I’m back from France, and it was quite enjoyable, if a little cold.
I was going to get straight back into the swing of things with a new OYGYDTOTL piece, but France presented me with some absolutely brilliant dreams that I just had to turn into a story. This is the first one, not sure if I’ll do the second one or not. As with my other dream stories, this has been lightly edited so that you don’t need to use dream-logic to understand it, but is almost exactly what happened in my dream.
Most little girls, despite their professed love of ballet, do not like the opera. It doesn’t carry over. This does not dissuade the occasional school from taking them to see it. Tiffany’s school had dragged her to a performance of something about mice, and she had fallen asleep before the first fat lady (who she knew must be in every opera) had appeared. Then they left her.
Tiffany was 8.
Opera houses are big buildings, and very traditional in their style. This is fine when lit up or filled with people, but can help to build an incredibly spooky atmosphere when dark and empty. It was this that Tiffany woke up to, about an hour after the performance had ended.
She wasn’t quite sure that she had woken up at first. At the very least, it should have been Mr Truman, her teacher, waking her up, a scowl on his face for catching her sleeping through a very important field trip. Or her friend, Donna, nudging her awake as the curtain fell. She should most definitely not have been greeted by the grainy darkness of an empty opera house.
Quite naturally, Tiffany was scared, but she had Charlie to keep her safe. Charlie Bear, Tiffany’s guardian angel, was a teddy that her father had brought back on his last trip home from abroad. He was a fair sized bear and, although some of her friends thought it a little childish, Tiffany took him everywhere. As far as she was concerned, Charlie Bear was filling in for her dad, and that gave him license to tag along and keep her company. He even had a little chair on her backpack.
Throwing on said backpack, Tiffany decided it was probably time to leave. She didn’t know the way home from the opera house, but was pretty sure it would be a long walk. There was bound to be an adult somewhere though, someone who could call her mother, most likely in the lobby.
If she could remember how to get there.
Tiffany’s class had been dragged to see the evening performance and it had been set up rather late. The usual course of action, according to Tiffany’s all-knowing older sister, was that the school would buy the front row so that the kids could see all the action up close and personal. Apparently, the school had been a bit late in doing so this time, and the only seats available to them were right at the very back, in a barely safe balcony.
She’d been eavesdropping on Mr Truman on the journey up to the balcony, not on purpose, and had heard that the balcony was rarely used anymore, access being limited to old service tunnels that ran through what used to be offices. The security guard that led them all through the tunnels said that the opera house used to be an office block, but had been converted years ago. Tiffany was confused, but at least she didn’t need to remember the route back. That’s what grown-ups were for.
Except now she wished she did remember. It was dark, and cold, and ever so quiet. Tiffany could hear her shoes clicking on the concrete floor with every step, followed by the accompanying echo from far down the hall. Even though she knew it was her own footsteps, it scared her. Still, she had Charlie Bear to look out for her, peering over the top of her head from his little seat.
She fumbled about for a while, and was quite thankful that the corridors were mostly uncluttered. A few loose chairs tripped her once or twice, but she was a nimble little thing and managed to catch herself before she fell.
It was the second trip that gave her the biggest fright. She had been looking for a light switch, of which there were none, and had bumped into a stack of chairs. Stepping around it, she tripped on a chair someone had laid on the ground. Her echo tripped too, the noise ringing around the corridor louder than she thought possible. She pulled herself up, kicked the chair in an attempt to turn her fear into anger, and then felt the small tug on her backpack.
Being little, and a girl, Tiffany was no stranger to people pulling on her backpack. Boys did it because, well, they were boys and stupid, and adults did it to guide the little people around as they were supposed to do. This tug wasn’t like either of those, it was subtle and almost unnoticeable.
There are two things that can happen next, and Tiffany knew what they were, fight-or-flight being endowed on even the youngest members of the human race. She could either: run away screaming like the little girl she was, or turn to see who was tugging on her backpack in the darkest place she had ever been on her own. Tiffany chose the latter, Charlie Bear would protect her.
She turned around slowly. There was no-one there, but the darkness seemed different. Yes, it was still dark, but a patch of it seemed a little darker than the rest, like something was sat just out of sight. It shifted as she stared at it, and started to sway from left to right, before two little lights popped up at the top.
The lights were yellow and glowed like the sticks the school gave out on fireworks night, but they seemed a little, well, dribbly. Tiffany’s sister had told her once that glass was a really, really thick liquid, and that if you left it for years and years and years it would dribble down to the bottom. The lights seemed to follow the same sort of principle, but a tiny bit faster.
They hovered there for a moment in front of her, just swaying from one side to the other, then the left one went out. Except it didn’t. The light didn’t go out, it blinked. It blinked like an eye. The lights were someone’s eyes, and they were looking at her.
