Extract from Chapter Six of Game of Life

On a snowbound Easter Sunday, the Porlocks gather for the final time in their soon-to-be demolished family home. All Porlocks that is, except one. As time and nature close in, the family embarks on a journey of remembrance from ancient Egypt to Victorian England and into its own troubled past, awakening long-repressed voices which refuse to be silenced.

Life is about ebb and flow, Roger darling. A boat trip off the coast. Her son sunburnt and seasick from too much vanilla fudge. The rising and falling of his guts in sync with the dipping and drifting of the boat. The ancient summer evening light illuminating her face in a sepia glow. You think you’re moving forward and then, one day, you’re swept back. Then things change and you’re moving forward again. Learn to move with the current and, whatever you do, just make sure you stay afloat.

Mother always knew best, didn’t she? And that’s all Roger had tried to do, wasn’t it? Keep his family afloat. Oftentimes her evanescent voice would whisper back to him, leaving its corpse in the corner of a countryside churchyard where he’d said his last goodbye, rising up to the infinite clouds to comfort him as he hovered this way and that over the lonesome ocean.

You’re always going off course in a plane, he explained to his children on a beach in the Costa del Sol as they watched a Boeing 747 fly out over the sea. My job as a pilot is to bring it back and forth onto our flight path. The straight and narrow as it were. You keep bringing it back and bringing it back. Before you know it, you’re home.

Even in his dreams his mother would come, his worried forehead buried in her lap, absorbing the warmth of her blood and flesh through the lace of her nightdress as they both floated to sleep. One day you’re swept back. Maybe that’s what this was. This box. This video. This final icy ripple which would wash over them all, leaving a placid surface across which they could finally swim to shore.

Roger hadn’t touched the box since he handed it to Elisabeth. He knew as soon as he saw it what was to come. From that moment, the discovery was discoloured for him with a sickly seaweed hue, reminiscent of festering mould. He remembered the tape. Filming it, playing it, packing it away. A fragment of a fragment. A narrow perspective on a distant time. A thick pocket of turbulence he would need to ride over. He never liked those woods. Give me horizons any day.

Exhibit one from the Box of Delights. A VHS tape of a camcorder recording shot during Christmas 1999. Bought for Roger by Elisabeth as a sly dig, he surmised, to capture all those unhappy festive moments when he was removing the lint from his uniform in quiet hotel rooms insulated by the parakeet vistas of more exotic climes. The camera had been binned long ago. But its progeny survived, born again and more powerful after its extended period of gestation.

On the 32-inch Samsung television, images of the dead would now move. Black gave way to a tilted downward perspective of frosted scrubland, before an upwards lift of the camera revealed a pretty girl with hair – the colour of which was hard to discern – peeking from under a pink bobble hat. She wore a blue chequered dress underneath a grey raincoat.

“Catch me if you can, daddy.”

With that tease, the 10-year-old Elise Alexandra Porlock blew the lens a kiss and skipped off towards the woods behind her. A few days before the Millennium. A magical time of empty significance, long forgotten, now resurrected as a disjointed visual dream. Hiding here, hiding there. Bet you can’t see little Elise anywhere. Roger tried to catch up, the shaky composition lurching between too much ground and too much sky.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” she crooned back to the camera as she neared the trees.

“Watch out for those wolves,” shouted Roger. “And make sure you leave a trail of breadcrumbs.”

“I need to find my Hansel first.”

A glance back, a wave, a skip and another charge forward. The camera lingered on her as she became slowly absorbed into the oaks, pines and silver birches. For an afternoon nap, perchance to daydream, to chase a white rabbit running late and speak of cabbages and kings. In the natural world, amid the silent majority of the living. Curiouser and curiouser. Onward she would go, into this tiny, secluded pocket of woodland on the outskirts of Tollgate where people would walk the dog, fulfil romantic assignations and enjoy the sound of rushing water.

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