The New Family
That it rained in London’s Crouch End borough on the night of Saint Patrick’s Day 1963 was nothing remarkable. That a new Scottish family was moving into one of the decaying houses being given free to immigrants willing to earn their keep was naught to raise eyebrows. That said Scottish family’s surname was Clifford was nothing astounding. The fact that one of the family’s grown sons was David Clifford, a twenty-year-old up-and-coming troubadour with an outfit called The Southside Blues Exchange did catch the attention of some.
As for the Clifford family, the silver stars with a blazing eye in the center placed in all the windows of the houses they passed in Crouch End did not escape the sharp eye of their eleven-year-old son Gerry, who nudged his nine-year-old brother and bosom companion, Paul, pointing to his discovery.
“Elder signs in every bloomin’ window,” the diminutive, dark-haired lad noted. “Why d’ye suppose?”
“Silver yet, or pewter anyways,” Paul remarked knowingly, stroking his hand over his honey-colored curls before giving his head a good scratch. “I suppose we’ll have to ask around once we meet someone our ain age who don’t seem a complete tosser.”
“Paul Roger Clifford, language!” Paul’s twelve-year-old sister Lotus admonished, lightly punching her younger brother’s upper arm.
Lotus and her twenty-five-year-old sister Diane stood out from their pale parents and younger brothers. Both young women had been adopted from India; Diane in 1939 when she was just two years old, and Lotus in 1956 when she was six. Although they were dark-haired, dark-eyed and swarthy, Diane and Lotus thought of themselves as Scottish to the core.
An old bookshop caught Gerry’s eye as the family drove past, but the shopkeeper standing in front did so even more.
“Oi, Paulie, they’ve fish-folks here in Crooch End too!”
“I imagine they’ve fish-folk near every port,” Mildred Clifford said, turning to look at her sons. “Min' whit I’ve tauld ye wee jimmies. Different fowk look different ways. We need tae treat a' fowk wi' kindness, regardless ay whether ur nae we hink they're bonnie.”
“Och aye, maw, we ken 'at,” Paul said. “Ah hink Gerry was canty tae see 'at th' owner ay th' bookshop was a fish-man, werenae ye, Ger?”
“Yeah, Ah was,” Gerry agreed. “I've nae quarrel wi' th' fish-folk, maw. Those I’ve knoon hae bin quite kin' enaw. Ah was canty tae see 'at th' bookstair was owned by a fish-man, coz it's mair likely tae hae magical books 'at way.”
Gossip and Curiosity
The neighbors stood on their lawns, watching as the new family stepped from their car. The youngest boy with the honey-colored curls bounced about with boundless energy. The middle brother was more sedate but was grinning from ear to ear about something.
The third boy, who hadn’t said a word during most of the ride from Glasgow, had a morose look on his angular face. This young man had wavy black hair and an olive complexion. He didn’t look like he was biologically related to his parents, his two younger brothers, or his dark-complexioned, straight-haired sisters. He put on a smile when the younger sister linked her arm in his and assured him that things would be wonderful here in their new home.
“I’ve heard they’ve fifteen children,” a very pregnant Charmaine Glynn said to her husband Leon. “Don’t you go getting the idea that I’m going to follow along that path.”
“I was told most of their children are adopted and most of them are grown,” Leon remarked. “Anyways, I’m more the sort who thinks that two is quite enough.”
“Fortunate for you, Sir,” Charmaine stated, smiling. “Ooh, look how tiny the parents and the two youngest chaps are! They look like wee elves!”
“I was thinking the two swarthy lassies looked like good babysitters if you’re ever in need of a break,” Leon mused. “The older boy seems a melancholy sort, but he don’t look to be a troublemaker. I ain’t made up me mind on the two young chappies yet. Probably good enough lads, but it’s as the nursery rhyme says. Snips and snails and puppy-dog tails.”
“Which is why I’m hoping for a girl,” Charmaine revealed, linking her arm in Leon’s. “Except then I remember your sister, the freckle-faced menace. Right nightmare it would be to have a repeat of the Annie Oakley of Crouch End. You remember that time the rascal took out all the streetlamps with her slingshot?”
“I wasnae expecting any of ‘em to be darkies,” eleven-year-old Hector Mackenzie remarked to his twin sister, Andrea. “D’ye suppose they’re the help?”
Andrea punched Hector in the arm.
“That's a terribly rude hin' tae say, Hectur, an' Ah hiner ye willnae be sae thooghtless as tae ask them sic' a question,” Andrea scolded.
“Weel, Ah didne mean anythin' rude by it, did Ah? Anyways, Ah didne ask it ay them, Ah speart it ay ye.”
“Maw said 'at she heard th' Cliffords waur a braw Catholic lot fa adopted many less fortunate bairns frae other countries. She also said we're tae treat them th' sam as uir ain kin'. Crivvens, fa dae ye suppose 'at is?”
The Good Bad Boys
When David Clifford came careening up Heather Court in a rickety old truck filled with his bandmates and a pile of well-worn furniture, residents of the borough took notice. Some of the older folk grumbled about the damn unruly long-hairs taking over, and what was the world coming to? No few of the youngsters were thrilled to see the zany bunch dressed in eye-catching plaids and stripes, ascots or ties adorning their slender necks.
