By Kyle D.
At the age of eight, little Marty Edwards was quite the handful. Filled with the typical energy of a child his age, he constantly ran his parents ragged with his hyperactivity and over-the-top quirks—-which varied from funny to extremely annoying. His parents refusal to put him on any kind of "calming" medication confounded their friends and often resulted in Marty playing by himself because the other kids had very little patience for his tomfoolery.
For example, Marty enjoyed sneaking up on people (and animals) and scaring them by screaming or grabbing them. He had gotten this act down to a fine art, able to sneak across any kind of surface silently and able to hide perfectly in the most innocuous of places. This usually got a laugh out of his victims, but his father tended to stop finding it funny after half a dozen scares or so. Marty learned this quickly, and soon became an expert on being able to tell when someone was at their limit when dealing with him.
One of his more strange habits was opening every close door he came across. He couldn't explain this compulsion and since it wasn't really hurting anyone it was mostly ignored since it could be easily dealt with. His parents had learned to start locking the door again when they showered or used the bathroom, otherwise their little boy would burst in and start asking questions about what was going on and what were they doing and how long were they going to be doing it.
That was another one of his annoying habits, asking questions without end. One would expect that of any curious child but Marty's questions absolutely had to be answered in the most literal, descriptive terms before he would be satisfied. And more often than not his inquisitiveness went far beyond just "Why?" His parents took this as signs of an extraordinary intellect and used it as a bragging point, even though they were the ones most often subjected to his interrogations and had more than once snapped at him.
One summer, a few weeks before Marty's ninth birthday, his great-grandma died suddenly. She was in her eighties, but until her passing had been considered to be in great health. While all the grown-ups around him mourned in typical fashion, Marty felt a bit out of place. He felt bad, of course, but he didn't really know his great-grandma all that well. He only knew her house smelled really old and there were neat things packed away in the back rooms and closets of her giant house. Even then, they rarely visited the mansion, often seeing Great-Grandma at family reunions that often took place in parks, convention halls or resorts of some kind, away from everyone's houses. There were far too many people in the Edwards family for "casual" gatherings.
The mansion was four stories tall, with dozens of windows in the front and back and along the sides. Just the thought of all those unexplored rooms made Marty's stomach flutter with excitement. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that at least one of those rooms held some kind of treasure from the "olden days." The drive up to the mansion, after going through an impressive black iron gate, took a whole five minutes, and after that the pathway led cars around a long dead fountain and into a garage. The fountain was made of some kind of stone Marty wasn't familiar with, but that wasn't interesting anyway. What he did find interesting was the figure of a woman standing on one leg with her arms outstretched. Her face was eroded something awful, and Marty couldn't tell where the water was supposed to come out.
Golden colored doors groaned in welcome and revealed a grand foyer. Well, Marty figured it was probably grand in the "olden days," but now it was mostly just dark and dusty, since it was just his great-grandma that lived there with two caretakers and they could only keep the place so clean on their own. Black and white checkered tile floor changed to hardwood floor hallways and brown carpet rooms like the "sitting area" and the library (Marty didn't go in there very often, he liked to read but there was just too much in the place to explore and no time for reading). In the sitting room there was a door that opened to a dark pair of staircases that went up and down. Marty had never gotten the chance to explore what lay beyond the stairs. Each day the family would stay at the house, milling around and catching up for several long, boring hours before dispersing back to their hotels.
On the third day of mourning, the day after the funeral, Marty miraculously managed to slip away from his family, and begin exploring the house for real. He had never been able to get very far with his wanderings on the rare visits. His mother insisted there were expensive, fragile things lying all around that he shouldn't touch—-or even look at, so she wouldn't let him go around alone.
His mother took her eyes of Marty as she lost herself in deep conversation with one of her cousins, whose name Marty forgot. He was not good with names. He could remember faces well enough, but names slipped away from him most of the time. He stepped lightly along the hardwood floor, careful to not let his black sneakers make any sound. They had been standing in the kitchen, which could be found via a door-less entryway in the back of the foyer, so Marty pressed up against the wall, ninja-style, and snuck around to the sitting room.
There were a few people in there, chatting quietly as they sat in oversized leather chairs or stood by the long dead fireplaces, but none of them saw Marty stealthily open the door to the stairs and slip inside.
As he quietly closed the door behind himself, Marty suddenly felt strangely alone. The stairs looked much darker now...what awaited him at the top-even darker. He swallowed hard and felt knots beginning to form in the pits of his stomach. He felt a tingling in his groin, too, like he suddenly had to pee very, very badly. But Marty swallowed his fear. There was much to explore and not much more time to do it. The house would be sold and adventures that could be had would never come to be.
