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Danny was an ordinary ten year old boy.
He lived in an ordinary house, on an ordinary street, in an ordinary town.
He had an ordinary family with an ordinary dog and went to an ordinary school.
Except that this morning was not so ordinary...
Danny pulled back the covers and leapt from his bed, just like he did most mornings.
He was always full of beans in the morning.
Leaving his bed sheets unmade he reached for his dressing gown, slid into his slippers and made a dash for the door.
Danny skipped along the landing, hopping over Bart the dog, and jumped down the stairs three at a time.
He bound into the kitchen, almost knocking his father's cup of coffee from his hands and ended with a double twirl before settling with a bump in his chair at the breakfast table.
"DAAANNNNNNY!" roared his father, much like he did every morning.
His eyes were glaring, his veins throbbing and his hands shaking, wringing the newspaper as he clutched it tighter and tighter.
Danny's mother sighed gently, as she placed a bowl of cereal in front of him.
"One of these days Danny," continued his father, "You're going to be wearing this mug of coffee."
His gaze was still fixed intently on Danny, who was happily tucking into his breakfast.
"Oh George, he's only a lad, he's full of energy," coaxed Danny's mother sympathetically.
His father returned to his newspaper, muttering under his breath.
Danny's mother sighed heavily once more, and turned back around to carry on with the washing-up.
There certainly didn't seem to be anything extraordinary about this Monday morning yet.
When he had gobbled up his cereal, and noisily glugged back his orange juice, Danny scampered back up the stairs in a whirlwind.
Bart winced as he heard his pounding footsteps leapfrog up the stairs, but was far too lazy to run and hide.
As he ran along the landing once more, Danny imagined he was at the Olympic Games, a world-class long-jumper attempting to break the world record.
He stopped dead and crouched to his starting position. He tried to block out the roar of the crowd as he squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated with all his might on the gold medal. He slowly lifted his bottom into the air and WHOOSH!
He shot off along the landing, his feet booming like a herd of elephants on the floor and, with an almighty leap, propelled himself into the atmosphere.
As he was flying through the air panic suddenly set in.
He was sure he had mistimed his jump.
He knew Bart was too lazy to move and it was too late anyway.
Danny closed his eyes, his arms and legs flailing, waiting for the furry, fluffy, squidgy landing... THUD!
He rolled and rolled crashing right through the bathroom door at the end of the landing.
He had missed Bart by only a few centimeters.
There was silence...
"DAAAAANNNNNY!" screamed his father once more.
"WHAT THE BLOOMING HECK WAS THAT?!"
Well, that wasn't quite how he said it, but you get the idea.
He was madder than ever, and now stood at the bottom of the stairs.
"Danny my boy, I'm not having this spectacle every morning for six weeks! I don't want to hear another peep out of you for the rest of the summer, or I'll force that wretched school to open and you can spend the rest of the holiday there!"
The front door slammed shut.
That was why today wasn't so ordinary after all... it was the first day of the summer holidays!
Danny punched the air in delight.
After he'd cleaned his teeth, scrubbed his face, combed his hair, made his bed and pulled on his clothes (his own clothes of course, his school uniform had been stuffed at the back of his wardrobe), Danny sat on the edge of his bed. He would probably have been in the playground about now, kicking around a football with his friends before the bell rang for registration.
He looked out of the window at the dark rainclouds gathering in the sky, large and grey like a hippopotamus. Some summer this was.
He looked around his room; a few items of clothing were strewn across the floor. There was his bookcase, his desk, his TV and games console...then he caught sight of his prized possession in the corner of the room and smiled a wicked smile.
His sparkling, snazzy, super-loud drum kit.
It was a bright, shimmering red and it even glowed in the dark, illuminating the whole room.
It had been a present from his uncle (much to his father's annoyance) but Danny was forbidden to play his precious drums apart from at agreed times during the week.
