Chapter 1: it didn’t look like anyone lived there
It didn’t look like anyone lived there.
That was the trick of it, Magnus had learned. If it doesn’t look like anyone lives there, no one’ll suspect you’re there. The odd bit of smoke in winter just blended in with the mist from the mountains and a door open in the heat of summer simply looked like an animal had got in, if the tree branches were arranged just right.
Magnus didn’t have a clue how the railway carriage had got there; to a wood in the middle of the Welsh countryside on the side of a valley. He was just grateful it had got there at all, else he’d probably be long dead of hypothermia. It was small, with a curved roof and a stable door for some bizarre reason. Inside, there was a bed, a range cooker, a table, a chair and some cupboards, which had all been there when Magnus had found the carriage. It clearly hadn’t been lived in for a very long time- there had been three tins of mackerel that’s eat-by date was six years ago and the remains of what may or may not have once been an apple in one of the cupboards- so Magnus felt it safe to move in, rearrange the furniture, drag some more furniture out of skips, do his best to clean and weed it, because dandelions on the window ledge was one thing but ivy on the walls and the ceiling was a whole other story.
It was small, with just enough room to fit a single bed and the other furniture in. The roof had a chimney that connected to the range, and there were windows on either side. The door, which didn’t fit the frame very well and sometimes could only be opened by Magnus repeatedly ramming his shoulder into it or crawling out of the window to pry it open from the outside, was painted bright green so camouflaged relatively well, but the rest of the carriage was purple, which wasn’t so good.
It was quaint and idyllic, in a clearing surrounded by trees in a picturesque Welsh valley. If someone had done it up- or even just left it in the state it was in anyway- and put it on the internet as an Air B&B, they could have rented it out for hundreds every night, most nights of the year. Instead of this, it was the closest thing a seventeen-year-old with shaggy hair and scarred knuckles had to a permanent residence.
No one owned the carriage.
The property it was connected to- a huge piece of land that came with a large purple house and several outbuildings- didn’t really belong to anyone. The house hadn’t been lived in for at least ten years and there were no visible ‘for sale’ signs. Apparently there had been one but it had been swallowed up by brambles and ivy somewhere around the third year of abandonment. Magnus had never found it, though he’d looked a couple of times when he and Blitz had nothing better to do.
Blitz was one of his only two friends in the world. Hearth, the other friend, lived in a cave up on the hills where he tended sheep for one of the local farmers. Blitz had a small shed hidden in a forest where he slept, despite having enough money to rent a flat, because he was saving up to buy a shop in Cardiff with his meager income from working in a McDonald’s.
Magnus was lying on his bed, half asleep, listening to the rain land on the roof. The door rattled a bit. “MAGNUS!”
Magnus jumped out of bed and opened the door as fast as he could. “Blitz, what’s going on?”
Blitz, in a nearly floor-length black waterproof poncho, shouldered past him and into a chair, drenched with rain. “I’ve just been reading the newspapers in the library-”
“But it’s Monday, the library doesn’t open this early on-”
“Not to the public, no.”
“You broke into the library?”
“Yes! Now shut up because I heard the librarians talking and the purple house has sold!”
“It’s sold?” Magnus went into shock.
Blitz nodded rapidly. “Deal went through a couple of weeks ago!”
“Who’s bought the house?”
“Some wealthy family from Oxford who want a country home.”
“Why couldn’t they have gone to Devon?” Magnus bemoaned and pulled his rucksack out from under the bed. “Why did they have to pick here?”
“That’s not all.” Blitz said quietly.
Magnus froze. “What?”
“The people are starting to move in tomorrow.”
“Where are you going to go? I’d offer you my shed but you wouldn’t fit.”
“I’ve spent too long here to go back to the streets.” Magnus decided. “I wouldn’t last long, either.”
“You’re going to stay here?”
Magnus didn’t answer.
“You’re just going to stay here until they come and find you and send you out into the hills to get hypothermia before Hearth can drag you to his cave?”