Marty was surprised at how hard he had to force himself to take that first step, admonishing himself when he found his feet almost refusing to move. But it got easier. Each step up meant he was closer to his goal. But he couldn't help but notice the encroaching darkness and the heavy smell of undisturbed dust and stale air. As he reached the top of the stairs, and turned to ascend the second set, Marty noticed a pale light filtering through some unseen window. It was a welcome sight, but at the same time somehow enhanced the sense of dread that was building up inside him. Little motes of dust danced in the light, wavering back and forth and never seeming to actually float towards the ground.
If I could just get to that light... Marty thought ...then everything'll be okay. At least until the next leg of his journey.
There were muffled voices coming from behind the door downstairs, but they showed no sign of urgency, so Marty ignored them. They hadn't found out he was gone, yet. The boy took in a slow, deep breath as quietly as he could and continued up the stairs. The old wood felt flimsy even under his slight weight, and Marty was sure they would groan loudly as he stepped across it...but nothing happened. Marty stepped into the light and sneezed violently, the dust tickling his nose mercilessly.
To his left and right the many-windowed hallway stretched out seemingly forever. Or, maybe, that was just the darkness playing tricks on his eyes again. Including the one he was standing in front of, there were 13 windows in total in the hallway. The windows at both ends of the hallway seemed to be giving off less light that the rest. Were there that many windows when he was looking at them from the outside? He couldn't remember now, for some reason. Marty swallowed and tugged nervously at the hem of his shirt. His brain reminded him that there was still time to turn back, still time to end this silly expedition. That voice was small, however, and Marty found it easy to ignore.
After a few silent seconds of inner dialogue, Marty decided to go to the right. Because he was right handed after all, it made as much sense as anything else. He leapt from one shaft of light to the other until he was standing in front of his first mystery door. A sense of excitement replaced the subtle dread in Marty's little brain. Maybe this was an old bedroom filled with old clothes or books or, should he be so lucky, toys! If his grandmother kept his father's old toys in a room, maybe his great-grandmother kept some of his grandma's toys, too. If anything, they'd be fun to look at and try to imagine what exactly made them fun to play with in the first place.
The door was about seven feet tall and painted a stark white, with a gold brass door knob that seemed smeared with dust. The paint seemed to be chipping off as well. Marty bit his lip and slowly reached for the knob...
That's when a small voice from the other side spoke up and nearly made Marty scream, "No...," it whimpered, quietly and filled with fear, "Don't do that. It isn't allowed."
Marty heart was beating so hard in his chest, so loudly in his ears, that it hurt. He froze in place, waiting. But the voice didn't speak up again. It sounded like a little girl talking. He knew it was impossible. His own mother said that great-grandma had lived alone in this giant house with just a handful of servants for almost forty years. Marty tried to swallow again but his mouth was dry, instead he held back a coughing fit until his eyes watered.
Pregnant silence filled the air, so heavy that even Marty felt it. His hand hovered inches away from the doorknob. Slowly he let the tips of his fingers touch the freezing cold metal. The voice didn't speak up again, if there had even been a voice in the first place. Marty was more than willing to accept that he had imagined the whole thing. He gripped the knob and...
Nothing. It wouldn't turn and the door wouldn't budge. Marty frowned and pushed harder. Pushed harder until he was pushing as hard as he possibly could. The door didn't give one inch, not even a slight indication that it felt his weight. The boy huffed and stepped back fully into the dusty light of the window. This was a bad start to his great adventure in the giant house, but he wasn't going to let that deter him. It was bad form for an adventurer to give up after one minor setback, especially when there was so much more to find.
Marty simply moved onto the next door, which was about five yards down from the first. Again, much to Marty's silent relief there was a window illuminating this one too. It looked exactly the same as the last door down to the last detail. Even the chipped paint.
Without thinking, he reached out for the doorknob and gave it a hard twist. It gave out under his efforts but, once again, the door didn't move.
"Stop! Stop I said!" the soft, muffled voice called out again. It was the same voice from before, Marty was sure of it, even though it had to be a completely different room.
I must be imagining things, Marty thought, jerking his hand away from the door as if it had burned him.
Marty blurted out before he could stop himself, "But, why?" Instant regret filled his heart and a primal sort of fear nipped at the back of his heels. A kind of fright he hadn't ever felt before. He felt as if he had done something very wrong.
