The hallway was pitch-dark. A gauzy curtain or wall hanging kept brushing up against her bare arms, rustling and cobweb-light, raising gooseflesh and making her throat catch, but if she didn't hug the walls she wouldn't be able to find the right room. Dennie hadn't thought to bring a candle. Her flashlight was back in her room...at home.
Dennie shook her head violently from side to side. No reason to think about home, now. She wasn't going to get back there any time soon. The Alchemist had seen to that.
The Alchemist. Dennie paused for a moment in her slow creep, listening for any sound, any footfall, any creak of a door or floorboard. Silence. The Alchemist had been imaginary, a fable to scare children into obeying their parents. If you don't come here this instant, the Alchemist will mark you on his list. Good children stay, but bad children stray; the Alchemist finds them and takes them away.
The rhyme echoed in her ears like a whistle from far away, even though Dennie hadn't heard it in years, not since she was in second grade at least. Seven years. Two times seven. She shuddered. Sevens were the Alchemist's number, two. Seven, fourteen, twenty-one--all considered to be inauspicious at home, the tiny backwoods town of Los Brujos. The warlocks. Nobody could prove where the name came from, but everyone whispered it. Him. HE used to live here. When? Nobody knows. A long time ago. Don't talk about him; he might hear you.
SsssSSSSssssSSSSssss... Dennie heard something. She held her breath; it wasn't the hissing of air going in and out of her own lungs. It was too regular. Her own breath caught; juddered; blew; caught again, like a frightened animal. She closed her eyes, even though it was dark, and strained her ears to listen. She crept a little further down the hall. Her fingers, trailing along the wall, hit a smoothly polished wooden surface. Hinges; carvings; the doorknob.
Here she paused again, and brushed her tangled hair behind her ears. She put one ear to the door, gently, silently. SSSSssssSSSSssss... It was louder now, punctuated with clicks and slight groanings of machinery. If Dennie was lucky, she might find a way out of this horrible house, this maze of black corridors. If the Alchemist got her here--wherever "here" was--he had to have some way of getting her out. None of the old stories ever told of anybody who was stolen by the Alchemist and then returned again, to live happily ever after, but here she was, wasn't she. Dennie. Here. Dennie, who all the boys were afraid of but secretly wanted to be with more than any other girl. Dennie, who, in sixth grade had beaten up every boy who tried to kiss her; who, in seventh grade, was repeatedly suspended for smoking in the girls' bathroom between classes; who, one month ago, almost lost her virginity to one of the off-duty soldiers from the air force base, until he found out she was fourteen.
She was Dennie. NOTHING scared her. She pushed open the door with trembling fingers, and the slight crevice of light became a dim column about eight feet tall. The door opened silently, without squeaking of hinges, and she opened it until she could slip through.
She stopped, the darkness of the hallway pressing on her back almost tangibly. The room was dimly lit by a few lone candles in sconces set at intervals just above the wainscoting. Strange machines were everywhere, whirring and clicking to themselves. Test tubes and beakers lay on bare wooden tables with sinister-looking clips, wires, and pins. Yellowing jars of formaldehyde housed floating creatures from her nightmares, lifeless and rubbery as the frog she'd dissected last year. She half-expected to see cages of children lining the walls, bad children like her who'd been snatched for persistent misbehavior.
There was a soft click at the back of the room. And footsteps. Heavy, unmistakable footsteps. A figure entered, shrouded in darkness that the candles couldn't quite banish, and stopped next to one of its machines. It seemed of average height, but its shadow stretched crazily up the wall, reaching nearly to the ceiling. It chuckled, and she could see a flash of white teeth.
"I know what you did," he said. Dennie's knees felt like they were about to give out, but she put one hand on the doorframe and dug her fingernails in. "And there's something you...Dennie...can do for me."
This week's piece was inspired by this photo by Flickr user masticanotte. This is interesting...I might decide to explore this one more later. Anyway, check for more Flickr Fiction on the sites of The Gurrier, Tea and Cakes, Elimare, Chris, Mina, TadMack, and Linus.