Daniel Glancey, a boy of twelve years and eleven months, was lying on a grassy hillside one warm July afternoon. His leather-bound sketchbook, in which he had been drawing earlier, lay on the grass beside him. A light breeze made his red hair stand up in the front, exposing his forehead and causing his blue eyes to glisten in the sunlight. A flock of ducks was trying to keep cool in the pond at the base of the hill while Daniel's pure-white cat, Willow, crouched behind a wall of tall grass ready to pounce (although, of course, he never actually did). The sound of a stream running through the rolling pastures completed the picturesque scene – a scene to which Daniel often came to get away from the rest of the world.
"Dan!" interrupted a scratchy voice from over the top of the hill. The recent feeling of tranquillity was suddenly lost.
"Dan!" screeched the voice again, and Willow poked his pointy-eared head up from his grassy hideout, causing the nearby ducks to take flight.
The voice was that of Daniel's mother, Janet Glancey, calling from their cottage (or rather, his cottage) over the hill. Daniel disliked the name "Dan." His mother knew this; he had mentioned it several times before. Perhaps she had chosen to ignore him because "Dan" was an entire syllable easier to say, or perhaps she did it simply for her own amusement. Whatever the case, her obnoxiously loud calling of the unwanted nickname suggested that she wished him to carry out some errand for her. Daniel got up and hiked over the top of the hill towards the cottage.
In Daniel's opinion, the cottage was the greatest place on earth. It was an old, two-story house decorated in the traditional, upscale English style. Its walls were made of a deep red brick and it had a steep roof with dark shingles. Situated on a vast estate in the heart of England's Lake District, it was certainly far more lavish than the Glanceys' usual standard of living.
Normally, Daniel and his mother resided in Vancouver in a tiny, grungy apartment. Daniel had recently inherited the cottage from his late grandfather (on his father's side) and he and his mother had come to England to speculate.
As Daniel approached the cottage, he could see his mother sitting on the patio in the vegetable garden. She wore her usual extra large t-shirt and extra large pants and had on sunglasses and a sunhat. As Daniel came closer, he saw that she was reading a celebrity gossip magazine and was smoking a cigarette (which was no surprise). The plastic chair she sat in seemed far too small for her – or rather – she was far too large for the chair. It was as if its plastic legs might snap off at any moment or the parting of its arms might soon cause the chair to split in two.
"I need you to get some stuff at the store for me," she said without looking at him. "I'm gonna need more cigarettes soon too, but the stupid law won't let kids buy them."
"That's probably a good thing," said Daniel.
"A good thing?" she said, now looking straight at him. "When I gotta drag my behind all the way into town for a pack of cigarettes?"
Daniel said nothing. His mother held out a fistful of money and a rather long grocery list.
"Bring me the receipt when you're done," she reminded him as he took the money and list from her.
"Sure," he said simply. "See you later then."
His mother did not reply. It seemed she was too busy with her magazine and cigarette to bid him farewell. Daniel got on his bicycle, which was propped up against the wall of the cottage, and headed down the country road in the direction of the town of Seathwaite.
After the long ride into town, Daniel obtained a great number of items at McLeod's Grocery and Drug Store and was currently waiting at the checkout behind a lady called Mrs Bristol. The shop was typical of a small town. It was small, had wooden floors and dim lighting, and it was the only grocery store within miles. The owner, Mr McLeod, was an older man with a fair bit of stubble. He wore a plaid shirt, corduroys, suspenders, and a cap, all of which looked a bit grimy. Daniel supposed he was also a farmer, by his appearance.
"Have a good evenin', Mrs Bristol," said Mr McLeod to his customer. "Evenin'!" he said, now addressing Daniel. "Haven't seen you around 'ere before."
"I just got here a few days ago," Daniel explained. "I'm staying at the Glancey Estate just south of here, if you know where that is."
"Blimey!" exclaimed Mr McLeod. "You must be Arthur Glancey's grandson!"
"Did you know him?" asked Daniel.
