Project #3 – Here we find out what was waiting for our little man beyond the halls upstairs. Prepare for masses of exposition, cheesy toddler-esque dialogue and some world building for our creepy grey beachside town. Somebody’s going to the Arcade.
Read from the start here: https://exceptionallyaverageman.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/project-3-chapter-1-age-7/
By the time he made it to the top step and onto the landing the silence was broken with yet another tap, this time more forceful. He gripped a hold of the bright white bannister after getting an uncontrollable feeling that he might fall backwards down the stairs. His head barely came to the height of the handrail, so he stretched up on his tiptoes and peered over the edge. He held his breath hoping to overhear some clue as to where the noise was originating from. What the noise was originating from. He glanced around the first floor; all doors closed save for one. There was one to his left, a light glow emanating from beneath the crack at the bottom of the door. At the end of the hall there was nothing but shadow beyond the other. To his right, the door was ajar. He saw a small chunk of plain pink wallpaper, and a light switch of the old kind, made of brass and with a knobbly bit at the end. He looked deeper at the shapes on the wall, unaware how long it had been since his body had managed to suck in air.
There was a natural light coming in, casting faint shadows across the small piece of wall he could see. He stared intently at the shadows for any sign of movement. He was certain he could make out two shapes. The big one looks like a box, some drawers maybe? The second melded into the side of it, it was thinner, taller, it almost looked like a thin mountain. Wider in the middle, it goes up, then flows inward to a smaller top… like… hair. Before he filly realised he was staring at the shadow of a long-haired thing sat bolt upright, the shadow of an arm flung out and lashed in one swift action. This time a heavy thud reverberated through the wall, and he caught his breath in his throat. He let out a muffled shriek, at the same the shadow disappeared from view, launching itself to one side. He flung his body around, let go of the handrail and thundered down the stairs as fast as his legs would allow. He couldn’t catch his breath, he’d held it for too long, and before he knew it his feet lost their purchase. In a moment he was tumbling through the air, waiting for the inevitable connection of his body on a corner of step.
His vision went black, and although he felt his body crash against a number of surfaces, he didn’t feel the pain he thought was inevitable. With his face flat on the hallway floor once more, he noticed a figure out of the corner of his blurry tear filled eyes. It stood there, halfway down the stairs, as if appearing from nowhere without a sound. He saw the long black locks of hair, the little blue dress, and those silly socks the girls wore at school with the frills around the ankle. She couldn’t have been much older than him. He couldn’t make out any features, and his head screamed for immediate sleep. This is what passing out feels like, the movies make it look so quick and gentle.
“Stephen? Why did you run?” She stood there, asking in an inquisitive tone, a marble textured bouncy ball in her hand. There was something beneath the curiosity. Her voice sounds so frightening.
It felt soft, whatever he was lying on. It felt like safety.
His head searched his body for pain. There was none.
There was a little drool from his mouth stuck to the pillow. Pillow. I’m in a bed.
I’m home. It was a bad dream. Mummy will be-
What is that noise?
Nothing. It stopped. There was somebody there, right next to him.
“You’re awake Stephen!” That quaint little English voice pierced the air.
God no, not that voice again. I don’t like her, she’s wrong. I shouldn’t be here.
Like a giddy child she leapt up from the bed, one far too large for any normal child to need. She tumbled across his body and brought her face right up to his, chin resting on both her hands as she stared.
“Open your eyes silly, I carried you up the stairs to my room. You fell asleep, but don’t worry, I looked after you while you slept.” She was far too jolly, almost excitable even.
I just fell down the stairs. Why is she so excited? How did she carry me up the stairs?
He peeled his eyes open slowly; weary of what horror might meet his gaze.
To his surprise, it was the polar opposite of horror that sat inches from his face. Her black hair was wavy, and flopped around her faces in tufts like a droopy hound. Her skin was pale but flawless, and her brown eyes were dark and deep. She had a small round face, cheeks dented with dimples. She had a small and rounded nose, and the daintiest little ears that barely showed themselves beneath her mane of night. As if in response to his mental flattery, she smiled a gap-tooth grin. She had one of her big teeth on the way, and like an involuntary tick she poked at it with her tongue until it burst through the gap and she giggled.
“Come on, up up up! We don’t have much time!” She put her arms around his body and heaved him up so he was propped against the headboard of the bed. She’s stronger than she looks. She carried on staring blankly at him, mouth still ear to ear in a forced smile.
He managed a croak. “Why? Why don’t we have time?” Still unsure of his new “keeper’s” intentions.
“I think you’re going back soon.” She muttered, gazing off out the window to the grey haze outside. She swiftly changed the subject, giving him no time to ask where am I going back?
“We can do all sorts, the place is all ours Stephen!”
“How do you know my name? Who are you?” His curiosity rolled in his head, wondering if she meant this whole town is ours.
“Because we’ve met before. I’m Dana.” She put a hand on his shoulder to assure him that was most definitely her name.
It didn’t ring a bell in his head. “Met where?”
“Silly Stephen! When we were born of course! We were born at the same time. Don’t you remember? I certainly do.”
Who remembers anything from when they’re born?
