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Chipping Away


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Chipping Away



Standing outside my house I breathed in the frigid air of the winter night. I took one more deep breath before taking off. Why my parents were so strict I would never understand. “You can’t even begin to understand, Maggie, your only 14!” Of course they would think that. Whenever I went out on one of my runs, I always thought of the possibility of running away, and how good it would feel to finally throw caution to the wind and just go. Then I remember how utterly impossible it would be for a fourteen year old to make it by themselves, especially since the war ended.

I started down my usual route, when I felt something seemingly compel me down an old beaten road. As I followed the path, I noticed that the trees and bushes around me started getting darker and denser, so much that if you just stumbled off the trail it seemed you would never find your way back. I felt my breath shorten as I grew more tense and nervous, but still I pushed on.

Just as fast as the foliage had seemed to appear around me, it dispersed to reveal what looked like one of those things in pictures of the old days that people used to swim in. I think they were called pools. They would put tons of water in them and swim around when the days got hot and grew longer. Around the entire perimeter of the pool the walls were chipping away to reveal what looked like stones randomly placed on top of each other. It was a wonder to me how they were still standing. In the deep end there was some weeds that had started to grow through the cracks in the ground. Around the pool was a wooden walkway that looked like it would collapse if you laid a foot onto it. The walkway had two areas that branched out onto two different pathways leading to nowhere.

I started walking out into the pool, and was instantly suffocated by the strong stench of the rotting wood and decaying walls. As I reached the deep end of the pool, the air around me suddenly grew colder. I took deep breaths, trying to calm myself. My breath seemed to hang in the air for a second before disappearing. The leaves swirled in tiny cyclones around my feet. Next to me I heard a voice. At first I thought it was just a whisper of the wind, but then it grew louder. Paralyzed with fear, all I wanted to do was run as fast and as far as I could, but my legs wouldn’t let me. The voice seemed to be moaning, “Help me,” over and over again, growing louder each time.

I put my hand over my ears in a vain attempt to drown out that ungodly voice, but still I could hear it. Slowly it faded away, and I ran. I kept running, even as the branches pull at my hair and clothes, scratching my face. When I finally reached my home I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew I was in trouble, but I figured whatever I would face inside was better then whatever was at the abandoned pool.

Slowly I opened the door, flinching it creaked. Tiptoeing inside, I tried my best to sneak past the kitchen. Without warning the ground gave a creak beneath me.

“Maggie, is that you?” my mother called out.

I sighed in defeat, “Yes Mom, it’s me,” I answered as I slowly walked into the kitchen. I was greeted by the sight of my parents sitting at the kitchen island. They stared me down like they were the jury, and I was the accused, already deemed guilty of a crime that they couldn’t prove I committed.

“Where were you? You have been gone for at least thirty minutes, and no sign of you what-so-ever. Do you know how worried we were?! You could have died or, or been lost or something horrible like tha-,” my mother ranted.

“Mom, I’m perfectly fine, as you can see. I was just going for a run.” I knew I had made a mistake. My father sat across form me, seething with anger.

“Oh no, here we go again,” I thought quietly to myself.

“ You went on a run!? At night!? You know that’s not allowed! You are grounded for one month young lady! Now go up to your room!” My dad yelled in that bone shattering, earth shaking way that I had become accustomed to.

Walking through the hallway I stared at my feet listening to the dull thud of them hitting the floor with each step. Stopping, I looked at the wall and noticed that I had stopped right where the old family picture was. I stared at it, almost saddened by how carefree we looked. I was about ten in the picture, with my hair in pigtails and an almost toothless smile on my face. Mom looked young, she didn’t have near as many worry lines as she did today, and no gray hair. Dad was actually smiling, which nowadays was quite a rare event. I despaired as I realized my life would never be that way again.

I sighed and started down the hall again and then up the stairs to my bedroom. The only room in the house where I actually feel at home. Everywhere else, I felt like an intruder, or a guest that no one really wanted.  I flopped onto my bed and instantly fell asleep.

The next day I awoke to the light of the early morning. Slowly I opened my eyes and blinked a few times to get used to it. “Honey, we called the school to let them know that you will not be attending today since you are grounded. Your teachers have emailed you all your work, so I expect you to do it! Also, your father locked your door so you don’t try any funny business! I have to go to work, but remember that I love you!” my so-called mother called up the stairs. 

I gave a groan of desperation, and then waited in silence until I heard the garage door open and then close as my mom drove away. I slowly climbed out of bed, one foot down, then the other. I walked to the door and took my bobby pin out my hair. I gave an instinctive yawn as I thought about how many times I’ve had to do this. I quickly picked the lock and shot down the stairs and out the door.

As I ran through the mud I thanks myself that I had fallen asleep in my clothes and not my pajamas. I only had one place in mind that I was going. The pool. I had to figure out what had happened last night. It seemed to be the one of the last things left from before the war, the old world. 

I reached the pool barely winded. I bounded down the steps, splashing through the mud at the bottom, even though my parents would throw a fit if they knew

“Looking for something,” a voice called asking the question liked they knew the answer.

I started, “Who’s there?!”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you. I noticed you here the yesterday. I’m Henry.” A boy who looked to be about my age stepped into the clearing. I was quite relieved it wasn’t some psycho murderer.

“I’m Maggie. So, do you come here often?” I said already chiding myself over how lame that sounded. But he didn’t seem to notice. In the amount of time that we were together I learned that he does come here often, and we became fast friends.

I finally went home around noon.  Luckily no one was home yet, so I just went back up to my room and locked myself back in and started on my assignments. During that next week, I continuously snuck to the pool, and each time Henry was there. It seemed a bit odd to me that he wasn’t at school, but who knows, he could have been grounded like me and just sneaking out. He had become, what felt like, my closest friend. One thing I had noticed though, was that he had started asking questions about my family.  However, when I asked about his he avoided it like the plague, always beating around the bush.  I didn’t pry, but I figured that he had a bad home situation. 

