The old house had stood abandoned and decaying on top of the hill for as long as anyone could remember. In its prime it had been a building of incredible beauty; a two-storey Georgian affair with large windows set into the walls, around which wisteria grew, and a magnificent garden surrounding it. These days though all the windows were cracked and the wisteria suffocated by climbing plants that were slowly creeping through the cracks in the windowpanes and wrapping themselves around the furniture inside. The gardens too had been taken over by weeds and now ran wild with brambles, nettles and chickweed. The council had talked about restoring the house to its former beauty (the plan was deemed too expensive) or else tearing it down, but every time they got near enough to the house with any machinery protest groups would spring up outside the council offices and the workmen would suddenly be recalled, giving rise to rumours that the place was haunted.
It was because of these rumours that Jasmine and her friend Christian had ended up in the gardens of the old house.
The two had become friends many years ago on their first week of school when Jasmine had turned up for show and tell covered in mud holding a very large frog in a jar. Most of her classmates had decided that they wanted nothing to do with Jasmine at that point, but Christian had thought she was just about the bravest girl he'd ever seen and decided at that moment that he wanted to be friends with her forever. And they would be. Through thick and thin they'd stuck together and would continue to do so until the very end.
Christian was also by nature either incredibly brave or incredibly foolish and the two were always daring each other to do increasingly gross or terrifying things. Even on those rare occasions when the two weren't talking to each other it would only take one of them to say "I bet you won't stick your hand in that murky pond," for the other to forget all about the fight.
In the winter months when the weather was bad they would sit on Christian's bed with mugs of hot chocolate, listening to the rain lash against the windowpanes and telling each other stories. The summer, however, was spent practically living feral. They would go tree-climbing or exploring or insect hunting, and nothing was off limits.
Nothing, that is, except for the old house. Although neither of them would ever dream of admitting it to the other, each was equally afraid of the house and the prospect of what may lurk within it.
They had found the house in October whilst trick-or-treating. Christian had suggested that they visit the larger houses on the outskirts of town (his theory being that larger houses equals larger chocolate bars) and when Jasmine had said she wasn't so sure about the plan it suddenly became the only plan worth following.
And so it was that they'd found themselves in that part of town, Christian dressed as a pirate and Jasmine dressed as a parrot. This would have been absolutely her last costume choice, but her mother had hand stitched the entire outfit by hand upon discovering what Christian was dressing as, and Jasmine didn't want to disappoint her. Both of their pumpkin buckets were full to overflowing with candy and they were about to call it a night when Christian spotted the house looming above the rest at the end of the road.
"I bet you won't," Christian had started, but Jasmine shot him an icy look and informed him coldly that it was time to go home. It was the first and only time that Christian had ever heard Jasmine turn down a challenge, and although it wasn't an outright no it was enough to ensure that neither of them mentioned the house again for the next nine months.
It probably would have remained unmentioned for the rest of their lives if Christian hadn't ended up moving away, but on the day he broke the news to Jasmine a part of him knew that she wouldn't let him leave without exploring the house.
They had been lying on the grass in Jasmine's back garden when Christian broke the news. Jasmine was lying on her front busying herself with making a daisy chain, pulling piles of the little white flowers up and threading them together.
"You know mum's not well at the moment…" Christian paused mid-sentence. Jasmine put her daisy chain down and rolled onto her back before sitting up. Christian didn't often talk about his home life, and Jasmine sensed that wherever this conversation was going, it was probably very important. "Well, she's getting worse. They think I might have to go and live with dad after the summer holidays."
This conversation had taken place in July, the first day of the school holidays. At that moment the six weeks that had looked set to stretch on until the end of time were suddenly all too short.
"When do you leave?" Jasmine asked. She didn't particularly want to know the answer. As soon as Christian said the date out loud Jasmine felt as though the moments between the two of them would be snatched up all too quickly by the passing days.
"The day before term starts. I'm catching the train at lunch time. You'll come and say goodbye, yeah?"
Jasmine reached behind her to pick up her daisy chain. She didn't particularly want to cry in front of Christian but she feared she might, and punching holes in the flower stems with her thumb was proving a welcome distraction. "It's not for ages yet," she said as flippantly as she could possibly manage. "Besides, we've got loads to do before then."
"Oh yeah? Like what?"
Jasmine hesitated. She hadn't said that expecting to offer any real suggestions – it was intended purely as a distraction tactic. "Well… We could explore the woods."
"We've done that to death."
"What about the pond in your garden? We could look for newts."
"We've done that too," Christian moaned, leaning back on his hands and turning his head towards the sky. "We've done everything."
"Not everything," Jasmine replied with a mischievous glint in her eye. Christian sat bolt upright and turned his attention to her. "You know that old house we saw on Halloween? I bet you won't explore it."
"Says who?" Christian demanded defiantly. "I'm game if you are."