For the briefest of moments, he thought he could hear a slight breathing from behind the door. Just as he was about to move on, the voice spoke again, almost making him cry out.
"Because," the voice said, and now Marty thought it was coming from a little girl, "Because it isn't allowed. The door isn't allowed to be opened."
Marty cursed himself silently, in the kind of way only an eight year old can, as his voice continued to ignore his brain's commands for silence, "That doesn't answer my question. Why isn't it allowed? Are you grounded?"
. . . .
No answer. Marty frowned and resisted the urge to kick the door. As he turned to continue his trek down the hallway, he was stopped by a loud, loose rattling. He turned on his heels, eyes wide, and saw the doorknob shaking violently on its own. At least, for a moment he thought it was doing it by itself, until he figured it must be the girl on the other side. The way the knob rattled and jerked back and forth in its frame made Marty a bit nervous, but he was sure he was finally going to get to see something interesting.
Just as it had started, it stopped without warning, and then there was nothing but stillness. Marty leaned forward slowly and pressed his ear against the door, where he could hear a faint sobbing.
Marty tapped a single finger against the door lightly, "H-Hey, why are you crying? Did you hurt yourself trying to open the door? I can go get my mom and dad, they could probably-"
"NO!" the girl shouted and something heavy thumped against the door so hard it pushed Marty back and almost down on his butt.
Marty steadied himself and stared at the door slack-jawed. He gasped after a few seconds, realizing he had forgotten to continue breathing. The sounds coming from behind the door had drained every ounce of curiosity from Marty. He decided then it was time to go back downstairs and never talk or think about this ordeal ever again. He seriously hoped he wouldn't have any nightmares either.
Once again, his mouth ran ahead of his brain and shattered any and every plan he had been making, "What are you doing in there?!"
Again, there was no answer. Marty looked to his left, back the way he came. He could still see the shadows leading to the stairway. There was a small comfort in that. He looked back to the closed door. A part of him wanted to scream and bang on the door with his fists, another wanted to just forget the whole thing...and yet another side was urging him to move on to the next door. There were plenty more, and what were the odds they would all be locked and lead to the same room (which he figured must have been the deal with the first two)?
He adjusted his pants and turned sharply to continue his march down the hallway, ignoring the shadows between the windows' lights now.
The third door stood before him...disappointingly looking like the first two. Marty groaned and his shoulders slumped forward. This was turning out to not be that great of an adventure after all. Just weird and a bit scary. He was starting to think that getting in trouble for sneaking up here alone wasn't going to be worth it in the end. As he looked back towards the stairs, a soft sound caught his attention. The sound of a releasing lock. He snapped his head back to look at the door, unsure if he really heard anything.
After taking a few deep breaths, Marty cautiously reached up and grasped the doorknob. It was ice cold to the touch but it gave in right away to his twisting. He felt the door shift beneath his slight weight and stopped short, opening the door only just enough to peek through.
The room was pitch dark with no windows, much to Marty's dismay. He let go of the knob and slipped his hand through the crack, making sure not to push the door open any more than it already was. It took him a few seconds to find the light switch, panic getting its claws into him until he felt the smooth switch. With a loud click he flipped it and a dim yellow light filled the room with an audible buzz. The light flickered ever so slightly but it was enough to give the boy a good view of the room despite the small opening he left himself.
The room was painted white with visible layers of dust on the bare walls. The carpet was an off shade of white as well. The room probably looked a lot better when there were people taking care of it. Out of the corner of his eye, Marty saw something sitting against the back wall that provided a stark contrast to the bland colors-he could only see a little bit of it, but there it was...a large toy chest. The red, yellow, green, grey and blue colors depicted an old time circus, with clowns dancing around smiling animals of all kinds. There was a ringmaster holding a megaphone and lion tamer waving a whip and chair at a couple of frowning lions. Acrobats flew gracefully through the air and there was even a giant cannon with a man wearing a helmet poking his head out of the end.
Marty pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped into the room. The toy box piqued his curiosity but did little to settle the uneasy feeling gnawing at the pit of his stomach. He shut the door partially behind him, making sure to leave enough room for him to get his fingers through in case he needed to make a quick exit.
The buzzing of the lightbulb was the only sound in the room and it unsettled Marty greatly. He shuffled across the room towards the toy box, his shoes making a soft shuf shuf shuf noise as he dragged his feet across the old carpet. When he got close to the box, he was slightly taken aback by how big it was. He figured that if it was empty, he could fit in easily enough and close the lid with plenty of room to spare.