Magnus shook his head. “No. They have twenty-four hours to come up here and talk to me and then I’ll go down and introduce myself to them and then get down on my knees and beg for them to let me stay. I’ll mow their lawn and weed the patio and stuff.”
Blitz stared blankly at Magnus. “Is that the best idea?”
“It’s all I’ve got.” Magnus sat down. “And if the worst comes to the worst, I’ll just get picked up by social services and thrown back into school.”
“All or nothing, then.”
Magnus nodded. “Here or some cashless group home in Swansea.”
They sat in silence for a while.
“How’s Hearth?” Magnus asked.
“He’s alright. He’s getting a cabin. He’s well chuffed about it.” Blitz glanced at his watch, an old, battered thing missing half a strap. “I need to go. My shift starts in a bit. I’ll scrounge you some scraps and bring them up if….”
“If I’m still here.” Magnus finished. “Alright.”
“Bye Magnus.” he gave a weak smile and stood up. “I’ll see you somewhere.”
Magnus surprised both himself and Blitz when he gave him a long hug.
“Kid….” Blitz looked like he was going to cry.
“You’d better scram. Before your shift starts.”
Blitz nodded and left the carriage.
Magnus had an apple and a bar of chocolate. He sat on his bed and watched the rain fall out of the window. It got cold, really blood shivering cold, and he lit a fire. He didn’t think that anyone would notice the smoke in all the mist, cloud and fog.
He read the newspaper he’d found on a bench the day before, then crumpled it up and threw it on the fire.
He watched the pages catch around the edges and glow briefly, blackening and curling in on itself and then burst into flames.
That was when the knock on the door came.
There was no way it was Blitz. It was too loud and lasted too long.
Magnus took a deep breath and opened the door. “I saw the smoke.” the woman said bluntly.
She was a bit taller than Magnus, but she was wearing wellies, and beneath her coat with the hood pulled up peeked a glimpse of green hijab. Her skin was darker than that of the locals but she had no foreign accent.
Oh great. Magnus thought. Arabian oil sheikhs are going to be so much nicer than upper class Londoners.
“I didn’t think it would be visible.”
They stared at each other.
The rain picked up.
“Can I come in?” the woman asked.
Magnus nodded and stepped to the side so she could come in. He shut the door and heard Velcro and a zip, so presumed she was taking her coat off.
“Do you mind if I sit down?” she wasn’t Welsh. She could have been, just somewhere close to the border, but even then her voice was too clean and English and Kent Private School to be at all Welsh.
The woman sat on the chair, her coat draped across one of the arms. Magnus sat on the bed and got a proper look at her without a coat on. She was wearing jeans with splatters of fresh mud around the knees, a grey jumper and, as Magnus had suspected, a green hijab. He hadn’t payed much attention to the Islam module at school and couldn’t remember whether the fact that this woman was religious would play to his advantage or not. Then again, there had been plenty of ‘Christians’ who hadn’t helped him.
“What’s your name?”
Magnus faltered and considered giving a fake name. “I’m Magnus.”
“I’m Sam. Nice to meet you.”
Magnus gave a curt nod.
Sam looked around the carriage. “You live here?”
Magnus nodded. “And you’ve just moved into the purple house.”
“How did you know that?” Sam asked, surprised.
Magnus didn’t answer. He didn’t want to drag Blitz into anything.
Sam soon realised that he wasn’t going to get an answer out of him and tried another question. “How long have you lived here?”
“A year and a half.”
“How old are you?”
“17. How old are you?”
“Did you buy the house?”
“My family did.”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Oxford.”
“Where are you from?”
“From here. Have you been sent to find out who I am and then go back to your family so you can ring social services or the police or are you just kicking me out here and now?”
“I’m not here for either. I- we- had no idea that there was anyone in here.” Sam said.
Magnus believed her. She didn’t seem like she was lying or like the sort that would lie about something like this.
“Do you have anywhere else that you could go to?”