"Oh absolutely," Jasmine reassured him before she'd quite finished telling herself that she would. "Shall we go the day before you leave?"
"Settled," Christian said. "Let's shake on it."
Each of them spent the next six weeks secretly hoping that the other would chicken out, but of course neither of them would. Neither of them were in the habit of chickening out of dares, and they weren't about to start now. Each of them was so desperate to impress the other with their bravery, especially on Christian's last day, that as much as they didn't want to go they found themselves unable to say no.
This is what had led them to the gates of the old house and would ultimately lead them on to having many grand adventures.
It was an unusually cold September morning that they first stood in front of the gates of the house. It was a day that felt to Jasmine like the smell of cinnamon, the sort of day that feels sleepy and half formed in the way that only late November mornings ought to feel. They spent the journey there telling each other all sorts of fantastical stories about what might be in the house – stories of smugglers' treasure stashed in secret holes or ghosts that would rattle the windows. The stories had intended to make the house feel exciting instead of scary and for a while they had worked, but as soon as they both stood in front of the large iron gates at the bottom of the gardens any sense of excitement was lost.
The house looked colder and more oppressive than either of them had remembered it being, especially on this morning when a thin blanket of mist lay draped over the garden, tucking the weeds to bed. Everything was still and quiet and unsettling. Christian ran his hands down one of the poles of the gate sending flakes of black paint fluttering to the ground. "Ladies first," he said and motioned to the gates with his free hand.
"A gentleman would hold them open for me," Jasmine replied. She gave a little mock courtesy to lighten the mood. It didn't help.
They stared each other down for half a minute, each mentally urging the other to open the gate, and then in perfect unison both said "Dare you," and they each pushed one of the large gates until there was enough space for them to squeeze through.
If there had been a time to back out that would have been it. As they slipped through the gap in the gate they knew they were in this adventure until they'd seen it to the end.
They fought their way through the brambles and up the path to the front door of the house where, after a lengthy discussion, it was decided that since this whole business had been Jasmine's idea in the first place, she should be the one to open the door. She pressed one hand firmly on the door, wrapped the other around the handle and gave the door a push. Locked.
"We can't get in," she said. A sense of relief washed over her. She knew that now they had a legitimate reason to call this off Christian would do so safe in the knowledge that they could both walk away with their pride intact. Christian, however, had other ideas.
"Shut up can't we. That window on the end is missing a pane."
In a moment of uncharacteristic rationality Jasmine told him, "I don't know. I'm not sure that's very safe."
"What's the matter?" Christian asked, jabbing Jasmine in the side with a finger. "Chicken?" He tucked his thumbs into his armpits and flapped his arms, jumping around making clucking noises.
"No way," Jasmine replied. She pushed the sleeves on her jacket up to show she meant business. They immediately fell back down. She strode confidently over to the window, Christian following three paces behind.
Jasmine peered through the window into the gloom beyond. It was a dining room. In the centre of the room stood a large wooden table peppered with little holes, and behind that a sideboard that was beginning to rot and crack apart. Dust covered every available surface, painting the house in grey scale. After handing her little leather satchel to Christian Jasmine clambered through the empty window frame. "Pass me my bag. I think we might need our torches."
Christian passed the bag through the window and climbed in after it. Jasmine rummaged through the bag and found the torches underneath a couple of squashed peanut butter and jam sandwiches. She handed one of the torches to Christian and clicked hers on. It cast frighteningly long shadows into the corners of the room when its beam was intercepted by objects. Jasmine shuddered slightly. She didn't much like the old house when she'd been outside of it, but now that she was inside it suddenly seemed an awful lot worse. Something brushed her free hand and she screamed in response. Looking down she was surprised to see that it had been Christian's hand that had brushed hers, and his fingers were suddenly creeping into the gaps between hers. "It's ok," Christian said. "I don't like it either."
"I'm not scared," Jasmine tried to convince him. "But if you are maybe we should sing Five Little Speckled Frogs." It was a song that they had learned in the first year of school, a song that always reminded Christian of the day they became friends, and on the bad days when Christian's mother was too ill to do very much of anything at all Christian would turn up at Jasmine's house, crying and afraid, and they'd sit in pillow forts and sing it until Christian felt better.
Jasmine sang the song through twice – once to make Christian feel a little less scared and once to make herself feel better, and suddenly the house didn't seem that bad after all. The sense of excitement they'd felt whilst telling each other stories of the house returned, and Christian bravely suggested they should split up and explore separately so as to cover more ground. When Jasmine asked why they'd want to do a thing like that Christian replied, "To find the treasure. Duh."
Jasmine considered this for a moment before giving a cheery "Okay. First one to find it wins."
"How about two thirds of the treasure? We'll give the rest to the other person."
"Deal," Christian said, and they shook on it before heading off in their separate directions.