Marty's raised a trembling arm, why it was trembling he didn't know, and reached out gingerly with his index finger extended. Just an inch away from the box some invisible barrier stopped him. It was like pushing on plastic wrap. He could feel it bend beneath the pressure of his finger but it stopped him from actually touching the box.
"...please...don't..." came the faint voice of the girl, causing Marty to whirl around.
On the wall opposite him was a large door that had somehow escaped his notice until that very moment. Looking at it made the boy's eyes feel weird and his vision blur. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes but that only made it slightly better. He sighed and turned back to the toy box, and it didn't take him long to see something was different about it now.
It seemed as if every creature, every person on the box was looking at him now with eyes gleaming in anticipation. He found it a bit unnerving and it made his bowels twitch and tingle in a funny way. Now without hesitation, Marty thrust both his hand forward onto the lid of the box and it was as if he had pushed them through a thin sheet of water.
The sound of soft calliope drifted into Marty's ears. Barely audible at first, but the longer he kept his hands on the box the louder it got. Right up until it was as if he was standing next to the big, steam spewing machine itself. His palms prickled with energy and he looked down to see that the pictures had somehow started to move on their own. Clowns danced around the animals and their handlers. The acrobats were swinging from their perches back and forth, flipping through the air with practiced precision. All Marty could do was watch with wide-eyed fascination.
Something was tickling his left hand, Marty looked down to see one of the pale faced clowns-this one wearing a yellow, one piece outfit with red pom-poms going up the middle with little pointed red boots-had "climbed" onto the lid and was poking his hand with its own tiny, gloved fingers. It smiled at him and winked one of its red diamond painted eyes. Marty's eyes widened even more as the clown knelt down with its arms out and the slowly stood up, pushing its arms in an upward motion.
Marty tilted his head and the clown gave a little nod and repeated the action. Marty swallowed and began to push on the lid, the clown clapping its hands silently and jumping up and down. As the lid began to open, the clown suddenly did a backflip and slid down the box, landing flawlessly on the back of one of the poorly drawn elephants, its arms thrust in the air in a Y-shape. All the other figures had stopped moving, watching the opening lid with anticipation.
The opening was accompanied by the ear splitting squeal of rusty hinges. It made Marty cringe. A puff of stale, foul air erupted from the box and caused Marty to fall back in a loud fit of coughing. When he recovered, he noticed that the people and animals on the box had stopped moving, all of their mouths wide with unabashed glee, even the animals. Marty felt a growing sense of unease from the scene. That's when something inside the box moved.
Marty let out a choked scream as something large began to rumble around inside the toy box. His voice fled him completely when a dusty, falling apart teddy bear peeked its brown and moldy-green head over the edge of the box and looked right at him with its dark black button eyes. Eyes that reflected strange lights that were not coming from anywhere in the room. Its fluffy ears twitched. Little paws appeared on the edge of the box as the "toy" began to pull itself out of the box.
The bear's stomach had at some point ripped open and there was white and black stained fluff hanging out of it, like intestines. Its feet were nothing but rounded off nubs with black stitches that were probably supposed to indicate clawed toes, yet it walked with little trouble, inching towards Marty with a blank look on its face. It had a little pink triangle nose that had a single stitched line leading down to an upside down V-shaped mouth that was the same design as its toes. Marty felt his bladder give way, his jeans becoming suddenly very warm. He didn't even understand the fear he was experiencing. He had a teddy bear back at home, there was just...something inherently wrong with this one. It wasn't right. And not just because it was moving on its own.
"...Marty..." a deep, soft voice resonated in the boy's ear. It sounded hollow and, for some reason, echoey.
It was the bear, his brain told him. The bear.
The toy raised its stubby arms toward Marty, like a child asking to be picked up. Marty took a step back, shaking his head.
"I...No, I can't..." he stuttered, and the bear stopped in its tracks.
There was a loud ripping sound and the black button eyes of the bear suddenly popped off, landing at Marty's feet. The fur separated slowly, revealing, much to Marty's horror, blood shot human eyes. The eyes twitched violently in the bear's head, moving independently of one another in a way that might seem cartoonish in any other situation.
"MARTY," the hollow voice screamed, and the teddy bear began to go through another mutation. The little V-shaped mouth began to open, forming a mouth that split all the way across the bear's face. The grotesque mouth opened wide and a long, red tongue unfurled from inside it, landing on the ground with an audible, wet thup. It was then that Marty found his voice, and let loose a scream so violent and loud that he instantly felt his throat go raw from the effort.
