Murphy looked out of the window at another rainy day. It was very early in the morning and he knew that his dad would soon be hurrying him off to school. He sighed: another grey and windswept day. He hated the weather here so much – it seemed almost as though he had never seen the sun. He wondered if there was any likelihood of the weather changing. He wouldn't mind the coldness – it could be quite refreshing to be out and about in the cold, especially when he was all wrapped up in his scarf and hat. It also made coming inside at the end of a walk into something of a treat. Sat in front of the fire with a hot chocolate listening to the wind outside. Nothing could beat that. It was the rain that got to him. Why must it always rain?
As he gazed out he could hear his dad bustling around downstairs getting breakfast ready. He loved his dad and his wonderful breakfasts, but despite that he still had a feeling of dread in his stomach: another day at school loomed ahead. Another day of feeling totally invisible. It's not as though he hates school – more that he doesn't like this place as much as his last one.
Just thinking of St Jude's brings a little smile to his face. He loved going there, and had the best friends anyone could ask for: Sasha and John. Every day they would all meet up and make their way there talking and laughing, planning their time together. They would get up to all kinds of mischief during the day: they had secret codes and signals so that they nobody could hijack their ideas. One of their favourite games was a game they called Colour Qualities, which they had made up themselves. They each had a different colour – Murphy was always blue, John green and Sasha red. They each had their own dominions which they ruled, which consisted entirely of things with this colour. They would compete to be all powerful in the Colourverse and to control the rainbow (the source of all gold). They let their imaginations fill in all of the details of their worlds and of the feuds and peace treaties with each other. Nobody else was allowed to join their game, and they were never invited to join in the games of others. They were a fully functioning, totally independent trio of friends who were totally happy and comfortable in each other's companies.
He really didn't have a care in the world and wished with all his heart he could go back. His journey to school was just the beginning of each happy day: he would spend as much time as possible with his friends laughing and joking and basically having fun. He would occasionally do some work too! Not too much. Just enough to keep his teacher's happy. Then at the end of the day he and his friends would run home to his house for snacks and games galore with his mum-
The smile vanished. He was reminded of the reason why he had to leave all of that behind. His mother had died and his dad had no choice but to move away with him to Whitleby. It just wasn't practical to live in London any more, especially with dad working all of the time. That's what he said. There wouldn't be anyone to keep an eye on him while he was at work. Now his journey to school was very different. His dad would take him in the car when the weather was bad (which it pretty much always was) as the school was a good twenty minutes walk from their home. Then he would spend the day virtually invisible. The only time his anonymity was threatened at all was when he was called upon to answer a question. Then his classmates would turn and stare at him, muttering and giggling under their breath about his “funny accent”. He sighed again – fitting in at a new school in a different part of the country was proving to be hard work.
Murphy turned from the window and headed for the bathroom. No sense in hanging around. He couldn't afford to make his dad late for work. He was the chief of police after all.
Minutes later he walked into a heady fog of cooking smells and immediately was smiling once again. His dad – the tough as nails chief of police - was over by the stove with a spatula in his hand wearing the daft pink pinny he had been bought as a joke many years ago. He was humming absent mindedly while he worked – his impressive smart black uniform trousers and shirt poking out from beneath the pink frills in a frankly comical way. He didn't see Murphy arrive at all: he was so engrossed in his cooking. Seated at the table was Murphy's little sister Darla, singing to herself and playing with one of her many dolls. She waved at Murphy when she saw him, using her doll as a substitute hand, but barely missing a beat of her song and dance routine with the doll.
“Blast! Blo-” Mike cut off mid potential swear word at the sound of Murphy sniggering away in the background. “Don't just stand there son – get over here and help your struggling old man!” Murphy wandered over and helped him to plate up the food (a full fried breakfast this time with all the trimmings: tomatoes, mushrooms, fried bread and black pudding) and settled down at the table to eat.
“What have you got on today dad?” Murphy asked between mouthfuls of food, “Any interesting cases?” Murphy's dad looked at him in an affectionate way. “Now you know I can't go blabbing about cases to all and sundry – where would that leave me, eh? Fired, that's where,” at the sight of Murphy's face losing it's hopeful look he conceded, “I do have some leads on the missing schoolboy Jake though.”
Murphy's head snapped up from his food. This was interesting stuff, as the missing person's case was all anyone could talk about at school.
“Yes, we have had in some possible sightings just a little way up the coast line at Brindlingborough. A family on their hols who thought they might have seen him. I'll be following that up this morning.” Darla looked up from her scrambled eggs and toast and gurgled happily. She loved the very mention of Bridlingborough, which was by far her favourite local spot for a day out.
