Inspired by Labelled with Love by Squeeze

A quiet, leafy, cul-de-sac, near the centre of a small village was the last place anyone would look for adventure. Alice peered out of the window as the car slowed to a stop outside her new home on Rainbow Close and sighed. It all looked so boring.

Six houses, all identical in shape and size, but each painted a different colour in a quirky show of independence. The estate agent had warned them there were rules about painting the house such as which colours were allowed and the depth of shade, in keeping with the over-all style and vibe of the street.

Alice and her mum were moving in to the blue house. At least the colour scheme made it easier to identify than trying to spot the house number from behind the white picket fence which bordered the perfectly manicured, bright green lawn.

As Alice slid out of the car, she saw a couple hurrying towards them.

‘Hello, Neighbour.’

Alice’s mum rolled her eyes but turned, smiling towards the couple.

‘Hi there!’ She exclaimed with an enthusiasm, Alice found unbelievable.

‘We’re your new neighbours, I’m Ann.’ The lady said, smiling.

‘And I’m Martin.’ Ann’s husband said, holding out his hand.

‘Well, I’m Rose,’ she said, shaking Martin’s hand, ‘and this is Alice, my daughter.’

Alice waved from behind the car, squinting in the sunlight. Ann offered a plate to Rose.

‘I baked you a little welcome to the neighbourhood cake, just a little something to keep you going until you get your kitchen unpacked.’ She smiled.

‘Oh wow, that is incredibly kind of you, thank you.’

Alice sighed. She hated being the new kid; Everyone staring and coming over to poke and prod at the new exhibit. She counted the houses again. ‘One down, four to go.’ She mumbled to herself. She was relieved when the quiet of the street was disturbed by the rumble of the removal van and cheered as it turned into the cul-de-sac.

‘Mum, it’s here.’ She called.

Rose turned to look at the van, and quickly thanked Ann and Martin for their kind welcome. She rummaged in her pocket for the door key and hurried up the path.

‘Come on kiddo, let’s get in there before the chaos starts.’

While the removal men carried in the furniture and Rose directed them into different rooms in the house, Alice went for a walk around the cul-de-sac. Their pastel blue house was opposite a mint green house and next door to a house that looked like a huge parma-violet.

As the road swept around a bend, a hint of orange was just visible through the trees, opposite the yellow house next door to her own. She stopped and turned a full circle, taking in the colours of the houses: violet, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange.

‘So where’s the red house?’ She wondered aloud.

She continued following the pavement around the bend, nodding at the orange house, there was something cheerful about this end of the street, with the yellow and orange houses. And then she noticed another bend in the road, tucked away behind the orange house.

As she approached the bend, the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the wind seemed to come from out of nowhere. There was a sudden darkness closing in around her and as she kept walking she noticed another house, looming in the mist, like it was barely even there.

As she got closer Alice realised there was no mist, it was simply that the house was a dull grey colour. It looked like it had been forgotten, when all the other houses were being painted. The paintwork was peeling off the rotten wooden panels, brick walls surrounding the property were leaning over, being pushed out of place by bushes that had grown out of control. The grass, in contrast with the lush green lawns of the neighbours, was dry and yellow like straw. The property looked like it had a colour removing filter in front of it.

Alice squinted at the house, pulling her jacket tightly around her. A black cat jumped up on to the gate post and stared at her, its green eyes looking bright against it’s black fur coat. The cat raised a paw to its face and licked it, flexing its claws menacingly as it stared at Alice. Alice looked a the cat wide-eyed and backed away slowly.

As she turned to run, she collided with a neighbour.

‘Woah!’ said a kind voice, ‘what’s the rush?’

Alice looked up at the young man, who had appeared from the yellow house. He was a few years older than Alice.
He looked towards the grey house and smiled.

‘Ah, you met the Witch. Or was it just the cat?’

‘Cat.’ Alice whispered.

‘Yep, not sure which is the scarier, to be honest. Although I’m not entirely sure they’re not the same creature, you know? I’ve certainly never seen the two of them together, but they sure do smell the same.’ He wrinkled his nose.

Alice looked at the him, open mouthed and wide-eyed.

‘So there’s a witch living in the grey house?’ She asked, just to be clear.

‘Well, that’s the theory. I’m James, by the way. They say she has blue fingers, but you never see them, she’s always wearing mittens.’

‘Even in the summer?’ Alice asked. She realised she was warm again, the sun had reappeared from behind the clouds. She loosened her jacket and relaxed her shoulders.

‘Did it feel like summer over there?’ James asked, his eyebrows raised and his mouth straight.

Alice shook her head.

‘Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. You’ll forget she’s even there before long. Out of sight out of mind. I think she put a spell on the place to stay hidden.’

‘So how did I see it then?’ Alice frowned.

‘Because you went looking for a red house, didn’t you?’ James asked.

‘How did you know that?’ Alice asked, amazed and surprised.

James laughed loudly.

‘I heard you say it, silly.’ He laughed again, ‘I’m messing with you. Welcome to the neighbourhood, er..?’

‘Alice.’ Alice held her hand out and James shook it, ‘so, she’s not a witch?’

‘Who knows? She’s probably just a lonely drunk, I reckon. But I’d stay away, all the same.’ He grinned.

Alice looked back in the direction of the house and shuddered. She watched James walk up the path to his house and waved as he went inside. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of her voice being called.

‘Alice! Come here and sort your room out!’

