Arthur got ready for school quickly. He wanted to leave early to see the new neighbors move in. Across the road from Arthur’s house, there was a mansion. It was always quiet; no one had lived there for nearly a decade. But now as he passed the mansion he noticed the old, overstuffed newspapers were emptied from the mailbox. Worn furniture sat on the dry grass as movers emptied items from a truck. An elderly woman slumped in an antique rocking chair on the porch. With each rock, the chair made a high screech that echoed down the quiet road. She turned her head and gave a warm, welcoming smile. Arthur smiled back and continued his normal route to school.
Mhm, you would think a big family would buy a house as huge as that. Arthur thought.
On his way home, Arthur’s dad, Phil, greeted Arthur outside the school property. They walked together on their route home. One block down, take a left, and then walk another block. As they passed the new neighbor's house the old woman remained where she sat. That afternoon, Arthur kept his head down, kicking the rock in front him and keeping his mind distracted.
“Young Man?” her shaky voice croaked.
Arthur and his Dad looked over. Phil smiled and pulled Arthur up the yard. They walked around dead leaves filling the path to the splintered porch. Arthur stepped over an overgrown bush of dead roses needing to be gardened.
“How can we help you m’am?” Phil asked. The old woman looked up from the ground. She smiled.
“Hello sir, you can call me Miss Lesly.” She insisted.
“How can we help Miss Lesly?” Phil asked again.
“Oh, well, you see, I will be going away, for one night. I need someone to feed my brother. He is very sick, and I have no one in this new neighborhood to help me.” She quivered.
“I’m sure that Arthur and I could be of service.” He offered. “When will you be going away?”
“I am leaving tonight.” She answered.
“Oh, well I’m leaving tonight for a business trip,” he started, “but I’m sure my son, Arthur, would be more than happy to help your brother.”
“That would be lovely! Thank you very much.” she exclaimed. “Why don’t you come inside? I have very specific instructions for you.”
“Is that ok Dad?” Arthur asked.
“Of course, I have to be at the airport in one hour anyway.” Phil kissed Arthur's cheek and said goodbye. When Arthur's Dad left, Miss Lesly’s fragile arms stretched out and her coarse hand laid a small key in the palm of Arthur’s hand.
“Here, you’ll need this to get in.” Arthur took the key from her shaky hands and unlocked the door. He stared into the dark house. The staircase was covered in flakes of dust. Wooden floor panels lifted up. A jagged carpet sat off-center in the lounging area. Smudges stained the bathroom mirror. And a large, dusty chandelier hung above him, encrusted in clear crystals, sharp to the tip.
“Oh don’t mind the mess, Dear,” said Miss Lesly, “I haven’t gotten the chance to clean this old thing yet.” She hobbled through the doorway, and walked into the kitchen. The floor screamed with her every step. Arthur hesitantly walked through the doorway and followed Miss Lesly. Her cane thumped all the way to the fridge.
“His food is in here,” she pointed. Arthur’s eyes were fixed on Miss Lesly’s cheeks. Wrinkles and long scars shielding her past.
“What?” Arthur asked, looking away from her face.
“His food, my brothers food, it’s premade.” She repeated. “You just have to heat it up in the microwave for one minute.”
“Oh, right, yes.” Arthur stammered. Miss Lesly opened the fridge, it was filled with only the same pre-made meal trays on every shelf. She took one out and showed it to Arthur. The foam tray was divided into five sections. A cold roll of bread sat on the top right. Frozen discolored vegetables were underneath. A mushed brown chicken patty was to the left side, along with what looked like gray mashed potatoes that contained questionable blue chunks. The fifth section was left empty for a plastic cup of water. Arthurs nostrils started to sting from the foul smell.
“This is his food tray. After you heat it up for one minute, you walk all the way up to the third floor.” explained Miss Lesly. “Take a right at the first hallway. His room is the very last door on the left. Go into the room and carefully slide the tray under his cell. Now, you can not talk to him, look at him, or interact with-”
“W-wait, why is your brother in a cell?” Arthur fearfully interrupted.
“Well, because a cage was too small for him, Silly.” She answered. Chills covered Arthur's body. Despite his discomfort, Arthur knew that it was all in his head.
I’m sure that there’s a perfectly good reason why he’s in a cell. There’s nothing wrong, it’s just an old woman who needs your help, Arthur convinced himself.
“Ok, but um, when do I feed him?” He asked.
“You feed him at breakfast, 7 o’clock sharp. Slide the tray under his cell, then exactly one hour later, you have take the tray back out.” She emphasized. “Not a minute later, and you must take the tray back out. He doesn't eat lunch so come back at 5 o’clock sharp and feed him again. Then take the tray away, exactly one hour later. I should be back home around 9pm.”
“Okay.” Arthur agreed.
“Now remember, don’t interact with him at all, and you especially can not open his cell.”
The next morning, Arthur’s groggy eyes slowly opened. His alarm went off, echoing across the four walls of his bedroom. He set it one hour earlier than he normally does, and he was exhausted. He didn’t get much sleep; he was up all night, laying there, thinking.
Why is he in a cell? What would happen if I didn’t feed him on time, or if I didn’t get the tray out exactly one hour later? And what would happen if I opened the cell?
