The rain pounds, like thousands of toy soldiers beating on their drums. The wind moans off-key between the screen and my window. The swoosh of the oak tree beating against the house drones on above. It is the second night of the relentless March drench. I hate this time of year. I am unable to pry my eyes away from the evil face that lives in the ceiling as I lay in bed. Its mouth stays in a permanent howl of agony, and its eyes are small and beady. Sometimes I swear it moves to different parts of the ceiling. It is probably waiting for the perfect time to snatch and gobble me up. That would teach them. Why grandpa won’t just hurry and scrape the popcorn off of my ceiling, like he did for everyone else in this stinking house, I’ll never know. Mama teases that it’s because I don’t listen.
Good children are supposed to be in bed after nine, Mama says. Good children, like Mary, mind their mamas. And good children most certainly do not go adventuring in their best clothes and blame it on following faeries, gnomes, and other such nonsense into the woods. I get so mad when she says this I could split a coconut in two with my mind. Just because her old eyes can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. How would mama know anyway? She’s never gone farther than twenty steps from Sir Brisbane’s dog house. Mama keeps calling him puddles. I worry for her. Sir Brisbane does not take kindly to such insults and has been known to take a bite out of calves. Particularly plump ones like mama has. He is, after all, part of the high court of Chauncey and a knight to boot. He’s been keeping the dark faeries from creating mischief in the human world for thirty plus years now, and he believes my mother should be more respectful to him, thank you very much.
I’ve long since known that animals can speak. You just have to have good listening skills. Their voices are on a different frequency than humans and much more soft, too soft for adults to hear. Once, I had a most delightful conversation with a sewer rat about the art of balancing on pipes. The trick to keeping yourself up is to swish your tail quickly from left to right. I try telling mama about this, but she just spanks me, yelling, ‘stuff and nonsense’ then sends me to bed hungry.
My eldest sister, Mary, is a yellow-bellied chicken. She’s seen things, just as I have, but keeps it quiet. And she never stands up for me around mama. Mary’s a bit of a pushover but we get along okay. Alice, the youngest of us, just ignores everyone and plays in the attic with her dolls. A real creeper, that one, I once found a whole trunk of headless dolls. Mama’s seen it too, but I think she’s too afraid to ask. As a matter of fact, we never talk about her. I’ve tried a few times, but Mama just changes the subject and Grandpa tells me to go to my room. Cowards, all of them.
During last year’s drench, after the third night, I heard strange thumping sounds outside of my door. I was too scared to open it, so I crawled on my belly and peered beneath the crack. I remember it like it was yesterday. Two glass eyes and stringy blonde hair stared back at me. It was one of Alice’s doll heads. I’ve never sprinted for my bed and leaped beneath the covers so fast in my life. I recited the Lord’s Prayer until dawn. That did not work. The next night I heard more thumping, followed by swift pacing on the other side. I was glad that whatever it was couldn’t come inside.
From the third night, until the very last day of the drench, the thing kept up the pacing and thumping last year. Then, as soon as it came, it went away. All that remains of its existence today is a faint groove in the wood. I, of course, got blamed for it and received two nights without supper, a firm talking to, and a whooping. I suspect now that it might be Alice− or something wearing Alice’s skin. I haven’t ruled out the theory of a body snatcher yet. Sir Brisbane tells me they’re as real as Mama’s mustache. I hope that it at least keeps the trend of not coming back until the third night. And I keep wishing this, as I stare up at smiley-mcbeady-eyed-creepy-pants, and hear the thumping outside of my door return. I may just wipe that stupid face off of the ceiling myself since no one else will. Bang, thump, scrape. I let out a yelp and pull the covers over my head. Alice is starting early this year. After several moments, I sneak a peek out of the blankets. The sound is finally gone.
Peeling back my blankets, I tip-toe over to the window, and pull back the curtains. Sir Brisbane Pettingsworth is huddled to the back of his house and panting as if he’s run several laps. When he notices me, he smiles, then bows. I roll my eyes at him. Really, being cordial at a time like this, how silly. I motion that I’m coming out and lean down to open the window. Forget staying in this house, I’ll just keep him company until dawn. Let Alice bang, thump, and scrape her little heart out. My hand touches the latch and I nearly jump out of my skin when the high pitched voice squeaks above me.
“Would hurry if I were you dear.” I gape at the ceiling, unsure of what to do.
“Who said that? Alice?” Bang, bang, thump, scrape is my only answer. Something scratches at the metal part just below the doorknob, and it sounds impatient. Tiny, perfectly pointed nails waiting to−I try not to think about it as a lump forms in my throat. Where is mama anyway, can’t she hear any of this from down the hall? I know she keeps her door open at night. They’re a bunch of sissies, all of them. Then I remember we are still in the middle of the storm, the oak tree is probably drowning out the noise. I decide to heed the voice’s warning and I undo the latch and pull on the window. It doesn’t budge.
“Nailed shut I’m afraid.” The voice chirps.
