The loft was dusty and dark; faint gleam from the fading light bulb just enough to cast shadows over bulging boxes and ghostly dustsheets. It wasn’t floored properly either. You had to balance, edge carefully along creaking wooden joists. If your foot went off either side and the weight of your body followed after it, then anyone on the landing below would be covered in plaster and look up in horror to a leg sticking out of the ceiling. Believe me; I know.
I can’t remember what I was looking for. I can’t remember whether my parents knew I was in the loft or not. But I do know they weren’t with me and I do know I was eleven years old and treading as carefully and as quietly as possible. And I can still remember vividly my excitement at what I found. I took them out one by one, wiped blankets of dust away with the side of my hand, revealed pictures of naked women with black eyes and twisted horns, of grinning gargoyles and burning skulls. This was a discovery every bit as important as those in the adventure books of my bedroom; black magic, hidden in the loft for what could have been hundreds of years. I turned them over, gently thumbed the yellowing pages, in awe of something much greater than anything I or the vast majority of others could ever fully comprehend. And then, with a sense of being watched, my head jerked around to nothing but more darkness and rising dust. Oblivious to the fact that these were my Grandad’s Dennis Wheatley books from the seventies and that the house had only been built thirty years previously I continued under the dust sheet with shaking hands and soaring imagination.
What came up next would prove ultimately more inspiring. Covers of smoking men with Stetsons and Magnums, titles like Snake River and Apache, authors called Brett and Shad. I never did read those Dennis Wheatley books. They were too frightening, too English as well. They could have happened just around the corner, in my own living room while I tried to sleep upstairs. Instead, I was transported from Teesside to Texas, from Hartlepool to the High Ridge mountains of Missouri. I tracked Injuns through the desert, undressed buxom ladies in silk nightclothes above dangerous drinking games and straight faced poker. I escaped from windows when the sheriff arrived, unroped my horse and rode alone to meet fierce savages that could split my skull with one swift blow of a tomahawk. Once there, I muffled my chaotic heartbeat, refused to show fear in my eyes and demanded to be taken to their wrinkled feather strewn chief. I smoked pipes of peace in a delicate balance between spared life and violent death. On the way back I built a fire, pulled my sleeping back up to my neck and slept the night with my hand on my gun as just beyond the radius of flickering firelight wild dogs howled in anticipation.
That secret journey to the loft, just a dozen uncomfortable steps on a homemade ladder, took me far beyond The Magic Faraway Tree, The Famous Five and Dr Seuss. Judge Dredd kept me entranced and on guard for a time, as did Battle Magazine and Eagle. The Dandy and Whizzer and Chips kept me entertained. But it was adventures in foreign lands and wild dogs that I drifted away to in my wistful day dreams…