I think it was a Friday afternoon when Will came scrambling to my doorstep, because there was that general vibe of relief and ease that only hovers about on a Friday afternoon. This was before he broke his leg.
I was the one that answered the alarming beckon of Will’s shrill, ten-year-old voice as he stumbled with fatigue onto my porch, the hair across his forehead matted with sweat - it must have been a hot day too, early September time. I tried to calm him down as he spat each syllable at me, speaking only in vowels as he scrunched up his face, his lungs so desperate for air that his jaws seemed to unhinge against his will. I offered him a drink.
‘No… time. You have to… come and see…’
Will was a lot bigger than me and held a reputation for being a part-time bully, so my hesitation was brief. I made a point to stop for my best friend Jake along the way, though. Will grumbled but gave me the nod as he patted down his dungarees, so caked in dried dirt that they were dyed an uneasy yellow colour up to his waist.
This was before he stopped coming to school.
Upon answering my call, I warned Jake that we were headed up the country lane to Will’s house, and he hastily informed his mother of his departure before following me back to the porch.
‘What are we going to see?’ Jake asked. Will grinned to show us the gaps in his smile where his teeth had dropped out, allegedly because they were late milk teeth. He made no answer, instead sprinting with a foreign kind of elation uphill, back to the origin of the anonymous phenomenon, Jake and I following with small strides.
When we arrived to what Will would normally announce to be his ‘penthouse’ (despite, upon interrogation, revealing that he was unsure of the exact definition of the word), Will simply pointed with obvious glee up towards the first floor window that rested over the landing.
One of his school books was hovering in mid-air perhaps two feet away from it.
‘I only just found out that it could do that. The window, I mean. Like, if you put stuff through it - if you throw things out of that window, just that one - then they float. They float all by themselves like magic or something.’
This was before I came to invite him out to Milly’s party; that was in high school.
I found myself gawping at the book. Jake kept a reserved demeanor. He scrutinised it with tiny orbs beneath his Power Rangers-themed spectacles.
‘How long has it been there?’ he asked, quietly.
‘Erm, probably about twenty minutes or something. I ran to get you two as soon as I did it.’
‘And how did you do it?’ Jake probed. ‘How did you find out about the window, I mean.’
Will smirked sheepishly. ‘I got… a bit angry about Miss Wren’s marking. About my maths homework.’
Miss Wren was the new Year Six teacher. She seemed nice enough to me, but wasn’t particularly amicable towards the Yellow Table. The Yellow Table was Will’s domain; he was king of his realm, a round table of knights wielding a whole host of diagnosed learning disabilities and a universal aggression towards any authorial presence. No teacher had ever ‘got along’ with Yellow Table.
‘So… you threw it out of the window?’ I sensed a tension between Jake and Will growing - Jake being a full-time resident of Blue Table, and thus a sworn enemy to the Yellows - and I made a quick warning glance to Jake to keep his mouth shut. He did.
‘Yeah. I get angry sometimes, and I like to punch stuff normally. This time I thought that I would throw something out of the window, and it was the maths book that was making me angry so I thought…’ He shrugged. ‘You know. But it’s cool, right?’
I nodded emphatically in agreement that it was, indeed, very cool, and that I wanted to see something else floating too.
This was before the window was bolted shut.
‘How much weight can it hold?’ Jake inquired. ‘And how far can stuff go before it stops floating? Like, is there a distance restriction?’
After explaining to Will what restriction meant, we all decided that we would begin testing the window’s capabilities immediately. Jake even agreed that he would miss Judo practice to oversee the testing and, hopefully, be present when the first human test candidate made his way out of that plaster-coated portal.
‘Is your mum not in?’ I ask Will, tentatively.
‘She at work. She won’t be back for ages. She might even stop at Kev’s house tonight.’
The mythology surrounding Will’s upbringing was a topic avidly discussed throughout Year Three, shortly after the sudden and deeply tragic death of his father, Ian Stanbridge, was announced in school assembly. Will got two weeks off school, because the funeral was in Dorset. He didn’t seem much different when he came back. This lead to admittedly malicious rumours, ashamedly entertained within my social circle, that the untimely demise of Will’s father was the result of a (successful) planned assassination; that Will was ‘getting back’ at the old man for leaving him at such a young age. I think the truth behind Will’s indifference was more likely that he couldn’t feel the absence of a person who, by nature, was always absent. It would be like finding out your dog is dead, years after it escaped from the garden and never came back. It was something Will had been preparing for most of his life.
His mother was even more elusive. No one from school had ever seen her, not even the teachers. Will mentioned her from time to time, but never held a conversation about her. He walked to school despite the distance, turned it into a sort-of sport in which he was in competition with himself, and as an unspoken rule, the rest of the school as well. It was his bragging right for a couple of months - an infant managing to walk himself to school every morning. He liked the status and the attention.
