Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The House (part III)

As he walked, he noticed that the trees on either side of the road grew smaller and smaller, younger and younger, barer and barer. Eventually he came upon the oldest tree on the road. As far as anyone could tell, it was one of the oldest trees in Dover. Even ol’ Mr. Peasley could remember it from when he was a “strapping young lad”. The townspeople had insisted it be preserved against any and all construction, so that it would live and become a part of their childrens’ lives just as it had been in theirs’. For generations and generations, the old tree (which everyone had come to fondly call “Old Father”) had been a meeting place, a climbing point and place where people would come to just relax. There was something about that beautiful old tree that cast an aura of serenity over everyone and everything around it. But when James grew closer, his expression of admiration and love turned to one of horror. The tree was bare. No leaves. No birds. No bark. It was doubled over, almost as if in pain, forced to bow to some unseen foe. James slowly approached it, reaching a quivering hand towards the tree’s withered body. Where there was once life and vitality, he could feel only pain and sorrow coursing through the tree’s trunk, leaving him with a feeling of emptiness and drawing any last trace of hope and happiness from his heart. He slumped to his knees, still trying to cradle some life into the old tree. His head bowed, the tears started welling up and began their race from his eyes, down his cheek until they fell to the cold, dry earth surrounding the old birch.

What was that? James whipped his head up and around, quickly scanning the area. He got to his feet and wiped the tears and trails from his face with the sleeve of his jumper. He could have sworn he’d heard something. Maybe a rat? The little buggers seemed to plague the city during the warmer summer months. But no, it sounded… bigger. He spun slowly around in a circle. The thing, whatever it was, seemed to be circling around; waiting for the perfect time to strike. His eyes jumping from shadow to shadow, James could never be sure where it was. It seemed every time he shifted his gaze, it was just a step ahead of him.

Finally, the padding noise stopped indefinitely. James straightened up, leaning against the Old Father for support as he drew in a few breaths. He looked up: he’d made full circle around the tree and was now facing the house. That same mysterious house that none of the boys could remember ever having existed before. It stood out against all the small cottages and shacks that lined the small crescent, towering above them, overshadowing ever inch of the quaint homes. It stretched out to meet James, grasping his very soul in a grip that he couldn’t find the will to escape. He didn’t want to.

Slowly, step-by-step, he moved towards the great gate that offered only a glimpse of the massive estate. It stood stern and silent, despite the wind that still howled around it. Its hinges well-fixed and oiled, the gate look down upon the boy, taking in every thing it could. James could only look through the strong bars, across the front lawn, at the face of the house. It stared him down, its massive three-story windows leering at him in the most curious way – as if he were as strange to it, as it was to him. James stared deeper into its eyes, as it did the same to him, drawing him in deeper and deeper until suddenly, the long maroon curtains were thrown back. A blinding light was thrown out with such force that James was knocked onto his back, shielding his eyes into the corner of his elbow. Then, as quickly as it had come, it vanished – imprisoned once again by the long curtains that swept back out to contain it. James peeked out from behind his arm, and once he was sure that it was safe, got to his feet. He turned to go, determined to leave the house far behind him, but then heard the heavy padding noise from before. He stopped dead in his tracks, and turned his head slowly to look back at the house. It stood as it had before, no different than it had looked before when he had been standing at its gates only hours ago with his brothers. He turned completely, walking towards the barrier once more. Its metal so smooth, glimmering in the light of the moon, drew him to it. He reached out his hand towards it, closing his eyes, waiting for its cool touch beneath his fingertips. But it never came. He opened his eyes, and the gates stood wide open, inviting him to follow their path. So silently, so quickly, so swiftly – he had not even heard them swing open. The small lanterns swung in the wind, beckoning him to follow their soft motion. He looked back through the gates behind him, his eyes falling on the Old Father, lost, forlorn and weak against an unseen force. James took a step. Then another. And another. Before he knew it, his right foot had risen to the first step of the front porch. The roof loomed above him; a comforting, yet overwhelming protector. He blinked, and the massive black door stood before him, gleaming with its own light against the darkness of the night sky; deprived of the stars and the moon fled. He looked at the strong, stern face of the door knocker; a giant goblin with a ring through its hideously grotesque and pointed nose. He lifted his hands, and suddenly, from far behind him, he heard quick, hurried footsteps and the sound of Flynn’s voice rang through the thin, night air: “JAMES! What’re yeh doin?! COME BACK! DON’T D-” But James didn’t shift his gaze from the door. He reached out, Flynn still screaming at him to stop, and grasped the ancient door knocker. Its eyes grew wide in terror and its mouth opened in a silent scream, before they were all plunged into darkness.
Flynn awoke with a startled cry, his eyes pouring with tears, his voice hoarse and sweat flowing from every inch of his body. His head whipped around, scouring every corner of the small treehouse, jumping from Ronny, to Keith, to… “Where’s James?!”