Murphy looked pleased, “That's great news dad. Everyone is so worried about him.” Murphy finished his breakfast and got up to load his and dad's plated into the dishwasher. “Right, I'll just get my stuff.” And off upstairs he went, leaving his dad and Darla to organised themselves.
“Don't forget your PE Kit!” came the war cry from dad. Murphy stopped dead on the stairs just as he heard the words and an involuntary shudder shook him: PE? In this weather? He sighed once more – this was going to be one long day.
*Bouncing along in the back of his dad's range rover Murphy stared out of the window disconsolately as the school came into sight. The looming metal gates at the entrance gave him a feeling of dread and foreboding and the first sight of the school building itself was no different. It was a very old and well established school set in a Victorian red brick building. This sounded nice on paper, but in actual fact was cold, draughty and damp. Or at least it had been throughout his time there (which had only been two months admittedly, since the beginning of the school year).
It was set almost on the cliff edge looking out over the damp and misty bay below, so it should in theory be a pleasant and inviting place to come to school. So far it had been nothing but dark, cold, rainy and dismal. He could see many students struggling towards the school, almost bent double against the wind and rain, their eyes closed to slits against the onslaught. Hoods drawn around their faces and heavy bags full of books on their backs. It could be worse Murphy thought – I could be out there in that awful weather. No sooner had this though occurred to him than the car ground to a halt outside the school.
“Here you are then son. Have a good day,” Dad handed his lunch to him with a smile.
“Cheers, Dad. See you later,” Murphy almost sounded cheerful as he clambered out of the car and staggered off in the direction of his classroom. His dad waved cheerily and set off down the drive and out of sight. Murphy turned just in time to see his dad turn right out of the school gates on his way to the police station. With one final sigh he heaved his bag up onto his shoulder and turned towards class once again. The sooner he got there the sooner he was out of the rain he thought to himself. He caught the eye of one of his classmates as he turned – a girl called Harriet. She smiled uncertainly at him and rolled her eyes at the weather. Surprised at the attention, Murphy grinned back sheepishly and fell into step next to her on his way into the school building. Talking in this wind was an impossibility so they soldiered on in silence for a while. Murphy opened the door of their block with some difficulty and managed to hold it open long enough for them both to slip inside. At which point it closed behind him with a loud bang.
“Can you believe this weather?” He and Harriet both laughed at their appearances as they shook themselves down and started the long process of thawing out.
“I can't believe we have to spend so much of our lives dressed as Eskimos!” Murphy replied, beginning to remove layers of scarves, coats and gloves. Harriet laughed again and began her own disrobing. They headed together towards their classroom door, still shivering slightly and turning a bit pink around the ears and nose, Murphy with a little spring to his step. Maybe today wouldn't be so bad after all – he seemed to have been cured of his dreadful bout of invisibility.
That all changed however the moment they stepped into the classroom. Harriet immediately hurried off to her crowd of friends by the window without giving Murphy a backward glance. Murphy sloped off to his seat near the back with a heavy heart. His invisibility had settled itself once more. Business as usual.
The day drudged on with Murphy spending an inordinate amount of his time brooding and staring into space. His first two lessons barely warranted a mention really – Maths and Geography. Both were extremely uneventful and involved much use of textbooks and working in silence. He figured his teacher Miss Arnwright was just as miserable in the cold weather as he was, as she was sporting a huge scarf and cardigan this morning and spent the majority of the lesson sneezing and sniffling to herself from behind her desk, hanky permanently in place. Anyone who dared to disobey the call for silence was reprimanded so severely that no one else dared even to raise their heads throughout each lesson. She was obviously trying to minimise her contact with the students – maybe to keep her germs to herself - or maybe to keep away from the germs of several students also snuffling away at their desks.
When the bell rang for break time it was a welcome relief from the monotony of sitting so still for all of the students, and they piled out of the classrooms along to the hall in a noisy huddle. As they made their way down the corridor similar groups of students burst from their quiet classrooms noisily and joined the hubbub which was moving determinedly towards the only indoor place available to them during break time: the hall. They knew they would have to be quick to get a seat or a safe space or they would risk being thrown out into the playground: not a pleasant prospect in the current climate!
They all burst in through the doors loudly and scrambled for seats. Murphy headed for his usual spot near the back where he could sit alone and eat his snack in peace. He pretty much always sat alone at his new school and could only dimly remember when his breaks and lunchtimes were filled with games and giggles. Now he sat quietly trying not to eavesdrop and feeling as though he was surrounded by an impenetrable force field which mysteriously kept potential friends at bay. He sighed once more watching Harriet hurrying past to a table nearby with her gaggle of friends, all chatting excitedly amongst themselves. Murphy tried not to overhear but was sitting so close by it proved impossible.