He looked at the hand-scrawled note stuck on the wall:
'Wednesday after school for 15 minutes. Saturday after lunch for 15 minutes.'
His father had gladly complied with his next-door neighbour's daily complaints, as Danny crashed and bashed away gleefully upstairs at all hours of the day and night, unaware he was to be limited to a mere thirty minutes playing time per week.
The note on the wall usually stood as a cruel reminder but was today, on the first day of the summer holidays and with his father at work, inviting him to break the rules.
His drumsticks were perched on his stool, taunting him; the shiny cymbals beckoning him; the booming tom-toms longing to be brought to life.
Danny had a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
He got up and crossed the room...
With his heart beating and his stomach fluttering, Danny nervously sat down at his drums.
Placing both feet on the pedals, the adrenaline was pulsing through his veins like it always did when he knew he was about to do something he shouldn't.
He gripped the wooden sticks tightly in his sweaty palms, felt the cold metal beneath his toes and... BANG BA DA BOOM BOOM BOOM!
The cymbals sizzled as his arms thrashed around in a blur, the sticks striking the taught drum skins furiously.
CRASH BASH CHICK TICK WALLOP!
He carried on, hitting harder than ever before, as he felt another surge of adrenaline course through him.
BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG!
The bedroom door swung open to reveal his mother with Mrs. Crank, their next door neighbour.
Danny stopped, his heart still pumping; the cymbals still ringing and the drum skins still humming.
It felt like ages before there was complete silence.
His mother looked at him sternly.
He could feel Mrs. Crank's cold, evil glare, it was worse than his father's.
Danny's mother put out her hands; she didn't need to say a word.
He got up from behind his drum kit and placed the sticks in his mother's outstretched palms.
Without a single utterance, both her and Mrs. Crank turned on their heels and proceeded down the landing.
With his head in his hands, Danny gloomily peered out of his bedroom window and down at the street below.
He saw Mrs. Crank scurry back to her house, greedily clutching his drumsticks, he'd be lucky if he ever saw them again.
The rain was falling heavily now, bouncing on the wet road as the morning traffic rushed past his window.
He spied Mrs. Crank's horrible old cat, Arabella, taking shelter under the tree in her front garden.
She was a mangy, spiteful moggy who spat and clawed and scratched and hissed.
He watched as Mrs. Crank re-emerged, tightly clutching her raincoat against her stiff, bony body. She ushered Arabella inside and shut the door behind her, pulling her rickety old trolley with wheels that wheezed more than she did.
Every morning at ten 'o clock, Mrs. Crank left the house to go to the shops.
Come rain or snow or gale-force winds, not a day passed when she did not pop out in the morning for her paper and her ghastly cigarettes.
Danny watched her as she pottered up the road, her thin spindly legs peering from beneath her long coat and her tight squeaky shoes plodding through puddles.
Then Danny had a brainwave.
His heart started to beat like it had done just moments earlier when he had spotted his drum kit. The same butterflies were fluttering about his stomach like they always did when his mind turned a little bit mischievous.
Danny had to get his drumsticks back.
Mrs. Crank would be gone for at least fifteen minutes, that was plenty of time to sneak in and grab them!
He started across the room, the same spring in his step he'd had all morning.
He thought better of pounding down the stairs and, so as not to arouse suspicion from his mum who was sitting in the living room, tip-toed delicately across the landing and slowly down the stairs.
He avoided the third from last step (it was creaky) and managed to spin into his raincoat and slip into his shoes in one swift movement.
All that stood in his way was walking past the living room door.
His mum would surely see him, but there was no other way to the front door.
He stopped and reconsidered his plan...the back door! Of course, it would mean having to negotiate the unkempt forest in the back of Mrs. Crank's garden, but it did mean he could sneak out of the house unseen.
He turned and carried on quietly through the dining room, through the kitchen and stopped at the back door.
It was locked.
He'd have to be extra quiet.
