Dallas looked over his shoulder for the tenth time in a row. He was not quite sure if he was more worried about being followed by his grandmother or by any of the things she has told him about. He was nine years old, not at all the baby Gram still seemed to think he was. Anyway, he knew better than to believe her stupid stories. For one thing, Jack Frost could not possibly make an appearance out here. Firstly, it was autumn. Secondly, it was warm, so warm that old Jack would probably melt into a snowy puddle before he could get anywhere. This logical fact provided cold comfort, however. Dallas still felt scared. He refused to be frightened, but there was something strangely foreboding in the night air. It was telling him to turn back. Besides, Gram had always been serious when she told him never to go outside, alone at night.
Tock, tock-et, tock. Tocktocktock…
No, this was definitely not the placed to be- but it's only seven in the evening, Dallas told himself fiercely. Nothing's going to happen to him. The kids in his old neighbourhood did it all the time; they didn't stand around asking anyone for permission. Why should he let Gram's stories chicken him out?
Still that insistent sound was starting to get on his nerves. He walked determinedly towards his destination with hurried steps, stopping when he reached a low, wired fence. There. This was what he had wanted to see all day, even though would probably end up getting sick of seeing it everyday from next week onwards. His new school, Moxon Heights Elementary. He curled his hands around a horizontal steel bar, letting the simple action send a sense of security through him.
The sound seemed to have gotten louder, even though Dallas wondered whether it was just his treacherous imagination playing tricks on him. It was time to head back home, anyway. School would start soon enough. Suddenly Gram's stories seemed entirely believable. What if something jumped on him if he started to go back now? For some reason, a feeling of being watched merged with the sound of the weird noise. It made him feel…small…
Gasping, Dallas broke into a run, only to collide with something both solid and soft…
…and unmistakeably warm…
As he stumbled onto the ground, he closed his eyes and commenced screaming, but it was only a squeak that made it out of his fear-choked throat. He gasped again, refusing to open his eyes to face whatever horror must be closing in on him. Something seemed to have seeped into his soul as well, like a hundred hands, squeezing the blood from his heart.
"G-go away," he sobbed, shivering. "G-g-go away!"
He tried to open his eyes when he heard a rather human-like cough, but shut them again quickly. Maybe demons could cough too.
"Go away, w-whatever y-you are! Leave me alone!"
"Leave me alone! Leave me alone!" he screamed, breaking out in fresh tears.
Finally curiosity getting the better of him, Dallas gathered whatever guts he had left and opened his eyes. Standing in front of him was a figure a little taller than him, dressed in equally over-sized coat and trousers, a top hat perched lopsidedly on its silvery head. It was gripping a kind of walking-stick in one hand. As Dallas peered at the figure's face, he saw that the thing or person appeared to be a boy around his own age.
After peering into Dallas' still frightened face, the boy passed the walking-stick into his left hand.
"Hullo, my covey! What's the row? "he said brightly.
Dallas shuddered and crossed himself. "Wha…what are you? You're a- a demon, right? Y-you're dressed weird, and you t-talk weird t-t-too! Maybe this is H-Hell!"
The demon-boy only chuckled.
"My, my. You are an odd one, eh? I'm not a demon, silly! I'm a real boy! I'm alive! See?" He touched Dallas' leg with his foot. "For a second there, I thought I was scared too… but er, never mind." Dallas started for a moment, but collected himself.
"What…what year is it?"
"Um…nineteen seventy-eight am…ammo domino?"
"OK. It's nineteen seventy-eight. Who are you anyway?"
Snickering, the boy turned around and took hold of a lamp-post, whirling around it effortlessly like the people in Singin' in the Rain' did. Then he jumped down and tap-danced along the narrow curb, soon returning to his original position in front of Dallas' sprawled form, only a little closer.
"Guess!" he huffed laughingly.
"Uhh, I dunno. You goin' to a Halloween party or something? But Halloween's in October…"
The boy turned his face away. "I am highly aff…offronded, for I am the one and only Artful Dodger! Dare you soily my name?!" He roared, scaring Dallas a little more by giggling directly after his outburst, before holding out hand to him. Dallas stared dully at it before returning his gaze to its owner. Suppose the hand came off? "But come, you want grub, and you shall have it," said the boy. No. There was something too ordinary about this. Dallas let his hand close around the warm, smooth fingers, allowing the boy to pull him up.
"You live 'round here?" he asked casually, brushing the dirt off of himself.
"Yes, I do, when I'm at home. I suppose you want a place to sleep in tonight, don't you?"
"No! I live with my Gram, OK? We have a house!" Dallas added indignantly. Did the kid think he lived out on the streets or something?
"Don't fret your eyelids on that score, " said the other boy in a soothing voice, head tilted the side. Dallas looked closer, imagining that those eyes would be sparkling with amusement.
"Why do you keep talkin' like that?" asked Dallas after a brief pause. "It's really weird, y' know."
The boy hummed a sinister tune before answering. "I hail from London, pal. London is the capital city of England, in case you don't know. Haven't seen you here before, so you must be a new...insta…instipation."
"Yeah. We got here yesterday, Gram and me. Uh, never seen anyone from England."
"Well, now you have!" chirped the boy, with an idle but elaborate twirl of the walking-stick. Then he tapped the ground with it. Oh, so that's what's been making the noise, realized Dallas. But why hasn't the feeling of being strangled gone away? He wasn't scared anymore…
Dallas found himself down on the ground again. Great. Now the boy would probably make fun of him for being such a klutz. He felt his head being tapped with the walking-stick.
"I dub thee Sir…Fall-a-lot! I dub thee Sir Oliver! Sir Oliver Sunshine!" cried the strange kid happily. It made Dallas wonder if he was going crazy himself. Dallas looked for something normal to say and decided to ask the boy whether he attended the same school that Dallas would attend. He stopped when he heard voices sounding closer.
"Luc? Luc! Iz that you? How dare you zneak off like that! Wait till we get home, you little…" a stream of foreign words followed. English or not, it was quite clear that the woman was very angry.
"Plummy and slam!" whispered the boy. Dallas jumped in surprise when the other boy suddenly grabbed hold of his hand.
"Thomas? Master Thomas?" a man called out.
"I…I'm here," muttered the boy. Dallas's mind went blank. No one has ever held his hand, except for Gram. And the kid was still holding it.
"Ah you…! Looked for you everywhere! How can you do thiz to me, you little tweet! Andrew, I will kill you, alright!"
"I'm sorry, Madame. Really, I'm sorry. It won't happen again. I assure you…" The boy made a protesting sound as Dallas tried to tug his hand away.
"La! Assure, assure! Don't bother with your stoopid excuzez! Lucien Beaumont, how many timez must I tell you? Do not talk to street urchins!"
"He's not a sea-urchin, Mama! He's a kid… he's…he's…well, I've been practicing my lines with him, anyhow…" faltered the boy, letting go of Dallas reluctantly. Dallas felt numb all over. The horrible feeling was still there. A hand grabbed the other boy by the elbow, steering him away.
"Urghh! You leetle brat! You're going to be late for ze play now! I forgot all about zat, thanks to theez leetle trip of yours! Andrew, you twat, you won't have theez ah… job much longer; I'll make sure of zat…"
Dallas listened to the retreating voices and jogged clumsily towards home. He felt almost normal now. But his mind was on the strange English boy. Will he see him again?
A/N: Tommy recites some lines from Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. FP's not letting me mark them with an asterisk or anything...