The teddy bear stumbled towards the boy with its arms still outstretched hopefully. "IT'S BEEN SO LONG, MARTY," the voice was undoubtedly coming from the bear now. Erupting as clear as day from the gash of a mouth, "I JUST WANT TO BE HUGGED AND LOVED."
The sound of a door being flung open caused Marty to whirl around. The blurry door was wide open now and some tiny, shadowy figure was standing within, waving its little arms, "Marty, here! Come in here!" It was the girl's voice from before.
"NO!" screamed the bear, its voice gurgling with unseen liquid, "MINE!" It lunged towards Marty, who took several frantic, leaping strides towards the open door.
It slammed behind him just in time. The sound of the bear's frustrated, muffled roars compounded with the vicious scratching noises made Marty slap his hands over his ears as he collapsed on his knees in yet another dimly lit room. Wherever he was now didn't matter.
"I tried to tell you. Why didn't you listen to me? I told you to go away..." the little figure behind Marty spoke in the familiar voice, "You woke her up and now everyone else is coming back."
Marty didn't want to look back at the speaker. He knew his heart couldn't handle another demonic toy...but he did it anyway. Against his own better judgement, Marty turned his head.
Standing near the door, at about a foot and a half tall, was a very old looking Raggedy Ann doll. Her red hair was mostly missing as was one of her eyes. Her white apron was stained with some dark colors Marty couldn't exactly make out. Her mouth was smeared and half missing and she seemed to be favoring her left leg. Marty was just about to scream again when the doll shook her head and waved her arms.
"Please, don't. I promise I'm not like the others. Honest." She leaned up against the door and slowly lowered herself to the ground.
Marty found no words coming to his mind. The familiar urge to let loose a barrage of questions was there but it was very weak. He looked around the new room as he waited for his heart to calm down. There were a few windows along the wall, covered in lightly colored curtains that filtered the light into a soft blue-white color. There was a large dressing table with a cracked mirror sitting on the far wall, with a dusty, long legged chair sitting in front of it and a white cabinet with multiple drawers as well. In the corner stood a large armoire with three drawers on the bottom. Behind him was perhaps the largest bed he had ever seen in his life. Its posts almost reached the ceiling and there was some kind of thin veil hanging all around, obscuring whatever was inside. And Marty got the strange sense that there was something in the bed.
The doll touched Marty's leg, causing him to almost cry out until he saw her covering her own smudged mouth. He got the hint. "Please, don't wake her up again. She only just got back to sleep."
Marty just stared at the doll, words dying in his throat before they could even form. And his head hurt, very badly. He could hear the beating of his heart and with each frantic thump came a pulsating dull pain from within his skull. Every muscle in his body ached, his stomach was broiling with a ham and cheese sandwich lunch that wanted to come back up, and he couldn't come up with a reason why.
"You have to get up," the doll insisted, hovering just around Marty's legs, obviously being careful not to actually touch him, "I'll open the door and let you..." She was interrupted by a violent crash from the other room, "Oh no," she whimpered.
As Marty stared at the door leading to the toy box room, something moved in the corner of his eye. Something on the bed. Goosebumps formed all along his arms and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. The temperature of the room was steadily going down and after a few second the boy could see his breath. The thing on the bed let out a long, low moan as its movement beneath the blankets on the bed became more and more noticeable.
The Raggedy Ann doll let out a frightened chirp and began tugging at Marty's hand, "Hurry! Hurry!"
There came a great splintering sound as the bottom of the toy box room door split and a long, blood red and orange colored arm appeared from underneath it. There was no hand at the end of the arm, just three fingers tipped with obsidian tinted, very sharp looking talons. It snaked its way up the door, blindly grasping for the door handle.
Marty was instantly on his feet and following the doll to the door on the opposite side of the room. Now that he was standing up, Marty finally got a full view of the thing in the bed. It remained beneath the blankets but the outline vaguely resembled something human. The thing let out another moan that resonated deep within Marty's chest, causing him to unconsciously grasp the hem of his shirt.
As Raggedy Ann struggled to reach the lock on the door, Marty's eyes shot between the thing on the bed and the weird monster arm still frantically reaching for the door handle, "This can't be real," he kept repeating to himself in a soft voice, "What's going on? This is a dream. Toys can't move or talk. A nightmare...this has to be a nightmare..."
