It was the first time they had moved, as far as Becky was concerned anyway. Mum said that they needed to live in a smaller house, as Dad couldn’t afford to keep paying for the big one, now he had that new family. Becky didn’t really care, as she had never liked her room that much, and the house just had bad memories for her, with all the arguments. And it wasn’t such a wrench to change schools, as she would have been going to a new one anyway, after her eleventh birthday at the start of the summer.
She kept out of the way as the men removed all the boxes, and some of the furniture. Dad was keeping some of it, Mum had told her, and he would be picking it up later. She had seen photos of the new house. It was quite small, and very old. Mum said it was part of an old watermill, converted into one two-bedroom house, and some flats. Mum had been so excited that the big wheel of the old mill was still attached, though of course it didn’t work anymore.
By the time they were ready to leave, it was getting late. They stopped halfway, to have dinner at a McDonald’s. Becky wasn’t usually allowed what Mum called ‘junk food’, but this was an exception, as it would be too late to cook before bedtime. When they got to the house, it wasn’t quite dark. The men had put all their stuff in the rooms, reading all the details Mum had written on the boxes in marker pen. Then they had put the spare key back through the letterbox. Mum got busy with making the beds, and she told Becky to have a look around.
The courtyard where residents parked their cars was the only outside space, and she thought she might miss her garden. But the riverbank alongside the house stretched a long way into the distance, and a lovely weeping willow draped its branches close to the small, fast-flowing stream. Becky thought she was going to like it here, and she had two days to explore, before school started. When she went back in, Mum had made the beds, and was already on the computer. She worked from home, so had arranged for the Internet connection well before they moved. She looked up as Becky appeared. “Clean your teeth and get ready for bed, Becks. I will be up in a minute”.
Her room was one floor above Mum’s, and reached by a closed-in staircase that felt very steep to walk up. It was in what had once been the attic, she guessed, and had a huge dormer window on one side, overlooking the stream. Most of her stuff was still stacked in boxes, but she got her nightdress out of an overnight bag, and her i-pad too. When Mum came up, she asked for the wi-fi password, and connected her pad. Mum smiled. “Not too long on that now, love. I know there’s no school tomorrow, but it’s been a long day”. She kissed her daughter on the cheek, and headed back down to catch up on her work.
Despite being so far up in the house, the connection was good. Becky was soon logged on to Facebook, and also looking up some facts about the area that she lived in now. She changed her status to show she had moved, but nobody commented. Her few friends were too far away now, so she supposed they would soon forget her. But Dad sent her a message, hoping she would like living in such an unusual new house. He was supposed to have had her that weekend, but it had all got changed because of the move. Now he said he couldn’t take her until the end of the month, as the distance made things more difficult.
It was strangely quiet in the room. Mum had told her that two of the flats were still for sale, and the third was only being used as a weekend place. So there were no neighbours to disturb them yet. Mum had been right about the long day, and Becky was feeling tired much sooner than she had expected. But in the unfamiliar room, she left the small bedside lamp on as she snuggled down in bed, just for reassurance.
As she was drifting off to sleep, it was the smell she noticed first. Like clothes that are damp, and haven’t dried properly. Or maybe a wet dog, when it has been in some water. Her uncle’s dog Biffo used to smell like that, when they went to visit him. Biffo was always in the nearby lake, and never dried off properly.
The sudden sound of someone talking to her would usually have frightened the wits out of her, but for some reason it didn’t.
“Can I see your picture?” It was a girl’s voice, at normal volume. Becky opened her eyes and saw a girl kneeling by the bed, her hand outstretched close to the i-pad.
“It’s not a picture, it’s an i-pad”, she replied. The girl was dressed strangely, with a shabby cotton dress, and a white cap on her head. Her skin was very pale, and there were some wisps of blonde hair visible under the cap. “Can I see it anyway”, she asked again. Becky picked it up, and handed it to the girl. She noticed her teeth were uneven, and some of them looked black too. The damp clothes smell was coming from her, and got stronger as the girl leaned forward.
“Is it a mirror?” Becky grinned. She must be teasing her, everyone knew what an i-pad was.
The girl put it back on the bed. “What’s your name? Mine is Charity Oliphant, and I am ten”.
“I’m Becky, well Rebecca really. Rebecca Webster. And I am eleven. Do you live here?”
“Of course I do, I live at Wright’s mill”. That was the right address, Becky knew that. Their house number was number one, Wright’s Mill. The i-pad suddenly started to slip off the bed, and Becky lurched forward to catch it.
When she looked up again, the girl was gone.