.
“Ten years ago we could have done that a lot more easily,” Victoria puffed.
“Well,” Frank nodded. “I mean, we could start getting up at six and go to the gym every morning before work…”
“Yes,” she smiled, sardonically. “I can really see that happening, can’t you?”
“No,” he shook his head. “Neither can I.”
They turned and looked at the back of the house.
“See,” Victoria pointed. “The bathroom window is open.”
As they looked, the bathroom window closed.
“Must be the wind,” Frank said.
“I can’t feel any wind, can you?”
Frank shook his head.
“Did I see the catch go down?”
He looked at her. “From here?” He raised one eyebrow. “I can’t even see the catch.”
She shook her head. “Maybe I’m imagining things.”
“What time is it?” he asked.
She looked at her watch. “Four fifteen.”
He closed his eyes. “We’re not going to make it at this rate.”
“Well, we can but try,” Victoria said. They went to the back of the shed and picked up the wooden ladder and placed it against the wall.
Frank held the bottom of the ladder while Victoria climbed. She grabbed onto the window frame with one hand and pulled to open it. The window remained firmly shut.
“Come on,” Victoria almost shouted at the window, pulling hard. “We’ve got a holiday to go on.”
She put her fingers around the window and pulled, too hard. One foot swung off the ladder and she breathed in, sharply, her handbag arcing across the night sky while her left hand kept a tenuous hold on the corner of the window. Below her, she could hear Frank groaning.
The window clicked, and opened, just slightly.
Victoria pivoted her weight back and slid her right hand under the slight opening and pushed the window from behind. She ducked as the window swung open, instinctively reaching out to get hold of something. Her right hand grabbed the sink – at least, she thought it did. It felt cold, like porcelain, but also as though something was holding tight to her hand. It was an illusion, she thought, of course – everyone was outside the house.
She pulled herself back into place and waited for a few moments for the rush of adrenaline to subside. Without realising, she began breathing in the ujjayi manner, like she had been taught in tai chi, restricting the breathing to calm the body.
“Are you OK?” Frank asked.
Victoria managed a thumbs up with her left hand, and then began to climb the ladder again.
It was fortunate, she thought, that she chose to wear jeans and trainers tonight. It was the obvious choice for travelling, of course, but also for climbing ladders at four-something in the morning.
She climbed over the sink and stepped into the room. Leaning back out, she looked into the back garden to see Frank throwing up in the corner. His fear of heights was clearly still as bad as ever.
Victoria stood up and turned around. The bathroom door slammed shut in front of her.
“What the…?” she asked of nobody in particular.
Sensing something, she turned to look at the full length mirror to see a frowning face dart swiftly out of sight. She blinked, surprised.
Looking around, she saw nothing out of the ordinary. There was nobody in the bathroom with her. She was alone.
Suddenly, Victoria felt cold.
She closed the bathroom window, and opened the bathroom door, carefully.
“Hello?” she asked to an empty hallway. Nobody answered.
Gingerly, she put one foot onto the landing, still holding the bathroom door handle in one hand. From here she could see the three open bedroom doors. Kevin’s door slammed shut to her left, and she jumped. From the corner of her eye she saw as the master bedroom slammed, and her daughter’s room, almost immediately afterwards.
She tool a step back into the bathroom, alarmed.
“This place is haunted,” she whispered to herself.
What to do? Victoria stepped out of the bathroom door, trying to look more confident than she felt.
“Look,” she said, trying to sound confident. “I don’t know what problem you’ve got with us, but we are going on holiday. We need this break. We must have this time away. Whatever it is that you don’t like about us, can we sort all this out when we get back?
“In the meantime, Mr or Mrs Ghost or whatever your name is, I would really like to get my keys from the master bedroom and then go outside, please, if you don’t mind?”
The master bedroom door clicked and the door opened a fraction. Victoria’s heart hammered in her mouth and she could hear the blood rushing in her ears.
“Thank you,” she croaked, her throat dry.
She walked across the hall and opened the door to the master bedroom. There, on the side table, were her keys. She picked them up, dropped them in her handbag and walked downstairs to the front door.
Frank came round the corner just as Victoria opened the front door.
“I came over the top again,” he said. “We ought to sort a better way of working that gate.”
She nodded, closed the front door, took the keys out of her bag and smiled a fake smile. She wanted to tell them about the ghost, but now wasn’t the time. Maybe when they were on the beach, far away, and could laugh about it. Maybe not even then.