The blanket on the bed began to shift then, slowly lifting and being moved to the side. The doll let out a pained yelp, yanking Marty's attention away from the thing in the bed.
"I hurt myself opening the other door for you," she said, rubbing her right leg, "I can't get up high enough to get this one. You have to help me."
Marty stared for a moment before hesitantly reaching down and picking the doll up. She was surprisingly warm in his hand, he noticed, and for a moment he thought he could feel a heartbeat. Just as the doll's little hands were taking hold of the doorknob, the thing in the bed revealed itself.
For the rest of his life, Marty would wonder how he didn't lose all sense of sanity at the moment he saw the thing in the bed. It was huge and deathly white, with long black, matted hair that was died off into multiple braids with ribbons that were the brightest shade of red Marty had ever seen. Its eyes were completely black as well...and as big as the "good" dinner plates Marty's mom broke out when they had company. Empty voids with only the slightest bit of blue-white light glowing dimly in the middle. Its mouth was a ragged black slit completely devoid of teeth and no tongue to speak of. Its mouth opened and closed several times, like the thing was trying to talk, but only the putrid smell of rot and some vile brown liquid came out. Marty could feel its gaze upon him. It raised its arms, almost beckoning Marty to come to it.
The doll in his arms squealed in terror as it gripped the doorknob and gave it a violent turn. At the exact same time, the monster arm found its mark and jerked down on the handle. That door swung open first and in barged the now even more monstrous teddy bear. The monster arm had sprouted from its left nub. It gurgle-roared in rage and frustration at seeing Marty about to escape.
To the surprise of everyone in the room, the thing on the bed threw itself to the edge of the bed and scooped the teddy bear up into its horrible arms with a resounding, "TEDDY!" Its voice a distorted almost feminine sounding tone.
The monster-bear froze in the arm of its captor, a look of confusion coming across the twitchy human eyes in its fluffy head. That didn't last long, however, as the thing in the bed squeezed it so hard that said eyes popped out of the bear's head with an audible pop. The bear went limp with a wet crunch as the thing violently cradled it in pale, veiny arms.
There was a soft click and the Raggedy Ann doll squirmed out of Marty's hands, "Go! I got the door, go!"
Marty stumbled out into the familiar hallway, barely missing getting hit in the butt by the slamming door. Marty gasped for air as he ran face first into the wall, one hand slapping against the dusty glass of a window. Once he had caught his breath, he noticed that everything had gone completely still.
The silence unsettled the boy as the echoes of the strange bed-monsters roaring still played in his mind. The hallway felt like a completely different world. Brighter and somehow less oppressive. Marty didn't have long to reflect on his experience as something in the pit of his stomach churned violently, sending waves of nausea throughout his entire body. His eyelids felt heavy; his knees felt weak. This was enough exploring for one day, he decided, perhaps for the rest of his life.
He cast one last glance back at the white door with the golden doorknob. Dread overlapped with the nausea the longer he stared at it, and he had to tear his eyes away by forcing himself to turn his head completely away.
The stairs... Marty thought, finally heeding his body and minds desire to get back to his family. He straightened and, still avoiding looking directly at the door, turned to make his way back. At that moment, he would be glad to get an earful from his mother or father about wandering off on his own if it just meant he could go home.
But as Marty cast his gaze to his left, where the stairs should have been, he saw nothing but the unending stream of doors. Thinking he had remembered things wrong, he looked to the right and was greeted by the same sight. Doors and dusty windows letting in grey-yellow light.
A dull pain throbbed in the back of Marty's brain as he tried to get a grasp on his situation. The only way he could explain what he was seeing to himself was to figure he was asleep. That he had fallen asleep downstairs somewhere and was no having a horrific nightmare. He pinched himself several times in an attempt to wake himself up, as he had seen it done on TV. All that brought was red marks on his arms and tears welling up in the corners of his eyes. Did that mean he wasn't asleep and all that had just happened was real?
Marty remembered his father insisting that magic and monsters weren't real. That there weren't any goblins under his bed or in his closet, or hiding under the bathroom sink with all the funny smelling cleaning things. That the magician at his good friend Justin's party was using sleight of hand tricks.
A tear streaked down Marty's face and the back of his throat ached. His vision began to blur and from deep in his stomach came a rough hiccup-cough that threatened to shatter what was left of Marty's psyche. The word "mom" died on his lips as something from far down the hall to his right caught his attention.