He could hear the distant murmur of the TV coming from the living room and his mother's kind laugh swiftly followed.
She was hooked on her morning programmes but Danny would still have to be silent.
He reached slowly for the key that was sitting in the lock, his coat rustling noisily as he lifted his arm.
He felt the cold metal pressed between his finger and thumb as he slowly began to turn the key. With his whole body tensed, he eased open the lock with the faintest of clicks, coolly twisted the doorknob and slipped out into the garden...
The rain spattered hard on the plastic of Danny's coat, he pulled up his hood, dug his hands deep inside his coat pockets and marched to the end of the garden.
It was a narrow garden, with a small patio area followed by a long stretch of grass.
At the back of the garden, against the wall, Danny had been allowed to paint a goal and he often raced up and down the turf in the summer, dribbling the ball at his feet and smashing it against the brick.
When he was younger, his father would join in but as each summer passed he had done so less and less, but Danny, quite content with his own company, was happy to play on his own and often imagined he was playing in the cup final, avoiding sliding tackles on a darting run, scoring the winning goal in the dying moments of the game.
As he passed the edge of the patio, his feet began squelching in the wet grass as he walked further and further away from the house.
Even though their houses were joined there was a high wall separating Danny's garden from Mrs. Cranks, he had to walk down near to the end of his own garden where the wall lowered so he could jump over.
He had become an expert wall-jumper, often having to vault into Mrs. Crank's garden to retrieve his football after an over-eager penalty shot.
Where the wall lowered, his bike was perched ready to act as a stepping-stone whenever Danny needed quick access to his neighbour's garden.
He steadied himself and, with a leap, balanced both feet onto the saddle of his bike, tightly grasping the top of the wall and scraping his knuckles in the process.
He had to act quickly because the bike had started to wobble, and the clock was ticking. With a groan, Danny heaved himself up onto the top of the wall and jumped down into the green abyss below.
He landed awkwardly and rolled a couple of times, soaking his trousers in the long, wet grass.
Mrs. Crank did not look after her garden, which resembled an overgrown forest and must have been home to all sorts of wildlife.
As he picked himself up, Danny imagined he was an explorer on an expedition, with binoculars around his neck and big, heavy walking boots weighing him down.
He trudged through the tall grass that came up past his knees, treading carefully to avoid squashing any small animals that might be hiding in the undergrowth.
Though Mrs. Crank's house was identical to his own, forming a row of terraced houses that stood to attention on the street below his bedroom window, Danny couldn't help but notice, as it came into view, the eerie quality that seemed to possess Mrs. Crank's home. Her house was the same height as his, the windows were in the same place, and it was even the same colour but there was something unsettling about the unforgiving brickwork, the unloved window-frames, and the yawning passageway that led to the back door.
As he edged closer, the monstrous building grew larger and Danny started to feel uneasy and contemplated turning back. But he had to be brave, and he had to get his drumsticks back.
There was no choice; he'd have to press on.
As he stood at the backdoor of Mrs. Crank's house, he realised a small detail he hadn't thought about until now.
How would he actually get inside?
He tried his luck with the door, the brass handle groaning loudly as he pushed it down and leant into the flaking wooden door that would not budge.
It was locked.
He looked around for another way in but all the windows were closed...except one.
As he looked up to the second floor, the rain splashing on his face, he noticed an upstairs window slightly ajar.
There was no other option.
This was becoming more and more risky by the minute, but he'd come this far, he might as well see it through now, but he had to hurry.
Frantically assessing the situation, Danny jumped onto the windowsill, the crumbling bricks just about supporting his weight as he swung himself round and tightly clasped the large drainpipe that ran all the way up the side of the house.
Hugging the slippery metal tightly, he shimmied himself up the pipe slowly, the ground below him growing further and further away.
If he fell now, he'd surely break a leg, or worse, two, or even two legs and an arm.