Monday, January 2, 2012

The House (part II)

James’ eyes flew open. Sweat poured from every pore, and he shivered in the cool, summer night. The small treehouse spun around him as he tried to steady himself with both hands, propping his arms against the wall. Panic subsided as he realized it was only a dream, and yet the longer he thought about it, the less he remembered. Images and split-second frames flew in and out of his mind, before he could process them and decide what they were. Eventually, he gave up and discarded them altogether, instead trying to focus on the room itself.

The small lantern they’d left on shone confidently in the middle between the four boys, its flame dancing with the soft breeze. Although its light wasn’t bright enough to reach every nook and cranny in the treehouse, James could still make out the forms of Ronny, Keith and his older brother; their chests rising and falling steadily with every breath. He tip-toed across the padded floor of the tree house, opened the small trapdoor and crawled out onto the rope ladder that creaked with every step he took. He dropped the last few steps to the ground and turned to look at the small home. Every light was off, so he knew his mother had gone to bed already. He looked at his bare wrist, and realized he’d left his watch up in the treehouse. He turned to climb back up, but thought better of it and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Spinning around, he walked out from behind the house and onto the street. This part of town, one of the oldest in Dover (ol’ Mr. Peasley would say Mr. Dickens was inspired by “this same road”) still had the old street lights, whose circuitry was rather faulty and were prone to turning on and off with a mind of their own. But if one had ever gone off, another would’ve brightened up to take its place. James couldn’t remember a time when they’d all been out completely.

But as he wandered onto the street, he was ambushed by darkness. Even the stars had sought refuge deep in the sky’s folds, and refused to come out. James’ breath grew shallow and a long, cold shiver ran down his spine, he quickly spun around in a full circle, expecting something to come from the silent blackness that had enslaved the lonely street. He groped around helplessly, forgetting where he had come from, and in which direction the street ran. His heartbeat pounded through his chest, echoing it seemed from every direction and deafened the young boy. Void of sight, sound and too petrified to even focus on what he could smell, James’s mind dashed back and forth in fear from idea to idea, from what he thought might have brushed past his arm to what he thought might have been a breath on his the back of his neck. He whirled around, his arms whipping through the darkness, trying to rip down the black curtain that robbed him of all sense. Something jumped up and grabbed his foot, as he quickly lost balance and tumbled to the ground.


He lay there, ignoring the sharp pain in his leg and hoping with every inch of his soul that someone or something would save him. Then, as if in answer to his prayer, the moon silently crept out from behind her cloudy prison and the street was bathed in a clean, pure white light. James lay there for a few moments, not altogether sure of what to make of all this. He waited, the silence interrupted only by the pitter-patter of small feet near the sewer and the soft, flapping of an owl’s wings. His eyelids clamped shut and his body locked in a fetal position, he awaited his doom. But whatever had tugged at his foot had not come to finish the job. He was quite sure he was still in one piece, so he let his hand slide down to his legs. He sighed, Yes, they were still there. His older brother’s words echoed in his head, from years ago:
“Yeh know James, the evil creatures of the night? They’s smart. When they getcha, make sure yeh protect yer legs. They go fer ‘em first, yeh see, so’s yeh can’t run away.”
Finally, quite sure that everything was safe; he got up, brushed himself off and looked for the source of his fall. An old, gnarly root slithered out from the feet of one of the giant oak trees lining Curious Crescent that kept guard over the neighbourhood. He looked up into the branches of the old guardian as it towered over him. He wasn’t quite sure why, but he suddenly felt safer than he had before, in the presence of the giant tree. Suddenly the cool night air, that had been still not a moment before, picked up a quick gust of wind that sent leaves and newspapers tumbling down the road out of the key. The tree stood majestically, unflinchingly against the wind and James took one last, admiring look at the old tree before following in the wind’s wake.

As he went further, the old, rusted lampposts grew dimmer and dimmer until the light of the moon and her children were all that remained. Although the darkness seemed to cluster around him, almost drawing out his every breath against his will, the celestial beacon shone loyally down on him. He was filled with a sense of courage, that he was not alone on his venture. He took in a deep breath and pressed on.