An empty playground overlooked by a derelict block of flats. Not exactly paradise, but its what we’ve got. Its in the country, its got houses, but no shop, no church, no centre. Bill says someone died in them flats, but he’s full of shit, he said his dad used be a gangster, but everyone knows he was in the army. Anyway, I’m going in and I’ll see what’s really there.
The door is open. It wouldn’t have been much of a problem, the glass has been smashed and someone’s nicked the locks. Inside is a short corridor with several doors coming off it leading to the ground floor flats. At the end I can make out the stair well, with what looks like a shopping trolley wedged upside down and halfway up. Inside all the lights are gone, the daylight doesn’t want to come in much past the door. I flick on the torch that I found in the park, it’s one of those wind up ones. It lets off a dim glow that brightens when I wind it, revealing that he first door on the left is open a little bit, I look in there first. This is a bit scary, but everyone’s been in here and now it’s my turn. The place is getting knocked down soon, so I better do it. I can feel my breathing getting faster and as the door gets further behind me and I hear it bang shut losing a bit more glass and sending a flicker of light down the hallway. It’s okay, I knew one of them was going to shut it, that’s what we always do. I’ve done it plenty of times. The difference is they all thought I’d been in here before. The door sticks a bit as I push it, its only hanging on one hinge, but I manage to get it open enough to squeeze through. Don’t think the others have been in this one before, most of them just peak and run out quick, but I’m doing the whole thing.
The wallpapers peeling off and I can see green stuff underneath. It stinks so badly of piss, I’ve got to put my t-shirt over my face to breath straight. In one of the corners I can see a broken armchair, the seat is ripped and a rusty spring is jutting out of the middle, the walls are all stained and bits of the ceiling have fallen in where the older kids have got in and been lighting fires. I’m gonna go a bit further, but I’ll be careful because its dark in here. The windows are covered by thick red curtains you can see from outside. Think I might have smashed one of them a while back; all the windows are smashed on the outside. The floor is covered in junk, cup plates and bits of food, cans of beer and fag-ends. Its horrible. There’s a crushed up blue beer can in an empty space near the middle, one good kick and it pings off the wall. I throw another kick, harder, hitting two at the same time, they crash and spin about. A scratchy rustling noise comes from under the settee sending me running back to the door, where I see a thing rush out across the floor like a bullet. It makes a painful screech, as I try to squeeze back through, the handle catching on my trousers. Trapped in the door I hear the scratching again, its coming from behind some crap in front of the fireplace. I’m squashed and its hurting my shoulder, I know I’m bright red and can feel the tears running down my face. The thing runs out again and this time I see it properly. A stupid fox. It stops and scratches itself and shoots back behind the settee. I laugh and manage to free myself. I want to get out of here, but know I can’t go back now and if they see me all red and crying they’ll think I was scared, so I wipe my face and pull the door shut. I don’t fancy the other rooms much, besides I said I’d go up, so I’ve got to go up. None of the others got this far. The stairs go round in three landings like all the blocks round here. Nothing to worry about, just keep away from holes in the floor and hope no more foxes are up there.
The trolley is jammed tight in the first set of stairs, but I’m skinny enough to crawl past. Kyle’s too fat to get through and Si’s too big, but I can get in anywhere. I slide underneath and get up. The stairs are safe and still solid, but I can see where the older lot have had fires on the first landing, more beer cans and fags. The trolley was probably to stop the Police getting at them. I’ve seen them jump down to the garages when they get chased off. They’re stupid and make loads of noise and always get caught; no one gets us lot, we keep it quiet. I’m not bothering with the second floor, waste of time, gonna go straight to the top. I said I’d get out on the roof and chuck some football down. The stairs twist up, it doesn’t look like the older lot have been here, there’s less rubbish and it don’t smell so bad.
At the top I can feel a breeze blowing down the corridor from the flat at the end. The are doors closed and the walls and floor are clean and something else, something odd, it looks like a different building. The lights are all on, yellow strips along the ceiling and the green lights that stay on in power cuts. I’m going slow, feeling my way through the light. There shouldn’t be light up here, but I keep going, the flat at the end is number 39. The door is dark blue and I can see brighter light coming from underneath. I should go back, but my legs keep walking on their own. I want to go back, but I can’t help it, so now I’m standing right by the door. I can feel myself not breathing and make myself take a gasp of air before I pass out. This isn’t right. I reach up and feel the spy hole, tracing a circle and feel my hand going to knock the door. It bangs a dull thud and the door moves easily as I hit it, swinging open.