“Oh, how bonny they are!” Andrea Mackenzie swooned, suddenly forgetting all about one-upping her brother.
Hector muttered that those jive fools weren’t such a big deal, but he was more than happy to offer his help to the fascinating invaders. The strikingly attired young men proved themselves to be most engaging and generous, regardless of Julia Meyer’s assertion that they were probably queer. Julia was a middle-aged widow who made everyone else’s business her business, and nobody liked her. Even Andi and Hector’s normally broad-minded mother once muttered angrily that she wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Julia had either killed poor Mr. Meyer or drove him to suicide. Julia had two grown children named Valentino and Lita who couldn’t stand her either.
David and his bandmates soon endeared themselves to nearly everyone on Heather Court. They’d made a deal with an ice cream vendor to come and provide treats for all their helpers, and by the time day was rolling into night, the Clifford family was well settled in their new home and much beloved by most of their neighbors, particularly after Mildred and her brood put together a delicious supper for all their helpers made from ingredients contributed by her generous musician son and his mates.
With their bellies full and their spirits high, the residents of Crouch End returned to their homes as the sun set. Leo Clifford, the family patriarch, made a few connections that he was confident would bring him steady work in the days to come. Mildred made friends among the other housewives in the borough. Lotus was relieved to find that she wasn’t the only adopted child or non-Anglo in her new neighborhood. Adorable thirteen-year-old Ruthe English with her bouncy toffee curls and porcelain complexion exuberantly introduced the shy Indian girl to her own adopted brothers, twelve-year-old twins Ramiro and Dante.
“They were adopted at six years old, and we’ve been the best of mates,” Ruthe declared. “You do have ever so many brothers, Lotus! Do you get on with all of them?”
“I do,” Lotus said. “I was adopted at six as well. Most of me brithers are adopted, except for David, Gerry, and Paul. I love me brothers, but I’m sometimes pleased when it’s just me, Mum, and Diane in the house. Diane was adopted from India, like me. She’s much older, though. She’s twenty-five.”
“Blimey, she’s already a lady then!” Ruthe declared, impressed.
David Clifford was always a fun-loving soul, but tonight his upbeat mood was over the top. Several songs on The Southside Blues Exchange’s newly released album, Uptown Underground, were getting airplay, and the band had a few tour dates scheduled on the Continent.
“We’re going to Vienna for sausage and then to—well, it’s German, so there will probably be more sausage,” David chuckled, taking a sip directly from the bottle of wine he was holding and passing the bottle to his co-guitarist, Reg Xia.
Mildred frowned, placing glasses on the table and taking the bottle from the sheepish-looking Reg, who had just taken a sip. She poured the wine into the glasses.
“If ye wee jimmies ur plannin' tae gie blooter'd, at leest dae it loch civilized men when in polite company,” the Clifford matriarch scolded while Diane laughed. “Ah certainly dae appreciate aw ay yer help this day, an' yoo've surely endeared us tae th' neighbors wi' yer generosity. Ah am ever sae canty 'at yer graphite loons is findin' an appreciatife audience. But Ah hiner ye lads will be be temperate in yer celebratin'. Yoo'd nae be th' first in thes fowk tae faa intae a bottle an' nae be able tae climb out of it, Davy."
“Yes, Mum,” David agreed. “T ‘is just a wee tipple to celebrate our new record and our upcoming tour. Da, a wee drink for ye?”
“Only a wee one, Davy,” Leo replied, giving Mildred a wink and a kiss on the cheek. “Yer maw woods make me sleep in th' bath waur Ah tae gie three sheets tae th' wind.”
“Diane, c’mon, live a little!” David encouraged his sister.
“Aw reit, jist a glass, mind,” Diane agreed, pulling up a chair.
There was a knock at the door, and Lotus went to answer it with Gerry and Paul following close behind. The three youngest Cliffords were surprised and pleased to see Ruthe, Ramiro, and Dante English and the Mackenzie twins at the door with their fathers accompanying them.
“Oh, beg yer pardon,” David said, standing up. “I hope we weren’t being too loud.”
“Sit down, Laddie,” the stalwart Barney Mackenzie ordered, the moonlight nearly outshone by his copious, unruly red-brown waves of hair as he held up a bottle of Scotch. “Arch and I thought we’d jine yer wee celebration, if that’s all reit.”
Arch English was a handsome, black-haired giant with a bushy beard. Lotus couldn’t help but notice how the two neighbor men dwarfed her five-foot-two-inch tall adoptive father, but Leo Clifford commanded respect despite his diminutive height and both men greeted him with such.
“I talked me da into rounding up Uncle Barney so we could all come over here,” Ruthe revealed, linking her arm in Lotus’. “It didn’t take much doing. The whole street is ever so curious about you lot!”
“Here, we carved these for the pair of you,” Ramiro said, handing Gerry a small wooden car while Dante handed a wooden truck to Paul. “Ain’t much, only a wee welcoming gift.”