Annoyed I look up, “well then, how on earth am I supposed to hurry?” It’s a peculiar feeling, talking to the ceiling in the middle of the night. Mama must never know. I already see some quack twice a week for the faerie and gnome remarks.
“Break it of course.” It says.
Naturally, let me just pick up my vanity chair, and we’ll make a game of it, I think. Mama would just love me to pieces then. Bang, bang, bang. Alice is getting more creative, the banging almost taking on a beat to a song. I cross my arms and tap my foot. This is ridiculous, why am I hiding from my little sister? What’s the worst she can do bite and scratch me? I need to stop being a ninny and open the door. I march three paces and then halt. The beating has ceased, replaced by complete silence. Even the rain has softened. I know why I can’t open the door. Alice is anything but a normal little girl. I can’t explain it, call it intuition, or whatever, I just knew.
“Better hurry.” It taunts. I want to slap that voice from the ceiling, but I know it is right. I dash for the chair and smash it against the window. The glass showers the floor in tiny, clear crystals. I tense at the horrible screeching outside my bedroom door. She knows I’m trying to escape. I hear her footsteps descend down to the living room. What was Alice doing?
“Now you’ve done it.” The voice sounds like it’s enjoying this a little too much.
“What have I done?” I ask.
“I didn’t say break it loudly.”
I want to strangle the ceiling, and then I realize how mad that sounds. Oh well, I’ve gotten this far. “What do you mean break it quietly? There’s no such thing.” I say. The front door creaks open. Each pop and groan feels like a nail pounding shut the lid on my coffin.
“Oh, there’s always a way.” It quips. “Like a well-placed glass cutter, had you have had the sense to look around.” Ignoring the insult, I glance around the room and see a silver glint in the moonlight. There it is, on my vanity. I can just scream. The screech bellows from the right of my window. Then Alice begins to climb up the drainage pipe.
I don’t have time to think. I wedge the chair in the window and pull the curtains shut. I charge toward my bedroom door and twist the doorknob when I stop. Something isn’t right. I plunge to the floor and peek out. I freeze.
The cold, dead stare of Alice’s eyes look back at me. Her grin twists upward in a sea of black─ no teeth, no tongue. Just dark and nothingness. My eyes linger on the swirling soot that inhabits her insides. It is busy, flitting uniformly about as if a swarm of insects would. I jump up from the floor and slowly back away from the door. How could she possibly be two places at once? The chair wiggles behind me as the scrapping continues under the door. I pray that I am able to make it until morning. The doctor will be there.
I don’t know why, but Alice always disappears after the doctor gives me the burning medicine. Alice has not moved from the floor. There must be something keeping her back. I pray to whatever would listen and squeeze my eyes shut. When I open them, Alice’s shadow has moved away from the door. I no longer hear her scraping, or footsteps but the rattling at the window has gotten louder. I take a chance and look beneath the door. Alice is gone, now is my chance to run to Mama’s room. My hand grips the knob.
“Not very bright are we child,” the voice states. Now it’s just being rude.
“And just what do you mean by that? I’ll have you know that I am top of my class at Bishop’s Middle─”
“School,” it interrupts, “has nothing to do with your predicament.” It yawns loudly. “You need to get outside to your friend. I thought we had discussed that already.” We most certainly had not, but I let this one slide. “Yes,” I say playing along, “but how would one do such a thing? You have clearly made it known that I cannot go out the door, though goodness knows why not.” His next sentence flies out, “goodness knows why─” he pauses and takes a breath, “listen here, you insolent child, I’m trying to save your life when all you’ve tried to do is have me removed from the ceiling.” He sputters something unintelligible and then shouts, “I’ve half a mind to up and leave you to your own demise.” I stand by the door with my mouth gaping so wide I could catch a school of fish. This guy is a total loon. How am I supposed to know what to do? It occurs to me then that the chair has stopped jiggling in the window.
“Where did she─”
“Go?” The voice interjects, “she’s right where she’s always been. By your bedroom door.”
I’m tired of him cutting me off. Maybe I will have grandpa remove him in the morning.
“Well excuse me for not knowing that,” I replied gruffly, crossing my arms. Then it clicks, the chair has stopped rattling. Why didn’t Alice burst through the window when she had the chance? I turn my gaze to the ceiling at Mr. Beady Eyes, hope starts to well up. I hope that it is not misplaced.
“Alice didn’t break into my room. Why is that?” I ask. For the first time I take a look at his face, I see his prickly mouth curl into a smile. “Why my dear, surely you have figured out some things along the way.” His eyes shift over to the chair lodged in the window. Quiet as a church mouse I creep over to the window and peer outside.
There he is, not ten feet from the house─ my golden friend. There is no sign of Alice. I look down at the chair, it has fused perfectly with the glass. I feel like my friend has done this. I smile and look up. He is gone. A slow scrape sounds outside of the bedroom door. I wonder why she hasn’t come in yet. This thought troubles me so much that I have to know.