It was a soft clicking sound, barely audible and muffled. The smell of oil and smoke floated into the boy's nose, it was sour and dirty. The nervous breakdown was now gone, replaced by a morbid curiosity that wondered what could possibly be happening now. At the very end of the hallway, which seemed to have grown farther away, though Marty wasn't sure, the last door began to rattle.
Instinctively, Marty took a step forward but was stopped immediately afterwards by the sudden, ear shattering scream of a deep toned train whistle. The boy stumbled back, losing the step he took, and several more, clutching his ears and shouting along with the whistle. The light outside the windows dimmed, as if it had instantly become nighttime, and all the doors up and down the hallway began to rattle at once.
Clack-clack. Clack-clack. BWOOOOOOOM.
The door at the end of the hallway exploded outwards, hitting the window opposite it and sending glass everywhere. Dense black smoke began to pour from the newly opened door and flood the hall. Marty scrambled to his feet and stared dumbly at what was happening. Deep from within the thickening smog, farther back than the wall had been, a soft yellow light appeared. Perfectly round and still.
It dawned on the boy a second later, and he screamed again just in time with the whistle. He turned sharply on his heels and began to run away from the smoke. The hallway lengthening before him registered in Marty's brain, but he didn't have enough time to dwell on it. From inside the smoke, Marty could see the growing outline of a train engine-massive and black.
Marty ran as fast as his skinny little legs could carry him, faster than he had ever run before. No matter what he did, the smoke seemed to stay in the same place, but the yellow light grew larger and larger. Right beneath his feet the ground began to change, he could feel it through his shoes. Marty risked a glance and noticed that the floor had disappeared and there were train tracks there now instead. His foot landed funny one on of the wooden planks and he felt himself falling forward.
Something slid under Marty just before he hit the ground, it was wet and sticky, and he felt it wrap around his torso and yank him into the air and to the side...into a door that he hadn't noticed come open. Just as he passed the frame, the all-consuming outline of the train shot by, the whistle still blaring but now slowly fading away into the distance.
Whatever had grabbed Marty gently put him back on the ground, up on his feet. The room was pitch dark, even the dim moonlight from the now clear hall seemed to stop at the door without actually coming in. Something large shifted in the darkness to Marty's right. A foul smelling, very hot stream of wind buffeted the boy's neck. Marty's whole body was paralyzed with fear and as whatever it was beside him moved again, the sound was of something scratching against a wood surface, he whimpered and closed his eyes.
There was a soft click and the groan of door hinges. Several more second ticked by, and Marty opened his eyes reluctantly when nothing else happened. About ten feet away from him, another door had been opened and white light outlined the frame, somehow not coming into the pitch black room. Marty swallowed hard and dared to look up. Hovering above him where two dinner plate sized eyes, colored a bright shade of green. The black pupils were large as well, leaving only a little bit of the green showing. They stared down at Marty unblinking, as if waiting for something. Their gaze made Marty's stomach feel icy and sharp.
Marty flinched as something disturbingly warm brushed up against his shoulder and down to the middle of his back. The glowing eyes shifted in the darkness, turning towards the door, and the thing on his back pushed him towards it. Marty rapidly looked between the door and the eyes. Another push. Marty shuttered and stumbled towards the door, happy to see the light despite himself.
As he stumbled into this new room, he heard the door squeal as it began to slowly shut. For a brief moment, Marty saw a bit of the thing in the darkness. An oblong shaped head with a lipless mouth curled up into a smile, bearing dagger sharp teeth that were an unsettling shade of white.
The door closed with an ear splitting squeal and the loud click of a latch being turned. Marty found himself standing in a white room. White walls. White, fuzzy carpet. It reminded Marty of the carpet at home, but there was no feeling of safety or familiarity here. The room was lit by a single, very bright lightbulb that made the backs of Marty's eyes ache, so he turned his gaze to the floor, squinting and rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands. In the middle of the room against the wall was a large structure made out of blocks. The old, wooden kind that looked hand-carved and hand-painted with letters and crude pictures of animals and musical instruments. They were stacked almost to the ceiling in the shape of a pyramid with a little throne at the top. On each side of the throne were little, perfectly shaped holes in the wall and after staring for several seconds, Marty saw movement within.
With a whimper of exhaustion and fear, Marty slid up against the wall opposite the structure and frantically looked around for another door, for escape. But there was nothing else. It was then he noticed that the door he had entered this room through was gone, leaving no sign it had ever been there in the first place.