“My dad thinks we'll never see him again,” Harriet was saying, looking totally devastated. Murphy guessed they were talking about Jake. His ears pricked up: he might hear something useful for his dad. “It's such a tragedy – he's our age too. I remember him being at the school party before the summer holidays. He was such a laugh – I just can't believe he's gone... forever. I won't believe it!” Her friends made sympathetic noises and put their arms around her. Murphy wished he could help in some way – hang on, maybe he could.
“Harriet – I don't know that he's gone forever. I heard there was a sighting of him in Bridlingborough just last week!” Murphy was happy to use the information from his dad to help give Harriet some hope.
“Really Murphy – how do you know that?” Harriet exclaimed as she and her friends all spun round to question him. “That wasn't in the paper – my mum would have told me.” She sniffed a little, and Murphy saw she had tears shining in her eyes.
“My dad told me – he's working this case now. So don't worry; I'm sure they'll find him.” They were cut short as the bell rang for lesson three. They hastily headed in the direction of the science labs – no one wanted to suffer the wrath of the science teachers if they dared to be late.
The day was pretty uneventful after that – PE was as much of a nightmare as he had suspected it would be: Rugby. Staggering around in the mud trying desperately not to get pounded by the school bully whenever he got the ball, but more pressingly trying not to fall face first into the huge puddles of mud all over the weather worn pitch. He was soaked to the bone, freezing cold and exhausted by the time he trudged to the changing rooms at the end of the school day. Every bone in his body seemed to ache and every visible inch of him was covered in mud. He got his stuff and hastily headed for the shower cubicles, praying there would be one left and that he wouldn't have to use the group shower again. He darted gratefully into the last available booth, closed the curtain and quickly threw off his muddy clothes and turned on the shower. At which point he very nearly jumped, entirely naked out into the corridor again. The water was absolutely FREEZING! He stopped himself in time though and as swiftly as possible began the arduous task of getting off the vast amounts of mud clinging to his skin. He knew by now there was no point in waiting for the water to heat up. If it wasn't hot already it wasn't going to be. He did the best job he could getting himself clean under the circumstances and hurried to turn off the shower. He dried and dressed in record time, and spent the final two minutes of school time clutching the lukewarm radiator in the changing room, his teeth chattering so hard he though they might crack. He couldn't wait to get home and get warm – even being in the car would definitely be warmer than this.
Immediately upon hearing the bell he bolted for the front of the school, where he knew his dad would be waiting to take him home – maybe he would even have news of Jake's disappearance to tell him. Murphy hurried to the driveway and looked around for the familiar range rover. He scanned each car, not seeing it and then-
“Coo-eee! Murphy!” he turned slowly, cringing slightly at the sickly sweet voice. “Murphy! Over here!” He saw her, his Gran, waving cheerily from within her no doubt exceptionally warm car with not a care in the world. No thought for how many other students were turning to stare at her and her assortment of pink, fluffy and ridiculous car “ornaments” as she called them. Murphy scurried to the car quickly in order to reduce the number of people who would see the monstrosity on wheels, pushing past many smirking faces on the way to the car.
“Hello there, dear. Did you have a nice day?” Gran took a long look at Murphy as he fastened his seatbelt. “Oh dear, someone looks tired. You've not been staying up all night on that computer of yours again have you? I've warned you that's not a good idea.”
“He's always on that computer,” Darla piped up from her seat in the back of the car, “I never get to use it. Hardly ever.” Darla looked satisfied with her little proclamation, and immediately went back to her colouring book, humming to herself.
“No Gran it's not that,” Murphy glared at Darla, “I just had rugby in the cold and rain. It really tired me out,” Murphy replied, slouching down in his seat to hide from the people staring as his Gran drove off down the drive, “I am so cold, I don't think I'll ever get warm.”
“We'll see about that, eh?” At that, Gran flicked the heater up to full spurt and Murphy was walloped by a wall of suffocating heat from the vents, “Better?” Without looking for a reply, Gran turned left into the main street and headed for her house, just a few streets away, her multitude of ornaments clinking and clanking all the while.
Murphy, trying not to choke and splutter – not only was he being assaulted by hot air, but also by the extreme sickliness of the fragrances Gran had swinging from her rear view mirror – spent the journey looking out of the window at the people hurrying about their business. He liked to try and make up stories, or guess the destination of the people he saw in and around the centre of town. It passed the time, and sometimes he managed to come up with some seriously funny scenarios.
