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Chapter 22: Death or balloons

April 26, 2013

Fred was acutely aware that what was happening could not be real.

“I thought it was going to let us go,” said Karen.
“Hazel asked it to,” said Fatima. Her soul for our freedom, that’s what she said.
“And it took her soul, right?” said Karen.
“Did it? How can you tell?” asked Pip.

Fred sat leaning back slightly, at the curve of the hole. It was shaped like the red vase that his Mum used every spring, to put daffodils in. Masses of daffodils. And it felt like a beanbag, the way it moulded itself to you. But soft and waxy. Like a petal. Like Edam cheese.

“Well, it hasn’t let us go, has it?” said Ian. “We’re still here.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” said Karen.
“Yeah, but he’s got a point,” said Pip. “She might still be all shiny, but it’s not like – not like before.”

So it didn’t get her soul? And they didn’t get their freedom.
The boy, Falcon, was sitting with Fatima. Seemed he had taken a shine to her. She let him snuggle right up to her. Fred hoped it was making him feel better. If they were scared and confused, what about him?

Fred was leaning into the curve, knees up, hugging his backpack to his chest. He listened with only half an ear. His eyes were on Hazel – there wasn’t really anything else to look at, because the weird light from her skin, although it was faint now, was still bright enough that everything else faded into the shadows.

He did not like the dark. He thought about the torch in his bag. Before, when all this was had been a landslide, a solvably human problem – then, he’d been dead keen on lighting up the torch. But, now, he thought perhaps he didn’t want to see after all.

The  wolfish shapes that they all kept half-seeing, out of the corners of eyes. They were still there. Moving about, but they had not approached. Not yet. Perhaps the light was keeping them away.

“Well,” said Ian. “There’s two ways this could go. Either it’s going to come back and want souls. Or it isn’t.” A right gift for stating the obvious.
“Either way, we’re still stuck down here,” said Pip. “Unless we can find a way back up to the top.”

They looked again at the walls. Ian began testing, looking for somewhere that wasn’t totally unclimbable. But all around the sides of this hole were completely smooth. Nowhere to put your hands or feet. You couldn’t dig into the surface because it just yielded and rippled away under your hands. Like fighting blancmange.

Fred had once tried to climb up the walls of a bouncy castle. It was impossible. This was the same.

“So what about this greatest-fear thing that we’re supposed to face?” began Pip. “What’s that about?”
“What are you most afraid of?”asked Fatima. Seemed like a reasonable question, if a bit personal.
“Clowns,” said Falcon.
Pip shrugged. “Dying? Torture?”
“Balloons?” suggested Fatima.

Fred was barely listening. He was watching Hazel, whispering with Lena. Maybe they were coming up with a plan.That would be good. And he was aware of Ian, continuing uselessly to probe the walls.

Mark had made him watch this horrible zombie film when was six. It had scared the bejesus out of him, he’d had nightmares for years afterwards. Years. In his dreams he would see the zombies coming. Dead people with grey-green skin and blank eyes, people who came to get you and wanted to eat your brains, and they wouldn’t stop no matter what you did.

Sometimes he would be able to run. He would run and run until his heart felt like it would explode.

“Balloons?” said Karen. “Death, torture – or balloons?”
“Balloons are creepy,” said Pip.
“Yeah, but they’re not the sort of thing that keeps you up at night are they?”

Other times, there would be nowhere to run. He would have to fight. And he would have no weapons, only what was nearest to him, things he could grab. He would hit the zombie with books, or lift up a chair, strength beyond his years, and smash it down on the zombie’s head time and time again. It didn’t stop them. They just kept coming.

“Cancer,” said Pip. “That’s bloody scary. My Mum….”
“Yes,” said Ian. “Cancer.”

Once, a zombie had come for him in the garden shed. He’d got the lawnmower, and managed to turn it on. His Dad had always kept him well away from it, but in the dream he knew how to turn it on. He’d run over them with the lawnmower, chopped them up with the blades that his Dad always said would take his hands right off if he got too close. Chopped them up, and they still kept on coming. Guts spilling out, green blood oozing. That lawnmower was a bloody lethal death machine, and they’d still kept coming.

“Nuclear bombs,” said Karen.
“That’s what we should be scared of,” said Fatima. “But are we? It’s not bombs or guns or cancer that keep me up at night.”
“I don’t like balloons,” said Falcon. “They squeak.”
“That’s what I mean, honey,” said Fatima.

“Someone could try and cut my face off with a spoon,” she went on. “And if I thought that was actually going to happen then I’d be scared of that. But I don’t. I’m more freaked out by balloons, actually.”
“And I’d be scared of big giant aliens with fifteen eyes and twenty arms and eleven legs,” said Falcon.
“I’d be scared of them too, if I ever saw one,” said Fatima.

Another time, he had hidden in the fridge. It had been so cold, and he’d had to stop his teeth from chattering in case the zombies heard. He’d stuffed his mouth with cheese to muffle the sound.

Cheese made him sick now.
The smell of it turned him green.

“What should scare me is knowing I’ll never go to university because my family are too poor,” said Pip.
“Does it?”
“No.”
“What then?” asked Karen.

He would throw rocks at them. Hefting great lumps of stone through the air. It would slow them down, if he hit them right. And when they got too close he would give up on the throwing and just bash them, over and over. Find a sharp one and stab them with it. Blindly, doggedly, tears streaming down his face. Knowing he was dead if he stopped.

“Exams. Failing exams.” Pip sounded bitter. “As if there was any point in passing them.”
“Dropping stitches,” said Karen. “I have to put stoppers on the ends of my needles, to stop the stitches coming off in the night.”
“Silence. If I’m lying in bed and I can’t hear anything. If it’s too quiet. Like there’s nobody else alive in the whole world. That’s what keeps me awake.”

That was the point – you mustn’t stop.

And he never had. He would wake up sweaty, sobbing, heart pounding through his chest. Sometimes, when he was very young, he would wake up covered in wee. Like after the time in the fridge. But he always woke up.

He never just let them get him.
That was the point.

“Hey,” he said, feeling again the waxy surface of the walls. Yes, like Edam cheese. “Does anyone have anything sharp?”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2013 12:31 am

    Wordcount – 1231
    Prompt – “big giant aliens with fifteen eyes and twenty arms and eleven legs” (Sophie, off line)

    Please suggest prompts for Chapter 23 and beyond in the comments.
    (Check the sidebar for a link to more info about this interactive project!)

  2. April 27, 2013 10:01 am

    I love this – especially the double dialogue- the conversation and Fred’s internal. I really like Fred. 🙂 Prompts; a cat, sunshine, a loss and an electric pylon. wouldn’t mind a dalek either. or an argument that can’t be resolved. xx

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