"Know 'im? Why, he came 'ere almost every day! I reckon yer from out o' town, judgin' by yer accent."
"Yeah, I'm from Vancouver."
"Suppose ya've been out this way before though, havn't ya?"
"No. It's my first time in England."
"Blimey!" shouted Mr McLeod a second time. "You mean to say ya've never even come 'ere to meet yer granddad?"
"No," replied Daniel. "I didn't even know he existed until I got the inheritance notice."
"I reckon ya don't know much about 'im then."
"Not really," Daniel confessed.
"Well," said Mr McLeod, "there's a few things you ought to know about yer granddad. He was a bit of an odd fella, if ya know what I mean. Always ramblin' on about some 'great treasure' hidden beneath the Cumbrian Mountains. Told everyone he'd been down in the mines lookin' for it. Well," he continued, "everyone knows there's no mines in the Lake District.
"Other thing is 'e had a funny way o' dressin'. Always wore funny glasses, e' did. Made 'is eyes look as big as grapefruits. Clothes never matched either. 'E looked half a farmer and half a businessman. Some said 'e even wore ladies' clothes, on occasion. People jus' thought 'e was mad, as you can imagine."
"He sounds…," Daniel was at a loss for words, "…interesting."
"Oh, 'e certainly was that," confirmed Mr McLeod. "For the last ten years of 'is life, 'e kept tellin' folks about 'is wife. He'd talk as if she was still alive and well, but everyone knew Mrs Glancey was long dead. We all remember it; 'er death was tragic. Got run over by a truck full o' cows, she did. Most think that's why old Arthur went round the bend."
"Really?" said Daniel.
He glanced at his watch in hopes of suggesting he needed to get going.
"Blimey!" hollered Mr McLeod once again. "I got so caught up in me story, I forgot you were 'ere to buy somethin'!"
He rang the rest of Daniel's groceries through the till.
"That'll be thirty-one pounds and eight pence, um … er … what did ya say yer name was again?"
"Daniel," he said, although he did not recall ever telling him that before.
"Right, Daniel. Have a good evenin' m'boy and hope to see you again soon!"
"Thank you," said Daniel as he left with a mountain of groceries so large that he could barely carry them all.
Daniel had bought so many groceries at McLeod's that their overall weight nearly surpassed his own. This made the return trip much lengthier than the first; he often had to walk his bicycle up steep hills and had to rest his legs frequently. By the time he arrived at the cottage, the sky had turned a deep blue with just a hint of yellow lingering over the distant mountains. As he walked his bicycle up the driveway, he noticed an unfamiliar dark car parked there. He saw it was Mercedes-Benz and assumed it belonged to another realtor. In hopes of selling the cottage for a high price, Daniel's mother had already had several realtors over. However, for some inexplicable reason, each of them had suddenly left without even giving an estimate. It was as if they had all just vanished and taken their fancy cars with them. One realtor, however, was kind enough to send the following reply in the mail:
Dear Mrs Glancey,
Because of the events that occurred on the day I visited your home, I have decided that I cannot represent you in selling it. I must say that at first, I was tremendously pleased with the home, but I now have a great many complaints that I feel must be addressed.
Firstly, you really must do something about the quiet elderly lady (whom I assume to have been your mother) who offered me tea in the kitchen. It was courteous enough of her, but when she poured the tea, her hands trembled so violently that more of it landed on the table than in the cup. Moreover, when the tea seeped off the table and into my lap, I endured a particularly unpleasant (and particularly hot) sensation around the groin area. It was thanks to her that my newly purchased suit was ruined.
Secondly, your kitchen cupboards and drawers seem to have developed the unusual habit of quivering loudly whenever one goes to open them. For example, after the hot feeling in my pants had become a cold, wet feeling, I thought I might search for something with which to dry myself. As I drew nearer the cupboard left of the sink, it began to shake more and more ferociously. After deciding it was probably best not to open the cupboard, I thought I might try the bathroom instead. To my disappointment, however, the door leading into the hallway was locked. I would suggest that next time you keep the kitchen door unlocked in case such events are to occur again.