One night as I was laying in bed, I heard a soft humming outside my window. I just ignored it because it sounded like wind to me. After a moment it stopped, but quickly came back. This time louder with a tapping. The tapping was slow and menacing, intimidating even. It stopped at my window and I sat, scared to breathe. Again I heard the tapping, but this time it was at my door. For the first time, I felt pure fear. Slowly it all died down and didn’t come back, much to my relief. That night it took me a long time to go back to sleep.

In the morning I went along with my normal routine, get dressed, brush teeth, eat breakfast, when I heard the tapping again. I tensed up and closed my eyes. The tapping grew louder.

“Hello, Maggie, sweetie. You do know you’re not grounded anymore so you’re going to school, right?” asked my Mother. I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized it was just her.

“Yes, Mom. I do. That’s why I’m awake,” I answered sarcastically. Soon after, I left for school. Having not been for two weeks, class seemed to drag on for eternity. The teachers gave me all the tests that I had missed, which meant no lunch. Apparently my teachers felt they also needed to punish me for being grounded.

After school, it was cold and raining, “Almost the same weather as when I found the pool,” I thought to myself. I trudged through the rain, which by now had most likely soaked through my backpack and into all of my assignments. Around me I listened to the sounds, the pitter-pattering of the rain on the pavement, the cars zooming through puddles, and the sounds of the birds. One stood out among the rest, the soft sound of a crow’s haunting cry out into the afternoon sky. 

My backpack felt a-thousand times heavier then usual as I climbed up the steps to my front door, the water in my shoes squishing between my toes. The door opened with a soft creak. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the house was that the rooms were bathed in a darkness that seemed to swallow the house whole. Oddly enough my parents weren’t home so the house was eerily quiet.

I took my phone out and called my mother,  but it said that the phone had been disconnected -- same for my dad’s. Behind me I heard a click, when I turned around the front door was locked. When I ran over to try to open it, it wouldn’t budge.

At that moment I noticed how very cold the air around me was. The silence  felt deafening. My stomach twisted into knots as I heard the soft thump-thump of footsteps coming down the hall. I dropped my backpack and bounded up the stairs, trying to land as softly on the carpeted steps as possible. 

I ran to the end of the hall where I pulled the chair out of the way revealing a small door. I yanked the door open and crawled inside, stopping to pull the chair back in place. I softly closed the door.

The room inside used to be a panic room. I huddled in the corner, trying to get as far away from the door as possible. The air inside was dry, stale, and frigid. So cold that I could see my breath hang in the air in front of me.

II could hear footsteps coming down the hall. Each step echoed along the walls, growing louder each time. I felt as if I was going to have a panic attack, but I wouldn’t allow myself to breathe out of fear that whoever was out there would hear me. The footsteps stopped outside of the door, and I let out a sharp intake of breath. I could hear my pulse ringing out in my ears so loudly it was a wonder they couldn’t hear it. Slowly they walked away, down the stairs and out the door. I was left sitting curled up in the room, visibly shaken. In my pocket I heard my phone ringing. I slowly brought it to my ear.

“He-hello?” I said weakly.

“Hi sweetie, sorry we are running late. Your father and I got caught up at the office. And if you called our phones got disconnected by the network. We will be home in five minutes, love you,” she hung up before I could say a word. I sat in the room trying to calm myself until I heard them walk in. I slowly got out and walked downstairs. 

“There is an article in the newspaper that might interest you. It’s about someone your age,” my father told me.

“Could you just read it to me?” I asked unsure.

“Breaking-and-entering around town finally solved. The culprit; a fifteen year old boy named Henry, no last name provided,” he said skimming through the article as my head suddenly snapped to attention.”Culprit has broke into at least seven houses around town never setting off alarm’s, being held for the time being at the county jail.”

“Uh, Dad, I totally forgot my textbook at school. I need to go run to grab it,” I yelled to my parents as I sprinted out the door, slamming it behind me. Luckily it had stopped raining, but the crows were still out. I looked right up at one and found it staring straight at me, sending shiver down my spine.

I stopped outside of the jail for a moment, taking a moment to collect myself, and then entered the building. When I asked to see Henry, the lady at the desk asked if I was family.

“Uhhhh, distant cousin, can I please see him?” I asked, growing impatient.

“Yes, just follow me,” the lady told me, leading me through a maze of cells. Most of them looked dusty and unused. When she finally stopped, I noticed that Henry was sitting there with his face pressed up between two bars.

“Henry?”

“You came to visit.   That was nice of you,” he said smiling up at me.“Yes, yes, that’s very nice isn’t it?  Do you know something Maggie? I’m a bit different then you, because you see, I’m not exactly real, as some would say. But I’m not fake either,” he divulged to me, his smile diminishing.

“But, that doesn’t make sense. Please explain it to me,” I pleaded, but he just stared at me with dull, lifeless, eyes. And then he smiled a half crazy smile.

“But it does make sense. Just think about it.” And just like that he disappeared in a haze of smoke that consumed me. Feeling dizzy and tired I lay on the ground. I quickly fell into a deep slumber.

“Time to wake up Maggie. You’ve been under long enough,” said a nice lady in a white lab coat. I quickly sat up and looked around the room. It was white, through and through, and I was even sitting on a white bed.

“Did you have a nice dream, like you wanted or did it go wrong again?” the lady prodded.

I took a quick look around the room, noticing that the lady was holding a thick packet with my name on it. I caught only a quick glimpse of it, before the lady pulled it way.

“ Come now Maggie, do tell me before the next experiment”.....  
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