It is a quiet place, especially at night.
Too quiet, you’d be entitled to think, for any kind of monster to live among its pretty, tree-shaded lanes.
Indeed, at three o’clock in the morning in the village of Bishopthorpe, it is easy to believe the lie indulged in by its residents—that it is a place for good and quiet people to live good and quiet lives.
At this hour, the only sounds to be heard are those made by nature itself. The hoot of an owl, the faraway bark of a dog, or, on a breezy night like this one, the wind’s obscure whisper through the sycamore trees. Even if you stood on the main street, right outside the pub or the Hungry Gannet delicatessen, you wouldn’t often hear any traffic or be able to see the abusive graffiti that decorates the former post office (though the word FREAKmight just be legible if you strain your eyes).
Away from the main street, on somewhere like Orchard Lane, if you took a nocturnal stroll past the detached period homes lived in by solicitors and doctors and project managers, you would find all their lights off and curtains drawn, secluding them from the night. Or you would until you reached number seventeen, where you’d notice the glow from an upstairs window filtering through the curtains.
And if you stopped, sucked in that cool and consoling fresh night air, you would at first see that number seventeen is a house otherwise in tune with those around it. Maybe not quite as grand as its closest neighbor, number nineteen, with its wide driveway and elegant Regency features, but still one that holds its own.
It is a house that looks and feels precisely how a village family home should look—not too big, but big enough, with nothing out of place or jarring on the eye. A dream house in many ways, as estate agents would tell you, and certainly perfect to raise children.
But after a moment you’d notice there is something not right about it. No, maybe “notice” is too strong. Perhaps you wouldn’t actively realize that even nature seems to be quieter around this house, that you can’t hear any birds or anything else at all. Yet there might be an instinctive sense that would make you wonder about that glowing light and feel a coldness that doesn’t come from the night air.
If that feeling grew, it might become a fear that would make you want to leave the scene and run away, but you probably wouldn’t. You would observe the nice house and the moderately expensive car parked outside and think that this is the property of perfectly normal human beings who pose no threat to the outside world.
If you let yourself think this, you would be wrong. For 17 Orchard Lane is the home of the Radleys, and despite their very best efforts, they are anything but normal.
© 2010 Matt Haig