Frank took the keys and opened the boot.
“That’s funny,” he said, scratching his chin. “No light.”
“Maybe the bulb went,” Victoria suggested
“Well that’s all we need,” Frank said.
“Can I get in the car dad?” Beverley asked. “I’m cold.”
“Of course love,” he said, pulling down the boot lid and taking out the keys. He passed them over to Victoria and continued loading the cases.
Victoria went to the driver’s seat, unlocked the door and put the keys in the ignition. She turned them to switch on the radio and the heating. Nothing happened.
“Oh no,” she groaned.
“What?” Frank asked, looking round the side of the car.
“Nothing,” Victoria replied.
“OK,” Frank smiled, and went back to putting the last case in the boot.
“No,” Victoria shook her head. “I don’t mean nothing’s wrong, I mean nothing’s happening. The battery’s dead.”
Frank’s head reappeared around the side of the car again.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
She raised an eyebrow and turned the key the other way. Normally, the engine would have started. This time, nothing.
Frank closed the boot and came to stand by the open driver side door. “I’ll call the breakdown,” he said, pulling his mobile phone out of his pocket and flipping it open.
Victoria looked at her watch. Four twenty-five.
“We have to be there for a flight that leaves at five thirty,” she said. “We’re late already.”
“I know,” Frank nodded. “Oh hello, yes, we need a home recovery please, we … Frank Chambers, and the postcode – oh you’ve got it from the mobile… oh right, I see… how long?”
Victoria’s eyes grew wide.
Frank shook his head. “Well, you see my problem is that I have a flight to catch at five thirty and really I only have… yes, I appreciate that, but… OK, well if you can wait a moment while I get my wallet -”
“Expired?” Victoria mouthed. Frank nodded.
“Yes, yes, I can do that.”
Victoria flapped her hands.
“Just a second,” Frank said. “Our cover has expired, but she’s going to…”
Victoria beckoned towards him and he passed the phone to her.
“Hi, I’m Victoria Chambers, Frank’s wife,” she said. “I’m named as the second person on the policy.”
“Hello Mrs Chambers,” came a slick, practiced voice over the phone. “Basically, as I was telling your husband, your cover expired a couple of weeks ago and you didn’t renew it, so I’ll need to process a payment before I can get a van out to you, but unfortunately that’s probably going to take at least an hour to get to you at the moment as it’s actually quite a busy night…”
Victoria handed the phone back to Frank, stood up, took the keys out of her handbag and opened the front door.
“Come on kids,” she said.
They looked at her.
“Well done,” she whispered. “You’ve won. For now.”
It took a long time to get the kids back to bed. Kevin, being a teenager, was surly and unhappy about the whole thing. Beverley cried and insisted on a second bedtime story before she would go to sleep because the power came back on during the first one and woke her up again. It was over two hours before Victoria joined Frank in the living room.
“What are you watching?” she asked.
He turned the sound off. “Something to do with home improvement, I think,” he said. “So far they’ve torn out the kitchen and put it in a skip. I assume they’re going to put a new one in but a couple of minutes ago they were looking at sofas.”
“I’m not really watching it, to be honest.”
They were silent for a while.
“We should be flying now,” Victoria said.
They stared, blankly, at the television.
The television switched over to a 24-hour news channel and the sound came back on.
“And the latest on the air crash story,” the presenter said. “The airline have confirmed flight GXK207 has crashed on the runway on takeoff, and there are currently no confirmed survivors.”
Victoria and Frank looked at each other, eyes wide.
“Where are the tickets?” Victoria asked.
“Still in the case, in the side of the car,” Frank replied.
They bolted out to the car. Victoria was shaking when she opened the boot, and made a scratch trying to get the key in. She tutted to herself, then got the key in the right place and opened it.
The big case was underneath the children’s cases. They pulled it out, and unzipped the side pocket. Frank took out the red folder and pulled out the ticket. He held it out and pointed at the flight number.
“Here,” he said “GXK207.”
Victoria looked at the ticket, then up at Frank. “Do I look as pale as you do?”
“Probably,” he replied. “I think I need to sit down.”
“I need a stiff drink.”
They took the suitcases, closed the boot, and went back over to the house.
As they passed the threshold, Victoria patted the door frame and whispered “thank you.”
From the corner of her eye, in the hall mirror, she saw the same face she had seen in the bathroom mirror earlier. This time, it was smiling.
The post “Road To Back Home” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.