Or even two legs, two arms, two ankles, a wrist, his nose, a few ribs...he was scaring himself now and, pushing the unnerving thoughts from his mind, continued the final few inches up the drainpipe.
Once he was level with the open window, he dangled a foot out until he could feel the brick sill beneath him and, with his other foot and the rest of his body following close behind, jumped quickly and expertly.
He had scaled the side of the house like a champion mountain climber, with a great sense of pride and a little relief, heaved upwards the stiff, heavy window and slipped inside the house...
Danny found himself in the bathroom.
Strangely it felt colder in here than it did outside, and it didn't look like it had been cleaned for years.
There was a thick layer of dust on the mirror by the sink, which itself was stained a browny yellow colour. The bathtub was coated in a grimy substance and there were large, drooping cobwebs in all corners of the ceiling.
Loads of bottles of all shapes, colours and sizes were peppered around the edge of the bathtub, different creams, conditioners and shampoos, Danny's imagination began to run wild as he pictured Mrs. Crank, complete with a pointy black hat, swirling potions in her makeshift cauldron.
It wasn't a room that Danny wanted to stay in for any longer than he had to and, squinting through the hazy dust-filled atmosphere and uneasy darkness, he slowly edged his way towards the door and out onto the landing.
Standing alone, surrounded by closed doors and in total silence, Danny realised the difficulty of the task that lay ahead.
He had no idea where his drumsticks might be, and they could take hours to find.
He couldn't even remember how long Mrs. Crank had been gone for; she could be back at any time.
He had to act quickly.
Deciding against choosing a door at random, Danny decided to try his luck downstairs first. She had only been inside for a moment or two before going out again and must have simply dropped them on the kitchen table.
He wandered across the desolate landing and down the stairs, which creaked heavily with each footstep.
The kitchen was at the front of the house.
The window was perfectly placed so that Mrs. Crank could peer through her grubby net curtains and spy on all the children walking past whilst she did the washing-up, that is, Danny thought, if she ever did wash-up.
The kitchen was in a worse state than the bathroom! Piles of plates were stacked high like skyscrapers on each and every available surface, wobbling uneasily as if they might come crashing down at any moment.
All the cupboards were wide open and full to the brim, overflowing in some cases, with no end of mouldy food-stuffs, and there was a dining table in the corner.
Well, Danny could tell it was a dining table only by the four legs that stood wearily.
The surface of the table was covered in old newspapers, paper work and more rubbish than the local dump.
He had to act fast so decided his best plan would be to search quickly and cover as many rooms as he could.
He walked across to the dining table, sighing once more at the enormity of the task ahead. As he reached out a cautious hand, he heard the sudden jolt of a key in the lock.
Mrs. Crank! she was already home.
He hadn't even started searching, Oh what a terrible mistake this was.
Danny had to leave now, and the only way out was back through the bathroom window. As the key started turning in the lock, he turned on his heel and dashed from the kitchen and straight up the stairs.
He disappeared from sight on the landing just as the front door swung open.
Danny looked around him; there were four closed doors to pick from.
Why did I close the bathroom door?! he thought to himself.
He could hear Mrs. Crank just meters away downstairs, moaning as she kicked off her muddy shoes and shed her dripping coat.
He lurched forward and tried a door at random, grasping the cold metal doorknob and twisting it with difficulty. The door was heavy, but thankfully did not creak as he had feared, as Danny entered the dark room.
He could not see whether this was the bathroom and had to find the light switch.
As his hand scoured the wall behind him, fishing for the cord to tug on, eight hairy legs scuttled across his hand. He had to clasp his mouth with his free hand to stifle his own screams; he hated spiders and could not even see this one.
Suddenly his hand found the plastic switch, and the room was bathed in light.
It was clearly not the bathroom, for there was a light switch on the wall, and to turn the light on in Mrs. Crank's bathroom you had to pull on a mouldy old cord.
He had no time to look around; he just needed to get out of the house.
Something was stopping him from leaving the room.