He saw a man struggling along from the bakers with a pile of crates so high he couldn't see around them at all, and was simply relying on everyone else to get out of his way as he headed to his delivery van, which people were doing, albeit rather grumpily. Another woman was pushing along what looked to Murphy like a space-age module which seemed to be hovering above the ground (it was, in fact a pram with plastic sheeting all around it going through a very deep puddle. Still, if he squinted...) She was followed by what looked like some kind of alien storm trooper sweeping the ground before him with a special sensor before making his way cautiously across a hostile and potentially lethal landscape (which was in fact an old man with a walking stick covered from head to toe in waterproof clothing). He briefly wondered why on earth anyone would go out at all in such weather, and then he remembered: if they didn't they probably wouldn't get to go out at all. The weather was pretty much always like this!
They turned off the main road into the quieter cul-de-sac his Gran lived in at that point and she spent an inordinate amount of time making sure she parked the car exactly straight on the driveway. Murphy knew better than to comment on this – he knew it was a remnant of the rules she lived by when her husband was alive, Murphy's Granddad. Murphy had never met him at all, but he knew he was an exacting and particular man who wasn't shy about voicing his opinions, especially if he saw something he didn't much like. In fact, that was part of the reason Murphy never knew him: he never approved of his dad's marriage to Murphy's mum and therefore would have nothing to do with any of them while he was alive. It was only since his death that his Gran had the nerve to get in touch again, and she had been trying to make up for lost time ever since. In fact, the move to Whitleby had been partly instigated by her, as she wanted to help dad to look after Murphy after his mum died.
Finally the car was deemed to be straight enough and they headed inside, Gran leading the way, keys clutched in her hand, with Murphy and Darla following into her wake. Into the land where ornaments had already gone and would continue to go forth and multiply. She bustled off into the kitchen and Murphy flopped immediately onto the sofa, turning on the TV. He always made a point of watching the programmes he used to watch with Sasha and John: that way they had something to talk about together later when he got to his computer at home. Darla settled herself at the coffee table with her colouring and continued as though nothing had changed at all. She didn't even take off her coat until Gran came and did it for her. Today Murphy felt it would be hard to keep his attention on the TV at all – he could already feel his eyelids drooping even as the opening credits began. Stupid rugby, he thought, and then drifted off completely.
“That's my worry too – whether he will ever fit in here. He seems to spend all of his time on the internet talking to his friends from London. He doesn't mix at all,” Mike took another sip of his tea and sighed heavily, “I don't know mum – Murphy's a good lad but he has always been so shy – all wrapped up in his artwork and his books. I worry about him sometimes.”
“I don't think you need to worry son,” Gran replied, “It'll all come right in the end.” Gran was tidying away the tea things as Murphy wandered into the kitchen trying not to look as though he'd just overheard their conversation.
“Hey Dad – when did you get here?” Murphy was rubbing his eyes blearily and yawning quietly.
“Right when you started snoring,” Darla giggled to herself, “It was so loud I thought my ear drums might burst. BOOM!” Darla mimed an explosion with her doll who she threw over the table onto the floor dramatically. Murphy stuck out his tongue and rolled his eyes at her which made her giggle even more. She dived under the table to rescue her injured dolly.
“Hi Son, not long. Just long enough for one of your Gran's cups of tea and couple of biscuits. You feeling all right? How was school today?” Mike ruffled his son's hair affectionately and smiled. The hint of worry was still there though, albeit fairly well hidden.
“I'm good Dad – just tired. Rugby today in this weather. I couldn't believe it. The PE teacher at school is a total sadist.” Murphy helped himself to one of the leftover biccies and settled himself on a stool next to his Dad.
“Ah you big softie – it's good for you that is. A bit of rugby in the rain – can't beat it!” His Dad chuckled cheerfully to himself. “That was my favourite sport when I was at school – I was on the school team and everything. There's nothing better than the exhilaration of the match and the camaraderie of the team. Can't be beaten.” He smiled to himself, only to spot Murphy's look of utter disbelief.
“Yeah Dad, OK. You sure you've been taking your medicine? It sounds like you've forgotten some key things to do with rugby there: the mud, the rain, the freezing cold, the bruises, the injuries, the HUGE big thugs who are determined to knock you down at all costs and shove your face in the dirt. But other than those things Dad, I'm sure rugby is great,” Murphy rolled his eyes at his Gran who smiled happily and started to get them organised.
“Right then you lot, I'm going to have to rush you off – its bridge night tonight and I need to get myself all organised. And you need to get yourselves home and get some food down you. And make sure it's decent food mind – none of them ready meals if you please. You are growing lads – and lasses,” she smiled at Darla, “And you have to keep you strengths up. Rugby or no rugby.” Murphy and Mike started gathering up coats and bags and heading for the door. Darla danced with her doll towards her dad, asking to be carried.
“Bye then Mum,” Mike said in the hallway, heaving Darla into his arms alongside her school bags, “Thanks for picking up the kids for me. It means a lot in this weather, eh kids?”
“Yeah, thanks Gran. See you later.” Murphy kissed her on the cheek on his way out the door. Darla leaned over and planted a kiss on her cheek also as her dad walked out of the door.