“I can find somewhere.” Magnus stood up and got his rucksack out again. “I can be off your property in half an hour. I’ll take all my stuff out of here and I won’t come back or bother you again.”
“I’m not kicking you out!” Sam was horrified. “No way, I was just wondering if you had anywhere nicer you could stay other than here.” she gestured to the carriage.
Magnus shook his head.
“I’m not kicking you out.” Sam said quietly. “Like I said, we had no idea you were here. I… I need to go back to the house and… and think… and…” she trailed off.
“What do I do, then?” Magnus knew that his fate was in limbo and he felt slightly like he was too.
“Stay here.” Sam decided. “Stay here.”
“How long have I got?” Magnus wasn’t going to put his rucksack away just because of a couple of silly little words that in the grand scheme of things probably meant nothing to this woman whose clothes probably cost the equivalent of a month’s of Blitz’s wages.
“It’s not- it isn’t. I’m not the one who’s bought this property. My betrothed did.”
“My fiance. I need to talk to him and tell him you’re here, but I don’t think he’ll have a problem with you staying here.”
“If he does, come and tell me and I’ll leave.”
“Where do you get your food from?”
“Buy some of it. Get given the rest.”
“If you ever need food or it gets really cold and if you sleep up here you’ll freeze you must come down to the house and we’ll feed you and put you up for the night and help you as much as we can.”
Sam’s phone beeped and she pulled it out of her pocket. “I need to go back now. Amir’s wondering where I am.” She stood up and put her coat back on. “It was nice to meet you, Magnus.”
Magnus stood in the doorway and watched her step out of the carriage and into the mud. He wasn't sure what to say, so just nodded.
Sam walked away and Magnus closed the door.
He curled up on his bed and listened to the rain.
Chapter 2: Alex
When Magnus met Alex.
I love Alex so much. I had a blast writing this chapter.
It was two days before Magnus saw anyone else from the purple house.
The rain had carried on falling the day after Sam’s visit, but on the second day took a break. Magnus hadn’t dared venture out of the carriage yet so far, for fear he’d come back and find it was gone, so he was living off the food that Blitz had brought him the night after Sam came. Magnus sat on his bed and alternated staring out of the window and sticking his head out of the top half of the door so he could spot someone coming as soon as possible.
He had expected Sam, or maybe her fiancée Amir.
Not someone with green hair, glittery wellies and skinny jeans.
“Are you Magnus?”
“Yes. You aren’t Sam.”
Green Hair laughed, head tipped back and throat bared, revealing skin much paler than Sam’s had been. In fact, Green Hair's skin was pretty much the same colour as Magnus’s. “It’s kind of obvious, seeing as I don’t have, y’know.” Green Hair waved a hand vaguely at their chest area.
“Yeah.” Magnus ducked his head in embarrassment. “Yeah it is kind of obvious. I’m guessing that you aren’t Amir, either?”
“Nope. Can I come in?”
“If you want.”
Magnus opened the door and Green Hair entered, sitting down without a moment’s hesitation “Sam says that your name is Magnus.”
“Yes. What’s your name?”
“Alex. I’m Sam’s half-sister.”
“Have they sent you to tell me to clear out?”
“Nope. We had a family meeting, talked about politics and redoing the decor in the house and having a new conservatory roof put on for a couple of hours, and then Sam mentioned that there was a guy living in a railway carriage in the woods. She forgot to mention you’re cute, though, but that’s probably just because she’s only got eyes for Amir and wouldn’t bat an eyelid if Beyonce walked past topless, but she wouldn’t do that either coz she’s straight. Jake Gylenhall, then.”
Magnus lost track of what Alex was saying at the word ‘cute’. “You think I’m cute?”
“I don’t think it, I know it. How old are you?”
“I’m 18. Why haven’t social services snatched you up?”
“They’ve tried. I just run away every time and I think they’ve given up on trying to get me now.”
“You not looking for a home or adoption then?”
“How did you end up here?”
“Safer than the streets.”