Before he could ask any more questions she leapt up from the bed and tossed her bouncy ball across at a wall. Thunk. After a single bounce-and-catch she tossed it up in the air towards him. He caught it awkwardly, his reflexes still not quite awake. He opened one hand and let it loll about. It was a murky sphere of grey swirls and white streams, barely a scuff despite its heavy abuse from Dana. It felt remarkably warm, probably from incubating in her hand for all these hours.
How long have I been asleep?
Seeing his eyes trail off she seized the moment to distract him from his thoughts.
“I won it at the Arcades. They have tonnes of cool stuff down there. Let’s go there now!” Dana had this way of stating things in such a proper Oh don’t you know British manner. Stephen already knew it was her way or… well, he wasn’t sure there was any other way. He expected her to turn into some evil witch girl at the slightest hint of boyish insolence. For now it might be safer to follow her lead, she said herself he wouldn’t be here long. Whether he was leaving to go home was something he hoped to find out sooner rather than later.
She bounded towards the door of the bedroom and slipped out without so much as a glance back to see if Stephen was following at half her pace. He rubbed his sleep filled eyes and leaned out of bed. He had to admit it was blissfully comfy and wouldn’t mind coming back later to wait for “soon”. He wandered towards the door taking a quick peek at the things that filled Dana’s room, if it even was hers. The pinkish wallpaper indicated it did at least belong to a girl or lady. The bed was covered in rough white and red patchwork covers, with fluffy cushions and the odd bear strewn about the place. It still had his rough body outline creased into one side. There was little in the way of belongings. He spotted a tall and thin wardrobe, but it was shut perfectly unlike mum’s one at home. Her doors would barely close, and there was always a skirt or a top poking out the crack. There was a dark, old oak dresser too. It looked ancient but showed no signs of wear or use, and not a single slip of material made it out the sides. He wondered if there was anything at all in here. It was all bare, as if it were constructed and decorated for nothing but a movie set.
He closed the door on the way out, not wanting to look back and see any more moving shadows and strange noises following him along the landing. Dana was stood at the top of the stairs waiting for him. As soon as they caught one another’s eyes, she turned and pranced down the stairs like a new born foal. Once Stephen made it to the stairs, he stopped to look down where he had fallen only a few moments (hours?) before. There was no sign of his tumble. No blood, not a single scrape or scuff in the wood, paint or carpet. The bottom of the staircase loomed in his vision. He took a deep breath and went to put a foot down on the first step.
“Come on mister!” she yelled up the stairs, causing Stephen to flinch and almost fall backwards in surprise. Anything she did could panic him; she was just so lively. Her voice sounded like she was shouting from outside the house already. She’s in such a rush… It occurred to him that Dana seemed oblivious that they were the only people in sight, potentially in the entire town. She might know why.
He composed himself as best he could, nerves still shot, desperately trying to control the shaking in his body from fright. He plodded down the steps double time, worried that there might be someone else upstairs. He made it to the bottom to the sight of Dana stood at the front door looking out onto the seafront. He walked slowly towards the door being careful not to make any noise in case somebody might be lurking. As if sensing his presence she whirled around on one heel sending the bottom of her dress in a floating twister. This time she pulled a cheeky grin across her face, leapt forward and grabbed hold of his hand.
“The Arcade’s this way Stephen! Quick, you’ve not got much time!” She dragged him out the front door, leaving the desolate house wide open for everybody, or nobody, so see inside.
She charged ahead down the road in a frantic sprint, dragging him along so fast he could barely keep himself from falling over. He tripped up on his own feet but managed to keep his balance, briefly lifting his head and stealing a glance at what they were headed for. He remembered the arcades on holiday, ones filled with claw machines that never worked, boxes full of sliding shelves crammed with pennies and prizes, mini bowling and the odd video-game machine. Those ones were bright and full over colours, plastered in flashing lights and oozing the smells of hot sea-side food and stale sun lotion. What they were running towards lacked everything. It had no smells, no people, and no lights. He was painfully aware of the silence as well. There were no bingo callers shouting out words that rhymed with numbers for reasons he never understood, and it lacked the plinks and plonks of music that looped around on the different machines. It was grey and lifeless like the rest of the place, and looked like what an Arcade would have been when old people were children.
Dana’s apparent idea of fun filled him with more distrust as he was yanked and tugged towards the first set of looming steps. He wasn’t sure where she was taking him, but the huge double doors at the top of the steps looked like something straight out of one of the old original colour films mum and dad used to swoon over on a Sunday afternoon. They were both out of breath as they ascended the dozen or so steps, Dana’s smile not wavering a millimetre, Stephen’s face growing ever more frightened. Dana shot a glance at him, the smile merging into a theatrical scowl.
“Don’t be so scaredy. It looks boring on the outside but you’ll love the inside. Come on little boy, I’ll keep you safe.” This time the bounce had left her voice, and she reverted to a brattish know-it-all tone. It was the way his older sister used to warble at him when he wasn’t doing what she wanted him to. He was hit with a sudden pang of regret. He’d do anything his sister asked him to if he could just get away from this. Need to get away from her.
In moment’s notice she wiped the frown from her face, plastered on her best polite look and grabbed him by the wrist once more. She threw open one of the swinging doors with such force it banged against the inner wall and rattle in its sockets. Just before the door came swinging back into Stephen’s face she thrust him through the doors and into a daydream of old fashioned fantasy. Suddenly the greys turned into something very different.