In place of his mother at parents evenings was his uncle Pete, who lived over in the next town, but he wasn’t a very nice man; he smoked religiously and was often accused of theft. He was in and out of court, and was eventually convicted while Will was at high school. Nobody missed him much, except Will. Will missed him a lot. That was after Diana’s parents left town. After they moved away.
Testing began with weight capacity. We collected a variety of heavy objects, including a couple of ornaments that Will swore his mother would never miss, and, one by one, pushed them through the window. Eventually, we build a huge floating mobile of bean tins, bowling balls and china vases, and consequentially came to the conclusion that anything small enough to fit through the window frame would be light enough to float.
‘How do we get them down?’ Jake suddenly asked. We groaned in unison.
‘We could hook them back in? Like, a lasso kind of thing?’
‘You know how to lasso?’
‘My uncle Pete taught me when I was younger, but I… don’t think I could show you, we don’t have any rope.’
‘Right. Then, what else can we use? Do you have a pole or something? Like, one of those poles with a little hook on the end that you use to open up the attic door?’
‘I don’t have an attic.’
The debate continued until it began to rain. The spittle of the sky pooled up in Will’s landing, and when he trod in it in nothing but his last pair of clean socks, he slammed the window shut in frustration.
The ensuing noise was deafening.
At first, I feared that it was a lightning strike, that we would be caught at Will’s weird old creepy house in the middle of a storm, but Jake pointed me to the window. Will started to laugh, but Jake snapped at him and said that it wasn’t funny, it was dangerous and we were lucky that we didn’t get hurt.
This was before the blinding fireworks. Before alcohol and dancing, and before losing.
Beneath the window, shining with the fresh, dewy shine of rainfall, was a colossal pile of assorted objects, pieces of objects. They had all fallen the moment that Will slammed the window shut. All of the vases had broken bar one, a stubborn-looking silver piece that Will told us was a wedding present to his parents from his Grandma. His Grandma was crackers now, he informed us, she went to live in one of those houses that they collect crackers people in.
This was before we found out what happened to Will’s mother on New Years Eve.
Jake and I returned to Will’s house the next morning, after a hearty breakfast for our long day’s work, to find Will waiting for us on his doorstep. He ran to us and informed us with a beaming smile that our second experiment had worked. The longitudinal study. Will’s bike had been successfully hovering for ten hours.
‘So let’s assume that the time limit is ten hours,’ Jake said, grabbing my jacket before I had time to run inside. ‘Does that change depending on the weight of the object?’
‘What, like, if you’re fat, you’ll fall quicker?’ Will began to redden. ‘You calling me fat?’
I intervened, assuring Will that no one was calling him fat, and that Jake was just making sure it was safe. Jake was quick to remind us that the final test, the distance test, was yet to be carried out.
So Will trudged inside, and came back out with on old Bart Simpson slingshot, and gesticulated ‘What about this?’ Jake and I nodded as one.
We used a relatively hefty-looking rock that we collected down near the stream running through the woods just beyond Will’s poorly-fenced back garden. It was the size of a fist, dull orange, like sandstone, and Will fired it out of the window on his landing. It got as far as the garage, a perfectly linear flight path, before its suddenly plummeted onto the roof. It took a few tiles with it.
‘So we can go as far as the garage then before we fall,’ Will yelped, drunk with glee. Jake turned to him, adjusted his specs.
‘But we don’t know what weight or speed has to do with it.’
Will made a PSSSHH noise with his mouth, and told Jake to go home and get some of his old Judo belts. Jake nearly asked why, but I shook my head, and escorted him out of the house.
By the time we got back - with all of Jake’s belts up to his orange (he needed to keep his green one until he got enough tabs on it to go on to blue) - Will was dangling upside down above the ornamental graveyard, screaming and laughing, half and half. Scraughter. Leaming. Whatever.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ Jake shouted, his feet anchored to the spot either by anxiety or apathy.
‘I’m having fun, you turd, have you ever heard of it?’
I laughed. Jake handed two of the Judo belts to me. ‘Get him down.’
It took nearly half an hour to coerce Will back inside, with one of Jake’s red belts. ‘Although,’ Will pointed out, ‘I was up there for nearly an hour. How much more proof do you need, speccy?’
It was from that point onwards that Will started to get popular. We returned to school on Monday morning preaching about our mystical revelation. The magic window. Will’s magic window, actually, he insisted. We persuaded a couple of the more popular kids - Danny and Thom, the two best footballers in our year, and therefore, the recognized ‘celebrities’ walking among us - who, in turn, brought with them their usual devout congregation. It was when girls started showing up that we realised we had found something truly special.
Before we were allowed inside the house, Will strode with a military vigor across the line of jittery youth, and explained ‘the rules’.
Rule 1: No talking to adults about the window.
Rule 2: Only two people out of the window at a time, so that nobody gets hurt.
Rule 3: No shutting the window when someone else is using the window.
Rule 4: If Will wants a go, he gets one before anyone else because it is his window.
Everyone nodded, a wave of heads that flicked about. Evening sunlight reflected off our heads like our hair was made of metal.
