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Not my brother
Something had been watching and waiting, far out in the cold, black void of space.  Nine years of searching, scanning the solar systems and galaxies for the lost one and now it had sensed an irregularity, faint and far away but it was enough. 

Jake Brown, his brother Lee and their friend John crept up to a derelict cottage in the woods close to where they lived.
     ‘I think it’s your turn to go in first.’ John thumped Jake on the back, sending a puff of dust spiralling into the heavy air. They’d been playing in the wood and were all muddy, covered in a fine layer of powdered leaf mould that itched and stuck to them.
     ‘Just watch out for that ceiling and bits sticking out of the floor.’ John pointed in through the open doorway.
     Jake nodded. Considering most of the ceiling was actually on the floor, he wondered if it’d collapsed with a person still in there? Was there an eyeless skull and mouldering bones lurking in all that rubble? Would he accidentally tread on someone? Shuddering at the thought, he still felt the excitement as they approached, as if sharp-clawed hamsters were scrabbling up and down his back, sending goose bumps popping out all over his hot summer skin. His dark brown hair stood up on end where he’d struggled through the undergrowth. He glanced down and absently brushed off an ant crawling across his arm. A muscle in the side of his cheek twitched as he wiped a filthy hand across the back of his neck; it was sticky.
     Staring around him, he felt the age and silence of the wood settle around him like a soft woollen blanket. He stepped forward. ‘I just love that feeling where it’s only us and the sounds of the wood …’
     John burped really loudly and Jake turned quickly and poked him hard in the ribs.
     Lee laughed loudly as John rubbed his chest.
     ‘Ouch,’ said John. ‘Watch it, that actually hurt.’ His black eyes flashed with anger.
     ‘It was meant to and that is so true.’ Jake waved at John’s t-shirt, which had the slogan ‘Not listening as usual’ printed on it. His eyes burned brightly for a second. They were the colour of treacle tart.
     Dappled gold’s and cool greens of sunlight streamed down on them through the leafy treetops above, as if they were in deep water. Even their movements seemed slow and fluid. Jake watched his brother push his sweat-matted mop of blonde hair out of his eyes, smearing dirt across his summer-browned forehead. Lee rummaged in his ripped jeans pocket and pulled out a packet of gum. He handed a piece to the others.
     Jake licked his lips and tasted salt.
     John, bigger than all of them by at least a head, scratched at his intricately braided hair with soil-encrusted fingers. ’Nice one.’ He popped the gum in his mouth and chewed noisily with his mouth open like a camel. ‘Come on Jake. Like I said, you’re first.’
     They turned to face the doorway. The actual door was off its hinges and had been propped against the wall. Nature had crept up on the house with the passage of time. Green, grey fungi bulged from the decaying wallpaper. Cobwebs, heavy with cocooned flies and patient, motionless, waiting spiders hung across the smeared windows. Old, dried leaves, crackling and shattering underfoot, carpeted the floors in burnt orange.

     Jake pushed ahead of the other two. He sensed the danger that was just out of reach but still tantalising. Entering straight into the living room, he eyed the roots thrusting out of the floor and peered up to where the ceiling should’ve been. It was a gaping hole. The rain that had come in through loose tiles on the roof had rotted the floor until the sheer weight had brought it all tumbling down. Shards of floorboards pointed upwards like spiky teeth.   
     ‘Wouldn’t like to try this at night, bet it would be really tricky to get around then,’ said Lee, following him in.  
     ‘What, like it’s not now?’ said John. As if to emphasise his words, he stumbled over a protruding root. ‘Meant to do that.’
     ‘I thought that’s why we come here?’ Jake said. ‘Because it is dodgy.’ He looked at the flight of broken stairs like a giant’s mouth, a giant who didn’t have dental care. ‘Upstairs first?’
     Jake, at twelve, was a year younger than the others and he’d been initiated into the pattern of ‘safe’ stairs the summer before. They stepped from one carefully noted point on the stair to the next. Three scuttling crabs treading gently so as to not fall through any that had weakened and be swallowed.
     Arriving at the landing, he glanced into the largest bedroom to his right. It was the one with the massive hole in the centre. Normally he would’ve moved upwards towards the safer attic room, to carve his name with the others in the wormy and rotting windowsills. Or pelt the nearest tree with the broken roof tiles that lay about but he noticed something had changed. He stopped.
     ‘What’s that?’ He pointed into the room.
     The simple, black painted, wrought iron bedstead that had stood for years in the corner of the bedroom now had one leg hanging over the hole. The remainder of the floor was dangerously split. Some of the bed covers had rolled into a bunch at the end of the bed.
     ‘Looks like there’s someone still in it,’ said John. ‘Neat.’
     ‘No, I mean that.’ Jake waggled his finger.
     Beside the bedstead was a small cabinet, covered in a patina of dust. Cobwebs strung about it like gossamer but it was obvious that more of the floor had given way. The bed had tilted further so the cabinet had slumped against it. A drawer had slid out at the front, revealing an object hidden inside, wrapped in a cloth.
     ‘Yeah,’ Lee pointed to the drawer, ‘that wasn’t like that when we were here last time, was it?’
     ‘There’s something inside,’ said Jake. ‘Do you think we can get to it?’ The smallest of the three, he stood on tiptoe, wobbling about, trying to get a better look.
     ‘It’s too dangerous,’ said Lee. ‘Look at the floor; it’s much worse than before.’  
     ‘Well, I think I can make it over there to get it.’ John was already climbing round the edge, stepping gingerly and testing his weight. He grinned back at them. ‘Easy.’