“Your parents kick you out? For being queer or something?”
Magnus shook his head. “I’m queer, but I didn’t get kicked out for it. My mam didn’t mind.”
“I know what it’s like to not have anywhere.” Alex said quietly. “To be on the streets and stuff.”
Magnus had not expected there to be this side to Sam’s family. “But your family’s rich and you live with them and stuff so how did you end up on the streets?”
Alex pulled a face. “I’m only Sam’s half-brother-”
“Hang on, are you genderfluid?”
“Yes. Sometimes a girl, sometimes a boy. I’ll tell you when my pronouns change, you respect that, you respect my gender, because I’m just as human as you are and I deserve just as much respect as someone who’s gender doesn’t change.”
“That’s fine.” Magnus said hurridly. “I get it, and stuff.”
“My dad kicked me out when he found out I was genderfluid.” Alex said simply. “Slept rough for a while, then managed to find Sam and her family took me in. Her grandparents and her fiancé’s family think I’m wonderful.”
“Are Sam’s family Muslim?”
Alex nodded. “They just like having a sister for Sam who can also chaperone. I dunno about the religious stuff. I stay out of it.”
“Is Alex your real name?”
“Yes. How’d you end up on the streets?”
“My mam died. Then get on the bad side of someone, so ran up here.”
“Is Magnus your real name?”
“Still on the bad side of someone?”
“Have you got any way of showering or staying clean up here?”
“Why are you asking?”
“I have absolutely no problem with you being here because I don’t think you’re addicted to drugs or alcohol. But I don’t want you to be here if you’re filthy and unwashed coz that’s just gross and you deserve access to proper cleaning facilities.”
“There’s a tin bath round the back that fills up with rainwater. I get soaked in the rain plenty too.”
Alex pulled a phone out of her pocket and started typing something. “We’ll get a shower block with running water and a toilet and a large supply of necessary items for you.”
“Thanks.” Magnus was slightly taken aback.
“Don’t be grateful. This is me being selfish because I refuse to be friends with someone who reeks. I need to go. See ya, Magnus.”
Alex left before Magnus had time to say anything.
Magnus stared after her as she went skipping through the wood, back to the purple house.
Chapter 3: we don't mind the rain here
Big discussion, big desicions, the big house.
Final chapter! Thank you all for reading!
“How do you grow in this weather?” Alex was sitting in the carriage, staring out of the window.
“We don’t mind the rain here.” Magnus smiled. “You’ll get used to it . Makes you grow taller, all this rain and mud."
“D’you think it’ll make me grow?” Alex asked hopefully.
“You wouldn’t be able to wear my clothes if you got any bigger.”
The rain picked up and the roof began to leak. Magnus put a saucepan under the drip without hesitation, taking no particular no notice of it.
“You didn’t tell me the roof leaked. “Alex said quietly. “Or that the window’s cracked.”
“It’s not important.”
Alex sighed. “When was the last time you had a proper hot meal?”
“Move in with me.”
“I’m serious. You should move in with us. This place is cold enough and it’s October, you must nearly freeze to death in winter.”
Magnus was silent.
“Look, I know that you don’t wan t to live in a proper house without getting it yourself, but you’re not gonna manage that without turning to drug dealing, are you?”
“Can you cook?” Magnus asked.
“Change the subject.”
Magnus grinned. “Can you cook?”
“I said change the subject!”
“You can’t cook, can you?” Magnus started tickling Alex , who laughed and laughed until finally cracking.
“Okay, fine, you got me. I can’t cook. Can you?”
“I can put stuff in a microwave.”
“Any idiot can do that, that’s not cooking.”
“Well if you can’t cook, and I can’t cook, where am I supposed to get this proper hot meal?”
“Amir can cook.”
“I thought he wasn’t allowed to live with you until they got married?”
“He can’t. He just brings us food nearly every day to make sure we don’t starve to death.”
“So Sam can’t cook, then?”
