That night he dreamt of the tiny window of the house next door. He dreamt he climbed along the thick, vein-like vines that crawled up the side of the building, all the way up to the barred window. In the dream, he was a young child again, and stuck his hand through the bars, tapping small fingers against the glass pane. He crept out of the house when Nina wasn't watching, and ran along to the gate nextdoor. His tiny stature made it easy to squeeze on through the bars, and once he got past that, he went to the front door. Naturally it was locked, but he jimmied it and tried to pry it open for a while. When he gave up on that, he ran around to the side of the building, where the window was, and where the vines were the thickest, and he began to climb. He almost fell twice, his sweaty palms making it difficult to grip the green. Still, he pressed on and continued to pull himself up the side of the house, refusing to look down. He didn't enjoy heights, and he knew if he did look down, it was likely he would fall, or grow too frightened to continue. Then again, his curiosity and adventurous side were much stronger, and more in control of everything, and maybe they would just pack up his fear in a box and put it at the back of his mind to keep him from failing at the task at hand. He had to investigate the haunted house. It was his one important job. He was the one chosen to do it and he could not let anyone down. He had to figure out the truth about the house, about what was going on, and who the mysterious person in the attic was, not to mention the strange people who lived in the house itself. He needed the answers, and he would get them, as long as he didn't let his fears get the best of him. He braced his feet against a few loose bricks below the window, and clutched the cold metal bars tightly with one hand. "Hello?" he called, tapping the window again. He frowned when there was no answer, not even any movement, and placed his palm to the window, peering through the dust, squinting to try and see past it. The metal was cold to his skin, almost as cold as the wind billowing around him. He shivered, from one, the other, possibly both, and tried to squeeze closer to the window. Its dusty pane was difficult to see through, and unfortunately for him, it was on the other side, so he couldn't wipe it, though he rubbed his hand over it anyways. Just when his forehead touched the bars, a hand from the other side pressed itself into the dusty surface, and a small quivering voice spoke up. "Help me." With a shout of surprise, Elliot jerked back, losing his hold on both the bars and the vein. He fell back towards the ground, his eyes wide, mouth open as if he was screaming, but nothing was coming out. Inches from the ground, gaze still focused on the window, he saw a face at the corner of the window, staring in horror at him as he fell. "Help!" He shouted at it, moments before shutting his eyes for impact.
Elliot woke up on the floor with a start, his heart beating rough against his ribcage, his chest rising and falling in rapid succession as he panted hard. A cold sweat stuck his bangs to his forehead, and beads of it slid down his neck, catching on the collar of his shirt. He'd rolled out of bed and onto the floor in his sleep, but that wasn't what had him gripping the hem of his cotton shirt for dear life.
He jumped up onto his feet and threw back his bedroom curtains, eyes shooting upwards to the window, hands trembling. He squinted, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and focused behind the bars. It was only after he saw its surface still covered in dust that he relaxed. It was all a dream, every bit of it.
He pulled the drapes shut tight once again and dropped back onto his bed, staring up at the ceiling fan. The dream was still running fresh through his mind, every time he closed his eyes it started to repeat, like a film at the cinema. He could still feel the cold metal bars in his hands. He could still hear the small voice begging him for help. He still saw the face, out of focus and blurred, in the corner, watching him.
The dream remained in his mind even through breakfast. He sat at the kitchen table, bowl empty beside him. He still had to put the milk and box of cereal away, but he was more interested in the tiny key Nina had left him. He'd grabbed it on his way out of the bedroom after he'd dressed that morning, and since he'd finished eating, he'd been staring at it, twisting it round and round in his hand, unable to take his eyes off it. "What are you for?" He'd mumbled, almost like he expected the key to reply to his question.
Throughout his morning's chores, he kept it in his pocket. As he cleaned and put away the dishes, it was there, as he swept the floors it was there. When he finally got outside to clean up the front yard, there it was, still in his pocket, and it was a heavy distraction. It made it near impossible to concentrate on anything else.
Elliot's hand continued to slip into his pocket several times throughout the day, and he would toy with it some more, looking up at that house, at that window. It was too sunny to see it very well, but he imagined the one who was up there was looking right back at him. The idea sent a shudder right down his spine.
By mid-afternoon, the sun was beginning to set, and Elliot was sitting on the front steps, the key once again in his hands. He'd found small markings along its handle, that looked like letters, but it was so rusted, and so faded he could barely tell what they were. He had checked the entire house, each door, each window, every lock he could find, two or three times each, but none of them worked with the key. They were too large, or too small, or simply not the right shape for it. He'd even gotten the courage to go check the locked doors of Nina's room and office, and it did not belong to either. That meant a few things. First, it could just be a regular key she happened to find. Perhaps a bird had found it at one point, and carried it to here, and it had simply fallen from its nest. Or, it was to the strange house beside him, and it unlocked something there. It might unlock the front door, it could've been the key to the back, to a random room, but he had a feeling it was to something dark. He considered it very well could be the key to a basement, where the strange people that lived there would keep the people who trespassed, like in a book he'd read. It was answers like that that made him nervous to find out, but he still did not turn it down. He was still very much determined to go and check for himself to see. He had another adventure to do, perhaps just one more, and he could not say no.
