Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for intermediate learners. The name of the story is House of Secrets. This is chapter two of four. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Secrets2. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Secrets2. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
OK, I will just go over what happened in chapter one.
In chapter one we met Xu, Elisabeth and Steve, who all live together in Rosa’s house. Rosa is their landlord. Xu is an artistic photographer, Elisabeth is an amateur Shakespearian actor, and Steve is a psychic and magician who works online.
Apart from Steve, they haven’t really been paying rent to Rosa and Rosa has naturally gotten very annoyed. So instead of paying rent she’s making them do some tasks for her. Xu has to go and clean the attic, but she’s looking forward to this because she thinks she’ll find some interesting old treasures in there that she can photograph.
OK, I’ll just explain some words before we begin.
Footsteps are steps with your feet. So steps are when you move your feet when you’re walking. I’ll try and make a sound now. [sound of footsteps]. That’s what footsteps sound like, or at least that’s what it sounds like when I hit my feet against the floor and try to make footstep noises. Scientists used to say that you’re supposed to take 10,000 footsteps in a day, uh, but now they don’t really think this is true.
Cast a spell. So a spell is magic and when you cast a spell you use magic. In Harry Potter, Wingardium Leviosa is one of the first spells that they learn.
A body double is someone who looks exactly like you. So body doubles are often used in films—they actually call them stunt doubles—when they have to do dangerous things like jump in front of a car or fall from a tall height.
Creepy. Creepy is something that makes you uncomfortable and maybe a bit scared. For example, a strange person talking to you in a bar, a skeleton, a ghost—these things are all creepy.
Creak. A creak is this kind of sound: [creaking noise]. It’s the sound a door makes if it’s very old and you open it. Also, when it’s very windy the trees might creak because they’re moving very slightly.
Make a racket. When you make a racket you are making lots of noise and disturbance and probably annoying other people. It’s usually used for children. Children make a lot of racket. This is a specifically British expression. I’m pretty sure they don’t use it in America.
Bubble away under the surface. So when you’re cooking something you might boil it and you want it to be bubbling away nicely. We use this phrase to talk about an emotion that’s hidden. For example, if someone is really angry, but they’re not showing it, their anger may be bubbling away under the surface. Again, this is probably quite a British thing because often we hide these kinds of negative emotions rather than showing them.
Vein. Veins are the parts of your body that blood goes through. So on your wrist you can probably see some of your veins and they look blue. If you cut a vein you will bleed.
Poke. A poke is like a very small push. So you’re pushing something with just one finger or a few fingers. Children love to poke people to annoy them, or at least they do in America and the UK. They’ll just poke people and go, ‘Poke. Poke.’ Also, I don’t know if Facebook still has it, but for a long time Facebook had a feature where you could poke people and it was really pointless because it just said, ‘You’ve poked this person.’ And then this person could see that you’d poked them and they could poke you back. Very stupid but there you go.
Finally, fart. Fart is when you let gas out of your behind. So it makes a sound like: [farting noise], perhaps. Sorry, it’s a horrible sound to make on the podcast but, uh, I don’t know how else to describe this one.
OK, so remember, if you would like to book an online, personalised class with me, where we create stories together, you can do that at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com. Go to the website and click “CLASSES” on the top. I would love to teach you.
So, listen and enjoy!
House of Secrets Chapter 2
Xu hated lots of things. She hated burnt toast, ugly sweaters, and tiny loud dogs. But more than anything, she hated spiders.
And the attic was full of them.
‘It’s OK, Xu,’ she said to herself. ‘Just take deep breaths. They’re small. They can’t hurt you.’
She reached out to clean one of the boxes in front of her. A big, fat spider jumped out of nowhere, landed on the brush, and ran up her arm.
She screamed and dropped the brush, shaking the spider off her.
‘Oh, I’ll never finish like this! I thought this place was going to have golden candle-holders and old jewels and things like that. But it’s just full of boxes!’
Inside the boxes there were only yellowed letters and postcards, receipts, and damaged pottery. Xu had thought the letters might be exciting—maybe there were letters between Rosa and a secret lover!—but they were all terribly boring. Rosa had been on holiday to Cornwall for ten years in a row, and every time she had written the same postcard to her parents, talking about the delicious ice cream and the annoying people on the beach.
Eventually, Xu stopped looking through the things. She cleaned the dust off the boxes and wrote their contents on the side with a Sharpie, and moved on. The attic was large, and there was still the possibility of finding something interesting, but the longer Xu worked, the less hope she had.
After she had made sure the big spider was nowhere near her, she moved round a set of bookcases into another section of the attic.
And then she screamed.
In the corner of the attic, standing completely still, was Steve.
Except something was wrong. He looked like Steve, but his clothes were much worse. They were torn and covered with dust and spider’s webs. And there was something else different about him, but she couldn’t work it out…
‘Steve? What are you doing here?’
The man just shook his head, and held a finger to his lips. Xu realised what it was that was different about him. Steve had a very short left arm, and a very long right leg. But this Steve had a very short right arm, and a very long left leg.
‘I must have breathed in too much dust…’ Xu muttered.