It was still dark out. Arthur looked across the street, and saw a single glow of a candle on the top floor. The mansion had faded colors, and crooked steps. It’s tall leaning structure casted shadows around the other houses. It creaked every time a wind blew too strong, but Arthur didn’t seem to notice. He grabbed the small, silver key given to him by Miss Lesly and left his home. Approaching the mansion, he hesitated. An eerie silence drifted from the house. Arthur tiptoed around the delicate roses, he climbed up the three shrieking steps, and opened the door. It was quiet, as if no one lived there. Everything was still. He slowly stepped into the house, creeping his way down the first hall. Bits of old wallpaper still remained on half bare walls, washed out designs still lingering.
He found the kitchen at the end of the hall. Arthur opened the fridge and picked up the first tray on the shelf . Plugging his nose and holding his breath, he opened the greasy microwave. As instructed, he heated it up for exactly one minute. When the timer beeped he took the heated tray up the stairs. Each step made Arthur’s heart beat faster. Once he reached the third floor, he felt as if his chest was going to burst. Arthur remembered Miss Lesly’s directions.
Turn right at the first hallway, and his room is the very last door on the left.
Arthur turned right down the first hallway, and made it to the very last door. He felt a cool breeze sweeping through the cracks. Slowly turning the rusted knob, the door creaked open. He was afraid to open it any faster. The room was dim; a single candle still lit in the window. The room was tiny, not much but a chair on the left corner, and a small broken pipe next to it. To the right, large bars made a cell wall, and there was a tiny slit at the bottom of the cell. Arthur kept his head down. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a hunched figure sitting in the shadows on a simple bed mattress. Scratches covered the back of the door, and the walls behind the cell were beaten in. Arthur stepped closer to the bars, hoping to catch a glimpse of something, but nothing could be seen in the dark. Itching to get out, Arthur quickly shoved the tray through the hole and ran out of the room, down the stairs, checking behind himself every so often.
After safely making it downstairs, Arthur took out his watch and set it exactly for one hour. He found a decently clean chair to wait in. Suddenly, he heard loud clashing. Metal rods were moved, and they screeched across the floors upstairs. Snarls and grunts echoed down the vents through the house. It didn't even sound human, it sounded like a pack of animals devouring their fresh kill. Minutes later, the snarls stopped, and it went silent again. Arthur’s eyes slowly drifted closed.
No I have to stay awake, he reminded himself.
When Arthur’s timer went off, he quickly ran up the stairs to the room. Once he entered, everything was exactly the way it was, except for the tray. It was licked clean, and placed right behind the opening at the bottom. Arthur grabbed the tray, careful to not look at the figure in the corner.
Okay, I only have to do this one more time. He thought to himself as he went downstairs and walked the rest of the way to school.
At exactly 5 pm, Arthur returned to the mansion. He walked up the shrieking steps, down the hall, and through the kitchen. He grabbed the second tray and cup on the shelf and heated it up for one minute in the grimy microwave. Then he made his way up the stairs to deliver the feast to the thing locked upstairs. Once again, going into the dim room, he set the tray down. The candle was still slowly burning, still casting a shadow on the dark figure. Arthur set his timer for one hour and sat in the lounge chair. After the rustling and gobbling of food died down, Arthur finally felt relaxed.
This chair is pretty comfy. He thought, as he drifted off into sleep.
“BEEP BEEP BEEP.”
Arthur opened his eyes. The house was black. He looked at his watch. 7:30. Arthur sprang up. He had slept for two and half hours. He bolted up the stairs, down the hall to the last door. He entered and noticed the tray wasn’t waiting for him. Loud snoring came from the corner of the cell. It was sleeping, and the tray was right underneath it’s bed. Arthur crawled onto the floor and reached as far as he could, but the tray was too far back. He picked up the broken pole he noticed earlier. Carefully, and quietly, he reached for the tray.
You must take the tray back out. Arthur remembered Miss Lesly saying. The pole was still too short. Almost ready to give up, Arthur spotted the cell key, dangling off a hook on the side wall.
I have to get the tray out, and he’s asleep, so he won’t hear a thing. Arthur thought. Arthur grabbed the key and silently turned the lock. To his luck the door didn’t squeak. It was pitch black as he felt around under the bed for the tray. He pulled it out successfully feeling a wave of relief. As he got up and turned, another cool breeze entered the room. The candle blew out. Arthur jolted.
“CLINK” The plastic cup hit the side of the cell door. It bounced back and forth on the cement floor. Vibrating, and echoing in the cell. Arthurs stomach dropped. It’s eyes sprang open. Before Arthur had the chance to turn around and look, he dropped the entire tray and ran. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him. Loud thudding and vicious snarls quickly followed. Arthur turned down the hallway to the stairs. He was running so fast, his own feet overlapped with each other. Arthur tripped and fumbled halfway down the flight of stairs. Rolling and tumbling, he hit his head on the side railing, but he shot up and kept on running. He was so dizzy he didn’t know which way was which. He took another right at the bottom of the stairs, running through the maze of the house. Hallway after hallway. The thumping became louder and louder. He found a back door at the end of one hallway. He scrambled to the door, tasting his freedom, but when he tried to turn the knob, it was locked. The hairs on the back of his neck stuck up straight. His body froze, and he slowly pivoted. Standing there before him was not a person. It had squared boned hips protruding out of it’s body. It was malnourished with crazy hair that looked like it had never been brushed. Arthur stared into red and bloodshot eyes, with veins flowing through them. It snarled and snorted. It stepped closer to Arthur, and grinned.
This is it, Arthur thought, as his entire body shook with fear. It slowly reached it’s long skinny arm out. Dark jagged fingernails curled out of the hand. As it laid it’s cold hand on Arthur's shoulder, the drooling slobbery mouth opened.
“Tag, you’re it.”