• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 12
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I loved the attic. A large chunk of school hols were spent prying into forgotten treasures and lounging in the saggy old armchair, reading, sleeping and sucking sweets ('not healthy, darling').

Mother couldn't understand the urge to climb flights of stairs to disappear in a dusty old storeroom. Father overruled her by saying,

'A lad needs time to reflect on his day and plan his next'.

Mother would nod, sagely.

My pals, Tom and Ted, were occasionally allowed in my sanctum. We were accustomed to sounds of mice scampering and giggled like girls if we saw hairy spiders threading across the beams. The only fly in the proverbial ointment was my sister, Cora, the thumb sucking girl with the sturdy legs.

'When I'm big I shall go up there,' she stated defiantly many times. Our parents insisted that it was out of bounds to her.

One indelible-stamped-on-memory day I had 4 secrets in my pocket; 5 if you included the matches. Ted and Tom had 3 secrets each because they reasoned the extra one should be mine as it was technically my retreat.

Mother was busy in the laundry room and we stealthily climbed the 'Stairway to Heaven'. We settled down on the saggy old armchair squashed together. Ted had pompously announced that this was our initiation into manhood. I lit the first cigarette and inhaled, coughing, but proud. My pals followed suit and tried not to splutter. I remember being very nervous and keeping my eyes on the door. Tom held a saucer for the ash. We were so engrossed that we missed the sound of footsteps. Somehow Cora The Defiant had followed us and panting, stood accusingly in the Sanctum.



'Naughty boys! I'm telling!' she gasped.

In my panic I went towards her (probably with the intention to bribe with sweets) and grabbed her arm.

'Come on you two,' I yelled to the stupefied boys, 'or this will be the last time in here!'

Hastily we lobbed our 'secrets' in the saucer and they rushed downstairs followed by me supporting a protesting Cora. Mother was at the bottom, her face a picture of worry, then relief and finally, anger. Silently the front door was opened and my relieved pals escaped.

'How could you take your sister up there Charles?' she shouted. 'You will never go in the attic again!'

As I stuttered a reply she fetched the key and wearily climbed the stairs. Cora and I remained, full of remorse.

Our mother rushed back, stumbling and crying. Shaking, she picked up the telephone in the hall.

I only heard the word FIRE and the nightmare began...