Authors: Kevin Brooks
2 Palmer Street, Frome, Somerset BA11 1DS
From the Chicken House
Sometimes I can get almost too emotional about our books. This book is scarily moving. It's wild, romantic, confronting â and
. Maybe you've read other books like it, but I haven't. The characters totally lock you in, and the action is tense and gripping. I'm still astonished by the power in
Kevin Brooks' second novel.
The Chicken House
For Susan â
It was my dad's idea to write about Lucas and Angel and everything else that happened last summer. âIt won't make you feel any better,' he told me, âit might even make things worse for a while. But you mustn't let the sadness die inside you. You have to give it some life. You have to â¦'
âLet it all out?'
He smiled. âSomething like that.'
I don't know, Dad,' I sighed. âI'm not sure I can write a story.'
âAh, now, that's nonsense. Anyone can write a story. It's the easiest thing in the world. How else do you think I make a living out of it? All you have to do is tell the truth, tell it like it was.'
âBut I don't
how it was, I don't know all the details, the facts
Cait, they're not
You've got your feelings, haven't you?'
âToo many,' I said
âWell, that's all you need.' He put his hand on mine. âCry yourself a story, love. It works. Believe me.'
So that's what I did, I cried myself a story
And this is it
first saw Lucas on a fine afternoon at the end of July last summer. Of course, I didn't know who he was then â¦ in fact, come to think of it, I didn't even know
he was. All I could see from the back seat of the car was a green-clad creature padding along the Stand in a shimmering haze of heat; a slight and ragged figure with a mop of straw-blond hair and a way of walking â I smile when I think of it â a way of walking that whispered secrets to the air.
We were on our way back from the mainland.
My brother, Dominic, had been staying with friends in Norfolk since finishing his first year at university the month before, and he'd called that morning to let us know he was on his way home. His train was due in at five and he'd asked for a lift back from the station. Now, Dad normally hates being disturbed when he's writing (which is just about all the time), and he also hates having to go anywhere, but despite the usual sighs and moans â why can't the boy get a taxi? â¦ what's wrong with the damn bus? â I could tell by the sparkle in his eyes that he was really looking forward to seeing Dominic again.
It wasn't that Dad was unhappy spending all of his time with me, but with Dom away at university I think he felt there was something missing from his life. I'm sixteen (I was fifteen then), and Dad's forty-something. They're difficult ages â for both of us. Growing up, having to
grown up, girl things, man things, having to deal with emotions that neither of us understand â¦ it's not easy. We can't always give each other what we need, no matter how hard we try, and sometimes it helps to have someone in the middle, someone to turn to when things get too much. If nothing else, Dominic had always been good at being someone in the middle.
Of course, that wasn't the only reason why Dad was looking forward to seeing him again â he was his son, after all. His boy. He was proud of him. He was worried about him. He loved him.
And so did I.
But for some reason I wasn't quite so excited about seeing him as Dad was. I don't know why. It wasn't that I didn't
to see him, because I did. It was just â¦ I don't know.
Something didn't feel right.
âAre you ready, Cait?' Dad had asked, when it was time to go.
âWhy don't you go on your own?' I'd suggested. âYou can have a “father and son” chat on the way back.'
âAh, go on, he'll want to see his little sister.'
âJust a minute, then. I'll get Deefer.'
Dad's been terrified of driving on his own ever since Mum was killed in a car crash ten years ago. I try to encourage him, but I haven't the heart to push it too hard.
So, anyway, we'd driven to the mainland and picked up Dominic from the station, and there we all were â the entire McCann family stuffed inside our decrepit old Fiesta, heading back to the island. Dad and Dominic in the front; me and Deefer in the back. (Deefer, by the way, is our dog. A big, black, foul-smelling thing, with a white
streak over one eye and a head the size of an anvil. According to Dad, he's a cross between a skunk and a donkey.)
Dominic had been talking non-stop from the moment he'd slung his rucksack in the boot and got in the car. University this, university that, writers, books, magazines, parties, people, money, clubs, gigs â¦ the only time he paused was to light a cigarette, which he did about every ten minutes. And when I say talking, I don't mean talking as in having a conversation, I mean talking as in jabbering like a mad thing. ââ¦ I tell you, Dad, you wouldn't bloody believe it â¦ they've actually got us studying
, for Christ's sake â¦ something to do with
, whatever the hell
supposed to be â¦ and another thing, the very first lecture, right? I'm just sitting there listening to this twatty old lecturer rambling on about sodding
or something, minding my own business, when suddenly he stops and looks at me and says “why aren't you taking any notes?” I couldn't
Why aren't you taking notes?