Alex shook her head. “She’s even worse at it than I am. Her grandmother, who has the patience of a genuine saint, spent seven hours trying to teach her how to make porridge, which is the easiest thing on Planet Earth to make and even I can do it, then gave up and banned her from the kitchen. There is a line on the floor which she isn't allowed to cross so the coffee machine had to be moved to the living room.”
“Seven hours making porridge?”
“The house stank of it for three days and we were eating it for a week. Besides, Amir and Sam are getting married in-” Alex counted on her fingers. “-four months, You’ve been invited to the wedding, by the way, so you need to go shopping to get an outfit.”
They sat in silence, content with each other’s company.
“Can I stroke your hair?”
Magnus hummed as he carded his fingers through Alex’s hair.
“There is another option, of course.” Alex said suddenly.
“Another option for what?”
Alex was unusually quiet. “If you don’t want to move in.”
“What ‘s the other option?”
“I bring a tent and a portable heater up so that I can live over there-” she gestured to the grove of trees outside, “and keep an eye on you over the winter to make sure that you don’t freeze to death or get a frostbitten nose and turn into Voldemort or something.”
“Is that what you’ll do if I don’t move in?”
“Seriously? Will you actually?”
“I thought you hated camping.”
“I do. Boy.” Alex turned so Magnus could see his face. “Also, I might then freeze to death if the heater doesn’t work.”
“You’d just have to come and sleep in here. I keep the oven on and hope that the place doesn’t catch fire and burn me and the hill down.”
“We’ll get you a heater. A safer one.”
“There’s no need. I’l be fine without one.”
Alex glared at Magnus. “Stop being so butch and macho. Attitude won’t scare off frostbite.”
“Won’t need a heater if I move in with you, though, coz you’ve got central heating.” Magnus smiled.
Alex gape at him. “You’ll move in? You’ll actually move in?”
“Can’t have you freezing to death in a soaking tent in the middle of nowhere, now, can we?” Magnus was beaming at the expression of sheer joy slowly forming on Alex’s face.
“Are you serious? Are you being serious? Will you actually move in?” Alex was grinning from ear to ear.
“Oh my word I love you.” Alex kissed Magnus.
“You love me?”
“I love you.”
They giggled for a bit. Actually, they giggled for quite a while and then started making out, but had to stop when the roof caved in above them and they were drenched in freezing cold rain water, soggy moss and bits of rotting wood.
Magnus hadn’t been planning on moving into the purple house that night, but as the carriage was flooding from the hole in the roof and the mud and water oozing up through the floor, both he and Alex felt that it would probably be a good idea to spend the night in a dry, warm, solid building rather than one that could sink into the ground at any moment.
Magnus assembled his things, they went out into the rain, got thoroughly drenched and then Magnus stood dripping on the porch while Alex went it to explain to Sam, Sam’s grandparents and Amir what was going on and what was about to happen.
Magnus felt very sorry for Amir, who was sounding thoroughly confused.
“Is the homeless man living in an abandoned railway carriage in the wood at the top of the hill which has now flooded and he’s friends with you and he’s-”
“Going out with me.”
“In love with me. And he’s moving in.”
“Into your room?”
“Does he like falafel?”
“If he doesn’t I promise I’ll dump him.”
“I don’t think I could handle it if he didn’t like falafel.”
“I don’t think I could either. Magnus! You’d better come in and meet them before Amir thinks too much and his head explodes!”
Magnus fitted in better than anyone could have hoped for.
He was soon friends with Sam and Amir and their group of friends. Sam’s grandparents met Blitz and Hearth when they came loooking for Magnus and thought that Blitz’s clothes were the best thing since sliced bread and were handing over the money to start a shop with before he even had the chance to blink. It wasn't much longer after that that Magnus finally persuaded Hearth to get his act together and ask Blitz out.
The railway carriage rotted away that winter.
“You can’t get rid of me now.” Magnus told Alex.
“If I wanted to get rid of you I’d have done it months ago. And I can still banish you to the sofa.”
Magnus laughed and kissed her.