     Jake looked down into the room below and a wave of nausea washed over him. He wanted to be able to fly, jump off and swoop like a bird. That was the fear, that one day he would jump and find the ground coming up at him a lot faster than he’d hoped.
    ‘Well, at least be careful then.’ He knew that once John had decided to do something, nothing would stop him. Clinging onto Lee’s elbow for support, he watched John’s progress through half-closed eyes. ‘Try not to fall ’cos you’ll end up like a doner kebab on that big spike down there!’
     ‘You mean shish kebab, don’t you?’ said Lee.
     ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever,’ said John. ‘Look, I’m not stupid, you know.’
     Jake chewed his bottom lip and watched silently as John crept forward, arms akimbo and face to the wall, feeling his way along with the tips of his fingers.
     The floor creaked. Jake held his breath.
     ‘Watch out for that bit of pipe,’ shouted Lee.
     The warning made John glance down and he stumbled.
     ‘Oops, sorry. I’ll shut-up now, shall I?’ Lee put one hand across his mouth. He looked nervous.
     Jake stared at the floor where John stood. Dust swirled up from the boards and he heard something grind beneath his feet like a massive car with broken gears. A cracking sound split the air.
     ‘Watch it John! That sounds really bad.’ Jake held out his hand but John was too far away. He could hear Lee’s breathing coming in little pants through his fingers, like an excited dog.
     Nearing the bedstead, John’s weight must’ve added to the already straining floor as it suddenly gave way and the bed tottered further into the hole. Jake gasped as John hung with one foot waving helplessly over the newly opened space but he quickly regained his footing.
     ‘Woohoo!’ John clicked his fingers. ‘Nearly.’
     ‘Get back here now,’ called Lee. ‘It’s about to break.’ He pointed at the wooden barbs waiting hungrily below.
     ‘Look,’ said John, ‘I’m closer to it than I am to you lot. It will only take a moment to get it and then I’ll be back.’
     ‘The floor is caving in, John.’ Lee nodded downwards, ‘and we don’t want you to go with it.  You might just get lost in all that rubble down there!’  
     This only seemed to spur him on as he swung onto the next ledge, which, groaning, only just bore him. Jake could see it beginning to bend. John climbed across the back of the bed, knelt on the mattress and gripped onto the frame.
     ‘Yuck, it stinks. Uh! I hope I don’t catch anything off it ‘cos it’s rank.’
     Reaching over, barely able to touch it with his fingertips, he teased the object out of the drawer.
     ‘Got it!’ he said, brandishing it high above his head.
     ‘Okay, John,’ Lee was practically jumping up and down. ‘Come back now.’
      ‘I wonder what it is?’ said John.
      ‘No.’ Jake waved agitatedly at John. ‘Look at it when you get over here.’
      ‘I want to see what it is.’ John perched at the back of the bed, his heels digging into the filthy looking blankets as he unwrapped it. He was examining it when the bed tilted ominously.
     ‘John!’ As Lee yelled out, Jake heard the shock in his voice. But it was really odd. He watched as if he was stood outside off himself, simply observing. It was like everything slowed right down. He saw John tip up, his arms flailing, the floor buckling and a terrible groaning noise seemed to rise up from the bowels of the house like it was going to be sick. The bed slid oh-so-slowly towards the hole. Now the upended floorboards below really did look like skewers as John fell towards them.
    It only took a moment and he was back inside himself. Jake felt the scream as it erupted out of his throat. ‘JOHN!’   
    All he knew was that he’d instinctively reached out to him and there was only one thought in his head: He had to save John. He couldn’t let him fall. Was his his head now filled to overflowing with molten toffee? It hurt so much and then he watched in disbelief as trails of blue energy like fairy lights erupted out of his fingertips, span from his hands and twisted about John’s body. What was happening?
     Then everything slowed even more. John’s downward motion lost momentum until he hung limply, spread-eagled, above an up-turned jagged slat of wood. It was so close to his chest that when he breathed out, his t-shirt brushed the spike. Jake took a shuddering breath as he realised that if John had continued falling it would have gone right through him, as sharp as a chisel edge.
     What was happening now? Above John hung the bedstead, at a weird angle but stationary, literally just hanging there in mid-air. The strings of light were curled like tentacles around and under the bed.
     ‘My phone!’ John wiggled and flapped his arms around. ‘I’ve dropped my I-phone!’
     Jake couldn’t believe it. Here John was, inches away from being skewered and all he could think about was his phone? Jake suddenly wanted to laugh and something ‘popped’ and ‘fizzled’ inside of him. Barely able to see, a silver haze was swirling before his eyes and there was such a buzzing inside his head that he thought he must have a thousand angry wasps fighting to get out of it. He made a funny retching sound in the back of his throat and could feel his veins bulging in his neck as if a giant invisible hand was choking him.  
    ‘John?’ he croaked. ‘Forget your phone. Get out of the way.’
     The lines of power started to snap, - twang! - twang! - twang! And each time one broke there were loads of teeny shooting lights as if someone was sharpening a knife on a metal grinder. It smelt like hundreds of ‘Chinese crackers’ had been let off.
 
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