It was a windy day, and the whole house seemed to float in the breeze. The airy feeling was uplifting, a contrast from the gloomy sky.
We had just moved into the old house, exploring all the vintage rooms and never-ending hallways.
My little seven-year-old sister Simone trailed after me while clutching the stuffed orca toy that she called Eve.
“Why don’t you find Mom? Just do something other than follow me.”
“But this house is so much bigger than ours in France, Percy. It’s… scary.”
I sighed, opening another door.
“Simmy, it’s not scary. It’s just old.” I said with annoyance in my voice.
Simone stepped in front of me, through the open door frame.
The room we entered was beautiful.
The colour scheme was navy blue and a pristine white. The furniture was down to the bare necessities: a twin-sized bed with a blue comforter made so tightly that it was void of wrinkles, paired with perfectly shaped white pillows. There was a thin, snowy white dresser with not a speck of dust to be found. Next to the bed was a white night table. It was then I found the source of the wind. Close to the night table was a window with billowy white curtains blowing in the breeze as if they weighed nothing. The window showed off the stunning view of countless trees and rolling hills. The gentle, synchronized swaying of the trees was nearly enough to put me to sleep. The wallpaper completed the look. It was covered in dove-like birds, behind them being off-white vines and an endless abyss of navy blue backdrop.
The room was stunning compared to the rest of the matured house. Sure, it was still old fashioned, but it was gorgeous. The rooms’ ambience could’ve lulled an insomniac to sleep.
I yawned and rubbed my eyes as I exited the room, not really caring if Simone noted my absence.
I was in my new room, sitting on my bed.
My room was decently small compared to the others, the creaky wooden floor covered in dust and moving boxes. The room had a musty and damp smell but was actually coated in dust and thick air.
The room reminded me of when you go to your grandparents' house just for them to stick you in a room that hasn’t been slept in for decades.
I sucked in a deep breath of stale air as I glanced around aimlessly.
The sound of scratching and something fluttering in the breeze ripped me from my scatterbrained thoughts. It was annoying, but a welcome distraction.
I listened intently to the point of my ears straining.
My tired brain ached as I tried to find a rational explanation of the otherworldly noise. It was one of those noises that you think you’ve heard before, but once you try and place where, it’s nearly impossible.
I turned on an old desktop fan to drown out the noise and filter the air.
After what seemed like hours of just laying there, I managed to drift off into a restless sleep.
My alarm woke me up at a time too early for my liking, and it felt as though I hadn’t slept at all. The mattress was hard as concrete, the pillows so thin they were near non-existent.
The dim light streamed through the crack in the blinds, illuminating the dust I inhaled all night.
It was my first day of school, and to say the least, I wasn’t looking forward to it. At my last school, my friends were few and far between, if you could even call them that. At least it was better than nothing.
I had hoped for the best that things would turn out, but I had never been a lucky kid.
I got dressed, just throwing on the first things in reach. I ended up with a gray t-shirt and black jeans.
The ever-so-present dust flew off my clothes in protest, and I coughed. I pulled up my shirt in front of my face to breathe.
I ran out of my room into the cool air of the hallway. Let’s just say that if I was a car, I’d have more to care about than just a little speeding ticket.
I ran straight into Simone, her wide-eyed face staring back at me. I mumbled my apologies.
“Did you get much sleep?” Simone asked, ignoring my previous mumbles. “No, not really. Why?” Her nose scrunched up.
“Did you hear… the noise?” I stared down at her, realizing that the noise hadn’t just been my tired imagination.
“Probably just something outside.”
“But Perc-” She was cut off by our mom calling us downstairs, her voice strained and groggy, but holding an unmistakable air of authority. I sighed, turning away from her to head down.
Downstairs, I was met with the deteriorating face of my mom. Eyebags and worry lines swallowed her once glowing skin. Her stringy brown hair was tied unnaturally tight on her head. Below her cold eyes, her cheekbones jutted out so far as if trying to escape her face. Her skin was sickly and ashen.
Ever since our dad had died, she turned into a workaholic. Whether it was for a distraction or something to give her purpose, I wasn’t sure… but her obsession nearly had her knocking on death's doorstep.
Death was an ugly thing as it plucked Dad from his hospital bed like something won at a fair. Just a cheap prize that would soon be forgotten about. I constantly tried to forget him, but he nearly never slipped my mind.
His million-watt grin flashed in my mind, paired with his angelic laugh. God, his laugh… When my body fails me as his did to him, there’s no way his soul-filled laugh will leave. It’ll stay on this earth forever, echoing in the wind that ruffles the leaves and plays with windchimes.
Uncertainty tugged at the edges of my mind as I pondered whether Simone's’ memory was a curse or a blessing. She was too young to remember him.
Sometimes I wished that I was like her, too young and innocent to know what it was like to peer down on her father's’ lifeless body, wondering why the machine next to him changed its’ steady beeping to one single, prolonged note. Wondering why her beloved dad didn’t hug her back as she cried out for him to say he was okay, that he could come home with us once again.
I knew what death was, of course. What prevented me from comprehending that he was gone was simply the fact that because he was so special to me, it wouldn’t happen to him, right? That just because I loved him, he couldn’t possibly die… right?
Our mom ushered us out the door, not saying a word. She used to be so loving and lively, her aura of beauty absolutely stunning. She turned into a shell of her former self.
Our mom pulled up the car to the side of the school, along with countless others. She gave us a nod as we slid out.