Lastly, I would like to inform you that I did not enjoy the odd behaviour of your kitchenware. When I found that I had no means of drying myself other than opening a shaking cupboard, I finally did so. To my great astonishment, however, all of the cupboards and drawers opened simultaneously and I soon found myself surrounded by flying knives, forks, spoons, plates, saucers, cups, mugs, pots, and pans, as well as the nozzle from the kitchen sink. With a great number heavy, hard, and sharp objects whizzing about the room, I wasted no time in rushing to the door leading outside (which, thankfully, was unlocked), getting into my Aston, and leaving the premises at once.
I am sorry to say that I will not be able to sell your home and, if I may say so, I doubt any realtor could.
That is all,
It was obvious, to both Daniel and his mother, that the realtor who wrote the letter was slightly mad. An Elderly lady? Shaking cupboards? Flying kitchenware? Perhaps he was more than "slightly" mad.
But why had all the other realtors left so suddenly? Where they mad too? Were all realtors mad?
No. Clearly not all realtors were mad. Nevertheless, it seemed that something strange had been going at the cottage. Daniel was unsure if he wanted to know what it was. He was afraid he might find that Mr Braithwaite was not as mad as he seemed. Perhaps he might discover the cause of the realtors' odd behaviour this evening. Daniel, with a mountain of groceries on the porch beside him, found his keys in his pocket and unlocked the kitchen door.
Upon entry, Daniel saw a businesslike woman in a suit discussing the selling of the cottage with his most un-businesslike mother in the kitchen. The odd thing about this observation was the fact that it was nearly nine o'clock and the present realtor had not yet fled from the cottage. Surly she did not plan to stay much longer. Perhaps a deal would finally be agreed upon this time. The thought did not at all appeal to Daniel. He loved the cottage; it was the greatest place on earth. But maybe it was all for the best. They needed the money, after all. Then again, he could not help but think his mother would probably waste it all on cigarettes, booze, and gambling within a few months. Eager to hear the results of the deal, Daniel took as much time as possible in putting the groceries into their proper locations in the kitchen.
"Your home has excellent potential, Mrs Glancey," said the realtor as Daniel carried several bags of groceries into the kitchen. "I love how you have it decorated with traditional furniture to match the architectural style."
His mother grunted approvingly.
"Although buyers are only buying the house itself and not its furnishings," continued the realtor, "houses tend to sell for a lot more with a well-designed interior."
Daniel's mother gave another grunt as Daniel was placing a box of doughnuts into the cupboard. "Hey, Dan!" she growled abruptly in her scratchy voice. "Bring that box of doughnuts over here."
Without speaking, Daniel did as he was told. His mother reached into the box with her chubby hand and retrieved a chocolate filled doughnut. As she bit into it, half of the chocolate filling gushed out down her chin and onto the antique table. She had not offered one to her guest, although by the nauseated expression on her face, Daniel assumed she would not have wanted one (and nor would he).
"How did you say you came to own the home, Mrs Glancey?" asked the realtor, now directing her attention toward the kitchen sink rather than Daniel's mother.
"It was his grandfather's," she replied with her mouth full. Daniel thought he saw an appetizing mixture of saliva and chocolate descend from her mouth onto the table.
"Oh!" said the realtor as if she had not realized Daniel was in the room, and turned around to face him. "I don't believe we've been introduced. I am Serena Evans, your potential real estate agent."
"Hello. I'm Daniel," he said, smiling charmingly so as to show her that not all Glanceys were so unpleasant.
"Delighted," said Mrs Evans with a frown, as though she felt sorry for him. Turning back in the direction of Daniel's mother, she said, "So if you will just sign these papers, we will be done for the night."
Mrs Evans obtained a few documents from her briefcase and placed them on the table in front of Daniel's mother.
"I gotta go to the bathroom first," she said. "Dan! Go find your cat if you don't wanna lose him again. He shouldn't be out in this weather."