Bent almost double they rushed as fast as the wind would allow them towards the car. Safely ensconced inside they shuddered and settled in, heating on full the second his Dad turned the key in the ignition.
“Homeward bound then troops – lets see what's for tea.” The car swung out of the cul de sac and onto the main street, heading quietly in the direction of their own house on the other side of the town. At least he assumed that was where they were going. It was now raining so hard that Murphy could barely see through the windscreen at all. He wasn't sure how his Dad was managing to drive, but he didn't want to think about that really. Not his concern. He had already started thinking about what he would do when he got home. Food was definitely the first port of call – his stomach growled hungrily – but after that he would treat himself to a hot shower this time and log on to talk to Sasha and John. He smiled to himself. He couldn't wait to catch up with them and find out the gossip from his old school. That was truly the part of his day he really looked forward to, the part where he wasn't a worry to his dad, he wasn't invisible, and he was happy. He smiled: nearly home!!
Life continued on in much the same way for the next few days: Murphy hating his new school and making no friends at all. Then rushing home to talk to his old friends from London on the internet every evening. The only light at the end of the tunnel was the thought of half term looming: seven days of luxury and relaxation in the warmth of his home. It sounded like heaven to Murphy. He couldn't wait. Murphy's Dad was so busy with his work he couldn't really manage to intervene too much, and had to pretty much leave Murphy to his own devices whilst worrying from afar. He didn't really need to worry though as Murphy was actually absolutely fine – he was tougher then he looked. Although he had to admit to himself sometimes that he was a little lonely. He wished that Murphy could have settled in as well as his sister, but he guessed it was easier for her, being younger.
Murphy's Dad was working so hard and was also coming under a lot of local scrutiny on account of the missing boy Jake (of whom there was still no positive news since the day he disappeared). The strain of working on such a case was really beginning to show with Mike, especially as Jake was Murphy's age. The thought that something like that could happen in such a small town right under people's noses was one the local residents found shocking and disconcerting. The horrifying idea that it could have even happened to his own son. It really didn’t bear thinking about. Emotions were really running high amongst the residents and he was questioned constantly by concerned citizens with more questions for him than he had answers for them. He sighed. The situation was getting desperate. The boy hadn't been seen at all in over two months. Before long they would have to start to consider the possibility that he wasn't coming back at all – that perhaps they would never find him, never know what happened. The thought was almost too much to bear, especially when he pictured having to break that news to Jake's distraught parents. Right now he wasn't willing to give up on finding Jake, or least on finding out where he got to. He had to admit to himself that it wasn't looking too hopeful for finding him alive, but finding him or finding out what happened to him was a top priority – it was the only way he would be able to look the local people in the eye.
All of these thoughts were swirling through Mike’s mind as he swung the car up the school drive to pick up Murphy. He was a little early so the school was pretty deserted, without a student in sight. They were all still struggling away in lessons trying hard to concentrate on the most difficult afternoon of the week to do so: Friday afternoon. Mike smiled to himself. He had really struggled in lessons at school, and the only area he was any good at was sports. He was a school team rugby player who went on to play for his college and the local amateur teams on a Saturday afternoon too. He had loved the game, and being so good at that made it easier for him to bear being pretty average (if not below average) in most of his subjects. He remembered well, as he looked in through the classroom windows, the feelings of pent up energy he used to get towards the end of each school day – particularly towards the end of the week. He was like a caged animal sometimes and couldn't wait to get out into the fresh air, whatever the weather. He always had so much energy and found it so hard to sit quietly and concentrate. He smiled. At least he hadn’t passed that restlessness onto Murphy. Not that he was inactive or lazy, but he certainly wasn’t the same frustrated kind of student Mike had been. He was also very bright and excelled in Art and History lessons – something he got from his mum Kathy. His smiled turned wistful at the thought of his late wife. He had loved her (indeed still very much did love her) with all of his heart. It was a bitter blow to have lost her so suddenly and he knew that his pain and sadness still showed, no matter how hard he tried to hide it from the world. He went about his work day after day and he put on a brave face in most circumstances. In fact, when he was busy he was able to almost forget about the emptiness inside. The worst time was late at night once the kids were tucked up in bed. Then he had nothing to distract him from his feelings at all. Another sigh escaped him. He just hoped he was doing a good job supporting them through this – he wasn’t the only one to have lost someone important after all.