Alice returned to the blue house and found her mum upstairs looking out of her bedroom window, into the back garden of the yellow house.

‘Oh, there’s James.’ Alice said, seeing James pumping up the tyre on his bike.

‘Oh no, you met the boy next door already?’ Rose, groaned theatrically, ‘I thought I’d have a few more years before all that.’ She grinned.

‘Ew, gross!’ Alice frowned.

As she turned away from the window she could just make out the grey house looming in the shadows at the end of the close.

A few days later Alice took a walk to the end of Rainbow Close. She pulled her coat tighter as she rounded the corner past the orange house and felt the sun disappear. She felt a sense of sorrow, as though she would never feel happy again.

She heard a squeal and from out of the shadows 3 boys on bikes came riding towards her giggling. They rode right past her and she turned to watch as they disappeared into the sun filled street. As she stood there, she felt a vice like grip on her shoulder and turned in shock to see an old, distorted face glaring at her.

‘Can’t you just leave me alone?’ The woman screamed at her.

Alice was speechless, Her heart was pounding and she felt a cold sweat break out across her body. She swallowed, her eyes staring widely at the woman.

‘What? Cat got your tongue has it?’ The woman asked.

Alice heard her name being called and looked in the direction of the sunny end of the street. Her mum turned the corner, calling her name.

‘Alice?’ She spotted the old woman, holding her daughter and rushed over. ‘What’s going on here?’

‘Pesky kids, won’t leave me alone.’ The woman spat at her.

Alice stared at her mum, wide eyed, shaking her head. Rose frowned.

‘Well not this one. We only moved in on Saturday.’ She said, holding out her hand. ‘I’m Rose and this is my daughter, Alice. We just moved into the blue house.

‘What do you want? A medal?’ the old woman asked. ‘I’ve got loads of them in the house.’ She mumbled.

Rose and Alice exchanged glances. The woman turned and started walking towards her house. Rose followed her.

‘Mum!’ Alice hissed, ‘what are you doing?’

‘I want my medal.’ Rose said, smiling.

‘But mum. I think she’s a witch.’

Rose started laughing.

‘Oh don’t be so daft, Alice. She’s just a lonely old woman. Come on, be kind.’

Reluctantly, Alice followed her mum and the old lady up the path. The overgrown hedges seemed to move aside as she approached, looking behind her, Alice could barely see the garden gate through the dense leaves.

The old lady shuffled about her home. Alice and Rose stood in the doorway, their eyes adjusting to the dark, candle-lit hovel. The shelves were filled with dust and cobwebs hung from the corners of the ceiling, door frames and windows.

She picked up the clock, held it to her ear and wound the key, until it started ticking again. As she put it back on the shelf a waft of dust filled the room, causing Alice to cough.

The old lady handed Rose a rusted, metal tin. Inside the tin were medals, with short ribbons in red, white and blue. Rose picked up one of the medals and looked closely at it.

‘These are war medals.’ She said, surprised.

The old lady, gave a small nod of her head.

‘They belonged to my husband.’ She said. ‘He was an American pilot. So handsome.’

Alice looked around the room. A broken black and white TV sat in the corner, and a wooden cross was fixed to the wall. There were no photos of her husband, or any children. She spotted a row of bottles on the sideboard, all labelled with the word Love. Alice glanced at the woman. She seemed a bit old to be using love potions. But it convinced her she really was a witch. She looked at her mum, willing her to hurry up and leave.

Rose was fascinated by the old woman. She moved to the sofa and sat down next to her.

‘So did you go to America?’ She asked.

The old woman looked at her through weary eyes and nodded.

‘I moved to his prairie in Texas. We were married, I was very young.’ She looked over at Alice. ‘Don’t be too quick to get married, young lady.’

Rose laughed.

‘Oh I’m locking her in her bedroom until she’s thirty.’ She said.

‘Mum!’ Alice whined.

‘One day I realised he was old. Old and drunk. And then one summer’s day, out on the porch, full of the poison, he fell asleep for the last time.’

‘Oh that’s awful, I’m so sorry.’ Rose said, her hand over her mouth.

The old lady shrugged.

‘Why? He took me away from my family to be his full-time house-keeper, I was finally free.’ She said.

Alice looked between the old woman and the potions on the dresser and wondered if she’d poisoned him. Or cast a deadly spell.

‘I came home, to this house. But everyone had gone, retired to the coast and passed on to the next life. This is not a place for old people like me.’ She looked at Rose, tapping the side of her head. ‘So I live mostly in here now.’

The old lady stood up, unscrewed the top of a new whiskey bottle, and decanted the amber liquid into one of the Love labelled bottles.

‘You know alcohol is used to preserve things, and to remove impurities.’ She said, picking up a bottle and taking a sip and sat back down next to Rose, closing her eyes, a smile creeping across her face.

Alice looked at her. She was pretty in a funny sort of way. Her smile made her look much younger.

Rose stood up and beckoned Alice out of the house.

‘What was all that about, mum?’ She asked

‘I think she’s just a lonely widow, Alice.’ Rose said. ‘Drinking to remember her lost youth and to forget her unhappy marriage.’

‘So she’s not a witch then?’ Alice asked.

Rose laughed again.

‘Don’t be daft.’ She said, ‘Of course she isn’t.’

As they stepped out onto the street the sun was shining and in the warm glow of the sunlight Alice noticed the cold grey house, was actually a deep shade of red.

‘Are you absolutely certain?’ She asked.