The window was a hit. We basked in our new-found glory, our status building in secret as parents began to collaborate with one another over the phones, trying to discover our secret.
Have you seen Tommy, Jean?
Not for the life of me. I think our Katie is out playing with that lot.
Did you know about this sleepover that my Liam is on about? Up at Kathy’s house?
This was before people were warned not to go up there. Because of what happened with that kid.
We were Gods for nearly a month. We would regularly get as many as twenty players, lining up outside Will’s house, eagerly awaiting permission to barge inside, scramble up the stairs on all floors, and throw ourselves into that sacred place fourteen feet off the ground.
The girls arrived after a couple of weeks of gossip, and though at first they were received with a welcome that was tentative at best, it was only a matter of days before they were true members of the routine. Some of the tomboys even invented tricks that could be performed mid-air, usually named after the creator. The most popular trick was called ‘the Sally Robotham’; a backwards flip with both legs splayed out front and back, which required a mid-air stop when both arms would shoot out over the performers head towards the ground, essentially a gravity-defying handstand. Another trick, ‘the Danny Lloyd’, was to take hold of the Judo belt keeping you safely attached to the inside of the house (agreed to be worn at all times by window users) and mount it, tightroping back into the house. This was generally a ‘finisher’, because once you came back inside, it was somebody else’s go.
It took me a few tries to really get the hang of moving in the window space. Initially, I attempted movement by flapping my arms about, mixed with kicking my legs frantically, trying to swim my way through the static air. When that didn’t work, I tried to use thinking power, tried to telekinetically transport myself from one end of the space to the other. Will was the one who finally worked out that by leaning very slightly, one could initiate a gliding movement towards one’s desired direction.
When the girls became regulars, I saw my window of opportunity to spend some time impressing my crush, Diana Priest. She was a very pretty brunette girl, a little taller than me, with glistening brown eyes that I struggled to distract myself from. She was considered by most to be the most popular girl in school. I casually suggested to her one day that I be her tutor for using the window, and to my delight she eagerly agreed. I embarrassed myself a little when I tripped on my way out of the window, but to my relief, I was met with honey-like laughter that contained no threat of ridicule.
One day, we arrived at Will’s house to find a crudely crafted sign hanging up outside the front door. It read: £1 per Go. Our gaggle expressed our bemusement with great volume, and Will opened the door to greet us.
‘It’s one pound a go, now,’ he yelled, ‘so if you don’t have any money, you need to go home and get some, otherwise you can’t have a go.’
Will was met with a great deal of protest. One of the girls shouted ‘That’s not fair, Billy!’ It was the first time anyone had called him Billy since his infamous Year One lectures regarding why he didn’t like being called Billy anymore, and that from then on, the correct mode of his address would be ‘Will’, or at a push ‘William’. He glared at her. If looks could kill.
‘Well, you can’t play anymore then!’ he screamed. ‘Come back with money or don’t come back at all!’
Despite our outrage, Will was the biggest boy in school. No one volunteered to take him head on, especially when it was a means to invade his family’s property. So we trudged home, grumbling amongst ourselves, trying to forge a reasonable excuse as to why we suddenly needed cash for our juvenile endeavours. We decided that there would be a school trip.
We returned to Will’s house with our money, and began filing inside. I stood next to Diana Priest in the line of twos, quietly bad-mouthing Will and apologizing for this sudden demand for money. I even offered to pay for her. She said it was okay.
When we got near the front, Will looked down at the two boys in front of us. They were Year Fours that had heard about the window from on older brother, and, despite having been warned that they weren’t cool enough, had turned up to publicly defy the odds.
‘Two please,’ one of them said. Will sighed.
‘Two pounds then.’
‘We only have one pound fifty.’
‘Well then you can’t come-’
Will recoiled in agony mid-sentence as a small, Year Four-sized fist crashed into his groin, and the two boys, guffawing with laughter, ran inside. He chased them with a fury like I had never seen before.
This was before the school ball. This was before the incident in the field.
So I took my chance; I gestured for Diana Priest to slip inside.
‘We can’t do that, we haven’t paid!’
I shrugged. ‘So? He never made us pay before.’
She smiled a little fairy smile, and slowly stepped inside. I followed, climbed the stairs and beckoned her to climb them too. I had climbed them enough to know the sounds that they made inside out - I knew the path, where to place my feet so that there was no creaking, so that we could silently ascend to the chaos above us. We arrived at the window. I hastily wrapped a red Judo belt around her slender waist, admiring her secretly as I did so, and nodded her out. She smiled at me, kissed my cheek - at which I feigned disgust - and with her signature giggle, departed.
‘She hasn’t paid.’
A huge paw landed on my shoulder, twirled me round. I shrugged it off.
‘She hasn’t paid. And neither have you.’
‘Why should we? You never made us pay before. It doesn’t cost you anything-’
‘She hasn’t paid! Tell her to get back in, now.’
‘No,’ I spat.
‘Wait, what are you-’
The window came down hard onto its ledge.
Diana Priest screamed. I had never heard her scream before.