At that the bell rang and the children started to trickle out towards the waiting cars, buses and bikes. Mike watched for Murphy, looking forward to seeing him on this afternoon more than others. He knew that Friday afternoons were his son's favourite: he had Art on a Friday afternoon and he always came home happy and full of his work. Today would be extra special as it was finally here – half term week. He knew Murphy had been looking forward to this week for the whole term and he would be in the best mood on the way home. Mike really treasured his time with Murphy especially as he was so busy – it meant he didn't spend as much time with him as he'd like. Even these short car journeys were a chance to just be with him, and catch up on the details of his day. Most days there were niggles and complaints but he was optimistic about today's report: it promised to be a good one.
One look at Murphy's smiling face as he bounded towards the car confirmed Mike's suspicions: Murphy looked as though he'd had a really cracking day.
“Hi Dad!” Murphy jumped into the car, his arms full of paintings and pictures – his portfolio. He leaned back and placed his pictures gently onto the back seat before he snapped his seatbelt on.
“Had a good day son?” the car pulled out of the drive on its way home.
“Not bad, not bad. I had a really good art class – I brought my stuff home for you to see. I got some spare paper to work on during half term too.” Murphy was smiling to himself and the very sight of that made Mike smile too.
“Good, good. Glad you had a good time. It's nice to see you smiling.” They both shared a grin then rode the rest of the way home in companionable silence. They didn't need to cram their catch up into a short car journey this time – they knew they had all week to get each other up to speed now. Murphy's dad had managed to get this week off to be with him and Darla and they were all looking forward to spending time at home together. They didn't have anything big planned – no trips or visits. Just spending the kind of quality time together they usually didn't get to have. Also the kind of quality time that wasn't marred by school or the weather or any of the things that annoyed Murphy so much. They could spend the entire week pottering around their house if they wanted to. In fact, Mike was hoping that he might get some free time to tinker with his bike – that was definitely an idea. His bike was like a third child to him and needed plenty of tlc. Or at least it would do once it was actually up and running. In the meantime it just needed a lot of work. But it was his kind of work – he really enjoyed tinkering away in the garage, covered in oil. Yes, he would definitely try and fit in some garage time this week if he could.
Murphy was thinking about his holiday time too. He was so looking forward to a whole week when he could get up whenever he wanted, eat whenever he wanted and do whatever he wanted. He didn't have to suffer the silent days at school for a while where he shuffled around virtually invisible. He didn't have to suffer Maths, Science, PE or any of the subjects that drove him to distraction every week at school: he was free! He would spend the whole week either with his dad or working on some of his paintings. He was currently working on a comic strip actually – his own invention. He was keen to explore it and maybe develop it into a whole story. That was something he definitely wanted to get stuck into properly during half term. Then there was the extra time he could spend chatting to Sasha and John – after all, they were on half term too. It would be great to message them more and maybe chat on the phone during the week. It wouldn't be the same as being with them obviously, but it was better than nothing. In fact, they were a major inspiration behind the characters in his comic strip. He had based it on their favourite Colourverse game from St Jude's. They were all superheroes battling to save the universe and each had their own super powers. He hadn't worked out all of the details yet, but he had some initial ideas that seemed very promising. He wanted to explore them further. It would take him some time though and he was definitely looking forward to having some hours to devote just to that during half term week.
His head was so full of these thoughts that he didn't even hear his dad until he asked him a second time, “Hey, penny for them! I said, dreamer, how about fish and chips for tea?” Mike was pulling over in front of the best chippy in Whitleby, “What do you reckon?”
“Yeah, dad – that's ace!” Murphy loved fish and chips but they didn't get to have it that often. His dad was keen to make sure they ate properly, but every now and then he allowed himself a little indulgence. Tonight was one of those nights much to Murphy's delight!
“Can I have a can of coke too? And some scraps?” Murphy followed him in through the door into the hot sweet smell of the frying and the malt vinegar which pervaded the shop.
“Ok, ok. Hold your horses. Let's get to the front of the queue first!” They stood eyeing up the menu board for some reason, although they always ordered the same thing: cod, chips, peas, scraps and fizzy pop times two.
“Now, son, what do you think your Gran would want? And Darla? The usual?” There was no real point in asking Murphy knew: they always had the same stuff from the chippy. Always. Gran had fish cake and chips, and Darla had a chip butty with plenty of salt and vinegar. And ketchup, once they'd got it home to her. Gran had picked up Darla from school today, and they would be waiting at home for them right now, unaware of the fish supper they would be bringing home. Gran would no doubt have brought one of her home made cakes round, which would serve as pudding for tonight's tea.
They shuffled their way to the front of the queue slowly but surely, until Mike was giving the order to the lady behind the counter. Murphy loved the warmth of the chip shop and was happily leaning up against the warm surfaces of the display units as his dad paid for and accepted their tea as it was handed to him.
“Come on then, son. Let's get off home before this gets cold.” They rushed out to the car and headed for home, surrounded by the smell of hot food and vinegar.