“That’s huir of a braw, thanks,” Gerry responded.
“My mum sent over a jar of jam, Mrs. Clifford,” Harold said. “She hopes you and Diane might join her for tea tomorrow.”
“Mum, main we gang upstairs? Unless yoo're gonnae lit us hae some bucky wi' Davy an' th' lads,” Lotus inquired with a puckish smile.
“Och aye, gang oan, Miss Sassy,” Mildred replied. “But dornt gie th' idea 'at yoo'll be allowed tae bide up late loch thes every nicht.”
The youngsters hurried up the stairs while the adults gathered in the living room to drink, celebrate, and become better acquainted with one another.
With the youngsters gathered in Gerry’s room, Ruthe opened a box filled with the star and eye symbols that the Clifford siblings had noticed in the windows of the houses they passed on the way in.
“You must put these in your windows,” Ruthe insisted, her smile and cheery tone unable to completely camouflage the fear in her voice. “For good luck.”
“Yeah, of course,” Gerry said. “D’ye know what these are, by chance?”
“It’s an old tradition,” Ruth hedged. “Keeps out evil spirits and all, so they say.”
“There's nae need tae be cagey,” Gerry stated, sounding much older and more authoritative than his eleven years. “Ah ken whit an elder sign is an' Ah ken a fair bit abit th' things it's supposed tae protect against. Noo, aiblins ye lot woods loch tae teel us whit it's protectin' th' residents ay Crooch End against.”
“Vampires,” Hector answered. “Or, so they say.”
“Thes hoose especially ooght tae hae a lucky sign,” Andrea said. “Thes is th' place whaur aw th' trooble started.”
“Yeah, there’s a reason why this house has been empty for the past 20 years,” Dante revealed. “Ain’t nobody dared live in it is why.”
“There’s a curse on this place,” Dante’s brother Ramiro agreed.
“Weel, mebbe th' curse has gain somewhaur else by noo,” Lotus said hopefully.
“I dorn’t believe in curses,” fifteen-year-old Kane remarked, speaking aloud for the first time.
“That’s all right, I don’t really either,” Ruthe said, smiling sweetly. “But here, do me a kindness and put this in yer window anyways. Then it’s like we’re part of a club together.”
“Kane, ye ainae gotta try an' be a big shot,” Gerry admonished. “Ye ken there's jobbie in thes warld 'at cannae be explained.”
“An' ye ooghtnae be tellin' me whit tae dae, Gerry,” Kane responded coldly, sucking on a candy stick as if it was a cigarette. “Aw the fowk thinks ye an' Paul ur special 'cause yoo've got th' secht. Ah ken Ah ainae loch ye, but Ah was adopted by yer parents, which makes me yer big brither. Sae ye ooght tae hae some respect fur me.”
“Weel, Ah dae, an' quite a bit. But big brither ur nae, 'at dornt think ye hae a reit tae go actin' loch a prat when uir new friends hae given us a gift. Ye ooght tae be gracioos an' jist tak' it an' say cheers, Mate, it’s right nice, and it will look smashin’ in me window.”
Ruthe glanced at Kane and noticed a scar running from his ear, over his jaw, and across his throat.
“Kane, Gerry, please, dorn’t let’s fight,” Lotus insisted, sounding as if she might cry. “Ah ken it's bin difficult fur aw ay us tae come haur, whit wi' everythin' 'at happened back in Glasgee thes pest winter. But see, awreddy we've new friends, an' that's quite a blessin'. We ooght tae celebrate our guid fortune, nae gang at each other's throats.”
“'At freeze was th' most awfy hin'," Andrea said, shuddering as she thought about the icy winter her family had endured. "Why, we've nae bin haur much longer than ye hae. Uir fowk only cam haur six weeks ago."
“Weel, whit part ay Scootlund did ye come frae?” Kane asked, attempting a friendlier demeanor. “As Lotus said, we came frae Glasgee.”
“We cam frae Livingston, up in West Lothian,” Hector said.
“Oh, aye. T ‘is bonny country there,” Kane observed.
“Kane hud tae lae his best mucker behin', an' some bad things happened afair we cam haur,” Paul revealed.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Mate,” Dante said. “I know we’re a fair bit younger than you, Kane, but we can be yer mates. Ruthe can be yer mate too. I know she’s a bird, but she’s just like a bloke in most ways.”
“Cheers, laddie, eh'd loch 'at,” Kane said with a grin. “Sae, what's thes business abit vampires 'at ye lot waur oan abit afair Ah went an' showed me erse as Ah did?”
The crude language made the others laugh. Kane took a pouch of candy sticks from the pocket of the leather jacket that David had given him and passed them to his family members and his new friends. Lotus smiled as she watched her brother opening to the world in a way she hadn’t seen in a long time. She thought to herself that maybe things were going to be all right in this new place after all.
Crouch End is a real borough in London. This fictional version was inspired by Stephen King’s 1980 Lovecraft-inspired short story of the same name.
The Elder Sign is a fictional protective symbol created by H.P. Lovecraft.