He desperately wanted to run, to find the bathroom, to clamber out of the window, down the drain-pipe, through the garden, and over the wall to freedom.
But instead Danny found his gaze locked on a short tail of rope hanging from the ceiling in the corner of the room.
The room Danny was standing in was a bedroom, though most likely a spare one.
Mrs. Crank, as far as he knew, lived alone but he could not understand the need for a spare bedroom when someone never had any visitors.
If she wasn't such a horrible old woman, perhaps she might have had friends who would want to visit her from time-to-time.
But it was clearly not Mrs. Crank's bedroom, for it was clean and tidy, the bed untouched and the curtains unmoved. Everything was neatly in its place as it should be, and Danny had seen the state of the rest of the house.
No, he had deduced that Mrs. Crank had not been in this room for quite some time.
But that rope.
Still, even after he had afforded himself a quick look around the bedroom, Danny was still transfixed with the hanging rope.
As he allowed himself to get lost in his imagination, wondering what a tug on the rope might do and forgetting all about where he was, he was brought back to Earth when a heavy footstep pounded on the bottom stair.
Mrs. Crank was coming upstairs!
Danny panicked again, it was too late to go back out onto the landing now.
He'd have to hide in here, under the bed, in the wardrobe, anywhere!
He quickly made his way across the room, noticing a pair of slippers beside the bed and a pale blue comb on top of the chest of drawers.
Without thinking much about them, Danny reached the window.
As he fiddled with the latch, his heart sank, it was locked, and there was no sign of a key.
He'd surely be caught now.
He stepped back, half wondering about whether hiding was any use anymore or whether he should just give himself up.
He'd probably be sleeping in a jail cell that night, with only the rats for company and a bowl of porridge for breakfast.
Danny screwed up his face at the thought of porridge, he hated the stuff.
As he turned, something brushed his shoulder.
He nearly screamed, fearing the spider had come back for more...but it was only the rope hanging from the ceiling.
Mrs. Crank's footsteps were getting louder as she grew closer; each passing step was a step closer to Danny.
Without thinking, he pulled on the rope...
A cloud of dust fell as the hatch in the ceiling opened, and light poured down into the bedroom.
As the hatch-door swung, a short set of steps followed, rolling slowly from the hole in the bedroom ceiling and unfolding neatly.
He let go of the rope, brushed himself down, and began his ascent into the attic.
He was a champion mountaineer, climbing the last few steps to the summit, clutching his flag as the oxygen got thinner and thinner.
As his head popped up into the attic, he stopped and looked around him.
He looked in all four corners of the room and was feeling deflated at the lack of interesting things scattered about before remembering he wasn't here exploring, he was trying to escape.
He jumped up into the attic and realised he wasn't any better off up here.
Although there was a window in the corner of the room, it led onto the roof and a slippery roof was no place for a young boy, he may as well wait here to be captured.
He could be here for days though, weeks even!
It was clear Mrs. Crank did not go into the spare bedroom.
Danny imagined having to fend for himself in the dark attic, fashioning a bed from the empty cardboard boxes that rested against one wall, and eating the bugs that crawled past him in the night. When it rained, he could open the window to drink the rainwater.
Yes, that's what he'd do.
Better to be caught as a failed explorer than a naughty young boy, Danny thought, his attention still fixed on the small window in the roof.
He noticed the pool of light that fell from the window, illuminating a large grey dust sheet that was covering up a rather strange looking object.
How he had not noticed this when he first scoured the room he did not know, but there was a sort of spotlight on this odd shape and once again, Danny's curiosity got the better of him.
Slowly he padded towards it, crossing the floor with care in case he fell through one of the rotten boards.
He had once again forgotten all about Mrs. Crank, as he stopped beside the strange object.
Without a moment's hesitation Danny pulled on the sheet, and once more found himself surrounded by a billowing cloud of dust.