“Sir,” I hesitate, “why hasn’t Alice come in yet?” His response sounds dangerously close to an answer. “If you’d cared to glance at the knob you would know.” “The knob?” I ask. The ceiling lets out a long sigh, “must I tell you everything?” he drawls. I nod my head, inches from the door. I try a different approach. “Please. I’m running out of time. How do I get out of here?”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you there. I’m neutral.” he says softly.
“I─beg your pardon?” I stutter.
“I’m neutral dear. Which means I cannot meddle in your affairs.”
“But, you just─”
“I most certainly have not. I’ve only given you clues. Now, if you’ll excuse me. This has gotten rather dull.” I hear a crackling as the popcorn draws back into its original shape on the ceiling.
“Wait!” I yell. He shifts back into a face. “Well?” he asks impatiently.
“I need─” I trail off, looking at the floor. I don’t want to say it, but I know it’s my only hope. “I need a clue,” I mumble. It will stay like this forever until Alice finds a way break through. If things have escalated this far in just a year’s time, there’s no telling what she will do. I can’t stay locked up in my room forever. What I can’t figure out is why she wants to get to me so badly.
“Ah, a clue indeed,” he says smacking his lips together. Beady eyes sounds like he’s savoring a bit of candy. “If I were you,” he whispers, “I would try looking at a dead end.” Bang, thump. Alice is back to her pacing.
“What does that even mean?” I ask impatiently. I know what is coming next.
“Neutral,” we both say at the same time. “Figures,” I grumble.
I jumped as something large crashes into the door. Alice is becoming bolder by the second. I cannot wait any longer. The next blow would shatter the door. Mama, where are you? I wonder. I run to the only place I can think of as the next crash splinters the door. Huddled inside I pull shut the closet door, and back against the wall. A series of metal clicks sound behind me. My eyes widen as the wall gave way and I fell into a vast pit of darkness. The only sound I hear is the loud screech of Alice having lost her prey. Her disembodied head hovers above me, then slowly disappears in the distance. The ceiling’s voice sounds around me, sounding rather proud, “there now, I knew you would understand.”
I tug at my nightgown, placing it between my knees. I begin to think this fall will never end and then─ it happens. I plunge into the frigid water, the force hitting me like a ton of bricks. I tumble head over heels in the frozen depths. When I finally stopped spinning, I look around and panic for several heartbeats. I’m unable to orient myself to where the surface lies. I had not taken a deep enough breath and my lungs already feel as if they are about to burst. A twinkle catches my eye and I flip my body around. I claw toward the light with all my might. How far had I fallen in? More than anything I wanted to hear Mama’s stern voice. I wanted to hear her calling my stories nonsense as she pressed the cool cloth against my forehead. I sputter and choke, releasing the last of the air from my lungs. Where is my furry friend now? I want desperately to feel him by my side. These last few moments I think of his warm eyes and wagging tail.
The twinkle from above seems as far away as it was before. I make a last ditch effort to reach the top. Nothing happens. There is only the icy liquid between my fingers. I fall down further into the cold. I do not want to think it, but it creeps into my mind as the water seeps into my lungs─
I will die alone.
I wake to rocky pebbles pressed against my face and water lapping at my legs. I try to stand but only managed to get onto all fours. Water retches from out of my lungs and then I collapse on the shore, too tired to move. Finally I am able to sit up. I rub my eyes, blinking a few times. The cavernous room is vast. There are openings and tunnels that snake in and out of the walls. It is cold and damp. I rock back and forth, crying into my knees. How will I ever get home and if I do, will Alice be there? If only I could have made it to Mama’s room. If only the doctor had came on his usual day instead of coming tomorrow. His medicine would have made Alice go away for a while. I want to see my friend and run my hands through his feathery-soft fur while we gaze at the stars above.
There is no grass in this room─ only dirt. I lay on my side and curl my legs to my stomach. I had always been told if I got lost to stay where I was but who would ever think of looking for me here? I close my eyes. Maybe I should just sleep until someone gets here. As soon as I think this, I’m surrounded by warmth. He says nothing, but I feel him there. My friend has come for me. I open my eyes and stand. My lungs for the first time in years feel whole again. His fur is more golden than usual and he stands upright like a human. His armor, which he has never worn before, shines bright. I can’t help but reach out and brush my hand against the glittering surface. A gentle breeze carrying the scent of our garden rustles my hair. He smiles down at me and for the first time, I notice the vibrant flecks of color in his eyes. His muzzle has been replaced with a golden, crinkly smile. His paws have grown smooth and fleshy. I blink, realizing they are not paws at all but large, strong hands. The room brightens like the surface of the sun and I shield my eyes from its brilliance.
Reaching out, he gently grasps my hand and we walk down the stark, white corridor. I look down, marveling at the golden silk sash that crosses just above my belly. I wonder when my nightgown has become such a splendid garment, but I quickly forget about it. That all seems so trivial now. I try to turn my head to look back at where I had fallen in the water but my friend gently wraps his fingers below my chin and turns me the other way.
“Best not to look back child,” he says. I smile nod, walking hand-in-hand with my best friend.
I will be posting this on my Royal Road as well.