*They all tucked into their Friday night feast quite happily, with Gran bustling around getting plates and cutlery and Darla bouncing around excitedly shouting “Ketchup, ketchup, don't forget the ketchup!”
They crowded round the kitchen table and devoured their take away happily, with barely a word exchanged between them. Just the happy sounds of people enjoying their grub.
Then, as was customary on a Friday night, they settled down in the living room together to watch some TV and digest their supper. It didn't even really matter what was on the TV, they were just happy to be mildly entertained whilst being so inactive. Their dishes in the dishwasher (which was whirring away in the background) they had nothing to worry themselves over at all. They could be just as lazy as they wanted to, which was a rare luxury for them – especially for the whole family together at the same time.
Dad flicked through the channels trying to avoid the news (they all hated watching the news) until he came across some TV gold – The Simpsons. “Yay!” shouted Darla clapping her hands, and that was that. They sat and giggled together through Homer and Bart's antics.
Gran was up and about before anyone else, she didn't seem to suffer as much from her fish supper as they did. Of course that might have something to do with the fact that she didn't indulge in a huge portion of battered cod, peas, chips and scraps. She was content with only a fish cake and half her portion of chips (which Mike and Murphy usually finished off for her). Murphy could hear her opening doors and drawers, then the kettle hissed into life. He heard the magic sound of her cake tin opening, and knew they were about to be treated to one of his Gran's culinary delights. Murphy felt his mouth water, his tea already forgotten. He caught his Dad's eye and smiled – he knew his dad was thinking much the same thing: cake – yum
Sure enough, Gran reappeared with a tray full of chocolate cake slices and two cups of tea for her and dad. These regular Friday feasts had become a family tradition since they had moved up here and they were one of Murphy's favourite things. His Gran made the best cakes in the world in his opinion. He could always find room for a slice of one, no matter what he had eaten beforehand.
Gran handed round the plates of cake to a chorus of thank yous followed by much contented chomping and slurping from the whole family. Then they settled in to watch Corrie together, with Darla returning to her colouring at the coffee table, and Murphy beginning to think of going up to use the computer. In fact, that's exactly what he did during the first ad break. He left his family in front of the fire to go and chat to his friends from London.
He turned the computer on the minute he got into the room and put up his newest pictures on the display board his dad had put up for him. He was really proud of his latest sketches and wanted to view them up there on the wall over the next few days – that would help him to make improvements to them. The more he looked at them, the better he could make them. It also helped him to have new ideas – when he was kind of drifting off into space, he would often find himself suddenly brought back to the here and now only to find himself concentrating on a new idea for his comic strip. That was why he liked to hang them up. His mum had taught him to do that. She was an artist by trade and always hung her work around their house so that she could let them “speak” to her as she used to say. Every time he painted sketched anything, he was reminded of his mum, of all the little things she used to teach him as she worked, and indeed as he worked alongside her. Those were his favourite times with her – both of them working on their art together. It started when he was only a baby really, finger painting alongside his mum's masterpieces. He had watched her paint and seen her pictures appear before his eyes as if by magic. He loved it so much.
Just as he was climbing down from his bed the computer pinged to life – ready to go. He logged in and went straight to opening up a chat window to see if his friends were online. He sighed – no luck tonight. They were probably out at the cinema or somewhere. So, he spent some time looking up his favourite comic sites, checking out the latest releases and newest ideas. He checked every few minutes to see if there was any sign of his friends, but no joy. After about an hour he logged off with a shrug and headed back downstairs to see what was on the TV.
*The weekend just kind of rumbled on much as usual, but with a much more leisurely air to it because they knew they had the whole week to themselves this week. On a cold Sunday afternoon the Johnson family found themselves in different corners of the house quite contentedly pottering away doing things they loved. Darla was in her bedroom playing super girls with her dolls, safely shut in behind her baby gate so she couldn't escape down the stairs (or, more likely, go flying down the stairs) by herself. Down the hall Murphy was in his room sketching more scenes and characters for his comic book. He was charged with keeping an ear out for Darla also just in case she needed him, as their Dad was out in the garage tinkering with his beloved bike. The only evidence he was actually around at all came in the form of the occasional explosions and sputtering mechanical noises emanating from his direction. That and the occasional billowing smoke shooting out into the back garden. Murphy smiled to himself as another bang caught his ears. Hid dad would probably never finish working on that bike, much less ride it down those country lanes he was always talking about. But, it made him very happy to tinker away at it and therefore it was worth having in Murphy's book.
Murphy’s room was like an illustrator’s dream really. He had the easel his mum used over in the corner by the window, and also a huge architect’s desk his dad had picked up for him second-hand at a car boot sale down in London. He was seated at that desk now, with all of his designs and ideas spread out in front of him. His Colourverse characters were coming along well he felt, and he was making some progress. He couldn’t wait to try them out on his friends in London. He was thinking of getting his dad to scan them for him so that he could email them to Sasha and John.