Elliot had never turned down the chance for a grand adventure, and even though he was older, he couldn't do it now either. This adventure was different from all the other ones he had taken as a young boy. There were no dragons to battle, no trolls, monsters and trials. There were no castles, no bridges and towers to get into, over and through. Just a house, and just a key to somewhere inside, maybe. He did not have to battle with a sword, a fierce, flame breath ogre who hated mortals, he did not have to dash through crumbling ceilings or rooms with walls that closed in around him. He just had to sneak over to the house next door, and find out for himself what the key went to. Even if it was just a simple key to the pantry, or garage door, if he had the answer, it would put to rest many questions, stories, theories and ocassional nightmares. For good. Maybe.
He waited patiently, watching the house carefully, for the neighbors to move, to leave, to do something, but was sorely disappointed. He had never even met them before, despite having lived there all his life. He might have, actually, but he simply did not remember them. After all, as a boy, he rarely paid attention to his real surroundings, since the books he was always reading were much more exciting than the places and people here. It didn't really matter anyways. He didn't know them all that well, and for all he knew, he probably only ever said hello to them the once, and that made it perfectly alright to classify them strangers.
All day, he stood in the kitchen, or outside, and kept a careful eye on the door, but nothing happened. It was like they weren't even there, but he knew they had to be. The car was still there. Their lights were on all over the house, and he could hear the faint sounds of a television when he was in the backyard earlier.
It was as the sun was beginning to set that there was finally movement. There were two shadows at the living room window, and then the front door opened.
Two men stepped out onto the old wooden porch. The first was a tall, slender male, with shaggy black hair that stopped at the base of his neck, and was in desperate need of a shave. His eyes were as dark as the hair atop his head, and had sunken into his face, as though he was severely underweight. He hunched over, rubbing his boney hands together to keep them warm, coughing and hacking; a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket. His partner was slightly more rounded. He had dusty blonde hair, longer than his friends, and was clean-shaven. He stood upright, with an air of importance and authority. His clothes were in better condition, jeans and a long sleeve shirt, covered by a black jacket half-way zippered. His eyes were a green hue, but also held the same dark shade as the other. They looked nothing like brothers, which had been Elliot's first assumption, and the taller was most definitely in charge. He just had to glare at the other man, and he jumped up and raced to unlock the car doors, holding the drivers side open for him. He was like a sort of butler to him, but he looked too filthy and ragged to be a real one.
They spoke to one another in hushed voices, and even when he could hear them more clearly, he didn't understand what they were saying. It definitely wasn't English, it sounded strange to his ears. There went any idea or plan to just walk up and hand the key over. They terrified him from a distance, and they didn't speak English, or so he assumed. He didn't really know, but he didn't have a plan to go ask them if they did either.
When they looked around, he ducked down behind the kitchen counter, heart pounding again as it had before when he shot up from that dream. He stayed seated on the kitchen tile, until he heard the car doors slam shut, and the engine of the car rev to life and the sound of the tires crunching the gravel. By the time he'd gotten to his feet, the car was already gone, and he couldn't help but let out a sigh of relief.
Elliot took his time walking the foot of distance between the two houses. He was squeezing the key so hard its ridges were digging into his skin, and his fingers were going numb. He stopped in front of the gate and stared up at the rotting building. How the two could still live there, he didn't know.
The key looked to be too small to unlock the gate, but he had to try anyways. Process of elimination. He grabbed onto the bars with one hand, and tried to force the key into the lock, unsuccessfully. He walked round to the back, but was faced with another dead end. He quickly discovered that the only ways in or out were through the front gate, or through the thorned, tall bushes around all sides of the house.
He once again stood in front of the house, key back in hand. Twice more he tried to make it unlock the gate, and twice again he failed. Frustrated, he put the key in his pant pocket, and shed his jacket, sizing it up against his own thin frame. The bars weren't that close together, and it was possible he could squeeze through. The only thing was, if the two men came back, this was also the only way back out, and he'd be caught easily.
That was the point of adventures though, he reminded himself. The idea of sneaking into dangerous places, and getting out unscathed, or just barely with ones life. All the brave characters went in with no thought of the consequences. Sure, that usually ended badly, but it worked at the time being, and it couldn't hurt to try and be like them, bad choices and all, for the moment. He had to live up to that hero legend that all the great protagonists tried to. Besides, he had a story to write at some point, and if it was to be his story, about his life and adventures, he needed to take a few risks and make things exciting. No one read the adventure stories to watch a character go to the market, they read them to see a giant hairy beast chase them through the market and destroy everything in its path.