Trying to stifle his coughs, he waited for the dust to clear and rubbed his eyes.
He could not believe what he saw.
There, before him, was a shiny, sparkling, huge red drum kit.
He was gobsmacked. Astounded, amazed!
What was this thing doing here in Mrs. Crank's attic?
It looked just like his.
For a second, Danny thought it was his!
Suddenly a step creaked below.
Danny jumped, remembering once more where he was and turned to be met by Mrs. Crank's head coming out of the floor, followed by her shoulders, her body and the rest of her.
He was for it now.
Danny couldn't help but think, in his panic and whilst his heart had stopped, that Mrs. Crank's face looked different somehow.
He couldn't find the right word in his head, and was repelled from choosing 'friendly' or 'kind' because he simply could not associate these words with Mrs. Crank.
The more he stared, the more her face softened.
The more the tenseness in her shoulders eased, the more her smile grew wider...she was smiling?!
"So I see you've found Frank's drums then?" she said.
Who was Frank?
As if he had spoken aloud Mrs. Crank continued. "Frank was my husband. That's his room, down there." She motioned to the room beneath them with a subtle nod of her head. The slippers and the comb suddenly made more sense.
"He used to come up here and play those things all day long. Wonderful he was, and I loved to listen to him play. You could hear him anywhere in the house, even right at the bottom of the garden. But I used to love to just sit on his bed, as the hatch was open, and let the crashes and bangs fill the room. He filled this house with music and with love." Mrs. Crank paused, and looked at the floor.
Danny felt a pang of guilt deep inside his stomach.
She looked back at Danny and pointed towards the drums.
Her eyes looked wet. "He always said he'd teach me. One summer, he promised me he'd give me lessons every day. Then he got ill. He stopped playing every day, and then it wasn't long before he stopped playing every week.
Towards the end, when all he'd do was lie in his bed, he barely played at all.
He died in his sleep, peacefully and with a smile on his face.
He was dreaming about better days.
I've been so lonely since Frank left me, and I've never been able to listen to drums again. I didn't mean to be horrible to you, to stop you playing your drums, but every time you did it reminded me of Frank."
Mrs. Crank stopped again.
It felt like an age had passed, as the two of them stood in silence.
Danny didn't know what to say, he had completely misjudged this poor, lonely old lady. He hadn't bothered to think about her as a person, what she used to be like, or why she was always angry.
But she wasn't angry, she was sad, she was alone.
She was constantly reminded of a very happy past, a past firmly rooted behind her. Danny suddenly had a brainwave.
He thought about how to suggest his idea, Mrs. Crank looked so sad.
He just came out and said it.
"Mrs. Crank," he tried.
She looked at him, her eyes glazed and tired. "Maybe I could teach you to play?"
The silence this time really did last a lifetime.
Danny regretted having asked her, it was foolish.
Of course she did not want to play now, and he'd never be able to play his drums again.
This was terrible.
Why did he have to break into this old woman's house, why did he have to even play his drums this morning in the first place? He just wished he could wake up and for it all to be a dream, for the first day of the holidays to start all over again. Maybe he could work on a time machine that afternoon. He just wanted to go home.
"I'd like that," Mrs. Crank's response startled Danny, as he was lost in his thoughts.
She smiled again; it was such a friendly, heart-warming smile.
"I'd like that very much."
That evening, Mrs. Crank sat in Danny's living room with him, Bart, Danny's mother and father and even Arabella the cat.
They were drinking hot cocoa and Danny was enthusiastically planning his lessons with Mrs. Crank.
In the days that followed, and for the rest of the summer holiday, Danny went round to Mrs. Crank's house, but through the front door this time.
They often laughed about his scaling the drainpipe as they played together whilst his mother helped Mrs. Crank to keep her house clean and tidy.
By the time Autumn was rearing its head and Danny had long since been back in the classroom, Mrs. Crank's house was once again filled with music and love, and she hadn't stopped smiling ever since.
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