He was working on the colouring of them today, as he had finished his initial sketches for these frames the day before. This he found one of the most difficult parts of the process, because a lot of his work had gone into the sketches already and he could so easily ruin them with the wrong colours. He had to concentrate to make sure he didn’t choose the wrong ones or that he didn’t colour the wrong parts in. His head was bent close over the paper and he was in his usual concentrating pose – with his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth! No matter what he did he always ended up sitting that way when he was working.
He was using an effect his teacher had shown him on the Friday before half term – stippling. Using a very sharp pencil, he was shading in the areas of his characters skin with hundreds of tiny dots. This gave his sketches a graphic design edge to them, but also provided some interesting effects, especially when he layered the different colours on top of one another. In this way, he hoped to make his work more interesting and unique – to make it stand out from other work available at the time. Not many people used this technique and he knew that if he could find his own blend of colours and style then he would have a cartoon series that could really be worth something one day.
He looked around his room at all of the work he had done already and smiled. He had really come a long way in a short space of time. Moving up to Yorkshire wasn’t quite what he wanted, but he had to admit his work had really come on since he did. Probably mostly because he spent so much of his time doing it – nothing and no one to distract him now. But, he had to admit there was more to it than that. The atmosphere, the surroundings, the feel of the place (if he forgot about school for a minute), was definitely an inspiration to him. From that point of view, he would almost say he loved it here: almost! He chuckled to himself – loved Whitleby. Yeah right!
His mum would have loved it here though – of that he had no doubt in his mind. He only wished she could have moved here with them. She would have loved painting the surrounding areas here, the freedom, the sense of peace and space. The local community would have loved her too. She was the sort of woman who had that effect on people wherever she went. She was so warm and loving that people instantly wanted to be with her and to welcome her into their circle of friends. She always had way more friends than she could keep up with, but only a few close ones who she really relied on. They were his special Aunties as she called them – number one of these being Dawn. Murphy missed her a bit too since the move, but again they could keep in touch via email, and she took a great interest in his sketches. She reminded him of his Mum so much because she was an artist that sometimes it was more painful for him to talk to her as it brought back memories. Straight after his mum’s accident he avoided her a little because of this, but he was glad they were back in touch now.
He got back to his drawings and was immediately lost in the work – all other thoughts left his mind completely and he was just happy to be working and doing something he enjoyed. The time flew when he was busy like that, and he had no opportunity to feel lonely or unhappy.
He could hear his sister Darla singing to herself from her room and his dad crashing around in the garage, so all was definitely well in his world at the moment. He could quite happily lose himself in his work and while away the hours with his new superheroes.
That is, until his stomach started rumbling louder than his dad’s bike: lunchtime! He decided he had to have something to eat and soon. He would head downstairs and see if he couldn’t rustle up some sandwiches for lunch. He headed down the hallway, passing Darla on his way. She seemed fine, although she was serving “food” to her dolls now he could see: maybe she was hungry too! As he got to the end of the hallway he turned the corner towards the stairs but what he saw there made him stop and stare. He could see, plain as day, Jake looking straight at him. Missing Jake, the one everyone was searching for. Except he wasn’t standing at the top of his staircase, at this point Murphy gulped and tried not to stand with his mouth open in shock. Jake was looking at him from inside the old mirror that stood at the top of the stairs.
Murphy looked round quickly at the staircase itself, sure he would see Jake standing there, merely reflected in the mirror’s surface. Nothing. Even if he had been, he would have had to be suspended in mid air to be reflected that clearly. He turned back round only to glimpse the image disappear out of the corner of his eye as he did so. He could see nothing but his own dumbstruck reflection in the mirror staring back at him in shock.
He really did not know what to make of this – he was speechless and just stood there gazing at the mirror, his mind whirring in his head making him feel dizzy. How can he have just seen what he had just seen? It wasn’t possible was it? There is no way he could have seen the actual Jake standing there. His mind was playing tricks on him – he was tired, had been staring at his work too closely for too long. He couldn’t possibly have seen what he though he had. No way. Murphy sighed and rubbed the back of his neck wearily. He was getting a headache just thinking about it. Tiredness, that’s what it must be. There was no other explanation for it. No other sane explanation that is. He was still standing at the top of the stairs looking at the mirror when he heard a voice from downstairs.
“Lunch is ready Murphy! Bring Darla down with you please!” his dad shouted from the kitchen, breaking his reverie. Like a person in a trance Murphy stumbled off to get his hungry and excited sister and lead her by the hand down to the kitchen, still feeling totally puzzled. Just when he’d thought life couldn’t get any weirder.