Elliot shook his train of thought back onto the rails and began to slide his body through the gap between the bars. His hips wriggled through just fine, and he quickly followed suit with his chest and head. His cheek grazed against the cold metal, and his chest was pressed close against it, the squeeze tight, but he made it through. He admitted to himself then, that the exhilerating feeling of breaking rules, breaking laws was quite the rush. Aunt Nina would probably have had his head if she were here and knew what he was up to, or maybe she would be proud of him for finally getting out into the world and starting to get out his own to discover the world, he wasn't sure. As it was, he had more important things to think about, and the celebration on the first steps of his adventure was cut short.
He crept through the untamed wilderness of his neighbor's yard, and up the rotting stairs to the front door. Again, he studied the key and compared it with the lock on the door. They weren't a match, but he thrust it in to the mechanism anyways. Every time he was let down, it made him fearful that his grand ideas of the adventure were going to be just that, ideas. The key almost screeched as he twisted it and tried to force it to unlock the door, but in fear of breaking it, he stopped and yanked it free. Another dead end, but if he had learned anything from the books he'd read, it was that a lot of the times, there was a spare key outside and around the front door, for such emergencies or stupidity of losing the first one.
He dropped down and began to search the garden of weeds and pebbles next to him, digging his hands into the soil and groping for the handle of another key. He found none in either of the so-called gardens beside him. So he switched then, to check under the mat, and above the door itself. He stood up as tall as he was able, and shoved his hand on the ledge above the door, his fingers moving blindly over its surface. As they grazed the rocks, he picked each up, and felt underneath, and as just as he'd thought, there it was. It looked nothing like his own key, but generic enough to give him the idea that most of the locks in the place would be opened by one similar. His key was rather old, so he narrowed his list of placed to check down to the ones that seemed the oldest. Anything new, without rust and wear would be unlikely to match his key. In a way, it made it easier on him to figure out which door it would unlock, if the key was even meant to unlock anything.
As he stepped inside, he took a few minutes to observe all of his surroundings. He made note of each hole in the floor or wall, every cobweb he could see in the corners, each crack, every nook and cranny right down to the smallest termite still nibbling. The house was more eroded than he'd thought, it surprised him that it was still even standing, that it had not yet collapsed. The structures were starting to mold from water damage, it was eating up the support beams and it looked like some of the walls were buckling under the pressure of the floors above. He started inward, taking each step carefully. He didn't need to fall through, and by the condition of the steps, it would be easy to do so. He wanted to grip the banister to feel a little safer, but when he placed his hand to the wood, it collapsed underneath his touch. The upstairs level was somehow in worse condition than the first floor. Its floor boards were loose and some were off, every window was boarded shut, but the cracks in the glass were still clearly visible. Some of the glass from the broken ones remained in little piles on the floor, and dust was still clinging tightly to their surfaces.
All the doors were open already, and as he explored, he found that none of them could even lock shut, so there were no locks to try the key on. He was traversing through an empty, dead house. It was only home to flies and spiders, to termites and roaches and two strange men who were queer in their behaviors.
Elliot refused to leave, even though his failures were so far outweighing his success. He knew there was one more place he could try; the attic. How he was supposed to get there though, was something else. He didn't see any other stairs, and he'd checked every room, it appeared as though there was no way in or out of the attic, but that was impossible. There had to be something, some way to get in there.
While he cautiously made his way around the floor, jumping every time the wood creaked and groaned, he was reminded that there was also someone in the attic. He knew now, and if there was someone in there, maybe they were walking around somewhere nearby, and they could possibly help him to get into the attic.
"Hello?" He stepped over a large gap in the floor, and down the hall, calling out for the other person, hoping that he would get a response. He'd had to consider the fact that the person was also like those two men, strange and dangerous, and that maybe he was putting himself into a situation he was not prepared for. That was all apart of adventure though, and he was raised by a brilliant woman, who had taught him to expect things to happen, especially the strangest of things. It had also occured to him that the person could be trapped in the attic, and was waiting to get some help. He wouldn't put it past the strange men to hurt someone, and keep them locked up, by all means they could be murderers, and keep the bodies up there. His brain was ready to handle the discoveries he would make once he got into the attic, but his stomach lurched at the very thought of seeing corpses strewn about. He pushed on through the house despite that. Adventures never stopped just because the characters were nervous, or felt ill and were apprehensive about what was going to happen next, though he did wish he could have some foreshadowing to his own choices, a little warning to help him. Of course that never happened in real life. There was no warning, aside from perhaps his own conscience, but that voice was always so quiet and small it was easy to miss or ignore by accident.