Tiffany could almost hear Charlie Bear telling her to run, and she wasn’t going to disobey her guardian angel. She turned and shot through the darkness at speeds only a terrified child can muster. There was the danger of more loose chairs, or a sudden wall, but Tiffany didn’t care, she could hear the owner of the eyes following her.
She ran and ran, then saw her salvation. A gentle ray of light was creeping under a door ahead of her, a door she at once recognised as the staircase. Her fear had led her straight to where she needed to be. Sprinting, Tiffany smashed the door open and slammed it shut behind her. She knew the eyes were behind her, but the door had a lock on it which gave a polite little click as she turned it, sealing the eyes in the dark. There was a band as the eyes slammed into the door too, as if trying to follow Tiffany’s example, then silence.
Tiffany sat down for a moment. She wanted to cry but she wasn’t going to, Charlie Bear told her not to. She was safe for now, and once she found a nice adult in the lobby she would be even safer. She took off her backpack so she could give Charlie Bear a big hug for keeping her safe.
He was gone.
His plastic seat was empty, and Tiffany suddenly realised what the tug she had felt had been. The owner of the eyes had taken Charlie Bear.
Tiffany was angry now. He was her bear, given to her by her dad, no-one was going to steal him from her. She was going to storm back into the darkness and rescue Charlie Bear, that was that.
Whistling interrupted her. At first she thought it was coming from the other side of the door, but then she realised it was coming from the staircase. It was quickly followed by the easily distinguishable sound of footsteps. Someone was coming up the stairs. Tiffany leant over the rail and peered down the centre of the staircase to see who it was, saw it was the security guard and called to him. He seemed startled, looked up, saw her face, then sprinted up the steps three at a time.
He was a very friendly man, Tiffany thought. All the usual grown-up questions though: Where are your parents, are you lost, what’s your name, etc. Tiffany didn’t have time for them, instead telling him about Charlie Bear and how she absolutely must go after him.
The man smiled. It reminded her of her dad, which made her smile. He agreed to help her, on the condition that after they found Charlie Bear she would let him call her parents. Tiffany said that was fine, and the man unlocked the door.
Tiffany told him about the eyes and he said, as she thought he would, that she had been seeing things in the dark. ‘A child’s imagination running away with itself,’ which was exactly what her dad would have said. Unlike her dad, however, the man said she could wait in the staircase if she wanted. Tiffany nodded and the man said not to be afraid.
He stepped into the dark and flicked on a torch. He explained briefly about how the lights were on a timer or something, but Tiffany didn’t understand. The corridor was lit only by his torch and what light could sneak through the open doorway, and Tiffany couldn’t see anything. She wasn’t sure how far she had run, but the man told her, as he disappeared beyond the light of the doorway, that it wouldn’t have been far.
Tiffany had to track the man by his torch light, the almost-triangle pointing towards the nice man. Until he dropped it.
There was a sound like when her mum would cut her toast, and then the light hit the ground. It rolled around for a second, before she noticed that it had landed on something and was pointing mostly upwards. A figure stepped into the torch light and Tiffany finally got a look at the owner of the glowing eyes.
What she saw seemed ridiculous, and she would have thought it a lie had she not seen it with her own eyes. The man, if it was a man, was tall and willowy with clothes so baggy that Tiffany wondered if he had stolen them from someone else. His outfit seemed like a mismatched collection of various other outfits, all rolled into one awful ensemble. Tiffany had once seen an old episode of some show about a talking scarecrow who used to play with some kids, and thought that this man dressed a little like that. That said, she was struck by an even more powerful likeness too. The man she was looking at was, apart from the head, a sort of evil-looking version of the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.
Tiffany loved The Wizard of Oz. She had watched the film over ten times, and had her mum read her the book. It took a lot for this man to override her mental association of the Scarecrow with goodness, but his face did that instantly. There were the eyes of course, which she had already seen, although with the extra light she could see they were not set into his head but sort of painted on, and beneath them sat a hideous mouth full of oddly spaced, and terrifyingly sharp, teeth.
The scarecrow man stood in the hallway and stared at her. Then winked at her again. She fought down a scream and asked, in her most polite voice, where Charlie Bear was. He seemed to consider it for a moment, before twisting his creepy mouth of knives into an approximation of a smile. He brought up his left hand and there, sat amongst a collected of fingers that looked like razors, was Charlie Bear. Then the right hand came up and beckoned her in.
Tiffany had never seen a horror movie. If she had, she would have known that the beckoning he was doing was of the sort only seen in those movies, slow and suspicious and a little too calm. She had never seen those movies though, so she didn’t equate the motion with the danger, and she was not going to leave Charlie Bear in the dark with the scarecrow man at any rate. He was her bear, her guardian angel, and a gift from her long-absent father, she was going to take him home.
She stepped into the darkness of the hallway.