Shit! I thought university was supposed to be about choice, you know? The discipline of self-education, freedom to learn at your own pace â¦'
And on and on and on â¦
I didn't like it.
The way he spoke, his constant swearing, the way he smoked his cigarette and waved his hands around like a phoney intellectual â¦ it was embarrassing. It made me feel uncomfortable â that
kind of discomfort you feel when someone you like, someone close to you, suddenly starts acting like a complete idiot. And I didn't like the way he was ignoring me, either. For all the attention I was getting I might as well not have been there. I felt like a stranger in my own car. It wasn't until we'd almost reached
the island that Dominic paused for breath, turned round, ruffled Deefer's head (âHey, Deef') and finally spoke to me.
âAll right, kid? How's it going?'
âWhat's the matter? You look different. Christ, what've you done with your hair?'
âI was going to ask you the same.'
He grinned and ran his fingers through his dyed-blond crop. âLike it?'
âVery nice. Very beach bum. Is that how they all look in Liverpool?'
âWell, they don't look like
he said, flicking at my hair. âNice style. What's it called â the Hedgehog?'
âHedgehogs have spikes,' I told him, readjusting a ribbon. âThese are plumes.'
Yeah, right.' He puffed on his cigarette. âWhat do you think, Dad?'
âI think it's very becoming,' Dad said. âAnd, anyhow, I'd rather have a hedgehog in the family than a neo-Nazi surf boy.'
Dominic smiled, still looking at my hair.
âUnd was denkt deiner Liebling davon?'
âSimon,' he said. âWhat does Simon think of it?'
âI've no idea.'
âYou two haven't split up, have you?'
âOh, don't be so childish, Dominic. Simon's just a friendâ'
âThat's what he
you to think.'
I sighed. âI thought you were supposed to grow up when you went to university?'
âNot me,' he said, pulling a face. âI'm regressing.'
All the bad old memories of Dominic were beginning to
creep back. The needling, the snide comments, the constant mickey-taking, the way he treated me like a stupid little girl â¦ I suppose that was one of the reasons I'd been a bit wary of him coming back â I didn't
to be treated like a stupid little girl any more, especially by someone who couldn't act his
age. And the fact that I'd had a year
being treated like a moron only made it worse. I wasn't used to it any more. And when you're not used to something, it's harder to put up with it. Which is why I was getting annoyed.
But then, just as the irritation was beginning to set in, Dominic reached across and gently touched my cheek.
âIt's good to see you, Cait,' he said softly.
For a brief moment he was the Dominic I used to know before he grew up, the
Dominic, the one who looked after me when I needed looking after â my big brother. But almost immediately he turned away with a shrug of his shoulders, as if he'd embarrassed himself, and good old big-voiced Dom was back.
âHey, Dad,' he boomed. âWhen the hell are you going to get a new car?'
âAnd why should I be wanting a new car?'
âBecause this one's a shit-heap.'
The island sky has its own unmistakable light, an iridescent sheen that moves with the moods of the sea. It's never the same, but it's always the same, and whenever I see it I know I'm nearly home.
Home is a small island called Hale. It's about four kilometres long and two kilometres wide at its broadest point, and it's joined to the mainland by a short causeway known as the Stand, a narrow road that bridges the estuary. Most
of the time you wouldn't know it's a causeway, and you wouldn't know it's an island either, because most of the time the estuary is just a vast stretch of reeds and brown ooze. But when there's a high tide and the estuary rises a half a metre or so above the road and nothing can pass until the tide goes out again, then you know it's an island.
On that Friday afternoon, though, as we approached the island, the tide was low and the Stand stretched out before us, clear and dry, hazing in the heat â a raised strip of pale grey concrete bounded by white railings and a low footpath on either side, with rough cobbled banks leading down to the waterside. Beyond the railings, the estuary was glinting with that wonderful silver light that comes on in the late afternoon and lazes through to the early evening.
We were about halfway across when I saw Lucas.
I remember the moment quite clearly: Dominic was laughing uproariously about something he'd just said while patting his pockets in search of another cigarette; Dad was doing his best to look amused, tugging somewhat wearily at his beard; Deefer, as usual, was sitting bolt upright in his very-serious-dog-in-a-car pose, blinking only occasionally; and I was leaning to one side to get a better view of the sky. No â¦ I can do better than that. I remember my
position. I was sitting just to the right of the middle of the seat, cross-legged, leaning slightly to the left, looking out through the front windscreen over Dominic's shoulder. My left arm was stretched out around Deefer's back and my hand was resting in the dust and dog hairs of the blanket on the back seat. I was anchoring myself in this position by gripping onto the surround of the open window with my right hand â¦ I remember it precisely. The feel of the hot metal in my hand, the rubber
trim, the cooling wind on my fingers â¦