The flat looks untouched. No, more than that. The flat looks like a flat, quite a nice flat. The floor is laminate with a two black leather settees and a huge glass coffee table. In the corner is the biggest TV I’ve seen outside of a shop. A kid is sitting in front of it playing Xbox. I’ve got that game, the sound is turned up quite loud, but I couldn’t hear it outside. If I had mine that loud Mum would kill me. The boy doesn’t look round and I’m standing stock still, frozen. Its like I’m somewhere else. I can see his hands flittering on the controls, but his face is locked on the TV. It looks great. I have to play on the little one my sister used to have; Dad won’t let me have it on the big telly.
‘Come in then’ comes a female voice from the next room. ‘You must be one of John’s friends. We don’t bite. I’ve got some dinner on if you want some.’
Not sure what to do now. I can’t move my legs and my head is screaming to run, but it looks so normal, so nice.
‘Come in then, and shut the door; were you born in a barn or something?’
Then my legs are moving again, but in the wrong direction. I’m walking in and can feel the door slipping shut behind me. I don’t think I even touched it. I can’t help myself, I step over to the settee and realise I want to sit on it. Its not like I can help it, more like I want to sit down more than anything else in the world. Its far too big for me and my legs hang over the edge, but its so comfy. John keeps playing the game, he’s really good, I watch him take out one of the guards with a sniper rifle, I can never make that shot. He knows every inch of the level, his hands are dancing on the controller so fast that I can barely follow his movements. My eyes are locked on the screen, refusing to look at the rest of the flat. It can’t be real and the game feels normal.
‘Do you like tomatoes?’ Comes the voice from the other room. ‘Will you stop playing that game, its rude when we’ve got guests.’ Her voice flutters between a singsong and stern, but the boy keeps playing without taking notice.
‘No I’m allergic.’ I hear myself say, but don’t know why. None of this makes any sense. A tall grey haired man in a red cardigan and grey jogging bottoms walks in with a serious, ugly face, places a tray on the coffee table then folds himself down into the armchair. His impossibly long arms reach out and lift the tray onto his lap in a mechanical motion. On the tray is a covered plate and a brown mug. The man doesn’t say anything or even look at me; he stares at the TV, the game stops and the local news comes on with the sound off. The presenters are joking with each other in front of a picture of a goat and two cats. The boy remains sitting and staring ahead, his fingers still gripping the control pad, motionless, but sprung as if ready to burst into play at the first opportunity. The man lifts the microwave lid off his dinner plate and places it carefully on the coffee table. Something is moving on the plate. I pull my eyes from the TV and force myself to see it in full. A red steak with chips and mushrooms is covered in maggots and worms that crawl through the food making the meal seem alive. He cuts into the steak with a black handled knife, his fork pinning it to the plate, it oozes blood, the maggots bundle the cut piece as he raises it to his mouth and starts chewing the lot. I can feel sick in the back of my throat and and want to run even more, but still can’t get myself out of the seat.
‘Here it is.’ She appears as a silhouette holding two mismatched trays, the kitchen light flickering behind her; I can feel chair’s leather sticking to my legs. She moves closer, still a shadow. Not a shadow, as she moves closer the light shows black leathery skin, naked and burnt, rippling across her body, her features are gone, her eyes empty holes. I’m shaking and wriggling in my seat, desperately trying to rip myself from the settee and get away.
‘No tomatoes.’ She says with no lips or recognisable mouth. The air is prickling with heat rising from all around. My body is tense all over, I can’t shake for fear.
A loud knock shatters the moment. And again. The door. It jumps me to my feet and I feel control flooding back to my legs and body. The family seem frozen as the door falls open revealing a man in a brown uniform holding a large parcel. His face hides any surprise or emotion, I rush to stand behind him, wanting to run, but not wanting to be alone. Peeking from behind the delivery man I see the man in the armchair nod towards the door.
‘Thank you.’ He whispers in an almost silent voice. The boy next to him turns to stare at me with the same hollow eyes and burnt skin as his mother.
The man in brown places the parcel on the floor and shuts the door. I feel his cold fingers gently grip my neck as he leads me away.
c > Roy Smith, Aug 2009.