He had to shrug himself out of his long trail of thought, because if he kept wandering along it he would never get anything done. He would end up still standing in the same place when the two men got home and caught him there.
"Hello? Is anyone here?" he tried again, spinning round in desperation hoping to catch a reply, a movement, anything.
It was after his fifth or sixth time of shouting loudly through the walls that he heard the shuffling up above him. It sounded like soft feet rushing across the floor. He followed the sound along the hallway until they stopped, and he did too.
"Hello?" He tried again, spinning round in a circle to see if there was some sort of door. There wasn't anything there, not a shadow, not a person in front of him, grinning playfully because he or she had managed to trick him. There was only a plain white wall. A plain white wall, perfectly painted, not cracked and worn away.
Elliot felt like a complete idiot for not noticing this before when he'd walked around it four times or so by now. This was the only wall in the house so far that wasn't falling apart. It was in such perfect condition he didn't know how he could have missed it so many times, why nothing had popped up in his mind when he walked by it, since it was so different contrasted against the rest of the house.
He pressed his ear to the wood and tapped lightly. The inside was hollow, and as he leaned further on it, the wall caved in, and he went falling forward inside of it, smacking into another hard surface on the other side. Another wall to be precise. Fumbling around in the dark, he switched on the light, and found himself in what he could only describe as a closet due to its size. His head was throbbing, but his heart was going wild, as was his imagination, which was once again alive and well.
The closet-like area was dimly lit, and as he was looking around, able to see a little better with the small light, he noticed a small door on the wall in front of him. It was closed up tight, comparable to the prisons in the stories, which always sat on dark and tall hills, and where bars were tripled, stone fortresses impossible to escape from. A thick lock was bound around the small silver knob, several deadbolts were above and below it as well. The lock itself, was small, rusted and old, and upon a closer look, he could see small faded letters carved into it. He pulled the key from his pocket and held it up next to it, an identical pair just about. The key looked more worn, but they were both old, and had the same worn lettering on them. This was it, this was where the key belonged. What it unlocked. He had finally found the key its place. A sense of accomplishment passed through his fingers, and his breath hitched a little. It was time to open it up, the creepy attic he had so feverishly sought to get into as a child.
He raised his hand and slid the key into its place almost at the same time as the shuffling he'd heard before started again, only this time, it stopped on the other side of the door he was trying to unlock.
Elliot cried out in surprise and dropped the key as he jerked back, staring at the door with fear gnawing at his bones. "Who said that?"
"You need to leave!" The same voice said, laced with the same amount of fear Elliot could feel in himself. "They're coming back! You need to leave right now!"
"Who are-" He was cut short by the shuffling running off and then back again, demanding he run right then, "Go! Please go!"
He frowned at the door, but he had no choice but to believe the person on the other side. If the men were coming back, he had to be gone five minutes ago. "Okay, okay!" he sighed out, backing up from the door.
He grabbed up the key and crawled out of the small closet, back into the hall. He pulled himself to his feet and took off down the hallway to the staircase. Every step down felt like it was too slow, and twice he almost fell through because of the sheer weight he was putting on the weakened wood. Once he hit the ending of the flight, he nearly threw himself at the front door. He struggled to get it open, his hands were trembling so much. When he finally managed to get his sweaty palm to grasp the knob and wrench it open, he bolted back out it, and slammed it shut, the clicks of the lock going back in place sounded much louder when he was trying to get away. He quickly replaced the key where he'd found it and started back down the front steps. He could hear the gravel crunching under tires again, and nearly threw himself through the gap in the bars at the gate. His head smacked a little roughly against the metal, and it began to throb violently immediately after he hit the ground outside the gate, but he had to ignore it for the time being. He snatched up his jacket from the ground and raced back to his own house, diving in through the front door and locking it tight behind him.
He was still shaking hard when he stumbled in to the living room and collapsed onto the sofa, panting heavily. He rummaged in his pocket and took the key back out, giving a tired gasp at it. He knew now, what it was that it went to. He knew it was not to an ordinary room either. In any other circumstance, the attic would be normal, just another room, but not this time. This particular attic was holding someone inside, it was a prison. He had the answers to his questions, and his curiosity should have been sastisifed. That was what he had told himself, that as soon as he knew what his key went to, he could put it all to rest, and it would all be alright again. Only it wasn't, not at all, not even a little. He wanted more, he needed more, he had to go back, he had to go back and unlock that door. Elliot needed to get inside of that attic.
Summary: Elliot Davenport spends his every moment with a book in his face, and his head in the clouds, paying no mind to reality. But there will come a time when he will have to put the books away, and take a step into the world he thought was boring, into a world he thought he knew, only to discover he knew nothing about it at all.
also on fictionpress; [link]
also on fictionpress; [link]