Footsteps came from the staircase, and then a voice: ‘Xu, I can explain!’
Xu turned around to see Steve—the real Steve—run into the attic.
‘I have to be dreaming,’ Xu said.
‘I know what this must look like, but I promise you, he’s not a ghost.’
Xu blinked. ‘I didn’t think he was a ghost.’
‘Uh, never mind. This is just a spell I was trying out.’
Xu looked between the two Steves. Steve had done some weird magic, but he usually kept it behind closed doors. Still, Xu was pretty sure he had never created life before.
‘It’s a mirror spell, see?’
Steve went and stood behind his body double, and compared their arms and legs.
‘He’s my mirror image.’
The other Steve stared at Xu, and then smiled. Xu didn’t like that smile.
‘Then why is he dressed like that?’
Steve realised how dirty his mirror image was, and pushed him away.
‘He’s been playing in the attic. He’s not a real person. Just a copy. Like a zombie or something.’
‘Oh, that makes me feel much safer!’ Xu turned to the entrance and shouted, ‘Rosa! Come up here!’
‘No!’ shouted Steve, grabbing her arm. ‘Are you crazy? Rosa will be so mad at me.’
‘I’m not going to have some creepy zombie live in my attic!’
‘What on Earth is going on up here?’ Rosa said, her knees creaking as she climbed into the attic. ‘I told you to tidy up, not to make a racket.’
Rosa saw the two Steves, and froze.
‘And just what is the meaning of this?’ she said. Xu had expected her to pass out from the shock, but she was surprisingly calm. Still, her anger bubbled away under the surface. There was a vein on her forehead that always popped in situations like these.
‘Rosa, I’d like to introduce you to Stefan,’ said Steve, pushing his double towards her. ‘Why don’t you shake hands?’
‘I would rather not, thank you!’ said Rosa, looking at Stefan’s clothes. ‘You must ask permission before bringing guests into the house, Steven.’
‘Ah, but he’s not a guest,’ said Steve. ‘He’s a ghost.’
Xu gave Steve a questioning look, and he raised his finger to his lips. Xu had been looking for secrets in the attic, but she didn’t like the one she’d found.
‘A ghost?’ Rosa stepped forward and poked Stefan on the chest.
‘Ow!’ he said.
‘He can’t be a ghost. He’s got a physical form.’
Steve looked nervous. ‘He’s, uh, a special ghost…’
Rosa directed her vein at Xu and said, ‘What is the truth?’
‘Steve summoned him,’ Xu blurted out. ‘He did a copy spell.’
Steam started to rise out of Rosa’s ears. She glared at Steve. ‘You mean you’ve been practising magic, even though I told you not to?!’
‘It’s hard to control!’ Steve said. ‘Just like farting. Sometimes you have to let it out.’
‘How long will this thing stay here?’ said Rosa. ‘Can you send it back?’
‘It’s not that easy,’ Steve said, staring at the floor. ‘Can’t he just stay here?’
‘Absolutely not,’ said Rosa. ‘But at the same time, I would feel bad throwing such a sad creature into the street. You can put him in a cage, and keep him in your room, but if he makes any noise, I’m throwing him out.’
‘A cage? But he’s human!’
Rosa’s mouth curled into a wicked smile. ‘But Steve! I thought he was a magical creature?’
Steve bit his lip, and glanced at Stefan. Stefan was staring at Rosa, his mouth slightly open. He looked like he was thinking about dinner, and perhaps Rosa was going to be dinner.
‘Fine!’ said Steve. ‘I’ll admit it. He’s my brother. My identical twin brother.’
‘And does he speak?’ Rosa said.
‘No. He tried one of my magic spells last year and it did something strange to him. He doesn’t say a word now. So he won’t make any noise. But I can’t put him in a cage. He’s still my brother.’
Rosa leaned her neck towards Steve, creaking like an old door. ‘And how long has your brother been in my attic?’
Steve sighed. ‘A few months.’
‘Well then, Steven. To make up for this break in our contract, I have an idea. I think this month you’ll be paying rent for all your little friends. Xu, Elisabeth, and of course, Stefan. Oh, and I’ll expect payment for the last three months he’s been using the attic.’
‘Oh no,’ said Steve, ‘I’m happy to pay with tasks, just like the others. I’ll tell you what. Do you have any dead relatives you’d like to speak to?’
Rosa looked like she’d just bitten into a raw onion. ‘Why?’
‘I’ll give you a free seance, tonight. We can talk to one of your deceased. I feel really awful for what I did, but I promise you, this will be worth it.’
Xu couldn’t believe what Steve was trying. Rosa was far too old-fashioned to agree to it. But to her amazement, Rosa said, ‘It’s a deal. But I still expect you to pay for Stefan’s rent.’
And with that, she walked out of the attic, leaving the three of them alone. Xu stood there in a state of shock. She glanced between Steve and Stefan.
‘I told you to hide in the garden,’ Steve said to Stefan. ‘You never listen to me!’
Then more footsteps came, and Elisabeth crawled into the attic.
‘Rosa looks happy. What did you do to her? Wow, Steve, that’s a cool trick!’
END OF CHAPTER TWO
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