The wind had a chilly bite to it.
The school was obviously beautiful at one point, but years of neglect altered its’ state.
The brick walls were tinted just the wrong colour to turn red into gray, the colour matching the gloom-ridden sky. There were cracked flower baskets hanging from the bricks, containing old and long since wilted flowers. The grass was dead and unkept. The windows were cracked and dusty. The schoolyard was just a plain, kid-covered ground of decaying grass and upturned dirt.
I let go of a long held breath.
I waved to Simone as she was lead off to the designated spot for her age group. I wanted to stay with her, but I knew that hiding behind a seven-year-old was pathetic. I was only four years older, but that didn’t change anything.
I stuck to the wall, watching as bland and indistinguishable faces passed by.
In my daze, I nearly missed a boy and his posse walk toward me with a confident gait.
I blinked my eyes as they snapped back to focus, staring at them with an almost dumbfounded look.
The leader said in a mocking tone, looking back and smirking at his friends. I knew they meant trouble.
I tilted my head up just slightly to look at him because he wasn't that much taller than me. Maybe around two years older at most.
His dishevelled blonde hair was borderline stylish, his bright red t-shirt tucked a little too tight into his faded blue jeans.
His honey-brown eyes stared back at me with malicious intent.
When I didn't respond, he continued, “Haven't you been taught it's rude to ignore someone when they talk to you, pretty boy?
I furrowed my eyebrows at his little nickname.
“Haven't you been taught how to wear a shirt?” I glanced at his failed attempt at looking cool.
Behind him, his friends looked scared at my response, visibly wincing.
“Oh... look, guys. Pretty boy here has an accent… and an attitude to go with it. Why don't we teach him a little lesson?”
I showed up to my first class with a bloody nose, a split lip, and a throbbing purple eye. I caught everyone's pitiful doubletakes, and it just made things worse.
I had just laid there, taking the pain. I hadn't cried since my dad died, and I wasn't going to start there.
“Can we take a moment to welcome Mr. Bridelaire to the class? He's a new student. Where did you come from?”
The teacher, a middle-aged lady, started. Her red hair laid lazily on her thin shoulders, thick-rimmed glasses hiding her eyes.
I ducked my head down, hiding my injuries. “France…?” I unsurely called out as if it was a question, something only she would have an answer to.
“Oh, very nice. So, everyone, I want you to be especially nice to him today. Maybe show him around a little?” Yeah, a little too late for that.
I slumped back in my creaky plastic chair and stared out the window, wondering if Simone's’ morning was going any better.
The day went by painfully slow, every second agony to my broken and bruised face. He had also gotten a few kicks in, but he wasn’t strong enough for them to make any real damage.
I hopped into the car with Simone by my side. From the corner of my eye, I could see her staring at me. I was unsure whether it was out of pity or fear.
She refused to tell me how her day was, and I assumed it was to not make me even more upset than I already was.
Simone deserved so much better than that. Sure, she was a pain, but I loved her nonetheless.
Back in my room, I plopped on my bed. Dust danced around me in swirls.
My mom hadn’t said anything to me that night, and it hurt me a bit, but I was used to it. In the rare case she said anything, it was always only to Sim.
Thankfully, I had started school on a Friday. Two days of solitude wasn’t nearly enough for me to ever look forward to going back.
Eventually, I drifted off to sleep, but was shortly awakened by a frightened Simone at the door.
“Did you see that?” She said in a hushed voice as if she had seen something magical, and was afraid of scaring it away.
“I’m sleeping, Sim…” I groggily answered.
“Not anymore, you aren’t.” She said with a light chuckle. I groaned.
“Fine, come in.” She stepped carefully over the boxes, joining me on my bed.
“There were… birds. They flew out that pretty room on the third floor.” I shook my head. She had always been slightly superstitious, while I was more no-nonsense. Gullibility was also one of her more negative traits
“Please don’t start this again. All the windows are closed. All except- all except the one on the third floor.” My voice slowly trailed off.
“Exactly.” She made her way out of my room without another word, and left me to wonder. How could she have seen birds? Sure, there was a possibility a bird could’ve snuck in through the open window, but the chances would’ve been slim.
The next night, I couldn’t sleep. The sound of scratching and the sight of shadows behind the crack in my door kept me awake. After a while, I had enough. I stepped outside my door to see absolutely nothing.
In the morning, Simone kept looking at me with the most suspicious grin she could muster. Eventually, she pulled me aside.
“I have to show you something. C’mon!” She led me outside, to the front of the house. My eyes travelled up to the still-open window.
I was getting impatient, rocking back and forth on my toes.
“Look,” She finally said.
I looked back up to the window, just to see a beautiful storm of white-feathered wings flying in a hurried frenzy. Doves.
“How did they all get in there?” I said in bewilderment.
“They didn’t just, ‘get in,’ they were there the whole time. Remember the wallpaper?” I couldn’t believe what she had said. Of course, I remembered the wallpaper, but couldn’t comprehend the fact that it was more than just that.
“That night I woke you up, I saw them coming out of the room. They peeled from the wall like 3D stickers, and it was beautiful. I told you to believe me!”
From that moment on, I knew that no matter how much pain I was in, that was my home. My home was my mom, my sister, and that horribly old house. Maybe even that dreadful school. Even though a piece of me would always be in France, and in my father's’ grave, I was there… and so were the birds.