What weather? The sky had been perfectly clear when Daniel had come home just minutes ago. But when Daniel looked out of the kitchen window over the sink, he saw that rain was indeed pouring down as though all the lakes in Cumbria had evaporated and were relocating themselves to the Glancey Estate.
"Excuse me," said Daniel as he ventured, coatless, into the showery darkness.
It did not take long to find Willow. Daniel had only had to call his name twice when a drenched British Shorthair came meowing at his feet. With Willow in his arms, he headed back for the kitchen door, where the porch light was on. When he went to open it, however, he found that it was locked. Had he had his keys, he certainly would have used them, but he remembered that he had left them on the kitchen counter. Therefore, he went around to the front of the cottage and tried the front door.
Thankfully, the front door was unlocked. As soon as the two stepped into the house, Willow jumped out of Daniel's arms and darted off to the living room sofa, leaving behind a trail of wet footprints. Strangely, the kitchen door to Daniel's left had been shut. It opened easily, but when Daniel stepped into the kitchen, the lights were off and he realised that there was no one else in the room. Where had Mrs Evans gone? This question was answered almost immediately when Daniel heard a car start its engine outside. He could see its headlights shining through the kitchen window. With a skid, it accelerated and was heard racing away from the cottage. The sound of the car speeding through the stormy countryside could be heard for nearly a minute. Then it was gone.
Somewhere in the cottage, a toilet flushed. Moments later Daniel's mother appeared at the kitchen door. She seemed to notice the absence of her prospective realtor.
"Where is she?" she asked, as if Daniel ought to know.
"I don't know," said Daniel. "When I came back she was just…"
"What did you do with her!" his mother demanded in a very threatening way.
"What would I have done to her?"
"Sit down!" she snapped.
She grabbed him by the collar and forced him to sit down at the table. She sat opposite him, eyeing him in a highly intimidating manner.
"Do you know how close we were to a deal this time?"
"I …" Daniel began, but he was interrupted.
"What do you think you're doing letting them get away like that? This is important! We need the money! Do you understand?"
Daniel was about to say that he had nothing to do with the realtor's sudden departure, but he could not get a word in edgeways. His mother was now thumping on the table with her fat fists.
"This is not an effing game! It's not an effing joke! It's not an effing whatever!"
Daniel was going very red in the face, staring bitterly at his raging mother. It was as if he was holding his breath and trying very hard not to exhale.
"Do you understand me? You think you know more than me, but you don't! You're a stupid kid who doesn't understand money!"
Daniel's face now matched his hair. For the first time, there was a long pause. Each waited for the other to say something.
Finally, with his face as red as ever, Daniel took a deep breath and said as calmly as possible, "I don't want to sell the cottage anyway. It's rightfully mine, and I can do whatever…"
"I'm your parent! Don't try to tell me what to do! We need the money! We're poor, Dan! We need money! Do you want me to throw myself off an overpass like your father?"
Immediately, tears began to run down Daniel's face. Why did she have to mention his father? It was still a delicate subject after five years.
"I hate you," said Daniel coldly.
He got up, kicked his chair over, and stormed off to his bedroom while his mother swore at him from the kitchen.
Daniel's pillow had become very wet by the time he heard paws scratching at the door. He got up, his face still damp, and let a meowing Willow into his room. Daniel had always thought that cats somehow knew when their owners needed them. Whether he was ill, sad, or upset, Willow was always there to comfort him.
To take his mind off the day's events, Daniel sat at his old oaken desk, lit an oil lamp, and opened his sketchbook. To his bewilderment, however, it seemed that someone had drawn in it while he was away. On the last page of the leather-bound book was a sketch of the very desk at which Daniel was currently sitting. Whoever had drawn it was certainly very talented. It possessed an almost photographic quality. Upon closer inspection, he noticed an arrow pointing to the top drawer on his right. He opened the same drawer and discovered a videocassette sitting atop a mass of old junk. Coincidentally, there happened to be a dusty old television with a VCR in the corner of the room. Curious as to what was on the cassette, Daniel hastily turned on the television and put the tape into the VCR. A man's voice issued loudly from the speaker: