Dreaming In An Empty Room
by K. Kwon
He licked the small wound on his forearm, still freshly cut. The fresh smell of detergent on his t-shirt was gone, as it was torn at the collar down to the middle of his back and muddied in splotches, front-to-back. His pants weren’t better off and one of his shoes had been thrown high into the canopy of the forest, somewhere.
“Fucking faggot”, they’d called him. Nothing unusual. Was it two or three times?
“Look at his beat sneakers, he doesn’t need both! Sorry, poor little bitch!”
“Bow lower! Lower! Stick your face in the mud, you fucking pussy!”
Just another day in his wretched life. Living in the middle of nowhere as one of the poorest around hadn’t been kind to him. He gathered himself and wondered what he should do next. Going home right now would mean another beating for “ruining” his clothes and he wasn’t quite ready for that. The wrath of his father with the Sun still glowing would be too much, so he figured he’d wait it out until he might be able to sneak by a sleeping giant.
The mud had caked and began to dry on his gaunt face and he scraped at it with his dirtied fingernails. Glassy eyes always seemed on the verge of tears, powered by a tempest tucked into the depths. His short, soft hair still glimmered, untouched by the previous moments of madness.
Miserable, he began to retrace his footsteps in search of the missing shoe. As he spent the minutes searching through the brush, looking up into the trees, a feeling of futility swept over him. Wave after wave, it washed over him and he started to become irritated, then outright angry.
Picking up whatever fit into his small hands, he began throwing everything he had at the trees, the bushes, any target around.
“Mom!”, he wailed. Uncontrollable sobbing took over as he plopped down in the dirt, almost falling over.
“I lost my shoe, and I don’t know where it is! Help me, mom! I don’t want to go home! I don’t want to go anywhere! Please…come help me!”
There was nothing but the din of insects and animals in response.
After some minutes had passed, he collected himself with a whimpering kind of sigh and stood up again. He gave up looking for his sneaker and walked back to where he had just came from and noticed a single shoe-print in the barely-dried earth that repeated itself down the trail.
Curious, he thought. Maybe the other print had just dried, but he started to follow this trail and could clearly see just a single right shoe-print. Images of a peg-legged pirate in a stolen shoe, hopping around in this forest put a slight smile in his mind. Imitation took over as he started to hop on his right foot, though the prints were far enough apart to be made by an adult.
The trail went on long enough for the boy to grow tired of hopping on one leg. He picked up a stick which made for a fine weapon if need be. There may be a pirate lurking, he thought as he pressed forward. He’d never gone this far into this part of the woods before and noticed that the living sounds around him began to play like echoes.
The foliage got thicker as he went and the ground was drier than before, and he strained to follow his quarry. He was still swinging his weapon around for practice and when his stomach growled, he ignored it.
As the Sun was beginning to hit a low point in the sky, enough to turn it orange but not quite radiant purple, the dirt trail widened just as it veered left. The shoe print stopped at the elbow of the turn. Confused, he took several steps on the main trail while concentrating his eyes at the ground, but with no luck.
Backtracking, he followed the last set of steps again, and it looked like whoever it was hopped right off the trail.
“Mom, where should I go?!”, he yelled out of nowhere. A bird flew overhead and he heard the rustling of a rabbit or something not much larger past the brush where the last print ceased.
He figured he’d come this far, so using the stick, he pushed the vegetation off to the left as best as he could and disappeared off the trail. The foliage had become so dense so quickly, that he struggled to see without being pricked in the eyes and his weapon was useless. He felt his face go through a spider-web, and half-squealing, took a few awkward steps.
Suddenly, he lost his footing and went tumbling down a bank and then squeezed right into and through a drainage pipe, losing his other shoe and weapon in the process. Screaming, he slid in almost total darkness for a few seconds before splashing into a shallow pool. Immediately, he got up, breathless, and found himself in what looked like a half-flooded empty basement with water up to his knees.
As his eyes began to adjust to the darkness, panic began to settle in. He turned around and saw a small cone of light through the pipe he had just come through. Cautiously stepping forward, the water was almost lukewarm and it felt as if he was walking on top of a thin film of sand. After about fifty feet, he came upon a set of concrete stairs.
“Hello?”The sound barely registered.“Hello!! Anyone here!! I need help!!”The echoes rang around the room and up the stairs. After a few seconds, all was calm again except for the sound of moving water behind him.
There was only one way to go, so he ascended, slowly. At first, the steps were strangely far apart, but began to grow narrow and steep after twenty-five. At fifty, he noticed the soreness in his legs and his gut complained loudly. Thirsty too, he thought as he reached number one-hundred. At one-twenty-five, he sat down to take a break.
“What kind of building is this?! Hello?! Anyone there!!”, but there was still nothing. Surrounded by near-darkness, the sound of the water seemed miles away and he was left with fear. Shoeless, thirsty, hungry, tired, and sore, he brought his knees up and rested his head. Tears almost welled in his throbbing head, but instead he dozed for a few moments.
It sounded like an oar hitting the surface of the water, jarring him awake as he almost tumbled down the stairs.
Nearly hyperventilating, his huge eyes looked around in terror to find both of his shoes next to each other. Neither was dirty and almost glowed in the darkness. Terrified even more, he put his back along the right wall encompassing the stairs and didn’t make a noise. He heard none. Even the sound of water was no longer audible.
“Mom! Help me!!”, he pleaded. The sound of his echoes did his psyche no good and soon he reverted back into total silence. Shaking, he leaned forward and grabbed one shoe, then the next. He took off his wet socks, stuffed them into his pockets, and put his shoes back on. Once on, he gained a strange measure of comfort from them, thinking about how they got there in such good condition.
He stood up, again searching for any alien noises from either side of the stairs. Finding none, he took a step up and noticed something gleaming a few steps higher. Step number one-thirty-one to be exact. He reached and found a rather old brass key. It looked comically large, something for a large chest but certainly too large for any kind of door he’d ever seen. There was a rusted musical note at the end and the key-end was fashioned very uniquely.
After running his fingers up and down the splotchy, rusted thing, he put it in his right pocket and lazily started climbing. At stair number one-eighty, he reached a long corridor which was completely dark and only a few feet wide and barely taller than himself. He hesitated, but with no other choice, he proceeded.
After a few hundred feet, he hit his face into something solid. Rubbing his nose, he thought himself as foolish for not using his hands as guides and took a step back. Kneeling down, he heard a low, constant whistling.
Using his hands he felt around the wall which was riddled with pockmarks until he felt a small recess in the middle. It was a narrow slit, and he could feel the wind coming through. He placed his right eye up to the hole, and saw a small beam of light, but there wasn’t enough room for him to make anything out. After trying his left eye, he sat on the ground for a moment before shooting up on his feet.
“The key!”, he said aloud. For the first time in a long time, he felt truly excited, like he was the hero of an adventure story.
Digging into his right pocket, he retrieved the key and placed it into the hole. He tried to turn it, but there didn’t seem to be any point where the lock engaged the key. He tried various methods, trying the note-end first, but he wasn’t getting anywhere. After some minutes, visions of being trapped in the dark forever began to seep into his mind and he grew frantic. Sweat began to bead on his forehead as he feverishly tried any way to get the key to work.
Twenty minutes went by without success and he was furious. Screaming in anger, he grabbed the key and almost threw it into the corridor in disgust, but swung back around, shoved the key into the hole, and using his palm, slammed the key through.
This time, the entire key disappeared into the lock.
“No! Wait! Oh, no!”, he yelped as he began to claw at the lock. He kneeled down and put an eye up to it, but now there was no light through the keyhole.
He got up and jumped back a few steps. The wall started moving slowly, and he saw light flooding the edges around the new door he’d found. A second later, it swung a foot open away from him into a bedroom. By now, the light from the room filled the corridor and he saw the dilapidated and peeling white and gold paint surrounding him.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”, he inquired as he creeped forward.
He stuck his head through the open doorway and found a small bedroom, neatly made. Stepping slowly, he first noticed the wood floor and as his whole body crossed through, he could hear the ocean. The walls were uniformly beige, a bed with a simple frame with neatly made maroon sheets and two pink pillows lay against the right wall. On the far side of the room was a four-pane window and underneath it, a desk with a chair.
He walked in and brushed his fingers against the bed frame and soft sheets. Rounding the bed, he paused at the chair, and saw a plate of fresh biscuits and a glass of milk. He looked out the window and saw the ocean for the first time. The waves were pounding at the rocks below with a shoreline in the distance beyond that. The Sun had almost set as he could already see the moon above the brilliantly hued sky.
He didn’t realize that he lived nowhere near the ocean. Still, his gaze drifted back to the biscuits and milk as his stomach whined again. Without thinking twice, he sat down and devoured the delicious biscuits and drank the glass of milk in three large gulps. As soon as he wiped his mouth with his forearm, the door shut, and he heard a loud clicking sound.
Shooting up from the chair, he raced the few steps back to where he had entered, but now it wasn’t discernible from the beige walls surrounding the room. There was no door handle, and he tried to run his fingernails around but had nothing to grasp. Seconds later, he immediately grew lethargic.
From his squatted position, he fell back into the bed. The room started to bob up and down in his eyes. Before it got any worse, using the bed as support, he got up and fell onto the bed on his back. Unable to keep his eyes open for much longer, he draped his left forearm onto them. Even in darkness, he felt as if he were spinning. Round and round.
Fighting sleep and vertigo, he could barely hear the ocean.
“Mom…sing to me. Sing to me like when I was little.”, he murmured, weakly.
From far away, he heard it.
“Laaaa, la-la-laaa….”, the singing continued.
A smile found itself on his face. The sound of the ocean was gone now, replaced with the angelic voice as he was drifting off into slumber.
“Laaaa, la-la-laaa….”, it grew louder.
“Mommy…”, he whispered, barely audible now.
As his consciousness had nearly gone, he let his left forearm slip off his face and he turned his gaze from the window to the ceiling.
Fading to black, he saw 8 bulbous glimmers surrounded by a thick patch of black, needle-like hairs and spiny legs slowly descend from above. His eyes fluttered shut.
“Mommy.”, it said.