A sharp thud followed by the rapid movement of little feet made Marty jump and he saw little toy soldiers, classically dressed in black and red outfits and holding little muskets, file out of the holes and surround the throne. Each also wore a tall black hat with a golden buckled shape painted on them. They stared at him silently with black-dot eyes, and he saw they had no mouths.
In unison, the soldiers raised their rifles and pointed them at Marty. Based on all that he had just gone through, Marty yelped and fell to his knees, covering his head with his arms. A sound like marbles being shaken around in an old coffee can came from somewhere and Marty looked up, peeking through slightly spread fingers. The toy soldiers had lowered their rifles and were now standing in to neat rows with their arms up in a salute.
From the hole to the left of the throne emerged an elegantly dressed figure. It was the same kind of toy as the little soldiers, but much more intricate-it looked like a queen. It wore a sky blue dress with white lacing and a sparkling golden crown atop its golden hair (which seemed to be made of very fine string). The queen looked at Marty with blue-dot eyes and he felt an air of regality flowing from it.
At the base of the structure, several blocks began to part. This caused Marty to shoot up to his feet and again press against the wall. From within the structure came two little well-dressed figures dragging a dirty looking miniature chalkboard behind them. They stopped and turned the chalkboard so it was facing Marty. Then a third came out holding a long piece of white chalk, which it waved at Marty in an almost scolding manner.
Marty watched with wide, fascinated eyes as the third figurine, a little man with white hair wearing a butler's uniform, turned sharply and began scribbling on the board.
"WhAt arE yoU DOing herE?" the little man wrote.
Marty raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. The little man gave Marty a "come on now" wave. Marty swallowed and finally said, "I...I don't know. I don't know where I am or what's going on and I just want to go home. Please."
The queen atop the structure, who was now sitting on the throne, began to gesture wildly and Marty swore he heard the faint tinkling sound of wind chimes. This went on for several seconds, and when she stopped Marty saw the man writing again.
"yoU nEEd Help geTTINg h oME?"
Marty nodded, it was the only thing he could think to do, and right away the queen began gesturing and making noises. This time instead of the light tinkling, Marty heard the sound of water being poured into a cup, leaves being crunched beneath heavy feet. The queen moved rapidly, almost in a frenzy. She was nodding and waving her arms and occasionally stomping a foot. All the little toy soldiers were intently focusing on her, as were the three attendants on the ground. This went on for nearly five minutes, Marty's curiosity growing with each passing moment. Such an impassioned speech from a little thing was a bit inspiring, even if he couldn't understand it all. The queen stopped, looked at Marty and gave a polite nod.
Marty looked down to the writer just as he was finishing something, "O K."
Marty blinked and tilted his head, but before he could think much more about it, something in the ceiling shifted. The lightbulb and a three foot square around it suddenly fell an inch out of the ceiling and began to slide to one side, making a sound like steel grinding against steel. From this new hole a very old looking dirigible toy materialized. The cloth balloon was a dull shade of purple with golden metal rings latched around it that held it in place and a little ship beneath it. There was a little fan and motor on the back of the ship which spewed smoke and made a soft thip-thip-thip sound.
Marty watched with great interest as tiny figurines dashed back and forth across the deck of the zeppelin. A figure dressed in black wearing a naval officer's hat appeared at the guard rail and turned its gaze right to the boy. Marty could only watch as the thing floated around and turned towards him.
Marty could smell the oil of the engine as it drew closer to his head. There was a soft tap on his foot and when he looked down he saw the little writer standing there, pointing towards the chalkboard. Written on it was the word "Bye" and then Marty felt something heavy strike him in the back of the head. The world was black before he hit the floor.
An instant later, Marty felt something shaking him and heard the muffled familiar voice of his mother, "-arty? Marty? Martin!"
Marty's eyes shot open and he found himself lying on the floor in the familiar hallway, with his mother, father, aunts and several cousins standing over him with worried looks on their faces. The bright light of the afternoon sun pouring through the dusty windows blurred his vision, but he was pretty sure they were all angry with him for some reason. His heart fluttered in his chest and just as he was about to cry out in relief...
"Oh my God, Marty, what have you been doing up here?" His mother cried out, tears forming in the corners of her eyes, "We've been looking for you for almost an hour! Didn't I tell you not to come up here?" She scooped him up into her arms and hugged him so tight he could barely get a breath in.
"You hit your head pretty bad, kid," said one of his older cousins, "We heard it down stairs!"
Then the rest of his family began to talk all at once around him but Marty wasn't listening to them. He reached up and felt a big lump on the back of his head.