Jasmine crept through the house in the blackness, her torch beam cutting swathes of light through the dark, in which little flecks of dust danced. Most of the rooms on the ground floor seemed empty so she wandered around looking for the stairs, hoping that searching the upper rooms may prove more fruitful.
When she found the stairs she noticed that these too were beginning to rot like most of the other things in the house. Her nose had told her this before her eyes – standing at the bottom of the stairs she was hit by the stench of damp wood that she'd noticed whenever she'd gotten too close to what little furniture remained here. It was the sort of smell that travelled in through your nose and holidayed in the back of your throat. Jasmine could almost taste the decay in the air. "You can do this, " she told herself, and then to make herself believe it she decided she would sing to herself as she went up the stairs.
"Five little speckled frogs, sat on a speckled log, eating some most delicious bugs," she sang under her breath. Every time she sang "yum, yum," she picked up one of her feet and set it down on the next step. She had to sing the song two and a half times to make it to the top of the stairs. This made the going slow, but slow progress was progress nonetheless and before she knew it she'd found herself standing on the landing. "I told you you could do it," Jasmine said, beaming with pride. "Now to find the treasure."
The upstairs rooms were as sparsely decorated as the ones downstairs. Occasionally there'd be a solitary piece of furniture in the rooms that had been left behind by the previous owners that Jasmine would check underneath or inside of, but her search turned nothing up other than dust, spiders, and the occasional woodlouse. Well this is hopeless, Jasmine thought glumly. I wonder how Christian is getting on. She was about to go and check when something caught the corner of her eye.
In the corner of the room was a ladder leading into a hole in the ceiling. "Aha," said Jasmine. Shed remembered some mornings going out to play and coming to say goodbye to her mother, who would occasionally be not really watching TV programmes while she cleaned. One of the programmes that had been on as background noise was about people finding old family heirlooms in the attic of their houses and selling them on for thousands of pounds, which was more money than Jasmine could possibly imagine having. If there was treasure left in this house, it would surely be up that ladder. Jasmine lolloped towards the ladder like an excitable puppy and scrambled up it into the darkness beyond.
There was more furniture in the attic than in all the other rooms in the house combined, most of it under large, yellowing sheets that Jasmine supposed had been white once upon a time. For a while Jasmine zig-zagged across the room pulling the sheets off, but none of the furniture beneath seemed particularly exciting. The only thing that held her interest for more than a moment was a rocking horse that seemed to wink at Jasmine every time the torchlight moved across its face. Jasmine inched towards it. If she wasn't going to find any treasure (and it was becoming increasingly apparent that she might not) she figured she should at least have something interesting to show Christian. She examined the rocking horse for a while, running her hand across its smooth surface. The rot and woodworm seemed to have missed it completely. She gave a little shrug and decided it was time to call it a day. She was about to go and find Christian when something caught her eye.
In the wall behind the rocking horse was a small wooden door just a few inches shorter than Jasmine. Apart from that distinguishing feature it was absolutely the most plain door you could imagine – just a small slab of wood with the least interesting handle Jasmine had ever seen. It was almost too plain, which indicated to Jasmine only one possibility – treasure.
If I were to hide treasure in my house, I'd hide it somewhere nobody would think of looking. I'd hide it in the most boring place I could think of, because that way if someone was looking for it, they wouldn't think to look there.
This line of thinking made Jasmine giddy with excitement, and she turned the handle and opened the door.
The room behind the door was the smallest room Jasmine had seen in her entire life. She had to stoop to stand comfortably in it, and if she spread her arms out in the centre it would have been possible for her to turn full circle without even having to take her fingertips off the walls. It was dustier here than in the rest of the house. Jasmine could make out faint patterns on the wallpaper in this room, but whatever colour they might have been it was impossible to tell; the walls were now covered in varying tones of grey. Cobwebs hung in the corners of the room catching dust, and in the middle sat a magnificent golden typewriter. The sides of it were covered in intricate carvings and each of the keys was solid silver. Jasmine's eyes widened. She'd found the treasure after all. It may not have been the pile of coins and gems that she'd been expecting but it was beautiful, probably worth a lot of money, and (most importantly in Jasmine's opinion) she had found it, meaning it was two-thirds hers. She made her way towards it, still hunched over because of the low ceiling, and tried to pick it up.
As soon as Jasmine set hands on the typewriter she became aware of a low humming noise accompanied by a faint lilac glow that seemed to be emanating from the walls of the room. Her stomach did little flip-flops in a similar way to the way it had when she'd ridden the waltzers at the fair last summer. The glow was getting stronger now, as was the humming. Jasmine clicked her torch off and screwed her eyes shut to block out the glow which had nearly become blinding. The room began to spin. The humming was steadily increasing in both pitch and volume. Jasmine pressed her hands over her ears and sank to the floor.
The noise stopped. The room became still. Jasmine opened her eyes.
She was no longer in the attic of the old house.
She had travelled to an entirely new world.